- The Long Shadow of the Past: Contemporary Austrian Literature, Film, and Culture by Katya Krylova
In Austria's now diverse memory culture, certain works even comment on each other and thereby inspire new projects to ensure an ongoing engagement with the Nazi past and the Holocaust. A salient example of a spiraling effect of casting the past in bronze to then correct and complete the image in a novel and at an existing monument originates in Ruth Beckermann's essay Unzugehörig: Österreicher und Juden nach 1945 (1989), criticizing a sculpture in Alfred Hrdlicka's controversial Mahnmal gegen Krieg und Faschismus (1988) depicting a Jew scrubbing the pavement reminiscent of the so-called "Reibpartien" (the Nazis forcing Jews to scrub sidewalks on their knees in Vienna) from 1938. In his novel Der Kalte (2013) Robert Schindel added the omitted cheering onlookers and thereby anticipated Beckermann's 2015 temporary video installation The Missing Image at the Hrdlicka monument. Such an ongoing dialogue in an ever-growing body of memory works interests Krylova because these "seismographs of historical consciousness" (Uhl) are indicative of a sustained engagement with Austria's NS past. While some representations are somber reminders of relativizing the past, others testify to persistently changing attitudes toward it.
In her informative introduction Krylova outlines thirty years of political and cultural events provoking demonstrations, activism, and the opening of several museums culminating in a Haus der Geschichte Österreich, scheduled for 2018. She looks at Alexander Van der Bellen's extraordinarily narrow victory against the FPÖ candidate Norbert Hofer in the 2016 presidential election, [End Page 101] which showcased a deeply divided country as an apparent déjà vu of a similar political constellation thirty years ago when the Waldheim affair set the stage for the rise of the FPÖ but also of a protest culture supported by quite a few of the creative minds whose works she examines. Four chapters offer case studies of poignantly selected films, novels, and a play from the 1980s to 2013. A fifth chapter explores eight temporary and permanent memorials since 2002.
The first chapter reads Ruth Beckermann's films Wien retour (1983), Die papierene Brücke (1987), and Homemad(e) (2001) as melancholic journeys to the vanished past of vibrant Jewish communities in Red Vienna of the 1920s, her father's home in the Bukovina, and the textile quarter in Vienna's first district, respectively. The second chapter focuses on reconstructing the past in an era of restitution in Anna Mitgutsch's novel Haus der Kindheit (2000). It draws on Svetlana Boym's concepts of restorative and reflective nostalgia. Although Krylova mentions Andrea Reiter's important study Contemporary Jewish Writing: Austria after Waldheim (2013) in her introduction, she does not engage with Reiter's referencing of melancholy, nostalgia, and Boym in Beckermann's and Mitgutsch's works, nor does she factor in Boym's astute warning about the danger of converting nostalgia into mythmaking, which after all sharply contradicts the authors' obvious intent to debunk myths in their efforts to articulate loss and absence.
The third chapter juxtaposes two radically different treatments of the March 1945 massacre of two hundred Jewish slave laborers in the village of Rechnitz. Margarete Heinrich's and Eduard Erne's documentary Totschweigen (1994) is set into dialogue with Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek's drama Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel) (2009) to question an honest confrontation with the past by contrasting and comparing cinematic and literary techniques that rely on the power of visual language and the theater. The fourth chapter explores Robert Schindel's extensive treatment of the Waldheim affair in the generational novel Der Kalte (2013), combining individual, family, and national history complete with Wunschkorrektive on an interpersonal, topographical, and political level.
An appropriately illustrated and diverse fifth chapter incorporates James Young's theories on countermonuments and those of Bill Niven on "memorials" (101) and "combimemorials" (101) to describe different strategies pursued in memorials that altogether decentralize memory. The [End Page 102] revealing book cover illustration of Ulrike Lienbacher's Idylle (2002) along with Maria...