New Perspectives on Contemporary Austrian Literature and Culture ed. by Katya Krylova
The volume of sixteen essays grew out of the international conference "Contemporary Austrian Literature, Film, and Culture" held at the University of Nottingham in 2015. The aim of this conference was to examine how various shifts in Austrian society over the past thirty years find their expression in Austrian literature and culture. Indeed, starting with the Waldheim Affair of 1986–1988 that initiated the long-overdue confrontation with the country's Nazi past, Austrian society has undergone a number of important transformations. The Balkan Wars (1991–2001) and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as Austria's entry into the European Union in 1995, led to increased immigration. The influx of migrants caused a nationalistic backlash and the rise of populist right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), leading to its inclusion in two coalition governments with the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) in 2000 and 2017. As the editor of the volume, Katya Krylova, points out, Austrian writers, filmmakers, and cultural practitioners, who were the driving forces behind the protest movement against Kurt Waldheim's presidency and his attempts to diminish his involvement with the Nazi war machine, [End Page 221] have continued in this role. They rallied against the populist anti-immigration referendum of the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party in 1992/93 and protested against the FPÖ's presence in the government and against the current coalition's policies.
As this volume shows, these political and social events have been refracted in Austrian literature and culture. Krylova has grouped the contributions in three parts, emphasizing their interconnectedness and highlighting points of comparison and contrast. The first part, "Austria and the World: Transnational Perspectives," focuses on works and authors with a transnational perspective. This includes changing representations of the Middle East in postwar literature (Dagmar Lorenz); Ruth Beckermann's recent documentary films, the 2011 road movie American Passages and her 2013 exploration of the European migrant crisis Those Who Go Those Who Stay (Katya Krylova); and Robert Menasse's fictional and nonfictional analysis of the European Union (Valentina Serra). The articles in part 2, "Space, Place, and Boundary Crossing in Contemporary Austrian Literature and Film," analyze ways in which films and texts claim, occupy, and subvert spaces. This includes the adaptation of the Western film genre for foregrounding the injustices of migration policies in films by Erwin Wagenhofer, Anja Salomonowitz, Florian Flicker, and Andreas Prohaska (Nikhil Sathe); the negotiation of both national borders and those between groups in Felix Mitterer's Verkaufte Heimat (Ursula Schneider/Annette Steinsiek), the importance of topography for identity constructions in Anna Kim's novels (Silke Schwaiger); and the destruction of boundaries in the texts of Thomas Bernhard and Ernst Jandl (Lydia Hayder). "Confronting the Nazi Past," the third part, demonstrates that this topic has not lost its currency for Austrian writers. The contributions in this part focus on family novels (Magdolna Orosz) and "Grossmutterliteratur" (Petra Bagley), which examine forms of personal and historical memories. In addition, Robert Schindel's novels Gebürtig (1992) and Der Kalte (2013) are read as attempts of historicizing the 1980s akin to Balzac's comédie humaine (Joseph Moser). The final article offers a convincing, clear-sighted analysis of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's flawed attempt to shed light on its activities during the Nazi era and restore its image as "national treasure" (Lauren Freede).
This volume certainly does justice to its title and it impresses with those articles that offer innovative approaches and nuanced readings of the texts. Particularly successful in this regard is Anne-Marie Scholz's contrasting Ilse Aichinger's autobiographical text Film und Verhängnis. Blitzlichter auf ein Leben (2001) with the tourist industry's narrative about the film The Third Man. Brigitte Timmermann, founder of the Third Man tour, uses the cult film to forge a modernist high cultural conception of Austria that shifts away from the country's collaboration with Nazi Germany, a perspective that Aichinger's text restores. Equally fascinating is Rachel Green's exploration of the basement as the site where suppressed drives surface in recent Austrian films. Another excellent study is Traci S. O'Brien's reading of [End Page 222] Lenka Reinerová's prose as a defense of the Western humanist tradition that many cultural critics see as complicit in the rise of fascism. Peter Höyng's exploration of the impasse created by the fact that Elfriede Jelinek's text Winterreise (2011) seems to co-opt academic work as it inscribes the very critique literary theory has offered. For Hönyg, Georg Simmel's text "Exkurs über den Fremden" (1909) not only offers a way to understand key aspects of Jelinek's text but also a (third) space from which to critique her work. Although it is surprising that migration does not play a more prominent role in the volume, it is the topic of Nikhil Sathe's excellent article "Fortress Europe as Frontier: Adaptation of the Western Genre in Austrian Cinema" and of Katya Krylova's discussion of Beckermann's film Those Who Go Those Who Stay. Considering migration's cultural and political import, one would have expected that it would garner more attention. However, all in all, the volume is a valuable contribution to scholarship on contemporary Austrian literature, film, and culture and has much to offer to those interested in this subject.