- Austria in Transit: Displacement and the Nation State ed. by Deborah Holmes and Áine McMurtry
Volume 26 of the British journal Austrian Studies, guest-edited by Áine McMurtry, brings together articles arising from papers originally presented at a three-day workshop held at King's College London in 2017. The seventeen contributions of the volume explore how writers and artists in Austria—which shares its borders wiTheight countries and has always been a key European transit point—thematize issues such as migration, flight, displacement, and persecution in their works. The volume is set against the background of the ongoing European refugee crisis, which intensified in 2015 when Austria found itself on two major refugee routes, as McMurtry traces in the volume's introduction. The desperate situation of vast numbers of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East trying to flee to safety in Europe was tragically highlighted by the abandoned truck discovered on a motorway in Burgenland on August 27, 2015, containing the bodies of seventy-one refugees who were Attempting to flee from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Lindsey Hilsum's photograph of the abandoned truck forms the volume cover image and the starting point for McMurtry's introduction. The wake of the 2015 refugee crisis saw an escalation of anti-migrant and anti-refugee rhetoric, both on the part of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and by the centerright Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), which under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz saw the party adopt a hard-line approach toward border control, more commonly associated with the FPÖ, and ultimately form a coalition government with the far-right party (lasting until May 2019) following the 2017 legislative election. Additionally, as McMurtry highlights, Austria's tenureship of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2018 (2) has allowed the country to influence international policy on immigration and asylum on a broader European level. For this reason, in this domain, as in so many others, Austria constitutes an important case study, both in geopolitical terms and in the cultural responses from the country's writers, filmmakers, and artists to one of the most pressing humanitarian issues of our time.
Following the introduction, the seventeen contributions to the volume encompass articles on literary texts, film, music, and photography. This diversity of the volume's contributions is one of the strengths of Austria in Transit. Beyond traditional articles, the anthology also includes an "in [End Page 109] conversation" piece between Austrian composer Thomas Larcher and musicologist Michael Haas—which is prefaced by Martin Brady's article on images and commemoration in Larcher's Symphonie Nr. 2 "Kenotaph" (2015–2016)—as well as an interview with writer Alma Hadžibeganović conducted by Iga Nowicz. The collection predominantly focuses on literary texts, with Wiebke Sievers's article providing an overview of multilingualism in the Austrian literary field, from the period following World War I to the present day. She highlights the role of institutions in affording writers of immigrant origin recognition, with Austrian multilingual writers gaining visibility only in the 1990s. Three articles on dramatic texts responding to migration and refugee movements follow. These include Monika Mokre's analysis of Homohalal (2013–2018), a theater project that grew out of the Refugee Protest Camp Vienna and that, according to Mokre, suffered from a variety of structural problems while, nevertheless, facilitating inclusion. In her discussion of Kathrin Röggla's works, Áine McMurtry positions these as "texts in transit" (72) thematizing precarious subjectivity, which is especially evident in die unvermeidlichen's intertextuality with Ingeborg Bachmann's figure of the interpreter in Simultan (1972). Concluding the section on dramatic texts, Jane Wilkinson highlights how Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek thematizes "a crisis of hospitality" (105) in her treatment of Austrian and European responses to refugees in Die Schutzbefohlenen (2013).
As well as treating responses to acute refugee crises, several of the volume's contributions focus on works that thematize migrants' experiences over the longer term, particularly with regard to language. Christine Ivanovic's...