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  • Das Gedächtnis Zentraleuropas: Kulturelle und literarische Projektionen auf eine Region by Moritz Csáky
  • Joseph W. Moser
Moritz Csáky Das Gedächtnis Zentraleuropas: Kulturelle und literarische Projektionen auf eine Region. Vienna: Böhlau, 2019. 392 pp.

Cultural definitions of Central Europe are important to Austrian Studies, with the Republic of Austria at the center of this region in Europe, and the Habsburg Empire was certainly emblematic of this territory that spread over several successor states of the Danube Monarchy and beyond. Nine [End Page 119] years before the publication of the book under review here, Moritz Csáky published Das Gedächtnis der Städte: Kulturelle Verflechtungen—Wien und die urbanen Milieus in Zentraleuropa (Böhlau, 2010), in which he examined how Vienna and Austro-Hungarian cities constituted a space of cultural memory in Central Europe, with the former Habsburg Empire at its core. In his current book, Das Gedächtnis Zentraleuropas: Kulturelle und literarische Projektionen auf eine Region, Csáky continues to examine memory in Central Europe from a cultural and literary perspective with a focus on Franz Kafka, Hermann Bahr, Joseph Roth, Miroslav Krlezas, and to a lesser degree Rilke and Hofmannsthal.

The book is structured in eight chapters; the first longer chapter that comprises the first third of the book "Zentraleuropa—Kulturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven" gives an overview of the topic. This chapter could have well been a book of its own, covering a variety of topics, which lays the foundation for the literary analysis that follows. Some of the tropes, among many in this chapter, include the role of Jews in Central Europe, a world of contradictions, and hybrid identities. The author also answers the question why he chose the term Zentraleuropa over Mitteleuropa, the latter of which derives from Friedrich Naumanns 1915 essay by the same name, which served German political and national interests, and thus does not describe this complex multicultural region. Zentraleuropa in essence is a direct translation of the English and French terms. The idea here is a multicultural region that does not serve the interests of a single nation-state. This first chapter illustrates well the depth of the author's understanding of this region. Chapters 2-5 are each devoted to Kafka's "Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer," Bahrs Austriaca, Joseph Roths Das falsche Gewicht, and Krlezas's Illyricum sacrum. With Kafka, the author illustrates China as a metaphor for multiculturality while also criticizing the monarchy. In Bahr's text, we also see the formation of a multicultural empire striving for federalization and democratization. Meanwhile, Roth's text expresses inner colonization as well as postcolonial perspectives. Chapter 6 deals with "Sprachenkonflikt und Sprachkritik im Kontext von Mehrsprachigkeit." One of the defining aspects of Central Europe is its polyglot identity, which simultaneously provides diversity and the challenge of comprehending one another across linguistic barriers. The author examines this phenomenon with Fritz Mauthner, Kafka, and Rilke as representative literary figures. Chapter 7 continues with an examination of constructions of foreignness, with an appropriately entitled chapter [End Page 120] "Konstruktion von Fremdheiten." Here the author discusses Wilma von Vukelich, Franz Werfel, Robert Michel, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The final chapter, "Zentraleuropa—Ein Laboratorium für lokale und globale kulturelle Prozesse," serves as a conclusion.

This book is especially praiseworthy for its interdisciplinary approach, in which a historian uses literature to examine a cultural phenomenon. The book's strength may also be its weakness. There is a wealth of information presented in this volume by an expert who has a profound understanding of the concept of Central Europe. While the ideas of a Central European space with the former Habsburg Empire at its core are not necessarily new, the book does not so much teach Central Europe but rather elaborates an advanced theoretical understanding thereof, and it is thus not an easy read for the uninitiated, as it expects readers to cover a tremendous volume of topics, in which they must already have a strong footing, without providing clear transitions between topics. Advanced graduate students and experts in the field, however, will undoubtedly appreciate this theoretical approach, which is well researched and rounded out by a helpful bibliography and index.

Joseph W...


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