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  • Nähe und Distanz: Eine grundlegende Dichotomie in der österreichischen Literatur der Moderne ed. by Vahidin Preljević and Clemens Ruthner
  • Raymond L. Burt
Vahidin Preljević and Clemens Ruthner, eds., Nähe und Distanz: Eine grundlegende Dichotomie in der österreichischen Literatur der Moderne. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2020. 117 pp.

Vahidin Preljević and Clemens Ruthner's Nähe und Distanz forms the second volume of the series Identifizierungen/Identifications: Poetics of the Self and the Other and is an expansion of the themes introduced in Preljević's monogram, Perzeptionsereignisse: Zur literarischen Wahrnehmungspoetik in Wien um 1900, which constituted volume 1 of the series. The eleven essays in this collection were the products of a 2012 conference in Sarajevo that took as its postulate [End Page 144] that the title dichotomy, Nähe und Distanz (and I will use the German to signify their status in this work as terminus technicus), serve as "grundlegendes, ästhetisches, wahrnehmungstheoretisches, sozialgeschichtliches und kulturelles Phänomen" (7) in the Austrian literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To that end, this collection offers the reader insights on Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Beer-Hofmann, Gustav Meyrink, Arthur Schnitzler, Ödön von Horvath, Anton Kuh, Robert Musil, and others.

The first three essays focus on Hofmannsthal by showing the dynamics of the aesthetic Distanz and its function in Austrian modernism. Vahidin Preljević opens his essay with the assertion that only from aesthetic distance can the nearness of the experience of reality occur. He sees this interplay of Distanz and Nähe as particularly evident in the beginnings of Austrian modernism. Preljević deftly interprets a historical encounter between Stefan George and the young Hugo von Hofmannsthal as an illustration of two divergent views of Distanz. For George, aesthetics is absolutely separated from real life. Hofmannsthal, on the other hand, has an inner Distanz that paradoxically makes possible a Nähe to life. Expanding on this theme, Vikica Matić makes a well-supported case that Hofmannsthal, as a representative of Jung Wien, used aesthetic Distanz to restore a connection to the world by replacing a chaotic, ugly reality with an aesthetic reality (beauty), as illustrated by Hofmannsthal's Das Märchen der 672. Nacht. Matic shows that the Distanz is an expression of an identity crisis encompassed in the complex relationship between an aesthetic existence and a human one and ultimately leads to destruction.

Daniela Strigl chooses another text she terms as a "Schlüsseltext der literarischen Moderne" and applies Distanz and Nähe as narrative perception techniques in her detailed interpretation of Hofmannsthal's Die Reitergeschichte. The emotionless Distanz of the narrator is sharply contrasted with the narrative zoom to the individual gaze, which leads to the "gefährliche Nähe."

The next two essays only peripherally intersect with the theme of Distanz and Nähe, perhaps since the narratives examined offer no clear separation between reality and dream. Irma Duraković conducts an excellent study of Beer-Hofmann's Der Tod Georgs in which the transition between dream and reality can be perceived by neither the protagonist nor the readers. Nevertheless, her analysis of the symbols and patterns of the narrative, beginning with the window imagery, provides a framework for a deeper [End Page 145] understanding of this novel. Similarly, Naser Šečerović's essay on Gustav Meyrink's Der Golem uses the framework of the dream narrative to approach this literarily unconventional work.

A change of direction occurs with Clemens Ruthner's essay "Umgangs-Formen," in which he formulates his central thesis on the problematics of literary representations of the foreigner. After a brief informative survey on the subject, Ruthner introduces and discusses four works by relatively unknown authors depicting Bosnian and Herzegovinian figures in shedding light on the colonial constructions of foreignness in the context of the Habsburg Empire.

Distanz and Nähe in these essays have been associated with various conceptual pairings; aesthetic subjectivity/ugly objectivity, dream/reality, and familiar/foreign. Two essays on works by Schnitzler introduce two additional sets. Almir Bašović's treatment of Reigen as a dehumanized pattern of (corporal) distance-nearness-distance in each scene serves as evidence of determinism over free will. Wielding or rather welding...


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