Krylova, Katya. The Long Shadow of the Past: Contemporary Austrian Literature, Film, and Culture.
It is by now well established that the Second Republic of Austria has displayed a kind of retrograde amnesia regarding its years under Austrofascism and National Socialism. In The Long Shadow of the Past: Contemporary Austrian Literature, Film, and Culture, Katya Krylova takes a much-needed next step by examining today's Austrian cultural production as it confronts that legacy of silence, showing how the so-called second postwar generation of writers, artists, and filmmakers draw attention to a past that has not passed. Recent studies such as Matthias Beilein's 86 und die Folgen (2008) and Andrea Reiters Contemporary Jewish Writing (2013) have focused on Jewish writers and filmmakers confronting Austria's past. Krylova makes a novel contribution by including works by non-Jewish writers, filmmakers, and artists, and by devoting a chapter to the recent boom in creative monuments and memorials. While Jewish authors account for a critical volume of Austria's efforts to confront its past (and as Krylova rightly points out, this raises questions about who is doing the work of working-through), casting a wider net enables her to offer a broadly informative view. Importantly, she accomplishes this without overgeneralizing or eliding the Jewish perspective of selected authors.
Krylova takes up a compelling selection of literature, film, and "visual culture," with most works stemming from the post-Waldheim era. Her analysis is grounded in a cultural-historical framework, drawing on memory studies and theories of melancholy and nostalgia. She is well informed on relevant scholarship and contemporary reception, making for rich yet concise introductions to authors and works. She walks the reader step by step through her analysis, presenting evidence and some shining moments of insight, and her treatments of films and memorials stand out for their attention to visual, auditory, temporal, symbolic and spatial aspects. Analyses are also informed by Krylova's knowledge of geography and topography: her previous monograph dealt with "topography and identity" in the works of Bachmann and Bernhard, and the present work benefits from her keen sense of place and space.
Taking a catholic theoretical approach, Krylova considers Freudian concepts of Nachtraglichkeit and das Unheimliche, Adornos notion of mastering the past, Marianne Hirsch's concept of post-memory, Svetlana Boym's distinction between restorative and reflective nostalgia, and Pierre Nora's lieux de memoires, fruitfully applying each paradigm in the Austrian context to bolster her analysis. The work is well researched and well annotated, with appropriate and sometimes rich footnotes. While Krylova's theoretical approach is on the whole sound, she makes brief reference to "trauma theory" writ large (glossing over myriad complexities) and employs some Freudian theories without problematizing them. That said, the decision to eschew such theoretical rabbit holes helps preserve a streamlined focus, and her use of theory is generally appropriate and informative.
To set the stage, Krylova opens with a summary of Austria's well-documented memory problems, but does not lose time beating the dead horse of Austria's Geschichtsluge or rehashing the nation's self-styled identity as Hitler's first victim. She offers a handy treatment of recent political history, placing the rise of the FPO in the context of the Waldheim protests of the 1980s; and she has her finger on the pulse of Austrian politics, citing news stories and tweets from the 2016 elections.
Chapter one focuses on Ruth Beckermann's three so-called "Vienna films." Wien Retour (1977) and Papierene Brucke (1987) both portray an impossibly lost past. Wien Retour refutes the "first victim" hypothesis, finks the fate of the Jews with members of progressive social movements, and provides a foil for silence and right wing populism in contemporary Austria. Papierene Brucke painfully shows the new face of Austrian anti-Semitism that emerged with Waldheim protests. Homemad(e) (2001) is more grounded in the present, but it is a present with a past that shapes the evolving Jewish identity of a new generation.
Chapter two reads Anna Mitgutsch's novel Haus der Kindheit (2000) to poignantly suggest that while knowledge of one's roots is important, a geographical point of origin does not constitute a home. Through Krylova's lens, the novel appears a fairly straightforward fictionalization of actual occurrences (consider Albert Drach's protracted legal battle to reclaim his "Aryanized" home in Modling), and her analysis leaves something slightly wanting--perhaps something creative, elegant, literary. But perhaps that lack is a reflection of the novel's own hollow search.
Chapter three opens with the night of 24-25 March 1945, just days before the Red Army reached the Austrian town of Rechnitz near the Hungarian border, when some 200 Hungarian Jewish slave laborers were massacred, purportedly in the context of a party. Heinrich and Erne's documentary Totschweigen (1994) follows the search--unpopular among locals--for the mass grave, which to this day remains undiscovered. Through narrative, stylistic, and generic considerations, Krylova argues that insofar as a documentary may be said to have a message, Totschweigen seems to reproach the residents of Rechnitz with their willfully buried secrets. Jelinek's play Rechnitz (Der Wurgeengel) (2008), which offers a fictional rendering of the same massacre, is shown to counter the common historical view of the Holocaust as cold, organized mass murder, portraying instead a Dionysian, orgiastic gorging on violence. The play also echoes the resolute burial of the past by the not-quite-innocent, resituating evasive words in the mouths of the anonymous masses, and leading Krylova to suggest intriguingly that the real protagonist of the play may be language itself. In chapter four, Krylova ably decodes Robert Schindel's thinly fictional novel Der Kalte (2013), mapping a dizzying array of characters onto actual figures and events in Austrian history. Her analysis convincingly takes Schindel to be processing Austria's struggles with both its National Socialist past and far-right elements in its present.
The fifth and final chapter, devoted to monuments and visual culture, is a highlight of the book. Taking Heidemarie Uhl's work on memory and place as a foundation, Krylova analyzes the arc of Austrian memorials from Hrdlicka's Mahnmal gegen Krieg und Faschismus (1988) to the present, charting a shift from "instruments of forgetting" to tools for engagement with the past. Across various public projects evincing Vienna's evolving memory, everyday persecution is a recurring theme. The reader is introduced to recontextualizations of Nazi art by Ulrike Lienbacher (Idylle, 2002) and Maria Theresia Litschauer (transkription, 2010), both of which comment on rather than remove Nazi-era public art. Karen Frostig's The Vienna Project (2013-14), a decentralized memorial using digital media to highlight the sites of everyday Nazi-era persecution, heralds a new age of memory facilitated by personal technology. Krylova's treatment of Catrin Bolt's Alltagsskulpturen Mahnmal (2014) exemplifies her nuanced eye for the role of place and space in memory. Finally, Beckermann's recontextualization of Hrdlicka's controversial monument brings the book's trajectory satisfyingly full circle by amending past omissions (such as the role of "bystanders" to Nazi-era crimes), while drawing connections to the troubling present (such as anti-refugee demonstrations by FPO supporters).
In conclusion, Krylova has produced a timely, informative, engaging, and well-written treatise on Austria's ongoing memory struggles. Her monograph would be informative and digestible reading for students in a course on the topic, and should be of interest to all scholars concerned with how Austria and other nations confront the long shadow of the past.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The German Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
|Previous Article:||Wood, Michael. Heiner Mullers Democratic Theater: The Politics of Making the Audience Work.|
|Next Article:||McGlothlin, Erin, and Jennifer M. Kapczynski, eds. Persistent Legacy: The Holocaust and German Studies.|