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What Are the Themes of Austrian Literature During this Century?

by Rüdiger Wischenbart

A round dance for example, the innocent, the man without qualities, the deception, the greater hope, the good God from Manhattan, Laut and Luise, a distraction, slow journey home, desire and alp-glow....

Literature, writing, lecture – these are the different courses through life: ascertainment and self-reflection, games, complaints, questions; analysis and coming together.

One encounters literature in books - an economic good shown in the balance of trade - in readings, recitals, recordings, in films, radio plays, theatre productions, in performances by famous people, celebrities, vituperated, in critics, publishers, readers, "Adabeis" and literature is also the focus and show-piece of an important trade fair in Frankfurt.

By focusing on Austria in 1995, this entire country is given the opportunity to present itself through its culture. For from the Austria of the 1990's one can look out in many directions.

We shall therefore stretch an arch across the literary cultural course of the twentieth century, in order to show the positive aspects as well as the rifts and conflicts of Austrian literature. Our aim is not to present a self-contained unit or clearly arranged landscape, but to show points of intersection, regions of encounter and confrontation, great exoduses and silent defeats, stages of dramatic gestures and theatrical wonders, resonance rooms of overtones, a great deal of scepticism, but also many an outcry.

An observer of Austrian literature once alluded to this point and said: "The vital impulses for German literature this century came from Austrian writers." Such resolute statements are shocking, but nevertheless we do not contradict them. Readers of Austrian literature – from across its borders – are all readers of German literature. Austrian literature is alive in, and is sustained by this extended group of readers. We are also aware of the effects of this balance for us.

Those writers who write in and about Austria, have often lead tortuous lives – many were, against their will, refugees or exiles. Austria represents for many a destination, a stop-over or starting point and rarely a peaceful place.

The great diversity of Austrian literature developed within fluctuating borders, and in particular, writers have been obsessed with creating images of war and poverty. This kind of literature is rarely self-assured; more often it probes at the fragile identity lines in a doubting, ironic way. And this could possibly be where its importance lies.


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