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Imperial Messages

Imperial Messages: Orientalism as Self-Critique in the Habsburg Fin de Siècle

Robert Lemon
Volume: 101
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Imperial Messages
    Book Description:

    In recent years a debate has arisen on the applicability of postcolonial theory to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some have argued that Austria-Hungary's lack of overseas territories renders the concepts of colonialism and postcolonialism irrelevant, while others have cited the quasi-colonial attitudes of the Viennese elite towards the various "subject peoples" of the empire as a point of comparison. ‘Imperial Messages’ applies postcolonial theory to works of orientalist fiction by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Robert Musil, and Franz Kafka, all subjects of the empire, challenging Edward Said's notion that orientalism invariably acts in the ideological service of European colonialism. It argues that these Habsburg authors employ oriental motifs not to promulgate Western hegemony, but to engage in self-reflection and self-critique, including critique of the foundational concepts of orientalist discourse itself. By providing detailed textual analyses of canonical works of Austrian Modernism, including Hofmannsthal's "Tale of the 672nd Night," Musil's ‘Young Törless’, and Kafka's "In the Penal Colony," the book not only offers new postcolonial readings of these Austrian works, but also shows how they question the conventional postcolonial and post-Saidian view of orientalism as a purely hegemonic discourse. Robert Lemon is Assistant Professor of German at the University of Oklahoma.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-755-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    “Orientalism as self-critique”: the juxtaposition of these terms warrants immediate explanation. In his groundbreaking study Orientalism (1978) Edward Said at once defines and denounces orientalism as a hegemonic discourse, “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”¹ As the ideological cohort to occidental imperialism, orientalism as described by Said appears to be exclusively concerned with European self-aggrandizement rather than self-critique, invariably casting the Orient as the feeble Other dominated by the mighty West (40). However, in recent years, some postcolonial critics have argued against such a monolithic interpretation. Indeed, for Ziauddin Sardar, Said’s elision of diversity...

  6. 1: Empiricist Empires: Hofmannsthal’s Domestic Orientalism
    (pp. 15-51)

    Hofmannsthal’s early works are imbued with a tremulous yet torpid aestheticism that seems at first glance far removed from the harsh reality of late nineteenth-century imperialism. It is therefore surprising to discover that some of his early texts, most noticeably “Das Märchen der 672. Nacht” (The Tale of Night 672, 1895) and the poetic monologue “Der Kaiser von China spricht” (The Emperor of China Speaks, 1897), draw upon orientalist topoi, and thus participate in the discourse that, according to Edward Said, consistently acts as the ideological cohort of Western colonialism. However, we must remember that, unlike the British and French...

  7. 2: Empirical Mysticism and Imperial Mystique: Orientalism in Musil’s Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß
    (pp. 52-72)

    “Eine kleine Station an der Strecke, welche nach Rußland führt” (T, 7; It was a small station on the long railroad to Russia, YT, 1). The first sentence of Robert Musil’s first novel, Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß (translated as Young Törless, but literally The Confusions of the Boarding Student Törless, 1906), opens up a vista to the East, which, although literally unexplored within the diegesis, nevertheless suggests a thematic trajectory for the work and for the following reading of it. In the early twentieth century German-speaking Central Europe often consigned Russia to Asia rather than Europe, and thereby to...

  8. 3: The Sovereign Subject under Siege: Ethnology and Ethnocentrism in Kafka’s “Description of a Struggle,” “Jackals und Arabs,” and “In the Penal Colony”
    (pp. 73-117)

    In the seminal essay “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (1969), Jacques Derrida makes the following aside concerning the origin of ethnology:

    One can assume that ethnology could have been born as a science only at the moment when a decentering had come about: at the moment when European culture — and, in consequence, the history of metaphysics and of its concepts — had been dislocated, driven from its locus and forced to stop considering itself as the culture of reference.¹

    Conversely, as a practitioner of a “primarily . . . European science employing traditional...

  9. 4: The Contingent Continent: Kafka’s China in “Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer” and “Ein altes Blatt”
    (pp. 118-144)

    In the preface to The Order of Things Foucault cites an essay by Borges¹ in which “a certain Chinese encyclopaedia” offers the following classification for animals:

    (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camel hair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.²

    By quoting this passage Foucault suggests the contingent and arbitrary nature of our own systems of...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 145-152)

    The self-critical tendency found in the orientalist fictions of Hofmannsthal, Musil, and Kafka poses a significant challenge to the conventional notion of orientalism as formulated by Edward Said. For these texts manifest two basic modes of self-critique, both of which refute central premises of the Saidian conception of the discourse. First, in implying an analogous relationship between Occident and Orient these works subvert the fundamental orientalist notions of an East/West dichotomy and of European superiority. Second, in those texts with Eastern settings or figures, the use of orientalist tropes and topoi to allude to the “eastern empire” of Austria Hungary...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 153-164)
  12. Index
    (pp. 165-172)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 173-173)