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In the Shadow of Empire

In the Shadow of Empire: Austrian Experiences of Modernity in the Writings of Musil, Roth, and Bachmann

Malcolm Spencer
Volume: 23
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    In the Shadow of Empire
    Book Description:

    Austria was not the only European country whose old order disintegrated in the early twentieth century, giving way to the crisis of modernity, nor the only country whose literature bears the marks of this crisis. But modernity's onset was experienced diff

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-800-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Negotiating Modernity in the Austrian Context
    (pp. 1-44)

    This study examines the crisis of modernity in Austria as reflected in fiction written by Austrian authors between 1920 and 1970. Although Karl Kraus called Austria a “Versuchsstation des Weltuntergangs,” it was only one of many such “laboratories” in which the old order disintegrated: the crisis was universal and the main themes of the fiction examined here are commonly found in other European literatures of the period.¹ This study will, however, demonstrate that the arrival of modernity was experienced in Austria in a particular way. It will also show that the different interpretations of the dilemmas of modernity offered by...

  6. 1: Modernity, Nationalism, and the Austrian Crisis
    (pp. 45-64)

    In the introduction to this study I outlined some of the aspects of modernity that impacted Austria in the early twentieth century and gave rise to an acute sense of cultural and political crisis in central Europe: the sense of living in the shell of a spiritually empty ancien régime whose path into the modern era appeared structurally blocked; the awareness among intellectuals critical of the government that Austria constituted a particularly evident case of fragmentation, in contrast to which the moribund Habsburg realm paradoxically symbolized the very totality that had for them been irrevocably lost. The nature of modernity...

  7. 2: Vater, Landesvater, Gottvater: Musil and the Ancien Régime
    (pp. 65-114)

    The ancien régime was, in Musil’s opinion, an interlocking patriarchy. A gradual but inexorable process of erosion of authority brought about its decline and fall, leading to a general crisis, a facet of the modern condition that may be characterized as “fatherless-ness.” The First World War literally produced that condition in the millions of missing fathers, but it was also a spiritual condition for which Austria, lacking an emperor, was a compelling example. Broch summed up the absence of authority in his image of empty Hoflogen and Hofwartesalons, understood as symbols of the “leergewordene Schema der monarchischen Barockgeste.”¹ The crisis...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 115-118)
  9. 3: Hans Sepp, Feuermaul, and Schmeisser: Enemies of the Empire in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften
    (pp. 119-150)

    An early chapter of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften records Ulrich’s and Walter’s youthful reading: “Nietzsche, Altenberg, Dostojewski oder wen immer sie gerade gelesen hatten.”¹ Nietzsche, the preeminent analyst of modernity, exercised a paramount influence on critical intellectuals who grew up before 1914. Charlotte Dresler-Brumme notes that no other author is named and quoted in the novel as often as the philosopher, and that from 1928 until his death there is no year in Musil’s diary without entries relating to Nietzsche.² Musil’s belief — evident in the first book of his novel — that decadence is connected with fragmentation, incoherence, and a time...

  10. 4: “Europe is committing suicide”: Joseph Roth’s Radetzkymarsch
    (pp. 151-192)

    Part 3 of Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften and Roth’s Radetzkymarsch were both published in late 1932. Both works are ostensibly set in imperial Austria: Musil’s in the twelve months from August 1913 until the outbreak of war; Roth’s in the closing decades of the empire. Both authors had grown up in that empire, served in the Austrian army (in Roth’s case, with no actual front-line experience), and witnessed the dissolution of the empire in 1918. Despite these external similarities, it would be hard to imagine two more different novels. To begin with the difference that is most apparent to...

  11. 5: “How much home does a person need?”: Ingeborg Bachmann’s “Drei Wege zum See”
    (pp. 193-228)

    Jean Améry’s question, which serves as the main title of this chapter,¹ is of great relevance to this study. Roth’s concerns with homelessness and exile set against the fall of the monarchy are wholly understandable in the context of his own uprooted life and times. When he wrote an essay on Grillparzer in a hotel room in Paris in 1937, with National Socialism poised to occupy and subsequently destroy the former Habsburg lands, he was not pursuing an academic interest but rather fulfilling an existential need. He had, after all, grown up in the monarchy, as had Heimito von Doderer...

  12. Conclusion: Austria and the Transition to Modernity
    (pp. 229-238)

    This study began with an examination of the extreme difficulty of defining the concept of “modernity.” Fredric Jameson concluded that it was not a concept at all but a “narrative category,” that it should be used to describe the thinking and sensibility of an age that considers itself different from the age that preceded it. At the outset it was also asserted that the notion of modernity could only have meaning when it was anchored in a particular historical context. These two considerations can be combined in a general conclusion about the modernization of Austria, namely, that the two “ages”...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-254)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-255)