From Stefan Zweig in Britain and China to Digital Literature in Austria – looking back at (and beyond) an eventful Spring Season 2012


Marking season is almost over, colleagues at academic insitutions all over the UK are slowly returning from piles of essays and exams to their other jobs of examining, researching, editing and ‘conference-ing’. In Austrian Studies we are looking back at an ever so eventful first annual quarter of  seminar talks, conferences, workshops, readings, film screenings and concerts.

Still to come this year is the big and exciting “Jelinek in the Arena” event at Lancaster University, organized by Allyson Fiddler, which had its ‘Auftakt’ with a staged reading of the English translation of Jelinek’s “Sports Play by Penny Black and Karen Juers-Munby, directed by Vanda Butkovic and performed by the actors of the Just A Must-Company yesterday evening at the Austrian Cultural Forum. The press release says “Jelinek explores the marketing and sale of human bodies and emotions in sports with angry wit, questioning our obsession with fitness, body image and high performance at any cost. Sport is seen as a medium for fanaticism, as a form of war in peacetime”, a statement that will surely resonate with everyone who is casting a critical glance at the hype around the upcoming Olympics. But alas, all in love (and sports) is (supposed to be) fair!

The Ingeborg Bachmann Centre for Austrian Literature saw a string of interesting and stimulating research events this half-season, starting with Arnhilt Hoefle‘s Seminar Talk on “Austrian Literature recieved in China” on 22 February, which formed part of a new series half-ironically named “AUT of the Box”. Arnhilt, who is pursuing a PhD on ‘ The reception of Stefan Zweig in China’ that is jointly supervised by the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies (IGRS) at the School of Advanced Studies and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), both at the university of London, gave us a fascinating insight into the reception and dissemination practices of writers such as Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek and Stefan Zweig in China. Her results of her ongoing study of the writers’ impact on Chinese literary culture are indeed puzzling and we are certainly looking forward to her finished study.

In April, the conference Lit.Net Austria – The net as theme, aesthetic paradigms and communicative tool in literary Austria”, co-organized by myself and Jeanine Tuschling (Aston University Birmingham) brought distinguished experts in the field of digital German and Austrian literature to London, such as Peter Gendolla (Siegen) or Norbert Bachleitner (Vienna) and Renate Giacomuzzi (Innsbruck). On two days, we discussed digital and pre-digital literary forms, authorial representations and, among other things, the question of aesthetic preconditions for literature on the net. It is fair to say, that the term digital literature does not seem to have been fully adopted by the Austrian Germanistik yet, despite important publications by Norbert Bachleitner, Renate Giacomuzzi, Stefan Neuhaus (Innsbruck), Christine Grond (Vienna) a.o. and the continuous  and highly intriguing efforts by critics such as Christiane Zintzen with her project in/ad/ae/qu/at. The conference established once more the need for a more extensive research of the internet’s impact on the aesthetic and the socio-cultural aspects of literature and literary traditions – and all that in the absence of prejudice. After all, the papers presented at this research event proved that there is a lot of theoretical potential in concentrating on net-structures, networks or the metamorphotic qualities of texts and authorship – also with respect to pre-digital texts and authorial performances, such as H.C. Artmann’s avantgardist texts or Ingeborg Bachmann’s web-motifs in “Der Fall Franza”, as shown by comparatist Marcela Pozarek (QMUL). The event was rounded off by Tobias Heinrich’ presentation of a new project by the Viennese Ludwig Boltzmann Institut for the History and Theory of Biography, namely a digital biography of Austrian Avantgardist writer Ernst Jandl. Read Martin Prechelmacher’s review of the DVD here.

On 19 April, literary critic and net-worker Beat Mazenauer (Zurich, Vienna, the Web), co-founder of the Swiss Cultural Ministry (an art project that has been mistaken by foreign governments for the official state representative of Swiss Cultural Affairs) and the virtual library, came to London to talk about his projects and initiatives and to present ways of communicating literature through and on the internet. Author and journalist Ann Morgan reported in the Huffington Post about the event. You can get an impression on Beat’s work and projects by looking at his website, where he describes his activities in an English thread especially created for the event.

April went, May came and with it the annual IBC Postgraduate Conference on 24 May. This year the conference was more of an intense colloqiuum, much to the benefit of everybody attending. All in all, four papers were given by research students who were at different stages of their PhD’s: Max Haberich (Cambridge) presented his analysis of the political and socio-historical context of Arthur Schnitzler’s play “Professor Bernhardi”, looking at Schnitzler’s critique of institutional anti-Semitism at the time and the way the author’s biographical and intellectual background informed the construction of the play. Max, who is currently researching the relation between Schnitzler and his contemporary, the theatre-critic Jacob Wassermann, showed how effective a contextual critical discourse analysis could be applied to works that have been around for more than a century. In a way, it is a poetic critical discourse analysis that will presumably inform the research of Rosie MacLeod (Bangor). Rosie, in her first year of her PhD, presented a paper on the aspect of suffering in Ingeborg Bachmann’s works,  looking at the way Bachmann critically writes on war that is wrongly glorified and an understanding of “Heimat” that is the product of the suffering of its people. Another side of suffering also plays a role in the research of Dilek Batmaz (Bangor), who writes her PhD thesis on forms of “taboo” in several German texts, among them – for good reasons –  Elfriede Jelinek’s “Lust”. Dilek presented a fascinating paper on Jelinek’s art of de-mythologizing the notions of ‘Heimat’ and tradition in a Barthesian sense, by breaking linguistic taboos, by depicting taboo-breaking characters and perverted power relations between the sexes. If you think that the programme was rather heterogenous, the fact that the fourth paper by Nazli Nikjamal (QMUL) dealt with Stefan Zweig and the reception of his works in the Iran will probably not change your mind. However, the topic can be linked to the other four by emphasising the aspect of the taboo as such. Schnitzler’s writing was indeed informed by the discursive and social taboo to unveil anti-Semitic tendencies in instiutions and public life in Austria at the turn of the century; Ingeborg Bachmann dealt with the taboo of the lost war, and the way Elfriede Jelinek’s work is linked to the topic is fairly obvious. Nazli’s MA thesis discussed Stefan Zweig’s reception in a culture that is constructed on religious and societal taboos. The reception of foreign literature in the Iran is, of course, closely linked to the political developments in the country and to periods of internal stability. On a diagram Nazli presented,  it was clear to see that, as soon as the Islamic Revolution set in in 1975, the translation of foreign literature, and thus of Stefan Zweig (who apparently is hugely popular in many anti-democratic and politically instable countries), came to a complete halt. Only in 1989, translation and reception re-started, never re-gaining the impact it had before 1960.

In the year of the 70th anniversary of his tragic death, Stefan Zweig (born 28 November 1881 in Vienna – died 22 Februar 1942 in Petropolis, Brazil) is in the centre of attention in the Austrian Studies Community, as well as of the public. From Oliver Matuschek’s Zweig biography that proved a hit with the British press and readership in translation (“Three Lives. A Biography of Stefan Zweig, translated by Allan Blunden“), to Nicholas Lezard‘s positive Zweig reviews and Michael Hofmann’s  and Stuart Walton’s fairly negative views on the writer – Stefan Zweig certainly is on the public radar as a writer that, after all, left a lasting impression, especially through Anthea Bell’s translations. Only recently, the trainer of the England Football Squad, Roy Hodgson, declared his admiration for Zweig’s novel “Beware of Pity” (orig. “Ungeduld des Herzens”, 1938), prompting Martin Fricker from the Daily Mirror to the following comment: ” Most football fans would hazard a guess that Milan Kundera and Stefan Zweig are the latest foreign superstars being lined up for a move to the Premier League.” Stefan Zweig belongs to the Premiere League of World Literature after all, which is not only honoured by the fact that his work features in PhD theses, but also by the success of the conference “Stefan Zweig and Britain” (6-8 June), jointly organized by the British Library, the Internationale Stefan Zweig Gesellschaft (Salzburg University), the Ingeborg Bachmann Centre for Austrian Literature (Institute of Germanic & Romance Languages), the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Austrian Embassy London,  the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations (Queen Mary University of London) and the Leo Baeck Institute London. You will find separate posts on the various aspects and discussions during this event on AustrianresearchUK, because Zweig’s works, his achievements and his legacy have been discussed critically and approached from various angles. To get a taste of the event, you can listen to the two keynote lectures by Richard Dove (London) and Mark Gelber (Beer Sheva) on the website of the Backdoor Broadcasting Company, one of our partners when it comes to digital recording of academic events. Just click on the names to listen to the recordings: Mark Gelber and Richard Dove.

On 30 May, the historian Peter Pirker (University of Vienna) gave a fascinating seminar talk on the topic of ‘Austrian literary documentation of serving and deserting the Wehrmacht‘, which proved to be particularly popular with the British public outside Higher Education. Peter Pirker looked at the theme of desertion in literature from a historian perspective, skilfully combining his own research on Geschichtsschreibung with Klaus Ammann’s results on a literary history of texts about desertion. As a Carinthian, Peter Pirker can relate to the difficulties of generating a public discourse about the people’s involvment in war activities from first-hand experience. As a researcher he presented us with a fascinating insight in a public discourse about war where desertion is still more or less absent and informed the interested audience about art initiatives that create memorials for deserters and thus impact the discourse.

Last but not least, we also have been very lucky to welcome the Austrian writer Doron Rabinovici in the UK. Doron stayed with us for two weeks (23 May to 6 June) as this year’s IBC Writer-in-Residence. He gave two readings, one at the Austrian Cultural Forum on 24 May, and another one at the University of Kent, where Deborah Holmes invited Doron to read from his most recent novel “Andernorts” and take part in a translation workshop. Doron’s stauts as a historian and as a Jewish-Austrian writer (his works include: “Papirnik“, short stories; “Suche nach M.”, novel; “Ohnehin“, novel a.o.) figures prominently in his work and he also is one of the few Jewish-Austrian public intellectuals, frequently taking part in political discussions regarding Austria’s past, Jewish identity in Europe and Israel, and daily Austrian politics. We are particularly proud that he agreed to meet with me and Daniel Wildmann (Leo Baeck Institute London) on a warm May evening at the IGRS to have a conversation about what it means to have a Jewish-Austrian identity and how and why he wrote “Andernorts” (“Elsewhere”, which will appear soon in a formidable translation by Tess Lewis). If you can forgive us our accents, you will soon be able to listen to the conversation by clicking on a few links that will be posted in due course! For  a recording of Doron’s reading at the Austrian Cultural Forum London click here.

It’s only June and we are still looking at a number of Austrian Culture and Literature related events and discussions before the Summer break. Watch this space for inspiring contributions by colleagues from all over the world!

(Heide Kunzelmann)

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