A commentary by Florian Krobb (National University of Ireland Maynooth), Editor of Austrian Studies
I don’t even know what a blog is, I have never read one nor contributed to one. Wikipedia defines it as ‘a discussion or information site published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order so the most recent appears first’. The article also mentions edited multi-author blogs and that the combination of a number of blogs would serve the function of what they call ‘societal newsrooms’. Blogs, I understand, serve a community of a certain description; they can contribute to the inner coherence of an existing community or become instrumental in forging a new community. Or it represents an individual’s or a community’s views to the outside world.
An Austrian Studies community in Britain and Ireland undoubtedly exists; I would count everyone engaged in teaching Austrian subject matter or in research on any aspect of Austrian culture as potentially belonging to it. More precisely, I would count among it everybody who knows of and uses any of the institutions of the existing, on the whole quite excellent, Austrian Studies infrastructure. Even though the academic community has over the years lost several focal points for the study of Austria and her culture (the website of the Oxford Austrian and Central European Studies Association was last updated in January 2006; the Centre for Austrian Studies at the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh seems to be defunct; a web portal for Austrian research existed some years ago but is currently nowhere to be found) this infrastructure still boasts a number of important institutions: the Austrian Cultural Forum in London’s Rutland Gate, the Ingeborg Bachmann Centre for Austrian Literature in the University of London’s School of Advanced Study’s Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, the Modern Humanities Research Association yearbook Austrian Studies, and probably some others that I am not familiar with. However, in contrast to the Austrian Studies Association (until recently Modern Austrian Literature and Culture Association) active in the US and Canada, there is no institutional umbrella to coordinate, initiate and perhaps even facilitate various Austria-related activities. Instead, the community of teachers and researchers engaged in Austrian Studies is very loose, broad and non-exclusive (since every colleague interested in, say, Austrian music, architecture or literature, would probably also work on other than Austrian subject matter). Austrian Studies straddles many disciplines; to name but a few obvious ones: Music, History, History of Art and Architecture, Literary and Cultural Studies. Austrian Study’s geographic and chronological definition is, and has to be, flexible and fluid, encompassing in the more recent period the territory of the twp Austrian republics, extending to all of the Habsburg lands as we move back to before 1918, and concerning during the Middle Ages those parts inside and (increasingly) outside the Holy Roman Empire that would develop into Austria-Habsburg. But even such a crude designation is faulty since, for example, the study of an Austrian legacy (literary, architecturally, etc.) in territories held by the Habsburg dynasty until 1918 would be seen to fall into the remit of Austrian Studies. And other demarcations are similarly insecure; for example, a lot of Italian history is entangled with Austrian history; Trieste as the most important Austrian seaport was undoubtedly an Austrian place, and the Prince of Guastalla in Schnitzler’s Der Weg ins Freie is probably one of the most k. und k. (and thereby Austrian) shadows in Austrian
Without being hegemonic, without ever claiming that certain subject matter would be the exclusive domain of Austrian Studies, the broadest possible interpretation of what counts as Austrian, k. und k., or Habsburg thus needs to be applied, and this makes the ‘community’ even broader and looser. So, one of the main purposes an Austrian blog might fulfil is to provide an umbrella for this broadest of churches (to crudely mix my metaphors) and facilitate exchange between its members. It would be good if the blog could provide new impetus to Austrian Studies in Britain and Ireland in the following four areas: (a) Bring current cultural trends, new literature (belles lettres and factual), films, theatre productions to a British and Irish (or general English-speaking) audience’s attention through reviews and reports. (b) Share ideas for teaching Austria. Almost one and a half decades ago, Michael Anthony Rogers has passionately argued the virtues of Austrian Studies in the context of modern languages degrees, since the study of regional peculiarities is nowhere as rewarding and revealing as in the Austrian context, since the interplay between mythologizing one’s culture and concurrently undermining the (self-) inflated imagology is nowhere as pronounced as in Austria (The Case for Specialist Studies: Austrian Studies; or The Exception and the Rule. In: Peter Rolf Lutzeier (ed.): German Studies: Old and New Challenges. Undergraduate Programmes in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Oxford: Lang, 1998, p. 137-152). There is so much that makes teaching Austrian culture immensely attractive; and so many of us are doing it almost unnoticed. (c) Stimulate, assist, evaluate, even facilitate new Austrian research. Internationally, a large number of outlets are available for researchers engaged in all aspects of Austrian Studies, in German and English, with thematic emphases and without, in paper or electronic format (most importantly www.kakanien.ac.at – with its own blogs and notice boards). But the discussion of trends, the identification of opportunities for collaboration, the sharing of practical information and the discussion of the profoundest theoretical questions could all receive impetus from a lively discussion forum. Research students and early careers researchers would probably be the main contributory constituency for this aspect of the prospective blog. (d) Provide a service to the community by reporting on and announcing relevant events.
From an Irish perspective, the similarities between two small, politically neutral nations in the shadow of larger ones with which we share a language and much of our history, create an immediate sense of affinity. From a British perspective, the attraction of the strange (radical, idiosyncratic, quintessentially ‘European’) will probably exert the strongest incentive to engage with Austria (or the sheer pleasure that Austrian culture past and present exudes). For me there are a few objective points that make Austrian Studies extremely relevant at the present moment. In an age when European integration has become an ever more difficult process, when all European societies are characterised by multi-culturalism, when the relations between national and supranational organisation and identity experience something of a crisis, the study of the multinational Habsburg Empire has gained unprecedented relevance; in an age when memory and its politics play an ever more subtle role in shaping our present and future, the memory controversies in Austria not only since the Waldheim affair of the 1980s, the precarious position between victimhood and perpetration, and the asymmetry between an overpowering past in positive and negative respects and a rather mundane present – all of these, and many more aspects provide a showcases for the mechanisms of suppression and retrieval, of manipulation and provocation in our discourse on the past.
I would hope that the Austrian blog will not only provide one additional focal point for the community, but also generate increased activity in research. As editor of the yearbook Austrian Studies, I would welcome the opportunity to post Calls for Papers on the blog and advertise recent issues; I would also very much welcome submissions to forthcoming volumes from contributors or readers of the blog. Planned are, for 2014, an issue on Elfriede Jelinek and, for 2015, an issue on ‘Translation Austria’ (studies on Austrian literature and film in English translation, and on Austria as a cultural/literary system that absorbed productively, often through translation, a plethora of non-German stimuli). I would also be very keen to learn of publications in the field of Austrian Studies produced on these islands with the view of having these reviewed in the yearbook. Whatever benefits Austrian Studies in the UK and Ireland deserves support from every member of the broad community of shared interest. And in this spirit I wish the Austrian blog a long life and stimulating impact.