Austria between Utopia and Dystopia in Austrian, German, and American Post-Exile Writings.

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Exile, in the sense of a literal forced transgression of borders due to persecution during the time of the Nazi regime, has fostered a broad range of “post-exile writings” in which the present generation “fictionally recreat[es] the experiences of their elders” (Stern, 1994). These writings can be understood as a distinct variation of postmemory (Hirsch, 1997) in which the children and grandchildren of the expelled individuals fictionally cross the borderlines back to the lost homeland of Austria and former parts of the Austrian empire. The post-exile novels of Anna Mitgutsch (2000) Barbara Honigmann (1999) and Daniel Mendelsohn (2007), which are object of this paper, illustrate three different modes of adopting Austria as a place of origin, thereby producing imaginaries of Austria which oscillate between utopia and dystopia.
His entire life, the photograph of his mother’s house in H. - a small town in Austria – has had a central place in each of the homes of the protagonist in Mitgutsch’s novel Haus der Kindheit and has turned each of those homes “zu einem weiterem Ort des Exils (7).” Upon finally returning to his mother’s hometown, he has to realize that the relationship between him and the Austrian population is poisoned by mutual hostility and mistrust. The utopian image of Austria he used to be attached to crumbles along with his feeling of belonging to Austria. The autobiographical protagonist of Mendelsohn’s novel The Lost, on the other hand, may be understood as an example of American descendants of Eastern European Jews who, according to Bos (2006), creates a utopian romance of a more ‘authentic’ life in the sthetl, while simultaneously conflating it with images of the Holocaust. Even though the idyll is destroyed, the unified and mythic memory of the sthetl serves as the ground for a “strengthened Jewish identity of the basis of nostalgia (Bos, 200: 97).” Finally, the autofictional protagonist of Barbara Honigmann’s novel Damals Dann und Danach reaches the insight that to her mother, Vienna ceased to be the identity-giving place of origin from the moment she had to flee the country. Instead of trying to unveil her own “verborgene Herkunft” (97) in Vienna, the autofictional protagonist understands the city as one among many islands of exile which her family has inhabited over the centuries, and thus engages in a mnemonic process that ceases to depend on national borderlines but rather “unfold(s) across and beyond cultures” (Erll, 2011:9).
Original languageDanish
Publication date25 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2015

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