Academic journal article German Quarterly

Estranging Memory in Ilse Aichinger1

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Estranging Memory in Ilse Aichinger1

Article excerpt

In Vienna during the Second World War, Use Aichinger was identified by the National Socialists as a "first degree half-breed," having a non-Jewish father and a mother who was classified as Jewish. Aichinger, born in 1921, avoided being deported, as did her mother, who was protected as Aichinger's guardian. Her grandmother and her mother's younger siblings did not survive. Her 1948 novel Die grüßere Hoffnung is one of the first novels to present the National Socialist persecution and murder of European Jewry, and an early version of one of that work's chapters, published on September 1, 1945, in the Wiener Kurier, is the first Austrian literary publication to speak about the concentration camps. So it is no exaggeration for the literary critic Richard Reichensperger to claim, "Use Aichinger is the beginning of post-war Austrian literature." Besides this historical position, Aichinger stands out because of how she presents and reflects on memory in a wide range of genres in her relatively small body of writing published over a span of sixty years, from her only novel to her slim volume of poetry, from texts in poetics to short stories, radio plays, aphorisms, and her multiple series of articles that have appeared in the Viennese daily Der Siandard. The determination of the place and function of memory in Aichinger's works is essential, because her experience as a survivor of persecution has been important for her critical reception and, more importantly, remains an essential aspect of her understanding of the very act of writing.

In a 1954 essay, Aichinger describes as one of the results of recent history a "new" perspective, which she calls "die Sicht der Entfremdung" and which has uncanny effects on those who understand its import: "Fast allé von uns haben diesen Preis in den vergangenen Jahren bezahlt, aber nur die wenigsten haben begriffen, wofür, haben sich selbst als Schatten gegen die Sterne begriffen, als etwas ungeheuer Fremdes, das Nächste als das Fernste und die Heimat als die Fremde, die sie zugleich ist" (Kurzschlüsse 60). This transformation of the self into something "ungeheuer Fremdes" shows her distance from recent theories that equate memory with identity, a link that this article aims to call into question.

Memory estranges. It creates an alienating discontinuity, and it is in this sense that one must read Aichinger's remarks in an interview on the necessity of memory: " [U]nsere Erinnerung genügt nicht; die Toten müssen sich an uns erinnern, darauf kommt es an. Wir erinnern uns natürlich an die Toten, aber es muß ein Gegenspiel sein" (Esser 56). In memory, the living maintain a relation with the dead that, for Aichinger, is also a relation of the dead to us, made possible by their experience, while alive, of the moment as split and thus always also containing a relation to the future. If a moment can be remembered, it must have a relation to memory already as it is experienced, as Aichinger implies in an aphorism about the consequences of this relation's absence: "Von der Erinnerung an den gegenwärtigen Augenblick abgeschnitten damit auch von der Möglichkeit der Erinnerung an andere Augenblicke" (Kleist 84). This necessary opening of experience to memory means that the moment is not identical to itself and thus also opened up to "hope," an important term in many of Aichinger's texts: "Die Erinnerung an den Augenblick ist der Hoffnung des Augenblicks gleichzusetzen," Aichinger writes in another aphorism, because hope and memory depend on the moment's noncoincidence with itself (Kleist 84). But the existence of hope and memory is not guaranteed, which is why Aichinger writes in "Kleist, Moos, Fasane" that hope can only be had "sometimes" and that memory cannot fully "grasp itself" (18). Hope is a task, she implies in her 2001 book Film und Verhängnis: "[W]er schenkt solche Hoffnungen, und vor allem: Wer begrundet sie taglich neu?" (45)

In an interview, she is asked what happens if the "Gegenspiel" of memory does not take place: "Da mufi man den Mut haben, sich ins unbetretene Gebiet zu begeben" (Esser 56). …

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