Academic journal article German Quarterly

Disinclination/Appropriation/Poetization: Hugo Von Hofmannsthal's Evolving Engagement with Poland and Polish Galicia before, during, and after the Great War

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Disinclination/Appropriation/Poetization: Hugo Von Hofmannsthal's Evolving Engagement with Poland and Polish Galicia before, during, and after the Great War

Article excerpt

Hugo von Hofmannsthal's perspectives concerning Poland and Polish Galicia can be divided into three rather disparate stages. The alterations were a direct result of his nation's changing geo-political relationship to these regions during the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Before the Great War, Galicia was a crownland within the Austro-Hungarian Empire governed from Vienna. In the late 1890s, when Hofmannsthal engaged in military service in Galicia, he found conditions there unrelentingly dreary, dirty, and miserable, as he notes in a letter to Leopold von Andrian dated 4 May 1896. During this phase of disinclination, life in Galicia makes him indolent and downcast (63-64). In the course of the war, Hofmannsthal wrote a number of journalistic essays such as "Geist der Karpathen" and "Unsere Militärverwaltung in Polen" (both from 1915), in which he imbues the Polish lands with a paracolonially inflected link to Austria. Hofmannsthal morally appropriates these lands by highlighting the putative skill of Austria, through its spiritual and political "flexibility," in coexisting with ethnically diverse populations and by underscoring his nation's blood sacrifices there. In his two most famous comedies written during and shortly after the war, Der Schwierige (begun in 1910, completed in 1919, and first performed in 1921) and Der Unbestechliche (written in 1922 and first performed in 1923), the former Galician crownland is briefly poeticized as, respectively, a spiritual oasis through its generation of masculine martial camaraderie and as a natural, untamed land. In the three versions of Der Turm (published in 1925, 1927, and 1928), Hofmannsthal radically repoeticizes the Polish milieu of his key source, Calderón's La vida es sueño (completed and first performed in 1635). Hofmannsthal reworks Calderón's drama in a manner that invests the landscape with both its relatively recent history and Hofmannsthal's own political proclivities. Hofmannsthal's Poland in Der Turm constitutes a Deleuzian "smooth space" by virtue of its martial circumstances and its concomitantly unsettled, quasi-nomadic character.

Little focused attention has been paid to Hofmannsthal's political and aesthetic attitude toward Poland in general and Galicia in particular because the author's own treatment of the region tends to be cursory and somewhat indirect. Thus, in one of the few articles devoted exclusively to this subject, "Hugo von Hofmannsthals Galizische Implikationen," Stefan Simonek finds, as the title indicates, that gleaning acohesiveviewoftheauthor'sperspectiveontheregion ispossibleonlyby means of culling rather brief remarks and comparing his attitude toward the Galician crownland with his view of other provinces within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Thus, Simonek argues that, already somewhat early in his career, Hofmannsthal came to the conclusion that Poland, considered as a totality inclusive of the Russian-dominated so-called "Congress Poland," constituted an empire itself and so could not be part of Hofmannsthal's vision of a greater, albeit imaginary, map of Austria. This is in contrast to his view of the Bohemian lands; Hofmannsthal was shocked and dismayed at evidence of Czech nationalism among intellectuals, including those with whom he corresponded, and felt the loss of this territory after the war much more painfully than that of Polish Galicia. Simonek argues well for this perspective, citing, for example, the following passage from a letter to Hermann Bahr dated 20 October 1914: "Die Länder polnischer Zunge nehmen wir nicht auf; ihre Geschichte ist polnische Geschichte, nicht österreichische, sie fühlen sich auch nicht zuuns gehörig." This lettermirrors, andwas perhaps influenced by,theview of Leopold von Andrian. In a letter to Hofmannsthal dated 18 September 1913, Andrian had noted, albeit less emphatically than his friend in thelater letter to Bahr, that the Poles and Romanians, unlike the Hungarians, Bohemians, and Croats, among others,donot belongtothesolidandindispensablecoreofgreaterAustria. …

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