Academic journal article German Quarterly

Shadow Lines. Austrian Literature from Freud to Kafka

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Shadow Lines. Austrian Literature from Freud to Kafka

Article excerpt

Martens, Lorna. Shadow Lines. Austrian Literature from Freud to Kafka. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1996. 291 pp. $43.00 hardcover.

In her attempt to delineate a "reorientation in epistemological terms" in Austrian culture, Martens focuses on the fascination with the dark area-the "space that, since Nietzsche, had been vacated by God" (233)-in Austrian texts from the 1890s to 1920s. Shadow Lines examines a dualistic paradigm according to which Austrian writers antithesize two concepts, for example, Freud's antithetical juxtaposition of the conscious and the unconscious. Martens holds that the dark area engages the imagination of writers such as Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, Musil, Kafka, Rilke, and Freud to a far greater extent than the appolinian realm of reason and enlightenment. Using Nietzsche's early preoccupation with dualities as well as his rejection of the Hegelian idea of progress as a starting point, Martens argues that the dualistic mode became the predominant pattern in Austrian writing, and she discusses its occurrence in texts of different genres in terms of temporality (past versus present) and spatiality. Martens concedes that the structures at hand are neither universally present nor exclusively found in Austrian literature. Indeed, examples from other national literatures and German texts could be easily identified. However, she maintains, the preoccupation with antithetical structures is more obsessive in Austrian writing. Martens explores different guises of the "dark area" in Austrian texts: in linguistic terms Wittgenstein configures it as the realm of the unspeakable, in psychological terms it appears as the un- or subconscious in Freud, categories that play a major role literary texts.

Undoubtedly Martens's approach to defining Austrian specificity is intriguing, but it is not unproblematic-relying on a single structural figure or phenomenon never is. Re-reading texts by non-Austrians as different as Thomas Mann, Gerhart Hauptmann, Bertolt Brecht, and Else Lasker-Schuler would bring to light similar constellations. Moreover, privileging textual structures at the expense of the larger cultural and historical context (which, of course, has received attention by other critics) leads to the exclusion of antithetically constructed categories no less central to the literature of the time (and fin-de-siecle and post World War I Vienna politics). Some of these are Jewishness and anti-Semitism, masculinity and femininity, East and West, and, inasmuch as it existed, Austrian colonial discourse and exoticism. …

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