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Wolfgang Mller-Funk

The Architecture of Modern Culture

Culture & Conflict

Edited by
Isabel Capeloa Gil and Catherine Nesci

Volume 3

Wolfgang Mller-Funk

The Architecture of
Modern Culture

Towards a Narrative Cultural Theory

ISBN 978-3-11-028288-7
e-ISBN 978-3-11-028305-1
ISSN 2194-7104
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A CIP catalogue record for this book has been applied for at the Library of Congress.
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The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie;
detailed bibliographic data are available in the internet at
Cover image: Umbruch from the teheran series (with many thanks to the Austrian embassy
in Teheran). 2011 by Sabine Mller-Funk.
2012 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston
Typesetting: fidus Publikations-Service GmbH, Nrdlingen
Printing: Hubert & Co. Gmbh & Co. KG, Gttingen
Printed on acid free paper
Printed in Germany

Dedicated to my Drosendorf seminar students

These collected essays bring together important issues arising from my work over
the last decade on cultural analysis and cultural studies and are presented here
for the first time to an English-speaking audience. As in my German books Die
Kultur und ihre Narrative (Culture and its Narratives) and Kulturtheorie (Theory
of Culture), the first section of the volume contains essays in which narratology
is understood and developed as a key concept of and a central approach to cultural analysis. This section includes texts on the relations between narrating and
remembering and the function of narratives for the construction of individual and
collective identity. It also contains an essay that further develops my concepts of
hidden narratives.
Looking at a more systematic issue in cultural theory that goes hand in hand
with the so-called turns (the spatial turn, the performative turn), the book
develops the idea of a narrative theory of culture that is no longer exclusively
a narratology in the sense of a standard theory of literature. On the one hand,
it can be shown that narratives have both a spatial and a performative aspect.
The characters in a story all act in and on certain places and are, at the same
time, actors. On the other hand, formulating a narrative cultural theory makes
it possible to correct the lopsidedness of contemporary cultural theories that are
based only on concepts of space or performance. For example, many traditional
theories of memory, since Saint Augustine, are obsessed with the spatial aspect,
corresponding with the idea of storing and places of memory. With a narrative
theory of remembering (see chapter three) it is possible to develop the idea that
remembering is a never-ending process that includes processes of re-narrating
and changes of identities. Mikhail Bakhtin did not develop the idea of chronotopos in a systematic way, but used it rather in a metaphorical sense; nevertheless,
I think that his idea of a time in space that integrates both elements into a new
single element is still extraordinarily important for a narrative cultural theory,
combining the spatial aspect (globalisation) with the temporal one (modernity,
Narrative, like music, is based on time, and time remains a very important
factor in the era of globalisation. It is the doubled and broken time of the narrative (the time of storytelling, the time of events that is expressed by the process of
storytelling) that creates continuity and identity, a relative stability of symbolic
order, and change in constancy (and vice versa). Certain features and structures
are present in central elements of what we call culture (or Culture) narrative:
for example in creating values, in remembering and recollecting, in constructing identity, and in constructing meaning. As opposed to (Foucauldian or nonFoucauldian) discourse, narrative always entails a reference to the Lebenswelt. It



creates empathy and integrates our body into the process of constructing a symbolic world. Narrative is a very powerful maybe even the most powerful symbolic weapon in structuring a world that is always, in the end, a cultural one.
Extending and deepening central theses from the book Die Kultur und ihre Narrative (Mller-Funk 2002/2008), I argue that such a narrative theory is not only
broader than standard theories of literature because it also refers to film, visual
arts and new media (including computer games), but is also an important part of
cultural theory, because it analyses the function of narrative for the construction
of the symbolic order we call culture.
The second and the third parts of the book should be read as adaptations of
the first, theoretical part. Part 2 (Space, Time and the Global) deals with important
questions of contemporary cultural analysis such as translation, time and space,
and globalisation. The central idea is the notion of an exemplary and, at the same
time, fragmentary contribution to relevant aspects of modern culture from a narrative perspective. Part 3, The Heritage of Classical Modernism, is a collection of
close readings of (Austrian) modernist authors such as Robert Musil, Hermann
Broch and Elias Canetti, whose oeuvre can be read as cultural analysis in the
medium and form of literature. What I am interested in is the question of how far
the dialogue about modernity and modernism can be related to the mainstream
discourse in contemporary cultural studies, which very often operates on a synchronic level. In a narrative theory of culture, a historical and temporal element
automatically comes into play: the question of how to tell the story about modernism and its transfer in a globalised world. This is a topic that runs through each
of the chapters of parts two and three, for example in the study of the work of the
Japanese artist On Kawara.
In contrast to philology, the works of these and other authors are analysed
in contributions to cultural analysis. As in my book on Essayism (Mller-Funk
1995), I read The Man without Qualities as a cultural analysis in a literary form.
The same can be said of Canettis ambitious essay on power and the crowd. In the
essays on Lenau and Kafka, I connect theories of stereotype (the Aachen School,
Homi Bhabha) with a narrative approach; clearly stereotypes are based on certain
narratives in which symbolic positions are fixed. In this respect, the structure of
the book works as a network. I hope that all the essays in this book can be linked
to one another, as is the case in a network structure.
This is a book written by a German native speaker, who has received professional support by English native speakers. Following Benjamins idea of translation, I did not want to extinguish the traces of German language and Austrian
culture. These strange elements will be noticeable in the English text. What I
have in mind is that this book should be part of a cultural transfer, in a double
sense. Without my academic years in Birmingham (UK), I would never have



written this book. So it represents a transfer from the English-speaking world to

the German-speaking one. But at the same time it is a journey from Austria to the
English-speaking continents.
Among many others, I have to thank especially Chris Barber, Michael
Bhringer, Malcolm Spencer and Joanna White for correcting individual texts. My
colleague John Heath read the whole manuscript and also provided a great deal of
help in giving the book a consistent style. My theory seminars with my academic
PhD team Lena Brandauer, Daniel Bitouh, Daniela Finzi, Nicole Kandioler,
Ursula Knoll, Gerald Lind, Emilija Mancic, Matthias Schmidt, Gottfried Schndl,
Eva Schrkhuber, Alexander Sprung and others have always been a source of
intellectual inspiration, as is the case with companions and colleagues such
as Anna Babka, Marijan Bobinac, Milka Car, Michele Cometa, Pl Dereky, Heinz
Fassmann, Isabel Gil, Endre Hars, Alfrun Kliems, Ingo Lauggas, Brigitta Pesti,
Mauro Ponzi, Sonja Neef, Ansgar Nnning, Clemens Ruthner, Andrea Seidler,
Antonio Sousa Ribeiro, Heidemarie Uhl and Birgit Wagner, the spokesperson for
our working group, Cultural Studies/Kulturwissenschaften at the University of
This book has arisen out of many different places and environments: the
Gieen Centre for the Study of Culture (GSCS), where I was senior scholar in 2009;
my scholarship at GWZO (Leipzig University 2010) and at Trinity College in Dublin
2012; an academic residence in Lisbon and Coimbra; and a series of lectures in
2011, organised by the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York and Los Angeles.
The last work on the book has been done during my research fellowship at
the Trinity College in Dublin in September 2012. So, I would like to thank Jrgen
Barkhoff, the director of Long Room Hub, including his kind and professional
team, and Clemens Ruthner, the director of Research at the School of Languages,
Literatures and Cultural Studies.
Modern literary theory has taught us that authors are unable to control their
readers and the reception of their books. Nevertheless, it is possible to hope that
this book will be welcomed in foreign territory, i.e. that it will find interested
readers in the English-speaking realm.
Dublin, Vienna and Drosendorf, October 2012



Part 1
Culture and its Narratives

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative: A Transdisciplinary Discourse

The Hidden Narratives: Latency, Repression, Common Sense
On the Narratology of Cultural and CollectiveMemory



Romanticism and Nationalism: The Heroic Narrative Hermann and the

Battle for Germany
Polyphems Children: (Post-) Colonial Aspects in Western Modernity and
Murder and Monotheism: A Detective Story in Close Reading
Part 2
Space, Time and the Global



Space and Borders: Simmel, Waldenfels, Musil

Time in Modern Cultural Analysis



Walter Benjamin and the Translational Turn

The Arts and the Split of Time: On Kawara


Part 3
The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka


The Disappearing of Ruins: Thomas Glavinics The Work of the Night and an
Imaginary Symposium with Benjamin, Simmel, Freud and Foucault
Fear in Culture: Hermann Brochs Massenwahntheorie


Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd: Canetti and Broch
ATheoretical Divorce
Musils Version of Round Dance in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften


From Early Modernism to the Late Avant-garde Movement: The Austrian




The Broken Mirror: The Construction of America in Lenau


Images of America, Made in Austria: After Lenau Franz Kafka

Austrian Literature in a Trans-cultural Context
Bibliography and References



Original place of publication of single chapters



Part 1
Culture and its Narratives

Identity, Alterity and

the Work of the Narrative
A Transdisciplinary Discourse Report
In Travelling Concepts in the Humanities, the Dutch cultural theorist Mieke Bal
develops the idea that terminologies and concepts are not stable and fixed within
a certain academic discipline, but are transferred from one academic field to
another within but also beyond the humanities (Bal 2002a, Neumann/Tygstrup 2009; Mller-Funk 2010, 332349). This suggests a dialogical relationship
between various fields of research. Moreover, it becomes striking that the same
terminology has different meanings in different disciplines. This is true for key
concepts and terms in cultural analysis such as discourse, space, and narrative,
but also for identity. There are two reasons for these different meanings. Firstly,
literary studies or art history have different references to and understandings of
cultural and social reality than, for example, history or sociology, which concentrate on practice and actions. Secondly, they have a different focal point, or in
the terminology of literary narratology another perspective, another focalisation. In other words, one can argue that the transdisciplinary field of cultural
studies and cultural analysis is also a territory in which productive dispute and
discussion can take place.
This is extremely important with regard to our topic. Identity is a typical
travelling concept; one can find discourse on identity in different schools of
philosophy, in sociology and political science, in psychoanalysis, in British cultural studies and German Kulturwissenschaften (see: Straub 2004, 277303), and
in modern literature. For example, whereas phenomenology has discussed the
problem of identity from an internal perspective, British empirical philosophy in
the tradition of John Locke and David Hume has analysed it from an external focus.
In the case of identity, this is decisive. From an internal perspective, Lucius, the
hero transformed into a donkey in a novel by the Latin writer Apuleius, remains
the same person whether he is a human being or a donkey (Bakhtin 1989, 38f).
In contrast to this internal perspective, the donkey and the human being called
Lucius are not identical as far as his social surroundings are concerned, because
a donkey and a human being cannot be identical.
Sociological functionalism and cultural constructivism also choose perspectives from outside, describing identity as an artificial and illusionary procedure
that is constitutive and necessary for social action and for ones place in a given

Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

symbolic space. In contrast to our internal experience of the uniqueness and

authenticity of our identity, the social sciences and cultural studies make clear
that this kind of self-experience is illusionary and imaginary. Here identity is
either the result of a social procedure (identification) or the result of a symbolic
Psychoanalysis as modern fiction offers an interesting in-between approach,
since in this symbolic field the focus is itself the wandering between the inside of
a patient and the outside of an emphatic person, namely the therapist (Erikson
1959/1973, 17f). And in literature, especially in modern novels, there is always the
possibility of changing perspectives and therefore of the confrontation between
inside and outside. Already on a structural level, identity can be seen here as a
dynamic phenomenon that is based on the presence of an other, the reality of an
unavoidable Other, a difference, which at the same time is a structure. In contrast
to Erikson, this has been interpreted in French structuralist and poststructuralist
theory as the end of classical identity (Descombes 1979/1981, 93).
Widening Bals concept, one can say that there are at least three levels of
travelling concept with regard to identity:
Travelling within the humanities and social sciences.
Travelling between different national cultures which have different traditions of science and culture.
Travelling between the social sciences and humanities, and literature and
the arts.
As Odo Marquard and Karlheinz Stierle have pointed out, an essential part of the
vocabulary of identity (as a person, as a role, as a mask) comes from theatre and/
or literature (Marquard 1979, 11). As we will see, the concepts are forever changing during their travels and what distinguishes one discipline from another is the
different use they make of seemingly identical terms. With regard to identity, one
can differentiate at least three journeys and shifts of concepts in general:
A journey from the social sciences to philosophy, as Odo Marquard
has pointed out in his article Identitt: Schwundtelos und Mini-Essenz.
Bemerkungen zu einer Genealogie einer aktuellen Diskussion (Disappearing Telos and Mini-Essence Remarks on the Genealogy of a Contemporary
Discussion) in the volume Identitt (Identity) in the series Poetik und Hermeneutik (Poetics and Hermeneutics). Referring to G.H. Mead and symbolic
interactionism, Marquard alludes to the multiple importation of a sociology of identity from Anglo-Saxon into German speaking academic spaces
(Marquard 1979, 349), but he also adds later that the term had previously
migrated from philosophy (Marquard 1979, 353).

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative

A theoretical import from French post-war philosophy into Anglo-Saxon

cultural studies and to contemporary cultural analysis und Kulturwissenschaften. At the centre of this transfer is the interest in the figure of the Other
and its function for identity.
A shift from modern psychology and sociology to literature (and from
literature to psychology and sociology). This refers to a type of literature
and artistic production that is used as the medium of an experimental form
of knowledge as is the case in Musil, Broch, Valry, Borges, Joseph Roth,
Proust, Frisch, Kundera, Maras and many others. Here literature is understood as a specific episteme or, to borrow from Schelling, as an intellectual
view (intellektuelle Anschauung).

In the following sections I will discuss these different approaches in the field of
German philosophy, Anglo-Saxon social sciences, French philosophy, in cultural
studies and Kulturwissenschaften, and in classical modern and postmodern literature. I will look for the interdependences and breaks which have taken place
in the in-between of these different forms of epistemai.
The title of this essay implies the simple question whether there is any identity beyond culture. And how can one describe the relationship between identity
and alterity? What is the function of the narrative aspect? I will begin with the
German philosopher Odo Marquard and later discuss Paul Ricurs concept of
two different forms of identity and his analysis of narrative identity. In a further
step, I will read two European novels, one from a modernist author, Joseph Roth,
the other from a postmodern writer, Javier Maras. Both novels have a programmatic reference to the topic itself. At the end of the essay I will try to perform the
art of differentiation with regard to our topic: culture, identity and alterity.

Marquard states that the master-word identity is a topic that has a problem with
identity. It was never a central concern of traditional philosophy; it was Schopenhauer who distinguished between personal identity, ownership and property, and representative identity (Marquard 1979, 348f). From the perspective of
(German) philosophy, identity comes from the outside or at least from its margins.
Identity always produces problems and splits. There is, for example, an official
and an unofficial identity. Especially in contemporary social science and its focus
on role distance, the accent is no longer on the true and hidden but on the hiding
Self (Marquard 1979, 350). The philosopher Marquard agrees with the sociologist Niklas Luhmann that identity is an essential issue of cultural modernity: It

Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

is absolutely necessary, Luhmann argues, for self referential complex systems

to find identity in their environment, Umwelt (Luhmann, in: Marquard 1979,
318). Identity is seen as an operation and as a functional element in modern
societies. Identity always comes into play when it is threatened by change. It is
interpreted as a substitute for traditional metaphysics, a vestige of such emotive
terms as essence (essentia) or telos. The question of absolute beginning or origin
is replaced by the problem of identity.
There are two interesting distinctions in Marquard. Firstly he speaks about
the old facets of identity as being religions, states, nations and classes, and the
new issues of identity as being reflexive, communicative and concerned with a
universal identity that undergoes permanent change (Marquard 1979, 352). I dare
say that there is a mix of old and new identity in the contemporary discussion
and discourse on culture. There are, on the one hand, suspicions regarding a universalistic concept of identity and a return to particularistic identity, yet on the
other hand, there is an insistence on the fact that this particularity is constructed,
meaning that it is part of a dynamic process, i.e. culture. Thus, identity is the
result of the breakdown of traditional terms such as essence and teleology
(Marquard 1979, 358f).
Secondly, the German philosopher also contrasts an identity of generality
with an identity of particularity. The first version has its roots in ancient Greek
philosophy, which states that every being is identical with itself. Here, identity
negates difference. In contrast, the Jewish idea of Jahwe (I am, who I am or I
am, who I will be) lives from the indefinite qualitative difference, as Marquard
points out by quoting from Kamlahs theological work (Marquard 1979, 354). The
first version of identity is beyond time (and space), the second has a strong historical aspect; it is in time and space. Or in other words, it is a constructed narrative identity. Or to put it yet another way, cultural identity in particular is always
an inscribed narrative matrix.

According to postmodern philosophy or post-structuralism, identity no longer
can be seen as the authentic kernel of a nut. This idea was central e.g. to the classical autobiography and the Bildungsroman, especially in German literature, for
example in Goethes Dichtung und Wahrheit or Wilhelm Meister, or in a Romantic
and ironic version in Eichendorffs Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts. The corresponding narrative is based on the chronotopos (Bakhtin) that after a long
period of wandering and straying, the homodiegetic narrator and protagonist
finds his/her true calling. Elias Canettis autobiography in three volumes is also

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative

based on the idea of an identity that is found at the end, a typical adaptation of
the Aristotelian idea of entelechia. It is a fixed kernel within yourself (Currie 1998,
2ff) that becomes visible at the end of the story. There is a strong deterministic
aspect to this concept of identity. In the first chapter of his life story, Elias Canetti
writes that all his later experiences had already happened earlier in Rustchuk
(Canetti 1977, 9). Compared with the classical Bildungsroman or autobiography, a
new moment comes into play that has similarities with the idea of psychoanalysis
(although Canetti, like Musil, was a harsh critic of Freud) namely, the idea that
it is the experiences in early childhood that prove formative for ones later life.
Canettis autobiography also includes the classical telos that he was predestined
to become a writer.
In all these literary examples, identity is understood more or less as a fixed
and durable element, a reliable factor in ones life, which is beyond time and
space, constant and immobile as Aristotles unmoved mover. From a narrativistic
perspective, this is itself a narrative construction of identity, a story about how a
specific human being searched and found his/her true self at the end.
There is another concept of identity in modernity, namely a social and sociological one, which describes how a person, a collective or a community finds his,
her or its place in the world of modern society. Here, man or woman is not seen
as a fixed being but is formed through the process of socialisation in institutions
such as the family or school. Identity is seen as the result of identification. His/
her identity, personality and language are the result of that process, which is seen
as integration into society and/or culture (Ruegg 1969, 229; Lohau 1995, 129161).
Eriksons theory of identity may be seen as a concept that bridges the gap
between psychoanalysis and the social sciences. Here, identity is understood as
the result of the drama of childhood but also as a complicated balancing of three
key elements of personality: the Es, the Ich and the ber-Ich, or id, ego and superego. Identity is seen as a creative synthesis between our desires and the demands
of a culture. The interesting point is that it is the figure of the father (and to some
extent of the mother) who represents the dimension of the Other on two levels:
on a personal level and a collective one. Through a complex process of identification, identity is generated on a personal and a collective level because the father
represents the super-ego (Erikson 1959/1973, 1154; Peter Lohau 1995, 30f), the
Lacanian symbolic order. In the theoretical framework of Lacans version of
psychoanalysis, personal identity is also illusionary and imaginary. However, I
would add that this does not mean that it does not represent a cultural reality.
It is the oedipal triangle that proves to be the symbolic space where the
process of identity building takes place. It entails a difficult process, which is
seen as positive integration into society and its specific symbolic order (culture).
Identity is the cornerstone of what is called socialisation: finding a place in

Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

society and culture. In contrast to Straub (Straub 2004), there is no real difference between personal and collective identity, for example an imagined community (Anderson 1991/1996). Identity is seen as the result of positive development.
Moreover, identity is the precondition of psychological health. Similar to the
concept of humanistic Bildung, identity has an extremely positive denotation and
connotation. This affirmative moment is distinguished in post-structuralism but
also in British cultural studies. Here, identity takes on a widely negative meaning.
Identity is seen as an illusionary idea and together with the double meaning of
subject a symptom of oppression by society (Straub 2004, 277f).
In the eighth chapter of Robert Musils unfinished novel Der Mann ohne
Eigenschaften (The man without qualities), the essayistic voice speaks about
the strange, unreal and uncanny configuration of Kakanien, a country in which
everybody distrusts each other. The author uses the German word Charakter in
this context in an unspecific sense that is quite similar to identity. It is mentioned
that every inhabitant of this multicultural empire has at least nine identities (or
characters): profession, nationality, state, class, geography, gender, consciousness, unconsciousness, and privacy. The last Charakter is the most interesting
one. On the one hand, it bands together all the other identities within itself; on
the other, it is dispersed by all those others. This private identity or character is
compared to a small and eroded hollow into which all the other characters drain
and out of which they then come again to fill, together with other small rivulets,
another hollow, which is defined as the passive fantasy of unfilled spaces (Musil
1978, 34).
Thus, identity disappears in Musils novel into the imaginary. Ulrich is not so
much a man without qualities, as the English translation suggests, but a man who
lives in these unfilled spaces as a man without identity. There is no longer a strict
relation to the sample of identities, rather there is a radical vacuum behind all
the qualities and characters. In the interior of modern identity there lies: nothing.
The plurality of identities undermines identity itself, it becomes an empty phenomenon, a fader (S. Weber 1978, 8597).
To a certain extent, the diagnosis in Musils novel can be understood as a parallel analysis of society and culture in the decades between 1870 and 1930 with
regard to disciplines such as sociology and psychology (Lepenies 1985, 239401).
But Musil also has something in common with post-structuralism, namely the
idea that identity is a complex, fragmented and doubled phenomenon.
As far as I can see, there is in Musil neither a focus on the symbolic aspect of
the process of identity production, nor a specific interest in the dynamic between
self and other, which goes hand in hand with this process. This is also true of
modern sociology. Yet these two aspects of identity alterity and the role of narrating have become central to the humanities and social sciences in the wake of

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative

what have been called the new cultural turns in the Kulturwissenschaften (Bachmann-Medick 2006).

In my view, Paul Ricurs contribution to this topic is remarkable, because he
has presented a new perspective in his three-volume monograph Temps et rcit
(Ricur 19831985/19881991) and a book about the relationship between selfness and otherness Soi mme comme un autre (Ricur 1990/1996). The connection between both topics is striking, although the French philosopher elaborates
on this relation in an explicit form in only one chapter of his later book, where
he differentiates between personal and narrative identity (Ricur 1990/1996,
In this book, the author discusses not only the complicated relations between
the Self and the Other but also differentiates between two aspects of identity:
Whereas identity in the sense of the Latin word idem (sameness) is connected
with constancy in time (and space), identity in the sense of the Latin ipse (selfhood) does not imply the idea of an unchangeable kernel of a personality (Ricur
1990/1996, 11). With regard to alterity, it follows that there are also two aspects
to alterity: otherness and (cultural) alterity, which correspond to sameness and
selfhood respectively. As in other concepts (for example the Lacanian dyad je
and moi), there is a double fragmentation: On the one hand, identity has two
sides that are connected and divided at the same time. On the other hand, the
Self is always split because of the priority of the Other that is written into it. It
is quite clear that the idem identity is very abstract and symbolically empty; in
contrast, the ipse identity contains positive predicates. The two elements work
as in mathematical logic: x(a), there is an x that is a. Or A=A (Marquard 1979,
360). The first identity is absolute, but like Musils it is hollow, tautological and
deictic. In Pierces terminology it is indexical (Peirce 1991: 350). As the word I
(Ich), it refers to a person but has no (explicit cultural) meaning itself. It becomes
meaningful only by the addition of the predicate (woman, worker, Austrian etc.).
Only the second, changeable aspect of identity refers to our topic: cultural identity, although one might argue that the other aspect of identity, the self-reference
that is perceived by an internal focalisation, has also affected cultural change.
It becomes important in post-traditional, modern, Western or non-Western cultures, in which every human being is required to work out this relationship to the
Self (Straub 2004, 280).
Narrative is not only a manner of speaking, a speech-act or a Sprachspiel
(Wittgenstein), but is a central element with regard to identity. It is the narra-


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

tive that integrates the two aspects of identity, the idem and the ipse, or in Marquards terminology, a general with a particular identity. Narrative generates a
configuration of events. It suggests continuity and produces sense by transforming contingency into narrative necessity (Ricur 1990/1996, 173186). Narrative
identity makes it possible to combine constancy with change. Through narrative,
one can invent or imagine possible (ipse) identities and play with them, as it is
the case in the famous Bob Seger song If I were a carpenter and you were a lady.
Or one can tell the story about the young and enthusiastic communist one was
in ones youth. Narratives of emigration also have a similar structure. Here, in
contrast to the main person the narrated I providing the stable element in
the narrative, this is instead represented by the voice of the storyteller, since the
narrated I is potentially undergoing permanent change. It is the narrative process
itself that creates identity through a complex dialectic between sameness and
selfhood, otherness and alterity. It represents continuity and therefore the aspect
of the idem, the idea of the uniqueness of a certain person, and it contains all the
metamorphoses, transformations and conversions of a person who is telling his
or her life story. The frog and the prince, the ardent communist and the harsh
conservative, Saul and Paul are connected in a paradoxical way, so that one is the
other and at the same time is not. The narrative guarantees duration in change.

As I have shown in an earlier essay (Mller-Funk 2009b, 365382; Mller-Funk,
2009a, 241261), narrating not only means telling a story, but telling a story to
someone. Sometimes this can be very abstract and not represented by the manner
of speaking (as is the case in many classical modernist novels, which often avoid
the gesture of having an empirical person narrate the story). Nevertheless, the
other is written into the configuration of the narrative matrix. There is always
a hidden I who speaks to an Other. There is always, as Mieke Bal has shown, a
dialogical element which has the structure of an abstract letter (Bal: 2002b, 743;
Mller-Funk 2010, 332349). Therefore, it also entails an ethical aspect (Ricur
1990/1996, 207246). Narrating means an invitation to identification, a plea for
recognition and especially the idea that my story is true or, in the case of literary fictions, plausible or reliable. Identity needs confirmation by the Other, who
is from a cultural perspective part of the symbolic field that is established not
least by narratives. The narrative is the unavoidable medium of this cultural procedure. Therefore, only narratives are able to create collective identities, which
are based on narrating communities, on groups of readers, who become storytellers at the same time. This kind of narrative always tells a story about who we are

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative


and who we are not. On an individual level, it creates a narrative unity of life. On
a collective level, it suggests in an act of abstraction and imagination the life
of a nation, the history of a movement, a group etc. Identity establishes a clear
order with a very often unconscious negative identity that is similar to the image
of another we fear to be or to become. It is the image of a misused castrated body,
an ethnic group or an exploited social minority (Erikson: 1959/1973, 28).
Coming back to Musils novel, what does loss of identity mean? What kind of
identity is it? These confusing and irritating cases of narrativity can be, as Ricur
argues, formulated anew in his terminology as the revelation of the ipse identity
by the loss of the idem identity that is supporting it (Ricur 1990/1996, 184). Following this argument, the hero is someone who can be characterised by interference between the two levels. In the case of anti-heroes such as Musils Ulrich or
Max Frischs Stiller, this relation is broken. Nevertheless, those works contain a
narrative that is the loss of identity and character, a master narrative of classical
modernism, one the philosopher Gnter Anders has given the title Man without
world. It is the story of alienation (Anders 1984, XI). It is part of the modern cultural laboratory in which new forms of narrating are experienced.

The idea that identity depends on the figure of the Other is, in many aspects,
an astonishingly late one. It was to be picked out as a central theme in at least
three symbolic fields: in French philosophy, in contemporary cultural analysis,
but also in modern and postmodern literature. It is literature that is best able to
present the paradoxes of identity under the circumstances of global modernity.
Joseph Roths text Beichte eines Mrders erzhlt in einer Nacht is a literary
masterpiece and an object lesson for every narrative theory because it demonstrates several important aspects of narrative configuration, of the performance
of narrating, the Sprechweise (manner of speech), but also of the function of
narrative in creating and sustaining communities. This, in particular, points to
the phenomenon that identity is always based on its opposite, alterity. The short
novel (more a novella) is set in the late 1930s in Paris and also presents the (fictional) audience, the narrative community (Erzhlgemeinschaft). This is a very
specific narrative community, namely a diaspora, here Russian anti-communist
exiles who meet each other night after night in a particular restaurant. Diasporas, which have become prominent in contemporary cultural studies (Appadurai
1996), are highly interesting narrative communities with regard to their (fragile)
identity. Emigrants live in between the old and the new identity, between the


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

symbolic space of their old national culture and of the culture of the immigration
country. Thus there is a strong and permanent need for storytelling.
In contrast to many other classical modernist writers, Roth plays with the
act of narrating itself by using a form of storytelling which seems to be very traditional in the sense of Benjamins famous essay (Benjamin 1977, 385410), but
proves to be post-traditional at the same time. Using Genettes terminology, the
novel is intradiegetic, i.e. it includes a narrative frame with two storytellers, the
embedded narrator named Golubtschik, who, night after night, tells the visitors
of Tari-Bari his fantastic life story, and a non-identifiable frame narrator, who
represents the visitors in the restaurant, but is displaced for two reasons. He presents himself to the audience and to the embedded narrator as a German writer, a
person who speaks many European languages, including Russian. Like the guests
in the Russian restaurant, he is an emigrant, but he is not part of the diasporic,
anti-communist Russian community. His identity is mysterious. The inside and
outside perspectives do not fit together. Like many other protagonists in Roths
uvre, the frame narrator is the authors double and also has a double in the
text itself. He has something in common with the author (his Central European
origins, his knowledge of foreign languages, his European attitudes, that he is
a German native speaker, that he was in Russia in World War I and that he lives
as a writer in exile in Paris). At the same time, he is also the mediator to the real
audience outside the world of the text, which is important, because this small
novel also refers to the problem of reliability. Through its figures, the novel presents three cultural spaces; Russia, France and Central Europe, which includes
Germany, Austria and Hungary.
It is also important to mention that time stands still in this exile restaurant,
firstly because there is not a specific time to order as is usually the case in French
restaurants, and secondly because the clock has stopped. Everyone (incidentally,
there are no women in the Russian restaurant) is looking clandestinely at the wall
clock, although they know that it no longer works (Roth 1984, 79). This is a rhetorical reference to a specific moment of storytelling: Narrating is an act in which
the past is preserved and suddenly becomes contemporary. During Golubtschiks
narration, present time disappears. Everyone feels as if he had experienced Golubtschiks life (Roth 1984, 47). During this night, Old Russia rises again.
But there is also another interesting aspect of cultural alterity. As an expert
of another culture, the frame narrator explains to the reader why Russian migrs
are so careless about time: it is because they have lost their cultural orientation in
exile. They are out of time because they have lost their former identity. But they
also neglect time because they want to demonstrate their cultural difference to
French culture. They play echte Russen (authentic Russians), those people
who do not have the same kind of calculating mentality as those in the West.

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative


This is a story about the insecurity of identity that is itself the result of wrong
or false stories. Entering the world of the text, we get to know the private space
of identity, a hollow filled with vacuum and fantasy, as it is described in Musils
novel. This post-Romantic prose combines the topic of wrong or false stories with
the motif of the double. There are a lot of mirroring effects: between Golubtschik
and the frame narrator, between the frame narrator and the author, between Golubtschik and his false brother Krapotkin, who proves to be a rival in love, and
between Golubtschik and the demonic Hungarian devil Jen Lakatos.
But there is also a break in identity with regard to time. Golubtschik and his
mistress Lutetia have lost their former selfhood. This becomes evident at the end
when Golubtschiks narration is caught up by time. The ugly woman who comes
for Golubtschik is none other than the former beauty, the model Lutetia. Names
and life stories are permanently changing in the novel (Roth: 1984, 123). This
creates an atmosphere of uncanniness, which Freud described in his interpretation of Hoffmanns piece Der Sandmann (The Sandman), which in turn played
a key role in Julia Kristevas definition of the strange that irritates every form of
identity (Kristeva: 1988/1990, 199202). Speaking critically, Kristeva identifies the
strange of the unconscious with the cultural strange in an undifferentiated way.
In contrast to Hoffmann, in Roth the darkness of the narrative space is
increased in so much as the embedded narrator, but also all embedded narrators within his own narration, are unreliable storytellers (Nnning: 1998, 339).
According to the narration of old Golubtschik, the embedded narrator, the young
Golubtschik is driven by the oedipal fantasy that in reality he is not the son of a
forest official, but this is an oedipal narrative is the illegitimate offspring of a
mighty, fantastically rich prince. Influenced by the devil, the obscure Hungarian
businessman and spy Jen Lakatos, he tries to gain recognition as the son of this
prince, called Krapotkin. He wants the name of his father. He spends half his life
on his obsession with becoming a Krapotkin instead of a Golubtschik. The Slavic
name has a connotation with dove. So Golubtschik means he is a cock pigeon, a
male dove. But this possibility of a metamorphosis from a small peaceful being
into a powerful person is thwarted by the official son of Prince Krapotkin. Golubtschiks insidious adviser Lakatos makes him believe that his rival is not the
real son of the Russian aristocrat. In his view, he, and not Krapotkin junior, is the
real son of the superior father. Golubtschik, the male dove, becomes a spy and
a member of the Tsarist secret service, the Okhrana. This murky field is ideal for
the disappearance of all fixed identities. He evolves to become a master at blackmail, control and betrayal. After a failed attack on his rival he has to leave the
country and continue his job in Paris. Ironically, he now adopts the pseudonym


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

There is also an interesting female protagonist in the novel, called Lutetia

this is the Latin name for Paris. The misogynistic gender construction in the text
is instructive. Lutetia, the model, the allegory of Paris, is an artificial creature, a
mask, pure performance, the broad kat exochen. Woman, especially a French
one, has no identity (Riviere: 1994, 40), only false names and stories, changing
clothes, lingerie, gestures and perfumes. Lutetia is the mere ipse without any
idem. Her restless lover, however, is also a man who failed to find an identity in
another way. This is the kernel of the narration, of his life story, of his confession.
The reliability of his story remains ambivalent. For example, he did not murder
his rival and his faithless lover, although he tried to do so. At the end, he finds his
rival again in Paris as part of the Russian community that has been expelled by
the Communist regime after the civil war. The heinous Lutetia is also still alive.
She has lost all her beauty. This is a form of revenge and, at the same time, it is a
melancholic plot of perishability. But when she enters the restaurant on that very
morning, she has a scar, a trace of the attack of her lover years ago. So this part of
Golubtschiks story might be true.
She is the same and, at the same time, she is another. The abyss of time ruins
identities that were connected by the chain of events in Golubtschiks confession. This is an indication that Golubtschiks story cannot be totally false. There is
another uncanny effect in the text when, at the end of the story, Lakatos reappears
as the frame narrators neighbour in the hotel. This ending signals the return of
the same disaster for the narrator that was so characteristic of Golubtschik. The
frame narrator has never seen Golubtschik and his narrative community again,
but Lakatos remains in this demonic world.
The story is perhaps also characteristic of the situation of a very specific
cultural minority and its fragile identity. One could relate this private story to
history, to the breakdown of patriarchal pre-modern Tsarist Russia in 1917. In this
reading, the novel could be understood as a noteworthy piece of literature with
a psychoanalytic background. It is located on the margins of space and time and
describes the transformation of a peripheral cultural region under the conditions
of a modern, non-transparent world. In this interpretation, Golubtschiks confession is an integrative part of the symbolic reservoir of a narrative community.
But it is also quite evident that Roths novel is part of the narrative complex
of alienation or, to refer to Ricur, a narrative version of the revelation of the ipse
identity through the loss of the idem identity. This could be seen as the deep structure of so-called globalisation. In different ways, the protagonists in the novel are
people without identity: Golubtschik, Lutetia and, especially, Lakatos. They still
have a certain identity, as men or women, as French, Hungarian or Russian, but
this identity is mere appearance and no longer has any supportive power.

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative


The opaque demimondes of the secret service, of fashion, but also of the
diaspora (which in Roths novel is a bleak and comfortless symbolic space) are
presented as a metaphor for the modern world. The covert ruler of this modern
uncanny dystopia is, as in other texts by Joseph Roth, the globalised Hungarian,
the entrepreneur Jen Lakatos, who, like Lutetia, is only a surface, a squire and
enchanter, a phenomenon of performance without any story with the exception that he is marked as a Hungarian and that he jumps on one leg like the devil
(Roth 1984, 31). Roths narrative version of modernity is extremely pessimistic,
conservative and demonic and one could reduce the emplotment of Roths text to
the statement that the symbolic overkill of narrative acts neutralises all serious
forms of narration. Therefore, all forms of identity have become weak and eroded;
firstly because all narrations prove to be lies, secondly because it seems that there
is no longer any need for storytelling. When Golubtschik meets his rival again in
Paris and tries to apologise for the attack years ago, Krapotik jun. answers that
he should not speak about the past, but only about the present and future (Roth
1984, 127).

There is a strong dialogical moment in Roths story about storytelling. The majority of the visitors in the restaurant already know the confession of the murderer.
Confession itself has a dialogical structure: It needs an alter ego who is the
addressee of the mysteries and shares ones life.
The Other is the instance which takes the position of a moral or juristic
instance. S/he is the one who exculpates, acquits, pardons or forgives the person
who confesses about a chain of events from his or her life to another person,
either someone directly involved in the narrative or an outsider who is seen as
neutral. The confession is a radical form of narration, but this aspect is hidden
in all sorts of narrative processes. It marks the ethical dimension of storytelling.
Again and again, the embedded narrator pauses in his story and there is
time for the audiences reflection, especially the frame narrators mediations
on whether his story can be true (Roth 1984, 47, 123). A narrative always has an
addressee who is not under modern circumstances a direct and explicit one,
as is the case in Roths novel. Narrating means to narrate something to someone.
This dialogical element, this presence of the other in the narrative matrix is also
the precondition for what one may call cultural identity. Cultural identity presupposes that a group of people, a community, believes that a certain story or
a narrative complex is true, realistic and reliable. The goal of all storytelling is
that my counterpart believes in my story. In contrast perhaps to the contempo-


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

rary readers, the visitors of the Tari-Bari in Roths text have decided to believe in
Golubtschiks story in a weak sense, because even invented stories are true in at
least one sense: They reveal the character of the narrator and are symptomatic
of the situation of a cultural group. They want to believe the murderers story.
Up to a certain point, all cultural identity is based on the will to believe a story.
Quite evidently, the criteria are not rational but entail psychological aspects. In
Golubtschiks case it is his body language which makes the audience believe him
(Roth 1984, 123).
The topic of credibility is prominent in Javier Maras novel Maana en la
batalla piensa en m (1994) too. Here, the addressee of the narration is not a cultural minority as in Roth, but a single person, Luisa. She is the sister of a dead
woman, Marta, who died half-naked immediately before the first sexual encounter with her new lover while her husband was absent abroad. The frustrated lover,
Victor, is the homodiegetic narrator of the story, who reflects on the necessity of
persuading his dead lovers sister of the painful and implausible events of some
weeks ago. As a potential narrator he comes under pressure. Whereas he has no
identity within the surroundings of the dead woman (because he is unknown,
has no name, no face, no story), he himself has a precarious identity. It becomes
central to reveal this, or his, true identity.
As in Roth, there is an aspect of confession in the story. Victor has to tell
Martas sister that he was with her before she died and left her young son alone
with the dead woman. There is no doubt that he, as the possessor of a mystery,
has power (Maras: 1994, 270f), but only narrating it enables him to reveal and
neutralize the symbolic power of his narrative. It is a painful situation in which
the listener, Luisa, the double of the dead sister, is assigned the role of moral
authority or judge. So it becomes decisive to tell the painful story about the events
of that night in such a way that his attractive vis vis the gender relations play
an important role in the process of narrating does not find him guilty. Through
true storytelling he is able to establish a common narrative community deux,
which is based on the idea that only these two persons know the real story about
what happened. They have a secret in common (Maras 1994, 278295). His confessions evoke further confessions from other people, firstly Luisas, and secondly
the confession of the dead wifes husband.
Like Roths text, Javier Maras novel is self-referential. It is a literary piece
on the complex logic of narrating, otherness and a common symbolic space that
is established by a type of narrative which has a mystery at its centre. Sameness
and otherness, selfhood and alterity are intermingled in this story. As the representative of Victors conscience, Luisa functions as an abstract other, but she
has her own story and her own personal and collective identity as a heterosexual woman that is, her symbolic alterity to the man. The abstract process on

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative


the level of idem is overlapped by their reciprocal erotic attraction to each other.
There is an interesting detail in the novel. Luisa refuses to allow Victor to tell his
version of her sisters last night alive in his own flat (Maras 1994, 278). The spaces
of man and woman are separated in this case, because they have different positions within the symbolic field. So a neutral third space has to be found. This is
the restaurant. After they have told each other their version of what happened,
Luisa accepts Victors invitation to continue the talk at his flat. And in the end,
she also accepts his offer to have a drink with him.
Although there is some sort of cultural difference in this embedded process
of narrating, I doubt that one can say that Victor and Luisa live in separate cultures. They may have different positions in one and the same cultural space, yet
they share not only a common language (also metaphorically), but also a middleupper-class background and the values, attitudes and habitus of a Spanish postmodern individualistic culture.
British Cultural Studies has taught us to understand culture with regard to
the trinity of race, class and gender. Each of these three symbolic margins can be
part of a specific national culture with all its subcultures. I would like to propose
using the term cultural alterity only for those phenomena in which differences of
language, religion, tradition and history, manners or mentalities play a central
role. In all other cases (gender, sexual orientation, life-style, profession, milieu,
generation), I would prefer the term symbolic alterity, because all these differences refer to implicit but varying and changing positions within one society. The
person from another national culture, however, traditionally only has one possible position: the position as a figure at the edge, at the margin. It is true that
globalisation suggests that this difference between inside and outside has been
cancelled. Yet I am not sure if this is true.
If Luisa and Marta were young women from the Middle East or from West
Africa with a Muslim background, or if Victor were not a writer but a carpenter
from South America, it would be a totally different novel. It is not certain whether,
in these hypothetical cases, Victors confession could take place and, moreover,
would lead to such a peaceful end as in Maras text. The narratives of new intimacy Luisa and Victor have in common are part of the same symbolic household of an enlightened, Western European, postmodern, national culture. They
share these values, although they might have different opinions about the details
because of symbolic alterity (gender, age or life style).


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

On our journey with the travelling concept of identity, we started with the philosophical suspicion that identity is a symptom of that kind of a crisis that we call
modernity. In different philosophies, identity exists twice; abstract and non-narrative, and particular and narrative. The discourse on identity in sociology and
psychology tends to the statement that identity goes hand in hand with a process
of integration. Modern cultural analysis, postmodern philosophy and (post-)
modern literature offer two different figures of alterity as the Other and as the
stranger figures that do not have a visible place in disciplines such as sociology,
psychoanalysis and traditional philosophy. Thus, the constitutive aspect of the
Other for creating identity is a basic and important contribution of contemporary
narrative cultural analysis.
I accept that all these differentiations I have proposed throughout my programmatic literary reading are not binary and exclusive oppositions, but overlapping phenomena, as is the case in Ricurs distinction between sameness and
selfhood. It is the work of analysis to differentiate between otherness, symbolic
and cultural alterity. It is the work of narrative to mingle and connect them in the
chains of events, in the emplotment, in the characters of the figures, which construct identities. Narrating is the art of the impossible, connecting substance and
process, timelessness and time, constancy and change, and transforming them
into a new artificial unit. It is literature that makes it possible to overcome binary
oppositions and shows how they are fitted together or broken in the narrative
process itself. With regard to cultural alterity, one might argue that the narrative
is the symbolic process in which a human being or a group finds his/her/its symbolic place by displacing others.
Identity is a space that is empty and crammed at the same time, and the narrative is not only linked with all forms of identities but also links the tautological,
non-narrative and empty aspect of identity with the symbolically filled one. The
figure of the Other is inscribed at the empty and abstract level of identity, whereas
heterogeneity (hybridity), the mixture of identities (e.g. in language, race or
gender) takes place in the location of culture (Bhaba 1994, 225f, 251). Identity
is the result of an all-embracing and regulating system in which the identity of a
subject is produced through the act of narrating, as Warning writes in his essay
Forms of Narrative Construction of Identity in the Courtly Novel (Warning, in Marquard, 553). Identity is always a double.
If narrating is also a form of creating personal and collective identity, of
building symbolic spaces, then the development of post-traditional models of
identity and alterity depends on innovative forms of narrative in which the Other
in a double sense (the principal Other as the counterpart of the idem, and the cul-

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative


tural Other as the antipode of the ipse) is not automatically displaced, but gains a
positive function in an open narrative structure.

The Hidden Narratives

Latency, Repression, Common Sense
Not all the symbolic material which is present and available in a culture (for
example, in the field of schools, universities and the media) is in reality narrative;
neither mathematical and scientific formulae (including those of the computer),
nor the arsenal of manual and technical skills (which Hannah Arendt has analysed in her book Vita Activa) are narrative, neither is music nor a considerable
part of the fine arts. These all constitute symbolic forms which are not contingent
on space and time in that specific way which is characteristic of the narrative
genre. Narration means finding oneself in a split time frame which cannot be
made congruent: one is in the time which the narrative describes (erzhlte Zeit),
and also in the time in which the narrative is given (Erzhlzeit). This distinction,
which has been clearly formulated by Gnther Mller, is not only valid for literary
narration, but also for all forms of non-artistic narration witness statements in
court, re-constructions of life-stories in psychoanalysis, self-presentation in the
media and the telling of stories in the family context. All the other discrepancies
arise from this particular one, which cannot be circumvented the division of the
person (identity) and that of space.
In contrast to the infinite recurrence of numbers, narration has an emphatic
beginning and a conclusive end. These mark out the act of narrative from all other
systems of action. Narration highlights a clearly defined portion of our lives,
which of course is different to the novel because it has no beginning to which we
can return, and no definitive end. Narration also means declaring a past action
finished and so making it stand out against the horizon of our lived life. Of
course, such finality can be denied: for instance, by starting the narrative again
and by ending in another way. The whole teleology of an imagined community, of
a social group or of an individual can thus be changed. We constantly do this: for
example the former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer with regard to his
own student past, the Austrian nation since 1989, husbands and wives in therapy,
and Shakespeare too, who was dissatisfied with the first version of Hamlet, where
the character resembled his father rather too much, and who decided instead to
create a modern archetype.

1Sports reporting is an exception here, because in a live transmission erzhlte Zeit and
Erzhlzeit seem to coincide. But this a construction.
2See for example Harold Bloom, Shakespeare. Die Erfindung des Menschlichen (2000,

The Hidden Narratives


To narrate or to listen to a narrative means in the end to place oneself in

a world in which people act between a beginning and an end which form the two
poles of a teleology into which the story is fitted; it means following a common
thread and passing through sequential tension, which suddenly breaks off at the
end. The completion of such narrated events always implies in contradiction to
the categorical imperative of the pure text upheld by literary criticism a completion of lived life, which we model and construct according to similar patterns.
It can be shown that the mathematical world, without doubt a symbolic
cosmos that is numerate but not narrative, is abstracted from space and time. That
is also true nota bene for those natural sciences which use almost exclusively this
body of rules, for example large parts of physics and chemistry. It would therefore be a mistake to draw the line which divides narrative and non-narrative symbolic systems between the natural sciences and the humanities: modern cosmic
physics (the Big Bang or chaos theories) is organised as a narrative, and so is the
theory of biological evolution. All these theories meet the criteria of the narrative
that have been given: the division of the temporal, the exclusive position of the
narration and the teleology of the course of events. Indeed, because they are open
towards the future, such theories employ a technique which is familiar to us from
the short story: the open end.
The many differing forms of life and of production are non-narrative, because
they are very evidently iterative that is, marked by repetition: cooking, the cultivation of wine, the art of love, horticulture, engineering skills and rhetoric are
all essential components of culture in the sense of the Greek word . They all
contain human goal-directed behaviour, but not one which possesses the exclusive uniqueness produced by narrative.
The non-verbal arts have however certain features in common with the genre
of literary and non-literary narrative, although they are not for the most part in
a concise sense of the word narratively shaped. Music is, certainly, an art placed
in time, subject to the law of irreversibility as narration is; it also has because of
its sequentality an arch of tension and definite beginnings and ends (which is
why it is suited as a background to the theatrical production of epic art from
the Indonesian gamelan orchestra and the musical settings for the theatre in the
nineteenth century to the cinema, from the modest beginnings of the pianist who

3Cf.: Markus Arnold/Roland Fischer (2000). Particular reference is made here to the essays of:
Roland Fischer, Mathematisierung als Materialisierung des Abstrakten, ibid., 5058; Christa
Koenne, Die Chemie und ihr Einflu in einer Entscheidungsgesellschaft, ibid., 6776; Helga
Stadler, Kann mann/frau Physik verstehen? ibid., pp.7782 further literature may be found


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

accompanied the silent films right up to the sophisticated film music of today.)
There is however no temporal division here, nor an exclusive narrator, nor a
world of action on which the sequences of sounds comment. But because the
image, as well as the music, contains factors which are constituent parts of the
narrative form, the image, music and text blend together in the manner of a
Gesamtkunstwerk, in opera and film, and in the diverse genres which radio, television and the new media have created.
The world of symbols in mathematics and science, the whole ensemble of
techniques used in a community and the non-verbal arts all these represent
without doubt an indispensable element. Is narrative therefore an important
element in every culture just as those systems of symbols and bodies of rules just
mentioned are (the fields of law and economics also belong of course to them),
but only one part, not even a pars pro toto? But then narrative would lose the
special place accorded to it by the title of this study.
Only if it can be shown that narratives occupy a very strategic place in culture
can their exclusive part in constituting cultures be justified. This exclusivity consists in the central contribution which narrative makes to the forming of every
kind of cultural identity. It is certainly true that not all the symbolic material in a
culture is of a narrative nature, but no culture can do without a narrative grounding. The deeper this foundation, the more symbolically rich the fabric of the cultural identity in question: it is ultimately this richness which distinguishes for
example Vienna, the metropolis of a relatively small state, from Birmingham, the
second city of a leading European power. Kaliningrad is symbolically less impressive than Knigsberg, so it is no surprise that there have been attempts in Kaliningrad to incorporate the history of Knigsberg. In order to be somebody, one
must be able to tell a story. The state of innocence is that in which nothing has yet
happened, no disaster, no crimen, no event, no departure, no escape. Rousseaus
fantasy of the natural state is the narrative vacuum of the individual and of the
On Whit Monday, 1828, a young man aged about 17 was found in Nuremberg. His origins were completely unknown, his past a mystery and his name
Caspar Hauser was foisted upon him. In a surprising coincidence with Maurice
Halbwachs theory, whereby an essential precondition of individual memory is
always a social framework, the young man was unable to reconstruct his life-history from the darkness of his cave, the place of his imprisonment. The supposedly
authentic, uncorrupted man, the ideal of late Romantic, post-Rousseau Europe
and its cultural codes and narratives, is a being who according to a contemporary
medical record

The Hidden Narratives


knows nothing of his own kind, does not eat, drink, feel, or speak as others do, who
knows nothing of yesterday or tomorrow, who does not understand time nor is aware of his
own self. (Wassermann 1983, 14)

This unknown person with the borrowed name that was not his own and who
hid his past became famous. For anthropologists whose science was still at
that time in its infancy it seemed like an opportunity to study closely homo
sapiens as such, a human being without society or culture, man as he naturally is.
What escaped this longing for objective essentiality and authentic objectivity was
however the fact that a human being without the codes of symbolic systems and
without a social context is in fact not human at all but an extreme phenomenon
in any theory of culture. Friedrich Daumer, who was a fervent Rousseauist and a
protagonist of idealistic theories and Romantic practices such as Mesmerism was
convinced that natural man was to be encountered in the wilderness of his own
culture that is, man who has not been corrupted by society, as Rousseau had
described in his educational treatise Emile.
The man with the made-up name has at the same time a story made up for
him, the story of a man who has sprung from a fairy tale, who comes from nowhere
and is the first representative of a new and innocent humanity, a second Adam.
Daumer makes this emphatic pronouncement in Jakob Wassermanns novel:
When one speaks about him, one can never exaggerate, because language has no words to
express his being. It is an ancient legend, this appearance of a fairy-tale creature out of a
dark void; natures pure voice suddenly speaks to us and a myth turns into reality. His soul
resembles a precious jewel, as yet untouched by a covetous hand; yet a noble purpose justifies my wish to grasp it []. (Wassermann, 1983, 4)

A person without the thread of an individual life history is a borderline phenomenon, just as is Chamissos man without a shadow, who as it happens also lives
in narrative darkness. And just as it is impossible to Daumers great disappointment for him to remain a natural man in his new environment, so he cannot
remain a man without a history. All the activities that surround him consist of
attempts to endow him with a history. In this way, the man with the zero-story,
the creature with a narrative vacuum gives rise to a mass of fantastic rumours.
This is, incidentally, to describe the way in which a mystery functions. Daumer
the Romantic rejects any investigation into Hausers true life-history, because
this would undermine his Romantic narrative, which strategically preserves the
mystery of the situation and presents the secret as a wonder. But at the same time,
the others, who have chosen Hauser as the object of their research, start looking
for the lost life-history of the young man with the pseudonym. In particular, President von Feuerbach, who functions as a detective in the novel, the detective being


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

he who is able to throw some light on the mystery and illuminate the hitherto
unknown narrative. With stubborn meticulousness, Feuerbach reconstructs the
story behind the narrative vacuum. He does this in a detailed memoir showing
him to be the abandoned crown prince of the House of Baden-Zhringen, thereby
using mythic material just as Daumer does, not that of the natural man without
original sin, but the disowned son who is seen as a danger by his own family
(Joseph, Oedipus). The nameless man without a life-history has exerted an enduring fascination, as the many literary adaptations from Wassermann to Handke
prove, as well as attempts to use the methods of modern genetic engineering to
examine this and other hypotheses. In contrast to Handkes interpretation, in
which the man without speech is manipulated and socialised through linguistic
training, Hausers problem is that he possesses no history. This border marks
that threshold of the frightening, which makes the population react aggressively
towards him. But before he has been given a life-history which he is required
to put on like a set of symbolic clothes, he falls victim to an assassin. This act
destroys the unprepossessing man with the immense aura of mystery, but not
the question of his past. The dimension of fantasy in Feuerbachs narrative corresponds with the intensity with which the narrative refuses to step out of the darkness. Because the narrative vacuum is so absolute, the imagination permits itself
a sovereign resolution of the story. The mystery becomes a condition of absolute
inaccessibility and thus a place where an essentially uncontrolled imagination
celebrates itself, one in which the impossible has become probable.
It can be concluded ex negativo from this that the concept of an original
humanity established by Rousseaus discourse on individual natural men as
well as on the noble savage derives from a fantasy that is constructed as a narrative: it is the story of the fall of a humanity without time or history into a time
which is the conditio sine qua non for the divided nature of man himself. But this
story like all others is retrospectively constructed; it is a story which painfully
marks the distance between the earlier presumed innocence of childhood and
the guilty present. (cf. Alefeld 1996) That the paths of Daumer and the foundling
diverge is not least because the myth that Daumer establishes has no need of a
tangible, if strange life-history. Increasingly disappointed by the humanisation
of his pupil, Daumer tries his utmost until the end to put a stop to the young
mans dreams of his mother in a fairy-tale castle, because this would endanger
his own narrative plan. What makes the case of Caspar Hauser so attractive for
a narrative-based theory of culture, over and beyond the exemplary reference to
the inescapability of narrative, is the fact that one is situated here in a construct
in which identity is produced. It is about a story in the story: how a man is symbolically brought into the world by giving him a mysterious life-history. What dis-

The Hidden Narratives


tinguishes narrative from discourse is not so much the level of abstraction as the
temporal and goal-directed dimension.
It is science, law and literature (in the form of Wassermanns novel) which
produce, distribute and determine identity. Culture can be understood as the
process which strives to silence that which is frightening and terrible. The
deepest motivation of all those who think up stories about the young man with
the false name is precisely this: if the story were to be found and with it the right
name which symbolically marks the unique and individual role in the course of
unknown, mysterious events, then the intolerably frightening could be removed
or at least put to rest.
A vacuum of this sort is just one example of a state of hidden presence and
inevitability of narrative. Others are conceivable: the pre-supposed and the suppressed narrative or the self-evident narrative, which must not be expressed in
order to be anticipated: in respect to culture, the most important narratives are
probably those which are normally latent, and are only made into central themes
(or make themselves central) under special circumstances.
The cave paintings of Lascaux, which people of very differing provenance
have intensively studied for example artists and anthropologists can only be
reconstructed in a similarly ambiguous and fantastic way as the life-history of
Caspar Hauser, because we do not know the narratives of the culture on which
these paintings are based. But even the iconography of the Bismarck column in
Essen from the year 1900 may pose some riddles for the non-specialist observer.
A culture which has forgotten the basic content of the Christian narratives has difficulty decoding the stories represented in church windows and on altars.
Classical modern abstract painting constitutes a special case in this context;
it abstains from any sort of visual representation and of course from any narrative component. But both Kasimir Malewitschs Black Square and Barnet Newmanns Whos afraid of Red Yellow and Blue are based on stories which one must
know in order to understand the paintings in question. Those people who angrily
attacked these decadent paintings (not only in National Socialist Germany, but
also in democratic America, as Danto reports) are not familiar with the narratives on which this art is based; in the case of Newmann that is, for example,
the Jewish mystical Gnosis of the Kabbala, in Malewitschs case the ChristianOrthodox concept of the magic of the pictorial image. Their anger is not without
foundation, but is rooted in the panicked fear of a bottomless adventure. On the
whole, the uncomprehending in their helpless anger have in part not understood
that all these paintings of classical modernity do not just represent an exegesis
of the Kantian aesthetic questioning the conditions of the possibility of fine arts,
but also with an aesthetic radicalism enforce the ban on images (as demanded
by God in the Old Testament) against a background of an exploding flood of pic-


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

tures. It should also not be forgotten that the art of classical modernity has been
influenced by the modern master stories, in Dantos sense.
Even Andy Warhols postmodern Brillo Box or Duchamps Urinoir cannot be
understood just from the objects themselves but reveal their enigmatic and provocative meaning through knowledge of the discourses, narratives and life histories on which they are based. They produce new, possibly inaccessible offers of
It can therefore be argued that cultural manifestations which are not in themselves structured in space and time as narratives do nonetheless form part of the
narrative ensemble of a culture and presuppose certain stories. I would like to
categorise such latent narratives as presupposed because they are necessary for
the decoding of silent objects; unfamiliarity with them sets alternative narratives in motion: for example, the story of swindlers who take other people for
fools, or of people who are simply unable to paint. (Cf. Danto 2000)
Stories can be empty and this is the extreme case, which brings about the
horror vacui; They can be presupposed and they can also be suppressed. In connection with Sigmund Freud and Critical Theory, Mario Erdheim has discussed
how the unconscious is not at all a work of nature, but is culturally produced.
Erdheim interprets culture as a process carrying on above people bringing more
and more individuals into interdependence.
Freuds concept of culture is, in Erdheims opinion, a dynamic one in which
it is understood as a movement and a history and much less as a structure. Seen
in this way, and not just in its authoritarian or totalitarian versions, culture is a
global machine of censorship:
In the service of the ruling power, the individual has to renounce the fulfillment of his
wishes, not least in order to make room for the pressure of social wish-fulfillment. Instead
of realising his wishes, he renders them unconscious (Erdheim 1984, 217).

Culture allows people to formulate symbolically their common interdependency;

the forbidden stories I have identified correspond on the symbolic level to the
renunciation of instincts on the psychological level. To extend the ideas of Freud
and Erdheim, such stories do not need to be primarily sexual at all; they can
also be of a political nature. Forbidden stories in the former Yugoslavia were, for
example, the diverse national narratives of the Serbs, Croats and the Slovenes;
other forbidden stories (narrating them constitutes in many countries a breach
of law) are for instance all revisionist stories whose purpose is to show that the
Shoah was an extraordinary fraud perpetrated by world Jewry. Other political
narratives have emerged in the meantime in postmodern market societies for
instance, those which claim capitalism to be the final and unsurpassable histori-

The Hidden Narratives


cal form of society. The misleading term of the unconscious should admittedly
be used here with caution. Even the way Freud speaks of the unconscious is misleading, for it is precisely those mental layers which can be brought back into a
state of retrospective recollection through the cultural technique of psychoanalytic memory; they are not subject to the logic of radically forgetting what has
been forgotten and are no longer or not wholly conscious. But what distinguishes
this collectively produced unconscious is that it emerges under particular conditions through paradoxical intervention, through crises but most of all through
its continuing hidden influence. Although there is no public forum in which
such stories can be told, they remain attractive for this reason and can rise to the
surface from their secret hiding-places: neo-nationalism in the so-called reform
or post-communist states has vividly demonstrated this process. A latent nationalism is directly connected with the cohesion of a culture and its narratives. Mario
Erdheim expresses this laconically:
Whatever threatens the stability of a culture must be made unconscious. With Freud, we
can assume that this is primarily a question of libidinous and aggressive tendencies which
society proscribes. There is a measure of variability here as regards not only methods of
upbringing but also what is supposed to be made unconscious. But the unconscious is
always used to keep forbidden instincts at a distance from society. As they are made conscious, they form an undercurrent which can take hold of other perceptions or fantasies,
which might also call into question the stability of a culture. So these too must disappear
into the unconscious. The social unconscious is thus a sort of container which has to
receive everything which could alter a society against its will [] Whoever discovers new
things which a culture does not accept also has to put up with all the fears, feelings of guilt
and uncertainties which have arisen in the unconscious as a result of those connections.
(Erdheim 1984, 221)

There is no reason not to extend this restricting role of culture beyond the area
of sexuality and aggression into all those processes in which symbolic socialisation takes place and in which a community is constructed as narrative. From the
perspective of this book, changing a society means bringing new stories into
circulation, for example stories which are proscribed or forbidden and which
are granted no public forum. Literature is in this respect an expressive aesthetic
medium with considerable potential for change. The Sorrows of Young Werther is
not merely the story of a new, uncompromising form of autonomous love, which
in contrast to bourgeois custom justifies itself. Goethes novel also challenges
existing society in that it tells the story of a suicide without critical condemnation. Moreover, this story that ends with suicide is narrated by the man who takes
his own life and Goethe does this in a form which symbolically expresses the right
to individuality and the discourse of intimacy, shifting the balance in the course
of the events in favour of the individual. This model was evidently so successful


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

that in the 1970s an East German writer, Ulrich Plenzdorf, created a GDR Werther,
who asserts his individual and unconditional wishes against society in a similar
way and also comes to grief.
To understand a text like Werther also means to know those consensual
stories to which it is opposed and which at the same time it tacitly presupposes.
Thus the hermeneutic activity does not so much refer to the story we have before
us, but to the one it presupposes by being contrasted to it: the contemporary
readers of both versions of Werther are familiar with the standard love-story from
which both Werthers deviate. The reader who does not know it for example
an Austrian or English student of the present-day depends, like a cultural foreigner, on having it made explicit for him.
Numerous examples of this sort can be given. Twentieth-century literature
has produced a whole compendium of forbidden stories which have permanently
changed our culture, even though it has fought long but in the end vainly against
them: to these belong stories of the womens movement, stories about homosexuality, critical deconstructions of stories about ideal families and with a grain of
salt all the stories about sexuality which were hitherto forbidden from darkest
Romanticism to pornography, from the ecstatic hymn to sexuality to Psychoanalysis, the last being an essentially modern narrative able to change culture.
All these stories have effected lasting change on the state of our culture and differentiate it from other large cultures. In cultures in which such stories are permitted and comme il faut, the relationship of the individual and society has radically
changed; this is perhaps because in sexuality the other person is at stake, and a
constructed individuality emerges through the mixture of unbridgeable distance
and extreme proximity, which then asserts its rights and does not understand (or
misunderstands) culture as a given entity.
It could thus be said that post-modern, hot cultures differ from pre-modern,
cold cultures in the way that they create identity and unconsciousness. The
unconscious, for which Erdheim found the interesting metaphor of a container
(thereby moving close to Assmanns concept of a memory store) forms for modern
culture an inexhaustible reservoir for symbolic self-creation, whereas access to
this container in recent cultures is condemned as taboo.
That does not however mean and Erdheim is also far from any such grand
narrative of liberation that if unconsciousness were to disappear, society would
become wholly transparent; that is just as true on the level of the individual as on
that of cultures. At best it could be said that the entrance to the unconscious has
become more accessible and that we are now conscious of the strange contradictoriness of our existence. Our knowledge of and our insights into the otherness of
reason, and with it also the fantasies which are embedded in our narratives, are
not capable of breaking its power over us.

The Hidden Narratives


Erdheims analysis is limited to a special case of latent narratives, namely

those in which repression and renunciation are under discussion or more generally, the relationship of the individual to the social entity in question and with
it also that between (incestuous) family and (excestuous) culture. Pre-modern
societies are characterised by stories (especially their genealogical myths) conceived as family histories; modern societies would be those which have a tendency to dissolve this analogy of culture and the family and to bring together
both elements into a complex relation of tension. What is interesting about Erdheims analysis is that in it culture and society fuse together as macro-concepts,
for the reason that he takes into account power and authority relationships in the
production of unconsciousness. The result of power and authority is to produce
unconsciousness, which then at the same time creates these. As a sceptical cultural anthropologist, Erdheim also knows that no culture can manage without
unconsciousness, not even a utopian one in which power is no longer unevenly
Every culture is based on a series of stories which are latent not necessarily
because they are forbidden and forgotten or because they are secret or invalid.
As long as certain stories in a culture are taken for granted or uncontested, then
they can, indeed must, remain beyond discussion. One may tell little children
that the earth rotates around the sun, but it would be somewhat strange if the
weather report in the radio or on television were to announce this every day. Narratives of medium-range, for example those which construct nations, behave in
a similar way. Narratives in cultures are thus often latent, that is, they can in
principle be accessed but are not continuously present. A central situation in
which stories become accessible is when a foreigner who does not know them
enters the culture. I suggest calling these common-sense stories. The fictitious
situation becomes an absolute necessity if I am confronted by a representative of
another culture who does not know this modern astronomical narrative. There
is in principle no difference between the Plague Column in Drosendorf and Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham on the one hand, and highly complex knowledge
and religious beliefs on the other. They are all embedded in a cultural context
(which also means in a narratively structured system) and derive their specific
meaning from this; they cannot be universally and naturally decoded, as common
sense likes to suppose.
The common symbolic and narrative content of a culture can be understood
as that which endows it with stability and makes it strong enough to ward off
deviancy. Common sense can thus be understood as a totality of the knowledge
available in a culture which is not implicit and has become taken for granted. It
is also a symbolic system in its own right that interacts with other such systems
(science, religion) while following its own laws. This has been studied by the


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz with reference to both Alfred Schtz and
modern ethnology. Common sense, it has been claimed, is the false consciousness
of certain cultures which are unable to imagine any reasonable world of meaning
outside their own. What is threatening in any cultural encounter is namely the
loss of blissful, innocent evidence for ones own pattern of interpretation. The
fact that every nation has its own kind of depth is closely connected with the
way in which all symbolic systems (natural sciences, ideology, religion, art and
everyday knowledge) have their own individual cultural character. (Geertz 1983,
263) The saying according to which adultery brings bad luck in battle has the
same stylistic character as the one which tells you to clean your teeth twice a day,
or to avoid contact with other people when you have the flu. Belief in witches
formulates and defends the worlds claims to truth (as in Godeliers study of
the culture of the Zande), because it renders anomaly, contradiction, misfortune
and illness apparently uncontestable and plausible. Intersexual beings, that
is, people born without a clearly established gender are, depending on the interpretative patterns of the particular culture, either failed pots (in other words,
craftsmens mistakes in creation) or talented orphans. Or they may be monstrous
beings who provoke horror. (Geertz 1983, 263)
From its beginnings theory has established itself in opposition to common
sense, as Geertz rightly indicates and indeed philosophy can be characterised
through its hostility to it. The overturning of familiar everyday concepts is central
to the crafty dialectic of the Platonic Socrates; the mutual enmity of philosophy
and everyday knowledge is thus structural and not one which is due to specific
personal, historical or cultural circumstances. This enmity may have contributed
to the way in which the structure of meaning of the everyday world has only much
later become a focus of attention in the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, the
pragmatism of Dewey, and the analytical philosophy of Moore. Perhaps common
sense is silly from a philosophical point of view, a more or less unrewarding
subject. In contrast, it is, like religion, an inexhaustible field of analysis for
anthropologists, ethnologists and researchers in cultural studies.
Geertz has characterised the everyday world of unquestioned and unquestionable knowledge (which he distinguishes from the factual nature of exact
knowledge) as a system of cultural interpretation which is weak in explanatory
value but is effective precisely because of this: it is simple and powerful, because
it can silence any sort of doubt. Common sense is the classic medium for an
untroubled, undogmatic, self-assured expression of certainty. (cf. Likar and Riha
1998) It concerns a representation of things, which claims to be the right one
(Geertz 1983, 275). There are five factors that make up the strength of this weak
pattern of cultural interpretation:

The Hidden Narratives


1. Naturalness
2. Emphatic reference to experience of life (practicality)
3. Simplicity (economy)
4. Inconsistency of method (lack of method)
5. Accessibility
(Geertz, 277286)
In common sense what is natural and also practical is attributed to worldly
objects and phenomena, while the third factor, simplicity, is based on a literal
version of the world (the world speaks). The pleasure in inconsistency and
shameless and unreserved ad-hoc knowledge, doing without stringent logic
and accessibility for all is, as it were, the unshakeable social confirmation of
culturally produced certainty, which sensus communis can also be seen as. It is
evident that there is a need for neat forms of stories in this symbolic system. But
Geertzs critical study of the primitive world of meaning of the self-evident is
presumably distorted through logo-centrism. The maturing symbolic systems of
science, religion and art should possibly be considered common sense. But then
everyday knowledge would not so much be a separate symbolic system, but a specific cultural, interdiscursive area where the narrative and argumentative background has been faded out and placed beyond attack. This everyday knowledge
correlates with lived culture, which T.S. Eliot contrasted with conscious culture,
which possesses a specific knowledge of form and content. (Eliot 1948, 35)
It is known that Geertz understands the ethnologist not so much as an
involved observer, but as an interpreter who decodes culture in a hermeneutic
way. However, appropriate knowledge of the unexpressed collective stock of
narratives is of the highest significance for this decoding. Telling a story always
comprises a decision not to tell another story, or to presuppose that this other is
already known.
Media and advertising are relevant examples for this kind of process, as the
myths which they carry are usually assumed to be familiar. On the 26th January
2001, there was a report in the foreign news section of The Times about the sexual
harassment of women in Italy under a large headline declaring Signoras told to
turn the other cheek. A second article entitled Court that makes an ass of the
law reported the Italian courts verdict regarding sexual harassment.
Given that English broadsheets only devote four pages to international news,
it is in itself remarkable that the paper gave over almost a quarter of its space
for international news to this event including a historical sketch and the photograph of protesting women politicians, led by the granddaughter of the Duce,
Alessandra Mussolini. It is certainly interesting that this story from another European country can claim so much attention. What is even more interesting is that


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

the newspaper does this in very strong language. The headline, which refers in
a political way to a celebrated episode in the New Testament (the proclamation
to love ones neighbour, which demands that the follower of Jesus should turn
the left cheek if he is struck on the right), makes a sarcastic comment on the case
described, which concerns delicate subjects such as harassment and assault and
more generally, the gray area between sexual and professional favours. The
second headline is ambiguous: it suggests that the court has made a fool of itself.
The highly sexually charged word ass sets off the more powerful association that
the anally-minded court is messing around with the law by not punishing slaps
on the posteriors of female employees. To make things worse, the court did not
allow the charge of sexual harassment in an earlier case of a schoolgirl, because
she was wearing blue jeans, which was said to have made direct sexual molestation impossible.
Why and when are stories told? And why in particular does a deeply conservative paper turn itself into the advocate of causes which can be counted as more
or less feminist? With this question we come to the photograph, which shows
Alessandra Mussolini and three fellow women comrades-in-arms in their protest
action wearing blue-jeans. Mussolini is an eloquent name, charged with narrative material eloquent stories and is at the same time ambivalent for English
readers. The innocent article thus mixes divergent stories which are presented
on different levels:
1. The Christian story of love for ones neighbour is replaced by the implicit
demand for punishment, rendered profane here by its use in a case of
sexual harassment.
2. The story of the feminist post-fascist Signora Mussolini, which refers sarcastically to the slap George W. Bush gave his wife, and finally
3. The story about the employee and her boss, to which are added other apparently similar stories.
In this way stories are interwoven which seem to mutually complement, comment
on and explain each other. The fact that even the extreme Right objects to the
Italian courts verdict is incidentally very reassuring; if even the right-wing conservatives, the heirs to neo-fascism, object to this, then it is very clear that this is
not about a left-wing cause but is a concern of an enlightened and civil world. It
should at the outset be said that this kind of narrative, that is to say a commentary
from and about another culture, follows here some very successful and classical
models: he who reports from abroad finds general approval at home. The classic
topic of the shipwreck seen by a superior observer with Schadenfreude is very well
known and it can serve excellently to reinforce national energies and at the same
time renew self-evident stories. This collective meaning has exactly the structure

The Hidden Narratives


which Geertz has attributed to it. It is natural, practical, directly illuminating, simplistic and comprehensible to all save those crazy Italian judges. The one-dimensionality of the way the story is given and the basic complicity between narrator
and reader are part of this structure. The story from abroad has thus a legitimising
function for the common symbolic bonds of a culture, hovering in a curious way
between conscious and unconscious culture. In general, modern media of communication in their political form (and in contrast to those which in K. Ludwig
Pfeiffers sense are best described as aesthetic and expressive) can be understood
as gigantic machines for producing common sense in imaginary communities. Just
as printing, novels and newspapers formed the necessary media preconditions for
the rise of the modern nation-state (in other words Benedict Andersons thesis), so
the switched-on multi-media communication machine represents the media preconditions for globalisation, cultural transfer and national self-affirmation. The
global media, together with their narrative realism, imply that we already know
what is happening everywhere in the world. Because all the media subscribe to an
aesthetic realism that is from a literary critical point of view derivative, they effectively convey what the followers of Lacan call the imaginary world.
The story about a foreign country thus contains a narrative complex about its
own culture which does not require direct expression. The storys moral is namely
that this might happen to women everywhere where the iron law of political correctness is not in force. Self-legitimation and the reinforcement of ones own cultural self-sufficiency are on the agenda, not the de-legitimation of foreigners. The
advantage of the storys moral is that its value as an argument is thin but for that
very reason is effective. The question of the differing place given to sexuality in
other cultures remains unasked and is displaced in favour of a powerful feeling of
collective self-worth which is nourished by images of an inferior civilisation (that
is, a country where Catholic machismo rules). The world is imperfect even in the
United Kingdom there are cases of sexual harassment, possibly just as many as in
Italy but here, legislation and suitable regulations seem to have put an effective
stop to improper assault. The idea of controlling problems through regulations
has taken hold of English culture more than in Germany. The incomprehension
of the English reporter and of his public is not a pose. The agreement between
author and reader has not been simulated but is entirely genuine. Both cannot
understand that what is obvious for them has not been practised. Things like this
do not happen. Not in Great Britain.
We have not yet quite reached the end of our laconic analysis. For it is not
yet so evident how this implicit call for sexual correctness has been built into
a conservative narrative mode. As has been noted, this is partly a result of the
reference to Italian neo-or post-fascist female protestors. The connection has, as
we have seen, a delegitimising effect as regards the scandal in so far as it can be


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

said that even the representatives of an authoritarian party which the English
perceive to be politically problematic find this sort of behaviour unacceptable.
The readers of the Times are thereby shown that the conservative half of Great
Britain now regards correctness in sexual matters as part of the common beliefs
of English culture.
But on the other hand the paper fits this newly-minted common sense into a
conservative scenario; it believes that any kind of sexual harassment of any sort
of victim usually a woman can be proved and appropriately punished. This
is where the second article comes in, which gets rather worked up about Italian
legislation in matters sexual. A significant shift in the indignation such stories
generate can be noted here:
Story 1: The initial story: the slap which is administered and the relations
which lie behind it (the combination of sexual desire and career ambition, assault
and dependency).
Story 2: The story of the schoolgirl in the blue jeans which has remained in
the memory. Variation: it happens in a school, not an office, but the victim is a girl
who is still a minor; the offence is not punished.
Story 3: Condemnation (because of infidelity) of a woman in Ravenna who
was said to have spent too much time with her lover (without going to bed with
him). Variation: sexual infidelity; the woman is unjustly punished.
Story 4: The kiss on the cheek (no more than the slap on the behind) is not
rated as sexual harassment, because the Italians do not necessarily consider the
cheek to be an erogenous zone. Variation of 1 & 2, without any reference to the
situation of dependency.
Story 5: A Sicilian woman who left her husband because she could not put
up with her over-dominant mother-in-law any longer, was not considered to be
the guilty party. This is an inversion of Stories 1, 2 & 4: the woman is guilty, but is
not punished.
Story 6: The sale of child pornography was not punished. Variation and inversion: sexual coercion, in this case of children; the guilty parties are not punished.
Story 7: Sex in a car between a man and a transvestite was not prosecuted by
law, because the culprits had parked in a dark place. Inversion: no actual sexual
coercion, the offence to common decency remained unpunished.
Story 8: An Italian husband is forbidden from monitoring his wifes telephone, even if he suspects that she is having an affair with another man. Inversion: a woman who is potentially guilty may not be kept under surveillance nor
given the punishment she deserves.
Story 9: Italian wives may commit adultery, if their husbands pride and
honour is not thereby damaged. Inversion: the sexual misdemeanours of women
(adultery) are no longer prosecuted in law.

The Hidden Narratives


This narrative sample is instructive in several respects and makes clear to what
extent shared cultural meaning in Geertzs sense establishes itself. One single
story is not sufficient to establish a narrative. For a narrative formation is based
on something similar happening over and over again. Or expressed differently: It
is one large theme, which includes a large number of similar stories. The author
of the article, Richard Owen, takes these circumstances into account. In listing
these stories he uses the thinness described by Geertz. The stories differ from
one another significantly; they are partly variations and partly inversions, especially towards the end. Their smallest common denominator is that they are all
to do with sexuality. Stringing these stories together gets round such differences
and contrasts and suggests instead their similarity.
But the supposedly progressive political correctness of story 1 is integrated
into a conservative context that is opposed to it, one in which sexual permissiveness, the decriminalisation of womens adultery or the open indulgence of
deviant sexuality is seen as scandalous. Thus sexual correctness is drawn into
that self-evident context in which it operates anyway in the United Kingdom:
into a prudish tradition which wants to banish sexuality from public life. It is
also interesting as regards cultural differences that sexuality is understood in the
widest possible sense, in order to be able to regulate it in public life. The Italians
refrain from doing this for reasons of machismo, or from other motives which are
unconnected with this.
The article thus confirms in a most paradoxical way how the correctness of
the left can be combined with the traditional sexual morality of the right
which is also in the muddled associations of common sense the correct morality,
one in which sexual abstinence and restraint appear the best guarantee for carrying out correctness.
A deeper narrative may possibly be suspected behind this article with its
apparently feminist headline and conservative conclusion. It is one which crystallises all the ancient fears and prohibitions which Mario Erdheim is thinking of
when he speaks of the production of unconsciousness. This is a narrative which
reports what happens if the natural sexual order starts to waver when commandments and prohibitions are no longer obeyed, when men no longer respect
women, when women become independent by no longer taking responsibility for
the family or abnormal sexual practices are not stopped. In the Bible this is represented by the story of Sodom and Gomorrah: violation is followed by collapse
and punishment. The image of decadence belongs to this field, ever since Gibbons reliable and powerful narrative The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
a work in which modern western culture formulates and preserves all its selfdoubts about the social and cultural changes it has brought about. The man or
woman reading the article may evoke such narrative connections; but if he or she


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

does so, this will go beyond the intermediate zone of familiar concepts which can
be exchanged with neighbours like the proverbial question about the weather.
One can formulate the link between the production of the unconscious and the
creation of common sense by saying that the factors which constitute the latter
are absent from it: the aggressive warding-off of instinctual urges and the rejection of what is new. It produces the container, in which dangerous and disturbing
elements in a culture are stored away: the narrative poison cabinet of a culture.
When it is opened, reports such as those about the sexual incorrectness of
the Italians can scarcely be avoided; the incorrectness becomes an index for how
far the excesses and permissiveness have gone beyond what is legitimate and it
must be checked if the decline of the West is to be halted. The story of Sodom and
Gomorrah is the conservative variant of a panic narrative, whereas the Apocalypse represents the direction of a progressive narrative hysteria.
I take my second example for hidden narratives from the world of advertising,
which almost more than any other is characterised by a common-sense which
is specific to a particular culture. Advertising is usually for this reason difficult
to translate, less translatable than films and literature. It possesses all the features which Geertz asserted in everyday consciousness: naturalness, practicality,
inconsistency, accessibility and simplicity. That does not necessarily mean that
its rhetorical and aesthetic strategies have to be simplistic, quite the contrary. I
shall avoid Roland Barthes concept of everyday myths, not only because he uses
the concept of myth in his early writing in a quite unspecific way and merges it
with that of ideology. Although Barthes does indicate the inadequacy that lies
between the quasi-mythic power of these cultural artefacts and their everyday,
banal use, he also underestimates the binding nature of advertising when he dismisses it as a petit bourgeois ideology and a false consciousness. It is also quite
obvious that the rhetorical gestures of advertising have changed since the 1950s:
instead of an excess of myth we now find aspects of figurative speech irony,
humour and inventive ideas.
I shall take an example of advertising which is narratively presupposed from
Number 21/2000 of the German news magazine Der Spiegel, which features the
business-oriented generation me and confronts it with the generation of 68
which was then in power Schrder and Fischer. Indeed, one could fit the title
story and the advertising in question into one big mega-story, which for reasons
of brevity I would like to call capitalism as ideology; the story is all about how
market capitalism, money and the new media allow us to link up the world in a
peaceful global network.
The advertisements title, which effectively plays with another title, vouches
concisely for this: supply meets demand. The sheep/lamb and the pullover are
metonyms for the economic agents of the producer and the consumer, who are

The Hidden Narratives


linked by a dedicated website. The website is in an intimate metaphorical relationship with the wool producer and his product. The web-flow scenarios form
an interconnecting fabric for the economic agents. They move into the picture
through the way it has been scanned it has been conceived as a two-page computer image. Let us first of all look at the lamb, which here occupies the position
of the peaceful economic agent. Influential narratives of western culture from the
New Testament to William Blake have imagined it as a symbolic representation
of innocence and a peaceful nature (let us omit here the image of the sacrificial
victim). It may well be a long way from the raw material to the end product but
at least here the path from the shearing to the finished pullover is not cruel. This
is important in a cultural context in which there is a good deal of sensitivity about
animals as raw material and where broad sections of the population in western,
post-modern countries consider the killing of animals no longer morally legitimate.
In the sense which Geertz ascribes to it, the sheep is a neighbour in nature,
a domestic animal and a companion of human civilisation and domestication
(Macho 1987), from Rousseau to Nietzsche the embodiment of a silent, perhaps
restricted happiness. By standing in metonymically for the post-modern, market
capitalist economic agent and metaphorically embodying the process of digital
networking, it endows both these highly artificial and technical processes the
internet and the market with a quasi-natural character. So the internet and the
market are in the last resort natural and make use of processes at work in nature.
The intangible becomes concrete and comprehensible and is integrated into the
world of the everyday. Just by clicking a mouse. But it is an empowered nature,
unlike that of the sheep a collaboration of purchase, sale and logistics. This
goes beyond the possibilities open to an individual economic agent who, without
the service on offer, remains rather like the sheep itself.
It goes without saying in our beautiful new post-modern world that the sheep
is an especially fine example, in terms of its species a sort of Claudia Schiffer.
The dark beauty spot on its nose, its white muzzle and the pink upstanding ears
contribute to this. The animals good looks are to be found next to the classy
lambswool pullover, in itself a signifier of exclusivity. A specifically German narrative may be added: an ecological one. The lamb is a heraldic beast in this narrative arsenal, a bucolic creature that still lives naturally in the open air and which
seems to satisfy human needs without any coercion. In a classically thin way,
this advertisement in a left-wing, liberal bourgeois magazine reconciles two differing narratives the concerns of ecology with those of the free market and its

4Cf. Friedrich Nietzsche, Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie frs Leben (248334).


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

new favourite medium, the internet. It shortens the tedious and long path from
raw material to end product and above all, from production to sale. In the flick of
a digital wrist the transformed raw material is delivered to the home. Of course,
the advertisement is marketing a specific product in this case, an internet
service, but above that advertising, like all other symbolic narrative forms (literature, myth and history), is always self-referential, that is, it advocates a world in
which everything can be turned into supply and demand and everything, even
the most precious item, is for sale in a fast, go-getting way. Advertisements are
in this respect the devotional objects of the religion of market capitalism. Those
times when supply and demand did not match now belong to the past, thanks to
software dedicated to the product and the linking of the individual workplace,
the global market and innovative web-flow scenarios. It could be said that advertising is directed to the system as a whole, in which it occupies a quite specific
place. It is therefore often underestimated as a medium for producing constantly
evolving everyday knowledge in this case, the perception that our existing capitalist world is the most natural and best world there is, and that it is historically
unsurpassable. From the sheep is heard the great narrative of the end of history,
given most eloquent expression by Francis Fukuyama.
I shall take my last example for the thesis that the stories which are possibly
most effective are those which are unspoken, as taken for granted, from an essay
by the American literary theoretician Ihab Hassan, Pragmatism, Postmodernism
and Beyond. His text, based on a lecture, begins with a postmodern joke, a sort of
rhetorical star guest:
an American businessman is lecturing in Japan. He has employed a Japanese interpreter
in a simultaneous translation facility. The lecture begins, and the lecturer says to his audience: American speaker now begins with what they call joke. We do not know why they
do this in America, but we must be polite. When the time comes, I will give you a signal and
we must all laugh and applaud together. The punchline comes, the Japanese interpreter
says: Now. The audience bursts out laughing and clapping. The American, pleased as
Punch, says: Thank you. This is the first time an audience has appreciated my joke so
fully. (Hassan 1993, 1130)

Hassan uses this story in order to demonstrate the new nature of cultural encounters and the inevitable misunderstandings which ensue, which then go on to have

5The contemporary relevance of Walter Benjamins Passagenwerk is to be found in the way

he treats capitalism not exclusively as an economic system, but as a far-reaching cultural
6Cf. Wolfgang Mueller-Funk, Kulturwissenschaft(en) eine europische Chance fr sterreich

The Hidden Narratives


a culture-generating effect in themselves. The joke is post-modern because it is

presented in a self-referential form. The joke about the American businessman
in Japan told here reflects in an alienating way on Hassans own situation in the
unfamiliar context of German culture. Culture only moves into our field of vision
in one perspective, only when there is a privileged observer from another culture.
But in postmodern light, he gets entangled in his own story, becoming its tragicomic hero like the American businessman. He is operating in those intermediate
spaces which Homi K. Bhaba associates with a stairwell:
The staircase as a place of thresholds between definitions of identity becomes a process
of symbolic interaction, a connecting structure, which constructs the differences between
above and below, black and white. (Bhabha 1994, 5)

Why did the Japanese audience understand and misunderstand the American
speaker? Quite evidently, because figurative language as a form of discourse that
has a meaning different to what is said is highly conditioned by culture, as indeed
are all pragmatic features of speech acts, such as gestures and gesticulations.
Laughter in England and America is different from laughter in Germany and
Japan. Not many Germans find Monty Python really funny. But there is something
else which the Japanese presumably do not understand, namely why the Americans begin their lectures with a mini-lecture. It is, by the way, a technique practised since antiquity: captatio benevolentiae. It is about winning the audience
over. The speaker does this by bringing those laughing onto his side, because
laughter establishes a sense of community. The laughter establishes a symbolic
bond between speaker and audience which raises the level of attentiveness and
makes it easier for the speaker to get his message across. In our culture, it is good
to be a witty and therefore sociable person.
The Japanese interpreter in this obviously rather too well-invented story
does indeed know the language, but he is not familiar with the common sense
of the culture in which the language is expressed. All he knows is that you have
to laugh approvingly and affirmatively at the start of a lecture. But why this artificial exercise? Probably, because the joke is a tried and tested way of creating
that common sense which lies at the heart of Anglo-American common sense. In
German-speaking cultures, indicating the average, the common meaning and the
quotidian tends to have a negative connotation, and not just in intellectual discourse. In contrast to this, in the Anglo-Saxon countries, their inclusion enjoys a
high symbolic status. It forms part of the common stories of the culture.
In a certain way, community-building is not just a more or less contemporary
theoretical and political project in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but also part of
a cultural reality: it is important to prove oneself as a social and communica-


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

tive being and to represent and create a sense of community, as an antidote to

the conformist individualism that proceeds from capitalism. The other side of the
coin is that whoever does not laugh, who cannot laugh because s/he perhaps has
nothing to laugh about, quickly becomes an outsider. There is perhaps a close
connection between the high valuation of Anglo-American culture and its distrust of a culture which is always minority or avant-garde. Common sense is thus
included in the success story of a pragmatism which is first and foremost untheoretical and whose strength resides in the brilliant and entertaining way the story
of its collective meaning confirms itself. The story offers information about creating community spirit in concreto: by telling a story which makes others laugh. The
joke is the story which common sense tells best about itself. That the story does
not have to be about social reality but is here a question of an ideal self-image
does not change matters.
The Japanese interpreter does not know this story which common sense tells
about it. He therefore reacts with the traditional non-aggressive mode which cultures have learnt from contact with foreigners: politeness. Politeness is the creation of a sense of community which is aware of the difference, here of cultural
alterity. There is thus an element of successful translation in the misunderstanding. The translator has understood the speakers intention without being aware of
it: to come into contact with his audience. In this he is clearly brilliantly successful. This is obviously connected to the fact that the Japanese version of politeness
has a role comparable to that of humour in America it successfully creates a
form of social behaviour which is essential for coexistence in society.
Jokes are, as Freud knew, a system in which the unexpressed makes room
for itself; they belong to the production of unconsciousness which Erdheim sees
as central in the phenomenon of culture at the grass roots. They address what
cannot be expressed. Jokes are connected in two ways with common sense: to
understand them it is necessary to know the basic narrative structure of a culture
which is normally left unstated. They are also an ideal narrative genre in the given
cultural context, because they contain those five qualities which in Geertzs view
characterise latent, symbolic everyday knowledge. They work through evidence
(naturalness) the hero is comic, because a practical case with self-evident rules
is given, they are not methodologically concise and thin. But above all, they
have to be accessible to the other person. A joke that nobody understands is a
contradictio in adjecto. The comic protagonist is often the butt of humour; he is
the one who stumbles because unlike the narrator of the joke he does not understand the joke of the others common sense. If it is not a language joke, then it
is always the absent other which gives rise to laughter in a narrated joke. Jokes
belong to that large family of embarrassing stories which establish identity by
making fun of people whom they exclude. In this construction of the foreigner,

The Hidden Narratives


jokes bring the aggression under control which laughter and figures of speech
have made conscious; or one makes oneself into the object of the joke, which is
what Hassans postmodern suggestion amounts to. If one wishes to see postmodernism positively, then one could say that all its humane content resides in the
interrelated merriment and irony it displays towards itself.

On the Narratology of Cultural and

The past [] cannot be recalled; but it behoves us to think the
future: perhaps you may again see the object you regret.
William Beckford, Vathek

This essay connects two discourses that have not always been linked, especially
in the German-speaking context: narratology (Mller-Funk 2002/2008) and the
concept of cultural memory. It argues that all forms of memory are explicitly or
implicitly based on retrospective narratives that seek to cross the unbridgeable
gap between the time of narrating and the time of the events that will be narrated.
If memory and remembering are key issues for understanding the concept of the
self, every identity produces the impossible: bridging the gap between the act
of remembering and the remembered events, feelings and impressions. So, all
traditional concepts of memory and remembering try to forget this principal difference in remembering. In contrast to political questions susceptible to rational
decision-making, we do not have the choice between remembering and forgetting. Both are parts of one and the same process (Weinrich 1997). Traditional
cultures prefer the idea of the eternity of symbols and signs, whereas intellectual avant-gardes in modern societies (and modern and post-modern subjectivity
as a whole) prefer to extinguish signs and symbols and start at a virtual zeropoint (Lachmann 1993, XVIIXXVII). The traditional concept of monumentalized
memory, however, denies the open and uncertain process of remembering/recollecting that no longer includes the permanent storage of fixed items as happens in
a library or a mega-computer or God, none of whom ever forget. These metaphors
can be understood as protection from the uncanny, from Freuds notion of the
Unheimliche. They suggest a solid and fixed existence for a remembering subject
that may feel its identity to be safe and secure across time. The concept of a more
or less perfect memory and the idea of a constant, reliable and complete subject
who is his or her own master presuppose each other. If one gives up the concept of
memory as storage in which nothing gets lost, you also have to relinquish the idea
of a strong and stable subject. The uncanny is the clear effect of that process and
modern people have tried, at least since the times of Goya and Hoffmann, to confront themselves with their broken identities and the monstrous features which
are the companions of modern subjectivity. Thus, the constructive character and
the discontinuity that is written into the structure of remembering are the strongest arguments in favor of the idea of a fragmented subject. In her critique of Assmanns concept of cultural memory, Vittoria Bors (following Derridas concept
of differance) has defined the medium of memory as a space of possibility, which

On the Narratology of Cultural and Collective Memory


is actualized only by some form of remembering (Bors 2002, 2353). So, time
is always inscribed in the medium of cultural memory, which can be described
as a constant, but non-continual process of actualization. It always starts from
the moment of narrating and re-narrating. Narration and remembering are two
aspects of one and the same complex: culture. Media can be understood as forms
which do not simply represent the content of the narratives but indeed construct
them in different ways. The difference between Libeskinds museum and Eisenmans traditional monument creates a different rhetorical structure of reception
and a different idea of remembering.
Culture, the realm of identity- and difference-making, can be described as a
dynamic cluster of more or less hierarchical, manifest or latent narratives which
have not only a retrospective but also a prospective or teleological aspect. Narratives describe the way of building a world of symbolic forms (Cassirer 1994
[1953]). Giambattista Vico has already described these symbolic forms of culture
on two levels, a diachronical and a synchronical one: the former is exemplified
by the symbolic ritutalization of funerals and the latter by the symbolic reutilization of marriages (Vico 2000 [1774]; Kittler 2000, 1943). Every culture can be
interpreted as a symbolic and narrative community that includes the dead, for
diachronic unity, and symbolizes human relationships in recurrent forms with
long-lasting effect, guaranteeing synchronic unity.
The differences between cultures and the changes within cultures go hand in
hand with the shift of those symbolic and narrative forms. The point is not that
there is no reality pain, death, war, hunger, exploitation but that this reality
can only be understood through the specific narratives and their occurrence in
specific media and genres. So, aesthetic judgement can be reintegrated as part
of a critical theory of culture that accepts that there is a gap between the commemorated event or thing and the general cultural design of commemoration,
between history and aesthetic judgement. A culturalistic approach which dissolves politics and nature into culture (Eagleton) fails because of two aspects. On
the one hand it dissolves reality into culture (there is nothing else other than
culture). On the other hand it extinguishes the category of political reflection
which has always been an unavoidable presupposition of Critical Theory and also
of the reflective turn. Different cultures develop different ways and concepts
of self-description, self-reflection, and different symbolic patterns and clusters.

1Terry Eagleton (2000, 131): Culture is not only what we live by. It is also, in great measure,
what we live for. [] We have seen how culture has assumed a new political importance. But
it has grown at the same time immodest and overweening. It is time, while acknowledging its
importance, to put it back in its place.


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

Thus, in the case of the Shoah, dissolving reality and removing the necessity of
political reflection are particularly unattractive options, especially for critical
thinking in the German-speaking countries. The discussion of how to recollect
and to represent the Shoah is based on the very existence of the Nazis concentration camps.
Every study of ones own culture can be read as such a form of self-description, because the description is part of what is described. In contrast to the traditional analysis of society and politics, this type of cultural studies is based
on a critical view of ones own culture, its attitudes, its types of narratives.
The view preferred is that of a virtual foreigner, e.g. a tourist, a member of the
Diaspora culture, an ethnologist. When he wrote that the man who discovered
Columbus did a bad job, the essayist and poet of the German late Enlightenment
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg announced this change of perspective (Mller-Funk
1995, 104135; Lichtenberg 1968, ff, g 183, Vol. II, 168). I dare say that most of the
essays and books written in the context of English Cultural Studies and post-colonialism are written from this semi-detached viewpoint. But unlike Lichtenbergs
West Indian, his heirs meanwhile are now able to tell stories about the connection between cultural difference, power and domination. The ouvres of Homi K.
Bhabha (1994), Stuart Hall and Edward Said (1979) are examples of this kind of
critical Western narration from an outsiders perspective.
In contrast to political assertions that old Austria was the archetype of multiethnic empire, or that globalisation started from the port of Lisbon (as the Portuguese president pointed out proudly during the Portuguese presidency of the
EU) or that Great Britain brought modern civilisation to India, there is an intellectual (academic and non-academic) standard which claims that only a self-critical
type of ethnological observation is an adequate medium for research in Cultural
Studies. Thus, with regard to methodology, every type of cultural studies needs
the alterity of culture for its own self-description. If there were only one culture
then Cultural Studies would cease to exist as a discipline.
The hypothetical encounter between Europe and Non-Europe which Lichtenberg describes in his paradoxical aphorism has never been the main theme of
Germanys inter-cultural experience. The Germans attempts to establish a colonial empire failed. It remained a brief episode in German history. The Germans
and the German-Austrians (Deutschsterreicher) have never been Meerschumer
[seafroth-people, i.e. people open to the sea], but Landtreter [land-stepping
people, i.e. land-locked people] (Schmitt 1997). Nevertheless like all the other
Europeans, in their fascination with the ambivalent images of exoticism, their
colonialism has more or less been (with the exception of Wilhelminian era) an
inner-continental one based on traditional concepts of domination and colonisation, especially of the less civilised Slavic peoples.

On the Narratology of Cultural and Collective Memory


The end of the Second World War marks the irreversible end of that system
of political and cultural hegemony. But it was the uniqueness of the Shoah, the
technologically driven killing of six million Jewish people during Hitlers war for
Weltherrschaft [world domination] that has voluntarily and involuntarily characterized the cultural code of the Germans and the other German-speaking peoples.
It is not the result of a collective unconscious in a Freudian sense but the effect
of a fundamental fixation which characterises the narrative itself. It works like a
continual matrix: all political events are to be transferred and to be interpreted
with regard to the dark side of the German past. The outside observer position
upon which Cultural Studies depends is now that of the survivor of the Shoah.
This may be an over-simplification, but it is a very helpful one. By comparison,
English and American Cultural Studies started as a critical debate about colonialism and post-colonialism: the determining condition of what we refer to as
post-colonial studies is the historical phenomenon of colonialism, with its range
of material practices and effects, such as transportation, slavery, displacement,
emigration, and racial and cultural discrimination (Ashcroft, Griffith, Tiffin
1995, 7). In contrast, German intellectual discussion was conducted beneath the
shadow of the Shoah: as a political, theoretical, and above all a moral challenge.
German Cultural Studies are thus based on one central post-war narrative: the
Shoah. But German post-national-socialist culture is interesting as a topic for
Cultural Studies because it also shows the radical change in collective remembrance of a political collective. Moreover, it shows how the Germans have integrated a specific Jewish remembrance in their own culture, incorporating alterity,
as it were. This does not only mean that, in some aspects, the history and the
fate of European Jews is a part of collective memory that is remarkable; rather,
this incorporation undermines the traditional form of the collective memory of a
nation state, which generally includes a story of success and constructs a sharp
difference between inside and outside. Moreover, this integration is not only one
of painful and shameful events in the collective memory in German lands, but
also an integration of the form and the structure of a distinctively Jewish collective memory. The structure of traditional Jewish memory, however, is mythical:
it implies the ability of the virtual community (and of each of its members), the
Diaspora, to recall the very beginning and the central events of their history in
every moment. There is not any present point that is not embedded in the collective memory (Yerushalmi 1989).
The collective memory of the Shoah, therefore, produces an irreconcilable
relationship of tensions between tradition and modernity, between myth and
enlightenment. Political progressiveness in German-speaking countries is based
on a concept of memory defined by the categorical imperative of remembering;
this concept of memory is thus pre-modern. The pathos of the pseudo-mythical


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

collective memory of the nineteenth-century nation state is thus substituted by a

mythical one, which is pathetic in regard to the fate of the Jewish people. This fate
is unique, on the one hand, but a paradigm on the other: it reminds us of violence,
suppression, domination and suffering in history in general. It implies a critical
perspective on history and entails a messianic motive, which Benjamin has conjured up in Klees picture of the Angelus Novus (W. Benjamin 1977, 255): his face is
directed to the past. In contrast to historians, who recall history only as a series
of events, this angel is confronted with one single catastrophe. He would like to
bring the dead victims of history back to life and to fit together the destroyed
parts. But there is a storm blowing from paradise which moves him to the future.
This storm is, as Benjamin points out sarcastically, what we call progress.
In his critique of mainstream concepts of history and progress Benjamin has
elaborated, years before the Endlsung [final solution] a concept of remembering
which returns to myth in a very specific way. The reference to Klee is programmatic. It suggests that it is art and aesthetic modernism which is able to reconcile
myth and modernity by giving the myth a critical meaning and transforming it
into a medium for objecting to history. Classical aesthetic modernism in the
style of Kafka and Klee may be described as work on myth (Blumenberg 1979)
under modern circumstances, in a post-mythical world. But even a post-mythical
world will have its myths. The Shoah, indeed, has been interpreted by the leading
German intellectuals as the most important offspring of their country. The Shoah
is a negative myth of Germany. If you want to tell the story of contemporary
Germany, you have to begin with the Shoah. This can be demonstrated by Berlins
post-1989 monuments, which contrast dramatically with the imperial monuments
of 1871. The sophisticated Benjaministic Jewish Museum of Daniel Libeskind
(Schneider 1999; A. Benjamin 1997, 103118) and the Holocaust Monument near
the Reichstag, which itself has been ironically deconstructed by Norman Foster,
are the only relevant monuments of post-modern cultural memory in Germany.
Berlin itself is, as a result, visibly and invisibly a ruin of an empire based on
the narratives of progress, victory and success. Its monuments, the Reichstag or
the Brandenburger Tor or the Gloriette, have changed their meaning completely.
They are no longer manifestations of power, but remains of a future that has
gone. They have not changed their material outfit (beside Fosters adaptation of
the Reichstag), but they have changed their meaning. They can now be read as
fragments in the sense of Romantic irony: parts that oppose the whole; which is
to agree with Adorno, like Benjamin an heir of German Early Romanticism that
these structures are monuments to the untrue.
Libeskinds museum uses Benjamins messianic narrative, which is beyond
the dichotomy between a transcendental and a secular history, as a starting point.
In contrast to the concepts of traditional monuments, which allegorize events,

On the Narratology of Cultural and Collective Memory


here there is nothing to see. The Shoah, the greatest possible horror of history
until today, remains invisible. So there is nothing to recognize. You are in a labyrinth, in an underworld, in the world of Benjamin, Kafka and Dante but without
any pictures upon which to impose meaning. At the same time the structure of
the building refers to reality, it is like a map, depicting the places, streets and
areas where the murdered and disappeared Jewish people of Berlin lived before
the Shoah. In Libeskinds advanced and hermetic architecture the categorical
imperative of permanent remembering is modified, because this is a subjective
and active remembering which differs from the traditional concept of praising
dead men and women.
Eisenmans Holocaust monument project, next to the Reichstag, however, is
much more traditional. Maybe the difference between the term Shoah [disappearing] and Holocaust [sacrifice, burnt offering] is important here, because the terms
presuppose different narratives and concepts. Shoah suggests the possibility of
a transnational remembering of a horror which is inexpressible and subjective.
Holocaust suggests a more national collective memory (a negative nationalism in
regard to the Germans) which is complete and objective. Eisenmans key idea is to
list all the names of the murdered Jewish people. His project is monumental in its
form but also because of its size, a huge field of collective memory, some sort of
a cemetery in the center of Berlin. It is not pure chance that the Holocaust monument project, and not Libeskinds sublime museum, has provoked political and
intellectual discussions of how to remember Germanys past and to what extent
the Shoah is part of the collective memory in Germany. It is the controversial
nature of the Shoah narrative, and especially the debate on the Berlin Holocaust
Mahnmal, which led to the intervention of the German writer Martin Walser, who
fiercely criticized the idea of permanent symbols of remembrance, using the term
negative nationalism (Schirrmacher 1999). Meanwhile, Walser has become a
type of author who sees his function as undermining the common sense of political correctness in German cultural memory. His novel Tod eines Kritikers (Death
of a Critic), a roman clef about the Jewish critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, develops a double speak. Officially it denies using anti-Semitic symbolic material but
refers to the traditional and now hidden narrative of the ugly Jew (Walser, 2002).
He is right in his critique of traditional monument-making, but he is not capable
of working out this critique without resentment of the victims and their successors. This is what I would call Walsers trap.
These monuments are fragmented phenomena in a post-modern society,
which is based on cursoriness, forgetting, speed and leisure, all symbolized in
Berlins Potsdamer Platz by the post-modern, neo-historic shopping and leisure
architecture of Mercedes and Sony not far away from the proposed location for
the Holocaust monument. These are places of the temporary, places also of for-


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

getting. Here another categorical imperative rules: This is the happiness of the
present. Happiness is based on forgetting. So, the structurally pathetic culture
of official remembrance of the Shoah (Do remember!) contrasts in an obvious
way with the unbearable lightness of being (Kundera) of the surrounding
cultural landscape. The topography of the new and fragmented city center of
Berlin demonstrates the sharp contradiction of two categorical imperatives that
in principle are incompatible, but in actuality are irrefutable. Or in other words,
the alternative between forgetting and remembering is wrong in any case. We
have no choice. We may insist on the necessity of remembering, but on the other
hand, the young people strolling through the new city center have the right to
start their life free of an overshadowing past, which is no longer their own experienced past.
The negative nationalism of this culture of remembrance entails a very specific narrative: based on the crimes of their own nationalism, the macro-subject
Germany tries to compensate for them by the most perfect and well-articulated
public gestures. It is clear that Germanys preoccupation with the Shoah differs
from that of its neighbours. Until now the Germans and the Austrians have lived
under the threat of being disqualified as the heirs of Hitler. There is a double
bind in this predicament: the negative nationalism of permanent remembrance
as well as the positive nationalism that is in favour of a certain forgetting of the
legacy of the Shoah both confirm the critical judgements of Germanys and Austrias European neighbours. It remains an open political and cultural question
whether dialectical and relaxed relations between remembering and forgetting
(there is no remembering without forgetting, and no forgetting without remembering) can be realized in the case of the collective memory in Germany and
Austria. Perhaps both countries have to go on with the cynicism and hypocrisy
of official remembrance, which has less to do with the general level of reflexivity. It is hard to decide what is politically more dangerous, official forgetting or
official remembrance. Both options tend to nullify the past either by excluding
it or by attempting to predetermine and control how it enters cultural life. Under
certain circumstances an international Court of Justice, for example, could be an
institution with the perspective of Klees angel. Although attentive to the crimes
of the past, it is not fixated on the past, but looks to the future, a better form of
remembering than monumental architecture.
Every culture is based on acts of common remembrance and forgetting.
However, this forgetting does not cause an irreversible deletion from memory,
but produces a latent memory that can in principle be reactivated. So it is not
very surprising that discourse about memory, remembering and forgetting plays
an enormous role in German Kulturwissenschaften, although it does not concentrate exclusively on the Shoah, but also on every aspect of remembrance. It is

On the Narratology of Cultural and Collective Memory


no coincidence that it was an Egyptologist, Jan Assmann, who initiated research

projects on collective and cultural memory and remembrance (A. Assmann 2000;
J. Assmann 1992). For Egypt is, in contrast to the Jewish culture of memory, a
harmless, but a fruitful topic of research. Undoubtedly, ancient Egypt with its
unbroken line of rulers and its monumental architecture can serve as a case study
for the mechanism of collective memory and further as an excellent example of
a cold culture (Levi-Strauss) which is based on writing. This culture is cold
because it has a surplus of collective memory that works like myth as an implicit
barrier against change.
The Assmann school developed its concept of remembrance in critical discussion with the ideas of the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs. In contrast
to Bergson, Blondel and Proust, Halbwachs studies the social conditions of
memory, arguing that the social is the transcendent presupposition of memory in
general (in analogy to Kants argument that time and space are the transcendent
presuppositions for the human mind). Therefore this is the key to the argument a social memory does not exist beside a private one, but all personal
remembrance is located within a social framework that Halbwachs called the collective memory, a memory of contemporaries, based mainly on orality, a memory
that comes to an end when its proponents, the generation of contemporaries, die.
This short-term memory at best exists for about eighty years. Consequently, Halbwachs tries to make a clear difference between memory and history (Halbwachs
1997[1950]; Nora 1996). The concept of cultural memory Assmann and others
developed differs from Halbwachs by introducing the idea of culture-based
common memory with a long-term durability. In contrast to Halbwachs collective memory, the latter is ritualised in texts, rites, monuments and other objective
manifestations of culture that endure beyond the generations of their creations.
It is quite evident that Halbwachs emphasises something closer to the memories people actually experience, in German the Erinnerung, whereas Assmann
emphasises the memories that culture can attempt to engineer for subjects to
establish culture as a durable entity, in German the Gedchtnis. Both concepts do
not refer to the narrative structure of remembering and recollecting, but it is quite
evident that Halbwachs concept of collective memory is based on a framework
of common narratives which are able to actualise the authentic remembering of
the individual who is a member of his or her generation. The substantial medium
is oral story telling. In contrast, Jan Assmann has developed his concept in his
own field of research: Egyptology. Cultural memory in Assmann is created by the
medium of writing and based on non-personal stocks of events. It is the specific
form of the medium and the material of stone which creates a specific type of
narrative and memory: myth. It suggests the idea of timelessness and eternity.
It deletes continuity of discontinuity in time. The myth is a narrative without a


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

reference to the time of narrating and is never self-referential to it. It erases the
active and the aspect of remembering just in time.
This cultural memory is quite evidently weaker in its phenomenological
importance than the personal, but socially embedded Erinnerung. In the sense
that Halbwachs makes use of the mechanisms of personal remembering, his collective memory is connected to a collective imagination; thus we can conceive of
the remembering community as a mega-subject of which we are a part. This is
the way to make historical experiences personal experiences. It is very evident
that the German debate about memory, which has been a major impetus for
German Cultural Studies, started just at that moment when Halbwachs collective memory of the contemporaries came to an end, because the victims and
the culprits of the Shoah, and with them, their person-based memories, began
to disappear due to death. One could argue that Assmanns cultural memory will
take the place of the contemporaries remembrance. In some aspects this can, on
the one hand, work: one can monumentalize the experiences of the dead contemporaries of the Shoah in different media of remembrance. But on the other
hand, this effort is in vain, because there remains a certain border that cannot be
crossed. In some respects remembrance gets a metaphorical meaning: ritualized
remembrance, in the sense of Assmanns cultural memory, serves to remind me
of events which are not part of my uncertain but nevertheless personal memory.
It postulates remembering things I cannot refer to personally. In this regard, Halbwachs clear differentiation between a person-based and socially established
collective memory is more sensitive to the differences between personal remembrance and a monumentalised memory which is unable to rescue the experiences
of dead contemporaries.
It is not easy to clarify the differences in the German language between Erinnerung and Gedchtnis. But it is quite evident that Erinnerung means the spontaneous, involuntary non-rational recall of personal events, painful and shameful matters, whereas Gedchtnis means the rational voluntary effort to employ
all our mental capacities including knowledge, information and cultural techniques. Every one of us knows the painful moment when we fail to remember
some detail of an event, a name of a person, the name of a place where we have
been. Undoubtedly for me, born after the Second World War, the history of the
Third Reich is part of my cultural memory but not a part of my unreliable but
personal memory (A. Assmann 2000, 31).
The difference, then, between Halbwachs collective memory and Assmanns
cultural memory is a very deep one. One can compare it with the relation between
memorised life and myth in a pre-modern community. Myth begins where memorised life ends. The function of myths and specific dominant narratives in a given
culture, are enormous. Myths make it possible for a community to survive as a

On the Narratology of Cultural and Collective Memory


social-cultural entity by guaranteeing the more or less peaceful continuity of

generations. Mythological communities are societies that structurally conceal
the difference between the two kinds of memory. All your life experiences will
be related to the grand narratives of the myths. In contrast, in modern, non-traditional societies the difference between the two memories and the shift between
the generations becomes manifest: there is struggle to control the design of the
common non-personal memory from generation to generation.
There are some interesting structural similarities between monumentalised
cultural memory and myth. Both suggest length, duration, frozen time, the idea
that there is one and only one understanding of the grand monumentalised narrative. The kulturelle Gedchtnis in the Western world has always been expressed
and imagined in metaphors of space: as a library (St. Augustine), as an amphitheater (as in the Renaissance) or, as one says in German, as a Speicher [store]
the memory of the computer. Space is also a symbol of continued existence,
of survival. All is saved and rescued, nothing will disappear. (Yates 1966, ch. 2
and 6)
Both traditional myth and modern national and nationalistic narratives are
based on a central abstraction and analogy. They construct communities as a
virtual body, because only our body guarantees personal experience, feeling,
and identity. The imaginary body advanced to the status of a macro-subject bears
with it special relationships to my personal distinctive micro-body: I imagine
the whole of the culture-based nation as a body, my body, in which the virtual
body of the nation is incorporated. Only this close intrinsic connection, which
the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century gave physical form, make the
non-rational identification with my country understandable, an identification
that goes far beyond membership in a civil society. Cultural memory is the effect
of the same abstraction, relating to human beings capacity to construct identity
in narrative structures.
But there is a problem with monumentalisation and media representation.
Whereas contemporaries can decode their specific media of memorising (photos,
monuments, autobiographies), later generations cannot do so without the existence of commentaries and interpretation. Without these explications, the cultural memory remains as silent as the gravestones of other families I pass when
I walk to the graves of my own family. So the idea of objectivity is deceptive, an
illusion, as is the concept of fixed time which is enclosed in the monument (A.
Assmann 2000, 5562).
In contrast to traditional concepts of memory, modern scientific research
as well as post-modern philosophy shows memory to be in a permanent state
of change. Personal memory changes, and with it the pictures and views, the
tableaux of memory and the narratives on which memory is established. So it


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

becomes clear that memory and remembrance are not phenomena of space but
of time. Perhaps this marks the difference between the Jewish concept of remembering, which involves the idea of memorising as an indefinite text, and the traditional western idea of saving and rescuing memory in a fixed space. Memory
is, as Renate Lachmann has pointed out, not a passive store or a reservoir, but
a complex mechanism for the production of texts (Lachmann 1993, XVIff.). I
would argue, in addition to Lachmanns semiotic approach, that these texts in the
final analysis have a narrative component. Because of its dynamic qualities the
relationship between remembering and forgetting is not static. Without forgetting
there is no remembering. Forgetting namely produces a latent, inactive memory
that can be reactivated by a process which Lachmann calls re-semiotification of
cultural signs. There is a tendency, especially in the German post-Shoah culture,
to stigmatise forgetting as a form of morally unacceptable Verdrngung [removal,
repression] of the past. But forgetting is also part of a productive process of functional differentiation: there is, on the one hand, an informative memory and on
the other a very creative memory with new aesthetic and ethical outputs that generate remembering as a dynamic process which is far different from traditional
concepts of monuments, which, ironically, very soon themselves become part of
the informal non-active part of cultural memory.
Lachmann describes two extreme versions of cultural remembrance. The
traditional one is in favour of the inexstinguishability and insolubility (Unlschbarkeit) of signs, the other progressive, avant-garde version is in favour of extinguishability and erasure (Lschbarkeit). Thus the political opposition between
the Left and the Right in German-speaking countries includes a remarkable contradiction. Usually the Left argues against a traditional concept of remembrance;
however, the majority of them who work in the media plead, especially in the
case of the Shoah, for a traditional concept of remembrance. On the other hand,
there is a right wing tendency in German culture (representing, perhaps, the
silent majority) that favours the idea of the neutralisation of the Shoah, storing
it in the inactive area of cultural memory. It seems to me that both positions
are theoretically unsatisfactory and politically problematic, because both undermine the indissoluble link between remembering and forgetting under the circumstances of a post-traditional society. No culture lives without a self-reference,
built upon a foundation of common memory; nor can you any longer conserve a
culture by a monumentalised collective memory. What happens in postmodern
societies is that memory itself, for a long time a guarantor of constancy, becomes
dynamic. We cannot control how coming generations will remember the Shoah.
What I propose therefore is a narratological turn that mitigates these contradictions of political intent and problematic form.

On the Narratology of Cultural and Collective Memory


Such a narratological turn in Cultural Studies would not automatically mean

a complete forgetting. Instead, the Shoah far from being the only framework
for German culture would become an increasingly latent narrative. As such, it
becomes part of a general common sense, and thus a resource for ethical and creative remembering, but no longer the main focus of German culture and politics.
Here it might be helpful to come back to Libeskinds Jewish Museum. It marks
just such a tertium datur between the two extreme memory policies of the traditional left and right. It imagines memory as a space, but as a labyrinth that provokes associations, commentaries, interpretations and makes no sense as a traditional monument. It refers to Benjamin and Celan but also to E.T.A. Hoffmann: to
Benjamin as we have seen as the protagonist of Jewish-German messianic remembering of the victims of history, but also to E.T.A. Hoffmann as the author of the
uncanny and to Celan as a proponent of classical modernism (Badiou 1997).
Benjamin, Hoffmann and Celan serve as companions through the hell of
remembering, but also as references. There is a place for a non-Jewish writer
(Hoffmann), to whom we owe literary masterpieces about the inner turmoil of
the subject and the non-rational as such. Reading the Shoah with Hoffmann as a
companion, through the journey of remembering in the labyrinthine hell of the
Shoah, may change the way we interpretate it. We will be confronted with the
idea that the unfathomable imaginary can be manifested as a terrible historical
power and not only in a world of fiction. Celan, the author of the famous Todesfuge, which can be seen as an illustrative example of how to do the impossible:
remembering the Shoah, is Libeskinds Virgil, encouraging the philosophising
architect to work on the Shoah with architecture as he has done before him with
the paradoxical use of words in his poems, which never describe mimetically their
events but refer to the elementary horror that transcends our capability of understanding. In one important point, Libeskinds museum stands in sharp contrast
to at least some variants of postmodernism. It denies the contrast between the
ethical and the aesthetic. The starting point of the Shoah is without any doubt an
ethical issue. To follow and fulfill this ethical request, the cry of the millions of
murdered people, out of respect for the dead, it is necessary to work out an ambitious aesthetic which is potentially adequate to the ethical goal. In this ethical
aesthetic, form rises to the surface as a key to the ethical issues and further to
the understanding of an event that exceeds our common-sensual ideas (in the
sense of Kants sensus communus). The museum is also, following Andrew Benjamins argument, architecture of hope (A. Benjamin 1997, 103118), although it
is not possible to integrate the Shoah in a traditional affirmative narrative. It goes
beyond every type of traditional political narrative of nationhood. One cannot
argue, for example, using Hegels tricky narrative of Die List der Vernunft [the


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

cunning art of reason], a variation of the grand narrative in the sense of Lyotard
(1979): how reason smoothes its way through history by using wrecked and cruel
passions of human beings. That was Hegels interpretation of the grand terreur
during the French Revolution making place for the Weltgeist, whom Hegel saw at
Jena in the figure of Napoleon (Blumenberg 1979, 122).
I return to the beginning in reaching a conclusion: the German transformation of cultural memory, perhaps unique at least in modern European history,
shows us the dynamic aspect of remembering and remembrance, the possibility
of narrative change, the shift of identity. But the danger of this radical moral and
cultural experiment in regard to Germanys collective remembrance is increased
by the problem that the Shoah is an overwhelming event. In contrast to Adorno
I would assert that it is possible to write poems after Auschwitz (as Celan did),
because lyric poetry is situated in the empty space between language and experience. For modern poetry, in particular, this is a phenomenon on the borderline,
at the edge of aesthetics and morality; there are also some narratives about Auschwitz, maybe grand rcits, but it is impossible to reconcile the narrative of the
Shoah, which implies a denial of automatic cultural progress, with traditional
national and ethnic narratives, which have always been organised as successful
stories that is, with a clear if mythological beginning, troubles in the middle
and a happy ending. Such stories concern rogues, but produce a lot of heroes;
they are stories of emancipation, of moral improvement, stories with clear oppositions, showing who is inside, who is out. Thus German identity, compared with
its European neighbours, is in some respects peculiar, extravagant. It is the luck
of the lack. That means the Germans are lucky not to possess a single traditional
national narrative and not be possessed by it, although the price of this lack is
inestimable. It is clear that, for example, in the field of literature (from Lorca to
Gombrowicz) these naive quasi-mythological narratives have come to an end.
And yet we know that no form of enlightenment is powerful enough to make
things disappear. So Germanys peculiarity entails a chance and a risk.
In contrast to the unconsidered and often repeated claim that right-wing
populism, for example in Austria, which undoubtedly includes traces of the
national-socialist past within it, is the result of Verdrngung [removal, repression]
and neglecting the Shoah in school education, I propose that such right-wing
populism is an obstreperous and contrary answer to the unreasonable demand
that the Austrians should be saddled with Auschwitz forever. It expresses a
longing to leave the supposed pariah status and to become a normal nation

2Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Vorlesungen ber die Philosophie der Geschichte (1970,
vol.12, 49f).

On the Narratology of Cultural and Collective Memory


again. So this kind of paradoxical forgetting is embedded in a strategy of normalisation. It seems to be promising, because the subjects of the Halbwachsian collective memory will unavoidably, for purely biological reasons, come to an end. On
the other hand, this populism profits from well-intentioned collective memoryengineering that misunderstood the complexities of narrative forms of memory
and used the Shoah for superficial political ends. Can we reconcile a reckoning
with the Shoah with a memory policy that is experienced as an uncomfortable
imposition, and is thus self-cancelling? There is a strong desire to abandon the
discourse of shame and guilt, because it seems to be unbearably painful. The
mingling of shame and collective guilt has often been criticized but is an effect
of the construction of nationhood as a common body, as a macro-subject which
has fixed borders like our own body. In Austria there is a desire for normal nationhood: to be (either in contrast to the Germans or in accordance with them) a quite
normal European nation like all the others. In an interview with Die Zeit the
former leader of the Freedom Party declared:
However, the permanent preoccupation with yesterday which constantly revolves around
the same subject is typical of the Germans. The Austrian has a different mentality [] The
Austrian comes to a point where he says: the subject has been discussed sufficiently. It
would be a good thing if the country began to get to grips with the future. (Perger 2000)

This passage provokes a commentary. It differs from other remarks only through
its unconcealed aggressive tone. It suggests that the Austrians are themselves
victims, a popular version of a non-official narrative that is widespread within
right-wing extremism and populism. It confirms that we live in times in which
everybody likes to be a victim, even racists and revisionists. Paradoxically, this
inverted argument is connected with a narrative that has usually been connected
with leftist modernism, a narrative defined by the pathos that the future is much
more important than the past, since the Enlightenment a reactionary place to be
abandoned. In some aspects, one might argue this is a simulated argument, but
this is a half-truth at best. Today, conservative parties and right-wing populism
have taken the place that in former times was occupied by the Left. Haiders proposal of dealing with contemporary problems and looking to the future without
the disturbing look back of Klees angel seems to be structurally more modern
than the Libeskind museum. The latter resembles an island in a postmodern world
that is backed by the hinc et nunc and has converted any sentimentality about the
past to being about the future. So the debate about the collective memory takes
place in a context which aside from postmodern right-wing populism is not
in favour of the differentiated treatment of forgetting and remembering suggested


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

by the Libeskind project, one of the rare and convincing attempts to deal with the
complexities of remembering.
The right-wing demand for normalisation in 2000 but also now makes clear
that there is reciprocity between culture and politics, between remembrance
and identity-creation. Germany, and in this case Austria, are excellent fields of
research for understanding the mechanisms of remembrance and remembering.
The point is that there is no necessity to declare the specific narrative background
on which politics is established. I would go so far as to suggest that the most
influential narratives are always latent ones. They become manifest when there is
a struggle about forgetting and remembrance a struggle that has never ceased
in the German-speaking countries, perhaps also in other European ones. The
cultural memory in regard to the Shoah is still active and there is no prospect
of the Shoah becoming a forgotten part of a universal remembrance. If common
sense means that you are not required to make the Shoah narrative explicit on
any particular occasion, then such normalisation needs to be neither aggressively proposed nor excessively mourned. Latent memories do not disappear, nor
lose force, in comparison to compulsory remembering and forgetting. However,
the hot-tempered debates about the Shoah make clear that the German speaking
countries are far away from that situation. They are indicators of a fight for meanings, very often concentrating on the fruitless alternative between forgetting and
The concentration on remembering as such, on the content, the supposed
thing remembered, is typical of the public discourse of collective memory. Both
political sides are, roughly speaking, awkward, obsessed by the thing remembered, unable to establish a relation to it beyond illusionary alternatives: either
to fix the past by permanent remembering (in the name of justice) or to escape
from it (in the name of freedom). But neither the first nor the second project can
work. The first is counterproductive with regard to its goal, because it produces in
the long run memorial surfeit and the longing for forgetting. The second is counterproductive too: as the request to be spontaneous produces its opposite, the
demand for forgetting produces a painful remembering that creates in the case
of Austrian right-wing nationalism a specific form of aggresion. Forwarding a
real attentiveness to the form of narrative remembrance could generate a more
adequate relationship to the remembered thing, a relationship which could
open up the realm of the future and would no longer be dominated by the fury
of disappearing (Hegel) and the nightmares of the past. Such a relationship,
which also overcomes traditional concepts of national identity, concentrates on
the form of memory. Aesthetic modernism has established a setting of new forms.
Maybe it has lost its pathetic self-understanding as a project that can change the
world, but it is art (literature, architecture, film) which enables us to imagine a

On the Narratology of Cultural and Collective Memory


sort of freedom also from the remembered thing. While the reflective turn
might most quickly be grasped in matters of purely aesthetic interpretation, the
implications for such a turn resonate far, even toward one of the most vexed and
vexing intersections of culture and politics in Europe today. Freuds approach,
whose term of Verdrngung has been misused for moralistic purposes, could
also prove to be helpful, at least as an intellectual experiment. It is not the event
as such that is decisive but the ability of the subject to develop narrative strategies to refer to it: to start a new life that does not deny the past.

Romanticism and Nationalism

The Heroic Narrative Hermann and the Battle for Germany
If a field of research is endless, as is evident in the case of nationalism, an attempt
at orientation might be helpful. One can apply at least two different principles:
selection and discrimination on the one hand, typology on the other. It may
thus be possible to reduce to only a few prototypes those thousands of publications about nationhood and nationalism, which for some time have been viewed
as some sort of historical burden, an awkward hangover from the nineteenth
century. In this case, I shall not refer to the formal instrument of narrative structural analysis. What is important to concentrate on is the different disciplinary
and trans-disciplinary focus of perspective and observation. One may dare say
that the typological framework proposed here goes hand in hand with the differentiation between the humanities, social sciences and cultural analysis.
In the paradigm of the humanities, nationalism is, as in Isaiah Berlin, located
in the field of the history of ideas, for example as a contrast between the West and
the East in Europe, between civil society and Eastern community (Gemeinschaft),
locked in a permanent discussion between Montesquieu and Herder. David Miller
has described the dilemma of that humanistic preoccupation quite impressively
in his review of the various attempts at differentiation in the field of nationalism:
Berlins characterization [] does [] bring out what it is about the idea of nationalism that
makes many people shy away and look for some other term to express their commitment to
nationality. Nationalism conjures up the idea of nations as organic wholes, whose constituent parts may properly be made to subordinate their aims to common purposes, and
the idea there are no ethical limits to what nations may do in pursuit of their aims, that in
particular they are justified to use force to promote national interests at the expense of other
peoples. Nationalism then appears both an illiberal and a belligerent doctrine, and people
of liberal and pacifistic disposition who nevertheless attach value to national allegiances
will search for some other term to describe what they believe in. Not everyone has taken
this way out. An alternative is to draw a distinction between different kinds of nationalism,
and then to argue that one of these is defensible while the other or the others are not. In
the vein of thought it is common to contrast a desirable Western form of nationalism with
an undesirable Eastern form, although different writers make the distinction in different
ways, and draw the line between East and West in different places. (Miller 1995, 8)

One problem of those concepts which are based on the history of ideas is that they
keep no real distance from their topic. To some extent, they more or less continue
the unreflected discourse they describe. This perspective is dominant in the dis-

Romanticism and Nationalism


course of politics and in that of the history of ideas from Renan to Plessner. The
events between 1933 and 1945 have resolved the theoretical tussle between Montesquieu and Herder in favour of the French Enlightenment. However, the postcolonial discourse (as is characteristic in and for cultural studies) makes it clear that
the concept of a peaceful and democratic nationalism of the West can be fragile
too. Under certain circumstances, this universalist nationalism can be used as
an instrument to legitimize repression, discrimination and violence, which is
deployed by the civilised to make the less civilised see reason. Furthermore,
there are also incorporated in Western notions of nationalism some organic and
fantasmatic ideas of the special mission of the white man or the grande nation,
ideas which are rarely compatible with the Western nations self image as proponents of rationality and enlightenment. (Bhabha 1994, 6388)
The second type of theoretical approach is sociological and functional. It can
be characterised by the widely discussed work of Ernest Gellner. In an implicit
and ironic reply to Marx, he interprets nationalism as the decisive instrument of
social modernisation after the breakdown of the ancien regime and the death of
God. Quite evidently, nationalism appears as an ideologically backward mental
formation which nevertheless, as in Hegels concept of die List der Vernunft serves
a progressive goal. Nationalism produces the standardisation of modern administration, a general education and school system, and a terrain for a common public
opinion (through newspapers and other media). It therefore makes the triumph
of modern capitalism much easier in helping to overcome the particularities of
the pre-modern world. However, Gellners argumentation does not explain why
modernity needed such an archaic, quasi-mythical and pseudo-religious cluster
of ideas as is quite evidently represented by nationalism.
The third strand in my typology I would call cultural. It is characterised by
concentration on symbolic forms and media. In contrast to sociological functionalism, it takes the nature of the nationalistic narrative seriously, which, because
of its interesting combination of variety and stereotyping, has some structural
similarities with Propps fairy tales. (cf. Reichmann 2000). The cultural analysis of nationalism is focussed on medial and symbolic characteristics, but also
on its specific location in culture. Such cultural analysis, based on media theory
and cultural anthropology, posits the question why modern societies constitute
themselves as imagined communities by way of national narratives. Anderson
and Girard can be seen as such paradigmatic authors who from their different
perspectives describe the logic of symbolic social integration. Anderson analyses

1Ernest Renan, Was ist eine Nation? und andere politische Schriften (1996); Helmut Plessner,
Die versptete Nation.ber die politische Verfhrbarkeit brgerlichen Geistes (1959).


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

the medial preconditions of the modern national narrative; in contrast to this,

Girard makes it possible to understand the survival and the continued effect of
mythical logic in modern societies in the form of the sacrifice. The analysis of
the kings two bodies, divine and human, which in different ways have been
presented by Marc Bloch and Ernst Kantorowicz, proves to be a further starting
point for understanding the transformation from medieval to modern society.
There is an important point where cultural analysis differs from the conceptual framework of the humanities and social sciences. In contrast to the latter it
poses the question about social integration on a general level, that is as a problem
as relevant to a small ethnic group like the 10000 Hopi Indians as it is to the 150
million Russians. This is the problem of how to construct cultural identity and
establish a common symbolic continuum in space and time.
The cultural approach differs from others in another important respect. It
does not understand nationalism exclusively and especially as an ideological
phenomenon of the nineteenth century but regards it as the result of a much
longer development. In the case of Andersons analysis, it is the letterpress and
book printing which at the beginning of the modern age make it possible to create
symbolic realms no longer restricted to those capable of understanding Latin.
Newspapers and the novel are the two modern genres which address and produce
modern masses by anonymous communication and thus effect their symbolic
social integration.
I shall now discuss a specific German variation of the nationalistic narrative,
the story of Arminius. The later transformation of the Latin name into the German
Hermann signifies the mutation of this figure into the first German. I chose this
German narrative because Germany has frequently been seen as the birthplace
of European nationalism, especially in the humanities and in political science.
While the humanities and social sciences remain helpful, we cannot but query
some of their common assumptions, for example the idea that Romanticism is the
debut of German Nationalism as reaction and answer to the French Revolution.
In particular, the widespread concept that German (and later European)
nationalism (with the exception of England and France) was purely a reaction
to the French Revolution is historically untenable and must be at least modified.
It was presented by Isaiah Berlin in a very convincing way. His argumentation
is based on two considerations: The French Revolution took place in the name
of universal and cosmopolitan ideas. Germany as a late-comer nation could not

2Ernst Kantorowicz, Die zwei Krper des Knigs (1990)/The Kings Two Bodies (1966); Marc
Bloch, tude sur le caractre surnaturel attribu la puissance royale particulirement en
France et en Angleterre (1924).

Romanticism and Nationalism


refer to these ideas to constitute itself in the process of state-making, because

this code was occupied by the French for their national self characterisation as
the grande nation, the nation of liberty. Therefore, the German clercs had to look
for a particularistic code to create and invent their nation: the Volksgeist. It was
the terreur of the Jacobeans which made this concept attractive for legitimating
the making of Germany and creating a modern nation-state on the territory of the
Holy Roman Empire.
But there are some problems with this argumentation: firstly, there were
growing nationalistic moments especially after the radicalisation of the Revolution in France itself. But more importantly, one can show that the nationalistic
code in Germany, which used historical myths for arguments, was already established in Germany in the middle of the eighteenth century, decades before the
French Revolution and the terreur. Heinrich von Kleists drama Die Hermannsschlacht (Hermanns battle), which has often been seen as the first of a new type
of a nationalistic narrative, does not mark the beginning of this type of classical
nationalistic story about the German David and the French-Roman Goliath, but to
some extent presents its climax and the provisional finale.
The identification of German Romanticism with nationalism is quite familiar, but there remains an obvious contrast to the programmatic self-understanding of historical Romanticism. By its inherent logic, Romanticism not merely
in the early period of Frhromantik represents the only non-nationalistic and
universalist modern movement in Germany. At the same time its mental divorce
from imminent modern political, economic and technological developments is
remarkable. Here, at first time the contrast between modernism in the arts and
modernism in society becomes visible. In this context, one needs to mention
Tiecks and Schlegels concept of a global and universal literature (Weltliteratur),
which were developed in Goethes shadow. But there is also the explicit Romantic
universalism. The critique of Protestantism and its anti-nationalistic implications
are part of that context. The self-description of the new movement Romanticism refers programmatically to an imagined Other a foreigner or stranger
within the stayed German environment and implies a multi-lingual and polyethnic understanding of literature and the world. There is still another ethnically
more specific association: romantisch is also connected with the Romance languages and literature, with the literature not written in Latin but in its popular
derivatives: Italian, French and Spanish.
At least in the German-Protestant context, modern nationalism is a product
of the age of Enlightenment, a result of that intellectual cluster of events in which
the Christian order of things was to be queried quite seriously. The nationalistic narrative advances to become the successor of the medieval political construction Ernst Kantorowicz has described as the kings two bodies. As Benedict


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

Anderson has pointed out, the eighteenth century not only marks the dawn of the
age of Enlightenment in Western Europe but also the twilight of religious modes
of thought (zkrml 2000, 143156). However, the century of Enlightenment
implies its own modern darkness. The decline of religiosity did not abolish harm
and misfortune, which religion had integrated into a symbolic order. The demise
of paradise makes death arbitrary. The idea of salvation becomes absurd. There is
a need to transform the unavoidable into continuity, contingency into meaning.
Anderson insists that the idea of nation was successful because it was the perfect
symbolic machinery to give meaning to the meaningless. Although one has to
understand European nation states as new and historical, the nations which
give them political expression and symbolic design always seem rooted in an
archaic past and, more importantly, march on into a boundless future. Nationalism cannot be understood simply as a series of intentionally connected ideologies, but is rather anchored in the cultural macro-systems which have gone
ahead. Hence nationalism is both the result of a new cultural constellation and a
reaction to an older cultural system (Anderson 1997, 33f).
In contrast to much received scholarly opinion, the connection between
nationalism and Romanticism must be described in a different way. Romanticism opens up perspectives to understand modern nationalism as a symptom of
crisis of the polity as a whole. The Neue Mythologie (New Mythology) Schlegel
and others depicted before 1800 can be seen as a synthetic, meta-political and
aesthetic pattern of thought intended to bridge the gap between tradition and
revolution, between the ancien regime and the national and nationalistic leve en
masse. In hindsight one may argue that it was historically excluded and impossible, a pattern of thought which came too early.
After 1800 a discursive coalition between a secondary type of Romanticism
and a new updated and radicalised German nationalism becomes evident which
had latently developed earlier. This intellectual constellation has a precise symbolic place, the vacuum, the utopia of the New Mythology. From a historical perspective, one can say that German nationalism occupies this vacuum in a very
successful and disastrous way. Especially since 1806, since the defeat of Prussia
in the battle of Jena and Auerstedt, it reverts to the older discursive equipment
and constitutes itself as a European prototype in mythical garb.
The irony of nationalism, at least at first glance, is its universal symbolical
design. But one should not reduce nationalism to the level of tribal battles or

3Cf. Theodor Lessing, Die Sinngebung des Sinnlosen (1919).

4Cf. Christoph Jamme, Gott an hat ein Gewand (1991); Karl Heinz Bohrer (ed.) Mythos und
Moderne (1983).

Romanticism and Nationalism


simply identify it as a producer of collectively effective enemy images. Modern

nationalism has specific historical and cultural roots. It differs from tribal
warfare and the pilloring of symbolic enemies because of two specific historical
conditions. Nationalism as a political form of discourse and as a literary narrative
becomes effective against the background of a specific Christian holy order and
a modern universalism which is grounded in an early capitalist society. Modern
nationalism, which negates universalism at all levels, proves to be more universal
than any other universalism to which it polemically refers. The similarity between
the rhetorically effective but theoretically poor nationalisms and their symbolic
configurations is striking and astounding:
Raise your eyes, comrades: Look at your wretched situation, at your desecrated temples, at
your daughters who are left to the lust of the barbarians, at your plundered houses, at your
devastated fields, at yourselves as unfortunate slaves! Is it not time to throw off the yoke
of slavery? Give up all that is un-Greek, wave your banners, make the sign of the cross
and you will triumph and save your fatherland and the religion from the slandering of the
godless. Is there anyone amongst you who does not wish to free the fatherland from its

Of course, variations are possible within the structure of nataionalistic narratives

(for example with regard to religion), but the fiery appeal of the Greek nobleman
who served the Russian crown, Alexander Ypsilanti, can be generalised. A Czech
or an Italian nationalist of the nineteenth century or also a German nationalist in
the age of Enlightenment would have spoken in a similar way. The addressees and
the enemies, to whom the nationalist declares war symbolically and really, may
change, while the rhetorical structure grosso modo remains the same. In other
words, there is something like a general narrative and specific tropology (White
1983) of nationalism, even if the cultural contexts of modern nationalisms differ.
What is of interest here is not the possibility of a critical stocktaking of those ideological phenomena, which implies a clever outside perspective but at the same
time produces a painful lack of argumentation with regard to the question of why
nationalism, despite its intellectual poverty, has been the most successful ideology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I also do not want to refer to the

5Erhebet nur eure Blicke, Kameraden! Sehet an euren erbarmenswerten Zustand, eure
entheiligten Tempel, eure Tchter der Wollust von Barbaren preisgegeben, eure geplnderten
Huser, eure verwsteten Felder, euch selbst als unselige Sklaven! Wre es nicht endlich Zeit,
das unertrgliche Joch abzuschtteln, das Vaterland zu befreien? Legt alles Ungriechische ab,
schwingt die Fahnen, schlagt das Kreuz, und ihr werdet berall siegen und das Vaterland und
die Religion von der Beschimpfung der Gottlosen retten. Wer von Euch, edle Griechen, wird das
Vaterland nicht freudig von seinen Banden befreien wollen?


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

differentiation which is used in politics and history, the difference between an

unhealthy and exaggerated nationalism and normal, legitimate national consciousness. There is no doubt that the blazing appeals of Greek, Polish or Italian
national revolutionaries could reckon with intellectual sympathy throughout the
whole of Europe. But as Isaiah Berlin has pointed out, nationalism, which was
never seen as a historical power and as a relevant grande rcit (Berlin 1991, 69),
has been seen only as a passing phenomenon especially by those political movements which acted as protagonists of the project of progress and development,
for example Marxs (Marx 1848, 5987).
From a non-national perspective one can perhaps discuss the question
whether certain revolts and revolutions which were backed by a national or
nationalistic narrative have not had their moral and political legitimacy. There
are many, but in contrast, there are other national uprisings which brought about
the contrary, not least by oppressing other ethnical groups. But the point is that
all these nationalisms, which as their starting point have a re-actualised foundation myth, possess a common structure. It may sound scandalous: but between
the National Socialism of an ugly SA man or a Tschetnik on the one side and the
noble nationalism of a hero of the risorgimento on the other may be a moral difference, but no difference in the logic of their discourse. What makes a difference
between Ypsilanti and Karadzic is the distance of time, the distance of 175 years.
When the Greek partisans freed their fatherland, all the mosques and bazaars
went up in flames (I dare say not only the buildings burnt). But there was nobody
who protested against those excesses. There is no European narrative recollecting
the story of the victims of Greek emancipation. Today such a pathos of national
liberation has to reckon with protest because nationalism, which has left a trail of
blood in European history, is now measured against the programmatic and institutionalised concepts of civil society and human rights. But as a simple event like
the plebiscite in Bozen ten years ago shows, nationalism has not yet disappeared
from the mental map, not even in the developed democracies in the West. In the
capital of South Tyrol or the Alto Adige the Italian majority voted in favour of
maintaining the name of the main square of the city as Square of Victory instead
of Square of Peace.
Returning to the blazing appeal of Ypsilantis unsuspicious risorgimento, the
narrative of modern nationalism entails the following six characteristics which
are fundamental for its coherence:
1. It contains an understanding of freedom and of the lack of freedom, which
is curiously vague. Neither the narrative of nationalism has formulated
a positive and explicit ideological goal of social politics (emancipation,
inflection of ruling power and violence, civil society) nor has it developed
an ambitious and critical theory which legitimates the ethnic struggle for

Romanticism and Nationalism




the freedom it propagates. Freedom is defined as freedom and autonomy

from the ethnic Other who is principally a threat to nationalistic identity
politics. It is the binary nature of the narrative that constructs this ethnic
Other in an action of symbolic exclusion of and opposition to the them who
are sharply distinguished from the us. Because of its logical structure this
radical political position implies the message that a dictatorship within
ones own ethnic group is to be preferred to any foreign rule, even if democratic. Generally, the lack of compromise of the national discourse, which is
an integral part of the formal structure of the national narrative, stands in
contrast to the liberal ideas of balance and provisional agreement.
The problem of political rule is thematised only in a reduced form. It
becomes the focus of attention merely with regard to the ruling power
executed by groups of people who are coded as strangers. As soon as the
strangers the Turks, the Frenchmen, the Rmlinge (the ugly Romans), the
Habsburgian jailers of peoples, the Jews have been expelled, there is no
longer a problem with political rule. In this discourse the problem of power
seems to be always extra-territorial, produced by the strangers out there.
At its very centre, nationalism imagines a society which is a non-alienated
community in a double sense: a community without aliens and a community which is not abstract and anonymous, a community without media,
technology and capitalist market relations. This demands a factor which is
structurally important also in other fields of society, a regress, a return, a
movement backwards to the believed origins, a re-volution in the direction
of the early times, to the archaic beginnings, when there was no foreign
and alienated rule. The national revolution is a revolution which imagines
a wonderful return to the earliest origins, before we were so rudely interrupted. It is because of this fantasy of a communal non-alienated social
formation there is a symbolic and imaginary place for nationalism and
socialism within modernity.
The nationalistic rhetoric of self-defence and urgency is part of the logic
of national mobilisation. In the national narrative this rhetoric goes hand
in hand with the counter-images of total slavery, brutal rape, plundered
houses, devastated fields. The images which, for example, the Slavic nationalisms produced after 1866 with regard to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy correspond to this type. One should mention that these nationalistic
fantasies of believed national extinction do not accord with the historical
situation. Without being sentimental and nostalgic about the ancien regimes
in Europe, one can easily see that the situation for example of the Greeks
in the Ottoman Empire was quite privileged, although they were excluded
from top political positions. The practising of their religion was guaran-


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

teed as well as that of political power on a regional level. The increasing

clout of social groups which executed important influence in trade and in
the economy was not least recruited from the Greek-Orthodox population.
(Alter 1985, 30) The dramatic and programmatic image of oppression which
modern nationalism depicts with regard to foreign rule does not necessarily coincide with historical events. But this obvious difference between the
rhetoric and the facts does not produce irritation. It does not weaken the
historical dynamism of the nationalistic narrative, but strengthens it.
4. Quite evidently, the nation is imagined as feminine. The innocent and
defenceless Volkskrper, which is maltreated and ravaged, is a female body.
The daughters who are exposed to the lewdness and lasciviousness of
the strangers encapsulate the efficient collective imagination of nationalistic politics. In its centre one finds the phantasma, that it is the lusty and
potent stranger who is able to take the body of ones own woman and rape
it: fear of castration and sexual deprivation. The centre of the nationalistic
complex is genuinely sexual; the construction of the modern community as
a female body which is to be protected and preserved as pure also explains
the mighty affirmative energies set in motion by nationalism. The national
desire is a psycho-dynamic phenomenon. The male body is placed a long
time before Fascism and National Socialism at the frontier of the female
body: as its wall. Nationalism also means the renaissance of the victorious
hero. (Theweleit 1986)
5. The stranger is the person who occupies ones own body: the woman,
the earth, the fertile territory. This kind of occupation by the stranger, the
foreigner is itself to be seen as a barbaric act. But there is a problem: How to
explain this situation in the nationalistic narrative? Whatever the reasons
for the evident superiority of the stranger/foreigner, the attribution to him
of the barbaric, which is illustrated by Ypsilantis rhetoric, has a powerful
appeal. It promises the consolation that the stranger attacking ones own
women is culturally and morally primitive. Hence it is believed to be the
fact of his underdeveloped and non-civilised state that makes him superior
for a while. But there is another variant of the image of the stranger, as is
the case in the German national narrative. Here, the dangerous stranger is
superior in terms of civilisation; but this quality is converted against him:
he is lusty, decadent, without ideals and true religiosity, artificial, luxuryloving, depraved and cynical. He is a man of civilisation, not of real culture.
(Elias 1978, 110) In this case, too, the military and political superiority of
the power which is marked as foreign becomes an index of the moral weakness of that power. It is true that the stranger benefits from his superiority
in terms of civilisation for some time, but la longue this advantage swings

Romanticism and Nationalism



to the other extreme, because his military capacity is undermined by his

decadent softness.
In an act of self-reference, it proves to be necessary to reactivate the patriotic narrative once more since it was silenced by the enemy; to re-establish
its position and push it through. The necessary appeal to the masses is
always tautological: It is the appeal of the narrative that is establishing
the nationalistic symbolic order and the theatre of cultural and collective
memory. (Bhaba 1994, 17) The appeal comes from the past and is directed
to the present and to the future: it is the voice of the paternal ancestor which
appeals to the living people of the national community. It is the work of collective recollection which guarantees duration after the successful risorgimento:
Hermann, now listen and realise with care
Why your father has brought thee to this grove,
Son, where heat and courage lead thee to noble deeds.
So let thy duty be told thee by these pictures
Be great and rise amongst the heroes number.
Here, Thuiskons picture is resplendent, here Mannus monument,
In these, German courage has been fired first.
Through these magnanimity, faith and calm have come to us.
The urge which flees from all superficiality and dislikes soft manners,
Which does not know laws but exercises virtue.
The ambition to be free and never to be sold to others
Is implanted in our breasts by these images.

This version of a German nationalistic narrative dates from 1740. His author is a
well-known proponent of the early German Enlightenment: Johann Elias Schlegel.

6With regard to the performative aspect see also: Wolfgang Mller-Funk/Franz Schuh (eds.),
Nationalismus und Romantik (2000), Wolfgang Mller-Funk, Anatomie des Helden (2005, 313).
7Nun, Hermann, hre zu und merke mit Bedacht,
Warum dein Vater dich in diesen Hain gebracht.
So la dir deine Pflicht von diesen Bildern sagen
Sey gro und hebe dich in dieser Helden Zahl
Hier prangt Thuiskons Bild, hier Mannus Ehrenmal
In diesen ist zuerst der deutsche Muth entglommen;
Durch sie sind Gromuth, Treu und Ruh auf uns gekommen.
Der Trieb, der Flachheit flieht, nicht weiche Sitten liebt,
Nichts von Gesetz weis, und doch die Tugend bt;
Der Ehrgeiz, frey zu seyn, und nie verkauft zu leben,
Ist uns von ihnen her, in unsre Brust gegeben.
Johann Elias Schlegel (1771, 313)


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

The text is instructive for several reasons. There is first an early indication of this
anti-French and anti-universal pattern of thinking. Moreover, the author presupposes that his audience is familiar with the subject, the story of the first German
who triumphs over his Roman-French enemy and establishes his own German
order which is characterised by the exercise of virtue and not by any legalistic
compliance with the law. Johann Elias Schlegel himself attached great importance to this play within his uvre because it reflects his own intentions. Long
before the German Romantics, the author of this play, who was in confrontation
with Martin Opitz, the protagonist and guardian of German language wanted to
establish German national literature in analogy with all the other European cultures. Hermann. Ein Trauerspiel is the decisive exposition of this programme. The
project of a modern German literature (including a canon) and the foundation
of a national narrative coincide in Hermann. (Herrmann, Blitz, Momann 1996)
This early Hermann contains mythical moments on both levels: content
and form. However, the author insists that his subject is historical. So, history
becomes the function of an argument. Like Mser and Klopstock later, he refers
to the Roman-Latin sources about Arminius and interprets him in an act of retrospective adaptation as the first German hero who had the courage to revolt
against foreign power and against anything alien as such. In one fell swoop (Benjamin preferred to say in a tigers leap) a Germanic governor in Roman service is
transformed into a German, into the first noble nationalist. He becomes German
because he eliminates everything that is foreign, un-German, everything smacking of Roman manners and habits.
In this early version of the Arminius subject which, according to Hans Blumenberg (1979) is the first more or less uncritical work on a German central myth,
all those moments are present which appear in the manifesto of the Greek nobleman Ypsilanti a hundred years later: the unspecific understanding of freedom,
the identification of power with foreign power, the rhetoric of urgency, the female
attribution of the common and at the same time heroically contested body, represented by Thusnelda, the wife of the rebel who has wrested her from her father
Segest, a friend of the Romans and hence a traitor. (The helpless female body
is always in danger of falling into the hands of the enemy.) Last but not least,
Hermann works like a ritual initiation into the national narrative, this subject
which is so important for the Fatherland (J. E. Schlegel 1771, 285), because this
play was as representative in its political as in its aesthetic message on the stage.
To enter the altar of national pseudo-religion, it was necessary to forget Christianity.
The beginning of the play I have quoted from is instructive: Hermanns
fight for Germany starts with a quasi-religious initiation in front of exemplary
Germanic, that is non-Christian, gods, whose altar is not in church but organi-

Romanticism and Nationalism


cally embedded into a grove, a landscape which is imagined as free territory. As

in religious rites of initiation, the pictures of the altar in the wooded landscape
enter Hermanns recollection and remind him of his duties. In these pictures, the
collective imaginary is crystallised. It is part of a redoubled aesthetic strategy to
bring the audience into the play. As Hermann has incorporated the narrative of
the lawless bold gods, so the contemporary recipient is to integrate this national
Weihespiel (religious play) and to exercise its rituals. Because the religious is
grounded in theatre, the nationalistic narrative needs the dramatic.
The nationalistic tendency was to increase further still in subsequent versions of the subject, from Justus Msers relatively unimportant play, which had
its premiere in Vienna in 1751, to Klopstocks orgiastic and bloody scenic drama
Hermanns Schlacht. For Schlegel, the proponent of the early enlightenment, the
dominance of Roman civilisation was a painful and theoretically delicate fact;
this may be the reason why Segest, Hermanns involuntary father-in-law, is not
only a national traitor but for a long time in the play an equal counterpart. Segest
is in favour of a legally regulated life of the Germans within the framework of the
Roman administration of justice and Roman civilisation. He pleads for peaceful
ethnic coexistence. With Segest, a dramatically quite powerful counter-position
gets a chance to speak in contestation of the national narrative in the play. But
there cannot be any doubt that his plea for cultural hybridity and peaceful living
together is rejected also in the play of 1770. In Mser, a respectable writer in the
age of enlightenment, and in Klopstocks martial piece, Hermanns relatives, who
are loyal to Rome, are reduced to bogeys. In the binary code of the nationalistic
narrative, they have only the function of ugly traitors who must be eliminated
by the national community to re-install the logic of a society which is based on
Klopstocks Hermanns Schlacht, characterised by the author as a Bardiet, a
bard-canto for the stage, was conceptualised as a national Weihespiel, a ritual
religious play, from the very beginning.
The scene of the action is a sublime druidic place of sacrifice. There are the
priests, at the top Benno, the Druid, bards, who spur on the heroes to fight, young
male victims and Siegmar, Hermanns old father, who is not a dynastic ruler. The
sacrificial altar which lies above the battlefield and characterises the sublime

8Ren Girard, Das Heilige und die Gewalt (1987, 134); Christian Meier, Die Entstehung des
Politischen bei den Griechen 1980, 156).
9Klopstock, Gesammelte Werke (n.d., 33). Klopstocks title put the accent on the extraordinary
qualities of the violent founder of Germany. In contrast, Kleist concentrates on the collective
aspect of the revolt.


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

happening on the hill is the scene of the play, the place from which the figures
are able to see and report live (to use a modern media term) on the events of
the cruel war, which itself remains invisible during the whole play. The altar also
represents the internal point of reference, the inner centre of a play which despite
the bloodbath and slaughter internally and externally remains a very unexciting
piece. What is interesting is that it interprets the events of war as a quasi-religious
plot. The fact that the beautiful blood of the battle (especially the blood of the
strangers, but also their own blood) must be soaked up by strangely enough
the mothers and the women demonstrates that the imagined national religion
is based on the logic of sacrifice: its victims are strangers but also members of
the community. Mana, Thuiskon and Wodan, the modern gods of the Germanic
Germans, claim their toll of lives. A reward for the toll is offered to the victims of
group: inscription into the national theatre of memory, the Walhalla. The enthusiastic acceptance of death by pure and chaste German men who prefer to die
rather than to live corresponds to the pathetic scenery. This is the reason why
the old and weak Siegmar, Hermanns father, goes to the battlefield: mortally
wounded, he returns to the altar which is the real battlefield. And vice versa: the
battlefield is the altar. But at the same time, the blood of the strangers and their
banner, the Roman eagle, is the greatest sacrificial gift for the Old German gods.
Consequently it is Benno, the highest priest and the representative of these gods,
who claims the toll of lives most imperiously, as when there is a discussion about
the execution of the traitors that is, those Germans who have fought on the
side of the Romans.
The national narrative is of a type that affirms and re-actualises the violent
origin of power that liberal concepts try to ban. (Bourdieu 1997, 118164) The
bloody battle is the kernel of ritual worship. It is not the result of a concrete situation of self-defence, it is the mythical constitution of a community through the
shedding of blood, it is the very conditio sine qua non, the price which is demanded
by the national gods. It is a lawless community forged by blood and ascetic exercise, a militarised society with one leader and a group of warrior equals. The art
of the bards, of poetry and song, is the mirror image of the play, guaranteeing the
emotional cohesion of the Volkskrper, which as I have mentioned is imagined as feminine. Thus, Klopstocks play represents an effective literary confirmation of in the terms of Ren Girard foundational violence. (Girard 1987, 961)
The narrative of nationalism is binary: there is only room for friend and foe,
compatriots and aliens. Everyone who tries to break this logic must be seen as a

10Klopstock, Gesammelte Werke (n.d., 43): Sauget, Mtter und Weiber, das schne Blut der

Romanticism and Nationalism


traitor, to be eliminated or expelled from the community built by blood and war.
As in Klopstocks predecessor, Johann Elias Schlegel, the enemy tends to be decadent, a weakling, bestial and lascivious. In Klopstocks play, the choirs sing in the
second scene that Romuluss grandsons are entartet, degenerate. When they go
to their meals of desire (Wollustmahle), they resemble animals, meaning they
are not only cruel but also excessive (Klopstock, 49).
It is important to save the collective female Volkskrper from those degenerate people. Hence the fight for its integrity goes hand in hand with the exclusion
of sexuality, which is a symptom of voluptuousness. This rejection of sensuality
generates a moral surplus, an elation which multiplies the wish for extermination. The specific German aspect of the universal nationalistic narrative may be
seen in the connection between Protestant outer-world asceticism and the innerworld nationalistic impulse of aggression.
One can see quite clearly that the construction of the image of the enemy is
encoded in a multiple way. The enemy: that is the whole Roman complex, but also
the degenerated Ludovician France of the second part of the eighteenth century.
But the enemy of the German bourgeois is the aristocrat, and he is linked with
France. Already in this discourse, long before Oswald Spenglers Decline of the
West, civilisation and decadence coincide. And at any rate, one must not forget
that the national enthusiasm in those days was strong enough to burn Wielands
books in the otherwise enlightened bourgeois town of Gttingen because this
author was seen as a Franzsling, a friend of French style and manners. From a
cultural perspective, this is an alarming anticipation of things that were to come.
In this construction of the political, the universalism of the Empire and the
feudal system are rejected implicitly, yet categorically, although the author of Hermanns Schlacht felt the necessity to place a eulogy to the Roman-German emperor
at the front of his anti-Roman work.
Maybe this was tactics and calculation; at any rate it is quite ironic, for if
there is anything the play denies it is the symbolic order of the crowned head of
Christianity, who represents sacral and secular elements in the dual nature of his
body. Klopstocks play also puts an end to the genuinely Christian idea that with
the death of Jesus as a victim the logic of sacrifice, the functional and institutionalised role of violence in the organisation of society has become problematic in
principle. This at least is the claim of Christian belief, although the reality may be
different. It must be remembered that we are dealing with an author who in his
youth wrote Der Messias (as thanks to the Danish king, who was his sponsor) and
who nevertheless with his poem Sie und nicht wir! later became a fellow traveller
of the French revolution. Here this aspect of foundational violence, the need for
sacrifice and victims, is sadly obvious.


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

A truly radical political interpretation of Christianity as subverting state violence was never realised in Protestant theology after Luther. Quite evidently, the
message of Christianity was regarded to be inappropriate for the construction of
the political after the end of the ancien regime that is, after the symbolic and
later the real death of the sacred king with his two bodies. The historical project
of nationalism can be seen as the last attempt in history to make sacrifice the
concealed but basic instrument of statehood and to give it a physical foundation
that is no longer grounded in the corpus Christi. This is the precarious aspect of
enlightened heathenism.
Thus, the modern attempt of political community-foundation necessarily
comes into conflict with concepts of human rights in a political enlightenment
which one could describe as a universalism after the death of God. These concepts were originally derived from the cultural and religious framework of political society, although that cultural background of politics is rarely acknowledged.
It is not surprising that the nationalistic narrative has no place in any modern
Within our analysis of the nationalistic narrative we inevitably come to the
point where we to have a look at the political theology of Romanticism: Novalis
famous fragment about Christianity and his other early political aphorisms.
With reference to Ren Girard and Ernst Kanotorowicz these texts can be read as
symptomatic and as analytical documents about the crisis of the political after
the death of a universal God and his political substitute on earth: A collapsing
throne is like a falling mountain which shatters the plain and leaves a dead sea
where before there was fertile land and a merry place for the living. (Novalis
1981, 355; own translation)
This aphorism encapsulated the experience of existential shock of a whole
generation: the collapse of the throne and a crowned head cut off, the end of the
traditional order now bereft of that sanctity which once legitimized the symbolic
order of the community. For Novalis, this event is only the final point in a longterm process in which the erosion of a common uniform order had taken place.
He parades its internal history before his reader in a form which is similar to the
fairy tale, as a history which was never real. It is not the Emperor, but the Pope
and his guild who are the heavenly representatives on earth and at the same
time the guarantors of a peaceful universal world. Novalis fragment, which was
written some years before the official end of the Holy Roman Empire, is a retrospective utopia and an idealised Romantic reconstruction of the self-image of
the old holy Christian order. It develops its utopian qualities against the background of the contemporary historical situation that is characterised by crisis,
war, the escalation of violence and the loss of political legitimacy. Protestantism, the sciences and the Enlightenment are seen by the author as the historical

Romanticism and Nationalism


powers responsible for the decline of the old order, for modern religious conflicts
and as a consequence of this for national wars. Novalis pleads for a new postenlightened order, which is able to establish and guarantee Kants idea of eternal
peace, bringing all external and internal violence of society to an end. Hence his
ideas attempt to give classical universalism a new cultural and historical foundation. He places Kant within the symbolic earth and heaven of an idealised Catholicism. How our cosmopolitans would be astonished if eternal peace appeared to
them and they could see the highest educated people in a moral form? (Novalis
1981, 356f.; own translation)
What is central in this Christianity fragment is the idea of a post-enlightened
and to some extent a post-Christian universalism which recollects the mystical body of Christianity and is at the same time committed to the secular project
of eternal peace. In this way, it differs from St. Augustines concept of the two
kingdoms radically. In the reception of the text, the final part has often been
neglected. It is true that one can criticise the first part of the text as a uncritical idealisation of the papacy, of the holy orders, the monks and especially the
Jesuits, if one (mis)understands it as some sort of romantic historiography; but
the final part, which is not quoted very often, makes it clear that Novalis neither
saw any chance of a return to the old holy order nor would he consider that desirable. At the time of his texts drafting it was not clear if there was going be any
further pope after the Napoleonic intervention. For Novalis, Rome is for the
second time a ruin, a fragment of memory.
What Novalis has in mind is quite evidently the version of a New Mythology
infused with Christian elements of thought. It is a narrative after the death of
the divine king who is replaced by an artist-king shaping society like an English
garden or a poem. As a result of Romanticism, the meaning of Christianity has
radically changed. Historical Catholicism with its adoration of the Christ child,
his mother and the saints is only one example of the religious. There is now a
general rejoicing about every form of religion and the symbolical and medial
qualities of Christianity are stressed, for they make the earthly into the symbol of
the heavenly and eternal. As with all other versions of the New Mythology arising
from Idealism and Romanticism, there is a primary concern with synthesis, a very
specific kind of synthesis which from the very beginning is conceptualised as
aesthetic and creative, the work of a modern poetically transcendental subject. It
is supposed that this new holy order, which is at once religious and enlightened,
can be established only by the Germans. Religion is linked with science, monarchy and republic are brought into intimate relation. Because it takes place against
the background of a renewed and re-interpreted Christianity, the new Romantic
political community in a peaceful Europe remains the corpus Christi. In contrast
to the traditional order, it is not the physical, but the mystical and spiritual body


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

of God. The people are now this mystical sovereign and the king its symbolic
substitute: Does not the mystical sovereign, like every idea, need a symbol, and
what symbol could be more dignified and more adequate than a charming human
being? (Novalis 1981, 374; own translation)
Whereas all citizens in this strange early socialistic statehood are treated as
public servants of a tolerant pan-(en)theistic community, the king has an exceptional position, because he incorporates and represents the other mystical aspect
of human society. The fact that (s)he stands outside as the personification of an
ideal also has another meaning: (S)he figures as the example of a mankind that
is orientated towards self-perfection, pointing to the coming God and the coming
human being.
Novalis construction of the political, which at first glance looks quite naive
and idealistic, is in some aspects surprisingly sophisticated. Indeed, one can
describe modern representative democracy as a synthesis between monarchy
and republic. In modern democracies there is always a symbolic monarch, a
constitutional king of a historical dynasty or a temporary elected king (president) which represents the mystical sovereign, the people. Furthermore, modern
democracy is a balanced system which connects permanence with movement.
There are a lot of things one can vote for, but there are some things that cannot
be voted for, only interpreted in a different way, like human rights. Hence elections in a democracy, which Novalis interpreted as permanent movement within
a more or less fix system of values, are mutually dependent. Also his thesis that
the modern state balances particular interests in a highly artistic way by using
them for its own purposes, seems very contemporary.
However, the concept that the representative of the mystical sovereign is not
only a moral example but should act at the same time as an artist of social synthesis has not proved viable and indeed could be seen to have been disastrous.
This model of the royal artist, which Peter Handke (1997) has given a scarcely
convincing remake in his play Zurstungen fr die Ewigkeit. Ein Knigsdrama,
denies the category of the political (and its autonomy) and turns politics into aesthetics. Politics becomes a problem of aesthetic construction. The uncomfortable
political compromise is simply replaced by the breathtaking beauty of synthesis.
Whenever politics have become reduced to aesthetic design they have quickly
revealed their totalitarian tendency.
Aesthetic policy is the core of every New Mythology. According to this way
of thinking the old mythology was able to deliver a symbolic framework with
quasi-natural borders, within which the arts as well as the art of statesmanship
could develop. The New Mythology is confronted with a paradox however: it has
to create itself with the help of the Romantic imagination that means through
modern art, for which it is at the same time trying to forge a new foundational

Romanticism and Nationalism


framework. It was not very probable that this New Mythology was ever going to
be able to work. In reality, there existed a new candidate for the New Mythology which could take the place of the old, sacred order after the death of God
and after the execution of his substitutes: the narrative of nationalism. Johann
Elias Schlegel, Justus Mser and Klopstock (mis)understood their own work on
Hermann as a contribution to history. Transformed into a new mythology, nationalism found its adequate but precarious structure. True, the nation became the
framework of modern statehood, civil society and democracy. But the historical
balance could disastrously tilt the other way. This is shown by the millions of
victims produced by a particular kind of identity politics which re-actualised the
idea of sacrifice, as was the case, not exclusively but spectacularly, in mid twentieth-century German culture. It is no accident that Thomas Mann in his famous
speech on the German Republic (1923) quoted Novalis, because his spiritual
concept of democracy had not forgotten the heritage of Christianity. It signalled
the ambition that after Jesus modern societies have a chance to constitute themselves beyond the structural logic of sacrifice. Hence if there is a choice we should
opt for the framework of politics proposed by Novalis and not for that promoted
by Klopstock and Kleist. But we should also cast our vote against Wagner and his
political followers who radicalised the idea of the politics as a synthesis of the
arts. Nationalism has never been a simple function or the result of the history of
ideas. There is a surplus produced by cultural practice. Nationhood, nationalism
and nation imply concepts deeply rooted in culture. It is cultural analysis which
can best explain the non-rational and dysfunctional aspects of modern nationalism.

11Manfred Frank, Der kommende Gott. Vorlesungen ber die Neue Mythologie (1982);
Manfred Frank, Gott im Exil. Vorlesungen ber die Neue Mythologie (1988).

Polyphems Children
(Post-) Colonial Aspects in Western Modernity and
Moderne (to use the German word) in one of its aspects is a historical state (modernity) and contains a cluster of grand rcits (Lyotard 1979, chapter9) and metaphors (Blumenberg). Modernity can be described as a process of secularisation,
as the outbreak and escape from Kants self-inflicted immaturity (selbstverschuldete Unmndigkeit, a term Blumenberg has defined as self-satisfaction
jumping to conclusions, Blumenberg 1989, 549), as a process of growing rationality and self-reflection or as a disenchantment (Entzauberung) of the world, in
other words: as a process of de-legitimisation of mythical, magical and religious
attitudes, beliefs and ideas. So, modernity includes the promise of an end to the
illusions resulting from the manipulation and deceptions of any kind of priesthood. From the perspective of Enlightenment the return to the darkness of Platos
cave would signify the way of the enemy of mankind. (Blumenberg 1989, 515)
But the German term Moderne has a further meaning: literary and artistic
modernism. At first glance, one could argue that modernism is in unbridgeable
contrast to this type of rationality which we identify with modernity, with rationality in politics, economics and sciences. Since romanticism, literary and artistic modernism can be described as a protest against modern rationality, as an
attempt to establish a program of re-enchantment and to create a new mythology,
or in other words as a return to the darkness of Platos cave.
There are many programmatic issues of those new mythologies from Romanticism to the modern avant-gardes in the twentieth century which more or less
imply the idea of going back to the roots of imagination, to the world of myth and
fairy tales, or mixing modern technique with archaic mythology. Thus, one could
argue that there is a strong contrast between modernity and the programmatic
modernism in literature and in the arts. Octavio Paz has described this recourse
to myth as the other time of poetry.

1Hans Blumenberg is the philosopher who reconstructs the history of modernity and
modernism in terms of Umbesetzungen (substitutions) of metaphors. Cf. for exmple: Hans
Blumenberg, Hhlenausgnge (1989).
2Octavio Paz, Los hijos del limo. German: Die andere Zeit der Dichtung (1989, 1157; ch. 1

Polyphems Children


But this is only one side of the coin. As the term suggests, modernism is programmatically modern and revolutionary, not traditional and conservative. It is
the adequate way to refer critically to modern times. Although the time of poetry
is in contrast to modern progress imagined as an other time, as the time of myth,
the aesthetic structure of post-Romantic poetry is genuinely modern. The modernists Novalis, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Pound are people who have left the
dark cave and have seen the light of day of Enlightenment and modern rationality, but have decided programmatically to return to Platos dark but imaginative
underworld to establish a new kind of poetry. There is a big difference between
never leaving the cave and returning to it because light of day was disappointing. I would not go so far as Cornelia Klinger and define Romanticism and postRomanticism as a form of aesthetic and expressive rationality (Klinger 1995, 61),
but it is quite evident that the poetry of modernism is to some extent the consequence of a rational strategy and composition. Novalis definition of romantic
aesthetics as a mathematical method and Edgar Alan Poes self-interpretation of
his famous poem The Raven are illustrative examples of this hyper-rationality,
of a method of creating re-enchantment and re-invention of myth in the medium
of poetry.
But this reference to the world of myth was never based solely on an aesthetic program but also implied a general critique of modern times. The Jewish
East European author Joseph Roth and the South-American writer Gabriel Garca
Marquez can be seen as two different examples of that kind of critical reference to
Western modernity. Using motifs and elements of Romantic poetry, Marquez and
Roth develop a specific post-colonial poetic discourse. In their imaginary world
myth is linked to the underdeveloped periphery. This virtual point of view makes
it possible to interpret Western modernity as a hidden and uncanny mythical
project. Thus, the technique of aesthetic re-enchantment goes hand in hand with
a subversive aesthetic and political strategy I would describe as disenchantment
of disenchantment. It entails a powerful critique of Western modernity which
makes clear that the problem of modernity is not its overwhelming rationality
but its lack of it. It is the connection between Romanticism and periphery which
creates this critical post-colonial point of view and presents a counter-world to
modern capitalism which can be saved only in poetry.

II.The disenchantment of the disenchantment

The Enlightenment is the one pillar of Moderne; Romanticism understood as the
avant-garde before the avant-gardes following it is the other. Romanticism, as
Blumenberg has pointed out, protests against the idea that all phenomena that


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

cannot be controlled by reason are pure deception. In Novalis novel Heinrich von
Ofterdingen the cave is a privileged place of wisdom which cannot be achieved
by any contemplation of nature and is at the same time the place of memory,
recollection and history. (Blumenberg 1989, 551) The way back to darkness is
therefore not only the way of anti-humanism, but also a path towards self-reflection with regard to the blind spot of the Enlightenment. This darkness cave or
jungle is the counterpart of the light in time or in space, the other time of historical progress. It is the darkness of the centuries before, for example, the dark
Middle Ages or the darkness of other cultures. Romanticism is quite ambivalent
about progress, but in its progressive aspect it is the attempt to find a real or a
virtual observer of modernity. With its search for another time, romanticism is a
candidate for this function inside our own culture: It reflects itself in the mirror
of the strange other. This poetic intention is a constant structure in modernism,
restoring dignity to all cultures and sub-cultures which have been regarded as
dark and primitive ever since the narrative of progress, enlightenment and
freedom. The gypsy and the Kabbala, Buddha and the world of the Eastern European Jews, the old Catholicism and the West Indian are not Romantic as such,
they become Romantic as an effect of Romantic imagination. Projections of our
longings, they are at the same time virtual observers and counterparts of modern
occidental culture. The stranger is the figure that makes it possible to make our
own world strange. Aesthetic alienation (Verfremdung) and self-reflection of
ones own culture can be seen as two sides of the same process which makes
modernity self-reflexive. Modernism is the way to fully understanding what it
means to live under the conditions of modernity.
In this way, Romanticism constitutes a counter-movement against the
historical Enlightenment, but at the same time is an essential part of modernism. In rehabilitating fantasy and imagination, romanticism (and romantic reenchantment) transforms and secularises religion and myth (Paz 1989, ch. 3).
So, Romanticism can therefore be regarded as an enlightenment via other and
paradoxical poetic means, a Critique of Pure Reason (Kritik der reinen Vernunft) which rehabilitates certain dimensions of human existence that were marginalized in the Enlightenment: in the medium of the arts: the unconscious; the
uncanny; sexuality and otherness. Modernism can be described as a dynamic
process in which the impulses of the Enlightenment and of Romanticism play
antagonistic, but mutually stimulating parts.
It is part of the logic of disenchantment that in this process modernism
will itself be disenchanted. This process can be observed in the oeuvre of Freud,
Nietzsche and later in French post-structuralism. Modernity will be criticised as a
clandestine system of logo-centric metaphysics with a self-centred subject, which
underlies the illusion of being ones own master. This is also the case with this

Polyphems Children


type of classical modernism which also emphasises the idea of an independent

transcendental subject.
Both, the Enlightenment and the Romantic movements accelerate the
process of secularisation that is, the process of rational adaptation of elements
from religion, myth and magic. So it is evident that the pathos in the modern arts
which is linked with religious heritage begins to fade too, because they were also
caught by the process of secularisation. We are created creators of our symbolic
forms. There is no longer a world outside of ourselves. We are kept in symbolic
spiders webs we have woven ourselves (Geertz 1983, preface).
Extreme theories like constructivism try to demonstrate that our rational
concepts of the world are also only constructs and inventions. If this is true,
the differentiation between reality and illusion and the pathos of truth become
problematic. Modernism and modernity therefore meet the same fate as the traditional symbolic systems in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This process
also undermines the legitimacy of the foundation of modernity and produces a
great deal of post-modern uncertainty, which is not the contrary to modernity
but its consequence. It includes a sort of disappointment which means the loss
of certain truths and historical hopes. Disappointment means on the one hand
the farewell to high expectations (which has been formulated by the grand rcits
of modernity) but on the other hand the end of illusions in regard to modernity
itself. The scepticism of modernity has repercussions for itself.
But from this perspective it will become possible to reflect on the roots, the
development and the disenchantment of modernism. From this perspective, it is
not important to decide whether this process is the consequence of an inherent
dynamic of modernity and its self-reflexive counterpart (modernism) or one of a
break with modern conditions in cultural life. Post-modern phenomena are the
results of modernity, which by definition can be characterised by its self-understanding as a permanent state of change. Marxs definition of proletarian revolution as a permanent process, the Futurists definition of the avant-garde as an

3Karl Marx, Der 18. Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte (1852, 37): Proletarische Revolutionen
[] kritisieren bestndig sich selbst, unterbrechen sich fortwhrend in ihrem eigenen
Lauf, kommen auf das scheinbar Vollbrachte zurck, um es wieder von neuem anzufangen,
verhhnen grausam-grndlich die Halbwahrheiten, Schwchen und Erbrmlichkeiten ihrer
ersten Versuche, scheinen ihren Gegner nur niederzuwerfen, damit er neue Krfte aus der Erde
sauge und sich riesenhaft ihnen gegenber wieder aufrichte, schrecken stets von neuem zurck
vor der unbestimmten Ungeheuerlichkeit ihrer eigenen Zwecke, bis die Situation geschaffen
ist, die jede Umkehr unmglich macht, und die Verhltnisse selbst rufen: Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
Hier ist die Rose, hier tanze.


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

unlimited issue and the self-description of modern sciences as a journey without

a destination may be seen as examples of the self-description of modernity as a
movement which has movement as its only meaning.
The expression disenchantment of the disenchantment can mean at least
two completely different things: either a continuing process of rational selfreflection or a revision of the idea that modernity has brought us in contrast
to the illusions of religion and myth into reality, combined with the suspicion
that we live now in a symbolic world that is less transparent than any other ever
before, a world which, as Horkheimer and Adorno put it, is mythical and magical
in contrast to its rational self description (Horkheimer/Adorno 1971, 3).
However, the critical and self-referential story about the Dialectic of Enlightenment and the dark sides of modernity must be told from outside. This double
perspective needs some observer who can invent the contrastive narrative from an
external point of view in a plausible way, the (real or believed) victim of modernity who is subjugated to its rules which he/she has neither invented nor realised.
Such victims, whom one can find in Romantic and post-Romantic literature, can
be part of modern western society the child, the woman, marginalized groups
such as the Sinti and Roma, the representatives of dying cultures, pre-modern
classes or colonised people inside and outside of Europe. In any case, terms such
as culture and civilisation are not free of value judgement. In their inherent
structural logic they always split human beings into two human species: the one,
who is civilised and the other, who is uncivilised. Thus, modernity means living
in a civilised way. On the other hand, all the others are considered to live in a
state of selbstverschuldete Unmndigkeit. They tend to be uncivilised and underdeveloped. They are like children that must be brought up to the standards of
modern civilisation. Western modernity does not only marginalize their own traditional forms of symbolism, values and powers, but all the other non-occidental
cultures automatically receive the stigma of primitivism and underdevelopment.
The grands rcits of progress and the conflict between the west and the rest are
different aspects of one and the same drama of modernity. One could argue that
the development of modern Western societies is unthinkable without its other:
the dark and primitive in space and time. The heart of darkness is the contrast

4Hansgeorg Schmidt-Bergmann, Futurismus. Geschichte, sthetik, Dokumente (1993, 5291).

Wolfgang Asholt/Walter Fhnders (eds.), Manifeste und Proklamationen der europischen
Avanatgarde (1995, 3). Birgit Wagner, Technik und Literatur im Zeitalter der Avantgarden (1996,
5Cornelia Klinger, Flucht, Trost, Revolte (1995, 94105). Klinger interprets Marxism also as a
cultural movement and refers it to the romantic project.

Polyphems Children


to the process of enlightenment which has the ambition of bringing light into any
darkness. And the dark is everywhere, not only in Africa but also in the dark sides
of us, as Captain Marlow in Conrads Heart of Darkness (1902) explains:
Ive never seen anything so unreal in my life.
And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as
something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of
this fantastic invasion. (Conrad 1994, 33)

Captain Marlow, who is the story teller of his own story, interprets this journey in
the jungle as a process of archaic recollection, a deep irritation of modern consciousness:
The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us who could tell? We were
cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a
madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember,
because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving
hardly a sign and no memories.
The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. No, they
were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it this suspicion of their not
being inhuman. (Conrad 1994, 51)

This journey contains all the important irritations in regard to modern rationality which have become part of it: loss of orientation and memory, the return of
archaic elements, the fear of going mad, the encounter with the real or believed
inhuman which is not conquered but free and powerful. All the well-known tools
of modern thinking become useless, and it seems that it has produced monsters
which endanger the world of the civilised.
There is a deep self-doubt as to whether the work of modern enlightenment
will be strong enough to banish the dark sides of wilderness. The project of modern
enlightenment could fail: this would be one meaning of the disenchantment of
the disenchantment. The unavoidable consequence of this process would be the
return of myth, the re-enchantment. It becomes visible at the peripheries of the
modern world where the triumph of modern civilisation goes hand in hand with
the crisis of its own culture. The periphery of capitalism is the place where the
disenchantment of the disenchantment becomes visible. In those peripheries the
break between the traditional and the modern enables a specific version of literary modernism which works out the experience to be subjected to the process of
modernity, to capitalist rationality and to cultural colonialism.


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

If, in a second meaning, the disenchantment of the disenchantment refers

to a critical and self-critical approach, then this perspective will be changed and
reversed. In this way the narrative of progress and civilisation will be reported
by the civilised and colonised. Rousseaus and Montaignes doubts and critical
remarks regarding Western culture need the figure of the authentic and natural
savage who lives in harmony and in nature. The man who discovered Columbus
made a really bad discovery, wrote Lichtenberg, the representative of German
Sptaufklrung and the admirer of Captain Cook, in his Sudelbcher (Rough
books). With this ironic comment Lichtenberg describes the narrative plot and
pattern behind all modernist and romantic criticism on modernity which can
be described with the formula of disenchantment of disenchantment and
which goes hand in hand with the de-legitimatisation of all different forms of
power created by cultural difference.
It is quite striking that Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, two classical
representatives of critical thinking and literary modernism, who in their Dialektik
der Aufklrung also developed and established a critical reading of an enlightenment which reveals itself as a myth, use in their narrative the character of the
colonised. Horkheimers and Adornos book interprets Odysseus as a pre-cursor
and archetype of modern bourgeois rationality. He is not only seen as a capitalist
whose cunning transforms human beings as things into tools which he can use
for his own profit and benefit, but he acts also as a representative of a cultural
ruling power which outwits the representative of a natural and mythical culture:
the giant Polyphem, the barbarian who does not know the rules of hospitality and
the technique of modern identity construction. The giant, who is imagined as a
primitive cannibal and a permanent threat to the civilised pre-modern Greeks, will
be blinded at the end. The blinding in Homers epic poem has a double aspect:
on the one hand it means the castration of a recent culture by a superior and
more civilised one, but on the other it suggests that this blinding also includes
a radical deception. This kind of enlightenment, which has promised clarity and
transparency makes its opponents blind. But this act reproduces the logic of
sacrifice. Both the colonisers and the colonised no longer know where they are
because they do not understand what has happened to them. Polyphems blinding, a symbol of defeat and confirmation of the superiority of the stranger, is
the pre-condition of the acknowledgement that the representatives of the modern
world are the masters and the others are the servants; or in another discourse, the
one are the parents and the others are the children who have to be educated and
formed.(Horkheimer/Adorno 1971, 4273) Thus, Polyphems blinding, which can
also be seen as an act of disenchantment of a mythical power, is the beginning of
civilising subjects (Catherine Hall). As Hall has shown in her empirical study on
nineteenth-century colonialism in Jamaica, it becomes more and more decisive if

Polyphems Children


the non-modern others are seen as completely different human beings with monstrous aspects (this was the argument of the white plantation owners) or as black
brothers and sisters who need help in order to live under human conditions (this
was the argument of the Baptist missionaries). To become equal means to adapt
to certain forms of modern civilisation, here Christianity, white middle-class life,
a standard of hygiene, school education, and a standard repertoire of knowledge.
The second death of Polyphem: from this point of view modernity always means
banning the bloody and cruel world of myth, especially that of the Other, and
substituting it with Christian or post-Christian values:
Emancipation gave men and women their political, social and economic freedom. But only
conversion gave them a new life in Christ, the possibility to be born anew, to be new black
subjects, washed clean of old ways new black men and women. (Hall 2002, 124)

This is not the end of the story. In a second turn of emancipation the Western
liberal and Christian values become the subject of critique. The postcolonial
critique of Western modernity and the internal critique of modern rationality in
modern literature and philosophy depend on each other. The victim of modern
Western politics and economy is imagined as a secondary observer in an inneroccidental discourse, whereas the intelligentsia on the peripheries of modernity
refers to the intellectual and aesthetic experiences of modernism to create its own
fragile identity and to formulate a postcolonial critique of Western rationality,
without a clear alternative.

III.The strange culture: Artificial pearls and corals.

Thealchemy of telematic machinery
Telling the story and stories of modernity from the perspective of the colonised
always means describing it as a mysterious and enigmatic event. Modern rationality science, economy, political construction is not the result of the dynamic
developments in those particular cultures. They have only in common the fact
that they are not generated by the culture which brings out and produces all
these modern issues of life; modernity here also must appear as strange itself,
as a phenomenon from outside, from another world. It is this strange aspect of
modern inventions which transforms them in another cultural context blinded by
Western colonisation. And blind to it. They become mysterious because there is
at the beginning no available discourse to bring them into symbolic forms other
than the mythical one. This discourse is also mythical because from this perspective the story of modernity can, will or must be told in terms of fate, undoing, or


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

more positively of miracles. It is the fact that modernity comes from outside that
automatically makes it a mythical event. In his critical essays on German National
Socialism Leon Trotsky once commented that the Germans build motorways but
write with a Gothic runic alphabet. From the viewpoint of cultural analysis,
German National Socialism can be interpreted as an aggressive reaction to the
Western capitalist culture and as a perverse version of the modern critique of
modernity within European culture. A non-western culture must for the sake of
its own survival describe modernity with its specific non-European runic alphabet.
The stranger comes and brings things which are contrary to common sense
in the native culture. So the figure of the stranger, the person from outside, the
wanderer from far away, arouses the fantasy of the native, the settler from here.
With this epic introduction, the Colombian writer Gabriel Garca Mrquez starts
his most famous novel Cien aos de soledad (1967). Macondo is a tiny imaginary
village far away from the centres of civilisation, surrounded by the jungle in the
northern part of South America. The novel creates a modern foundation myth.
Macondo is the work of the young patriarch Jos Arcadio Buenda, who has led
his own and some other families into the wilderness, a very strange version of the
Promised Land. It is not the first act of the colonial narrative in which the colonisers from Europe meet the indigenous peoples. Although the novel is based on a
foundation myth, the world of Macondo is a cosmos in which natives and white
immigrants have mingled. From its very beginning, Macondo is their common
world, although it is quite clear that there is a ranking of races. Macondo is new
virgin territory beside and against civilisation. It is the place which is not controlled by the iron grid of modern bureaucracy; it is archaic including a patriarchal and matriarchal system represented by Buenda and his wife Ursula
(Bachofen 1984, 98). It is an anti-bourgeois world in which the sexual elan vital
mirrors the rank growth of nature. It is a world before culture and civilisation
in which incest, promiscuity and sexual relations are not under the control of
monogamy and marriage. It is explicitly mentioned that this village has from the
very beginning no dead, only living people. Hence Macondo represents the place
without the symbolic elements that Giambattista Vico identified with Culture:

6Leo Trotzki, Wie wird der Nationalsozialismus geschlagen? (1971, 298): Die Beibehaltung
der gotischen Schrift im Gegensatz zur lateinischen ist eine symbolische Vergeltung fr das
Joch des Weltmarkts. Die Abhngigkeit von den internationalen darunter auch jdischen
Bankiers ist nicht um ein Jota gemildert, dafr ist es verboten, Tiere nach dem Talmudritual
zu schlachten. Ist der Weg zur Hlle mit guten Vorstzen gepflastert, so sind die Straen des
Dritten Reiches mit Symbolen ausgelegt.

Polyphems Children


marriage as a symbolic order which regulates the relations between the sexes and
controls the use of sexuality, a burial rite which includes a system of memory and
establishes culture as a community of dead and living persons, and a system of
law which co-ordinates a secure life inside the community. (Vico 1744, 51) Wilderness, the radicalism of nature, is imagined as the territory where culture is
out of use, has no meaning and importance. Thus one could say that the people
of Macondo have left the world of culture and civilisation. But at the end, the
isolated and secluded place, a topos which connects the charm of left-wing anarchism with a crude form of archaic fantasy, is caught up by this civilisation in the
form of government officials, a parish priest and soldiers.
It is interesting that the novel does not start with the story of the strange
hybrid colony, but with the heros recollection of a firing squad he survived
and with the visit of a group of gypsies from Macedonia, a European periphery
in a half-colonised area. Melchades, whose name corresponds with the name of
one of the three kings from the Orient (in the New Testament) is the messenger
from the world. On his first visit, he astonishes his audience in Macondo with the
phenomenon of magnetism, which makes the founder of Macondo believe that it
might be possible to use this eighth wonder of the world to snatch gold from the
earth. When the group comes back later, Melchiades presents the natives with a
telescope, a forerunner of the media and which suggests the idea that mankind
will be able to see all things in the world without moving. It is the story we also
know from many Italian films of the Neorealismo: it is the marvel of the world
coming to a tiny province. Macondo is in a very ironical sense a global village or
better: the globalised village which becomes part of the world.
As a result, the founder builds a laboratory, which is out of place in the
world of Macondo. This laboratory of modernity is imagined as a magic chamber
in which Aureliano, the son, will spend the end of his life after his retirement
from military adventures. It is a male reserve in a genealogical story which is a
version of the eternal return of the same. But at the same time it becomes evident
that the triumph of Western civilisation becomes more and more unavoidable,
so Melchiades laboratory transforms itself into a symbolic exile. The hundred
years of loneliness mean a double exile: the males solitude as a warrior and
as an esoteric and alchemist. A lot of the males in the novel are dreamers who
have lost all contact with the real historical world. So the world of science, in the
context of Macondo, does not result in the establishment of a modern world of
economy, politics or technology. The interpretation of modern sciences as fairy
tale miracles and mythical events is aesthetically productive. As a community,
the imaginary world of Macondo remains hostile to modern times and their representatives. It obstinately refuses to become modern, a state to which it objects.
Thus, the hundred years of solitude are a tragedy because of their failures and


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

obsessions. They produce a world of misunderstanding between the sexes and a

cycle of violence: civil wars which will never end. But it is also a counter-world
against the modernity of capitalism and science. So this is a typical left-wing narrative. Its hidden melancholy makes clear that as early as 1967 the left (and there
can be no doubt that the Colombian author is one of the prominent postcolonial
left-wingers of his generation) has lost its belief in the possibility of overtaking
western Modernism and establishing a world as yet unclear. At the end, Macondo
transforms itself into a world which is pre-modern and postmodern at once. Melancholy is, as Wolf Lepenies has pointed out, a reflex of a situation where an
ambitious group of people sees itself cut off from influence and power. (Lepenies
1969, 47 52, 197201) The melancholy in Cien aos de soledad can be seen as a
result of the impossibility of confronting successful Western modernity with an
alternative model from the so-called Third World, which is at the same time the
postcolonial world of the former colonised peoples.
Melancholy is also a feature of the epic fairy tale-world of the Jewish-Austrian novelist Joseph Roth. Roth, born in the Galician provincial town of Brody,
began his career as a left-wing journalist and writer in Vienna and Berlin. From
the middle of the twenties he discovered his own roots: the Habsburg Empire
and as in one of his best stories, The Leviathan the East-European Jewish
world, a typical turn of intellectuals to the periphery: from the edge to the centre
and then back to the edge. Roths ambition is to give his compatriots at the
periphery a voice: the voice of literature to understand their historical situation
but also the state of affairs in the centres of modernity where Roth himself spent
his life: Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris.
Compared with the jungle world of Macondo, the cosmos of Progrody in Roths
story is quite different, not a wilderness of desires and fantasies. The people are
restrained and concentrated on the possession of corals. It does not seem to be
a place to stay in but one which produces a longing to leave or to dream about a
world far away from modern civilisation and from the restrictions of the traditional mundus. Progrody and similar places (as in Das falsche Gewicht, in Hiob
or Hotel Savoy) refers to a world beyond bourgeois order with smugglers, drinkers, seamen, soldiers and Jewish people: merchants, Torah teachers. A colourful
multi-ethnic world dominated by lonesome drinking men, far away from modern
civilization; a terribly fascinating world full of male melancholy, irritating for any
version of enlightened consciousness. His version of the heart of darkness combines a world out of order with a very traditional world of symbolic order: the
Jewish one.
Progrody is, by the way, an imaginary place like Macondo, a Jewish settlement at the border and maybe a borderline place: lontano da dove, far away
from where, as Claudio Magris (1974) has pointed out. In any case, it is a place

Polyphems Children


beyond modernity, and some of its forgotten places can sometimes allow a stranger to enter. Melchades could really be a figure in Roths epic cosmos but he isnt.
Instead of him, we get to know other persons: the Jewish coral merchant Piczenik
and his Hungarian counterpart Jen Lakatos from Budapest, who is part of Roths
epic ensemble. He is the messenger from a threatening world.
In Roths story there is no foundation myth, but an initial myth which is
linked to Jewish mythology and represents a pre-modern world. The Begehren
(desire) will be increased by the corals but it is also fixed and controlled. The
longing for the indefinite far away from the well known is as in an act of magic
held in a spell in the corals and has so its place in a traditional order. Symbolic
forms and forms of power go hand in hand. Piczenik, who has no sexual desire
for his wife, is obsessed by its magical substitutes. The corals which evoke it come
as a desire from far away, from the depths of the ocean. They are imagined as shy
organic living beings which hide their true existence, and it is self-evident that
their specific qualities refer to the mentality of the Jewish population, which lives
under permanent threat of pogroms, attacks or at least of humiliation. It is the
Jewish fish god Leviathan, who has received the instruction from God to be the
master of this part of the specific part of the world until the end of time. Piczenik
is the narrator of this initial myth, the story-teller in his Stetl. The economic crisis
is paralleled by the symbolic one.
In this story, as in his essay Juden auf Wanderschaft (1927; Wandering Jews),
Roth tells the narrative of the decline of East-European Jews before the Shoah.
The longing to leave the Stetl corresponds with the arrival of modern businessmen from Northern America, as in Hotel Savoy, or with the arrival of a businessman in The Leviathan. The executor of modernity has a name and an elegant
Hungarian outfit. Lakatos is a demon and moreover, a devil, a stranger: someone
who disturbs the traditional order of things, in the relations between the sexes
(Triumph of Beauty) as well as with regard to the economy. In the traditional
Western voyage of discovery, the stranger always has a monstrous dimension. But
in Roth it is the civilised stranger, cunning like Horkheimer/Adornos Odysseus,
who will be imagined as a demon from nowhere-land.
When he starts his business in the neighbouring town with false, synthetically produced corals, he not only ruins his Jewish competitor economically but
also symbolically. In terms of Marxs analysis worked out in Capital, Leviathans

7Karl Marx, Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen konomie (1971, 86): Das Geheimnisvolle
der Warenform besteht also einfach darin, da sie den Menschen die gesellschaftlichen
Charaktere ihrer eignen Arbeit als gegenstndliche Charaktere der Arbeitsprodukte
selbst, als gesellschaftliche Natureigenschaften dieser Dinge zurckspiegelt, daher auch


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

story-teller represents a pre-capitalistic way of business and transfer, where affiliation to the goods is extremely important. In contrast, Lakatos demonstrates the
modern type of capitalistic subject, for whom the specific article is completely
secondary. His story is non-mysterious and mysterious at once. He simply produces artificial corals made from celluloid. His business has an English name
Lowncastle (the name implies the idea that he is a beautiful nouveau riche,
who, like his products, is a fake) and a New York address. There is no difference
between the original and the copy, between the fake and the authentic item.
Modernity is the permanent triumph of globalisation with some acts of revenge.
Roths stories always look somewhat over-simplified. The same is true with
his use of metaphors and symbols whose meanings are quite often obvious in
contrast to Kafkas. But this simplicity itself is to some extent false. Modernity
is understood in mythological terms; in contrast, myth is used as a medium to
understand the paradoxes of modern reality. Piczenik, completely ruined, burns
all the false corals and buys a ticket to the new continent. He enters the ship
with the ironic name Phoenix, which sinks during the journey. But death is the
saviour of the myth: Piczenik finds his end at his place of longing, in the depths
of the ocean, where he lies until the end of days. This is, indeed, a very sarcastic
and melancholy end, but one which is symptomatic of modernity, an end which
has not only a high price but also its own victims. It seemed to be that the economic and the symbolic ruin would go hand in hand. But at the end it becomes
evident that only the Arbeit am Mythos the work of and with myth is an
adequate way of undestanding the dark sides of blinding modernity. Literature
gives Polyphem, the people from Macondo and the Leviathans prophet a voice

das gesellschaftliche Verhltnis der Produzenten zur Gesamtarbeit als ein auer ihnen
existierendes gesellschaftliches Verhltnis von Gegenstnden.
8Joseph Roth, Der Leviathan (1975, 147): [] ich habe Nissen Piczenik gekannt, und ich
brger dafr, da er zu den Korallen gehrt hat und da der Grund des Ozeans seine einzige
Heimat war. Mge er dort in Frieden ruhn neben dem Leviathan bis zur Ankunft des Messias.
See also: Carl Schmitt, Land und Meer. Eine weltgeschichtliche Betrachtung (1981, 17): Die
Kabbalisten sagen nun, der Behemoth bemhe sich, den Leviathan mit den Hrnern oder
Zhnen zu zerreien, der Leviathan dagegen halte mit seinen Fischflossen dem Landtier
Maul und Nase zu, da es nicht essen und nicht atmen kann. Das ist, so anschaulich wie es
eben nur ein mythisches Bild vermag, die Schilderung der Blockade einer Landmacht durch
eine Seemacht, die dem Land die Zufuhren abschneidet, um es auszuhungern. So tten sich
die beiden Mchte gegenseitig. Die Juden aber, sagen diese Kabbalisten weiter, feiern dann
das festliche tausendjhrige Gastmahl des Leviathan, von dem Heinrich Heine in einem
berhmten Gedicht erzhlt.
9Hans Blumenberg, Arbeit am Mythos (1984, 291326). For the German discussion see also:
Karl Heinz Bohrer (ed.), Mythos und Moderne (1983).

Polyphems Children


stories which are not part of modern self-appearance. Such stories are able to
understand the irrational aspects of modern rationalism but they are not powerful enough to give history another direction or to overcome modernity in a nonregressive way. Although neither Marquez nor Roth are radical modernists, their
novels describing Western modernity from an outside, periphery perspective
point to the aesthetic experiences of classical modernism: The reference to the
world of myth, magic and fairy tale is never a simple connection with their contents, but also with their formal aspects. Roth and Marquez use archaic clusters
for a specific kind of writing which transcends the classical European rational
realism of the nineteenth century. They refer to the formal elements of myths in
an ironic and surrealistic fashion in order to use them as aesthetic tools for the
analysis of modernity. We need the myth to understand the fantastic aspects of
modern times.

IV.Selbstverschuldete Unmndigkeit
Herr und Knecht
Enlightenment means the project of bringing light into the heart of the darkness;
Romanticism is the symbolic order in which modern Western cultures work out
their experiences with the counterpart of rationality. Modernity can be seen as
a complex and paradoxical unity. Romanticism in a general way is the outdoing
and at the same time the revision of enlightenment. The background of Western
Romanticism is irritation of the modern consciousness and the attempt to integrate the dark and oppressed side. It is the experience of dominating Western
cultures with its other inside and outside.
Modernity implies that there are a lot of cultures which only have one thing in
common: that they are not modern in their political, economic and aesthetic structures. They persistently refuse to overcome their immaturity and their backwardness. Kants expression of selbstverschuldete Unmndigkeit describes exactly
this plot of the grand rcit. The state of pre-modern primitivism is the result of the
inability to make use of human rationality and freedom. In this argumentation,
human beings are responsible for their state of life. Unmndigkeit (the German
word is derived from the word Mund, mouth) describes the lack of the ability to
speak for oneself. The non-modern person has no own voice of his own. Thus, the
power-relation is inscribed in the relation between the modern culture(s) and all
the other cultures whose voices do not really count. Moreover, because you do
not have your own voice, you need a speaker. This was part of the abolitionists
project: to give the poor uncivilized black people a voice, their voice.


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

The conflict between the missionaries and the natives of the Caribbean
became unavoidable just at the moment when the natives began to insist on their
own capacity to speak for themselves. This dialectic can also be seen in the innerEuropean context. The Austrian Empire is such a field of different cultures. Also
here, modernity creates a cultural ranking between the civilised and the uncivilised, the masters and their servants, as one can see in the stories of Marie von
Ebner-Eschenbach. Her male or female protagonists have attitudes and habits
which are comparable to those of English abolitionists. The liberal aristocrats are
Deutschsterreicher, whereas the servants are Czechs. In one of her most wellknown stories, Er lt die Hand kssen (He would like to kiss her hand), which is
set in Southern Moravia, an old countess and her neighbour discuss their servants, whom the former sees as her proteges. It would be better, she insists, for
these nave, credulous yet also mistrustful people not to have the opportunity to
choose their own masters. The countess refers to the old times, when her servants accepted the strokes of the cane and went voluntarily to the Amt, to the
office to be punished. It is an act of faith to interpret the strokes as a just punishment, to become a human being and see the master as the real guide. In EbnerEschenbachs critical story this manorial punishment ends fatally and lethally.
This subjugation only works as long as the subordinate accepts his/her inferiority
and his/her need to become civilised sometimes also with Draconian measures
and procedures which were usual in the Jamaican plantation system. This is the
reason why the countess also mentions not only the gullibility but also the mistrust of her protgs, who have become the victims of the wrong guides after
the abolishment of the manorial system, which is quite evidently feudalistic but
here becomes an intermediate station on the way to modern civilisation.
As in non-European colonies, the emancipation starts with the right to
choose ones own masters, with the right to gullibility and distrust, with the
clash of civilisations and subjugation of other cultures, a process which has a

10Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Er lat die Hand kssen (1953, 122f): Die Grfin richtete die
hohe Gestalt empor und holte tief Atem. Gestehen Sie, da es fr diese Leute, die so tricht
vertrauen und mitrauen, besser wre, wenn ihnen die Wahl ihrer Ratgeber nicht freistnde.
Besser wrs natrlich! Ein bestellter Ratgeber und auch bestellt der Glaube(!) an ihn.
Torheit! zrnte die Grfin.
Wieso? Sie meinen vielleicht, der Glaube lasse sich nicht bestellen? Ich sage Ihnen, wenn
ich vor vierzig Jahren meinem Diener eine Anweisung auf ein Dutzend Stockprgel gab und
dann den Rat aufs Amt zu gehen, um sie einzukassieren, nicht einmal im Rausch wre es ihm
eingefallen, da er etwas Besseres tun knnte, als diesen meinen Rat zu befolgen.
See also: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Can the Subaltern speak? (1995).

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long history. What is new in regard to modernity is the fact that subjugation has
become a specific and universalistic legitimacy.
Modern culture is the unique one, serving as a model for all the other cultures.
Modernity becomes the benchmark of cultural ranking, which puts the different
ethnic groups in their place, as in the British Empire or in the Habsburg Monarchy. In the case of the Austro-Hungarian Empire it is quite evident that Galicia is
more uncivilised and underdeveloped than German-speaking Austria, Bosnia or
the Vojvodina less so than Slovenia and Croatia: This benchmarking of modern
culture has European roots, but concentrates on some cultures: English, French
and Protestant German. The difference and distance to those types of modern
cultures is decisive for positions in the cultural ranking.
It is important that this ranking is accepted by both sides, by the civilised
and by the uncivilised, which has to make efforts to become part of the Champions League of modernity. So, modernity is characterised by adult and non-adult
cultures. Or as a variation of the classical discourse of enlightenment and modernism, it can be interpreted as a conflict between winning and losing cultures.
With regard to the topic of power and rule, Hegels chapter from his Phenomenology of Mind, Master and Servant, is still the relevant philosophical narrative.
Hegel tells a typical mythical story of origins, how the master became a master,
the servant a servant. Hegel places this narrative in the context of the adventures
of self-consciousness. This episode of the autobiography of the absolute mind,
which has its modest offspring in the sensorial evidence, has been central to the
Marxist narrative of the dialectic of history and for the analysis of classes and
economic rule. Hegels analysis of self-consciousness can also be combined with
cultural materialism. The acknowledgement of the Other has social and cultural
dimensions. The key point is that the Selbstbewustein, self-consciousness,
which is an und fr sich, can only be established if it is accepted as it is by the
other. (Hegel 1970, 145155)
Hegels concept discusses this episode on a maximum level of abstraction.
In his discussion of the fight of self-consciousness all concrete, symbolically
realised differences are ignored. In this contest for acknowledgement (to achieve
self-consciousness) the antagonists meet on an abstract universal level. Here it
is irrelevant which symbolic concepts, labels and stereotypes both rivals, the
future master and the future servant, have from each other. What is important is
the extent to which they achieve self-consciousness. In the case of the servant it
is a tremendous lack of self-consciousness, although the servant is able to compensate this lack by work that is by real access to the world.
If the servant wants to change his poor situation, (s) he is confronted with the
dialectic of emancipation, which is rooted in the grand rcits of modernity. The
representative of modernity is accepted by the uncivilised, who agrees at the


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

same time with the evaluation that (s) he cannot be equal at least until now. He
must leave the Balkans or the Orient, the symbolic places of non-modernity.
The only way to be acknowledged is to become modern. Thus, the anti-colonial
struggle is deeply formed by the narratives of modernism and modernity. In contrast, anti-modernism, which has been influential at least since the eighteenth
century, may compensate for humiliation and the rage of the underdog, but
generally it is not the way to become accepted as an example of modern selfconsciousness. Culture can be understood as the setting of phenomena which
produce difference, exclusion and ranking and which establish a system with
clear frontiers and borders.
Cultural analysis, which transcends the traditional single disciplines in
the humanities, no longer interprets culture as a mere superstructure but as an
energetic moment, which appears in the constitution of rule and power. Hegels
concept of the Self and the Other is, as I have mentioned, philosophical and universal. In regard to the master and the servant it does not consider the differences of sex, race, gender, language and religion. But this does not undermine
the value of the analysis, but requires a modification. It becomes evident that rule
and power depend on which cultural differences are at work.
Culture is the place where nations, regional and sub-cultural groups are
invented, all of which claim sovereignty. The revival of culturalism, which
includes the possibility of new xenophobic particularism and the option of cultural diversity, is, as with globalisation, a symptom of one and the same modernity in which it becomes more and more necessary to assert oneself. The slogan
of the avant-garde since Mallarm, to be absolutely modern is meanwhile the
hidden categorical imperative in post-modern times, in times in which modernity is a simple but still working narrative structure. The disenchantment means
that we have become sceptical about whether the grand rcits of modernity are
really true, but nevertheless they are quite powerful, at the symbolic as well as
at the real level. Modernity remains the rule and the ruler for cultural evaluation, although it may be true that the criteria of modernity have changed and are
no longer totally clear. The modernity of the United States, Western Europe and
Japan may differ but the necessity of modernity has never changed.

V.Kakanien revisited
Culture, modernity and rule are connected in a complex triangle. Modernity is the
criterion for cultural ranking, whereas the symbolic forms of culture correspond
with the forms of rule and power (and vice versa). Colonialism can be seen as a

Polyphems Children


radical asymmetry within this triangle. Jenny Sharpe has defined the colonial
subject as follows:
I use colonial subject specifically for the Western educated native in order to emphasize1)
the subject status that class of natives acquires by acceding to the authority of Western
knowledge 2) the restriction of sovereignty to the colonizers alone and 3) the denial of
subject status to natives belonging to the subordinate or subaltern class. (Ashcroft/Griffiths/
Tiffin 1995, 102)

The question arises to what extent the power relations in the inner-European
context can be interpreted as quasi-colonial. Can the Austrian Empire be seen
as an inner-continental empire in analogy to the intercontinental European
empires? I would say that the similarities are striking. Meanwhile, British cultural
studies discusses the inner relationship between England on the one hand and
Wales, Scotland and Ireland on the other in terms of colonial and postcolonial
theories. There is a restriction of power and there is an acceptance of inferiority.
But it is quite evident that this subordination takes place within Western cultures
itself, although the cultural element in language, religion and ethnic differences
may be important:
Thus, partly because each nationalism were engaged in the struggle for the conversion of
culturally ambiguous peasants with neighbouring rival nationalism, the self image and
self-presentation of the new nation-states was in terms of the model of a closed, localised
culture: idiosyncratic and glorying in its idiosyncrasy, and promising emotional and aesthetic fulfilment and satisfaction to its members.
The struggle in which each nationalism was engaged had two enemies: rival nationalisms
and rootless cosmopolitianism, whether it be the cosmopolitianism of a non-ethnic Empire
claiming apostolic but not ethnic vindication or the cosmopolitianism of an international
socialism of liberalism. (Gellner 1998, 37)

So, non-European colonialism and inner-European colonisation, for example of

the eastern part of Europe, are two different types of subordination, of an asymmetry of collective self-consciousness. The concept of cultural ranking which
depends on the criterion of modernity makes it possible to work out specific differences of rule and power in the name of civilisation. Also in the culture of colonialism and ethnic oppression or real (or supposed) disadvantage, there are not
only the masters and the servants, but a lot of intermediate figures: administrators, civil servants, overseers and supervisors, colonists from the superior ethnicity, whose social and cultural position depends on the concrete context. The
Irish civil servant or the Indian administrator for example, is, under the colonial
regime, subordinated to the white British, but is a master to the black African.


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

The cultural ranking is linked with the narrative of progress. Having a low rank
in the ethnic hierarchy means at the same time that you are far behind in the
dramatic game of civilisation and progress. The project of modernity is faced
with the presence of different cultures. It evaluates these cultures with regard to
their compatibility to its own cultural tradition and the ability to transform itself
into modernity. The differences between different cultures suggest different tasks
of the coloniser: modern infrastructures, schools and modern bureaucracy for
some, mission and general education for the others.
In his cultural and narrative topology Land und Meer, Carl Schmitt has
pointed out a very important difference between the maritime and the continental empires. The territorial type of ruling power represents the traditional form,
whereas the maritime adventure refers to a new type of political dominance.
Schmitt, the national-socialist fellow traveller and prominent adviser of the
Hitler regime, interprets world history after 1945 as a fight between maritime and
land power. So, he implicitly suggests that Hitlers total defeat symbolises the
irreversible decline of land power in its fight with Anglo-American sea power.
From the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a fundamental shift to the sea
takes place, which one could argue culminates in the triumph of the new
continent which was founded by a species of people fascinated by the ocean:
pirates, corsairs, adventurers dealing with maritime trade, whalers, circumnavigators and colonists: America (Schmitt 1981, ch. 7, 40). The historical triumph of
Gods own country is the victory of the seafarers over the old continental form of
rule and power. The departure from the secure harbour into the uncertainty of the
open sea is the radical metaphor for modernity, also in the eyes of the European.
Cultural ranking therefore does not cease to apply in the inner-European context.
The Austrian Empire, heir of the old Universalistic Christian-Roman Empire will
be seen by Schmitt as a katechon, a power which slows down the speed of historical progress. So Austrian culture in Central Europe is less modern and developed compared with the West (the British Empire, Prussia and United States of
America) but it is advanced and more civilised than the East of Europe and the
imaginary Balkans. Political and cultural inequality is not founded on the contrast between Europe and Non-Europe. It has its own and accepted parameters of
discrimination, which are meaningful also in the encounter between European
and non-European cultures:
the difference between maritime and land powers
the contrast between Protestantism and the Catholic world (and also
between Western Christianity and the Orthodox church, and between Christianity and Islam)
the contrast between German and non-German

Polyphems Children


the standards of industrial and political development, which becomes

essential for the discrimination between civilised and uncivilised

This cultural asymmetry will be acknowledged because progress and modernity

are fundamental for modern belief that is for the belief in modernity and progress. So, the only way to overcome the painful position of the underdog is to
change yourself. It is quite clear that modernity has its own self-dynamic, but the
malicious connection between culture, modernity and rule creates a competition
between cultures which accelerates the process of modernity. The process itself is
one of the main characteristics of modernity and modernism. This is true for all
relevant systems in modern life: politics, economy, technology, media, and arts.
This is still the framework of post-nationalism and post-colonialism. The struggle
for self consciousness means being accepted as modern in the time of post-modern disenchantment, which is established at first in the centres and puts the less
civilised, less modern under permanent pressure to go further in this progress:
without the old belief in the strong narrative that modernity is the way forward
for your own good. Joseph Roths hero ends at the bottom of the ocean and GarcaMarquezs Aureliano Buendia dies before he has decoded the alchemist writings. The death of the pre-modern cultures is thus inscribed into the structure
of the modern world. It modifies our modernity, but there is no chance of return,
only one of recollection and reflection. Modern rationality has its counter-part
in Romanticism and its longing for darkness that cannot be controlled. That the
non-European culture is the dark kat exochen, may be a romantic obsession.
But it is evident that the colonised and post-colonised other, which for a long
time was in different versions and evaluations the object and subject of subjugation, humiliation and oppression, marks a position of otherness which remains
important for Western civilisation and its universalistic ambitions. The darkness
and the colonised, symptomatically the colonised black, have in common that
they were the victim of a type of modernity which defines progress as a progress
of control and self-control. This link between enlightenment and control demonstrates the obsession of Western modernity with rule and power, as Homi K.
Bhabha postulates:
An important feature of colonial discourse is its dependence on the concept of fixity in the
ideological construction of otherness. Fixity is the sign of cultural/historical/racial difference in the discourse of colonialism, is a paradoxical mode of representation: it connotes
rigidity and an unchanging order as well as disorder, degeneracy and daemonic repetition.
(Bhabha 1994, 66)

This is the core of Horkheimers and Adornos argument: that the control of
the master, which always includes self-control, oppresses not only the other,


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

Polyphem, but the Polyphem in us, which is automatically demonised in the

light of modern rationality (Cf. Kristeva 1988). So the Western mind owes a lot
to Lichtenbergs observer, the man who discovered Columbus. It overturns the
voyeurism which has been so characteristic of the colonising subject (Bhabha
1994, 76). Lichtenbergs line can be read as the starting point of a modernism
which needs the perspective of the stranger to establish self-reflection in Western
modernity, whereas the periphery is in favour of literary and artist modernism,
which lends it the idea of being absolutely modern and at the same time makes it
possible to react to the painful situation of being subjugated to a process which
has been created from outside. It maintains its actuality because the process of
so-called globalisation is based on the idea that the triumph of Western capitalistic modernity must go on. It provokes automatically the production of cultural
differences to modern universalism.

Murder and Monotheism

A Detective Story in Close Reading
The following text differs from the broad discussion about this essay, with the
rebirth of interest (Schfer 2006, 21) that began with the important study by
Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi (1991). It is an ambivalent answer to what extent Freuds
provocative essay and its plot, the killing of Moses, an Egyptian, by the Israelites, can be integrated into a specific form of Jewish tradition. On the one hand,
Yerushalmi denies Freuds central arguments. For example, he denies the idea
that the murder could have been supressed or forgotten, but on the other hand,
Freuds critical text was interpreted as part of a Jewish tradition, which can be
characterised by a strong will of self-criticism. Although Richard Bernsteins book
(Bernstein, 1998/2003) is embedded in the same discourse of psychoanalysis and
Jewish identity, and although his point of view is somewhat more positive with
regard to Freuds concept of supressing as a form of unconscious remembering, Berstein, who refers to Derridas comment on Yerushalmi, sees as a central
element of tradition (Bernstein 1998/2003, ch. 3; Derrida 1995/1996).
Jan Assmanns influential study is also concerned with the topic of cultural
memory. For the prominent Egyptologist Freuds concept reinforces his own
concept of memory and culture. Moreover, he interprets Freuds provocative
text in contrast to Yerushalmi not as a complex affirmation of Jewish monotheism but as an exemplary form of deconstruction of classical monotheism in
the tradition of Western enlightenment, which includes John Spencer, Friedrich
Schiller and others (Assmann 1997/1998, 213242).
The topic of this essay is more modest. In the following, I will concentrate
my interest on the narrative strategies in this late but central text. I will pose the
question to what extent the procedures Freud has developed in this fantastic
text are characteristic for his whole oeuvre. In this respect, my approach has a
meta-level. It asks by which narratives and interpretative procedures psychoanalysis is constructed. I am also interested in Freuds deep ambivalence with regard
to his topic and moreover to his own position as a founder of a symbolic architecture that is certainly not a religion but much more than a simple theory, since it
refers to all aspects of life. Jan Assmann points out that Ikhnatons monotheism
was a counter-religion, a radical rupture with tradition (Assmann 1998, 49). So
one may ask, if this is not also true for Freuds psychoanalysis. Maybe this was the
reason why Freud was so intensively touched by the figure of Moses, the tension


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

between the rational and the a-rational, between monotheism and polytheism.
Thus, his narratives about Moses can be read as self-narratives, hidden narratives
of psychoanalysis.

II.Preliminary remarks
Before discussing Freuds relation to religion in general and to monotheism in
particular, it is necessary to realize that religion is not a simple phenomenon,
but a complex that consists, as Whitehead has shown (Whitehead 1926/1954), of
at least four elements: feeling and experience (1), rites (2), myth (3) and dogma
(4) and I would add institution and power (5). In his preoccupation with
Moses and the historical drama of monotheism, Freud is concerned especially
with element 3 (myth) and element 4 (dogma), but to some degree on element 5
(power relation). Quite clearly, Freud is interested in the phenomenon of rites, as
his essay Zwangshandlungen und Religionsbungen (1907) shows; in the essay on
Moses, the tradition of circumcision plays a certain role in the article, but it is not
central. What Freud does not discuss in this text is element 1, the mystical aspect
of religion, which since the early Schleiermacher seems to be the common bond
between all religions and the elementary offspring of religion as such. Freud has
discussed this topic in Die Zukunft einer Illusion and in Das Unbehagen in der
Kultur as a certain form of regression to the statue of the absolute unconscious,
to the Es (Id). In this sense, religion, the oceanic feeling, is not seen as a phenomenon eo ipso but as an illusionary reaction, a refusal to become an adult person.
In the preliminary remarks from June 1938, Freud says with a short glance at his
book Totem and Taboo (1912):
Since that time I have no longer been in any doubt that religious phenomena can only
be understood by using the model of such familiar neurotic symptoms of the individual,
can only be understood as recurrences of long forgotten, meaningful events in the prehistory of the human family; I am convinced that in fact they owe their compulsive nature to
that source, so that it is by virtue of their content of historical truth that they effect human
beings. (Freud MM, 221)

1Ich habe seit damals nicht mehr bezweifelt, da die religisen Phnomene nur nach dem
Muster der uns vertrauten neurotischen Symptome des Individuums zu verstehen sind, als
Wiederkehren von lngst vergessenen, bedeutsamen Vorgngen in der Urgeschichte der
menschlichen Familie, da sie ihren zwanghaften Charakter eben diesem Ursprung verdanken
und also kraft ihres Gehalts an historischer Wahrheit auf die Menschen wirken. (Freud MM,

Murder and Monotheism


The narrative structures of the individual human being and those of human communities are principally identical. But in the late essay on Moses it is quite clear
that Freud also reflects on a complete different aspect, namely on the contribution of monotheism to establish a stable symbolic order of the father, or to use
Freudian terminology in German, of the ber-Ich. One might say that religion in
a Freudian sense is in the tension between two poles, the Es and the ber-Ich,
the imaginary and the symbolic order of the father. Freuds text on Moses and
monotheism is not religious itself. Moreover, it does not belong to the discourse
on religion in an internal sense. It is a story which centres on a tricky hidden
murder and which implies a difficult burden and leaves a problematic heritage
for modern culture.

Detective reading
As Jacques Rancire (Rancire, 2009) has shown, Freud has developed a certain
type of text analysis that is similar to the method of a detective who, by following
clues, tries to find out what really happened and who the murderer was. In contrast to the mainstream psychology of his but also of our time, many of his articles
make use of literature and the arts to develop and work out his own theory.
His first preoccupation with Moses (1914) is mediated by a famous piece of
art, Michelangelos sculpture of Moses. Here too, he makes use of his detectives
method in discovering that Michelangelos Moses is just about to leap up and
smash the tablets with the Ten Commandments, but has overcome his violent
temper and is able to overcome this affect and to control his rage. In contrast to
other interpretations, Freud is convinced that it is Michelangelo who has revised
the original biblical narrative, in which Moses is really outraged and acts angrily.
Michelangelo is seen as an artist who has created a new Moses, who may coincide
with Freuds idea of rationalisation and sublimation. There can be no doubt that
Michelangelos Moses is seen as a positive figure.
The focus lies particularly with modern literature, what Rancire calls the
aesthetic unconscious (Rancire, 2009). Freuds methodology works thus: he
reads literary documents (or sculpture as is the case in his early analysis of
Michelangelos Moses) in the position of a secondary author, who, in contrast to
the primary writer or artist, is able to link the aesthetic surface with the psychoanalytical unconscious. So, two elements are central: firstly that Freud is operating on a meta-level and secondly that his procedure is based on a close re-reading
of a given text, which anticipates to some extent deconstructive hermeneutic
practices. It is [] a method such as ours taking from material what strikes


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

us as useful, rejecting what does not suite us, and assembling the elements in
accordance with their psychological plausibility. (Freud MM, 268)
There is an interesting ambivalence with regard to the texts subject to Freuds
specific close reading. On the one hand, it seems that only literature and the arts
are able to represent the unconscious, the hidden, the repressed, but on the other
hand there is a deep distrust of the authors of the texts, especially regarding their
own interpretations. They resemble those people in a criminal discourse who try
to deny what really happened. Freuds text analysis follows the logical structure of examination in a trial, in which circumstantial evidence is decisive. There
is, however, a difference. In contrast to the suspected in legal proceedings, the
suspected author of a certain text or work of art does not deny deliberately. He
or she may work out the unconscious e.g. in a narrative form, but is not able to
read his own text in a proper way. From this perspective, he needs the psychoanalyst as the adequate reader and secondary author, as a symbolic assistant.
Thus, psychoanalysis needs myth, literature and the arts and all these symbolic
forms need psychoanalysiss detective method. Quite clearly, Freud is an heir of
enlightenment, the representative of a second and secondary enlightenment. The
figure of the private investigator is a good metaphor for this theoretical energy.
But it also refers to the experiences of modern literature since Romanticism,
which constructs in a very paradoxical way phenomena we sum up in terms like
the unconscious and the uncanny. In contrast to Rancire, I would argue
that Freuds detective method is not restricted to modern literature (Hoffmanns
Sandmann, Jensens Gradiva) or Renaissance arts (da Vinci, Michelangelo), but
extends to works especially in the field of myth and mythology.
The category of Ent-Stellung, disfiguration or distortion, is central for the
detective reading. Like the Unheimliche, the German term Entstellung has a
potentially paradoxical double meaning: disfiguration, displacement, distortion,
unconscious falsification but also restitution of the original. It is, as Freud writes
in the essay, a form of dislocation:
The corruption of a text is not unlike a murder. The problem lies not in doing the deed but
in removing the traces of it. It would be good to give the Entstellung the double meaning to
which it is entitled, although nowadays it makes no use of the alternative. The word should
mean not only to alter the appearance but also to move to a different place, to shift elsewhere. It follows that in many cases of textual corruption we can expect to find that what

2[] ein Verfahren, wie das unsrige, vom berlieferten Stoff anzunehmen, was uns brauchbar
scheint, zu verwerfen, was uns nicht taugt, und die einzelnen Stcke nach der psychologischen
Wahrscheinlichkeit zusammenzusetzen (Freud MM, 107).

Murder and Monotheism


has been suppressed and what has been denied is still there, hidden somewhere, albeit
altered in appearance and wrenched out of context. (Freud, MM 202)

The distrust of psychoanalysis has to do with its discontent with fantasy. It is

fantasy that makes things to come to light, but it is the same fantasy that distorts
them. Therefore fantasy and corruption (Entstellung) refer to each other. So
the goal of the reader, who is at the same time a writer, is to find the true story
behind the wrong one. But the wrong one is not wrong in a simple way, but entails
hidden signs which refer to the true story. And when Freud compares himself
with an investigator in a detective story, then this may be understood as a metaphor. But, in contrast, the psychoanalytical narrative can be characterised by the
fact that there is always a murder in the hidden true story which is disfigured by
the literary text or the myth. What Freuds reading program creates is a new narrative, a translation from the unconscious to the conscious. At the centre, there
is a real or symbolic murder, trauma and shame. In contrast to the narratives of
the first enlightenment with its vector into the future, in Psychoanalysis there is
a tragic narrative which always relates all contemporary occurrences to the past.
All relevant events have taken place in the past and we are in the uncomfortable
situation of having to deal with them. The present is seen as the shadow of the
past. The reader of the psychoanalytical narrative behind the literary narrative is
to some extent the heir of the collective murder and of the shame and guilt that
are included in those events. There is no future in this narrative besides the idea
of levelling the burden of the individual and collective history and its trauma.

Distortion and configuration

Freuds examination, which incidentally has forgotten his initial interest with
Moses by analysing Michelangelos famous sculpture, starts with the idea that
the protagonist in the biblical story has the wrong name. That means that his
name is not Hebraic, but Egyptian. There must have been symbolic trouble, so
that the reminder of the Egyptian element was deleted.

3Es ist bei der Entstellung eines Textes hnlich wie bei einem Mord. Die Schwierigkeit liegt
nicht in der Ausfhrung der Tat, sondern in der Beseitigung ihrer Spuren. Man mchte dem
Worte Entstellung den Doppelsinn verleihen, auf den es Anspruch hat, obwohl es heute keinen
Gebrauch davon macht. Es sollte nicht nur bedeuten: in seiner Erscheinung verndern, sondern
auch: an eine andere Stelle bringen, anderswohin verschieben. Somit drfen wir in vielen Fllen
von Textentstellung darauf rechnen, das Unterdrckte und Verleugnete doch irgendwo versteckt
zu finden, wenn auch abgendert und aus dem Zusammenhang gerissen []. (Freud MM, 55f).


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

In a next step, which anticipates structuralism, the story about Moses is interpreted as a part of a general heroic, mythical narrative matrix, as his former pupil
Otto Rank, then still under the influence of the master, worked out in his book Der
Mythos von der Geburt des Helden (1909, The Myth about the Birth of the Hero).
Beginning with Sargon of Agade, Rank analyses a group of heroes who have
more or less the same birth story, which is at the same time a family-narrative.
They are supposed to be murdered at birth, they survive in a displaced situation
(mostly with a poor family), and they come from below to reach the status of
a hero. Ranks mentions, for example, Karna, Paris, Herakles, Gilgamesch, and
dipus. Quite clearly, Moses belongs to this kind of heroes. Following Ranks
early book, in Freud a hero is someonewho has revolted against his father successfully and has ultimately triumphed over him.
The two families, the royal one from which the hero comes originally, and
the subaltern one in which he grows up, are interpreted as the fantastic narrative
version of the drama of (male) childhood. In the mythical narration, there are two
families, a difference between the lower and the upper one. In the psychoanalytical re-narration, the two families are identical.
But especially with regard to this narrative element, there is this is the next
hypothesis of the psychoanalytical investigator a deviation from the norm of
the narrative matrix of the heros birth. Usually, this narrative follows the scheme
that the hero is displaced from the beginning of his earthly life and is given to a
poor family. But here, the infant is found by an Egyptian princess. Thus, he starts
his career as a royal son and ends as the leader of a new people. So for the investigating reader it becomes quite clear that Moses was an Egyptian aristocrat who
has been distorted as a Jew.
And by distorting the distorted, Freud starts with the first part of his own narrative: In contrast to the hero, who, step by step, rises self above his lowly beginnings, Freuds Moses begins his heroic life by descending from high up, lowering
himself to the level of the children of Israel.
Starting with the wrong name of the hero, the story of monotheism has to be
told in a new narration, as a transfer from Egypt to Israel. Following the Egyptology of his time, he identifies this early monotheism with the religion of Ikhnaton.
But this attempt to establish monotheism for the first time in human history fails;
in this deconstructive reading, Moses is seen as one of the noblemen from the
monotheistic camp, which flees after the restitution of the old Egyptian polytheism. In this situation, he chooses a new people for the religion of monotheistic
Aton: the people of Israel, which has a regional volcanic god, Jahwe. But like
every free storytelling Freuds narrating process too becomes self-dynamic. This
is not the end of the new narrative on Moses. By also dislocating scientific texts,
Freud, a fascinating narrator, suggests that Moses has been murdered by the

Murder and Monotheism


Jews, and that centuries later, the Jewish people have reinstalled Moses monotheism in an act of painful shame.
I am not going to intervene in the discourse on that subject (it would also
be interesting to refer for example to Jan Assmanns interpretation) and I do not
intend to discuss the plausibility of Freuds narrative construction, his detective
story, which finds the probable version behind all the disfigurations and mythical manipulation of the narrative. I am only interested in Freuds ambivalent
perspective on monotheism. It is quite evident that Freud is never interested in
religion, monotheism or polytheism as such. There are three aspects in his essay
that come from cultural anthropology, psychoanalysis and political theology. One
could argue that psychoanalysis is much more than a therapy but a cardinal discipline which connects cultural theory with political theology (this is what I called
the fifth aspect of the religious complex).
Freud describes the religion of king Amenhotep as an episode in the long
history of Ancient Egypt, but emphasises the fact that this monotheism was strict
and severe. It is a system constructed by orders and control.The king, who gave
himself the name Ikhnaton is the representative of the new god and his ideal
(maat = justice). Freud also mentions another political function of this kind of
monotheism: that the expanding Egyptian imperialism was not symbolically
formatted in and legitimated by universalism and monotheism. Monotheism is
unbearable, and this was the reason why the Egyptians smashed the new religion
of Aton and the people of Israel killed Moses:
Moses Jewish people were no more capable of tolerating so cerebral a religion, of finding in
what it had to offer any satisfaction of their needs, than the eighteenth-dynasty Egyptians
had been. The same thing happened in both instances. Those who were being treated like
children and placed under constraint rebelled and threw off the burden of the religion that
had been forced on them. But whereas the docile Egyptians waited until fate had removed
the divine figure of the pharaoh, the wild Semites took fate into their own hands and got rid
of the tyrant themselves. (Freud MM, 205)

As many other stories in the biblic narrative, the story about the golden calve,
which is at the centre of Schnbergs opera, is true and false at once, a de-figuring

4Das Judenvolk des Moses war ebensowenig imstande, eine so hoch vergeistigte Religion zu
ertragen, in ihren Darbietungen eine Befriedigung ihrer Bedrfnisse zu finden, wie die gypter
der 18. Dynastie. In beiden Fllen geschah dasselbe, die Bevormundeten und Verkrzten
erhoben sich und warfen die Last der ihnen auferlegten Religion ab. Aber whrend die
zaghaften gypter damit warteten, bis das Schicksal die geheiligte Person des Pharao beseitigt
hatten, nahmen die wilden Semiten das Schicksal in ihre Hand und rumten den Tyrannen aus
dem Wege. (Freud MM, 59).


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

narrative which hides the true killing story but entails a trace, an index to the true
story. It was not Moses who was angry, but his new people, because he created a
form of religion which was too much for it. So, it is not only the despotic exclusiveness but also the demanding aspect that lead to the abolition of monotheism in history. Speaking in Hayden Whites terminology a tragic plot comes into
play: Monotheism is interpreted as an historical effort to bring mankind forwards
by challenging its faculties of abstract thought, sublimation and overcoming the
terror of the regional context (tribalism): Freud mentions the refusal of magic and
mystique the stimulation of progress in mind, the requests for sublimation, the
respect for the intellectual and the focalisation on ethics. Monotheism is regarded
by Freud, the representative of a second form of enlightenment, as an impressive
project in the long run; the restitution of the Great Father, which goes hand in
hand with monotheism, is seen as huge progress in human history.
But to some extent this progress is unbearable; it entails too many reductions
and unrealisable demands with regard to the structure of our drives and desires.
So the murder of Moses heirs might also be possible in the future. The eternal
return of the same, a cyclic moment, is inscribed into the narrative matrix of Psychoanalysis.

Two narrative schemes in psychoanalysis

Why is Freuds method of detective re-reading so successful, at least from the
perspective of the de-figuring active reader? Because there are some basic narratives in psychoanalysis to which all narratives in texts, sculptures (or films) can
refer to.
The Freudian secondary author, the de-figuring reader, has a clear understanding of the motive behind the murder and a lot of experience with the logic of
unconscious denial, which produces falsifications he is able to correct.
The murder of Moses by a people which in Freuds words was accustomed to
a regionally unimportant volcanic god is not the end of Freuds own story. There
remains still a latent reminder of this crime and this collective memory leads, centuries later, to the reconstruction of Jewish monotheism. The difference in time
and also between the protagonists has been deleted in the biblical narrative, as
has the feeling of guilt. In this disfiguration, the murder has disappeared. But this
is only true on the rational level. It is inscribed in the collective unconscious
collective memory.
Thus, the events that are narrated in the biblical text version are based on
another narrative which follows the logic of one central psychoanalytical narrative: the traumatic narrative. It starts with a collective crime which leads to a

Murder and Monotheism


trauma that remains in the statue of unconsciousness (here the Jewish people is
traumatised because it is in the position of the culprit). The next and final narrative element is the urge for repetition, which here has a positive aspect, the
re-introduction of monotheism in an act of shame.
The malicious and racist statement that psychoanalysis is a Jewish invention becomes a positive element here; insofar as monotheism is interpreted as a
remarkable effort and a positive tradition, psychoanalysis is part of it. Psychoanalysis can also be seen as a return of the repressed. If there is any positive reference to Judaism, then it is the secular confession of monotheism that historically
is centred in Judaism.
Psychoanalysis is based on stable and limited narrative matrices, which produces endless variations and representations. To illustrate this, I would like to
present the scheme once again in a more abstract version it is a more or less
linear narrative with a strong determinist element and a weak teleology which
entails a moment of redemption, the redemption from the compulsion to repeat:
Narrative scheme 1:
Early trauma defence latency outbreak of neurotic disorder partial recurrence of
what have been repressed. (Freud MM, 243)

But there is also another great narrative matrix in Freuds theory, the murder narrative of Totem and Taboo (1912), to which he returns in the last central essay of
his oeuvre: It is the story of the great father of the horde who is the owner of all its
female members and who is ultimately killed by his sons. As Freud points out, he
hesitates to pronounce that humans have always known [] that they once had a
first father and that they struck him dead. (Freud MM, 263)
Explicitly, the author of Man Moses is in favour of the idea of regarding monotheism as the return of the murdered father. So he establishes a direct connection
between the two narratives: Moses was the man who re-installed the symbolic
order of the father and circumcision is the visible trace of that act. In this way, the
most progressive and the most archaic elements fit together in the figure of the
father. Reason and progress, intellectuality and abstraction appear in the dark
light of a dictatorial regime. Moses met the fate that awaits enlightened despots
(Freud MM, 205). The question is to what extent both elements, despotism and
enlightenment, fit together.

5Frhes Trauma Abwehr Latenz Ausbruch der neurotischen Erkrankung partielle

Wiederkehr des Verdrngten. (Freud MM, 87).


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

Christianity is seen in an interesting way firstly as the return of the Ammon

priests who smashed the religion of Aton, the first monotheism, in Freuds view.
But there is also a remark in Freud that interprets Jesus as a second Moses, but
a second Moses, who in contrast to the first Moses has dislocated and substituted the Godfather. Later, it is seen as progress, because of the universalistic
impulse and, moreover, because it is a milder regime that has reduced the enormous price of monotheism. But this is a double-edged compliment. For Freud,
especially Catholicism as a synthesis between monotheism and polytheism is far
away from being a progressive power. It is the relentless enemy of free thinking,
of progress and of the realisation of truth. This is the very reason why Christians
and Jews became the object of hatred in what Freud calls Germanys National
Socalist revolution (Freud MM, 254).
At least in his last years, Freud is in favour of monotheism not for religious
reasons he, the heir of historic enlightenment, has not changed his suspicion
that religion is a childish and stupid illusion; he is not critical of it because of
its dictatorial gesture that there is only one god, which has been criticised by
liberal-conservative post-modern philosophers as Odo Marquard (1981, 91116).
There is a paradox: undoubtedly psychoanalysis has also proved to be a subversive project against the symbolic command of the fathers (including the Jewish
ones), but on the other hand its founder remains forever anxious about the future
of the symbolic order and its representative: the real and metaphorical father,
who represents values which are non-negotiable, as is the case with the Ten Commandments. What is in the background is a tragic history of an imaginary subject
called reason, which acts as a dictator to the people.

A political ending
There are two interesting preliminary remarks in the third part of the essay, which
Freud published later. One remark is from March, the other from June 1938. Both
short texts are remarkable because they make clear that Freud was a political
thinker sui generis. Freud reflects on whether he is disloyal to his people in publishing a text which denies that its hero was a stranger, accuses him of being its
murderer and claims that Christianity to some extent implies progress in history.
But one cannot accuse Freud of being a hidden Jewish anti-Semite. He is critical of Jewish religion as he is critical of all forms of religion; he is also critical
of Jews because he is sceptical with regard to human beings individuals and
collectives as such. He meditates on the phantasm of the chosen people, which
has been adapted by he deadly enemy of the Jewish people, the German Nazis.
He is astonished by the fact that the conservatives, including the Catholics, have

Murder and Monotheism


seemed to become, as he says, the guardians of progress (a statement he has to

revise after the Anschlu).
The preliminary remarks operate with the liberal and leftist simple binary
opposition barbarity-progress. And it is not quite clear to what extent this binary
opposition fits together with other one, the opposition between monotheism and
polytheism. Freud does not make the connection to his essay explicit, but it is
quite clear that the monotheism represents the progressive and civil aspect. But
what do the new dictatorships in Russia, Italy and Germany (and now also in
annexed Austria) represent? Not a traditional pre-modern system, especially not
in Italy and Soviet Russia. Freud is politically and intellectually irritated by Stalin
and Mussolini:
We are living in particularly remarkable times. We find to our surprise that progress has
forged an alliance with barbarism. Soviet Russia has embarked on an attempt to raise some
hundred million oppressed people to superior forms of existence. In a bold move they have
been deprived by the opiate of religion and in a wise one given a sensible measure of sexual
freedom, but in the process they have been subjected to the cruellest coercion and robbed of
any chance of freedom of though. With similar violence the Italians are being trained up to
orderliness and a sense of duty. It comes as something of a relief from an oppressive anxiety
to see that is the case of the German people the relapse into almost prehistoric barbarism
is able to proceed even without recourse to any forward-looking idea. (Freud MM, 217)

I think Freud is wrong with regard to German National Socialism, which also
fused progressive and archaic elements.
Here we have to end our close reading, but it is necessary to formulate the
suspicion that those binary oppositions such as barbarity and progress, polytheism and monotheism are no longer sufficient instruments for cultural and historical analysis. For different reasons, we have to give up theses simple alternatives.
The aspect in Horkheimer/Adornos Dialectic of Enlightenment still relevant
today can be expressed in the plot that barbarity and progress can change their
places and mingle. And the opposition between rational monotheism and non-

6Wir leben in einer besonders merkwrdigen Zeit. Wir finden mit Erstaunen, dass der
Fortschritt ein Bndnis mit der Barbarei geschlossen hat. In Sowjetrussland hat man es
unternommen, etwa 100 Millionen in der Unterdrckung festgehaltener Menschen zu
besseren Lebensformen zu erheben. Man war verwegen, ihnen das Rauschgift der Religion
zu entziehen, und so weise, ihnen ein verstndiges Ma von sexueller Freiheit zu geben, aber
dabei unterwarf man sie dem grausamsten Zwang und raubte ihnen jedwede Mglichkeit
der Denkfreiheit. Mit hnlicher Gewaltttigkeit wird das italienische Volk zu Ordnung und
Pflichtgefhl erzogen. Man empfindet es als Erleichterung von der bedrckenden Sorge, wenn
man im Fall des deutschen Volkes sieht, dass der Rckfall in nahezu vorgeschichtliche Barbarei
auch ohne Anlehnung an irgendeine fortschrittliche Idee vor sich gehen kann.


Part 1: Culture and its Narratives

rational polytheism is also to some extent crucial. Polytheism can understood as

a hetero-stereotype of so-called monotheism. And it is not certain I am not an
expert in this field that polytheism is such a stable phenomenon. As the Catholic example demonstrates, there are transitions, third spaces and syncretisms.
There are angels in monotheistic religions and there is a clear hierarchy of Gods
in ancient Egypt and Greece (so that one God is at the top), and the divinities in
the religion of the Vedanta can be seen as allegories which represent different
aspects of the divine.
Behind the binary opposition between monotheism and polytheism, there
lurks another opposition, the conflict between myth and logos. It was Schelling
who in his Philosophy of mythology identified the triumph of Judaism and later
Christianity with the decline of the myth (Schelling 1842, vol. 6, 7143). Monotheism, as the triumph of an abstract reason that needs neither visual images
nor narratives any longer, is also understood as a principle break in the cultural
history of mankind. In contrast, some, though not all critics of logocentrism
tend to rehabilitate polytheism as a polyphonic symbolic space which enables
pluralism and political liberty pars pro toto I mention the German philosopher
Odo Marquard (Marquard 1981, 422). But this praise for diversity misses the fact
that polytheism does not represent different beliefs and divinities on the same
political, social and economic level, but expresses, as Klaus Heinrich has shown,
social and cultural hierarchy (1986, 53ff). Not all myths, narratives and divinities
are equal, some are more equal than others.
With regard to the monotheism of the psychoanalytical movement, I would
like to resist the temptation to refer to psychoanalysis as a secular monotheistic
religion or to equate Freud with Moses, the authoritarian structures of the psychoanalytical institution with the monotheistic despotism Freud himself mentions.
But it is quite evident that the monotheism of Freud needs an element that is so
constitutive for any so-called polytheism: narratives, narrating, and narration.
PS: When Freud interpreted Michelangelos Moses, the man who gave the people
of Israel Gods Ten Commandments, as a man who is able to calm his own rage,
he could have had the idea of a monotheism without rage, a monotheism of or
with calmness, an auto-image of psychoanalysis. So, one could say that the basic
narrative of psychoanalysis in Freud has a tragic plot (monotheism goes hand in
hand with its key figures Moses, Jesus and, murdering, in 1938 certainly of great
relevance to Jewish people). Freuds Psychoanalysis has an underlying mechanistic deep structure of argumentation, with metonymy as the key rhetorical figure,
but, in contrast to Whites terminology, the radical ideology which goes usually
hand in hand with that type of narrative is broken in a strange way, as is the case
with Mosess rage in Michelangelo. It goes hand in hand with a hidden narrative.

Part 2
Space, Time and the Global

Space and Borders

Simmel, Waldenfels, Musil
This article was originally given as a lecture in Troms, Norway. Giving a lecture
in another language than in ones mother tongue is always a journey, a movement
into a specific space or to another unknown space outside (cf. Chambers, 35).
There are real and symbolical borders I exceed, the border of/to another European culture (the Norwegian) and the border of another language (English). Thus
I feel that in times of globalisation, too, there remain borders. My first symbolic
hindrance is that it is not possible to transfer all meanings from one language to
another, as in the example of the German word Grenze (there is a similar word in
Norwegian), which is a broader concept than the English word border, including the idea of limit, limitation or also of frontier. I have to say that I also had
some problems in translating some ofWaldenfels and Simmels terms into international conference English. But as a colleague in Birmingham once pointed out,
reading a conference paper of mine: It is not our English. Your English is okay. It is
your English. But where is the space for this English? Is it a non-place? And where
are the borders of that use of a foreign language? Is it a language of Bhabhas third
space? So, we are in the middle of the topic, even before I have begun to explain
whats happening with borders and spaces.
In this essay, I shall present three different approaches to the topic. They
differ in intellectual temperament in the choice of genre, discipline and focalisation. Between Simmels analysis and this essay there is a distance of time of about
one hundred years. Georg Simmel, Max Webers counterpart, analyses space from
a point of view that is concentrated on society and has some similarities with
the neutral Olympian narrator of the modern novel. In contrast, Waldenfels, the
most well-known phenomenologist in Germany, refers to the single, individual
body (Leib), which makes possible very specific experiences with space and
border. Musil, who for Waldenfels acts as a Vergil through the complex labyrinth
of modern space, uses the modern novel in Bakhtins sense of as a medium for

1I have to thank Edit Kiraly and Usha Reber, who have organised a very intensive workshop on
the topic within the framework of our common research project Zentren und Peripherien in der
Habsburger Monarchie 18671918 (20042006).


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

intellectual reflection and as a symbolic machinery for experimental adventures

(for example the overcoming of traditional symbolic spaces and borders).
I do not refer to all these three thinkers in order to show respect to heterogeneity as an ideal, though one might argue that hyper-complex phenomena such
as space and borders quite evidently need a multi-perspective approach. And I
also do not refer to this triad because it has something in common; for example
the tendency to an essayistic attitude (in Musils spirit) that has often been seen
as a borderline phenomenon.
I refer to them for different reasons. I discuss Simmel because he was one of
the first to differentiate between various kinds and levels of space, and to argue
that space is not a mere territorial phenomenon, but a relation. I comment on
Waldenfels ideas because phenomenology insists on the idea that space and
borders are real phenomena, not just constructions. When I use the words real
space, I do not mean the mathematical and measurable space that is already
the work of symbolic abstraction and construction, but a psychophysical experience and relation, which is linked to my body (Leib). The challenge for human
beings under the conditions of hypermodernity (Bauman) is to be able to integrate all these different spaces, which do not constitute one and the same space
any longer.
With regard to Musils novel The Man without Qualities (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) I follow Waldenfels interpretation that this novel describes and analyses the radical change of symbolic spaces and borders within the framework of
the multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire. To some extent, Musils novel bridges the gap
between Simmels social analysis and Waldenfels philosophyof the body.

It is evident that there is an intrinsic relation between Raum and Grenze, between
space and border. Both terms have come to prominence with the cultural turn in
the humanities. Thus, it might be useful to start with this relation. It also makes
sense to begin with an author who was in a Foucauldian sense the initiator and
founder of a specific discourse. Simmel developed his ideas on space in one of his
major works Soziologie: Untersuchungen ber die Formen der Vergesellschaftung
(Sociology: Investigations into the Forms of Socialisation; see especially 687790),
which analyses systematically the forms and not only the contents of socialisation. His concentration on the formal aspect of this kind of analysis makes this
study especially relevant for cultural analysis today.
Following Kant, Simmel interprets space not as productive in itself, but as a
formal condition of the possibility of socialisation, and I add of cultural con-

Space and Borders


struction. Space is no longer a natural, objective essence, but a subjective human

capacity and activity. To some extent, Simmel has anticipated the idea that space
is not just a territorial phenomenon. There is to use Lacanian terminology
something like a real, a symbolic and imaginary space and in consequence a real,
a symbolic and an imaginary border. Traditional cultures and their self-representations (myths) can be defined by the effort to bring these different levels together
and integrate them in systems of correspondences.
With regard to space, Simmel differentiates between three relevant sociological aspects:
1. The phenomenon of extension, which refers to psychical energies and
powers in space.
2. The phenomenon of nearness/distance (that is, the relation between neighbourhood and strangeness).
3. The phenomenon of the spatial order of the social and the cultural, which
involves the internal and external structure, organisation and integration of
parts of a given socio-cultural entity.
As an example of social and cultural compactness, in effect natural socialisation,
Simmel discusses the case of early-modern towns in Flanders. These have:
1. A certain territorial space, defined by walls and moats that unify homes and
unify the population.
2. A common jurisdiction which unifies the community as a legal person.
3. An ecclesiastic bonding which unifies people in a parish.
These three elements exist independently of each other but they confirm and
strengthen the sense of social solidity. They coincide insofar as they refer to the
constriction of one and the same number of persons inside the same piece of territory, enabling them to live together almost free of social interference. Simmel
points out, but does not give preference to the wall as a form of socialisation. One
also has to add that in the case of early modern European towns there is never a
hundred percent identity between real and symbolic space. Not all partial social
and cultural systems inside the town, spaces such as monasteries or Jewish communities, are parts of the symbolic space of the town, as defined by the town wall.
Moreover, the influence of a social phenomenon like a town always transcends
its territory. In particular, the (Christian) church is a phenomenon with no real
relationship to space. The symbolic space of the church is everywhere. In contrast, the modern nationstate is founded on its solidarity with a space (Simmel,
Soziologie 688).
There is then a deep and reciprocal connection between space und socialisation. It is with regard to this link that Simmel develops his concept of Raumerfl-


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

lung (space-filling). The word has a double meaning. It means that a space is filled
with people. But that is not enough; it is only a precondition. What is important
is that there is a common social and cultural interactive use of the space. Thus
an unerfllter (unfilled) Raum is not simply a place without human beings, but
a place of isolated and unconnected people side by side. In the moment people
start interacting, the unerfllte Raum is transformed into an erfllter (filled) Raum.
Within this space, everybody takes his/her own place, differentiates him/herself
from the other and constructs an invisible spatial border. So, one can say that
space is much more than a physical space. It is also a between in two senses of
the word: an internal psychic movement and an external physical and spatial act.
Space opens the possibility of a being-together, but Simmel emphasises
also the possibility of association and unification in virtual spaces, that is in
mental and symbolical spaces. Modern and especially hypermodern societies
(cf. Bauman 110153) of our own time can be characterised by forms of socialisation which are no longer exclusively connected with real territorial spaces.
However, even under such cultural circumstances, we are unable to escape from
real spaces, because we are beings with real bodies. Thus space advances to the
status of a general metaphor for all those spaces which are no longer based on
territorial principles of Grund und Boden (ground and soil).For example, we call
a certain place on a website which we have occupied and paid for a domain.
For the understanding of the virtual spaces and borders of our days one
cannot avoid discussing the fundamental characteristics of traditional space.
Simmel has summed up these qualities on three different levels (Simmel, Soziologie 690698, 702722):
1 The exclusivity of space.
2 Fixation in and through space.
3 Limitation (Begrenzung) and dissection of space.
Ad 1: Every space exists only once and every space is a unique element without
analogue. There are no two identical local places, although the social imagination has created places such as New Orleans, New Amsterdam and those other
places with old European names and the New in front of the old name. It is
possible for there to be more than one identical object, but they will always differ
from each other with regard to place. Because of these qualities of space, landed
property has played an enormous role in human culture. The idea of the nationstate is also based on the idea of territory.
So the question is whether the genesis of modern and hypermodern virtual
spaces, constructed by media as a form of digitalised money, has made the nation
state anachronistic.

Space and Borders


Ad 2: Fixation can be seen as the central function of traditional spaces.

Spatial fixation by houses, places or official buildings creates centres of social
interaction. The number of houses emphasises the incompatibility of places. Or
in other words: large social and cultural entities and organisations need a centre
for important and common activities. What is fixed is the content of the social and
cultural entity, the social order and the human being in that order. Such a fixation
can take the form of prohibition, control and/or restriction of mobility. There are
also mechanisms of exclusion and sanction. Simmel mentions the example of you
losing your right to vote in the case of absence from your space. There are some
other more dramatic restrictions: the prohibition for farmers in Eastern Europe
until the Nineteenth Century against moving away from their places of birth, controlled as they were by the nobility; and the restriction on women from leaving
the house, the traditional space of the family (which was and is the case in many
cultures not only in fundamentalist Islamic states). Institutional spaces such as
the prison, the hospital or even the school can be defined by their restriction of
the mobility of people inside.
Ad 3: With regard to the phenomenon of the border, limitation and dissection
is most important. For the meaning of the Grenze, which, as I mentioned before,
does not only include the meaning of the English word border, but also entails
elements of frontier, limit and edge. A space is characterised by its border. If there
is no real, symbolic or virtual border, it is nearly impossible to identify something within a specific space. It is even hard for human reason to understand and
realise an expanding space without borders indeed, this is the way in which
modern astronomy has constructed our universe.
Simmel does not discuss the border only, but also the frame. Both phenomena coincide in the fact that neither the frame nor the border has a real meaning
and content, but both do have very important social or cultural functions. The
frame of a traditional painting marks the fictional world of art, which differs from
its surroundings (Der Bildrahmen 101108).
The frame is a specific variation of the border. It represents the division
between everyday life and the arts, between inside and outside. In Simmels interpretation, arts and aesthetics become a social and cultural dimension. Constructing borders is an aesthetic and social act. The artwork marks the outer border
of the social existence which is both inside and outside. Its central social and/

2Cf. Lefebvre on the importance of modern physics for the discourse on space (1991, 2).
3It is the frame that makes the work of art by transforming it into a unity of particularities, into
a separate social and cultural world. Avant-garde movements since German Early Romanticism
can be defined by the heroic attempt to break the frame between art and everyday life.


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

or cultural meaning is that inside the framework there is a symbolic world subordinated to its own values and rules. Thus the phenomenon of the border can
be understood as a framework for social existence. There is a strong connection
between the extension of the space and the intensity of the social relationships,
but the intensity of the social entity does not depend on natural space.
Every border is non-natural, contingent and arbitrary. Simmel concedes a relative meaning to so-called natural borders connected with such natural phenomena as mountains, rivers and islands. It is a specific cultural interpretation that
makes them into borders or frames. There is not such a thing as natural frontiers.
Simmel mentions the example of the ocean which has no natural frontiers, but
has been occupied as if it was a territory. The same can be said for air space or for
the virtual spaces (web-spaces) of our contemporary world. It is the border which
makes clear that spaces are cultural, social and aesthetic constructions.
To fulfil their function, borders do not belong to any of the spaces they
create. Thus they are to some extent a virtual and an invisible entity in between
without any spatial extension. One could say that borders make clear that space
is a cultural construction. This includes the real territorial space in which our life
is embedded, because we are Ptolemaists that is three-dimensional beings living
in and with a body (cf. Sloterdijk 1987). All sorts of borders are elementary for
human beings, because they give the connection between space and social order
a deeper meaning. The meaning of borders transcends not only the spatial, but
also sociology. Simmel gives the reader some examples of non-spatial Grenzen:
The Grenzen der Macht (limits of power), or the Grenzen der Intelligenz (limitation
of intelligence). These two examples make clear that there are Grenzen, which do
not divide space into two territories. Here, no territory borders on another. Thus
borders refer to the construction of spaces by dissection, but also to the social
order inside the given social and cultural space. In this way, the internal, social
and physical limitations of human beings correspond to the external. Thus one
could argue that there is a good and a bad message. The bad message is that
frontiers are restrictive for both sides, for the people inside as well as outside; the
good message is that they enable us to organise ourselves on all levels, from our
private life in the family and other types of private relationship to the civil society
which still is at work (against the prophecy of its death) within the framework
of the nation-state. Or in Simmels terms, the border generates and brings about a
closed sphere for the individual, as well as for the collective.
It is a sociological fact that builds itself spatially. The construction and
shaping of space imply a certain formation of borders and vice versa. In this combination, the central function of constructed space becomes evident. So, what we
could and should do is not to discuss borders as such, but the way in which we
want to organise borders; whether our borders should have the density of the his-

Space and Borders


torical walls mentioned earlier and whether and how we organise the entrances
and the exits of our human, that is, our social, political and cultural spaces.
As Simmel stresses, it is important to realise that every intimate living together
is based on the fact that everybody knows through psychological hypothesis
more of the other than s/he is willingly communicating, implicitly or directly.
There are deep structures in our culture that mark for example the limits of what
is allowed and what not. There is also an idea of border with regard to very
personal spheres, especially the sphere of our gendered bodies. Phenomena such
as the fear that makes us shake, or the blush, which mounts to our cheeks from
a feeling of shame correspond subjectively to social borders. The social phenomena of limitation are given a certain stability through spatialisation. Every Grenze
includes a psychic occurrence and to an even greater degree a sociological
occurrence. And such an occurrence implies a Grenze.
In parenthesis, Simmel dared to say that the possibility and the right to transcend or to overcome borders were better in recent and pre-modern communities
than in modern developed societies. I do not think we can follow such a hypothesis any longer, especially not in the generalised way Simmel makes it. In contrast, the borders and limits in traditional social formations (guild, corporation,
the patriarchal family, the pre-capitalistic social order as such) were and are more
restrictive than in the Western cultures of our time.
As we have seen, Simmel postulates a very close connection between border
and space. It is the spatial framework which delivers a form to a cultural and
social group. But physical space is not determining in itself. For example,
whether a border is open or closed, whether it is permeable and penetrable or
not, whether a framework is narrow or wide, does not depend on the size of the
space. It depends on cultural self-understanding and the political and economic
situation, as interpreted by culture.
The limiting function of frames and borders can be realised especially ex
negativo. Simmel gives three examples:
There is the social phenomenon of the crowd that is the result of Entgrenzung
(de-bordering, de-limitation). There is the existential feeling of Entgrenzung in air
space (as in the German song by Reinhard Mey: Above the clouds freedom must
be boundless), but also darkness reduces social space, because the fantastic,
non-visible space it constitutes is out of control.
The reasons for de-bordering and de-limitation may be different: they disappear because the space is too large or is darkened. Alternatively, people can also
act in masses, destroying any limitation. To some extent, a crowd implies the
triumph of time over space. But the consequences are very similar. Entgrenzung
has a double meaning and implies a double evaluation. Marked by the German
prefix ent- (de-), it means the more or less sudden disappearance of any inner and


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

outer limitation. On the one hand, it evokes an ecstatic feeling of freedom, but on
the other hand, it produces a lack or loss of orientation. So, ecstasy and panic go
hand in hand. One could argue that this space is metaphorically speaking the
space of the imaginary as conceptualized by Lacan and Kristeva. Thus, space
can be understood as a phenomenon that has borders both inside and outside. It
is a phenomenon in which nearness and distance play enormous roles.
Touching another body (of an individual, but also metaphorically of a group
or a community) is just such an experiment with borders. In the case of the body of
the other, the border is not the skin, but an invisible nowhere-land outside. There
exists also a space (or a field) of vision between two people coming into temporary contact. This visual field is reciprocal, reflexive and interactive. Shame is
quite clearly a phenomenon of borders and limits. As Simmel points out, casting
down ones eyes is not a manifestation of us not wanting to look at somebody,
but a way of saying that we do not want to have that somebody looking at us. It
is extremely impolite to stare at unknown and strange people. There are other
invisible borders and limits: the space of hearing, the space of smell and aroma
etc. Except in intimate situations, it is impolite and boorish to come too close to
some-body. It belongs to the correctness of our times to respect the intimate space
of the other. It was Elias Canetti who developed a theory of crowds and power,
which begins with the description that human beings fear being touched by one
another (Canetti, MM 13).
Intimate space with its specific borders and limits/limitations is one extreme;
abstract space, which no longer has a concrete physical equivalent, is the other.
Simmel differentiates between those spaces and borders which include emotional, personal and physical aspects, and those which are based on impersonal,
unphysical and objective factors. Institutions such as churches have no need for
geographical nearness; they are, as Simmel stresses, schools of abstraction. If
the conditions of emotion and interest are on the same level, the spatial capacity for tension in a form of socialisation depends on the degree of our ability for
Intimate relations always depend on spatial nearness. Thus spatial and local
nearness have always sensual and emotional qualities. For this reason, one might
argue that the private house or the home is the place and the school of intimacy,
while spatial distance always has an intellectual quality. A high degree of education and a modern metropolitan lifestyle will constitute an intellectual space in
which the stimulus of touch is reduced, and indifference with regard to the other

4In La rvolution du language potique (1974), Kristeva understands literature as the dark
place that is not under the control of paternal symbolism.

Space and Borders


is an informal rule. One can thus claim that Simmel analysed phenomena of the
concrete body before French phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty).
Space also relates to movement in interesting ways. Movement, which is part
of Bakhtins chronotope, combines time and space in a certain way. In includes
the possibility of self-organising, realising and changing space. One could argue
that spaces with many and restrictive internal and external borders are static,
whereas spaces with low and minimal borders are spaces in movement. Simmel
explains this difference using the cultural contrast between nomadic and stationary cultures. Undoubtedly, there are tendencies of nomadic existence in hypermodern western style cultures. Already Simmel suggests that the modern culture
of market capitalism has a tendency to de-border and the abolish of limits, along
with an inclination to acceleration. Thus, fast movement and de-bordering are
two sides of the same coin.

One can understand the logic of spaces, realms, places and fields only if one
keeps in mind that they have internal and external borders/limits. In the case of
the universe, modern physics confirms that there are also other universes. But
probably this space is not a space in the common sense of the term, but a spatialtemporal mix. Already in Simmels interpretation of space and border, there is
a temporal dimension, because every (stable or instable) relation is based on a
form of action which is quite evidently an issue of time. Waldenfels book, which
is related to Merleau-Pontys philosophy of perception, analyses this relation
from the perspective of the individual, who is embedded in(to) his/her body. The
body works as a medium between the individual and space.
This is true for all spatial levels: real, symbolic and imaginary. The rooms
in which we live have borders and limits. These do not, as we have seen, consist
of just geometric lines, but define the quality of spaces. There is for example
the problem of who has admittance to a specific space. All of us know places
marked by the words No admittance or Admittance only for staff. Kafkas
doorkeeper Kafka is a master of closed spaces is such a person at the border.
Zygmunt Bauman has described a town-quarter in Cape Town, which has been
planned by the architect George Hazeldon, a place for the happy few nouveau
riche (white); South-Africans, watched by paramilitary guards all day and night
(Bauman 110).
Spaces are only spaces if people in various ways use them. Spaces can be
characterised by the fact that people have a place in them and can stay in it.
Temporary spaces theatres, parking places are spaces which only allow a


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

short stay (cf. Aug). One can also differentiate spaces in other ways, for example
by asking whether they are homogeneous or heterogeneous, whether strangers
or foreigners, children, women or men, rich or poor people have admittance to
them, whether you need a membership card or a passport. Spaces differ from
one another with regard to what is allowed in them and what is not, whether
there are implicit or explicit rules which fix the order of a specific space. It is
important whether change and transformation are strictly forbidden, tolerated or
welcomed. Thus, there are Grenzen (borders) of admittance and Grenzen (limits)
of allowance. Everybody in a given society knows these Grenzen, the internal list
of prohibitions. Here are some examples:
Eating a pizza in a public library.
Crossing a road when the light is red.
Making changes to paintings in a gallery.
Creating extreme attention in public spaces by intimate actions (sexual
intercourse, nudity) or by producing noise.
Entering a football-field or a stage as part of the audience.
Entering an Arabic hamam as a man.
Camping in a toilet.
Limitations are a much-discussed topic also in the arts. Nowadays smoking in
nearly all European countries is banned from public places and areas, or there are
discussions about whether dogs should no longer be allowed to defecate in parks
or in streets without their owners cleaning up after them. Some of these limits are
based on strict prohibitions; others are more informal. You may not be punished
directly or expelled from the specific area, but exclusion is possible.
In Robert Musils novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man without Qualities) there is a chapter where the participants of a committee-meeting discuss very
seriously the content of a jubilee celebration for Emperor Franz Josephs reign. In
this situation Ulrich, the secretary of the so-called parallel action, makes a proposal suggesting the creation of a general secretary for the exact measurement
of the human soul. This proposal is evidently unpractical and unreal, because
a practical and concrete idea is needed for such a representative political and
patriotic demonstration as the 70th anniversary of the emperors governance.
Ulrichs proposal is an ironic and subversive act that annihilates and undermines
the pathetic goals of the political project. What it does create, is irritation and
reflection (Musil, chapter116, 2:583600).
Modern literature and arts, especially the avant-garde, can be defined by
the tendency to irritate. Modern art in modern and hypermodern societies has
the function of putting existing social and cultural spaces into question. They
pose implicit or explicit proposals to change spaces (and their internal and exter-

Space and Borders


nal borders) by crossing and neglecting borders, limits and limitations, including those I have mentioned above. Modern art is full of such provocative action
(Duchamps Fountain, Valie Export, Dadaism, the avant-garde groups in Vienna
after WW II).
It is in response to such questions that the German phenomenologist Bernhard Waldenfels has in Der Stachel des Fremden (The Thorn of the Strange/r) developed a concept of borders that is based on the existential conditions of human
beings. He differentiates between two types of borders:
1. The borders that one has or has acquired. These are borders of a certain
field, the field of action, of language and speech and the visual field of
seeing. Such borders can be enlarged, displaced or reduced, but can in no
way be abolished or transcended. To explain the transgression of borders
Waldenfels gives us the example of the horizon as a border. Our modes
or more poetically and philosophically our doors of perceptions are the
borders and limits of our world. This is the space of personal and collective
possibilities. This Ausgrenzung (exclusion) corresponds with the spatial differentiation between here and there, and the temporal now and once later.
2. The borders which one exceeds upon entering into another order, another
space. Waldenfels calls these Schwellen (thresholds). That which is attractive and scary is no longer part of a play with our own possibilities, but
constitutes a challenge to our freedom and liberty, a challenge of the strange
and unfamiliar, which cannot find any place in the existing order. The
threshold is the border between the known and the unknown.
Waldenfels illustrates this kind of transition using familiar examples: farewells
and greetings, falling asleep and awakening, getting ill and getting healthy. One
falls asleep and also in love. We move or better we are moved into another
world, into another space, into another state of being. This expansion, this transgressing movement, implies that the world, which is symbolised by the space
beyond the threshold, becomes strange and unfamiliar. In contrast to the topographical metaphors, our symbolic world as a whole is not so much a divided
country, interspersed and permeated with the unknown and the unavailable, but
is the result of exclusion of the familiar and inclusion of unfamiliar. The Ausland
(foreign country) expands into the inside (Waldenfels 1990, 32ff).
Topographical and symbolical spaces do no coincide here. The real expansion into the other space goes hand in hand with the expansion of the Ausland
into our inside. These spaces are not congruent in all cases, although topographical places from ancient rhetoric to the poetics of spaces in modern literature
and film have always served as metaphors for virtual symbolic and imaginary
ones. The subjective perspective of human beings living in their bodies regu-


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

lates the different aspects of space (inside vs. outside) and time (past/future vs.
present). There is no such a thing as an indifferent God-like view from above and
from outside. We are always inside, being and moving in space and time (Waldenfels 34), just now and just here.
The relation between inside and outside is the consequence of inclusion and
exclusion; or in other words, the result of the setting of borders and limits. This
kind of setting can be real or symbolical, or both. The relationship between inside
and outside is always asymmetrical (Waldenfels 33). The outside is conceptualised from inside. The same is true for the past and the future, the once and the
later, which are realised from present time; from the now.
Otherwise, as Waldenfels points out, we would live in a mental time and a
mental space maybe interesting possibilities for modern literature. The invisible and neutral narrator in many modern novels is such an instance. Only such a
space, inside and outside, past and present would be in the state of equivalence
and symmetry. But this mere mental space would mean a form of bodiless existence, in other words a non-existence.
The same is true for such states as health and illness, being awake and sleeping/dreaming, feudal and bourgeois society. These fields are not brought together
like two rooms, separated by a wall. That would imply that there is a subject that
is in both rooms. Such a subject would be inside and outside, here and there.
But for such a subject, the threshold would not exist any longer (Waldenfels
33). There must be a (human) being moving only in one of the rooms. This is the
precondition for all divisions of space itself into two, into interior and exterior
spaces. But something new is created by such a division. The relationship looses
its one-sidedness. The reciprocal relationship removes the one-sided relationship
between inside and outside. It is connected with the possibility of exceeding the
threshold that leads to the strange/r. It can be associated with the feature and
figure of the third (34, 3840).

There exists a certain suspicion that past, traditional, modern and hypermodern
societies handle borders in different ways; or more specifically, they differ in

5I refer to Zygmunt Baumans (2003) definition of hypermodernity. He describes hypermodernity as a light and unheroic version of capitalistic modernity. In contrast to postmodernism, it
is, as the phenomenon of globalisation may demonstrate, quite expansive and aggressive. It
is the return of unlimited capitalistic accumulation with a light version of legitimation.

Space and Borders


the way they use borders and limits, and draw the lines of borders. The Western
hypermodern and globalised societies of our time seem to show a tendency to
displace borders. This is at least the positive self-image of cultural globalisation.
(The reality, however, is quite different: we can see how the European Union
builds internal borders through rigid control in the name of the war against terror
and at the same time builds external borders against foreigners from other continents.)
But since early modernity there has also been a deeper tendency to displace
borders. There is a strange and heroic will and ambition to enter areas which are
not human spaces at all, the moon, the Antarctic, the North Pole, the highest
mountains of our planet and the open sea. From the very beginning entering such
a hostile, non-human area is such a kind of adventure with a narrative dialectic plot: the expansion into the strange space is connected with the invasion
of this foreign space into mans inside in the traditional order of the sexes, it
is an adventure sui generis of the male Waldenfels makes clear that men who
have transgressed such thresholds of danger successfully become heroes. As an
Austrian researcher giving a lecture in Norway, I have cited for good reason an
Austrian example that has become famous because Christoph Ransmayr wrote
a novel about it: the Payer-Weyprecht-expedition of 18721874, which started out
from the harbour of Troms, where this lecture was given. It came about as the
result of national prestige and the ambition of a handful of men. What counted,
was to win unknown land outside Europe for the old Austrian Empire and to demonstrate that the monarchy was not behind the times; and it was a personal ambition to be the first. The crew survived (with one exception, if one does not count
the dead dogs and cats) two years of living in the solitude of the ice. They brought
back names and drawings. Thus it was the symbolic format that transformed the
area into a space. Later, Payer studies painting to demonstrate that there really
was a new space and an adventure which could only come about by human
beings entering this space. He still believed in the mimetic magic of mimesis. But
there remained some doubts as to the veracity of his reports. So it was photography, used later by Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott, which appeared to verify
that new spaces had been won and new frontiers transgressed.
With regard to our topic, this is a very important point: one can show that
reference to reality depends quite evidently on the structural logic of different
media. It was photography that delivered new concepts of reality, for example
the idea of objective documentation (cf. Car 2006). Photography suggests (and
this is quite problematic until our days) that all that has happened is canned in
a reliable and durable way; that is, saved and stored in a media. Painting, which
was the traditional medium of presentation, has not the same reference: it does
not deliver proof that the painter him- or herself was present at the strange and


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

foreign space (s)he painted and, moreover, that this place does exist at all. Thus
Payer was the victim of an era of media change, in which painting was still used
as a medium referring to historical events; but at the same time, it became antiquated, because a new concept of reality already existed that was grounded in a
new media: photography. It is not coincidental that later discoverers Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton made use of the new technique of image-production to
make their expansion into unknown spaces, their project of displacing borders,
visible and evident.
This is one side of a modern longing for the creation of new spaces and for
displacing borders. There is also an internal dynamic process by which traditional spaces and borders/limits/frontiers are overcome. This brings us back to
Waldenfels study Der Stachel des Fremden and his reading of Musils epoch-making novel. Already the title of Musils book, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, signals
the experience with the unknown and strange, a specific border which is on the
inside. The self becomes unavailable and strange. So, in modernity, there is an
exclusion of the familiar and an inclusion of the unfamiliar with all the paradoxes that are characteristic of this process. On the one hand this is a loss, but
on the other, a gain, because it creates new possibilities and impossibilities
of changing a specific space by changing its borders/limits. In this context, the
Mglichkeitssinn (sense of and for possibility) and the experimental way of life led
by Musils protagonist Ulrich is striking. The imaginary space of the novel itself
proves to be a laboratory, a space for new adventures of life; the central adventure
that of organizing life as a novel, concentrated only on intensive, essential and
important issues.
This is a life with high risks, a life beyond the usual symbolic spaces. Incest,
insanity, crime and other modes of existence, for example mysticism (anderer
Zustand) are part of this kind of other life. Privately, Ulrich and his sister are
always placed at the threshold that leads to another unknown forbidden space
beyond the familiar one. Entering those spaces, new possibilities of a radical
other realisation of life are opened. At the same time and this is important for
Waldenfels interpretation the traditional order becomes relative, it is only one
of several possible worlds. The existing order is put into the state of contingency
(Waldenfels 21).
This Mglichkeitssinn may be contrasted to common sense (of and for reality),
which denies that our world the symbolic space could be different from the
existing one. What Ulrich proposes, is paradoxically the impossible, at least
from the view-point of common sense. The concept of internal other is subversive
because it undermines the traditional self-understanding of space and order. It
makes the traditional order and its realm of symbolic spaces contingent. The first
and only categorical imperative is: All could be totally different. In Waldenfels

Space and Borders


interpretation (Waldenfels, 16), the implosion of traditional structures of order is

at the very centre of Musils novel. He refers to a famous aphorism in the novel,
in which the neutral narrator declares programmatically that probably also God
would like to speak in the conjunctivus potentialis and that God creates the world
thinking at the same time it could be done in another way (Musil 1979, 19).
Waldenfels differentiates between three basic models for the treatment of
otherness and alterity:
The first traditional model is a model of inclusion; everything finds its place
within a given order, the order of reason. Its opposite is chaos. It is the whole
that transcends all borders. The second modern model works within existing
and somehow arising spaces. It accepts fragmentation, change, and reduction. It
makes limits and borders flexible and movable. It accepts fundamental innovations (Waldenfels, 19). This experience of fragmentation is critically inscribed in
the work of authors as Kafka, Joyce, Proust and others. In an affirmative version it
is a model of modest and contingent self-organisation by exclusion. Contingency
is here seen as a threat by Waldenfels, because it has the tendency to undermine
order as a principle of organising symbolic spaces as such.
The third model is the most complicated one. It can be described as a dynamic
and oscillating process within a field of tension between the familiar and the
strange. Waldenfels defines this model as a form of responsive rationality (Waldenfels 1990, 27). Only in model 3 there is a need and a desire for the figure of the
Other. Only in this model, the other stranger, unfamiliar, unknown becomes
a thorn, not only creating a dynamic, but penetrating the self. The strange can be
the most familiar and wellknown, for example the family, as in Freuds interpretation of Hoffmanns Sandmann (Sandman). The appearance of the uncanny is
the other side of the fact that the very familiar has lost its self-evidence. Undoubtedly, Musil has worked out this third model through the medium of the novel.
His philosophical reader, Waldenfels, develops a system of categories to describe
the paradoxical position which is the result of a new situation. There is no longer
a system of binding norms and explanations with which to legitimate existing
orders, spaces and borders. On the one hand, the traditional type of order is given,
fixed, repetitive and all-inclusive. Its real and symbolic spaces are indiscussable
and self-evident. On the other, the modern type of order is in flux, restricted by
time and space, innovative and flexible within its borders.
This new type goes hand in hand with the suspicion that the traditional order,
which has been interpreted as all-inclusive and eternal, is only one of several possibilities. As a consequence, it leads to a mobilisation and pluralisation of order,
but also to a dramatic loss of orientation, because contingency decomposes
orders, spaces and borders. In this situation, modern societies have developed
different types of Kontingenzbewltigung (mastering contingency):


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global


Conservative forms of substitution (holistic movements, modern ideologies).

Such proposals that we find in Musils novel, Waldenfels calls illusionary.
2. Formalisation of Kontingenzbewltigung (mastering contingency). The order
that is the ensemble of spaces and borders/limits works. It is there. It is
available. In this way, the bureaucracy in Musils novel works. Following the
arguments in the novel, Waldenfels thinks that this form is insufficient.
3. Recycling of the past. The traditions are there and we can use them. This
strategy makes the contingency of ones own cultural space into a privilege.
Therefore, Waldenfels makes the judgement that this position is regressive
and pre-critical.
4. Positivism and Functionalism. Order is necessary, human beings urge for
order, for borders and limits, and they need spaces for acting. This position
is decisionistic and arbitrary.
Quite evidently, strategies 1 and 3 on the one hand, and strategies 2 and 4 coincide
with each other. But also other combinations are thinkable. It is remarkable that
Waldenfels does not work out an alternative to these four strategies. It seems that
he believes that Musils work is strong enough to deconstruct the traditional use
of spaces and borders, but is not powerful enough to reconstruct a new program
for the cultural use of new and old spaces and its rules, its internal and external
borders. Also in the novel, it remains unclear to what extent Ulrichs proposal is
a way out of the cultural crisis.
The end of the novel Ulrichs leaves his sister Agathe and becomes a soldier
in WW I proves to be an experiment that has failed, as Musil has conceded
before ending the actual writing of the novel itself. One should not forget that
also the intimate experience, the real or metaphorical incest that is also a specific trans-bordering has failed. This was, by the way, a typical transgression of
a traditional limit in order to create a new intimate space, a space of mystic love.
Musil, as also Broch, was deeply pessimistic about the possibility of living in
the spaces of cultures without an obligatory stem of values with which to legitimate order, that is the ensemble of spaces and borders/limits within a society
and within culture. In principle, we act in one of the four strategies Waldenfels
has described and we use Musils Mglichkeitssinn for moving between these four
theoretic realms.

Space and Borders


Under the conditions of modernity and/or hypermodernity, space in human
culture has lost all its self-evidence. It seems to be no longer natural. Thus
borders necessarily become fragile; but, as we can see with regard to European
immigration policy, territorial borders do not disappear. They prove to be quite
stable; maybe they work as a compensation for the loss of strict orientation in
symbolic spaces. The discussion how to deal with borders, the question, how
transparent or transitory they shall be, proves to be an enormous challenge for
Western civil societies. They have to decide what kind of borders have to be eliminated and which new spaces have to be created.
Borders and spaces seem to be phenomena that combine aesthetical and
ethical dimensions. The question of building spaces and acting within them is
on the one hand an ethical issue, but on the other hand it includes cultural techniques that are based on an aesthetic level. Orientation in space is an aesthetic
challenge, not in a traditional but in a more radical sense. It is linked to our creativity and our ability of perception. To vary a book title by Hans Blumenberg
(Work on Myth, Arbeit am Mythos), arts and literature can be seen as work on
borders and spaces. They make borders and spaces explicit and visible.
I agree with the key point of Phenomenology, that there are real borders in
the Lebenswelt. They are defined by the existence of our body, which cannot be
substituted at all. It is the perspective of the inside looking out. Thus all radical
change finds its limits with regard to our bodies. I think that Christoph Ransmayr has worked out this interdependency of borders in his book (and later in his
novel Der fliegende Berg/The flying Mountain) quite clearly, as an experience at
the border of our existence. In the novel, the movement into a new space is connected with a media-space (map, painting, diary) and goes hand in hand with a
radical individual experience of a real border: death, disease, hunger, fear, ennui,
loneliness time and being in a Heideggerian way, although nobody of them has
any philosophical idea of limits and borders. For those who have these philosophical insights, this novel can be read as an interesting example of an experiment in time and space, with borders inside and outside.

Time in Modern Cultural Analysis

Time is on my side (The Rolling Stones)

This paper aims to discuss to relevant concepts of time and space in cultural
theory (Cassirer, Assmann/Assmann, Benjamin and others). It questions to what
extent time is relevant for the understanding of culture/Culture in a broader sense
(T.S. Eliot 1948, Eagleton 2000) and deals with the question of which understanding of time is relevant for traditional and for (hyper)modern cultures.
In his theory of the heterotopos, Michel Foucault argues that the nineteenth
century was obsessed with the idea of accumulating the past (Foucault 1994, 931
942). He argues that it was the century of time. Foucault uses drastic metaphors to
explain the obsession with history and time in the 1800s. Its discourse was characterised by topics such as development and standstill, crisis and circulation, the
accumulation of the past, the dominance of death and the threatening cooling
down of the earth formulated in the second principle of thermodynamics. Generally, Foucault repeats a critique which was formulated by Marx and Nietzsche
long ago. It was Marx who formulated the suspicion that the nightmare of the past
haunts human beings, whereas Nietzsche criticised Historicism in his famous
essay Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie frs Leben (Nietzsche KSA 1, 243334).
As Foucault points out, the twentieth century, at least in its second half, is/
was in contrast to the nineteenth an age of space, that is, an epoque of the
juxtaposition of the near and the far. He interprets structuralism as the adequate
and relevant theoretical outcome of this epistemological and one has to add
cultural change in modern times. As a consequence, time appears only as one of
the possible distributions between the elements in space. The postmodernism
of the 1980s also implies a farewell of history and time. At this point, one could
argue, there is a real link between (post-) structuralism and post-histoire.
In the social scienes but also in cultural analysis and in the field of cultural
studies, space has become a dominant factor. Important theoretics in this field
until today are Georg Simmel, Henri Lefebvre, Edward Soja or Michel Certeau (cf.
Dnne/Gnzel 2006). It is impossible to discuss the different implications of all
these philosophers and theoreticians within this paper, but it is quite evident that
they concur mostly in the opinion that in modern world real space and symbolical space have drifted apart. Furthermore, the importance of symbolic spaces,
which do not have a territorial correspondence, has expanded enormously. It is
interesting that Foucaults not particularly consistent concept of heterotopos is
quite traditional; he very often thinks of territorial places for example the move
of the cemetery from the centre to the periphery.

Time in Modern Cultural Analysis


Disciplines such as sociology, linguistics and ethnology have contributed

to what Sigrid Weigel and other cultural theoreticians have called the topographical turn (Weigel 2002). It must not be confused with the return to the traditional pre-modern topography; but here is a concentration on non-territorial
realms which are for example represented by modern media. The linguistic turn
is important insofar as it has privileged the synchronic aspect and marginalised
the classical diachronic approach which was so important for and characteristic
of historical linguistics. Undoubtedly, this turn is immediately connected with
Saussures idea that the linguistic sign is conventional and arbitrary although it
is not the result of an act of personal free will. From that point of view it makes
no sense to discover the archaic and original significance of a linguistic item and
of a linguistic system as language is as such. In modern linguistics, history is not
more than a discontinuity in time represented in space. So one could say that the
concept of Sprachspiele Wittgenstein develops in his later years is a concept which
is primarily a synchronical one not only because these games work without any
historical legitimisation but also because of their automatic functioning. They
work because they were used by the people. They are implicitly valid in a certain
territorial and symbolical space.
Modern cultural analysis, especially Cultural Studies, to this day prefer this
synchronic and spatial perspective, which tends to exclude any historical dimension. It represents a globalised culture in a Foucauldian or Deleuzian way as a
network of points without any centre, as a world of mere differences, as a system
of relations (instead of substances), as a multiple complex of heterogeneous elements this is similar to Simmel and Cassirer. Its main figure is the hybrid, which
integrates different traditions and is a man not only without qualities but also
without a fixed identity.
Traditionally and in contrast to such concepts, culture has been be defined
by the idea that it accumulates time. However, storing time also means that it
disappears. Culture entails the promise of stable identity, of preventing change:
nothing disappears, but all is saved by the technique of storing. There are media
of storing (writing, printing etc.) and there are techniques of decoding (techniques of remembering for example). In traditional concepts of culture, but also
in pre-modern cultures, the mode of time is long dure: duration, continuance,
permanence or to use a spatial metaphor length. Traditionally, culture has the
self-image of a community of the dead and the living. Catholic ritual also includes
the souls of the deceased as part of the Christian community.
With regard to culture, the type of media stone, papyrus, printing, film,
digital media is striking, with regard to the material as well as to the functional
aspect. All media have a dimension of space and a dimension of time. Media can
be seen as a variety of instruments which make it possible to control either space


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

or time. Or even both. Writings, pictograms or images in stone, ceramic, glass and
other phsyical material can be seen as the expression of controlling time by using
a stable substance which is resistant against the work of time.
In contrast, printing has made it possible to control space. As Benedict
Anderson has argued in his book Imagined Communities, there is an intrinsic
connection between the invention of technical printing since the Renaissance
and the development of a more or less homogenised cultural space: the nation
state. Hypermodern societies with their high speed media have the power to
establish global virtual spaces, but storing information by using hypermodern
digital systems is very uncertain. In order to store archives of letters or images for
a longer time, it is necessary to copy it again and again and transfer it to another
more tenable media. The fact that our computers usually incorporate a printer
makes the importance of this differentiation visible.
Thus, one could say that modern media have a tendency to use high speed to
overcome spatial distance. But at the same time they have only a reduced capacity for storage. As some conservative observers point out, it could be possible
that our hypermodern era will not transfer many messages to later generations,
not only because of the short-lived nature of the material of modern media and
the problems of technical reproduction and decoding but also because of the
high speed of hypermodern cultures itself. In these societies all information,
discourses and narratives have the tendency to become historical at once. They
produce the necessity of a permanent hermeneutic process, or in other words a
new con-textualisation and a semiotic recycling.
Harold A. Innis, a Canadian historian of economics and a forerunner of Marshall Mc Luhan, has described the difference between time-keeping and spacekeeping media. One may also explain this difference by using the terminology
of synchronicity and diachronicity. High speed media such as the computer or
radio and TV are quite clearly space-keeping media with the tendency to globalise that space. In contrast, traditional media as we know them from museums,
from sacred places or from cemeteries can be understood as time-keeping media
because they express the ambition of a community to save messages for future
generations. Unlike computers they do not have a key enabling the deletion of
all information, discourses or narratives and their symbolic formations. The traditional monument includes the idea and the wish to fix and save the symbolic
forms of a community for a long time. The reality may differ from the idea and
self-imagination of those communities, since in so-called cold cultures there is a
tendency of new decoding and new contextualisation.
It is also important to say that printing and its material paper is in a grey
area, in a middle position. Compared to stone, it is a space-keeping media with a
relatively small capacity for storage (and as the development of modern bureau-

Time in Modern Cultural Analysis


cracy shows a large ability to control for example the territory of a state), but compared to modern analogue and hypermodern digital media (and its material) the
storing capacity of printing is quite large. Maybe this middle position of printing
can guarantee its survival even in a culture, which has the tendency to overcome
or to transform the values, contents and the symbolic material formatted in older
Quite clearly, the traditional myth, the symbolic kernel of pre-modern societies, is related to time-keeping media. It constructs and represents the structure
of traditional memory. It is a narrative matrix which provides and constitutes the
stability of a community against time and against forgetting. All the relevant symbolical material is saved by the myth which is ritualised in the calendar of the
year and often formatted in a stable media. It is an archive before the archive.
In tradional concepts, cultures, which are represented by their respective myths
and mythologies will be constructed as a homogeneous one. Nationalism as an
ensemble of symbolic forms of nation building has re-established a mythical
structure of culture. It has created in modern societies post-mythic pseudo-sacred
places in what are no longer mythical Gemeinschaften (communities).
So, one may argue that traditional cultural theory, which has described cultures as historically grown homogenous entities has uncritically followed mythical concepts. Cultural theories since Vico and Herder that are influential to this
day have very often neglected the difference between the claim and the ambition
of traditional cultures on the one hand and the socio-cultural reality on the other.
One could say that traditional cultural theories are based on writing and on
traditional material, such as stone and books. It was writing that has produced
the opportunity to perceive culture as a fixed, more or less unchangeable entity
which delivers a fixed identity. Therefore, the aspect which dominates in traditional cultures and concepts of culture is duration (Dauer), fixed time. Ernst Cassirers Philosophie der symbolischen Formen (Philosophy of Symbolic Forms) is the
only relevant theory of culture with a strong philosophical ambition and a clear
post-Kantian structure. It culminates in the idea that philosophy itself is embedded into culture, that is, in the ensemble of symbolic forms. Therefore, philosophy becomes a part of philosophy of culture which at the same time is a theory of
knowledge and an epistemology. But as his analysis of myth demonstrates, Cassirer neglects the narratological aspect of myths, the mere fact that myths are narratives with a certain and specific structure. He analyses myth only with regard to
its rationality, to its logical structure and its truth, as a symbolic construction of
reality parallel to sciences, language and arts.
In his modification of Kants philosophy, Cassirer differentiates between the
qualities (such as time, space, causality) and modalities (Modalitten) of the
symbolic forms which are seen as the Bedingungen der Mglichkeit von Erkennt-


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

nis, but they are not systematically related to each other. Cassirer cannot develop
a consistent theory of media which is necessary to develop a coherent theory of
culture that is, quite clearly, a phenomenon in space and time.
Semiotics and media theory have developed methodological tools which are
more exact than Cassirers concept of symbolic forms (which is a theory before
the linguistic turn) in which two levels are mixed: the semiotic aspect (the difference between writing and icon/picture), and the relationship between systems of
knowledge (myth and science). It is astonishing that Cassirers philosophy also
omits analysis of the new phenomena in the modern culture of his time, such as
film, electronic transmission of images (television) and language/music (radio)
or indeed the combination of semiotic systems. As one can show, all those new
cultural and communicative media have a structure in which time is not only relevant but constitutive. However, it is one of the advantages of Cassirers theory
that he has posed the question as to what extent traditional philosophy has to be
embedded in a cultural context. The challenge of his theory is the idea of how to
transform philosophy into a cultural theory which interprets philosophy and the
sciences as one symbolic form, as one mental access to reality which is not privileged compared to others (such as arts and myth).
Modernity and hyper-modernity can be seen as an age in which the traditional concept of culture does not disappear at all but is overlapped by new cultural mechanisms: the individual and subjective down-loading, the recycling of
the archive and the invention of the future by recollecting elements of the past
and of present times, the importance of immediate time (just in time). The past
is available but no longer as a dreadful threat as it was for Marx, Nietzsche and
Foucault. That leads to the conclusion that time neither disappears nor becomes
a phenomenon of second range, rather it has changed radically; and is still
changing. In modern culture as in the cultural analysis of our day, the temporal
aspect becomes more and more relevant. In contrast to Foucault, one could say
that the dominance of time in the nineteenth century has not been substituted
by the dominance of space; the relation between space and time, however, has
dramatically changed, especially since the appearance of digital machineries in
our cultures.
As the discourse of memory and remembering and of concepts of narratology
indicates (Bal (2002), Borso and Grling (2004), Mller-Funk (2000, 2002/2008),
time has become an unavoidable key term in cultural analysis. There is no such
thing as cultural memory without some kind of remembering that has a narrative structure. In contrast to the phantasm of immutability, memory passes in a
process of discontinuity and re-contextualisation. In analogy to literary theory,
it is important to differentiate between Erzhlzeit (i.e.the time the story-telling
takes) and erzhlter Zeit (i.e. the time of the events which will be told). It was Paul

Time in Modern Cultural Analysis


Ricur who has shown that the structural analysis of narratives fails in a decisive
aspect. This aspect is time. In his analysis of time and narrating, the French philosopher connects the famous analysis of time in Saint Augustines Confessions,
which were extraordinarily important for Heideggers Sein und Zeit (Time and
Being), with Aristotles analysis of myth. Thus, he can show that time is the key
term for the understanding of the narrative structure. But one may also argue that
time in its qualitative moments is structured by story-telling. But what is striking is that narrating is a conditio sine qua non for the downloading of a specific
kind of memory which is bound up with subjective reminiscence and identity.
So, identity will always be constructed and reconstructed in an act of narrating
and renarrating. Culture is to use a word from ecological discourse a form of
recycling that entails a form of adaptation.
It would be controversial at the very least to go so far as to emphasise that
Culture is only a sample and an ensemble of narratives. But with with regard to
any form of identity, it is vital for the construction of cultures. Narratives implicate the fact that we are human beings acting in the world, they interpret our
acting as they model and form it. Narrative identity is to some extent a pleonasm,
because identity depends on the narrative complex, which is more of a phenomenon in time than one in space.
Ricurs analysis makes it clear that time is the weak point, especially of
structuralist narratology. It neglects the temporal aspect of every decoding but
also the temporal aspect which is inscribed into each narrative cluster. Identity
in its two aspects idem and ipse may have changed dramatically but it is still
a central point in culture (Ricur). The fact that identity is constructed does not
mean that it does not exist. By way of comparison, we never would argue that
architecture does not exist because it is a construction.
Identity does not mean that we stay invariable; rather it refers to a certain
form of existence in time. No culture, no society, neither politics nor economics,
can work without that construction of identity which allows acting in a longer
distance of time and makes living in culture possible and human living is
unthinkable without a symbolic realm called culture. Maybe this aspect of identity which the French philosopher calls ipseity is symbolically empty, a fader (to
use a Lacanian term), but it is central for ethical aspects and indeed for the mere
functioning of culture. It is the great disadvantage of all structural theories that
they cannot explain what practice, action and doing is. The structures do not go
into the streets, as the structruralists argued in 1968. It is the human being. The
ipse, which is fragmented (because it is the self of an Other), is in its very abstract
structure a phenomenon in time because it is a reliable person. And this reliability contains two aspects: promise and character personal or institutional.
Both have in common that they are phenomena of time. Here, it is interesting


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

that Ricur does not mention recollecting and remembering; they are, after all,
preconditions, especially, for the promise.
So, one might say that all post-structuralist approaches bring back the aspect
of time to the field of Cultural Analysis and Cultural Studies. In contrast to traditional concepts of cultural history, the focus of theoretical interest moves from
length to movement, from product to process, from stable identity to dynamic
diversity, from linearity to discontinuity.
It becomes evident that the idea of the spatial turn that implies the disappearance or at least the marginalisation of historical time is far too simple.
Maybe it is more adequate to say that both dimensions have dramatically changed
in modern times. So the change of time and the change of space coincide. Both
changes depend on each other. There is time beyond the dominance of linearity,
which for example Benjamin has compared with the leap of a tiger. And there
is a territorial space which is empty of meaning. The French ethnologist Marc
Aug has called it a non-place. And there are symbolic spaces that no longer correspond with the traditional geographic ones but depend on decoding and renarrating.
Vicos idea of the three symbolic bonds of culture he developed in his Nuove
science may be out of date in many theoretical and methodological aspects, but
his idea of interpreting cultural synchronical as diachronical has taken on strong
contemporary relevance since the spatial turn. Vico differentiates between
the diachronical bond, the bond between the dead and the living, and the synchornical bond, the bond of marriage (the bond between groups and families)
and finally, as a combination of the two, the bond of law and property. If Vicos
traditional differentiation is used in a broader and more metaphorical sense,
then it delivers us a key to understanding culture as a combination of elements
which is characteristic for the macro-phenomenon called culture. (Mller-Funk
2006/2010) It is not at least the temporary aspect that makes cultures different
from the functionalism of societies. It refers to the fact that culture may dramatically change but will on its long journey survive every individual human being.
We have no chance to start completely anew. What is responsible for the impossibility of a tabula rasa (which was favoured by many historical avant-garde movements in the twentieth century) is that culture is a phenomenon in which time is
always inscribed. Time is always on the side of culture.

Walter Benjamin and

the Translational Turn
In her influential book on the new cultural turns, the German literary and cultural theorist Doris Bachmann-Medick has proposed understanding the theory
of translation and translating as a central focus in cultural theory (BachmannMedick 2006). Culture can be understood as a permanent process of translating in
the sense of another new paradigm, that means the in the sense of a spatial turn.
Translation can be regarded as a proocess of cultural transfer and contextualisatuion. The German word ber-Setzen is, by the way, ambigous. In a non-metaphorical sense, it means transporting oneself from one place to another, e.g. from
a continent to an island and vice versa. In a metaphorical sense, with a different
intonation (berstzen), it refers to the problem of translation from one language
to another. It is important to point out that, especially in Homi K. Bhabha, the difference between a literary translation and cultural transfer is more or less erased.
This is to some extent problematic, since not every form of cultural transfer goes
hand in hand with literary translation. But it is possible to say that literary translation is part of a process of cultural transfer, which also includes the transfer of
cultural practices, music, film, painting, everyday culture etc. from one symbolic
space to another and, especially, within one cultural space.
So, translation and transfer describe processes that are inherent for culture
in general. Translation, as Anselm Haverkamp has formulated, is an agency of
difference (Haverkamp 1997, 7). It is quite evident that translating is a central
activity in culture, especially under the conditions of globalisation and also European integration. It is also significant that translating is not relevant in the same
way for all national and regional cultures.
The very phenomenon of translating emphasises the fact that language
remains central, even irreductible for collective identities, differences and the
necessity of translation despite the function and meaning of other cultural
phenomena such as everyday life, food, media and popular culture. Translating
remains reprensentative even though modern concepts of culture no longer focus
on the idea of a homogeneous language community. If we use terms as trans- or
postnational, we think of overlapping and hybrid language maps we find in premodern everyday culture.
From this point of view, all manifestations and artefacts of a specific culture
have, as Roland Barthes pointed out in his famous Mythologies, a secondary mythical meaning, a connotation. And especially these connotations are
crucial, very often resisting translation from one to the other symbolic space.
Translation is nearly automatically but not exclusively occupied with translat-


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

ing texts from one language to another, there is an open door for all disciplines
that are concerned with texts to re-understand themselves as a sort of scientific
discipline, which overcome the traditional undertanding of text in a philological sense. Texts have in common with other artefacts and products that they can
only be read, to quote Bachmann-Medick, by means of interpretation of strange
cultural rituals, concepts of emotions and habits.
Following the perspective of Kulturwissenschaften, translation the German
word is nothing other than a metaphorical translation of the Latin words transferre and tra translatum can be understood as a migration of words and symbolic systems, as a dynamic process as is the case with the transport of material
goods, transmittance (in the case of media) or temporary or stationary migration
of men and women from one geographical and symbolic space to another. And it
is striking that this transfer will change all: texts, people, goods, media messages,
the culture from which we depart and the cultures in which we arrive.
Here, it is really of importance whether and, if so, to what extent all theses
migrations leave their mark, both in the old original culture and the new culture
in which we arrive. One of the central questions with regard to globalisation is
to what extent all these crossing processes will change and modify the symbolic
program and the cultural reality of tranditional nation-state based cultures if they
become more hetereogeneous or syncretistic, or, to use a term originally coined
by Michail Bachtin, hybrid.
This is the discourse context of my close reading of Walter Benjamins essay
Die Aufgabe des bersetzers (The Task of the Translator), a text which plays an
enormous role in concepts of literature and culture I would describe as deconstructionist. To some extent, this is a critical and deconstructionist reading. In a
further step, I will go beyond Benjamin and Derrida and ask for the location of
translating following an approach which is based on cultural analysis (a term I
prefer to the slippery term Kulturwissenschaften). Here, I shall also ask for cultural asymmetry and the contextualisation of language.
One of the most fascinating aspects in Benjamins text that has been praised
as a precursor of a modern understanding of an open work of art and a new
understanding of translating is its extreme fragility and inconsistency. Apparently, Benjamin pays homage to the idealistic aesthetics of a closed literary work
of art. Benjamin writes: Nowhere does the reward to the recipient prove to be so
productive for the understanding of a work or a genre of art (Benjamin IV, 9). But
as Benjamin will show immediately after this statement, it is the translator who
will change the original. And the translator is nothing other than a specific recipient. In this way, Benjamins text negates the traditional perspective and concept
that insists on the eternal meaning of a text.

Walter Benjamin and the Translational Turn


From the very beginning, Benjamins essay is based on an understanding of

poetry that is part of what I would call classical modernism (Cf. Derrida 1997).
For Benjamin poetry is characterised by the fact that it has no manifest message.
Today we would formulate this quality a little bit more cautiously. Probably we
would say that arts and media can be differentiated in their cultural function in
this way, that media are based and concentrate on explicit and clear messages,
whereas literature is a more or less self-referential system, in which the aesthetical and semiotic aspect is inscribed. Literary texts display self-reference especially on the formal level; they speak also about themselves, they are ambiguous; they push the envelope, the boundary of language, they are linked to the
unspeakable. Benjamins calls it the Unfassbare, the Incomprehensible. It is
similar to Wittgensteins defintion of the mystical in his early work. The mystical
is what makes you silent. Between Mallarms absolute poetry on the one hand
and modern media and communication on the other there are, evidently, a lot of
mixtures and variations. There are literary genres of realistic literature that work
with similar methods and rhetoric to historical or journalistic documentation and
there is also journalism that is ambitious with regard to the use of literary and
essayistic forms.
We want to follow Benjamins argument: Literary works of art do not communicate but refer to a general boundary that cannot be overcome. This boundary is not identical with cultural or ethnic differences, but has to do with general
and media sensitivities as such. They are characterised by the term das Unfassbare, the incomprehensible. It is defined negatively. The Incomprehensible is
that which cannot be marked by any symbolic form (writing, language, painting
etc.). In contrast to text for communicative everyday use, the translation of poetry
does not transfer a concrete message or information, but something that Benjamin decribes as the poetical. This is what he is interested in as a translator of
Baudelaire and Proust.
For Benjamin, the question of whether and to what extent texts are translatable is crucial. It is really a double question; firstly it is a question of the ability of
the translator, and secondly it is a question with regard to the literary work. But
now it becomes evident that the function of the reader comes into play, because
Benjamin poses the question whether there is at least one reader in the audience
who can be seen as an adequate and able translator. There is a nobilitation of the
translator. The classical translator is a reader, as is the case for a media translator, who transfers an original into another medium, a novel or a drama into a
theatre performance, a movie or a radio drama. Being a reader first and foremost,
he is in a totally different situation to the author. The adequate translator can be
characterised as a border crosser, an expert with regard to the impossible frontier
crossing Benjamin refers to das Unsagbare, the unspeakable.


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

The second question, the question to what extent the work itself allows translation is discussed in the essays much more broadly. Benjamin makes clear that
translation is never mimesis, but a form in its own right. When translatability is
a quality of the literary work, then it is a quality of and in the work itself. Moreover, it is a form. Therefore, it is the act of translating that brings to light a specific
meaning of a literary work especially its ambiguity.
The American theorist Barbara Johnson has examined this specific problem.
As an English speaker, one must decide how to translate the word verleumden
in the first sentence of Kafkas famous novel Der Prozess Jemand musste Josef
K. verleumdet haben [] (Incidentally, one has also to decide how to translate
the German word Proze, which means the dynamic process as well as a court
case). One American standard translation has chosen the English word traduce.
By doing that, it has referred to the problem of traducing itself, because the
Latin word has nearly the same meaning as transfer. To some extent, every translation could be seen as a traduction. Even in this bad and wooly translation we
can see what Johnson calls the defiguration of the mother tongue.
Involuntarily, the theoretical praise for a bad translation provokes the question whether such a bad translation does not imply a traduction. With regard to
our topic, every cultural transfer could be interpreted as a cultural assault. From
that perspective, it is nearly impossible to find a criterion for a good or a bad, an
adequate or inadequate, a hegemonial or a respectful translation. At this point,
there appears to be a tension between two positions that can barely be bridged:
between deconstruction and traditional philology. One can describe the problematic translation of Kafkas first sentence in Der Prozess as an interesting form of
contextualisation. In a more traditional approach, the problem of an adequate
understanding of the text (and also the quality of the translation) remains central.
But this not only a question of philology and tradional evaluation, it is also a
question with regard to the quality of tbe intercultural relationship. Like every
relationship, intercultural encounters are full of the rhetoric of misunderstanding. We know that from our relationships with our partners. We are in permanent
stress with regard to whether we might have understood our vis vis wrongly.
Benjamin establishes an internal and intimate correspondence between
the original and the translation. Translations result from what Benjamins calls
the living-on, the survival, of a work. The translation, at the beginning an act of
reading, renders the reader a secondary author. It creates a posteriori of the work.
And, although he has accentuated elsewhere in his text that even the best translation is meaningless for the original this is the classical and idealistic perspective on the literary work he revises this position in the further argumentation
when he argues that the translation brings a certain meaning to light a posteriori
that was or had been hidden before.

Walter Benjamin and the Translational Turn


To use a term of the early Gyrgy Lukcs, one could say that the translation
is the product and producer of speaking in the terminology of cultural analysis,
translation always implies an act of contextualisation. To some extent it may be a
form of representation of the strange, but as the strange it is a functional element
in the symbolic systems of its own culture. It is a cultural transfer from one culture
to another. Classical translation from one language to the other is a specific case
that is illustrative and visible. Film adaptations for example touch the problem of
translation on the axis of different media. In contrast, classical translations can
be seen as a model and a standard version of an intertextual hybrid situation that
can be described as a third space.
Already in Benjamin, there is the idea of an inversion of the relationship
between original and translation: If it is translation that guarantees the survival
of the literary work a strong hypothesis then there is a turn-around of the relations between both. With regard to a deconstructivist reading, one might argue
that translation anticipates the original in a specific sense, because it is translation that makes the original itself. Benjamin speaks quite cautiously when he use
the term Nachreifen (ripening after) to illustrate the process of creating a new
meaning of a work through translation. This Nachreifen changes the meaning of
meaning but also the understanding of the status of poetry per se.
The original and the translation are related to each other in a complex
dependency. This specific relationship is inscribed into the experience of translating. Translation has a specific language gesture. Benjamin insists that translation and original are completely different and to some extent incompatible. At
the end, translation proves to be functional for the expression of the innermost
realtionship of langauages themselves. It really cannot reveal the hidden relationship itself, it cannot produce it. But what translation is able to do is to represent
this relationship in a seed, in a nucleus, in a fragment.
With regard to the relationship between these two unequal poetries, Benjamin denies that there are in a mimetic relationship. It is not a relation of analogy
and of a resemblance that only could be defined vaguely or superficially. Following linguistic theories since and Saussure, one could say that here is no resemblance on the level of the significants, because language is a contingent and
arbitrary semiotic system. It is striking that Benjamin, in line with neo-Kantian
epistemology, explicitly refers to the critique of Abbildtheorien (reproduction
theories). Languages are similar to each other only with regard to their structure. Translation is based on this deeper and more decisive affinity. In this way,
translation comes close to what Benjamin calls the pure or better absolute
language, close to the point at which the nothingness of language becomes the
language of nothingness, to borrow Edmond Jabs paradoxical formulation.
Translation makes this dimension of language that was inscribed in the original


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

visible, which at the same time refers to the poetic intention kat exochen; this
is the idea of the absolute, pure language. From that perspective, Benjamin
comes to another conclusion with regard to the task of translating. All translating is to some degree a provisional way of dealing with the strangeness that is
so characteristic for the semiotic system of written or spoken language, as Ernst
Cassirer recognised in his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. In this work, which has
certain similarities with Saussures ideas, Cassirer mentions the artificial symbolism of arbitrary signs, in which the content itself takes on a new character for the
consciousness, since it receives a new certainty (Cassirer, 1953/1994, 17).
The mysteriousness and strangeness of language marks a principal boundary of understanding. Therefore, every translation is a provisional arrangement,
because the solution of the strangeness, an instantaneous and definite solution,
is unachievable for human beings (Benjamin IV, 14). To use a paradoxical formulation again: Understanding can be defined only with regard to the principle
strangeness of language; can only rest upon an act of non-understanding.
The affinity of languages becomes real not because of their vage similarities,
but with reference to the idea of the lost, pure and absolute language. Translation
is a manifestation of longing for an absolute language in the sense of Mallarms
absolute poetry. The more definite realm of language is the pure language, the
language of truth.
This kind of language does exist and does not exist. It has its representation in languages of this world. Vice versa, it has the function of integrating all
languages. Thus, translation means translating something with reference to this
incompatible third that cannot be translated and is utopic in all languages, a
Schein in the sense of Ernst Bloch. There is a double and principal difference
between original and translation.
1. The original is transferable and translatable in a paradoxical way, because it
entails a non-translatable remainder. Content and language build a noncallable unity. In contrast, the translation is not transferable. Its content
develops by itself and remains inadequate, strange and violent to the original. It implies and represents a higher language than the original itself.
2. The original is, similar to Schillers differentiation between naive and sentimentalist, naive, erstlich (initial), concrete. The translation, however, is
sentimalist, letztlich (ultimate) and full of ideas and reflections.
Compared with the early essay on language, which argued with the narrative of
the Tower of Babel and insisted on the idea of a lost original language, Benjamin has withdrawn this Romantic figure in his later essay. Nevertheless, this idea
remains an important dimension in his thinking as a border phenomon. There is
no possibility of returning to a language that has never existed, but it is seen as a

Walter Benjamin and the Translational Turn


common point of reference, a tertium comparationis linking the original with the
translation which proves to be necessary. This language only appears in translation. So, one could say that this is the remainder of a metaphysics of language in
which there is a priori a reliable universal point of reference. This is important
with regard to our topic of lingual and cultural difference.
The pure or absolute language remains unaccessible; it is represented only
in fragments:
Fragments of a vessel in order to be articulated together must follow one other in the
smallest details although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation,
instead of making itself similar to the meaning of the original, must lovingly and with attention to detail form itself according ot the manner of meaning of the original, to make them
both recognisable as the broken fragments of the greater language, just as fragments are the
broken part of a vessel.

This quotation, which plays a central role in Homi K. Bhabhas Location of Culture
(Bhabha 1994, 170) can be better understood with a short glance to the discourses
on which Benjamins vision is based: German Romanticism and Kabbala. The
quotation, which implies a clear reference to the idea of the fragment in early
German Romanticism, connects two religious narrative clusters that ultimately
fit together implicitly. The first one we know from German Idealism and Romanticism, while the second can be found in the Platonic Kababalism of early modern
Europe, in the Renaissance. Especially in the Kabbalistic version of Messianism,
in Luria, there is a narrative plot, which begins with the Zim-Zum, with the point
of absolute self-concentration. This is followed by (Schebira), the status of broken
jars, and finally leads to (Tikkun), the restitution of the broken jars to a new unity.
The breaking of the jars, writes Gershom Scholem, Benjamins companion
and sometimes his opponent, is the decisive crisis of all divine and human being
[]. And therefore, all being since the primary act is a being in exile, longing for
return and salvation. The breaking of the jars is continued on all levels of emanation and creation. All is broken, all is full of mistakes, all is unfinished and
imperfect. (Scholem 1973, 150f.; own transl.)

1Wie nmlich Scherben eines Gefes, um sich zusammenfgen zu lassen, in den kleinsten
Einzelheiten einander zu folgen, doch nicht zu gleichen haben, so mu anstatt dem Sinn des
Originals sich hnlich zu machen, die bersetzung liebend vielmehr und bis ins Einzelne hinein
dieser Art des Meinens in der eigenen Sprache sich umbilden, um so beide wie Scherben als
Bruchstck eines Gefes, als Bruchstck einer greren Sprache erkennbar zu machen.
(Benjamin IV, 18).


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

Benjamin transfers this Jewish version of alienation and splitting to the level
of language. The diversity, the result of the breaking of the jars, corresponds to
the plurality of languages. In Benjamin, this Messianism has an open structure:
what has been promised will never happen. Thus, hope remains.
This is the very reason why melancholy and grievance (the subjective attitudes of a narrative of alienation and diremption in German Idealism and especially in the early writings of Marx) are to some grade annihilitated and neutralised. Entfremdung (alienation) can be seen as the best thing in the world, because
being a stranger in this world and being a stranger to ourselves is a central characteristic of human existence, especially under the circumstances of modernity.
It opens up the possibility of bringing the strange in the self and the self in the
strange into an intellectually concrete view.
This is what language makes so central. Language, which is the precondition
of the possibility of translating, represents fragments of a whole, which exists
only as a regulative moment, as a horizon. It is not contingent that the quotation
from Benjamins essay plays, as I have mentioned ealier, a strategic role in Homi
Bhabhas cultural theory. With this remark we have already entered the contemporary debates in this field, in which translating is considered as a third heterogeneous space; this is also Bhabhas own position. In this sense one also can read
Benjamins final description of a free and at once adequate translation.
As Benjamin points it out, the goal of an adequate translation can never culminate in the idea of germanising the English, the Indian and the Greek text or
making the German English, Indian or Greek. The translation accentuates the
strange in ones own Self, the act of translating creates traces and represents the
strange, the specifically strange, but especially the strangeness of language per
With regard to the relation between poetry and mass culture, it might be
necessary to modify Benjamins theory, which focuses exclusively on high literature, although it ultimately transcends classical philology and traditional literary
theory. It sounds quite simple, but it is essential to mention that the overwhelming majority of texts in a globalised world are not poetic artefacts. The translation
of high literature, a great topic of classical modernism, represents, in terms of
quantity, only a tiny segment of world culture. But as Benjamin has demonstrated
in his essay, all the definitons of translating representation of the strange in
its various manifestations, the incomprehensible moment in language, self reference are only adaptable for the translation of poetry, not for everyday texts.
If that is true, the so-called third space can be realised only in the process
of translating poetic texts in all their aspects. Only here does the strangeness of
language become apparent, a strangeness which has almost nothing to do with
a speific cultural difference, but is constitutive of our specific existence in this

Walter Benjamin and the Translational Turn


world, which is always interceded by semiotic systems. This aspect becomes

visible at the boundaries and thresholds connecting and separating all human
languages (if I have correctly understood Antonio Sousa Ribeiros proposal to
determine Literary and Cultural Studies from the boundary.)
This boundary appears in the sense of a cultural periphery, but must be
located in a metaphorical sense. Ultimately this boundary can be located only at
the boundary of our languages (in the sense of Wittgenstein). Language is primarily not an ethnic marked line of partition; it refers to the boundary of language per
se. This seems to me to be Benjamins legacy.
In contrast to Benjamin, one could risk the argument that many texts of our
times, even literary ones in a global world, are written from the very beginning
for translation, that is, globalisation is inscribed in these texts that have a multiple contextualisation. This holds true not only for authors of small langages, but
also for very successful writers. This is also true of the hybrid oeuvre of Salman
Rushdie or to mention an author from Austrian literature, Dimitr Dinevs novel
Engelszungen (Angels tongues), a novel with a double symbolic space, communist and post-communist Bulgaria and Vienna, the West.
In my view, the force of contextualisation can only be underestimated. In
contrast to Benjamin, translation can be analysed as the integration and neutralisation of a specific strangeness. This brings me to a central point. I doubt it
is possible to formulate a cultural theory of transfer and translation only from
the perspective of the border-crossing subject, the translator. I think there is an
important difference between translating and translation. I think it is important
to reflect on the function of the translation itself.
Like many others, Benjamin starts his phenomenology of translating from
the perspective of the translator. In contrast to the primary assumption of a close
literary work, it analyses this process as a paradoxical act of reception, which
emerges as a second, a secondary and non-secondary work of art, a second text in
another language, maybe in another media, and, I would add, in another culture.
This is a double which at the same time is one. Translation is always, as Benjamin
already seems to suggest, an act of adaptation, of symbolic annexation, a transfer
from one culture into the other, in the aspect of time and/or space, a provisional,
never absolute closure, in which the strange is integrated, adopted, becoming a
part of another culture. The cultural stranger is a representation always in our
The third space is therefore this is well illustrated by the example of translating highly provisional, fragile and limited in time. It appears in the encounters of different cultures. And such a virtual encounter is translating itself.
Nevertheless, contextualisation means that the work from another culture
exists especially in our culture. The hypothetical people from Sirius B, as Georg


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

Simmel has pointed out, are not strangers, they have no function in our culture.
Polemically speaking, the stranger is domesticated in a culture which was strange
and incompatible to it at the very beginning.
There is another critical point with regard to transfer research and theories
of translating. I would call it the power question, which seems to have no place
in literary studies. Can power and empowerment be a category of textual theories? In my view, the dark shadows of power are relevant for the understanding of
transfer processes (already for translational phenomena), in which the inequality
of power, wealth, respect, acknowledgement and esteem become visibile. Doris
Bachmann-Medick does mention the importance of postcolonial theory in her
informative introduction on the contemporary mainstreams in Cultural Studies
and Cultural Theory, but at the same time, she seems to suggest that asymmetries
are only exceptions from the rule.
With reference to political and economic parameters, such a proposition
seems to me problematic, because one can show that there are enormous asymmetries in the power position of a specific culture in political, economic and cultural terms. Especially the difference of culture demonstrates the terrible inequality of transfer processes, which can be formulated in Foucauldian questions: Who
is translating? Who is translated? What is translated? What is allowed to be translated? And especially: What is not translated?
For example, the multi-lingual continental represents a culture of translating. This will be supported and financed by the European Union. If you enter a
German or Austrian book shop, you will find about forty percent of the publications on offer are translated books (as a rough approximation). If you go into an
English or American book shop, you will find a lot of books from other countries, as long as they are English-speaking countries. All the other authors, sometimes even Noble Prize winners, are very rare; one must carefully look for them
and order their books from tiny book-houses. Few large publishing houses are
remotely interested in publishing authors from other languages. The small interest in non-English literature in a country with a long multi-ethnic tradition is
interesting in many aspects. It has to do with the fact that cultural difference is,
in contrast to Europe, not based on language. There is also an economic aspect
of this kind of cultural politics: translating books is more expensive and entails
a cultural risk. But this self-suffiency or ignorance is also to do with two power
aspects: that the United States is still the most powerful country and that a lot of
people in the world speak English. This hegemony goes hand in hand with the
assertion that all relevant literature is available in the English language. What
does not exist in English does not exist at all really, is periphery.
Small countries very often translate many texts or their people are able to
speak foreign languages. A Spanish colleague with Basque roots is planing a trans-

Walter Benjamin and the Translational Turn


lation of Thomas Bernhards Der Untergeher into Basque. I dare say even the title
of the book will present a lot of difficulties, because the word does not really exist
in German or Austrian German. It is derived from the word Untergang (demise,
decline), but Bernhards neologism has a lot of other connotations (underdog;
going). In contrast, some other countries, such as in the Middle East, refuse to
translate Western books, especially modernist literature. They do not want to
establish third spaces. They revolt against the global culture and its universal
language: American English.
The third language to which all is referred in a globalised world is not the
mythical absolute language of poetry, not the language Benjamin and Mallarm
had in common, it is, under the circumstances of a globalised mass culture, American English, which is in some aspects the product of immigrant cultures, a good
example that a culture can be hybrid and closed at the same time. I think that the
hegemony of American English will have dramatic effects in the long run. Most
of the larger high level languages will be pressed down to the status of regional
languages that will be used in certain everyday situations, but no longer refer to
the whole Lebenswelt, not to mention the fields of science, technology, computers, media, law and economy. They are no longer able to construct these fields
in their own symbolic way. In contrast to a cosmopolitan vision of Weltliteratur
in the sense of Goethe, most of the literature of this world is regional literature.
The strange appears especially in those works in which the topic of translatability, the symbolic syncretism and migration play a remarkable role. It is no longer
the figure of the cultural stranger, but the border-crossing migrant who is at the
centre of our phantasies and symbolic obsessions.
Benjamins parameter was: There is no comparative and explicit third which
could work as a divine transfer agency, there was a dimension of a meta-language, but this language, to which all poetry refers, is dark, closed, not transparent, like the seven seals of Saint John on Patmos. If one leaves this assumption of
a lost mythical and mystical language, then contextualisation (and that includes
a certain way of assimilation) becomes a key word in cultural theory. It is a modification and moderation between different cultures and languages under asymmetric conditions. It is quite similar with stereotypification. It nearly becomes
impossible to differentiate between understanding and missunderstanding. A
striking example would be teaching Adorno to English graduate students using
English. Incidentally, only the German-speaking teacher can be located in the socalled third space, because the majority of the students cannot read the German
It is I, who can compare the English with the German Adorno. The English
Adorno is quite strange for me, he writes philosophy in an English way. Nevertheless my students had problems understanding even this English Adorno, because


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

they did not konw the German context, the dialectic figure of thinking, the great
narratives of German Idealism and the hidden and silent religious background,
which are faded out in the translation. In contrast to Benjamin, one could argue
that most texts we read from other cultures are adaptated to our cultural habits
and attitudes just like Chinese food, or the the wisdom of Buddha. The misunderstanding of another culture under the presupposition of cultural asymmetry
is probably the precondition for our understanding of it within our own cultural
The heterogeneity which appears in the process of translating and also in
the text, which itself has the character of a translation is never stable. Cultures
are not only open, but have a tendency of closing themselves. In this way, they
produce homogeneity, which may be illusionary, but is effective at the same time.
The idea that culture is only liquid, in process and hybrid, this utopia which is
formulated against the old essential conception of culturalism, is problematic in
itself. It is based on the idea of a permanent revolution of culture. It includes
an unspoken utopia in some versions of contemporary Kulturwissenschaften and
Fine Arts.
To come back to my central point: It makes a great difference if one decribes
or analyses the process of translating and cultural transfer from the perspective
of the actors, the translaters and transport people or if one also considers the
majority of people who only read and receive the translated text, the strangeness
of which is neutralised, not as a result of ill will, but as part of the logic of transfer
and translation itself. It is now presentable in another culture. Surely, translating
is a process of opening to the strange and to strangeness as such; but it has the
result of this translation process is that the strange disappears altogether.
Only if we are able to act as translators, we are in the position, Benjamin
has analysed. In this respect, the half-hearted insistance on multilingualism as
proposed by the EU has a positive aspect. Perhaps it has a symbolic benefit in the
sense of Benjamins insight: the insight into the strangeness of language, into the
contingency of our own specific culture, or habits, ambitions and attitudes.
The real strange is far away from the ethnic strange. As Husserls Phenomenology and Freuds Psychoanalysis has taught us, this real strange is beyond
linguistic, ethnic, religiuous and sexual differences. We must cross these borders
to attain to the strangeness of language which is the topic of poetry, or more cautiously of a certain type of poetry: the incomprehensible, which becomes visible
when language comes to a principal boundary: in poetry.

The Arts and the Split of Time

On Kawara
I.From the Churchfather to the mysticism
of a motorbike
St. Augustine was a man ahead of his contemporaries. As such, Augustine exists
twice: firstly as the canonised Church Father, and, secondly, as an early modern
subject. Augustines modernity is due to the radical way in which he experienced
time, in particular the split in and of time. Whereas he was programmatically
more or less a traditional theorist of memory who interpreted it as a static space,
a storage room, as a library (Augustinus 1987, 505ff; Yates 1966, ch. 2), he became
a theorist of time who got entangled in a web of paradoxes. He felt uncomfortable
with the sudden, uncanny closeness of his own youth. The child and the young
man he has been were near and far away at once. This split in time went hand in
hand with a break in his identity producing a feeling of unreality. He found it hard
to believe and to imagine that one has been this young human being. And that
the converted Christian Augustine lived in another symbolic order than the young
Gnostic and successful classical rhetorician he had been years ago.
The Eleventh book of Augustines Confessions is justly famous. Here, the
Churchfather formulated all the experiences that later became fundamental in
modernist thought, literature and the arts. The split of time produces a lot of paradoxes, among other things tha we seem to know what time is, as long as we do
not contemplate it. The being of time can be characterised by the postulate that
time is not. Time responds to the classical philosophical question of its existence
ambiguously. Its being is defined by the fact that it denies the question of its existence. We never are really just in time. The present is never present and available, and when it is presented, it is no longer present. The past, however, is not,
because it is no longer present, but the result of a construction of a present which
in itself is fleeting. For Augustine, time dissolves in an unstable, fluid state of recollecting, presenting and foreseeing. With regard to this experience of presence
and recalling, we always come too late. (Augustinus 1987, 601701; Corradini 1997)
This unchangeable dynamic of difference, as Augustine has described it, has
become central for Heideggers philosophy and also for Derridas concept of differance. (Derrida 1967) Modern arts can be seen as the heroic attempt to bridge
the split of time. In literature and in the arts, what is impossible in life, seems
possible: to generate an accord between the event and the act of presence and
presentation. It becomes the decisive intention of many artists to fix this impos-


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

sible moment and thus bridge the existential abyss of time. This moment, which
proves to be an act of spontaneity in the Lebenswelt, in which time is experienced
as a moment, lies as much at the core of the desire displayed by Ulrich, Musils
hero in the Man without Qualities, to grasp the mysticism of a motorbike as it also
is present Futurisms programmatic obsession with time. Here, speed was not only
mimetically captured in pictures; In the acceleration the split of time seems to
have been minimised in a way that made the epiphany of the moment possible.
Kandinskys abstract brushstroke represents mimetically this experience of a now
which seemed to be without a beginning. The off-spring is radical presence in
which the split of time seemed to be suspended.
Similarly, the overthrow of traditional patterns of storytelling in moderist literature can be related to artists work on the split of time. That overthrow tied in
with a deeply felt longing for being just in time. It refannounced the experiment of
running and moving around with a video camera all day that records everything;
the contingent issues in pure presence or the novel in real time which makes
possible what is impossible in real life: to fix the inner stream of un/consciousness in an act of automatic writing. James Joyce was obsessed as were the French
Surrealists. Their streams of un/consciousness and writing nestled against the
continuity of time. In a process of depicting and presenting a dynamic mimetic
act, the stream generated the design of modern subjectivity and provided it with
evidence. It left behind the old-fashioned, unhurried construction of time in traditional narratives wherein the story of life starts from a hidden retrospective time
of story telling and ends in the harbour of a happy ending in which the hero finds
his or her identity. In so doing, modernist literature also parted ways with Augustine.
The linear and retrospective concept of organising time and identity had provided Saint Augustine with the solution to his problem of integrating the irritating
past. It embedded the irritating experience of discontinuity in time and person
into a calming narrative which dissolved the disturbances of his life story: a story
of misdemeanour and transgression, error and conversion and growing religious
education. The single moments were connected like the elements of a chain. Retrospectively, time seems to be calming and continuous. With it came a teleology
that connected the single episodes of life in life as whole. This is the traditional
aspect in Augustines writing. His self-description based on making a difference
between the time of events and the time of storytelling, then became a prototype
of occidental identity construction, which would not be possible without the idea
of a duration of time constructed by a traditional narrative. Rousseaus Confessions might well be in contrast to Augustines, inasmuch as Rousseau favoured
the idea of an essentially innocent childhood and human nature over the concept
of original sin. Augustine dissolved and confirmed the alienation between the

The Arts and the Split of Time


adult storyteller and his being as child in his life story when he insisted that the
crying egotistic brat he once was had always already lived under the curse of
original sin. In this respect, Rousseau is the Anti-Augustine. In his autobiographical narrative, innocent childhood proved to be the vanishing point of his critique
of society. However, the matrix of his narrative with its linear structure of leitmotif (teleology and progression) had not changed. In the end, the truth was still
revealed, the truth about the individual in the sense of an Aristotelian entelechia,
with an inner kernel that had been dormant, coming to the fore only against the
repressive structure of society.
This mode of symbolic self-assurance was denied in the modernist and postmodernist arts. Partly, their pathos has to do with the programmatic belief that it
wass impossible to mend the split of time by using a retrospective concept of continuity and linearity. What they create instead is evidence: I feel myself just in this
moment, therefore so I am, fragmented and punctual, created by the moment.
The dissolving of continuity in time and the deconstruction of a substantial
subject were the two sides of the same coin. The was the message of Mach and
Bergson, the most famous philosophers besides Nietzsche at the end of the 19th
century: The I is hopelessly lost, because the traditional narrative construction of
time has been cancelled. Nietzsches critique of the historical human being and
his praise of the timeless moment have anticipated these ideas.
As the modernist fine arts dissolved the Euclidean realm, the literature of
the avant-garde destroyed the continuity of time and the classical strategies of
storytelling. Nevertheless, this work of dissolution and emancipation from tradition remained linked with the continuing aesthetic desire to overcome the abyss
between life and the arts. This, of course, had earlier been the pivotal point in
early German Romanticism. The fascination with life and the lan vital had to do
with the aim of suspending in modern aesthetic experience, in the act of production as well as in the act of perception. The aim was a form of presence which is
radically absent-minded and in which present did not become part of present
recalling and recollecting, a state of forgetting: the present and/or the past, until
presence alone remained.
Something similar happened in modernist literature when and where the
present totally disappeared and were eclipsed by an obsession for recollecting.
As one can show in Proust and Benjamin (Berliner Kindheit), the construction of
time in modernism also changed wth the act of remembering. It their work we no
longer encounter the calm, relaxed and confident retrospective from a fixed position in which the distance between once and today remains clear and dominant.
Instead, recollecting here becomes radically subjective, an effect of the desire, to
recall the past radically. The difference in time disappears in the act of recalling
the past into presence and and every other dimension of time disappears. What is


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recollected is to be immediately and authentically present: in this moment, now.

The theatre of the past is broadcast as if it were live: as an event just now. This is
the profane side of modern mysticism.
Marcel Prousts magnum opus is not only a search for the lost time, a gigantic
symbolic machinery of remembering, but also a text which heads for presence. It
starts with the radical recalling of childhood that becomes present as a result of
a tiger-leap (Benjamin). It represents a form of recollecting that does not primarily refer to events and episodes but to the construction and the emotional background of those events themselves. The present, lost time is constructed in a way
that aims to evoke the subjective experience of the past in the here and now: by
the smell of madeleine at the aunts, in the pain at being sent to bed without the
mothers goodnight kiss, in the iconography of the church, in the journey into the
summer holidays etc. This attempt to remember the past presupposes a forgetting of the present as the time of storytelling. To imagine oneself as a child, it is
necessary to forget that one is an adult. In addition, this construction requires the
horizon of being an adult, because childhood, simultaneously, is but a construction of adults. Benjamin, for example, excessively used the constructed glance
of the astonished child that feels that the world is strange, and this is not only in
recollection of his own childhood in Berlin about 1900 from the Anhalt railway
station (whose name the young Benjamin associated with anhalten, to stop) to
the ornaments of the fin de sicle, but also in his famous and unfinished Passagenwerk. The glance of the child is the simulated perspective of a secondary
observer who is unfamiliar with the self-evidence of a culture created by grownups. Benjamins concept tries to deny a procedure Theodor Lessing, a philosopher
of German Expressionism, has called the sense-making of the senseless, the
transformation of previous events by the following ones (Lessing 1919, 15). The
smell of cookies in Proust or the scent of mothers womb in Musils early novel Die
Verwirrungen des Zglings Trle have no meaning in a strong and determining
sense: both are to some extent contingent and at once formative because of their
emotional density. When the time of recollecting and the perspective of the adult
(which is linked to it) are deleted, literature is no longer obliged to construct a
fix identity and meaning, and can only referres to the pathos of presented experiences, which becomes the only grounds for making of modern existence selfevident. Contingency and surplus of meaning, thus, were implied and intended.
To live truely, meant to display a systematic distrust of the idea and attempt to
cover up the split of time by using traditional narrative constructions. Yet at the
same time, one could only carry on writing and storytelling. Looking at the West
with a non-occidental background, the post-1945 Japanese conceptual artist On
Kawara was soon to show that there are still other, far more radical ways to reflect
on modern time.

The Arts and the Split of Time


II.Diarising and the empty homogenous time

or Monks from Saint Gall and a Japanese artist after 1945
Jonathan Watkins remarks in his books about On Kawara that the production of
a Date Painting is a diarising activity (Watkins 2002, 54). Kawaras, then, can be
understood as a kind of diary, the diary of a painter, a diary consisting of paintings and montages. But it is not the diary of a painter who paints and writes a
diary as a commentary on his oeuvre. Instead, his oeuvre itself is the diary with
Date paintings (literally, paintings depicting dates, see figure) and similar works
and series on the axis of time: registrations of getting-up, registers of person,
daily telegrams. The result is a sort of ego-document, an ego-document with a
very specific and unique experimental background. It is a subjective, personal
and intimate manifestation which voiceses this is at least the rough idea the
artists individual utopia of living in the presence of global time. A diary contains
a number of entries (reflections, reports, observations) that might be interesting
for remembering in the future. It establishes a symbolic realm for a later time.
At the same time it marks the artists own time but not a posteriori, from a later
point of view, but from present time. There is pathos of objective documentation
of life in the concept of a diarising activity, although it is against the phantasma
of the total documentation of ones own life impossible to depict all aspects of
our whole live, seventy or eighty years, in the way James Joyces novel depicts
the internal life of Leopold Blum over twenty-four hours. One always selectively
selects events, public and private. Lichtenberg did so in his Sudelbchern, or Bert
Brecht in his Arbeitsjournal (working journal), where he also integrated journalistic material. So does On Kawara in his Date paintings. In addition, there is a further
restriction of this objectivity: One cannot influence how the (synchronic) entry on
a specific day will be recollected afterwards. Although we look at Kawaras date
painting from 28th December 1972, created in Sweden, the painting (that is, the
interpretative avenues and approaches available today) has irrevocably changed
because of the time gap of thirty years. When Kawara made his entries about the
war in Vietnam or about the flight to the moon (lunar mission), he did so against
a contemporary horizon or a narrative matrix from a synchronous perspective.
Today, however, three decades on, we may well link them to our own situation
today: the war in Iraq and its consquences, the mission to Mars. It is the entry
of the date that makes it possible afterwards to recollect not only the events
the common spaghetti-meal with the children or the moon landing but also
how they were experienced at that time. In other words, Kawaras entries to an
extent can be understood as historical sources, as keys opening a door onto how
people experienced the world 1972. Thus we gain a unique access to the symbolic
meaning of eating spaghetti (which might well have been very different from


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

today) or what Kawara and his contemporaries like the Austrian Philosopher
Gnther Anders who dealt with the same topics as Kawara Hiroshima, Vietnam,
moon-landing thought about the dramatic view offered from the Moon onto
the Blue Planet. Hence, Kawaras quote of a Russian astrophysicist: Time is thin
around the cause and dense around the effect (Watkins 2002, 79). This sentence
may also be true for Kawaras own project.
Diaries, chronicles, notebooks, collections of fragments, commentaries and
aphorisms form a family of texts, a genre. Common to them all is that they depict
neither the subject nor the world as such, but rather the relationship between the
subject and his or her world. By focussing on this relationship, it becomes evident
that subject and world are not as in the traditional philosophical epistemology independent entities which one can unproblematically link to each other.
Both exist only in relation to each other. A subject is a subject only when related
to the world, whereas the world only exists when it is symbolised by subjects. So,
all forms of what I would term the essayistic genre (including diaries, chronicles,
notebooks, collections of fragments) are subjective documents of modern worldparticipation. Time, as a cultural construct, is an essential aspect of being in the
world, thin in the cause, yet dense in the effect. Essayistic forms, by consequence,
tend to refer to time because they reflect the condition of life and experiences in
modern times. (Mller-Funk 1995, 2139)
The diary is a very specific kind of text and genre (Dusini 2005, 4377). It is
the only type of text, in which the entry in the notebook, this symbolic machinery for future recollection, is linked with a specific date. But as the history of
time shows, time is not a natural pre-condition of thinking; it is not a natural
phenomenon at all. The firmament above us, sun and moon, sunrise and sunset,
seasons and natural cycles, all those phenomena were relevant for the invention
of time, but they achieve this relevance only with regard to human beings observing and measuring the regularities of change and motion. Here, it is important
not only that different cultures have different dates, calendars, years and days.
Yet it is equally important, that modern Western culture has created a project
of radical time-making and temporalisation (transformation of occurrences into
time-coded events). What is more, its principle unit of accounting lies at the heart
of every diary written or painted : the day. Only as a result of occidental temporalisation, the day has become the important and relevant unit of events that is
occurences, which take place in a certain precise unit of time.
The author/s of the famous Annals of Saint Gall for instance, still fixed events
in the unit of the year. In contrast with our time, there is not even an entry for
every year, because that is the standard interpretation of a lack of events
worth wile recording:

The Arts and the Split of Time


709. Hard winter. Duke Gottfried died.

710. Hard Year and deficient in crops
712. Flood everywhere
714. Pippin, mayor of the palace died.
(White 1987, 6)
As a result of temporalisation, the day subsequently became increasingly relevant as the unit of counting time, because it can be cut in exact pieces of hours
by using new methods of time organisation and time measurement. Historians
dare say that it was the institution of the monastery that first developed a time
regime and thus made it possible to organise the day in a way that entries such as
the following became possible: 3 January 1970: A large tropical bird, the casquet
hornbill, that eluded nets and tranquilizer in New York, was netted on a penthouse ledge at 710 Park Avenue, near 70th Street, about 3.40 p.m. today. (Watkins
2002, 89)
The event can be fixed to a singular moment in time, to a precise date. And only
because of this, it becomes an event in the strong sense of the word. The monks,
by contrast, lived with a completely different way of thinking and accounting for
time which Benedict Anderson following Erich Auerbach has called an overtime
simultaneity. (Anderson [1983] 1996, 33) Everything that has happened is part of
and the same eternity at every time. By contrast, the (post-) modernist artist lives
in a symbolic world in which time is empty and homogenous. Their time is linear
and measurable, exactly, with terrible exactitude.
The medium is the message: the medium of the monks in St. Gallen was a
chronicle which was based on a closed time circuit in which there could be no
difference between cosmos, the bible and history. Kawaras medium is the newspaper, a medium, which allows synchronicity of events which have no real relation to each other. Thus, Kawaras way of differs from the annals of Saint Gall in
many ways, but coincides with the latter in a single way: In the seemingly objective, indifferent gesture of the contemporary observer there is an evident lack
of subjectivity. Yet whereas the pre-modern chronicler (who had no idea or programmatic concept about individuality and the emptiness of modern times) was
unable to note personal interests in a personal commentary trying to understand
and reflect upon the events, the post-modern Date-painter can, but in so doing he
depicts and constructs a life in a labyrinth of contingent events that do not seem
which do, nevertheless, not seem to show any obvious link to his person a life
after the humanistic concept of individuality. His aesthetic experience thereby
succeeds that of classical modernism and classical essayism, from Valry to


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

Adorno. Every diary needs at least as a dimension of its reception, reflection or

symbolisation a reference to a reality outside, which transcends the subject as
such. Both the entries in the annals and the Date paintings are related to those
events. To the author/s in St. Gall, the world outside was self-evident including
his or their subjectivity which only have been embedded in a unified cosmos; for
the post-modern Date-painter there is no self-evidence neither with regard to the
world nor to the subject. Here, subjectivity is reduced to the act of painting itself.
In this sense Kawara is the heir of that particular type of classical modernism.
Whereas the monk had no idea on essayism, because he did not know that the
world was in a complex way his own construction, the Date painter deconstructs
the idea of essayism, and thus cancels the idea of classical participation, nevertheless maintaining the idea of living experimentally and artificially. He organises
his life according to modern time organisation and intends at least virtually to be
subject to the modern time regime as much as the monk in the monastery was
subject of the strict order of time kept in the his convent. In contrast, Kawaras
aesthetic experiment of painting time is an effort to meditate on the indifference
of modern time.
The medium Kawara prefers in his Date paintings is the newspaper which
structurally does not know a first and a last day. The newspaper, German Die
Zeitung (etymologically derived from Zeit, time) as a cultural invention has two
preconditions that went hand in hand: printing and time management. The first
newspapers were not daily newspapers but published every fortnight or every
month. The daily newspaper was the first modern medium that delivered the
events in the unit of one and the same day. Structurally, it promoted its readers to
commentators of the newspaper on the day, and this is what Kawara, too, came
to realise to the full, it seems, especially in his Date paintings between 1966 and
1972. Time makes two things measurable: it gives every reported event a fixed
date and makes it possible to reduce individuals lives to an enormous sum of
days, as Jonathan Watkins has pointed out:
On Kawara has painted over two thousand Date Paintings since he began the Today Series
on 4 January 1966. He calculates that he has spent more than three years actually in the
process of making these painted canvases, deliberately, not incidentally, marking the time
required. There are not only the artists journals recording the annual production of the
Date paintings, but also a 100 Year Calendar with coloured dots indicating the days on
which Date paintings were made. [] In the case of the Calendar, we are also made aware
of the number of days that have passed since the artist was born dotted yellow approximately 25,000 at the time of this books publication, and so these are being enumerated too.
(Watkins 2002, 55)

The Arts and the Split of Time


This phantasm of exact self-documentation leads to some strange issues. Taken

to the limits of its possibilities it informs the reader of Lichtenbergs note books
on how often the author had sex. In the case of Schnitzlers diaries, the reader is
informed about the (enormous) number of sex partners. A certain amount of statistics is inevitable, at it is written into the logic of diarising, of diary-accounting.
Kawaras idea of counting his paintings as he did with the days of his life is a
late response to that idea of accounting. But here, the accounting is reduced to
the numeric unity, the times of day since his birth, the time of the begin of his
diary of paintings. Perhaps because his work is less informed by the Christian
tradition, his practice does not involve confession, but simply points to the phantasm of documentation. Concentration on the pure numbers of days suggests that
Kawaras Date Painting version of essayism is based on the experience of contingency. The same is true of the immense mass of events that are written into his
project. A game of Monopoly and the elections in India are connected only by the
symbolically empty order of time.
Developments in the construction of time measuring and the modern
economy historically go hand in hand. I do not refer to the simple but historically
very important aspect that it becomes decisive to have money at the right moment
to be able to start economic or other projects. The whole system of loan and interest is based on the connection between time and money, on the possibility of
earning money because of the differences of or in time: days, years, months. What
I find more important, however, is how economic and religious motifs became
inextricably linked and intertwined. The diaries are conceptualised in analogy to
accounts. At the same time these books as for example Lichtenberg Sudelbcher
(literally rough books or scratch pads) represent a specific form of accounting. The diarist is a person obsessed with the idea of creating a balance sheet
of his or her life. So he or she is forced to continue with the never ending job of
life-accounting. The limit is only reached only when life would be transformed
into pure life-accounting, into date-writing or date-painting, and life and the arts
would subsequently be reduced to an act of sheer self-referencing. In occidental
culture, this kind of modern subjectivity is a secularised version of the Christian
God, who knows and sees all, but has nothing to do after the creation of his toyworld. There is no escape from this man. Ego-documents like diaries or notebooks
in the Lichtenbergian style can be seen as modern forms of confessions.
The diary, this letter which usually has no explicit or personal addressee
although there may be an implicit one as in Augustine (God), in Montaigne (the
dead friend) or in Lichtenberg (his mother; Mller-Funk 1995) , obeys a very
specific order of time. Whereas all forms of autobiography and memoir reconstruct the lost time of life, maintaining it in a retrospective narrative, the diary
suggests the idea of simultaneity. As I have argued, a date is given by man. Time


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

is a construct, not reality in a natural sense, but a construction as Novalis, one

of the most radical essayists, already pointed out in Fragments and Studies until
1797 (one of his collections which was written day by day): We cannot think away
time, because time is really the condition of a thinking being time only ends
with thinking. Thinking out of time is nonsense. (Novalis 1981, 312, own translation)
Thus, the I am still alive telegrams (or the I got up postcards) which Kawara
sent to his friends since 1970 in addition to the processing work of Date-painting are an ironic response to Descartes (and nearly all aesthetic modernism is a
response to Descartes philosophical rationalism)) (Kusina 2005), but self-reflection is at the same time a necessary cornerstone for the paradoxes of his project.
Awareness of being in the world. The self-reflection of being in the world and
in time generates inter-subjectivity. The idea of self-reflection depends on the
presence of the Other as the third instance. This Other must not be a personal
addressee, although Kawara uses some friends as addressees for his telegrams,
these forerunners of fax and e-mail. The Other is the one who lives just in time
with the writer, the artist, because s/he uses the same medium. S/he confirms
the existence of the time we culturally share with others through culture. It is
the newspaper or any other possible modern medium that represents this Other,
who lives in the same uniform and homogenized symbolic world. S/he is the
profane version of the transcendental Other who was imagined to know everything beyond time and space. The newspaper is, as Hegel already pointed out,
the Morning Prayer of modern times. It is the centre of a mass ceremony which
is exercised privately in the lions den of the head (Eisenstein). Thus, artists like
Kawara are related to the medium and to the modern community of this secular
Morning Prayer as commentators who make explicit what is usually implicit and
self-evident: the modern world of media, the regime of time and dates.
Significantly, it would appear that each letter, including the one which
arrives hours or years after the writers death, includes the message of being alive.
I dare say, that in Kawara it is linked with the traumatic event of Hiroshima: The
plot of his artwork is really the monotonous sentence of one who survived: I am
still alive. There were of course modernist authors (like Kafka, Beckett, Thomas
Bernhard and Jabs) who wrote to live and survive. So, the very message of the
telegrams might be despite their sarcastic and ironic monotony quite humorous when he looks into the abyss of time, as in his 1999 One million years. Past
and future from 998031 BC to 1969 AD, and from 1993 AD to 1000192 AD (Kawara
2002). But there is another old utopia from the very beginning of the avant-garde
whose late heir Kawara undoubtedly has become: the idea of uniting life and the

The Arts and the Split of Time


III.Romanticism and hope: Beyond utopia

In a very laconic way, essayism can be defined as a form of thinking in time
not within the framework of traditional academic philosophy but rather in the
medium of literature and the arts. Essayism is the impossible third between traditional philosophy and traditional arts. But it is not only a way of thinking but also
a way of living. In Musils famous Novel Man without Qualities the protagonist
proposes to his cousin Diotima living as if in a novel, that means living only the
important and essential, transforming life into art. (Musil 1979, 573) The German
Romantic Friedrich Schlegel depicted this proto-avant-garde idea in his famous
116th Athenum-Fragment, when he characterised the new Romantic movement
as follows:
Romantic poetry is a progressive universal poetry. Its goal and destination is not merely to
unify all the separated genres of poetry and to bring poetry in contact with philosophy and
rhetoric. It will also and shall once mingle or once melt together poetry and prose, genius
and critique, poetry of the arts and poetry of nature. It will and shall make poetry living and
social and life and society poetic. (Friedrich Schlegel 1972, 37, own translation)

This is a concept of reciprocal emotional charging: it implies an emotional charging of the arts, which become lan vital by integrating life and the charging of life
which becomes important through its being constructed like a work of art. But the
result of Romanticism, avant-garde and trans-avant-garde is not authentic life,
but new forms of fine art now further differentiated as a system in modern society
The idea of an aesthetically grounded life especially in the postmodern western
world has become quite influential, even though it is reduced to the idea of simple
design and the right style of self-presentation. The concept of melting life and the
arts also creates a new bohemian and, later, a moderate form of post-bohemian
lifestyle in the arts itself, at least a lifestyle for the artists and their surroundings.
Undoubtedly, Kawara can be seen as an ascetic successor of Schlegels
project. His experimental work is a part of that project which further includes the
ready-made. There is a mixture of reflection and philosophy: existentialism, a bit
of esoteric speculation and the link to the contemporary networks of the avantgarde in Japan and the United States. There is also a mixture of aesthetic media:
pictograms, icons, writing and painting. All of these are brought together into the
same semiotic realm. But more importantly, the Date paintings refer to the artist
as such. Travelling all around the world a major topic in post-modern cultural
studies , the artist organised his daily life and occupation by Date paintings
charting events that are political because they are events in media that are media
of time. Kawara organises his life as a contemporary and thus his art as contemporary art, an art just in time. His diarising changes his own life and transforms


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

the artist into a living work of art. And vice versa his series of works of art become
living because of the manifestation of an irritated ego that sends telegrams with
the message I am still alive or postcards stating I got up (including the exact time
of such events) from 1968 to 1979.
Yet as others before, Kawara brings his own variant of the concept of unifying art and life. There is no longer an emphasis on the power of synthetis the
German Romantics liked so much. Instead, one is confronted with an asymmetry
between the subjective and the objective aspects, between the spaghetti and the
atomic bomb. The importance of the events outside does not really correspond
with daily life.
As far as I can see, Kawara brings no project for the future. All the unforeseen
events he enters into his journal of Date paintings refer to (two) the traumatic
event: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This marks a critical moment in human civilisation. The bomb and Vietnam are events which permanently point to human
disaster. To borrow from Gnther Anders, a leftist follower Heideggers, Kawaras
narrative plot has a post-human perspective: It refers to a possible world without
man (Anders 1981, 110), but also a possible world of man without world (Anders
1984). The first aspect is the result of the possible power of real destruction, the
second ties in with the fact that such power transcends the possibility of understanding. A world with links to a participating subject means a world of meaning
and symbolic forms. As observers of Kawaras painting, we are not forced to think
that this disaster has already become real, but that there is a strong tendency in
the world to overcome the human measure. Essayism has always been a symptom
of crisis: the cruel religious wars in Montaigne, the French Revolution and its
perversion in the case of the German Romantics, the crisis of the modernist world
and the breakdown of the Habsburg Empire in Musil.
With regard to those diarists and essayists, Kawaras work has a moment of
radical outdoing and triumph. In contrast to most literary diarising works, his
Date painting has a specific form of presence and presentation. Usually, diaries
and notebooks are published long after their genesis, after after their date of production and reference. Hence, there is a clear difference of time between coding
and decoding, between production and reception. On Kawaras telegrams programmatically make clear that the event, the entry and the reading could happen
on the same day as the telegram programmatically makes clear. The internet
today can establish such a real-time. It reveals a new subject after the end of the

1On Kawara, Date paintings Today Series (Audio), Museum Ludwig, Kln-Episode 252440.
ntings%2B-%2BToday%2BSeries (last accessed 21.06.2009).

The Arts and the Split of Time


classic subject which announces that I am here and still alive just in time referred
to the universal diary of the modern media complex.
For clarity, the term postmodernism does not only indicate a time after modernism, but also an advance, a reflection on its predecessor. The fantasy of bridging the split of time is written into modern computer software. To some extent,
Kawaras paintings follow a postmodern ethic (in a Lyotardian sense), an ethic of
defence and irony (Lyotard 1993). Yet the outfit of the work is both offensive and
playful. The Date Paintings can be decoded like many predecessors as exercises in modern contingency which nevertheless have a fix objective reference as
in traditional forms of ego-documents: the irritating experience of destruction
symbolised by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the dimension of an end of the world
in an endless series of entries day by day. Recently the notion of humanity has
been threatened by matter. In daily life I feel this every moment. Political and
economic anxieties overwhelm individuals. (Kawara 1955 in Watkins 2002, 42)
There is no (traditional) utopia of a better world in Kawara; but there is a
hope. As in every diary, his entries establish a system of signs for remembering
not just now; but also later on. Thus, they presuppose subjects after the end of the
traditional subject who are able and willing to read the message. It is not only the
ironic and non ironic message I am still alive but also the narrative tableau of
spaghetti-eating children, which includes hope and consolation face to face with
modern events which transcends the homogenous time: the Shoah, the possibility of collective human self-destruction on many levels from the bomb to genetic

Kawaras uvre holds a spatial element too that becomes striking in the era of
so-called globalisation (Featherstone 1990; Appadurai 1996).
Sending telegrams from all over the world from abroad to home and vice versa
his works document an act of constant travel. Kawara is a virtual as well as a real
traveller who dwell through global space. Perhaps because of that he represents
a new type of artist whose self-understanding is no longer restricted to his homeland. He is global, or better, a universal symbolic player. The same is true for his
adressees, who come to form an audience no longer restricted by spatial barriers.
One could also describe his journey from East to West and back, from West
to East, as a narrative about the avant-garde and modernism, as a journey into
Western time, because the split between subjective and objective time is the result
of our Western culture. This split changed the world dramatically: Industrialisation, speed, traffic, capitalism, the dynamic of moderm war and peace. As such


Part 2: Space, Time and the Global

Kawaras travelling is also a form of productive appropriation, an adaptation and

contextualisation of Western time and because of that of Western modernism
and the avant-garde. The latter, after all, arose thanks to the invention of modern
time in Western, Eurpean culture, and aimed for either an imaginary return to the
time before time, or an imagined advance to a time beyond time.

Part 3
The Heritage of Classical Modernism:
Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

The Disappearing of Ruins

Thomas Glavinics The Work of the Night and an Imaginary
Symposium with Benjamin, Simmel, Freud and Foucault
In one of the most successful Austrian novels of recent years, The Work of the
Night, the reader is led into an empty urban space (Glavinic 2006, 7f) that is quite
clearly marked as Vienna. Jonas, the main and only real figure in Thomas Glavinics novel wakes up one morning and realises step by step that he is alone in the
twentieth district, alone in Vienna, in Austria, alone in the neighbouring countries. Immediately before the end of the novel, he drives to England to find traces
of his beloved, who had visited her sister in the UK a couple of days earlier. All
modern digital technology and all media of communication and information no
longer work. In this nightmare, there is one invisible hand which has switched off
all social life in the urban space of Vienna. Vienna is imagined as a ruin, but not
as a ruin in a traditional sense. All buildings and traditional structures (including electricity and light) are in normal condition, there are no images of material
destruction. Moreover, at the beginning of the novel, electricity still works and
he can make use of all the empty cars to realise that he is now living alone in an
empty social space. What is ruined is the social space. As the author points out
in an interview, he is interested in creating a city, an urban space through literature. On his website, the user can use
a podcast and wander through the empty urban space of Vienna, the social ruin.
The novel may also be seen as anticipation in the sense of the future perfect. It is a
conception of the future as as the present perfect. With a short glance to the topic
of the conference, one may ask whether this perspective is typical for the cultural
space we describe as Central Europe, referring for example to the tradition of Fin
de Sicle and decadence. For the meaning of this fin, this end, is ambiguous. It
means that the people has the characteristic quality of seeing the end of a cultural period or an epoch at the very moment this social and cultural space seems
to be alive, vivid, full of actions, emotions and passions. But the phenomenon of
the ruin in a general way is also linked with the fascination with the end. Or as in
a famous song of the Doors as prophecy: This is the end, my only friend.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

Discussing the obsession with this kind of imagination, lets organise an imaginary symposium with a few prominent guests, Walther Bejamin, Sigmund Freud,
Georg Simmel and Michel Foucault.
At first glance, Benjamins contribution may be quite short, but it is remarkable, impressive and striking. In his essay Paris, the Capital of Nineteenth Century
(which was at the same time a draft of his Passagenwerk), Benjamin presents and
interprets the figure of the flaneur, created by Charles Baudelaire, a person with a
specific habit, a habit noir, a habitus in the sense of Pierre Bourdieu (Benjamin
1982, 5456, 6972). He is a male figure of and at the threshold, in between the
past and the future, but also beyond the social classes. He is not a participant
of the new capitalist market in the urban space, because he has not got the real
capital to be a player in that game. He constructs the city as an aesthetic phenomenon. Once again and for the last time, his imagination makes visible the
architecture of pre-modern Paris hidden behind the surface of the glittering world
of the modern economy, the passages.
This is one aspect. But there is another one, in the sense of Glavinics novel.
One can see the future that transforms the present time into the past. This is the
heyday of the future perfect, the second future (to use a word for word translation
of the German term). As Benjamin points out, it was Balzac who first used the
metaphor of the ruins of the bourgeosie. Surrealism has radicalised this perspective (Benjamin 1982, 59). In its imagination, we can see the contemporary urban
space as a destroyed area, a world in ruins.
In Benjamin, the first glance, from present time into time past, has a melancholy aspect. You see the Old Paris in decline, the Paris of Baudelaiares poems,
or the Old Vienna in some of Stifters or Saars stories. This is the Vienna before
the Vienna of the Ringstrae: the medieval town with the castle, the labyrinth
of small lanes and old houses and the town wall instead todays famous ring.
In contrast to Paris, Vienna has maintained its self-image as an old town for a
long time, and one could say it represents the paradoxical phenomenon of an
urban space where to some extent the ruins are recycled, materially and symbolically. So in contrast to Saars perception, the Viennese Ringstrae very soon
gained the aura of an historical urban space (Mller-Funk 2009, 109). From a
symbolical perspective Vienna has traditionally been seen after 1918 as a place
of melancholy and nostalgia. Altough it still exists, the modern architecture of
the Ringstrae has changed its meaning radically. It has been transformed into
a monumental historical piece, into a symbolical ruin, because it no longer represents the world they originally did: the Austrian Empire. Now they refer to a
political and symbolical space that has vanished.

The Disappearing of Ruins


In contrast to this perspective, which goes hand in hand with an inevitable

end and destruction of a social and cultural world, the view into the future, in
which presence (or the present) is transformed immediately into the perfect, has
got clearly an optimistic dimension. It is the triumphant feeling of overcoming
the bad aspects of the present in the name of a better future. This is the narrative
employment of the political and aesthetic avant-gardes of the 1920s. I think what
is typical of Benjamins theoretical attitude is that he is ambivalent. He is melancholical empathy with the aristocratic and conservative poet Baudelaire on the
one hand and he tries to back and share the utopian and revolutionary dreams of
the culturalist leftists (such as the Surrealists) or avant-gardes on the other, who
had the Neronian dream of burning libraries, academies and towns.

Our next speaker is Georg Simmel, who wrote that wonderful short essay on ruins
that can be read as a cornerstone of cultural analysis. Simmel too is ambivalent,
but he is different to Benjamin (and like him not ambivalent in a Freudian sense
that describes a love-hate-relationship in an intimate context, which is unavoidable especially for the child).
One could reduce Simmels problem to the most crucial point: Why are ruins
so fascinating if they neutralise all human efforts to establish a sustainable cultural space in a metaphorical but also in an non-metaphorical sense?
As many cultural theorists before the linguistic turn (especially in the German-speaking realm), Simmel operates with the binary opposition of nature
culture. It is architecture that represents a fragile balance between nature and
culture, between form and intention on the one hand and the power of nature
and time on the other. If a building tumbles down, this balance is broken and the
superiority of nature appears. The ruin can also be interpreted as the revenge of
a nature that shakes off the human yoke. As the work of nature, for example the
works of wind and weather, demonstrate, the works of man are vain trumpery
(Lucretius). A semiotic commentary on Simmels lecture in my imaginary symposium may add that there is a strong semiotic aspect in this phenomenon. The ruin
is linked with Peirces third semiotic system, the index (Peirce 1991, 350). This is
true in two respects. Firstly, the ruin entails traces from the work of nature (wind,
weather, sun, temperature) and secondly the ruin as such can be seen as an index
itself. It refers to a reality in the past. It is, as Simmel points out, a place of life
from which life has gone. The indexical system of the ruin (and incidentally and
in contrast to Benjamins view also of photography) implies the aura of the past.
It refers to something that has existed and exists to some extent in the present. It


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

exists and does not exist at the same time. It is a blueprint of time (Simmel 1993,
There is another implication in Simmels discussion of the phenomenon that
is part of his argument. The ruin is the external and spatial aspect of an internal psychological process. In this process the soul is seen as an arena for opposing tendencies, the will for form and consciousness on the one hand, and on the
other for the forces of nature, which since Schelling and German Romanticism
have been associated with the power of the unconscious, with the power of death,
perhaps including Freuds Todestrieb (Freud is an unromantic heir of Romanticism). Thus, the ruin gives rise to two different and controversial aspects at the
same time, imbalance and peacefulness. The artificial ruin that becomes prominent in the time of German Classicism and Romanticism (Caspar David Friedrichs
paintings are the most prominent examples of that kind of aesthetics) may be
seen as an approach to bridging the gap between all these contradictions (Simmel
1993, 127131). As his comments on Goethe reveal, Simmel was quite familiar with
that productive time of German literature and aesthetics. In Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften (Elective Affinities), Charlotte and Eduard are depicting an ideal
landscape, a park with ruins. As they do so, it becomes more and more evident
that their own love relationship will develop as a sort of a social ruin. There is a
touch of future perfect in the novel: the landscape they have constructed with its
ruined monuments anticipates the end of their own relationship.
The artificial ruin is a ruin made by man. It has a mimetic aspect. It is mimesis
of the work of nature performed by (wo) man. It is a quasi-religious concentration of form-will and consciousness of the unconscious, time and nature. It is a
kind of affirmation of becoming part of nature again this is the classical definition of Freuds Todestrieb, which has remarkable affinities with the pantheism of
the German Romanticists (such as Novalis). In the centre of the project there is
also a strategy of a secondary control, a strategy against the superiority of time
and nature. So the fragments of the past are transformed into semiotic material
to keep in check the world to which they refer: through re-collecting, through
fantasy, through imagination: by inventing the past, for example the past of the
ancient world, the world of Ancient Greece and Egypt.
Most of the participants in my imaginary symposium are fascinated by
archaeology and by another obsession which Freud has seen as a substitute for
the desire of Don Juan: collecting elements of a vanished culture. Goethe, Simmel
and especially Freud had their own collections of arts and documents, remnants
of ancient or foreign cultures. These objects can be seen as accessoriess of a world
in ruin that rises from the dead through the work of imagination, remembrance
and re-collecting. It implies a classical pathos formula expressed by T.S. Eliot:
[] it is what justifies other peoples and other generations in saying, when they

The Disappearing of Ruins


contemplate the remains and the influence of an extinct civilisation, that it was
worthwhile for that civilisation to have existed. (Eliot 1948f, 27)

Freuds contribution to my symposion may take a little longer. One can show that
archaeology, that is the systematic collecting of the broken pieces and remains
of a ruined world in time or space, plays an extraordinary role in Freuds way
of working. We know from his biographers that he used his Egyptian, Greek or
extra-European examples of his collection for psychoanalytical practice, that he
took a part of the collection with him during his summer holidays in the mountains. It is also quite evident that archaeology in general played an enormous
role in developing psychoanalysis as a consistent theoretical concept at least on
two levels: psychology and cultural analysis. It would be an attractive project to
apply Hans Blumenbergs concept of metaphorology (Blumenberg 2005) to this
topic. Freud refers to this master trope not only in a traditional rhetorical sense,
as a kind of illustration. He uses the metaphor also in the sense of Ricur as a
vivid and active element that opens the door to virgin soil, in his case to the world
of the unconscious. But there is, as we will see, also an analogy betwee psychoanalysis and archaeology. Moreover, Freud has established psychoanalysis as a
type of archaeology.
This can be illustrated with reference to Freuds commentary on Wilhelm
Jensens novelette Gradiva. For Freud, who received a copy of Jensens book
from C.G. Jung, his pupil in the early twentieth century, this Pompeian piece of
fantasy was an ideal object for demonstrating his own theory at the beginning
of the new century. I cannot discuss here Freuds specific technique of detective
reading against the intention of the text and its author (this would be a lecture
in itself), but I want to make the point that this text by Jensen, who was a typical
post-Romantic and pre-modern writer and a literary friend of Paul Heyse, illustrates the atmosphere of the time, the Zeitgeist, including some aspects of psychoanalysis: there is the collection of ancient artefacts and fragments, there is a
direct connection between the ruins of ancient times and the ruins of the dream.
But especially the parallelism between archaeology and the unconscious was so
striking that Freud decided to write a long commentary on Jensens novelette to
demonstrate the work of dream, daydream and delusion and especially to demonstrate the work of psychoanalysis at the boundary between the real and the
imaginary, between myth and science.
The subtitle of Jensens Gradiva. Ein pompejanisches Phantasiestck (A Pompeijan Piece of Fantasy) contains a hidden connotation or in other words an inter-


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

textual allusion, namely to E.T.A. Hoffmann, the author of Phantasiestcke in Callots Manier (Pieces of Fantasy in Callots Style). Like the student Anselmus in
Der goldene Topf (The Golden Pot) or the student Nathanael in Der Sandmann (The
Sandman), part of another collection of Hoffmanns Romantic pieces and a text
that also became the object of Freuds reading desire, Jensens male protagonist
Norbert Hanold is a shy, soft and dreamy young man living in a symbolic space
charged with fragments and pieces of the past, with archaeological artefacts from
ancient times. Norbert Hanold is enclosed in his imaginary world as if in a cave in
which fantasy and remembrance have become overlapping and indistinguishable like Hoffmanns protagonists. He lives in an imagined past in Pompei, which
is represented by the relief of a wonderful young woman, whom he has given the
name Gradiva, the woman who is going forwards.
This has some consequences. The time aspect is that he lives completely in
a distant past and has only a small and thin access to the presence. The sociospatial aspect is that he no longer has any contact to the world about him. But on
the other hand, the remains of the ancient world lead him into another world full
of life. He realises the Old Pompei as an internal film. It is the work of imagination that brings the ancient town back to life. Dreaming of the last day in Pompei,
24th August 79 B.C., which transformed the small luxury town south of Rome into
a ruin, he meets the wonderful young virgin who is in active movement. Norbert
decides to travel to Pompei (once again) and is overwhelmed when he finds his
beloved Gradiva there in the house of Meleager at high noon.
The remains of the ancient provoked a tigers leap and kicked him into the
year 79 B.C. But there is a twist in the temporal logic, because it is the real Gradiva
in Pompei, a former young playmate, who pushes him back to the present. The
real Gradiva is a charming young woman with a real and attractive human body,
not a figure of marble and stone. And the real Gradiva is not only going forwards,
but has also a symbolic Greek name: Zoe, life. So Gradiva-Zoe, who might be seen
as an allegory of psychoanalytic healing, is at the same time something like a
fairy queen, his wished-for, but unexpected therapist and his beloved who kisses
him back into life. This marks an illustrative contrast to Hoffmanns hero Nathanael, who is kept in the ruins of his past. In contrast to Jensens Zoe, Hoffmanns
Clara (omen es nomen) fails. In this respect, Jensens noveletta is an optimistic
and bright answer to Hoffmanns dark Romanticism. Quite clearly, this is a male
fantasy and, moreover, it is linked to the idea that psychoanalysis, represented
here by Zoes activity, is structurally female.
But the clue of the novel can be seen when Norbert, awakening from his
nightly dreams and his daydreams, realises that the woman in front of Meleagers
house is Zoe. Like in an operetta duet, Norbert begins the sentence, but is interrupted by Zoe: It is quite strange [] that someone first has to die in order to

The Disappearing of Ruins


come alive. But it is necessary for archaeology. Freuds comment in the margin
is: Schn. I would translate this with Wonderful (Freud 1995, 210).
This is illuminating with regard to the parallel between psychoanalysis and
archaeology. As Freud reasoned in his Traumdeutung, dream analysis can be seen
as detective work confronted with a landscape of ruins, remains and mysteries,
the drama of the unconscious, the mystery of the past, which in Freuds version
of psychoanalysis is linked to a tragic a priori, a crime, a catastrophe or, to refer
to Marx famous expression in the 18th of Brumaire, a nightmare (Marx). In Jensen,
however, there is no personal catastrophe in Norberts dream; it is connected with
the image of a general catastrophe that demonstrates the superiority of nature:
a volcanic eruption that reduces a town to rubble and transforms it into a ruin
in minutes. Interestingly, this narrative does not contain the personal traumatic
structure so typical of Freuds grand rcit of the Oedipus myth. Freuds interpretation of Jensens fantasy piece is one of his brightest and most ironic texts, and one
could also interpret the fantastic events in Noberts unconscious with Jungs and
Neumanns optimistic concept of archetypes, for example, that Gradiava is the
young mans anima and Zoe is her double.
But psychoanalysis follows the narrative movement of the sentence formulated by Zoe and Norbert that someone and something has to die in order to come
to life. It describes the dynamics of psychic life as a process at work between
the ruins of the past of the landscape of the unconscious and the desires of the
present. Norberts dreams of the volcanic eruption immediately after he meets a
young girl in his home town, who has for him nearly the same way to walk as
the beloved woman in stone. This is, as it proves later, Zoe, the woman, who will
free him later from his golden cave of imagination, when he walks through whic
the ruins of Pompeji. So the past that is represented by ruins is not completely
dead. It has left traces or to use the vocabulary of psychoanalysis symptoms.
Reading these traces of the past, the ruins and remains of our individual but also
collective lives, is the unevitable precondition for the chronotopos of psychoanalysis, but second step is to arrive at present time in life. In this way psychoanalytical man overcomes the antique statue which Nietzsche described in his
essay Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie frs Leben and which is so typical
of Norbert Hanolds situation at the beginning of Jensens novelette. Accepting
support from outside, love and therapy, he enters the present, which is represented by a real Other. Thus, psychoanalysis is sceptical, but not radical, it is not
in such a harsh conflict as is the case in Nietzsche, whose essay is quite clearly a
pamphlet against the historical consciousness of his time (a historical illness,
Nietzsche 1988, KSA1, 245247). There is also in Nietzsche a tendency to reconcile the antique, the monumental and the critical way of dealing with the past,
but there is a clear animosity towards the antique statue, which is the object of


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

irony in Jensens fantasy piece and in Freuds commentary. But in Freud, there
is nearly no place for a statue Nietzsche describes as monumental, mostly with
a positive connotation. Freuds position is an integrative one, establishing a
dynamic process between the statue of death and the statue of life, between the
antiquarian and the critical attitude. In Freud, the ruins do not dissappear; they
are embedded in the dynamic of psychic life. To some extent, these remains are
the precondition of the possibility of entering the reality of life.
Man fights against the still growing burden of the past that presses him
down or bends him sideways, writes Nietzsche (Nietzsche 1988, I, 249, own
translation,); if there is a heroic element in Freud, then it is the idea of overcoming this human statue. The narrative movement contains the return to the time
of burdening nightmares. One has to cross the Acheron, but here is a way which
leads back to the light of days. Structurally, there is no end of history, neither
on an individual nor on a collective level in Freud. Therefore, the landscape of
psychoanalysis is filled with ruins, with ruins that have changed their meaning.
Jensens protagonists illustrate the double movement of psychoanalysis: Nobert
goes backwards, Zoe, the therapist (Freud 1995, 118), takes steps forwards.

Michel Foucault, a keen reader of Nietzsche and of Freud, called his post-structuralist method archaeology. The structure of a culture, of its discourses, of
its epistemic elements, of its vocabulary, of its archives reveals when they are
in the state of ruins. Foucault has an intellectual temperament that completely
differs from Benjamin, but in one aspect there is a similarity. Benjamins flaneur
saw the Paris of his time, a town full of life and action, as a necropolis. For Benjamin or, more precisely, for one Benjamin (the revolutionary one), this was a
good message; namely the fulfilment of messianic hopes. The necropolis of the
bourgeoisie refers to the socialist town of the proletarians.
This is not the case in Foucault, because there is no longer a positive perspective as in Benjamin or as in Freud. Irrespective of whether one subscribes to
his critique as a whole, I think Habermas is right when he describes Foucaults
method as follows: The archaeologist, however, will retransform communicative documents into silent momuments, into objects which have to be freed from
any context to become accessible to a structuralist description. (Habermas 1985,
294) What Foucault had in mind is an epistemic experminent and experience
at once: Foucauldian structuralism can be interpreted as symbolic machinery
that generates ruins and monuments. Jensens archaeologist filled the necropolis of Pompei with imagined people, men and women, actions and talks; in con-

The Disappearing of Ruins


trast, the Foucauldian archeologist creates monuments, ruins, places without

human life, by displacing human beings. The focalisation of Foucaults narrative implies a panoramic point of view, looking from above upon the coming and
going formations and structures of discourses, dispositives, archives and epistemic institutions.
To some extent, Foucaults famous prophecy that (wo)man will disappear like
a face in the sand at the seashore (Foucault 1966/1974, 462) is the result and at
the same time the constitutive moment of his so-called anti-humanistic absurdist emplotment, which Hayden White has termed post-ironical (White 1986,
268302) The observing narrator of this radical empty world put on the rhetorical
mask of indifference and stoicism, but there is a heroic moment in this attitude:
the ability to confront oneself with the inevitable end. As Foucault argues in Les
chots et les Mots, man is a young invention of Western culture and so man will
disappear. S(he) was only a short episode in a long and senseless sequence.
There is a hidden gesture of pathos in the whole tableau: the situation at the
sea shore with the eternal up and down of the waves, a place of radical lonesomeness (Caspar David Friedrichs Monk at the Seaside). But more interesting is the
expression a face in the sand. Does the tableau imply a catastrophic end? And
what is the relation between sand and face like? Is it the trace of the face that
will disappear? And why it is the face? Because it is metonymy, because it is that
specific part of human existence that makes him/her a human being? Foucaults
disappearing of (wo)man is full of mysteries.
But there is a third astonishing element in this prophecy which is constructed
in the future perfect, like every prophetic narrative of that kind. There will not
remain any trace of what Foucault calls lhomme. I dare say that the fascinating moment in Foucault is due to this radical and rhetorical attitude, and not
only to the message as such. Consequently, he conceives of this end as the end
per se: there will be no remains, no fragments, no ruins, and no monuments of
the imagined future past. And there is no observer who could begin the job of the
archaelologist anew. The face has disappeared in the sand.

Glavinics hero has a daydream: about being a stone at the seashore, hearing the
waves. His last man imagines the saint in Saint Stephens Cathedral in Vienna as
the last people from Pompei. Climbing up the steeple he thinks about 4th September, the date two months after the world has become a desert, a world without
human beings or animals. The date that will come in a fortnight:


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

He was thinking of 4th September. Of the September in two weeks. And of that one in thousand years. There wouldnt be any difference between those days, not a noteworthy one [].
Already on 4th September in two weeks there would be nobody who could be an observer.
(Glavinic 2006, 391, own translation)

Since Hegel, who coined the expression the fury of disappearing, there has
been a pathos of disappearing. From this perspective it becomes evident that
some ruinous narratives are embedded in an occidental master narrative, the
apoclaypse. The post-modern apocalypse presents this very last day beyond hope
and horror. In Foucault. And in Glavinic.

Fear in Culture
Hermann Brochs Massenwahntheorie
There are at least three important works on the concept of the masses which
grew out of the context of Austrian society: Sigmund Freuds Massenpsychologie
und Ich-Analyse (1921), Hermann Brochs unfinished Massenwahntheorie (1939
1948) and, as a postscript, Elias Canettis Masse und Macht (1960). To complete
the impression that Austrian intellectual culture was obsessed by the topic of the
masses, I should like to add three other literary masterpieces: Ernst Weis novel
Der Augenzeuge (1939), a psychoanalytical literary case study on Hitler, in which
Wei integrated descriptions of masses seduced by the Fhrer, and Heimito von
Doderers Die Dmonen, a work the author started in the 1930s and finished in
1956. The architectural centre of this ambitious Zeitroman is the burning of the
Viennese Palace of Justice on 15th July 1927 as a result of a mass demonstration
by socialist workers protesting against a sentence passed by the court. Doderer,
a former National Socialist, who became an anti-totalitarian conservative later,
interprets the protest of the socialist workers negatively as an act of an unconscious and class-orientated crowd lacking any sense of responsibility for (civil)
society as a whole.
And last but not least, Musils epoch-making novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften can be read in the context of the masses. It describes, for example, the
national revolts in the bilingual industrial area of Brno/Brnn. Moreover, it sug-

1Heimito von Doderer, Die Dmonen (1995, 624): Ein von der sozialdemokratischen Fhrung
am folgenden Tage, dem 15. Juli 1927, keineswegs vorgesehene Demonstration brachte die
Arbeiter auf die Beine und in die Innenstadt. Sie marschierten nicht, weil die Mrder eines
Kindes und eines Kriegsinvaliden frei gingen. Sondern weil jenes Kind ein Arbeiterkind
gewesen war und der Invalide ein Arbeiter. Die Massen verlangten die Klassenjustiz, gegen
welche einstmals ihre Fhrer so oft vermeint hatten, auftreten zu mssen. Das Volk schumte
gegen das Urteil des Volksgerichtshofes, gegen sein eigenes Urteil. Damit war der Freiheit das
Genick gebrochen: sie hielt sich auch in sterreich nur mehr durch kurze Zeit und knstlich
aufrecht. Die sogenannten Massen setzen sich immer gerne kompakt auf die ins Blaue
ragenden ste der Freiheit. Aber sie mssen diese ansgen, sie knnens nicht anders; und
dann bricht die ganze Krone zusammen. Wer den Massen angehrt, hat die Freiheit schon
verloren. Da mag er sich setzen, wohin er will. [] Am selben Mittage noch brannte der
Justizpalast lichterloh. Im Kampf mit der Polizei, welche vor allem der Feuerwehr den Weg
bahnen wollte, gab es eine schreckliche Anzahl Toter.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

gests that the solution for the Parallel Action will be analogous to Brochs later
concept of Massenwahn). some sort of mass hysteria (or mass mania). So the
private fate of Clarisse and Moosbrugger anticipates the public fate of the collapsing monarchy.
Before I try to answer the question as to why Austrian intellectual culture
became such a fruitful field for the analysis of modern masses, I have to point out
that these Austrian intellectuals and writers were not the creators and inventors
of such discourse. When Freud wrote his famous text, he was already confronted
with other works, for example with le Bons Psychologie der Massen (translated
into German in 1912), Krakovis Die Psychologie der Kollektivitten (1915), Trotters Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, McDougallss The Group Mind (1920).
Whereas le Bons analysis is based on the experience of the appearance of political
masses in the pre-war period (18711914), all the other books (including Freuds
study) refer quite explicitly to the importance of the masses before, during and
after the war,including the ideological mobilisation immediately before it and the
revolutions and civil wars thereafter. It is symptomatic that Brochs first reflections on the phenomenon of the Masse date from 1918.
The epiphany of war with its levee en masse and its collective enthusiasm
completely changed the discourse on the masses. From the nationalist theoretician Sorel to the revolutionary Marxist Rosa Luxemburg, you may find some
sort of heroic idea of the (proletarian) masses who become, through their own
appearance, the subject of history, by changing the world in a militant but peaceful way. Here the appearance of the masses is the result of a highly developed
class consciousness, whereas in the later psychological and biological discourse
the masses are the result of gullibility, credulity and their being easily influenced,

2See also Goltschnigg (1990).

3Robert Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (1932f): Das Schattende des Todes wird
pltzlich sichtbar. Des persnlichen Todes, ohne da man etwas ausgerichtet hat u unerachtet
dessen das Leben weiter holpert u seine Vergngungen weiterentfaltet. In der Mobstimmung
glauben brigens alle Leute, dauernd auf Vergngungen zu verzichten []
Huser-Hauchartige Masse, Niederschlag an sich darbietenden Flchen.
Auerhalb der Bindungen deformiert jeder Impuls den Menschen.
Der Mensch, der erst durch den Ausdruck wird, formt sich in den Formen der Gesellschaft. Er
wird vergewaltigt u erhlt dadurch Oberflche []
Er wird geformt durch die Rckwirkungen dessen, was er geschaffen hat. Zieht man sie ab,
bleibt etwas Unbestimmtes, Ungestaltes. Die Mauern der Strae strahlen Ideologien aus [] U
[] fhlt, wie der ganze Mensch in Unsicherheit geschleudert ist. Nach Ja u Nein verlangt.
4Hermann Broch, Briefe, KW 13/1, 33.
5See also Schuhmann (2000, 1026) and Hardiman (2001).

Fear in Culture


as Freud pointed out in his study. So the idea of a spontaneously growing consciousness en masse and dreadful mass hysteria mark the two possible extreme
positions in the discourse on the masses which were so significant for the first
half of the century: self-emancipation on the one hand, and self-imprisonment
on the other.
It is quite evident that to some extent the First World War marks an important
turning-point in the history of modern mass phenomena, because it reveals the
connection between violence and the masses in a modern war of mass extermination. This war started with the appearance in most of the European countries
of enthusiastic masses, which saw the coming war as an instrument of collective salvation. It was also this war which destroyed the old liberal, half-democratic system of nobility, substituting it with a new type of mass democracy or
populist authoritarian movements (as in Italy or Poland). Since the First World
War, modern masses have irrevocably become a constant factor in modern politics, culture and economics. The old paternalistic system (in Austria, but also in
Germany or in England), the world of yesterday (to borrow the title of Stefan
Zweigs book (Stefan Zweig 1970, 1443)) was quite successful in channelling and
arresting the changes in society demanded by the socialist or nationalist movements, but after the Great War the traditional techniques of power came to an
end. New political movements arose: fascist, authoritarian and radical left movements; Feminism also became a mass issue.
The turning point in post-war Austria was in this respect especially dramatic.
Suddenly the people in the heartland of the old monarchy had lost their cultural
and political Heimat and identity (Moscovici 1985, 223) and a state, which during
the whole of the nineteenth century developed certain techniques of rule to
balance its opposites, a system which was extremely careful and fearful in regard
to the modern upcoming mass movements. As Musil demonstrates in his novel
Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, the World War had destroyed the world of the
ruling classes and their ability to control the masses in a traditional way.

6Sigmund Freud, Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse/Die Zukunft einer Illusion (1993, 41).
See also Serge Moscovici, The Age of the Crowd (1985).
7Robert Musil (1979, 1019f): Das ist die Psychologie der Masse, Erlaucht! mischte sich
der gelehrte General wieder ein. Soweit es die Masse angeht, versteh ich das sehr gut. Die
Masse wird nur von Trieben bewegt und dann natrlich von denen, die den meisten Individuen
gemeinsam sind: das ist logisch, sie bentzen logische Gedanken gerade nur zum Aufputzen!
Wovon sie sich wirklich leiten lassen, das ist einzig und allein die Suggestion! Wenn Sie mir ein
paar Zeitungen, den Rundfunk, die Lichtspielindustrie und vielleicht noch ein paar Kulturmittel
berantworten, so verpfllichte ich mich, in ein paar Jahren wie mein Freund Ulrich gesagt


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

So this Strerfahrung, this irritating experience (Sloterdijk 1978), produced

the need for symbolic clearance work. I wish to examine the attempts of Austrian
intellectuals and writers to describe and analyse modern mass phenomena in
the face of this cultural and political background. Authors like Broch, Musil, but
also Freud and the young Canetti tried to understand what happened after the
decline of the Old Empire and the rise of the modern masses as an unavoidable
factor in politics, culture and society. The process they described has not come to
an end however. The burning of the Viennese Palace of Justice was probably not
regarded as a significant event in world politics. The same might be true of the
events of 1934 and the creation of a specific Austrian right-wing mass movement
which was a farce compared with the Italian Fascism to which it was linked, a
parody in the sense of Karl Marx (1913). But with Hitlers triumph on the Heldenplatz in 1938 an impressive and terrible revelation of the masses Austria
returned to the stage of world politics at least on this occasion. But what is more
important in regard to those events 1927, 1934, and 1938 is that they have a
symptomatic and general meaning beyond their historical significance: they are
a Lehrstck, a lesson in political and cultural theory. This is the way authors like
Broch, Doderer and Canetti have read these events. But whereas Doderer, Wei
and Musil deal with this historical context, Canetti and Broch try to avoid the
impression that these specifically Austrian events play any role in their theories
of the masses. But we know from Doderers autobiography that there were two
events which deeply impressed the young intellectual: the masses in the football
stadium of Htteldorf, the home of Austrias most famous football team, Rapid
Vienna, and the fire in the Palace of Justice in 1927. In contrast to Doderer, Canetti
describes the Masse as a neutral phenomenon. He points out the spontaneity of
the open masses which at the very beginning has no need for a leader, as Freud
argues in his concept of bertragung.

hat aus den Menschen Menschenfresser zu machen! Gerade darum braucht die Menschheit
ja auch eine starke Fhrung!
8Elias Canetti, Die Fackel im Ohr (1981, 280): Ein fr allemal hatte ich hier erlebt, was ich
spter eine offene Masse nannte, ihre Bildung durch das Zusammenflieen von Menschen
aus allen Teilen der Stadt, in langen, unbeirrbaren, unablenkbaren Zgen, deren Richtung
bestimmt war durch die Position des Gebudes, das den Namen der Justiz trug, aber durch
den Fehlspruch das Unrecht verkrperte. Ich habe erlebt, da die Masse zerfallen mu und wie
sie diesen Zerfall frchtet: da sie sich selbst im Feuer sieht, das sie entzndet, und um ihren
Zerfall herumkommt, solange dieses Feuer besteht []
Ich erkannte, da die Masse keinen Fhrer braucht, um sich zu bilden, den bisherigen Theorien
ber sie zum Trotz. Einen Tag lang hatte ich hier eine Masse vor Augen, die sich ohne Fhrer
gebildet hatte.

Fear in Culture


In his different versions of a theory of mass hysteria, Broch refers to the historical background only in his proposal for founding a Research Institute for Mass
Hysteria but very generally arguing that die Gefhrdung des Menschen durch
massenmig orientierte Geistesverwirrung [] ein offenes Geheimnis und eben
hiedurch auch ein offenes Problem sei. (KW 12, 11)
Like Canetti, he tries to avoid taking the material for his investigation primarily from the immediate political and historical events. Obviously Brochs intention, like Canettis and Freuds, is to establish a theory which has a more general
and broader universal validity, a theory which is not a mere case study about
Hitlers mass movement or, in the case of Freud, about the First World War and
its cultural and political consequences. It is a theory, which is able to explain the
disastrous inclination of human beings to form themselves into masses which
eliminate any response to moral behaviour and make people able to treat outsiders in extraordinarily cruel ways. One could also say that the phenomenon
of modern violent masses is one of the most significantly irritating experiences
for traditional humanism and classical enlightenment because when they are
organised into masses, human beings are able to deny humanistic behaviour and
the capacity for self-responsibility.
What makes Brochs unfinished project on mass hysteria so attractive and
interesting is the fact that this irritation, Sorge (in a Heideggerian sense), this
worry is inscribed and written up in his hesitant and tentative attempts to clear
the open problem of the connection between masses, mania and violence. Unlike
Canetti and Freud (I refer here to his argumentation in 1921; his Unbehagen in
der Kultur presents a different position) Broch addresses the question of political
alternatives and answers. The open, sometimes incoherent structure of his argumentation and the post-humanistic worry about the political future of western
society (in which he concurs with Hannah Arendt) contrasts with Freud and
Canetti. Whereas Freud, as in his letter to Einstein, prefers some sort of calmness and composure (Freud 1994, 165177), Canetti, who understood himself as
an anti-Freud, seems to see violence, mass and power as a disastrous fate for
humanity. Beside the enlightening and cathartic shock of the book itself, there

9Hannah Arendt Hermann Broch, Briefwechsel 19451951 (1996) (further quoted as ABB),
letters 36,37, 40, 4344 and 46 (between 20th of February and 28th of June 1949). When Arendt
and Broch exchanged their manuscripts, Arendt commented positively on Brochs revision of
his Naturrechtconcept of human rights, while Brochs explicitly praised Arendts chapter on
human rights in her book on totalitarianism (ABB, 94126).
10Elias Canetti, Das Augenspiel (1985, 2343). Canetti interprets the growing distance
between Broch and himself as a result of Brochs uncritical view of Freud (Dieser war Freud
verfallen, 31).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

is no way to leave this world of cruelty, which is based on anthropological constants.

Until now, Broch has been an author in the shadows of others, at least in the
shadow of Freud, Musil and Canetti. But in his case one can show that his concept
of mass hysteria is an original theory far beyond being a mere copy of Freuds
concept as could be said for Ernst Wei, whose interesting literary case study Der
Augenzeuge (referring to the Hitler of the Munich period) ultimately proves to be a
misogynistic simplification of Freuds concept in which the transfer between the
leader and the crowd is interpreted as a sexual act between man and woman, in
which she is subjected.
What are interesting in regard to Canetti too are not the similarities (which
were rare) but the differences with Broch. Whereas Canetti describes the masses
almost as if they were physical entities, where the superstructure does not play
any role, Brochs intention is to write not so much a theory of the masses but a
theory of their collective mental and emotional state. For Freud, the collective
consciousness of the masses is a pure function of their libido. Although Canetti
analyses in one chapter some mass symbols of modern nations (it is not the best
part of his book), he devotes his attention to the real movement and development
of the masses in their physical state. (Moscovici 1985, 219229) Broch, however, is
the analyst of the superstructure of the historical and the modern masses.
Before discussing these concepts, we should briefly look at those of his
mighty intellectual rivals. Then I shall outline three of his attempts to define the
topic of his study. I analyse them separately because they have three different
starting points and methodological approaches. This way I can show the hesitant, cautious and provisional way in which Broch approaches a subject which
is at once real and non-real and which is extremely vague and fluid.

11See Elias Canetti, Masse und Macht (1980, 559): Wer der Macht beikommen will, der
mu den Befehl ohne Scheu ins Auge fassen und die Mittel finden, ihn seines Stachels zu
12Ernst Wei, Der Augenzeuge (1982, 150): Er [H.] stand nicht mehr oben auf der roh
zusammengezimmerten Tribne, er war neben uns, in uns, in dem Verborgensten whlte
er umher, und er zermalmte uns mit seinem sklavischen Wollustglck, gehorchen, sich
auslschen, unten sein, nichts mehr sein.
13See Hermann Broch, Die Verzauberung (KW 3, 383): Zweifelsohne kann man ein
massenpsychologisches Geschehen durch objektive Darstellungen lebendig machen: man

Fear in Culture


The problem of the topic has to do with the fact that the mass cannot be
easily classified. In regard to the genesis of the mass, you have to analyse the
psychological motives behind it; on the other hand, masses are social entities and
in this way typical topics of the social sciences without the dignity of concreteness. Crowds are also embedded in certain real and symbolic contexts (narratives, symbols, media) in terms of a cultural discourse. (KW 12, 13)
When Freud analyses the leader as the constructive element, as the composer
of the masses, who has a magic rapport of libido with the people he speaks (bertragung and Gegenbertragung) he is not really interested in the phenomenology
of the masses as such, but analyses the leader, the composer and director of the
mass, and its audience as an effect of human beings desire. In any case, Freuds
approach is universal and anthropological, there is no acknowledgement that
cultures and historical epochs may differ in regard to the masses, that specific
symbolic systems produce various forms of real groups. Nor does Freud discuss or
analyse the ideograms, narratives and symbols, the banners and slogans, under
which people will unify as a mass.

kann einen Flagellantenzug darstellen, oder das Gebrll bei einem Fuballmatch, oder die
Volksmengen vor dem Reichskanzlerpalais, von dessen Balkon Hitlers merkwrdige Stimme
ertnt, und man kann auch alle Pogromschrecken sehr anschaulich schildern; aber all diese
Schilderungen sind auch wenn sie einen historischen Hintergrund haben gewissermaen
leere Behauptungen, sie sagen blo aus, da es massenpsychische Bewegungen gibt,
verschweigen jedoch alles ber deren eigentliche Funktion und Wirksamkeit. Will man hierber
Bescheid wissen, so mu man die Einzelseele befragen [] innerhalb des Massenpsychischen
ist der Einzelmensch ohneweiters bereit, die plumpsten Lgen als Wahrheit zu nehmen, sind
Mnner von groer Nchternheit und Selbstkritik fr die phantastischsten Unternehmungen zu
gewinnen, brechen archaische Tendenzen auf, die man lngst in dem Abgrund der Zeit gedacht
hat, hebt ein mythisches Denken innerhalb der Realitt an, nur die Einzelseele, welche zur
Beute solcher Unbegreiflichkeiten wird, vermag hierber Aufschlu zu geben.
14Nur Konkretes kann beobachtet werden, also konkrete Dinge in ihren konkreten
Verhaltungsweisen. Das menschliche Einzelindividuum ist ein derartig konkretes
Beobachtungs- und Untersuchungsobjekt. Eine Menschenmasse hingegen hat nicht die gleiche
15See also in explicit contrast to Freud Hermann Broch, Massenwahntheorie (KW 12,
81): Der Fhrer ist der Exponent eines Wertesystems und der Trger der Dynamik dieses
Systems. Er erscheint, wie gesagt, vor allem als Symbol des Systems. Seine rationalen Zge
und Handlungen sind von untergeordneter Bedeutung. In contrast to the Massenwahntheorie,
Brochs novel Die Verzauberung prefers a more Freudian concept. In all of its three versions
there is a strong emphasis on the sexual transfer between Marius Ratti, the leader who comes
from outside the world of a mountainside village, and Irmgard, die Bergbraut, who represents
the rural collective and the victim of the collective mass hysteria.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

Canettis concept of the masses is also universal and anthropological, so he

can also use ethnographic materials from non-European cultures, material from
Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Canetti denies the importance of the leader,
seeing in him an effect, but not the genesis of the masses. Neither do symbolic
forms play a significant role for the genesis of the masses, nor is Canetti interested
in a psychoanalytical theory explaining the mass as an effect of human libido.
With regard to the individual, the mass offers the only possibility for overcoming
its/his/her fear of contact with someone else, with a stranger. This reservation
about other people has two sides, the fear of touching someone else and the fear
of being touched by them. The mass is the only way human beings can overcome
this fear. But Canetti does not give an interpretation as to why there is a longing
to overcome such a fear. In his eyes this has to do with existential sensitivities.
In spite of the contrasts between Freud and Canetti, the programmatic antiFreudian, both concepts have structural similarities, both arguing with anthropological universals which contain biological elements (libido, fear of touch).
There is no clear divergence between biological and cultural anthropology. Thus,
Canetti describes the mass as a quasi-physical entity, like a mass in a physical
sense, as composed matter. He defines the social matter of the mass by naming
four necessary moments: growth, direction, density and equalities of the components. Two of the phenomena are quite evidently linked with physics (density
and direction), whereas growth might be associated with biological processes.
Only equality has, beyond the physical connotation, a reference to the social and
political world and makes clear that masses are probably important under cultural, political and social conditions where equality is postulated programmatically, as is the case in communism and nationalism.
Brochs concept of Massenwahn differs, as the title suggests, and an enthusiastic reader of Canettis very composed book could easily be disappointed
by the convolution of drafts, essays and chapters in Brochs text (Schuhmann
2000, 3539). He is not interested in the physics of the masses and also avoids a
mere psychoanalytic approach, although, having undergone a psychoanalytical cure, he was much more in favour of Freuds theory than Canetti, who saw
in Freud a dogmatic and authoritarian thinker. The traces of Freud in Brochs

16Elias Canetti, Masse und Macht (1980, 13): Nichts frchtet der Mensch mehr als die
Berhrung durch Unbekannte. Man will sehen, was nach einem greift, man will es erkennen
oder zumindest einreihen knnen. berhaupt weicht der Mensch der Berhrung durch Fremdes
17Elias Canetti, Das Augenspiel (1985, 37): Er [Broch] stand brigens so sehr zu Freud,
da er auch gar nicht davor zurckscheute, dessen Termini in ihrer vollen, unangezweifelten
Bedeutung in einem ernsten und spontanen Gesprch zu verwenden. Angesichts seiner groen

Fear in Culture


studies on the masses are easy to find: the use of terms like neurosis, psychosis
and hysteria (KW 12, 282) are part of a psychological discourse; his concept of
culture as symbolic sublimation machinery and also the highly problematic use
of words like ill and healthy in the contexts of mental and emotional condition
can be seen as a typical issue of psychological discourse. Broch uses psychological and psychoanalytical terminology, in contrast to Freud who tried to describe
the mass as a neutral issue (which also includes positive aspects: solidarity). As
a special form to satisfy the desire of the libido, Broch pointed out that the mentality which triggers off the genesis of the masses is some sort of illness, a deviation from normal healthy behaviour (KW 12, 13). In his first working hypothesis
(Vorschlag zur Grndung eines Forschungsinstituts fr politische Psychologie), in
which he (following Freuds Unbehagen in der Kultur but not his Massenpsychologie) defines culture as a rational control and regulation of irrational metaphysical
needs and instinctive urges, Broch differentiates typically between two ways of
dealing with them (and with other peoples, and in the context of collectives). The
first possibility for a single human being but also for a whole culture (and its work
on irrationality), Broch calls Irrationalbereicherung (irrationality enrichment).
Here the single person or a whole culture is able to produce some sort of an irrationality grant, which is necessary not only for the satisfaction of the needs and
urges, but also for their cultural transformation into communal spirits and senses
of community. Broch refers to the ethically founded lifestyle of a community with
its cultural bonds and its artistic and aesthetic shaping of existence. The other
contrastive way Broch describes is that of Rationalverarmung (rationality
impoverishment). This means a loss of rationality. The individual, the group or a
whole culture becomes incapable. Here, rational behaviour will be substituted by
collective instincts. The rationalisation is a result of these: because a lot of people
share these irrational issues, it receives some sort of legitimacy: the non-ethical
revival of uncontrolled instincts seems to be ethical, because it happens en masse
(KW 12, 1214).
Interestingly, Broch points out that the inability to deal with irrationality in
a symbolic way may be the result of fear, but not a fear of touch as in Canetti (as
a result of a reflex of self-protection), but a fear of insanity and madness, the
unrealised fear of the dark side of reason. Rationality includes for Broch, as for

philosophischen Belesenheit mute mir das Eindruck machen, so unangenehm ich es empfand,
da er Freud selbst Kant, den er sehr verehrte, Spinoza und Plato gleichstellte. Was im
damaligen Wiener Wortgebrauch zu alltglicher Banalitt geraten war, sprach er neben Worten
aus, die durch die Verehrung von Jahrhunderten, auch durch seine eigene, geheiligt waren.
18Cf. Gernot and Hartmut Bhme, Das Andere der Vernunft (1992).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

Freud, the ability of the individual to confront himself/herself with the uncanny
Other. Broch splits the Cartesian cogito into its two elements. Whereas the cogito
is related to truth, and to rational knowledge, the sum refers to the irrational
moment of life and value. The human being has no choice, he has to assimilate
the outside world into his ego by transforming it into a value (the German word
Einverleibung is associated with a process of integration of a material into the
body). Value in Broch means something similar to Cassirers symbolic form.
(Schumann 2000, 913) So, culture on the symbolic level is a form of participation, to make the world familiar, or in other words an ego enlargement. So the fear
in Brochs study is not a fear of touch but a fear of a horror vacui with which the
ego is confronted (KW 12. 16f).
Here we are very near the world of the dying Vergil and it is evident that Broch
combines here an existentialist diagnosis with a theory of culture. In an existentialist perspective, culture is something which transcends the elementary fear of
the human being. In contrast, those value elements which cannot be integrated
or assimilated by the ego have an effect as premonitory and urgent moments
which evoke fear, symbols of metaphysical fear and symbols of death itself.
There are different levels of the enlargement of the ego in order to make the
world familiar and banish the fear. There are real enlargements of the ego by
clothes, by property and power, by love and violence, both the extreme poles of
a breakthrough to the human neighbour; there are also illusionary enlargements
such as drunkenness or symbolic enlargements through rational knowledge.

19I agree that Brochs concept refers to Rudolf Hermann Lotze, Max Weber and Rickert but
also let us not forget to Georg Simmel, whom Broch studied quite intensively.
20[] berall dort, wo das Ich in solchem Bestreben gehindert wird, berall, wo es an die
Grenzen der Fremd-Welt stt und sie nicht zu berschreiten vermag, berall dort entsteht
des Wertes Gegen-Zustand, dort entsteht Angst: das Ich wird sich dann pltzlich seiner a priori
gegebenen Einsamkeit bewut, es wei um die metaphysische Einsamkeit seines Sterbens.
21KW 12, 17f: Alle Weltbestandteile, welche vom Ich nicht einverleibt sind oder nicht
einverleibt werden knnen, wirken als Angstmahnungen, als Symbole der metaphysischen
Angst, als Symbole der Todeseinsamkeit, als Symbole des Todes schlechthin. Sie sind Ichfremd, und alles Fremde wird solcherart zum Angst-Symbol, m.a.W. wird zum Gegenstand
der tiefsten metaphysischen Abneigung, zum symbolischen Objekt fr den Todes-Ha.
Niemals wre zu verstehen, da ein weier Fleck auf der Landkarte fr die Menschheit derart
beunruhigend sein knnte, wie er es eben ist, niemals wre zu verstehen, da zu seiner
Bewltigung gefahrvolle und kostspielige Expeditionen in an sich hchst gleichgltige
Gegenden geschickt werden, wenn er nicht jenes symbolische Beunruhigungselement in sich
trge, das eben das der metaphysischen Fremdheit ist, wenn durch seine Bewltigung nicht
Wertgefhle ausgelst werden wrden, die weit ber den praktischen Wert und die praktischen
Ergebnisse einer geographischen Expedition hinausgingen.

Fear in Culture


There are, as Broch points out in his second draft Entwurf fr eine Theorie
massenwahnartiger Erscheinungen (1943) (KW 12, 4366), two ways of dealing
with this elementary fear. One is to accept and realise it; this is the way of irrationality enrichment, the other one rationality impoverishment is to try to
suppress and remove it. The first one, in which the ego is the world, Broch also
identifies with love, the second one, in which the ego tries to have the world, he
identifies with violence. In violence there is the wish to catch the irritating, the
foreign Other, where in the case of love one accepts that the foreign Other will
be outside of you and that it is impossible to assimilate him/her/it. Like death,
love marks as later in Levinas the boundary of the possibility of culturally
marking a territory (KW 12, 1725).
Culture, far from being only a system of regulation (as in Freuds Unbehagen)
is the way of enlargement of the ego and the way of fear reduction. There is a clear
difference between Freud and Broch, because the author of Der Tod des Vergil
sees religion as the heart of culture and as a symbolic medium for working on
fear. For Broch ecstasy is the highest form of liberation from fear. In contrast,
panic is the loss of hope of being liberated from inescapable fear, the origin of the
modern masses. It is not the longing to overcome the fear of touch (as in Canetti),
but panic itself that fears the building of the masses. That is the goal of a value
system, as Broch remarks in his third piece, Eine Studie ber Massenhysterie.
Beitrge zu einer Psychologie der Politik (1943).
Already in his second essay, Broch emphasises and this marks a significant
difference to Freud and Canetti that the genesis of the masses also has to be
seen from historical, social, economic and cultural perspectives. There are ages
in which phenomena of crowd psychology play an enormous role. The preconditions may be social, cultural or political. The appearance of the masses is linked
to the structure and the existence of classes, states and parties but also with
catastrophic political, natural or economic events. In some of his essays Broch
refers to specific modern mass phenomena such as the dominance of the pictorial
element in the media, the paradigm of sport, and the tyranny of money and measurement (KW 12, 21). They all symbolise for Broch, as for Adorno and T.S. Eliot,
the longing of crowds which are threatened by panic. Here is the opportunity
to acquire what Broch calls super-satisfaction (Superbefriedigung), an additional satisfaction which is anaesthesia of fear by mobilising collective aggressive

22Emmanuel Levinas, Die Zeit und der Andere (1984, 5). In this early version of Levinas theory
of the other, love is neither a possibility nor our initiative, it is a contingent moment we fall in
love, but nevertheless our self survives.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

instincts. The Superbefriedigung (super-satisfaction) can be defined in contrast

to authentic ecstasy as a pseudo-ecstasy (KW 12, 22, 56f, 365378).
Broch also examines the role of the leader, and here his position lies between
Freud, who argues that leadership is essential for the genesis of masses, and
Canetti, who resolutely denies its importance. For Broch, the leader transforms
the mass into a historical issue by giving it a direction and a goal. The appearance
of a leader in a mass movement also indicates the dimension of despair. Brochs
dualistic concept, which always assesses the difference between the positive and
healthy integration of the foreign Other and the negative and self-destructive
rejection thereof, distinguishes between the authentic founder of religion and
the demonic demagogue. They represent different eras and different systems
of belief. Broch suggests that there is an intrinsic connection between a closed
system based on fixed value dogmatics and a closed mass. The open system is
based on the presupposition that the world is indefinite and that the absolute
is only an indefinite remote destination which can never be reached. An open
system is able to balance the individual and society by producing a maximum of
material security, emotional security and epistemological security (KW 12, 49f,
76, 250ff). So Brochs concept of mass hysteria and mass mania is normative from
the very beginning. The interesting point is that it is not the contemporary civil
society, but the Augustinian civitas dei which in his ranking comes first. In other
words, Broch, who favours a new socialism beyond the totality of communism
and fascism (KW 12,375), is a left-liberal communitarist.
This has to do with the fact that Broch sees the capitalistic bourgeois systems
in decline as he has described in his Sleepwalker trilogy. Modern society is unable
to produce material, symbolic or emotional security. So as in the Middle Ages
the breakdown of the value system appears unavoidable. Panic mass movements
arise as a result of emotional and symbolic disintegration. Modern mass movements are characterised by extreme panic, so they need leaders who promise to
liberate them from this panic and to produce reparation and revenge, a sadistic
mode of super-satisfaction.

23In regard to Brochs third way position, see his letters to Hannah Arendt. He rejects the
invitation to the Berliner Kongre fr kulturelle Propaganda because he wants to avoid the
political instrumentalisation of his person in the times of the Cold War: [] in Berlin habe ich
wirklich nichts verloren. Hannah Arendt, who agrees with Broch, replies polemically: Diese
ungarischen Juden la Koestler werden dadurch nicht angenehmer, da man Hitler das Recht
absprechen mute, sie totzuschlagen. (ABB, 142, 145).

Fear in Culture


Broch constructs a philosophy of history which resembles Spengler with

psychic cycles,at least in two of the versions of his Massenwahnpsychologie The
first version includes four stages:
Stage 1: The making absolute of the value system (withdrawal of reality control)
leads to
Stage 2: Hypertrophy and autonomy (mass mania from above)
leads to
Stage 3: Shaking of the absolute value system (reality proof)
leads to
Stage 4: Emancipation of the lower value systems and value fragmentation (Mass mania
from below) (KW 12, 54 f).

In a later version Broch modifies his model by adapting the figure of the neurotic
and psychotic in his theoretical framework. Whereas the neurotic is in permanent
struggle because of the difference between inside and outside reality, the symbolic system of the psychotic is closed and he is quite carefree, with no worries
about victory or defeat. So history becomes a psychic cycle in which normality
changes with neurosis and psychosis:
Stage 1: Domination of the central value system;
Stage 2: Disintegration, which becomes hypertrophied (psychosis);
Stage 3: Establishing of reality:
Stage 4: Value fragmentation (neurosis). (KW 12, 292)

For Broch, there is no doubt that modern mankind suffers from fragmentation
and disintegration. Therefore the appearance of panicked masses will continue
until a new value-system has been established. At the same time, there is a lack of
material security. So what modern societies need is both religion as well as a sort
of democratic and open Marxism.
Thus, Broch delivers a concept which is ambitious and unwieldy. Its contradictions far from being the result of the fragmentary character of the work
or the trans-disciplinary approach he had in mind are obvious. For example,
there is a strong contradiction between his philosophy of history and his normative concept: the indifferent Olympian and deterministic point of view about
history which contrasts with Brochs fight for humanist or post-humanist culture.
His ambivalence in regard to culture and religion, but also to Marxism, anticipates post-modern ambivalence, whereas the polarity of his concept the polarity between irrationality enrichment and rationalit impoverishment is quite

24Cf. Ltzeler (1997, 87105).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

obviously the result of a psychological discourse which obeys the binary system
healthy/ill. This discourse is linked to a political and normative one. Despite
Brochs deep pessimism in regard to his own era, his work includes an optimistic
message: the healthiest solution in politics and culture is also the best one from
an ethical perspective. So, in some aspects his thinking is problematic, but in
many ways quite contemporary for example, his ideas on culture, which anticipate some ideas of contemporary German Kulturwissenschaften, and his ideas
of the foreign Other, which can be compared with the those of Kristeva (1988)
or Levinas. There is no doubt that his ideas on human rights are quite relevant
today. In this way, one could say that Broch is a much more political and moralistic thinker than Freud and Canetti. In addition, his psychological approach,
although it may be some sort of modern talmi religion, is meanwhile a part of the
symbolic system of our post-modern culture.
So the analyst of cultural fragmentation proves to be a fragmented analyst.
The hope we have in response to Brochs pessimism is that it is possible to live
fragmentarily without being a victim of new totalitarian mass movements which
were able to produce the super-super-satisfaction of the Shoah, the perfect crime,
because of the closed system of mass mania which he describes as a result of
Three concepts of the masses thus exist, with great ambitions and with universal claims to recognition: the masses and libido, the masses and the fear
of touch, the masses and the horror vacui. To respect historical greatness it is
helpful to be modest. But to be modest may also be a contribution to wisdom,
because all these theories try to explain everything. And this is too much. It
would be interesting to subject them to an endurance test. September 11 could be
such a test. I think here of Canettis double masses, but also of Brochs concept of
panic. All these concepts have, besides their universal and anthropological claim
of recognition, something in common: they all meditate upon the masses without
looking at media and media change. But the existence of the modern masses is
due not least to the existence of media which organise virtually millions of people
on a national but also on a global level.

Mass Hysteria and the Physics

of the Crowd
Canetti and Broch A Theoretical Divorce
Aufklrung ist die radikal gewordene mythische Angst
Es darf berhaupt nichts mehr drauen sein, weil die bloe
Vorstellung des Drauen die eigentliche Quelle der Angst ist.
Max Horkheimer/Theodor W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklrung

There arent two concepts about the crowd in modern culture that are more different from each other than Brochs and Canettis, although both were contemporaries and friends. They differ with regard to the intellectual temperament,
the rhetoric, the use of language and the gesture. On the one hand, there is a
curiosity for the real phenomena and the lust to be a fearless observer; on the
other there is a sceptical attempt of research and intellectual reflection and also
a deep irritation, which is intellectual and personal at once. But there is also a
deep and astonishing similarity in this parallel intellectual acting. Both writers
have the idea to explain the genesis of the crowds with regard to a human quality:
the feeling of insecurity. Fear, anxiety, panic. In the very beginning of his essay,
Canetti describes and analyses very impressively the fear of human beings to get
touched. In contrast, Broch starts his analysis of the collective illusions of the
crowd with fundamental reflections on the conditions of the possibility of massillusions, which are the result of fear of existence and of death. With regard to
their common focus fear and anxiety-they differ from their common intellectual
background and counterpart: from Sigmund Freuds psychoanalysis. Nearly all
of his life, Canetti has written against Freud although he does mention him very
rarely whereas Broch integrates the psychoanalysis in his concept of the crowd.
Brochs theory of mass-illusion can be seen as a heretic psychoanalytic theory
that is enlarged and enriched by the reception of Heidegger and Binswanger. With

1Broch Massenwahntheorie. Beitrge zu einer Psychologie der Politik is quoted KW 12 and

follows the edition of the Kommentierte Werkausgabe (1979). Canettis essay Masse und Macht
ist quoted MM and follows the original edition (1960).
2For a first approach to Brochs concept see Mller-Funk (2003).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

other words, Canetti and Broch are linked with two classical discourses, which
are typical and characteristic in and for modernity, the discourse about fear and
anxiety in occidental modernism after Gods death and the discourse about
the forms of mass-manifestation which are specific in the context of history.
Canettis concept of Berhrungsfurcht (fear of being touched) quite evidently
is influenced by a biological behaviourism, which levels the difference between
animal and human being. In contrast, Broch refers to a philosophical discourse,
which has begun with Kierkegaards meditations about fear, and includes Heideggers famous analysis of existence and being (Sein). Heidegger does not refer
to anxiety and fear explicitly, but it is quite clear that his idea of Sorge (which has
a stronger meaning than the English word sorrow) entails all the phenomena
which are described by the word fear; so, one can say that Binswangers analysis
of existence is an adaptation of Heidegger as of Kierkegaard. It is striking that
Broch does not mention any of those theoretic.
Canettis essayism very often coincides with the position of a narrator who
is an anthropologist or a behaviourist, an attentive, participating, but distant
observer. On contrary, the voice in Brochs text, half an essay, half an academic
wok, is speaking from an inside perspective. It resembles the monologue interieur
Broch has programmatically used in Der Tod des Vergil (Virgils Death).
Freuds contribution to this history of discourse is quite ambivalent, as Wolfgang Wein (1992) has pointed out in his study Angst und Vernunft. An der Grenze von
Rationalem und Nichtrationalem im menschlichen Denken und Handeln (Anxiety
and Reason. On the Borderline between Rationality and non-Rationality in Human
thinking and Practice). In his lectures on the introduction into psychoanalysis,
Freud emphasises the central meaning of fear. In his eyes, fear is a crossing point
where different and important questions meet in. Moreover, it is a riddle whose
answering would have to bring into light about our whole inner life. For Freud,
anxiety (Angst) is situated in the Ego, in an Ego that sees itself permanently confronted with three dangers: threatens from the external world, claims from the
internal unconscious world and also from the claims of a paternal instance, the
ber-Ich, the Hyper-Ego, the voice of conscience. Also in its revisited dualistic
version, Freuds theory, (including the Todestrieb (desire and longing for death)
does, however, not allow to focuses fear and anxiety as an elementary and exis-

3Binswanger (1942); Ellenberger, (1985, 11641168); Herzog (1994); Vetter, (1990).

4Ltzeler (1988). Ltzeler refers also to the fact that Spenglers philosophy of history played
a significant role for the literary construction of the Roman Empire as for the crisis in and of
modern culture, which is so central in Brochs work. Especially Brochs cyclic concept of history
is an adaptation of Spenglers philosophy.

Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd


tential feeling anxiety is always a secondary phenomenon, a form of reaction.

As Freud points out, anxiety is a common coin for which one can exchange all
affective impulses (Freud 1987, 308). As before Kierkegaard and later Heidegger, the founder of Psychoanalysis differentiates between Furcht (fear) and
Angst (anxiety). He defines Furcht as the expectation of danger and the preparation for it, also in the case that it is an unknown one. In contrast, fear needs a
certain object of which one is afraid. (Ibd.) Thus, Freud is going on with a discourse (which is in contrast to the common use of the German words, which dont
make this clear differentiation) Kierkegaard has developed. In his philosophical
work, fear refers to a specific reaction to a specific situation which is limited, a
situation which is seen or interpreted as dangerous and dreadful (Wein 1992, 67),
whereas anxiety at least in Kierkegaard, Heidegger und also Broch is a permanent disposition, which is part of the existence as a human being as such and
has a concrete vis vis besides the nothing, the death, the loss of the self in all
its aspects. To use Kierkegaards emphasised terminology, anxiety, but not fear is
linked to original sin, which is seen in analogy to the process of individuation. It
is the Ego, which constitutes itself by saying no to God, and loses it innocence.
Thus, one could say, fear that comes and goes is not connected existentially with
human condition, whereas anxiety is part of the development of human being,
of this story, which is told in the genesis symbolically. Both, creature and man
have fear, but only man has anxiety. Or more precisely, anxiety, elementary fear,
is grasping human beings. In Freuds logic argumentation, there cannot be an
anxiety, which is not a fear of something at the end. In Freud, anxiety is a form of
fear that maintains unconscious.
Broch and Canetti relate to the modern philosophical discourse on fear and
anxiety, but in a different way. Canetti discusses and illustrates the crowd in its
real psycho-physical existence with reference to the fear of being touched. In
contrast, Broch describes the existential deep structure of the collective revolt
based on a on an exaggerated and hopeless anxiety which appears long before
the unloading of the energy the crowd represents. Canetti is the essayist of the
fear, a fear that is as unstable as the crowd itself. The crowd is the phenomenon,
which makes fear real und, gives it a real stage. Broch, however, is the very analytic of the latent and existential anxiety, which comes to light under the conditions of a modern world, a world without obligatory symbolic forms and values.
With reference to these historical circumstances, the outbreak of mass hysteria
becomes extraordinarily probable. On the other hand, Canetti in the intention
to become clear takes the role of the quasi-scientific observer, which has not
emotions and especially no fears for the phenomenon he analyses: the crowd. He
suggests the self-understanding of an anthropologist who is a curious and at the
same time an indolent special-observer. Considering the terrorist and the light


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

consumerist totalitarianism, Broch has fear of the crowd. He seeks for a way out
of a precarious historical situation. Both authors have to some degree a leftist
tendency. Canettis view of the crowd is ambivalent, whereas Brochs is negative.
Especially in the beginning of his occupation with the topic, Canetti who was a
left wing participant of the mass demonstration in front of the Justizpalast, had a
positive perspective with regard to the crowd, Broch, however who was a fellow
traveller of the social democrats in the 1920s had always a horror. So, Canetti
represents a post-Marxist approach, Broch a discourse that could be described as
conservative with regard to culture (kulturkonservativ).

It is not quite easy to explain how the both parts of Canettis huge essay are really
fit together. For the Machthaber (despotic ruler) is not identical with the leader of
the crowd, whose necessity for constituting various crowds is denied by Canetti in
contrast to Freuds psychoanalysis of the masses in which the libidinous relationship between the leader and the crowds is striking. The strong sides of Canettis
work are besides of the impressive and powerful language and the innovative
metaphors his excellent material, the plenty of examples: there is the ethnographic material from the rain-dances to the Muharram-festival of the Shiites, the
case study on Schreber, the story about the saving of Flavius Josephus and die
obsession of the Indian sultan Muhammad Tughlak whose fear of his surrounding makes him a permanent murderer. The illustrative material and the simple
typology, which he works out only with reference to the crowds, cover the fact
that Canettis literary and essayistic approach is to a high degree very descriptive. The author categorically denies analysing the specific historical and cultural
presuppositions for the rise of the crowds and absolute ruler ship. Canettis cognitive and conceptional metaphorology (cf. Scott 1993) provokes the suspicion
that his theory is based on a biological or moreover a biologist fundament.
It entails also an unsystematic version of etology that does not allow making a
clear difference between human and animal behaviour. It is not contingent that
Canettis again and again connects metaphors from animal kingdom with the
world of hunting, especially in the chapters where he deals with the Flucht- and
the Hetzmasse (flight-crowd; chase-crowd). This use of metaphors is especially
significant in his description of Meuten (packs), which generates automatically
a symbolic space of a wolfs haunt. Also the grip of the lion, the cat beast prey
is such a metaphoric complex, which becomes the illustrative paradigm for the
relationship between violence and power. Canettis reductionism that ironically
surpasses that of his counterpart, Freud, and contains a crude synthesis of eti-

Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd


ology, anthropology and biology, has two crucial consequences for the logic of
his discourse. It makes a systematic psychological insight of the phenomenon
avoidable and senseless, and it concedes a radical a-moralistic perspective that
hidden pathetic indolence that suggests an indifferent observer who is able to
withstand against the elementary dread and terror. Gottfried Benn has written
that the liberal humanist is unable to keep in eye with violence vis vis. Canetti
has worked out a black anthropology which intents to see cruelty and violence
with the own eyes, a negative anthropology which has become unavoidable after
the catastrophe of the Third Reich and the Shoah.
But what have the tyrannical ruler and the crowds in common if the despotic
ruler is not automatically identical with the master of the crowd? Moreover, it
could be that the crowds threaten his existence. The answer is very simple: it is
an involuntary reflex in human (and animal) behaviour. Canettis work, which
significantly makes no difference between anxiety and fear, begins in a very apodictic way. It points out that man does not fear more than to get touched by the
unknown other.
In my view, one must save Canetti from Canetti, the precise observer and the
brilliant essayist from the apodictic theoretic. What is decisive here, is, that it
is the unknown that creates fear, scare, terror, panic. The danger always comes
from outside. To speak with Sartre, the Other is the hell. He; or she, the housekeeper who becomes the terrifying wife, as is the case in Die Blendung. It is always
the Other which grasp for me. In Canettis interpretation, we have a biological
equipment that makes us to beings which are in a permanent state of attack and
defence. The extreme version of successful resistance against the threats from
outside is not at least the crowd with its instincts and reflexes; the extreme
version of the attack is the victorious aggressor who assimilates imbibes and
incorporates all the unknown, strange and hostile. He is the feeder because of
fear and and lust of power. The fear of being be touched is the existence of a creature which is a potential prey and victim of terror. The Machthaber, the absolute
ruler, has realised that attacking is the best way of defence to get rid of the fear of
being touched.

5Nichts frchtet der Mensch mehr als die Berhrung durch Unbekanntes. Man will sehen,
was nach einem greift, man will es erkennen oder zumindest einreihen knnen. berall weicht
der Mensch der Berhrung durch Fremdes aus. Nachts oder im Dunkel berhaupt kann der
Schrecken ber eine unerwartete Berhrung sich ins Panische steigern. [] Alle Abstnde, die
die Menschen um sich geschaffen haben, sind von dieser Berhrungsfurcht diktiert. Man sperrt
sich in Huser ein, in die niemand eintreten darf, nur in ihnen fhlt man sich halbwegs sicher.
Die Angst vor dem Einbrecher gilt nicht seinen ruberischen Absichten allein, sie ist auch eine
Furcht vor seinem pltzlichen, unerwarteten Griff aus dem Dunkel. (MM, 9).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

In his essay, Canetti gives further examples of the overwhelming importance

of the fear of being touched. He refers to typical situations, how we move in the
urban space, in the streets, to the behaviour in a restaurant or in the railway. It is
always the same, we try to avoid any body-contact. After he has described our fear
of being touched in the strong Ouverture of his opus maximum, there is the next
apodictic turn. The author risks the uncautious thesis that it is only the crowd
that redeem us from the evil of that fear.
If I have understood the logic of argumentation behind this rhetorically
impressive, meta-historical description of a virutal mega-body correctly, then it
means that there is a dialecticic turn: the powerless single human being which is
plagued and tormented by its latent or actual fear of being touched turns over to a
flight forward. Considering a threatening attack from outside, which seems to be
more dreadful than the everyday fear of being touched, (s)he overcomes this fear
and becomes one common body.
But is it really true that it is only the crowd which can redeem us from Canettis basic fear? Does notthe human being, man and woman alike, overcome this
fear of the Other and unknown, hesitatingly indeed, by the love and tenderness,
which the French philosopher Levinas has described so paradoxically as a concession and confession of a structural failure to grasp and hold the other in a
fixed position? (Levinas 1984, 5661) In this interpretation, caressing and stroking would be the denial of the desire to keep the other under eternal control.
We do not primarily argue in that direction because to contrast Canettis black
anthropology that entails the plot that man is a beast of prey and its victim at once
with a more positive perspective of the human. I only wish to point out, that Canettis interpretation is much too restricted. On the one hand, love in its urging to
assimilate (incorporate) the unknown and to overcome the abyss between inside
and outside, has quite evidently its precarious aspects. On the other, love produces a new elementary form of fear: the fear of being left alone. Thus, people in

6Es ist die Masse allein, in der der Mensch von dieser Berhrungsfurcht erlst werden kann.
Sie ist die einzige Situation, in der diese Furcht in ihr Gegenteil umschlgt. Es ist die dichte
Masse, die man dazu braucht, in der Krper an Krper drngt, dicht auch in ihrer seelischen
Verfassung, nmlich so, da man darauf achtet, wer es ist, der einen bedrngt. Sobald man
sich der Masse einmal berlassen hat, frchtet man ihre Berhrung nicht. In ihrem idealen Fall
sind sich alle gleich. Keine Verschiedenheit zhlt, nicht einmal die der Geschlechter. Wer immer
einen bedrngt, ist das gleiche wie man selbst. Man sprt ihn, wie man sich selber sprt. Es
geht dann alles pltzlich wie innerhalb eines Krpers vor sich. (MM,10).

Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd


modern societies, men as women, run to and fro between the longing for radical
autonomy and the wish for safety.
Canettiss theory of the crowd is a theory which could be described by a variation of a famous sentence of Lacan: lamour nexiste pas. Because of that, Canetti
does not refer to that phenomenon of love, which is so important for the genesis
of the crowds (not of all crowds, but of all crowds with a relative duration and a
specific relevance). In as much as Canetti reduces the constitution of the crowd
to overcoming an automatic reflex; the aspect of desire of the mass in which the
longing for love has its important part has no place in his system. It seems to be
transformed into that energy which is necessary to build a mega-body from the
ensemble of single human beings
Canettis reductionism is still more striking in the second part of the book
where he deals with violence and power. Here, Canetti works out the hidden
impulses and motives behind the ugly face of the lonesome despotic ruler. It is
a panorama of obsessions. In contrast to the first part, the author does not only
take the role of the anthropologist but also that of a psychologist.
As I have mentioned, also in the second part of the book touching plays a
prominent role. At the very beginning of the part, Canetti points out that the psychology of grasping and incorporating has not yet written. This implies the directions for the reader to understand Masse und Macht as such a psychology and
philosophy of hand gripping and of the palpable. Canetti depicts a phenomenology of the hand, which is seen as an archaic instrument of animalistic empowerment (MM, 228).
Interpreting or deconstructing theories always mean not only to look to
which topics they refer. It is also important to see which topics remains mute and
silent. There is no reference to the hand that is an instrument for writing or to the
hand, which is so important in the tender encounter between human beings. In
Canettis radical reduction, the hand advances to the central organ of power. The
(despotic) ruler is the beast of prey that transforms and changes all his co-human

7Bongardt (1995, 46): Sobald die symbiotische Einheit des Suglings mit seiner Mutter
zerbrochen ist, wird die menschliche Entwicklung von zwei widerstreitenden Strebungen
geprgt. Dem Wunsch nach Selbstndigkeit, nach Ausdehnung und Selbstbehauptung steht die
Sehnsucht nach Geborgenheit und Eins-Sein mit anderen entgegen. Diese Gegenstzlichkeit
in einem realistischen Selbst- und Weltbild integriert zu haben, stellt neben der der
Ausbildung der Unterscheidung zwischen Selbst und Objekt, d.h. zwischen Ich und Umwelt, in
psychodynamischer Sicht die Hauptbedingung fr eine gesunde Entwicklung des Individuums
8Die Finger tasten, was dem Krper bald ganz gehren wird. (MM, 234).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

beings into mice which he saves up for the symbolic and real feeding at the right
In contrast to the animal beast of prey the human has yet another motive
for his wish for capturing and incorporating. He wants to get rid of his potential
rival. He is emancipated from the fear, to become the victim of another mighty
person who could transform him, like in Kafkas famous tale into a nothing, a
beetle; or a fly or a flea. With reference to the first part of the book, the thesis
about overcoming the fear of being touched by building a crowd was half-true. It
is absolute empowerment, which guarantees an end of threat and inviolability.
The bad news is: one can never be sure. But, nevertheless, to be mighty means the
impossibility of being touched or kept. (MM, 228).
This situation is connected with another motive, the phantasm of surviving:
the oriental despot in Canetti (Canetti is an interesting example of a westernised
Orientalism) who puts aside all his competitors will survive, he wins power from
his action. Surviving also means not to be kept and bruised by the grip of death,
which also comes from outside as all the unknown. Behind the fear of being
touched it is death, which lies in wait, for you a central theme in Canettis whole
work. In his drama Die Befristeten (Limited people) the omnipresence of death
is the precondition for establishing absolute power. To this extent, one can say
that Canettis anthropology, too, is determined by the dominant topic of death in
modernity, which is a death after Gods death which the French theoretic Jean
Baudrillard has described in a self-commentary to his influential Der symbolische
Tausch und der Tod (Symbolic Exchange and Death).
Here, perhaps, is the boundary between the anthropological approach and a
modern philosopher of death that is no longer based a biology and etology. Here
is a field of discourse, which is familiar with the discourse of fear and anxiety and
maybe is constitutive for it: the death in modernity. Death is stronger than the
ruler, however despotic and powerful he may be, this ruler who wants to overcome him by eliminating and killing all his potential rivals who make an attempt
of his life really or supposedly. And, because this type of ruler is extremely suspicious and perfect, all human beings are potential rivals. The phantasm of the
Machthaber which has some similarities with Freud patriarch of the Urhorde is
in Canettis eyes the wish to be alone in the world, to survive all the others.

9[] will berleben; er krftigt sich daran. (MM, 268).

10Baudrillard et al. (1983, 68): Es bleibt ein ewiger Antagonismus zwischen Subjekt und
Objekt, Leben und Tod usw.; die beiden Pole werden nicht aufgehoben, sie bleiben immer
antagonistisch. Es gibt da vielleicht eher ein Prinzip des bels als ein Prinzip der Vershnung,
ein Prinzip der Unvershnung, das darunter liegt.

Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd


Canetti does not mention another, less cruel, method of surviving: it is surviving through monuments of memory, which seem to guarantee life after death.
The connection between terror and monumentalisation is quite evident as one
can see in Stalins Communist empire, in Mao Tse Tungs China, in Ceaucescus
Romania or in Saddam Husseins Iraq. All these dictators can be described with
Canetti as obsessive characters which are moved by fear of being touched and by
the thirst of surviving. They become offensive and aggressive: terror as a way to
react to fear. Creating fright and fear implies banishing ones own anxiety. It was
Kierkegaard who interpreted Neros cruelty in this sense, as Michael Bongards
points out in his commentary to Entweder-Oder (Either-Or).
In this perspective, anxiety can be seen as a phenomenon of alterity, as a
defence against the personal and the non-personal-Other. The unification in the
crowd and the attempt to establish absolute power prove to be two contrastive
and complementary strategies to guard against the other. It is the phantasm of
banning danger forever by eliminating the Other.
For man who lives in total fear of the Other, the unknown, the stranger, it
seems extremely attractive either to disappear in the ocean of the crowd or to keep
a distance from the Other through self-empowerment. It could be a mechanism
that is relatively independent from the political, economic and social context,
although this may modify it. But whereas the people in the crowd have the experience of a real community event (very often by acting out their aggression against
the hostile outside) the lust of power, which is so successful in producing distance, control, elimination and death to all others, has its price: radical lonelinness. Canetti has sympathy for extremes; therefore he mentions all the civil uses
of power besides some cursory references to the English parliament in only
a few words. But all these societies have the claim the reality may differ to
control both extremes. They control the march of the crowds as the use of power.

11See also Jan Assmann/Tonio Hlscher 1988..

12Bongardt (1995, 16f.): [Nero] standen in seiner Machtflle smtliche Genumglichkeiten
offen und dennoch lebte er nicht als vollendet glcklicher Mensch, sondern als von
Schwermut und Angst gehetzter Tyrann, der schlielich in seiner Verzweiflung keinen anderen
Ausweg mehr sah, als die fr ihn bedrohlichen Menschen mit seiner Macht derart zu ngstigen,
da sie ihm nicht mehr zu nahe traten.
13MM, 220223; Hanuschek (2005, 437455).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

To some degree, Brochs never finished Mass Hysteria which was not published in
his lifetime can be seen as a theoretical summa and a key to the understanding of
his literary work which is occupied with a bundle of problems: the loss of values,
anxiety, the social crisis, attempts at resistance and overcoming. His novels have
very mediocre heroes for example in the Sleepwalker-trilogy, a naive Prussian
officer who is in love with a woman of the demimonde, an unemployed clerk, a
swindler and war profiteer, men who have lost their way in the symbolic space of
modern society. They are unbalanced persons, dominated by their unconscious.
Sleepwalking advances to a metaphor for an inner condition, which is characterised by half consciousness, in which anxiety and fear are inscribed. In Der Tod
des Vergil the Roman poet, sick to death, is confronted to use Canettis terminology with a feast crowd. In Brochs own terminology the Rationalverarmung
(rationality impoverishment) of the feast crowd is opposed to the die Irrationalbereicherung (irrationality enrichment) that is the result for example of poetry.
Whereas the poet confronts himself with death, the crowd, which celebrates the
arrival of the emperor (Canettis ruler), tries to escape into the drunkenness of the
feast. It is the crowd which narcotises the anxiety about the Other, the unknown,
The novel can be understood as a pretentious literary meditation, a poetic
self-therapy to overcome the fear of death. This is true for both sides, the writer
and its implicit reader, because there cannot be any doubt that in Brochs novel

14Entpuppt sich da das menschliche Geschehen, wie immer und wo immer es statthatte,
nicht unweigerlich als Ausflu der kreatrlichen Angst, als ein besessenes Angstgeschehen,
aus dessen Dmmerkerker es kein Entrinnen und kein Ausbrechen gibt, da es die Angst der im
Dickicht verirrten Kreatur ist? [] besser denn je verstand er die unverlschliche Hoffnung der
kreatrlichen Massen, verstand er, was die dort drunten, Stimmen und Aberstimmen auch sie,
von ihrem wildverzweifelten Gegrle begehrten, verstand er sie, wenn sie an ihrer Inbrunst,
an ihrer Pbelinbrunst unverbrchlich und unbelehrbar hafteten, aus sich herausschreiend, in
sich hineinschreiend, es mge und msse in dem Gestrpp eine ausgezeichnete, eine strkste,
eine auergewhnliche Stimme geben, eine Fhrerstimme, der sie sich blo anzuschlieen
brauchten,um in deren Abglanz, im Abglanz des Jubels, des Rausches, der Nacht der
csarischen Gotthnlichkeit sich mit einem letztatmig wilden, stierhaft machtbrllenden
Anstrmen doch noch einen irdischen Weg aus der Verstrickung ihres Daseins bahnen zu
knnen, und dies erkennend, sah er, verstand er, erkannte er besser denn je, da sein
eigenes Trachten zwar in der Form und in der berheblichkeit, nicht jedoch durch Sinn und
Inhalt sich von diesem rohen, aber ehrlichen Vergewaltigungswillen der rasend gewordenen
Herde unterschied [] oh, er erkannte besser denn je die Vergeblichkeit der massentierischen
Ausbruchsversuche und ihrer Furchtgejagtheit [] (KW 4, 86f.).

Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd


the reader is a writer in the sense of Roland Barthes. In the first draft of the
Massenwahntheorie, which can be interpreted parallel to the novel, one can read:
Who has widened his Ego to the whole world, has overcome death. (KW 12, 17)
Even if it is not quite clear at this point what is the counterpart of the precarious Ego/I-enlargement in the crowd, the opening to the whole world, two things
are evident. Firstly, it seems that this enlargement entails a religious dimension;
secondly that the cause of the existence of the crowd and its illusions must be
found in the individual and its cultural context. The genesis of the crowds which
Canetti describes with curiosity and fascination is from Brochs perspective only
the manifestation of a deeper disposition which is latent and based in the psychological structure of human beings.
Broch contrasts rationality and irrationality quite schematically (instead of
discussing their connection), but it soon becomes clear that he identifies the nonrational with which mankind is confronted, not primarily with the ensemble of
feelings, mood, desire, lust, but with the complex Freud has called the small
coin (Scheidemnze) of fear (Freud), every feeling and desire is referred to
this small coin. For Broch, elementary anxiety, is the result of our encount with
the real world.
It is interesting that Broch, like Canetti, uses the metaphor of incorporation
(assimilation). But whereas in Canetti incorporation (assimilation) means a real
and palpable threat that is represented by the Other, the metaphor of incorporation here refers to a more or less positive process, namely the capacity of symbolic integration. Culture, one could say, is seen as the symbolic embodying of
the speechless, strange and unknown world outside but probably also inside of
myself. The world does not speak as the American philosopher Richard Rorty
has pointed out. It is man who makes it speak using symbolical forms myth,
sciences, language, arts (Ernst Cassirer), which includes values I can refer

15Barthes (1987, 8). The active reader is seen by Barthes as a text producer who creates
meaning. The fact that Brochs texts deny programmatically such a concept, is evident but does
not automatically mean that his texts themselves are not polyvalent and plural.
16Immer geht es um das Verhltnis zur ueren Welt; es bleibt dem Menschen keine andere
Wahl, als durch Einverleibung in sein Ich diese Auenwelt zum Wert zu verwandeln, der die
Ich-Erweiterung fortsetzt, und berall dort, wo das Ich in solchem Bestreben gehindert wird,
berall, wo es an die Grenzen der Fremd-Welt stt und sie nicht zu berschreiten vermag,
berall dort entsteht des Wertes Gegen-Zustand, dort entsteht Angst: das Ich wird sich dann
pltzlich einer Verlassenheit und seiner a priori gegebenen Einsamkeit bewut, es wei um die
metaphysische Einsamkeit seines Sterbens. (KW 12, 16 f).
17Cassirer ([1953] 1994, 43). Cassirer defines symolic forms as Prgungen zum Sein; as
shapings orientated to being. The German metaphor of prgen (the real meaning refers


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

to each other. When this symbolical embodiment fails, the mere existential
fear appears, that anxiety which is also seen as a moving power in culture. One
could argue (by using an apercu) that Broch writes in the lee side of the Freudian
unconscious, but this dark room is occupied not by Freuds libido but by Kierkegaards Angst und Heideggers Sorge. Thus, anxiety is quite a productive motor of
the psychodynamic process on the individual level as on the level of culture. In
contrast to Freuds Unbehagen in der Kultur, it is not the libido in all its sublimed
versions, but fear that brings forth all those symbolic forms Cassirer, but also
modern semiology, has analysed. Beyond practical commodities (which it produces), culture is seen as a system of values and forms that give answers to all the
existential threats which haunt man/woman at all times and at all places. But it is
not anxiety as such which pushes mankind to symbolic incorporation (assimilation). It is also the wish to be set free from fear and anxiety (von der Angst befreit
zu werden). Broch defines panic as a tricky doubling of fear, as an elementary
fear, which is experienced as a situation without a way out. With regard to this
fear of fear, the individual feels helpless and displaced and abandoned. Panic
produces the decisive impulse for the genesis of the crowd.
Anxiety as such is latent and without direction. As Freud and the occidental
discourse on fear and anxiety in general, Broch differentiates between the real
and the internal, the visible and the visible aspects of this complex. But this
situation in which the phantom or, should I say, the ghost of panic appears, is
characteristic for modern times. Bringing Brochs concept in a more systematic
form, one could point out that cultures differ from others not only by the way
they work out symbolical forms to overcome the irrational but also by the divergent forms of fears which are all linked to the metaphysical elementary fear. The
precarious aspect in modernity is that the internal metaphysical fear is actualised
by the external economic fear. Both correspond directly to each other by excluding the conscious. The dramatic point is that this anxiety from outside remains
invisible. Following Broch, the average man/woman of our times, the Durch-

to minting) makes it evident that Cassirers concept os symbolic is not only epistemological
but has a practical aspect. With regard to the cultural turn, it would be fascinating to compare
Brochs concept of value with Cassirers theory of symbolic forms.
18Die Aktualisierung der metaphysischen Angst geschieht zumeist durch irgendeine
Aktualangst, die von auen her den Menschen berkommt, und fast ist es ein Segen fr ihn,
wenn diese, und sei sie noch so gro, aus einer sichtbaren Quelle herstammt, so da er sich
gegen sie wenden und sich gegen sie wehren kann; stammt aber die auslsende Aktualangst
gleichfalls aus dem Unsichtbaren, ist auch sie unerfalich, so da sie innerseelische Urangst
nicht nur erweckt, sondern auch noch berdies ihr ueres Symbol wird, dann ist das Gespenst
der Panik in unmittelbare Nhe gerckt. (KW 12, 20).

Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd


schnittsmensch dieser Zeit feels subjugated (unterworfen) to invisible incomprehensible forces (unsichtbar unerfalichen Gewalten) such as conjuncture,
inflation, unemployment, which are overwhelming in a nearly mythical way (in
beinahe mythischer Weise bermchtig) so inescapable that man/woman feels
delivered up to them as a plaything without any will of their own (so unentrinnbar, da er sich als willenloser Spielball ihnen berantwortet fhlt (KW 12, 20).
It is interesting that Broch refers in his discourse to the political mass movements of his times in which those duplications of elementary fears become
evident in an irritating and dreadful way. Instead, he begins to talk about modern
mass culture and consumerism. It will be the analogy to the kitsch in literature
is striking described as a symbolic machinery of diversion which tries to soothe
the panic of modern mankind by the worship of success, by admiration of record
or by permanent idolatry. The occupation and, moreover, obsession with victory
and record suppresses the idea of the own mortality. It renders forgotten the elementary feeling of fear. In its sexual component, it transcends sexual impotence
and the lack of ecstasy of the individual (KW 12, 322).
Much more dangerous, however, is the sort of mass-producing panic which
is directed to the stranger. Where and when symbolic integration fails und must
fail (as it is the case in economic invisible fear which can be increased to panic),
where and when the world in general remains principally strange, panic refers to
the stranger as such. Anxiety appears when symbolical safety has been lost. Now,
it turns against the supposed reason, the stranger, in a sadistic way (KW 12, 56).
The inability of a single person, of a group, of a society to deal with the Other in
an adequate real and symbolical way is presented as the quality of the stranger.
In a relaxed situation, strangeness is seen as comical. Broch mentions here
the image of the Czechs in the Habsburg Monarchy or the perception of the Jews
in Western Europe. But this situation may change suddenly and dramatically if
the strangeness of the untransparent world (Fremdheit der undurchdringlichen
Welt) is seen and experienced as danger and awakens fear. More or less in the
sense of Freuds conception of Projektion (projection), the dreadful situation
must be fixed externally.

19Es geht um das Symbol der bei aller Hoffnungslosigkeit noch immer ersehnten Ekstase.
Die Bildsehnsucht des panikbedrohten Menschen ist Symbolsehnsucht. (KW 12, 21).
20[] nichts eignet sich hier fr so gut wie der fremde Nebenmensch, der fremde Nachbar,
keiner ist so gut wie dieser fr die eigene Angst verantwortlich zu machen, und so erwacht
der Ha gegen den Fremden, also an dem Angehrigen einer Minoritt; die Komik dieser
Minoritt, ihre Harmlosigkeit, ihre Selbstpersiflage ist vergessen, denn sie ist zur Wrde
eines Symbols aufgestiegen, und da es um die Aktivierung der menschlichen Ur-Angst geht,
so wird archaisch-infantil mit dem schlichten Wunsch nach konkret-physischer Vernichtung


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

This analysis of xenophobia, which was developed by Freud and his followers, including the Lacanian theoretic Julia Kristeva, has one enormous advantage: it can explain the good feelings and the clear conscience of those who collectively pursue appalling and terrible actions. At the same time it makes clear
that all moralising and logocentric enlightenment with regard to xenophobia
must fail in the end. From Brochs point of view, it is much more important if
man/woman is able to learn to deal with his/her fears and anxiety in a positive
way, if (s)he can work them out symbolically. Bloodthirstiness for and against the
stranger proves to be as counterproductive for the individual as for the group. It
delivers no solution to the problem, apart from a temporal satisfaction. Murder is
ecstasy but not overcoming death, nevertheless it is a goal. (KW 12, 24)
Broch uses the term ecstasy, which means in the philosophical discourse on
religion a state of being beside and a situation of self-displacement in a double
and quite remarkable way, positive as negative. At first, it means a stepping out
of the individual from itself. Corresponding to this meaning, Broch interprets the
phenomena of modern mass culture and political mass movements. Ecstasies
reduce the full scope of rationality and therefore including all the symbolic
loadings mean a Rationalverarmung (rationality impoverishment). They are
moved by the panic of loss and have the wishful and unreal illusion that they can
possess the world, because of the belief that through this act fear will disappear
from the world.
The other positive ecstasy is lonesome from the very beginning until the
end. Here, the individual follows Kants categorical imperative but in a remarkable psychological transformation: to have the courage to confront yourself, to
develop a form of enlightenment that is no longer a logocentric self-enlightenment but the ability to confront him/herself with the uncanny Other. Here, it
becomes central to localise ones fears and anxieties and to face up to them them
without fear. Irrationalbereicherung (irrationality enrichment) means that the
ecstatic man/woman opens for the Other in him/herself and therefore also for
the world outside. From Brochs perspective, this symbolical self-confrontation
is the central function of literature under the circumstances of modernity. It is

dieses lebenden Angst-Symbols reagiert, m.a.W., es wird der Fremde nicht mehr als
Mensch betrachtet, sondern als Symbol des angsterzeugenden Bsen schlechthin, dessen
Wegrumung zur ethischen Pflicht wird, da nur durch solche Vernichtung des symbolischen
Widersachers sich der Weg zur Angstbefreiung, zur Panikbefreiung, zur Ekstase wieder ffnet.
(KW 12, 24).
21Julia Kristeva, Fremde sind wir uns selbst (1990, 11): Auf befremdliche Weise ist der Fremde
in uns selbst. Er ist die verborgene Seite unserer Identitt [] Wenn wir ihn in uns erkennen,
verhindern wir, da wir ihn verabscheuen.

Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd


exactly in this point that kitsch fails and is part of Rationalverarmung (rationality
impoverishment). The crowd refers to power I have the world because I have
subjugated it. In contrast, ecstasy which overcomes death implies a religious,
moreover a mystic dimension and gesture: I am the world because the world has
come into me. (KW 12, 25). In his last novel about Virgil, Broch described this
lonely ecstasy in a literary form. The novel is the literary illustration of Brochs
It seems to me that the differentiation is not as consequent as Broch may
believe. It is quite evident that positive ecstasy and symbolical participation is an
act of Einverleibung (that means assimilation, or to maintain the metaphor of
the German original word incorporation or embodiment). Without keeping and
fixing the world there is no possibility of relative security.
In contrast to Canetti, Broch develops a discourse on fear and the crowd
which is analytic and normative. It aims at analysing the deeper reasons for the
collective states of fear in modern capitalism and capitalistic modernity. It tries to
show ways out of the modern crisis which becomes manifest in the appearance
of panicked crowds.
Brochs project it was really a research project is in its very substance
political or better meta-political. It makes an appeal not to a collective but to
the individual. Brochs fragmentary book on mass hysteria is based on a form of
self-enlightenment, which is psychologically transformed. It includes a potential
of hope after the end of great narratives, a diagnosis that is anticipated by Broch
especially in his discussion of Marxism. The modern society only has a chance if
it is able to overcome xenophobia, mass hysteria and internal vacuum, if woman/
man is referred to his or her own Other and has the courage to face it. In Brochs
eyes, this is not so much a question of a healthy Ego but an ethical obligation that
is in favour of woman and man. Hereby, one could say that literature receives
a decisive function analogous to the Aristotelian catharsis, which now refers to
modern fear and anxiety, automatically increasing with the process of individualization.
In remarkable contrast to Freud and his verdict against religion as a form of
infantile regression, Brochs encounter with fear is structurally religious. Symbolical working at the end is only possible in an act and in a attitude that is religious.
To some extent, like Kierkegaard a century earlier, Broch reverts to the traditional
critique of religion (which was elaborated by the French enlightenment in particular). In this critique, religion seems to be nothing more than a phantom, a
symptom or a rationalisation of fear. In Broch, elementary fear, anxiety becomes

22See Paul Michael Ltzeler, in: KW, 12, preface.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

the internal place to reveal the whole weight and insecurity of human existence;
a place where an experience becomes manifest, which is undoubtedly religious:
the opening toward the Other. This stepping out has no concrete content, it is
empty und can be occupied symbolically in different ways. It may be the only
acceptable form of religious experience for a consciousness, which is enlightened
and reflected, after Gods death.
The weight of Brochs argument culminates in the thesis that this kind of universalised religious attitude, the opening towards the world, is not only something which is desirable for the individual but also absolutely unavoidable for the
fight against mass hysteria. The fact that Broch who had Jewish origins quite
evidently prefers Christianity, does not follow automatically from his concept of
a positive ecstasy of the individual which he contrasts with the mass ecstasy of
the many blind. It is much more probable that Broch in contrast to Freud does
not believe that Christianity is over as a candidate for historical hope because
it is able to undermine the modern obsession with victory and the victorious,
in the sense of an ethical and psychoanalytical socialism that favours the loser,
the humiliated, the oppressed, the enslaved. Implicitly, his most political book
entails the programme of a society of equals, who are also equal because they
are, to use an expression of Julia Kristevas, strangers to themselves. Despite some
dramatic events, I think we still live in the same symbolical space as Broch.
Whether we still live in the same world as Canetti, especially in his Masse und
Macht, is not so sure. One may doubt it, especially with regard to the theoretical background of this brilliant essay. But this is a theoretical and philosophical
comment, not a literary valuation, which would have to praise Canettis tableaux
of dense descriptions, the illustrative material and use of language as such. But
his great and apodictic lines of argumentation provoke intellectual objection.
In contrast to Broch, whose theory gets caught up with the typical contradiction between pessimism in culture and cultural psychotherapy, Canetti is a
proponent of intransigency. Programmatically, he avoids dramatic gestures and
appeals. There is no present hope. At the end of the book, he concludes that
double helix of crowd and power will be closed in an age where collective selfdestruction has been possible. Face to face with the nuclear potential of selfdeconstruction, the essay comes to an open end, that power has lost its legitimation.

23Die uralte Struktur der Macht, ihr Herz- und Kernstck: die Bewahrung des Machthabers
auf Kosten aller brigen, hat sich ad absurdum gefhrt, sie liegt in Trmmern. Die Macht ist
grer, aber sie ist auch flchtiger geworden. Alle werden berleben oder niemand. [] Die
kontinuierliche Drohung, deren er (der Machthaber, der berlebende, A.d.V.) sich bedient

Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd


This is one of the rare parts of the book in which Canetti expressis verbis refers
to the specific conditions of modernity. The increase in the usable potential of
power and the possibilities of collective self-extinction, which are linked with
this change, describe the radical new condition that Gnther Anders has analysed and described in Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen. It is the possibility of the
very last action of the crowd as of the ruler. (Anders 1956, vol. 1, 233324) Twenty
years after the publication of Masse und Macht, Anders and Canettis diagnosis
remained current in the field between politics and culture, for example in the
Western peace and grassroots movement which were ex negativo influenced by a
secularised apocalyptic narrative (cf. Mller-Funk 2002, ch. 10), in which woman
and man disappears but also the obsession for power and the crowd. The disappearance of mass hysteria and power obsession in this way cannot be seen as

und die das eigentliche Wesen dieses Systems ausmacht, richtet sich schlielich gegen ihn
selbst. Ob er tatschlich von Feinden gefhrdet ist oder nicht, er wird immer ein Gefhl von
Bedrohtheit haben. Die gefhrlichste Drohung geht von seinen eigenen Leuten aus, denen
er immer befiehlt, die in seiner nchsten Nhe sind. Das Mittel zu seiner Befreiung, nach
dem er nicht ohne Zgern greift, auf das er aber keineswegs [] verzichtet, ist der pltzliche
Massentod. (MM, 558).

Musils Version of Round Dance in

Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften
Quite obviously, woman is a central topic in Musils uvre. From the early novellas (Drei Frauen, Vereinigungen) to the magnum opus, the author is extremely
interested in the female psyche. There is a deep tension and ambiguity in Musils
work. Using literature as a medium of his/her own version of psychoanalysis,
the keen reader Weininger (1903) is fascinated by the fin de sicle image of the
woman as the entirely uncanny and inferior Other of man. In the early collection
Drei Frauen (Three Women) we are confronted with mysterious women who are
strange because of their sexual difference which goes hand in hand with their
ethnic and, partly, with their social inferiority. They, like the farmers wife Grigia,
represent a premodern and pre-civilised world in the Alps. The similarities with
the natural savages outside Europe are striking. The cave in which Homo ends
lethally, a huge vulva (as in Almodovars film Hable con ella, 2002), is not the
heart, but the hole of darkness as such. (Mller-Funk 2009a, 195205)
In contrast, the later, famous novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften does not
confront us with women who are strange because of their ethnic background and
represent sexuality as female and archaic although Diotimas servant Rahel is
perhaps one exception.
Most of the female figures in Musils epoch-making novel are ladies from the
upper classes like Gerda, Clarisse, Diotima, Bonadea and Agathe. One could say
that these more or less hysterical women are potentially adressees of Freuds psychoanalysis. In the Man without Qualities (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften), Ulrich
is the dominant voice in the novel, making the case for the idea of contingency,
essayism and non-identity. This sporty, intellectual and sexually aggressive
young man is obsessed by the wish to overwhelm all his female counterparts with
rough sexual intercourse.
In the early works there was some sort of fear of female domination resulting
from sexual power. In contrast, the later novel represents male strategies of dominating women in the field of sexuality. Coitus is seen as an an act of subjugation
of women by men.
In analogy to Schnitzlers famous play Der Reigen, one could argue that the
novel presents a Reigen of women dancing around the male hero. But there are
some differences; the round dance in Schnitzler has no personal centre, there is
a circle of sexual intercourse with changing partners until at the end we meet the
partners from the beginning again. In Musil, there is a centre, Ulrich, the male
hero, the central star around whom all women circle because they are impressed

Musils Version of Round Dance in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften


or obsessed by this new type of masculinity. So we have until the projected end
of the novel a male sun with at least seven circles, seven round dances.
There is also a second difference to Schnitzler. Schnitzlers male and female
figures are constituted on a socio-cultural level. They are prototypes, not individuals; we have the se Mdel (sweet girl), the young man, the actress, the poet,
the soldier, the servant. Musils figures are individuals and entail a psychological
dimension. As I shall demonstrate, every one of the seven main female figures
has more or less a psychological handicap.
This typolgy includes non-flattering portraits of ladies: the nymphomaniac
Bonadea, the Platonic Diotima, the borderline type Clarisse, the hysterical
Gerda, the lascivious servant Rahel or the gluttonous Leona. There are only two
positive portrayals of the female Other: the majors wife (Fernliebe), and in contrast, Agathe, the depressive sister, the incestuous Other.
It is quite evident that Ulrich represents the intellectual and sublime Other
of the ripper Moosbrugger. To some extent, this Bluebeard is his double. With
regard to this structure, it is quite evident that Ulrich must be seen not primarily
as the double of the author but as a representative and symptomatic construction
of masculinity.
The first woman who appears in Musils round dances is a young singer with
the Viennese name Leontine, called Leona, the lioness, who is described as an
old-fashioned, lazy Viennese demimondaine and aristocratic prostitute: sie war
gro, schlank und voll, aufreizend leblos und er nannte sie Leona. The interesting point is that it is Ulrich, the man, who gives her a name in that way, as we do
with animals, real and artifical ones. The act of naming marks his general hegemony, his symbolical rulership. She is like a trophy, an animal in the cave that is
fed by man (Musil 1979, 22). It is important that she is seen as a lifeless phenomenon, because it is this lifelessness, as a statue, as a living automaton (as in E.T.A.
Hoffmann) which makes her an attractive object of the male imagination.
Mans self-distance goes hand in hand with the mode of contingency: there
is no sufficient reason to have an affair with a woman who is characterised as a
beauty in the style of Juno, but at the same time as completely stupid. She is a
trophy but also an object of Ulrichs experiment, in which he attempts to find out
the limits of her gluttony by organising huge portions of first-class food instead of
acknowledging the beauty of her female body. So, Ulrichs cruelty, which is part
of the self-construction of his masculinity, is the cruelty of withdrawal. To some
extent, he represents a self-controlled and uninvolved subject as in the natural

1Da beschloss Ulrich, sie Leona zu nennen, und ihr Besitz erschien ihm begehrenswert wie
der eines vom Krschner ausgestopften groen Lwenfells.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

sciences, whereas the woman has the role of the object in a psychological laboratory. It is her lonely excessiveness that stimulates her male counterpart. She feels
abused as a woman, realising that she is not loved because of her soul (Musil
1979, 24).
Leontine is presented as a person who disappears in the very beginning of
the novel, but there was a plan namely that she should reappear as the concubine of Arnheim, Ulrichs rival, the entrepreneur of the soul. One could argue that
the abstract author acts as Ulrichs supporter in the novel by creating this ironic
intrigue in which a false romantic such as Arnheim becomes affiliated with the
lifeless Viennese demimondaine at the end.
The male protagonist also names his second concubine, who saved his life
after he was attacked. Bonadea is the name of a goddess of chastity who became
a temple prostitute. (Musil 1979, 41) She does not know the second meaning of
her nickname, which refers to the womans double life as an exemplary upper
class wife with a hidden excessive sexuality. Thus, she becomes the victim of her
sexual obsessions and the object of Ulrichs experimental cruelty. Incidentally, it
is striking that the difference between woman and man is organised as a contrast
in self-control. Both Bonadea and Leona are characterised by their lack of selfcontrol. They are handicapped by nymphomania and love obsession. In contrast,
man is chacterised and constructed by the idea of self-control, which in modern
times is exercised through sport. Thus, Ulrichs sportiness reflects the use of sport
to create a modern version of male self-control which is seen as a base for male
domination of woman.
That is the reason why he steers their first talk towards the topic of sport,
which the young lady finds brute and disgusting. His dominant position becomes
quite clear, because in all conversations with his women, he is the one who controls the discourse. As a result of this capability (which is part of this rational and
linguistic dominance) Ulrich is able to control his own sexuality and to withdraw
from her. But at the same time, this man, who has taken holidays from life, is able
to make use of her nymphomania. As one could say, he is the psychoanalyst in
sexual intercourse who transforms her depression into sexual mania. (Musil 1979,

2Er hatte sie Bonadea getauft, die gute Gttin, weil sie so in sein Leben getreten war, und
nach einer Gttin der Keuschheit, die im alten Rom einen Tempel besessen hat, der durch eine
seltsame Umkehrung zum Mittelpunkt aller Ausschweifungen geworden war.
3Es blieb ihm kaum etwas anderes brig, um ihre Klagen schweigen zu machen, als sie
schleunigst aus dem Zustand der Depression in den der Manie zu versetzen. Dann sprach sie
dem, der das tat und ihre Schwche missbrauchte, jede vornehme Gesinnung ab, aber ihr

Musils Version of Round Dance in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften


In Bonadeas nymphomania the interpretation of coitus as a symbolic death

of the woman becomes quite evident. In one passage, the sexual treatment of the
woman is compared with the punishment of children in traditional authoritarian
education, to break female defiance and resistance. (Musil 1979, 878)
The third female circle is configured by Ermelinda Tuzzi, the wife of the most
important person in the administration of the Habsburgian Ministry for Foreign
Affairs. Ermelinda is an Italian name and means the universal soft woman. This
is sheer irony. Therefore also this young lady receives a new name from the protagonist of the novel: Diotima, the muse of Platonic discourse. This is, on the one
hand, an ironic allusion to her blue-eyed idealism and philanthropy, but to some
extent it also has a hidden pathetic connotation; a certain version of the Platonic
concept becomes real in another round dance, in the relation with the sister, who,
following the Platonic myth of the hermaphrodites, represents the other half of
the brother and vice versa.
In the novel, Diotima is presented as Ulrichs relative, a cousin. To some
extent, one could argue that she is the relative who is close to Ulrich, but not
close enough, not his sister. It is not contingent that Ulrich proposes tha they live
like in a novel, concentrating only on the most relevant and important things in
life. This is part of his project of Mglichkeitssinn (sense for possibility) and
his pathos of an exact life. This is the form of life he will live with the sisters later
in the novel.The cousin is the woman with whom he cannot realize this project;
she cannot understand him because she is full of idealistic illusions and phrases.
In one projected chapter called the Gartenfest (garden party), Diotima confesses
that she loves him like a brother. It is quite evident that his relation to her can be
characterized by ambivalence, love-hate in an orthodoxian Freudian way; he has
a specific animosity against her. (91)
She is a hydra of beauty (Musil 1979, 95), an ideal woman with an intact
virginity and an undeveloped femaleness, and represents a challenge for the man
who does not fix his social roles a twentieth-century Don Juan, an outsider in the
centre of this epoch who depicts a new self-image of modern man.

Leiden legte ihr einen Schleier nasser Zrtlichkeit ber die Augen, wenn sie, wie sie das mit
wissenschaftlichem Abstand auszudrcken pflegte, zu diesem Manne inklinierte.
4Bonadea lag mit geschlossenen Augen da und gab kein Lebenszeichen mehr. Die
Empfindungen, die sie in ihrem Krper hatte, waren nicht unhnlich denen eines Kindes,
dessen Trotz durch Prgel gebrochen worden ist. Jeder Zoll ihres Leibes, der vllig satt und
zerschlagen war, verlangte nach der Zrtlichkeit einer moralischen Vergebung. Von wem?
Bestimmt nicht von dem Mann, in dessen Bett sie lag und den sie angefleht hatte, sie zu tten,
weil ihre List durch keine Wiederholung und Steigerung zu brechen war.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

Bit by bit, Ulrich feels attracted by her beauty, although the fear of getting
eaten up by her remains a stable element of his interaction with her. It is around
this fear that his sporting style of masculinity is organised. The relation beween
man and woman is organised as a fight by hook or by crook. It is a fight for selfconsciousness as in Hegels famous chapter in the Phenomenology of Mind, it is
a fight for acknowledgment which creates an image of man and his superiority.
After many ups and downs the round dance ends in violent coitus, making clear
that as long before in Kleist the body is the battlefield in the war between man
and woman. It is the incapability of the woman to offer resistance that produces
Groll and stimulates him.
There is a signal in the text to understand the scene as a real war. The garden
party is organised as a carneval in which the traditional identities and positions
are undermined, with many of the women wearing trousers. Diotima is dressed
in a military uniform, the uniform of a Napoleonic colonel, because she is upset
with her husband and with Arnheim. So, the time has come for Ulrich to beat
and hit her. Before they become intimate, the woman feels fear and acknowledgment of him, whereas he clenches his fists saying: You do not know what kind
of bad guy I am. I cannot love you. I would have to be allowed to beat you before I
could love you. (Musil, 1979, 1620) In this coitus too, which he starts with a slap,
Ulrich acts as a psychoanalyst. His crude behaviour opens that is the plot of
the scene the door for Diotima to return to the early times of childhood. (Musil
1979, 1621)
The fourth woman is a subordinated one, Diotimas servant, who, like all the
other women in Musils round dance, is in love with this man who is, according
to Diotimas observation and perspective, clean-shaven, tall, taut and lithe, mus-

5Ich denke seit Monaten an nichts anderes, als Sie zu schlagen bis Sie brllen wie ein
kleines Kind. In diesem Augenblick hatte er sie schon bei den Schultern gepackt, nahe beim
Hals. Die Opferbldheit in ihrem Gesicht nahm zu. Noch zuckten Anstze darin, etwas zu sagen,
die Lage durch eine berlegene Bemerkung zu retten. In ihren Schenkeln zuckten Anstze
aufzustehen und kehrten vor dem Ziel um. Ulrich hatte ihren Pallasch ergriffen und halb aus der
Scheide gezogen. Um Gotteswillen! fhlte er ich werde, wenn nicht etwas dazwischen tritt,
sie damit ber den Kopf schlagen, bis sie kein Zeichen ihres verfluchten Lebens mehr von sich
gibt! Er bemerkte nicht, da in dem napoleonischen Obersten indessen eine entscheidende
Vernderung vor sich ging. Diotima seufzte schwer auf, als entflhe die ganze Frau, die sie
nach ihrem zwlften Lebensjahr gewesen sei, aus ihrer Brust, und dann neigte sie sich zur
Seite, um Ulrichs Lust ber sich ergieen zu lassen, wie er mochte.
6Weit zurckliegende Kinderworte und gebrden mengten sich hinein, und die ablaufenden
wenigen Stunden bis zum Morgen waren wie erfllt von einem dunklen, kindischen und seligen
Traumzustand, der Diotima von ihrem Charakter befreite und sie in die Zeit zurckversetzte, wo
man noch nichts berlegt und alles gut ist.

Musils Version of Round Dance in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften


cular, his face light and mysterious, in one word, he appeared to himself to be a
prejudice most woman have formed regarding an impressive young man. (glatt
rasiert, gro, durchgebildet, und biegsam, muskuls, sein Gesicht war hell und
undurchsichtig; mit einem Wort, er kam sich selbst wie ein Vorurteil vor, das sich
die meisten Frauen von einem eindrucksvollen noch jungen Mann bilden, 93)
He looks like the men we know today from advertising for espresso machines
and razors. The important point is that this relation between a superior man and
a subordinated woman is completely relaxed. Reciprocal sexual attraction is not
mixed with extreme aggression, which is so characteristic for Ulrichs relation
with Leona, Bonadea, Diotima and, as we will see, for Gerda. Rahel, the ewe, the
female lamb, is an Algerian-Jewish beauty from Polish Galicia, is a small black
lizard (Musil loves the analogy of females to animals), a possible sex object for
a man like Ulrich, who is attractive for a young woman, inclined to good looking
men with some sort of power. This power is based on the physical power of his
athletic body but also on his position in society. With regard to Hegels famous
chapter on the master and the servant, she is a literary relative of Diderots servants, but also similar to Brochs Zerline in Die Schuldlosen. Because of her subordinated position she is dominant.
The fifth woman is Clarisse, the clear, the wife of his friend Walter, with
whom she lives in permanent gender trouble. In her youth, she was sexually
abused by her father a narrative we know from Breuers and Freuds studies on
hysteria (Didi-Huberman 1997). She is enthusiastic about Nietzsche and denies
her husband because he is a bourgeois, not an aesthetic genius. In contrast,
Ulrich is seen as the genius of a new time. Clarisse is fascinated with the idea of
redemption and visits Ulrich because she wishes to bear the modern redeemer.
She is also described as a small and quick person, a lizard. There are some drafts
of a chapter in which it is she that seduces him. This is the unique inversion of
male activeness and female passiveness in the novel. In the first drafts of the
novel, Clarisse was originally depicted as the main female character, the antipode
of the man, who had the name Achill or Anders these names too include an
offensive male self-image and also a clear protest against the name of the father.
The sixth woman, Gerda (the woman with the spear), has her own name and
is perhaps the most tragic figure in the round dance with Ulrich. The name refers
to her character of a brave fighter, and she is really a woman in revolt. On the one
hand, Gerda is in love with Ulrich and would like to become his wife. One the
other hand, she is in battle not only with her Jewish liberal-bourgeois father, but
also with Ulrich, the older man. She has, to use Freuds terminology, Penisneid
(penis envy), or in other words: she wants to have a phallus, since she has never
realised that woman is a phallus in the sense of Lacan.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

She is affilated with a German nationalist and Proto-National Socialist, Hans

Sepp, who praises purity and denies sexuality because it is dirty. Gerdas visit to
Ulrichs house ends in disaster, a hysterical attack. The gift of virginity is refused.
She has not reached the status of acknowledgment. She has been the object of a
mans perverse satisfaction of having her at his disposal.
The problem of at least four women Leona, Bonadea, Gerda and Diotima
is that Ulrich has overwhelmed them in the sexual battlefield of their bodies. But
following Kojeves (19331939) interpretation of Hegel, this sexual punishment
and domination do not lead to acknowledgment, because acknowledgment is
only possible as a retrospective act, in which two persons accept each other as
As in the fairy tale see the Bluebeard story Agathe, the seventh woman is
the exceptional other. As the name suggests, she is the good one. She is not the
incompatible other as in Levinas Time and the Other, but the harmonic counterpart of the man in a Platonic sense. Here, man and woman build a new unit and
overcome the gap between the genders.
She is also the angel who frees the man from his imprisoned body. This is a
radical symbiosis in which the man represents the intellectual, the woman the
social and emotional side. They feel and think as if they were one person. Thus
there is no difference between them. I think that is the reason why this relationship must ultimately fail. It is the radical version of romantic love that excludes
all the others. In a draft they become intimate on an island that is described as
a paradise. There is no other, no outside, all is one. But this other state cannot
continue. In the next scene, Ulrich tries to find a man for his sister. It is important
to say that Ulrichs experiment collapses as the Parallelaktion. It is the end of classical humanism. There is a principal difference between the virtual figure of the
author and the hero. There is also the difference in time, the difference between
the time setting, 1913, and the time of storytelling, the 1930s.
Another remarkable aspect of the novel presents is its treatment of identity.
Ulrich is described as a man without traditional identity because he lives distanced to his social roles and indeed because he has not only one but many roles.
The identity of the man without identity is that he is a man. There is not a woman
without identity, although there maybe some tendencies in Agathe. He is Anders,
other than all the others and he is Achill because of his athletic body and his male
aggressiveness. His Eigenschaftslosigkeit is the way in which he constructs his
male identity, especially in his broad bed in the house, which is constructed in
the same way as his identity and his round dances with the women in the novel:
by contingency, relativism, mixture. But behind the many non-identities there is
one identity: Ulrich is a symbolic Bluebeard and just as sentimental.

From Early Modernism to the

Late Avant-garde Movement
The Austrian Example
1.Avant-garde and the cultural turn
Romanticism and avant-garde can be seen as progressive or continuous historical and cultural forms which transcend traditional segments and sectors of traditional stratified societies (to use Niklas Luhmanns terminology (1982, 9)), as
formations which can only be understood through a multidisciplinary approach.
The co-operation of disciplines like philosophy, literary theory, the history of
ideas and the arts themselves can be subsumed under the terminology of cultural
analysis as a network. The cultural turn implies a principal change of perspectives. It is directed at the analysis of forms of presentation and to the grasping of
specific media formations and equipment which vary in different cultural contexts, technically and symbolically. Cultural analysis also entails a focus on the
way reality is constructed through the symbolic forms of a specific culture (the
term was developed by the German philosopher Ernst Cassirer). In this respect,
cultural analysis interprets the avant-garde not only as a mental construction but
also following T.S. Eliots famous definition as an innovative blueprint and a
provocative screenplay for a new whole way of life (Eliot 1948, 31).
With regard to this theoretical background, the striking features, the preference of classical avant-garde movements like Dadaism and Italian Futurism (but
also of German Expressionism and of American Abstract Expressionism and Pop
Art) for scandal is striking. It can be understood in terms of an economy of attention and attentiveness which has been developed by Georg Franck (1998, 126).
This economy works with the predilection for self-presentation and demonstration, phenomena which are linked to the intrinsic logic of corresponding media
and to its theatrical effects. This economy of attentiveness is unthinkable without
open institutions galleries, exhibitions, special events, video which guarantees possibilities of self-presentation and self-directing. (Pfeiffer 1996, 61ff.) From
the very beginning of avant-garde movements, their members were media artists
within a group. Thus, the old programmatic postulate of unifying arts and life
which was claimed by German Early Romanticism (Schlegel 1972, 37, Athenumsfragment 116) gains importance in the media as a personal representation of this
actual unity of life and arts, as an instrument for breaking taboos and for producing scandals, as a comical and pathetic reference to the emergency and solemnity
behind the game which is so characteristic in using modern media. This is also


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

true in the case of the Vienna Group, as one can read in H.C. Artmanns EightPoint Proclamation of the Poetical Act: There is one statement which is irrefutable, namely that one can be a poet without having so much as written or spoken
a single word. (Artmann 1975, 363f.)
The precondition of the possibility of avant-garde movements is generally
linked to the paradigm of progress as a collective mega-narrative, as a grand rcit
(in the words of the French philosopher Lyotard). This can be specified with reference to a cultural materialistic approach. Avant-garde can be interpreted (as Peter
Demetz and Birgit Wagner (Wagner 1996) have done with regard to Italian Futurism) as a specific way of reacting to modern technology and to the media turn
itself. So, the early avant-garde Romantic project in which the literary journal (the
Athenum) played a key role is based on a certain development of media, on the
progress of alphabetisation and the existence of a system of note-taking, that is,
a certain level of writing culture (Aufschreibesysteme). It goes hand in hand with
the genesis of a public sphere which is expressed and constructed by new genres
like the novel (in German language the name for novel Roman has the same etymological root as the movement: Romanticism) on the one hand, by the newspaper (which delivers literature with news, with novellae) on the other hand.
In the case of the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, new
media such as silent film, radio and photography, as analysed by such theoreticians as Walter Benjamin (1974) and Rudolf Arnheim (1932; 1936), make available
new possibilities for connecting writing, language, image and music, to open
space and time, to present the real in the framework of the arts. Avant-garde also
means experimenting with new media opportunities offered by cultural change,
testing the new symbolic possibilities. In contrast to its own, often revolutionary
intentions and impulses to overcome for example the existing bourgeois society,
the avant-garde made and makes an important contribution to the stabilisation
of the existing culture. It is Cultures laboratory in which the symbolic adaptation
of the technical especially new media takes place. The structural change of
communicative and aesthetic media has lead to a new type of post-avant-garde
movements inspired by the promise and hopes of the new digital media. In this
respect, the Cyborg corresponds with old Nietzsches bermensch (superman), it
sheds some ironic light on the history of all the avant-garde mainstreams. In its
background one can find a strange combination of affirmation on the one hand
and systematic contradiction of the existing culture on the other. Meanwhile it
has become clear that there is an inner and structural connection between the

1Cf. Mller-Funk, Die Kultur und ihre Narrative (2002).

2Cf. Kittler (1995); Habermas (1962).

From Early Modernism to the Late Avant-garde Movement


juvenile escapism of the old avant-garde movements and the potlach in popular
cultures of the late 196s which has been presented by media with an enormous
capacity for producing attentiveness. There are groups such as The Doors (an aptronymic name for a group), Velvet Underground or Black Sabbath where this reference of popular music to the classical avant-garde can be noticed directly: in the
habits, the mentality, in the song lyrics etc. But generally one may argue that the
pop culture of our times has cultivated all those mechanisms in the context of a
mass society which the avant-garde has developed decades before on the level of
elite. (Fiske 1999)
Especially in the Central European context the genesis of modern avant-garde
movements (the English world is a remarkable exception) is linked to another precondition: the building of the nation state. In this perspective, German Romanticism must be seen as a sort of pre-avant-garde which seeks to make a name for
German arts and literature by succeeding and overcoming the older European
Spanish, French and English examples. At the same time and against Weimar,
it claims to be the adequate way of aesthetic modernism on the national level.
Romanticism as an early avant-garde is the result of a belated nation (belated in
relation to France or England).
From that perspective the Austrian example is illustrative. In contrast to all
the other crown lands of the monarchy and later successor states in which one
can find modern avant-garde movements before 1918 at least in nuce (which very
often combine the aesthetic elan vital with the gesture of nationalistic or social
revolutionary thinking), the Austrian kernel, the rest, was quite obviously not
able to create the cultural energy necessary for the development of such an avantgarde, namely a group enjoying exposure through its own manifestos, its own
media and its own subversive network. Hermann Bahr (cf. Zand 2003), Franz Blei
(cf. Mitterbauer 2003) or the young Stefan Zweig were compilators of the Symbolistic and Expressionistic avant-garde movements in Paris or Berlin, but they
never were prophets and preachers of a revolutionary aesthetic program that was
also a mirror of a young ambitious nation in the time of new departures.
Austrias lack of an avant-garde of its own makes clear that ideal and real
factors such as new media are necessary, but not sufficient preconditions for the
formation of avant-garde movements. What Vienna and the German-speaking
parts of Austria were missing was a clear and distinctive national framing narrative of future and progress.
Instead of such a narrative, the monarchy was symbolically embedded in a
dynastic and genealogical narrative. Its vector did not point to the future but to
the past. After World War II the situation had changed dramatically: the young
belated nation (also in contrast to Germany) created, in the Wiener Gruppe (1997),
this first genuine Austrian avant-garde, its provocative counterpart to the his-


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

torical avant-garde of its neighbouring countries. Avant-garde also underlies the

modern phenomenon of dissimultaneity.
With regard to the distinction between modernism and avant-garde the Austrian example is extremely helpful. There can be no doubt that composers such as
Schnberg or Webern, the painters of the Secession (Klimt and Schiele), authors
such as Schnitzler, Musil or Broch (who like Joyce used the inner monologue)
were modern. They break with tradition; they differ from Classicism and focus
on the crisis in Western culture also central for modern avant-garde movements.
But they differ with regard to their concentration on the oeuvre (instead of developing programmes and manifestos), with regard to the concept of time, which is
more sceptical than future-orientated, and with regard to the political sphere. In
a way similar to Musils conservative anarchism, Adornos aesthetic theory also
has a conservative background which is incompatible with the etymology of the
avant-garde, which is by definition the military vanguard of the march into the
On the level of cultural analysis this means that this non-avant-garde modernism, which may be more influential than the transitory avant-garde-movements
(especially in the field of literature and music), is not under the same self-prescribed pressure which is characteristic for the aesthetic and political revolution
of the twentieth century. There may be some irony in avant-garde presentations,
as is the case in Dadaism, Futurism or the Wiener Gruppe, but it is strictly limited
by that pathos playing a heroic role in the history of arts and of politics.

2.Avant-garde or modernism?
If avant-garde and modernism are quite often unified into one cultural complex,
then it is for the reason I would call the Romantic project. Undoubtedly, Romanticism can be understood on the one hand as a fore-runner of all later avant-garde
movements (Expressionism, Surrealism, Symbolism, and Futurism) but it is also
an archive which is inscribed in cultural modernism as a whole. This has to do
with the programmatic character of Romanticism itself, especially in its early
version, let us say between 1795 and 1805. According to this aspect, avant-garde
can be described as an unavoidable aspect of the very process Pierre Bourdieu
has analysed in his study Les regles des arts: avant-garde and bohme are cultural
symptoms and effects of that kind of process in which the arts become a selforganised and independent symbolic field in modern Western societies with its
own rules: lart pour lart is the programmatic expression for that self-manifestation against the symbolic field of economy which is based on the logic of profit.

From Early Modernism to the Late Avant-garde Movement


Early German Romanticism had a clear understanding of itself as a holistic

and extensive movement with a fixed group of actors and an established program
which transcends the idea of aesthetic innovation and postulates a change in all
relevant areas of life, including politics, economics, the way of life, gender relations and social problems. It culminates in the fascinating but precarious idea of
unifying or reunifying life and the arts. The New Mythology is the concept which
proves to be the most important element in Friedrich Schlegels and Novaliss
fragments. At the same time they create a new way of life and an autonomous
symbolic field: a life in literature and the arts. Two of its most prominent protagonists, Tieck and Schlegel, lived and worked as professional writers and/or
critics. They did not only live from the production and distribution of literature;
their self-understanding is also grounded in the new independent symbolic field
of literature. So, one could say that Romanticism was and is still modernism plus
In this way, avant-garde can be seen as a specific effect in the field of a culture
which has attained (relative) autonomy. Hermann Broch has understood the
avant-garde in painting in nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a programmatic
break with the previous century in analogy to what the Rembrandt School had
realised earlier:
And probably with an even greater vehemence of unconcerned unconsciousness, the painting at the beginning of the twentieth century made a break with the ending millennium to
become the harbinger of the new epoch, no matter how long it will last. That this feeling
for the new, for a new era, was announced for the first time by a quite mediocre group of
painters in a quite mediocre document, the Futurist manifesto of 1904, and that therefore
these demonstrators were not good painters (because even a future-anticipating manifesto
cannot fix artistic attitudes, though it can at least improve political ones) is of no importance. But it is of significance that there was a painter like the young Picasso among them
maybe it was contingency, maybe he was inspired by their will for the future. (Broch KW
9.1, 236)

Brochs sceptical defensive reaction to the Futurist pseudo-revolutionary attitudes (Pseudorevolutionarismus) is remarkable. For the ethicist Broch, the
inadequacy of the avant-garde results from its total program, in which the primate
of politics vis vis the arts goes hand in hand with that vis vis of the manifesto
with the esthetic experience. From Brochs perspective, it is not contingent or of
importance that the Futurists combine a poor, moreover a precarious policy with
mediocre painting. Nevertheless, they are, as the name suggests, innovators,
people who give impulses, market barkers of the new. In this way, they open the
way for non-mediocre artists such as Picasso in painting or for authors such as
James Joyce, whose work, like Picassos, is based on the modern and paradoxi-


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

cal tradition of rupture by adapting and developing the aesthetic techniques

proclaimed by avant-garde manifestos. What the representatives of the avantgarde have in common with the modernists (such as Broch) is that they deal with
the crisis of modern culture symbolically. This crisis Broch often describes as a
decline of values.
In favour of the difference between aesthetic modernity and avant-garde
modernism, one can also refer to the first Futurist manifesto Broch qualifies as
quite poor and mediocre. In this document, distance is constitutive for its rhetoric: namely the sultry night presented in the text proves to be nothing other than
the symbolic world of the Viennese fin de sicle, which represents in contrast to
the modern Italian nation state the world of yesterday:
We have been awake the whole night, my friends and I under mosque hanging lamps with
their open copper bowls, studded with stars like our souls and like them lit by the electric
shine of an electric heart. For a long time, we have bared our laziness to and fro, (we) have
discussed until the furthest borders of logic and much paper we have blackened with confused jottings. (Asholt/Fhnders 1995, 3)

This is the past, the night which has gone, a night which has begun with the
setting of the Romantic sun. In this essay Broch denounces Hofmannsthal and his
time as the non-style of the nineteenth century.
In Brochs retrospective, this happy apocalypse in Vienna proves to be a
poverty covered up by richness. It is no coincidence that the post-modernists in
the 1980s realised themselves in the mirror of the Viennese fin de siecle. It is quite
evident what Broch would have thought about the post-modern vacuum and its
relativistic tendencies, which in his perspective would be nothing other than a
new state of the decline of values. To some extent, Broch is as conservative as
T.S. Eliot (not politically but culturally); some of his arguments have astonishing similarities with the diagnosis Hans Sedlmayers presented after World War
II in his book Der Verlust der Mitte (Losing the mean). In contrast to the emigrant
Broch, Sedlmayer had been an apologist of the Third Reich and was also a political right-wing intellectual who disliked Picasso and the Italian Futurists.
In his essay on Joyce which brings him quite close to the position of a modernist, but non-avant-garde theorist, Broch interprets Ulysses as the exemplary
novel of the first half of the twentieth century, because it is able to keep the
modern fragmented world together in a very paradoxical and broken way, thanks
to the capacity of the medium novel. The presentation of totality perhaps only
in the form of concentrated fragments remains the task of poetry, the aesthetic
challenge for every novelist, including Broch. In contrast to the historical avantgarde and postmodernism, his version of modern literature is orientated in favour
of a rigid ethical pathos; one can speak of an ethics of aesthetics, realised for

From Early Modernism to the Late Avant-garde Movement


Broch in the Anti-Naturalism of avant-garde in the field of painting. Broch writes

in sentences which have some similarities with Kafkas and Benjamins messianic
hopes: the artistic lart pour lart is therefore also always an ethical art pour
lart, so that at the same time, the development of the arts (not its non-existing
progress) always serves ethical progress and participates in the mythical hope
that it exists and that in the end it will overcome the evil in the world. (Broch,
KW 9.1 275, own translation) Compared with this demand, Hofmannsthal, the
Dichterfrst of the Viennese Non-Style, is seen as an poet who fails in an honourable way, an author who remains an epigone. But at the same time, his oeuvre is
interpreted by Broch as a symbol in the modern cultural vacuum, albeit not the
symbol of the vacuum. In contrast to Brochs ethical demand and his sensitivity
for the crisis of modern culture, the vacuum is a symbolic emptiness which produces masques such as the Makart procession. In Brochs eyes, those processions
are in terms of their political and aesthetic aspects the most disgusting examples
of its symbolically concealed poverty, a poverty for which they are, as we would
put it today, compensating.
Avant-garde ideology sometimes operates with irony and exaggeration; one
cannot be sure if the artists are playing a game or want to rescue the world, but,
as the beginning of the Futurist manifesto makes programmatically clear, they
feel tired of hanging lamps, dcor and ornament the masque of decoration. For
the last time, the Futurist friends have been awake the whole Romantic night,
represented by the interieur of Brochs non-style: Orient and opium; Standstill.
Softness; The inability to act; Only senseless intellectual debates. But in its
unproductive sultriness, this 1001st night of the fin de siecle reveals ex negativo
the most important elements of the new avant-garde actors with their electric
hearts: departure, emergence, acting, permanent moving, activism, lan vital,
the primacy of the future, the cult of the group and the collective prophecy; The
direction of a new pathos of a new and holistic world, of the new totality and the
total new. In a first and ideal-typical confrontation one can differentiate between
avant-garde and modernism on the basis of the following characteristics:


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka



Primacy of programme and ideology

Distance from and scepticism regarding

programmatic fixation
Praise of the lonesome individual, idiosyncrasy (speaking exclusively for him or herself)
Sensitivity, absence
Disgust and ennui with regard to media
Pathos of withdrawing oneself
Narrative of crisis Distrust in history and
The other time of poetry
Separation of the arts from politics

Cult of collectivism (speaking as

Performance is of constitutive meaning
Production of attentiveness (scandal)
Pathos of action
Narrative of progress (technology, new media)
Regression to archaic elements
Revolutionary claims
A change in the whole way of life (reform of
life, new culture, new nation, new society)
Radical break with the recent past and the
traditions of the arts
Youth culture
Privileged field: visual arts, performance

Integration of new elements no radical break

with the past
Neutral with a certain preference for age
Self-irony and melancholy
Privileged field: literature, the modern novel
and lyric poetry

Another article would be required to analyse why only the fine arts were the field
in which the avant-garde movements were enormously successful and were able
to establish an aesthetic norm which has become dominant in the symbolic field
of fine arts. In contrast, avant-garde also played a certain role in literature but
was unable to change the field in a comparable way. I think this has to do with the
difference of the semiotic system (between visual phenomena and writing), the
different function of representation in fine arts and literature and the divergent
use of media.
Without any doubt, such a comparison, which could be enlarged by a typology of post-modernism, is schematic and its meaning is only heuristic. It is something like Wittgensteins ladder that can be thrown away after use. Certainly,
there are borderline cases such as Kafkas literary circle, Existentialism in Paris or
a single figure such as Walter Benjamin whose writings refer to classical modernism (Proust, Baudelaire) and to the new avant-garde (Surrealism). But in general,
I would argue that all these examples are an integrative part of modernism, not
genuine examples of an exaggerated avant-garde which was characteristic of the
immediate pre-War years and for the Interbellum.
In the case of literature, our scheme makes it possible to describe authors
such as Borges, Gombrowicz, Lorca, Huxley, Musil, Canetti, Broch, Thomas

From Early Modernism to the Late Avant-garde Movement


Mann, Thomas Bernhard, Unamuno, Schnitzler or Pavese (and probably Kafka

and Pound too) as modern in the specific sense Broch has outlined: they are up to
date (zeitgerecht) with regard to the crisis of modern culture. But we would not
assume in the case of these authors that they were avant-garde authors, regardless of what one might think about each of them in terms of their international
prestige or their ranking in their respective national culture. On the contrary,
authors such as Robert Mller, the young Franz Werfel, whom Musil mocked in
the Man without Qualities through the distanced figure of fire mouth (which
is a good metaphor for an avant-garde speaker), Johannes R. Becher, the militant Expressionist and later Communist poet, later minister for culture in the
GDR, Bert Brecht and his circle, the authors of the Neue Sachlichkeit, Dada, Kurt
Schwitters, Ernst Jnger, Gottfried Benn, the German Expressionists, the French
Surrealists can all be seen as representatives of avant-garde movements as such.
They are just in time. They are obliged to the pathos of the revolutionary moment
at least in the symbolic field of fine arts and/or literature. They say, to quote the
title of one of Goyas famoust pictures: Ya es hora. The time has come as Benjamin has pointed out to use the powers of ecstasy for the revolution. They are in
permanent motion because of the stimulating proximity of politics and the arts.
At least in the beginning, the representatives of early Romanticicism in Jena too
saw themselves as an intellectual and aesthetic counterpart to the French revolution, as the Jesus (Novalis) and St. Paul (F.Schlegel) of the coming times. From
the very beginning, Futurists, Suprematists, Expressionists and Surrealists are
concerned with both aesthetics and politics: the aesthetic break with the immediate past goes hand in hand with the political and cultural break. After all, one
may argue: they were presumptuous. They wanted too much. This is really the
point which has undermined their prestige: there is am inevitable connection
between avant-garde movements and such revolutionary regimes which established a totalitarian regime. From our perspective today, the symbolic fight that
was never fully realised between the moderns and the hyper-moderns of the
avant-garde ended in favour of the moderns, at least in terms of ethics. But this
does not mean that avant-garde impulses have not survived in Western society.
They really work, as it were, from Woodstock to the manifestos of the cyber-space
movement (Haraway and others). The avant-garde effect is sustained especially
because of the permanent media change and the logic of fashion which Simmel
has identified as systematically being first. Fashion is a conformistic step to be
the first in a specific moment. You are the trend-setter. Perhaps against its own
self-understanding avant-garde in a broader sense is an effect and a laboratory of
media change. Avant-garde means a high professional profile in the production of
attentiveness. It is threatened by implosion, because New Media have a minimal


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

There may even be a lot of co-relations between avant-garde groups and

(post-) modern singles. Sometimes the modernist backbencher may take place
at the first range in the avant-gardist movements. Nevertheless, the function,
the strategy, the mentality and the self-understanding remain different and contrastive. If the one represents the revolutionary awakening in the time of media
change, advanced technology and nation building, the other functions as a symbolic arrigarde, as a rearguard with the pathos of cultural sustainability.
It is only in the unique cosmos of Austrian culture that one can demonstrate
the strange dialectic in and of modern culture. The Austrian culture started with
the structurally postmodern non-style of the belle epoque, followed by a genuinely modern period marked by authors such as Musil, Broch, Roth, Canetti und
Kafka (Schnitzler is a transitory figure). Even after 1945, Postmodernism and Modernism were followed by the young and youthful avant-garde movements of the
Wiener Gruppe and later the Wiener Aktionisten. Austria, one could argue, was
not only the first country of post-modernism but also the site of some of the last
decisive and programmatic avant-garde movements.
In these three cultural periods, Austria has passed through all the different
three meanings of itself: Austria as the multi-ethnic empire, Austria as a second
German state (as was the case in the First Republic, a symbolic nowhere-land),
Austria as a late nation-state clearly differentiated from Germany. In all its three
meanings, Austria was peripheral, in time and space.

3.Viennese Modernism: Brochs looking back

Brochs judgement of Hofmannsthal is quite differentiated. It seeks to be fair.
Maybe against his intention, his essay contains a methodological element we
associate with cultural materialism. Following Broch, one could say that he did
what was possible in literature under the circumstances of his time. Nothing else
is said by the formula of the symbol in a vacuum which is not identical with
the symbol of the vacuum: Being happy without hope (Glcklich sein ohne []
Hoffnung), as Broch quotes Hofmannsthal. This pre-post-modernist wanted to
fix the being and the mood of his youth, this meant fixing Austria, and Austria,
as it existed, was Baroque and Biedermeier, again and again, scarcely changed,
again and again as it would be for the last time, and every year it lasted was like a
wonder. (Broch KW 9.1, 252, own translation)
Quite evidently, this is a retrospective narrative. It is not very probable that
people in 1900 were as conscious of their own decline as Broch, who spent his
youth in this period, was when he wrote this essay in 1947/48, at first unwillingly
and with more and more interest. But there can be no doubt that the cultural pre-

From Early Modernism to the Late Avant-garde Movement


conditions in the old monarchy were quite specific. In contrast to its neighbours
inside and outside the territory of the empire, the German-speaking elite was in a
state of broken expectation with regard to the future. There was an evident lack of
perspectives. There was no possibility to transfer the great narrative of progress to
a great narrative of a glorious nation state in the future.
Compared with the aggressive avant-garde in the fine arts, architecture and
literature of that time, Viennese modernism is defensive and moderate, as is
evident in authors like Hermann Bahr, Franz Blei, Stefan Zweig, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the young Musil, who fight for a certain innovation of Austrian
culture. There is a mixture of melancholy and hope as in Hofmannsthals famous
Chandos-Brief or a touch of self-irony as in Hermann Bahrs essay Barbarians,
which Bahr later included in a representative collection of his most important
texts. Bahr, not highly regarded by Broch or Karl Kraus, was notoriously a gogetting ghost, a project-maker, open-minded towards everything, a person who
had tested his talents in almost all genres and cultural functions. Under other
circumstances he would perhaps have been the ideal speaker of an avant-garde.
But what he lacks throughout his open-minded light-heartedness was the ability
to be a serious avant-garde opinion-leader. This becomes visible in his ambitious
essay The Barbarians. Bahr does not present a program of modernism or of contemporary avant-garde movements. He provides an analysis of their sensitivities
and their self-understanding. Thus from the very beginning of the essay, this perspective undermines the subversive content of the phenomena described. He presented himself as a narrator from a distance, not a participant. He describes the
fight between the old and the modern as a conflict of generations which is focuses
on terms such as culture and civilisation. Even if he includes himself as a modern
Barbarian (Wir Barbaren), the sub- and context allows a self-ironic reading of
that kind of barbarism: At the moment, we are working as it seems to become
barbarians. (Bahr 1921, 138)What becomes evident in this approach, which is
part of Sociology and part of History of Ideas, is the denial of the paternal world of
values and norms, in which the concept of culture and civilisation play a central
role. Those two terms were common sense in the bourgeois culture of the day
and this discourse can be characterised by the intellectual effort to save culture
from barbarian damage and support progress. This is, to refer to Musils magnum
opus, the world of the bank manager Leo Fischl.
The modernistic or avant-garde break with tradition, which is described with
scepticism and without enthusiasm by Bahr, is analysed from the perspective of
a person who permanently changed between inside and outside, between the

3So sind wie jetzt am Werke, fast will es scheinen, Barbaren zu werden.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

position of a representative and an observer. Or in other words, this text is not a

manifesto but a critical essay:
If someone would have said: Let the barbarians come! Or: Yes, I am a barbarian, yes I want
to be one, because I dislike our whole culture and civilisation or at least because it is not
worth its cost and or because for me the human being, the living human being is in any case
much more important than one of his works, nobody would really have understood him, no
one would have understood how such an idea could come into the mind of a human being.
One would have denied such a controversy! (Bahr 1921, 237)

Following those historical explanations, the text delivers some interesting observations which are also relevant with regard to cultural analysis, for example the
latent aspect of institutionalised discourses, the function of common sense as an
unconscious element in the field of culture. The rhetorical strategy of the text is
not to convince the reader to become part of the barbarian project of modernism,
but to make understandable the dramatic change in culture within a few years.
Name-dropping briefly, Bahr mentions Ibsen, Marx, Nietzsche and Tolstoj as the
great thinkers and poets (Denker und Dichter) of the break, the strong questionmakers who pose their questions with a hammer (starken Frager, die mit dem
Hammer fragten). From here, he goes on with his argumentation, which is a confession and a commentary in one, and uses military metaphors, as is usual for the
self-understanding of avant-garde movements:
They have razed the walls, they have forced the doors, they have the old property in and
of culture and civilisation. Now with us (!) the barbarians are really entering. Barbarians
we may seem, we intruders into morals and custom, into the spirit and law of the past.
Sometimes we really have the impression we are a race closer to primeval manhood. We call
for the primeval human in ourselves; we throw off the chains of the archaic instincts. Thus,
whenever man does not progress, when his conditions he has realised by adaptation suddenly become an obstacle because of the change in conditions, when man in his formation
has no more place for breathing, then he kisses so to speak the earth to suck energy from it
and goes back to the beginning. (Bahr 1921, 139)

There has probably never been a more modest agitator of modernism than Bahr,
the cultural importer of Impressionism and the criture artiste. The cultural
anthropology follows the confession of modern culture and neutralises, undermines and denies its own avant-garde or modernistic lan. Mentioning the regression to the imagined archaic times and the vision of the machinery of synthesis
and animal attitudes he really and correctly describes a main tendency of radical
modernistic mainstreams which one can find also in some manifestos of the
avant-garde. But this analysis does not make him a propagandist, but only a

From Early Modernism to the Late Avant-garde Movement


beneficiary. Bahr pretends to be a barbarian, he is someone who plays with the

idea of being such a person. But at the same, he is full of distrust also in himself.
Moreover, this is the case of Hofmannsthal, the most symptomatic figure of
the Viennese fin de siecle. His Chandos letter is very often read and praised by
literary theory as a founding manifesto of Viennese modernism.
The historical costume of the English upper aristocracy is already characteristic of a backwards-orientated mental state. Viewed psychologically, it corresponds to the longing of the Austrian upper bourgeois groups to join the nobility to build a gentry, a marriage between money and tradition. The addressee
of the fictive letter is, incidentally, none other than Francis Bacon, the unlucky
politician and philosopher, the author of Nova Atlantis, the Novum Organum and
the Essays. The letter of the young man, Chandos, is anything but a program of
aesthetic progress, it is rather a report of its loss. What is planned is a historical
and aesthetic withdrawal: I have lost all my capacity to think and speak about anything in a co-ordinated way (Broch, KW 9.1., 436) Language has disintegrated in
his attempt to speaking his own words. This sensitive aristocrat feels confronted
with hostilities which he believes he can heal only through a religious attitude,
through the love of things. Therefore, the letter contains a diagnosis of the crisis,
but one could argue as an expression of strength the protagonist as well as
the author himself have organised themselves in this symbolic realm. Thus, Hofmannsthals protagonist is in search of a language in which the silent things talk
to me, (in welcher die stummen Dinge zu mir sprechen). (Broch, KW 9.1., 444)
The diagnosis of the lost sense is radical. The world of symbolic forms and
values becomes more and more not understable. But the response to it is quite
clear. With regard to this point, Brochs comment is very striking, when he writes:
If Hofmannsthal had had the same radical attitude, he would have achieved a new form
of poetry. But his radical efforts were directed to realising and knowledge. And although
his poetic capacity probably outshines that of Joyce in a significant way (this can be demonstrated everywhere Joyce remains in the traditional, curiously enough in the lyric), here
he was prevented by his shame from breaking through the last barriers and throwing overboard the forms of the past. Joyces poetry slips into the dream to win its lightness from
the dark of the dream. Hofmannsthals starts with the dream and feels oblige, to make its
darkness visible by lighting, at least in the limelight. (Broch, KW 9.1 288, own translation)

The comparison between Joyce and Hofmannsthal Broch draws from the perspective of an up-to-date representative novelist is both strange and illuminating

4Es ist mir vllig die Fhigkeit abhanden gekommen, ber irgendetwas zusammenhngend
zu denken oder zu sprechen.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

at once. To borrow Harold Blooms terminology, Hofmannsthal is presented by

Broch as a weak poet unable or unwilling to kill symbolically or to consign his
forerunner(s) to oblivion; he is gripped by the fear of breaking with the old. He
is a weak author, not because he is a bad poet, but because he has not gone far
enough. In contrast, Joyce is a positive example, namely insofar as he has realised the presentation of the heterogeneous and the fragmented quite radically. He
uses radical form experiments without uncritically following all the overwhelming political and cultural obsessions, fashions and fantasies of the avant-garde
of his time.
Broch places Hofmannsthal in two contextual references, in the cultural
structure of the monarchy with its specific traditional symbolic forms, mentalities and historical perspectives on the one hand, and on the other in the symbolic
archive of a modern European literature which has left behind the traditional
Christian culture of Baroque and Reformation. Hofmannsthal is representative
of his time, but only with the focus on the cultural marginal state of the monarchy, whose energy is mainly reduced to retardation. But that kind of poetry is in
no case and under no circumstances to use Bahrs expression barbarian
enough to act out a radical break with the mighty tradition of the old Austrian
Between 1810 and 1830, Austrian literature had established a clear distance
to the German Romantic movement, the forerunner of all the later avant-garde
movements but also of classical modernism, and between 1880 and 1910 this cultural difference would be reproduced anew. After World War II and the historical
catastrophe, with the proclamation of the nation state there is a cultural frame for
avant-garde movements also in Austria, such as the Wiener Gruppe, the Wiener
Aktionisten or the Forum Stadtpark. All those groups follow the image of medial
loudness, attentiveness, taboo-breaking and provocation so typical in the history
of the avant-garde movements since the begin of the twentieth century, including
the farewell to history and society, as Oswald Wiener has done in his manifesto
The betterment of Central Europe, a novel (196568) along with history I reject
compromised language. I dont do away with it to proclaim its decay by means of
the gesamtkunstwerk of many talks. (Wiener 1969, XXXVI, own transl.) 1997 the
work of these avant-garde groups was presenbted at the Biennale di Venetia by
Peter Weibel, meanwhile a well-established curator and professor for fine arts.
Without them the history of modern culture would be incomplete and not
understandable. Today Austria is a quite normal European nation state with its
own avant-garde indeed one which has become somewhat old. But the specific
point of it lies in the fact that it grew up in broken modernity, before the end of
modernity, as it were. Later, it was identified as postmodernism avant la lettre,
which remains the standard classification to this day.

The Broken Mirror

The Construction of America in Lenau
I.Lenau: American experiences 18321833
I will send my fantasy into the school, into the American primeval forests.

Stereotypes can be seen primarily as symbolic smuggled goods, routed either for
import or export and very often for both. They are the flotsam and jetsam of cultural transfer, garbage which soon proves to be a threat to intercultural relations.
And yet, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that there is no cultural transfer
without the production of stereotypes. They seem to be cultural, and not merely
linguistic forms of translation, and part of what one may call contextualisation.
They are not simply wrong and falsified representations of other cultures. On the
contrary, these other cultures exist in our own culture only through the images
produced inside of our culture. There is no true image behind the veil of the
false one.
It seems that we are free to choose how we analyze stereotypes. At first glance,
we understand the stereotype as a problematic reference or assertion regarding
another culture. Undoubtedly, they do work in this way. This is why any critically
and educationally oriented mind feels a spontaneous urge to correct the stereotype as an unacceptable, incorrect and offendsive image of the Other.
And yet this is at most half true: stereotypes are to some extent quite reliable images because they refer unconsciously and unintentionally to our own
symbolic order, to our values and our way of life. Implicitly, one can read the
stereotype as an assertion of our own culture. Such arguments are well known
to us from psychoanalysis, from deconstruction and from discourse analysis of
Foucaults sort. I need only mention Edward Saids famous and influential book
Orientalism. We project our fears, desires and sensitivities into the cultural Other,
into a mirror, not realizing that it is a reflector of our Self. Or we define all these
phenomena as strange and embarrassing, excluding and expelling them from our
own world as a means of constituting ourselves as superior, rational, Western,

1Laplanche/Pontalis, Das Vokabular der Psychoanalyse (1972, 400): Im eigentlichen

psychoanalytischen Sinne Operation, durch die das Subjekt Qualitten, Gefhle, Wnsche,
sogar Objekte, die es verkennt oder in sich ablehnt, aus sich ausschliet und in dem Anderen,
Person oder Sache, lokalisiert.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

male persons. By excluding the Other, we organise our own discursive and narrative community. (Said 1978)
But there is a third possibility for decoding images of the Other. Hetero-stereotypes, one could say, make strong assertions about the relationships between
cultures. Stereotypes, as Clemens Ruthner has shown, are symbolic constructions without which the cultural Other would not be what it is. They are a means
of integrating, even of annexing, the alien Other into ones own world, of forming
an effective counter-image in the process of self-constitution. (Ruthner 2008,
82100) Stereotypes are not clothes that can be taken off, and thus, after all is
said and done, the American of the 1830s the true American behind the false
image is revealed in the depictions of America of the Austro-Hungarian poet
Nikolaus Lenau, and of the Austrian novelists of his day.
Stereotypes are not merely abbreviations or codes of perception, or to use a
formula from Doderer, an act of Apperzeptionsverweigerung (denial of apperception) (Treml 1986, 18). Like Orientalism, Americanism also reveals elements of
the cultural and intercultural reality it describes and constitutes, especially of
ones own cultural reality. The stereotypes it uses are letters and messages from
far away that develop a symbolic design of the stranger and of the strange world.
They are travelogues in a dialogic form. As Homi K. Bhabha has shown in his
book The Location of Culture, they are stable and fragile at the same time. They
really need permanent repetition. The fact that stereotypes are very often contradictory does not affect their efficiency (Bhabha 2000, 6684). The exaggerations
and distortions that go hand in hand with the process of stereotype production
are repeated again and again, until they seem plausible. Hence I would like to
propose that we understand stereotypes not as faulty descriptions, but as more or
less reliable references to intercultural constellations. Stereotypes are relational.
Therefore they tend to undergo permanent change.
It was Ferdinand Krnberger who worked out quite systematically and
probably for the first time a new and quite negative image of America, revising
the prevalent positive image of the New World as an alternative with a promising
future, in contrast to Europe. In his novel Der Amerikamde (The Man Tired of
America) Krnberger made use of Lenaus life story, although he modified certain
details of his compatriots adventures in North America. It is a literary work that
brings together the aversion to America of two authors: Lenau and Krnberger.
(cf. Mller-Funk 2009, 8191)
The biographical background to Krnbergers novel is the failed American
adventure of Nikolaus Lenau, who wrote poems and grim letters home on his trip
to the new continent. During his journey, Lenau advanced to the status of a star
poet in Germany. Thus the contemporary reader easily recognized Lenau the

The Broken Mirror


author of the Schilflieder (Songs from the Reeds) behind Krnbergers protagonist, a mysterious Hungarian stranger, even through some details, such as the
love story with the daughter of a powerful American politician, may well be pure
The title of the book is a reference to the German-speaking context of the
era. In broaching the issue of aversion to America, Krnberger clearly wanted to
revise the positive stereotype of America associated with the auto-stereotype of
Europamdigkeit (an expression used by contemporaries to express a certain selfaversion and weariness of European life).
At first, America is represented in the novel as the cadence in the concert
of human perfections (die Kadenz im Konzerte der menschlichen Vollkommenheiten) (Krnberger 1985). After the suppressed revolution of 1830 (especially
in Poland), many Central European emigrants left the Old Continent, among
them revolutionaries, but also religious sectarians like the Harmonists. In their
colony near Pittsburgh named Economy Lenau, suffering psychically and
physically under America, spent a couple of months recuperating. Incidentally,
one must appreciate how well the groups name the Harmonists captured
its remarkable combination of religious sectarianism and business acumen!
Since the Declaration of Independence in 1776, America had been seen as
the paradise of the free world, a positive counter-image to a Europe afflicted and
devastated by wars and despotism. Sealsfield, an older compatriot of Lenau and
Krnberger, described the Austria of Metternich as Europes China (in Austria As
It Is) (Sealsfield 1828). From this point of view, America is not a prosaic or even a
tragic place of exile, a diaspora, but the Promised Land, a New Jerusalem. There
is a clear and logical reason for the radical transformation of such unreserved
and unconditional enthusiasm into a categorical denial of a whole culture. The
expectations that went hand in hand with the overwhelmingly positive heterostereotype were apparently much too high.
Lenau, the young Austro-Hungarian poet and the darling of Swabian
Romantics like Schwab, Uhland and Kerner has planned his journey to America
very carefully. He has enough money in his pockets to buy farmland. He shares
the pathos of American freedom and, like Heine, he demonstrates solidarity with
the suppressed revolution of 1830. Moreover, the author of the Schilflieder has a
deep longing for pure and unspoiled nature beyond civilisation. In March 1832,
he tries to persuade his friend Sndor (this is Prince Alexander of Wrttemberg)
to join him on his trip to America. But the friend, having married an AustroHungarian magnate, Countess Helene von Festetics von Tolna, has lost interest
in killing wild bears, seeing the American jungles and forests, and visiting the
natives those comical and funny chaps (recht possierliche Kerle) who are,


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

as Lenau points out, also Gods creatures (Geschpfe Gottes). This ironic and
condescending formulation quite evidently corresponds with the judgement of its
aristocratic addressee.
Still, Lenaus use of the expression American ape (not only for the Native
Americans) is already an anticipation of the radical and rude turn that his originally positive image of America would take. From the very beginning, the motifs
of Lenaus longing for America are ambivalent. Beyond political and biographical
considerations (escape from the confines of a traditional marriage with a niece
of Gustav Schwab), Lenau shared the fascination with nature typical of German
Romanticism. The poet, who in sharp contrast to other contemporary catastrophe scenarios expects a spread of polar coldness and predicts the disappearance of the nightingales, will send, as he writes in a letter, his fantasy into the
school of nature, into the American wilderness. For Lenau, the jungles and primeval forests of America serve as an excellent surface onto which to project his
impetuous inner life. Thus America is also an aesthetic project. In this respect,
Lenau remains within the philosophically ambitious character of the Romantic
discourse on nature. At the center of this speculative philosophy of nature there
is an analogous dynamic concept of natura naturans connecting external nature
with the internal psyche. However, as the unfortunate trip makes clear, Lenau
was not able to advance to become an Austrian Thoreau. To borrow from Baudelaires Fleurs du Mal, Lenau was searching for Correspondences in the forests
of Northern America.
As mentioned earlier, Lenau has come into money, so that he is able to enter
into a joint stock with emigrants in Stuttgart, which proves to be an insecure
project. The plan is to settle in Missouri. The poet will stay there for five years at
most. Afterwards he plans to hire an administrator. This is the dream of a man
who at the beginning of his trip is in no way tired of America, although he has
some doubts. There are a lot of positive images about the other world beyond the
Atlantic: freedom, nature, economic possibilities.
And yet gestures of scepticism are highly visible. In a letter to his friend Karl
Mayer in Weinsberg, he mentions a poem by Chamisso in which a painter crucifies a young man to get an idea of the pain of death. Lenau reverses this early
document of modern aestheticism, arguing that he is a man who is willing to

2Lenau to Alexander von Wrttemberg. Weinsberg, 11. (?) March 1832 (Sunday) (Lenau 1989,
3Lenau to Karl Mayer, Weinsberg, 12. (?) March 1832 (Monday) (Lenau 1989, 181).
4Lenau refers to Chamissos poem Das Kruzifix. Eine Knstlerlegende, which has been
published in Berliner Musenalmanach in 1831. Cf. Lenau 1989 (vol. 5/2, 240).

The Broken Mirror


crucify himself if the result is a good poem (Ich will mich selber ans Kreuz schlagen, wenns nur ein gutes Gedicht gibt.) Ruthlessness towards oneself is seen
here as the necessary precondition for radical artistic creation. Later, Lenau will
refer to this argument again, when he compares himself with John the Baptist. In
this comparison, America becomes the desert, a wasteland kat exochen.
Thanks to his letters and his commentaries on his surroundings, Lenau
scholars have been able to reconstruct his route with hardly any gaps. Lenau left
his mark everywhere, although we have fewer letters from the trip itself than from
the period immediately before it, from January until July 1832. He travels from
Mannheim via Cologne to Amsterdam and later to the island of Texel, from which
he starts his ten-week passage across the Atlantic. On 16 October, he reports to
his brother-in-law that he arrived in Baltimore on 8 October. From Baltimore he
will continue his journey to Pittsburgh. There he spends several months in the
Harmonists settlement, Economy. In Crawford County he buys land and settles
in Lisbon (Ohio). The whole undertaking is born under a bad sign. The business
he buys from is not trustworthy, Lenau falls ill, and his purchase of land proves
to be an incredible flop.
Via Erie and Buffalo, Lenau reaches Niagara Falls, which in those days was
already a pathos-laden symbol of America. Via Syracuse and Albany he enters
New York in May 1833. He is in a hurry to leave the Promised Land as soon as possible. Instead of five years, he has spent only eight months in the New World. (cf.
Lenau 1992, 6487) Material wealth has not materialized, and he brings back from
America nothing more than a few literary souvenirs, a little aesthetic capital.
His fantasy has gone into the school of American nature. What he brings
to Europe are poems which refer to Niagara Falls and to the aborigines of North
America, poems on the Atlantic and the elemental power of the sea, on the simple
life of the colonists in their log cabins. There are also many sharp-tongued letters
about American habits and manners.
Some of the elements of this symbolic baggage are productive for our cultural analysis of stereotypes. The letters display is not so much tiredness with
regard to America as disgust, ennui, and one can find it not only in Lenau and
Krnberger, but also in Tocqueville, although the perspective of the French liberal
aristocrat is much more differentiated than the judgements of the two Austrians.
(cf. Tocqueville 1985, 41)
Lenaus ardent and categorical animosity against America is a very interesting phenomenon: it clearly illustrates how differentiations are made between
Europe and America, and how symbolic lines were already being drawn in the

5Lenau to Karl Mayer (Lenau 1989, 181).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

1830s. There is one simple syntactic pattern underlying all of these various stereotypes, a pattern that still retains its efficacy in modern media. It is based on a
short sentence with the definite article and the ambiguous verb to be. It entails
a predication, a noun and a predicate. Thus all the spoken or unspoken, explicit
or implicit sentences have the same apodictic pattern: The Americans are []
or have []. Lenaus Americans have no wine, only cider; no nightingales, only
mockingbirds. The American is always thinking about the dollar in his pocket.
They are all petty-minded souls whose greed stinks to high heaven, in contrast
to the Germans, who are poor but not obsessed with money. They are completely
uninterested in the life of the mind, and that is the very reason the poetic nightingales do not want to join them. They have nearly no time for good food and
good drinking, because spending too much time eating and drinking would mean
losing time for earning still more money. These passages, with their harsh judgements, are taken from a letter to Lenaus brother-in-law dating from October 1832.
This document is not only a beautiful example of early anti-Americanism, but
also an object lesson in how stereotypes are constructed.
The essentialist assertions of how the Americans are is introduced by contrast.
The mockingbird and its unattractive song is opposed to the lovely musicality of
the European nightingale, the poets heraldic animal. This statement goes hand
in hand with the contrasting of primitive, acidic cider with the culture and refinement represented by wine. In the poem Die Blockhtte (The Log Cabin), the lyric
ego is drinking Rhine wine in his primitive American lodging. Culture evokes
differences, and at the same time it is their medium. The other cultural observations in the quoted letter can also be reduced to the sentence that the Americans
are lacking in Culture (with a capital c). The opposition between economy and
culture is equated with the difference between Americans and Germans.
The binary opposition between economy and culture also becomes evident
in Lenaus description of a meal taken in an urban hostel in Baltimore. Here the
nourishment of guests is subordinated to a meticulously organised temporal
regimen. There is only one objective: not to waste time. In Lenaus eyes, the economisation of eating implies a complete loss of sociability, of aesthetic distinction and of the pleasure derived from good food. The perspective of the depraved
Hungarian nobleman gives rise to the image that the Americans eat as quickly
as animals, and that they are conditioned like them. They are set in motion by
a simple acoustic signal, which Lenau calls the feeding clock. One also finds
another, remarkably early, stereotype: Americans are commoners, men and

6Nikolaus Lenau: Das Blockhaus: Und mir wollte der Rheinwein nicht mehr munden./Uhland!
wie stehts mit der Freiheit daheim? [] (Lenau 1995, 59).

The Broken Mirror


women of base motives, people of the masses. In contrast, the European visitor is
the opposite: sociable, noble, not greedy for money, distinguished.
Lenaus comments are very aggressive. In his letter he calls the people of Baltimore poor chaps and rascals. There is a deep need for delimitation. Eight days in
Baltimore are sufficient to change all his images of America. One single stay in a
public hostel is enough to make him disapprove of all the inhabitants of the New
World as economic monsters. My point is that this production of very simple stereotypes is not the work of a blind and uneducated person of conservative bent.
Interestingly, it is the judgement of an intellectual who is critical with regard to
the European situation. Hetero-stereotypes can come and go very quickly, they
can be very fragile, but they also can be sustainable, as is shown by symbolic
constructions like America or the Orient, which are to a great degree built upon
such images.
Although there are a lot of references to the mistakes and deficiencies found
in the American landscape, nature is the only positive aspect of Lenaus America.
Niagara Falls, this marvelous piece of nature, is the most important example of
the existence of the sublime in the new continent. For Lenau it is possible to integrate the Falls into his own symbolic system, into his philosophy of nature and
his Romanticism, which sees nature as a revelation of God. Only Niagara Falls
can rival the song of the nightingales, which are, as Lenau states, unknown in
America, because its inhabitants are deaf to their message. Obviously, a Continental European must be lonely in America: I have lived a very lonesome life in
America. In a letter to his soul mate Emilie von Reinbeck, the Austrian traveller
in America compares himself with John the Baptist. Here America is perceived as
a continent without real nature. It is both an internal and an external desert, a
place for meditating on radical loneliness.
Five months after his arrival, Lenau writes to one of his soul mates interestingly, there are several from Lisbon (Ohio) that he has a hole in his head from an
accident with his sledge, and that he had to be patched up. He gives this accident,
and also the rough climate, a symbolic and symptomatic meaning. He states that
the paths to freedom are rough, and the hole in my head is very good, because

7Lenau to Emilie and Georg von Reinbeck, Lisbon (Ohio), 5. March 1833 (Tuesday). In dieser
groen, langen Einsamkeit, ohne Freund, ohne Natur, ohne irgend eine Freude []. (Lenau
1989, 235, note 69).
8Lenau to Joseph Klemm, Lisbon (Ohio), 6. March 1833: Ich habe in Amerika viel einsam
gelebt. (Lenau 1989, 243, note 69).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

through this hole, the last ideas of senseless travelling to find happy human
beings and a better life on earth will escape from my head.
Lenau interprets the hardening of his negative image of America as a positive
disappointment, a loss of illusions. Here he is returning to the utopian yearnings
that were originally the foundation of his positive image of the country, which led
him to cross the Atlantic in the first place. It was the hope for a better future, not
in time but in space. In the letter to the female friend far away, he refines his argument, stating that the roughness of the Americans is not a product of the wildness
and strength of this natural people, but a cultural effect. He interprets it as a
symptom of decline. With reference to Bffon, he adds quite absurdly that he
has never seen a fiery horse or a courageous dog. In contrast to wild nature, the
American is terribly weak.
The diagnosis from Baltimore is sharpened in a later letter by the hypothesis of biological degeneration, in which Lenau anticipates the biologically oriented stereotypes of the first half of the twentieth century. An explosive symbolic
mixture comes into play, in which anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism and later
this is not the case with Lenau anti-Semitism fit together. Such attitudes were
backed by a fundamental discontent with the medium of money, which Georg
Simmel would later explore in The Philosophy of Money. One of the precarious
actualities of Lenaus description of America is the continuing relevance of his
critique of American capitalism.
Using the designation rascal (Schuft), Lenau identifies money with bargaining, which he considers to be a morally condemnable activity. Money itself
as the medium of exchange seems to be the symptom and symbol of a funda-

9Lenau to Emilie und Georg von Reinbeck, Lisbon (Ohio). 5. March 1833 (Tuesday). Die
Wege der Freiheit sind sehr rauh; das Loch im Kopf aber ist sehr gut; ich glaube durch dieses
Loch werden die letzten Gedanken an ein weiteres Herumreisen (eigentlich Herumrasen)
um glckliche Menschen und berhaupt besseres Erdenleben zu finden, aus meinen Kopf
hinausfahren. Wie aus dem geffneten Bierkruge die fixe Luft, so machen sich aus meinem
geffneten Kopfe die fixen Ideen los. (Lenau 1989, 235).
10Ihre Rauheit ist aber nicht die Rauheit wilder, krftiger Naturen, nein, es ist eine zahme,
und darum doppelt widerlich: Bffon hat Recht, da in Amerika Menschen und Thiere
von Geschlecht zu Geschlecht weiter herabkommen. Ich habe hier noch keinen muthigen
Hund gesehen, kein feuriges Pferd, keinen leidenschaftlichen Menschen. Die Natur ist hier
entsetzlich matt. (Lenau 1989, 235).
11Cf. for example Simmel on the peculiar flattening out of life (eigentmliche Abflachung
des Lebens) and the characterlessness (Charakterlosigkeit) of money (Simmel 1989,
595ff). It would be intriguing to systemtically compare the qualities Simmel ascribes to the
capitalist way of life with the stereotypes of America in Lenau and Krnberger, but also in
Joseph Roth (Hiob) and Kafka (Der Verschollene/Amerika).

The Broken Mirror


mental lack of culture. Particularly in Krnberger (more programmatically than

in Lenau), German and European culture is opposed to American civilization and
the American way of life.
It is the dynamic capitalism of the New World that becomes the negative
image of the new anti-American clichs of the nineteenth century. This coincides
with the argument that the Americans have only mercantile and technical education and abilities.
It is quite evident in Lenaus production of stereotypes that the contradictions
contained within his descriptions do not affect or diminish the efficacy of his hetero-images. If one reads Lenaus letters and Krnbergers novel between the lines,
then it becomes quite clear that the diagnosis of biological degeneration does not
make sense in combination with the assertion that the Americans have a robust
constitution. What really generates resentment is the perception that the Americans are cleverer than the new emigrants from the Habsburg Monarchy or from
Germany. Like all insiders, they have in contrast to the newcomers, the outsiders an efficient network and knowledge of the formal and informal rules. Moreover, they are keener and more experienced in the use of the exchange medium of
money, and are more knowledgeable of the calculations and the strategic options
associated with this first universal medium. The European newcomer comes to
America with the idea that he will be deceived by people who have already settled
into the New World and adapted its way of life. The persistence of this idea can
be observed in Kafkas much later novel Amerika. Austrian visitors, both real and
fictional, also miss the ubiquity of the state as a guarantor of order and justice.
Lenau, an adamant opponent of Metternichs despotic regime and an ardent
supporter of the Jungdeutschen (and Young Austrians) movement before 1848,
writes of the American state and society: The American does not know anything, he seeks nothing but money. He has no ideas, and thus the state is not
a moral institution, not a fatherland, but merely a material convention. (Der
Amerikaner kennt nichts, er sucht nichts, als Geld; er hat keine Idee; folglich ist der
Staat kein geistiges und sittliches Institut-Vaterland, sondern nur eine materielle
Convention.) In my view, the problematic aspect of such quick judgments is
not the gesture of exaggeration, the hyperbolic style that can also be found in
Thomas Bernhards depictions of his own Austria, although it may be seen as an
indication of a perspective that does not allow any irritation because of its strong
filter. It is not only the negative projection as such, but the fact that this kind of

12Nikolaus Lenau to Joseph Klemm (Lenau 1989, 244).

13Nikolaus Lenau to Joseph Klemm, Lisbon (Ohio), 6. March 1833 (Wednesday) (Lenau 1989,


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

hetero-image production does not take into account the connection between the
perceiver and the perceived. This relationship is condensed to the point that it
ceases to be evident what the topic of the discourse is: Capitalism, America or
Austria? Gender images of America and Europe are also revealing in this respect.
Here Lenau and Krnberger establish a double-speak. One does not know what
the actual topic of their statements is: the strange habits of American men, or the
new question of womens rights in Europe?
In these early hostile images of America, there are two elements that are connected in a strange way: the notion of supremacy and the primal fear of economic
inferiority. Quite clearly, the resentment of America, and of the aggressive energy
it is seen to embody, is based on this fear. In contrast to Tocqueville, who presents
a much more differentiated analysis of American issues, Lenau does not develop
a cogent perspective on Americas political constitution and institutions. (Tocqueville 1985, 45) The former, from the very beginning, is aware of the comparative character of his analysis.
Tocquevilles image of America differs from Lenaus and Krnbergers in
central aspects. He understands the peculiarities of the Americans not as
a consequence of their essentialist national character, but as a result of political institutions produced by modern democracy and its economic counterpart,
money. In other words, the perspective of the French aristocrat is not cultural,
but political. Drinking Rhine wine, Lenau longs for a specifically German liberty
during his stay in democratic America. In contrast, Tocqueville realises an internal connection between the American and the European revolutions. Democracy
in Europe, he maintains, will also give rise to a new kind of culture typified by
that of America in 1835, or at least a tendency towards it. Thus, the trip to America
proves to be a sort of time travel for the French intellectual. What was not realized by Lenau in 183233 that becomes evident in Tocquevilles clear analysis of
the American situation in 1835?
As a first result of our analysis, one can say that Lenaus construction of
America contains implicitly central changes in society and culture that are hidden
by the portrait of the ugly American. It is the cultural aspect of money, the use of
time, forms of social behaviour, the relationship between man and woman. It is,

14Ich gestehe, dass ich in Amerika mehr gesehen habe, als Amerika; ich habe dort ein Bild
der reinen Demokratie gesucht, ein Bild ihrer Neigungen, Besonderheiten, ihrer Vorurteile und
Leidenschaften; ich wollte sie kennenlernen, und sei es nur, um wenigstens zu erfahren, was
wir von ihr zu erhoffen oder zu befrchten haben. (Tocqueville 1985, 31).

The Broken Mirror


to refer to Eliot and Williams, the whole way of life, which is constructed in
Lenaus view only through the medium of money.
This fits together with a stereotype which is also so striking in Krnberger.
Lenau speaks of a striking gallantry towards women. In his eyes, a new cult has
arisen with the woman at its center, whereby he attests American women little
musical sense and a lack of eroticism, comparing their gaze with the gaping of
two cellar windows (es klaffen nur zwei Kellerfenster). The Austrian is astonished by the gallantry and the extreme adoration of American men for these
charmless and unattractive human beings. He is annoyed that men have to buy
everything for their wives, who stay at home leisurely rocking on rocking chairs
constructed especially for their comfort (whrend die Frauen sich zu Hause sehr
behaglich und sehr mig auf eigenes dazu eingerichteten Schaukelsthlen hin und
herwiegen). This judgement reveals a deep irritation about a contested social
issue at home. It is the fear that in Europe too, gender relationships could develop
in the direction described using the American example.
Quite evidently, Lenau who is seen in the history of Austrian literature as
an exponent of radical republicanism has shown himself here to be a genuine
conservative. The derogative remark about the unattractiveness of American
woman is combined with praise for her European counterpart. It contains a sort
of promise of faithfulness to European woman at home. The astonishment about
the reason why unattractive women are served and spoiled by men goes hand in
hand with the Central European visitors fearful suspicion that women have too
much power in America. The following six-word statement is characteristic of the
construction of the Other: Die Weiber sind fast heilig gehalten. The women are
practically worshipped. The next sentence explains to the reader why: because in
American cities men go to the vegetable market with shopping baskets on their
arms and buy all the necessary things for daily life, while women sit comfortably
at home with the reins in their hands.
Behind the bugbear of the American woman, there is a foreboding that has
not fully come to light and remains latent, namely the question of womens rights.
These tendencies are foreshadowed in America, and Lenau sees them with dread
when he thinks of his own culture, of Europe. It is the spatial shift into another

15Cf. Eagleton (2000, 131).

16Lenau in a letter to Joseph Klemm, Lisbon (Ohio) 6. March 1833 (Wednesday) (Lenau 1989,
243, Note 6).
17Lenau in a letter to Joseph Klemm, Lisbon (Ohio) 6. March 1833 (Wednesday) (Lenau 1989,
243, note 6).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

culture that quickly transforms a progressive Byronian European author into a

conservative cultural pessimist.
The emptiness of the other culture and its highly developed credit system a
topic of great relevance today are further culminating points in Lenaus generally negative view of the New World. But first and foremost, it does not offer any
comfort or coziness. This culture has no place for a day bed. Overall, America
(and its people) represents an uncomfortable symbol. It is a sign that in Europe
things could become less pleasant as well.
Far from healing Lenaus melancholy, Europes counterpart and antipode
deepens it. The journey to a distant place proves to be a trip into another time
as well. Facing this future, the European seeking freedom from the subjugation
of the ancien rgime feels helpless and displaced. Hence, the only place that is
connoted positively is Niagara Falls, which is seen in typical Romantic manner
as a mirror of ones own existential state and feelings. A double poem with the
interesting title Different Interpretations (Verschiedene Deutung) is programmatic:
one version is from outside, and one is from an interior perspective.
There is a catchy image: the pathetic smashing of waves in thunder-fall,
which is associated with an implosion of the Self that scatters (or negates) the
perception of the Iris light. It seems as though the lyric subject itself has been
caught up in the maelstrom of the tableau, becoming a part of the waterfall. In

18Verschiedene Deutung
Sieh, wie des Niagara Wellen
Im Donnerfall zu Staub zerschellen,
Und wie sie sprhend nun zerflogen,
Empfangen goldene Sonnenstralen
Und auf den Abgrund lieblich malen
Den farbenhellen Regenbogen.
O Freund, auch wir sind trbe Wellen,
Und unser Ich, es muss zerschellen,
Nur stubend in die Luft zergangen,
Wird es das Irislicht empfangen.
Trb, farblos waren diese Fluten,
Solang sie noch im Strome wallten;
Sie mussten vielfach sich zerspalten,
Da sie aufblhn in Farbengluten.
Nun fliegt ein jeder Tropfen einsam,
Ein armes Ich, doch stralen sie
Im hellen Himmelslicht gemeinsam
Des Bogens Farbenharmonie.
Lenau (1995, 56).

The Broken Mirror


the second version, the second interpretation of the moment, lonely drops fly as
lonesome individuals into the shared light of the rainbow. This is the other side
of modern subjectivity: solipsism and radical loneliness, mental states that are
intensified by dense metaphors of light and water. The alien backdrop is constructed as a projection screen for a very modern experience of boundlessness.
The poem expresses the sublimity of a strange and deserted nature which cannot
be found in Lenaus European poems on Hungarian and Swabian landscapes.
In this specific context, solipsism and the dissolution of the self can be
understood as specific forms of reaction against the nightmare of the American
Dream. Here Lenau is fitting his symbols not into the format of the letter, but the
poem, which makes the elevation of reality possible. Modern aesthetic configurations, such as the loneliness of the lyric ego and the longing for self-revelation,
arise from the same cultural context as his polemic image of America, which at
the same time is an image of a possible future. To the poet faced with the directness of this new form of capitalist culture and the increasing power of women,
withdrawal the dissolution of the ego appears as the only attractive alternative. It implies, as mentioned earlier, a form of boundlessness which differs
fundamentally from the emptiness of economy. There is a dizzying vertigo in this
lifting off from history. The Romantic experience of the dissolution of the ego into
the dynamic of nature is set against the emptiness of modern culture.
The second form of reaction against the new era, for which America served as
the projection screen, overlaps with the first one and has similarities with Eichendorff or Chamisso. Here the poem is also the symbolic vehicle, and the theme is
solidarity with marginalised and colonised peoples, with the historical loser. In
the Europe of the time, these were, for example, the brave Poles who struggled in
the November Uprising of 1830. Or they were people without a real or symbolic
homeland, for example the Romani (one of various ethnic minorities in Europe
known collectively as the gypsies) in Lenaus native Hungary. They represent a
modern way of life, an unbounded and nomadic existence, seemingly free from
any economic or political pressure, a life in nature.
In the American context, the indigenous peoples of America, the Indians,
occupied this position in Lenaus poems. They are seen as living in harmony with
nature, from which they were expelled. European discontent with America and
Romantic notions regarding its natives are two sides of the same coin. There are in
Lenaus oeuvre two familiar poems, Der Indianerzug (Indian Migration) and Drei
Indianer (Three Indians), which describe the exodus of the autochthonous population from its homeland: their lamentation on the banks of the Susquehanna
River, their early ecological prophecies, their unavailing curse of the White Man.
The first poem alludes to the biblical Exodus from the Holy Land. In the
second, the plot is concentrated on the idea of finding in death an honorable


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

end in the face of decline. An old Indian and his sons jump into Niagara Falls, a
symbol of longing in Lenaus poem, which is identified with self-extinction. Read
together with the other Niagara Falls poem mentioned above, this allows one to
appreciate how Lenaus pathetic Romanticism equates the death and self-extinction under natures power of the last Indian with that of the European tourist.
The Native Americans are seen as kindred spirits, remaining tied to nature in their
heroic death.
There is no alternative to this last melancholic revolt.

19Nikolaus Lenau: Die drei Indianer (Lenau 1989, 328f., note 13).
The poem Indianerzug, in which the Susquehannah River is mentioned on 324327:
Fluch den Weien! Ihren letzten Spuren!
Jeder Welle Fluch, worauf sie fuhren,
Die einst Bettler unsern Strand erklettert!
Fluch dem Windhauch, dienstbar ihrem Schiffe!
Hundert Flche jedem Felsenriffe,
Der sie nicht hat in den Grund geschmettert!
Tglich bers Meer in wilder Eile
Fliegen ihre Schiffe, giftge Pfeile,
Treffen unsre Kste mit Verderben.
Nicht hat uns die Ruberbrut gelassen,
Als im Herzen tdtlich bittres Hassen:
Kommt, ihr Kinder, kommt, wir wollen sterben!
Also sprach der Alte, und sie schneiden
Ihren Nachen von des Ufers Weiden,
D rauf sie nach des Stromes Mitte ringen;
Und nun werfen sie weithin die Ruder,
Armverschlungen Vater, Sohn und Bruder
Stimmen an, ihr Sterbelied zu singen.
Laut ununterbrochne Donner krachen,
Blitze flattern um den Todesnachen,
Ihn umtaumeln Mwen, sturmesmunter;
Und die Mnner kommen festentschlossen
Singend schon dem Falle zugeschossen
Strzen jetzt den Katarakt hinunter.

Images of America, Made in Austria

After Lenau Franz Kafka
And when I got to America, I say it blew my mind.
(Eric Burdon)

With regard to Americanism in Kafka, which I will analyse in the following, it is

important to point out that his fragmentary novel Amerika (known in German as
Der Verschollene, i.e. The Man Who Disappeared) is linked with the grand narrative of modernity. Borrowing Hayden Whites terminology, one can argue that
there are at least two versions of linguistic protocols in Kafka, namely romance
and tragedy. (White 1991, 563ff.) Essentials aspects of this narrative of modernity
are connected with the North American continent, and especially with the United
States. Since the nineteenth century, America has served as a projection screen for
the grand narrative of technical, economic and political progress, and for the
future of the Western world as such. North America is to some degree seen as a
part of European culture, but it is also perceived as a symbolic counterpart to and a
rival of the Old Continent. The United States represents not only another symbolic
space, but also another symbolic time. Thus the journey across the Atlantic is also
a journey in time or, to use Mikhail Bakhtins term, into a specific new type of chronotope. It is a trip to another space and time. Here in America, things are possible
that have not yet taken place in Europe, and which are still not possible there.
The New World evokes astonishment and surprise, denial and rejection. In Kafka,
the protagonists are generally suppressed by social circumstances, whereby his
unfinished novel Amerika displays a specific gesture of cultural helplessness.
This abyss in time and space is written into nearly all critical or affirming
symbolic constructions of America in Austrian or German literature since the
1830s, since long before Kafka. It is no coincidence that we find an image of the
New World in Robert Musils Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man without
Qualities) which contrasts with that of old Kakania, Musils name for the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Following the argumentation of chapter8 in the novel
(an internal essay), Musils analysis of modern Occidental culture confronts the
reader with two macro-phenomena. There is a temporal aspect which refers to
America in a manner similar to Kafka. Modern times are seen as some sort of
hyper-American town in which nobody would really like to stay or live. Musils

1Robert Musil (1978, 31): eine Art beramerikanische Stadt in der man fr seine Person nicht
gerade gern [] wre.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

novel evokes the image of a restless and purposeless dynamic modernity, which
is also constructed in various films and movies of the 1920s. Maybe Manhattan
Transfer could be seen as presenting this kind of stereotype of New York. There is
also a spatial aspect to modernity, and interestingly it is related to the Habsburg
complex in Musil and in Kafka, but also in Roth.
This reserved attitude of classic modernist Austrian authors toward America
has a longer tradition. It can already be found, for example, in Nikolaus Lenaus
letters written during his stay in America in 18321833, and in Ferdinand Krnbergers novel Der Amerikamde, which is based on Lenaus American experience. What is suppressed in all of these works (not only in a Freudian sense) is
more than the drama of modernity performed by the New World for Old Europe.
Quite evidently, America also evokes images of political and cultural heterogeneity. There is powerful meta-narrative, including the fairy tale that all immigrants
are free to pursue their own happiness. These men and women have ostensibly
thrown away their old identity, but nonetheless continue to wear it like a chain.
This idea is personified by Karl Rossmann, the main figure in Kafkas fragmentary America novel, the first chapter of which (Der Heizer, i.e. The Stoker)
was published during his lifetime. The entire work was written at just the time
when Musil was preoccupied with the question of the empty space he considered
the Austro-Hungarian Empire to be. For Musil, the empire was a vacuum, but this
fact was hidden by the richness and variety of the interesting cultural phenomena that were so characteristic of the belle poque. Hermann Broch has called it
the Wiener Backhendl-Zeitalter the era of Viennese fried chicken but this is a
late, retrospective and polemical description, written more than thirty years after
Kafkas fragment and Musils essays.

2Robert Musil (1978, 32): Dort, in Kakanien, diesem seither untergegangenen,

unverstandenen Staat, der in so vielem ohne Anerkennung vorbildlich gewesen ist, gab es auch
Tempo, aber nicht zuviel Tempo. Cf. further the description of America in Roths Hiob: Vor den
Augen Mendels wehte ein dicht gewebter Schleier aus Ru, Staub und Hitze. Er dachte an die
Wste, durch die seine Ahnen vierzig Jahre gewandert waren. Aber sie waren wenigstens zu Fu
gegangen, sagte er sich. Die wahnsinnige Eile, in der sie jetzt dahinrasten, weckte zwar einen
Wind, aber es war ein heier Wind, der feurige Atem der Hlle. (Joseph Roth, Hiob. Roman
eines einfachen Mannes, in: Romane in zwei Bnden, Kln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch 1984, Bd.2,
285. Roths image of modern New York contains biblical overtones; on the on hand it as a desert
through which Hiob has to treck, but on the other hand, similar to his essay on the Anti-Christ,
as hell on earth.
3Quite obviously Kafka was inspired by Arthur Holitschers travelogue in the Neue Rundschau
(cf. Binder 1983, 75135).
4Hermann Broch, Hofmannsthal und seine Zeit (Broch 1975, 153ff.).

Images of America, Made in Austria


Maybe Kafkas work represents the most famous case of an oeuvre that has
been nearly totally de-contextualized. Generally speaking, this is the destiny
of all those authors who have been translated into many languages (and cultures) and have become members of the literary Champions League known as
world literature. With regard to Kafka or Joseph Roth, one can really say that
the cultural context was eliminated long ago, before they were translated into
other languages. This cultural extinction is the work of German Studies as practiced in Germany, which may show respect for the local particularities of Prague
(e.g. Klaus Wagenbachs famous Kafka biography), but does not really take into
account the Austrian context as such.
Kafkas Amerika tells the tale of a German-speaking Austrian who leaves
Prague for the New World. Among the many works of Kafkas, this one is unique
in that it refers quite clearly to a specific real cultural space: the United States
of America. The modern world as depicted in the novel entails cultural particularities which can be read metaphorically but also metonymically. This America
turns out to be an uncanny symbolic space. All of the observations and evaluations made in this mono-focussed work are linked to Kafkas protagonist. There is
no other perspective in the whole novel. All of Rossmanns adventures occur in a
social and symbolic cave. Of course the whole journey is imaginary, an adventure
in the mind.
The Viennese author Peter Henischs novel Vom Wunsch, Indianer zu werden.
Wie Franz Kafka Karl May traf und trotzdem nicht in Amerika landete (On the Wish
to Become an Indian: How Kafka met Karl May and Nevertheless Did Not Arrive
in America, 1994) is a literary commentary and intertextual intervention that
plays with the motif of Kafkas Americanism. Henischs fictional Kafka coalesces
with the character Karl Rossmann. Kafka/Rossmann is on a ship bound for New
York, where he meets the author Karl May and discusses the idea for his new work
with him. You might never have heard of Karl May here in America, but in the
German-speaking world this author of extremely popular adventure novels set
in the American Old West has been a household name since the late nineteenth
century. Henischs book ends with Kafka/Rossmann jumping overboard immediately before the ship arrives at New York.
In Kafka, the steamer from Hamburg to New York is constructed as a culturally and socially heterogeneous space. The passengers and crew are almost
all from the Central European cultural field: Rumanians, Austrians, Slovaks
(Slowacken!), Jews and Germans, but there are also more suspicious folk, like
Frenchmen and Irishmen. Various social distances and constellations, symbolic

5Cf. most recently: Wagenbach 2006.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

boundaries and hierarchies exist between these immigrants. (Bourdieu 1989, 217
220) The dominant aspect is a retrospective aversion toward each other, as Musil
has described with regard to the ethnic groups of the Monarchy. Rossmanns
cultural perception is particularly representative of the cultural stupidity of an
average Austrian in those days. This kind of cultural positioning corresponds
with a crazy system of fixed stereotypes. The conflict onboard the ship, caused
by the supposed dominance of the non-German people, culminates at exactly
the time it lands. The Stoker, who is a German, complains to Rossmann and the
Captain about the rule of the non-Germans on board, which is unnatural in his
Rossmann, a German-speaking Austrian from Prague who is just as afraid
of the Slovaks, the foreigners of his own culture, as he is of the French and
Irish is very eager and servile in supporting the Germans. (Kafka 1997, 713)
The differentiations between the German-speaking characters are interesting and
symptomatic in many ways. Rossmann, for example, develops an affinity for the
German members of the crew against the others, the Rumanians and Slovaks,
whereby he puts all his trust in the Viennese Oberkchin (head cook), Grete Mitzelbach of the Ramses Hotel. She is seen as his really countrywoman.
Like some of Roths novels, especially his early work Hotel Savoy, Kafkas
unfinished novel is in favour of spaces that are heterogeneous and at the same
time nomadic, cursory and dynamic, because the personnel is always changing.
Beyond the moving space of the ship, there is the hotel and the port office in New
York. Very quickly, Rossmann is excluded from all the books real and relevant
anthropological places (Aug 1994, 5389), for instance his uncles house or
the villa of the uncles business partner.
The book also depicts places that are unusual for the European reader: there
is a masterfully rendered election campaign in the public sphere, and there are
places related to the developing cultural industry (Theater in Oklahoma, Kafka
1997, 278ff). The latter is connected with a strange and lurid figure, a symbolic
mixture which entails Latin American and Germanic connotations: Brnhilde,
Brunelda. She has an enormous real, sexual, social and symbolic appetite. She is
a female version of Hegels master, who enslaves Rossmann and his annoying
The entire fragment is characterised by the situation of an in-between,
whereby this specific temporal and spatial situation is interpreted as being disas-

6Robert Musil (1978, 34): Denn nicht nur die Abneigung gegen die Mitbrger war dort bis
zum Gemeinschaftsgefhl gesteigert, sondern es nahm auch das misstrauen gegen die eigene
Person und deren Schicksal den Charakter tiefer Selbstgewissheit an.

Images of America, Made in Austria


trous. It is true that there is no longing for the old home, for Prague or Vienna. But
there is also no possibility of finding a place in the new cultural space of America.
Rossmann will never truly arrive in New York or America. It remains uncomfortable, uninhabitable.
That which Kafka presents to the reader in a very absurd way is the other side
of heterogeneity. It entails the most tragic human destiny: living as a complete
stranger in the human world. Kafkas Amerika is the most radical version of the
Gnostic narrative in which the human being is a total stranger in this disastrous
world. America is constructed as a dystopia. The grotesque variation of the Statue
of Liberty symbolises this vividly. The sword held in the hand of Kafkas caricature of Lady Liberty anticipates the coming disaster, which sets in after the short
happy interlude of Rossmann enjoying the kind and supportive welcome of his
uncle, an influential businessman and politician.
Even the reason for Rossmanns having to emigrate from Europe in the first
place is spiteful and preposterous. He has been sent off by his parents, because
he has been seduced by an older woman, his parents maid. The symbolic space
in which he arrives, America, proves to be a sort of penal colony.
In accord with this situation, the actions of Kafkas protagonist are awkward
and painful. Rossmann is a man who has a strong sense of always doing wrong.
The strangeness superimposed upon him by cultural and linguistic difference is
seen as the very reason for Rossmanns awkwardness. (Anders 1984, 5468) He
becomes part of a temporal journey, from which there is no return and no escape.
It is interesting that Kafka does not depict America as a heterogeneous cultural cosmos (although Lenau and Krnberger had already done so long before).
The story only takes into account one segment of the American population:
white, upper-class, New England. In contrast to earlier Austrian constructions
of America (Lenau, Sealsfield, Krnberger), we do not find any picturesque
Native Americans here. It is only the white, rich America that represents the New
World, some sort of gentry that displays clear similarities with Englands ruling
class. Instead of a socially, culturally and ethnically diverse symbolic space, this
America image is strikingly binary and in its strict spatial construction. The internal space is reserved for the English-speaking establishment, while in the external space we find immigrants from all regions of the Old Continent: Germans,
Austrians, French, Jews, Irish. Very often they prove to be scattered adventurers.

7Franz Kafka (1997, 7): Ihr Arm mit dem Schwert ragte wie neuerdings (!) empor und um ihre
Gestalt wehten die freien Lfte.
8Cf. Michael Mller, Nachwort (in Kafka 1997, 293318). Additional information on research
literature can be found there.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

In Kafka, cultural strangeness is only a symptom of a deep and basic strangeness of the world that cannot be overcome. Modernity entails the narrative
pattern that the human world has become radically strange to human beings.
(Kamper 1986, 15f.) Cultural strangeness can be interpreted as an aspect of this
principal strangeness. What we have here is a change of Nomos (more in the sense
of Schmitt than of Bourdieu): Rossmann, Kafkas joker-figure, leaves the symbolic
spatial order of the Landtreter and enters the world of the Meerschumer
(Carl Schmitt), of the project maker (Schmitt 1981, 16). It is symptomatic that the
novel begins with the episode of Rossmanns lost suitcase. The German Stoker, an
experienced crewman, explains the totally different symbolic space of America to
Rossmann, the ignorant Austrian. Even on the ship, the habits change with the
harbors: in Hamburg his mates would have taken care of Rossmanns suitcase.
(Kafka 1997, 9ff)
The migrant from Prague experiences capitalism as a foreign and strange cultural phenomenon, as a human cosmos full of insecurity, capriciousness, despotism and subjection. But it is also quite evident that this feeling of being a stranger in the world originates in his homeland; it accompanies him from his own
Nomos to America. Thus America proves to be a new version of his own world:
patriarchal bureaucracy, double bind, unfathomable and opaque relationships,
non-transparent systems of rule and power. For Rossmann, being a stranger in
the world has made strangeness into something that is paradoxically intimate. It
is a variation of his own experience of being a stranger to himself.
In comparison with Kafkas Amerika, the situation in Das Schloss (The Castle)
seems to be quite comfortable, smooth and homely, because here everybody, man
or woman, has his or her assigned place. To put it sarcastically, the security of bad
luck is guaranteed in The Castle. In Amerika bad luck has also become insecure,
contingent and out of order. This is the emptiness of vagabonding money, the
obscurity of capitalist economy, the economisation of all fields of human life, collective loneliness and the programmatic distance between people, the arbitrariness of modern times. This new Nomos is represented by Rossmanns immensely
rich uncle, Senator Edward Jakob, the successful immigrant from his hometown,
and by his companion, who has the bizarre name Pollunder. The protagonists
irritation becomes visible in another cultural area. Being a stranger also means
being in the wrong place.
At the same time, Kafkas construction of the main figure generates a rhetorical reading, and this proves to be an unreasonable demand. The novel forces the

9Cf. Anders (1984, 64); see also the metaphor of the Marterkarussels, a strategy to force
the reader to enter it.

Images of America, Made in Austria


reader to identify him- or herself with the poor fellow. (S)he must go hand in hand
with this bigoted, limited, uncritical, clumsy man through a space that is often
highly imaginary. From this perspective, America becomes more and more the
nightmare of modernity.
Identifying with this kind of obsequious opportunist, who wants to try to suit
everybody and produces only damage for himself (like the old man in Johann
Peter Hebels calendar story about the man with the donkey), is part of an irritating reading experience that the philosopher Gnter Anders has described very
exactly. The author of Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (The Outdatedness of
Human Being) criticized Kafka for this gesture, arguing that Kafkas protagonist
does not rebel against the dystopia. On the other hand, Peter Henisch has in his
witty book identified this foolish protagonist with Franz Kafka himself. Literary
theory has taught us not to identify fictive characters with real authors. Yet one
might argue that Rossmann is somewhat of a play figure or, psychoanalytically
speaking, a substitute (Ersatzobjekt) as described by Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Rossmann can be read as a symbolic and imaginary placeholder,
as a vehicle for a boring self-accusation. This is true for the author himself, the
first reader, as well as for the anonymous reader, who in the process of reading
occupies the position of the author. Kafkas oeuvre already generates shame and
embarrassment on the level of narrative transmission. But as is also the case with
Musils protagonist Ulrich, the difference between Rossmann and his author is
more important than their common attributes, especially with regard to Kafkas
strategy of alienation and distortion, which excludes and undermines every kind
of explicitness. It is well known that the novel remained unfinished. Nonetheless, it is clear from the very beginning that Rossmann will somehow mysteriously disappear from the symbolic space called America more radically than in
The Castle or in The Trial. The fairy-tale beginning, where the rich and influential
uncle welcomes him at the office in the harbour quite graciously, will remain the
only wonderful and miraculous story in the novel. It is too good to be true, as
Henischs Kafka tells Karl May in discussing his novel.
In the symbol making of modernity, America becomes an absurdly strange
continent. But there is yet another aspect, beyond the stereotypes of capitalist
alienation. For the immigrant from the Hapsburg Empire, the symbolic world of
America remains so strange because it is seemingly dominated by bizarre women
this is also a literary hand-me-down from authors like Lenau and Krnberger.
In contrast to the disdainful head cook of the hotel, his countrywoman Grete is
(at the beginning) a helpful and protecting mother, who takes him in under her

10Cf. Mller-Funk (2009, 5767) and Anders (1984, 6567).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

skirt, offering him a place to hide. All the other female figures are terrible. From
Rossmanns perspective, the New World is characterised by female dominance.
In the first part of the book it is Klara Pollunder, the sexually offensive daughter
of his uncles business partner; in the second part it is the leisure lady Brunelda.
Both women demonstrate female superiority. Rossmann, the young man who had
to escape from female seductiveness in Europe, once again becomes the victim of
draconian and despotic female rule, which has only one thing in mind: the suppression of man.
This is quite evident with regard to the young saucy and spoilt daughter of
the entrepreneur, who knocks down the male visitor using jujitsu, because he
denies her sexual offers a clear subversion of traditional gender constructions.
Brunelda represents another female stereotype. She is the diva in full feather, the
personified vulva dominating and devouring all men.
In his novel project, Franz Kafka has drawn a radical aesthetic caricature,
which works because it creates and performs a play (in prose), a play with comical
and excessive projections. This the starting point of a fundamental absurdist
tendency in modernism. Behind the cultural strangeness of another space, the
uncanny strange, which is not characteristic of a single national culture, becomes
visible. This is not so much strangeness in space, but in time. At its core there is
a specific experience of modernity. Modernism can also be interpreted as the discontent experienced in modernity.
At the beginning of the chapter on Lenau, I differentiated between three
understandings of the stereotype: it can be interpreted as an oversimplified construction of the Other, as a hidden reference to the construction of the individual
or collective Self, or as a circumscription of the relationship between two groups
or collectives in the transcultural field.
Analysing Kafkas unfinished text, one may argue that the negative image
of the cultural Other, of America, is coalesced (unconsciously or not) with the
future of his own culture. This is the narrative that the French thinker Alexis de
Tocqueville put at the center of his famous book on America and its institutions
(1985, 45).
The outstanding and witty literary achievement of Kafkas text is that they
illustrate the fear behind the tragic and uncanny narrative of modernity in American style. Maybe this is the very reason why the cultural differences endemic to
the New World are never a topic in this work. There are some astonishing similarities between the United States and the Hapsburg Empire, which some wanted
to transform into the United States of Austria. At nearly the same time Kafka was
writing his novel, a young sociologist from Chicago, a former student of German
Studies and a disciple of Calvin Thomas and John Dewey, noted this similarity.
His analysis of the European diaspora in the United States, which is centered on

Images of America, Made in Austria


the difficulties of living in two or three different symbolic spaces simultaneously,

is readable and interesting even today, especially in the European context. His
name was Robert Ezra Park, and he was an urbanism specialist and one of the key
founders of the Chicago school of sociology. In 1910 he traveled to the Old Continent, and his most important destination was, as Michael Makropoulos has discussed in a stimulating essay, the heterogeneous cultural space of the Habsburg
Empire. Park and his black companion Booker T. Washington wanted to study
the situation of the workers and farmers in Europe. They wanted to compare this
material with the American situation. (Makropoulos 2004, 50) First and foremost,
they were interested in ethnic issues, as Park wrote in 1927, and Austria, with its
mixed population, was a good place for this kind of research. (Robert Ezra Parker,
quoted from: Makropoulos 2004, 50) The specific contrast between their sociological impartiality and the literary partiality of Musil, Roth and Kafka may be
interpreted as a specific asymmetry between two different cultural spaces, which
cannot be understood only in terms of power. The question of modernity comes
into play, but also the problem of ethnic diversity.
Both perspectives can be reconciled in the idea that modernity is based on
the idea of dealing with differences. Here one is reminded of the election campaign of the post-fascist Freedom Party, who tendentiously intermingled Vienna
and Chicago in the slogan Wien darf nicht Chicago werden. (Vienna must not
become Chicago.) only to discover that both cities are on the same symbolic
map. Franz Kafka never met Robert Ezra Park or Karl May, but it would be interesting to imagine what they would have talked about. I think it would continue
to be relevant today.

Austrian Literature in a
Trans-cultural Context
1.Austrian Literature: A Never-Ending Debate
There are many substantial insecurities and disagreements about the question
whether there is such a thing as Austrian literature and what its characteristics
in contrast with German literature are. This is striking, especially when one relinquishes the traditional essentialist idea of identity that goes hand in hand with
an affirmative and consensual nationalism. In contrast, contemporary theoretical
positions in cultural analysis point out that collective identity underlies historical and cultural change. Following this argument, one might claim that Austrian
literature, a symbolic product of self-consciousness and obstinacy, was written,
along with the systematic research and reflection about it, over a short period
during the process of nation building between 1945 and 1989/1994, after which
Austria joined the European Union. Left- and right-wing critics alike criticised
Austrias integration into the European Union, polemically calling it a second
Anschluss. The ambitious project of Austrian literature could thus be said to have
been a product of the post-war period, a project that lost its cultural energy after
1989 or 1994.
Claims about the disappearance of Austrias own literature in the ocean of
a German literature belongs to the central rhetoric within this specific symbolic
framework, a rhetoric that is inscribed in Austria with the gesture of grievance.
(Cf. Scheichl and Stieg 1986, 2540) And it is true that there are representative
collections in Germany such as Deutschland erzhlt that carry the subtitles Von
Arthur Schnitzler bis Uwe Johnson and Von Rainer Maria Rilke bis Peter Handke
(von Wiese 1991/1993). Likewise, the cultural neutralisation of Austrian literature
in German university libraries is remarkable: Authors such as Franz Kafka, Robert
Musil, dn von Horvth or Heimito von Doderer are fading behind categories
of a very specific history of German literature such as Expressionism or Neue
Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). In contrast, our library for Romance Studies is
politically and scientifically correct in its division into different sections. Nobody
would look for the Argentinian author Jorge Louis Borges, one of the most prominent heirs of Franz Kafka, under the subdivision Spanish Literature. What
Goethe has called world literature, is, to use an image of Walther Benjamins, like

1I am referring here to the Fachbibliothek of the Justus-Liebig-Universitt, Gieen.

Austrian Literature in a Trans-cultural Context


a broken vessel that exists only in fragments. The whole can be reconstructed
through thought and reflection. The unity of world literature is always imaginary.
When cultural particularity is destroyed in such a complete and all-encompassing way, it is not altogether surprising that one searches in vain in Germany
for a representative monograph on Austrian literature in the field of German
Studies. From such a trans-national perspective the specificity of Austrian literature becomes visible; it emerges as a literature that is not a regional variant of a
pan-German literature, but is a small literature (Deleuze/Guattari) of its own.
Austrian literature can be understood as a very specific and curious national literature that is at the same time a non-national one. It makes use of a very specific
understanding of German and is at the same time familiar with other small nonGerman literatures. (Mller-Funk 2009, 817)
Austrian literature as an object of scientific investigation does exist, especially in Austria, where it is the area of expertise of a handful of specialists; yet
even there the notion of a specific national literature seems to be a model that is
being phased out. Pars pro toto one has to mention Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler,
Karl Wagner, Friedbert Aspetsberger, Walther Weiss, Klaus Zeyringer, Christa
Grtler, Daniela Strigl, Konstanze Fliedl and a whole generation of Austrian
academics after 1968 whose research addresses the question of an Austrian literature. In my opinion, it is significant that many influential overviews of the
history of Austrian literature and culture are written by scholars who are so-called
Auslandsgermanisten, above all Jaques Le Rider, Claudio Magris, or the cultural
historian Carl Schorske. Also, there are many English, American and CentralEuropean academics who have had the courage to deal with specific topics within
the framework of Austrian literature and culture. Apparently, it is a perspective
from outside that generates a focus which makes the specific differences between
German and Austrian literature visible.
The lingering sense of insecurity regarding whether or not there is an Austrian
literature is probably connected with the fact that even today language is seen as
the central category of cultural difference. From that perspective, Austrian literature can, of course, only be interpreted as a regional phenomenon. This is astonishing insofar as modern cultural analysis insists on the idea that there are many

2Cf. Walter Benjamin, Die Aufgabe des bersetzers, 18; and Jacobs, The Monstrosity of
Translation (1975, 763).
3The linguistically brilliant essays of the writer and literary theorist W.G. Sebald are not a
counter-argument to my thesis, as the author of Austerlitz lived, worked and wrote for a long
time in a non-German context in the UK.
4It may be interesting to note that Schmidt Dengler had a Croatian and Old Austrian family
background, while Zeyringer has been teaching in France for many years.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

more factors that contribute to cultural differences, such as mentality, history,

and the whole way of life. These and other elements are relevant for the small difference between German and Austrian literature. In a stimulating and self-critical
essay from 1987 (two years before German unification), the Austrian philosopher
and essayist Franz Schuh brought this issue into sharp focus when he wrote: Die
Sprache, die wir fhren, ist leider wenig geeignet, die wirklichen Dimensionen
unseres Landes auszusprechen. Im Vergleich zur Realitt wird ihr, der Sprache,
alles leicht zum Mythos, zum Fetisch. Eine Infinitesimalrhetorik hchster Langsamkeit im Rahmen unendlicher Beschrnkungen wre vonnten. It is helpful
to read these essays and commentaries from the late 1980s to understand the very
specific and hidden cultural references and nuances of Austrian literature.
The questions remain whether or not there is such a thing as an Austrian literature at all, and whether it must be considered a short-lived phenomenon that
was effected by the invention of modern post-war Austria. After the aggressive
attempts in Austrian German Studies (especially in the 1970s and early 1980s)
to institute a genuine national literature by such varied means as Austro-centric
research projects, series dedicated to Austrian literature in the academic press,
and the establishment of an Austrian literary canon, these efforts have increasingly abated since the 1990s. But there are exceptions, such as the foundation of
Austrian libraries in the Central European neighbouring states and the subventions that accompanied them.
It has been quiet in Austrian literature since the turn of the millennium.
There are many reasons for this, above all a sea-change in the overall media and
in cultural reception. Austrian film, represented by such well-known figures as
Michael Haneke, Ulrich Seidl, or Barbara Albert, has received much greater attention than its literature. Besides, the critical generation of 1968 and post-1968 that
dominated relevant sections of politics, education, culture and science, has aged.
When one keeps in mind the integration of the former communist neighbouring
countries into the European Union and the effects of internationalisation (globalisation), an insistence on the idea of a uniquely Austrian literature tends to
look old-fashioned, narrow-minded and somewhat provincial.

5The language we are using is not suitable to express the real dimensions of our country.
Compared with reality, language transforms all too easily into myth and fetish. An infinitesimal
rhetoric of utmost slowness in the framework of infinite restrictions would be necessary
(Schuh 1987, 20); see also Mller-Funk, Ein Koffer namens sterreich (2011). All translations
from the German are mine unless indicated otherwise.
6This point is especially significant if we keep in mind that Josef Nadler, the founder of an
essentialist ethnic and racial concept of the literary history of German tribes (which was quickly

Austrian Literature in a Trans-cultural Context


Such a national concept may be regarded as what Milan Kundera has called
the terror of the narrow context, Terror des engen Kontexts (Kundera 1991, 12).
Herbert Zemans Geschichte der Literatur in sterreich circumvents this problem
in quite an elegant manner by defining Austria as a symbolic container. (Zeman
1999) This seems to me a compromise between the concept of a uniquely Austrian
literature and that neo-Pan-German version as proposed by, among others, Horst
Albert Glaser and Wilfried Barner, one that Klaus Zeyringer has sarcastically
described as a pat on the back, das Schulterklopfen der Definitionsmacht
(Zeyringer 2008, 24). In contrast, Zeman understands Austrian literature on the
one hand as a regionally specific literature with changing real and symbolical
borders and on the other as a discursive phenomenon. It is characteristic of such
a position that it is nearly impossible to differentiate between German and Austrian literature. Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler too (who has been more diplomatic
than his colleague Zeyringer) has always missed fairness and evenhanded sensibility in German literary historians, stating that the debate about Austrian literature has to be conducted in the field of literary history. I find Schmidt-Denglers
assertion that Austrian literature does not fit in the scheme of German literary history plausible. As Schmidt-Dengler has pointed out, nearly all Austrian
authors become awkward stopgaps of the German history of literature, because
Grillparzer is not a genuine Classical author, Raimund is not really a Romantic,
Lenau is somehow different from the German Vormrz authors, Stifter is not a
Realist and Anzengruber is not a Naturalist. Following Schmidt-Dengler, one can
say that Austrian literature displays temporal inequalities that cannot be resolved
in the sense of dialectics and that do not disappear. (Schmidt-Dengler 1995, 14)
Considered within a cultural approach in which literature is understood as a
specific aesthetic medium, as a symbol formation in a certain national or regional
culture, this seemingly small Freudian difference between German and Austrian
literature, which has to some extent supported a problematic, sometimes even
aggressive nationalist resentment, can be deconstructed. As such, Austrian literature and other aesthetic formations film, music, popular culture can be considered to have created and indeed invented the small neutral Austria after 1945:
without Austrian literature and culture no Austrian nation. This does not overlook the fact that authors such as Hermann Broch, Robert Musil und Joseph Roth,
Peter Handke, Thomas Bernhard, Ingeborg Bachmann and Elfriede Jelinek play
a distinct, but different role in other cultural contexts, for example in Germany,

caught up in National Socialism) was also the inventor of the idea of an Austrian national
literature. See Nadler, Literaturgeschichte sterreichs (1951).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

because Germany and Austria represent different narrative communities. (Cf.

Mller-Funk 2008)
Austrian anti-Heimatliteratur, whose beginnings can be located either in
Hermann Brochs Die Verzauberung or in Hans Leberts Wolfshaut and which
probably ends with Thomas Bernhards Auslschung, makes the specific difference between Austrian and German literature significant. Likewise, the delayed
avant-garde in Austria (Wiener Gruppe, Wiener Aktionisten, Valie Export) does not
have a real West German counterpart. This kind of literature and cultural production can be seen as highly paradoxical symbolic formations that made very
specific contributions to the creation of an Austrian identity that is completely
different from the German. This approach further includes the idea that Austria
is linked to a specific heterogeneity, long before multiculturalism and cultural
studies, because of the imperial heritage of the country.
Anti-Heimatliteratur is a critical Heimatliteratur, a Heimatliteratur followed by
a question mark. In a very sophisticated way, this baroque performance of lovehate speech combines two moments of Austrian reality and its symbolic state.
Referring to rural places and peripheries (such as the Alps), it criticises the Austrian collaboration with the Third Reich in extraordinarily concrete and demonstrative ways. Ever since Lebert, it is the countryside that is presented as the Austrian heart of darkness, as the place of the symbiosis between Austrian identity
and National Socialism. Many authors, such as Jelinek, Bernhard, Handke, and
Josef Winkler, who cannot be described (only) as anti-regional writers, come from
the background of the Austrian province that is so often depicted as a place of
pseudo-familiar insidiousness. (Schmidt-Dengler 1995, 207211; 369375) The aesthetic and political power of this literature, which was mainstream literature in
Austria in the 1970s and 1980s, was the result not only of a bottom-up perspective, as Zeyringer argues (2008, 134135), but also of the effectiveness of the traditional regional literature with its concrete details, with its strong reference to
social reality, and with its preference for a small world.
As Bachmann, Lebert, Bernhard and Gerhard Fritsch have already done,
authors such as Franz Innerhofer, Marianne Gruber, Gernot Wolfgruber, Felix
Mitterer and others have now also changed the backdrop, die Kulissen gewendet, to use an expression of Zeyringers. The regional home, which is smaller
than the national home, now refers to an anti-community, as Zeyringer notes,
to a Gemeinschaft that is a soziales Gefngnis, in dem die Unterdrckten hoff-

7See Schmidt-Dengler (1995, 288289) and Zeyringer (2008, 133138).

8I think Gerhardt Roths Die Archive des Schweigens is a very good example for that kind of

Austrian Literature in a Trans-cultural Context


nungslos in der von Geburt an festgesetzten Rolle gefangen sind. From a sociological perspective, these findings go hand in hand with the aforementioned fact
that the overwhelming majority of Austrian authors between 1968 and 1989 come
from the rural areas of the country, not from Vienna. This is an interesting parallel and at the same time a lurid contrast to the national sensitivities and to the
self-image of the country as beautiful provincial countryside around the Alps,
in which the former centre of Central Europe has become the periphery of the
As Robert Menasse (1992) argued quite polemically, the rural auto-stereotype
is written into the text of the Austrian national anthem after 1945, which praises
the countryside, the rivers and the mountains, the innocence of nature. This
scenery does not fit well with the urban space of Vienna, which was rediscovered
in the 1990s. To come back to anti-Heimat literature, this type of literature, which
refers polemically to the Austrian countryside, has worn thin. The best pieces,
such as Bernhards Auslschung, will doubtless survive, Bernhards novel not
least of all because of its black humour and its rhetorical hypertrophy. In this
sense, the Nobel Prize for Elfriede Jelinek (2004) does not mark the beginning but
the end of a literary period that was extremely influential and important for the
symbolic anatomy of the country. New topics such as migration and heterogeneous cultural spaces are increasingly coming into play.
For a long time, there was a fascination with Austrian backwoods areas.
This was the exotic, strange element in this particular German-speaking culture,
an element that corresponded especially in Germany with the hetero-image of
Austria as a backward farming country. For about fifteen years now, Austria has
been a richer, more expensive, and arguably more developed country than the
unified Germany. In a tacit acknowledgement of this development, thousands of
Germans emigrate year after year to Austria, so many that the majority of new
immigrants to Austria are now Germans. Austria has become more and more Germanys second Switzerland. Yet in Austria, this need for Alpine and non-Alpine
peripheries is no longer central to the cultural discourse; indeed there is some
exhaustion concerning this topic. The anti-Heimat literature, like the discussions
about the Third Reich, both of which went hand-in-hand, has fulfilled its task.
Moreover, today the rural spaces are no longer representative in view of the global
changes of a hyper-modern culture.
In retrospect, the anti-Heimat novel or the anti-Heimat play had the function
of a literature that can be described as a (more or less) patriotic construction of

9a social prison, in which the oppressed are caught from birth and without any hope in their
unchangeable roles (Zeyringer 2008, 135).


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

identity. Bernhard can be said to have invented Austria through a negative hypertrophy underlain by melancholia. As Robert Menasse points out in his essay Das
Land ohne Eigenschaften (the intertextual allusion to Musil is evident), there is
a strong link between the anti-Heimat literature and the complex symbolic constitution of post-imperial and post-National Socialist Austria (Menasse 1992,
If domestic and rural areas and regions can no longer be considered central
to Austrian literature and culture, and if, more than fifty years after Heimito von
Doderers urban area of the city, cities, especially Vienna, become so central as
heterogeneous and polyphonic spaces, the question is obvious: what kind of
consequences may these changes imply? One could argue that with the end of
anti-Heimat literature a decisive moment for the literatura austriaca has disappeared. Another more optimistic thesis might be that Austria has become more
and more of a normal European nation-state, in which obsessive self-assessment
is no longer a compulsory rite.
I think it is necessary to give the debate on Austrian identity a cultural turn.
What has been labelled as typical Austrian literature is not the expression of
a setting of timeless, essential qualities and identities; rather, it is the result of
history and its symbolic configuration in literature, arts and media that have
produced and continue to produce Austria day after day. It may also be worthwhile mentioning, in favour of the concept of a specific Austrian literature, that
it involves specific cultural issues, in addition to the two well-known arguments
regarding the linguistic idiom and the different history of state and policy. As
Zeyringer has convincingly argued, specific national variations are self-evident
in other linguistic spaces (such as the Spanish, English, French, Portuguesespeaking ones). Nobody would even entertain the idea of identifying Brazilian
literature as Portuguese, or US-American or South African as English literature.
(Zeyringer 2008, 23) Considered within the parameters of modern cultural analysis, it becomes clear that the play of cultural differences is no longer exclusively
based on language, on its written and oral use, as was characteristic of an understanding of culture following in the footsteps of Herder.
Today, other strong cultural phenomena, for example mediality, collective
memory, cultural transfer, region, the construction of everyday life, and symbolic
forms, have become more and more central. With regard to these phenomena,
the differences between Austrian and German sensibilities are striking, just as
the similarities with Austrias non-German-speaking neighbours become visible:
a gesture of irony and scepticism, a feeling for the unreal, experiences of ethnic

10For these lines of argumentation, see Schmidt-Denglers Bruchlinien (1995).

Austrian Literature in a Trans-cultural Context


heterogeneity and strife, a disposition towards provincialism that goes hand in

hand with an overestimation of ones own capabilities. These and other qualities
are more or less part of a post-imperial heritage. It is possible to picture a history
of Central European literature in which there would be a place for authors such
as Pter Esterhzy, Klmn Mikszth, Ferdinand von Saar, Marie Ebner-Eschenbach, Thomas Bernhard, Joseph Roth, Bohumil Hrabal, Danilo Ki, and Miroslav
Krlea and this is only a rather arbitrary beginning of what would constitute a
growing list. With regard to the literature of the last decades one could mention
Libue Monikova, Terezia Mora, Peter Esterhzy, Irena Bren or Jchym Topol.
These authors represent literary actors of a common heterogeneous symbolic
space in which in contrast with earlier times translation is obligatory. But it
also proves to be a symbolic space in which the individual sub-spaces have more
similarities with each other than with Cologne or Bern. Using Wittgensteins idea
of family resemblance (1983, 57) one could say that a lot of important relatives,
uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces are missing in the family photo of Austrian
literature. Paulus Blokker has circumscribed the Austrian relatives by these characteristics: anti-politics, scepticism, anti-essentialism, and multiplicity, cultural
diversity, dissent. (Blokker 2010)
Undoubtedly, language is still a central element for the general context of
cultural connection and bonding, but it is not the only one. From that perspective, Austria differs from Germany as Portugal does from Spain. If considered with
a narratological concept of cultural analysis, Austria constitutes an autonomous
ensemble of various collective small and great narratives. If there is a very specific trauma at the centre of the Austrian narrative material, this could be a specific question of a symptomatic analysis. I think the Dutch cultural theorist Mieke
Bal is right when she warns us against using the term trauma in an inflationary
manner (Bal 2002b, 11). Trauma, she argues, is not identical with grief, nor with
shock. But her definition of trauma as a phenomenon that is closely connected
to mourning (and, as such, strongly influenced by Freud) can be adapted for
Austrian literature, such as for Elfriede Jelineks Die Kinder der Toten or Ingeborg
Bachmanns story Drei Wege zum See. In both texts, personal pain corresponds to
political pain, and in both cases, the terms hurting or wounding express too
little while the term trauma in the classical sense of victimisation is too much.
Following the Lacanian psychoanalysts Jean Laplanche und Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, it is easy to understand the speechlessness in these texts as a fixation (in
a polyvalent sense) and as an inhibition which refer to a structured totality of
partially or completely unconscious phantasies and recollections that are highly
occupied by affective moments. (Laplanche and Pontalis 1973, 252)
Although the nostalgic and imperial term of the Habsburg myth may not
suffice, the larger framework of Austrian literature must still be kept in mind. With


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

regard to that frame, one kind of Austrian literature seems to me to be the most
powerful in terms of its influence on the construction of the countrys identity
and on the production of auto- and hetero-images. This literature revolves around
the centre of the complex structure that is Austria; it entails the experiences of
modernity and fragmentation, of post-imperialism and nation building, and the
traces of the historical catastrophes that make it impossible to create a national
narrative as the heroic and optimistic collective story of the Austrians. This literature remains an exciting possibility, insofar as Austrias fractured national narratives can make a relevant and positive contribution to more differentiated postnational narratives. These narratives no longer follow the binary pattern of inside
and outside; they praise a homogeneous own space, and they do not exclude all
those moments of history that do not fit into the flattering image of a small nation.
There are not only ruptures but also continuities with regard to authors such
as Grillparzer, Musil, Roth, Kafka and Bernhard. These continuities make it possible to explain the history of modern Austrian literature from a larger cultural perspective. In the same vein, Zeyringer, whose account of Austrian literary history
undermines the despotic imperative of a linear narrative, quotes from an interview with Bernhard in which the author defines the difference between German
and Austrian literature and culture with regard to language (the pronunciation of
the German) and history. Take the pronunciation, the language melody. There is
a considerable difference. My diction would be unthinkable for a German author;
by the way, I have a real aversion to the Germans. Do not forget the burden of
history either. [] The past of the Habsburg Empire shapes us. [] It is manifest
in a genuine love-hatred for Austria; in the end, it is the key to all that I write
(Rambures, Aus zwei Interviews, 16.)
This genuine love-hatred, which can be found long before Bernhard in
Joseph Roths pan-Austrian rhetorical performance, can also be interpreted in a
cultural sense. There are not only the political events, not only the Austrian linguistic obstinacy that separating Germans and Austrians, but also different rhetorical strategies of narration and symbol formation. Bernhards invective against
the German of the Germans is instructive insofar as he discusses two acoustic
phenomena: pronunciation and melody. The author of Heldenplatz refers to the

11Nehmen Sie die Aussprache, die Sprachmelodie. Da gibt es schon einen wesentlichen
Unterschied. Meine Schreibweise wre bei einem deutschen Schriftsteller undenkbar, und ich
habe im brigen eine echte Abneigung gegen die Deutschen.
Vergessen Sie auch nicht das Gewicht der Gechichte. Die Vergangenheit des Habsburgerreichs
prgt uns. [] Es manifestiert sich in einer Art echter Haliebe zu sterreich, sie ist letztlich der
Schlssel zu allem, was ich schreibe.

Austrian Literature in a Trans-cultural Context


oral system, to the parole, to the performance of language, not to the written
system of the langue, and to the fixed and defined system of German writing: The
old contrast between Protestant writing and learning culture on the one hand and
Catholic Baroque theatrical culture on the other is still relevant. In this interpretation, the rhetorical overkill, the art of the hyperbolic in Bernhard, would be an
effect of the mimesis of an oral gesture, an effect that is evident in pieces such as
Gehen and Auslschung.
The second point of emphasis in Bernhards answer also goes beyond the
historical fact as such. Rather, it is about collective sensitivities and self-stylization. It was W.G. Sebald, the German immigrant, professor in the United Kingdom
and writer, who today is central and peripheral at the same time, who gave the
concept of Heimat a new meaning. Sebald mentions the specific, often traumatic
development Austria has passed through: from the expansive Habsburg Empire
to the diminutive Alpine Republic; from the monarchy to the corporate state, followed by the annexation to disastrous Pan-Germany, and, finally, the founding
of the Second Republic in the post-war years. (Sebald 1991, 11) Even if one should
be more careful with the word trauma, it can be shown that there are many
immensely irritating experiences in this history, such as a series of military and
political defeats, an enormous marginalisation, dictatorship, and moral guilt,
moments that are an explicit or implicit part of the narrative structure of the
imagined community called Austria. (Cf. Anderson 1991, 57) Sebald describes
literature as a symbolic format that works out irritating experiences; it goes hand
in hand with the presence of disaster and misfortune, and with a deeply embodied sense of shame.
The very notion of Austrian literature can neither rest exclusively in the antiHeimat literature nor be informed exclusively by a perspective in which, as Zeyringer formulates polemically, Austrian literature becomes completely subsumed
into the Pan-Germanic context. (Zeyringer 2008, 25) It becomes evident in an

12In a different context, I have had to express my reservations about Sebalds methodology,
especially his Marxist critique of ideology which erases the polyvalence of literature (see
Komplex sterreich 15). Nevertheless, his two collections of essays on Austrian literature are,
because of their productive external perspective and their sensitive empathy, among the most
competent reflections on the topic; in this respect, they can only be compared with Franz
Schuhs inside perspective and insight into the symbolic architecture of the Austrian case.
From that point of view, it may be worthwhile reading anew Claudio Magriss often criticised
book on the Habsburg myth, which finds itself in opposition to the mainstream Austrian leftist
discourse once again. It is not, as is often stated, a work that transfigures the history of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. Instead, Magris tries to read the literary traces of the impossible
home called Austria or Austro-Hungary.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

external focalisation which is not German, but English, French, Italian or, for
example, Hungarian or Croatian. The specific particularity of Austrian literature
is based on a hybrid condition humaine that is the result de longue duree. The
various languages in the neighbourhood are written into the German language of
Austria. They represent the strange element of its very core, of das Eigene. In contrast with the German use of German language, one can say that Austrian literature can be understood to some extent as a small literature, akin to Czech, Slovak,
Hungarian, Croatian or Slovene literature. If one uses the plural Austrian literatures, then this could refer not only to the plurality of Austrian literature in
a narrow sense but could also describe the cultural und linguistic variety surrounding the German-speaking remains of the monarchy. In that trans-national
sense, Austrian is written into our neighbouring cultures, which goes a long way
to explaining the intellectual distance of Miroslav Krleas or Tom Masaryks
project of de-Austrification in the first Czechoslovak republic. This interdependence and trans-cultural situation is much older than the immigration of workers
from Yugoslavia in the 1970s, or the virtual intensification of symbolic spaces
which modern communication and new media have made possible.
Historically, the Austrian issue, this space-in-between that National Socialism tried to create anew as the German Ostmark, has undergone various
changes, ups and downs. After the breaking up of the Holy Roman Empire in
1806 there was a clear need for a unique collective Austrian profile. Josef von
Hormayrs sterreichischer Plutarch is a symptomatic response. This specific
Austrian identity, which did not automatically exclude the German, faced a crisis
after 1859 and 18671871, when the Prussian king created the Prussian-German
Empire. Friedrich Heer has described in detail the subsequent Germanification
and German-nationalistic infiltration of the Habsburg Empire that took place after
the military defeat and long before Hitler. (Heer 1996, 262321) After 1918 there
were some conservative attempts at inventing Austria anew, such as Anton Wildganss famous speech Rede ber sterreich (1929) and Joseph Roths oeuvre
since Radetzkymarsch (1932), which establish clear symbolic borders between
both German-speaking countries. In contrast, it was the programmatic goal of
National Socialism to separate all Austrian particularities from the geographic
and symbolic area of Austria, with the exceptions of regional folklore and dialect.

13There are many foreign words in Viennese German, and one can find a similar kind of
heterogeneity in the Slavic and Hungarian neighbouring cultures, which are marked by a
specific use of German. This bilingualism was characterised by the quasi-imperial condition, by
the fact that German was for a long time the dominant language in the region, the language of
the elite in politics, economics and culture.

Austrian Literature in a Trans-cultural Context


After 1945, a new chapter began in the long history of constructing Austria as
a symbolic item, and it was not by chance that literature was called upon to create
a strong difference between German and Austrian. As mentioned above, this
period came to an end in 1994 when Austria joined the European Union. Since
then a new dynamic has taken place in the dialectic of the other. The German
influence has increased considerably in nearly all relevant fields of modern
society, such as media, economics, and science. Yet the last fifteen years have
also seen the return of more intensive relations with those countries which are
sometimes referred to in Austria somewhat patronisingly as successor states.
There is also a growing influence of global tendencies which creates a strange linguistic mixture between Austrian German and American English. The erstwhile
Austrian goal of constructing a neutral island in splendid isolation has become
obsolete. In this fluid cultural situation and the rapid evolution of social media,
a new generation will create a new type of literature, a literature with differences
from and similarities to previous periods of Austrian literature.

2.Once Again: Musil, or Austria as a Heterogeneous Space

It is well-known that the problematic term hybridity, which is regularly used
in cultural studies, goes back to Michael Bakhtin (1981, 358). The Russian literary and cultural theorist made use of this ambiguous term hybrid in the world
of Greek mythology and a product of biological breeding with regard to the
impossible hyper-genre of the modern novel. In his analysis, Bakhtin refers
to aesthetic and linguistic phenomena such as multilingualism, the mixture
and integration of different genres (drama, lyric, letter), multi-perspectivism,
pluralism and the diversity of speech-acts. From that point of view, the modern
novel can be understood as a mimesis of form that has been so characteristic of
the globalising modernity since the beginning of the twentieth century. It is the
modern novel that has given modernity its representative form. That Bakhtins
theory is to some extent unique has to do with the fact that it interprets the pluralism in modern societies, in contrast with traditional Marxism, in a positive
way. Implicitly it entails a cultural theory which connects two aspects that play
an extraordinarily important role in contemporary discourses in cultural theory,
namely political dissent as the precondition of the possibility of post-authoritarian civil societies, and the existence and presence of cultural differences as they
become evident in the variety of languages, genders, beliefs and religions. It is
the modern novel that is formatting all these kinds of pluralistic issues. It is able
to do this symbolic work because of its hybridity, that is, because it is a composed
genre and a mixture.


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

This concept of mixture and heterogeneity has been transferred by cultural

and postcolonial studies from artefacts to actors and authors, to immigrants, to
diasporas, and to minorities as such. There is, as Terry Eagleton has shown, a
certain cultural restriction in that use of hybridity. (Eagleton 2000, 15) Heterogeneity is seen here (as, for example, in Bhabha) as a paradoxical identity/nonidentity referred to as a cultural in-between, as a threshold, defined by two different parallel cultures. De- and re-constructing Benjamins theory of translation,
one may risk the thesis that the translator can be understood as a guardian of and
at the threshold. From that perspective, Austria can be understood as a potential, if not intentional, station for translation and transfer, a fragile third space
(all those so-called third spaces are unstable; as they have a dynamic temporal
aspect, they also represent transit stations in the category of time). Austria is a
collective point of diverse, overlapping contexts. In contrast with European countries like Belgium and Switzerland that host three or four separate internal literatures that are linked with larger cultural and linguistic spaces, Austria represents
more or less only one space, which has, however, a multi-dimensional aspect.
This is already true for Nestroys polyphone language in the first part of the nineteenth century. This is relevant also in Grillparzers and Stifters interest in Hungarian and Czech history, which is treated as part of the unique symbolic space.
This also comes to light in Ferdinand von Saars and Marie Ebner-Eschenbachs
critical stories about Austrian masters and Czech servants, as well as in Leopold
von Sacher-Masoch, Karl Emil Franzos, Jakob Julius David, and Anastasius Grn.
In contrast with many other national cultures, Austrian literature stands out
because of a very specific and obvious heterogeneity, especially if takes into consideration the biographical background of many authors. Even if one refrains from
resorting to biographical interpretation, this does not mean that one has to discount personal and political experiences that are manifested in literary production. This aspect is obvious in famous authors such as Franz Kafka, Robert Musil,
Elias Canetti, Joseph Roth and dn von Horvth. But there are also moments of
heterogeneity in other authors with a Jewish background: Hermann Broch, Hugo
von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, Theodor Herzl, Franz Werfel, Stefan Zweig.
Quite often these authors got into the crossfire of contested national, ethnic and
political cultures, and they were facing the alternatives of assimilation, integration or disassociation. More to the point, Kafka is not an exceptional example of
Austrian literature; he is part of the symbolic core. This is also true for his companions from the Prague circle (such as Ernst Weiss, Ludwig Winder, Max Brod),
as well as for Mans Sperber, Paul Celan and other authors from Galicia and Bukovina, or for the bilingual Slovene-Austrian authors Gustav Janus, Florjan Lipu
and, to a certain degree, Peter Handke. The dynamic of the transient, which was
so powerful in the Habsburg Empire, is still at work. Authors such as Milo Dor or

Austrian Literature in a Trans-cultural Context


Pavel Kohout have quite evidently a double symbolic marking. After 1989, Vienna
has become an urban space for a polyphone literature. It is, for example, represented by Radek Knapp, Julya Rabinowich and Dimitr Dinev.
Further, the renewed presence of Jewish identities needs to be mentioned
here, pars pro toto Doron Rabinovici, Robert Menasse, Eva Menasse, and Robert
Schindel. Schindels novel Gebrtig decribes the ambivalent in-between of a
group of Jewish intellectuals in Vienna in the late 1980s with great feeling and
empathy. Schindels figures are at the same time home and not at home. They fear
to leave the urban area of Vienna and enter the countryside, the symbolic space
of the anti-Heimat novels. Schindels protagonists occupy a distinctive symbolic
space, which is always structured heterogeneously. Conversely, other parts of the
population, for example the pauperised supporters of right-wing populism, react
to this phenomenon with aggressive xenophobia. In Freudian terminology, this
constitues a very problematic aspect of discontent in urban culture that is defined
by mixture and hybridity.
There is a direct connection between a specific heterogeneity in Austrian
culture and an aggressive longing for a homogeneous closed space called Heimat
in politics. In my view, this is a classical struggle for symbolic meaning and
hegemony in a Gramscian sense. To some extent, this struggle is a new version
of an old conflict that took place in Vienna around 1900. To support this thesis, a
look at Musils famous novel, especially the eighth chapter, entitled Kakanien,
may be helpful. With respect to what I have called above the complexity of what
is Austrian, the emphasis on retardation and the interest in diversity, instability
and dissent is remarkable. The essayistic voice in the chapter understands these
moments as a characteristic phenomenon of modernity. This modernity anticipates, as Jacques Le Rider has shown, the gesture of post-modernism, which arises
for the first time from the complexity of what is Austria and which is also seen as a
symbolic space for experiences and experiments. (Le Rider 1990, 419420)
The essayistic voice of Kakanien starts with an overwhelming tableau
of modernity, the magnificent machinery of a hyper-American town with the
hundred thousand windows of their skyscrapers to refer to Kafkas fragmentary
America novel. Musils novel uses the technique of stringing together linguistic material. It proves to be mimetic to its topic, a space in terrific and lightning
movement but without any direction. Nobody knows what route will be taken.
Quite obviously, the metaphors of speed and acceleration dominate. The tableau
of the town, some sort of a hyper-New York, owes to the early silent film or a
novel like Manhattan Transfer. If one looks rather more intensively at the basic
plot of this chapter, it is about a bold outdoing of the great narrative of progress
(in Lyotards sense using Nietzsches master narrative of the uncertain departure
of occidental, post-Columbian mankind). This chronotopos is characterised


Part 3: The Heritage of Classical Modernism: Broch, Canetti, Musil, Kafka

by the fact that travel has become automatic; there is no hand or parking brake
and no stop-button. It is conceivable, even probable, that the participants of this
expedition will never return from their departure. Every technical accident in our
globalised world participates in this catastrophic mega-narrative.
The image of a busy and living space that is cut by streets, cars and metro
systems serves as a contrast to the all-Austrian space-time, which is characterized by retardation, restraint and mediocrity. And it contained the text consciously uses the past tense the possibility of leaving the train while traveling,
as is common for journeys by train. It would be attractive to use a term from
Carl Schmitts apocalyptic narrative: Austria is seen as a Katechon, a historical
element that checks or even halts the end of the world. Integrating the temporal
level of narrating; it is decisive in the apocalyptic drama of John from Patmos,
the station before the terminus, the period before the end of time. Musils ending
leaves open whether this holding moment is an integral part of a moving modernity, an internal counterpart, as it were, or if is a symptom of a dying nomos
(Schmitt 1981, 7174).
Undoubtedly, the distinctive heterogeneity of the complex structures that
combine to make Austria with all its in-betweens and its time structure is
genuinely modern, including the distrust and the individualistic hate for each
other, as the essayistic voice points out at the end of the chapter: Denn nicht
nur die Abneigung gegen den Mitbrger war dort bis zum Gemeinschaftsgefhl
gesteigert, sondern es nahm auch das Mitrauen gegen die eigene Person und
deren Schicksal den Charakter tiefer Selbstgewiheit an. Man handelte in diesem
Land [] immer anders, als man dachte, oder dachte anders, als man handelte.
In this paragraph the diagnosis of the loss of identity and character is linked with
that kind of distrust. The protagonist Ulrich is conceived beyond all ethnic particularity, a hero of the heterogeneous, the marginalized and the unreal, a man
not only without qualities, but also without identities. What makes him different
from the other inhabitants of this specific symbolic space is his heroic and at the
same time indifferent consciousness, the gesture of a man who is free from any
illusion. His identity dissolves in the particular. Of the ten different identities the
text mentions (nation, region, gender, social position, profession etc.), the tenth
is the most mysterious one. It is an imaginary empty and invisible space that is
based on passive fantasy, a space similar to a childs building block town, nichts

14Robert Musil (1978, 34): For it was not only dislike of ones fellow-citizens that was
intensified into a strong sense of community, even mistrust of oneself and of ones own destiny
here assumed the character of profound self-certainty. In this country one acted [] differentely
from the way one thought, or one thought differently from the way one acted.

Austrian Literature in a Trans-cultural Context


als die passive Phantasie unausgefllter Rume [] eben ein leerer, unsichtbarer
Raum, in dem die Wirklichkeit darin steht wie eine von der Phantasie verlassene
kleine Steinbaukastenstadt (Musil 1978, 34). Austria is here, above all, improvisation and mixture kat exochen: People have nothing to do which each other any
longer. What they have in common is the experience with an uncanny vacuum.
This is also true on a manifestly ethnic level. What holds together the complex
structure that is Austria is the conflict between the ethnic groups or the nationalist camps. Everybody needs somebody to hate. In this respect, nationalism can be
seen as a symptom and a promise, the promise of healing. It is the empty space
which is to be filled with symbolic bubbles. This attempt at healing is, as the plot
of the novel suggests, in vain.
In Musils novel, two results are connected: on the one hand, modernity with
its specific forms of individualism and egotism and with its uncomfortable coldness; on the other hand the hotspots of national conflicts that interestingly are
interpreted as an effect of modern individualism. It is culture that creates these
differences that allow conflicts to be sustaining in a more or less peaceful way.
The Parallelaktion in the novel is a metonymy for the work of culture as such. At
the end, war is the logical consequence of this very strange form of emptiness.
There can be no doubt that Musils protagonist is an unstable figure in a
space in which all the ethnic, ideological and sexual conflicts rage. Even if one
keeps in mind the ambivalence of literary texts, the explicit plot structure in the
novel suggests that the principle of scepticism has neutralised and overcome the
principle of hope.
In contrast to contemporary debates, the novel does not portray the heterogeneous as a political candidate for hope, neither in the form of a Romantic
communitarism (multi-culturalism) nor in the version of a Romantic individualism which defines identity as non-identity. On the contrary, the empty space,
which theoretically entails the possibility of creative acts, produces panic and
supports all those political movements that are sustained by the elementary
individual social and cultural ear. Heterogeneity becomes a vanishing point for
aggressive strategies of national identity politics. Like Broch, the other Austrian
literary mastermind of that period, Musil could not imagine a form of culture that
is not based on common values. What can be described as the agonal pluralism
of modern and post-modern cultures today, a peaceful symbolic war in which
everybody respects their counterparts in a highly paradoxical way, was not an
option for Broch and Musil. In this respect, the (all-)Austrian complexity remains
a current and relevant topic.

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Original place of publication of single chapters

Identity, Alterity and the Work of the Narrative: A Transdisciplinary Discourse Report
Lecture at the Univ. of Palermo (2012).
Forthcoming, in: Birgit Neumann and Ansgar Nnning (eds.) Travelling Concepts for the Study of
Culture (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter).
The Hidden Narratives: Latency, Repression, Common Sense
Inaugural Lecture, Univ. of Birmingham (UK) (2002).
German version in: Wolfgang Mller-Funk (2002) Die Kultur und ihre Narrative (Wien: Springer).
On the Narratology of Cultural and Collective Memory
Lecture at the ACS conference, Univ. of Birmingham (UK) (2000).
First published in: Journal of Narrative Theory 33.2 (2003), 207227.
Romanticism and Nationalism: The Heroic Narrative Hermann and the Battle for Germany
Lecture, Aston University (2001).
Romanticism and Nationalism. The Heroic Narrative Hermann and the Battle for Germany.
German version in: Wolfgang Mller-Funk (2002) Die Kultur und ihre Narrative (Wien: Springer).
Polyphems Children: (Post-) Colonial Aspects in Western Modernity and Literary Modernism
Key note lecture at the MALCA conference, Vermont (2003).
German version in: Wolfgang Mller-Funk (2009) Komplex sterreich. Fragmente zu einer
Geschichte der modernen sterreichischen Literatur (Wien: Sonderzahl).
Murder and Monotheism: A Detective Story in Close Reading
Lecture at the symposium Die Macht der Monotheismen-Psychoanalyse und Religionen,
Sigmund Freud Museum Wien (2009).
Space and Borders: Simmel, Waldenfels, Musil
First puplished in: Johan Schimanski and Stephen Wolfe (eds.) (2007) Border Poetics De-Limited
(Hannover: Wehrhahn).
Time in Modern Cultural Analysis
Lecture at the Wittgenstein-Symposium, Kirchberg, Austria (2005).
Walter Benjamin and the Translational Turn
Lecture at the Univ. Coimbra, Portugal (2009).
The Arts and the Split of Time: On Kawara
Key note lecture at the EAM conference Europa!? Europa? at Gent University (2008).
First published in: Sascha Bru, Jan Baetens, Benedikt Hjartason, Peter Nicholls, Tania rum and
Hubert van Berg (eds.) (2009), Europa! Europa? The Avant-Garde, Modernism and the Fate
of the Continent (Berlin/New York: De Gruyter).

Original place of publication of single chapters


The Disappearing of Ruins: Thomas Glavinics The Work of the Night and an Imaginary
Symposion with Benjamin, Simmel, Freud and Foucault
Lecture at the workshop Inhabited Ruins, Univ. Lancaster, UK (2010).
Fear in Culture: Hermann Brochs Massenwahntheorie
Lecture at the MLA conference, New Orleans (2001).
First published in: Paul Michael Ltzeler (ed.) (2003) Hermann Broch. Visionary in Exile. The
2001 Yale Symposion (Rochester: Camden House).
Mass Hysteria and the Physics of the Crowd: Canetti and Broch A Theoretical Divorce
Lecture at the Canetti-Broch-Conference, organised by sterreichische Gesellschaft fr
Literatur, Elias Canetti Gesellschaft and Arbeitskreis Hermann Broch (2003).
Musils Version of Round Dance in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften
Lecture at the MLA conference, San Francisco (2008).
From Early Modernism to the Late Avant-garde Movement: The Austrian Example
German version in: Wolfgang Mller-Funk (2009) Komplex sterreich. Fragmente zu einer
Geschichte der modernen sterreichischen Literatur (Wien: Sonderzahl).
The Broken Mirror: The Construction of America in Lenau
Lecture at the Austrian Cultural Institute, Washington DC (2011).
Images of America, Made in Austria: After Lenau Franz Kafka
Lecture at the Austrian Cultural Institute, New York (2011).
Austrian Literature in Trans-cultural Perspective
Key note lecture at MALCA, Vienna (2010) and at the University of California/Berkeley (2011).
First published in: Michael Bhringer/Susanne Hochreiter (eds.) (2011) Zeitenwende:
sterreichische Literatur seit dem Millenium (Wien: Praesens).