Silence was not a way of upholding the primal Austrian myth any more; it was causing that myth to putrify. Had Jonke gone on record in this volume, we could quickly clinch thequestion of overt political content in his work. Austrian literature had not so much avoided politics as sublimated it to the ever-present workings of imagination and fantasy to a degree that makes the political aspect difficult to see; provided a key for decoding the modes of sublimation.
Harvey I. But the whole political posture of the Austrian writer is different after the watershed crisis of the Waldheim scandal, much more overtly political. No narrative genre goes more deeply to the roots of tradition in Austria—for better or worse—than regional fiction, and Jonke uses it in the literally radical sense, looking at the subterranean patterns of conventional thinking and authoritarian structures.
Tradition becomes a means of confronting, not avoiding, political implications in societies that draw on the past for their meaning. This may well be another reason why Jonke refers to himself as an experimentalist in only a restricted sense—in the sense that the word has little meaning when looked at more closely, since even the most extreme experiments can only be grasped as proceeding from forms and practices that have come before. What device could be more experimental, more far from standard processes of narration, than those long lists of actions that the school children are supposed to perform and avoid in Geometric Regional Novel, with verb after verb, phrase after phrase, specific action after specific action holding up the movement of the story line?
Yet they soon begin to have a familiar sound, like litanies, those ancient forms of prayer by incantation that repeat a formula over and over with minute variations to work their way beyond consciousness to more primal centers.
Once we see that Jonke is writing under the discipline of a time-honored convention and not being self-indulgent, we can relate what looks like arbitrariness to a coherent tradition; the resultant gain in understanding is immediate. The label of experimentation creates the self-fulfilling anticipation of difficulty and thus allows the hasty reader an escape route.
Again, though, what experiment does not build on previous efforts? The work that looks bafflingly new falls more readily into the contours of a known terrain when the label is removed and the work approached as part of a continuity, as a crafted object arising from a tradition. Techniques involving aleatory structure or other open forms, in which the composer does not notate everything, but allows great latitude to the performers—to start and stop at will, for example, or to play at a tempo of their choice—are still regarded at the beginning of this new century as cutting-edge, avant-garde experiments that acknowledge and accept randomness.
But these processes actually restore the once-common practice of involving the performer as co-creator of the work through improvisation just as Jonke keeps inviting the reader to participate in the creation and disposal of the village! Returning to literature, most of the canonic experimenters of the modernist movement in English first gained notoriety for supposed upheavals in art, but it has grown clear through the decades that they are all deeply rooted in the Western literary tradition. One of the basic works of all Western literature is re-created right from the first line of the first canto, which quotes Homer directly and sets out on a new journey.
Even though this new odyssey is interior to the point of solipsism, readers can always find reorientation by remembering that Pound is reenacting Homer. Banal peregrinations through Dublin on a not very eventful day are specifically modeled on characters and episodes from the Odyssey to the point of timeless reenactment.
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We can say of Joyce what Jonke says of the Italian hermeticists; Ulysses is not so very hard to understand if we keep in mind the parallels with the familiar epic and worry about the rest later. We can sum up by quoting poet, novelist, translator, and anthropologist Raoul Schrott, perhaps the most erudite expert anywhere on the heritage and transmission of poetry from Sumerian and Babylonian times to the present.
The Arcimbolo paintings are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, where Esslin was fascinated by them as a boy Schrott knows whereof he speaks anyway—his learning and articulateness leave readers and audiences breathless—but the location of the paintings and their impact on a young Viennese, the comprehensive long view of tradition by an Austrian not yet forty Schrott was born in will suggest a connection that proves far from random.
We quoted Thomas Mann, who found the strength of Austrian literature in its traditionalism, and that quality has indeed characterized the life of art in Austria to a remarkable extent. Commentators from outside Austrian culture often express considerable surprise that an immense renewal in the arts and sciences—an upheaval so great that it resulted in whole new modes of seeing and hearing—should have taken place around in an empire renowned for politically conservative attitudes and for an overfixation on artistic tradition.
But the upheaval Klimt created not long after came about not by overthrowing past practice, but by going deeper into it, to more authentic sources; now he drew his inspiration from Japanese woodcuts and Byzantine icons, from medieval allegory paintings of youth, maturity, and age. Mozart was one of the great innovators in opera, credited with perfecting the staged vocal ensemble in Idomeneo, the first to use a trombone in an opera orchestra in Don Giovanni.
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As has been said of him, though, a maximum of invention combines with a maximum of convention to produce great art. In it, a fictive young aristocrat is writing to his friend Francis Bacon to explain, if he can, his withdrawal from court and his silence as a writer. Once acclaimed as a dazzling crafter of poetry, Lord Chandos now finds language slippery and meaningless, his soul blocked from expression, his psyche terrified on feeling that words fall into pieces and the pieces into smaller pieces even as they are uttered.
The despair of language is so thorough as to induce vertigo in the writer of the letter. Yet Chandos is performing the paradoxical feat of recording his despair of language in no other medium than language, and what enables him to do so is tradition. The Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern created a revolution of music beginning around , complete with all the riots by audiences, the boos, the accusations of insanity or fraudulence, and so on. Yet what did Schoenberg in fact do in devising the twelve-tone system? Through studying the tradition of key signatures, major and minor modes, tempered tuning, and tonality with such thoroughness, by embracing a traditionalist like Brahms, he was able to turn a coin onto its other face; he did not so much create a new system as react creatively to an old one, without which atonal or twelve-tone music would not be coherent.
Anton Webern subject of a great novella by Jonke, incidentally took the implications of serialist technique to the farthest possible extreme, so much so that many musicians, even in this neoromantic era, unhesitatingly name him and often Debussy as the twentieth-century composer who most decidedly changed the whole course of music. We can gain greater understanding of Geometric Regional Novel itself as we look at the three terms of the title in contextual terms. We can take them separately, but since they are unified in the title, we will find some overlap.
Let us look at the terms and their implications in themselves, sometimes in combinations. Consider the process known as defamiliarization, which Kesting—among others—identifies Bartens and Pechmann as one of the avant-garde devices of Geometric Regional Novel.
She is referring, we mentioned earlier, to a level of observation so microscopically detailed and precise that it renders the very reality unrecognizable The level of precision is so minute that is becomes impossible to keep the overall picture in mind; the unity of the thing vanishes into its own components. Yet this experimental technique of narration, a device well suited to challenging accepted reality, is not so avant-garde; it arises directly out of the conventional treatment of nature that regional fiction involves.
As in Geometric Regional Novel, the scope is carefully circumscribed. The horizon is constricted; survey from a height is uncommon. A patch of woods, a group of houses in a village, a river, a distant mountain, a meadow, a small farmholding are the most likely settings; characters like the village schoolmaster or an old woodsman are gentle, humble in their occupations and expectations; and the overall patterns of the natural cycle are invoked in small, nearby objects—a flower, a domestic animal, the changing of the leaves, a gathering of clouds over a hillside.
The drama arises not from large effects but from the sorrows and joys of a narrowly compassed life. The power of regional writing arises directly out of revealing the great within the small, of charging the mundane with profundity; at its best, regional fiction can create a spell of intensely idyllic, lyrical beauty. The most eloquent statement of this approach can be found in the foreword Adalbert Stifter wrote to his collection of stories called Bunte Steine Many-Colored Stones ,9 an unsurpassed compendium of regionalist concerns in all their implications and a perfect work of art.
The movement of the wind, the plashing of water, the ripening of grain, the breaking of sea waves, the greening of the earth, the brightness of the sky, the glimmering of the stars—these I consider great; the storm gathering so mightily, the lightning that splits houses apart, the tempest that drives the waves, a mountain spewing fire, an earthquake that devastates the countryside—I do not consider these greater than the other phenomena. In fact, I consider them lesser, because they are only the results of much higher laws. Stifter At his poetic best, Stifter governs his materials with complete apparent ease; stylistic grace and poise place the work in a state of perfect equilibrium, making it seem to be writing itself, the effect of which is a lyrically persuasive advocacy of the small compass being wide enough to disclose the workings of the cosmos in its general laws.
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A survey would probably reveal that almost half of Austrian regional works either explicitly have some form of the word small klein in their titles or pointedly allude to the limited range of setting and action. See the collection of essays edited by Polheim. In a narrative atmosphere that never breaks the surface of complete verisimilitude, quiet turns into quietism, gentleness into stasis. If uneventfulness is a value, then make the crossing of the square the only plot line.
If excitement and suspense are alien effects, then create a mystery around why it is so important for those trying to cross the square to do so unobserved, and then never mention it again.
If quietism is a value, then go all the way and turn the villagers into voiceless robots programmed to have no humanity at all. If village squares or rustic bridges or rolling hills are described with lyrical, poetic beauty, then describe them with a diagram, a geometrical term, a bewilderingly overdetailed description of how the bridge works. If an indulgent tempo of description functions to slow the narrative to a gentle pace, then stop it altogether with another set of regulations or another manic list of actions or objects and then let the reader see that the catalog that brought the story to a halt is the story.
If humanity and nature are to live in mutually fruitful harmony and respect, then turn that relationship askew and show humanity destroying itself and nature by cutting down the last tree and polluting the last stream. All this defamiliarization or geometrization exposes a basic manipulativeness about regional literature. The reality of the universals which regional writing upholds is called into radical doubt by scrutinizing that very reality on an even smaller scale than before. Precisely the circumscribed scope that gave shape to that reality is the scope that will reveal its unreality when narrowed yet further.
But think of those photographs which, when inspected closely, are shown to be made up of dozens or hundreds of much smaller photographs arranged by color into a large pattern not present in any of the individual component pictures but emerging from their arrangement and from their arrangement only. The pattern of the whole composition is not transferable to any of its separate elements, and to suggest that the larger is contained in the smaller in any way except through the work of an intervening artificer is false. It is precisely when allegedly universal laws observed in nature are applied to human behavior—from justifying the divine right of kings via the great chain of being to justifying social Darwinism via natural selection—that this whole ordering principle is revealed to be dubious and controlling, because the verifiability of the observation itself is questionable from the start.
As early as the seventeenth century, and in the mind of a fervent religious believer, Blaise Pascal, the old congruity between humanity, nature, and God was shattered. It is when the stylization is emphasized as highly mannered that the category emerges as a study, as a collection of enamels and cameos, not as a gathering of stones from the wayside. Those stones have been worked; Fribolin is one of few commentators to trace the origins of purportedly realistic regional writing in the preciosities and conventions of pastoral verse.
There is basically, then, a category error in the seeming realism of Stifter; the documentary persuasiveness with which he can poetize highly representational settings and objects removes the mind from full awareness that this is all a construct. Geometric Regional Novel restores awareness. Pastoral writing wears its artifice openly. Rainey in Morgana, Mississippi, in The Golden Apples, but we are given right in the name of the town to know that we are witnessing a mythic, symbolic cortege, not reading a list of the funeral guests.
It is when the highly wrought rendering of pastoral takes on the seeming realistic artlessness of regional that the ethics can be slippery. However, regional writers who appear realistic—Stifter as the towering Austrian artist, Waggerl, Ginskey, Rosegger, Nabl, Grogger as lesser ones—are inconspicuously transfiguring the objects of their perception into poetic mode, subjecting the smallest and most common elements to the glorification, idealization, and lyrical transmutation of landscape through structural choices.
In the s a resurgence of regional writing occurred in the form of antiregional novels; like their opposite number, the idyllic regional fictions against which they were reacting, these works were strongly autobiographical, which can only make the reader wonder how the authors survived to write about the conditions they describe with such harrowing immediacy. As Fliedl notes, antiregionalism aimed to dismantle the idyll with a vengeance, depicting with unsparing graphic detail the humiliations and abuses, the serfdom and slave labor, the violence and drunkenness, the backbreaking toil, the extreme regimentation, the ugliness of the manure pit and the pig slaughtering, the annihilation of personality, the utter hopelessness of ever escaping to or even imagining a different life Village and provincial life could offer the pageantry and solemnity of the Catholic church year, but the distorting provincialism of religious instruction erected a stark system of sin and damnation, all of it based in some way on transgressing against authority.
In conflict over the extreme disparity between the magnificence of Catholic liturgy and the terror of Catholic transgression, Winkler found mediation and sense in the life and work of Jean Genet, who makes a consistent moral code out of that transgression; still, as Winkler himself acknowledges, he is unlikely ever to get beyond the central conflicts of his childhood Fribolin With all honor to these novels of profound aesthetic discipline and even more profound ethical courage, they are not categorically different from the kind of work against which they are reacting.
Regional writing in Great Britian and the United States14 has a wider variety of registers and tones than regional writing in Austria. In Great Britain there are numberless works that extol the idyllic peace of rural and village life under threat, novels that with almost sociological precision capture worlds in the process of disappearing, if not already gone—mention need be made only of G.
Thwackum and Mr. We need recall the bleak, hopeless antipastoral poems of George Crabbe in this connection, as well; The Borough and The Village are almost naturalistic studies in the cruelty of humans and the mercilessness of nature in East Anglia. This range of approaches was not at the disposal of Austrian antiregional novelists; they had only a near-unanimous idyllicism and idealization against which to react. Accordingly, the one strategy available to their artistic process is to reverse or invert the standard settings, terms, characters, emotions, and structures of the rhapsodically, poetically regional, stressing the violent, the squalid, the brutal.
They remain perforce on the level of content, and even their structure relies on the standard geography of regional life. Not deconstruction, but reconstruction on the old basis.
They did not so much reveal correlations between regionalism and totalitarianism as bring them to the surface. The close association of Nazism and regionalism is considered self-evident by this commentator, and his context also assumes that the audience will immediately make the same correlation. Not for nothing does Haider cultivate an image that could make him a character from the pages of the traditional regional writers; he patterns himself on the same rural values, the same incorruptible honesty, simplicity, and courage to speak out for his homestead and his country.
Indeed, the high incidence of National Socialist involvement on the part of regionalist writers is striking. Certainly Stifter, a great humanist, would have been aghast, stupefied with shock to see that those who wrote, under his more or less direct inspiration, about the simple life, the peaceful pursuit of rural occupations in nature, the quiet and gentle cultivation of eternal order, the harmony of the seasonal cycle, were also enthusiastic proponents of the Austro-Fascist state from to and the National Socialist regime from to Of course the National Socialists were adept at image management and persuasively stylized themselves to many as simple, good people with a love of homeland and reverence for the earth, wishing to live only in peace and freedom.