“Goethe and Kafka in America” – Textures of Cultural Memory in Johannes Urzidil’s Essays and Novels
Reinold Bubser (University of Northern Iowa, USA) [BIO]
Remembering is more than recalling mental images; it is a reconstruction process of the past which is shaped by a complex interplay of internal and external variables. Individuals remember, i.e., select and reflect upon subjective experiences, which in turn have been influenced by social and cultural perceptions of groups of people, such as ethnic or religious groups or a nation, at a certain period of history.
Literary texts often render visible cultural memory through the employment of intertextuality and identity constructions. Strong evidence of these layers of remembrance can be found in works by Johannes Urzidil, who faced cultural dislocation when fascists were staging their dark machinations in Europe: Urzidil went into exile in England and then emigrated to the United States in 1941.
In his writings, the Prague-born, German-speaking novelist Johannes Urzidil’s (1896–1977) makes cogent references to his hometown Prague, the literary circle (Café Arco) of the twenties, whose members included his personal friend Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Franz Werfel, Egon Erwin Kisch, Ernst Weiss, Hermann Ungar and other influential cultural icons. In his exile years in New York City, Urzidil’s research into American cultural history afforded him a remarkable---but not always successful---integration of American culture into his existing European-shaped intellectual framework.
This study seeks to examine the complex interplay of autobiographical and collective, historical and imagined memory in Johannes Urzidil’s essays and novels. Among the questions to be discussed are: How and to what end do the literary texts stabilize, reflect or transform cultural memory? How do the protagonists remember monuments, texts, rituals, events, and figures that are part of individual and collective memories and transpose them to the present? How do the essays and literary texts represent the inherent relationship between memory and identity?