Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 0. Nr. August 1997

Project: Austrian Literary History(1)
Stages of Work and Plans

Herbert Arlt (Vienna)


1. Institute for Research and Promotion of Austrian and International Literary Processes
2. Internet
3. Boundary Conditions
4. Defining the subject
5. Approach


Ever since I became a student of German Studies starting in 1978 in Salzburg, I have been aware, that the term "Austrian Literature' hardly plays any role for students at the beginning of their studies (and this would also be true for students of "German Studies" at the other Austrian universities). It was only during the course of our studies (especially in the dissertation-seminars of Walter Weiss) that many of us got acquainted with the scientific discussions on Austrian literature (although by that time itself articles with divergent positions also appeared sporadically in the media and several books on the subject were available).(2) But even at the end of the eighties the concept was not yet generally accepted in the promotion of scholarship in Austria. An excerpt from an expert opinion on the "theory of Austrian literature" published in 1989 read as follows: "With regard to the past (here particularly the 18th, 19th centuries – H.A.) I fundamentally doubt that it existed."

Even the studies, conferences on Soyfer(3), which for many were the starting point among other things for reflections and concepts on Austrian literature, show that an explicit engagement with Austrian literature is linked to discussions of basic questions which are being carried on in literary studies. However, with regard to Austrian literature, these discussions often have a limited horizon clearly characterized by methodological reduction and a narrow worldview when compared to the breadth of other methodological discussions. In particular, the Salzburg project of an Austrian literary history clearly went conceptually beyond these limits(4) but the preconditions just did not exist in the eighties for a systematic approach to such a vast amount of material.

For these reasons it was undoubtedly important and profitable to first approach the problematic of describing an Austrian literature in the seventies and eighties through critical studies of the history of scholarship, partially new discoveries, building of archives, bilateral symposia etc.(5). That such descriptions in this phase could only emerge from bringing together special findings also follows from the structure of the archives, the form of the organisation of scholarship in "German Studies"(6), the processing of information, the big gaps which existed and exist.

1. Institute for Research and Promotion of Austrian and International Literary Processes(7)

In this phase of the discussions on Austrian Literature, which was connected to some extent with new research findings in cultural studies and with a wide-ranging process of internationalisation, the founding of the "Institute for Research and Promotion of Austrian and International Literary Processes" in November 1994 represented an attempt to establish a broad cooperation. The form of cooperation is an international association of scholars which still worked and works with the old structures of communication (conferences, meetings, circulars, books, etc.). But from the very beginning new suggestions were put forward for the crossing of borders and for a synthesis of specialised knowledge.(8).

The first steps towards working out new foundations were the conference in Riverside (1995)(9), the meeting in Vienna (1996), the conference in St.Petersburg (1996) and the meeting in New Dehli (1996).

These meetings were accompanied by studies, 2 series of books of the Institute, experiments on data collection (for eg. the Soyfer-archive), establishing the institutional structures.

The following may be considered as provisional results of these activities:

1.1. A paradigm change was made after long years of efforts of many scholars and institutions. The focus is no longer as in the seventies and eighties on the "for and against" of an Austrian literature, but on the compiling of data banks and literary histories.

1.2. Austrian Literature is a literature in several languages.(10)

1.3. No canon is to be worked out. The issue is rather of a broad approach to the subject with all its constradictions

2. Internet

Proceeding on the assumption that research structures based on division of labour cannot be brought to a synthesis through an act of volition, one has to look for ways and means that have such structures as their starting point. Now that the subject of "Austrian Literature" has begun to acquire greater international acceptance, the next step is to establish an appropriate for for bringing together the results of research. The use of the INTERNET offers itself as such a new step. In this regard the following partial steps are planned:

2.1. For the study of Austrian literature, the INTERNET would be used as far as materially possible both for a qualitatively new form of scientific communication and organisation (information homepages) as well as for a data bank with the name "Bio-bibliography of Austrian authors" (a new quality of international accessibility to data on Austrian literature) with all concerned partners mentioned on its homepage. A page for worldwide discussions on central problems would also be offered as soon as the necessary extent of infrastructure (and with this the possibility of participation in a worldwide discussion) is available. Since 1997 the Institute offers seminars worldwide for setting up these structures. In 1997 a book by Rosenauer/Arlt (working title: Literary Studies and INTERNET) will be available. These structures are preconditions so that the means are proviced for a large number of participating scholars to get the most concrete results possible and so that along with the individual perspectives, generalisations can also be made that take into consideration the worldwide results of research.

2.2. The setting up of a data bank provides only one necessary basis for approaching a complex set of materials. The researching of literary remains, the interpretation of texts, the analysis of manifold processes (even in individual studies), the theory of methodological forms and their expressive ability, new suggestions for writing a literary history that take into consideration the advantages and disadvantages of the most modern technology, etc. are necessary conditions for the working out of a literary history that meets current theoretical demands.

2.3. The medium of INTERNET is understood in this context as a medium of information. Even if documentation of texts, graphics, etc., mechanical methods of analysis and other methods are incorporated, it must be kept in mind that electronic data-processing cannot deal with metaphors, situations, generic definitions in or of texts. In this case, electronic data-processing can make things easier and faster in many ways, but it cannot in any case do away with the reading, the interpretation of texts.

2.4. The methods of looking for information are also limited. Even if systematic pooling of information through use of old forms of media and new search methods can overcome the shortcomings of the INTERNET, there remain problems in the incorporation of information of old (above all for the period before the 20th century) and new structures. On the one hand we have the old forms of libraries with their specialised and to a great extent spatially bound collections, on the other hand we have the mass of information of the INTERNET. Even now – despite a clear confining of the medium to a few regions(11) – the possibilities for getting information are limited. And the contributions made at the meetings in Vienna (1996) and St. Petersberg (1996) by Andrea Rosenauer(12) show that even through prolonged work with a sound knowledge of the fields and use of aids in the existing search methods to accelerate the work process (for eg. bookmarks), only a limited advance is possible. A mere systematisation (as in the libraries since antiquity) does not provide any help in this context, but is once again linked to selections, hierarchisations, because of which new models have to be developed for these kinds of approaches – by taking recourse to mathematics and cybernetics.(13)

3. Boundary Conditions

In an age of large advertising budgets for the new media, in a time of design gaining predominance over systematic presentation, of the elimination of culture in international social existence, one cannot think of attempting a complex analysis, that is linked to varied international investments, without some reflection on the boundary conditions. For, a status quo in the organisation of information systems, in the organisation of scholarship, in the support structures cannot enable an analysis of the kind suggested that crosses current frontiers.

The institute therefore directs its efforts to making suggestions which can create new boundary conditions based on the incorporation of an analysis of the history of scholarship and comparative analyses of the organisation of scholarship.

Of course, the subject of a "History of Austrian Literature" can be seen as a pars pro toto. Because of the history of its renewed study, its multilinguality, its internationality, the subject qualifies as a point of departure for field studies.

The following can be considered as initial steps in a long-term process:

3.1. Following the UNESCO document "Our Creative Diversity" the significance of culture and cultural studies are highlighted and suggestions made for change. The UNESCO document understands culture as "the total and distinctive way of life of a people or society". In this sense the Institute in its "International Memorandum on the Promotion of Cultural Studies" defines the latter as those scientific disciplines that engage or are supposed to engage with culture in this broad sense.(14)

The Institute therefore does not understand "cultural studies" as disciplines that have been so defined by the history of scholarship but attempts to incorporate on the basis of a broad definition all those disciplines that focus de facto and with greatly varying methodologies on the subject of culture. Due consideration is also given to the fact that literature, the plastic arts, music, etc. are a subject "sui generis" which requires special methodological approaches because of its ambivalences.

3.2. In the context of new conditions of possibility and the manifold discussions on the new orientation of cultural studies, a conference on the theme "European Literary and Linguistic Studies" will take place from 22nd to 26th Sptember1997 in the Kongresshaus in Innsbruck. A debate on strategy (theme: "Internationalisation, Conflicts, Cultural Studies") that takes account of international conditions of possibility will take place from 25th to 29th September1998 in Schlaining (Co-organiser: Austrian UNESCO-Commission, Austrian Centre for Studies in Peace and the Resolution of Conflicts). The experiences gained during the course of setting up the new structures for scientific communication will be evaluated in the framework of the conference "Cultural Data Banks and Europe" from 29th September to 3rd October1998 in Debrecen.

With this a broad forum is to be created for the first time and within the framework of this forum the initial steps for a systematic approach will be set out. In view of the scope of the subject, the existing structures and results of studies of the history of scholarship, of scientific communication and of the organisation of scholarship, the conferences mentioned above can only serve as impulses.

3.3. As a further step, aspects of the prevailing approaches, achievements, problems would be presented to a broader public at an exhibition during the second half of 1998 on the theme "Cultural Studies and Europe". This could be a contribution of scholarship as scholarship towards winning a greater understanding for the specific possibilities of cultural studies in societies. Through the comparison of experiences with other continents where larger forms of the organisation of scholarship are to some extent already established, new possibilities in Europe as well as of the dialogue of cultural studies of Europe with other continents can be worked out.

4. Defining the Subject

From the perspective of a history of scholarship, an engagement with Austrian literature starts in the 18th century. Approaches to new forms of documentation (Pfeiffer), to setting up of archives (literary bequests), to understanding Austrian literature as a multilingual literature (Sauer, Scherer, Kosch among others) can be seen in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century.(15)

The hitherto existing literary histories however are largely limited to literature of "Austria" in the German language. To some extent, even after a 100 years the preconditions only marginally exist for such a study to be able to draw on the necessary mass of information, though a lot of progress has been made particularly in the nineties.

In a project of 30 years time span, a definition of the subject that does not have an adequate material basis (let alone its analysis) can only be undertaken very tentatively. It is far more important that reflection on how to define the subject, the possibilities of its description, etc. become part of the process. Particularly in the second phase of material collection (1999-2008) attempts have to be planned in an appropriate form to arrive at an understanding that thematizes the definition of the subject and enables a systematic engagement with the material, its evaluation and presentation.


In order to use the newest technology to make the maximum advances, one requires not merely the setting up or incorporation of appropriate international data banks and of a central search system. More importantly, some basic theoretical questions relating to data collection, data analysis, presentation and evaluation of data and the writing of a literary history have to be simultaneously clarified. In this context, some aspects are highlighted below in the form of tentative theses. These would be expanded after critical evaluation and subjected in a possibly modified form to a systematic evaluation in September 1998 in Debrecen:

5.1. The collection of data with the most modern techniques does not need to be based on the old methods of systematisation. Old methods of systematisation also do not need to be changed. Instead, different concepts like "author", "writer", "poet", etc. can be technically defined. The technical definition makes it possible to look for material on a similar subject under different conceptualisations. What is important however, is to carry out a systematisation that is transparent both in the pooling as well as in the setting up of search systems.

5.2. The data already exists today in a variety of forms. To some extent this variety of forms was already thought of in the new electronic data-processing projects (for eg. by the "Brenner-Archive"(16)). However, solutions, to the extent that they are possible, exist only in a single system. Other possible solutions need to be developed in the search systems for the use of the INTERNET. Above all when they extend through the pool into the networks. Even in this context, the technological form of data collection is the initial basis for developing possible solutions.

5.3. Although under the influence of software providers it is largely graphics (for eg. icons) that are foregrounded at present, neither graphics nor numerical systems are suited as vehicles of presentation.

5.3.1. Graphics are characterised by ambivalences that need to be defined or described (see the help systems in software). Wherever the linguistic description is poor, practised users have difficulty in accessing the system. But there are also examples of combinations: In the sphere of the natural sciences there are examples of making graphics accessible by breaking them down (for eg. the description of the patterns underlying graphics on a second level in formulae).

5.3.2. The analysis of machine language (numerical systems)(17) can only afford limited help in this context because though it can make transparent the hierarchy and linkages of a system, it cannot show the potentialities. Machine language remains at the base of the structure of possibilities, but it does not incorporate potentialities for conversion.

5.4. If we have to base ourselves – as in the UNESCO-document "Our Creative Diversity" - on the existence of 5-20.000 languages worldwide (18), there arises – as in the 18th century in the German-speaking teritories - the question of a language that can enable an extensive international understanding. The following aspects need to be considered in this regard:

5.4.1. Internationally those languages have established themselves as vehicles of communication which are characterised by openness. For example English – or (under other conditions) Egyptian. (19)

5.4.2. The openness of a "vehicle language" is necessary in order that broad reductions do not cause a drastic restriction of information possibilities. An INTERNET-language should make communication possible that is not characterised by impoverishment of representational possibilities.

5.4.3. This is particularly true for the international research on Austrian literary processes and its incorporation in already existing data banks. For, multilinguality does not only apply to the subject but also to the praxis of international transdisciplinary research. Only one part of the results of transdisciplinary, international cultural studies will be available in German.

5.5. For the evaluation of data and the use of data evaluation, a proposal for a new form of writing literary history has to be taken up immediately after systematising the elaboration of the data fields is done in Debrecen in 1998. This should make possible that no separation of the aspired goal (writing literary history) and the means (data collection) takes place.
Given the present state of technology, one can proceed among other things from the following considerations:

5.5.1. The presentation is not subject to limitation of place. Divergent presentations can therefore be combined. Individual analyses do not have to be counterposed to the complete text.

5.5.2. The new form does not have to restrict itself only to the possibilities of hyperlinks which, unlike footnotes, can open up a counter-text structure. More importantly, one can branch off from the "narrative structure" of the "main text" with the help of cybernetic models. One can therefore start with different approaches which possibly intersect with other texts and which correspond to the divergence of research.

5.5.3. Texts too can have a different effect in such literary histories, foregrounding not the arrangement of data in sentences but also responding to needs for an overview as well as for detailed analysis.

5.5.4. Nevertheless, given the time constraints of the users, a comprehensive knowledge for example about Austrian literature is not possible. Even a use of data and research results through the INTERNET is thus subject to limits. The advantages however are the access to divergence in knowledge (a trend that responds to dehierarchisation and decanonisation) and the support to analyses of complex processes through incorporation of larger international aggregates of information.


Given the hitherto existing experience in the study of cultural processes, one requires new forms of archiving, of preparing data, of using technologies, of the organisation of research and of the promotion of research. This is also true for a subject like "Austrian literature".

Some steps in this direction were attempted from different sides, but a long way lies ahead along with the need for many kinds of efforts in order to work out the foundations for information, methodologies, and new forms of presentation. Within the framework of the preparatory processes for the writing of literary histories, the subject, approaches and possibilities of presentation must attempt to respond to the current theoretical demands, in fact be subjected to constant reviews. The results of these reviews must be systematically incorporated into the total process. They must also have retroactive possibilities of effecting change in the forms of approaching data collection and data presentation.

However, this form of a possible new literary history does not allow for the acquisition of "absolute" knowledge, of "absolute" perception. On the contrary, the diverse approaches have to be conceived in fragments, in leaps, in concentrations (this is determined not least by the prevailing structures of knowledge and the time constraints of the users).

In contrast to current forms however, the advantages will consist in the wider scope and internationality of material, the cross linkages across frontiers, allowing of divergences, cheaper accessibility, the greater potential for use, etc.

The precondition for making this possible is and remains a broad cooperation across borders for which the founding of the Institute provided an initial impulse.

© Herbert Arlt, Wien

A revised edition of this contribution appeared in German in: Herbert Arlt: Österreichische Literatur: "Strukturen", Transformationen, Widerspruchsfelder. St. Ingbert: Röhrig, 2000. S. S. 383-396. Please visit the revised German version also at

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(1) This new version of the presentation made at Innsbruck incorporates the results of additional studies and of discussions at the Institute Conference in Vienna (1996) which was organised jointly with the Literaturhaus (Vienna), as well as at the conference in St.Petersburg (1996). The papers of the Vienna Conference appeared in "Jura Soyfer. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften" (4/1996) and those of the Petersburg Conference will appear in "Herbert Arlt/Alexandr W. Belobratow (Hrsg.): Interkulturelle Erforschung österreichischer Literatur" (1997 in the Series I of the Institute as Volume 8).

(2) Vgl.: Herbert Arlt: Österreichische Literatur: "Strukturen", Transformationen, Widerspruchsfelder (to appear in the Series I of the Institute 1997 as Volume 5).

(3) The most recent bibliography was prepared by Jürgen Doll. In: Jean-Marie Winkler (Ed.): Jura Soyfer. Rouen 1994. Centre d'Études et de Recherches Autrichiennes. Publications de l'Université de Rouen, Nr. 197, p.137ff.

(4) Walter Weiss: Das Salzburger Projekt einer österreichischen Literaturgeschichte. Konzepte und Probleme. In: Sprachkunst. Beiträge zur Literaturwissenschaft. Jg.XIV/1983, p.56ff.

(5) Even before the conference in Riverside the Editorial Board of "Modern Austrian Literature" had recorded over 500 scholarly titles "for and against" an Austrian literature.

(6) Comp. also the series on the theme "Wissenschaftsorganisation der 'Germanistik'" in: "Jura Soyfer. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften". 5.Jg., Nr.1/1996ff. (as of now only four parts have appeared).

(7) Information about the "Institut zur Erforschung und Förderung österreichischer und internationaler Literaturprozesse" is available on the INTERNET at the following address:

(8) For eg..: Herbert Arlt: Wissenschaftskommunikation. In: "Jura Soyfer. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften". Vol. 4, Nr.1/1995, p.7ff.

(9) 65 contributions from 17 countries are included in: Donald G. Daviau/Herbert Arlt (Eds.): Geschichte der österreichischen Literatur. St.Ingbert 1996. Parts I,II.

(10) Comp. the results of the project: Sprachen, Literaturgeschichtsschreibung, Vienna (to appear in the journal "Jura Soyfer" 3/1998).

(11) Comp. the international communication structures: Our Creative Diversity. Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development. 1995, p.104ff.

(12) Reprint of the papers: s. Ref.1.

(13) These and other aspects are systematically dealt with in the book by Rosenauer/Arlt (present working title: Literaturwissenschaften und INTERNET).

(14) International Memorandum on the Promotion of Cultural Studies. The memorandum was adopted at the meeting of the general body of the Institute on 16.9.1996 in St.Petersburg. It was handed over on 8.10.1996 to the EU-Commissar Cresson by a delegation of the Institute. Reprinted in: "Jura Soyfer. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften". Vol. 5, Nr.3/1996.

(15) Comp.: Herbert Arlt: Zur Geschichte der Darstellung der österreichischen Literatur. In: Donald G. Daviau/Herbert Arlt (Eds.): Geschichte der österreichischen Literatur. St.Ingbert 1996, Part I, p.16ff.

(16) On the history and planning comp. the discussion on documentation with Walter Methlagl in: "Jura Soyfer. Internationale Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften". Vol. 4, Nr.2/1995, p.34ff.

(17) In his book "Die Schrift" (Göttingen 1987), Vilém Flusser had already summarised several arguments to demonstrate the irreplaceability of the script by other forms.

(18) Figures from: Our Creative Diversity. Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development. 1995, p.179.

(19) As an example for this: "Die meisten Tunesier verstehen inzwischen auch den ägyptischen Dialekt, der wegen der überragenden Stellung Ägyptens im Medienbereich (Radio, Film), seiner Mittlerstellung zwischen den verschiedenen arabischen Idiomen und wegen seiner unkomplizierten Grammatik immer mehr zum Universalarabisch wird." (Most Tunisians now also understand the Egyptian dialect which is increasingly becoming a universal Arabic because of it predominant place in Egypt in the media (radio, film), its mediating position between the Arabic idioms and because of its uncomplicated grammar.) In: Hans-Joachim Aubert: Tunesien. Cologne 1996, p.371.

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