|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||16. Nr.||Februar 2006|
5.2. Innovation and Reproduction in Austrian Literature and Film
Todd C. Hanlin (University of Arkansas)
Over the past 100 years the novel of adolescence has become a familiar category of "Jugendliteratur," depicting sensitive and innocent youth as the victims of a brutal and unfeeling society, frequently represented by their schools of acculturization and conformity. When considering classic adolescent texts, four representative titles from the last century come to mind: in the German-speaking world Hermann Hesse’s Unterm Rad (1906), Robert Musil’s Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß (also 1906), and Thomas Valentin’s Die Unberatenen (1979), and, of course, the adolescent novel par excellence in English, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951).
Paulus Hochgatterer’s titles are less ominous, less desperate, less striking: Wildwasser (1997), Caretta Caretta (1999), and Über Raben (2002). Born in 1961 in Amstetten/Niederösterreich, Hochgatterer studied Medicine and Psychology in Vienna, completing his training in 1985. He is presently a psychoanalyst in Vienna and has been writing since 1979. It would not seem coincidental that Paulus Hochgatterer, a child psychiatrist by profession and a writer by avocation, should be attracted to this genre, should craft his own characters in contemporary settings. As a child psychologist, Hochgatterer has a professional as well as a literary interest in today’s adolescents. Thus in the tradition of the Schulroman, he depicts his youthful protagonists in their contemporary milieu, in school and at their leisure, as they suffer the trials and tribulations of growing up in contemporary society. That he has been successful in this undertaking is confirmed by the fact that two of his featured works have since been recognized with awards, namely. a "Jugendbuchpreis der Jury der Jungen Leser" for Wildwasser (1998) and an "Österreichischer Jugendbuchpreis" for Caretta Caretta (2000).
To some degree, the plots of his three novels are relatively unimportant. They are, for our purposes, primarily settings in which we can investigate the lives of today’s youth. As a plot summary, Sabine Selzer has written about one of the novels - though it can also be said of the other two novels as well:
Der Kinderpsychiater Hochgatterer versteht es, die grausamen Gymnasialzeiten beginnender Pubertät so lebendig darzustellen, dass man sich fast selbst wieder in der Schulbank sehen (und vor allem fühlen) kann, mit allen Erheiterungen und Beklemmungen, die dazugehören-und auch mit dem wohl für dieses Alter charakterischen Verschwimmen von Vorstellung und Realität.... Es ist eine Welt der Irrationalität und des Überlebenskampfes gleichermaßen, die sich hier auftut....(1)
In the tradition of adolescent novels, Hochgatterer places his youthful protagonists in typical settings, within their schools, families, and daily activities. Unlike their predecessors, however, today’s youth are plagued by more modern challenges - not simply having to deal with puberty, the demands of society, and their own attempts at individuation through rebellion or withdrawal, but, more significantly, with fractured families and the attendant psychoanalysis, with drugs, and with the accompanying distractions of a materialistic society: as the children of "Generation Golf," their lives are thus profoundly defined by the consumer goods with which they surround themselves.(2)
Again unlike their literary predecessors, these youthful characters are often clever and resourceful, inventive, resilient, self-sufficient to a great degree, and thus do not allow themselves to become "victims" of society, of their peers, or of their families; in exceptional circumstances, they are even able to show compassion for deserving individuals. (The title Caretta Caretta, for example, denotes a rare turtle species that is capable of shedding tears, implying that it can empathize, an emotion that today’s teens sorely miss.) And, unlike his classic predecessors (Hesse, Musil, et al), Hochgatterer has the audacity and the experience to present his main characters in first-person narratives - thus they tell their unique stories from their own personal perspectives, through their own personalities, in their own words.
A distinguishing characteristic of Hochgatterer’s adolescent novels is his concern for details, bordering on a photographically realistic portrayal. As he himself has commented in an interview:
Beruflich ist es notwendig; weil man kann überhaupt nur therapeutisch tätig sein, wenn man einen Sinn für Details hat. Und so Kleinigkeiten, absurde Details, Dinge, die man ansonsten übersieht, das hat mich immer interessiert. Die kleinen Schrullen, die körperlichen Merkmale, die man beim oberflächlichen Herangehen vielleicht übersieht, die nehme ich wahr.(3)
Hochgatterer’s innovative approach captures youth’s preoccupation and indeed identification with consumer name-brand fads and fashions, from clothing and hobbies to sporting goods and mass media. As he was once quoted, in regard to youth and its labels:
Das ist nicht nur ein Trick, um Stimmung zu erzeugen. Erstens bin ich permanent mit diesen Geschichten im Spital konfrontiert, das ist für Jugendliche auch wichtig; schon, für die einen mehr, für die anderen weniger. Und der Herr Sohn ist auch einer, dem inzwischen irgendwie wichtig ist, daß die Schuhe von Timberland sind.(4)
WILDWASSER (1997) is an initial attempt to capture the environment and character of today’s adolescents. Here we encounter a first-person narrator, a 17-year-old teenager, Jakob Schmalfuss, whose immediate family consists of a mother who teaches Kindergarten and a 13-year-old sister; his father, a professional kayaker/canoist, has died in a "Wildwasser" accident. The main character mentions a lack of success in school, obviously a consequence of the loss of his father. He is also disturbed by contemporary events related to school and some of his classmates; for example, a teacher commits suicide by driving his car into the median pillar of an Autobahn bridge. One reviewer notes: "Wildwasser wühlt in den seelischen Wunden eines Jungen, der durch den Verlust des Vaters in eine Identitätskrise geraten ist. Man lauscht gespannt seinen Träumen und Schimpftiraden, in der Hoffnung, daß er sich wieder fängt."(5)
For the most part the teen narrator uses little slang, although his narration does mention some trendy items, such as his sport-hero, Johnny Herbert, the British Formula-1 racecar driver. The opening line of the novel reads: "Der Tag, an dem ich von zu Hause wegging, um meinen Vater zu suchen, war der Tag, an dem Johnny Herbert den Grand Prix von Silverstone gewann."(6) Other prominent personalities are international entertainers or movie stars such as Michael Jackson (45), Julia Roberts (52), Richard Gere (52), Kim Basinger (52), Sharon Stone (52), and Bruce Willis (84). Special favorites are the German versions of movies or cartoons, such as "Wenn der Postmann zweimal klingelt" (52), "Neuneinhalb Wochen" (52), and the Stone-Age comic figure "Fred Feuerstein" (60).
As can be expected, clothes are a distinguishing feature, and the boy specially mentions "Ray Ban" (45) and "Killer Loop" sunglasses (73), and the ever-present "Jeans" (48). For leisure, he often rides his "Scott Yucatan Mountain Bike" (62); imbibes "Black Spider Energy Drink" (62), "Flying Horse" (62), or "Sprite" (64); reads "Playboy" and "Penthouse" (76), listens to "Jimi Hendrix" and "The Doors" (77), watches "Monty-Python-Film" (80), and laughs at "Homer and Bart Simpson" (81).
To limit his pains, both physical and emotional, the boy overdoses on Mundidol, Lexotanil (60) and other, stronger narcotics.
Of his three novels under discussion, the third, ÜBER RABEN (2002), is, in many respects, the most challenging of Hochgatterer’s novels to date, depicting a teacher and 13-year-old girl as dual main characters in a split narration. The teacher, a "Gymnasiallehrer," divorced with a son, absents himself from school to climb in the mountains, carrying a loaded rifle for protection, presumably from his colleagues. However, it is the 13-year-old girl who is of primary interest here as she relates a typical week in her life, the daily lessons at school, telling of her classmates and of an elderly handicapped neighbor woman whom she nurses with the aid of the woman’s debit card.
Yet, despite the difficulty of switching between characters in alternating chapters, Hochgatterer’s attempt, as a male writer, to create a female narrator, is nuanced and credible. The girl is a sympathetic figure from the outset, unlike some of her classic predecessors. Holden Caulfield, for example, is less congenial. If we recall the opening lines from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, its petulant language has become its lasting signature:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.(7)
In Über Raben, Hochgatterer’s protagonist makes no excuses, provides no prologue, does not attempt to elicit the reader’s sympathy, but simply states "the truth" of her everyday existence:
Die Choco-Pops sind aus. Es ist der 29. Jänner, draußen scheint die Sonne, die Choco-Pops sind aus und es liegt keine Spur von Schnee. Ich nehme den Rest Cornflakes, der seit Jahren in einem schmalen, hohen Tupperware-Behälter mit blauem Deckel vor sich hin vergammelt. Die Milch in den Mikro, eine Minute fünfzehn. Der Teller mit Winnie Puuh und dem Tigger steckt im Spüler. Ich denke nicht daran, ihn von Hand abzuwaschen. Ein weißer Suppenteller aus dem Schrank.(8)
This independent girl is extremely self-sufficient, mature beyond her years, cares and provides for herself, her cat, and her crippled neighbor. She is less influenced by fashions and fads, due to her financial situation - though she does permit herself the luxury of "ein eher kräftig getöntes Make-up" (47). She does not live in a vacuum, however, and is aware that others identify themselves with: film stars such as "Tommy Lee Jones" (26), a girlfriend has a "Piercing im linken Nasenflügel" (27), a classmate wears a "silberglänzenden Donna-Karan-New-York-Trainingsanzug" (30), while yet another classmate may die of "Magersucht" (31); an ambitious friend is pumping weights and in one week’s time has "zwei Zentimeter Bizepsumfang zugelegt" and now resembles "Hulk Hogan" (40). Because of her necessarily sober approach to life, her descriptions are factual and less influenced by temporary whims.
In CARETTA CARETTA (1999),(9) Hochgatterer fleshes out his original portrait of a troubled teen, listing in greater detail the protagonist’s likes and dislikes, his world and its distractions. This tour de force features a first-person narration by another teenager, a 15-year-old juvenile delinquent named Dominik Bach, the product of a dysfunctional family, of a narcissistic mother and an abusive stepfather. One critic has written of the plot: " Für einen Fünfzehnjährigen erlebt der Ich-Erzähler eine ganze Menge Abenteuerliches. Stellenweise liest sich »Caretta Caretta« daher wie ein Krimi, nicht zuletzt, weil sich vieles im Halb- bis Illegalen abspielt. Allein durch die Handlung hat der Roman gehörigen drive, durch Einschübe und Zeitsprünge wird man zusätzlich auf Trab gehalten."(10)
As is typical for this age, the main character has his own sports hero, in this case the Italian soccer star Gianluca Vialli (often referred to, in his own words, as "Gott"), who played from 1980 to 2000. His movie heroes are "John Malkovich" (74), "Clint Eastwood" (77), "Glen Close" (79), "Sylvester Stallone" (83), "Uma Thurman" (112), and "Harvey Keitel" (124). As a result of his fascination with the international media, he spots a woman who is "baywatchartig" (112).
Viennese youth have typical Austrian forenames, of course, though such pedestrian monikers are definitely non-trendy; to garner distinction, one must have a unique, if not unforgettable name or nickname: several of his acquaintances are named after comic book characters, such as the Peanuts-like "Chuck" and "Sally", and "Batman-Namen" like "Two Face" and "Joker" (121); others are simply exotic, like "Ronald", "Jasmin", "Isabella", and "Buddy", and one has even acquired the nickname "Homer Simpson"; relatives have a "Pitbull" named "Samantha" and Chuck’s dog is named "Roosevelt" (155).
Clothing is, of course, the primary visual distinguishing feature; the immediate impression created by distinct apparel contributes to a unique personality, to an individual in a crowd, even if everyone else is wearing a similar brand and thus sporting a "uniform": the main character tends to wear a "Fishbone-T-Shirt" or a "blau-weisses Nike-Shirt" (131) or a "Nike-Sweater" (164), sports "meine weissen Converse" on his feet or "Timberland Annapolis" (140) for a boat trip. Meanwhile, as an observant youth, he notices different males who wear, for example: "Boxershorts" (92); "enge Levis, graues Cordblouson, dunkelgrünes T-Shirt, ausgelatschte Doc Martens" (37); another young man dresses in "schwarze Levis, graues Cordbouson, T-Shirt orange, Doc Martens" (38). Other accoutrements worn by passers-by include a "Calvin Klein-Brille" (39), "sündteure[n] rot-schwarze[n] Nike-Air-Jordans" (41), "eine olivgrüne Skaterhose mit eingetrocknetem Ketchup" (42). And for headgear a tourist wears a "Michigan-University-Baseballkappe" (46), a classmate wears an "L.A.Lakers-Kappe" (57).
Females are also outfitted with memorable clothing, for example, one girl wears "transparentes Latex, einen rotbraunen Ledermini, Leinentreter mit Extremplateau" (38), another has "Boss-Stretchjeans" and her girlfriend (named "Conny") is dressed in "einen Push-up unter dem Kleidchen" (46), "knielange Jeansshorts" (53), and a "Minnie-Maus-T-Shirt" (57).
As an observer of (and commentator on) the contemporary scene, our youthful narrator notices: a woman smoking a "Marlboro Medium" (43), one who smells like "Polo Ralph Lauren," and an overweight girl who needs "Weight Watchers" (56). For distraction he himself listens to a "Discman" (59), plays "Donkey Kong Land III" on a "Game-Boy" (101), throws a "Frisbee-Scheibe" (103), and rides a "Moped, KTM-Pony" (75). His favorite book is "das Calvin & Hobbes Album" (50), and he also reads a "Fun and Vision"-Heft von Nintendo and "Nintendo-64-Zeitschriften" (49), eats "Pizza", and has (either for protection or as a totem) a "Baseballkeule" (148).
Today’s youth are infinitely more familiar with medications and drugs than their predecessors; the variety of medicinal products is mind-numbing, as dispensed here by the ever-present drug-dealing "Streetworker" and his friend "Gonzo" (114). Among the drugs of choice are: Parkemed 500, Microbamat, Somnubene, Paracodin, dänische Ixen (46), Heroin (118), Morphium (123), Heptadon, and Vendal (132). Whether addicted or not, the familiarity with such a pharmaceutical panorama is revealing.
Hip expressions and slang phrases become more prevalent. Some are in German, such as the description: "Jasmin sah so bummzu aus" (39), or "Anna ist völlig plemplem" (44); one of the boys was the only one with a chance "Jungfer Sally zu knacken" (56); a young woman is "vollkommen jenseits" (102); something is so good it is "prall" (104); sticky Fanta, poured over someone’s head, is "pickig" (172). At times English may be preferred, as in "welcome to the club", and even an English-German mixture is revealed in the phrase "shittyshitty-egal"(26).
Since we observe only three adolescents in depth in these novels, it is difficult to label them as typical for an entire generation. Yet even at this early age they seem representative of many youth today. Though they have definite likes and dislikes, habits and preferences, they have not as yet formulated any great career plans; they seem to be trying to just muddle through, trying simply to survive adolescence. Their future is still too far in front of them to predict success or even failure.
Through such an extensive description of their milieu, Hochgatterer provides a time capsule that captures today’s adolescents-yet with the attendant risk that many of their favorite consumer products will fall from fancy and, in the future, date their lives and his literary efforts. This prompts several questions: Will future generations of readers know what these brand names mean, or will their ignorance relegate Hochgatterer’s fiction to a remnant of some dusty by-gone era? Or, on more favorable terms, will his novels of adolescence create nostalgia for a bygone era among readers of this generation? In either event, Paulus Hochgatterer will be appreciated by today’s adolescents for his understanding and empathy, both in his psychiatric practice and in his literary efforts.
© Todd C. Hanlin (University of Arkansas)
(1) Sabine Selzer, 6. Mai 2002, http://www.literaturhaus.at/buch/buch/rez/hochgattererraben
(2) "Generation Golf" refers to the titles of two books by Florian Illies, Generation Golf (2001) and Generation Golf zwei (2003), which recall the nostalgia of those born between 1965 and 1975 for consumer products of all sorts that defined life for that generation. I am indebted to my colleague, Dr. Judith Ricker-Abderhalden, for calling my attention to this phenomenon.
(3) "mich," http://www.wellbuilt.net/literatur/doc/hochgat.html
(4) ibid. "mich"
(5) Claudia Holly, 11. November 1997, <http://www.literaturhaus.at/buch/buch/rez/hochgatterer>
(6) Paulus Hochgatterer, Wildwasser (Wien: Deuticke, 1997), p. 7. All page citations within the text refer to this edition.
(7) J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1964), p. 1.
(8) Paulus Hochgatterer, Über Raben, (Wien: Deuticke, 2002), p. 23. All page citations within the text refer to this edition.
(9) Paulus Hochgatterer, Caretta Caratta (Wien: Deuticke, 1999). All page citations within the text refer to this edition.
(10) Wolfgang Straub, <http://www.lyrikwelt.de/rezensionen/caretta-r.htm>
5.2. Innovation and Reproduction in Austrian Literature and Film
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