TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr.
Februar 2010

Sektion 1.11. American and Austrian Literature and Film: Influences, Interactions and Intersections
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Donald G. Daviau (University of California at Riverside)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Section report 1.11.

American and Austrian Literature and Film:
Influences, Interactions and Intersections

Donald G. Daviau (University of California at Riverside) [BIO]



The section featured a number of informative papers on the above topic. All presentations were followed by animated discussions with useful suggestions to be incorporated by the speakers.

In her paper Two Tales of Gothic Guilt: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Novel The Marble Faun and Adalbert Stifter’s Story Das alte Siegel, Pamela Saur (Lamar University, Texas) states that while Gothic literature is a distinct and highly regarded genre in American literature, it enjoys less prestige in the German tradition, in which it is generally regarded as a set of features or a minor branch of the vast Romantic movement. For this reason, and because of the general realism and understatement of his writing, Gothic experiences in several of Stifter’s works have been largely overlooked. In the two works under discussion, which display very different cultural contexts, Gothic experiences test and challenge the protagonists with threats both internal and external. In both cases they are drawn into guilt and eventually must make redemption.

Liz Ametsbichler’s (University of Montana) presentation Fräulein Else: Schnitzler’s Novella Adapted for the American Stage discusses Fransesca Faridany’s 2003 English translation and adaptation of Fräulein Else, which had its world premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre from February 28 – March 28, 2003, after which it was performed in various theatres around the United States with great success. She explains why Else’s story presents a “compelling drama” for an American public circa eighty years after the stream-of-consciousness novella was published and shows the connections that can be established between Austria and America, two societies that, on the surface, would seem so diverse and disconnected.

In The Influence of Walt Whitman and Emile Verhaeren in Stefan Zweig’s Pre-1914 Conception of Cultural Modernism, Nikolaus Unger (University of Warwick) describes the important role that Verhaeren and Whitman played in Zweig’s engagement with cultural modernism. His paper explores Zweig’s intellectual reception of both authors, while gauging the influence of their individual national and humanist perspectives on Zweig’s own understanding of a cultural modernism concurrently national and European in scope.

On the basis of three exiled Austrian authors from the 1930s Todd C. Hanlin (University of Arkansas) in Translations as Bestsellers: Vicki Baum, Franz Werfel and Stefan Zweig in American Literature examines the factors that enable the work of an author to achieve success in a different country and culture. All three authors produced at least one national bestseller during their time in the USA and were thus familiar names on the American cultural scene, influencing American writers as well as a broad reading public. In addition Hanlin addresses the issue of to what extent these popular translated works influenced America's attitude toward Austria at a pivotal juncture in that country's history.

Vicki Baum served also as the topic of Jörg Thunecke (Sherwood Press). In Vicki Baum’s The Mustard Seed (1953): The American Way of Life” he illustrates the rich gallery of human characters she creates in this novel, which is generally considered her best work. Ultimately he concludes that while the sum total of the characters enables Baum to present a vivid portrayal of the post-World-War-II American way of life, at the same time her depiction is also, in many respects, an indictment.

Helga Schreckenberger (University of Vermont) provided a complete change of pace with her presentation of Wolf Haas’s Simon Brenner Novels: Austrian Adaptations and Transformations of the American Detective Story. She argues that while adhering to the basic conventions of the detective story Haas’s Brenner novels do not fit neatly in any of the subgenres of detective fiction, neither the classical analytical novel nor the hard-boiled detective story. Rather, Haas incorporates elements of both subgenres. His protagonist shows strong similarities to the lonely hero of the hard-boiled novel, but like the detective of the analytical novel, he also relies on his intuition and powers of deduction to solve cases. Structurally, Haas follows the model of the hard-boiled thriller. His crossings of genre boundaries not only have aesthetic consequences, but also contribute to the novel’s satirical criticism of Austrian society, which he integrates structurally and thematically rather than imposing it as a separate entity.

In his paper Peter Henisch and the Influence of American Popular Culture Paul F. Dvorak (Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA) explores how American culture has influenced Henisch’s creative muse at various stages of his career with particular emphasis on his more recent novel Die schwangere Madonna (2005). He first illustrates Henisch’s fascination and preoccupation with American popular culture in such works as Morrisons Versteck (1991), Schwarzer Peter (2000), and Black Peter’s Songbook (2001). In each of these instances it is music that forms the thematic basis of the intersection, the rock music of Jim Morrison and the Doors in the earliest case and the jazz of New Orleans in the latter two. Other less obvious connections to an American identity can be seen in Vom Wunsch, Indianer zu werden. Wie Franz Kafka Karl May traf und trotzdem nicht in Amerika landete (1994) and Die schwangere Madonna (2005). Dvorak’s analysis of the latter novel demonstrates that although Henisch’s novel is set in Italy, the stylistic and structural influences of the American road novel and movie are evident.

Felix W. Tweraser’s (Utah State University) presentation “Our Man in Vienna”: Friedrich Torberg’s Journal Forum and the Popularization of American Letters in Austria documents how the returned Austrian exile worked to create a bridge between his homeland and his host country the USA. As editor of Forum: Österreichische Blätter für kulturelle Freiheit between 1954 and 1965, Friedrich Torberg published original work by many leading lights of American letters. Forum was one of many journals supported world-wide by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a Cold-War era foundation set up to support media efforts on behalf of the West, and funded clandestinely by the CIA. The Congress facilitated and strictly oversaw the content of its journals; Torberg thus made use of original American work – some of which he translated himself – submitted to the editors of Congress journals. Tweraser demonstrates clearly how Torberg became one of the leading publicists for American culture in Austria, acquainting a new generation of Austrian readers with a wide variety of American writing.

Although Thomas Bernhard has never broken through to become a widely known author to the broad reading public in the USA, he has nevertheless become the second leading author in terms of American reception, ranking only behind Handke, because of his enormous influence on American writers, as Francis M. Sharp (University of the Pacific) clearly shows in his paper American Writers Reading Bernhard. The writers’ reactions to Bernhard’s prose can be found reflected in various ways in their own works as well as in essays, reviews and articles both in print and online, both in small journals as well as in major media outlets such as Harper’s and The New Yorker. The consensus is—contrary to what George Steiner predicted in 1983—that the Nestbeschmutzer of postwar Austrian society has plenty to say to contemporary American writers and belongs in their judgment in the ranks of major 20th century literary figures. Sharp discusses each of the aspects of Bernhard’s work that American writers admire and emulate:

  1. The often “assaultive” or transgressive nature of his critical stance towards Austria. This aggressive stance is admired as a political act that dares speak truth to power, one often lacking among American writers.
  2. The stark honesty, intensity and obsessiveness of Bernhard’s prose, both in content and form.
  3. Despite its obsessive nature, the elegant control of language.
  4. The general “difficulty” of Bernhard’s language – even in translation – the uniquely rhythmical “rants” that run on for pages without apparent pause for breath.
  5. Despite and often because of the “difficulty” and obsessive nature of his prose, its underlying humor.
  6. Bernhard’s masterful use of the narrative monologue.
  7. Finally, the most perceptive of contemporary American writer/teachers on Bernhard, Ben Marcus, has called Bernhard an “architect of consciousness” who communicates in his prose “the way it feels to be alive.”

Joseph W. Moser (Washington & Jefferson College, Pennsylvania) in Austrian and American Diversity in Lilian Faschinger’s Wiener Passion defines the rich ethnic diversity of Austria and the United States as a central theme in Lilian Faschinger’s novel Wiener Passion (1999). Framed by the story of Magnolia Brown, an African-American woman of Austrian descent who travels to Vienna in the 1990s, the main narrative focuses on the life of her great grandmother, Rosa Havelka, who moved to Vienna in the 1880s and was executed in 1900 for murdering her husband. In addition to examining the theme of ethnic diversity in this novel, this paper also situates Faschinger’s work within the literary and political context of Austria in the late 1990s. An important theme is the conflict within a city embracing and rejecting its rich ethnic heritage at the beginning and end of the 20th century. By concentrating on the picaresque aspects of the novel and examining the construction of ethnicity in the text, this paper shows how Faschinger links a century of Viennese social history.

The presentation of Donald G. Daviau (University of California, Riverside), Hermann Bahr and Walt Whitman: Kindred Spirits describes the similarity of thought of these two larger than life men and authors. Bahr had known about Whitman since 1889 but only became seriously interested in 1908 after reading Leon Bazalgette’s book Walt Whitman. L’homme et son oeuvre. From then on Whitman ranked highest in Bahr’s pantheon of great figures. He believed that everyone should know Whitman’s ideas and did his utmost to spread his thinking through lectures and by continuously writing enthusiastic articles and essays about him until 1932. His publicistic efforts have been recognized as contributing to Whitman’s reception throughout Europe. Bahr considered Whitman the voice of America, and he praised the new land repeatedly by citing Goethe’s poem “Amerika, Du hast es besser.” In 1923, however, he learned from his American visitors that Whitman had been forgotten and the new spokesman was Sinclair Lewis. After reading Babbitt, Bahr became disillusioned about America and felt that if Lewis’s novel was representative of current American life and thinking, there was no further reason to believe that America had it better.

Gerlinde Ulm Sanford (Syracuse University) presents an examination of Mark Twain in Vienna, based on his correspondence with the Austrian journalist Eduard Pötzl and the satirical commentaries of Karl Kraus in Die Fackel. She describes the active life that Twain led during his 20 months in Vienna, the commentaries on the life and society of Vienna that he wrote, and the avid newspaper coverage that his every move caused. Before he departed the city, Twain was even granted an audience with the emperor. It was this attention bordering on adulation that so greatly irked Kraus and provoked his negative reactions. By contrast the friendship with Pötzl was carried on in a series of humorous exchanges in letters. In addition, the paper examines a number of Twain’s important essays about Vienna.

1.11. American and Austrian Literature and Film: Influences, Interactions and Intersections

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Donald G. Daviau: Sectionreport 1.11. American and Austrian Literature and Film: Influences, Interactions and Intersections - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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