115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Generations: Grillparzer after Habsburg

Imke Meyer, "University of Illinois, Chicago"

The use and abuse of Grillparzer’s plays in the context of Austrian and Nazi-German attempts at self-representation has been well documented. It is particularly telling, though, that of all of Grillparzer’s plays, it was Die Ahnfrau that directors Jakob and Luise Fleck chose to turn into Austria’s first post-Habsburg feature film. The multifaceted and often contradictory readings both of the figure of Grillparzer and of Die Ahnfrau are particularly suited to reflect the fraught juncture at which post-imperial Austria finds itself in 1919.

Proposal: 

Grillparzer has variously been seen as Austria’s Nationaldichter; as a großdeutscher writer; as an epigone of Weimar Classicism; as a late representative of the Austrian enlightenment; as a handmaiden of Metternich’s restauration; as a secretly revolutionary spirit; as a conservative catholic; and as a messenger of a cosmopolitical modernism. Similarly, Grillparzer’s debut drama Die Ahnfrau, first staged to great popular success in Vienna in 1817, has provoked diverging designations: it has been understood as a representative of Schauerromantik, and it has been categorized as a Schicksalsdrama; it has been read as Oedipal drama, and it has been interpreted as an interrogation of female unfaithfulness and the haunting of the certainty of fatherhood by the illegibility of female desire. In Grillparzer’s play, it is the ghost of female unfaithfulness that haunts the bloodline of a noble family; and it is the repeated misrecognition of the weakness of masculinity produced by and expressed in this ghosting that makes this bloodline collapse at the end of the play. The use and abuse of Grillparzer’s plays in the context of Austrian and Nazi-German attempts at self-representation has been well documented. It is particularly telling, though, that of all of Grillparzer’s plays, it was Die Ahnfrau that directors Jakob and Luise Fleck chose to turn into Austria’s first post-Habsburg feature film. The multifaceted and often contradictory readings both of the figure of Grillparzer and of Die Ahnfrau are, I argue, particularly suited to reflect the fraught juncture at which post-imperial Austria finds itself in 1919, caught as it is between its mourning of the glory of a lost multi-national empire and its need to identify with a new nation; between Habsburg nostalgia and Austrian provincialism; between the longing for a new empire and the impulse to hide in a provincial land; between the belief that fate caused the fall of the Haus Österreich and the dawning of the insight that the collapse of the power of this noble bloodline was self-inflicted. Die Ahnfrau, in the Fleck’s 1919 film version, captures ghosts that haunt Austria to this day.

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