The Travels of Karl-Markus Gauß: Developing Research Project

As part of my course, German 200 “Introduction to German Cultural Studies,” and also in relation to a developing research interest into “dirty nature,” I have begun a digital mapping project of Karl-Markus Gauß’ travelogues. This project is still in its infancy, but I’m posting the map here to see if anyone would like to comment and share ideas.

Film and Tourism: Reading Luis Trenker’s “The Prodigal Son” through a Post-colonial Lens

I’ve recently created a short video based on my article “Black Bodies on White Snow: The Reconstruction of Germanness as White in Luis Trenker’s The Prodigal Son (1934),” which appeared in From Black to Schwarz: Cultural Crossovers between African America and Germany (2010), ed. by Maria Diedrich and Jürgen Heinrichs.


Confessions of a Tourist

Christoph Ransmayr (Foto by Johannes Cizek)

This past summer I finally had a chance to read Christoph Ransmayr’s small book Geständnisse eines Touristen: Ein Verhör [Confessions of a Tourist: An Interrogation] (2004). This small book is a compilation of many interviews and conversations that Ransmayr has given over the years. Responding to the questions of an imaginary interviewer, Ransmayr reflects on his writing, his traveling, and his interaction with the world of literary criticism in academia and in the news.

Since I continue to theorize the agency of tourists as creators and performers, I wanted to share some of Ransmayr’s reflections on the connections between tourism and writing.

Writers usually like to see themselves as travelers rather than tourists, often reaffirming that longstanding hierarchy between the supposedly cultured traveler and his or her uneducated opposite, the tourist. Ransmayr is an exception: “Auf Formularen […] sind mir die Felder am liebsten, in die sich einfach Tourist setzen läßt, denn Ahnungslosigkeit, Sprachlosigkeit, leichtes Gepäck, Neugier oder zumindest die Bereitschaft, über die Welt nicht bloß zu urteilen, sondern sie zu erfahren, zu durchwandern, von mir aus: zu umsegeln, erklettern, durchschwimmen, notfalls zu erleiden, gehören wohl mit zu den Voraussetzungen des Erzählens” (Geständnisse 10-11).

This is a rather positive interpretation of the tourist, and one that is close to my imagination of the tourist as an agent who is instrumental in the construction of places and spaces. What I took to be the most important aspect of Ransmayr’s comparison of the writer and the tourist was the acknowledgement that the writer can only ever bring into existence a small slice of the infinite possibilities of life, just like the tourist can only ever see a small sampling of the equally infinite spatial manifestations of reality. It is, in other words, a confirmation of the creative and dynamic power of both tourist and writer, without confusing their actions as definitive determinations of reality.

Ransmayr describes the work of the author as a sometimes painful move from one sentence to the next, always aware that you don’t really make gains, but that each beginning of a new sentence marks a return to the start: “Wie lautet der nächste Satz? Und der nächste?, Fragen, die ungerührt die Rückkehr zum Anfang fordern, zehn, hundert Felder zurück!, an die Ränder endloser weißer Flecken auf einem Globus, der bestenfalls in Fragmenten, Küstenabschnitten, Inselchen, Klippen zu kartographieren ist, während sich ganze Kontinente, submarine, von Ozeanen bedeckte Gebirge, riesige Städte, Wüsten–der ungeheuerliche Rest!–aufgespießt zwischen unerreichbaren Polen, unvermessen, unausgesprochen, unerzählt an mir vorbei und unter meinen Füßen weg und weiter und immer weiter drehen.” (Geständnisse 13).

Tourism at the Wolfsschanze

Unanticipated teaching requirements and a study-abroad trip with students have more or less stalled my project on tourism and Austria for a while. I’m reporting back, however, with this link to a NYT article about tourism projects at Hitler’s Wolfsschanze.

The article highlights a couple of developments there, but what I find most interesting in some of the on-site interviews with visitors is the idea that going to see the ruins of Hitler’s command center will somehow help to understand how the “unimaginable,” to quote one visitor, could happen.

I’m not so sure that the unimaginable will become more imaginable on this site, but read for yourself.

Remains of Hitler’s largest bunker at the Wolfsschanze.

The “Book of Austria”, Revisited

I just stumbled across an interesting article by Austrian cultural critic Wolfgang Müller-Funk in the Austrian literary magazine Wespennest. In this piece, entitled “So viel Österreich: Mutmaßungen über die Erfindung eines Landes”, Müller-Funk compares the Österreich Buch (about which I’ve had a lot to say here)–with a very recent publication titled Österreich and edited by none other than Hannes Androsch, the former SPÖ minister of finance.

As one might guess, Müller-Funk cannot find lots of good things to say about the new book, the chapters of which were authored by some of the most well-known names in the Austrian academic and intellectual scene, including Adam Wandruszka, Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler, Anton Pelinka and Gerald Stourzh, to name only a few. As Müller-Funk writes, “[e]hrenwerte Namen finer abtretenden und abgetretenen Generation, die sich noch einmal an den großen Narrativen abarbeiten, die die imaginäre Nation Österreich zusammenhält [sic].”

Much more interesting than his take on the Androsch volume is Müller-Funk’s discussion of the Österreich Buch, which he discusses by throwing in quick references to Anderson’s Imagined Communities and Hobsbawm’s Invented Traditions. What makes Austrian national identity construction after 1945 unique in Müller-Funk’s eyes, is the complete lack of the “juvenile[…] Dynamik” that he sees as crucial to Hobsbawm’s concept of nation building: “In dem selbstgestrickten narrativen Gewebe gibt es keine wirklichen Helden und schon gar nicht eine dynamische Gegenwart” (Müller-Funk).

Müller-Funk states–appropriately, in my view–that the book is not an example for “Verdrängung” but rather for an “absichtsvolles Schweigen, […] das damals jeder versteht [sic].” And he does a nice job of reading the picture of the Venus von Willendorf with its panic-induced caption

“Wer Österreich auf dem Weltglobus sucht, muss den runden Erdball langsam um seine schiefe Achse drehen, sonst könnte er das Austria des XX. Jahrhunderts leichthin übersehen. Wo liegt das vielgenannte Österreich überhaupt? Welches ist sein Platz in Raum und Zeit, in Geschichte und Kultur?”

For Müller-Funk, these questions explain why almost 70 years later another volume about Austria pursues many of the same topics that the Österreich Buch already addressed:

“Hinter den offiziellen und halb-offiziellen Selbstdarstellungen unseres Landes lugt die Angst hervor, wir könnten in und vor allem von der großen weiten Welt übersehen werden, weil wir so klein (geworden) sind. Deshalb und wegen der Unsicherheiten, die auch eine Folge unserer belastenden Geschichte sind, kommen wir nicht los von dem Zwang, beständig über uns reden, sprechen und erzählen zu müssen.”

To read the entire article, click here.

“The Book of Austria”

Exhibit one in my investigation of the performative reconstruction of Austrian national identity after 1945 is the Österreich Buch [The Book of Austria]. The lavishly illustrated and carefully edited book was the brainchild of Ernst Marboe, a key figure working at the intersection of postwar Austria’s intersecting zones of politics and culture. (Close to the leading circles of the ÖVP, Marboe was founding director of the Austria Wochenschau, a weekly news reel show. He was director of the cultural department in the Austrian Press Service when he edited the book and then went on to become the director of the Federal Theater Administration. Marboe also collaborated on the script for the 1952 Wolfgang Liebeneiner film, 1. April 2000.)

Marboe designed the book as a hybrid combining popular history, tourist guidebook, and museum in pocket-format that was to be distributed worldwide through Austria’s foreign offices and presented as official gift to foreign diplomats and high-profile visitors. First published in 1948, the Book of Austria was soon translated into English, French, and many other languages and republished until 1969. In 1953, the book was, according to the German weekly Die Zeit, the Austrian postwar bestseller.

Despite the editor’s claim that the book “does not set out to be […] a Baedeker […] nor an encyclopedia” (Marboe X), the sequence of chapters on tourist attractions in the various Austrian provinces, the stylistic blend of journalistic, literary, and scholarly writing, as well as the extensive use of pictures and maps firmly embed the book in the discourse of tourism. (The list of contributors includes renowned historian Friedrich Heer and Hanns Koren, a well known ethnologist and later member of the Austrian parliament. Among the translators who worked on the English version from which I quote in this chapter is British journalist and former intelligence officer Gordon Brook-Shepherd.)

This categorization under tourism does, however, not mean that I view the Book of Austria as irrelevant for the constructtion of post-1945 identity. On the contrary, the book perfectly illustrates the ways in which the discourse of tourism facilitated the performative reconstruction of Austria and, equally important, it does so by calling attention to the citational and reiterative process that is at the core of Butler’s concept of performativity.

The Book of Austria’s dominating trope is that of the great idea of Austria, which, born thousands of years ago, had to be defended repeatedly against much more powerful forces. In this context, World War II and especially the Anschluss of Austria to the Third Reich, appear as only the most recent manifestation of Austria’s perennial struggle for survival. This perspective produces the paradox on which the Book of Austria builds its argument: On the one hand it claims that the contemporary Austria has been diminished so much that it might disappear; on the other hand it refers to the grand pre-1914 tradition of Austria and nudges its readers to accept these narratives and images as Austria’s contemporary identity.

Where and What is Austria

Unsurprisingly, the Book of Austria casts a highly nostalgic look at Austria’s Habsburg-past, delivering a general overview of Austria’s history up to the beginning of the 20th-century followed by a chapter-by-chapter description of the provinces that formed the Second Austrian Republic.

Of particular interest is a section at the beginning, titled “Unborn Austria.” Although the section heading pertains to Austria’s stone-age origins, the intended analogies to the rebirth of Austria in 1945 are hard to ignore, especially because the first paragraph connects the pre-historic beginnings with the 20th century in a paradoxical act of describing a not-yet-existing place with a historically overdetermined name:

 “He who would find Austria on the globe must turn the round ball of the earth slowly on its slanting axis, otherwise he might easily overlook the Austria of the 20th century. Where is this much-talked-of Austria? What is her place in space and time, in history and culture?” (Marboe 3)

 The difficulty of finding Austria is not a new phenomenon, as the Book of Austria suggests, for even the gods of antiquity had no idea where Austria was:

 “If , as Hercules set forth to pluck the golden apples of the Hesperides, he had asked the giant Atlas who supported the arch of the heavens upon his shoulders, whether the weight of Austria seemed an especial burden to his neck, the latter would have wonderingly denied it. Or he might have answered: ‘Austria, is there such a thing?’ In this he would not have been entirely in the wrong, for […] that part of the earth which lay to the North-East behind Olympus was for long presumed by the Greeks to be the realm of the dead. A secret. Impenetrable darkness, the mystery of birth and death in the magic mists of creation and mythhology” (Marboe 4).

 On one level, these opening pages of the Book of Austria could be read as simply a rhetorical ploy to undercut any discussion about Austria’s responsibility for the atrocities committed by National Socialism. On another level, the introduction of Austria as a hard-to-find and easy-to-overlook place, as small and too insignificant to be known by the classic gods, indicates what philosopher Edward S. Casey calls a “place-panic” (Casey, Fate 8). The Book of Austria’s references to the mythical origins of time and its expressed fear of the country’s invisibility invite to be read in the context of Casey’s analysis of creation myths in general. As Casey writes in his survey of the history of place in philosophical texts,The Fate of Place (1999), the notion of the ‘void’ is central to many western and non-western creation myths. Yet the void is not without content. According to Casey, even those situations labeled as “chaos” and “gap” bear the traces of a place:

 “A gap has boundaries and thus a form, however primitive; it is not an indefinite, much less an empty and endless, space. […] Chaos […] is not a scene of disorder […]. It is a scene of emerging order.” (Casey, Fate 9)

 The “emerging order” of a place named Austria becomes visible, despite the attempts to present Austria’s location as doubtful, in the book’s reference to two geographical and topographical constants that have shaped Austrian identity, the river Danube and the Alps:

 “The riddle of all beginning and creation hangs over the landscape of the mighty stream which flows eastwards from the heart of Europe, parallel with the high-towering chain of the snow-capped Alpine peaks” (Marboe 5).

 Especially the reference to the Alpine peaks resonates with president Renner’s 1945 appeal to the world to come and visit Austria:

 “Wir lieben unsere Heimat, aber wir brauchen die Fremde! Wir brauchen den Fremdenverkehr und laden alle Welt zu uns zu Gaste. Wien und Salzburg werden als Stätten der Kunst, unsere Alpen als touristische Ziele ersten Ranges die Fremden mit Freude begrüßen.” (Wiener Zeitung, 23 September 1945, no page; qtd. in Brusatti 143)

 Both the Book of Austria and president Renner refer to geography as the allegedly unchanging elements of Austria. Presumably, this reference is intended to deflect attention from contemporary and recent political developments. After all, what could be more apolitical and innocuous than a river and a mountain chain? Whatever the intention might have been, however, both references are also examples of the performative reconstruction of Austria’s national identity and place. The Danube and the Alps cannot be mentioned without also evoking a host of historical and cultural discourses that shape the readers’ interpretation. The Book of Austria takes great care to mention some of these discourses, ranging from the medieval epic Nibelungenlied [The Song of the Nibelungen] to the waltzes of Johann Strauß. What the book does not mention, are other discursive layers that could be cited, such as the National Socialists’ infatuation with the story of the Nibelungen, which resulted in the construction of the Nibelungenbrücke in Linz, the Upper Austrian town’s major bridge across the Danube river. The Alps also bring up a range of meanings, not the least of which is the role of mountaineering and of the Deutsch-Österreichischer Alpenverein in the exclusion of Austrian and German Jews from leisure practices as well as the function of the Alps as a refuge for early and illegal disciples of National Socialism in the years before the Anschluss (for more on the antisemitic history of the Deutsch-Österreichischen Alpenverein and its role in harboring illegal National Socialists in the 1930s see Bernhard Tschofen, Berg Kultur Moderne: Volkskundliches aus den Alpen, Wien: Sonderzahl, 1999).

Both examples under discussion here are part of an early postwar strategy to lure more tourists to Austria, but it would be too simplistic to view them only as manifestations of how tourism was employed to distract from Austria’s problematic role during Hitler’s regime. Rather, these examples show that each attempt to refer to a quasi pre-historical or pre-discursive Austria–to one that is not tainted by 19th and 20th-century developments–ends up citing and reaffirming already existing social, political, historical, and cultural discourses relating to and shaping Austria. In short, these instances underscore my reading of the role of the tourism discourse as an important realm for the performative reconstruction of Austria. Now the question is what these performative reconstructions tell us about the “emerging order” (Casey) of this allegedly new Austria.

The Book of Austria answers the rhetorical question about Austria’s time-space coordinates in a very gendered way, pointing at the conservative patriarchal underpinnings of the emerging postwar order. The above-quoted passage that envisions a puzzled reader turning the globe in search of Austria is printed around a photography of the Venus von Willendorff, a small statuette of a prehistoric goddess of fertility, which was found in Lower Austria in 1908 and is believed to date back 25,000 years B.C.

The statuette, considered to be one of the most significant archeological findings in Austria, symbolizes the historic time that links the postwar period with pre-historical epochs and lays the foundation for the place of the “new” post-1945 Austria. Simultaneously, the Venus von Willendorff can be read as illustrative of the “emerging order” of contemporary Austria in 1945. The statuette’s presentation by the Book of Austria exemplifies a traditional, patriarchal gaze that renders the female body passive. If one takes, as the Book of Austria does, the Venus von Willendorff as a pars pro toto for Austria, then it is possible to interpret the use of the statuette as a symbolic femininization of Austria in general.



The book’s subsequent historical overview elaborates on this gendered logic in which femininity equals passivity equals innocence when it presents Austria as a place that had to endure continuous traffic, beginning with the “primitive tribes of Illyrans, Celts, […] Teutons, […] Huns, Goths, […] Slavs,” for whom the land “serve[d] as a bridge”, continuing with the Romans, and ending with the contemporary (and, of course, desirable) stream of tourists (Marboe 5). This representation of Austria as a space that must endure conforms to a Western tradition in which “time […] is typically coded masculine and space […] feminine,” as geographer Doreen Massey notes (Massey 6). Obviously, the Book of Austria’s retroactive femininization of Austrian territory emphasizes the performative element in this particular reconstruction of Austria. As Siegfried Mattl points out in a highly original essay, the representation of Austria as feminine and passive lends itself very well to an analysis in the context of Judith Butler’s concept of performativity, mainly because the claim that there is some kind of “natural,” pre-historic Austria is, ultimately, as untenable as the claim that there are pre-discursive and quasi-natural categories of sex (see Siegfried Mattl, “Geschlecht und Volkscharakter: Austria Engendered,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften, 7.4, [1996]: 499-515).

Post-1945 governments embraced depictions of Austria as feminine and therefore innately peaceful as welcome “evidence” that Austria bears no responsibility for the crimes of National Socialism. However, as Judith Butler points out, it is crucial to note that performativity carries with it the kernel for its own deconstruction. It is, therefore, not surprising that the emphasis on Austria’s feminine and passive identity has been used, in an even more misogynist way, to cast doubt on the country’s self-image, as this memorandum from the British Foreign Office shows:

“It should be remembered that Austria yielded with so little opposition and afterwards accepted her violator with such enthusiasm that it was legitimate to wonder whether it was a case of rape or seduction” (Caccia to Eden, 16 November 1951, Foreign Office 371/93597, Public Record Office; cited in Bischof, Austria in the First Cold War 10).

 Finally, let me point out how the Book of Austria sheds light on the role of tourism–and, by extension, its own role–in the performative reconstruction of Austria. We must not forget that the above discussion of the performative reconstruction of Austrian national identity and place was sparked by a quotation in which an outsider was called upon to verify the existence of Austria in a space-time continuum. The phrase “He who would find Austria on the globe must turn the round ball of the earth slowly on its slanting axis […] evokes the image of an explorer, a traveler, or, a tourist turning the globe. This imaginary figure, deemed to be objective because he is outside the globe and, by extension, outside of Austria’s compromised recent history, vouches for Austria’s existence. By way of searching for the “much-talked-about” Austria, he not only acknowledges the existence of this place, but he simultaneously invokes the already existing matrix of facts, narratives, and images that form the basis for a reconstruction of Austria and for a re-anchoring of the country in “space and time.” This appeal to the tourist-as-witness can be read as an appeal for absolution from the outside and, as I will show in subsequent posts, as a template for the operations of the various government-organized tourism projects in the early years after the war. The discerning gaze of an imaginary tourist continued to play an important role in the reinvention of Austria, either as legitimizing and scrutinizing outside authority, or as imaginary role for Austrians who were able, as imaginary visitors to their own country, to participate in this performance of Austria as new and innocent.

Soldier-Tourists in 1945 Austria

Teaching, conferences, and administrative business has thoroughly interrupted my work on this project. I’m slowly coming back to it and recently began sorting information pertaining to tourism immediately after the end of the war. As I mentioned in my intro post, for that time period the term tourism is more a misnomer. But of course there were people engaging in activities that related to tourism, and soldiers from the three Western allies featured prominently among them.

Here’s a picture I found in the National Archives:

American soldiers relaxing at an Alpine lake in June 1945

The backside of the photo contains the following information:

“Infatrymen of the 44th division, occupying Austrian Tyrol, acquire suntan swimming and relaxing at a lake in the Alps. L-R: PFC Louis W. Carlile, Gainesboro, Tenn., PFC Jesse W. Fugett, Joliet, Ill., PFC Robert J. Hayes, 8803 Dexter BLVD., Detroit, Mich., PFC Kelly R. Campbell, 2478 S. 25th St., Akron, Ohio, PVT. Jim [?] Redding, 313 Center St., Ithaca, N.Y., and CPL. Edwin C. Crews, Edgewood, Ill.”

The picture was taken by the Signal Corps of the 7th Army, VI Corps, 324 IN-F, stationed in Landeck, Austria.

Any additional information about the soldiers in the picture and their experience in postwar Austria would be greatly appreciated.

Guidebooks for the “Individual Invader”

All Western military commands at one point issued pocket guides for their soldiers stationed in Germany and Austria. These functioned both as behavioral manuals and as guides to places deemed worthy of visiting. The books contain a wealth of information about the perception of both the Germans and Austrians, and sometimes, just sometimes, the title gives away more than the occupation command might have intended, as the subtitle “A Pocket Map Reader for the Individual Invader” suggests:

“What You See Is NOT What You Get!”

Musings on the Role of Seeing, Image, and Imagination in Media and Tourist Discourses.

(I’m reposting a short piece I wrote for the 2011 Southeast German Studies Consortium-meeting in Atlanta.)

A middle-aged woman lies in bed in a hotel room somewhere in Austria. Consuming the contents of the minibar, she zaps through the TV channels, mindlessly gazing at fragments of the news, a bicycle race, an Austrian folksong performance, and other short clips. In a voice-over, she formulates a postcard with the following text: “Dear Uncle, The weather is fine. And people here are rich and friendly. I found a nice hotel with hot water, drinks for free, and thirty-two TV channels. This is not America, but my first holiday since honeymoon, I guess, and a good place to hang around. So I will do my best. Los Angeles is far away, and so am I. Please don’t forget me.”

As one might have guessed by her surprise about the many TV channels, the free hot water, and by her misconception that the minibar would be complimentary, the woman in this scene is not your typical tourist. In fact, Nana Iaschwili, so her name, is the protagonist in Austrian director Florian Flicker’s film Suzie Washington (1998), and in this scene we see her taking a break from being on the run from the law. The teacher of French from the former Soviet republic of Georgia had been arrested by Austrian authorities during her layover at the Viennese airport, after it had become apparent that her passport and her visa to the United States were forgeries. With her request for asylum rejected, Nana had used a chance opportunity to escape from the airport’s transit zone and join an American tourist group bound for the Austrian lake district. Under the pseudonym Suzie Washington Nana then had embarked on an at times bizarre journey through Austria’s tourist landscape, pursued by the police, harrassed by smugglers and criminals, until she had found this isolated bed&breakfast, where she is courted by a lonesome German tourist looking for a holiday fling (Flicker).

To get the full pdf file click here.

Here’s a short clip of the film:

Sex, Performativity, and the Nation State

Performance and performativity have developed into key terms in the more recent approaches to tourism. Examples are Tim Edensor’s previously quoted book National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life, as well as the anthologies Tourism: Between Place and Performance (2002), edited by Simon Coleman and Mike Crang, and Travels in Paradox: Remapping Tourism (2006), edited by Claudio Minca and Tim Oakes. Although the precise ways in which the contributions in these volumes theorize performance/performativity for their specific approaches vary, they ultimately all refer to Judith Butler’s conceptualization of the performativity of sexual identity. As Butler famously argued, first in her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity and later in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, not only is gender the result of cultural discourses, but so is sex. What we accept as the biological, essential, or pre-discursive opposite of gender–namely the supposedly immutable and materially fixed category of sex–is in fact discursively constructed that way by the social discourses of gender.

This notion of performativity has shaped my work on tourism and Austrian national identity decisively from the very beginning. Especially helpful has been Butler’s view that the normative power of social and cultural categories–a power that we are supposed to understand as always already existing, as quasi-eternal–is, in fact, created by the constant reiteration of these categories, in other words by their ongoing performance in everyday life. To quote Butler: “In the first instance, performativity must be understood not as a singular or deliberate ‘act,’ but, rather, as the reiterative and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects that it names” (Butler, Bodies that Matter 2).

How does this relate to my investigation of tourism and Austrian national identity? It addresses the point I tried to make in my previous post: Tourism did not cover up the “true” image of Austrian identity, but it facilitated the construction of Austria. Or, in other words, the discourse of tourism created that which it seemed to represent, namely Austria after 1945.

Recently I re-read an article by political scientist Cynthia Weber, “Performative States” (1998), whose innovative reading of Judith Butler’s concept of performativity helps me to further clarify my approach. Weber summarizes Butler’s main argument as follows:

“Gender should be thought of as ‘the discursive/cultural means by which “sexed nature” or “a natural sex” is produced and established as “pre discursive”, prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts’” (the phrases in quotation marks inside Weber’s quote refer to Butler, Gender Trouble, p. 7;  emphases added by Weber).

 Thankfully, Weber highlights a frequent misinterpretation of Butler’s work as saying that there is no such thing as “the body” or “sex”:

“Rather, she is saying that the identity of any body, the ways we understand the materiality of the body, does not pre-exist all manners of performative expressions of sex and gender. Her point is not that bodies only exist in discourse as citational processes. Rather, her point is that it is through discursive performances–repeated, yet, varied citational processes–that our understandings of material bodies are mediated.” (Weber 80-81)

 She sees a parallel here to the ways in which political scientists talk about the relation between state and sovereignty:

 “Butler’s discussion of sex and gender through performativity effectively dismantles the nature/culture dichotomy through which we so often think about these terms. In this respect, what Butler has to say about sex and gender is equally relevant for understandings of states and sovereignty. For how is the state coded in much international relations theory and practice except as the pre-discursive, natural realm of international politics to which the discursive, socially constructed, cultural referent of sovereignty refers.” (Weber 82)

 Against that, Weber posits her reading of Butler as it relates to the connection between state identity and sovereignty:

 “If we accept that–like sex and gender–states and sovereignty are both discursive effects of performative practices, then it follows … that there is no sovereign or state identity behind expressions of state sovereignty. The identity of the state is per formatively constituted by the very expressions that are said to be its result. One of these expressions is sovereignty ….” (Weber 91)

 When scholars, journalists, and literary authors criticized tourism as a cover-up of Austria’s postwar reality, they basically reaffirmed the nature/culture dichotomy in which an already existing state tries to shape its national identity by utilizing a specific set of touristic images and narratives. (One could also say that this is the performance-based notion of identity, one in which the state’s existence is independent from the sovereignty, or, as I like to see it, from its national identity. The critics, after all, seem to suggest that the state Austria could have used a different set of images to represent itself.)

The important question for me is: How can we argue an already existing Austria in 1945? Of course, there were international legal acts such as the 1943 Moscow declaration that guaranteed the resurrection of Austria in its pre-1938 borders. There was also the proclamation of the Austrian Second Republic in 1945 based on the constitution of pre-1934 Austria. Yet, if we take into account that national identity requires more than legalistic acts, that it relies on things such as “invented traditions” (Hobsbawm and Ranger) and “imagined communities” (Anderson), we face the problem that even in 1945 most of the available identity options were related to the “imagined community” of greater Germany, not a very welcome association at that point in time.

In his book The Ambivalence of Identity (2001), Peter Thaler argued that Austria’s biggest postwar accomplishment was the re-orientation of its “imagined community” from a focus on Germany to a focus on Austria. To a certain extent I agree with his view that the government-controlled educational system played a huge role in the dissemination of the image of a viable, autonomous, independent Austrian nation. However, I believe that his focus on a rather top-down and high-cultural process ignores the more mundane and popular processes that supported this transition. Tourism is, in my view, one of these processes that contributed not only to the reorientation of Austrian national identity, but to the construction of an entity called Austria in 1945 in the first place.

What those engaged in the reconstruction and renarration of Austria’s identity needed, thus, was an apparently pre-discursive, natural entity onto which they could project the notion of a new Austria, one that had been entangled in the National Socialist mess against its will; one, whose grand and impressive historical and cultural traditions could serve as testimony for its essentially “good” character and nature. Tourism provided just that. By reiterating older tourist narratives, preferably those from before 1918, but even those from between 1918 and 1938, those who were agents in the larger tourism discourse–government officials, tourism entrepreneurs, hosts, domestic and international tourists–were performatively invoking a natural, pre-discursive Austria, one that has existed for centuries.

What is, then, the really interesting aspect of studying tourism and Austria, is not so much how Austrians used tourism to hide their “true” identity, but, rather, to study tourism as a way to understand the re-construction of a “real” Austria; to understand how the discourse of tourism created the very Austria which it claimed to only represent.

Does Tourism Cover Up Austrian Reality?

Tourism and Austria–for most of the period since World War II, these two terms have been treated as an almost toxic combination. In the literary fiction of authors such as Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, Franz Innerhofer, Felix Mitterer, and Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek–to name only a few of the more prominent names–the seminal images of Austria’s landscape and of its cultural and architectural icons function as metaphors for the country’s unwillingness to accept its share of responsibility in the Holocaust. These literary investigations came in different shapes and forms, but over time they have affirmed the notion that Austrian reality is hidden, covered up, concealed, camouflaged–the list could go on–by tourism. Elfriede Jelinek phrased it poignantly and in typical hyperbole in an interview. Asked if she viewed “Alpine tourism as a perfect means to cover up history in Austria?”, she responded: “Yes. Everything that has been done in this country since 1945 was the result of an intricate cover-up” (Brenner 30).

To be clear: The work done by Jelinek and other literary authors as well as by journalists and critics such as Armin Thurnher and Robert Menasse changed the Austrian political landscape and climate in crucial and positive ways. However, their works also reified tourism as the “fake” surface over Austrian national identity and treated the existence of the Austrian nation more or less as a given. (Crang describes the understanding of the nation as a given like this: The nation is not imagined as “the outcome of material and symbolic processes but instead as the cause of those practices–a hidden essence lying behind the surface of behaviour” [Crang 162]).

Viewed in the context of postwar Austria’s political history, this is quite understandable. The questioning of Austria’s existence as an autonomous nation state had played a big role in the Anschluss of 1938. After 1945, casting doubt on Austria’s national independence from Germany became the trademark of right-wing political groups, especially within the Freedom Party (FPÖ). (Jörg Haider’s notoriety as perpetual bad boy of Austrian politics was in part based on his characterization of the post-1945 nation as an ideologische Missgeburt [an ideological miscarriage]). The downside of this characterization was that the multiple ways in which tourism contributed to the process of reconstructing the Austrian nation after 1945 has received only scant attention.

Most scholarly investigations of tourism’s impact on the formation of Austria as a nation after 1945 focus on the economic importance of the tourism sector (an often-cited example is Brusatti). At the same time, the overwhelming majority of studies about the reconstruction of Austrian national identity focus on official political rituals and processes, on the role of the educational system, and on the function of “high” culture (see for instance the discussion of education in Peter Thaler’s The Ambivalence of Identity [2001]).

As Tim Edensor points out in his book National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life (2002) [see the link to My Library Thing in the column on the left], national identity construction is informed much more by everyday practices than by officially staged rituals of the nation. Taking issue with some of the more prominent accounts of national identity formation by Ernest Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm, Benedict Anderson, Anthony Smith, and John Hutchinson, Edensor claims that their approaches share a series of blindspots with regard to the role of popular culture in the process of national identity construction. Edensor’s criticism of the various approaches can be summarized in three points:

First, he contends that the above-mentioned authors focus too much on “spectacular and the historic.” Second, if these authors discuss popular culture at all, it’s only in the form of “‘folk’ culture,” which in turn seems to be worthy of investigation only “in contradistinction to mass culture” (Edensor 10). Third, Edensor considers the accounts to be “far too historicist, generalizing about national identity and disregarding contemporary formulations” (11).

In trying to fill in the gap left open by these various scholars, Edensor sketches out an approach to studying the construction of national identity as a

“process of continually weaving together fragments of discourse and images, enactions, spaces and times, things and people into a vast matrix, in which complex systems of relationally between elements constellate around common-sense themes–one such being the national” (Edensor, National Identity 29-30).

The key words here are “process,” “discourse,” “common-sense themes,” with the latter standing in for Edensor’s focus on everyday practices and performances [a concept I will discuss in future blogs] as an essential source for studying the national.

Where does tourism fit into all of this? Initially, it seems as if Edensor views the everyday, the routine aspects of live, as the opposite of touring, of going on vacation (National Identity 18). The latter is, in conventional definitions, the conscious and reflexive activity, the time when we leave our routine to experience something else, while the former is considered unreflective and habitual. However, as Edensor points out, that distinction is somewhat artificial. Most importantly,

“the unreflective construction of national identity, its embeddedness in the everyday, [can best be studied] by looking at how reflexive awareness can result from disruption–either by forms of common sense being interrogated by strangers or migrants, by familiar spaces, things and practices coming under threat from social and economic change, and most graphically by the habituated, embodied national subject being displaced or situated in an unfamiliar context” (National Identity 21).

There are several conclusions I draw from this approach for my own work on Austria: First, tourism might serve as a very good pathway to gain a better understanding of how Austrians reconstructed their national identity after 1945. By analyzing what kind of discourses and images the various institutions, groups, individuals wanted to be circulated for tourists, we can get a sense of what the various Austrian agents considered to be Austrian (and certainly also a sense as to what they did not want to be seen as a part of their identity, but I would argue that this is different from hiding one’s identity under the cloak of tourism.) Second, tourism, as a global practice, helps to perceive national identity not as the stagnant opposite of mobility, of globalization, but as an important element of fluid and temporary identity formation. In other words, the local variety of national identity might very well change under the influence of discourses and images about the Austrian nation by, let’s say, American tourists. The fact that the city of Salzburg now stages its own version of The Sound of Music after having for decades labelled as kitsch the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, the 1965 film, and the Sound of Music tours, is only one case in point.

To answer the question posed in my title: Tourism seems to be far less a cover up, than an immensely complex discourse that facilitated the processes of reconstructing Austrian national identities [more later as to why I think the plural is important]. For today’s critic, tourism–understood as discourse–serves as a rich archive for understanding the construction of identities as well as the making of “normality” at specific moments in time.

Tourism and National Identity

This blog will accompany the writing of a book-length manuscript on the role of tourism in the reconstruction of Austria as a nation after 1945. Arguing against the mainstream notion that Austria only used superficial touristic images to distract from its problematic “real” past (the involvement in the crimes of National Socialism), my project applies recent developments in tourism studies, cultural studies, critical theory, and cultural geography to show that the discourse of tourism was not the surface covering up Austria but, in fact, the discursive environment within which Austria could be reconstructed. In order to make my argument, I will use sources such as government documents, school projects, films, literary texts, and field notes from participant observations of Sound of Music tours in Salzburg.