“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.

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.