Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Compare and Contrast: Austrian Literature

It's quite interesting to see how insiders view their own national literatures in comparison to the "foreign" take. So why not read Daniela Strigl's very thorough look at contemporary Austrian literature in Eurozine - and then Ritchie Robertson's recent piece in the Times Literary Supplement, playing on the Fritzl theme in the country's literature.

Interestingly, both articles round off with Elfriede Jelinek - there's just no escaping her right now - but that's about all they have in common. I prefer the Eurozine one, although it has a rather harping anti-German tone. Certainly, comparing the two provides ammunition for my argument that English-speakers are obsessed with the "dark history" aspect of German-language writing, whereas German-speakers have other themes to look at - although they don't ignore their national histories, by any means.

Strigl is adamant that Austrian literature can stand its own against German writers - but then practically accuses the German Book Prize judges of rigging the shortlist against Austrians in 2006. Bizarre. Although it might sound odd from someone who defines herself as "loving German books", I do feel that all this competition is unnecessary. What I refer to as "German books" are actually books written in the German language. I rarely take an interest in the nationality of the writer unless it's relevant for their work. And just as "English books" include books written in India, Wales, Hawaii and New Zealand, there are people writing "German books" in all sorts of places and with all sorts of backgrounds. So what does it matter how many authors on the longlists and shortlists of this world were born in Austria?

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