Shadow Lines: Austrian Literature from Freud to Kafka

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Intellectual culture in early twentieth-century Austria reached levels of originality and excellence that have rarely been equalled before or since. Shadow Lines examines works by major novelists, dramatists, poets, and intellectuals of that extraordinary era - among them, Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, Robert Musil, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Franz Kafka. Lorna Martens considers how each of these authors contributed to a decisive transformation in Austrian culture, involving a shift away from the dialectical syntheses of much nineteenth-century German thought and culture to potent, unresolvable dualisms of known and unknown - orderly and chaotic - features of human experience: consciousness and the unconscious, reason and the irrational, language and the inexpressible. In most of these writers, according to Martens, all that is knowable, reasonable, and orderly is grounded in that which is dark, irrational, chaotic. What Martens calls "the dark area" emerges variously "as the unconscious (Freud), the sexual drive (Freud, Schnitzler, Musil), the death instinct (Freud, Schnitzler), the dangerous chaos below the surface of things (Rilke), the inaccessible totality (von Hofmannsthal), or the unsayable (Mauthner, von Hofmannsthal, Musil, Wittgenstein)." The essential yet enigmatic relation between the known and the unknown leads to much that is unsettling--and strangely fascinating - in these writers' works. A book that shrewdly relates the works of these authors to the intellectual and political turmoil of the times, Shadow Lines is a new critical appraisal of Austrian literature and intellectual culture at the dawn of the century. Lorna Martens is an associate professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia. She is the author of The Diary Novel.

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