Where German literature ends and Austrian literature begins has long been contested by academics and ideologues. Poets in the Austrian lands were part of the general German literary scene of the Middle Ages; in the 12th and 13th centuries both the Babenberg court in Vienna and ecclesiastical institutions in the Austrian lands were cultural centers that drew such figures as the great poet Walther von der Vogelweide (ca. 1170–ca. 1230). Walther was not, however, born in the Babenberg territories, but probably around Würzburg. During the Renaissance, Emperor Maximilian I was a generous patron of the arts, literary, and otherwise, but his most important literary protégés, such as the humanist Conrad Celtis (1459–1508), were not native to the Austrian lands either. An argument has been made that Protestantism and Catholicism produced different intellectual and literary traditions following the 16th-century Reformation. But even if this distinction was unassailable, which it is not, it applies not to a specifically “Austrian” literature of the early modern era but to south Germany generally, where Catholicism retained its hold. Austrians themselves began making distinctions between “Austrian” and “non-Austrian,” meaning German, literature in the late 18th century. It is only in the 19th and 20th centuries, however, that an arguably Austrian literary tradition developed. The first genre to express it was the theater, particularly the popular comedy, which combines elements of local performance with often-vulgarized elements of school dramas put on at Jesuit and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Benedictine foundations. The theme of self-recognition combined with virtuosic use of language representing all classes of society extends from 19th-century masters such as Johann Nestroy and Ferdinand Raimund to their more abrasive 20th-century heirs, Ödön von Horvath and more recently, Wolfgang Bauer (1941–2005). The serious novel did not have a place in Austrian literature until the latter decades of the 19th century, but Adalbert Stifter used such introspective and self-regarding themes, as well as a microscopic focus on the details of the external world.
   Intense concern with the uses and limitations of language to describe the inner and outer conditions of life has characterized
   Austrian literature from the latter decades of the 19th century until today. Much of the work of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, Karl Kraus, Robert Musil, and Heimito von Doderer turns on these issues. For Doderer, literature is virtually a literary experiment. The tradition was continued after World War II by the Vienna Group and the Graz Group, internationally represented by Peter Handke and somewhat less consistently by Thomas Bernhard. Handke and Bernhard, along with a younger cohort of writers such as Gerhard Roth (1942–) and Michael Köhlmeier (1949–), have far more autobiographical referents in their work than did their predecessors. The cool recounting of these details, however, places all of these authors squarely in the historical mainstream of their country’s analytic literary tradition.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.


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