Vienna Group

   / Wiener Gruppe
   To several young writers in Vienna after World War II, Austrian society had taken a wrong direction even before it had fully recovered from the conflict. In 1946, Friedrich Achleitner (1930–), H. C. Artmann (1921–2000), Konrad Bayer (1932–1964), Gerhard Rühm (1930–), and Oswald Wiener (1935–) joined together in an art club. By 1952, they were known and recognized as the Vienna Group. Short-lived though it was—it began to fall apart in the late 1950s and had lost all its collective character by the middle of the next decade—the Vienna Group epitomized the cultural unrest in Austria’s younger generation, which would make itself felt in the 1960s and 1970s. It also exercised a strong influence over the much more widely known Graz Group, which began to take shape in 1960. Contemporary Austrian poets such as Ernst Jandl (1925–2000) and Friederike Mayröcker (1924–) also drew much from their contact with the Group.
   The political and cultural views of the Vienna Group were closely tied to their aesthetic agenda. The cautious ways of Austrian governments, in which partisanship was actively discouraged, and the materialism of Austrians in general drew members’ scorn and anger. They bitterly opposed the Austrian rearmament that began in 1955. The Group was especially critical of public reluctance to discuss its Nazi past. They identified with artistic and literary movements such as Dada, Expressionism, and surrealism, officially labeled “degenerate” by Nazi ideologues. The linguistic nihilism of Ludwig Wittgenstein and those associated with his epistemology also figured prominently in the outlook of the Group. Oswald Wiener was especially in debt to the Italian Futurist Filippo Marinetti, who had argued even before World War I for freeing language—and therefore the discourse that uses it—from the constraints of linearity and syntactic convention. Words, to the Vienna Group, were just that; what they signified or designated was immaterial. The most unconventional themes could also be incorporated into literature. In 1956, Wiener’s Coole Manifest found artistic qualities in business signs, advertisements, even the texts of crossword puzzles.
   The work of the Group generally targeted what these writers saw as bourgeois convention in all forms of literature. In 1953, H. C. Artmann’s Eight-point Proclamation of the Poetic Act (Acht-PunkteProklamation des poetischen Actes) called upon artists to abandon middle-class values of individual inspiration, permanence, and marketability. Nor should they respect the critical standards of such audiences. An expression of human spontaneity and subconscious processes, their work was an impromptu event rather than a painstaking creative enterprise. Such views led the Vienna Group to offer its work as readings in stripped-down cellar theaters and even on the city streets. Their emphasis on nontraditional language led some members, most notably Artmann, to experiment with plays and poetry in Austrian dialect, a direction still followed by contemporary Austrian dramatists such as Felix Mitterer (1948–). However, the Group’s oeuvre often seemed little more than a series of bizarre images realized in an idiosyncratic language that bordered on glossolalia. Much of the work of the Vienna Group went unpublished. Nevertheless, it met its goal: to offend large numbers of people.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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