Archive for August, 2010

“Old Auster & Hungrig” on vacation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on 29 August 2010 by delclem

On summer days like this, I sometimes return to Grado, the old Adriatic resort of my childhood. It is still populated by Italian, Austrian and German tourists, and increasingly Hungarians and Czechs, and it smells nicely of pine, sea, foreign cleaning products and Aperol-Spritz. Then I sometimes think of Kakanien, whose ghost is somehow even more tangible here than in Vienna or Prague. At least during the summer.

‘Kakanien’: this is Robert Musil’s word for the ‘k. & k.’ Habsburg monarchy. It sounds a bit anal for Slavic ears, but maybe this was intended, as Joseph Roth claims. Anyway, it is this term by which the author of The Man without Qualities, probably the best novel on this planet, referred in an affectionately ironic way to Austria-Hungary-Bohemia-Moravia-Silesia, including Slovakia, Slavonia, Slovenia, Transylvania, etc. etc.: in a word, the huge land of unlimited impossibilities that perished in 1918.

A semi-colonial state in which a dozen ethnic groups lived side by side and made each other’s lives difficult. Socially and politically disastrous, but culturally fruitful: a twelve-tone waltz under the volcano called World War I, orchestrated by Freud & Co. A ‘prison of peoples’ in the eyes of the ardent nationalists of the time, a ‘powder keg’ for historians, and a Continue reading