"Der richtige Riecher": The Reconfiguration of Jewish and Austrian Identities in the Work of Doron Rabinovici

by Lisa Silverman
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Title:
"Der richtige Riecher": The Reconfiguration of Jewish and Austrian Identities in the Work of Doron Rabinovici
Author:
Lisa Silverman
Year: 
1999
Publication: 
The German Quarterly
Volume: 
72
Issue: 
3
Start Page: 
252
End Page: 
264
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Language: 
English
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Abstract:

LISASILVERMAN

Yale University

"Der richtige Riecher": The Reconfiguration of Jewish
andAustrian Identities in the Work of
Doron Rabinovici

In a country such as Austria, whose 10,000 Jews represent a tiny fraction of a total population of nearly eight million, the claim that great significance for either Aus- trian nationhood or Jewish identity lies in the literature of contemporary Austrian Jewish authors might seem tenuous. But close examination of recent Austrian Jew- ish literature reveals more relevance to these issues of identity than the numbers would indicate. By either challenging or re- maining within standard boundaries and definitions of identity, these works provide a unique commentary on the formation of "minor" literature and its role in the trans- formation of both majority and minority cultures.

As one of the first writers to address this phenomenon, Franz Kafka maintained that a small literature, due to its size, lacks the revered forces of a classic, traditional "writer of the nation" (such as Goethe), but succeeds because it actually provides more of an opportunity for the author to shape an identity through writing. Kafka claimed that the lack of "outstanding tal- ents" rendered the language of the small literature more "lively," allowing a writer to break free of traditional rules and tropes ofthe classical "language" to shape the con- sciousness of the collective. Later theorists built upon this idea to define a small or "minor" literature more concretely, by a use of "deterritorialized" language, a con- nection between the writer and political events, and a writer's representation of col- lective values.l

The examination of the literature of contemporary Austrian Jewish writers Doron Rabinovici and Ruth Kliiger against such theories of cultural difference and nation formation will illustrate the unique ways in which this literature may or may not transform the very condition it de- scribes, namely, the relationships between Austrian Jews and non-Jewish Austrians on both private and public levels. As will be shown, the works of Rabinovici, a writer of the post-Holocaust generation, serve to transform this relationship, by rejecting standard definitions of "minority" identity, and by subverting the common notion that "Jewish" and "Austrian" are two distinct, firmly bounded categories. The work of Kliiger, however, as a writer of an earlier generation, reveals her desire or need to maintain much of the traditional defini- tions of "Jew" and "Austrian" of her youth. As this paper will argue, the recent works of both authors not only pinpoint the com- plex issues embedded in common defini- tions of what is Yewish" and what is "Aus- trian," but also provide useful examples of applications of contemporary cultural dis- course to literature, highlighting its impor- tant role in discussions of cultural differ- ence and national identity in Austria and beyond. At stake in this discussion is not whether the literature discussed fits a strict, exclusive list of criteria for "minor" literature, but rather the fact that this and other theories of a similar nature can pro- vide a specific vocabulary which allows for a deeper understanding of the political im-

The German Quarterly 72.3 (Summer 1999) 252

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pact of literature on identity formation.

In her autobiographical book weiter leben: Eine Jugend, published in 1992 in Germany, emigrant writer Ruth Kliiger tells the story of her life, as the sheltered daughter of middle-class Jewish parents in Vienna, where she was born, to her sub- sequent internment in three concentration camps, and then as a displaced person and American professor of German literature. Kliiger's comments on the importance of the German language to her, as an emi- grant to the United States writing in Ger- man, and as a Jewish victim of Nazi perse- cution, show how language can serve as a cultural barrier as it simultaneously pro- vides a source of identity.

For Kliiger, who was only thirteen years old when she entered Auschwitz, both re- citing and writing German poetry were im- portant parts of her early survival skills, even before her deportation. Especially af- ter she was no longer allowed to attend school, as a Jewish child in Vienna, German and Austrian books kept her company while her mother worked. Although the law requiring Jews to wear the yellow star on their clothing limited her ability to ex- plore the city-"Ich kenne die Stadt meiner ersten elf Jahre schlechtn-Kliiger acknowledges that it was the books of her childhood, of Austrian writers such as Adalbert Stifter, which spoke to her inti- mately, "namlich in bequemen Tonfall einer vertraut hinterfotzigen Kinderspra- che," and helped to define her identity as Vienne~e.~

In addition to reflecting upon her clas- sical literary education in the camps, Klii- ger, by her own admission, felt most at home within the boundaries of traditional German language and literature. She grew up revering Lessing and Schiller, and in many ways relied on the tradition of the canon of German literature. As Sander Gil- man has noted, much of this poetry, which she includes in the book, reflects her attrac- tion to the traditional German canon.3

Yet, despite her attachment to the lan- guage, Kliiger never felt completely com- fortable among Germans, a phenomenon which she first encountered as a displaced person in Bavaria. When Kliiger writes of her days at the University in Regensberg not long after the end of the war, she writes of her discomfort in the lecture halls with professors. At one point during a class, ten- sion builds between a professor and nation- alist German students. Kliiger describes herself as being caught in the middle, and states that when another Jewish student asked aquestion, she "hears it with the ears of the Germans," for to her the words are not spoken in academic German, but are too influenced by Yiddish.*

Indeed, Kliiger's relationship to lan- guage is, like her relationship to her Aus- trian Jewish identity, quite complex. While on one hand she cherishes Yiddish as the marker of Jewish culture for its emotional and poetic expressions, she also recognizes and resents Yiddish as the language of Jew- ish difference, separating her from the Ger- man culture and language with which she would rather identify. She expresses irrita- tion at the fact that theuse ofYiddish words is "in" today in Germany, just as cooking with onions and garlic was a few years ago, claiming that both were used as cultural markers traditionally associated with for- eigners and therefore usually shunned. But while she complains at the use of Yiddish by Germans, her critique is that the words used are too negative. While it is chic to use "negative" Yiddish words, such asganoven for swindler, or chutzpah for immodesty, she claims that Germans do not use the positive words that she loves, such as mitzve for a good deed, or chutzpah in a positive sense. Kliiger laments that theyid- dish used today by Germans is not the ten- der, dear Yiddish of the shtetl, as repre- sented, for example, in the literature of Sholom Aleichem. For Kliiger it seems that Yiddish, like German, has a clearly defined usage, the boundaries of which should not be overstepped. As her attitude toward Yid- dish and "traditional" German shows, lan- guage represents fured meaning, with little opportunity for shifting definitions.5

Kliiger, as a Holocaust survivor, is con- cerned with rejecting the standard of de- fining herself through Auschwitz, and turns to language in part to achieve this goal. She writes that she feels a closer bond to Vienna, the city of her birth from which she was expelled, than she does to Ausch- witz, the horrifying camp to which she was forced to go, and she wishes to be recog- nized accordingly. One can "hear" Vienna in her when she speaks, claims Kluger: "Wien ist ein Teil meiner Hirnstruktur und spricht aus mir, wiihrend Auschwitz der ab- wegigste ort war, den ich je betrat, und die Erinnerung daran bleibt ein Fremdkorper in der Seele, etwa wie eine nicht operier- bare Bleikugel im Leib. Auschwitz war nur ein grMlicher Z~fall."~

The unfortunate irony, however, is that regardless of the level of her own identifi- cation with German culture, she can still only approach this culture as an outsider, because of the boundaries she implicitly ac- cepts between "Yiddish" and "German" and between Yewish" and "Austrian." This is perhaps why Kliiger is simultane- ously at home and an outsider in the be- loved city of her birth, as she admits in the conclusion to the first section of the book, "Vienna." Vienna was neither strange to her nor familiar, she writes, meaning that it was actually both strange and familiar, "Heimatlich unhei~nlich."~

Still, her accep- tance of the fured markers of identity that she expects language to represent is the root of her discomfort with both German and Yiddish. Kluger felt that her great loss was not only the physical exile from her homeland, but the exile from her tradi- tional home language. The publication of her memoir in German may well represent a metaphoric "return" to her native land, but it is carried out on terms the same as before she was forced to leave. Kliiger is writing as a Jewish exile in a language which does not include her: because she cannot reject the standards of language with which she has learned to define her- self, she continues to be excluded from them.

In contrast, Austrian Jewish authors of the post-Holocaust generation have the luxury of being able to reject the standard traditions of the German language in order to define themselves. The writing of Doron Rabinovici, an author and journalist, born in 1961 in Tel Aviv but living since 1964 in Vienna, reflects such a rejection, in his use of language and the issues of identity he writes about. As the author of controversial political essays and newspaper articles, Rabinovici has often criticized the Austrian government for, among other things, its un- willingness to accept the artistic freedom of critical playwrights such as Thomas Bernh~d.~

Rabinovici, along with Robert Schindel and Robert Menasse, are among a new generation of Austrian Jewish intel- lectuals who distinguish themselves from their immediate predecessors by choosing to live in Vienna under openly varying de- grees of Jewish cultural and religious iden- tity, as an alternative to strict orthodoxy, Zionism, or assimilation.9 Issues dealing with the negotiation of Jewish identity in post-war Austria permeate the writings of all three authors, such as Schindel's novel Gebiirtig (1992) and Gott Schiitze uns vor den Guten Menschen (1996), a collection of essays, as well as Menasse's novel Selige Zeiten, briichige Welt (1991), to name but a few.10

Although the fiction of Austrian Jewish writers is often read in the context of Ger- many's coming to terms with its past, Aus- trian postwar memory actually developed under very different circumstances. In- deed, it is hard to imagine the existence of contemporary Austrian Jewish literature today without the wave of anti-Semitism in the late 1980s sparked by the election of Kurt Waldheim as President and by his claim that, as a participant in military as- signments in the Balkans with a Nazi rid- ing unit, he had only been "fulfilling his duty."ll Until that point, Austria had been

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able to maintain its status as the first vic- tim of German aggression with relatively little challenge. Indeed, the official govern- ment position until 1966 was that Austria had been an occupied country between 1938 and 1945, which placed the responsi- bility for the persecution of Jews in Austria on the Germans.

That this was a strongly held position, the residue of which still remains today, is shown by the reluctance of the Austrian government to award compensation to Austrian Jewish survivors of the Holo- caust. After the war, the nearly 6,500 Jews residing in Austria were tolerated, but only under the tacit agreement that they would not demand compensation for, or recogni- tion of, what they had suffered. Only after difficult and protracted negotiations with the Austrian government did substantial compensation payments materialize in 1990, and then only on the condition that Austria would make the payments out of a moral, not a legal, obligation.12 Not until 1998 did the Austrian government estab- lish a historical commission to research and issue a comprehensive report on the con- fiscation of Jewish property and assets dur- ing the Second World War.

Numerous opinion polls taken during the late 1980s indicate a perpetuation of traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes and prejudices among the general population of Austria, including vast overestimations of the number of Jews actually living in the country. These attitudes may not translate into violence against Jews, or against their property, but other evidence, such as anti- Semitic statements by public officials, shows that such attitudes are still preva- lent. At the very least, they indicate a con- tinuation, for many Austrians today, of the traditional attitude that Austrians and Jews are two groups which are separate and distinct from each other. The situation is further complicated by a growing number of philo-Semitic Austrians who, though perhaps good-intentioned, end up reinforcing old stereotypes by continuing to draw attention to the perceived differ- ence of Jews. The traditional attitude of Jews in post-war Austria not to become involved in issues of anti-Semitism lent further complexity to the situation. For ex- ample, not all Austrian Jews openly de- nounced Waldheim, nor did they necessarily approve of the international community's efforts to criticize the election of Waldheim through sanctions against Austria.13 All these factors point to the highly tenuous nature of Jewish identity formation in postwar Austria, as well as the precarious situation of Jews currently residing there.

Such concerns form the web of complex issues and attitudes of both Jewish and Gentile Austrians that Rabinovici's fiction illustrates and criticizes, in particular the short story entitled "Der richtige Rie- cher."14 It is no accident that the opening scene of the story takes place in the very public setting of a pedestrian zone in the European city of "W." (assumed to stand for "Wien"), for the construction ofidentity in this narrative is anything but a private matter. The story opens as Amos Getreider, the Jewish main character, stumbles unex- pectedly upon a crowd of older men and women who have gathered for a political demonstration of an unusual nature: its proponents are concerned about a recent break in the normal atmosphere of silence, an "einmiitiges Schweigen, Ijene] ver- schworene Stille unter den Menschen." This break in public silence has become so troubling that these men and women must protest in order to drown out the "unspeak- able" (unerhorte)words which they blame for the disturbance, the passing of the past. "Das Vergehen der Vergangenheit war den meisten, die Unverganglichkeit der Verge- hen einigen wenigen anderen das entschiedene Anliegen."l5

Ironically, however, the crowd's efforts achieve the opposite of the intended effect, for the words of the demonstrators end up revealing exactly that which they have been trying to silence. In trying to halt the discussion of the past, they have no choice but to continue talking. As Rabinovici writes, "Was aber aus ihnen sprach, ver- riet, was sie zu vertuschen suchten." Yet, in addition to their very public purpose, the demonstrators are also engaged in a pri- vate one as well, an attempt to lose a sense of individual loneliness and to find common ground among themselves, all the while emitting "Meine Gasexplosionen an Ver- stimmung." It is in such a metaphorically

malodorous,^' dark, atmosphere of public and private identity searching, that Amos steals in among the crowd, like an intruder: "In jene Ausdiinstungen des Diinkels schlich Amos Getreider sich ein."16

Clearly, this opening passage sets the tone for the rather transparent subtext of the story, which highlights the problematic construction of Jewish identity in a con- temporary Austria engaged in remember- ing the past. Amos is joined in the crowd by his Gentile friend Peter Bach, and to- gether the two counter the events of the demonstration. The atmosphere of broken silence to which Rabinovici is referring is representative of the once subconscious but now deliberate effort not to discuss the occurrences of the Second World War in public. One might assume that such a scene represents the demonstrations that occurred in the midst of the Waldheim affair of the 1980s, a time when Austrians were forced to confront the events of the past and the misdeeds of their political leader in public, no longer able to maintain the unequivocal victim status which Austria claimed at the end of the war.

At first, it might seem odd that the ac- tual topic of discussion in a crowd trying to repress remembrance is the passing of the past. The method of a return to silence through a form of talking about the past (or remembering) is deliberately ironic, but it is perfectly logical when one considers that the act of remembering can also be used as a way to forget. As Michael Geyer and Miriam Hansen have pointed out, a mere acknowledgment of the necessity of rememberingis not enough for a true work- ing through of the past. The real test of whether working through can be achieved comes in how an individual, or a nation, chooses to remember. In other words, "the problem is no longer 'never to forget:' it is how to remember."17 On a very basic level, this scene functions as a commentary on faulty Austrian "memory" of past events.

Not to be overlooked, however, is the obvious reluctance with which the Jewish protagonist participates in the public dem- onstration. Far from being the instigator of this discussion, Amos enters the crowd as the reluctant Jewish participant just pass- ing by on his way somewhere else, with no real intention of becoming involved: "Amos, der blo13 durch den Aufruhr flanieren wollte, war bald in den Sog der Gesprache geraten" (61). One might have assumed that Amos, as a Jew living in Aus- tria, would have felt compelled to partici- pate in a counter-demonstration against those trying to maintain silence about the past. But by including this reference to the tacit agreement between Austrian Jews and non-Jewish Austrians after the war not to discuss matters of the Holocaust, Rabinovici also criticizes Austrian Jews for continuing to agree to participate in the maintenance of such silence. However, as this scene demonstrates, Rabinovici's cri- tique is thus not so much of an Austrian (both Gentile and Jewish) unwillingness to remember, but rather of the form in which the act of remembering takes place.

The centrality of remembrance to Aus- trian post-war identity is crucial, not only because of its necessity to maintaining ac- countability for the events of the past, but also because the ability to remember and forget, the structure of memory, is a crucial element in the formation of identity. Cul- tural theorists such as Andreas Huyssen have drawn a significant connection be- tween memory and the construction of identity by pointing out that memory and forgetting are not absolute opposites, and that forgetting is not the inevitable "flaw" or negative side of memory. Instead, forget- ting is a necessary component of memory, for without it, memory cannot exist. "Given a selective and permanently shift- ing dialogue between the present and past, we have come to recognize that our present will inevitably have an impact on what and how we remember." l8

Keeping this idea mind while reading the opening demonstration scene of "Der Richtige Riecher," we can conclude that what is important is not that every detail of the past can and should be remembered, but rather that the determination of what is remembered in the public sphere must be inclusive for all groups, including Jews, for a collective identity to be established. In other words, one's identity is contingent not only on what one remembers, but also on how one remembers. By maintaining si- lence about the past for so many years, non- Jewish Austrians ensured the continued exclusion of Jews from Austrian collective identity. By allowing the events of the past to be forgotten, Austrian Jews allowed the continuation of their exclusion from the Austrian collective identity of the present. It is this cycle of perpetuation of the condi- tions of the past into the present which this story attempts to break.

The opening passage of Rabinovici's story is important not only for its rather obvious commentary on the discussion of uncomfortable matters of the past in the public sphere, but also for what it reveals on a deeper level about "minor" literature. As already stated, with this scenario Rabi- novici himself breaks the tacit agreement to keep silent on the past. But his writing is more than just an attempt to break the cycle of "collective amnesia." More than an act of resistance against forgetting the past, Rabinovici's narrative, by the break- ing of standard taboos, defies the standard collective notions of 'gewish" and "Aus- trian" as separate categories of identity.

The disregard for a standard of post- war Austrian culture including silence about the past could be seen as part of the formation of a minority culture within the

Rabinovici 257

sphere of the majority. According to Jack Zipes, "It is this signifying nothing as taboo which signifies becoming-Jewish that com- pels Germans and Jews continually to con- front the past, to confront the myth of the German-Jewish symbiosis, and to deal with the hegemonic formation of present day German culture that makes Jews into a fascinum."lg Similarly, the recent ap- pearance of literature dealing with pre- cisely these issues by Austrian Jewish authors can also be said to represent a form of a minor literature, similar to the form defined by Kafka and elaborated upon by Deleuze and Guattari.

While the literature currently being written by Jews in Germany and Austria may not completely fulfill the definitive cri- teria for a minor literature as set down by Deleuze and Guattari, these new writings still perform the same function of the mi- nority literature by transforming the ma- jority culture through their rejection of standards: subverting standard German or Austrian language, challenging typical characterizations, and breaking the main- tenance of traditional taboos. Zipes claims that, while not all Jewish writers in Ger- many are in the same position as Kafka, or are as "Kafka-esque" in their relationship to the German language, they still repre- sent a minority culture which is now trying to "use minority or minoritarian elements in their works to forge a German Jewish culture that seeks to maintain its auton- omy and be a provocative force [..

Rabinovici, too, breaks taboos and sub- verts standard definitions of what is "Aus- trian" and '3ewish" through his portrayal of characters, a key characteristic of minor- ity literature. Such themes are prevalent in virtually all of his fiction to date. In his first novel, Suche nach M. (1997), Rabi- novici makes much use of cases of mistaken identity, interweaving the themes of sur- vival of the Holocaust and post-war identi- fication of survivors, as well as the burden of guilt upon the second generation of those who returned. In that text, the young Jew- ish character Arieh feels little connection to his Jewish friends in Austria, but first identifies himself as a Jew when he goes undercover disguised as the exact opposite, a neo-Nazi, in an effort to murder a skin- head who has beaten up a foreigner. Evi- dence of this discovery is shown by his sub- sequent emigration to Israel, ostensibly to avoid the police as a result of his crime, but also to make Aliyah as a Jew.

Rabinovici's best illustration of thepoli- ticization of identity and the complex rela- tionship to language felt by German-speak- ing Jews in Austria is also found in "Der Richtige Riecher." In that story, Rabinovici introduces the idea of words as representative of power through the figure of a foreign counter-demonstrator who is bashed over the head with his own placard. Having attempted to protest the muffling of words, he is reduced to silence when ar- rested, for he does not understand the lan- guage of the police and because the demon- strator who hit him is drowning out all other words by yelling. The foreigner has been silenced by the words of those dem- onstrating against words, showing the si- multaneous power and weakness of lan-

guage. Rabinovici is careful to note that lan- guage is as much an enabler of the perpetu- ation of fixed identities as it is a powerful transformer of relationships. Amos is fas- cinated by the Hebrew language, for its connection to Israel brings him a sense of security: "under wul3te sich darin so sicher, als ware er hinter getonten Scheiben, als w&re er bewaffnet mit einer Sonnenbrille, als lehne er an einem Olivenbaum" (67). He feels that Hebrew will transport him to this "exklusiveren Zirkel" of those with

fured, defined identities, one of which he cannot get from his German-speaking friends in W-"[. ..I in HebrGsch fuhlte sich Amos zugehorig der stolzeren Aus- gabe, der edel gebundenen Luxusausfer- tigung des judischen Assortiments" (68). He craves the Hebrew language as he craves a fured, defined identity, something that communication in the German lan- guage does not grant him. Further, Amos has never tried to speak in any German other than Hochsprache, because he feared not being able to master the local dialect or accent, and "sich zumindest im Einklang mit der Schrift wissen wollte" (67).

Through the character of Amos, Rabi- novici criticizes the use of language to ad- here to a fixed definition of identity, while showing its potential for a more progres- sive and useful function as a path to break- ing down fixed notions of identity and the "other" through dialogue. In this way, Rabinovici's writing displays an important characteristic of a minor language, a "de- territorialization." It rejects the notion that language should be representative of fixed identities and clear notions of usage, as Amos Getreider believes in Hebrew as a "Jewish" language and German as an "Aus- trian" tongue. His belief in the power of words, which is ultimately proven false, is predicated on a belief only in their ability to define him as a fured, secure entity, not in their ability to change the nature of the relationship between him and others. Keeping the elements of minor literature in mind while reading this story helps to illustrate how Rabinovici's choice of lan- guage begins to transform the old notions of "Austrian" and '3ewish" identity.

It should also be noted that it is the Jew- ish character, Amos, who remains silent throughout this story. When he is a young boy, Amos' mother, a Holocaust survivor, wants him to "subvert" the traditional stereotype of the weak Jew by hitting an anti-Semitic schoolmate. Instead of hitting him, however, Amos, believingin the power of words, would rather talk to him. "Er ver- traute auf die Kraft seiner Worte." (67) His mother insists, "Ich will-horst Du?-, daJ3 Du so jemande das nachste Ma1 schlagst. Diskutieren, Schmiskutieren! Nein. Wenn einer Dir so etwas sage, will ich, daJ3 Du ihn blutig schlagst" (66). On one level, Rabi- novici shows through the use of silence and the difficulties of verbal communication

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the reluctance of Austrian Jews, "half- Jews," and nondews to communicate amongst themselves and with each other about issues ranging from the situation in Israel, to the Holocaust, to the most inti- mate of love relationships. Language is cru- cial because it represents the ability to transform these relationships, be they pub- lic or private. On a deeper level, however, the failed attempts at communication also indicate the impossibility of such dialogue between people who accept the "other's"

definition of themselves.

The final episode of "Der Richtige Riecher" provides a brilliant climax to Rabinovici's story, combining nearly all of its identity issues into one swift deft punch in the nose, an act which transforms the relationship of Amos and his non-Jewish friend, Peter, as it physically transforms Peter's nose. The title of this short story evokes a well-known stereotype of Euro- pean anti-Semitism-that Jews smell- but with a double twist, for the organ of smell, the nose, is also one of the traditional markers of Jewish physiognomy.

At the beginning of the story, Peter is Amos's best friend and, unlike Amos, is not shy about speaking up to the demonstra- tors and taking on the anti-Semites. By the end, however, the boys have switched roles as well as identities, and the dialogue be- tween Jews and nodews has progressed no further. Amos finally does talk back to the demonstrators, probably because he believes in the power of words. When he tells an elderly woman that what she has said is anti-Semitic, she replies in disagree- ment, "Antisemiten kann man doch riechen." However, her anti-Semitic ten- dencies are exposed when she also agrees with Amos when he offers up the retort '3uden wohl sicherlich auch?" Amos's "powerful" words have not stimulated pro- gressive discussion or transformed any re- lationships: a man feels comfortable enough to joke, "Bitte, das stimmt nicht. Die Juden kann man nicht riechen. Auljer die polnischen" (71). But even this insult to his own mother's origins is not enough to bring Amos to action: he only replies in a soft voice that his mother is a Polish Jew. The man apologizes, but no opinions have been changed, no categories redefined.

Ironically, it is the statement of Amos's friend Peter which drives him to abandon his belief in the power of words. Peter tells Amos that, although anti-Semitism is inex- cusable, one must understand why preju- dices arise when orthodox Jews set them- selves apart by dressing the way they do: "Warum miissen sie sich immer so abson- dern? Sie miissen nicht unbedingt so her- umlaufen [...]. Irgendwie versteht man dann, wieso Ressentiments entstehen" (72). At that point, Amos rejects his normal defense and instead punches Peter in the nose, breaking it and altering Peter's physical appearance: "Die Massische Ge- radlinigkeit, die sein Riechorgan bisher ausgezeichnet hatte, war dahin und ge- knickt" (72). Not only is the organ with which an anti-Semite "smells" Jews now broken, it is bent so that it looks more like a traditional Jewish nose. The "anti-Sem- ite" has become the Jew, and the stereo- typically "weak" Jew has become the hero, at least in his mother's eyes.

At the very moment at which Amos "be- comes" the hero in his family's eyes, he loses his own identity as a Jew, which is transferred to Peter via the broken nose, while he takes on the characteristic of the "other" by using physical force. His new- found status as hero has come only at a cost of abandoning his principles, his beliefs, and above all, his Jewish identity, The boundaries of the Jew and non-Jew have not been altered in the end, just reversed. Language and dialogue have degenerated into violence, and the problematic relation- ship between the two identities remains unchanged as each one takes on the char- acteristics of the other. Appropriating the characteristics of the "other" is a common, but ultimately useless, method of acknow- ledging difference.

This scene illustrates one phenomenon

ofJewish culturein the Diaspora which has been much criticized in recent years, self- hatred. As Sander Gilman has noted, a cen- tral facet ofJewish identity throughout his- tory has been their acceptance of the "other's" negative and positive images about themselves. "Self-hatred results from outsiders' acceptance of the mirage of themselves generated by their reference group-that group in society which they see as defining them-as a reality."21 The qualities ascribed to being either "good" or "bad," however, are constantly shifting, which points both to the arbitrary nature of the definition of the "other" and to its Protean quality. The Jewish characters in Rabinovici's story illustrate quite clearly the pitfalls of this phenomenon, as each agrees to defining oneself according to the majority culture's definition of "good" and "bad" attributes. Amos is viewed by his mother and friends as having the "bad" characteristics of a Jew, by being weak and cowardly; yet, when he attempts to take on the qualities of the "other" by defending himself physically, he loses in every way. He is a hero in his mother's eyes, but it is a false heroism: he is no longer a Jew, he is no longer himself. Trying to become the "other" is not the solution.

The powerful tools of language and si- lence are also explored in the short story "N~emi,"~~

where these issues are alluded to numerous times on the first page alone. The plot of this story concerns a love trian- gle between two Jewish characters, Amos and Georg, and Noemi, the woman they both fall for. In the opening sentence, Amos claims that he really had intended to talk to his non-Jewish girlfriend Noemi about their impending breakup, "aber mit zwei Zungen im Mund ist schwer reden" (33). Yet, when Noemi and Amos first saw each other, for Amos "es war, als fiele mitten im Kino der Ton aus und ein Film lief stumm weite" (34). The private relationship be- tween the Jewish character and his non- Jewish girlfriend both began and ended with great difficulty in verbal communica- tion between them, but especially for Amos.

In the next paragraph, the difficulties ofverbal communication are marked as key elements in the problematic dialogue be- tween Jews and non-Jews in the public sphere, when, with reference to the words on a poster announcing a discussion re- garding "Palastina," Amos's close friend, half-Jewish Georg remarks: "Sie konnen Worte wie Jude oder Israel nicht ausspre- chen." Then, however, "Amos war es leid, zu antworten." (33) Again, Amos has diffi- culty speaking, this time to his friend. And in the next paragraph, an anti-Zionist stu- dent at the discussion asks "Was ist denn am Judentum lebenswert?" to which Amos answers, "Ich zum Beispiel bin lebens- wert." Amos then falls silent for the third time, as does the confrontational, anti-Zi- onist student, who has something to say on the tip of his tongue but does not dare, for "[ ...I doch kaum kritisierte er Israel, schon kramten die wieder das Opfer hervor" (33). The dialogue cannot progress beyond a cer- tain point, and then both speakers fall si- lent. Nothing has changed between them, for no real dialogue has been achieved. Both have made the decision to keep the relationship as it is by choosing silence. As in the opening scene of "Der richtige Riecher," all attempts at an opening of dia- logue between Austrian Jews and non-Jew- ish Austrians have failed, and even dia- logue between Austrian Jewish Zionists and non-Zionists cannot take place.

The complex problem of simultaneously knowing and respecting the "other" is a subject which has been examined in much detail in the literary theory of recent years. Robert Young points out that the common definition of identity in binary terms, such as through the Hegelian master-slave rela- tionship, neglects the important fact that any theoretical attempt at understanding the "other" necessarily implicates that "other" and transforms it: "Any conven- tional form of understanding must appro- priate the other, in an act of violence and

SILVERMAN:

reduction." For apotential escape from this paradoxical situation, he notes Levinas's proposal that language as a system of sig- nifiers can overcome this problem when used in speech, because it is a form of "in- visible contact between subjects that leaves them both intact." Only dialogue allows for this understanding of the identity of the other without the disintegration or the ap- propriation of one or the other speaker. Thus, the language of dialogue plays a cru- cial role in breaking the pattern of binary opposition, by forming a new identity, a hy- brid, because this allows for the transfor- mation of the relationship without appro- priation of the identity of the "0ther."~3

Rabinovici's characters' attempts at en- gaging in dialogue support the notion that the possibility of dialogue between Jews and non-Jews remains the only viable path toward understanding without self-hatred. For example, in "Noemi," the possibility of both knowing and recognizing the "other" is explored through the triangular relation- ship among Amos, his half-Jewish friend Georg and Noemi. On the night that Amos sees his future girlfriend, he writes a long passage in his diary about how moved he is by this "assumed" Jewish woman, how ex- cited he is at the almost incestuous notion of being with someone in his own "family." "So gesehen bleibt nur der historische KompromiS: Die Verschworung, aus der gemeinsamen Herkunft eine eigenstandi- ge Zukunft zu gestalten" (34). Yet, Amos displays self-hating tendencies by falling for a woman whom he believes is both Jew- ish and not Jewish at the same time: "Sol- che eine Frau pal3t nicht in die Winkel der judischen Gasse. Sie tritt nach auSen, tragt aber noch die Pragungen jener Ecke an sich, der sie entstammt und der auch ich ent- stamme, ohne ihr ganzlich entwachsen zu kijnnen" (35).It is the possibility of her dual identity which attracts him, the potential for being both the Yew" and the "other" si- multaneously. And yet, if he were able to let go of strict definitions of '3ew" and "other," he would not crave such duality.

Such definitions are exactly what Rabi- novici subverts with this story, by making it difficult to decipher who is Jewish accord- ing to the standard stereotypes. By the end of "Noemi," the standard definitions and boundaries no longer apply, and all is not what it seems. Only ten days into the rela- tionship, Amos learns that Noemi is not Jewish, despite her Hebrew-sounding name. When Georg attempts a conversion to Ju- daism, he is foiled by Amos, who tells the rabbi that Georg has a non-Jewish girl- friend. In an ironic twist during Amos's re- turn visit to W from his self-imposed exile in Israel, he orders a ham sandwich, while Georg abstains. Amos, who "is" Jewish, takes on a non-Jewish identity by ordering ham and claiming to be a "gottbegnadigter Atheist" (48).Georg, who "is not" Jewish, takes on a Jewish identity by following the Jewish dietary laws, albeit claiming to be vegetarian. Who is Jewish now? The ques- tion can no longer be answered by an appeal to traditional trappings of Jewish identity, by askingwho lives in Israel, who eats ham, or who has a Jewish-sounding name. Rabi- novici rejects these definitions and shows how useless they are, and thus subverts and redefines for the reader the definition of a Jew.

Because Rabinovici's stories reject the traditional boundaries of Austrian and Jewish identities as distinct and separate, they perform the important function ofcre- ating a new identity, a hybrid drawing from various sources, which is much more ten- able and reflective of the complex nature of Austrian Jewish identity. As Homi Bhabha has written on the subject of the role of the members of a nation in the for- mation of identity, "The people are neither the beginning or the end of the national narrative; they represent the cutting edge between the totalizing powers of the social and the forces that signify the more specific address to contentious, unequal interests and identities within the population."24 In an interesting critique of Benedict Ander- son's theory about the formation of na- tional identity, Bhabha's formulation can help us to analyze this literature in terms of its contribution to the formation of an Austrian identity. "Counter-narratives of the nation that continually evoke and erase its totalizing boundaries-both actual and conceptual--disturb those ideological ma- neuvers through which 'imagined commu- nities' are given essentialist id en ti tie^."^^ He critiques Anderson's notion (actually taken from Walter Benjamin) of "homoge- nous empty timenas the vessel which al- lows national identity formation to occur, for he believes that Anderson overlooks the fact that language and narrative have a temporality all their own, a sense of imme- diacy which is even more immediate than the "meanwhile" which Anderson claims enables the people of a nation to envision the others of that nation and form a collec- tivity. There is no such homogenous collec- tivity, argues Bhabha, as evidenced by the immediacy of minority literature, for ex- ample, which disrupts such a notion of time. Read alongside the literature of an author such as Rabinovici, such theories do

much to inform and clarify the complex is- sues of identity in it. By thinking about the issues of language and identity raised in the writing of Rabinovici in such terms, we can more readily pinpoint the issues at stake in the discussion, and delve more deeply into them. The theories can be an important and useful tool for decoding or identifying the components of identity- language, culture, religion, history.

In "Der richtige Riecher," one of the demonstrators tells Amos in all earnest- ness, "Wir hassen die Juden nicht," claim- ing that it is rather the Jews who hate "us." Self-assuredly folding his hands over his stomach, he maintains that there is no rea- son to hate in such a world filled with beau- tiful color. The problem, according to the demonstrator, can be solved quite easily: "Sie mu13 sich nur in ihrer Buntheit als Ganzes begreifen, so wie ja auch alle Far- ben zusammen das weil3e Licht ausmachen" (62).Rabinovici shows his disdain for such belief by referring to this character ironically as "ein Meister der Harmonie- lehre," a man with the false belief that: "Wir miissen die Juden lieben, bis sie auf- horen, uns zu hassen. Und wenn es noch solange dauert" (65). The problematic re- lationship between Austrian Jews and non- Jewish Austrians cannot be solved by tak- ing on the qualities of the "other" or even by "loving" them. For if, as Bhabha claims, the identifications of love and hate actually take up the same space in our minds, this simple solution will not keep the problem from recurring: "[Plaranoid projections 'outwards' return to haunt and split the place from which they are made. So long as a firm boundary is maintained between the territories, and the narcissistic wounded is contained, the aggressivity will be pro- jected onto the Other or the O~tside."2~

Recently, some have displayed a misun- derstanding of the notion of the hybrid by interpreting it as another form of Misch-ling which ends up exoticizing that which it claims to subvert. In a recent article in this journal, Todd Herzog argued that, in- stead of subverting and redefining current notions of Austrian Jewish identity, con- temporary minority literature in Austria and Germany serves to reinforce old stereo- types or models of difference. According to this author, the use of cultural theory to interpret this literature only enhances the negative effects: "Not only does contempo- rary cultural theory not provide a way to escape this model [...I it, in fact, seems to repeat this fascination with the difference, even the monstrosity, of the hybrid."27 However, what this view fails to recognize is that the basis of the theory is precisely that the hybrid is not a Mischling in the traditional, and grotesque, use of that term, because it leaves intact the identities from which it sprung, without appropriat- ing an "other," and because it entails the notion of constant change. The hybrid is a more immediate, constantly changing en- tity, a form which redefines itself as a func- tion of time, through its own agency, and is

SILVERMAN:

not a subset of firmly bound identities.

Because the work of a writer such as Rabinovici reflects the possibilities and failures of dialogue between Jews and non- Jewish Austrians, and because it exhibits characteristics of a "minor" literature, which subverts traditional categories through breaking taboos and challenging uses of language, it is a useful tool for dis- cussing the transformation of traditional notions of Austrian and Jewish identity. As opposed to the writings of an author such as Kliiger, who, for understandable reasons, remains bound to traditional uses of language, such literature provides within it the possibility for transforming and not merely reiterating an existing problematic relationship. For Rabinovici, as for other Jewish writers in Germany and Austria who learned German as a foreign language, "part of being Jewish in Germany is learn- ing German to alienate oneself from both Jewish and German culture,"28 a goal dia- metrically opposed to what Kliiger, of an earlier generation, was trying to achieve. And this is why it is important to turn to Austrian Jewish literature for progressive ideas about what it means to be Jewish in Austria today, for the answer to that ques- tion is also in constant flux.

Notes

'Gilles Deleuze and Fklix Guattari, "What is a Minor Literature?," Reading Kafha: Pra- gue, Politics and the Fin de Sidcle, ed. Mark Anderson (New York: Schocken Books, 1989)

93. 2Ruth Kluger, weiter leben: eine Jugend (Gottingen: Wallstein Verlag, 1992) 16-75. 3Sander L. Gilman, Inscribing the Other

(Lincoln: Nebraska UT: 1991) 231. 4Kluger 208. 5Kliiger 209. %uger 138. 7Kluger 67. 8Doron Rabinovici, "Kommen Sie nach

~sterreich!,"Tages Anzeiger 9 October 1995. gDagmar C. G. Lorenz, "The Legacy of Jew-

ish Vienna," Insiders and Outsiders: Jewish and Gentile Culture in Germany and Austria,

ed. Dagmar C.G. Lorenz and Gabriele Weinber- ger (Detroit: Wayne State UT: 19941, 299.

'OFor a discussion of similar issues in the work of contemporary Austrian Jewish writers, including Doron Rabinovici, Robert Schindel, and Elfriede Jelinek, see Matthias Konzett, "The Politics of Recognition in Con- temporary Austrian Jewish Literature," Monatshefte 90.1 (19981, 67-84. Other sources referring to the writing of Rabinovici are Sander L. Gilman, Love + Marriage = Death and Other Essays on Representing Difference

(Stanford: Stanford UE: 1998) 198-200 and Thomas Nolden, Junge judische Literatur: Konzentrisches Schreiben in der Gegenwart

(Wurzburg: Konigshausen & Neumann, 1995) 112-13.

llIn an interview in 1998 between Rabi- novici, Menasse and Schindel, Rabinovici claimed, "Man kann sagen, Kurt Waldheim hat mich so richtig in die ~sterreichische innen- politik eingefuhrt oder zumindest ins Oster- reichische gebracht. Ohne ihn ware ich vielleicht gar nicht mehr da." See "Ein Gepei- nigtsein von Peinlichkeiten; Judisch sein in ~sterreich-ein Dreiergesprach," in Neue Zii- richer Zeitung 11July 1998.

12Ruth Beckermann, "The Austrian Resis- tance and the Forgotten Jews," Insiders and Outsiders: Jewish and Gentile Culture in Ger- many and Austria, ed. Dagmar C.G. Lorenz and Gabriele Weinberger (Detroit: Wayne State UT: 1994) 252.

13For example, in 1988 Paul Grosz, then the President of the Jewish Community in Vienna, criticized the attempts of the World Jewish Congress to block the admission of Austria into the European Economic Community. See Bruce F. Pauley, From Prejudice to Persecution: A History of Austrian Anti-Semitism (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina F: 1992) 309.

14Doron Rabinovici, Papirnik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1994) 60-73.

lqabinovici, Papirnik 60-61.

16Rabinovici,Papirnik 61.

17Michael Geyer and Miriam Hansen, "German-Jewish Memory and National Con- sciousness," Holocaust Remembrance: The Shapes of Memory, ed. Geoffrey Hartmann (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1994) 176.

laAndreas Huyssen, Twilight Memories:

Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (New York: Routledge, 1995) 250.

IgJack Zipes, "The Contemporary Fascina- tion for Things Jewish," Reemerging Jewish Culture in Germany: Life and Literature since 1989, ed. Sander L. Gilman and Karen Remm- ler (New York: New York UT: 1994) 40.

20Zipes 27.

21Sander L. Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred (Baltimore: John Hopkins Ue 1986) 2. ZZRabinovici, Papirnik 33-50. 23Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writ-

ing History and the West (London: Routledge, 1990) 14.

24Hani Bhabha, "DissemiNation," Nation and Narration, ed. Hani Bhabha (London: Routledge, 1990) 297.

25Bhabha 300.

26Bhabha 300.

27Todd Herzog, "Hybrids and Mischlinge: Translating Anglo-American Cultural Theory into German," The German Quarterly 70 (Win- ter 1997) 15.

28Zipes 41.

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