Book Review – Searching for Identity

Coincidentally, the publication of Manfried Welan’s book “Wiener, Österreicher, Europäer” on identities coincides with Christopher Rüping Necati Öziri’s inspiring performance “Der Ring des Nibelungen” at this year’s Wiener Festwochen. Of course, these events are not related to each other; however, they both deal with the same subject. Overall, questions about identity seem to come alive again.

No, Richard Wagner played hardly any role during this theater night in Hall E MQ. The concept of cultural appropriation was presented. The author starts with the question: What as a citizen, resident of a European country, with or without a migrant background, as a young voter, etc. I have to or should I acquire within the framework of national and supranational culture, what do I understand, what to accept in order to “belong” to, for example, acquiring and having an identity as a German, Austrian, French, British, etc.? For example, what makes my identity German (does Richard Wagner belong there?) And what specifically Austrian?

Welan’s book tries to find a way, especially for young people, to discuss cultural identity as a phenomenon in the first place. Young Berlin actors undertook to put the question of identity under discussion on stage, and even (among young people) to force something like discussion and reflection here or elsewhere. This applies more to young people than to older people, because young people, bearing in mind unconvincing national politics, European events, current challenges for our future, and above all because of the global nature of our world, ask: “What is I?” had to) ask the question again, while the older generations more or less postponed their identity questions after WWII.

“Personal Use of History”

The Austrians in particular are an example of such a collective shift of consciousness. The theater evening therefore remains “unfinished” as it was not followed by a seminar with group work and plenary discussions. Public discussion is not enough. Welan’s book is, of course, self-contained, as well as less provocative and urgent, but still suitable for many Cultural Studies seminars in schools and universities. Looking ahead is also Welan’s concern.

His book wants to be neither non-fiction nor a science book – “it’s too subjective for that” – and yet it has something of both. “It’s a personal use of history, more a confession than an awareness. It is a collage of memories, feelings, learning and learning, ”says the author in the introduction. Yet it does contain clever answers for those seeking an Austrian identity.

Each of the three episodes begins with “Epitheta ornantia”, with associations with Vienna, Austria and Europe. Johann Nestroy’s aphorisms accompany the entire text. (Karl Kraus is missing, but he would be less nice than Nestroy.) Each part quotes other poets and their works, reminds us of cliches and realities of Vienna, Austria and Europe with poems, jokes, cabaret and drama references and songs. There was also a “philosophical” Viennese song.

In each section, readers are encouraged to reflect further on the characteristics, to exchange wishes for the future and tasks for the future, to endure the contradictions of our Austrian identity, to anything sugar-free, and to accept our history, however embarrassing, embarrassing and sad it may be.

One application for Vienna, Austria and Europe

Each part concludes on Vienna: “As a child, I lived across from the Wiedner Hospital. (…) I realized the passing away. (…) As an old man I live opposite the Belweder Palace and its gardens and I am always reminded that the spirit of the individual made nature into gardens, and the matter made it beautiful. Prince Eugene was a great man, he was a foreigner. (Welan echoes Robert Musil’s statement that the Austrian bureaucracy can be compared to the gardener).

Or the conclusion to Austria: “Today’s heterogeneous Austrian nation – with so many ties and connections with the environment, so many environments – is a being that hardly anyone could have imagined in the past. (…) He knows what we have in common, the universal man who unites and holds together. On this they build peace and joy from the other’s difference. In this respect, Austria is again “a small world in which the great one has his test”.

“What binds Europe”, his story emerges as a conclusion on Europe, unlike the EU: “I see history as a source of cohesion. We have a great history. But we don’t have a European history. at a time when we have a lot of (…) national history, but no community history (…) We must shout: historians of all European countries, unite! ” In fact, the EU constitution “explicitly mentions the task of raising awareness of cultural heritage and seeing history as part of an identity,” complains Welan.

Not addicted to history, but “addicted to the future”

No part of his book is “addicted” to history; but all consider the power of history. Each part is moving forward, is “dependent” on the future. For Vienna, for example, he believes that a systematic “city’s foreign policy” – with Vienna’s “capital of science” at its heart – would be a strategy for the future. By the way, in the carnival season of 1987, Welan wrote an unofficial, quite funny “Vienna Constitution”, which is still in force today and is also printed in the book. What could this be for Austria and Europe? His brochure “Constitution. Aphorisms and Associations ”from 2011 includes wise comments:“ Austria above all if it wants to? Europe above all if it wants to? Why don’t we want to? Why don’t we want to become historically powerful again? “

The history of Europe explains why the greed of the interests of nation states paralyzes this will. The consent in the EU treaty (preamble, art. 4) to the common development of Europe, even if national interests can be represented at the same time – this double obligation and double task goes unnoticed in the practice of European governments, is suppressed or ignored. “Why don’t we want to become what we used to be?” Just do it, it will be Welan’s conclusion and message. Reflection and focus are recommended as ways of forming Austrian and European identity.

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