On the eve of Thanksgiving, there is always lots of talk of what we're thankful for and which blessings we count this year. Needless to say, one of the things I am most thankful for is this opportunity to spend 9 months living in Vienna! And it occurred to me that, aside from my museum visits, I haven't posted all that much on my undertakings in the cultural arena during the past two months that continue to make this experience invaluable. One of the most awesome things about being a grad student whose focus is on contemporary Austrian Studies is that I can actually justify going to the theater, a reading, or a film as part of my "Bildung." :)
To start off: on Sunday I was at the Schauspielhaus for an event titled "Jelinek. Dialoge. Sätze und Gegensätze aus der Literatur und Wissenschaft." It was a fascinating program that brought together young authors, actors literary scholars to pay homage to the work of 2004 Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek in innovative and creative ways. The focus of the program was to discuss what meaning Jelinek's work had for Austrian authors today. I was fascinated to see the emotions Jelinek evoked for so many authors: for some, their admiration for her work and her persona were unquestionable, for others, you could observe acute frustration in trying to distance themselves from her (how does one find his/her own voice in a time and space in which HER voice permeates, destroys, and dominates--as one author emphatically put it. In a very open and honest way, he expressed his deliberate choice not to read her plays for fear that he would inevitably begin to imitate her style in a subtle way...). I don't want to bore non-Germanist readers too much--suffice to say it was a thought-provoking and head-spinning "Auseinandersetzung" with her works (that, might I add, lasted 5 hours!!!).
I had been to the Schauspielhaus once before, and that was to see a stage adaptation of Marlene Streeruwitz' novel Entfernung. It was my first outing to the theater in Vienna and I was not disappointed. Full of satire, self-irony, and black humor, it was what I imagined and expected theater here to be like. It could very well be classified as avant-garde, 'post-dramatic' theater lacking defined characters and a plot-driven narrative. As the novel, the performance was decidedly rooted in Austrian culture--not in the least shaped by the Viennese dialects of the performers and the abundance of cultural references. All in all, a very enjoyable experience that I got to share with Nico, a former German exchange student who spent a year in Georgetown and is now here in Vienna!
Vienna was also recently the host to the "Internationale Buchmesse Wien" (which, I suppose I should mention, is nothing really like Frankfurter Buchmesse...one Viennese newspaper said the Buchmesse was hard pressed to compete with the audience that the Viennale attracts...) Anyway, though I didn't make it to the exhibit hall, I did manage to attend a reading by the Egyptian author Mansura Eseddin. You might ask yourself, why would I pick that? Well, since my research focuses on travel literature by Austrian women who write about Egypt, I thought it would be interesting to see what an Egyptian woman author writes about and how it is received in Austria. The event was held at the "Republikanischer Club" and was moderated by Günter Kaindlstorfer and Doron Rabinovici. Because Ms. Eseddin did not speak German, she read excerpts from her book in Arabic and afterwards, a translator read excerpts from the German translation. During the conversation, however, a simultaneous translator facilitated the conversation between the Austrian moderators and Ms. Eseddin. I was incredibly impressed by this woman's ability to switch effortlessly between Arabic and German. It was amazing to watch her at work--for me, she was the true star of the show. The conversation following the reading, guided by Kaindlstorfer, was interesting and touched upon issues of politics, women's role in Egypt, the Arab Spring, the author's writing processes, etc.. The only disappointment was that there was no time left at the end for the audience to ask questions. It would have been intriguing to hear what some of the readers would have had to say about her novel. I bought a copy of Eseddin's book titled "Hinter den Paradies" in German and hope to start reading it at some point (other grad students can empathize that "reading for fun" sort of loses its calming effect after you've spend all day reading in the library...picking up a book is the last thing you want to do at night, but hopefully I can make an exception for this book).
Finally, one of the highlights of my stay thus far was getting to hear feminist filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha hold both a lecture and a reading at the Uni Wien. Her visit was arranged in part though my advisor here, Dr. Anna Babka, who wrote the introduction to the German translation (JUST now published!) of Minh-ha's seminal work "Woman, Native, Other" (1989). Both of Minh-ha's talks were truly inspiring and gave me some food for though with regard to my own work.
As you can see, Vienna is providing a very rich, cultural environment for me to explore, think and work. I haven't really done any of the events justice in describing them--but hopefully it has given you some sense of what I've been up to the past couple of months (on top of applying for jobs, submitting an article to a journal for review, working on a book review... and, oh, yeah, working on my next dissertation chapter!!!!).
One last thing: a filmmaker, Ruth Beckermann, whom I am working on in my dissertation, just came out with a new film titled "American Passages". It was featured in the Viennale, but unfortunately I was unable to get tickets because it sold out on the very first day of the festival. However, it is finally hitting theaters this Friday and I plan on going to see it. Its a documentary filmed in the U.S. in 2008 during the presidential election/economic meltdown. I am intrigued to see what kind of image the film presents on the U.S. and what topics she has chosen to highlight. Here's the trailer, so you can see for yourself.