Between Universalism and Culturalism - Ambivalence as a Style of Thought in Austrian Literature

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Birthe Hoffmann


University of Copenhagen


DKK 767,675




Monograph Fellowships


By investigating a specific Austrian style of thought and writing in the literary works of F. Grillparzer, A. Stifter and F. Kafka, my monograph will demonstrate that the prominence of ambivalence and paradox in this thought style can be understood as 1. an answer to the specific transcultural and - national context of the Habsburg Empire in which ambivalence was the very condition of living, and 2. as a critical reflection on the pursuit of total order, manageability and transparence in the modern project. Finally 3., the Austrian line of thought in these literary texts represents a third way of viewing the transcultural conditions of modern societies that differs from Enlightenment rationalistic Universalism and from the opposite view in culturalism and identity politics.


My project will demonstrate that this specific Austrian 'thought style' is not one of essence or ideas, but of a certain structure in thinking and writing. This can be observed nowhere better than in the inter-discursive, experimental field of literature. My monograph will be the first to draw lines between three of the most prominent authors in German-Austrian literature: Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872), Adalbert Stifter (1815-1868) and Franz Kafka (1883-1924). They epitomize a way of thinking that is generally characteristic of Austrian literature and intellectuals of this period.


I will present general traits in the work of these authors through in-depth analyses of exemplary texts. Research on the Habsburg Monarchy stemming from the social sciences will help to establish the broader context, in which the literary reflections of the ambivalence of modern existence can be seen. My method of textual analysis will be inspired by concepts of order and ambiguity from phenomenology and gestalt theory. Finally, the description of the paradigmatic traits of these three authors in regard to the specific historical und cultural context, will adapt the concept of 'thought style' by the Polish biologist and philosopher of science Ludwik Fleck.

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