Dualities : myth and the unreconciled past in Austrian and Dutch literature of the 1980s / by Dan F. Thornton.
This dissertation explores some of the ways in which Austrian and Dutch authors writing in the 1980s have contributed new perspectives to the dominant historiography of the Second World War in their respective countries. The literary efforts of these writers reflect the coming-of-age of members of a conflicted “second generation” seeking to lift the burden of myth, guilt, and silence imposed upon them by the postwar societies in which they grew up. In this study, I have looked at two particular issues concerning the second generation. The first shows the difficulty of finding touchstones to one's Jewish heritage in post-Holocaust societies. Both Steins Paranoia by Austrian writer Peter Henisch and Dutch writer Leon de Winter's La Place de la Bastille reveal the tenuous duality of identity that exacerbates the problem of finding a sense of place and belonging for second-generation Holocaust survivors. The second issue I address concerns how other representatives of the second generation have sought to negotiate inherited traumas and memories while endeavoring to reconcile popular attitudes toward the war with their own attempts to come to terms with the past. Comparing Dutch author Harry Mulisch's De aanslag with two works by Austria's Elisabeth Reichart, Februarschatten and Komm über den See, I show how the unresolved past manifests itself in personal identity crises that mirror the identity conflicts plaguing the societies in which the protagonists live. In the final analysis, despite the different historical experiences of Austria and the Netherlands during the Nazi epoch, the traumatic past reveals its lingering effects remarkably similarly among members of the second generation in both countries, haunting the present and threatening to compromise the future. Only in confronting past traumas does a “possibility of history” arise that is no longer compromised by myth or monolithic interpretations.
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