Edward Muston (Beloit College): Re-Entangling the Cisnational State: Vladimir Vertlib in Lithuania and Austria
As theories of transnationalism and investigations of transnational literature have flourished in German Studies in recent years, there has been a tendency to imagine a world or perhaps a Europe where fixed national borders disappear and national identities dissolve. Through increased European integration, and exposure to linguistic, ethnic, and cultural others, traditional forms of German and Austrian national identity were imagined as being on the path to obsolescence, as hybrid identities, dual citizenships, and plural cultures replace the community that was imagined as homogenous and as historically and geographically stable. Current events clearly show that not only are we a long way from leaving the nation behind completely, but conventional transnational thinking actually empowers its opposite. Indeed, new forms of reactionary, identitarian nationalism are ascendant rather than endangered in German-speaking countries, just as they are through much of Europe. In my paper, I explain my term cisnationalism as accounting for how these groups are enjoying such success by crafting a novel response to our thoroughly transnational world. I show how these groups consistently deploy nostalgic ideas of a homogenous nation united through shared history, language, and culture in order to advance an agenda of ethnopluralism. In an analysis of vignettes in Vladimir Vertlib’s volume Ich und die Eingeborenen and of his novels Zwischenstationen and Das besondere Gedächtnis der Rosa Masur, I explore the way Vertlib portrays “foreign” cisnational structures as a way of drawing attention to the actual complexity of Austrian society, a reality so frequently denied. I argue that reactionary cisnationalism, as dangerous and dispiriting as it is, provides an essential antithesis to simple transnational or postnational structures, and is thus a necessary detour on the path to theories of entanglement.