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Prague PalimpsestWriting, Memory, and the City$
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Alfred Thomas

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780226795409

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226795416.001.0001

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Sailing to Bohemia: Utopia, Memory, and the Holocaust in Postwar Austrian and German Writing

Sailing to Bohemia: Utopia, Memory, and the Holocaust in Postwar Austrian and German Writing

(p.137) Chapter Five Sailing to Bohemia: Utopia, Memory, and the Holocaust in Postwar Austrian and German Writing
Prague Palimpsest

Alfred Thomas

University of Chicago Press

Turning from interwar French responses to Prague, this chapter examines the elegiac treatment of the city as a site of nostalgia in postwar German and Austrian literature. Writers who represented this treatment include the Holocaust survivor Paul Celan; the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann, who left her native Austria and finally settled in Italy; and the German novelist W. G. Sebald, who spent most of his career in England. Enforced or self-imposed exiles from their origins, all these writers envision Prague as a second Heimat. Their experience of Prague is therefore nostalgic, an act of identification with a lost Heimat. In highlighting Prague's function as a space of the imagination, they tacitly acknowledge that the city is above all else a site of writing in which the fulfillment of desire is constantly postponed and therefore a permanent source of utopian hope. In part this was a response to the fact that Prague was one of the few central European cities to survive the destruction of World War II. But insofar as its Jewish population did not and its German inhabitants were expelled soon afterward, the city also becomes a site of memory and mourning, in particular for Celan, whose mother had fled to Bohemia from a Russian pogrom in 1915 and who was murdered by the Nazis.

Keywords:   Prague, central Europe, France, postwar German literature, postwar Austrian literature, Holocaust, Paul Celan, Ingeborg Bachmann, W. G. Sebald, Heimat

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