The Traumatic Surreal is the first major study to examine the ground-breaking roles played by Germanophone women artists working in surrealist traditions in responding to the traumatic events and legacies of the Second World War. Analysing works in a variety of media by leading artists and writers, the book redefines the post-war trajectories of Surrealism and recalibrates critical understanding of its relations to historical trauma. Chapters address artworks, writings, and compositions by the Swiss Meret Oppenheim, the German Unica Zürn, the Austrian Birgit Jürgenssen, the Luxembourg-Austrian Bady Minck, and the Austrian Olga Neuwirth and her collaboration with fellow Austrian Nobel-prize winning novelist Elfriede Jelinek. Locating each artist in their historical context, the book traces the development of the traumatic surreal through the wartime and post-war period.
This chapter is concerned with the issue of untranslatability in the prose –
both autobiographical and fictional – of Unica Zürn. The chapter takes issue
with how existing English translations of Zürn’s German works evidence
lexical and syntactical translational choices that reduce the complexity of
these texts to autobiographical reflections of the author’s life. In this
way, the more abstract, philosophical themes in Zürn’s writing, as well as
her intertextual references to German literary works and their adaptations
into different media, are lost. Through careful textual analysis, this
chapter exposes these translational shortfalls and demonstrates the works’
own preoccupation with the very issue of untranslatability.
The Introduction frames the book’s argument in relation to the development of Surrealism as a response to historical trauma, and identifies and locates the tradition of Germanophone women artists to be addressed in subsequent chapters. It establishes the significance of the moment of Erschütterung or ‘traumatic shattering’ that will recur as a motif in subsequent chapters.
This chapter explores Oppenheim’s period of ‘artistic block’ (c.1937–55) and examines her work produced during the war years when she was resident in Switzerland. It pays particular attention to her untranslated screenplay Kaspar Hauser oder Die Goldene Freiheit (1942–43).
This chapter examines the writings Unica Zürn produced in the immediate post-war years, reading them as responses to personal and national traumatic events. It analyses her anagrams and early short stories as pathographical responses to the condition of post-war Germany and then reads her narrative Das Haus der Krankheiten (1958) as an extended allegory of post-war trauma.
This chapter reads a selection of Birgit Jürgenssen’s works of the early 1970s, including her Hausfrau drawings and her Schuhwerk pieces, as responses to key moments in Austria’s history of Nazi complicity and specifically the roles played by women in this history. It closes with an analysis of her 1973 drawing Mit der Bahn in eine bessere Zukunft, which it relates to specific wartime events in Austria.
This chapter analyses Minck’s 2003 film Im Anfang war der Blick as a surreal and densely intertextual exploration of Austria’s landscapes, which it reads as allegories of the country’s history. The chapter explores the film’s focus on the importance of the Styrian Erzberg, the site of Nazi atrocities and now a key tourist attraction, and on Salzburg and its musical traditions and their relations to Austria’s Nazi history.
This chapter analyses the opera Bählamms Fest (1994–98, recorded 2003), a collaborative work by composer Olga Neuwirth and librettist Elfriede Jelinek, based on a little-known play by Leonora Carrington. Neuwirth’s Arbeitsjournal (Working Diary) provides contexts for reading the opera as a surrealist work combining reference to historical traumas and to their resurgence in contemporary (late twentieth-century) Austrian politics.