From the Bookshelves: The Invisible Wall, or How to Erase Austrian Writers

I’ve been reshelving my books in my study recently, which has thrown up all manner of treasure that I had forgotten about. This blog post may be the first of a series entitled ‘From the Bookshelves’; we will see…


In my essay on H. G. Adler for austrianresearchuk, I introduce Adler in a way that has become conventional in Adler studies:

One nearly-forgotten writer from that lost Kakania is H. G. Adler (1910-1988)…  why didn’t these exceptional novels find a wide audience, despite several republications (and why are there still novels of Adler’s languishing unpublished)? Was it the subject-matter, too traumatic for a post-war audience in denial?

As new research on Adler now appears in English as well as in German, with two collected volumes, H. G. Adler – W. G. Sebald: Memory, Witness, Poeticand H. G. Adler: Life, Literature, Legacy in preparation, translations of Theresienstadt 1941-1945: Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft and Die unsichtbare Wand scheduled for publication in 2014, and a new biography by Peter Filkins in progress, I hope very much that the conventional description of the ‘forgotten’ or ‘excluded’ writer will fade away as Adler’s work becomes more celebrated.

My AHRC-funded fellowship takes Adler as a point of departure to look at ways that writers are excluded from the (German-language) literary canon, nonetheless. Adler may have been excluded, as I suggested, by reason of his modernist aesthetics, his status as an exile, his inability to mobilise powerful advocates for his books. But there are other ways to be excluded as a writer, and one of the strongest barriers is and remains that of gender. Recently, Emily Jeremiah wrote a piece for New Books in German about a book – and a writer – that had been unjustly forgotten, Marlen Haushofer’s Die Wand. Fortunately, it has now been filmed, starring Martina Gedeck, so it is to be hoped that Haushofer is now being rescued from critical oblivion. Die Wand is an elegant dystopian fiction, which I studied during my year at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin in 1996, in a brilliant Hauptseminar on Austrian women’s writing. I even churned out a doubtless unreadable Hausarbeit on Haushofer, so struck was I by her creepy feminist fiction.

H. G. Adler had intended his novels to be titled in ways that echoed Kafka’s: as companions to Der Proceß, Das Schloß, Die Verwandlung, several of his novels were originally entitled Die AnsiedlungDie Reise, Die Wand. Die Ansiedlung has never been published, and still awaits a wider readership in Adler’s archive in Marbach; Die Reise had to be re-titled Eine Reise, because of copyright conflicts, and equally, Die Wand had to be entitled Die unsichtbare Wand, because of a similar conflict with… no other book than Haushofer’s Die Wand. Archived correspondence shows Adler’s distress at this enforced re-titling of his carefully planned series of works, and indeed at one point Adler suggested to the publisher of Eine Reise that, if it could not have precisely the title it required, it should instead be called ‘The forbidden Text’. Happily, the books are now being translated into English with the definite article as Adler originally wished: The Journey, and The Wall.

A belated happy ending all round, then? Fame with a glamorous actress on the silver screen for Haushofer, sensitive and successful translations for Adler? I hope so. But there’s an entertaining footnote: look closely at the photo I’ve posted above, which shows the end of Jürgen Serke’s afterword to the 2005 Aufbau edition of Die unsichtbare Wand, along with my treasured dtv copy of Die Wand. You’ll see that Serke ends his essay on the following note:

‘The title of H. G. Adler’s novel was originally “Die Wand”. It had to be changed because a book of the same title was already present on the German book market, by Marten Haushofer.’

MARTEN Haushofer. MARTENSerke’s essay thematises once more how Adler has been forgotten – ‘through being forgotten I have become fairly well known’, he quotes him – and yet, in my edition of Die unsichtbare Wand at least, he manages to commit a classic erasure of another writer, not only getting Haushofer’s name wrong, but turning her into a male writer, Marten not Marlen. Despite my profound respect for Serke as a scholar, I could even speculate that he had made a classic patriarchal assumption that the author of the competing work must of course be a man. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, this century, both of these writers could be known under the correct names, both for themselves and for their fabulous novels?

Edited, 22.08.2013: my co-editor Lynn Wolff points out that the ‘Marten Haushofer’ error in fact crept in between the 1989 Tsolnay edition of Die unsichtbare Wand and the 2005 edition. So it is not Serke who seems to be responsible for the inaccuracy, but proofreaders at Aufbau. Somehow, I find this a relief!


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