The Austian myth about Russia

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To sum up, within the discourse of modernism, works by “the great Russians” were actively taken in and reprocessed by Austrian culture. The focus of attention was “the neurotic personality” of Russian literature, viewed from the perspective of the unconscious, inexplicable and deep. In the understanding of Austrian intellectuals’ of the 19th – 20th centuries the typical protagonist of Russian realism is the victim not as much of poverty, circumstances or social cataclysms but rather of childhood traumas and the wrongs of the society. Russian literature inspired new reflection among Austrian intellectuals on the anticipation of the upcoming epoch of European culture breakdown and historical tragedies.

Spiritual image of Russia and R.M. Rilke

“In the contemporary Western European culture we can hardly find a thinker, writer or an artist who would treat Russia with such a deep and touching tenderness”[1] as did Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), a great Austrian lyric poet of the late 19th – early 20th centuries. Rilke’s bonds with Russia are multi-faceted. The writer’s first visit to Russia happened in 1899 thanks to his acquaintance with a Russian emigrant, the “queen” of German intellectual saloons, and F. Nietzsche’s muse Lou Andreas-Salomé. She managed to captivate the young but already famous Austrian writer with Russian culture. The second and the last Rilke’s visit to Russia was in 1900. Rilke’s interest in Russia and Russian people, partly fuelled with his disappointment in the Western civilization, took a certain shape under Lou’s influence – he was driven by a desire to find true spiritual life, God-seeking, humanity, and simplicity.[2]

The Russian world struck Rilke with its grandeur and might, its scale and focus on the ideals. It was the Austrian lyric poet who, among others, came up with the idea of “holiness of Russian culture” and made up the myth about a “mysterious Russian soul”. Having read Dostoevsky’s and Tolstoy’s novels, he took up learning the Russian language. A year later Rilke translated Chekhov’s The Seagull into German and gave a large preface dedicated to the traditions of Russian classics. Later he translated Dostoevsky, Lermontov, S. Drozhzhin, K. Fofanov, V. Yan, wrote articles on Russian painting, organized exhibitions of Russian art and staged Chekhov’s plays in Germany. Chekhov’s dramas and prose as well as some other Russian writers of the early 20th century significantly influenced the artistic principles and the world view of the great Austrian writer.

Rilke called Russia a country “bordering with God” and considered it his “spiritual motherland”: “The idea that Russia is my motherland is a part of great and secret inner beliefs I live by”. “Russia played a decisive part in my life <…> Russia in some sense became the foundation of my life and my world perception. Russia made me who I am; my inner world hails from Russia, it is the homeland of my feelings and my inner origins <…>”[3]

[1] Azadovskii K.M. Wonderland: Rainer Maria Rilke in search of the “Russian soul”. K istorii idei na Zapade: «Russkaya ideya» [The history of images in the West: “The image of Russia”]. St. Petersburg, Izdatel’stvo Pushkinskogo Doma Publ., Petropolis Publ., 2001, pp. 281 – 316. 2001. P. 316. Also ref.   Azadovskii K.M Ril’ke i Rossiya. Stat’i i publikatsii [Rilke and Russia. Articles and publications]. Moscow, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie Publ., 2011, I. XCV, 432 p.

[2] For details, see.: Necheporuk E. I. Chekhov and Austrian culture. Chekhov i mirovaya literatura: v 3 kn. [Chekhov and world literature in three volumes]. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1997—2005. Vol. 1, 1997, pp. 227—266. (in Russian).

[3] Ratgauz G. I. Rainer Maria Rilke (Life and poetry): article. Novye stikhotvoreniya. Novykh stikhotvorenii vtoraya chast’ [New poems. Part 2 of New poems]. Moscow, Nauka, 1977. 544 p. Pp. 373 – 419. (in Russian)

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