Ornaments of Pain and Survival: Central European History, Literature, and Film

in On Fear, Horror, and Terror: Giving Utterance to the Unutterable
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Abstract

The focus of my analysis is a specific literary and film genre that has emerged in a strictly defined time and space. The time is the communist era that followed World War ii and the Holocaust; the place is Central Europe. The underlying assumption of this chapter is that the unparalleled upheavals shaking Central Europe over the past several decades have produced not only profound social-political changes but also a distinctive literary and film genre. Though deeply European, this body of work must be distinguished from the literature and film produced elsewhere in Europe during this period of time, with its roots springing from a specific geographical area and from a specific intellectual climate characterizing the political, social, and historical worlds of that space. The authors and directors of these Central European texts come from a variety of countries, most of which belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While ethnically and religiously diverse, these countries share a common fate determined by the common experience of their respective peoples. Among the determining factors shaping their experience were such jolting events as the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1920, two World Wars, and the Holocaust. And when these disruptions came to a halt after the Allies’ victory, new, heretofore unimaginable ones started. The Soviets set up their own concept of government, which not only created terror for over half a century in these countries, but foisted a foreign civilization upon one hundred million people.