112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Bourgeois Innocence Lost: Uncanny Children in Turn-of-the-Century Vienna

Imke Meyer, "University of Illinois, Chicago"

Imke Meyer is Professor of Germanic Studies and Director of the School of Literatures, Cultural Studies and Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on narrative theory, on gender, and on aesthetics and politics in late 19th and 20th century German and Austrian literature, film and culture. Her most recent book, Männlichkeit und Melodram: Arthur Schnitzlers erzählende Schriften, appeared in 2010. 


An encounter with a child can fill the beholder with the joy of recognition of a past self, or with nostalgia for a time of innocence. But encounters with children also always contain an element of the uncanny: in the form of repressed pasts or premonitions of difficult futures inaugurated by the adult generation. In Vienna around 1900, representations of uncanny children abound: Freud's case studies; Hofmannsthal's, Andrian's, and Schnitzler's narratives; and Klimt's and Kokoschka's paintings confront the reader and onlooker with unsettling images of children who seem anything but innocent. Why do these images proliferate in turn-of-the-century Vienna? This presentation posits that shifts in the bourgeoisie's self-perception--from liberal underdog to that of a privileged class, financially empowered and politically wedged between the lower classes and the nobility--prompted a re-evaluation of bourgeois history. In this process, images of children served as a multi-faceted index of a past in which innocence is both present and always already lost; and in which the seeds of the future are as promising as they are foreboding. Representations of uncanny children in Vienna 1900 serve as a mirror of the liberal bourgeoisie's perception of its past and future.