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    Will the Real Almásy Please Stand Up! Transporting Central European Orientalism via The English Patient

EUGENE SENSENIG-DABBOUS

    Locating Austrian Orientalist discourse within the HungarianOrientalist tradition will lay the groundwork larger context of the German-speaking world recalls the for this study of The English Patient and the real person

    protracted and sustained national debates on the nature on whom the title character of Michael Ondaatje‟s novel

    4or very existence of a distinct Austrian identity, carried This strand and Anthony Minghella‟s film was modeled.

    out over the last several decades. Initially the result of of inquiry will be pursued throughout the following the Allied decision to encourage nationalist Austrian pages.

    resistance to foreign German occupation during the László Ede Almásy (or Graf Ladislaus Eduard von final phase of World War II, twentieth-century Austrian Almásy, as he often referred to himself) was an Austrian cultural emancipation from the German Other is now monarchist, test driver, pilot, adventurer, and descen-deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of the nation. dent of minor Burgenland-Hungarian nobility. The his-Along with the claim of Austrian victimhood during the torical reality of this individual, and the incorporation twelve-year rule of the Third Reich in Central Europe, of this “marginal” figure out of the past into a non-

    5the assumption that the Habsburg emperors never exer-historical genre, offers an opportunity to illustrate how cised colonial power ranks high on the list of historical denizens of a defunct multinational state viewed the myths supporting the nation‟s innocence with respect to Orient and portrayed it in their own research, travel the major Western crimes against humanity committed writing, explorations, and academic publications. Indeed, 1during the past century. in comparison to various more recent fictional attempts Edward Said‟s lengthy, self-reproaching explanation to profit from the “brand-name recognition” of the 6for excluding German Orientalism from his 1978 study commodified Almásy, the novel and film versions of highlights the fact that his approach assumes a “pro-The English Patient maintain the unity of the Austro-tracted, sustained national interest in the Orient.” The Hungarian mindset through their comparatively accurate absence of a German equivalent “to the Anglo-French portrayal of the essence of Almásy, along with his fel-presence in India, the Levant, North Africa,” and the low traveler, the leftist-liberal, Jewish, Prague-German 7fact that German Orientalism was almost exclusively intellectual, Dr. Richard Bermann, and various other

    8characters gleaned from the historical record. scholarlyinterested largely in the classical period

    seem to exonerate both the scholars and artists of the Michael Ondaatje specifically acknowledges three his-German-speaking world from direct involvement in the torical sources used while researching European explo-2 Orientalist project.But does this argument hold true ration in the Libyan Desert during the interwar period, 9for Austria? Could the Turkish Siege of Vienna in the namely Bermann, Hassanein Bey, and Ralph Bagnold.

    early sixteenth century, the protracted existence of an Steven Totosy de Zepetnek cites Ondaatje as confirming Oriental frontier between the Habsburg and Ottoman that neither did he use other English sources than those Empires during the following four centuries, and the acknowledged in his novel, nor was he aware of the ex-occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1878) at approx-tensive German and Hungarian literature by and on

    10imately the same time that the British were taking over Almásy. Cryptically, Ondaatje also refers to “other ex-

    Egypt (1882) from the Ottomans have led to the “na-plorers” in his acknowledgment. Considering the im-

    tional interest in the Orient” considered necessary by mense historical and cultural significance of the authors Said in order to portray Austria‟s scholars and artists as he mentions, it cannot easily be ruled out that the use of 3Orientalist accomplices? Establishing or rejecting the these sources could have enabled him to draw a relative-authenticity of a uniquely Austrianand later Austro-ly clear picture of the historical Almásy‟s approach to

    ? Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 24:2 (2004)

164 Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 24:2 (2004)

    Orientalism, as well as the role he played in the North version of The English Patient that distorts the historical African theater during World War II. By comparison, Almásy‟s total disregard for global affairs. Minghella‟s Anthony Minghella, the director of The English Patient, Patient seems almost apologetic for accepting aid from admits that he used a wide variety of resources while the Germans, whereas the real Almásy wore his Wehr-researching in preparation for the writing of his screen-macht uniform proudly, thus demonstrating, according

    11play. Various alterations from the novel, such as allu-to Zsolt Török, professor of cartography at Eötvös sions to the homosexuality of various expedition mem-University in Budapest, that he was not a German spy bers, indicate that he was able to introduce quite but rather a but rather a “desert expert” in Rommel‟s

    18relevant insights during the film‟s production. Thus, there seem to be three distinct Afrika Korps.

    Almásys, all considerably different from each other in Although both Ondaatje and Minghella clearly

    significant details. The second goal of this study will be represent the Orientalism of The English Patient‟s myste-

    to determine to what extent these three Central Euro-rious main character, the fictional (literary and cinematic)

    pean counts share the same view of Arabs and the Mid-Patient‟s appreciation of Arab and Muslim culture has

    dle East, and if not, whether their embeddedness in received little attention in the decade following the pub-

    their respective narratives impacts each Almásy‟s Orien-lication of the novel. And it is actually on this point that

    talism. the three Almásys can be best compared. Almost all of

    the controversy surrounding the book‟s and film‟s hero The popularity of the Almásy cult indicates that On-has concentrated on whether the historical Almásy was a daatje has struck a nerve. A blossoming cottage industry

    over the past eight years has included numerous transla-Nazi sympathizereven as early as the mid-1930sor

    tions and reprints of French, English, Egyptian, Ger-merely an opportunist desert adventurer in search of a

    man, Italian, and Hungarian desert travel and explora-new sponsor after being kicked out of Egypt by the 12tion literature; renewed interest in a spectrum of related British colonials in 1939. Much has been made of his

    topics from rock art and cave painting to war in the purported attempts to save Jewish neighbors, as well as

    eastern Sahara and Egyptian geology; as well as a wide refugees completely unknown to him, in the final

    13variety of “English Patient” tours, suited to every pock-months of fascist rule in World War II Budapest. Con-

    etbook and level of trekking experience. The fact that sidering the current lack of proper authentification of

    the real Almásy‟s history is so typically, indeed tragically, many sources on the last years of Almásy‟s life, and the

    Austrian and Hungarian has led many Central Euro-hearsay nature of much of the journalistic material pro-

    peans to reflect on the broader significance of this short duced following the success of the film in 1996, it might

    life (spanning the first half of the twentieth century) in make sense to lend more credence to what (and espe-

    the context of twenty-first-century global society. Almá-cially how) his Jewish friends, especially Richard Ber-

    14sy‟s monarchist dream of a united Danube region is mann, wrote about him in the late 1930s. Consequent-

    gradually coming true under the auspices of the Euro-ly I will emphasize those literary sources which shed

    pean Union. However, the Patient‟s utopian “earth light on Almásy‟s character, his highly apolitical

    without maps” is still far from being realized. Is the worldview, and his understanding of the Middle East

    postcolonial, egalitarian world called for at the end of and its people in particular.

    both the novel and the film just a reflection of late-Furthermore, considering Michael Ondaatje‟s claim

    twentieth-century multicultural aspirations for the mil-that his and Minghella‟s hero in The English Patient is only

    15lennium, or does it also represent the essence of a uni-loosely based on the historical original, it will be neces-

    quely Central European, fin de siècle longing for a bet-sary to test his contention by comparing the details of

    ter world, beyond the confining, multiethnic, the real count‟s life to those portrayed in the novel and

    nineteenth-century "boundaries drawn on maps with the the film. Calling on Homer, Shakespeare, and Arthur

    names of powerful men" (Screenplay, 172), such as Em-Miller to shield him from attack because “the potentially 19peror Karl I of Austria and King Karl IV of Hungary? explosive implication of the protagonist‟s historical 16Almásy‟s grave in the Salzburg Municipal Cemetery background was not paid attention to” hardly seems

    (Kommunalfriedhof, Feld 75) was refurbished by a Hunga-appropriate when Ondaatje‟s literary Patient so closely

    rian aviation club (Magyar Aviatikai Alapitvány) in 1994 parallels the apolitical, daredevil character of the histori-

    and now includes illustrations of the legendary Egyptian cal Almásy. The novel even includes a scene in which

    “swimmers in the desert” and a symbolic representation the Canadian counter-intelligence officer, David Cara-

    of the adventurer‟s airplane. The myths surrounding his vaggio, comments appreciatively on the military skills of

    life include the assumption that Almásy was openly gay, Hitler‟s North African commander and bantersalmost

    that he came into contact with the race-car fanatic Ber-playfullywith the Patient about their mutual attempts

    tolt Brecht while working as a test driver for the Steyr to dupe their respective opponents during the German

    17automobile works (Steyrwerke) in the late 1920s, that he thrust towards Cairo and the Suez Canal (2534).

    traveled in circles frequented by prominent intellectual As will be demonstrated in this paper, it is the movie

    Sensenig-Dabbous: Will the Real Almásy Please Stand Up! 165

puntal” approach will help lay the groundwork for a Jews and homosexuals, that his brother, János, was

    comparison of the Orientalism of the three Almásys, along with Adolf Hitlercourted by the British aristo-

    the historical, literary, and cinematic. crat Unity Mitford, and that his father, György, as one Austria, Hungary, Poland, and the countries of the of Hungary‟s leading Orientalists, was a close associate

    Balkans share an occidental reconquista mentality that can of the prominent Swedish explorer and Nazi apologist,

    20 be appreciated only by the denizens of countries that, at Sven Hedin.Totosy de Zepetnek‟s writing on this topic

    some time in their collective past, have been successfully is particularly significant because he has based his criti-invaded by Arab and/or Muslim forces. The term Ab-que of The English Patient on a wealth of Hungarian and

    wehrhaltung (aggressive approach to defense) is generally German sources, long left unconsulted by most other used when describing not only the defeat of the Otto-scholars. He seems to have correctly characterized the mans at the gates of Vienna in the sixteenth and seven-ambiguity of Almásy‟s fringe personality when stating

    teenth centuries, but also the struggle against the Italian that “the Hungarian „count‟ is marginal to the point

    and Yugoslav attempts to occupy parts of southern where we cannot be absolutely certain about his Nazi 21Austria following World War I and, more recently, the sympathies.”

    nativist, rearguard defense policies of Austria‟s ultra-With respect to Central European Orientalism, two right, who have called for an end to the Überflutung (in-sets of distinctions will be drawn in this study: Ger-undation) of their cities by Muslim guestworker immi-man(ic) Orientalism as distinct from the British and gration from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey, Macedonia, French (as developed by Said); and Austrian Orientalism and Kosovo. The significance of the historical impor-as opposed to that prevalent in the German Reich. As tance of a shared Oriental border with the Ottomans shall be illustrated below, Austrian Orientalism is in 24 has been developed at length by Andre Gingrich.some ways similar to the British and French variants, As is illustrated in great detail in Leopold Hellmuth's although clearly the stakes were quite different. However, "Traditions and Major Aspects of Oriental Studies in as in the case of Germany, Austrian Orientalism under-Austria in the 19th Century," Turkish and Muslim prox-went significant historical shifts leading up to the assas-imity was seen as a mortal and economically taxing sination of the Habsburg heir apparent in Sarajevo, near threat during the period between the second siege of the long-standing, common Oriental frontier that Aus-Vienna in 1683 and the final peace agreement between tria-Hungary shared with the Ottomans.

    the Austrian and Ottoman imperial neighbors in 1791. In the initial part of this study, the unique character Thus, according to Hellmuth, Habsburg Orientalism of Austrian Orientalism will be analyzed. The signific-from its very inception, as early as the 1480s, had an ance of this Central European gaze towards the East “eminently political component.” Whereas: will be tested and related to the recently reissued writ-in other European countries Orientalism as a modern ings of the historical László Ede Almásy. After estab-scientific discipline had largely developed from bibli-lishing that this Hungarian-Austrian count was a child cal exegetic studies, in which Arabic had been re-of his epoch and culture, and thus that his Orientalist garded as a Hebrew dialect up to the 18th century, the perspective was typical of his generation, the two fic-study of modern Oriental languages in Austria was at tional English Patients will be portrayed as manifesta-first, and for a long time, exclusively undertaken for tions of the English literary tradition and its well-known practical reasons. This practice-oriented attitude was postcolonial approach to Orientalism. It shall be dem-to prevail until the 19th century and constituted a onstrated that the authors of the novel and film ver-strength in terms of language skills and familiarity sions of The English Patient, while successfully critiquing

    with the contemporary Orient, but also a weakness in British and American imperial ambitions in the East 25philological and methodical terms. (India and Japan, respectively), fall short of truly under-

    standing the experience of Central Europeans vis-à-vis Founded in 1754 during the rule of Empress Maria 22their eastern neighbors. Theresa, the Vienna Orientalische Akademie was set up in order to research the legal and economic traditions, lan-

    guages, and religious practices prevalent in the lands of The Oriental Frontier: Orientalism in the Habsburg the Ottoman Empire. The gradual collapse of the Ot-Empire toman Empire to the south and the rapid rise in impor-Based largely on the research of Johann Fück, Vero-tance of Austria‟s highly industrialized, colonialist nika Bernard, and Leopold Hellmuth, I will attempt to neighbors to the northwest made the empire‟s emphasis illustrate the view of the Orient as seen from Vienna on the Orient obsolete by the mid-nineteenth century. during and especially immediately prior to the lifetime Hellmuth emphasizes, “In 1870, the geo-political 23(18951951) of László Ede Almásy. This specifically changes inspired plans to establish a training college for Austrian gaze will then be juxtaposed with German the consular service.” Ironically, at the very moment that Orientalism, as described by Said. This initial “contra-Orientalism was progressing from an academic exercise

166 Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 24:2 (2004)

    travel to the Northern Levant a relatively low-risk en-to a science in the service of colonial dominationas 29 deavor.Said would have itthe Orientalische Akademie closed

    Haja has demonstrated convincingly that as soon as its doors, to be reopened as the K.u.K. Konsularakade-

    the Eastern Mediterranean became accessible, “the cen-mie in 1898. The K.u.K. Polytechnikum (later to be-

    tral figure of Austrian Orientalist painting, Leopold Carl come the Technische Universität Wien), which offered

    Müller, not nicknamed „Egyptian Müller‟ without cause, courses in Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, for “political

    unequivocally preferred the country on the Nile for his and commercial considerations” and in order to ensure

    sojourns and his work.” All “his friends of the same age the “linguistic superiority of Austrian engineers in the

    and most of his students followed his example. There-Orient,” gradually phased out its Oriental languages

    fore, the majority of Austrian Orientalist paintings show courses by the late 1860s. Indicative of the shift from

    Egyptian themes,” ignoring not only Turkey and the the economic, political, and technical to a culturally

    newly acquired province of Bosnia, but also the Magh-based interest in the Orient, the study of Middle East-

    reb, Palestine, and Syria. During the Realist decades of ern languages was taken over by the K.u.K. öffentliche

    Lehranstalt für Orientalische Sprachen, an imperial lan-the late nineteenth centurycontrary to the French

    guage institute set up by the Ministry of Culture and variantthe “Austrians lacked the explicitly voyeuristic 26Education. element, which is inherent in representations of harems, Austria‟s leading role in the field of academic Orien-slave markets, executions, human corpses, etc.” There talism, Semitism, and Islamic studies, established by Jo-was a distinct attempt to portray the “real reality” of the sef Frieherr von Hammer-Purgstall (17741856) in the Orient. In summary: “motifs mainly taken from the early nineteenth century, also began to wane during the contemporary life of Islamic Egypt, little moving but latter half of the century. “When Theodore Nöldeke complex compositions, warm-toned coloring largely was living in Vienna in 1856/57, he gained the impres-modeled on natural lighting, and, very often a contem-sion that now that Hammer-Purgstall had died, there plating aurathese are the unspectacular but charming were „no more Orientalists‟ in Austria,” writes Hell-ingredients of Austrian Orientalist painting that specifi-2730muth. However, the work of such scholars as the Bo-cally distinguish it from other schools.”

    hemian Eduard Glaser, the Galician David Heinrich The genre most closely related to the story of the real Müller, the Moravian Alois Musil, and the founders (in Almásy, and the fictional portrayal of his character as 1894) of the Museum für Österreichische Volkskunde developed in The English Patient, can be found in the

    (Ethnology Museum), Wilhelm Hein and Michael Ha-Austrian travel literature of the nineteenth and early berlandt, reestablished Vienna as a centre of academic twentieth centuries. Fortunately, Veronika Bernard's re-Orientalism by the beginning of the twentieth century. cently published Austrians in the Orient provides the read-

    The topics of interest highlighted by Austrian Oriental-er of German the opportunity to compare in great de-ism also shifted during the nineteenth century, away tail the Austrian reports and reflections on the empire‟s

    from a Romantic preoccupation with Persian poetry to newly acquired Oriental colony of Bosnia-Herzegovina, (often life-threatening) fieldwork in the Arabian Middle on the one hand, and the Austrian gaze towards the 28East and Gulf region. British- and/or Ottoman- controlled Arab territories In a parallel to the academic neglect of the European further east, on the other. For a study of The English

    Orient (i.e., regions of the continent demonstrating a Patient, Egypt is of particular importance. Typically, the lasting Ottoman influence), late-nineteenth-century Aus-nineteenth-century Austrian traveler, and presumably trian artists also showed a preference for the Middle also the Hungarian, viewed the Orient as a region de-East, and surprisingly almost exclusively for Egypt. As fined especially by its cultural, but also political, ties to Martina Haja points out, “Apart from many common “Turks,” i.e., the Ottoman Empire. According to Ber-

    features between Austrian, French, and British Oriental-nard, “The word Turk or Turkish referred to the Islamic

    ist painting in the nineteenth century, the Austrian va-religious community under Turkish rule and did not riant is characterized by its obvious preference for necessarily signify Turkish ethnicity.” Culturally, there-

    Egypt above all other Oriental countries, both as a des-fore, the “Orient” was seen as those parts of the world tination and as a supplier of themes.” During the first that were still under Ottoman rule or that had been re-third of the century, the Balkans and Turkey were ac-linquished by the Ottomans at some time during the cepted as a “second grade alternative” to the Middle nineteenth century. The Austrian travel writer could East. There were various reasons for this. Metternich access the “Orient” either by the land route through had severely restricted Austrian expeditions to the Dalmatia, or by the sea route via the international port Orient, travel remained dangerous and expensive until in Trieste. It included the entire Balkan Peninsula, and the international port in Trieste opened a reliable door thereby also the Slavic and Greek Christians, although to the Middle East, and finally, Austria‟s traditionally the Venetian colony of Dalmatia had been occupied by 31good contacts with the Porte in Constantinople made the Habsburgs as far back as 1797.

    Sensenig-Dabbous: Will the Real Almásy Please Stand Up! 167

    A comparison of nineteenth-century Austrian travel bearing fruit by the end of the century, especially among

    literature on Bosnia and Egypt illustrates the signific-the more accessible Christian populations. The imperial

    ance of the imperial gaze with respect to the former. administration of Bosnia was encouraged to take advan-

    tage of the “progressively minded” Christians, who Prior to the Turkish invasion of the region, Bosnia

    could be used to help overcome the dominant role of like many Slavic regions further northhad been under

    religion in the former Ottoman lands, thus paving the the control of the Magyars. In 1463, Hungary “lost” the

    way to the occident. Overall, the Austrian occupation region to the Ottomans. Bosnian revolts in the second was understood as a civilizing force, enabling the econ-half of the nineteenth century led to war between Rus-omy to flourish and the population to access the bene-sia and Turkey. The Congress of Berlin legitimized the 34 Drawing parallels to Kipling‟s fits of European society.Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878, “The White Man‟s Burden” would not seem totally un-although the region remained formally part of the Ot-35justified. toman Empire until the beginning of the twentieth cen-Paraphrasing the subsection of Bernard's study on tury. Bernard summarizes the Austrian view of Bosnia Austrian travel literature related to Egypt (Ägypten: Ex-as follows: “The backward state of the region is por-

    otisches Land im Schatten Mohammad Alis), an interesting trayed as being the result of centuries of Islamic and transition becomes evident. One of the first nineteenth-Turkish rule, although the population is seen as having century Austrians to travel extensively (181519) in great potential, especially the Balkan Christians. The low Egypt, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, portrayed both the developmental level of the Turkish state is seen as the people and their culture in an exceptionally negative result of the negative role that Islam plays in society, light. They were “crafty and dishonest,” “cared only for which can only be overcome through an increased Aus-32 their own advantage,” “were on the lowest possible level trian involvement in the region.”

    of civilization, especially as far as their cuisine was con-The Austrian portrayal of its role in Bosnia seems to cerned,” “demonstrated an excessive contempt for run parallel to similar French and English literature and Christians, supported by the Ottoman authorities,” and thususing Said‟s understanding of Orientalism

    their women “were so coquette towards foreigners that seems to indicate a unique Austrian form of Oriental-they could easily compete with their sisters in any Euro-ism, because of the protracted and sustained “national”

    pean capital.” Belzoni considered the upper class in interest demonstrated by the multiethnic Habsburg em-Egypt to be “driven by a desire for luxury and con-pire vis-à-vis the Balkans. The following paraphrased sumption.” Reports written later in the century, especial-compilation of statements, gleaned from Bernard's ly as of the opening of the Suez Canal, were much more groundbreaking study, accentuates the ambiguous nature positive, emphasizing the Egyptians‟ hospitality, toler-of Austrian Orientalism. Nineteenth-century travelers ance towards Europeans, their “naturally upright charac-described Bosnia as being “on a different continent

    ter,” “incredible patience,” and the beauty of the coun-from the rest of Europe,” and blamed Islam and an un-

    try‟s cities and landscape. Many reports concentrated on critical belief in the Koran for the negative image of the fascination with the Oriental Other, including the women in the region, as well as for female oppression. usual list of palm groves, mosques, erotic women, Turkish and/or Muslim civilization was portrayed as Oriental architecture, belly dancers, beggars, hashish being generally artificial, decadent, superstitious, and smokers, dervishes, camels, deserts, and exotic Oriental indolent, and an almost insurmountable hindrance to nights. Present at the opening of the Suez Canal, mem-the cultural and economic development of the popula-bers of the Austrian nobility commented on the general tion. The fact that women seemed to enjoy more liber-improvements in Egypt‟s infrastructure, but complained ties in Bosnia than in the rest of the Ottoman Empire that its cultural attractions were being converted into and that the Bosnian Muslims enjoyed drinking slivovitz, “tourist traps” [Touristenstall], comparable to the situa-the potent local plum brandy, as much as their Christian 36tion at home. neighbors was seen as evidence of the weakened hold Like their contemporaries in Bosnia, Austrian travel-of Islam on the Bosnians. On the other hand, travelers ers to Egypt viewed political Islam, and the dominant praised the beauty of the region‟s scenery, its pictures-33role of religion in society, as a state of affairs “similar to que towns and cities, and colorful folk culture.

    damnation.” The Muslim Orient was juxtaposed with Bernard informs us that, similar to the French ap-the Christian Occident, the latter being “rational, pro-proach to Algeria or the English mission in Egypt and gressive, and lively,” the former being “totally over-Sudan, Austrian travelers called on their newly estab-whelmed and driven by their leaders towards their ruin.” lished occidental occupation forces to eliminate the de-The dominant role enjoyed by “typically Oriental des-trimental control of Islam over Bosnian society and pots” was seen as part and parcel of the regional ethnic thus pave the way for progress "im Sinne ab-

    culture. Significantly, the consensus seemed to be that endländischer Cultur und Civilisation." This occidental “the Orientals would not be able to regenerate their so-cultural and civilizing mission was portrayed as already

    168 Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 24:2 (2004)

37cieties on their own.” the middle of World War I. Here you did not find the

    Negroid-Arabian Islam of Egypt or Morocco, but ra-Because of his role in the life of the real Almásy, as

    ther that of the traditional Turks, enjoying their status well as in those of the literary and cinematic English

    as overlords in the midst of their subjugated Christian Patients, Richard Bermann is of some importance to an

    peoples; with tolerant arrogance, warlike traditions, understanding of the Hungarian-Austrian count's

    and despite their casual grace, conservative to their Orientalism. Although Bermann is best known for the

    very souls. They had got along well with my fellow travel literature and articles he published during the in-

    Austrians and had proven to be extremely loyal to our terwar period, his career as a writer began much earlier

    aging emperor, who had formed an alliance with the and includes various descriptions of the Austrian Orient

    Turkish sultan. In their eyes this entire war, which had prior to the collapse of the empire in 1918. The follow-

    begun with the shots fired on a bridge in Sarajevo, ing excerpt from his autobiographical fragment, A Ride

    was nothing more than an attempted rebellion insti-on the Cataract, illustrates his detached and ironically criti-

    gated by their traditional subjects, the Bosnian Chris-cal writing style, reflecting both his dissatisfaction with 38tians. the ruling elites and his identification with the Central

    European values he supported as an assimilated Central Bernard has illustrated convincingly that, prior to

    European Jewish intellectual. In this text, Bermann Hammer-Purgstall, Austrian travel literature based many

    combines impressions gathered during preWorld War I of its literary conventions on British and French models,

    journeys to India and the Middle East with his gaze on which were abundantly available by the beginning of the

    the Austrian Orient during his years as a war correspon-nineteenth century. As of the 1820s, however, a unique-

    dent with the imperial forces on the eastern and sou-ly Austrian tradition began to develop, which integrated

    theastern fronts. both the predominant Western traditions and the Cen-

    tral European experience of the Oriental frontier. She I had never been to Bosnia before and found the

    postulates that the Austrian view of the Orient diverged country intoxicatingly beautiful. Its exceptional Aus-

    even further from that of the French and British with trian administration had turned Sarajevo into a mod-

    the beginning of increased interest by the Viennese ern city, which means it had a hotel that was free of

    power elite in maintaining the last vestiges of Ottoman lice, a few soberly modern buildings, schools in which

    control in the Eastern Mediterranean, so aptly described Austria had educated the young Bosnian revolutiona-

    in Bermann's brief description of Sarajevo during ries who were responsible for the assassination of 28 39World War I. Gingrich has coined the term "frontier June 1914, and a garrison that was intended to keep

    Orientalism" to describe the uniquely Austrian dual them under control. The city had stores in which one

    narrative in which the Oriental Other is both the "bad could purchase Viennese products, and coffee houses

    Muslim," attacking and seriously endangering the Occi-whose selection of newspapers included the Neue

    dental civilizational frontier, and the "good Muslim" (i.e., Freie Presse.

    the Bosniaken, heroically defending the very same fron-

    tier against threats emanating from the Eastern Ortho-But just take one step off the main boulevard and the 40dox Serbs and Russians. most colorful of Orients began. Fountains could be

    Reports on desert exploration represent a specific ge-heard splashing in the courtyards of the city's mos-

    nre within the broader category of travel literature. De-ques. Sitting in the narrow alleyways of the bazaar,

    spite Mary Louise Pratt's insistence that descriptions of clothed in picturesque costumes, the Eastern Jews

    European colonial exploration were based on a "mo-were selling nobly crafted copper and brass vessels as

    narch-of-all-I-survey" mentality, exemplified by Richard well as their marvelously soft Bosnian carpets, a

    Burton's Lake Regions of Central Africa, which appeared product of Sarajevo. I spoke with these Jews in their

    in 1860 and achieved considerable renown in that prolif-mother tongue, the antiquated Spanish of Cervantes.

    ic and highly competitive era of travel writing," this Everyone else in the bazaar wore similarly colorful

    does not seem to hold true for various reports on the costumes. Those in the know could distinguish the 41deserts of northern Africa. Among Almásy's many Roman Catholic Croats from the Serbian Orthodox

    role models, he mentions sources as diverse as W. G. based on their fez, Turkish trousers, and vests; and

    Brown's Travels in Africa, Egypt and Syriapublished in again distinguish them from the Serbian-speaking

    London in 1806and the works of Syrian Musa Ibn Muslims, who here were referred to as Turks, al-

    Nusair, whose travel reports were most likely written in though they had stopped being so long ago. The

    North Africa between AD 698 and 699. Of more recent "Turkish" women were deeply veiled when in public,

    origin, Almásy highlights the prominent Egyptian ex-a scene I had observed in Cairo and Delhi.

    plorer, A. M. Hassanein Bey, whose work was published

    in German translation as Rätsel der Wüste by Leipzig's I had already visited many Islamic countries, but none Brockhaus Verlag in 1926, and Gerhard Rohlfs, whose had appeared as genuine to me as Bosnia still was in

    Sensenig-Dabbous: Will the Real Almásy Please Stand Up! 169

    1875 Drei Monate in der libyischen Wüste (Three Months in the Almásy‟s fascination for the Orient of the Other, the Libyan Desert) portrays the first scientific exploration of British-dominated Orient of North Africa as opposed the region in modern times. Both Hassanein Bey and to the European Orient of the Austro-Hungarian Rohlfs reveal a sober, detached, and basically sympathet-“backyard,” is typical of the Austrian Orientalist gaze of ic approach to their field of study and could easily have his generation.

    impacted Almásy's style of writing, along with his prom-His primary interest in desert exploration tended to inent literary friend, Richard Bermann. detach him even further from the power politics of Returning to the juxtaposition of Austrian and Ger-Central Europe. Like his illustrious German, Egyptian, man Orientalism proposed at the outset of this study, and British predecessors, Almásy proved to be impatient the portrayal of nineteenth-century Austrian linguistic, with all attempts to limit his scope by subjugating his theological, and cultural research, as well as Orientalist exploration to the (Saidian) "national" interests of a painting and travel writing on the Orient, indicates that specific government or ethnic agenda. Almásy offers the Austrian gaze was indeed ambiguous. Austrians one example that seems to corroborate Russell Ber-shared the German “intellectual authority over the Orient man's continued insistence on the validity of the “iden-

    within Western culture” that both had in common with tificatory moment” within Central European Oriental-

    42the British and French. This is particularly significant ism, i.e., that "while the 'western' Europeans of France when considering the Austrian obsession with all things and England frequently could see themselves as carriers Egyptian. On the other hand, the German population of a universal human culture, the GermansHerderian

    of Austriaalong with the Habsburg's Magyar and and post-romantic, rather than post-Enlightenment

    Central and Southeastern European Slav subjectshad a different sense of particularity. The [negative] re-would seem to have inherited a legitimate claim to Ab-sult of this [being] the myth of 'Germans as better co-

    lonizers,' but the [positive] result of this [being] a greater wehrthe need to repulse Oriental armies from the very

    propensity to identify with, rather than denigrate the gates of their capitalconsidering the “Oriental” ex-45 non-European populations."pansionism that plagued the Habsburg Empire

     throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As

    of the eighteenth century, Austrian Orientalism was di-Almásy’s Orient: The Making of a Central Euro-

    rectly tied to colonial counter-expansion down the Bal-pean “English” Patient

    kan Peninsula and, in the early twentieth century (in co-Following the publication of Michael Ondaatje‟s nov-

    operation with Germany and the Ottoman Empire), el The English Patient in 1992, but especially after the in-potentially threatening French and British interests in ternational success (1996–7) of Anthony Minghella‟s

    the Middle East. Alois Musil‟s journeys to present-day film by the same name, academics, journalists, and hob-Syria and Iraq in 1914–15 and again “on official busi-by historians in Austria, Canada, Egypt, Hungary, Great ness to the Orient in 1917, in order to protect the inter-Britain, and the United States unearthed a wealth of ests of Austrian citizens in the region” exemplifies the “facts” and anecdotes about Almásy, only some of Orientalist fusion of science, art and the “politico-which are of direct relevance to an understanding of his economic and politico-cultural” power struggles of the Orientalism. This section introduces the historical 43early twentieth century. Here, parallels could be drawn Almásy, highlighting the specifically Austro-Hungarian between the military adventures of the Moravian Alois nature of his approach to the Orient. This will be juxta-Musil (18681944) and his Austro-Hungarian Burgen-posed to the postcolonial novel and film versions of The

    land contemporary, Count László Almásy (18951951). English Patient. Emphasis will be placed on the great care In summary, although Austrian Orientalism does not that was taken to develop the literary and cinematic Pa-share the detached, “exclusively scholarly,” and classical-tient's relationship to the fictional character of the In-ly oriented “study of texts, myths, ideas, and languages” dian sapper Kip, while simultaneously ignoring his gleaned from the libraries and museums of the “real” Orientalist positions on the Middle East. 44(i.e., “Saidian”) Orientalists in London and Paris, its

    Orientalist realpolitik is limited to the Habsburg colo-The “Real” Almásy

    nies in the Balkans. Austrian academics, painters and László Ede Almásy was born in 1895 in what is today travelers in the Middle East and North Africa did lack Austria‟s most eastern state, at Burg Bernstein, in Bur-the link to national colonial power so typical of their own genland. At the time of his birth, his family‟s castle was activities in Bosnia and that of their Anglo-French co-located in the most western Magyar province, then colonialists in Algeria and Egypt. This detached, almost called West Hungary. His mother, Illona Pittoni, was a voyeuristic view of the Arab world must certainly have native of the southern Habsburg land of Styria, home affected the manner in which Almásy experienced Su-of the Steyr weapons and motor industries. His father, dan and Egypt upon his arrival there, following the col-György, was acquainted with some of the era‟s leading lapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918. Indeed,

170 Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 24:2 (2004)

    explorers, and hosted a variety of them at the family ployer compete with its main rival in the Middle East, residence. Thus his two sons, János and László, heard Citroën, by driving a Steyr automobile to the oasis of tales of travel to Central Asia and the Far East at an Baharia. He returned to Egypt for purposes of explora-

    46early age. László Almásy was sent to Graz, the political tion, to hunt, and test drive cars in 1929 and again in 48capital of Styria, to attend boarding school as a boy and 1930.

    completed his secondary education at Harrow in Eng-During one of Almásy‟s numerous visits in the 1920s, land. As a fourteen-year-old, he built his first glider, only the Egyptian jet-setter and polo champion, Victor-to crash it, breaking three ribs and arousing the anger of Mansour Semeika, introduced him to the Egyptian his teachers in Graz. In 1912, at the age of seventeen, princes Hussein Kemal al-Din and Youssef Kemal (his he acquired an English pilot‟s license, which secured him cousin, a descendant of Viceroy Mohammed Ali). It was a position in his homeland as a volunteer fighter pilot through these contacts that László Almásy was able to and flight instructor with the 11th Hussars in the Balkan help his brother János set up hunting expeditions for war theater from 1915 to 1918. In 1917, Almásy was the Egyptian elite in the forests bordering the grand decorated for bravery in the face of the enemy by King estates of postWorld War I Hungary. Many of these Ferdinand of Bulgaria. He fought against Italy during Oriental nobles enjoyed the Almásys‟ hospitality in the

    the final months of World War I. Budapest family home, Semeika recalling that its walls During the rule of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in were covered with the trophy heads of over forty ani-

    491919, he served as an officer in the Hungarian automo-mals shot during various hunting expeditions in Africa.

    bile corps, one of the military units that helped the au-Although most of Almásy‟s writings and personal pa-

    tocratic Hungarian leader, Miklós Horthy, overthrow the pers were destroyed during World War II, both András Communist government in Budapest. Almásy remained Zboray and Kurt Mayer have closely studied what has an enthusiastic anticommunist and monarchist his entire survived in Burgenland and Budapest. According to life. In the spring of 1921, he drove the limousine of Zboray, during the 1920s Almásy was “just one of the the deposed Austrian emperor and Hungarian king to drifting young Hungarian nobility, looking for sense and Budapest, in an attempt to reestablish the rule of Karl purpose in life in a world that had turned completely IV. This coup ended in a fiasco, and Almásy was forced upside down.” Prior to his mid-1930s scientific explora-

    to seek refuge in his family castle in West Hungary, tions, he seems to have been interested in only three which was occupied, formally annexed, and renamed things: hunting, all things mechanical, and relieving his Burgenland by the neighboring German Republic of chronic lack of funds. Even during those expeditions Austria several months later. Almásy had fallen into dis-which were dedicated specifically to research and explo-grace with the reactionary dictatorship in Budapest and ration (April 1932, MarchMay 1933, October

    therefore directed his burning interest in all things tech-December 1933, and April 1935), Almásy remained nical towards his mother‟s native Styria. Hired by the quite the sportsman. According to the eminent German Austrian Steyrwerke as a sales agent, as well as a res-scientist Hans Rhotert, who (along with Leo Frobenius pected mechanic capable of testing their postwar line of and the artist Elisabeth Pauli) utilized Almásy‟s services automobiles for affluent consumers, he was able to win to study the rock paintings in the Libyan desert in the various car races in the 1920s. But the effects of the fall of 1933, “Almásy was more interested in pursuing Depression as of 1929 forced the Steyrwerke to lay off the waddan up the slopes than looking for more rock art most of its employees, including its renowned test driver, sites.” According to Zboray, Almásy‟s approach was typ-

    László Almásy, an event he described as one of the sad-ical of an “adventurer turned explorer,” whose discove-47dest moments of his life. ries were “not the result of any systematic scientific By the time Almásy was forced to look for resources planning or study, [but] rather the fact that he was really beyond the confines of Central Europe, he had already the first to go to some areas.” Many of his supposedly established a promising second source of income. The scholarly writings are “full of errors and misconceptions,

    Steyrwerke, originally the centre of the Habsburg‟s war it is clear that he [exerted] very little, if any, effort to industry, had been first and foremost known for its immerse [himself] in the subject, he was not aware of 50 quality weaponry, and only after the war primarily for its the literature available at the time.”

    cars and bicycles. As was to become his trademark, Before turning to the Zarzura writings of spring 1933, Almásy combined several goals on his first trip to Egypt on which Ondaatje maintains his portrayal of the Pa-in 1926, accompanying Prince Antal Esterházy on a tient is largely based, it will be necessary to consider hunting expedition to Sudan, test driving the mass-whether Almásy‟s support of the Nazi war effort in produced six-cylinder, fifty-horsepower Steyr automo-North Africa was in any way indicative of his under-bile (“Typ VII”), and creating exotic ads for the Steyr standing of the Oriental Other, in particular of Arabs, 51hunting rifle, Mannlich-Schönauer. Returning to Egypt and by implication also Jews. In preparation for the

    for the 1927 Automobile Fair, Almásy helped his em-1997 reprinting of the 1939 edition of Unbekannte Saha-

    Sensenig-Dabbous: Will the Real Almásy Please Stand Up! 171

    ra (Unknown Sahara), the Innsbruck Haymon Verlag re-pointed chancellor of the Weimar Republic. It was quested that the Salzburg Ludwig Boltzmann Institute therefore not surprising that the expedition‟s partici-

    for Social and Cultural History look into the speculation pants were uncomfortable about being cut off from the 55that the German edition, published by Brockhaus in An entry into Bermann‟s diary in the outside world.

    Leipzig at the outbreak of World War II, in some way spring of 1933 demonstrates just how exasperatingly reflected the potentially fascist tendencies of the histori-apolitical he found his Hungarian friend: "After dinner a

    52cal Almásy. Going beyond the purely colonialist, e.g., long dispute with Almásy about the next war. Almásy is an assumption that European culture had a civilizing for the extermination of all mankind with the exception mission in Egypt, the attempt was made to discover of the peasants. Afterwards he plans to lead a Robin-traces of either clearly racist positions, along the lines of son-like existence in the rubble. He hopes to paint im-German National Socialism, or an approach to the Mid-ages of automobiles and airplanes on the walls of

    "56dle East that could be seen as supporting an ethnically caves.

    based understanding of corporatism, similar to the poli-According to Kloss-Elthes, Almásy‟s portrayal of the cies prevalent in Mussolini‟s Italy. Furthermore, the orig-Arabs and Muslims of his day in Unknown Sahara seems

    inal Hungarian version of Almásy‟s Az ismeretlen Szahara to be totally in character with his monarchist worldview. (Budapest: Franklin, 1934) was compared page by page The disillusioned, postWorld War I Hungarian nobility with the German Unbekannte Sahara, which was edited placed many of their hopes for national revival in the by Hansjoachim von der Esch, about whose loyalty to Magyar peasantry. Almásy appears to have transferred 53the Third Reich there is no doubt. The results of this that respect to the inhabitants of the Libyan Desert. detailed comparison demonstrate that, with a few minor If one were to attempt to locate Almásy‟s worldview exceptions, there were no major alterations introduced in this book, then it would seem that it is based on a in the von der Esch edition. Significantly, the German reserved, but deeply held faith in God [page 200, “Ich publication mentions no translator, which allows the liebe die Wüste” in the 1997 edition], his pride in his possibility that Almásy simply rewrote his own book. Hungarian homeland, and a highly amicable relation-According to Adrienne Kloss-Elthes, who not only ship with his Arab companions, his drivers, cooks, compared the Hungarian and German Unknown Saharas and servants, as well as a deep commitment to the but also translated the three chapters missing in the well being of his fellow man, irrespective of their po-Leipzig Brockhaus edition for the recent Austrian re-sition in life. He appears to judge the people he writes print, there is no evidence in Almásy‟s Hungarian origi-about solely based on his appreciation of the quality

    57nal of any form of racism whatsoever. Both the Hunga-of their individual character.

    rian and German editions do contain a number of Kloss-Elthes also points out that Almásy tends to questionable terms and characterizations, such as Neger write in a highly personalized manner when referring to (Negro), Volksrasse (ethnic race), Männer, die im Dienste his Egyptian staff, mentioning them by name in the ihres Vaterlandes gerne ihre Pflicht tun (men who gladly do Hungarian edition. For whatever reason, von der Esch their duty and serve their fatherland), and kluge Kolonia-edited out this personal association with Arabs in the

    58lregierung (intelligent colonial government). These must, German edition of 1939. Zboray shares Kloss-Elthes‟s

    however, be judged by their contemporary usage, i.e., as assessment of Almásy‟s view of Arabs, confirming that terms common prior to the atrocities committed during he “was by no means a racist and, by 1920s standards, 59World War II. The only term that seems to have been could even be considered a multiculturalist.”

    introduced by von der Esch, without the knowledge of Almásy, is the word inferior with respect to mixed races, Ondaatje’s Patient as in, "By intermarrying with female slaves that had The introduction of the historical figure Almásy into been imported from the south, an inferior [tieferstehende] a literary format in 1992 seemed to cause little uproar, racial mix was produced, resulting in skin colors ranging when compared to the filming of the novel three years 54from coffee brown to the deepest Negro black." later. Ironically, the literary Patient contains all the polit-Finally, a twenty-four-page section of the compre-ically controversial elements of the real Almásy, includ-hensive Richard Bermann biography, published in 1995 ing a detailed discussion of his cooperation with Erwin in connection with the historical exhibition Ausstellung Rommel in 1942. Michael Ondaatje uses his Hungarian des Deutschen Exilarchivs 19331945, can shed some light count to make a point about the detrimental effects of on just how cynically disinterested Almásy seemed to be. nationalism. He also illustrates how desert exploration The expedition to discover “Zarzura, the Oasis of Tiny can free individuals from their tribal allegiances, much as Bird,” on which Almásy had invited two of his Jewish the real Bermann had commented on the international friends, the German photographer Hans Casparius, and 60nature of the Zarzura expedition of 1933. Almásy re-the internationally renowned Bohemian-Austrian travel calls, "Looking for Zarzura. … Just the Bedouin and us, author Bermann, began weeks after Hitler was ap-crisscrossing the Forty Days Road. There were rivers of

172 Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 24:2 (2004)

desert tribes, the most beautiful humans I‟ve met in my Kip, along with his Canadian lover, Hana, belongs to

    Ondaatje‟s multiculturalist, future millennium, not the life. We were German, English, Hungarian, Africanall

    Patient‟s Central European, fin de siècle, cosmopolitan of us insignificant to them. Gradually we became na-

    past. Almásy says, "I can talk with you, Caravaggio, be-tionless. I came to hate nations. We are deformed by

    cause I feel we are both mortal. The girl, the boy, they nation-states” (138).

    are not mortal yet. … Do you realize neither of us has As was described above, the real Almásy, at least in

    children?" (253). Kip, however, is not willing to accept his Hungarian publications, used great personal detail

    the Patient‟s offer to relinquish identity for the sake of when describing his Egyptian counterparts. Ondaatje‟s

    tolerance, especially not in a world so clearly mapped by Patient, however, experiences Arabs much as he does

    racial boundaries. In the Hiroshima sequence in the the other animals of the region. "Forty-day journeys,

    novel, so revealingly missing in Minghella‟s film adapta-after the birds were caught by slaves or picked like flow-

    tion, Kip rejects the idea that race doesn‟t matter: "He ers in equatorial gardens and then placed in bamboo

    isn‟t an Englishman. American, French, I don‟t care. cages to enter the river that is trade. They appear like

    61When you start bombing the brown races of the world, brides in a medieval courtship” (145). Even members

    you‟re an Englishman. No. Not him. Mistake. … He of the Egyptian elite serve merely as backdrops, the

    would say that doesn‟t matter, Hana says. … [Caravaggio] violation of their would-be bourgeois respectability

    knows the young soldier is right. They would never have serving to heighten the sense of otherworldliness: "On

    dropped such a bomb on a white nation” (285–6). Hassanein Bey‟s lawnthe grand old man of the 1923

    The death of the Patient parallels the death of Orien-expeditionshe walked over with the government aide

    talist hegemony, even in its most positive form, as em-Roundell and shook my hand, asked him to get her a bodied by Almásy: "The sapper walks out of the drink, turned back to me and said, 'I want you to ravish

    room …. He has left the three of them to their world, me.' … Within a month I was her lover. In that room

    no longer their sentinel. … Let the dead bury the over the souk, north of the street of parrots” (236). The

    dead. … The death of a civilization.” Only Herodotus juxtaposition with Islam is of equal significance, al-

    remains unburied, as if to offer a link even further back though anybody who has experienced the following

    on the civilizational timeline: "Those few callous words scene themselves knows how potent it can be: "Some-

    in the Bible. They will bury everything except the book. times when she is able to spend the night with him they The body, the sheets, his clothes, the rifle” (286). are wakened by the three minarets of the city beginning

    Seen in comparison, Ondaatje's condemnation of the their prayers before dawn. … The beautiful songs of

    British in India or the United States in Japan stands in faith enter the air like arrows …. They are sinners in a

    stark contrast to his seemingly intentional underdeve-holy city” (154).

    lopment of the Arab Orient. By so doing Almásy's rich Ondaatje does, however, seem to leave the Arab cha-relationship to the Middle East is wasted. Considering racters in his novel intentionally under-, if not complete-

    the author's personal background in British India (to-ly un-developed. The real confrontation between the day's Sri Lanka), his decision to deal in depth with one rulers and the ruled is located somewhere else complete-

    Orientalism at the expense of another is, however, un-ly, in the interaction between the Indian sapper, Kirpal

    derstandable. Singh, and the dying Patient. Kip, his name reminiscent

     of both Kipling and his great novel Kim, is invited by

    Minghella’s Patient the Patient to join the pre-nationalist, cosmopolitan cause championed by the count‟s generation: “Kip and I Discussing his participation in the reworking of The

    English Patient narrative with Gary Kamiya in November are both international bastardsborn in one place and

    choosing to live elsewhere. Fighting to get back to or get 1996, Michael Ondaatje maintained that he gave the

    screenplay writer and director a free hand because “I away from our homelands all our lives. Though Kip

    don‟t know film.” Pressed in February 2002 by Sara doesn‟t know it yet. That‟s why we get on so well to-

    gether” (176–7). Like the real Almásy, the Patient longs Dowse to admit that film “has made a more conscious

    impression on his writing than on most,” he admitted, for a Europe that is now dead and despises the primitive tribalism of both the Allied and Axis powers. The rela-“Well, yes. I‟ve edited a documentary, and have come to

    have a great respect for the craft.” In a winter 1997 in-tionship between the Patient and Katharine signifies this backwards-oriented longing of the Old World elite: "We terview with Willem Dafoe, Ondaatje stated: “I have

    made a couple of documentary films, and I edited those die containing the richness of lovers and tribes …. I want all this marked on my body when I am dead. I be-films, that was what I really enjoyed, … the microscopic

    62lieve in such cartography … not just to label ourselves timing.” What role the author actually played in the

    writing of the screenplay remains unclear. Anthony on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. … All I desired was to walk upon an earth Minghella writes, in the foreword to The English Patient

    screenplay, that Ondaatje “presided over the process that had no maps” (261).

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