Peter Altenberg’s texts are characterized by their fragmentariness, openness and very special tone. In this study, the linguistic and structural features that create this unique style are analyzed. A broad concept of style is applied, defining style as a relation between form, content and reader. Thus the stylistic analyses include elements of rhetoric, linguistics, text linguistics and narratology.
The study shows that Altenberg uses various methods of stylistic condensation, such as ellipses and omissions, rhythmized passages, summaries, and sudden changes of time or place. To achieve density of text, Altenberg also utilizes semantic, syntactic and lexical recurrences and leitmotivs. Another technique he frequently uses is to directly quote third person speech, often as incomplete utterances. Both the characters and the narrator often pause mid’ sentence, remain silent or merely hint at their intended meaning. This silence is mainly positive, serving as nonverbal communication based on empathy. However, this stylistic device can also be seen as language skepticism since it makes the verbal language appear inferior to the wordless.
Altenberg’s predominantly condensed style is contrasted by an impressionistic richness of detail which gives an impression of authenticity and emphasizes the importance of the seemingly insignificant. Hyperboles and strong epithets also contrast to his use of subtle implication. Another decisive aspect of Altenberg’s style is the various levels of irony and self irony that characterize many of his writings.
Although most texts are composed of very short, simple, paratactic sentences, Altenberg frequently emphasizes key passages by means of more complex linguistic structures.
A typical characteristic of the narrative structures in Altenberg’s texts is the indeterminability of aspects such as voice, perspective and the role and position of the narrator, i.e. whether the text reflects the narrator’s voice or that of a character and the extent to which the narrator is part of the story narrated. Omissions and recurrences of text elements often serve to link the narration to a character perspective and contribute to the ambiguity of voice and focalization.
Tübingen: Stauffenburg Verlag, 2009, 1. , 204 p.