Evelyn Schlag's "Touche"

Evelyn Schlag's "Touche"

Evelyn Schlag is a Viennese schoolteacher and writer. She writes primarily short stories. Her short story “Touché” illustrates the consequences of forgetting about Austrian history by the combined forces of a lack of interest in history and the silence of the previous generation of Austrians. She doesn’t form her own ideas, but instead lets her boyfriend Georg, a German nationalist, form them for her. She also seems to be an example of the more modern Austrian generations who doesn’t appreciate Austrian history and therefore seems doomed to repeat it. 

Schlag describes the protagonist as someone who cares more about looks than she does about substance. The narrator compares herself with mannequins and envies girls with nice hair. These early descriptions, followed only later by examples of her interest in other subjects, paint her as a frivolous girl who doesn’t necessarily form her opinions based on fact.

Schlag also demonstrates the protagonist doesn’t have strong roots in history either from school or from her family. She doesn’t enjoy studying history in school. Her father doesn’t even live with her family. Schlag seems to imply that even though the protagonist’s family kept up traditional appearances, it was crumbling at its core and probably didn’t offer the protagonist any sense of history. This seems to be an additional commentary on the traditional Austrian family: appearance often superseded any real passing on of values.

This creation of the narrator sets the scene well for the entrance of Georg, the German nationalist. He is a member of a German nationalist fraternity and isn’t afraid to share his views with the narrator. When he is with her in the night, she goes with him seemingly without knowing any better—she is blind to his faults. Their intimacy parallels her blindness in adopting his views. He immediately assumes for her the identity of a German nationalist. She doesn’t know what to expect and doesn’t have her own ideas, so she follows what he tells her to do and acts the way he tells her to act without question.

This story also seems to be written as a warning sign to Austrian teenagers and their parents about the danger of not knowing history and the Austrian code of silence about World War II. In the 1980's when this was written, Kurt Warthaus, the former U.N. president investigated for war crimes, was the symbol for what can happen when Austrians don’t talk about the war. Georg seems to be representative of the trend of the younger generations following pre-war ideas such as German nationalism and conservatism based on the idyllic rituals, in his case the fraternity, associated with them. The narrator is generalized as any Austrian teenager—she doesn’t have a name and has few defining characteristics. Her family could be any kind of Austrian family—they blindly follow the societal norm of the traditional family and therefore keep the “national silence” about the war.

Schlag seems to use the parallel of the protagonist’s sexual awakening and German girl-conversion to illustrate the dangers of being uninformed as well as of keeping quiet because of traditional societal values on pre-marital sex and the national silence.