‘Reading Ingeborg Bachmann’s short story collection The Thirtieth Year, we might hear in Bachmann, who was part of the Group 47 post-war writers, another Austrian, one who would go on to attack the group at a talk in the mid-sixties: Peter Handke. The attack at Princeton University in 1966 helped make Handke famous as he insisted that writers like Heinrich Boll, Gunter Grass and Martin Walser offered “descriptive literature”, and he was there to offer something new. Handke was in his mid-twenties and making a name for himself as he created a new space against others, but we might feel that he would have had more sympathy for Bachmann, whose work, written in the post-war years until her death in 1973, has the lacerating force on her fellow, younger Austrian. (Indeed, days after her death, Handke dedicated a speech to Bachmann after winning the Buchner prize.) We might describe this quality as the prose of righteous disregard: a feeling towards the self that isn’t at all sanctimonious as it refuses to find dignity in one’s actions, nor caricature as it acknowledges the absurd but never funny inadequacies of the human. Unlike fellow Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek (who adapted Bachmann’s novel Malina for the screen) she doesn’t push the prose into the sustained hysteria Jelinek often offers as she tears into Austrian conformism and sexism with great syntactical energy. What both Handke and Bachmann share is an acuity of observation that suggests the autobiographical as reflective lucidity. It does not seem to be about creating characters (which is why it can appear so autobiographical) but it is not at all about detailing the experiences of their lives either. It is instead about exploring a character from the inside of their chaos and the interior nature of that search excavates the fictional, refuses to give the work a novelistic breadth and instead finds in it a particular type of breath. Irmela von der Luhe quotes Christa Wolf saying of Bachmann’s work: “while reading this prose one should not expect stories or the descriptions of actions…one will hear a single voice, bold and complaining.”
‘A particular passage in the long story ‘Three Paths to the Lake’ helps explain this breath. Here the central character Elisabeth realises that when she would tell Viennese friends about her glamorous life working as a photographer in Paris and New York, people would be fascinated, but she would wonder about the substance of her tales. “Anyone who happened to be listening could easily have had the impression that they were catching a glimpse of that different world, a shimmering and fascinating place, for Elisabeth’s accounts were told well and with a sense of humour, but at home, with her father, the stories crumbled into nothing; not only because Herr Matrei wasn’t in in the least interested but also because she noticed that, although she had actually experienced it all, then again she hadn’t, there was something bleak and empty in all these stories…” It is as though Elisabeth is trying to find her breath; a way of speaking that can speak for her and not about her. The anecdotal tales furnishes a social occasion without elaborating a personal need: “she never spoke about her own life.” The anecdote served a purpose but it hardly expressed a self, and its limitations were met not by her father’s indifference, but how she could see in her father’s company how impoverished these anecdotes were. Earlier in the story, Elisabeth thinks about a man who has been tortured and somehow managed to write about his experiences. How did he achieve it, she wondered, thinking “this man had attempted to discover what had happened to him when his soul was destroyed and to learn how a human being could change and continue to live, defeated, with that knowledge.” The contrast between the anecdote offered and the personal catastrophe illuminated might be where the difficulty of literature often resides. Though many will talk of the problem of literature as an historical one, that literature becomes ever harder to write, its existence harder to justify, and schools forming to try and maintain literature’s significance, Bachmann would seem suspicious of this, saying, “when we look back on the past half-century, on its literature with its chapter-headings of Naturalism and Symbolism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Imagism, Futurism, Dadaism, and a great deal that refuses to fit under any chapter-heading, it seems to us as though literature has been developing in a completely miraculous albeit somewhat inconsistent manner, exactly as it always has done, as it did in earlier ages—first there was Sturm und Drang, then Classicism, then Romanticism, and so forth.” Bachmann adds, “it is not especially difficult to acquire a working knowledge of these periods; but the present leaves a fair amount to be desired; we cannot properly see how it is developing, where it is headed; nothing is getting any clearer, not even the sense of a direction or directions.” This was during one of a series of Frankfurt lectures in 1959, with Bachmann determined to escape from ready-made, overly theoretical or historical approaches to the literary. It is not that the silence comes because of a historical set of circumstances (like the Holocaust), or a literary development, like the Absurd; it stems more from a personal necessity that could strike any writer, at any time, and that it is perhaps this silence which allows literature to manifest itself. …
‘It is this point we were addressing when we noticed similarities between Bachmann and Handke: an autobiographical tone that isn’t the same as autobiography; the sense of an immediate consciousness rather than a series of events viewed through character and situation. “We are indeed sleeping, are sleepers, out of the fear of being obliged to perceive our world as what it is” Bachmann proposed in her Frankfurt Lectures, but Bachmann wants a literature that will wake us up. This is perhaps the contemporary version of catharsis and must be found not through a chain of events that will lead to tragedy and emotional release, but must be called something else and manifests itself through a chain of non-events shaped by a radical interior consciousness. In the Frankfurt Lectures, Bachmann also says “our existence today lies at the intersection point of so many mutually unconnected realities that are chockful of the most mutually contradictory values.” She adds, “within the confines of your own four walls you can cultivate a domestic idyll in the patriarchal vein or libertinage or whatever else you like—outside you’re whirled about in a functional world of utility that has its own ideas about your existence.” Perhaps one needs to integrate the disintegration, to find a means by which to acknowledge the disparity between the anecdotal details that we say to others are our experiences, and the chaos inside that cannot so easily be narrativised.’ — Tony McKibben
Ingeborg Bachmann @ Wikipedia
Feminize Your Canon: Ingeborg Bachmann
Ingeborg Bachmann’s “Malina” Is the Truest Portrait of Female Consciousness Since Sappho
Book: ‘The Critical Writings of Ingeborg Bachmann’
Ingeborg Bachmann @ goodreads
“The outrageous has become the everyday”: Remembering Ingeborg Bachmann
Life? Or Theater?
Ingeborg Bachmann: Her Part, Let It Survive
Book: ‘Correspondence: Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan’
A singular woman adrift
THE LIMITS OF LANGUAGE
The Architecture of Fascism in Ingeborg Bachmann’s ‘Malina’
“The end, we failed it. Both of us.”
Ingeborg Bachmann’s Rome
The Meticulous One
Life-in-death: an agonizing in-between
Society Is the Biggest Murder Scene of All: Adrian Nathan West on Ingeborg Bachmann’s “Malina”
Ingeborg Bachmann and Peter Handke: The Austrian Mitteleuropa
The plague novel you need to read is by Bachmann, not Camus
Buy ‘The Thirtieth Year’
Ingeborg Bachmann reads ‘Alle Tage’ / Every Day 1961
Ingeborg Bachmann reads ‘An die Sonne’ / (A Paean) To the Sun 1961
INGEBORG BACHMANN | EXIL
Interview with Elfriede Jelinek (on Ingeborg Bachmann)
The Horror Is in You
by Reed McConnell
‘I refuse to begin this essay with Ingeborg Bachmann’s death—the cigarette that set fire to her apartment in Rome while she was sleeping, the three weeks she spent lingering in a hospital burn unit, the ultimately fatal medical complications that resulted from her addiction to benzodiazepines—because to do so would be to reduce the rich life of one of the most important writers of twentieth-century German literature to its salacious end. But the impulse is common. Bachmann’s death is regularly treated as a synecdoche for her life, and it’s true that a great deal of her work deals centrally with death, depression and murder; that at the time of her death, in 1973, she was working on a cycle of novels called Ways of Dying; and that the final pages of its first and only volume, Malina, seem to prefigure a death by burning. But it’s also true that Bachmann saw violence and horror as integral to everyday life. A student of Ludwig Wittgenstein—who famously wrote, “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”—Bachmann’s preoccupation with the unspeakable, from the horrors of the war to the everyday lives of women, is the only clear thread that runs throughout her oeuvre.
‘Bachmann was born in 1926 in Klagenfurt, Austria, the daughter of a homemaker mother and a schoolteacher father who was an early member of the Nazi Party. She was an avid reader, extremely nearsighted, and by all accounts spent most of her youth with her nose in a book. Once the war ended, she spent a year studying at the universities of Innsbruck and Graz, then moved to Vienna in 1946, where she began a degree in philosophy with minors in German literature and psychology. At 21, she met Paul Celan at a party thrown by the Surrealist painter Edgar Jené. The as-yet unknown Romanian Jewish poet and Holocaust survivor was awaiting a visa to move to Paris. Within days of their first meeting, he was showering her with reading recommendations and filling her apartment with poppies. Their relationship would become one of the most storied in German letters before ending in 1952, when Bachmann proposed marriage to Celan, only to learn that he was already engaged to another woman. (She’d known nothing about their relationship.)
‘In 1951, soon after completing a doctoral degree in philosophy—closer to a master’s degree by today’s standards—Bachmann took a job at Rot-Weiß-Rot,1 the radio station of the American forces occupying Vienna. The job served as her entrée into the wider German-language literary world, as it was there that Bachmann met Hans Werner Richter, leader of the famous Gruppe 47 literary meetings, to which she secured an invitation in 1952. A year later, Bachmann won the Gruppe 47 Prize, the organization’s highest honor, for reading four poems from what would soon become her first collection, Die gestundete Zeit, or Borrowed Time. Featuring vermin, machines and a natural world at once hauntingly beautiful and horrifyingly violent, the poems evoked the terrors of a war still reverberating through Europe.
‘It was the beginning of a meteoric rise. At 28, merely five years after graduating from university, Bachmann appeared on the cover of Der Spiegel sporting boyish cropped hair and bold lipstick, the very image of a young iconoclast. In the following years, Bachmann lived in Rome, Naples, Munich and Paris; wrote libretti for the composer Hans Werner Henze, a close friend; advocated for nuclear disarmament; and published more poetry and fiction, releasing her first book of short stories in 1961. In 1958, she began dating Max Frisch, a Swiss writer fifteen years her senior. Their tumultuous four-year relationship ended when Frisch, then 52, left Bachmann for a 23-year-old college student, Marianne Oellers. (A fan of both writers, Oellers first met Frisch when Bachmann invited her to their apartment in Rome for dinner.)
‘Bachmann never seems to have recovered the happiness, imperfect though it may have been, that she had experienced living with Frisch. After their break in late 1962, she moved to Berlin, where she spent a year living on a fellowship from the Ford Foundation. She hated the city and became deeply depressed, and it was around this time that she began drinking and taking benzodiazepines. It would be years until she finally published her only novel, Malina, in 1971. A second book of short stories, Three Paths to the Lake, appeared in 1972, just before Bachmann’s untimely death in 1973. …
‘The glorification of the deaths of depressed woman writers has seen a renaissance over the last decade. In 2013, Vice took down from its website a fashion shoot from the pages of its “Women in Fiction” issue, depicting, among others, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Iris Chang in the act of killing themselves, their clothing carefully detailed next to each image, so that you, too, could buy a pair of stockings like the ones that Taiwanese writer Sanmao used to hang herself. The editorial was swiftly condemned, but a certain set of conditions of possibility are necessary for such an editorial to be conceivable in the first place. Women writers are often given a tragic cast—and as tragic figures, they are rendered powerless, not necessarily as individuals who do not fight but as individuals who are kept from ever winning by an oppressive society.
‘Bachmann is clear: the tragedy went far beyond her role as a woman or as a feminist artist, even though these themes were central to her writing. The gendered suffering and violence endured by women on an everyday basis was merely one manifestation of a threat much more general in its scope, for patriarchal domination was itself fascist. Bachmann commented explicitly on this in an interview shortly before her death, saying, “I’ve thought about where fascism begins. It doesn’t begin with the first bombs dropped, it doesn’t begin with political violence, which one can write about in any newspaper. It begins in relationships between people. Fascism is the first thing in the relationship between a man and a woman.”
‘If there is a limit to what language can express, Wittgenstein gives us no reason to think that everything beyond this limit must be dark. If the inexpressible is understood to include the horrors of the Holocaust, then it should, too, hold room for the impenetrable mysteries and everyday wonders of nature, time, compassion and God. But for Bachmann, the inexpressible was necessarily horrible, and her task as a writer thus both urgent and ultimately futile: to bend language over backwards in an attempt to traverse its own limits and awaken her readers to the true conditions of a world that was merely biding its time before realizing its deepest—and darkest—potential.’
Ingeborg Bachmann The Thirtieth Year
Holmes & Meier Publishers
‘This is collection of the stories written by a distinguished Austrian author who died in 1973. Reading these stories entails abandoning the terms of one’s own comfort. The author’s relentless vision demands that readers allows themselves to be hypnotised, taken over by her repetitive cadences and burning images of grief and loss. And yet, in the beauty of her images there is a tremendous affirmation of the world.’ — Holmes & Meier
‘The Thirtieth Year, a collection of seven short stories published in 1961, was Bachmann’s prose debut following the poetry collections with which she rose to fame in the 1950s. The majority of the short stories in the collection focus on turning points in the protagonists’ lives, which briefly allow the central protagonists to glimpse another world, or attain insight that was previously denied to them. Bachmann’s The Thirtieth Year collection is primarily concerned with language (in particular, the utopian hope of refashioning the world through a new language), the persisting legacy of the Second World War, transgression (of boundaries and social norms), and issues of memory and identity.’ — Katya Krylova
from Youth in an Austrian Town
On fine October days, as you come out of the Radetzkystrasse, you can see by the Municipal Theatre a group of trees in the sunshine. The first tree, which stands in front of those dark-red cherry trees that bear no fruit, is so ablaze with autumn, such an immense patch of gold, that it looks like a torch dropped by an angel. And now it is burning, and the autumn wind and frost cannot put it out.
Who, faced with this tree, is going to talk to me about falling leaves and the white death? Who will prevent me from holding it with my eyes and believing that it will always glow before me as it does at this moment and that it is not subject to the laws of the world?
In its light the town too is recognizable again, with pale convalescent houses under the dark hair of their tiles, and the canal that every now and then brings in a boat from the sea which ties up in its heart. The docks are undoubtedly dead now that freight is brought to the town quicker by train and lorry; but flowers and fruit still fall from the high quay onto the pondlike water, the snow drops off the boughs, the melted snow comes rushing noisily down, then washes back and raises a wave and with the wave a ship whose bright-coloured, sail was set on our arrival.
People rarely moved to this town from another town, because its attractions were too few; they came from the villages, because the farms had grown too small, and they looked for accommodation on die outskirts where it was cheapest. Here there were still fields and gravel pits, big market gardens and allotments on which year after year the owners grew turnips, cabbages and beans, the bread of the poorest settlers. These settlers dug their own cellars, standing in the seepage. They nailed up their own rafters during the brief evenings between spring and autumn, and heaven knows whether they ever in their lives saw the ceremony that takes place when the roof is put on.
This didn’t worry their children, for they had already grown familiar with the ever-changing smells that came from far away, when the bonfires were burning and the gypsies speaking strange languages settled fleetingly in the no-man’ land between cemetery and airfield.
In the tenement in the Durchlasstrasse the children have to take off their shoes and play in stockinged feet, because they live above the landlord. They are only allowed to whisper and for the rest of their lives they will never lose the habit of whispering. At school the teachers say to them: ‘You should be beaten till you open your mouths. Beaten. . . .’ Between the reproach for talking too loud and the reproach for talking too softly, they settle down in silence.
The Durchlasstrasse, Tunnel Street, did not get its name from the game in which the robbers march through a tunnel, but for a long time the children thought it did. It wasn’t until later, when their legs carried them farther, that they saw the tunnel, the little underpass, over which the train passed on its way to Vienna. Inquisitive people who wanted to go to the airfield had to walk through this tunnel, across the fields and right through all the embroideries of autumn. Someone had the idea of putting the airfield next to the cemetery, and the people in K always said it was convenient for burying the pilots who for a time made training flights here. The pilots never did anyone the favour of crashing. The children always yelled: ‘An airman! An airman!’ They raised their arms towards them as though to catch them, and stared into the cloud zoo in which the airmen moved among animals’ heads and masks.
The children take the silver paper off the bars of chocolate and whistle the Maria Saaler Geldut on it. At school the children’s heads are examined for lice by a woman doctor. The children don’t know what the time is, because the clock on the parish church has stopped. They always come home late from school. The children! They know their names when put to it, but they prick up their ears only when someone calls out ‘Children’.
Homework: down strokes and up strokes in neat writing, exercises in profit and loss, the profit of new horizons against the loss of dreams, learning things off by heart with the help of memory aids. Their task: to learn an alphabet and the multiplication tables, an orthography and the ten commandments, among the fumes of oiled floors, of a few hundred children’s lives, dwarfs’ overcoats, burnt India-rubbers, among tears and scoldings, standing in the corner, kneeling and unsilenceable chatter.
The children take off old words and put on new ones. They heard about Mount Sinai and they see the Ulrichsberg with its turnip fields, larches and firs, mixed up with chars and thorn bushes, and they eat sorrel and gnaw the corn cobs before they grow hard and ripe, or bring them home and roast them on the glowing embers. The stripped cobs disappear into the wooden box and are used as tinder, and cedar and olive wood is laid on top, smoulders, warms from far away and casts shadows on the wall.
The time of trophies, the time of Christmases, without looking forward, without looking back, the time of the pumpkin nights, of ghosts and terrors without end. In good, in evil — without hope.
The children have no future. They are afraid of the whole world. They don’t picture the world; they picture only the geography of a hopscotch square, because its frontiers can be drawn in chalk. On one or two legs they hop the frontiers from one region to another.
One day the children move into the Henselstrasse. Into a house without a landlord, into an estate that has crawled out tame and hidebound from under mortgages. They live two streets away from the Beethovenstrasse, in which all the houses are spacious and centrally heated, and one street away from the Radetzkystrasse, through which the trams run, electric-red and with huge muzzles. They have become the possessors of a garden, in which roses are planted in the front and little apple trees and blackcurrant bushes at the back. The trees are no taller than the children, and they grow up together. On the left they have neighbours with a boxer dog, and on the right children who eat bananas and spend the day swinging on a horizontal bar and rings which they have put up in the garden. They make friends with the dog Ali and compete with the children next door, who always know better and can do things better.
They prefer to be by themselves; they make themselves a deu in the attic and often shout out loud in their hiding place, trying out their crippled voices. They utter little low cries of rebellion in front of spiders’ webs.
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Ah, the classics. I think I did a scratch-and-sniff post here where they were lauded. Yes, RIP Ronnie Spector. ** Dominik, Hi!!! The meeting was a good start. We have to draft up a proposal for what we want and want to do and submit it, but it looks likely that we’ll get funded. I hope. Mm, it’s hard to describe what we want to do when one hasn’t seen the version we showed, but we want to make it more complicated and interactive, and there were things that were too expensive and time consuming for the designers to do with the limited funds/time we had that we would like to add/implement, and we would like to make the piece/game playable by people. Right now it can only be demonstrated via guided walkthroughs. Yeah, I just had a moment yesterday where I saw a bunch of mermaid memes and questioned the human populace’s imaginative powers. But there are worse things. Your love of yesterday is far more inspiring to the imagination. Well, IMHO. Love devoting the rest of his life to finding the boy with the noisiest butthole on the internet, G. ** _Black_Acrylic, Slurp, curry. I can’t do fiery chilies, though. After a bad bout of acid reflux in my 20s, my stomach laid down the law. But yum notwithstanding them. I’ve heard of ‘Succession’, and I like Brian Cox, so I’ll list it. Thanks, bud. ** Jamie, Hey! Ha ha, interesting about your super nasal powers. I can imagine that gift coming in not handy at all. Ooh, that experimental film club does sound totally dreamy. Experimental film is one of my most giant life crushes, as you can probably tell. Nice line-up. Non-stop goodies. I thought I’d done an Eddie Gehr post, but I just checked and I haven’t. Head + lit lightbulb = me. My day was alright. Might’ve possibly started the process of getting funding to finish the Home Haunt videogame-like project. Saw a film, Angela Schanelec’s ‘I Was at Home, But …’. It was very interesting like she usually is, but its decision making was too forefronted. All I could see was the editing, filming, framing, etc. decisions, and it made the film too dry and exercise-y. But I’m glad I saw it. Did some emailing and texting. ‘A Short Film About Killing’, wow, interesting. I hardly remember the film, or rather its doings. Vegan pâté … that’ll be hard to top, but I’ll, you know, try. Gonna look at some art and attend a lecture thing today, so maybe. I hope your Friday is better than the sky. Tall order, but … ** David, Hi. I don’t think my nose is very high powered or something. People are always saying ‘What’s that smell’, and I sniff the air like a dog and can’t smell anything. I’ve only done VR on those old roller coasters they fit with VR to make them seem exciting, and I’ve only ever gotten really nauseous. ** Brian, Hey, Brian. As often is the case, I think I got some offshoot whim and decided to see what smell tech options there are, and lo and behold the batch seemed like a watchable post. There’s the Bachmann post up above. Personally, I would start with her great novel ‘Malina’. That’s kind of her ultimate thing. I’ll try to find my way into ‘Euphoria’, probably for the very reasons you found it of interest. I give up on books all the time. Sometimes because they don’t interest me, and sometimes because I feel like I’ve read enough to get what they’re doing and what their pleasure source is and how they work, and I don’t feel like I need any more of them. But I don’t read very many books where the plot and narrative are paramount, mind you. So, I don’t think bailing is a problem at all. No, I can’t say the ‘Wizard of Oz’ had any competition from my yesterday, but that would be asking lot. Yours sounds like it gave ‘TWoZ’ a bit of a run, though. Hope your Friday doesn’t stand outside your bedroom window at 3 am with an acoustic guitar serenading you with James Taylor’s greatest hits. ** Okay. Today I spotlight a fine book by the very fine scribe Ingeborg Bachmann. Please give it a shot. See you tomorrow.