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by Bamber Gascoigne

Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973)


Austrian poet, dramatist, and novelist, a leading voice in post-war German literature. During her lifetime Bachmann, was known first and foremost as a poet, but she ceased to write poetry in the 1960s and focused on prose. In these later works feminist themes came to the fore. Bachmann was a reclusive, but socially engaged writer. Most of the fifties and from 1965 onward, she lived in Rome, where she died after accidentally setting fire to herself in her apartment.

"Her apartment was meticulously clean, but gave off a faint "old-woman" smell which she was not aware of and which put Leo Jordan to flight, apart from the fact that he had no time to lose and no idea what to talk about with his eighty-five-year-old mother. Sometimes, seldom, he had been amused - that much Franziska knew – namely, when he was having a relationship with a married woman, because then old Frau Jordan had gone without sleep and made strange, convoluted allusions, trembling for his safety: she believed that the married men who wives Leo Jordan was living with were dangerous and jealous and bloodthirsty, and she wasn't able to calm down until he married Franziska, who did not have a jealous husband lurking in the bushes but was young and cheerful, an orphan, admittedly not from an educated family, but at least with a brother who had gone to college." (from 'The Barking')

Ingeborg Bachmann was born in Klagenfurt, the capital of Carinthia, the first child of Mathias and Olga Bachmann (née Haas). Her father was a middle-school language teacher and later principal. At the age of twelve, after the annexation of Austria, Bachmann witnessed the march of Nazi troops into her town. To this period she returned in her memoir Jugend in einer Österreichischen Stadt (1961) and the novel Der Franza Fall (1979). Like Hannah Arendt, she identified Nazism as something fundamentally banal, a part of everyday life, thus demystifying the nature of evil. Bachmann herself never revealed that she grew up in a Nazi family – her father had joined the Austrian National Socialist Party before Hitler came to power. When analyzing the existence of Fascism in post-war society, she purposely used the trivial terms "disease" and "wrongdoing".

Bachmann's first short story, 'Die Fähre' (The Ferry), was published in the weekly Kärtner Illustrierte. She studied philosophy and law at the universities of Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna, where she completed her doctoral dissertation on the philosopher Martin Heidegger in 1950, believing that her work would "dethrone" this "hidden king" of the Weimar Republic. (Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation, 1951–1970 by James K. Lyon, 2006, p. 2)

During this period she had a love affair with the poet Paul Celan, whom she introduced to Heidegger. Bachmann gave him in 1950 a copy of Heidegger's book  Holzwege (Wrong Paths), without knowing that he avoided reading the philosopher's works. Celan sent her a copy of Heidegger's essay Vom Wesen des Grundes, originally published in 1929. "Wir lieben einander wie Mohn und Gedächtnis" (We love each other like poppy and recollection) Celan wrote in 'Corona,' one of his poems which he inscribed "f.D." – für Dich – in Bachmann's copy of Mohn und Gedächtnis (1952). When he left Vienna for Paris, the two poets continued to correspond. Bachmann even visited him in Paris in 1950.

Bachmann worked as a scriptwriter and editor for the radio station Rot-Weisz-Rot plays between 1951 and 1953. Her first collection of poetry, Die gestundete Zeit (1953), was awarded the Group 47 Prize. The most influential German literary movement of the post-war period  ad started from informal meetings of writers and during its existence it helped several new voices, such as Günter Grass, to gain renown. In 1952 Bachmann had been asked to read her work to the assembled "Gruppe 47". Bachmann's novel was turned down by major German publishers.

After meeting the German composer Hans Werner Henze in Niendorf, Bachmann moved to Italy, where she lived with Henze on the Island Ischia, in Naples, and in Rome. She also spent some time at Harvard University in the United States, where she had been invited by Henry Kissinger. While in Italy in 1954-1955, she wrote political columns under the pseudonym Ruth Keller for the Westdeutschen Allgemeinen Zeitung. In 1958 she met the Swiss writer Max Frisch in Paris; their relationship lasted until the early 1960s.

From 1962 Bachmann lived in Munich, Berlin, Zürich and Rome, breaking her somewhat reclusive lifestyle with her social and political activities. Bachmann was a member of a committee that opposed atomic weapons, and she signed a declaration against the Vietnam war.

At the age of 33, Bachmann was appointed to the newly created position as chair of poetics at the University of Frankfurt, where she lectured on poetry and the existential situation of the writer. Her interest in the limits of linguistic expression led her to study Ludwig Wittgenstein, of whom she also published an essay. However, after Anrufung des Großen Bären (1956), written while she was living with Hans Werner Henz in Italy, Bachmann published only a few poems over a period of almost a decade. In mid-1960s she traveled in Egypt and Sudan. On the invitation of the literature critic and professor Hans Mayer he traveled in 1960 together with Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Walter Jens to the German Democratic Republic.

For her partly autobiographical work Das dreißigste Jahr Bachmann received in 1964 the Berlin Critics Prize. In the same year she also received the prestigious Georg Büchner Prize and was introduced into the West Berlin Academy of Arts. Four years later she was awarded the Austrian National Medal. A revised and expanded edition of her speech, 'Ein Ort für' Zufälle' (1965, A Place for Incidents), was published with drawings by her friend Günter Grass. In the spring of 1973 she gave a series of readings in Poland and visited the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Bachmann died in Rome on October 17, 1973, three weeks after she had been badly burned in a fire in her apartment. The circumstances of the fire, attributed to an unextinguished cigarette, are still partly unclear. The German tabloid BILD wrote of the news of her death: "She died, as if she had thought it up herself." In 'Curriculum vitae' Bachmann said: "Must they drag the sky away? / Let the earth not lead me on, / but lay me long in stillness, / long in stillness, for Night /". Heinrich Böll connected Bachmann's premature death to the way she was defined in the public eye: "Out of her invocation, they did not want to hear the cry that became a scream; they made Ingeborg Bachmann herself into literature, into an image, a myth, lost in and because of Rome."  (Understanding Ingeborg Bachmann by Karen R. Achberger, 1995, p. 1)

Bachmann's poetry showed the influence of classic antiquity, surrealism, and such diverse writers as Klopstock and Rilke. She often dealt with the difficulties of love, guilt, and mindless forces that can break frail human relationships. The tone of her poems, written in precise and formally elegant style, is mostly somber. Dark, powerful images refer to private anguished experiences, problems of identity, contemporary social events, and mythology. "Great Bear, come down, shaggy night, / cloud-coated beast with the old eyes, star eyes. / Through the thickets your paws break / shimmering with their claws, / star claws." (from Anrufung des Großen Bären) Often she has visions of future catastrophes: "Worse days are coming. / The time allotted for disavowals / Comes due the skyline. / Soon you will lace up your shoes / And drive the dogs back to the marshes." (from 'The Time Allotted') In her prose works Bachmann moved more on the social level, although her writing were highly introspective and used lyrical elements. Fascist threats, the interplay of ego and alter-ego, and women's experiences in a hostile, patriarchal society, were recurrent themes.

"I have to watch out that I don't fall face first onto the hot plate, that I don't disfigure myself, burn myself, then Malina would have to call the police and the ambulance, he would have to confess his carelessness at having let a woman burn halfway to death. I stand up straight, my face glowing from the red plate on the stove, where I so often burned scraps of paper at night, not so much to burn something written, but to light a last and a very last cigarette." (from Malina, 1971)

Bachmann did not finish her novel cycle, Todesarten (Ways of Death), which she had began to work on in Rome. Two projected novels, The Franza Case and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann, were published as posthumous fragments. The novel in the planted cycle, Malina (1971), anticipated later feminist discussions about a specific "female subjectivity." Malina is a self-portrait of a woman who lives with an understanding male alter ego, Malina, perhaps an imagined extension of her personality. Her relationship with Ivan, a younger Hungarian man, becomes more and more obsessive. The narrator has a nightmare of her father as a Nazi who kills her in a gas chamber, her relationship with Ivan deteriorates, and finally separateness between herself and Malina disappears. "I stare at Malina resolutely, but he doesn't look up. I stand up, thinking that if he doesn't say something immediately, if he doesn't stop me, it will be murder, and since I can no longer say this I walk away. It's not so frightening anymore, just that our falling apart is more frightening than any falling together. I have lived in Ivan and die in Malina." A utopian narrative threads it way through the novel. In this fairy-tale of the Princess of Kagran  and the silent stranger from the east, a Jew,  Bachmann weaved phrases from Paul Celan's poems, above all from 'Corona'.

Although critics have read Malina from an autobiographical point of view, Bachmann denied that the novel depicts her relationship with Max Frisch. Possibly Arnold Schönberg's opera Moses und Aron (1957) provided a structural model for the work. (Understanding Ingeborg Bachmann by Karen R. Achberger, 1995, pp. 117-119) In Werner Schroeter's film version of the novel, based on the script by Elfriede Jelinek, the French actress Isabelle Huppert portayed a self-destructive woman, who  is more a victim of her own emotions than the victim of society or the victim of men.

Der Franza Fall was about Franziska, a wife of a successful Vienna psychiatrist, who becomes the victim of his sadism and fascination with Nazism. Part of the story was set in Egypt and Sudan, where Franziska travels with her brother Martin Ranner and meets a former SS captain. Doomed, Franziska dies violently and Martin return home. "Fascism is the first thing in the relationship between a man and woman," Bachmann has said in an interview. The protagonist of Requiem for Fanny Goldmann is an aging actress, whose death becomes a requiem for the old, aristocratic Vienna. " It's light and charming and terribly knowing and terribly sad -- Der Rosenkavalier updated for a nastier time," wrote Suzanne Ruta in The New York Times (October 24, 1999).

Bachmann's other works include the librettos for Hans Werner Henze's operas Der Prinz von Homburg (1960; The Prince of Homburg) and Der junge Lord (1965; The Young Lord), which premiered in Berlin. Bachmann's cooperation with the composer had already started in the 1950, when her radio play The Cicadas (1954) was produced with Henze's music. He also set several of her poems to music. Bachmann's work has also inspired the German artist Anselm Kiefer, who took from her famous poem 'Böhmen liegt am Meer' (1964, Bohemia lies by the sea) the title for his painting.

For further reading: Ingeborg Bachmanns Wien, 1946-1953 by Joseph McVeigh (2016); Ingeborg Bachmann und Max Frisch: Eine Liebe zwischen Intimität und Öffentlichkeit by Ingeborg Gleichauf (2013);  Ingeborg Bachmann's Utopia and Disillusionment: Introduction by Leena Eilittä (2008); Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters: Feminism, History, And Ingeborg Bachmann by Sara Lennox (2006); Ingeborg Bachmann's Telling Stories: Fairy-Tale Beginnings and Holocaust Endings by Kirsten A. Krick-Aigner (2002); '"My Father,... I Would Not Have Betrayed You ..." Reshaping the Familial past in Ingeborg Bachmann's Radiofamilie-Texts' by  Joseph McVeigh, in New German Critique, No. 93, Autumn (2004); A Trip to Klagenfurt: In the Footsteps of Ingeborg Bachmann by Uwe Johnson (2002); Dieses Spannungsverhaltnis, an Dem Wir Wachsen: Growth and Decay in Ingeborg Bachmann's Simultan by Veronica O'Regan (2000; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 1., ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); The Split Scene of Reading: Nietzsche / Derrida / Kafka / Bachmann by Sabine I. Golz (1998); Thunder Rumbling at My Heels: Tracing Ingeborg Bachmann by Gudrun Brokoph-Mauch (1998); Waking the Dead: Correspondences Between Walter Benjamin's Concept of Remembrance and Ingeborg Bachmann's Ways of Dying by Karen Remmler (1996); Understanding Ingeborg Bachmann by Karen R. Achberger (1995); The Voice of History: An Exegesis of Selected Short Stories from Ingeborg Bachmann's Das Dreissigste Jahr and Sumultan from the Perspective of Austria by Lisa De Serbine Bahrawy (1990); Ingeborg Bachmann by H. Pausch (1975); Deutsche Dichter der Gegenwart, ed. by B. von Wiese (1973)

Selected works:

  • Die kritische Aufnahme der Existenzialphilosophie Martin Heideggers, 1950 (doctoral dissertation)
  • Ein Geschäft mit Träumen, 1952 (radioplay)
    - A Deal in Dreams (in Three Radio Plays, translated by Lilian Friedberg, 1999)
  • Die gestundete Zeit: Gedichte, 1953/1957
  • Die Zikaden, 1955 (radioplay)
    - The Cicadas (in Three Radio Plays, translated by Lilian Friedberg, 1999)
  • Anrufung des Großen Bären: Gedichte, 1956 (Invocation of the Great Bear)
  • Der gute Gott von Manhattan: Hörspiel, 1958 (radioplay)
    - The Good God of Manhattan  (in German Radio Plays, translated by Faith Wilding, 1991; in Three Radio Plays, translated by Lilian Friedberg, 1999 )
    - Manhattanin hyvä jumala (suom. Kyllikki Villa, 1990)
    - TV film 1972, dir. Klaus Kirschner, teleplay by Klaus Kirschner, starring Mathieu Carrière, Verena Buss and Nina Palmers-Karin
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Schriften: Beiheft, 1960 (ed., with Georg Henrik von Wright)
  • Der Prinz von Homburg: Oper in drei Akten nach dem Schauspiel von Heinrich von Kleist, 1960 (libretto for Hans Werner Henze's opera The Prince of Homburg, based on Heinrich von Kleist's play)
    TV film 1994, prod. Arte, Bayerische Staatsoper, Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), dir. by Eckhart Schmidt, starring François Le Roux, MariAnne Häggander, William Cochran, Helga Dernesch
  • Das dreißigste Jahr: Erzählungen, 1961
    - The Thirtieth Year (translated by Michael Bullock, 1964)
    - Kolmaskymmenes vuosi (suom. Kyllikki Villa, 1964)
    - films: Blaues Wild (1970, TV film), prod. Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), dir. Peter Schulze-Rohr, starring Alexander Trojan, Alfred Böhm and Guido Wieland; Nachgelächer (1985, TV film), dir. Dagmar Damek, starring Gisela Freudenberg, Wolfgang Gufler, Grischa Huber, Michael König, Jochen Striebeck
  • Jugend in einer Österreichischen Stadt, 1961
  • Der gute Gott von Manhattan. Die Zikaden. Zwei Hörspiele, 1963
  • Gedichte, Erzählungen, Hörspiel, Essays, 1964
  • Ein Ort für Zufälle, 1965 (rev. ed., with 13 drawings by Günter Grass)
  • Der junge Lord: komische Oper in zwei Akten, 1965 (libretto for Hans Werner Henze's opera The Young Lord)
    - Young Milord: Comic Opera in 2 Acts (tr. 1966)
    - film 1968, prod. UNITEL, dir. Ernst Wild, screenplay by Ingeborg Bachmann, starring Edith Mathis, Donald Grobe, Loren Driscoll, Barry McDaniel 
  • Malina: Roman, 1971
    - Malina (translated by Philip Boehm, 1990)
    - Malina: romaani (suom. Kyllikki Villa, 1983)
    - film 1991, dir. by Werner Schroeter, screenplay Elfriede Jelinek and Patricia Moraz, starring Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Carrière, Can Togay, Fritz Schediwy
  • Simultan: neue Erzählungen, 1972
    - Three Paths to the Lake: Stories (translated by Mary Fran Gilbert, 1989)
    - Simultaani: kertomuksia (suom. Kyllikki Villa, 1988)
    - films: Drei Wege zum See (1976, TV film), dir. Michael Haneke, starring Ursula Schult, Guido Wieland and Walter Schmidinger; Ihr glücklichen Augen (1992), dir. Margareta Heinrich, starring Andrea Eckert, Florentín Groll, Cornelia Köndgen, Peter Sattmann, Peter Sattmann  
  • Undine geht; Erzählungen, 1973
  • Die Gestundete Zeit, 1974
  • Undine geht: Erzählungen, 1976 (afterword by Christa Wolf)
  • Werke, 1978 (4 vols., edited by Christine Koschel, Inge von Weidenbaum, Clemens Münster)
  • Der Fall Franz; Requiem für Fanny Goldman, 1979
    - The Book of Franza & Requiem for Fanny Goldmann (translated by Peter Filkins, 1999)  
    TV films: Der Fall Franza (1986), prod. Fernsehfilmproduktion Dr. Heinz Schneiderbauer, Österreichischer Rundfunk, dir. Xaver Schwarzenberger, starring Gabriel Barylli, Sky du Mont, Elisabeth Gana, Elisabeth Trissenaar; Franza (1987), dir. by Xaver Schwarzenberger, starring Gabriel Barylli, Sky du Montand, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Elisabeth Trissenaar
  • Frankfurter Vorlesungen: Probleme zeitgenössischer Dichtung, 1980
  • Wahrheit ist dem Menschen zumutbar: Essays, Reden, Kleinere Schriften, 1981
  • Gier, 1982 (Greed; story fragment, published in Der dunkle Shatten)
  • Das Honditschkreuz, 1983
  • Wir müssen wahre Sätze finden: Gespräche und Interviews, 1983 (edited by Christine Koschel and Inge von Weidenbaum)
  • In the Storm of Roses: Selected Poems, 1986 (translated, edited, and introduced by Mark Anderson)
  • Die Fähre: Erzählungen, 1987
  • Liebe, dunkler Erdteil: Gedichte aus den Jagren 1942-1967, 1988
  • Three Paths to the Lake: Stories by Ingeborg Bachmann, 1989 (translated by Mary Fran Gilbert)
  • Wir müssen wahre Sätze finden, 1991 (edited by Christine Koschel und Inge von Weidenbaum)
  • Briefe and Felician, 1991 (illustrated by Peter Bischof)
    - Letters to Felician (translated by Damion Searls, 2002)
  • Songs in Flight: The Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann, 1994 (translated by Peter Filkins)
  • Ingeborg Bachmann und Paul Celan: Poetische Korrespondenzen, 1997 (edited by Bernhard Böschenstein und Sigrid Weigel)
  • Selected Prose and Drama, 1998 (with Christa Wolf; edited by Patricia A. Herminghouse)
  • Letzte, unveröffentlichte Gedichte Entwürfe und Fassungen, 1998 (edited by Hans Höller)
  • Three Radio Plays, 1999 (translated by Lilian Friedberg)
  • Ich weiß keine bessere Welt. Unveröffentlichte Gedichte, 2000 (edited by Isolde Moser, Heiz Bacvhmann, Christian Moser)
    - film 2003, prod. Alexander Schukoff-Film, dir. Alexander Schukoff, with Ingeborg Bachmann and Susanna Knechtl
  • Sämtliche Gedichte, 2002
  • Briefe einer Freundschaft / Ingeborg Bachmann, Hans Werner Henze, 2004 (edited by Hans Höller)
  • Tag wird kommen: Gespräche in Rom, 2004 (afterword by Hans Höller)
  • Darkness Spoken: Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann, 2005 (translated by Peter Filkins)
  • Kritische Schriften, 2005 (edited by Monika Albrecht and Dirk Göttsche)
  • Last Living Words: The Ingeborg Bachmann Reader, 2006 (translated by Lilian Friedberg)
  • Herzzeit: Ingeborg Bachmann, Paul Celan: der Briefwechsel: mit den Briefwechseln zwischen Paul Celan und Max Frisch sowie zwischen Ingeborg Bachmann und Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, 2008 (edited by Bertrand Badiou et al.)
  • Kriegstagebuch: mit Briefen von Jack Hamesh an Ingeborg Bachmann, 2010 (edited by Hans Höller)
    - War Diary (translated by Mike Mitchell, 2011)
  • Enigma: Selected Poems, 2011 (translated by Mike Lyons and Patrick Drysdale)
  • Die Radiofamilie, 2011 (edited by Joseph McVeigh)
    - The Radio Ramily (edited, with an afterword by Joseph McVeigh; translated by Mike Mitchell, 2014) 
  • "Male oscuro": Aufzeichnungen aus der Zeit der Krankheit: Traumnotate, Briefe, Brief- und Redeentwürfe, 2017 (edited by Isolde Schiffermüller and Gabriella Pelloni)

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