Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973)

Ingeborg Bachmann ranks with Robert Musil, Hermann Broch, and Peter Handke as one of the most distinguished Austrian prose writers of the twentieth century and is recognized, along with Günter Eich and Paul Celan, as the most prominent German-language lyrical voice of the early post-World War II period. Her influence on contemporary German-language authors is comparable to that of Virginia Woolf on modern English writers; it can be seen in the works of the East German writer Christa Wolf, the West German Günter Grass, the Swiss Max Frisch, and the major Austrian writers Thomas Bernhard, Erich Fried, and Handke. The city of Klagenfurt has established a Bachmann museum and in 1977 began awarding an annual Ingeborg Bachmann Literary Prize for young writers.


Several documentary films have been made on her life, and five of her stories have been made into films. Poems by Bachmann have been set to music by Luigi Nono, Franz Bernhardt, and Hans Werner Henze, and her novel Malina (1971; translated, 1989) has been made into a chamber opera for radio by the Austrian composer Otto Brusatti. In 1959-1960 she was the first writer to deliver the Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics. Her writing received wide acclaim from the beginning: in 1953, while still in her twenties, she received the annual prize of the avant-garde circle of writers known as the Gruppe 47; she also received the Literature Prize of the Culture Circle of German Industry in 1955; the Bremen Prize in 1957; the literary prize of the Association of German Critics, a distinction comparable to the Pulitzer Prize in the United States, in 1961; the Georg Büchner Prize in 1964; the Great Austrian State Prize in 1968; and the Anton Wildgans Prize in 1971. In academic circles, Bachmann was acclaimed in the 1950s for her poetry, then ignored when she became too popular a personality in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1980s brought international critical attention to Bachmann as one of the major writers of the century, not only for her poetry but increasingly for her prose. Several volumes of scholarship devoted to her have appeared since 1980 in West Germany, Austria, and the United States, and scholarly symposia on Bachmann have been held in Istanbul; Ljubljana, Yugoslavia; Bad Segeberg, West Germany; Rome; Warsaw; Basel; Nantes, France; Brussels; and Pavia, Italy.

Beyond the critical reception of her works, Bachmann the woman was and is a legend. From her first appearance in 1952 before the Gruppe 47 and the cover story on her in the German news magazine Der Spiegel in 1954 to her sensational death in 1973, it was the blond, fairy-tale princess from Austria, fragile and girlish in appearance yet proud and wise, the shy, awkward, "great" poet, the intelligent woman in largely male circles, the "First Lady of the Group 47" who fascinated German, and especially Austrian, readers. A focus on Bachmann's life and personality left her literary works, especially the later prose works, largely ignored in the German-language press. Reviews of her readings and of her Frankfurt lectures focused on her appearance and demeanor; reviews of her books made connections between her writing and her life. The blurring of distinctions between her work and her life was most profound after she accidentally set fire to herself in her Rome apartment in 1973; her death after weeks of suffering seemed like something out of one of her stories. The observation of the tenth anniversary of her death in 1983 and of her sixtieth birthday in 1986, as well as the publication of the four-volume collected edition of her works in 1978, have again evoked in the German press the image of the timid, existential outsider as the intellectual, suffering woman.

Born in Klagenfurt in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia, Bachmann belongs to that generation of Germans and Austrians who experienced National Socialism and World War II at an early age and who in the following decades had to deal with their devastating effects. The oldest of three children of Mathias Bachmann, a high school teacher, and Olga Haas Bachmann, she attended a coeducational high school until 1938; under the Nazis she was moved to a girls' school until her graduation in 1944. Her initial course of postsecondary study at a pedagogical institute in Klagenfurt was interrupted at the end of the war, after which she began her study of philosophy at the Universities of Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna, completing a doctoral thesis at the University of Vienna in 1949 on the critical reception of Martin Heidegger's philosophy of existentialism. During the early 1950s she lived for the most part in Vienna and Munich, working for Austrian radio and Bavarian television; from 1953 to 1957 she lived as a freelance writer in Ischia, Naples, Rome, and Munich, traveling to the United States in 1955 at the invitation of Harvard University; between 1958 and 1962 she alternated between Rome and Zurich; she lived in West Berlin from 1963 to 1965 and in Rome from the end of 1965 until her death. She lived with Henze from 1953 to 1956 and with Frisch from 1958 to 1962.

Bachmann's literary production is divided into an early and a late period; after 1956 there is a shift in genre and thematic focus. Despite this division, one theme runs throughout Bachmann's oeuvre: the constant state of war. One of her first published poems, "Entfremdung" (Alienation, 1948), ends with an image of nature fleeing in the face of the permanent state of war: the sun drums a death roll on empty pails lying in a village while a swarm of bees escapes to the wilderness after stinging the last human, who is too numb to feel anything. One of her best-known poems, "Alle Tage" (Every Day) in the collection Die gestundete Zeit (Borrowed Time, 1953), begins: "Der Krieg wird nicht mehr erklärt, sondern fortgesetzt" (War is no longer declared, only continued). While the theme is gender-neutral in her poetry, it becomes increasingly gender-specific in Bachmann's prose. She makes the connection between war and love and shows in her later writing, beginning with the radio play Der gute Gott von Manhattan (The Good God of Manhattan, 1958), the destructive nature of love for women. The warlike aspect of the relationship between the sexes is most prominent in the novels of her "Todesarten" (Ways of Death) cycle, the major project of her final years, where she began to survey the forms of death women suffer in patriarchal society. In "Der Fall Franza" (The Case of Franza, 1979) she refers to "einen stummen Ehekrieg" (a silent marriage-war), and in Malina the narrator closes the central chapter by saying: "Es ist immer Kreig. Hier ist immer Gewalt. Hier ist immer Kampf. Es ist der ewige Krieg" (It is always war. Here is always force. Here is always battle. It is the eternal war).

Bachmann's first volume of poetry, Die gestundete Zeit , consists of twenty-three poems on the theme of running out of time. The title poem begins and ends with the line "Es kommen härtere Tage" (Harder days are coming). In the face of the onset of a new age, often suggested in the poems by the image of departure on a journey, a sense of urgency and of hope prevails; the impending catastrophe, frequently indicated by a nature metaphor, requires immediate action. Warnings, directions, and orders to the reader imply a belief in self-reliance and the redemptive value of courageous individual action. The poem "Ausfahrt" (Leaving Port), which opens the volume, is typical of the collection and of early postwar Austrian literature in general. It describes a ship embarking on a voyage as the sun sinks and the water darkens. In contrast to the traditional images of heading out to sea at daybreak and returning to dock at sunset, the beginning of a journey here is linked to the ending of the day. Amid increasing obscurity, the reader is cautioned to watch carefully and to strive to keep the ever darker and more distant coastline clearly in view. The mood is one of urgency, signaling the threatening character of running out of time. Yet a belief in the value of courageous self-assertion--careful watching and standing firm-prevails: "Die kleine Fischerhütte behält im Aug" (Keep the little fishing cottage in view), "und wenn das Schiff hart stampft und einen unsicheren Schritt tut, steh ruhig auf Deck" (and when the ship pitches hard and takes a faltering step, stand firmly on deck). The poem is informed by a tension between the irresistible forces of nature and the appeal to the reader to resist: "gegen den unverrückbaren Himmel zu stehen, der ungangbaren Wasser nicht zu achten und das Schiff über die Wellen zu heben, auf das immerwiederkehrende Sonnenufer zu" (to stand against the immovable sky, to pay no heed to the impassable waters and to lift your ship over the waves toward the ever reappearing sun shore). The futility of such resistance is disregarded in this early poem, and Bachmann held throughout her life a belief in a better world while at the same time questioning its feasibility. In an interview in the year of her death, she confessed: "Ich glaube wirklich an etwas, und das nenne ich 'ein Tag wird kommen.' ... Es wird nicht kommen, und trotzdem glaube ich daran. Denn wenn ich nicht mehr daran glauben kann, kann ich auch nicht mehr schreiben" (I really believe in something and I call it "a day shall come."... It won't come and I believe in it anyway. For if I can't believe in it anymore, I am also unable to go on writing).

Bachmann's second and final volume of poetry, Anrufung des Großen Bären (Invocation of the Great Bear, 1956) opens with the poem "Das Spiel ist aus" (The Game Is Over). Ship and water metaphors continue to dominate, but the message they carry has drastically changed from the previous volume. While the adult reader was called to social positions and actions in the earlier poems, "Das Spiel ist aus" offers an imaginary dialogue of a child talking to her little brother in an intimate family setting. The moral call to vigilance and upright posture in "Ausfahrt" is now the invitation to go to bed; the socially responsible adult is now the child playing in the private world of family and fantasy. "Wir müssen schlafen gehen, Liebster, das Spiel ist aus" (We must go to sleep, dearest, the game is over). The journey has become a voyage into the world of day-dreams and fantasy, an imaginary trip "den Himmel hinunter" (down the sky). The hope implicit in the earlier collection has yielded to resignation: "wir gehen unter" (we will go under). In its regression into the private world of the child's imagination, this poem is typical of the volume and of the spirit of the times. The approaching night of the earlier collection has arrived: the constellation of the title is visible only at night, and another poem of this collection, "Curriculum Vitae," says explicitly: "Immer die Nacht. Und kein Tag" (Always night. And no day). In the face of this night, Bachmann offers a mythical layer of meaning, a second level of reference, in which other truths can be told. In turning to mythical images, Bachmann begins a direction which becomes prominent in her prose writing, where a hopeless reality is frequently countered by a utopian world of mythic fantasy.

The second collection of poems also introduces themes which become increasingly important in Bachmann's later writing: death and destruction, opposing parts of the self, the painful dualism of thinking and sensuality. The title poem opens with an exchange between shepherds and the Great Bear. The humans challenge the bear to come down to earth and appear before them. The bear answers that they are of no significance, likening them to the scales of a pine cone. In the ancient symbol of the celestial Great Bear rests that threat of destruction and the consciousness of downfall, a fear of distant and uncanny supernatural forces which are indifferent toward humans at the same time they gratuitously break into human lives.

Bachmann, who worked in Vienna at the radio station Rot-Weiß-Rot (Red-White-Red, the colors of the Austrian flag) from 1951 to 1953, first as a script writer and then as an editor, wrote three radio plays. The subject of the plays is flight from reality. The first play, "Ein Geschäft mit Träumen" (A Business with Dreams, 1976), was written during 1952 at a time when the work of the writer in postwar Austria and Germany was exactly the business referred to in the title and when the radio play was the literary genre which seemed best suited to carry the writers' dreams to the public. In the face of the postwar reality and the recent National Socialist past, both of which most Germans and Austrians found difficult to confront, a literature which offered dreams and fantasy was a popular commodity. At a time when most of the theaters, concert halls, opera houses, and libraries destroyed in the war had not yet been rebuilt, the wounded German and Austrian nations found solace in an art form which was readily accessible and could offer an entertaining escape from reality. "Ein Geschäft mit Träumen" depicts an office worker who leaves work one evening, takes a walk through the streets of Vienna, and passes over into an unreal realm in which he finds a dark little shop selling dreams-not for money, but in exchange for time. He is shown three dreams: a nightmare, a power fantasy, and one which culminates in his underwater encounter amid the songs of sirens with a secretary from his office who has been shipwrecked in a storm. He wants to buy the third dream but cannot afford the month it would cost him. As the dream ends, the final words of the lovers are repeated over and over, "als ob eine Platte immer wieder abliefe" (as if the record had gotten stuck), a reminder of the technical packaging of these escapes from the real world which Bachmann, like the keeper of the dream shop, is offering through her art.

In her second radio play, "Die Zikaden" (The Cicadas, 1976), written in 1954 and first broadcast in 1955, Bachmann places the theme of escape from reality even more sharply in focus. The action takes place on a remote island, where the creatures of the title can be heard singing each day at noon; the final lines of the play reveal that the cicadas were humans who lost their humanness when they stopped eating, drinking, and loving and escaped into song. This metaphor is a warning of the dehumanization that results from attempting to flee from reality through a pre-occupation with art.

Six of the island inhabitants, fugitives from the outside world who are psychically ship-wrecked and thus well on their way to becoming cicadas, enter into a series of duets with the beautiful-voiced Antonio, the only native islander--who, as his name suggests, is essentially Ton (tone). While they remain "hooked" on the island and will eventually degenerate into cicadas, Robinson, who "consumes" Antonio in moderation-he stays distant and merely admits to pleasure at hearing the sound of Antonio's voice-returns to civilization. Bachmann is showing here that art as mere entertainment will only serve to further dehumanize society by preventing the absolutely necessary work of coming to terms with the past. In the final moments of the play the narrator explicitly cautions the listener to remember as a means of staying human: "Such nicht zu vergessen! Erinnere dich! Und der dürre Gesang deiner Sehnsucht wird Fleisch" (Seek not to forget! Remember! And the dry song of your longing will become flesh). Art must provide an understanding of present and past reality, not an escape from reality. This artistic credo of Bachmann's has been misunderstood, especially in the early 1970s when she was criticized for a lack of social or political engagement in her writing. The danger of art due to its potentially narcotic effect also received attention in Bachmann's Frankfurt lectures and was a factor contributing to her turn from poetry to prose after 1956.

In Bachmann's last and best-known radio play, "Der gute Gott von Manhattan," which was first broadcast in 1958, two levels of action alternate: the love story of the American student, Jennifer, and the European, Jan, and the trial of the "Good God of Manhattan" for Jennifer's murder; the love story is revealed in flashbacks narrated by the Good God and the judge in the courtroom. The theme, the impossibility of love in contemporary society, is a central one in Bachmann's oeuvre. Here love is undermined not from within but from without: the Good God is the agent of those vague and undefined forces in the world which condemn love and destroy it whenever it dares to exist. What starts, for Jan atleast, as a passing fling begins to show signs of becoming a more lasting and committed relationship. This development, however, necessitates the intervention of the Good God and his lieutenants, Billie and Frankie, leaders of a corps of several hundred chipmunks who assist him in assassinating lovers throughout the city. The increasing isolation of Jennifer and Jan from the rest of society is symbolized in the upward movement of their place of intimacy from a cheap, dirty groundfloor hotel room to rooms on the seventh, thirtieth, and finally fifty-seventh floor of the Atlantic Hotel. They are not only physically more and more remote from society but spiritually and emotionally less "down to earth" as they soar higher and higher into the heavens. Jan is saved from the explosion of the bomb which the Good God planted in their room by his desire to distance himself from the relationship, first by running an errand and then by sitting in a bar for a moment before returning to their room.

The woman is the sole victim of love; the murderer, judge, and survivor are all male. Whether one views Jennifer's death as victimization or as transcendence-as a modern "love-death"-the theme of woman's destruction in patriarchal society becomes increasingly important in Bachmann's later works. Society's refusal to allow love affects the two partners differently: the male returns to that society unscathed, while the female is consumed alone in the volatile heat of the space they had shared. The relationship between Jan and Jennifer is shown not only as a withdrawal from the social order but also as an escape from the past. After the lovers move to their room on the thirtieth floor, Jennifer begins to inquire about Jan's past. Jan admits to having several prefabricated versions of his past, asks Jennifer to excuse his not sharing them with her, and argues for a relationship based on their present knowledge of one another. He advocates communication based on common experiences of theater, music, art, and film--that is, not a direct communication based on their real lives but an understanding mediated through the arts. Thus the theme of art as a substitute for life, which is central to "Die Zikaden," is also sounded here.

In her acceptance speech for the Radio Play Prize of the Blind War Veterans, which she was awarded for Der gute Gott von Manhattan , Bachmann emphasized the need for retaining a vision of the ideal: "Es ist auch mir gewiß, daß wir in der Ordnung bleiben müssen. Innerhalb der Grenzen aber haben wir den Blick gerichtet auf das Vollkommene, das Unmögliche, Unerreichbare, sei es der Liebe, der Freiheit oder jeder reinen Größe. Im Widerspiel des Unmöglichen mit dem Möglichen erweitern wir unsere Möglichkeiten" (I too am certain that we must remain within the given order. Within limits, however, we have our sights aimed at the perfect, the impossible, unattainable, be it of love, of freedom or of every pure value. In the interplay between the impossible and the possible we expand our possibilities).

The ethical and aesthetic issues which concerned Bachmann as a writer--such questions as the role of the writer and of literature, the problem of saying "I" and of naming, and the modernist skepticism about language--are discussed in her main theoretical work, the five lectures on poetics which she gave at the University of Frankfurt between November 1959 and February 1960. In the first lecture, "Fragen und Scheinfragen" (Questions and Pseudoquestions), Bachmann focuses on the role of the writer and the literary work in the modern world and lists the essential questions, which she terms "zerstörerische, furchtbare ... in ihrer Einfachkeit" (destructive, frightening ... in their simplicity): Why write? What do we mean by change and why do we want it through art? What are the limitations of the writer who wants to bring about change? Although she does not answer these questions directly, Bachmann views the great literary accomplishments of the twentieth century as expressions of a moral and intellectual renewal in the individual writers; the writers' new thinking and experiencing forms the core of their literary works. She also associates literary renewal with writers who are on the verge of silence due to selfdoubt and despair over the impotence of language and cites Hugo von Hofmannsthal's "Chandos Letter" ("Ein Brief" [1905; translated as "The Letter," 1942]) as the first articulation of this dilemma.

In her second lecture on poetry Bachmann points out that each poem has a new and unique grasp on reality and that this uniqueness is inherent in the idiom in which it is written. A poem cannot, therefore, be translated without losing some of its power to capture reality. A novel or a play, on the other hand, can be translated adequately, since its grasp on reality manifests itself beyond the level of words in the story, perspective, structure, and characters of the work. She also distinguishes between poets of the contemporary generation, such as Günter Eich, who see the world from a new perspective and feel called to pass on their insights, and poets of Stefan George's generation, who passed on ever more refined aesthetic intricacies as amoral distractions (l'art pour l'art).

Bachmann's third lecture, "Das schreibende Ich" (The Writing I), on first-person narration, clearly situates her within the modernist tradition, which questions the accountability and authenticity of the narrative voice. She begins with the simplest and least problematic narrative situation, that of memoirs, where the I of a statesman such as Winston Churchill or Charles de Gaulle is treated "naively," that is, as an established public identity. She distinguishes several variations of the I in novels, which in contrast to the I in letters and diaries take on form as three-dimensional figures in the texts. Henry Miller and Céline, in placing their personal experiences directly at the center of their novels, create an identity of author and protagonist and thereby renounce the invention of a fictional first-person narrator. Two types of double first-person narrative involve the creation of a second narrator who either narrates the inner story directly, as in Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata (1889), or has left behind a written text which narrates the inner story, as in Dostoyevski's The House of the Dead (1861-1862). The talents or idiosyncrasies of the work's narrator can allow for a new treatment of time (Italo Svevo), of material (Marcel Proust), or of space (Hans Henny Jahnn). In the modern novel the narrator no longer lives in the story; rather, the story exists in the narrator. The I proves indestructible, even in the face of the inability to narrate: in Samuel Beckett's last novel, L'Innommable (1953; translated as The Unnameable, 1958), all content has been liquidated and the "Ich ohne Gewähr" (I without guarantees) continues to exist only as a "Platzhalter der menschlichen Stimme" (place saver for the human voice). The modernist "Platzhalter" function is depicted in Bachmann's Malina, in which the nameless female narrator at the end of the novel literally disappears into a crack in the wall.

In her fourth lecture, "Der Umgang mit Namen" (Close Association with Names), Bachmann cites examples which mark the end of the age of "vertrauensvolle Namensgebung" (confident naming): "Namensverweigerung" (denied names), in Kafka's Das Schloß (1926; translated as The Castle, 1930); "Namensironisierung" (ironic naming) in Thomas Mann, whom she terms "der letzte große Namenserfinder, ein Namenzauberer" (the last great name inventor, a name magician); "Namensspiel, mit und ohne Bedeutung, die Erschütterung des Namens" (name games, with and without meaning, shaken names) in James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), and an even more radical treatment in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929), where the identity of characters is not secured by names at all but suggested by context. Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; translated as Remembrance of Times Past, 1922-1931), more than any other work draws attention to the nature, handling, and functioning of names.

In her last lecture, "Literatur als Utopie" (Literature as Utopia), Bachmann discusses the prerequisites for a literature which is to be utopian. Literature makes the readers aware of the "Mangel" (lack) both in the work and in their own world. The readers remove this lack, the withered aspect of every great work, by giving the work a chance. Each work of literature is "ein nach vorn geöffnetes Reich von unbekannten Grenzen" (a realm which reaches ahead and has unknown limits). The utopian quality of literature is that it remains "ungeschlossen" (unclosed), that it has the force of all times pressing against it, that it is open to interaction with readers in all times. It resists being pigeonholed and entombed, it is not given to being rendered harmless and dated, and it moves toward a new language or "Utopie der Sprache" (utopia of language). Its strength lies in its state of "verzweiflungsvollen Unterwegsseins zu dieser Sprache" (being despairingly en route to this language). For Bachmann, utopia is not a place but a direction. Literature as utopia is moving toward and never attaining a language which can transcend the usual limits of "die schlechte Sprache" (the wretched language) which is all that we have. Literature offers a fragmentary glimpse, in a line or a scene, of that language which governs our imagination, which we struggle to imitate, and in which we can comprehend ourselves and glimpse the possibility of peace.

Her belief in the power of literature to humanize the world and her conviction of its duty to do so, attested to in the Frankfurt lectures, led to a shift in focus for Bachmann. In the year following the lectures she turned from poetry to fiction. In a few last poems written in the 1960s she expressed her refusal "eine Metapher aus[zu]staffieren mit einer Mandelblüte" (to dress a metaphor with an almond blossom) or "die Syntax [zu kreuzigen] auf einen Lichteffekt..." (to crucify syntax on a trick of light)-that is, to produce literary "Delikatessen" (delicacies).

A year after the Frankfurt lectures Bachmann's first volume of stories, Das dreißigste Jahr (1961; translated as The Thirtieth Year , 1964), appeared. The seven stories in the collection are not narratives in the conventional sense but moments of reflection, lyrical impressions, monologues, and tightly composed images which suggest a radical rebellion against that "worst of all possible worlds" in which the protagonists find themselves. After a prelude, "Jugend in einer österreichischen Stadt" (translated as "Youth in an Austrian Town" ), in which a childhood of fearful obedience is recalled with quiet, dispassionate aversion, the six following stories break open to life's moments of crisis, of coming of age, for which the year thirty is symbolic. In all the stories there is a yearning for renewal, for another order, for salvation, which at times takes on mythic proportions and which, though glimpsed for a moment, is unattainable. These clashes of utopian vision with real limitations are moments of breakthrough and breakdown, moments of truth in what have otherwise been lives of illusion. In the parabolic "Alles" (Everything) a thirty-year-old father who wants to create the world anew through his son must face the reality that the son is like everyone else and has appropriated all the traditions he was meant to destroy; the father accepts his son's ordinariness, loses interest in the boy, and the son falls to his death on a school field trip. After an automobile accident the thirty-year-old man of the title story is forced to take stock of his rather ordinary life up to that point and falls apart. Likewise, the presiding judge in "Ein Wildermuth" (translated as "A Wildermuth" ), whose life has centered around knowing the truth, comes to the realization that there is no truth and suffers a nervous breakdown as a result. A confrontation with a stranger in a Viennese pub and the man's death at the hands of reunited war veterans whom he had offended cause a Viennese Jew in "Unter Mördern und Irren" (translated as "Among Murderers and Madmen" ) to view his life and companions in a new light. After a momentary glimpse of another life outside of her patriarchal marriage, Charlotte in "Ein Schritt nach Gomorrha" (translated as "A Step toward Gomorrah") sets her alarm clock and prepares to pick up her husband at the depot the next morning. And in "Undine geht" (translated as "Undine Goes" ) the water nymph Undine sees the inhumanity of the world of humans and breaks with it but longs for reunion with her human lover. The protagonists have expanded their awareness and understanding of human existence; they have glimpsed the impossible while remaining grounded firmly in reality. They have, in Bachmann's words, expanded their possibilities "in the interplay between the impossible and the possible." Her central figures are shaken into new awareness; they are given a vision of a new reality together with the knowledge that it is unattainable, and in this respect they are totally modern protagonists.

Their powerlessness and shock when they discover that the world is not as they had envisaged it lend Bachmann's characters a Kafkaesque quality. The themes of crime, guilt, and trial as well as the parabolic nature of the stories are also reminiscent of Kafka. Another striking similarity is the frequent splitting of the central characters into two persons to represent different aspects of the same individual. In "Alles" the son is that part of the father which is young and offers hope for the future; when the father gives up that part of himself in resignation, the son dies. In "Ein Wildermuth" both the judge and the defendant have the same surname, suggesting an identification of the two. The judge's world is shaken when he is confronted with the repressed part of himself, a part whose actions defy ordering into his previously understood world. After all her guests have left the party, Charlotte finds in her smoke-filled apartment a girl in black and red offering her a life beyond the confines of her marriage. The girl responds to Charlotte's unuttered thoughts, suggesting that she is not the separate, external being she appears to be; and at the end of the story the two women lie down side by side in similar if not identical white undergarments. In "Unter Mördern und Irren," an "Unbekanter" (unknown man) appears in the pub on an evening when fewer than the usual number of Jews are present, tells unsettling stories about the war and his murderous role in it, then ends up dead in the street after apparently provoking a group of soldiers celebrating in the basement. The narrator returns home and notices blood on his hand from touching the body. He feels that the blood is a kind of protection, like the dragon's blood that made Achilles and Siegfried invulnerable. Putting the "unknown one" out of circulation restores order and composure to the narrator's world.

Unlike Kafka, Bachmann shows suffering and breakdown not merely in vague existential terms but in their specific social contexts. The nightmare of growing up in an Austrian city depicted in the opening story of the collection is not the timeless and placeless experience of Kafka's world: clearly, the city is Klagenfurt and the time is that of the Third Reich. Fascism in her stories is the historical experience of her generation; in "Jugend in einer österreichischen Stadt" the reality of a fascist political system is recalled through childhood impressions, and in "Unter Mördern und Irren" the depiction of Austrian men recalling their war experiences in a Viennese pub shows how little attitudes and values have changed since the National Socialist period. In the two stories with female narrators, however, it is the oppressiveness of the relationship between the sexes which is thematized: Charlotte, whom Bachmann characterizes with allusions to the Old Testament Lot, faces for a moment the evil of her marriage before returning to it; and Undine rejects the inhumane world of men, albeit with ambivalence.

The crimes against women in contemporary society, the subtle and common ways in which they are murdered in total compliance with the law is the subject of Bachmann's "Todesarten" cycle. The first novel, Malina, appeared in 1971; the other two, "Der Fall Franza" and "Requiem für Fanny Goldmann," appeared in her Werke (Works, 1978) as fragments. Like the three female protagonists of the cycle, the five women in Bachmann's other collection of stories, Simultan (Simultaneous, 1972; translated as Three Paths to the Lake , 1989), can be seen as victims of a subtle and ubiquitous kind of fascism. In an interview a few months before her death Bachmann discussed the origins of fascism: "Er fängt nicht an mit den ersten Bomben, die geworfen werden, er fängt nicht an mit dem Terror, über den man lesen kann, in jeder Zeitung. Er fängt an in Beziehungen zwischen Menschen. Der Faschismus ist das erste in der Beziehung zwischen einem Mann und einer Frau, und ich habe versucht zu sagen ... hier in dieser Gesellschaft ist immer Krieg. Es gibt nicht Krieg und Frieden, es gibt nur den Krieg" (It doesn't start with the first bombs that are dropped; it doesn't start with the terror which one can read about, in every newspaper. It starts in relationships between people. Fascism is the first thing in the relationship between a man and a woman, and I attempted to say ... that here in this society there is always war. There isn't war and peace, there's only war).

The stories in Simultan explore the possibility of survival as a woman in the Austrian society of the 1960s. Each of the five female protagonists, like the three women in the "Todesarten" cycle, is destroyed; but in contrast to the novel and fragments, in which the women actually die, the destruction in the stories is symbolic: one woman's coiffure and makeup are ruined by rain and tears; another is full of blood and cuts after walking into a revolving door; an old woman living alone is plagued by the imaginary barking of a dog; even the two successful professional women in the stories which frame the collection--an interpreter and a war correspondent--function in typically female roles as mediators of the thoughts and actions of men. While the two professional women-Nadja in "Simultan" (Simultaneous) and Elisabeth in "Drei Wege zum See" (Three Paths to the Lake)-seem to function well professionally, socially, and sexually, the other protagonists are clearly sensually reduced women: Frau Jordan in "Das Gebell" (The Barking) hears the imaginary dog barking more and more loudly, Miranda in "Ihr glücklichen Augen" (You Wondrous Eyes) refuses to wear her glasses as she grows increasingly nearsighted, and Beatrix in "Probleme, Probleme" (Problems, Problems) needs more and more sleep while facing the world only from behind an expensive, carefully constructed mask of cosmetics. While the two professional women move about freely in the world of men, flying from city to city in their work, the other three retreat more and more from a world which has become unbearable. Yet they all share the same existential situation: each of the women protects the men in her life from the unpleasant reality of her situation, and each pays with her own life. While surviving in "reality," the women in Bachmann's stories symbolically self-destruct as an expression of the rage they do not even know exists.

Since the publication in 1978 of the two fragmentary novels in the four-volume edition of Bachmann's works, scholars have focused increasingly on her fiction. Bachmann intended the cycle to show the "ways of death" resulting from the continuation of fascist behavior and thought in postwar Austria, to expose the crimes which are totally legal and commonplace and go unnoticed and unpunished. Malina, like most of Bachmann's narratives, has little action. It consists largely of a nameless narrator's thoughts, conversations, letters, and dreams, and ends with her slipping into a crack in the wall. As a counterpoint to her destruction, Bachmann interweaves throughout the first chapter a utopian legend, "Die Geheimnisse der Prinzessin von Kagran" (The Secrets of the Princess of Kagran), set off by italics, and twice cites a motif from Arnold Schönberg's "Pierrot lunaire" song cycle in musical notation. Despite the glimpse of transcendence offered by these countertexts, the novel's focus is the destruction of its narrator, which Bachmann exposes as an act of violence. The novel begins with the sentences "Mord oder Selbstmord? Es gibt keine Zeugen" (Murder or suicide? There are no witnesses) and ends with the statement, "Es war Mord" (It was murder). Thus the first and last word of the novel is Mord, pointing to the criminal nature of the commonplace destruction of the female voice. Each of the three chapters exposes a destructive relationship the narrator has had with a man: her blind infatuation with her Hungarian lover in the first chapter, "Glücklich mit Ivan" (Happy with Ivan); her abuse at the hands of her father, which is revealed to her in nightmares in the second chapter, "Der dritte Mann" (The Third Man); and her replacement by her male alter ego, Malina, in the final chapter, "Von letzten Dingen" (Of Last Things).

In "Der Fall Franza," Franza is psychologically destroyed by her husband, the well-known Viennese psychiatrist Leopold Jordan (the son of Frau Jordan in "Das Gebell"), who has made her into a case study in connection with his book on female concentration camp survivors who had been used for experiments by Nazi doctors. After a nervous breakdown Franza journeys with her brother to Egypt, where she is able to connect her own exploitation to that of other victims--a butchered camel; a bound woman said to be insane; a cretin; Queen Hatshepsut, whose son tried to eradicate every trace of her from the temple--and where she dies after being raped at a pyramid and beating her head against the stone wall in protest. In "Requiem für Fanny Goldmann" the actress Fanny Goldmann is exploited as the subject of a book by her lover, the opportunistic playwright Anton Marek. After the book appears and the details of her private life are exposed, Fanny is consumed by hatred and alcoholism and dies from a lung infection.

That these novels were intended to connect ways of thinking and acting prevalent in contemporary Germany and Austria with the National Socialist past is clear from Bachmann's introductory comments to "Der Fall Franza" : "Es ist mir, und wahrscheinlich auch Ihnen oft durch den Kopf gegangen, wohin das Virus Verbrechen gegangen ist--es kann doch nicht vor zwanzig Jahren plötzlich aus unserer Welt verschwunden sein, bloß weil hier Mord nicht mehr ausgezeichnet, verlangt, mit Orden bedacht und unterstützt wird. Die Massaker sind zwar vorbei, die Mörder noch unter uns... " (I have often wondered, and you probably have, too, where the virus crime has gone--it can't simply have suddenly disappeared from our world twenty years ago just because murder is no longer distinguished, demanded, and supported by the awarding of medals. While the massacres are past, the murderers are still among us... ).

Bachmann had planned the "Todesarten" cycle to include more than three novels, but on 18 September 1973 she suffered second--and third-degree burns over more than one-third of her body in a fire in her Rome apartment. Her death on 17 October resulted from the burns, complicated by withdrawal from drugs she had been taking. A seven-month police investigation concluded that the fire was accidental. Although she had expressed the wish to be buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, her family had her interred in the Annabichl cemetery in Klagenfurt.


From: Achberger, Karen. "Ingeborg Bachmann." Austrian Fiction Writers After 1914, edited by James N. Hardin and Donald G. Daviau, Gale, 1989. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 85.


  • Further Reading
    • Otto Bareiss and Frauke Ohloff, Ingeborg Bachmann: Eine Bibliographie (Munich: Piper, 1978).
    • Bareiss, "Ingeborg-Bachmann-Bibliographie 1977/78-1981/82: Nachträge und Ergänzungen. Zum 10. Todestag von Ingeborg Bachmann (17. Oktober 1983)," Jahrbuch der Grillparzer Gesellschaft, 15 (1983): 173-217.
    • Bareiss, "Ingeborg Bachmann-Bibliographie 1981/1982-Sommer 1985. Nachträge und Ergänzungen. Teil II," Jahrbuch der Grillparzer Gesellschaft, 16 (1986): 201-275.
    • Karen Achberger, "Art as a Force for Change: Bachmann and Brecht," in Fictions of Culture: Studies in Honor of Walter H. Sokel, edited by Steven Taubeneck (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989), pp. 289-303.
    • Achberger, "Ingeborg Bachmann's 'Homburg' Libretto: Kleist Between Humanism and Existentialism," Modern Austrian Literature, 12, nos. 3/4 (1979): 305-315.
    • Achberger, "Musik und 'Komposition' in Ingeborg Bachmanns Zikaden und Malina," German Quarterly, 61 (Spring 1988): 193-212.
    • Acta Neophilologica, special Bachmann issue, edited by Janez Stanonik, 17 (1984).
    • Acta Universitatis Lodziensis, special Bachmann issue, edited by Krzysztof A. Kuczynski, 11 (1984).
    • Beatrice Angst-Hürlimann, Im Widerspiel des Unmöglichen mit dem Möglichen: Zum Problem der Sprache bei Ingeborg Bachmann (Zurich: Juris, 1971).
    • Elke Atzler, "Geschichte und Geschichten gegen den Strich: Ingeborg Bachmanns 'Todesartenzyklus,'" Zeitgeschichte, 11 (May 1984): 267-276.
    • Atzler, "Ingeborg Bachmanns Roman 'Malina' im Spiegel der literarischen Kritik," Jahrbuch der Grillparzer-Gesellschaft, 15 (1983): 155-171.
    • Kurt Bartsch, "Die Hörspiele von Ingeborg Bachmann," Die andere Welt: Aspekte der österreichischen Literatur des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts. Festschrift für H. Himmel, edited by Bartsch and others (Bern & Munich: Francke, 1979), pp. 311-334.
    • Bartsch, Ingeborg Bachmann (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1988).
    • Bartsch, "Ein nach vorn geöffnetes Reich von unbekannten Grenzen: Zur Bedeutung Musils für Ingeborg Bachmanns Literaturauffassung," in Robert Musil: Untersuchungen, edited by Uwe Baur and Elisabeth Castex Königstein: Athenäum, 1980), pp. 162-169.
    • Peter Beicken, Ingeborg Bachmann (Munich: Beck, 1988).
    • Beth Bjorklund, "Ingeborg Bachmann," in Major Figures of Modern Austrian Literature, edited by Donald G. Daviau (Riverside, Cal.: Ariadne Press, 1988), pp. 49-82.
    • Peter Brinkemper, "Liebe als Fragment: Affinitäten und Differenzen zwischen Bachmann und Barthes," Jahrbuch der Grillparzer-Gesellschaft, 16 (1986): 189-199.
    • Dinah Dodds, "The Lesbian Relationship in Bachmann's 'Ein Schritt nach Gomorrha,'" Monatshefte, 72 (Winter 1980): 431-438.
    • Ria Endres, "Die Wahrheit ist dem Menschen zumutbar': Zur Dichtung der Ingeborg Bachmann," Neue Rundschau, 92, no. 4 (1981): 71-97.
    • Inta Ezergailis, Women Writers-The Divided Self: Analysis of Novels by Christa Wolf, Ingeborg Bachmann, Doris Lessing and Others (Bonn: Bouvier, 1982).
    • Erich Fried, "Ich grenz noch an ein Wort und an ein andres Land": Über Ingeborg Bachmann. Erinnerung, einige Anmerkungen zu ihrem Gedicht "Böhmen liegt am Meer" und ein Nachruf (Berlin: Friedenauer Presse, 1983).
    • Sandra Frieden, "Bachmann's Malina' and 'Todesarten': Subliminal Crimes," German Quarterly, 56 (January 1983): 61-73.
    • Christa Gürtler, Schreiben Frauen anders? Untersuchungen zu Ingeborg Bachmann und Barbara Frischmuth (Stuttgart: Heinz, 1983).
    • Ortrud Gutjahr, Fragmente unwiderstehlicher Liebe: Zur Dialogstruktur literarischer Subjektentgrenzung in Ingeborg Bachmanns "Der Fall Franza" (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1988).
    • Andreas Hapkemeyer, "Die Funktion der Personennamen in Ingeborg Bachmanns später Prosa," Literatur und Kritik, 19 (September/October 1984): 352-363.
    • Hapkemeyer, Die Sprachthematik in der Prosa Ingeborg Bachmanns: Todesarten und Sprachformen (Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1982).
    • Hans Höller, Ingeborg Bachmann: Das Werk. Von den frühesten Gedichten bis zum "Todesarten"-Zyklus (Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum, 1987).
    • Höller, "Der 'Todesarten Zyklus' des 19. Jahrhunderts: Ingeborg Bachmann und Franz Grillparzer," Jahrbuch der Grillparzer-Gesellschaft, 15 (1983): 141-153.
    • Höller, ed., Der dunkle Schatten, dem ich schon seit Anfang folge (Vienna: Löcker, 1982).
    • Irene Holeschofsky, "Bewußtseinsdarstellung und Ironie in Ingeborg Bachmanns Erzählung 'Simultan,'" Sprachkunst, 11 (1980): 63-70.
    • Ingeborg Bachmann: Eine Einführung (Munich: Piper, 1963).
    • Interpretationen zu Ingeborg Bachmann (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1976).
    • Elfriede Jelinek, "Der Krieg mit anderen Mitteln: Über Ingeborg Bachmann," Die schwarze Botin, 21 (December 1983): 149-153.
    • Uwe Johnson, Eine Reise nach Klagenfurt (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974).
    • Annette Klaubert, Symbolische Strukturen bei Ingeborg Bachmann: Malina im Kontext der Kurzgeschichten (Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1983).
    • Kurt Klinger, "Hofmannsthal und Ingeborg Bachmann: Beispiel einer Nachwirkung," in his Theater und Tabus: Essays, Berichte, Reden (Eisenstadt: Edition Roetzer, 1984), pp. 215-246.
    • Sara Lennox, "Bachmann Reading / Reading Bachmann: Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White in the Todesarten," German Quarterly, 61 (Spring 1988): 183-192.
    • Lennox, "In the Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters: Ingeborg Bachmann's 'Malina,'" Studies of Twentieth Century Literature, 5 (Fall 1980): 75-105.
    • Irmele von der Lühe, "Ich ohne Gewähr': Ingeborg Bachmanns Frankfurter Vorlesungen zur Poetik," Entwürfe von Frauen in der Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts, edited by Lühe (Berlin: Argument, 1982), pp. 106-131; translated as " 'I without guarantees': Ingeborg Bachmann's Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics," New German Critique, 27 (1982): 31-56.
    • Lühe, "Schreiben und Leben: Der Fall Ingeborg Bachmann," in Feministische Literaturwissenschaft: Dokumentation der Tagung in Hamburg vom Mai 1983, edited by Inge Stephan and Sigrid Weigel (Berlin: Argument, 1984), pp. 43-53.
    • Gudrun B. Mauch, "Ingeborg Bachmanns Erzählband 'Simultan,'" Modern Austrian Literature, 12, nos. 3/4 (1979): 273-304.
    • Theo Mechtenberg, Utopie als ästhetische Kategorie: Eine Untersuchung der Lyrik Ingeborg Bachmanns (Stuttgart: Heinz, 1978).
    • Modern Austrian Literature, special Bachmann issue, 18, no. 3/4 (1985).
    • Irena Omelaniuk, "Ingeborg Bachmann's 'Drei Wege zum See': A Legacy of Joseph Roth," Seminar, 19 (November 1983): 246-264.
    • Holger Pausch, Ingeborg Bachmann (Berlin: Colloquium, 1975).
    • Robert Pichl, "Dr. phil. Ingeborg Bachmann: Prolegomena zur kritischen Edition einer Doktorarbeit," Jahrbuch der Grillparzer-Gesellschaft, 16 (1986): 167-188.
    • Pichl, "Flucht, Grenzüberschreitung und Landnahme als Schlüsselmotive in Ingeborg Bachmanns später Prosa," Sprachkunst, 16, no. 2 (1985): 221-230.
    • Pichl, "Voraussetzungen und Problemhorizont der gegenwärtigen Ingeborg Bachmann-Forschung," Jahrbuch der Grillparzer-Gesellschaft, 14 (1980): 77-93.
    • Claus Reinert, Unzumutbare Wahrheiten? Einführung in Ingeborg Bachmanns Hörspiel "Der gute Gott von Manhattan" (Bonn: Bouvier, 1983).
    • Hanna Schnedl-Bubenicek, "Die andere Wirklichkeit: Traumsprache und Sprachkörper bei Ingeborg Bachmann," in eine frau ist eine frau ist eine frau ... Autorinnen über Autorinnen, edited by Elfriede Gerstl (Vienna: Promedia, 1985), pp. 124-143.
    • George C. Schoolfield, "Ingeborg Bachmann," in Essays on Contemporary German Literature, edited by Brian Keith-Smith (London: Wolff, 1966), pp. 187-212.
    • Ellen Summerfield, Ingeborg Bachmann: Die Auflösung der Figur in ihrem Roman "Malina" (Bonn: Bouvier, 1976).
    • Zbigniew Swiatlowski, "Auf der Suche nach dem Land Utopia: Zur poetologischen Position von Ingeborg Bachmann und Christa Wolf," Weimarer Beiträge, 30, no. 6 (1984): 2011-2027.
    • text + kritik, special Bachmann issue, 6 (1964).
    • text + kritik, special Bachmann issue, edited by Heinz Ludwig Arnold and Sigrid Weigel (1984).
    • Bärbel Thau, Gesellschaftsbild und Utopie im Spätwerk Ingeborg Bachmanns: Untersuchungen zum "Todesarten"-Zyklus und zu "Simultan" (Bern, Frankfurt am Main & New York: Lang, 1986).
    • Klaus Wagner, "Bachmann: Stenogramm der Zeit," Der Spiegel, 8 (18 August 1954): 26-29.
    • Sigrid Weigel, "Ingeborg Bachmann-Was folgt auf das Schweigen? Zu ihrem 10. Todestag am 17. Oktober," Frankfurter Rundschau, 15 October 1983, feuilleton section, p. 3.
    • Weigel, "Das Schreiben des Mangels als Produktion von Utopie," Die Horen, 28 (1983): 149-155.
    • Weigel, Die Stimme der Medusa (Frankfurt am Main: Tende, 1987).
    • Bernd Witte, "Ingeborg Bachmann," in Kritisches Lexikon zur deutschen Gegenwartsliteratur, volume 1, edited by Heinz Ludwig Arnold (Munich: Edition text + kritik, 1978-1980).
    • Witte, "Ingeborg Bachmann," in Neue Literatur der Frauen: Deutschsprachige Autorinnen der Gegenwart, edited by Heinz Puknus (Munich: Beck, 1980), pp. 37-43.
    • Witte, "Schmerzton: Ingeborg Bachmann. Perspektiven einer feministischen Literatur," Die Horen, 28, no. 4 (1983): 76-82.
    • Christa Wolf, "Die zumutbare Wahrheit: Prosa der Ingeborg Bachmann," in her Lesen und Schreiben: Aufsätze und Prosatücke (Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1972), pp. 121-134.
    • Eva Christina Zeller, Ingeborg Bachmann: Der Fall Franza (Frankfurt am Main, Bern, New York & Paris: Lang, 1988).