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Walking Through History

Topography and Identity in the Works of Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard

Katya Krylova

This book was the winner of the 2011 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in German Studies.
The post-war landscape of Europe is unthinkable without the voices of the Austrian writers Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–1973) and Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989). Their work, coming after the devastation wrought by the Second World War and the Holocaust, is rooted in a specifically Austrian context of repression of this traumatic historical legacy. In post-war Austria, discourse on the recent past may have been dominated by silence, but the legacy of this past was all too apparent in the country’s ruined and speedily reconstructed cityscapes.
This book investigates Bachmann’s and Bernhard’s treatment of two fundamental aspects of the Austrian historical legacy: the trauma of the war and the desire to return to an ideal homeland, known as ‘Haus Österreich’. Following a methodology based on Freud and Benjamin, this comparative study demonstrates that the confrontation with Austria’s troubled history occurs through the protagonists’ ambivalent encounter with the landscape or cityscape that they inhabit, travel or return to. The book demonstrates the centrality of topography on both thematic and structural levels in the authors’ prose works, as a mode of confronting the past and making sense of the present.


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Introduction: Trauma and topography


Es gibt kein Land Österreich, das hat es nie gegeben. Und was wir heute so nennen, trägt seinen Namen, weil es in irgendwelchen Verträgen so beschlossen wurde. Aber der wirkliche Name war immer ‘Haus Österreich’. Ich komme aus dieser Welt, obwohl ich geboren wurde, als Österreich schon nicht mehr existierte. Doch unterirdische Querverbindungen gelten für mich immer noch, und die geistige Formation hat mir dieses Land, das keines ist, gegeben.1 — Ingeborg Bachmann … und wenn man einmal sein Herz an die Heimat gehängt hat, genügt das ja. Da kann man es ja verschimmeln lassen an der Wand, an der Mauer, wo es hängt. Ich hab’ es ein für allemal da drangehängt, an das Haus Österreich. Da hängt’s jetzt, muß man halt abwarten. Manchmal tropft noch ein Tropferl Blut heraus.2 — Thomas Bernhard The epigraphs here are worth some attention at the beginning of this study. Taken from interviews given by the authors who will provide the focus of the following investigation, they display a strong af finity with the two 1 [There is no country of Austria. That never existed. That which we call Austria today goes by that name because it was decided that way in some treaty or other. But its real name was always ‘House of Austria’. I come from this world, although I was born when Austria no longer existed. But subterranean interconnections have their significance and my spiritual formation was given to me by this country, which is...

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