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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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Chapter 2 Ruined landscape and familial decline in Bernhard’s Ungenach


Ungenach, published in 1968, appeared one year after the publication of Verstörung [Gargoyles] (1967), a text similarly preoccupied with questions of Austrian history and tradition as mediated through the inherited familial estate. Verstörung is largely dominated by the monologue of Fürst Saurau, the aristocratic owner of the vast Hochgobernitz estate who despairs at what will happen to it in the hands of his son following his death. Ungenach, in its depiction of the unsentimental disposing of an estate by an unwilling heir, would seem to confirm Fürst Saurau’s worst fears, and thereby, as has repeatedly been noted, thematically adjoins Verstörung.1 The Erzählung may be given the epithet of ‘Verfall einer Familie’ [downfall of a family], as it, on the one hand, constitutes a lament to a once mighty family dynasty and, on the other, a sustained diatribe against the burden of the past as encapsulated in the inherited familial estate. The short story sees the first elaboration of the motif of the Abschenkung, the liquidation and giving away of the inherited estate, which would resur- face time and again in Bernhard’s work, most notably in his last published novel Auslöschung. Although this thematic connection to Auslöschung has been repeatedly noted, this has also led to a relative neglect of the Erzählung in many of the major surveys of Bernhard’s works.2 Ungenach 1 See Alfred Pfabigan, Thomas Bernhard: Ein österreichisches Weltexperiment (Vienna: Zsolnay, 1999), 139–44. 2 Notable exceptions are: Charles W....

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