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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 4 Topographical subjection: Bernhard’s Frost


Frost (1963) was Bernhard’s first published novel and his breakthrough publication, leading to strong critical acclaim as an audacious and highly original work, due both to its style and subject matter.1 Bernhard’s own later assessment of his first novel does not appear overly immodest: ‘ich glaub’, vor dem Frost hat’s in dieser Art im Grund nichts gegeben. Es war erstmalig diese Art zu schreiben’ [I think that before Frost there was fundamentally nothing like it. This manner of writing had never been seen before].2 Scholarship on Frost has been largely preoccupied with the text’s philosophical and narrative complexities.3 Very little attention, however, has been af forded to the wide-ranging and conspicuous psycho- topographical figuration in the text, and its significance for Frost. Using a psychoanalytically informed notion of psychic topography and Walter Benjamin’s conception of natural history, this chapter will explore the disfigurements and displacements at work in the nightmarish landscape of Weng. Bernhard’s depiction of the Austrian Alpine landscape is one characterized above all by a sense of Unheimlichkeit, with its topography and climate giving rise to a destabilizing sense of creaturely liminality, and rendering the avowed Heimat distinctly unhomely. Drawing on the biopolitical concept of the creaturely as developed by Eric Santner after Benjamin and Agamben, this chapter traces how the experience of the 1 For a discussion of the reception of Frost see afterword to the critical edition by Martin Huber and Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler, TB I, 339–58. 2 See Kurt Hofmann, Aus Gesprächen mit...

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