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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 5 Where one must suffer the past: Bachmann’s Malina

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Chapter 5 Where one must suf fer the past: Bachmann’s Malina Malina, published in March 1971, was Bachmann’s eagerly awaited first novel, following a ten-year literary silence. Apart from libretti written for Hans Werner Henze in the 1960s (and not including prize acceptance speeches), Bachmann’s last literary work had been the critically acclaimed short story collection Das dreißigste Jahr, published in 1961. By 1967, Bachmann had abandoned work on advanced drafts of Das Buch Franza (following an extensive reading tour during which she read from these drafts), in favour of work on Malina, which she always conceived as the overture to her ambitious Todesarten-Projekt, a project that was to be the Viennese Comédie humaine. Marketed as both a love-story and detective novel, Malina was an instant best-seller, reaching its third print run by the end of 1971. The critical reception of the novel was mixed; in the context of the highly politically charged climate of the early 1970s, lack of rel- evance to the current political reality was a recurring criticism. Following Hans Magnus Enzenberger’s proclamation of ‘der Tod der Literatur’ [the death of literature] in 1968, Bachmann’s novel appeared anachronistic to many.1 Some saw Malina as focusing exclusively on an individual, psychological conf lict or, worse still, on specifically ‘female’ problems.2 Others misread Bachmann’s description of the work as a ‘geistige, imaginäre Autobiographie’ [an intellectual, imaginary autobiography] (GuI, 73) as 1 The title of Helmut Heißelbüttel’s review is symptomatic: ‘Ingeborg Bachmann weicht ins 19....

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