Ingeborg Bachmann (1926−1973)
Ingeborg Bachmann is one of the most important German language poets in the post-war era. Having risen to fame primarily on account of her poetry during her own lifetime she is now as well-known for her prose works and her unfinished Todesarten-Projekt (Ways of Dying Project).
Bachmann was born in Klagenfurt, Carinthia (Austria’s southern-most state that borders on Slovenia and Italy) in 1926. Although Bachmann was a cosmopolitan who spent a large proportion of her life living in Europe’s major cities (primarily Rome, but also Vienna, Berlin and Zürich), she credited her upbringing in a part of the world where three different countries border on one another with giving her an early understanding of borders as something to be transcended.
As in the case of her contemporary Thomas Bernhard, the Second World War had a profound impact on the young Bachmann. Later in her life she would speak of Hitler’s march into Klagenfurt in April 1938, following the annexation of Austria, as a primary trauma. The formative experience of the war period is further underscored by the posthumously published Kriegstagebuch (War Diary, 2010). Written by the 18-year-old Bachmann in the closing months and end of the war, it charts her experience of war-time bombing raids, her confrontation with Nazi ideology, and relief at the arrival of peace-time, which was accompanied by her acquaintance with Jack Hamesh, a young British soldier who as a Viennese Jew had managed to flee to Britain on the Kindertransport in 1938. Bachmann’s short-lived relationship with Hamesh (he subsequently emigrated to Palestine) sensitized her, a daughter of a Nazi party member, to a part of the Austrian heritage that the Nazis had almost destroyed. Her subsequent work would attempt to confront the calamity of the Holocaust for German-language culture in various ways.
Bachmann left her native Carinthia in 1945 to study first in Innsbruck and Graz and from 1946 in Vienna, where she was awarded her doctorate in Philosophy in 1950. She quickly became integrated into various literary circles in Vienna (notably that of Hans Weigel), and began publishing in literary journals. Like many Austrian writers, however, she rejected the parochialism of the post-war Austrian cultural establishment and sought and found literary recognition abroad, particularly through her involvement in the West German Gruppe 47, although she subsequently distanced herself from the group. Bachmann navigated a difficult path as a female intellectual and writer in the largely male-dominated post-war German literary field, a confrontation whose traces resonate in Bachmann’s exploration of gender relations in her work.
In 1948 Bachmann met Paul Celan in Vienna and they commenced an ultimately doomed relationship that would have a profound effect on both their lives. Their poetic dialogue, however, lasted until Celan’s death in 1970, and may be most clearly observed in Bachmann’s first volume of poetry Die gestundete Zeit; Time on Loan (1953) and Celan’s Mohn und Gedächtnis; Poppy and Memory (1952). Bachmann’s Die gestundete Zeit (1953) spoke of the historical calamity of the recent World War and its unconfronted traumas in Austria and Germany, as well as the new threats of the Cold War era. This first volume of poetry was a huge success, having already been awarded the Gruppe 47 prize in 1952. Bachmann was subsequently featured in all the major West German radio programmes and journals, and a cover on the well-known Hamburg weekly Der Spiegel in August 1954 secured her poetic fame.
In the summer of 1953 Bachmann moved to Rome, a city that would become her home more than any other. In 1956 she published her second volume of poetry Anrufung des Großen Bären (Invocation of the Great Bear) which is imprinted with the immediate sensory experience of Italy. The collection juxtaposes utopian images with vivid scenes of violence. Bachmann’s poetic voice is suffused with the awareness of the calamities of the 20th century, while still upholding the utopian vision of a better tomorrow.
This oscillation between utopia and its destruction pervades all of Bachmann’s work, from her poetry, her radio plays written in the 1950s, through to her prose works. Bachmann’s prose writing is indebted to a tradition of Austrian modernism as exemplified by writers such as Schnitzler, Kafka, Musil, Roth and Hofmannsthal, and is permeated by a melancholy for the unrealised opportunities of the past and the insufficiencies of the present. In 1961 Bachmann’s first volume of short stories entitled Das dreißigste Jahr; The Thirtieth Year was published, a collection of short stories that reflected Bachmann’s engagement with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s critique of language and her search for a new form of expression in her poetry and prose.
In the 1960s Bachmann devoted herself primarily to writing prose, much of which would remain unfinished. She claimed in interviews to have stopped writing poetry, and to have limited herself to writing poems that were ‘essential’, a sentiment best summed up by her poem ‘Keine Delikatessen’ (‘No Delicacies’, 1968). In actual fact Bachmann continued to write poetry throughout the 1960s, something that has been accentuated by a collection of deeply-personal poems published posthumously as Ich weiß keine bessere Welt (I know no better world) in 2000. Similarly one of her best-known poems, ‘Böhmen liegt am Meer’ (‘Bohemia lies by the Sea’, 1968), evoking the submerged realm of the spiritual ‘House of Austria’, was written during this period.
Bachmann’s Todesarten-Projekt (Ways of Dying Project) [1962-1973] constituted the mainstay of her literary preoccupations in the 1960s, conceived as a compendium documenting the everyday crimes and perpetuation of violence in ostensible peacetime. One way in which Bachmann saw violence perpetuated on a daily basis was in the relationship of men and women, asserting that fascism is the primary relationship between a man and a woman. Almost all the central protagonists of her Todesarten-Projekt are female, where the personal and political are very firmly intertwined. One completed novel (Malina, 1971), a collection of short stories (Simultan, 1972), and her Büchner prize text (Ein Ort für Zufälle; A Place for Coincidences (1965), where Bachmann presents Cold War Berlin as a pathogenic city haunted by its past), were published from the project during Bachmann’s lifetime. However, the five volume critical edition of the Todesarten-Projekt, published in 1995, shows how ambitious and diverse the project was.
In the winter semester of 1959-1960 Bachmann gave the first ever Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics. She had a deep understanding of music, striving for a union of music and poetry in her work, and collaborated with the composer Hans Werner Henze on two libretti. Bachmann died in October 1973, aged forty-seven, following a fire accident in her Rome apartment. Her work had a profound influence both on contemporary writers (such as Erich Fried, Christa Wolf, Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek), as well as on composers (Hans Werner Henze), and artists (Anselm Kiefer).
Poetry Collections by Bachmann:
Die gestundete Zeit (1953) [Time on Loan]
Anrufung des Großen Bären (1956) [Invocation of the Great Bear]
Sämtliche Gedichte (1978) [Collected Poems]
Ich weiß keine bessere Welt. Unveröffentlichte Gedichte (2000) [I know no better world. Unpublished Poems]
Ein Geschäft mit Träumen (1952) [A Business with Dreams]
Die Zikaden (1955) [The Cicadas]
Der gute Gott von Manhattan (1958) [The Good God of Manhattan]
Der Prinz von Homburg (1960)
Der junge Lord (1965)
Collections of short stories:
Das Buch Franza; The Book of Franza [1965-1966]
Requiem für Fanny Goldmann 
Essays and Public Speeches (including Frankfurt Lectures on Poetics):
Collected in: Ingeborg Bachmann, Werke, ed. by Christine Koschel, Inge von Weidenbaum and Clemens Münster, 4 vols (Munich: Piper, 1978), Vol IV: Essays, Reden, Vermischte Schriften
Ingeborg Bachmann, Kritische Schriften, ed. by Monika Albrecht and Dirk Göttsche (Munich: Piper, 2005)
Further posthumous publications include Kriegstagebuch (2010), and most recently Die Radiofamilie (2011), a radio soap opera broadcast by the American radio station Rot-Weiß-Rot in Cold War Vienna, which Bachmann wrote scripts for in the early fifties.
Please click on the above links for further information.
Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina, trans. by Philip Boehm (Teaneck, NJ: Holmes & Meier, 1999)
Ingeborg Bachmann, Darkness Spoken: The Collected Poems, trans. by Peter Filkins (Brookline, MA: Zephyr, 2006)
Ingeborg Bachmann, The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldman, trans. by Peter Filkins (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2010)
Further Reading in English
Karen R. Achberger, ‘Beyond Patriarchy: Ingeborg Bachmann and Fairytales’, in Modern Austrian Literature 18 (1985), 211-22
Karen R. Achberger, Understanding Ingeborg Bachmann (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1995)
Stephanie Bird, Women Writers and National Identity: Bachmann, Duden, Özdamar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
Stephanie Bird, ‘Ingeborg Bachmann’, in Hilary Brown (ed.), Landmarks in German Women’s Writing, (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), pp. 155-72
Elizabeth Boa, ‘Reading Ingeborg Bachmann’ in Chris Weedon (ed.), Post-war Women’s Writing in German (Oxford and New York: Berghahn, 1997), pp. 269-89
Leena Eilittä, Ingeborg Bachmann’s Utopia and Disillusionment (Helsinki: Finnish Society of Science and Letters, 2008)
Dirk Göttsche, ‘Research on Ingeborg Bachmann: Quo Vadis?’, Modern Language Review 106 (2011), 495-501
Sabine Hotho-Jackson, ‘Subversiveness in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Later Prose’, New German Studies 18 (1994), 55-71
Kirsten Krick-Aigner, Ingeborg Bachmann’s Telling Stories: Fairy Tale Beginnings and Holocaust Endings (Riverside: Ariadne Press, 2002)
Katya Krylova, Walking Through History: Topography and Identity in the Works of Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard (Bern and Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013)
Caitríona Leahy and Bernadette Cronin (eds.), Re-acting to Ingeborg Bachmann: New Essays and Performances (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2006)
Caitríona Leahy, ‘Der wahre Historiker’: Ingeborg Bachmann and the Problem of Witnessing History (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2007)
Sara Lennox, ‘The Feminist Reception of Ingeborg Bachmann’, Women in German Yearbook 8 (1992), 73-111
Sara Lennox, Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters: Feminism, History, and Ingeborg Bachmann (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006)
Sara Lennox, ‘The Politics of Reading. A Half Century of Bachmann Reception’, in Literarische Wertung und Kanonbildung, ed. by Nicholas Saul and Ricarda Schmidt (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2007), pp. 151-62
Áine McMurtry, Crisis and Form in the Later Writing of Ingeborg Bachmann (London: MHRA, 2012)
Karen Remmler, Waking the Dead: Correspondences Between Walter Benjamin’s Concept of Remembrance and Ingeborg Bachmann’s Ways of Dying (Riverside: Ariadne Press, 1996)
Andrew Webber, ‘Worst of all Possible Worlds? Ingeborg Bachmann’s Ein Ort für Zufälle’, Austrian Studies 15 (2007), 112-30
Juliet Wigmore, ‘Ingeborg Bachmann’, in Keith Bullivant (ed.), The Modern German Novel (Leamington Spa: Berg, 1987), pp. 72-88
Christa Wolf, ‘Truth That Can Be Faced - Ingeborg Bachmann’s Prose’ , in Christa Wolf, The Reader and the Writer: Essays, Sketches, Memories, trans. by Joan Becker (Berlin: Seven Seas, 1977), pp. 83-96
Further Reading in German
Monika Albrecht and Dirk Göttsche (eds.), Bachmann-Handbuch. Leben – Werk – Wirkung (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2003)
Katya Krylova, ‘Bachmann zwischen Provinz und Metropole’ in Wilhelm Hemecker and Manfred Mittermayer (eds.), Mythos Bachmann: Zwischen Inszenierung und Selbstinszenierung (Vienna: Zsolnay, 2011), pp. 72-90
Regina Schaunig, “... wie auf wunden Füßen”. Ingeborg Bachmanns frühe Jahre (Klagenfurt: Johannes Heyn, 2014)
Sigrid Weigel, Ingeborg Bachmann: Hinterlassenschaften unter Wahrung des Briefgeheimnisses (Vienna: Zsolnay, 1999)
Christa Wolf, ‘Die zumutbare Wahrheit. Prosa der Ingeborg Bachmann’  in Christa Wolf, Lesen und Schreiben (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1972), pp. 121-34
Introduction to Ingeborg Bachmann by Katie Stone
The Ingeborg Bachmann Centre for Austrian Literature in London
Two poems by Bachmann (in English translation)
Details new publications related to Bachmann, as well as exhibitions, events, film adaptations etc. [in German]
Articles on Bachmann's life and work [in German]
Bachmann reads her poems aloud [in German]
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