Poetry News

New Book of Ingeborg Bachmann Radio Scripts Causes Controversy

By Harriet Staff


The other day, in a small reflection about our writing spaces, HTMLGIANT posted a truly resonant photo of writer Friederike Mayröcker (born 1924) in her writing studio. Not much was mentioned in the comments regarding the fact of her being positioned thusly -- an obscure choice of subjects, perhaps. But it sure got us thinking about the Austrian writer and her comrades. A bit of associative digging later, and we found this gem. Controversy gem!

Joseph McVeigh, professor of German at Smith College, has recently published a new book called Die Radiofamilie, which includes editions of radio plays by Austrian poet and writer Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1974) that aired on the United States Occupation radio station in Austria in the early 1950s. Bachmann isn't well-known for her dramatic scripts, but she did spend her early years working for Allied radio station Rot-Weiss-Rot (Red White Red). According to the Grécourt Gate News, these scripts in particular were quite unlike her other work, being a "soap opera-like series...about a typical middle-class Austrian family struggling to survive the difficult postwar years." Moreover:

“The program was part of a U.S. propaganda offensive to counter programs on Soviet radio in Austria extolling the virtues of the Soviet way of life,” explains McVeigh. Die Radiofamilie, which aired on Saturday afternoons, became a hit among Austrian listeners, and was referred to as Strassenfeger (street sweeper) because when it aired it swept the streets clean of people, who remained inside listening to the series.

McVeigh’s book, published in Germany by Suhrkamp Verlag, includes 15 of Bachmann’s radio scripts discovered by McVeigh in the late 1990s, along with an extensive introduction to the texts.

“These texts are causing a bit of a sensation because they are radically different from anything she had ever written,” says McVeigh. “I make the case in the book that the poetess had a humorous, playful side to her in those early years. But this side is downplayed by conventional scholarship on the poetess because many of the sources I used, such as letters and other documents from her family, were not previously known.”

We make the case that McVeigh should halt his use of "poetess" sofort, ahem. But we doubt that's why "Several German public radio stations have come to campus to interview McVeigh about Die Radiofamilie since its release on May 23, and reviews have run in newspapers across Germany, including one in Die Welt by Ruth Klueger, a former visiting professor at Smith." If only, if only, the book were in English! Then perchance we could figure out the sensational particulars. Lucky for us, translations of other Bachmann plays and poetry are readily available and less Allied.

As for Mayröcker, more about her work can be read here, and a review of brütt, or The Sighing Gardens (Northwestern University Press, 2008) by John Latta is dead good at his blog. Mayröcker's prose, as was Bachmann's, is full of feeling:

...I am striving for NOVELNESS, whatever that means, I say to Blum, what do you think about the transitions in your work, a journalist wants to know, but I don’t know what to think, I tell him : this constant, I believe impassioned attitude of fantasy (and so not actual fantasy) is still an overarching influence, and saw tears on the amputated tree, glittering gold-colored tears of resin, I say, saw roses on tall stems, wilting robinias along the boulevards, the shrimp on my plate, that is the entire secret, or as Botho Strauß says : SUDDENLY THE END RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DRESSING ROOM . . . .

Originally Published: June 16th, 2011