Although Bachmann’s spectactular early fame derived from her lyric poetry (she received the prestigious Prize of the Gruppe 47 in 1954), she turned more and more towards prose during the 1950’s, having experienced severe doubts about the validity of poetic language. The stories in the collection Das dreißigste Jahr (The Thirtieth Year; 1961) typically present a sudden insight into the inadequacy of the world and its “orders” (e.g. of language, law, politics, or gender roles) and reveal a utopian longing for and effort to imagine a new and truer order. The two stories told from an explicitly female perspective, “Ein Schritt nach Gomorrha” (“A Step towards Gomorrah”) and “Undine geht” (“Undine Goes/Leaves”), are among the earliest feminist texts in postwar German-language literature. Undine accuses male humanity of having ruined not only her life as a woman but the world in general: “You monsters named Hans!” In her later prose (Malina 1971; Simultan 1972; and the posthumously published Der Fall Franza und Requiem für Fanny Goldmann) Bachmann was again ahead of her time, often employing experimental forms to portray women as they are damaged or even destroyed by patriarchal society, in this case modern Vienna. Here one sees how intertwined Bachmann’s preoccupation with female identity and patriarchy is with her diagnosis of the sickness of our age: “I’ve reflected about this question already: where does fascism begin? It doesn’t begin with the first bombs that were dropped…. It begins in relationships between people. Fascism lies at the root of the relationship between a man and a woman….”(GuI 144)
As the daughter of a teacher and a mother who hadn’t been allowed to go to university, Bachmann enjoyed the support and encouragement of both parents; after the war she studied philosophy, German literature and psychology in Innsbruck, Graz and Vienna. She wrote her doctoral dissertation (1950) on the critical reception of Heidegger, whose ideas she condemned as “a seduction … to German irrationality of thought” (GuI 137). From 1957 to 1963, the time of her troubled relationship with Swiss author Max Frisch, Bachmann alternated between Zurich and Rome. She rejected marriage as “an impossible institution. Impossible for a woman who works and thinks and wants something herself” (GuI 144).
From the end of 1965 on Bachmann resided in Rome. Despite her precarious health—she was addicted to pills for years following a faulty medical procedure—she traveled to Poland in 1973. She was just planning a move to Vienna when she died of complications following an accidental fire.
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