Research and Writing of a Biography of Ingeborg Bachmann
Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–1973) is an iconic figure in postwar German and Austrian letters. In writing a biography of her, my aim is to penetrate Bachmann’s »mystique« by examining the way her lived experience threads through her published and unpublished work. There is a need to closely connect Bachmann’s life and work, as a gap exists between the intensity of her writing and the personal circumstances that gave rise to it. Too often Bachmann’s career is divided between the young poet and the later writer of fiction. This leads to reading Bachmann’s fiction as her »serious, mature« work, and her poetry as only the preparation for it. In addition, the popular view of Bachmann too often devolves into the simplifications of victimhood, ignoring the complexity of the work itself and the richness of the mind and imagination behind it. Instead, my approach will emphasize the continuities of Bachmann’s life and writing, rather than its disruptions.
Peter Filkins is the Richard B. Fisher Professor of Literature at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He is the American translator of Ingeborg Bachmann’s collected poems, Darkness Spoken (Zephyr, 2006), and two of her novels, The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann (Northwestern, 1999). He has also translated three novels by H. G. Adler—The Journey, Panorama, and The Wall (Random House, 2008, 2011, and 2014)—and published a biography, H. G. Adler: A Life in Many Worlds (Oxford, 2019). The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fulbright Austria Commission, the Österreichische Gesellschaft für Literatur, the DAAD, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY Graduate Center, and the American Academy in Berlin, he has also published five volumes of his own poetry, most recently Water / Music (Johns Hopkins, 2021).
H. G. Adler: A Life in Many Worlds, New York 2019; Peter Filkins (trans.), Darkness Spoken: The Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann, Brookline 2006; Peter Filkins (trans.), The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann, by Ingeborg Bachmann, Evanston 1999.
How does a biographer utilize a writer’s archive when the writer dies unexpectedly and without having organized the archive ahead of time? What is the archive and where does it exist? This lecture will discuss the challenges and rewards of translating archival materials into a biography of the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann.