The "Hörspiel" [listening play] has always been a hybrid, genre-defying form. In this lecture, Ingeborg Bachmann’s radio work is put in conversation with that of Austrian female poets airing in the 1970s and after—in particular Friederike Mayröcker and Elfriede Jelinek—to trouble the categories that have traditionally informed critical discussion of the genre.
In 1970, German authors Wolf Wondratschek and Jürgen Becker publicly debated whether the Hörspiel of the 1950s was inherently reactionary, on the basis of Ingeborg Bachmann’s Der gute Gott von Manhattan (1957). Just two years earlier, Klaus Schöning had coined the term “neues Hörspiel” to designate the flurry of semiotic experimentation being pioneered by radio authors of the day. As Becker argues, Wondratschek’s premise not only holds Bachmann’s work to an anachronistic standard, but stems from a rather authoritarian conception of this fundamentally shapeshifting genre, and even of literature as such. The significance of gender, in the text and its reception, is conspicuous in the discussion only by its absence.
The taxonomic impulse Becker calls “Gattungszwang” is precisely what the Hörspiel has historically challenged, then and now. Does the “neues Hörspiel” truly represent the schismatic shift for which it’s often taken? How can newer feminist and media theory, coupled with a deep engagement with archival audio, allow us to begin to conceive a more expansive means of critiquing the Hörspiel, even inform the cultivation of new ways of listening that precede the interpretative act?
Elisabeth Fertig is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, where she studies the intersection of experimental poetics and radio drama in English and German. Additional research areas include sound studies, feminist and queer theory, critical translation studies, and autotheory. Elisabeth Fertig also hosts a weekly poetry show on WCBN-FM, Ann Arbor’s community radio station. Currently she is a Fulbright/ IFK_Junior Fellow.
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