Posts Tagged ‘Austrian writing’

How to make an assessment of the writings/works of Friederike Mayröcker?
Maybe by not doing so.

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For a long time it was Friederike-Mayröcker-and-Ernst-Jandl. 
They were inseparable in many way, the ways that really mattered. 
They collaborated on performance and radio pieces – their work was more sound art, vocal layering, than what we think of as a ‘play’, ‘drama’.
And between them they won innumerable prizes. Among them the top, Georg Büchner Prize, for Friederike Mayröcker.
Friederike Mayröcker’s work has always been distinctive. 
The Poetry Foundation site tells us, She is associated with the experimental German writers and artists of the Wiener Gruppe (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/friederike-mayrocker).

Widely and deeply read, the work she has produced is deeply referenced – whether to Robert and Clara Schumann’s Marriage Diaries, Samuel Beckett, Jacques Derrida, Friedrich Hölderlin, and probably a huge number that I do not recognise.
And not only European writers: she references Frank O’Hara, Jorie Graham, James Joyce, in Scardanelli alone. Elsewhere she gives John Dowland, Gertrude Stein, Glen Gould, even Blixa Bargeld of Einsturzende Neubauten – in other words, very eclectic.

Friederike-Mayröcker-and-Ernst-Jandl are/were both Austrian writers, born within a few years of each other in 1020s Vienna.
This places them in the same environment and time as Ingeborg Bachmann (born Klagenfurt, Carinthia, but Vienna-based). Her novel, Malina, is based in Vienna’s district 6, whilst Friederike Mayröcker has lived a few minutes tram journey away, in district 5, for fifty years or more.


Ernst Jandl.
He wrote he started off as a conventional enough poet, but then he went to a meeting of concrete poets/Dadaists… and the fun they were having, the enjoyment…. Joie de vivre was very much his.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Jandl

and
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPCR17dvfmg

But then he went and died in 2000. After fifty years together.

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Her subsequent publications include:
Requiem for Ernst Jandl (2001. Published Seagull Books, 2018),
Embracing the Sparrow Wall Or 1-Schumann-Madness (2011; Oomph Books, 2019),
Scardanelli (2018; The Song Cave, 2018),

chart the loss, and also continuance:

When your soul is bleeding, says Elke Erb, how can you not find words, says Elke Erb, among Mongolia melancholy monochrome and green passers-by, is he not sending you a profusion of loving-souls, and you in their midst…(translation Roslyn Theobald, Requiem for Ernst Jandl)

And you can read here the shifts of register, tone. The repetition is like a reminding, a keeping-concentration, and so not flowing away with distress – there is that, it is part of grieving, has to be allowed/admitted/lived-with.
The text is not public display, nor wholly self-referential, but walks a path where the borders blend. Do not think of strict demarcations between states, intents, because there are none.

And yet the text is here presented for publication. There have been public readings.
This is the personal made the default; the public persona has been ousted. There have been more than enough of those, thank you.

To read/listen, is to navigate the seas, the jungles and seas, of living responsiveness to the self’s and the world’s demands.

Book blurb gives us:

Tumult, ferocity, flow, immersion… reinterprets literary vocation as total theatre (Wayne Koestenbaum, Scardanelli)
( – Scardanelli is one way Friederich Hölderlin addressed himself in his ‘madness’.)

The title of her earlier, 1990s and long out of print selection in translation on Caracanet, is Raving Language

…this quiet but passionate lament grows into a song of enthralling intensity.(Roslyn Theobald, Requiem for Ernst Jandl)

There is also ‘quiet… intensity’ in Embracing the Sparrow-Wall Amid The Ivy:

whether the wet laundry in my chamber and thinking of Silvie what all she requited to me on that day when HE was buried she slept beside that night because I was afraid to remain alone and the composition >>To Silvia<< by Franz Schubert which haunted me because I had cried a lot and the winter tapped against the glass…

This is not rambling, but following a trail.
Jonathon Larson, translator of, and in his Introduction to, Embracing the Sparrow Wall, writes of her constructions as a ‘cloud of sound‘, and of her ‘density and grain of phrasing’.

Her writing purposely eschews construction issues, rules and habits of argument, discussion, the public voice, the ‘poetic’, for flow that eddies, discovers itself, discovers others.
Musicians are referenced often, and ‘orchestration’ is one way of describing her writing. And yet musical orchestration is a very regulated transposition of forms.

Her placing of words, phrasings, is with pin-point accuracy of skill. Perhaps this is a kind if transposing.
Of course, this taxes the translator’s skills hugely. She has been very fortunate in the ones listed here; they have done the work great service in making it available and also accessible to us.

All this points out the uniqueness of her writing, her forms, purposes.

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The Elke Erb quote, above, is interesting.
Elke Erb has lived throug the East German regime, from almost its beginning to its end. With the GDR’s iron emphasis on socialist realism and materialism, the survival of the term/concept ‘soul’ is all the more striking. Is this persistence, or resistance?

Wiki tells us:
 In his years of madness, Hölderlin would occasionally pencil ingenuous rhymed quatrains, sometimes of a childlike beauty, which he would sign with fantastic names (most often “Scardanelli”) and give fictitious dates from previous or future centuries.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Hölderlin

Why do I mention this?
The Poetry Foundation tells us She has also cited Friedrich Hölderlin as an important influence, describing his poetry as a type of drug she takes before writing.(https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/friederike-mayrocker

The disjunction between the tuning-into what Wiki termed the ‘childlike beauty’, and Poetry Foundation’s description of her creation from that: ‘the apparently random: the habitual use of collage techniques which layer seemingly disparate levels of experience‘ is very revealing.

The Institute of Modern Languages site, tells us of : the tension between a playful and freely associative poetics on the one hand, and concentrated discipline on the other.
(https://modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk/research-centres/centre-study-contemporary-womens-writing/languages/german/friederike-mayröcker)
Her earlier work has used the formal format of much experimental work, from the Oulipo writers onwards. We see this in:

Will Wither Like Grass. My Hand too and Pupil

will wither like grass . my foot and my hair and my silentest word

will wither like grass . your mouth your mouth

will wither like grass . how you gaze into me

will wither like grass . my cheek my cheek and the little flower

which you know is there will wither like grass 

will wither like grass . your mouth your purple-coloured mouth

will wither like grass . but the night but the mist but the plenitude

will wither like grass will wither like grass

                 Translated from the German by Richard Dove http://www.greeninteger.com/green_integer_review/issue_4/Friederike-Mayröcker.htm


David Constatine, in his translations of Frederich Hölderlin writes, ‘Hölderlin is a poet we can read with our own atrocious times in mind. He is a deeply religious poet whose fundamental tenet is absence and the threat of meaninglessness. He confronted hopelessness as few writers have, he was what Rilke called “exposed”; but there is no poetry like his for the constant engendering of hope, for the expression, in the body and breath of poems, of the best and most passionate aspirations’ 
(http://www.jbeilharz.de/hoelderlin/fh.html)

Hope, then, and the ‘best and most passionate aspirations‘ – there I think, we have it.

There is in her writing what she terms, ‘tender prose’.
She is very specific and determined about this description. See the interview for Green Integer Review: http://www.greeninteger.com/green_integer_review/issue_4/Friederike-Mayröcker.htm
And so:

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The title of her latest book Scardanelli, as we seen, is one name chosen by Frederich Hölderlin in his ‘madness’ phase.
And if we read the writings of each we see many similarities in style.
She had been working on and towards a language of expression for her grief, and ‘Raving Language’ was one description.

In contrast, her book, Scardanelli, consists of short – little more than a page at most, often much less -pieces. Lyrical remembrances of walks with Ernst Jandl, friends afterwards, walks in the mountains, Venice.
I say lyrical, because they are marked by emotive recapturing of moments of happiness, stillness.
If we read Frederich Hölderlin’s later poems – see James Mitchell’s: http://holderlinpoems.com/list_of_poems.html – we see similar short works, that capture similar moments of lyrical recapture.

Each book is different, in style, approach, and this really attracts me.
Rather than holding the same achieved poise in address, she experiments, goes where the need takes. For each book is an event, comes from a need rather than an flow of text, play of language, keeping oneself in the market.

Malina, by Ingeborg Bachmann. Published by Penguin Modern Classics, 2019.
ISBN 978 0 241 36624 0.

The novel, Malina, published in German in 1971, is considered by many to be a seminal work in the oeuvre of Austrian writer, Ingeborg Bachmann.
She is mostly now known for three volumes of post-War poetry. She has also written radio works, essays, short stories, two operas, a ballet. She was also very close to Paul Celan, and associated with major German post-War writers.

The novel is part one of a projected three-part trilogy, temporarily entitled Ways of Dying. The other two parts were incomplete on her death, but have since been published from notebooks and papers.

Oh yes, she is also known for her death. 
Since 1951 she had mostly listed her residence as Rome. It was here in 1973 that she died, alone, due to an apartment fire. The official cause was given as being due to smoking in bed. 
Readers atuned to her works have long wondered about that given cause.

Malina is not a comfortable read.
It is a novel in three sections – well four, if we accept the Cast prefix. They are:
Happy with Ivan; The Third Man; Last Things.

It is uncomfortable because as the book opens we meet the narrator, who incidentally shares many attributes with the author, in a period of withdrawal, leading to crisis. She refuses all invitations out to address talks, ceremonies, awards. Even the letters she dictates or attempts to write herself are unravellings rather than explanations.

Is the narrator happy with Ivan? It is a toxic relationship, and yet she is fixated on him; her every action and thought is centred on him. And yet he abuses her verbally, is dismissive of her personality, abilities. And she seems quite accepting of this, and dotes on this.
This is a deep exploration of toxic relations.

And it gets worse in Section Two, The Third Man. Here, Malina the character, is cool, objective, says little. The whole section is a deep exploration of the character’s relationship with her father. It is given in a wide and varied series of abusive vignettes. The narrator approaches the term ‘Incest’ early on. Yes, she writes, There was incest
And there was also the game of jealousy, of gaming for affection, playing off each other. With Ivan. With Malina. With the sister Melanie, whose father flaunts as his new source of affection. And there are the violent outbursts, breaking furniture, throwing of household objects to hurt by the act, rather than contact.
And yet, as the section works through its nightmare scenarios, we see the narrator gain self mobility again, the strength to fight back. To leave.

But what of Malina?
Published in 1971, we see here the period’s reliance on therapy as cure-all, the psychiatrist as psychopomp walking the therapee through traumas.
Malina has that about him: cool, rational, reasonable; not dismissive but gently easing the narrator back to the centre of the problems. Walking through the battlefields together.

Ivan, in turn, in retrospect, comes to assume something of the mantle of the abusive father: that relationship being played out again. And the narrator is the willing, indeed, even eager, participant.

Did Ivan want that? Did he fall into a toxic hole? Was he also incapable of climbing out? We do not know.
Was it, possibly, a post-war psychic turmoil that wrapped them all in its coils? Was this the fall-out , the further play-out, of the War?

Or is that serpent with all in its coils the Nazism of past experience, or Western post-War capitalism, or, further, patriarchy itself?

There are no discernible big Politics in the novel. The father-figure as authoritarian, and, by extension, as leader, is written out clearly.
And Ivan, the name? The character is married, with children. He is Hungarian. Is he suggestive of Soviet-model authoritarianism? 
As the novel was being written Leonid Brezhnev was Soviet leader. The Hungarian Uprising had been bloodily crushed (as had the Prague Spring).

This Soviet period is what is now known as the Era of Stagnation.

How does this help? Other than as re-emphasising the intial A in authoritarianism?
The Cold War was dropping down further degrees on the thermometer, and any youthful hopes of a glorious turn to the red – in Germany in particular – were becoming ossified. After 1968’s disintegration of hopes and revolutionary fervour, all was played out.
Later, of course, the extreme groups emerged out of the frustrated hopes: The Red Brigade etc.

A static situation, under authoritarian power; loss of hopes of change; and the unresolved foment of psychic horrors from the war. Ingeborg Bachmann’s own father had been an early and willing Nazi Party member.

Why is the second section called ‘The Third Man’? Is there a connection with the Carol Reed film of 1949?
Both book and film are set in Vienna. Ok.
Both have one of the central characters – Harry Lime, The Father – as betrayers, morally repugnant, and who degrade all who they come into contact. And yet, they also have devoted friends/relations who seek them out. The outcome, in each case, is disillusion and broken relationships.

It may be that the setting of Vienna has a meaning I cannot as yet ascertain. The narrator is insistent on this setting; Ungargasse in particular acquires an importance. It maybe the importance of groundedness, that is, of a specific that she clings to for safety, security.

There are two forms of conversation exchanges in the book. One consists of fulsome and developed sentences, and is the ME:, (other): form. The other form is of truncated conversations, fragmented and half said things the reader must fill out.
In light of Ingeborg Bachmann’s great interest in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s works, I was wondering whether this latter form was an approach to the ‘private language’ that Ludwig Wittgenstein suggested was an impossibility.

If a language was private to oneself, then communication would be impossible. In the novel we see innumerable attempts to communicate inner turmoil, to move from private language/world experiences, to common speech communication with others. Ivan’s responses tend to be evasive, colluding. Malina remains objective, he companions the narrator through her difficulties, but does not judge, control, nor direct her.

Is he the ideal therapist, or philospher? For Ludwig Wittgenstein the philosopher must become a therapist in order to untangle the knots of reasoning that hamper philosophical discourse.
The Ungargasse in Vienna is in part very close to the Wittgenstein family home, between Parkgasse and Kundmanngasse, on the Geusaugasse corner.

The book opens with letters that cannot be written, and ends, in Last Things, with a postman who cannot deliver letters. He stores them up, unread, unopened. Communication, with one self, and with others, as social glue, as life-saving, is paramount here.
The book opens with the narrator fully taken up with Ivan, and by Last Things has turned against men altogether, finding their limited range of romantic and sexual responses ridiculous, a symptom of men’s ‘sickness’. She admits an interest in men, oh yes, and cites examples, but in the telling it becomes a matter of observation, as of another species.

We find in her telling of post-War Vienna Sigmund Freud’s case-studies incorporated into the text; we find direct reference to Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. Is there Robert Musil here as well? Does the desultory interest in chess reference Stefan Zweig’s short story? Interestingly Stefan Zweig’s Post Office Girl novel’s title has a different meaning in the German: The Intoxication of Transformation. Is this intoxication what we find played out in Last Things?
Does the change in the narrator, then, play with bildungsroman formats?
It is also possible that the general tone of the book, of enervated and denigrating references the works of Thomas Bernhard.

The narrator’s character has developed in Last Things, she is more outward-looking, out-going, extrovert, even. And so has that of Malina; he is no longer the objective, cool character, but rather limited in response, outlook.
At one point in this last section the narrator makes some rather strong comments.
Ooo-kay.
So she’s provoking, challenging, confronting. But to what purpose?
This is part of the piece where she takes on Freudian case-study.
Shortly after this section Malina slapped her face. Was she furious? No. Was she distressed? No. Was he? No.
Both carried on as normal – she looked for a suitable blusher to hide the marks so she could go to a meeting; he suggested a shade.

The toxic-relationship is still being played out, on another level.

Does Ivan appreciate how difficult to is for a woman to have integrity, autonomy? Does Malina? Each time the answer is No.
How can a woman exist as a whole person in that world? The narrator approaches the dilemma of the options available: to be a ‘part-ner’, or to try to be a whole person. There seems little to possibility of the two being one.

The crack in the plaster – is it an indication of demise/complete collapse? Or a way out of an enclosed space?

*

One other thing struck me – the father-vignettes in Section Two of Malina remind me of the extensive father-vignettes that make up a huge section of Hungarian writer, Peter Esterhazy’s Celestial Harmonies, published in 2000. Here the novel fictionally negotiates the true-life Esterhazy patriarchal family line. In particular, and colouring the vignettes, is the discovery of the author’s own father’s role as secret police agent: betrayer and smiling State accomplice. Or entrapped, caught in the coils of State security machinations?

Why do I find the book so difficult to read? The subject matter, obviously. But there is also that, as readers, we unable to help with the distress. We are held as helpless witnesses to partially seen scenarios, and experience some degrees of the suffering of the narrator.
The writer also had periods of hospitalization due to psychological states.

We become party to degrees of that, and those states of distress. We are unable to help or assist, and so the narrator’s inability to cope becomes ours, by our empathetic reading.

This is part of the power, and responsibility, of a work of fiction.

Publishers Weekly, noted, on the book’s publication:
Part of the problem derives from the veiled yet critical references to Austrian history, which are satisfactorily explained only in the excellent afterword.

We no longer have that ‘excellent afterword.’ A pity.

See also Darkness Spoken: the Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann:
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