Academic journal article German Quarterly

"A time yet to come...": Translation and historical representation in Ingeborg Bachmann's poem "Night Flight/Nachtflug"

Academic journal article German Quarterly

"A time yet to come...": Translation and historical representation in Ingeborg Bachmann's poem "Night Flight/Nachtflug"

Article excerpt

Gelingen kann [einem Dichter], im glucklichsten Fall, zweierlei: zu reprasentieren, seine Zeit zu reprasentieren, and etwas zu prasentieren, fur das die Zeit noch nicht gekommen ist.

-Ingeborg Bachmann

"Fragen und Scheinfragen"1

After Auschwitz: Adorno's Assertion

Since the 1993 publication in Germany of Hans Holler's treatment of the Ingeborg Bachmann oeuvre in its historical context, Bachmann scholarship in both German and English has centered on historical representation as a crucial aspect of the Works. Holler reminded us that, for Bachmann, an awareness of contemporary events and the experience of history was so essentially self-evident a component of the writer's craft that she could not fathom writing outside the parameters of the historical situation, nor could she cite even one author whose point of departure was not determined by the historical actualities of his/her time.2 In her own words, Bachmann stated in the first of the Frankfurter Vorlesungen, "Fragen und Scheinfragen":

DaB Dichten auBerhalb der geschichtlichen Situation stattfindet, wird heute wohl niemand mehr glauben-dal es auch nur einen Dichter gibt, dessen Ausgangspunkt nicht von den Zeitgegebenheiten bestimmt ware.3

Holler suggested that one reason critics may have overlooked this point of departure in Bachmann's work is that women's historical role in society-viewed from a masculist perspective as situated outside world events and catastrophes-presents a parallel paradigm in literature that is particularly seductive to male readers of Bachmann's work.4 Other scholars, such as Sara Lennox, Monika Albrecht, Karen Remmler, and Sigrid Weigel have since broadened the discussion to include post-- colonialist, deconstructionist, and intertextual considerations of the historical element.5

To date, however, the manner in which historicity can and must be reflected in English translations of Bachmann's work has not been addressed. And yet, if we are to agree that the historical context-that is, the representation of the author's times -is not only a characteristic but indeed a constructive element of the oeuvre, it would seem essential to examine the degree to which the historical context so clearly discernable from the German original is also present in English-language renderings of this "prose-poet laureate" of the postwar period. This might lead us to discover why fascination for the works of Ingeborg Bachmann has continued unabated wherever she can be read in the original while at the same time her works remain virtually unknown to the English-speaking world.

Relegating Ingeborg Bachmann to obscurity in this manner serves not only to bar access to an entire spectrum of research possibilities that might enrich our study of the humanities, it could be seen to constitute a form of manipulation of literary fame that seeks to exclude a canonized German-language author from the cache of cultural capital available to the Western world. At a time when the postmodern landscape seems bereft of potential classics, we cannot afford to surrender an author of Bachmann's stature and significance to the "case dismissed based on insufficient evidence" account. To do so would be to risk contributing to our own cross-cultural bankruptcy.

Bachmann's "Nachtflug," one in a series of four poems that catapulted the young poet into the literary limelight in Germany, was first published in 1953, just eight years after World War II and in the same year the truce was signed to end the "Korean Conflict." It was a time when a generation of authors, "herangewachsen im Schatten der Bombe,"I set itself to the task of evoking, revoking, and exorcising the past in light of the present. Holler, in his 1999 Bachmann monograph, clarifies the historical context for "Nachtflug":

Diese mythischen Bilder der Vergeblichkeit and des Ausgeliefertseins an die Vergangenheit werden im ersten Lyrikband von der neuen Haltung abgelost: dem strategisch auf die Welt gerichteten Blick eines sich freier bewegenden Ich. …

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