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Reviewed by:
  • Die Radiofamilie by Ingeborg Bachmann
  • Katya Krylova
Ingeborg Bachmann, Die Radiofamilie. Edited and afterword by Joseph McVeigh. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2011. 411 pp.

After the Second World War, radio became an important part of the “psychologische[n] Offensive” (344) of the U.S. in occupied Austria. As the editor of the volume outlines, the Script Department of the U.S.-controlled broadcaster Rot-Weiß-Rot [rwr] was founded in the spring of 1951 with the aim of producing entertaining programs that would win listeners away from the Russian Hour broadcast on the rival ravag station. And it was this department that the twenty-five-year-old Ingeborg Bachmann joined in September 1951. There she worked with colleagues, Jörg Mauthe and Peter Weiser, on [End Page 117] the conception of what would become the hugely popular Radiofamilie. First broadcast on February 2, 1952, the show was aired a total of 330 times until 1960 and, as Joseph McVeigh describes, was one of the few rwr programs taken over by the Österreichischer Rundfunk upon the Allies’ departure in 1955.

It was long thought that all the holdings of the rwr had been lost until numerous typescripts were rediscovered in the mid-1990s in the estate of Jörg Mauthe. Among these were fifteen scripts that Bachmann wrote or cowrote for Die Radiofamilie between February 1952 and July 1953. It is these typescripts that have been brought together and expertly edited by McVeigh in this volume. The publication of these scripts for a radio soap opera by the Austrian high modernist writer and poet prompted some excitement in the German-language feuilletons: “es ist ein bisschen so, als würde man in 60 Jahren feststellen, dass Peter Handke an den Drehbüchern für ‘Marienhof’ mitgeschrieben hat,” wrote Jens Dirksen in the Neue Ruhr Zeitung. McVeigh, in the afterword to Die Radiofamilie, asserts that these newly discovered texts “vertiefen […] das Verständnis der Dichterin und ihres Werkes, können es sogar verändern” (337). To anyone unfamiliar with the humorous aspects of Bachmann’s work or her exact depiction of social milieu, this volume may indeed come as a surprise, but it is unlikely to prompt Bachmann scholars to revise their understanding of the writer’s work.

Bachmann’s Radiofamilie scripts are characterized by a nuanced, sensitive treatment of social problems, a fine ear for language and dialect, and above all, a wonderful sense of humor, an often-neglected aspect of Bachmann’s writing, which is as present in Malina and the Simultan collection as it is here. Bachmann’s episodes for the radio series are also distinguished by the precise rendering of social milieu that would characterize her uncompleted Viennese comédie humaine, the “Todesarten”-Projekt. Her episodes follow the soap opera genre convention of presenting the everyday concerns of the Floriani family, as indicated by the titles: “Ferienpläne,” “Hexenschuss,” “Schulanfang.” Yet in certain episodes the constraints of the genre are stretched to their limits, as Bachmann treats topics such as the legacy of Nazism, the situation of displaced persons, and conflicting views on modern art.

Notwithstanding the fact that all conflicts in Die Radiofamilie are successfully dissolved, Bachmann draws attention to tensions in postwar Austrian society that certainly could not be resolved as easily as they were at the end of a half-hour radio program. The figure of Guido, the brother of the Floriani paterfamilias, was a character that Bachmann in particular developed in her [End Page 118] episodes (361). Unemployed in postwar Austria due to his status as a former Nazi sympathizer, Guido is constantly coming up with hare-brained schemes on how to make his fortune. With his claims to be related to Crown Prince Rudolf in episode twenty-one, Bachmann humorously reflects on the retreat into Habsburg nostalgia in 1950s Austrian popular culture as a diversion from confronting more recent history. Guido is simultaneously the butt of all jokes and rehabilitated into the Floriani family nest, which expresses the postwar consensus of whitewashing the country’s recent past. Yet it would be false to draw biographical parallels between Bachmann’s work on Die Radiofamilie and her own life, as McVeigh does; to read the...