- Ingeborg Bachmanns ‘Ein Ort für Zufälle’: Ein interpretierender Kommentar by Christian Däufel
“Ein Ort für Zufälle,” Ingeborg Bachmann’s acceptance speech for the coveted Georg Büchner Prize in 1964, was the condensation of the Austrian writer’s reflections on Cold War Berlin, a city that she came to inhabit for almost two years between 1963 and 1965, following the award of a Ford Foundation scholarship. The award came at a time of deep personal crisis for Bachmann, who had recently separated from the Swiss writer Max Frisch. Her own personal anguish arguably sensitized her to the pathologies of the then-divided city, bearing the scars of its history. Her stay in Berlin is portrayed as a “subventionierte Agonie” (390), with Bachmann’s own personal trauma making her especially receptive to the confrontation with a historical trauma irrevocably inscribed in Berlin’s cityscape.
This compact text, just twenty-two pages in length in the 1995 critical [End Page 148] edition of the “Todesarten”-Projekt by Göttsche and Albrecht (sixty-six pages when it was published in the Quarthefte series by Wagenbach-Verlag, together with thirteen illustrations by Günter Grass, in 1965), has attracted a great deal of attention from Bachmann scholars. “Ein Ort für Zufälle” abandons the principle of realism in favor of a presentation of a pathogenic city transformed into a giant hospital with airplanes flying in and out of rooms, animals from the Berlin Zoo running through the streets of Berlin, and executions continuing to take place in Plötzensee, site of an infamous former Nazi prison. At the same time, Bachmann presents the Berlin inhabitants as a homogeneous mass, indulging in mass consumerism and inebriation “damit etwas vergessen wird” (“Ein Ort für Zufälle,” as cited in Däufel, 537). The something in question is the city’s traumatic legacy of the Second World War and the Holocaust. “Ein Ort für Zufälle” gave the reading public a first indication of the preoccupations that would dominate Bachmann’s unfinished and only posthumously published “Todesarten”-Projekt. This is a project that Bachmann would work on for the last decade of her life; it testifies to her enduring concern with the latent violence and destruction that remained barely hidden below the surface of postwar society.
Christian Däufel’s “interpretierender Kommentar,” an adapted version of the author’s doctoral dissertation, offers a rich analysis of Bachmann’s compact text. The first book-length study of “Ein Ort für Zufälle,” the volume begins with an analysis of the text’s reception history and a literature review, proceeding with an introduction to the text’s historical, biographical, literary, stylistic, and thematic contexts. Däufel also devotes a large section of the introduction to outlining his methodological approach, drawing on theoretical reflections and debates on the genre of the commentary by Arthur Friedman, Roland Barthes, Simon Goldhill, Jacques Derrida, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, and others.
The main body of Däufel’s study is devoted to a detailed commentary of the twenty-six sections of “Ein Ort für Zufälle,” whereby the twenty-six sections are further broken down into sentences or phrases. The commentary consists of discussions of the genesis of a particular passage (drawing on the 1995 critical edition of the “Todesarten”-Projekt by Dirk Göttsche and Monika Albrecht), its structure and semantics, a glossary, and a detailed analysis of each section, whereby connections to Bachmann’s other works, intertextual references to other authors, and the discussion of motifs in the context of cultural and literary history are given particular weight. [End Page 149]
Admittedly, the glossary varies in its usefulness, from offering the history of the Brandenburger Tor, the Siegessäule, and the Tiergarten (which could easily be found in any encyclopedia), as well as a definition for Fettpapier (202), to the valuable glosses of Berlin locations such as the Kleine Weltlaterne, a Kreuzberg bar that was especially popular among artists in the 1960s (395). As the period of Cold War Berlin recedes...