- Ingeborg Bachmann und Paul Celan: Historisch-poetische Korrelationen ed. by Gernot Wimmer
In an abandoned draft of a letter from the early summer of 1949, Ingeborg Bachmann confidently writes to her lover Paul Celan that she considers herself the better reader of his poems: “Ich kann sie besser lessen als die anderen.” Alas, Bachmann failed to include interpretations of Celan’s works in her missives, thus thwarting the expectations of those scholars who for years have hoped for clarity from the long-awaited publication of the lovers’ correspondence. Until the 2008 publication of Herzzeit, the content of Bachmann’s and Celan’s missives has been subject to speculation. In precarious attempts to decipher a legendary relationship between two brilliant writers, between the daughter of an Austrian nsdap member and a German-speaking, stateless Jew, scholars have been trying to untangle a fascinating network of dialogic references in their oeuvres. Instead of relying on biographical details, readers of Bachmann and Celan reconstructed the authors’ poetic dialogue and concentrated on literary correspondences. The biographical curiosity of scholars of both poets was of course enhanced by the secrecy of an exchange kept under tight wraps by their heirs, yet at times it seems as if the writers anticipated the publication of their letters. In an enclosure to letter no. 18, dated March 1951, Bachmann pleas for Celan not to hold back, since both know that the veil of privacy has already been lifted from the intimacy of their relationship—“dass der Vorhang vor unsrem Fenster schon wieder abgebrannt ist und uns die Leute zusehen von der Straße.”
While Herzzeit is the first to document in detail the personal, literary, and historical dimensions of Celan and Bachmann’s epistolary relationship, Ingeborg Bachmann und Paul Celan: Historisch-poetische Korrelationen is the first volume to make fruitful the insights gained from a closer look at the writers’ [End Page 141] intimate exchanges for the poetic correspondences between their oeuvres. The eleven essays under review are the eponymous proceedings of a December 2013 symposium held at the Forum Culturel Autrichien in Paris. Divided into three sections, the collection has attracted many renowned and burgeoning scholars of Celan and Bachmann. Essays of the first section by Sigrid Weigel, Cindy K. Renker, Barbara Wiedemann, and Marc-Oliver Schuster explore the socio-historical circumstances of the correspondence and read the exchange as historic documents. The papers by Linda Maeding, Mladen Reimer, Mareike Stoll, and Lina Užukauskaitė that follow attempt to discern poetological principles, while the ultimate section comprises detailed analyses of individual poems by Gernot Wimmer, Ruven Karr, and Bernhard Böschenstein. From Celan’s first note and poem to Bachmann in 1948 to her last letter to him in 1967 after six years of silence, their bond seemed to have been marked by what Celan elsewhere called the “Geheimnis der Begegnung”—encounters of hearts, minds, and texts. The volume’s essays each chart the literary place of their meetings.
Weigel’s opening essay, “Öffentlichkeit und Verborgenheit: Zur literaturpolitischen und persönlichen Konstellation von Ingeborg Bachmanns Frankfurter Poetik-Vorlesung,” deciphers references to Celan’s poems in Bachmann’s 1959 Frankfurt lectures as doubly coded messages beyond her intimate letters—legible to anyone but comprehensible only to her lover. When Bachmann failed to reach Celan during his most troubled times through her letters, she reached out to him in her lectures. As a medium of personal correspondence, the letter is also a form of self-identification in exchange with the addressee. Wiedemann, the co-editor and translator of Herzzeit, presents an analysis of the anti-Semitic climate in postwar Germany and Austria and sees the unprocessed relationship of perpetrator and victim reflected in an unsent letter by Bachmann. “Du willst das Opfer sein—Bachmanns Blick auf Celan in ihrem nicht abgesendeten Brief vom Herbst 1961” contends that in a draft of an angry letter, Bachmann reveals her conflicted exasperation with Celan: Caught in a double bind, she is no longer willing to see him as a victim of the Holocaust, nor to accept his identification as such.