- Im Liegen ist der Horizont immer so weit weg: Grenzüberschreitungen bei Barbara Frischmuth ed. by Anna Babka, Peter Clar
The title of the book Im Liegen ist der Horizont immer so weit weg comes from a 1996 poem by Barbara Frischmuth that appeared around the time of Austria’s entry into the European Union. After urging the reader to lift his [End Page 138] or her eyes to wider vistas, it evokes the home/foreign realm dichotomy, a main theme of her fiction and essays, in the playful question, “Eusterreich oder Östropa?” (7). The book, with the subtitle “Grenzüberschreitungen bei Barbara Frischmuth” emerged from a conference with the same name held in May 2016 in Danzig in honor of Frischmuth’s seventy-fifth birthday. Just as Frischmuth’s literary oeuvre transcends borders of genre, place, culture, gender role, and generation, this volume transcends expectations of what we expect from texts “about” literary works and the lives of their authors. Quite different from the traditional “Festschrift” assemblages of diverse scholarly articles devoted to an esteemed mentor celebrating a milestone birthday, this lovely tribute volume includes some traditionally footnoted interpretations of the honoree’s literary works but also quotations, prose fragments, photographs, poems, playful and humorous pieces, and letters. Several of the contributors, more than forty in number, offer personal comments, either on their experiences reading Frischmuth’s books or on their acquaintance and interactions with her, or both. Of course, mixed-genre books and volumes on writers’ lives and their works are hardly new; nevertheless, this book seems uniquely multifaceted; it appeals to our hearts, our senses of humor, and our appreciations of beauty as well as our analytical minds.
Although they overlap, pieces in the volume can be divided into scholarly interpretations of Frischmuth’s novels and creative pieces of various kinds; the two types are interspersed. In the former category is a study of Frischmuth’s works focusing on cultural anthropology and another on religious and “inter-religious” issues. Several articles discuss specific novels, including Das Verschwinden des Schattens in der Sonne in context of her later literary works; there is also a study of “Interkulturelle Begegnungen” in Die Schrift des Freundes as well as essays on figures from Vergiss Ägypten and two studies of Woher wir kommen, one on the concept “Leerstelle Männlichkeit” and one on “Gefühlsräume.” These scholarly articles make a solid contribution to Frischmuth scholarship.
Some of the texts recount visiting the author and seeing her garden and lakefront environment at Altaussee, Steiermark, her childhood home and abode of recent years. This volume contains a series of photographs of Frischmuth in her garden, subject of four of her most recent publications representing her own genre, the “literarisches Gartentagebuch.” Her increased emphasis on plant life and rural Austria complements the urban and non-Austrian, mainly Middle Eastern, settings of much of her fiction, [End Page 139] also amply discussed in this volume. In an essay on “Barbara Fischmuths autobiographische Gartenliteratur,” Isabel Kranze asserts that the books “umkreisen [ . . . ] den Garten als konkreten Ort [ . . . ], als literarische Phantasie der Autorin und ihrer Seelenverwandten, als Thema der Kulturgeschichte und als Herausforderung für die Naturwissenschaften” (26). Reinhard P. Gruber writes of Frischmuth’s connection to plants: “Sie lebt mit der Vegetation. [ . . . ] Sie existiert als Pflanzenschutzmittel selbst, als Madonna der wertvollen Pflanzen” (164).
In addition to established literary critics, the book also includes texts by peers, well-known Austrian creative writers. They include Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, Friederike Mayröcker, Peter Handke, Elisabeth Reichart, Peter Rosei, Gerhard Rühm, and several others. These writers contribute congratulatory wishes, letters, poems, and vignettes. One interesting montage piece is Bodo Hell’s “-isch und -ut-Litanei für Barbara Frischmuth,” which presents evocative lists of words ending in these suffixes. Readers must supply their own connections to Frischmuth and her writings. One -isch segment follows: “arkadisch nomadisch enzyklopädisch periodisch melodisch methodisch weder modisch noch alt- oder gar unmodisch episodisch rhapsodisch [ . . . ].” (254) Listed under -mut we have “hochgemut, frohgemut...