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Uwe Johnson. A Trip to Klagenfurt: In the Footsteps of Ingeborg Bachmann.

Uwe Johnson. A Trip to Klagenfurt: In the Footsteps of Ingeborg Bachmann. Trans. Damion Searls. Northwestern Univ. Press, 2004. 92 pp. Paper: $19.95

Days after Ingeborg Bachmann's death, Uwe Johnson travels to her gravesite in her hometown of Klagenfurt. If this be pilgrimage--and it is--it is also intervention. Bachmann left Klagenfurt never to return--"above all," she writes, "one cannot ... come back"--living in New York, Zurich, and, most recently, Rome, at the time of her death. Johnson's account of his trip explains why Bachmann had to leave and could not return, although suggesting an interpretation Johnson himself resists. "I need say nothing. Only show," Walter Benjamin says of his method in his unfinished The Arcades Project. "The rags, the refuse ... not to make an inventory of these things, but to allow them, in the only possible way, to fulfill their existence." Johnson's method in A Trip to Klagenfurt is a layering--an accretion, if you will--of newspapers, histories, lists, state documents, statistics, interviews, tourist information, culture, geography, talk, observation, schedules, letters from Bachmann, quotations from her fiction, which allow the material to speak for itself. "There was one specific moment that shattered my childhood," Bachmann comments in an interview. "The march of Hitler's troops into Klagenfurt [in 1938 when she was 12] ... that was the first time I felt the terror of death." The war never ended for Bachmann ("The assassins are still with us") and fascism did not die when the guns stopped ("the first element in the relationship between a man and a woman"). Johnson's assemblage pieces together a Klagenfurt of the past, the one Bachmann lived in as a teenager during war, the one standing today as a footnote to her judgment. He gives the first words of his book to Bachmann, in a letter she writes him: "every obituary is necessarily an indiscretion." The indiscretions writers commit to keep obituaries from being last words. Searls's new, more powerful, translation of Bachmann's story, "Youth in an Austrian Town," included here, parallels Johnson's document and presents her own version of why she had to leave. [Robert Buckeye]
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Author:Buckeye, Robert
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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