46th Ingeborg Bachmann Competition: Elephants in the Studio – Culture

The new ambience that those responsible for the Bachmann Prize for the readings the 46th Days of German-language Literature have created is a really beautiful one. A stage in the garden of the ORF studio in Klagenfurt, the authors are standing on a Persian carpet and reading in front of the summery green trees and plantings, through which a breeze blows every now and then, and in front of them the audience in deckchairs.

Summer at the Wörther See, summer of literature.

And the jury? As always, she sits inside, in the cool, stylish studio. That fits, because literary criticism doesn’t and shouldn’t have anything summery. She gets straight to the point: text, text, text. He’s the party here and the picture isn’t a knife.

The whole thing seems strangely torn apart, precisely because the competition has been held digitally and decentrally in the last two years due to the corona. But that also worked. So maybe this dichotomy is a lesson from the pandemic. It’s perfect in front of the screen: constant change of setting! Only those involved can say it on site.

Pop literature: banal? Or literature?

What you hear on the first day are typical Klagenfurt prose and discussions: Hannes Stein reads a fussy, conservative text about a black professor emeritus in New York who, with “The Royal Republic”, once wrote a history of the Polish-Lithuanian Union and thus sparked a scandal. The jury rejected it because of its strangely twisted identity-political dimensions : “On the other hand, I could not deny that I had done propaganda for a country that was predominantly inhabited by white Europeans.”

Eva Sichelschmidt ventures further out the window in a more formal way with a story about “my grandmother’s body”, which the jury was more willing to accept than the Stein text. And after Leon Engler’s ICE travel impressions with the title “List of things that are not as they should be” there is once again disagreement – a classic at the Bachmann Competition – where pop literature begins and ends, where it becomes literature counts and where not.

Kastberger accuses Engler’s text of being too banal, which insulted Philipp Tingler, who selected it, to the barricades: “You always accuse the texts I have selected of being banal, Mr. Kastberger!” Literature!”.

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So: Klagenfurt business as usual. That also seemed to have been the case on the evening of the opening, at least after the first reading the traditional “Klagenfurt speech on literature”. This time it was held by the Austrian writer Anna Baar, who was born in Zagreb in 1973. Her title: “The truth is an impertinence”.

When Baar started with Ingeborg Bachmann, with “Children in stockings”, when the speech became more and more Austrian, not to say more Klagenfurter, when Baar from Bachmann to the “Babyficker” story by the Swiss poet Urs, which was awarded the Bachmann Prize in 1991 Allemann came, then via a Jörg Haider detour from the fictitious to the real Austrian child molester Franz Wurst, who was also awarded prizes, then from the euthanasia doctor Franz Palla, after whom a street in Klagenfurt is still named, to the first Bachmann Prize winner Gert Jonke, whose parents’ house was in that same alley – yes, that’s when you asked yourself: And isn’t there anything else going on in the world right now after four months of war in the Ukraine?

Handke also appears in Baar’s speech

On the other hand, Baar also hid the hint in her speech that “this is not the first time we have come together in times like these”: “It should be remembered that some put the era of European peace at almost eighty years.”

And she asked, when the “real war” was just raging in Yugoslavia, when “a great poet declared war on situation reporters, so to speak” (about which, as is well known, opinions were very divided), what was the fuss about at the Bachmann competition in 1991?

Yes, this speech by Baar was an intricately artistic one. She also measured the criticism of her Klagenfurt self-reference (whether Josef Winkler was at the opening again?), despite all the real extensions. And it would have been even more artful if it hadn’t ended in a reckoning with “snazzy plots, rough provocation and mild dismay” in the demand to “give children stories from which they can learn lessons and pick themselves up”. phew So much literary value conservatism should not have been.

The “elephant in this reading arena” that Baar warned her colleagues about and that they should “take by the tusks fearlessly” certainly has many faces. Possibly also that of Anna Baar.

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