Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Book Of Franza: Ingeborg Bachmann

I must acknowledge that this post is not an attempt to write a critique of this short novella but an attempt to understand it, and in the process perhaps experience the poetry of words.
This is the first Bachmann novel that I have read and I am yet to decide where to classify it, for the style is neither excessively poetic nor mundanely dull, but a mixture of what I now feel are thoughts, fragments written on paper, elements of existence, without a a priori reflection. Just like how thoughts occur to us everyday, every single moment of our existence. The fascinating mix of memory and desire, regret and pain.

It is not possible for a reader without tools to understand any writer, any language without knowing the dominant, the consensual reality of that or any culture or any reality. Thus, perhaps after reading this novel or while reading it, I was wondering whether it is realistic to read a translation of Bachmann or any other writer? However, because we must, I feel there will be a permanent gap in my approach towards translated literature and this book is no exception.

Since there are different undercurrents running around the story of Franza, we must try to seek the answers from them. There is the large shadow of Nazi persecution, the haplessness of its victims to which, in a way that seems natural and logical to Bachmann, the supposed persecution of Franza is weaved. The narrator , alternating between what I thought was Franza and the other, equates the same persecution with the atrocities suffered by the Egyptians at the hands of the Whites, including the oppression of the Mummies by the whites too. There are references to historical events like the Suez Canal war, as if these are important elements to understand Franza's sickness. The events in Franza's childhood are clues to her mental state later on, her first love with whom she calls the Sire, perhaps her love for Martin, her brother, love incestuous.

There are heart warming times for me in this novel, things that happen that we don't even mention, out of fear. The young Franza kisses the sire as he drives away and then we have this beautiful passage........With that, Franza's first love came to an end, and she remained behind, with no afterglow, only dazed, the glow flickering out within her, as she stood amid the dust cloud that floated behind.......... And years later when she meets her sire and he doesn't recognize her, Franza remembers........ And no one stood anymore at the edge of a road, somewhere in Europe, feeling as if she would collapse while trembling, or simply stand there forever in a cloud of dust, as the four tanks rolled on- which could not be seen.

I am a prime example of post traumatic stress, Franza tells us, for there is no summer day upon which a noxious shower of rain does not fall, no night during which I am not obsessed, no forgetfulness that is not buried in freudian slips and meaningless babble. And later on, suddenly, Franza asks..........Why does one only refer to fascism when it has to do with opinions or blatant acts? The middle portion of the book finds Franza attempting to explain her married life with the Professor in disjointed fragments, images, words, hints. This is a difficult read as we are in and out of her past, present, her desires, her willingness to die, allusions, memories, desires, memories. Franza feels that she is a Papuan, robbed.

And then Bachmann writes.........The puzzle of my days is more important than the puzzle of my dreams, for you should understand that there is no dream puzzle, but rather the puzzle itself, the puzzle of days, the undetectable chaos of reality........ Then she writes about fear, how it cannot be charted, measured by a cardiogram. We reach the final denouement near the pyramids and then Franza dies, which one expects or even suspects. The book ends as if you expect it to tell you more, for we have just seen Franza only from the outside, without understanding her. But is not that what franza Fells us in the beginning, that it is not possible to understand anything, anyone?

The book of Franza is a difficult novel to understand and even read in one attempt, for there are techniques that the writer uses which surprise us and come upon us suddenly. How are we expected to know about Franza anyway? How can we actually even consider this attempt at understanding? I felt that there is a suppressed poetry inside this book, a poetry that sometimes seems broken, disjointed, I guess deliberately...........There is talk of fascism in relations but perhaps one must understand this from the point of view of both men and women, for fascism is not the prerogative of men alone.

This is a well written, sometimes beautifully written novel that is possible to understand only if we allow ourselves no mercy, for there are images in here that are universal, parting and heartbreak, treachery, sexual jealousy and the inability to express, to understand, to convey, to communicate, to reflect maybe but an inability to convey that reflection, that understanding. There is sufficient politics too, hints of oppression, of colonial sadism, sadistic oppression of the dead too, interwoven perhaps with Bachmann's vision of a world dominated by sadistic men, cruel husbands, loss and failure of love, misery in togetherness or just a pure impossibility in existing together.

I will end by these beautiful few lines from The Book of Franza.

You have to come down to the Nile with me some night. An enigma. During a night on the Nile, which I shall never experience, during a night on the Nile when there are no village lamps but rather the stars. On the Nile, the upper Nile. Far away from the shadowy years during which no stars hung in my mouth.....


antonia said...

it is probably so difficult to classify because it was part of a bigger project and Franza was not finished so what has been published are fragments. Great last quote you chose.

KUBLA KHAN said...

i think, after the distance of a few days, that this book, inspite of its fragmentary nature, is quite complete.
Dont we exist fragment like. pulling, pushing, moving here and there, keeping a lid on desires and smothering memories?
what are we if not small books, unpublishable, insignificant?

antonia said...

you're absolutely right.