Book Uncovers New Side of Historic Writer
McVeigh, professor of German, has stirred up a bit of controversy
with the publication this month of his book Die
which includes editions of radio plays by Austrian poet and
writer Ingeborg Bachmann that aired on the United States
Occupation radio station in Austria in the early 1950s.
the years following World War II, the young Bachmann, who
would become one of the most famous female writers in German-speaking
lands, penned a series of controversial radio plays called
Die Radiofamilie while working as a scriptwriter at the Allied
radio station Rot-Weiss-Rot (Red White Red). The soap opera-like
series was about a typical middle-class Austrian family struggling
to survive the difficult postwar years.
“The program was part of a U.S. propaganda offensive to counter programs on Soviet
radio in Austria extolling the virtues of the Soviet way of life,” explains McVeigh.
Die Radiofamilie, which aired on Saturday afternoons, became a hit among Austrian
listeners, and was referred to as Strassenfeger (street sweeper) because when
it aired it swept the streets clean of people, who remained inside listening
to the series.
McVeigh’s book, published in Germany by Suhrkamp Verlag, includes
15 of Bachmann’s radio scripts discovered by McVeigh in the late 1990s, along
with an extensive introduction to the texts.
“These texts are causing a bit of a sensation because they are radically different
from anything she had ever written,” says McVeigh. “I make the case in the book
that the poetess had a humorous, playful side to her in those early years. But
this side is downplayed by conventional scholarship on the poetess because many
of the sources I used, such as letters and other documents from her family, were
not previously known.”
Bachmann, who lived from 1926
to 1973, is known for her poetry, short stories and novels
exploring themes of existentialism, truth and language. She
also wrote opera libretti during her years in Rome.
“She was personally a tragic figure,” says McVeigh of Bachmann, “who was shaped
in her view of existence by the trauma of the war years.”
Several German public radio
stations have come to campus to interview McVeigh about Die
Radiofamilie since its release on May 23, and reviews have
run in newspapers across Germany, including one in Die
Welt by Ruth Klueger, a former visiting professor at Smith. On
Thursday, June 9, he will appear at the Literature House
in Vienna during a special evening about his book, with comments
by McVeigh and a panel discussion.