The Austrian Riveter: The Ingeborg Bachmann Centre at the University of London by Andrea Capovilla

The Ingeborg Bachmann Centre for Austrian Literature and Culture (IBC) is one of six research centres at the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies (ILCS). As an integral part of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London we promote interdisciplinary research.

The Bachmann Centre provides a forum for scholarship and debate on Austrian literature and culture, and our events are open to all interested. It was founded in 2002 by Professor Rüdiger Görner, now at Queen Mary University, with the continuous support of the Austrian Cultural Forum in London. As the current IBC director, I am building on the work of my predecessors Heide Kunzelmann and Martin Liebscher.

Ingeborg Bachmann has been chosen as our figurehead, because her work connects incisively with the Austrian literary tradition cut off by the fascist period, and at the same time her work radically challenges the post-war status quo and continues to inspire readers and artists in a variety of genres. Bachmann frequently references major Austrian writers in her texts, especially Robert Musil, Joseph Roth, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Ludwig Wittgenstein. However, the intertextual quality of her writing extends far beyond Austrian literature. She gained a doctorate in philosophy, translated from English and Italian, wrote opera libretti and lectured on poetics. As a cosmopolitan, transnational and rebellious writer and thinker, Bachmann was ahead of her time and the intellectual reach and urgency of her work has come to be fully appreciated but with considerable delay. Bachmann’s work, its reception and influence, is an important focus of the Centre’s work. Her novel Malina was reissued by Penguin in its Modern Classics series in 2019, and I organised a book launch where Philip Boehm presented his translation together with Heinz Bachmann, the late author’s brother, who has always been supportive of her legacy.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of Bachmann’s death this year, the international conference Reading Bachmann Now will take place on 17–19 May 2023. Peter Filkins, who has translated Bachmann’s poems and the fragmentary novel cycle Todesarten (‘Ways of Dying’) will discuss the first English-language biography of her, which he is currently working on.

Beyond the engagement with Bachmann’s work, the Centre is a hub for scholars of Austrian literature and holds conferences on all aspects and periods of Austrian literature and culture. The term ‘Austrian’ itself is frequently the focus of historical, transnational and poetological interrogation. Franz Kafka, Paul Celan, Stefan Zweig or Joseph Roth are regarded and celebrated as Austrian writers, but borders were redrawn dramatically after the First World War and Jewish people were hounded out of their home countries under fascism. In the present, literature is not confined by borders or one language, and is informed by multiple streams of migration.

One focus of research is the work of writers who went into exile in the UK under fascism and frequently made it their home. In 2019, I contributed to one of SJ Fowler’s Illuminations events, in which a number of artists and scholars from the UK and Austria presented work on major Austrian writers as well as lesser-known but fascinating Anglo-Austrian writers, such as Theodor Kramer, Franz Baermann Steiner, Stella Rotenberg, HG Adler and Mela Hartwig.

Other events over the years were dedicated to the work of Ilse Aichinger and her twin sister Helga Michie, who, while Ilse went into hiding in Vienna, came to London in a Kindertransport and remained in London, working as a visual artist and poet.

The IBC also hosts bilingual readings by authors and translators, frequently showcasing work as yet unpublished in English translation. These events either take place within the IBC’s Encounters series, or at the Austrian Cultural Forum, which regularly invites Austrian authors. For information on the Ingeborg Bachmann Centre’s events go to:

Andrea Capovilla

Read The Austrian Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

Buy books from The Austrian Riveter through the European Literature Network’s The Austrian Riveter page.

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