Reviewed by Jessie Ferguson
A throwaway line I read once compared Bachmann’s literary stature in the German-speaking world to that of Virginia Woolf in English. The two writers are wildly different; but in thinking of Woolf’s great Künstlerinroman together with Bachmann’s, I considered Lily Briscoe’s vision in To the Lighthouse, concluded and conclusive. Even after all her own triumphs, it was impossible for Bachmann to grant her narrator a corresponding note of unequivocal triumph. Bachmann’s final poem and famous farewell to poetry, translated as “No Delicacies,” ends with the line “Mein Teil, es soll verloren gehen”: my part, let it be lost, or, in another translation: my share, let it be dispersed. In an earlier poem, “Songs in Flight,” she ends with an image of “the song above the dust [that] will one day rise above us.” Malina is the dark side of those visions of transcendence and succession; its focus is sharply trained on loss. Malina would like to be a gift, but it can’t forget the thefts that placed it in the giver’s hands (and the receivers’, one and all). Its song may endure, but not before it finally, briefly, resolves itself into the human shape of its absent singer.