Malina demonstrates the paradoxical struggle that characterizes any attempt at reflecting on the uncanny relationship between the embodiment of language and the expression of pain. As Elaine Scarry (1985) notes, pain can be used to both make and unmake an identity; pain’s destructuring force can be complemented by the reconstructive potential of the imagination. Yet what happens when the identity to be reconstructed leads only to a fragmentary regeneration; what if the only whole that can be constructed remains incomplete and internally divided? This article focuses on reading Malina as an allegory of the process of writing itself: that is, a means of exploring the attempted expression of the pain and fragmentation of the embodied subject that resulted from the atrocities of World War II. Using Blanchot’s reflections on anguish and language, I argue that the novel—part love story, part horror story, part detective story—is a riddle that the reader must solve, but that in doing so the reader becomes infected with the same fragmentary force that disembodies the protagonist. As such, the heuristic consequence of the novel is to instruct the reader on the influence of language and imagining on the attempted reembodiment or, in this case, eventual disembodiment, of the body in pain.
Death Styles: The Language of Trauma and the Trauma of Language in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina
Douglas Atkinson is visiting professor of literature and literary theory at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He specializes in twentieth-century continental philosophy, with a focus on the intersection between philosophy and literature. His current work is on the philosophic import of Maurice Blanchot and his influence on philosophy of language. His interests focus primarily on Beckett, modernism, and Japanese literature.
Douglas Atkinson; Death Styles: The Language of Trauma and the Trauma of Language in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 March 2020; 66 (1): 103–124. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8196729
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