The Nature of the Beetle: Language and Trauma in the Work of Ingeborg Bachmann
Weiner, Sharon B
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This dissertation engages the interface between language and trauma from philosophical and literary perspectives. Using Wittgenstein’s private language argument as a point of departure, I hypothesize that trauma which is never verbalized is damaging because it remains less than fully real, for language itself is of paramount importance in granting legitimacy to the experience. I then investigate whether and how this claim is borne out in post-war Austrian literature, specifically in the work of Ingeborg Bachmann (Malina), Thomas Bernhard (Wittgensteins Neffe) and Paul Celan (Meridian). This dissertation combines contributions in several fields. Within Austrian studies, I demonstrate that Wittgenstein’s private language argument is relevant to the problem of repressed and unspoken trauma in postwar Austrian literature, and that it can be a useful lens through which to reconsider the work of Bachmann, Celan and Bernhard. Within trauma studies, I propose that a key function of creating a trauma narrative is to make it more real for the survivor by bringing it into language. Within studies of Wittgenstein and literature, I expand on studies which examine influences and/or affinities between Wittgenstein and literature and carry my analysis back into a philosophical inquiry. Finally, within readings of Wittgenstein’s private language argument, I make a novel claim about the argument’s implications for trauma: If one remains silent about a traumatic experience, never verbalizing it even to oneself, a problem arises related to the impossibility of a private language; namely, one becomes privy to an experience no one else acknowledges, undermining the very reality of the experience.
Philosophy of Language
Private Language Argument