‘Everything’ by Ingeborg Bachmann

Everything by Ingeborg Bachmann, 1962

The magic trick:

Surprisingly ratcheting up the plot halfway through, but retaining the same narrative tone

This story really fooled me.

I was five pages deep and dead bored. It was so inward-looking and so dull – the narrator just telling us all the different ways he feels about the birth of his new son. Nothing happens, and the realizations he details didn’t strike me as anything particularly insightful or interesting.

There’s more going on here, though, as I soon found.

The boy gets older. The father detaches even further.

Terrible things happen.

It’s a massive shift in the story from the narrator’s thoughts into plot. But what doesn’t change is the narrator’s steadfast ego. The entire story, from the mundane to the tragic, all gets filtered through the narrator’s point of view. How does it affect his life? How does it affect his view of everything?

It’s exhausting, but fascinating.

And that’s quite a trick on Bachmann’s part.

The selection:

I began to look at everything in relation to die child. My hands, for instance, which would some day touch and hold it, our third-floor apartment, the Kandlgasse, the VII. District, the ways that one could take criss-cross through the town right down to the Prater Meadows, and finally the whole world, with all that’s in it, which I would explain to the child. It was from me that it should learn the names: table and bed, nose and foot. And also such words as: spirit and God and soul, useless words in my opinion, but ones that could not be kept from it, and, later on, words as complicated as: resonance, diapositive, chiliasm, and astronautics. I would have to see to it that my child learnt what everything meant and how everything was to be used, a door-handle and a bicycle, a gargle and a printed form. My head whirled.

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