Monday, November 18, 2013

Noted: Ingeborg Bachmann

From her novel Malina (1971; translated from the German by Philip Boehm):
That one might feel called to become a mailman, that delivering mail is not an occupation haphazardly chosen, that it is a mistake to even consider it one, was proven by the famous mailman Kranewitzer of Klagenfurt, who in the end was brought to trial and sentenced to several years' imprisonment for malfeasance and misappropriation of funds, a completely misunderstood man, mistreated by the press as well as the court. I have read the reports of Kranewitzer's trial more carefully than those of the most shocking murder trials of all these past years, and the man himself, who then merely amazed me, now has my deepest sympathy. From a certain day on, without being able to explain why, Otto Kranewitzer ceased distributing the mail and for weeks and months he accumulated it in the old three-room apartment where he lived alone, piling it up to the ceiling, he sold most of his furniture to make space for the growing postal mountain. He did not open letters or packages, he did not forge checks or bonds, nor did he filch any bills sent from mothers to their sons, nothing of the sort could be proven against him. He simply, suddenly could no longer deliver the mail, a sensitive, tender, great man who realized the full significance of his work, and precisely because of that the low official Kranewitzer was discharged from the Austrian Postal Service in disgrace and dishonor, as it takes pride in employing only reliable, energetic mailmen of stamina. But in every profession there must be at least one man who lives in deep doubt and comes into a conflict. Mail delivery in particular would seem to require a latent angst, a seismographic recording of emotional tremors which is otherwise accepted only in the higher and highest professions, as if the mail couldn't have its own crisis, no Thinking—Wanting—Being for it, no scrupulous and noble renunciation otherwise granted all sorts of people, better paid, occupying academic chairs, people who are permitted to ponder the proofs of divine existence, to reflect on the Ontos On, the Aletheia or as far as I'm concerned the origins of the Earth or of the Universe! But the unknown and poorly paid Otto Kranewitzer was only accused of base behavior and the dereliction of duty. No one realized that he had begun to ponder, that he had been gripped by the amazement which is, of course, at the root of all philosophical inquiry and anthropogenesis, and in light of the things which caused him to lose his composure he could in no way be pronounced incompetent, for no one could have been more capable than he, who had spent thirty years delivering letters to Klagenfurt, in recognizing the problem of mail, its problematic nature.

He was fully familiar with our streets, it was clear to him which letters, which packets, which printed matters were postmarked correctly. In addition, more and most subtle differences in the writing of addresses, a "R. Hon. Sir," or a name unaccompanied by "Herr" or "Frau," a "Prof. Dr. Dr." told him more about attitudes, generational conflict, signals of social alarm than our sociologists and psychiatrists will ever discover. By false or insufficient return address he realized everything immediately, naturally he could distinguish a family letter from a business letter without a moment's hesitation, somewhat friendly letters from those wholly intimate, and this significant mailman, who took whatever risks his profession required as a cross to bear for all others, must have been seized by horror, faced with the postal mountain growing in his apartment, he must have suffered indescribable pangs of conscience, inconceivable to others, to whom a letter is just a letter and printed matter merely printed matter. On the other hand, whoever even only attempts, as I am doing, to assemble and confront his own mail from several years (and even such a person would not be unbiased, faced with his mail alone, and thus incapable of seeing the larger connections) would probably understand that a postal crisis, even if it only did occur in a small town and only for a few weeks, is morally superior to the accepted onset of one of the public worldwide crises so often thoughtlessly conjured up, and that thinking, which is becoming rarer and rarer, is not solely the property of a privileged class and its dubious representative, the authorized thinkers, but also belongs to an Otto Kranewitzer. (pp. 158-160)

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