22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Dieter Bachmann

Portrait Dieter Bachmann
© Hartwig Klappert

Dieter Bachmann was born in 1940 in Basel. He studied Literature and Philosophy in Zurich and graduated with a dissertation on essays and essayism. Afterwards he worked as a literature and theatre critic and made films for television. He was an editor with the »Weltwoche« and the »Tages-Anzeiger Magazin« before becoming a freelance writer in 1981. He assumed the post of chief editor with the cultural journal »du« in 1988, bringing a renewed concept to the magazine. Ten years later he went to Ticino to write. In 2000 he became head of the Istituto Svizzero in Rome. Today he is a freelance writer living in Umbria and Zurich.

In addition to numerous contributions to newspapers and magazines, he has written anthologies and works of non-fiction, especially about photography. Also a number of narrative essays, including his great essay on Italy »Die Vorzüge der Halbinsel« (2008, tr: The Advantages of the Peninsula). He also made a name for himself as a novelist with »Rab« (1985), »Der kürzere Atem« (1998, tr: Shortness of Breath) and »Grimsels Zeit« (2002, tr: Grimsel’s Time).»Unter Tieren« (2010, tr: Among Animals) is his recent narrative essay experiment. His heroes are »in retreat«, world refugees and minsanthropes – for example, Schlösser, the central figure in »Der kürzere Atem« who lives in self-imposed isolation in Ticino until one day he has the opportunity to make a career out of his wish for solitude: as a »decorative hermit« installed by an English Lord who requires someone to play a hermit in his garden. The critics compared it to the works of Paul Valéry, Samuel Beckett and Max Frisch.

In »Grimsels Zeit« Bachmann pulls a narrative arc from the end of the 1940s to the end of the 1950s. The backdrop is the spared city on the Rhine knee, Basel. Childhood and adulthood in the postwar period and in the climate of the Cold War, sheltered but lonely, timid, addicted to the world. Bachmann’s most important novel is an eloquent panorama, »a great portrayal of a time period […] a book in a very high style of art« (Zeit).

In his latest prose volume »Unter Tieren« Bachmann turns away from people: »The animal is the better man«. Hebel notes and collects individual, striking »paper chaos« in his conversation with his friend Anderberg, a former damage inspector that considers humans a hazard of nature. Notations, correspondence, conceptualizations, that are like a diary with animals, in short texts, are pointedly described and then finally the declaration, »That you are human, give the animal that falls victim to you deep emotion.«

Dieter Bachmann has received the prize of the Swiss Schiller Foundation for a individual achievement, and work grants and awards from the city and canton of Zurich. He was on the foundation board of Pro Helvetia and a juror at the Ingeborg Bachmann Competition in Klagenfurt.

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