Franz Fühmann: At the Burning Abyss. Experiencing the Georg Trakl Poem

translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

At the Bruning Abyss is Franz Fühmann’s magnum opus – a gripping and profoundly personal encounter with the great expressionist poet Georg Trakl. It is a taking stock of two troubled lives, a turbulent century and the liberating power of poetry.
Picking up where his last book, The Jew Car, left off, Fühmann probes his own susceptibility to ideology’s seductions – Nazism, then socialism – and examines their antidote, the goad of Trakl’s enigmatic verses. He confronts Trakl’s ‘unlivable life’, as his poetry transcends the panaceas of black-and-white ideology, ultimately bringing a painful, necessary understanding of ‘the whole human being: in victories and triumphs as in distress and defeat, in temptation and obsession, in splendor and in ordure’.
In 1982, the German edition of At the Burning Abyss won the West German Scholl Siblings Prize, celebrating its ‘courage to resist inhumanity’. At a time of political extremism and polarization, the book has lost none of its urgency.
German original published by Hinstorff, Rostock, under the title Vor Feuerschlünden – Erfahrung mit Georg Trakls Gedicht in 1982.