Archive for the ‘Allgemeines’ Category

Making it all up

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

man kann erfahrungen machenOne of the nicest conversations I had at the Frankfurt Book Fair was with the five-year-old daughter of friends with whom I was staying. I had bought her a chapter book with the idea that her parents could read it to her, because at five, she obviously can’t read yet. But that didn’t stop her trying. She sat on an armchair in her living room, fixated on the open book and “reading” it aloud to herself. “What happens in the story?” I asked her. From her reply I realised she was pretending to understand what was going on, puzzling it out from clues in the few pictures and adding a whole fantasy part that she had made up.

In the Finnish pavilion, I met a Frenchman who was working for an interactive project called Metatext that produces something based on a similar idea. “Imagine,” he said, “you don’t read in the normal way, but you take a book and read the first paragraph, then flip to the end and read the last. You can just make up how you think the story should be in between.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that a five-year-old I know had already stolen his business idea.

Other encounters seemed to have a great deal to do with timing. The five o’clock vodka shots in the Finnish hall were a good example of this, as were the Irish whiskey shots at the Irish stand in Hall 8.0: turn up at a quarter past and the booze was likely to have run out. There was coincidental timing too: spotting a shrunken Helmut Kohl being wheeled in for an appearance in Hall 3.0 looking like his very own waxwork figure in an oversized suit, or a bemused Judith Hermann in a shopping passageway at night, her way blocked by a trio of Spanish dancers who slid across the floor to promote the launch of their photography book. There was also bad timing, like the friend who only managed to arrive at the end of the day in Frankfurt after spending most of the day chasing a postman in Berlin to get hold of her business cards. And good timing: being in the Frankfurter Hof at the moment when group of lovely translators turned up and having a few drinks with them – on the house, due to some lax waiters.

All this added up to a strewn kind of experience this year, and went to prove that even without fixed plans, it’s worth going to Frankfurt to soak up some unexpected moments. The main thing is to sort out the train ticket there and back. What happens in between could be made up by a five year old.

ohne es dafür zu halten

Anti-climaxes and adrenaline

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 10.18.41 AMLife past 45 starts getting to be one big anti-climax. Everything gets a little saggy as gravity kicks in, and on the horizon there is just one long string of breakfasts to be eaten. Or at least this is how I explain the strange lack of euphoria I feel at getting my German citizenship. What was I expecting? A letter from Angela Merkel? A fanfare of trumpets as I walked down the steps of Berzirksamt Pankow?

It started all so auspiciously. I was given a time and a date to go pick up my Citizenship Certificate – I was even asked if 8.00 wasn’t a little too early, which must be such a rare utterance in German Behörde that I wondered if Frau D. wasn’t being a little sarcastic. But if she was, there was no trace of it on her beaming face as she came out of room 119 to greet me at punkt acht Uhr. We went into her office, she whipped out a green certificate, my Einbürgerungsnachweis of which there is only one, this one, and no other, which can never, ever be copied or reproduced so God forbid I lose it. Then she asked me to stand up and walked around the table towards me, so quickly and purposefully that I thought for one moment that the Einbürgerungsritual was going to involve a Socialist kiss in Honecker-Brezhnev style. But no. She merely held onto my green one-and-only-in-the-whole-world certificate and asked me to repeat after her that I knew the laws of the land in Germany and would do my utmost not to break them. I repeated her words, thinking that technically, they weren’t true – I don’t know all the laws of the country – and wondering whether I was already committing an offence in my barely 2-minute-old existence as a German. In any case, once that was over, she squeezed my hand fiercely and wished me a happy life, or words to that effect. And I left. (more…)

Fiction Canteen # 4 // Open Mike

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Fiction_CanteenRoll up with a text – poetry or fiction – on the 9th July at the Alte Kantine Wedding and you will have a chance to read or “test-drive” your text in front of a live audience. A very enthusiastic and gentle audience, of course. We would prefer to keep readings to 5 minutes per person. A number of invited readers will be taking part, who will be announced shortly before the event. But please, come along and bring a text, or a good listening attitude!

We will be watching the semi-finals of the World Cup together afterwards on the big screen from 22.00 onwards.

Between hope and fear

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Screen shot 2014-06-09 at 9.38.29 AMLet me take you on a brief excursion into Spinozist theory, before I get the actual point of this blog post. I’m proofreading a series of texts at the moment that are based on affect theory and in particular, Spinoza. There is a discussion that explains how our true feelings may contradict our “reflectively held beliefs.” Our bodies – there is no longer the Cartesian dualism between mind and body in Spinoza’s world – tell us what we truly think, long before our minds catch up, by way of largely uncontrolled reflexes. Spinoza categorizes feelings into two camps: in the one there is “hope and its constant companion, fear,” according to Spinoza these are “passive affects.” In the other camp are “joy and freedom,” so-called “active affects.” Through “nobility and tenacity,” elsewhere described as “strength of character,” he posits the idea that we can move from one to the other – from the passive to the active.

So far so good? Yes, but so what? Well, here’s what.

Last Tuesday evening, I went to Gary Younge’s far-ranging and thought-provoking talk on “Equality and Inequality in Obama’s Era” at the Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, and the journalist, Anjana Shrivastava, picked out exactly those two words in her introduction: hope and fear. Very briefly, the essence of what she said was: African Americans have moved through an experience of fear (pre-Civil Rights movement) to hope (seeing the first black American in office as President.) Immediately, I was thrown back into my day’s work and thought: hold on, isn’t hope essentially passive? How does hope alone help change or transform people’s lives for the better? True, it’s better than fear, but what about the experience of “joy and freedom”?

Because these are the facts: young black male Americans are statistically more likely to end up in prison nowadays than in 1963, and the figures for fatal shootings of black kids are more or less the same as when Obama took over. Unemployment figures have gone up among blacks since November 2008, and being black means you are more likely to be poor – the wealth gap between blacks and white has grown since Obama was elected. Yet despite all this, Gary said that African Americans feel more empowered, more hopeful, since Obama took office. Obama and his intact family serve as role models for many of the African American working classes – the point being that the black middle classes in the US not only see Obama as a role model but also are not faring too badly under his administration. It’s not so much that the President has implemented concrete policies that have improved the lives of African Americans: it is the sheer fact that he is the President that opens up the imagination of many young people: to hope. (more…)

Sam schläft…ich könnte ihn jetzt töten

Monday, May 19th, 2014


Screen shot 2014-05-19 at 6.31.01 PMNoch keine Gänsehaut? Dann lest hier weiter – mit Soundeffekte!:


things I know so far

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Screen shot 2014-05-19 at 6.47.51 PMsome bruises never heal
shitty jobs can kill you, slowly
some decisions change your life
at the time you will never know for sure what the right decision is
later you will never know for sure what the right decision was
silence is a kind of answer too
love for your children is unlike any other love: you are consumed in a different way
faith is a good thing when it means trust or roots
regret is the single most debilitating emotion, except for guilt
people do change, if only your perception of them
the goodies are never for free
some things are better to accept than fight: it gets them over and done with quicker
some things are better to fight than accept: you will have more respect for yourself afterwards
when people say you’re crazy, they are just playing for time until they find a better argument

Transfiction comes out

Monday, May 12th, 2014

While the world publishing industry continues to latch onto the coattails of the crime fiction wave, we at Transfiction have always been a little more far-sighted: we don’t just embrace crime fiction, we also embrace transgenderism, albeit unwittingly. As I recently found out, transfiction, for some enlightened Americans, is a subgenre of writing that deals in transgender issues. But of course we knew that when we named ourselves Transfiction, er-herm. We did endless global research into the ramifications and connotations of our collective’s name. We knew all about the forthcoming popularity of ladies with beards. We almost called ourselves Conchicta Wurst but then she beat us to it. And it goes without saying that all our American friends in Berlin were kind enough to inform us of the double entendre in our name (thanks, guys). So this is our coming out: we will support Conchita and all like her, as well as transgender fiction.   Combing the internet for clues as to how we might have researched our name, it’s clear that not even all Austrians are informed about the implications of transfiction. A forthcoming volume from the University of Vienna, for example, will be called Transfiction with the intriguing subtitle “Research into the realities of translation fiction”. The blurb says: “Transfiction (should be) understood as an aestheticized imagination of translatorial action.” It does not mention whether the author has a beard. Israel too seems to have been bypassed by the wordplay: Tel Aviv University’s Translation Department last year called its conference “Beyond Transfiction: translators and their authors.” Although you have to admit, that’s a neat little role reversal, putting the translators before their authors; almost as audacious as putting a sequinned dress together with facial hair. And I know there are those of you out there that hate metaphors for translation, but what are literary translators if not transvestites of the word? As Daniel Hahn’s recent essay points out, a translator writes a book “backwards, in high heels.”

Writers’ and Translators’ Reading at OMI

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Screen shot 2014-06-10 at 12.03.46 PMIn the highly unlikely event that you will be in the vicinity and read this post on Facebook or the blog, I will be reading in Hudson, NY at the Marianne Courville Gallery tomorrow evening at 5.30pm. As I’m working on Brigitte Reimann’s diaries here for 3 weeks, I’ll be reading some excerpts. The wonderful Bettina Abarbanell will also be reading  as well as the other writers staying here. And if we’re lucky, Tess Lewis and Shelley Frisch will stay on after lunch and listen. Oh, and Gerdy’ll be there too.

Fiction Canteen # 3 // Speak & Spell

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Fiction_CanteenWhat was your favourite book of 2013 and why? Or have you written something yourself and want to read it to a wider audience? Each person at The Fiction Canteen’s next event, “Speak & Spell”, will have 5 minutes to read an excerpt from an excellent text and tell us something about the writer (who may be you). To round off, we’ll have a spelling bee. The excerpts and the spelling bee will be in English and German. Hosted by Scott Martingell aka McJabber at the alte Kantine Wedding. Doors open at 19.30.

Literary translation and epublishing: some thoughts

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

photo-2It has taken a few days to write this blog post after our Fiction Canteen discussion last Thursday on payment model for translators and authors in the age of digital publishing and the role of Amazon in all this (which, on reflection, seems rather smaller than I thought.) I think I needed to get some distance to the subject matter. So these are the thoughts I have had since the dust has settled.

First, I’d like to put the talk into context. We were a group of literary translators, as well as literary publishers and epublishers, talking about the situation we find ourselves in at the moment in Germany; the moment where ebook sales stand at around 12% of all German publishing revenue. Perhaps it is a moment that has long since happened in the States, where I believe ebooks stand at more like 25% of all publishing revenue now. The talk didn’t cover the scope of digital publishing on the whole, or outside of this country.

The people present came with some specific experience: literary translators who are used to working with brick-and-mortar publishing houses, and epublishers on the panel (Volker Oppmann, Nerys Hughes, Nikola Richter and Amanda de Marco) who all have some background in traditional publishing. Essentially, all the publishers, whether of ebooks or not, saw epublishing as an exciting new opportunity: new formats can be published, such as the Single, Maxi or Long Player formats at CulturBooks (essentially a short story, a novella and a novel), or Readux’s “delightful teeny books” in print, or mikrotext’s short, challenging literary fiction. The thinking behind this change in format is certainly a phenomenon that has come out of the digital age: it’s a break with traditional publishing, a way of forging new paths in literature. What’s short but sells many times over is a way to make money. How? Via Amazon, despite it’s big bad image as an exploiter of gaps in the market at the expense of certain things we love and cherish such as independent bookstores. Amazon was described by all epublishers as pretty much indispensable. It’s a huge moving river of data, and your product has to be in it. Amanda de Marco’s experiment to try and sell her Readux books on other channels and dispense with didn’t pay off. (more…)