Thursday, 24 June 2010

Bachmann Prize Day 1

Start at the bottom and scroll up.

So that was Day 1. Join me tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen, for Day 2. I'm not sure I can do Day 3, as I invited loads of friends round for a semi-public viewing. But we shall see. Maybe we'll all join in together or something.

OK, they're convincing me again. The text, they're saying, is an experiment, an adventure. Hartmann von Aue! says Hildegard Keller. Which is totally cool. A quest.

And they like the fact - being readers - that the language builds on non-fiction books, taking that factual tone but playing with it. Plus the quotes as a collage, intertextuality. Which is pretty in right now, huh?

Heh. They like it. What they don't know is that the idea of coal burning underground isn't a play on the oil spill thing, which obviously occurred after it was written. It actually happened somewhere in Pennsylvania last century. But in fact, Elmiger uses it well.

Goodness me, Meike Feßmann likes it. Very original "for such a young writer." Hubert Winkels gives it the thumbs up too (in a very long-winded manner).

It does build momentum as it goes on. Lots of ominous mining accidents. But still very very opaque. Ach, why are my expectations so conventional? While I translated it I know I enjoyed that opaqueness.

Oh, I so want to like it. My memory of it is so much better than her reading of it - but is that because I got so beautifully immersed in it while I translated? Or because she's obviously very nervous and can't do justice to it live? Or does it work better on paper than out loud? Very possibly.

But plot isn't as important as all that. Actually lovely language, a few gorgeous lists. Which were fun to translate too.

And it was tricky to translate, because the tone is rather old-fashioned. In the end I took my cue from a couple of the sources, which were historical texts. But I think (and I apologise for this patronising comment in advance) that to be a little more readable, Elmiger ought to keep things a little simpler. Because ultimately, you come away feeling a little confused - and not in a good way.

So it's a kind of post-apocalypse situation. "We knew little. I didn’t know why I read the books. Fritzi didn’t know what had to be said. At the beginning of summer we simply imagined what it would be like in winter: we’d get lost in the hills due to heavy snowfall!" Books are frowned upon. It's supposed to be intruiging - and it is.

So now she's reading. Not terribly well. Full disclosure: we mailed, and said hello when we met. She was nice. My translation: here. You may find this text slightly confusing. I know I did. But she was very helpful and kindly provided all her sources for me.

Dorothee Elmiger's portrait, wandering around the old airport at Tempelhof. She's 24! Another one who doesn't want to settle down anywhere, like Janesch. Perhaps that's a generation thing. I'm sure it's perfectly possible to write well when you live in one place for a long time.

Even the audience finds it funny that Meike Feßmann's getting so het up about this text. I don't understand her objection to the pleading tone. Her argument: the person who's been left is the one who pleads, not the leaver. Who says? And of course Fleischanderl's argument that we've heard it all before is equally "redundant". Once you've read a few books you've heard everything before, surely? And it comes down to the way they're written, not to the content. Which is what Spinnen is just saying, funnily enough. Unfortunately, the text isn't lyrically interesting enough (in my eyes) to fulfil that criterion.

Burkhard Spinnen (was this his choice?) has a few sensible points about the text's rhythm and artificiality.

Oh, thank goodness. Paul Jandl has pointed out that it's utterly stupid to criticize fiction for being "unrealistic". Good man! The critics have fallen into the trap of talking about the piece's psychology. With which we descend to local library reading group level. Excuse me, but it's true.

Ha, I bet they all fancy him too. Alain Claude Sulzer likes it but finds it too long. Watch them being nicer to him than the others, just because he's fit... Oh. Nope. They think it's redundant.

Nice and depressing. I wouldn't want to read a whole book of it - but I like the disaster movies. Otherwise not overly sophisticated in the literary sense, but quite likeable.

Really, it's OK to write texts in the second person. I know it's not the done thing, but why not write a very emotional accusatory text to a former partner? I know I've been tempted a good few times. OK, I've even done it a few times. But I tend to just keep them to myself. But of course this is fiction, I forget.

13: 28:
So it's a village teacher, not an actor, who's split up with his wife and now she's having mental health issues and he ends up looking after her. Isn't he good and angry?

So now he's reading. In a very dramatic manner. He's an actor, you know. And he gets top points for attractiveness. Stefan Tobler's translation is here.

Oops. Daniel Mezger's portrait. Must summon up my memory of his text. As far as I recall I wasn't overly keen. Oh, no, I remember now. It's terribly dramatic.

Lunch. After the break we get Daniel Mezger and Dorothee Elmiger. Stefan Tobler translated Mezger and I got to do Elmiger.

I think we're all agreed that this is a rather pale text. Not even much to pick apart. Plenty of opportunities for the critics to make the kind of comments about disability that would get them thrown out of the medical profession, however. Very shaky ground here. "Insanity", "handicaps", "dementia", how come he can read? Perhaps I'm a tad too PC but this is all slightly embarrassing.

Alain Claude Sulzer defending his choice. He's not very convincing though. He likes the fact that the situation is so odd. Fleischanderl wants it to be funny. Perhaps that's the problem - we need a hilarious text about adults with learning disabilities...? I think not.

Gosh, Meike Feßmann is ripping the actual writing to pieces. Inconsistencies, inaccuracies. She likes the two characters though.

Ooh, I just saw someone I know in the audience. This text is slightly too long. Quite handy though, as I made a quick trip to the fridge. I can't decide whether the ending makes me sigh or groan or give a patronising smile.

I also find it rather manipulative of the reader's emotions. Which I know is what writers are supposed to do. But all the terrible feeling sorry for the son with the father who exists but can't be a father to him. I suppose it's probably difficult to write about people with mental disabilities without getting patronising and sentimental. I don't think Kloeble manages it here. But at least he doesn't succumb to the temptation to explain how Fred the big kid came to have a son (oops, spoiler!).

But it wasn't much of a challenge to translate, compared to some of the other texts which I'm not allowed to talk about yet. Very plain language, the only difficulty really was getting the tone right for the father's simple sentences. I suppose we translators like texts that play with language a little more. Has Kloeble got a faux-hican going on there?

It's quite ambitious, a rather tangly structure. Albert visits his dad, who is what used to be called retarded. And has three months to live. I like the beginning, which zooms down from the sky to the house. Oh God, please cameraman, don't do that going out of focus thing.

The thing is, when you translate seven short stories in a short length of time and lightly edit the other seven translations, some of them don't stick in your mind very well. And this is one of them. My translation is online now, but they've forgotten to put my name on it. Or maybe I forgot.

Oh look, Christopher Kloeble's made his own portrait. Home videos of children doing leg-slapping dances. He's at the LCB too. Popular background setting. He comes from a family. He has a childhood. This is presumably to make sure we don't get him muddled up with his story. But we'll come to that.

The discussion's going round in circles rather. They don't trust the narrator. Why do they want to?

Cool! Volker H. Altwasser's arguing back! Unfortunately we couldn't hear what he said.

Meike Feßmann defending her choice of this text. She likes the Moby Dick stuff, combined with the modern-day information content.

How funny, they all like that expensive obscure fish just like I do. Is it an allegory? I rather like Hildegard Keller, I must say. Lovely friendly smile. Nice and encouraging. I think what she's trying to say is that the text has just too many issues in it. Pollution, capitalism, enormous wealth. Lots and lots of exclamation marks, she notes. Take out that relationship, she says. She's right, I think.

They think it's too messy. It is a bit, isn't it? Too many perspectives, the critics say. Has potential, but they're laughing about the whole macho stuff. They like the descriptions - and so did I. Burkhard Spinnen really does talk a lot, doesn't he?

Karin Fleischanderl doesn't like those Moby Dick references either.

The shortnose batfish does actually exist, by the way, but I have no idea whether they're really worth a million dollars each. Actually that was what I liked best about this text - that doubt about whether the writer might be playing a huge trick on us with these very expensive obscure fish.

And here we have my other issue: the Moby Dick references. It was fun to translate, actually, lots of challenges (thanks for the comment, Paco). I chose one of the other sailors' names out of Melville too. Which made me feel kind of clever, which I presume is how Volker H. Altwasser feels too.

Are they passing that feather around in the audience? It's so terribly macho, this text. Ah, the dead fish. Dead poisonous fish.

OK, we're kind of getting there now. There's quite a lot of writing about how people feel. The old man's dream of the sea, the fish processor's slightly kitsch thoughts about his wife. The kind of thing you get told off for in creative writing courses, I'm told. (Big glug of water.) Which is not to say you shouldn't do it - hey, why not be iconoclastic about these things? What Volker H. Altwasser doesn't do is fashionable writing.

He's reading now, and you can read my translation here. You'll notice it's about industrial fishing. I've seen him reading before, he's not the greatest performer but he writes well enough. The text was a bit of a bugger to translate, what with all the obscure fish species and nautical vocabulary. I have no idea whether it's used properly or not. At times it seems overly technical to me. There's another issue I had, but we haven't got to that bit yet.

Blimey. OK, now we get a portrait of Volker H. Altwasser. These portraits are annoying me already. Poverty-stricken childhood, writes about endings. Full disclosure: we exchanged a couple of mails about his texts. "Don't expect love novels from him."

Hildegard Keller seems to like some things about it. Subject matter, wanted to hear more about the granddaughter narrator. Look at the poor wee writer, I'd be weeping. Burkhard Spinnen is talking and talking and talking and I'm not sure what he wants to say. No tension? Paul Jandl? Do you have no sensitivity? Sulzer's fighting back. But he's probably on his own here.

Alain Claude Sulzer chose the text. And now he has to defend his choice. A simple man, a simple story. He thinks the promise of spookiness from the beginning is fulfilled. Meike Feßmann likes the atmosphere but thinks it's too much. Likes the double narrator (grandfather, granddaughter), thinks it's too much.

So now the critics have the word. Hubert Winkels is using up lots and lots of words about how he thinks the subject is interesting. But... He thinks it's cheap. He thinks we've seen it all before. He mentioned Stephenie Meyer!

Audience looking a bit restless now that grandfather's found the rotting Nazi in the attic.

Why is someone wearing a feather in their hair? God, I really do like this story. I'm a sucker for spooky. "But as he stood in front of the settee his last remaining strength was only enough to shove the thickest tendrils aside and lie down on the bed of leaves." It's not that she uses particularly clever language - and perhaps she's not the first to use nature/fright devices - but it works.

Quite a lot of backs of grey heads in the audience. Absolute silence. It's getting spooky.

Doesn't she look lovely? I'm completely biased.

Janesch is reading. I really like her text, but it gets better as it goes along. Everyone's reading along with her. It's about Polish farmers arriving in Silesia from now Ukrainian Galicia to settle the abandoned farmyards after the war. So lots of European history, fates affected by political decisions. But wait, it gets odder.

Portrait of Sabrina Janesch. Sitting on the LCB terrace, looking at blossoms. Polish-German identity, writing. "Makes sensible stuff collide with spookiness." Full disclosure: I've met her and I think she's absolutely lovely. My translation is here.

We're starting off with three writers I translated: Sabrina Janesch, Volker Altwasser and Christopher Kloeble. So I have opinions on these three.

Right now they're introducing the critics in the jury. They look suitably sheepish.

So here's what I'm doing.

I've rigged up my laptop in front of the TV and I'll try and share my thoughts on the Ingeborg Bachmann Competition. It starts in one minute and I'll just update this post as I go along. Oh, here we go.


Anonymous said...

Hi Katy, hier auch Live-Chat:

kjd said...

Thanks. I'm slightly too busy over here to join in though.

Paco said...

11:00, Altwasser, »a bugger to translate«, absolutely, »Kurznasenseefledermausspezialist«, what a word.

Stefan Tobler said...

hey, don't ORF have a live stream from the event?! If we have it for the World Cup, why not this?
Well, maybe I'll get some work done instead :)
As fellow Klagenfurt translator and editor, I agree with you Katy, Sabrina Janesch was one of the good ones. If they rip this to shreds, aren't they going to be in for a gloomy few days?
But then maybe tearing into the authors is just part of the carnival atmosphere of Klagenfurt? (Yes, I want to go too!)

kjd said...

I think there must be one somewhere, Stefan.

Paco said...

@Stefan: Check 3sat, they got a live stream running.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts and comments! Really interesting.

Paco said...

Thanks a zillion, Katy! That was epic, looking forward to tomorrow...

Jan Groh said...

Great write-up! Tomorrow I'll get a bowl of popcorn somewhere and put it on my desk while working and switching to Katy Klagenfurt every few minutes :-D
Big thanks!