Saturday, 26 June 2010

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize Day 3

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That's it for today. I think it worked better for me when I didn't have visitors and wasn't slightly tipsy. But it was fun.

I'm flagging now, I'm sorry. Keller being nice as usual. Of course the text was a tad medieval. Jane Birkin! she says.

Spinnen defending his choice. It's hard to present people thinking in a realistic genre. Here, he says, it's the language that does the telling. He likes pregnant marbles, not like Feßmann.

Sulzer gave up reading it too, like I did. People hated her reading here, as did Sulzer. I chuckled all the way through. The critics are divided again, is it mannerism and is that a bad thing?

Fleischanderl says the Germans don't get Austrian literature. Laughter here. Someone here said the text was Habsburgian decadence. Feßmann says the text is waving a flag saying "I am art!"

I'm reading along in English, laughing almost as crazily as Rossbacher's reading. I think my guests might think I'm odd. They're restless now, they're annoyed that there's a murder at the end. Disappointed. Divided opinions here.

Stunned silence. Someone said "associative tapestry". "Did you translate this? Do you get it?"

She's reading like a woman insane. No surprise there then.

Someone just said "What the fuck".

She's reading. It's so completely odd. Here's what I prepared earlier.

Verena Rossbacher is the writer everyone’s pinned their hopes on this year. And hers was the text that made the deepest impression on me. Without a doubt. I first read it on paper and my heart sank. Untranslatable! Incomprehensible! An absolute cheek! What on earth is it about? I suspect Sulzer won’t like it.

And then I sat down and began translating. The text wavers and flickers and makes little sense on first reading, and it’s an absolute challenge to get to grips with, even as a reader. And it’s so utterly dependent on rhythm that the only possible way to translate it was as freely as possible. And it plays with letters and sounds and subtle alliteration, and colours and Catholicism – oh yes, it’s utterly Catholic. So I ended up spending a great deal of time immersed deeply within the text, using a kind of automatic writing approach to feel my way through in the dark. Reading aloud and grappling for rhythms, changing words to suit the effect rather than the content – which is there, but which I felt was almost secondary to the words themselves.

In the end it was an absolute pleasure and I’m quite proud of the result, given the time pressure I was under. I particularly like the middle section in which God – the Big Guy in my version – sends Gabriel to tell Mary about his plan, as he’s too busy gardening himself. In fact I got a bit carried away and added the odd bit to it myself, as a kind of compensatory strategy because, inevitably, some of the German stuff was lost in translation. That’s allowed – because I say so.

What’s it about? It’s about a man who’s killed a woman. I can’t wait to hear her read it. I’d love her to win and then the two of us would go on a tour of the English-speaking world and she’d read her version and I’d read mine, and the audiences would swoon like at the end of Perfume. This is a text that inspires wild fantasies. It may not be to everybody’s taste. But they won’t forget it in a hurry.

Irritatingly witty home-made portrait of Verena Rossbacher.

Spinnen's annoyed with Fries for reading such a lot so quickly.

Sulzer doesn't get the point either. Paul Jandl chose the text, he says it's a grotesque that's written to entertain. We're discussing Wilhelm Reich here. Turns out two of my guests have sat there in Klagenfurt themselves... One say Jandl's defending his text nicely. I wasn't listening.

OK, Hubert Winkels is pulling the "fun brake". Who'd have thought we'd ever dislike the same text? People do like it here but they wouldn't give it the Chez Katy Prize. The jurors resent him trying so hard to make them laugh, Feßmann too. Fleischanderl: "Wuchteldruckerei" - it's easy to make cheap jokes about sex - our Austrian expert here says that gorgeous word means squeezing the jam out of a doughnut...

Stefan, are you reading this? I'm completely prejudiced against this text - what did you think when you translated it?

Yeah, the others like it. They like the irony. And the reading.

Still very quiet and concentrated here. So it must be just me who dislikes it.

Concentrated frowns, occasional smiles.

He's reading. From a music stand. Oh my. Long, long introduction to Wilhelm Reich beforehand. People say all this talking is not a good sign.

Here's what I prepared earlier.

Stefan translated this text, which neither of us were hugely keen on. Steeped in self-pity, the story of a drama student whose parents split up. And being a very pretentious kind of narrator, he mixes in a little Reichian theory. Now obviously I have no idea about Reichian theory, but it’s certainly an annoying thing to put in a fictional text, and Fries thus succeeds in making his narrator not only pretentious and self-pitying but also very very irritating.

Of course everybody hates him, apart from the women, who want to go to bed with him. And he gets a job on TV, so everybody hates him a bit more. And his father is having a thing with a woman the children don’t approve of. I really can’t say much about this text in hindsight, other than that it’s really rather irksome on second reading too. An extract from a short novel: “Not exactly a bestseller, I think.”

Stefan's translation is here.

Portrait Christian Fries. He's playing the whistle. Now he's pushing a piano around. This confirms my prejudices about the writer. But you'll see.

Short break. We've cracked open the prosecco. So now the social experiment live blogging at a party is getting a tiny bit more exciting.

The jurors were dismissive, broke off the discussion early.

"A poor man's Stephen King." (Winkels) We're all feeling very sorry for Iris Schmidt. Poor woman sitting there, listening to the critics dealing the dirt (deservedly?). Keller chose the text and says it's "solidly written".

Burkhard Spinnen just made a plea for tact and speed. I think he wants to be kind.

We've started on the cake. Everyone's hoping something happens.

We're laughing at the daughter's generous bosom. Murmurs of "unliterary"...

We're chatting amongst ourselves...

The select audience chez Katy is bitching already. Last winter must have inspired people, all this snow... We're not overly impressed.

Oh gosh, Iris Schmidt's started already, no portrait. So here's a little something I prepared earlier. My translation: here.

This is one of the plainer stories that didn’t leave a great impression on me. An unpleasant sales rep, about whom we find out either a bit too much or a bit too little, ends up in a remote hilltop hotel in the forest. Very German. And the hotel is empty apart from him, and strangely old-fashioned, perhaps out of time. So he has an old-fashioned meal and talks to the old-fashioned daughter – no real sexual frisson here, sadly – and goes to bed in an old-fashioned room. And then there’s a hammering sound all night long but no explanation. I found Sabrina Janesch did the spooky much better.

So next morning he gets up and checks out and his car won’t start and he waits for a taxi that never comes and the hotel’s suddenly all locked up and he winds up walking and getting lost in a snowstorm. The height of spookiness is that he comes across a couple he saw on his way to the hotel and now they’re frozen in the snow.

It didn’t rock my boat hugely. Lots of atmosphere that may or may not be inspired by Hitchcock or Du Maurier or maybe Roald Dahl. A few slightly clichéd phrases about snow. Weak ending: “And the cold moonlight was already flooding across the broad, pale landscape in which Karl vanished. As fleeting as a shadow.”

11:02: The critics don't like the contemporary inserts much, but only in a mild, patient way.

We all love it here. Feßmann got a round of applause for her spirited defence of the story. Now Wawerzinek's joining in! He doesn't care if it's kitsch or romantic, he just wanted to get it on paper at last. It is autobiographical, oh yes. He got a round of applause here, we bloody love this guy.

Someone said you can tell Wawerzinek has a lot of experience in life, not like all these young things nowadays. Paul Jandl loves it! Yay! Feßmann loves it anyway. She's just being rude to Fleischanderl.

People here are gossiping about Peter Wawerzinek. They say his reading was strange. Hildegard Keller enthused. Hubert (long-windedly) impressed. But... He thought the means of telling the story were too uniform (as far as I can tell). The contrast between images and plain-talking. Fleischanderl wary of the snow cliché. Hah, wait and see what's coming up, love.

He's reading very well, putting lots of humour in there.

Everyone's very quiet here...

Now he's reading, devoted to a lady who helped him.

This was the best of Stefan’s texts, if you ask me, and the most sophisticated in terms of language. It works with its own rhyme, and rhythm, and imagination, and a wonderfully unreliable narrator, and nature, and more snow (or the first snow and there’s more to come, depending on the order). And with snatches of folk rhymes and tales, and it’s terribly sad but not out-and-out depressing like Zander’s piece. Stefan did a fine job of retaining all those added extras in the English.

A child put into a home, but where? Is it in Russia or in the GDR? In between newspaper-like reports on contemporary cases of child neglect. Abandoned for the West by his mother, the narrator looks back and gradually adjusts his idealised picture of that first journey to the home. Which is heartbreaking, really. “I’m thin. Unbelievably retarded, the home director scolds me. I’m retarded, thinks the boy, who is me.”

That narrator is quite open about being a writer – a likeable lack of guile, I must say. The only thing I don’t like is the end of the passage, which feels slightly tacked on – a medical-style excursus on speech itself. But yes, this is an absolutely impressive piece of writing and I really hope it wins something.

Stefan's text is here. It's very very East German, with in-jokes and all.

Portrait Peter Wawerzinek. A wee bit pseud-y.

Today's going to be slightly different, as I've launched a second social experiment - the Bachmann Prize Semi-Public Viewing. Round my place.

So I've prepared short statements on the remaining texts - by Ingrid Schmidt, Christian Fries, Peter Wawerzinek and Verena Rossbacher. And I'll just put them online when the respective readings begin, and see what else I manage. And no, I won't be uploading them in advance, or I'd probably get arrested.


Stefan Tobler said...

"Fleischanderl says the Germans don't get Austrian literature."
Well maybe people should try a little!

Yes, there are a lot of Austria writers who see literature as art, whether Handke, Peter Waterhouse or whoever, and I'd hoped the Ingeborg Bachmann jury would be looking for the best piece as a work of art.
(NB: not sure if Rossbacher is Austrian, is she? Quite a traveller it seems.)

Verena Rossbacher's piece is beautiful and funny. Wish I'd heard her read it out. So, maybe that makes me odd like you Katy. And you did a great job on translating it.

kjd said...

Can you believe it didn't make the shortlist? I'm shocked. Richard Kämmerling from the FAZ is just saying the same thing on TV.