Thursday, 7 July 2011

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize 2011 Day 1

Start at the bottom and scroll up!

15:15: So, that was day 1. The stronger texts are coming up in the next two days, although I'm not quite sure who's reading when yet. Certainly, my favourites are yet to come. And the jury have been quite kind so far, I think. Join me again tomorrow - I'm going out to stretch my legs now.

15:10: That didn't go terribly well, did it? Daniela Strigl says the essential sentence is this: "My head is just a head taken from the past and plonked here on my contemporary clothes."

15:07: Spinnen is really very wordy. What is he trying to tell us with this comment about how we sometimes don't like our friends' girlfriends? I think that nobody likes it except Hubert Winkels.

15:04: Winkels says it's all deliberate. Quite what is deliberate I'm not sure. A matter of taste, he says. Sounds like a rap, apparently. Looking for love is apparently un-Bernhardesque. Note to self: Reread Thomas Bernhard before next year's Bachmann Prize. There's obviously nobody else one could use as a comparison.

15:00: Fessmann's talking about Hegemann without mentioning her name, she says the failed parents are a fashionable subject. Much argument about whether the Bernhardisms are deliberate or not. Jandl doesn't like the purple prose and clashing images. No, nor do I.

14:57: Sulzer equally unimpressed but likes the development between the two chapters. Keller says no, it has three parts and no development! She liked the beginning, the sulky teenage world, certain scenes "written to death" - good but rather tiring. And permanent victimhood. So she was disappointed in the long run.

14:53: Daniela Strigl hopes it's not a Thomas Bernhard parody because it doesn't work very well as such, but fears it isn't one because the parody would lend the whole thing a structure. Some things she likes, some she dislikes, but she finds it predictable. Techno = Hitler, we've been here before, she says.

14:51: Oooh, is she going into the vacuous nature of the techno scene and the emptiness of random sexual relationships? And is the writer she ends up underneath a reference to an actual writer with a similar name? That would be nice. I prefer Nino Haratischwili though.

14:47: And she's also thinking about sexual expectations society has of girls. Which might work better if Baum didn't look quite so much like a porcelain doll, but I suppose that's not entirely her fault.

14:43: BUT - and it's quite a big but - at least Baum has written about sex, which German women tend not to do, according to my nascent theory. As such, she deserves a certain degree of recognition.

14:40: Because actually, we've actually read before about controlling men and the terribly modern club setting doesn't add all that much. Actually. Although there is a touch of self-irony. Perhaps it's the good daughterlyness gone bad of the whole thing that doesn't impress me. It makes me feel jaded and cynical and old. In a bad way. Unlike Axolotl, which made me feel old in a good way.

14:37: OK, here we come to the second part, which is more interesting. Now our narrator is a trophy girlfriend of a successful man, now a drinker herself, hooray! But she's looking for a stranger called Jo(e). So she's discovered hedonism but - wow! - it doesn't make her happy. I feel rather mean and patronising, but I still don't think the text works well.

14:34: One of the problems, very possibly, is that it's very bitty because it's made up of excerpts from a novel. But the whole teenage angst and hate thing doesn't work for me. Also, the teenage section was hard for Stefan to translate because the language is rather pretentious, no doubt deliberately. Our teenage narrator is pretentious.

14:24: It's about a good daughter in a dysfunctional family, and then she runs away to Berlin and gets trapped in an exploitative, unhappy relationship. Now if you read this blog regularly, you may be aware that I've translated Helene Hegemann's Axolotl Roadkill. And Baum's text has a lot in common with that novel. Partly the club backdrop, terribly modern, partly the stepmother scenario, partly the alcoholic parents, whatever. But this text feels more like teenage fiction than Axolotl ever did, a much more naive narrator, at least in the first half when she's still living with her father. It does get better though, as I recall.

14:21: Stefan's translation is here. And oh dear, she's terribly nervous. Opens with a bang, deviant sex in public in a club, a writer writing as he's at it. This is a text I had a few problems with.

14:19: Video portrait Antonia Baum. I watched this one in advance because I was puzzled by the text and the writer. Stefan Tobler translated the text. Baum obviously has something to say but has problems getting it across in the portrait. She has some kind of problem - does anyone want to read the stuff she writes? She says she's decided not to care. Writes about love.

14:17: I think we can safely say it didn't go down well.

14:15: Winkels finds it very frugal and dry, and now they're arguing about what happens in the text like an undergraduate seminar. Winkels points out that a writer who has to say, "I never cry," has done something wrong. I agree.

14:12: Daniela Strigl (who my friend Rasha and I have just crowned coolest critic in the show) says the text is something we don't like to read. Ha!

14:09: Spinnen admits the text meanders, but at least there aren't any landscapes, he says! He's impressed by the moment in which the academic is confronted by real death and her language breaks down into the trivial level. Modern relationships, cynicism. She's using him or is he using her? Jandl just said something rude but it was rather noisy outside so I missed it. Must just close the window.

14:06: Spinnen chose the text. Impressed by the character portrayal. Look, can you see they've all got the same frog-green bags as me? Last year's were silver, I like this one slightly better.

14:03: Winkels disappointed. Keller is of course an academic too, but does she like it? Is it because we're too dumb to understand it? Subjective approach towards the research subject, the character has her own language that suits her. True, perhaps that was what I liked about translating it. And also the fact that it wasn't difficult, the voice flowed quite nicely and had a very characteristic feel to it. But perhaps not enough.

13:58: Meike Fessmann says it felt like a storyboard, lots and lots of different elements but doesn't work as a text. Sulzer unimpressed by the writing. Awkward sentences, found it trivial as a whole. Not clear why she's not allowed to go to the funeral.

13:54: Strange that the narrator is so well read and intelligent but the text is so un-literary.

13:48: What a difference a voice makes. I've had enough of this text now. A young academic starts a relationship with a nice earthy man - a sound recordist or something like that, married, then he leaves his wife and she doesn't like him any more. Then he gets cancer and tries to get her back. Nothing doing because she's now a Strong Woman. So he makes sure she can't go to his funeral. Interesting that a female academic has that stereotypical thing with a bit of rough, intellectually inferior but showing her what real life is about, simple and real. Which we know from countless books by male academics who have sexual adventures with women from the lower classes. Only Praßler doesn't go into the sex, disappointingly. Presumably female academics don't talk about sex, unlike the male ones.

13:40: You can read my translation here. I'm falling out of like with this text by the moment. It feels awkward, the all too obvious references to the date, the overly plain references to the narrator's neuroses. Perhaps my general dislike of prose about academics is getting in the way. There are a few sort of funny bits, but the sparks do tend to get stamped out instantly by this difficult narrator. And of course a bit of reported speech from a messed-up mother. A shame she wasn't more daring, really.

13:33: Ah, I see I'm going to have a problem with Praßler's rather girlish voice, which doesn't match the narrator's character for me. This text has some things in common with Wisser's cool neurotic character portrait. Only - and forgive me for even thinking this, let alone writing it down - her's is a woman. So while we get some missing of buses and some rattling of suitcase wheels and rather a lot of detail about an academic dissertation on death, we also get a love story. Failed, of course. Come on, this is German literature, what do you expect?

13:30: Oops, back with a video portrait of Anna Maria Praßler, who writes screenplays and stuff. I translated her text, which I quite enjoyed. Poor woman obviously let herself get talked into carrying a mirror around a shopping mall for the video.

12:50: Lunch break.

12:46: It's certainly getting them arguing. Possibly, the passive is more unpleasant to read in English than in German, which uses it more frequently. But Spinnen doesn't like it either, it's not just me. Jandl visibly upset by taste differences. The discussion is moving further and further away from the text. Bad TV, frankly.

12:44: Paul Jandl seems to be reading what I write under the desk. We're not in a psychology seminar, he says. Thank you, Paul Jandl. Otherwise, he chose this text and now has to defend it. I spoke to him once, at the Frankfurt book fair, I think I asked if he could hand me a book. I was rather shy. Anyway, he says it has a very clever construction, the simplistic sentences reflect our banal world.

12:40: Fessmann says the passive is disguising overly simplistic writing. Oh, but must we diagnose characters' psychological symptoms precisely? Must we pigeonhole characters in terms and attempt to heal them? Do we care whether they're depressed or neurotic? Seriously.

11:38: Sulzer says we can speculate about the character, the character can observe himself through this passive voice. Thomas Bernhard??!

11:34: Keller. Liked presentation and form, exaggerated attention to detail not comfortable reading. Spinnen's read lots of texts about oddball men. Funny that much of what Spinnen says is about Spinnen, but it doesn't annoy me. Anyway. Spinnen sceptical about the use of the passive, disappointed. Grammatical criticism. No alternative interpretations.

12:31: Strigl seems to like it. But she seems to be retelling the "story", i.e. the character. She's convinced by the form and the subtle meanness. What doesn't she like? Reminded of Genazino and Houellebecq, genre doesn't quite stand up to the models.

12:28: Winkels wants the first word: passive voice to indicate neuroticism, not quite consistent. Story as a whole inconsistent, he says, with a lack of tension. Monotonous, he says the monotony works well for the reader but perhaps the writer could have used less monotonous means.

12:25: One of the problems Stefan and I had with several of the texts was the use of indirect speech. It's hard to render in English because we don't have a way of marking it out as strongly as you can in German, which has a special verb declination (?) to indicate it. So we have to add slightly annoying "according to his father" tags, etc. We'll come back to this.

12:20: Frowning women in the audience. We don't like the character and we don't find it interesting. Sorry. I can see the appeal for the writer of slipping into this not very nice but not actually evil character. But there's little appeal for the reader.

12:14: I have a visitor who says Wisser sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Which makes the text more interesting - hey, imagine it was Arnie cleaning the sink with his wife's toothbrush! That would be rather more entertaining. But maybe that's not what literature is for. Presumably it's terribly shallow of me to expect literature not to be dull.

12:06: And do I want to know what this cold character thinks about going to the toilet? No, I do not.

12:04: A dull day in the life of a dull man. Let me have a quick check to see if anything happens. Nope. Just a great deal of detail, a dysfunctional relationship, memories of a failed attempt at an affair, an elderly father. So perhaps like all our own dull lives. But do we want to read about that in this sober tone? Possibly not. But then sometimes German readers really go for this kind of thing. Funny really, national literary tastes.

12:01: Ahhh, there's no better way to irritate translators into English than writing an entire text in the passive voice.

11: 58: Portrait Daniel Wisser. Home-made. Annoying. Stefan Tobler translated this one. This annoyingness may be reflected in the text. Neither of us particularly enjoyed it.

11:54: Burkhard Spinnen chose the text and Fessmann's reminded of Aleks Scholz last year, who Spinnen hated, but Spinnen is well into this one: very big contemporary issue, concern over financial system collapse. 18th-century satire. Simple dystopian solution makes everything even worse - devilish.

11:51: Strigl likes the current relevance and the anti-humanism, enjoyed it. The murder is like a punchline, which seems to offend Jandl. Fessmann: Mephisto! Nobody's mentioned the effect of the form of address.

11:46: AC Sulzer is offended by the wittiness. Says there's no people in it. Which I think is wrong. Paul Jandl doesn't even think it's funny. Ah, here we see the difference between British and Austrian/Swiss/German expectations of literature. Slight internet problems here, sorry. Winkels likes it, Keller seems to as well. Clever satirical subject, likes the humour. Finds it not quite clear who's talking. Strigl's got it - an advice handbook, devaluation of human life, funny.

11:40: Yeah, you have to kill the helper. Which is making people laugh in the audience. And which ultimately makes this more than a clever text, because it raises a lot of moral issues about the importance of money and personal wealth. Your personal wealth - yours! - is worth more than the life of your helper. And you're standing there, euphoric, at dawn, and you're a cynical rich bastard who's just killed a man. Have a good sleep - you are free.

11:38: I wonder how he researched it. Because it's terribly precise. Can you guess what's coming now?

11:35: Here comes the really good bit. You need a helper... Now come the instructions about how to do the actual burying. There was the rucksack (for putting the gold in)!

11:33: I bet at least one critic mentions computer games, always a popular comparison, with a slight note of disapproval. Or Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. Because it's even reminding me of them...

11:30: Another fun thing for the reader is imagining you're rich enough to do this stuff, buy an isolated piece of property and bury your treasure in it. Which is very clever, almost a conjuring trick because it's not done with terribly literary means but it has a very strong effect.

11:27: And here's Stefan's translation. I'm curious about what the critics will think, because they might well be irritated. But again, this text builds slowly and has a surprise in store at the end. It almost feels like a creative writing exercise, they might find it too "artificial" - not that any text is ever "genuine".

11:24: So you get an introduction. It's almost like a brochure or an instruction manual - about how to bury treasure. Clever - pointed, precise language. He's obviously had great fun writing it, and he's reading it very well indeed. The "narrator" has a very clear character, not likeable but someone you'd respect. There's an ominous threat of the state taking all your money - because you are the direct addressee of this text. And you have to exchange all your fortune for gold bars and bury it to keep it safe.

11:18: Maximilian Steinbeis. My colleague Stefan Tobler translated this text and we both liked it. Rather sensible video portrait, filmed in government buildings, background in law and Bavaria. You'll be pleased to hear that the text isn't as sensible as you might expect.

11:16: Winkels. Really, his criticism is always so wordy and cruel.

11:13: Burkhard Spinnen appears to be talking about something else entirely... As far as I understand, he finds it very literary, a literary approach to dealing with memories. Tough material, he says. Respect for dealing with things we've all read before.

11:09: Paul Jandl doesn't quite get it, feels the writer isn't quite sure enough of himself. Alain Claude Sulzer defending his choice. Almost apologising for those fluids and the "almost clichéd" landscapes, explaining the complexity that the others don't seem to have noticed. Ha, first rude comment about Austria of the competition. Yay!

11:06: Go Meike Fessmann! Ambivalent mother-son relationship. She seems to have read the text similarly to the way I did, interested in the mother (is that a personal thing?). Interested in the adult/child perspective idea too. It is clever but they're not going to give it any prizes, are they?

11:03: Hildegard Keller always seems to have something nice to say, a kind smile on her face. They're all interested in the bodily fluids, but she thinks the text isn't quite finished. She wants us to digest it more.

11:02: Oh thank you, please do stop this man from talking.

11:00: Frau Strigl is quite critical of individual images and phrases. Hubert Winkels liked the stuttered presentation. Misses enjambements in the text though. Oh, we're going into great detail here, I'm reminded of a waiter tearing a Peking duck into shreds with two forks.

10:56: Stops fairly suddenly, doesn't it? Here come the jury. Daniela Strigl: special genre of sad lonely lives in rural north Germany. Doesn't she like the bodily fluids? I just deleted something about people who don't like bodily fluids.

10:49: I don't know, I think this is a good solid text but it doesn't get my pulse racing. Here comes the masturbation scene, nice language and I must say a bit of sordid childhood masturbation and scatology always perks things up a bit. But still. Skillful writing, possibly more interesting in novel form. Ah, I see Klaus Schöffling is his publisher, a good sign.

10:42: Ha, he just emphasised the bit I didn't get! So now the changing child/adult perspectives come in.

10:39: Rural north German setting, moor, an isolated house. That's what I had to ask about. It's getting a little more complex now, building slowly. Close-up of Klaus Schöffling's beard.

10:35: I do wish he'd done his shirt up all the way though. It's a little distracting. Which may be a bad sign about the text, if you get what I mean.

10:33: The mother is an artist, poor kid. The language is good, I think, doesn't distract from the ideas in the text or the conflicts he hints at through the child's eyes and the adult's eyes. So it's a little more complex than a story about a kid whose mother attempts suicide.

10:30: OK, here comes the story. He is indeed stuttering. Which makes an odd impression, because the adult narrator stuttered as a child. I'm reminded of Kevin Rowland, inappropriately. You can read my translation here. It's a story about a kid whose mother attempts suicide, and how he remembers it as an adult.

10:26: He's just apologised in advance in case he stutters. How sweet. This text is one of the few without rucksacks in it. But it does start - disappointingly - with snow. Last year there was lots of snow as well. Basically you have to give this one a bit of time, and then it starts getting good.

10:23: We're starting with Gunther Geltinger, who was very nice and friendly when I asked him a dumb question about the translation. I therefore thoroughly approve of him. His film is nice and dull, calm green colours. Moor - which comes up in the text as you'll see, pop-psychology about what a moor has to do with writing. I do wonder if anyone gets this stuff. Invited by Sulzer.

10:21: OK, now we're getting an intro to the jury. Is Daniela Strigl new? Otherwise I like Paul Jandl very much and recently sat next to Meike Fessmann, who does have good dress sense.

10:18: We have a presenter demonstrating why the Austrians aren't famous for their dress sense. But presumably nobody's listening anyway. Not that you can listen to clothes. I shall attempt to make more sense from now on.

10:15: Tadaaa! And they're off! In a minute. After a short bit of modern music and some chatting.

10:05: There's also a live chat at sopranisse.

9:50: Morning! I hope you're feeling well rested and ready for a day of bitching about aspiring writers. I have licorice allsorts and fizzy water, potato salad and a comfy sofa. The blinds are down to stop that annoying sunlight reflecting off the TV. There's been much hilarity in advance, as ORF have released the authors' video portraits in advance. And they are very very funny, some of them deliberately, as Richard Kämmerlings points out in Die Welt.


rasha said...

If I may add a tiny bit of bitching: Alain Sulzer's new hair cut is not very flattering considering his very odd looking ears ... (still no idea why none of the judges -maybe except Keller - seeks spouse's/friend's /stylist's advice reg. clothing ...) Go Katy, btw. Loving the live blogging!

kjd said...

Don't forget Fessmann, who looks lovely at all times. Strigl is the opposite but consistent about it, which is cool.

rasha said...

Strigl definitely is the coolest of them all, although I'd really, REALLY like to tell her to pluck her eyebrows once in a while :-)

tdl said...

This is SO much better than being there. i nominate you the you official virtual closed-captioning Moderatorin next year... with an accessories budget, of course.
and a 'dress-sense' smackdown!

waldo said...

oh I just had to pluck my eyebrows, shave my legs and all...but you are soooo right about STRIGL, as best critic, about Winkels, a pain in the ass most of the time, but why did you even comment on AC Sulzer: his comments did summ up to ZERO. of course we disagree on macho and men's performances..... a good read, on a sunny afternoon.............I Liked Rabinowich best...........