Saturday, 9 July 2011

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize 2011 Day 3

Start at the bottom and scroll up!

2:00: And that's it for today. Tomorrow there's the voting and from 3 o'clock today you can vote for the Villiglas Audience Award. I'll add a link as and when. I won't be blogging live on the winners, partly because that's a very boring part. But I will let you know who won...

1:57: Why not use satire? says Strigl. She says there's nothing wrong with funny texts, nothing to be ashamed of! Why thank you, Frau Strigl - that gets you the love german books critics prize in one fell swoop.

1:53: Winkels chose the text and is irritated by having to defend it at the end of the discussion. Possibly because he didn't get to go first as usual? He says the character is deliberately part of the world - in which research is carried out that nobody reads at all. So that's reflected in the text's lack of direction? Have I understood that correctly? Who knows. Jandl finds it too predictable.

1:48: Sulzer finds the idea of the text more important than the character. And he's found some contradictions in the text. Which seem rather petty.

1:46: Spinnen: if it's so accurate then it can't be satire! We're getting another fascinating anecdote from the life of Burkhard Spinnen... ah, but what he's asking is what's new and up-to-date about the story. The text focuses on the character as a traditional satirical structure, and he found that tiring. And also that distracts from the criticism he wants to make. Does he?

1:42: We just had a wee dispute about the anglicisms in the text. I'm usually allergic too but I think they match the character here.

1:41: Paul Jandl says the text gets boring rather quickly - we found that too... Daniela Strigl disagrees. She seems fascinated by the character and the gender issues he raises.

1:38: Meike Fessmann's going first, she says it made them all laugh to start with, a persiflage of the cultural studies business. She says the text prostitutes itself as much as the narrator does. But it drags, all those plays for laughs. Keller says it's funny, very critical of the academic world (from which Keller herself comes). But the last third doesn't fit so well. What's making this guy stay in the job?

1:32: We're getting porn fatigue here...

1:25: By offended, below, I mean the jury might well be offended by the actually funny humour. There's a strange reaction among German critics to humour - it's not serious, so how can it be Serious Literature? Odd, huh? I don't think that's the case in other countries.

1:17: Actual smiling faces in the audience. We think he's going to win the public vote. How could he not, in fact?

1:12: I sometimes see Thomas Klupp on the other side of the room at events. I've never actually met him, but he always makes me feel uncomfortable. I don't think this story is going to improve matters.

1:07: We'd prefer it if he'd brushed his hair though. I sent my daughter out of the room. The Room 101 reference is a tad obvious, but hey.

1:06: Thomas Klupp’s text made me laugh. All the way through. I spent two days at my desk giggling out loud. Apparently there were rumours going around Klagenfurt that it was going to be pornographic. Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s about an academic who studies internet porn, clicking his way through thousands of images every day and cataloguing what they show. And he’s also a test person in a study on the effect of pornography on men. So it’s really more about – tadaaa! – modern-day academia and society.

That doesn’t sound terribly funny, does it? But in fact the devil’s in the details, and many of them are in the language in this case. The narrator is forever penetrating subjects, keeping abreast of matters, in the bosom of things, and so on. It’s a cheap laugh, I know, but it sure as fuck works. And the other thing is that the narrator’s an ambitious and cynical bastard who points out the drawbacks and sordid sides of academia. He’s in constant competition for attention from his female professor, battling the equal opportunities officer, and trying to simulate normal lust curves as a test subject. Which of course doesn’t work well because he’s completely numb from looking at so much porn every day. The only thing he finds arousing is – wait for it! - looking in the mirror. The jury are going to hate it, they’ll be mortally offended. Or they might just lighten up and love it, who knows? Either way, it was great fun to translate.

1:04: Video portrait Thomas Klupp. A day out at the petting zoo. Not an author we can trust – this is a very strange video about the poetological value of donkeys.

1:01: Daniela Strigl: the Croation setting was used as a backdrop to the Karl May films. I'm not entirely sure why. That's it, I'd say he didn't do terribly well.

12:58: Keller again: the language is coupled to the character, it's fine to be taken from movies, why would a man in a war be terribly sensitive? Fessmann's not impressed. There's some argument about this text, we're unimpressed by how un-constructive it is for the author though.

12:55: Spinnen's getting terribly patronising - perhaps it was a poor choice of extract... It's strange how the criticism seems all the more cruel when they pretend to be nice about it. What he's actually saying is that it's too macho.

12:52: Meike Fessmann doesn't think it's plausible and finds it too sentimental. We're angry that she keeps saying things aren't plausible. This is fiction - anything is plausible. Keller's fighting back, of course it's sentimental, someone wants to kill himself! Sulzer likes the wasp, it adds a quieter note before the chase.

12:50: Paul Jandl does understand what's happening, hooray! The protagonist is a deserter, thank you. But still, he's not well pleased and finds the hero too clichéd and stupid. Hildegard Keller's defending her choice of text. The language reflects the character and that character is de-personified, wearing a mask. It's a war novel, a man's world, an extract from a novel.

12:46: Daniela Strigl doesn't like the lingusitic borrowing from Hollywood films. Why is it that I know what's going on but the critics don't? OK, I read texts very closely indeed when I translate them, but these critics have read the text several times over as well. We don't think they're very constructive with their criticism.

12:43: Sulzer is completely missing the point, oh boy, he says it might be a Yugoslavian speeding along a Swiss motorway. Is this some kind of weird racist assumption?

12:41: Hubert Winkels wants to say something. To say something positive, he says, it has great pace and it's a daring way to tell a story. But he doesn't like that Hemingway reverence or the mythical setting - man, sea, gun, police. He says it's not clear what war is raging - which is plainly wrong.

12:38: Such lovely long sentences, we translators do like that. Terribly dramatic.

12:29: My friend hasn't quite got what's going on yet. But she's interested.

12:27: I've realised this whole "man" thing is impossible to transport into English. My version is much more immediate because I had to use "you" - it's almost intrusive, whereas the original is simply less so. I can't explain it any better.

12:19: He's reading a bit too quickly, which is a shame. My translation is here.

12:17: Aha, Michel Bozikovic! One of my favourites, which the jury will therefore not like at all. One of the most striking features is that it’s written in an unusual way, addressing “you” as in the German "man" - making the experience a universal one. The story starts as if it’s going to be about teenage angst, with an abandoned suicide attempt and a rediscovery of the will to live. And then a line that made me laugh – your parents wouldn’t have let you have the car anyway. And then the camera pulls back from the very intimate opening shot, if you like, and we gradually realise this isn’t quite what it seems.

The protagonist is actually someone like Bozikovic himself, a Croatian-German who’s expected to fight for a country he doesn’t really feel a part of. And he’s on the run from the police for a not terribly clear reason and from the army. Next comes a great macho fight scene and an adrenaline-soaked car drive and scramble across the mountainside. The action goes from a tiny wasp to a geo-political conflict in a fairly short time. I do like this kind of thing but I’m perfectly aware it’s going to be too simplistic and macho for the jury. Never mind – we can still enjoy the fun.

12:15: Hello! Video portrait Michel Bozikovic. I'm intrigued as to how the jury will react. A very attractive man, I think, which people often don't like. Rather self-confident. A bar rather than a café, ha ha. Hemingway reverence, oh dear. Another sailing boat. He does seem to have made the film himself, at least.

11:35: Paul Jandl's not satisfied either. I just put my cinnamon rolls in the oven and now it's lunchtime.

11:34: Keller likes the objective narration that's not un-emotional. But an elementary subject - the family. Spinnen's pointing out that the individual death reflects the death of the porcelain industry and the economic death of an entire region. He likes the text's discretion but still seems a wee bit disappointed at the lack of authorial voice. Doesn't quite work, he says.

11:30: Winkels is getting a bit rude, a "narrative accident". Keller's being rude back, claiming Winkels doesn't like it because it's East German and he's had to pay extra taxes for twenty years for the East! I think she just said Anne Richter writes in pastel tones rather than black and white. Which is rather faint praise, if you ask me.

11:27: Strigl feels there should be more, the content's full of blood but the story's rather pallid. Closed-down glass factories seem to be a leitmotif this year, she says. Meike Fessmann rather likes it, she says, the conventional framework is just fine, why not write about families? At least something happens in the story, she says. She's telling us the story all over again, how annoying. And she rather likes the very caring brother, a Maria Magdalena character. The mother, she says, is absent and that's interesting and well told.

11:23: Sulzer's starting the discussion. He's a bit frustrated, he says, by not finding out much about the father and the uncle's problem. But it's well done, he says, BUT rather too nice and uninteresting.

11:05: We just talked about expectations of women writers in terms of appearance. About how we're not supposed to be conspicuously attractive, which is a bit of a bummer. But on the other hand, it's kind of up to us what we want to look like. And we only talk about Angela Merkel's hair and not Wolfgang Schäuble's. To make up for it: we don't approve of Burkhard Spinnen's facial hair.

10:55: Nobody's particularly impressed round here.

10:52: Anne Richter's is another of the texts that Stefan translated and that left me rather cold. Not uninteresting but with the odd cliché, it’s about a brother and sister and their father and his brother. As the story unfolds we find out it’s set in the former East Germany, with the uncle out of work and then dying of cancer. He and the father had fallen out when the children were children – violence was at play, and is reflected in the child siblings. I don’t have a great deal to say about the story, I’m afraid. It’s competently framed by a funeral, at which the father has to come to terms with losing his estranged brother. And that’s about it.

10:50: Video portrait Anne Richter. More books in trees. Really, they're making this too easy for us.

10:47: Even the discussion's a bit pallid and unenthusiastic. Although Strigl likes it because it's scary and funny at the same time.

10:43: Oh, I missed Sulzer defending his choice. He says it's like science fiction and he's waiting for apocalypse.

10:40: We think Randt's written this text expressly to please critics and cultural types. But it's not quite critical enough to upset anyone. It's not just the content that's moderate.

10:37: Meike Fessmann feels amused but is reminded of Antonia Baum's criticism of the parental generation - Randt's saying today's parents are just too relaxed. Is this "generation" subject becoming a literary supermarket where writers can just walk in and help themselves - too easy. I think she's annoyed. Paul Jandl say the problem with the text is that there's nothing authentic in it. An artificial reality attempting to present an authentic feeling. We don't find out much at all about the narrator and Jandl can't find the core of the text.

10:33: Hubert Winkels goes first, just for a change. He likes the story, tells us everything's moderate in this artificial world, no highs or lows, reminded of wellness oases and cruise ships in our world. Pointing out that there's a risk of it getting boring but he's managed to avoid that (hmmm...). Daniela Strigl agrees. Truman Show! All the self-observation and self-obsession and the narrowly defined generations. And that New Literature Marketing is like a big baited hook to catch critics on, and it works.

10:28: My friend's wondering two things: has the hero got a problem? (I think his only problem is that everything's so great; she thinks he might be gay.) And is there a story? (I don't think there is.)

10:20: Such an uncomfortable sex scene. It's very well done, so cool and factual and absolutely free from passion, overly intellectual and really not much fun.

10:12: We're just talking about how "literary" writers use so much indirect speech in German, so many subjunctives (like Leif Randt). It's not much fun to translate. My friend says dialogue is seen as genre writing and Not Literary. Which is pretty ridiculous, we think, considering how much everyone here loves Zadie Smith and Jonathan Safran Foer.

10:06: No major discussion happening here. Has Leif Randt got elfish ears? Is the text reminiscent of TC Boyle? A slight laugh at his performance of "New Literature Marketing".

9:56: Leif Randt’s story is truly odd. It’s set in some distant Americanised place called Coby County, which seems to be populated entirely by happy ex-hippies and their children. It’s a place where everybody wants to be, with beaches that attract party-happy tourists from all over the Western world. A place people write popular books and films about. It reminded me of what some people think Berlin is like. The narrator, Wim, is a young literary agent for the extremely young, and he has a superficial relationship with a beautiful young woman with no character as such. Not that he has much character either.

There’s no real old age in this strange place, and only hints of poverty and weakness. It’s a deliberately artificial text that is presumably meant to make us reflect on our urban lives today, on the shallowness of our relationships and event culture, etc. etc. It made me feel slightly dirty and manipulated. Stefan Tobler’s translation is here – an extract from a forthcoming novel, I believe.

9:55: Jury all look very tough and annoyed. Video portrait Leif Randt. Home made but not as irritating as the others.

9:50: OK, this may be socially humiliating, because people keep calling up and cancelling. It may make for unpleasant reading as I bemoan my lack of friends. I'll try not to harp on about it. One lovely friend is here but she has to leave early.

9:30: Morning! Today I'm wearing my live blogging hat and my nervous hostess apron. I've invited people round to watch the readings with me, but I suspect we'll be a tiny group because the summer holidays have started (the competition was moved into July because of an Iron Man contest in Klagenfurt. No kidding.). We shall see. Only four writers are reading today, one of whom will cause a stir, guaranteed.

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