Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Bespoke Literature

bThere's been a huge gathering of writers in Edinburgh, sort of vaguely international and also set for a brief recap in Berlin at the upcoming International Literature Festival. One of the topics was "the future of the novel", and indeed this is what the Berlin event will be about. I'm slightly dubious because the German participant at that event, Georg Klein, while being a fine and terribly well respected writer and all that, is hardly pushing back the boundaries of fiction. And Tim Parks and John Banville? But we shall see. I was going to link to the event but I failed to find one at the festival website.

Whatever the case, the Guardian has written up China Miéville's closing talk on the same subject. Obviously I've never read China Miéville  – does he write in German? No – but I'd say he's like a London version of Dietmar Dath. Only with more piercings, although what do I know about DD's body enhancements? For some time I was convinced Dath didn't actually exist, until I saw photographic evidence from a reliable source, and I still haven't managed to catch him live. You can listen to him reading an entire 1000-page novel in 35 sections at litradio, although there's no guaranteeing it's really him.

Miéville came up with some exciting ideas too though. Apparently he talked about readers becoming active as "guerilla editors" who, blending fanfics and original writing, could remix literature to make their own versions. "Anyone who wants to shove their hands into a book and grub about in its innards, add to and subtract from it, and pass it on, will … be able to do so without much difficulty," he's quoted.

Imagine the fun – not unlike translating – of reinterpreting or adapting a piece of writing. I love it! Of course the other 49 writers at the conference didn't, it sounds like, fearing for their creative integrity. I suspect, though, that they weren't thinking in sufficiently utopian terms. All those vampire Jane Austen books, for instance, have done little to damage Jane Austen and a lot to bring more fun into reading. I have a zombiefied German classic on my shelves (which I haven't read), Die Leichen des jungen Werthers, and I can't hear Goethe complaining.

I can think of two examples already operating today, where the internet is helping people to read and understand through collaborative processes. Firstly the fascinating, where moderated comments act as footnotes to Samuel Pepys' original diary entries, along with a great deal of snazzy extra material like a map of places mentioned, news, an encyclopedia and other stuff. And then there's Tailored Texts, a very exciting project "which allows lovers of language and literature to collaborate in the reading and annotation of original-language texts that are in the public domain." I can't begin to explain what these people are doing, but I think you can imagine it as an unlimited collection of margin notes: layers and layers of readings and definitions for each text. The only German book on there right now is Goethe's Faust, but you can add your own as long as they're in the public domain. Please go there and join in if it's your kind of thing. Certainly it's only a short step from here to what Miéville was talking about.

And then – back to the future of the novel – Miéville pointed out that the internet has brought together all the freaks interested in writing from elsewhere:
A first hope: the English-language publishing sphere starts tentatively to revel in that half-recognised distinctness of non-English-language novels, and with their vanguard of Scandinavian thrillers, small presses, centres and prizes for translation, continue to gnaw at the 3% problem, all striving against the still deeply inadequate but am-I-mad-to-think-improving-just-a-little profile of fiction translated into English.
And translation is now crowdsourced, out of love. Obscure works of Russian avant-garde and new translations of Bruno Schulz are available to anyone with access to a computer. One future is of glacially slowly decreasing, but decreasing, parochialism.
And those publishers of translated fiction are also conduits for suspicious-making foreign Modernism.
I hope so too.

 Update: I found the entire speech too, and have amended the final quote here. I love it just a tiny mit more now.


Anonymous said...

The whole thing of being a (post-)modern author from a more theoretical approach in an article by Prof. Felix Stalder:
(Who's afraid of the (re)mix? Autorschaft ohne Urheberschaft)

Brunner translation said...

I like George Klein...