Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Gearing up for the Bachmann Prize

I've been preparing myself mentally for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, which starts tomorrow. That means reading the short pieces by the competing writers in Volltext magazine (not online, sadly), and thinking.

Last year I was moving house and missed it all, and I did miss it. The two years before that I felt like part of the competition. I was one of a small number of people who read the texts beforehand, to translate them or to edit co-translator Stefan Tobler's translations. I knew what was coming, I had my favourites, I'd asked some of the writers questions and judged their personalities (wrongly), based on their responses. I had something to say about the competition that nobody else did. My nerdy literary friends envied me and on one occasion even came to my house in droves to watch the show with me. I wrote a live blog on the proceedings. It was exhausting. I don't want to do that again, partly because I don't feel like my insights are worth the bother without the insider perspective.

So we're going to tweet, and we're going to watch together on Saturday at Glas + Bild. Come along. By we I mean myself, Nikola Richter (Schriftstelle) and Fabian Thomas (The Daily Frown), who came up with the idea of making a special blog for the occasion, while drinking overpriced white wine at the Brecht-Haus. And then downsized the plan again to Twitter, requiring me to sign up and get sucked in. But of course I also mean all the other people who tweet about the Bachmann Prize under #tddl. Being new to the whole thing, I'm going to do it all wrong. I shall also be really annoying for anyone who has me in their feed, because I'll be posting all the fucking time about an Austrian literary competition, which is a fairly obscure thing for anyone outside the German-language literary world.

The other think I've been thinking about is the competition itself. Because of the threat to axe it, there's been a lot of discussion about whether it works, whether it's good for writers and readers, how to bring it into the 21st century, and so on. Previous winners describe their experiences in Der Standard - and they seem to have been under enormous pressure. But then they seem to have got a lot out of it in career terms. In Die Presse, Anne-Catharine Simon writes about how inhumane it all is - and especially was at the beginning under Marcel Reich-Ranicki, not a critic famed for ever being nice to anyone. All the comments raise a fundamental question about writing versus publishing, if you like. Writers write what they want to write, and I won't presume to know for whom, but then if they're lucky (or perhaps unlucky) it crosses over into the publishing world and is expected to make money, which requires calling consumers' attention to it. And the Bachmann Prize is a good way to do that. Everyone's pointing out that Ingeborg Bachmann herself was painfully shy and hated reading in public. But with so many writers now hoping to make a living from their work, they are expected to market themselves and this is one rather painful way to do so.

Drawing on this, I've been thinking about how I should behave. Nikola's pointed out that the competition organisation itself is a wee bit backward in terms of using the web. But then Angela Leinen had a great piece in Der Standard about how the web uses the Bachmann Prize, and also an article in Volltext that you can read online, about her adventures on the margins in Klagenfurt. And the key thing is that if we're going to criticise the event for exposing writers to cruel critics, albeit with the theoretical opportunity to defend themselves, then we have to be very careful indeed about criticising the writers ourselves. So it will be a challenge for a verbose person like me to comment thoughtfully and carefully in 140 characters. But I want to try it anyway. I might have to sum things up on my blog though.

In past years, I've made some great personal discoveries via the Bachmann Prize. I've translated a book first presented there, Dorothee Elmiger's Invitation to the Bold of Heart, and picked up on numerous other writers. I hope the same happens this year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your're absolutely right about the writing versus publishing-Spagat. We should be honest in our criticism, I think, but not mean. And of course, it is very difficult to judge when you only hear a passage of a text, when the dramaturgy of a lame TV reading might be a stronger impression than the text itself ...