Monday, 7 July 2014

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize to Tex Rubinowitz

This year's main prize in Klagenfurt has gone to the cartoonist and travel writer Tex Rubinowitz for his story "Wir waren niemals hier". It's a piece about a weird, essentially asexual kind-of-love relationship between a lazy beer-guzzling art student boy and a battery-licking, Korean-learning Lithuanian girl, in 1980s Vienna. I quite like it – it's funny without being dumb, and it leaves at least one end pleasingly loose. The second prize, the Kelag Prize, went to the Swiss poet Michael Fehr, whose text "Silemliberg" was too much for me to deal with on a computer screen. Apparently he didn't read it from paper though, he uses an audio prompt, and the whole thing sounds oddly familiar to me now from talking to people about the Swiss spoken word scene. So perhaps the judges were right when they talked about an oral shift in his case, and his work simply doesn't work on paper/screen.

Third place, the 3sat Prize, went to Senthuran Varatharajah for "Von der Zunahme der Zeichen", a simulated Facebook conversation between two students who arrived in (presumably) Germany as asylum seekers. I found this one the most interesting in terms of form and content, with its toe-dips into philosophy, and I look forward to hearing more from the Berlin-based writer. And then Katharina Gericke got the now amusingly named Mr. Heyn's Ernst Willner Prize for "Down Down Down", which I simply didn't get, but I have to admit I'd had very little sleep when I read it, so do read it for yourself. Gertraud Klemm was voted winner of the audience prize for "Ujjayi".      

Before it all started, however, past winner Maja Haderlap held the opening speech. Please read this, because it's fascinating and clever and it's all about multilingualism and writing, and the questions she gets asked over and over again about the language of her writing (Haderlap has written in Slovenian and German). Essentially, she says with Michael Hamburger that it's not writers' identities that count, as defined by themselves or others, it's the way they deal with them. And that means we should pay far less attention to writers' biographies and more to their writing. I can put my signature right under that petition.

So it seems all the more cringe-worthy that the critic Meike Fessmann told Senthuran Varatharajah, "Perhaps the current era will one day be called the asylum era. Senthuran Varatharajah gives this era a voice today. May the 3sat Prize be a gesture of welcome." It's not clear to me whether she was kindly welcoming Varatharajah to the land of Germanic culture, many, many years after he first arrived as a child, or extending a welcome to asylum-seekers in literature – certainly a previously neglected topic – or a real-life personal welcome from her, in contrast to refugees' official treatment in Germany. And then she gave him a bunch of flowers.   

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