Monday, 6 July 2015

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize to Nora Gomringer

The weltschmerz doesn't seem to be going away. So while the German-language Literaturbetrieb* had four days of fun at the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in Klagenfurt – albeit no longer drinking a right-wing populist's faux-champagne at the mayor's reception but the faux-champagne of the new Social Democratic mayor, who's had enough of her previous coalition with the FPÖ – I was sweating in tropical Berlin and working and not watching the spectacle ("Germany's Got Talent for swots" – Stefanie Sargnagel) on TV because how can I take so many days off work and Greece and Syria and Nigeria and also I've kind of had enough of a lot of German literary critics. I mean, they're only talking about literature, it's not like they deserve a medal for it, and I didn't want to spend four days watching jumped-up egos talk about literature, even though I've thoroughly enjoyed watching it in the past. I hope I'll get over this cynical phase I'm going through.

So the prize went to Nora Gomringer for her piece "Recherche". And here's the thing about this piece ("porn for Germanists" – Nora Gomringer): it's a magnificent story, a real humdinger of clever wit and good writing and light and dark ideas under the surface, as long as you know who her protagonist Nora Bossong is. Now, I happen to know who Nora Bossong is because she's a German writer and I've even had a drink with her and some other German publishing people on one occasion, and heard her reading a couple of times, although I don't think I've ever read one of her novels or any of her poetry. And she's a striking woman and one of those people a lot of publishing types know. But she's not, you know, famous. There's a bit in Gomringer's story where another character asks the Bossong character to sign a book, which is amusing because it's unexpected for the Bossong character, which makes us smile if we know who Nora Bossong is but doesn't come across as cruel; Gomringer doesn't seem to be taking the mickey (because we can probably assume Nora Gomringer would react the same way?). And there's another bit in the story where that same character sets her alarm clock to watch the Bachmann Prize on TV, which is also amusing if we know what the Bachmann Prize is because what kind of psycho would spend four days of her life watching a literary competition on TV, and again that self-deprecating humour is delightful. But Gomringer doesn't actually name the literary competition on TV, so it's a kind of double in-joke.

So what I think about "Recherche" is that it's the perfect story to win the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize right now, but it's not a story that works in any other context. From my point of view, there'd be no point in translating it, for instance, because no one would pick up on its big joke. Or you could add footnotes, but jokes with footnotes are a bit crap.

And I can't shake the impression that a story consisting partly of in-jokes for the German-language Literaturbetrieb* winning the prize is a bit of a swizz for people who don't get the in-jokes. OK, the competition has drawn attention to lots of talented writers who wouldn't have got on TV otherwise, and will be good for all of them, and I've no doubt Nora Gomringer has other texts that will appeal to a broader audience. But doesn't it seem a little provincial, dare I say it, for a prize that used to translate all its finalists' texts into seven languages to be awarded to a story that works only for a very limited readership?

Or, ach, maybe a literary prize's purpose isn't to provide a service to the maximum number of readers, a kind of capitalist efficiency logic by which the best story is the one that the largest number of people appreciate. Like Dire Straights on paper or something. I don't know. At least it goes towards disproving Tim Parks's theory that writers are pandering to international audiences by making their work more bland. That's a cheering thought. And at least Nora Gomringer gets a bit of fame and fortune for a while.

The weltschmerz is telling me it doesn't matter anyway, what with nothing mattering anyway. Maybe I shouldn't have started reading Camus. Here's a witty response to the story by the actual Nora Bossong, possibly. It's a fun game of pingpong for a summer afternoon.


*Literaturbetrieb, I nearly forgot. It translates as literary industry and means the sum of publishers, editors, writers, critics, etc. making a living out of literature, or trying to. And although a lot of books are published in German, the Literaturbetrieb feels very small and incestuous and tends to suffer a lot of storms in teacups. So you can use it as a term of abuse if you fancy raising yourself above it for any reason.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

What you do matters to this reader. Your humour and insights, your writing and your work are an inspiration, a light in the darkness

kjd said...

That's a really kind and helpful thing to say, thank you. I will be OK, don't worry.

ghost said...

I will say: I only know Bossong by name, but the text worked for me. I readily admit I did not get all jokes - and sometimes the joke's on the judges (remember Passig?) - but while this was not my favorite text, it worked well for me. And the two other prizewinners are far more traditional texts. I'm a big fan of Grigorcea and that includes her text and I was enormously pleasantly surprised by Valerie Fritsch's text.

g. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kjd said...

Oh, what a magnificent telling off, g.!
I see I should have taken more time to read the texts more closely. I'm going to write something tomorrow, I hope, about why I'm not my usual self. Apart from the heat, that is.
I did read the Dana Grigorcea text you both liked, and enjoyed it – although I found it too disconnected to cut through my personal fug on Sunday. But I look forward to reading a novel by her, if it's taken from one. I assume it is.

I stand by my comment about footnoted jokes being crap, though. Unless the footnote itself is the joke. Which it wouldn't be, in this case.

AND (the big and...) I'm not really used to weltschmerz. It's like this is my first ever big infection. I hope this means it'll seem less impressive next time.

kjd said...

Oh, where'd the comment go? Never mind, it was magnificent but fleeting.

g. said...

Einspruch! Dieser Bachmannpreis war ganz besonders schön! Und eitle (no na) Literaturkritiker, die öffentlich über Literatur streiten, demonstrieren, dass es eine Öffentlichkeit gibt, die das interessiert. Die es nicht egal findet und sagt: soll doch jeder lesen und schreiben, was er mag, is doch wurscht. Sondern die glaubt, dass das wichtig ist, eine Kunst! Dass man drüber streiten kann, was eine® schreibt, dass es etwas bedeutet! Für mich ist das eine der wenigen Arzneien gegen Weltschmerz, die ich habe, wenn du die zerkrümelst, muss ich widersprechen:
Du schreibst, Nora Gomringers Text in dem eine gewisse Nora Bossong mitspielt, würde nur funktionieren, wenn man genau weiß, wer die reale Nora Bossong ist- und du bringst das in der Folge als Beweis für die zunehmende Provinzialität des deutschen „Literaturbetriebs“. Nun hat Nora Gomringer es nicht gerade erfunden, echte lebende Personen zusammen mit erfundenen auftreten zu lassen, und auch nicht, erfundene Figuren wie lebende Personen zu nennen, ohne sie ihnen dann ähnlich zu machen. Das ist im Gegenteil ein ganz typisches Ding in postmodernen Texten, und am meisten benutzen es, glaube ich, die Lateinamerikaner. Ich denke, Borges hat damit angefangen, und jetzt gehört es bei denen zum state of the art. Mein Lieblingsbuch in der Hinsicht ist „Die wilden Detektive“ von Roberto Bolano, da gibt es etwa dreißig Dichter und ein Teil von ihnen hat wirklich gelebt, manche waren auch seine engen Freunde, wieder andere heißen zwar so wie reale Dichter, ihr Aussehen wird dann aber völlig anders beschrieben, und ein dritter Teil ist frei erfunden. Als ich das Buch gelesen habe, kannte ich keinen einzigen der Namen, ich habe mich beim Googeln aber bald in einer Rätsel lösenden Fangemeinde wiedergefunden, was mit große Zusatzfreude verschafft hat. Ich erlebe das auch keineswegs als billigen Witz. Sicher, so etwas erschwert die klassische „suspension of disbelief“ – denn in welchem Raum bewegen sich die Figuren, wenn einige von ihnen frei erfunden sind und andere den Namen realer Personen tragen? Man kann nicht so einfach einen naturalistischen Raum für ihr Rendezvous annehmen, sie treffen einander in einem Metaraum, in den man durch ein rabbithole kommt, oder durch einen Spiegel. Aber der hat für mich etwas Wunderbares, ganz besonders bei Borges. Dort begegne ich nämlich virtuell auch den anderen Lesern, ich bin nicht mehr nur in meinem eigenen Kopf sondern in einem Kollektivkopf aller Lesenden. Ich glaube das ist ein Raum, der sich sogar besonders gut zum Überschreiten von Sprachgrenzen eignet. (Ich stimme dir zu, dass der Bachmannpreis benannt werden müsste, wenn dieser Text außerhalb des Bachmannpreises funktionieren soll, das Wort ist wohl nur für diese Gelegenheit weggelassen worden- aber das wäre die einzige nötige Änderung.) Du schreibst, Scherze, an denen Fußnoten hängen, seien „crap“ – da würden dir aber Abertausende Fans von David Foster Wallace heftig widersprechen! (und auch ein paar von Nabokov).
Ich hatte übrigens auch ein paar Einwände beim Text von Nora Gomringer, aber andere als du: Wallfischblog
Mein Lieblingstext war, wie bei ghost der von Dana Grigorcea, vielleicht solltest Du Dir den einmal anschauen, ich glaube, er würde Dir gefallen.
P.S.: Weltschmerz und Camus: kann sein, dass da ein Hund begraben liegt. Sich „Sisyphos als einen glücklichen Menschen vorstellen“ klappt, glaub ich nur dann gut, wenn man die Leiche Gottes noch warm unter den Füßen spüren kann und viel schlechter, wenn man schon in zweiter oder dritter Generation Atheist ist. Der Bachmannpreis hat mich für ein paar Tage aufgemuntert, aber der Weltschmerz holt auch mich sicher bald wieder ein. Würde jederzeit auf ihn anstoßen, wenn wir uns begegnen- ich lese Deinen Blog nämlich sonst gern als Antidot! Nastrovje!
Wallfischblog

g. said...

War beim ersten Mal zu dumm, um einen Link zu setzen :-)

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