Friday, 25 June 2010

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, Day 2

Start at the bottom and scroll up.

14: 55:
I'm afraid I have to go now. But as most of the audience are presently holding their hands in front of their faces, I have every hope that the critics will rip this text to shreds. It just won't be on live TV. I'll try and catch up tomorrow.

Even Silke's attempt at revenge on Albert the loser ends up with her losing out. I've rarely disliked a text this much. And the saloon-bar psychology in between doesn't help.

14: 51:
"Despite all that had happened, she felt attracted to Wolfgang and she wanted everything to be the way it had been before that evening. She emptied her glass in one and slammed it onto the table. She poured herself another."

So having established that it's not even well written, I felt quite comfortable returning to my feminist reflexes and pronouncing to myself (and now to you, dear reader), that this text would only be even vaguely acceptable if it was written by a woman. Because you'll see, soon, that Silke ends up with a bad case of Stockholm syndrome, which was one of the nastiest things I've read in a long time. Plus the ending is cheap, Agatha Christie formula again. But first you'll have to sit through more of this masochist stuff. I'm sorry.

And at first I was giving the text the benefit of the doubt over my feminist reflexes - I mean, I'm the one who says literature doesn't have to be realistic, right? Whether a woman would do all the stuff Silke ends up doing in this nasty, nasty story is beside the point. But as I got deeper into the translation, I noticed a certain lack of invention in the language. The characters are forever looking at each other, watching each other, eyeing each other, and that's almost all they do except inflict humiliation upon Silke.

Sort of. Or she wants to kiss him afterwards but Wolfgang is a complete and utter black-souled bastard for no particular reason. Albert is confused because it's completely out of character. Albert is a weak-kneed loser who's never been kissed and is also incapable of the slightest resistance, no matter what nasty things Wolfgang does. Now don't forget that they've known each other for many years in their grey suburban Austrian village.

And here come the problems. Silke likes it.

The beginning is pretty much to my personal taste. I appreciate rugged stories of suburban youth. More interesting than academic writers, for my preference. So the three teenagers taking the train into town, laden with sexual tension, are up my alley. And now it gets more dramatic. Wolfgang makes Silke give him a blow job because she owes him €20. OK.

14: 26:
Kleindienst is reading, slightly nervous. I translated this text, and I had a lot of problems with it - mainly its content but also the writing itself. This was the piece I liked least of all. Read the translation here.

Portrait Josef Kleindienst. Music, lights - do these people have no heart for the visually impaired like my poor self? Is it just me, or does nobody listen to what the writers say in these films?

Jandl. If his skin was better I might develop a soft spot for him. Because everything he's said so far is so utterly sensible and wise. He thinks the text works very well as a slice of dark realism. And he thinks Switzerland is crap.

Hubert says it's too smooth. I suspect the critics award minus points to anyone who's studied creative writing (cf. Janesch). Keller picked up on that slap of a first sentence, she says. She thinks the narrator is Ingrid herself. Hm. That makes me feel a bit dumb.

Sulzer's pointing out that it's about ennui and boredom, and the presentation was reminiscent of a lullaby. Heh. Feßmann's impressed. There seem to be two different views: was it a rape or not? I think it's probably relatively clear from that first paragraph. Fleischanderl's criticizing Zander for her lack of fire - a cheap argument for a writer from the DLL creative writing school.

And now it starts to peter out, as I recall. But it's part of a novel manuscript. So let's imagine the accusatory narrator is baby Henry and he doesn't actually die as the text seems to threaten. Or that's what I'd like to think, being a sentimental old bid. The ending here is obscure. I'm still not sure what it means.

Ach, it's written very well but it drags you right down, doesn't it? Which I suppose is a good thing in literary terms. And perhaps if an older woman had written it, who'd actually had a baby herself, it would be different. Because here we come to Ingrid's incredibly detached non-relationship to the child. Indifference. Resistance. Breast infection. The baby a thing, an it.

13: 50:
Camera lingering on attractive bespectacled man in audience. There are touches of optimism: charming Kathi (nice name) is a lovely sweet girl, but possibly only to emphasize Ingrid's misery.

At last a couple of smiles in this very miserable story. Because of course a baby is a wonderful thing. Not that you can tell from this story. But Ingrid manages to rebel and keeps the rapist father's name to herself. I rather admire the dialogues. It's just so incredibly grey and depressing, like life at an East German agricultural school. As such, the form matches the content in an exemplary manner.

So there's an angry narrator piling blame upon the useless pregnant teenager. And of course you wonder who that is, that narrator. The language is a tad sophisticated, with a couple of spots that got rather difficult in translation, but Stefan dealt with them rather nicely.

Rape. Pregnancy. Teenage boredom. Fetch the tissues, this one's not going to be cheerful.

She's reading. Stefan's translation is here. The first sentence is like a slap in the face. I remember this text well. It's very much set in the GDR, lots of colourful sociohistorical vocabulary. Which of course is tricky to translate, but that probably goes without saying. Written in the second person again, but this time it's angry in a different way.

Portrait Judith Zander. Young rural East German. Walking in the rain, writes stories about village life. I think it's probably wise of her to let the voice-over do the talking here. He can say just as much pretentious stuff but it doesn't make her look bad.

Lunch. Next up are Judith Zander and Josef Kleindienst.

So there are two camps: the critics who want more passion and the critics who like the heartless precision. Scholz smiling shyly. He looks like a caricature of a hip astronomer. Ooh, they're getting a bit het up. Spinnen's almost venomous.

Winkels (this is his text choice) says it's a relief to read a scientific perspective. Never mind the emotional bollocks, bring on the astronomy! The fun, Hubert tells us, is in the experiment.

Jandl positive. Sulzer just used the word "flawless". Spinnen agrees but says that's a bad thing. He's addicted to Google Earth! Jeez, get the guy onto Facebook. Spinnen says it's heartless. It is, that was Stefan's objection. I don't particularly care.

Sulzer not quite sure what to make of it. It is odd, isn't it? And he likes it. Keller does too. She likes the satellite perspective with zooms. So do I, did I mention that? Fleischanderl thinks it's not quite consistent all the way through. I'm not sure, it seems so perfectly constructed.

Here comes the denouement! All neatly and tidily written. The guy's... made a big hole... got into it... (and back up to the satellite and the geology)... and he's getting the kid to bury him alive. And nobody gives a shit.

Text is starting to sag in the middle slightly, like the wallpaper trestle table that's just turned up. Apparently they have to be a certain length to get in. So there's a bit of padding in the middle, it seems. Back on track now with bizarre sawing apart of a coffee table.

I'm following Scholz's buddies' live chat at Suddenly they've all gone terribly polite and considerate. It's too complicated to explain who the guy is and why his buddies would be having a live chat.

Here come the ominous details. The hairdresser's only pretending to go to work. I do like this story. Stefan thought it was too clever and calculating, as far as I remember.

And it's genuinely funny. Meat salad - which is funny on its own in the first place - sounds bad because it's meat watered down with something foreign. Touch of the macabre, with one of the neighbours cutting letters out of newspapers to write notes...

This is probably the text that has stayed with me the most out of those I only edited. Because I genuinely enjoyed reading it and editing the translation. I like the bizarre geological details, the distanced narration, the precision, the coolness. And how the Germans love to hate the provinces! Dripping with disregard.

Aleks Scholz reading now, Stefan's translation is here. I hope he won't mind me saying that he hated it. It's called Google Earth and it all takes place from above. As viewed from a satellite, of two neighbouring gardens. Lots of very very precise physical descriptions of gardening and stuff.

Aleks Scholz portrait. He's gone to the dogs! Fascinating information about greyhounds. Guy who spells his name in funny way makes funny video. Ha ha. OK, this is what Aleks Scholz does, it seems. You'll see this in his text. There's no need to actually listen. The text is better than the film though.

Burkhard Spinnen reminds us not to worry if the texts are realistic or not. Thank you. A bit of a dud.

Spinnen's pointing out the teeny-weeny Kafkaesque metaphors. Touches of the medieval, the lack of nutrition is interesting after all. But I think it's consensus that the text doesn't match up with its ambitions. Winkler's defensive adjectives: cautious, modest, tiny, precise, pseudo-precise, gradual, almost too drastic, almost somnambulist, regressive. I'm not convinced.

Feßmann says it gets better on second reading. I don't agree. Hubert Winkler unhappy - this is his choice of text.

Shall I bother writing about this? They don't like it, Sulzer's discovering the botanical inconsistencies. They don't want to be as rude as they ought to.

Paul Jandl is really very clever. And very rude about this text. And goodness me, even Hildegard Keller is making negative comments!

Just as we're all drifting off, Scharnigg introduces a new character! Hooray, the Agatha Christie solution! Introduce new character to save the day at the very end. With Bavarian food as a suitably banal rescue.

Sorry, the phone rang so I've missed a big chunk of this story. But I fear that doesn't matter very much. Starting to wonder how the author's going to get his narrator out of this tricky situation? How about a wee bit of mental health issues in a relationship?

So this is where it gets a little more interesting. Man hiding under the stairs writes mental newspaper article. Watching people go up and down the stairs. Slightly silly, which makes me like the text a little more. Nice observations. But I may be feeling slightly sorry for poor Scharnigg.

Raymond Carver goes to Munich. Where he meets Tilman Rammstedt. Who won the Bachmann Prize. This is what I meant about the junk shop. I get the impression he's studied past winners and picked out the best bits. Guy hides in odd place? Check. Rubbish bins? Check.

A strange pair of shoes outside the journalist's front door. Inside is his partner, M., who doesn't leave the house very much (cf. Mezger). This is the meaningful turning point, and terribly terribly banal.

I have to say, it's rather journalistic. His delivery's not helping much. All terribly banal so far. "Hot meat" was tricky to translate but isn't as exciting as it sounds.

So he's reading now. A journalist writing a piece on climbing the Eiger North Wall. The scene is set in the first sentence, please note. Capable. Stefan's translation is online here.

Portrait Max Scharnigg. He's a journalist and lives in Munich. Writes for "young people". The portrait shows him wandering around a huge municipal junk shop. I'll come back to that in a moment.

They really don't like it. Jandl just said he thought it gave them reason to rehabilitate Sabrina Janesch! At least she didn't use similes, appears to be the logic.

Jandl very very rude about the language. I do find it hard to judge, I suppose, but I'm not sure there is such a thing as "good German". Meike Feßmann doesn't like the first sentence - and it was a tricky one to translate, as I recall. The sex scene's not going down well. Spinnen doesn't like the word "bottom", Feßmann doesn't like the literary similes slap-bang in the middle.

Hildegard Keller is explaining the Roman references. Sulzer's noticed it might not be post-apocalyptic. I don't know whether the others have.

Frau Fleischanderl says it does keep some secrets. Sulzer says so too. It's terribly poetic, we're told. Sulzer is always going to be on the losing side on this jury, by the way, because he writes books that sell well and get made into films. Which makes him hoi polloi.

Hubert Winkels finds it all rather too obvious as well. Full disclosure: I bear a slight personal grudge against Hubert Winkels. So I may not manage to listen very carefully to what he says at great length.

Perhaps it would have been better without the ending tagged on. Sort of Philip Roth-like (I think) - intellectual gets laid, feels happy, period.

Sex scene. Of course she's brown and he's pale. You can imagine it, right? A little dry, the description. He's blushing. A very academic sex scene, which may be intentionally funny.

Oooh. This is the really exciting bit. Shots in the air at the publishing party! Abandoned villa! They've left the Suhrkamp party and moved on to the Young Publishers' bash. Illegal drugs! The exotic woman is talking crap. I can do that too. Perhaps she'd be a good role model. Because... she gets laid (spoiler!)

Ah, here comes the exciting bit. An exotic beauty. Let's not go into the deep Selbsthass in this text. And of course the exotic beauty reads his Tarot cards, because she is earthy and foreign and believes in magic. There are a number of issues here...

And, here we go, the narrator's off to a publishing party. Lightly veiled reference to Frankfurt Book Fair? But it gets quite exciting (although you can't tell yet from his diction). First it's a bit bitchy, which I find often goes down well with German-speaking literary types. I personally don't find it all that fascinating, reading about narcissistic publishing people going to parties. Whether they're dressed as satyrs or not.

Or is it? Is it a cynical, rather transparent portrait of literary academia? Are those towers of the ivory kind? Because - no groaning now - the narrator is a writer. But I think we agreed in advance that it's quite clever.

He's reading now, clearly nervous. This was one of Stefan's more difficult texts. Another post-apocalypse setting. I'm having problems with the accent. Read Stefan's English here.

Starting with Thomas Ballhausen. An Austrian academic. The portrait tells us he's really really into books. You'll notice that in a moment.

Today there are four writers Stefan translated and one that I did. So my insights may be less insightful than yesterday - but I have read all the texts in advance.

Good morning!
I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to go. A brief recap on yesterday:

We heard five writers: Sabrina Janesch, Volker Altwasser, Christopher Kloeble, Daniel Mezger and Dorothee Elmiger. Janesch I liked a lot in advance - unfortunately nobody else did. I've often noticed that English-speaking and German-speaking taste don't always overlap, and this is a case in point. Think of Alina Bronsky, who didn't make much of an impression at Klagenfurt but is getting rave reviews in the States right now for Broken Glass Park. Anyway, Janesch's text works for me (and for Stefan Tobler, the other English translator working on the Klagenfurt texts), because it combines a fascinating subject that would often be dealt with in a rather dry way with suspense and capable spookiness. We shall see what becomes of her novel.

The word on the web is that Altwasser did too much telling and not enough showing, although everyone loved his obscure fish. Kloeble didn't go down well at all, odd material handled insensitively. Daniel Mezger was very good-looking and wrote good angry prose. And Elmiger was everybody's favourite of the day.

So, are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.


Stefan Tobler said...

hi Katy!
I didn't hate Google Earth.. but one yet to be read.
I just thought it, with man who lies down in hole he's dug, and Scharnigg's man living under the stairs, were egs of too much freak/ 'quirky character' literature. There's only so much kookiness that I want.. and I think authors are trying to hard to have kooky characters.
Now, if you're Robert Walser, ok..

Oh - and Jandl is good, isn't he?
(I've found 3sat's live stream)

He didn't say Switzerland was crap.. boring, yes! After having had 6 bevvied-up big blokes break their way into my block of flats looking for a mate they wanted to beat up after the England game on Friday (and that's when we won!), I think boring places have some things going for them.
At least for a holiday.

kjd said...

Oops, sorry Stefan. I thought some sense of dispute among the two of us might hot things up slightly. I did think you disliked it - but was I right at least about you objecting to the flawlessness?

Boring, crap - where's the difference?

Jan Groh said...

I'd really love to see a "Translators' Choice Award" next year (or maybe even this year?). This would add a lot of international spirit and a more substantial look on the texts to the Bachmannpreis than the jury is willing or able to give in many cases (imho). What about asking the other translators (all languages, of course) for their top three texts, and getting YOUR winner?
Plus: Next year you might get a free trip to the Wört(h)ersee if the ORF only perceived the tremendous potential of the 'TCA' for the international marketing of "Klagenfurt"...

Just in case, I add a © here.

Stefan Tobler said...

Yes.. Google Earth didn't rock my boat. But from what I've heard from some of the jury, I see why people write safe texts. Anything a little out of line, and some of the jury members pounce on it with all the usual creative writing dictums.

btw.. I meant Wednesday night about the hooligan break-in at my block, the last England game. That's crap.
I'll make sure I don't speak a word of German on the phone on Sunday.

ejaz14357 said...

I just thought it, with man who lies down in hole he's dug, and Scharnigg's man living under the stairs, were egs of too much freak/ 'quirky character' literature.