Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Writing Left

It was a little while ago now, but the three-day special at Berlin's Brecht-Haus did leave a rather lasting impression. Called Writing Left, it brought together a number of writers and publishers to talk about what exactly "left" means and how - and whether - to be left-wing writers and publishers.

A word to begin with: I can see the point of doing these things on three consecutive evenings, but I imagine most people didn't attend every night, just as I didn't either. Certainly nobody in the audience on the final evening had been on any of the previous panels. And I think continuity is key to discussions like this, so I would suggest spreading them out over a longer period, like the Literaturwerkstatt did with its series about writing the other a couple of years ago. At the session I attended, rather a lot of prose writers and poets freestyled on the topic, and you can read about the first evening in Der Freitag here and the second evening here.

So what happened? First of all there was no consensus about what "left" might mean. Some of the writers picked especially for being left-wing writers, including my favourites Raul Zelik and Michael Wildenhain, obviously think of their politics as separate from their writing and apparently don't define themselves as left-wing writers. Remembering where we were, I'd say that says a lot about the times we live in. In Brecht's day, from the 1920s right through to the 50s and of course beyond, it was perfectly viable for a writer to define their work in political terms. In East Germany, think Brecht but also Anna Seghers and Christa Wolf and of course the dissident writers, in the West Grass with his pro-SPD campaigns and Peter Schneider further to the left, and in fact large parts of a whole generation. And now? I can think of a few examples of writers who are fairly outspoken (Dietmar Dath, Ulrich Peltzer?) but the younger writers I know are very shy about airing their political views.

At the event, Tanja Dückers talked about distancing herself as a writer from that pro-SPD generation now that the SPD has waged wars on other countries and the domestic unemployed, not to mention their "asylum compromise" and the more recent chickening-out of reforming citizenship effectively (she didn't mention them in fact, so I have). But with no charismatic or convincing alternative and no dogma left standing, I felt many of the authors present were a little adrift. Dückers herself seemed to define her politics in opposition to others - the SPD, the radical right - and went as far as suggesting we reject the term "left-wing writers" in favour of "socially committed writers". Hmmm.

Two rays of hope and light shone through though. The first was poetry, perhaps a good form for pithy or even thoughtful statements. In fact the politically schizophrenic Die Zeit ran a series of new political poems not long ago. And the young Austrian poet Stefan Schmitzer read some exciting stuff and suggested a more useful term: progressive. The other part of the evening that refreshed my belief in utopias was Rery Madonaldo and Nikola Richter, alias Los Superdemokraticos, who presented a fabulous manifesto about how the fifth international will emerge from the internet, how Trotsky would be an internet troll, how creative work deserves fair pay and how sharing is the new black:
Hyper-left trolls always act in the interest of the group they're fighting for and lobby for hyper-left ideas. They write obsessively about a subject, wherever they can, even if they don't get paid for it. They are provocative. Words are their weapons. They don't hide their faces behind sock puppets; they stand up for their opinion in public. They react impulsively, are unconscious of commercial factors, take their orientation not from the market but from people. That's why one of the basic commandments of the hyper-left trolls is sharing: the better form of charity! And so these lone wolves build up textual cooperatives, which carry on trolling content independently and autonomously. Solidarity among trolls is a must, group trolling is the revolutionary tactic.
For that alone, the event was worth attending. What a pity there was no room for more structured debate - but perhaps the Brecht-Haus can document what went on and build on it in the future?


Helen MacCormac said...

This post got me thinking about art and writing. It is interesting to note that art seems to be very political, just now, while writing prefers not to be labelled anything too much, and yet the subjects are mostly the same.

kjd said...

That's true, Helen! Perhaps it's easier for artists because they don't have to be so specific about their ideas?