Ne pas rire

The exhibition of surrealism in Belgium at Bozar has the inviting title “Histoire de ne pas rire”. Even the booklet of the exhibition guide does not translate this into English assuming everybody has at least that much of interest in French and the willingness to learn about these 5 words that are a reference to the understanding of the surrealist art movement. You are explicitly invited to allow yourself to laugh when looking at the images. Reflection comes second. Caught by surprise and making new connections of seemingly unrelated images and words, that’s the essence of it. The comparison of the 2 versions of the exhibition guide teaches language and translations beyond the simple words. Sometimes it is best to not translate the text as in the title of the exhibition guide.

AI and languages

A big potential of AI is in the field of languages. Translations have been an expert domain and a pain for pupils at school. In professional settings translations are an expensive extra service for some or a good source of revenue. AI has shifted the translation game to a new level. In terms of speed of translating large amounts of written text AI is hard to beat. In terms of quality the battle of translaters against AI is still on. For chess players the battle against AI has been lost some years ago already. It remains an open question whether translators can still outperform AI or just adapt to using the technology themselves to improve both speed and quality of translations. The European Union with its many languages and commitment to cultural diversity can serve even more language communities with documents in their own language than before at marginally higher costs. A panel on the 9th day of translations at the „foire du livre de Bruxelles” 2024 expressed their reservations with regard to the use of AI in translation of political text or speech. Misunderstanding and misinterpretation will be the rule rather than the exception with potentially harmful consequences. Checking the correctness of translations is a permanent challenge for translators and can be very time consuming. There is room for an AI-assisted translation, but similar to other fields of application of AI, relying exclusively on AI bears high risks as well. We should not underestimate the creative part of translators to do full justice to a text or speech. 2024 Translation

AI and text

The performance of large language models (LLMs) with respect to text recognition and drafting texts is impressive. All those professions that draft a lot of texts have often decades of experience with using word-processing software. The assistance of software in the field of texts ranges from immediate typo corrections to suggestions of synonyms or grammatical corrections in previous word-processing software.
The improvement of AI stems for example from the potential to suggest alternative drafts of the text according to predefined styles. A very useful style is the “use of easy language”. This rewriting of texts simplifies texts in the sense that longer and more structured sentences are split into shorter ones, lesser-known words or acronyms are replaced by more common or simpler words. Some languages like German have a particular need to use easy language when it comes to administrative regulations and procedures. Public services that aim for inclusiveness of for example older persons or youth can become much more accessible if the use of easy language is spread more widely. Just keep in mind the large numbers of so-called “functional illiterates” (OECD study “PIAAC”) in all OCED countries.
AI can do a great job in assisting to reach a broader public with texts adapted to their level of literacy and numeracy competences. Webpage Designers have made use of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for years now. The most common way is to use frequently searched keywords more often on your website in order to be found more often by search engines like GOOGLE et al. Additionally, AI allows to explain keywords, sentences or even jokes to you (Spriestersbach 2023 p.111). This may help in situations when cross-cultural understanding is important.
We have made use of optical character recognition (OCR) for a long time now in public services as well as firms and for private archives. AI is taking this “learning experience” to the next level by making use of the content of the recognized text. Predicting the following word or suggesting the next sentence was only the beginning of AI with respect to texts. AI can draft your speech to plead guilty or not guilty in a court. But we shall have to live with the consequences of making exclusive use of it rather than referring back to experts in the field. AI please shorten this entry, please!


Some writers accomplish the formidable task to draft a text that encompasses more than one language. Samuel Beckett surely is one of them. Arnaud Beaujeu (2011) exposes the meta-language that Beckett creates through his reductionism and minimalist style. It is first a deconstruction of language or languages expressed in French and/or English at times. There is an underlying discourse dealing with the link and sometimes opposition, but always a relationship between at least these 2 languages. Beaujeu reveals 2 other languages: « the trivial and the spiritual ». The reductionism of Beckett leads to a conscious expression of the obvious, the trivial in conversations. This, however, he turns in the theatre piece “cette fois” (original “That Time”) into a ritual, spiritual version of 3 persons A, B, C in a prayer like liturgy. In taking out the sentence structure and obligations of grammar more generally the text becomes a rhythmic reading of words. Today we might say a Rap-version of a text.
The meta-language is the spiritual experience and another kind of access and questioning of memory, eventually even reconstructing a collective memory. Maybe the meta-language is the attempt to collectivise and internalize the dialogue that has turned into a trilogue.
It is out of the memory of persons or historical evolutions that Beckett builds his meta-language. Adorno (1974) put this in a relationship to Shakespeare’s dramatic work and the experience of the horrors of Nazi-Germany.  Sarcastically put, the question to Adorno was not ” to be or not to be”, but “to die or to die”. Beckett travelled in Germany extensively in the year 1936 and faught in the 2nd World War with the French resistance.
„Paroles, musique, mémoire“ (Beaujeu, 2011) span a triangle which allows for a profound, albeit mostly empty space. Beckett offers a safety net to bridge the gap by way of reconstructing a language reduced to basics as well as meditative silence. The script lies in the meta-language and poetry is the more common access to this meta or essential level of our existence. Listening to the meta-language is like listening to polyphonic music. Some find it very disruptive, others a spiritual experience. Meta-language is all around us, like it or not. (Image: Französische Friedrichstadtkirche Berlin, Exhibition Princesses, 2023)

Nobel Literature2023

Jon Fosse has been awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 2023. Alfred Nobel donated the original funds out of his entrepreneurial empire build on the patents for dynamite. The explosives have ample use in peaceful times, but especially at times of war with noisy and destructive explosions. Experiments, with the tragic outcome killed together with 4 other victims his own brother. It did not stop him to pursue his entrepreneurial endeavour. In 2023 the Russian aggression continues to use explosives to kill innocent civilian victims. The sound of bombing continues to traumatise or destroy existences. The Nobel Prize for literature awarded to Jon Fosse does not bring those killed to live, but it is yet another reminder that silence or the absence of Alfred Nobel’s noise is invaluable. Norwegian Fjords and the water all around surely inspired Jon Fosse.
The scope of his writing ranging from theatre, prose to poetry and children’s books is comprehensive and impressive. This is probably all well known to many theatre-goers and readers beyond their mother tongue. For Germany there is an additional feature to the literary work of Fosse. Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel is the almost exclusive translator of the German language editions. This is already an impressive amount of work and long-term commitment to and from a translator as well as the publishing house Rowohlt. The Wikipedia entry for Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel shows the numerous works as translator of Jon Fosse as early as 2001 and still more to come. Additionally, Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel translates other classic authors from Norwegian into German in collaboration with the publishing house Guggolz located in Berlin-Schöneberg.
Besides the passion for translation Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel is active to defend the rights and salaries of translators. The threat to professional translation work by AI-programmes is imminent and just like authors and actors (not only in the USA) face continuing challenges for proper remuneration of their work. Being the German “voice” of Jon Fosse, it depends very much on specific contractual arrangements, whether a translator will also benefit not only from the popularity, but also in financial terms from the “windfall” profits reaped by authors and publishers. This constitutes probably a rather explosive issue, but worthy to be addressed eventually by the Nobel Committee. It is a “winner takes all” system just like with explosives, at least until next year’s awards. (Image Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel presenting Biermann in Staatsbibliothek Berlin 2023-9).

Sei ganz ruhig

Sei ganz ruhig. So heißt das kurze Gedicht von Angela Krauß und auch die erste Zeile. Es hat mich seit einiger Zeit schon begleitet.
Gerade der Eintrag zum Himalaya und den Besteigenden des Mount Everest hat mir die Zeilen erneut in Erinnerung gebracht. Für einige wenige besteht das Leben immer noch aus Sensationen. Immer höher, immer weiter, immer schneller. Dabei wissen wir, unser Planet hält das nicht aus.
Unsere Einkaufsmeilen suggerieren uns ein Übermaß an verpassten Gelegenheiten, wenn wir jetzt nicht zugreifen. FOMO (fear of missing out) ist allgegenwärtig und ein viel zu erfolgreiches Marketingkonzept, dem sich kaum eine Person entziehen kann. Die Selbsteinschätzung der Zeit, die uns verbleibt bis zum Tod (perceived time till death) oder unseres spezifischen Sterblichkeitsrisikos bezüglich Vermeidbarkeit oder allgemeinem Risiko, beeinflusst „unbewusst“ unser Verhalten. In Vergangenheit verhaftet sein, ist keine Lösung. Das Leben wird vorwärts gelebt, und rückblickend verstanden.
Bei einem gelegentlichen Rückblick wird vielen bewusst, es hat sich viel angesammelt (nicht nur im Keller). Aber mehr, muss es nicht werden, anders schon, besser vielleicht. Als Hommage an Angela Krauß mal ein 7-Zeiler, beeinflusst von der Konferenz im Europäischen Parlament „Beyond Growth“ im Mai 2023. Ruhig werden und ruhig bleiben, sollten wir beständig versuchen.  Klein- statt Großschreibung, flache Hierarchien, Gleichstellung bei Wörtern und Sätzen. Warum noch Satzzeichen? Denk dir deine Welt, wiedewiede wie sie dir gefällt.

bleib ruhig
bleib einfach ruhig
la vie est belle tel quel
hab keine angst was zu verpassen
es bleiben jahre zu verweilen
schau mal umher
da ist viel