Dietrich Gabin

In French cinema Jean Gabin is a much adored person. Equally, Marlene Dietrich had, probably an even more far reaching international career. Both were accomplished and successful actors long before the 2nd world war broke out. In the U.S both fell in love and had a long lasting romance together. Their war time activities and “engagement” in fighting Nazi-Germany were extraordinary. It meant that both took active roles to use their charisma to mobilize people and soldiers to fight for freedom.
Shortly after the war then, both made a last attempt to work together in a movie production, but it could not unite the couple again. The “Deutsche Kinemathek” displays currently a page from the Diary of the “Diva” to underscore to what extent “Dietrich” was depressed about the break-up of their longer lasting love affair. Some say Gabin was the only person who quit her, all (most?) other relationships were terminated by the Diva. The junctions of biographies are hard to predict. The circumstances of the 2nd world war and internalized civic obligations to fight for freedom and democracy were wholeheartedly shared by both, but eventually they grew apart nevertheless. Tough experiences even for the much adored persons on the forefront of the stages worldwide. There seem to be many instances of repetition of the same story not only in movies, but also in real life.
Image: Deutsche Kinemathek Museum 2024-5

Family Kafka

100 years after Franz Kafka’s death nearly all facets of his life and writings have been analyzed. The archives of the editor Wagenbach and the publishing house have now opened an exhibition at the “Stabi Ost” in Berlin adding a family picture book description of Kafka’s life (Curator Hans-Gerd Koch). This is of interest because Kafka himself had written an extensive letter to his father (Brief an den Vater) in which he tries to understand his intricate relationship with his father and other family members.
Nowadays, some people would try to analyze Kafka’s life through the parapsychological technique of family constellations. The far-reaching and pan-European family networks of the Kafka (father) and Löwy (mother) families were more than just an excellent source of inspiration. 2 younger brothers died in their first year. 3 younger sisters followed more traditional evolutionary patterns within families. The television series on Kafka’s life add to the understanding of his sources of inspiration and “parallel worlds” he created and lived in. The exceptional “fictionalization” of his own life and existence in the spirit of André Breton’s surrealism remains a milestone in the history of literature.
Kafka himself thought he was not really “instagrammable”at the time, but his image has reached and still reaches millions of people (Link to Picture archive). He himself would probably have defended the thesis that the most powerful images are within us. … and they are hard to escape from.
(Image from Exposition in Staatsbibliothek Berlin 2024-4, QR-code links to reading in originals!)

Das Meer

Wir haben vielfältige Beziehungen zum Meer. Diese reichen von romantisch geprägten Gefühlen zum Meer, den Wellen und den Fischen bis zur wissenschaftlichen Befassung mit den Meeren, Mangroven und dem Klimawandel. 71% der Erdoberfläche besteht aus Meeren. Das sollte den Festlandbewohnenden eigentlich klar machen, wie wichtig Meere für unseren Planeten sind. „Ocean Literacy“ nennt die UNESCO das. Neben Lesen, Schreiben und Rechnen sollte die Literalität auf unsere Ozeane ausgedehnt werden bevor es zu spät ist. Verschmutzung der Meere passiert hauptsächlich im Verborgenen. Lediglich Beobachtung aus dem Weltraum kann die weitläufigen Routen der Verschmutzenden zumindest teilweise nachverfolgen. Vielleicht hilft die Rückkehr zu der romantischen Sicht auf die Meere eines „William Turner“ zu einer höheren Wertschätzung der Meere, dem Licht und den Wellen.
Die kleine Sammlung von Gedichten „Das Meer“, erschienen im Reclam Verlag, ist eine gute Reisebegleitung für Begeisterte des Meeres. Darin findet sich eine Vielzahl von renommierten Schreibenden, die ihre Faszination des Meeres zum Ausdruck bringen. Mein momentaner Favorit ist Wolfgang Borchert darin (S.41-42) „Muscheln, Muscheln“.
Muscheln, Muscheln, blank und bunt,
findet man als Kind.

Muscheln, Muscheln, bunt und blank,
fand man einst als Kind!

L’échiquier

The game of chess has been subject of an ever increasing amount of literature. Not only historically the game, where two kings fight against each other, but the queens are the most powerful figures on the chessboard attracted a great deal of attention. We studied chess in books and watched live tournaments between the best players of the world. Most of this has successfully moved online and we have gotten used to losing against computers for almost all human beings some time ago. The internal federation of chess FIDE lists the top players male and female. The calendar of face to face events is still impressive. The federation operates somehow like a platform of players, as well as for players, to organize their lives as chess players. Anther kind of chess literature is the one that is constructed around the lives of chess players. Some characters get really absorbed into the mental or virtual world of the dialogue between 2 or more characters or players. The real world experience and the game on the board become intertwined or entangled. Losing or winning, to win or not to win, may unbalance whole personalities. Beyond the “Schachnovelle” von Stefan Zweig we have a new addition of fictional writing with autobiographical traits by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (2023) on our desks. « L’échiquier » is a story unfolding in 64 chapters just like the 8 x 8 spots on the chessboard. Of course, the story does not unfold in a linear fashion. It seems as if the players or opponents even change as the game unfolds. Maybe there are more than one game in action. Simultaneously as in some chess tournaments. Some games are blitz games taking just a few minutes, others go on beyond a lifetime. The experience of playing chess even against yourself has a psychological and sociological dimension. You can go round in circles for some or you are like “bowling alone” in the individualized society. About time to shed an additional light on the mystery of the chessboard. Self isolation with a chessboard was also a way of coping with the Covid pandemic. Some still suffer from long Covid and cures are not always easy to find.

L’échiquier, chessboard, Schachbrett

Only for Kids

We all have, hopefully, fond memories of children books. Sometimes authors are not so keen to tell that they are just writing books for children. This is often present in many biographies of authors of books for children. This is grossly unfair. Not only is the book market for children’s books one of the best- selling part of literature, but there are lots of interesting collaborations between authors and illustrators. Most books are expensive to produce, particularly if, additionally, translations are needed to reach more children and their parents. For small countries this might be a barrier. The Scandinavian countries have a tradition to translate and publish some selected children’s books in multiple Scandinavian languages and beyond. Therefore, it is no surprise to find a children’s book entitled “Kant” by Norwegian author Jon Fosse, illustrator Roj Friberg with the text translated into Swedish and published by the Danish Editor Carlsen, all in 1990.
The illustrations allow to understand the “bilderbok med text av Jon Fosse” using an enlightening imaginative visual language. From the cover already It is clear we deal with the universe and endless open space. There are black holes in it as well. Jon Fosse deals with “möjliga och omöjliga”, possibilities and impossibilities. Tackling such philosophical questions with children needs the best authors to address these issues. How to speak of the unspeakable, things we have hardly any words for remains a challenge. Relating to the world of dreams, appealing to children and their parents, does the trick. After all, you just need to close your eyes and you start to travel the universe and make lots of exciting encounters. The book has no page numbers, interesting. The image below is from page 25, just as an appetizer.
For more insights of how to deal with “nothingness” I refer to Friedrich C. Heller (2020) “Towards nothingness. Ideen der Reduktion in zeitgenössischen Bilderbüchern” (in Benner et al. editors 2020). Susan Sontag (2005) „die Ästhetik der Stille” (in Eugen Blume 2005, editor) will also help us along on the subject of stillness and minimalism. Maybe it is these essentials we should talk more about especially with our kids.
To continue the exploration of space and stillness just go to the webpage of the hubble telescope or the James Webb Space Telescope. The journey of your dreams will be hard to stop.

Tears mastered

Not many authors find decent ways to write about sad moments and the mastering of tears. Can we master tears? Should we even try to? For authors the question poses itself of a different kind. How do I write about emotions in which a person bursts in tears or sheds a single tear. Even mastering tears or the delayed unmastered tears give rise to ample drama. Have you found a poet or author to whom you relate through the sorrows s/he expresses? Reading itself is a process of mastering tears due to the possibility to go through a wide spread of negative and positive emotions.
Towards the end of her life Cata Dujšin – Ribar wrote a poem that links to the imagery of the Norwegian poet Jon Fosse. Thanks to the exposition of her paintings and writing in the Zagreb City Museum Cata can become known to a wider audience. Hardly any traces in the internet of her writings in English make her even more of a local hero and an early female role model. The windmills are powered by the nothingness of our illusions.  The beauty of futility is revealed in our dream. She puts it so much better. The biography and work of Cata Dujšin – Ribar summarises to some extent the whole history and misery of the 20th century beyond the Balkan region in a few words.

Meta-language

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)

Beckett by Beckett

There is an interesting discourse in literature about how to define irony. This really begins with Plato commenting on Sokrates who makes use of the term “eirôneia”. In the history of the idea of irony comes next the philosopher Kierkegaard with his not-ironic treatise “The Concept of Irony. With Constant Reference to Socrates”. Reading philosophy can be really entertaining. It is, therefore, no surprise to find a publication entitled “Ironic Samuel Beckett” (Pol Popovic Karic, 2009). Following Karic there are 3 defining elements of irony: (1) “The message should be intentionally created, …(2) The meaning of an ironic message needs to be “covert”,… (3) During the analysis of a stable irony, the reader can assume that the first interpretation of the ironic message is correct.” (Pol Popovic Karic, 2009 p.49).
Additionally, to understand irony it might be necessary to know more about the context of the statement. Sometimes the ironic statement can only be interpreted as such if you have additional knowledge about the biography of the author (p.47). To understand Beckett better it is advisable to read about his life course in the many biographies available nowadays.
Beckett by Beckett, meaning the translation of Beckett by Beckett himself yields many fruitful insights into his kind of irony and constant reflection and laughing about himself as his very own form of irony. This becomes most evident in the many helpful tables Linda Collinge (2000) presents in her book on “Beckett traduit Beckett”. Translating irony is a tricky endeavour. Many of the translations do not seem to be straightforward at all and can only be understood from the perspective of the whole translation of a piece and the underlying “Haltung”, ironic attitude of the author to his own work. Beckett by Beckett remains a master piece for translaters beyond those from French to English. (Images: Linda Collinge, 2000, p.61-2).

Beckett and philosophy

Beckett and philosophy is the title of challenging read of usually unconnected literatures. Richard Lane embarks on the challenge “theorising Beckett and Philosophy” in Part 1 of the book. This is followed by 2 other parts on “Beckett and French thought” and “Beckett and German thought”. The whole book constitutes an attempt to identify the links between seemingly unrelated work. Sometimes spurred by tiny citations, the importance of influences becomes apparent.
Beckett like Rousseau favours speech over writing. Speech giving access to nature. This, Beckett has taken from French thought traditions. Redefining philosophy after the 2nd world war links Beckett to the thoughts of Adorno and Habermas (early writings). Posing Nietzsche’s thoughts as a post-modern project of endless questioning, Beckett himself enters into a kind of Socratic dialogue with Nietzsche. Spoken words become writing, the written word resembles an unspeakable void. The borders between void and silence, between spoken and written, become blurred. The essence is the world in-between.
It appears like irony and yet it is our very existence. We probably need somebody to translate Beckett for us in order to better understand his philosophical stance. “Beckett translates Beckett” is such a book title. It invites us to study Beckett’s own efforts to translate himself, at least from one language to the other.

Laughing Matters

It is time to dig out our copies of Samuel Beckett. Jon Fosse refers his work back to a tradition of Samuel Beckett. It is interesting to re-read some of the plays of Beckett. The famous “Waiting for Godot” or “Endgame” figure prominently on the reading list and theatres even today. Laura Salisbury (2012) honours Beckett in devoting a book on Beckett with the subtitle: Laughing matters, comic timing. She refers to a tradition founded by Aristotle: “man is the only animal that laughs”. Even in the most horrible scenarios of war and suffering, the human brain brings up thoughts containing jokes. Laughing makes us a part of the human species. Humour then becomes the “locus and limit of the human” (Salisbury, p. 4).
It is obvious that the basic problem of jokes like most of our communication has a “sender” versus “receiver” problem. People just do not have the same sense of humor in many instances. We might even go as far as stating that a person feels at home, if cracking a joke is readily understood by surrounding people. Test your cross-cultural competence by trying and sharing laughter. It is hard to do.
Beckett succeeds in a formidable way on a philosophical level even to bridge cultures and spread his way to look at the world from a meta-perspective.
Waiting … for what? Endgame … what is the game? Is it a game? These are laughing matters. Not for all, but for many on the way, trying to learn about existential matters that define humanity.
Through choices Samuel Beckett made in his lifetime, it becomes clear that he did not shun away from the most existential choices. In World War II he joined the French resistance movement and risked his life to save our laughter. Jon Fosse appears in the footsteps of Beckett, who decided to seek the silence and remoteness to develop his work for years also in the tiny village of “Ussy sur Marne” near Meaux and a bit further away, from Paris.
In Beckett’s own words he defines what a comic spirit is;
“comic spirit: oscillation between equilibrium and lack of it” (Salisbury, p.20), referring back to Racine and Molière. It is a social skill and it is not always easy to master, like for example to suppress laughter. Aging might play additional tricks on us (reduced strength of affect inhibition). There is a cognitive element in laughter, but also an affective and a spontaneous mix of reactions.
Affect inhibition is linked to the ability to resist spontaneous impulses like laughter.
Resisting impusles, but also resistance on a philisophical kind is in Beckett’s work “a resistance to the given world, while nevertheless displaying all its violent administrations;”. (Salisbury, p.172-3). In asking what remains after we abandon belief makes it necessary to foster a resistance to brutal deviance from humanity. Laughing may matter here more than we might want to acknowledge.
Source: Salisbury, Laura (2015). Samuel Beckett: laughing matters, comic timing. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press.
Image: extrait Eric Desmasière, 2000 Sous le signe de la balance.

Book traders

Some book traders have a mission. They assemble little corners on their book shelves or in tiny cupboards reserved for their passion or mission. In some book shops you’ll find a corner devoted to a specific language or translations, in some a world region is represented as a specific predilection. The choises are as numerous as there are books. Of course, from an economic point of view national and international bestsellers will be shown in the most prominent places. Second come books for children, cooking, life and travel guides. All those are the cash cows for book shops and traders.
But beyond those, it is always worth the effort to search for those little carefully curated corners in a good bookstore that derive from the vision or mission of the book trader, employed or owning the shop. In some areas this contributes even to a small community building. Readings of authors add to the function of book sellers to build a relationship to their non-random book buyers. I keep going back to my favourite book stores and libraries with those curated corners for decades and across countries to find inspiration and updating of special topics.
There is a danger that we are going to lose all this professional work of thousands of well-trained book traders that guide readers in addition to publishing houses, literary critics, numerous awards and huge marketing campaigns of derived products (as with Harry Potter). Living up to your mission while running a book store must be a great experience. If is really increases the buyers and readership for the topic, would be a great result. However, I suppose many bookshops manage to keep their little curated areas despite economic pressure to go with the mainstream marketing campaigns and top selling books and gadgets.
With the decline in the number of smaller book shops (in Germany from ca 5000 to 3000 in about 20 years) we see a parallel increase in number of franchises of the big book sellers (Thalia.de 500 stores in D). Big chain increase seems to cause fewer professionally trained book traders (-10% in D) within a country. For younger generations TikTok (BookTok) has taken over large parts of the “book counselling” of book traders previously. This was a big event at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2023 as well.
Time to rush to your local bookstore and book trader before it is taken over by a big chain or simply disappearing silently. We are likely to lose many of those book traders with a mission to make this world a better, more beautiful, more tasty, enjoyable or inclusive place.

Comme les peintres

« Moi aussi, comme les peintres, j’ai mes modèles ». So beginnt ein Gedicht von Jacques Prévert. Ein Klassiker der französischen Poesie. Prosagedichte sind eine Gattung der Gedichte, die in kurzen Texten einen Moment oder Augenblick einfangen und sublimieren. In diesem Genre publiziert Philippe Delerm seit Jahren prosaische Gedichte. Der in 2023 erschienene Band „Les instants suspendus“ reiht sich ein in die Sammlungen von Momentaufnahmen, die sprachlich veredelt die Wahrnehmungen schärfen und sie zum Salz des Lebens werden lassen.
Für Weinliebhabende drängt sich die Assoziation „vendanges tardives“ (späte Lese) auf. Während wir in deutschen Weinanbaugebieten ganz nüchtern die zu erreichenden Öchsle für die Spätlese zählen, verbindet Delerm mit den „vendanges tardives“ „une jeunesse prolongée, glissant vers la mélancolie, et célébrant mezza voce le mariage de l’automne et de l’été “. (2023, S.87).
Die Sammlung „Les instants suspendus“ – auf Deutsch vielleicht „Momente, die schweben“ bietet zahlreiche, aufheiternde und, ja auch erhebende Augenblicke, die trotz der Intensität der Schilderung für viele Menschen Anknüpfungspunkte bieten. Übersetzen lassen sich die Szenen schon, aber es schwingt bei den kurzen 200-300 Wörter umfassenden Texten viel französisches Flair mit.
Bei „Commander l’eau“ wird „Le bruit de l’eau dans la bouteille devient chant“. Wasser einfüllen ist Musik. Oder, « Le moteur de la deux-chevaux », der Motor des 2 CV, « c’était humble et c’est devenu chic », das war bescheiden und ist schick geworden. (S.82). Das federnde, schwebende Fahrgefühl wird bei Delerm ein „accord prolongé“, zu einem nachwirkenden, verlängerten Akkord.
Aus dem Netz der Spinne (toile d’araignée) wird der Stern der Spinne (étoile d’araignée) auf Seite 101. Fast alle hätten diesen Versprecher schon gemacht, aber es ist einer der Wenigen, den die Erwachsenen nicht berichtigen.
Lassen wir den Kindern ihre „instants suspendus“, ihre Momente der Poesie.
(Image: Innenansicht und S.9 Anregung Proust zu lesen im Vorspann).

Dramen

Jon Fosse hat bereits viel Erfolg mit seinen Dramen gehabt. Wahrscheinlich können wir sein umfangreiches Werk mit der Kenntnis von Ibsens Dramen und Becketts Dramen besser verstehen, falls Verstehen überhaupt eine relevante Kategorie ist Fosses Werk. Durchaus vergleichbar mit Beckett hat Jon Fosse früh schon erfolgreiche Aufführungen seiner Theaterstücke neben seiner norwegischen und skandinavischen Heimat in Frankreich. In Deutschland hat der Regisseur Thomas Ostermeier seine Werke in Salzburg und Berlin vor ca 20 Jahren bekannt gemacht.
Suzanne Bordemann beschreibt in ihrem Buch zu der Rezeption von Jon Fosse, wie der schriftstellerische Werdegang des Kunstschaffenden verlaufen ist. Interessant ist dabei die weniger bekannte Ausgangsbasis Fosses als Herausgeber der Literaturzeitschrift Bok oder seine literaturtheoretischen wissenschaftlichen Aufsätze. Selbst seine Tätigkeit als Übersetzer von Dramen aus dem Deutschen und dem Englischen hat sicherlich zu einer Ausprägung von Sprachfertigkeit geführt, die uns heute noch einzigartig erscheint. Schreiben hat enorm viel mit Lesen und stetigem Arbeiten an Texten vielfältigster Art zu tun. Dieses literarische Gesamtkunstwerk ist sicherlich Grund für die höchste Auszeichnung des Gesamtwerks mit dem Nobelpreis für Literatur.
Aus Stille lernen heißt dann für mich, Jon Fosse selbst zu Wort kommen zu lassen. Das hat Suzanne Bordemann in ihrem 2. Kapitel vorgemacht. Als Auszug möchte ich 2 Seiten (S. 26-27) zitieren, die für mich besonders aufschlussreich waren. Sicherlich Grund genug für eine intensivere Befassung mit diesem umfassenden Werk.

Stille

Die Würdigung zum Preis der Stadt Münster für Internationale Poesie 2017 wurde gemeinsam an Jon Fosse und Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel vergeben. In 2023 kennen viele sicherlich den jüngst gekürten Literatur Nobelpreisträger Jon Fosse. Der Preis für Poesie aus Münster hat gleichzeitig den Übersetzer ins Deutsche mit dem Preis bedacht. Personen, die zwei- oder mehrsprachig aufwachsen oder leben, sind mit der Thematik der Übersetzung hinreichend vertraut. Dennoch ist die Übersetzung von Literatur und Poesie eine spannende Herausforderung.
Diese Stille herbeischreiben“ ist der Buchtitel in dem sowohl ausgewählte Beispiele der Poesie von Jon Fosse auf Norwegisch, als auch die Übersetzungen dokumentiert sind. Die einleitenden Beiträge über die Kunst und das Handwerk der Übersetzungen verdienen ebenfalls eine Aufmerksamkeit, da dort die neben Wortschatz, Syntax, Grammatik, Stil auch über den Duktus oder die Haltung des Autors zu seinem Inhalt gesprochen wird. Unmittelbar nach der Begründung der Jury für die Preisverleihung ist das Gedicht „denne uforklarlege stille“, übersetzt mit „diese unerklärliche stille“ abgedruckt (S.70). Dieses Gedicht endet mit den Zeilen:
„Das ist was wir immer wieder erzählen sollen
und was nie erzählt werden kann
Das ist was wir sind und tun“
Jon Fosse ist es gelungen, diese Stille herbeizuschreiben und Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel hat die Herausforderung als ästhetisches Projekt (S.32) gemeistert, sich die Freiheit der Wortwahl zu nehmen und gleichzeitig dem Original treu zu bleiben.
Schon lange bevor es die Übersetzungs-KI gab, war die Kunst der Übersetzung nicht nur das „Was zu schreiben ist,  … und das wie zu schreiben ist“, sondern „auch die Kategorie der Haltung“. (S. 33-34).
Der Begriff der Haltung wir sicher deutlich an dem für Jon Fosse so wichtigen Begriff der Stille. Eine beredte Stille ist zu einer gängigen Redewendung geworden. Wind gehört im norwegischen Kontext zur Stille dazu. Bald wird dröhnt es bei uns wieder in der Vorweihnachtszeit aus den unglaublichsten Ecken „Stille Nacht, …“. Meditation und Stille ist in Religionen ebenfalls allgegenwärtig.
Stille üben fällt schwer. Ein solches Konzept von einer Sprache und Kulturkreis in einen anderen zu übersetzen ist Meisterwerk. Das werden wir noch lange nicht der künstlichen Intelligenz überlassen können. Frage an ChatGPT: „Was ist Stille?“ – … KI: „Stille ist …!” –
Oh just shut up, it was a rhetorical question.

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).

Li-Be

Jede/r hat so seine Assoziationen mit Li_be. Für eine kleine Gruppe von Literaturbegeisterten steht Li-Be seit langem für das Literaturhaus Berlin. Das war nun ebenfalls, anlässlich des Tag des Offenen Denkmals, im September 2023, als solches zu besichtigen. Zentral am Ku’damm plaziert, in der benachbarten Fasanenstraße, liegt diese geschichtsträchtige Villa in mitten eines kleinen Gartens. Trotz wechselvoller Geschichte konnte die Villa als Ganzes erhalten werden, nachdem der Denkmalschutz Veränderungen untersagt hatte. Das Haus der Li-Be hat wirklich alles gesehen, was Leute sich unter Liebe so vorstellen und wahrscheinlich noch einiges mehr. Nach den familiären Nutzungen der Gründerzeit, wurde in den wilden 20er Jahren dort ein russischer und ein arabischer Studentenclub eingerichtet in Verbindung mit der Humboldt-Stiftung, die sich auch heute noch um den wissenschaftlichen Austausch bemüht. Das Rote Kreuz hatte eine erfolgreiche Suppenküche dort in der unmittelbaren Nachkriegszeit betrieben. In den 60er Jahren war es ein Nachtlokal, aber auch einige Jahre ein Studio für modernen Tanz von Manja Chmiél, einer Schülerin von Mary Wigman. Die heutige Nutzung hat weiterhin viel mit Liebe zu tun. Lesungen und Workshops laden laufend ein, sich mit Literatur zu befassen. Der Zeit angemessen finden sich in den Archiven des Literaturhauses zahlreiche Prominente AutorInnen, die Lesungen dort abgehalten haben. Starke Frauen bildeten dabei seit den Anfängen als Literaturhaus einen Schwerpunkt. Nobelpreisträgerinnen gehören zu den Vorleserinnen seit geraumer Zeit. Annie Ernaud und Herta Müller traten schon lange vor den Nobelpreisen dort auf. Toni Morrison und Olga Tokarczuk im  Jahr der Preisverleihung oder kurz danach. Ein wahrlich toller Ort und dennoch keineswegs mit BesucherInnen überlaufen. Es bleibt eben so eine Sache mit der Liebe, auch im Li-Be.

Write, write, write

A poster announcing the “internationales literaturfestival berlin 2023” prints in big letters: “Read, read, read, … 14 times”. This is a quote from Werner Herzog when he was asked what makes a good filmmaker. The message from Manjeet Mann to the young audience at Berlin added to this: “write, write, write”. At least this was my impression as a summary of the talk and her short readings from her novel in verse “The crossing”.
The lecture hall of the “Stabi” was packed with students from high-school who felt at ease with the English language presentation and talk. The host Shiva Mesgarian managed to get the crowd of students to ask questions in the huge lecture theatre. Manjeet was giving a lot of insights into writing, editing, motivation and the difficulty to give a voice to persons from marginalized backgrounds. In her case as a person of colour herself, born and raised in England with additional links to India, she took issue with the topic of refugees. Living in Folkestone (Kent), she is confronted with people crossing the Channel on a daily basis.
Her book “The crossing” is actually building bridges between countries and continents. Her entertaining way to talk about her hard work as writer motivates, inspires and encourages young persons to pick up their pencil and/or notebook to start writing. Just don’t stop. Journaling helps. Take your emotions of an issue seriously, then work on it. Give characters a voice who have not received much attention. Go out and interview persons to get authentic input.
It is not about appropriation of a story. It is about meeting and exchanging with marginalised persons. Return your written pieces to those “sensitive readers”, whose story you attempt to develop. All this takes time. Re-writing is an important element as well. “Having written the story for yourself, you then re-write it for the readers”. Edit, clarify, sharpen, blur, attend to detail – all this helps the reader to follow and enjoy. These were the messages to all the students who were grateful for advice as the new season of essay writing in school, university and beyond is about to start.

Poetic Coffee Break

The rather stiff and rigid structure of the “Staatsbibliothek” in Berlin does not yet have a reputation to be a place of poetry, translation of poetry and recitals. This is about to change. As a student, researcher or lecturer I would have adored to see my library proposing a poetic coffee break. I would have gone for the necessary break in the afternoon, the coffee and, okay why not, a poetic experience.  This time it was different. The organisers, “ilb and Stabi” got together and Ursula Jäcker together with Michael Bucher presented poetry from Shakespeare (Sonnet) in English followed by the German translation by Wolf Biermann.
Translating poetry is a very tricky thing. Just try it yourself and you will be full of admiration for the admirable work of translators of words, sentiments, rhyme and rhythms. The presentation of Biermann’s comments on his own work on translating Shakespeare’s sonnets gave interesting additional information on the short and precise English original and the longer, somehow fat translations into German (Biermann’s words). Thanks for the indication that Biermann deviated from the Shakespearean “iambic pentameter” to add a sixth foot most of the time (to be checked OMG). The choice of numbers 6, 18, 27, 66, 73, 76, 121, 147, 154 from the Shakespeare Sonnets were witty and entertaining for a coffee break. For example, from 27:
“And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:…”
Also, from 76:
“Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?”
More than 400 years ago, these rhymes were drafted and still today writers and learners, at the Stabi and beyond, can somehow identify with the intricacies of the process of creative writing.
More of this, we need, today and for tomorrow. THX.

Politicians and Literature

Biographies as well as autobiographies of politicians receive a lot of attention. Even spouses of politicians or artists benefit from this sensational effect (Obama). But beyond these ex-post or after-office effects, it is more interesting to look at what literature or authors have had an impact on the life and, maybe, office of presidents. So-called literary couples or specific relationships between artists or authors can reveal interesting additional information to understand “what made these personalities”.
In “Le Monde” there is a series of articles devoted to such relationships. It is a kind of romantic summer reading satisfying nosy looks into the private lives of politicians and other celebrities of a more intellectual kind. On the 25th of August 2023 it was the turn of the relationship between Francois Mitterrand and Marguerite Duras entitled … “menteurs sublimes, forcément”.
Their long-standing relationship had in common to cover-up some of their failures in the Nazi-occupied France.
Post-war each person had more than just sympathy for the other person’s accomplishments. The interesting feature to accept advice and criticism from the other person is rare for highly exposed persons. Relationships between artists and presidents are somehow tricky for both. As artist you can get instrumentalised by power rather quickly. As politician you run the risk to open-up too much, as they are rarely unobserved. Paparazzi or other agents go a long way to get or make up a good story. “Tell me what you read, and I tell you who you are”. The relationship between literature, politics and politicians will never be easy. It remains good stuff for literature and cinema.

Avers

Der kurze Titel „Avers“ der Sammlung von Novellen des Autors J.M.G.Le Clézio lässt keine Wundergeschichten erwarten. Der kleingedruckte Untertitel „Des nouvelles des indésiables“ noch weniger. Dennoch, aus der Sammlung von Kurzgeschichten werden die kleinen Heldinnen und Helden des Überlebens in unserer komplexen Welt vorgestellt. Mal mit, oft ohne „Happy End“ werden Kinderschicksale erzählt, die uns nachhaltig berühren. Schule ist für die kleinen Helden ein Fremdwort. Der tägliche Überlebenskampf für Nahrung, Gefahr von Kinderarbeit, einfach in Ruhe gelassen werden oder dem Krieg zu entkommen, steht im Vordergrund. Fluchtwege wäre für mich ein möglicher Titel einer deutschen Übersetzung. Flucht vor Missbrauch und die Brutalität des Alltags in Kriegsgebieten sollten uns sensibilisieren für „la Misère du Monde“.
Die unerwünschten Novellen von Le Clézio kommen auf leisen Sohlen oder eher barfuß daher. Sie lassen uns die ständige Herausforderung der Humanität spüren. Menschen, Kindern, Menschenwürde ermöglichen, ist nach wie vor eine riesige Aufgabe. Der Ansatz an konkreten Schicksalen aufzuzeigen, wie wenig es oft braucht, damit Kinder eine faire Chance bekommen, muss uns aufhorchen lassen. Obdachlose werden bei Le Clézio zu „fantômes dans la rue“. Wir ignorieren ihre Präsenz allzu gerne.
Nach 60 Jahren Heinrich Böll „Ansichten eines Clowns“ rütteln uns die Novellen von Le Clézio wieder wach. Wirkliche Humanität braucht uns alle und das ständig, nicht nur sonntags. Aversionen ablegen und sich dem Unerwünschten zuwenden, das fordert den ganzen Menschen. Überforderung gilt nicht als Gegenargument. Wir sind viele, helfen wir. (Image: Extrait, Atelier Albrecht Dürer um 1500).

Bücher weg

Bücher, die lange weg waren, können wiederkehren. Das ist die gute Botschaft, die durch die digitale Bibliothek der verbrannten Bücher erzeugt wird. Vergleichbar der erneuten Aufführung von Komponierenden, deren Werke wieder in fantastischen Klangwelten erlebbar werden.  Der 90. Jahrestag der Bücherverbrennung durch die Nationalsozialisten markiert meistens nur ein einmaliges Ereignis (10.5.1933 Berlin) in dem brutalen Aufstieg der Nationalsozialisten. Tatsache ist jedoch, dass sich die Bücherverbrennungen über mehrere Wochen hingezogen haben. Ein Beispiel ist die Bücherverbrennung in Potsdam Babelsberg am 24.6.1933. Viele andere Orte warten auf ihre Aufarbeitung. Erneutes Lesen dieser Bücher ist eine Würdigung der geächteten SchriftstellerInnen. Werner Treß wurde im Deutschlandfunk am 12.5.2023 dazu interviewt und beschreibt die erschreckende Hetze, die dabei von den Studentenverbindungen ausgegangen ist.
Erneutes Verlegen dieser Bücher hält die Erinnerung an die „verbrannten Dichter“ wach und verdeutlicht, wie der Einstieg in die grausame Diktatur ablief. Literatur hat neben der Funktion der Unterhaltung und der schönen Künste, sicher eine zusätzliche Aufgabe, die der Verteidigung der Meinungsfreiheit. Dazu gehört das Tolerieren unangenehmer Meinungen, solange sie die unveräußerlichen Menschenrechte berücksichtigen. Dazu ebenfalls ein Hörbeitrag im DLF. Nicht jeder hat die Courage wie der bayerische Schriftsteller Oskar Maria Graf, der solidarisch verkündete, verbrennt mich auch, mit der Konsequenz, unmittelbar ins Exil gehen zu müssen. Exilliteratur ist heute noch vielfach vorzufinden. Salman Rushdie, beispielsweise ist erst kürzlich einem Anschlag entgangen. Lesen all  dieser SchriftstellerInnen würdigt ihre Beiträge und ihre Bücher bleiben. (online Link)