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European Literature Days 2017 | Day 3

After an eventful first day with plenty of topics to discuss, Saturday in Spitz happily continued at a gentler and more relaxed pace. Yet the programme was no less engaging.

Everything Remains Different

Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright

During the morning Rüdiger Wischenbart, Massimo Salgaro (University of Verona), Theresa Schilhab (Aarhus University) and Adriaan van der Weel (Leiden University) introduced the European research initiative E-Read. How does digitization change our reading behaviour? What are we reading now? How do we read? Do we understand text quite differently when we only read it on screen and no longer on paper? Will our grandchildren soon no longer be reading at all? Will print books in a while merely become relics of a “soon-to-be old world” to quote Robert Menasse again? E-Read concentrates on these and many other issues. The objective is to replace widespread speculations about the effects of digital reading with facts, figures and empirical data, and to relieve the fear (yes, our headline theme is back again) particularly felt by a conservative cultural elite about the intellectual apocalypse.

In fact, the future of reading doesn’t seem as bleak as it is always painted by some traditionalists. We are reading more, more quickly and more diverse material than 20 years ago. However, quite marked differences can be identified between the digital natives who were already sort of born with a smartphone in their hands, and the digital immigrants who still remember the good old dial telephone – they had to learn how to use touchscreens and e-readers just as they once learned to eat with a knife and fork. The attention span when reading is becoming increasingly limited; there is a diminished capacity for concentration on a single theme and immersion in a single story. Generally, books as an intellectual prestige item have lost meaning for the young generation, according to the study.

During the extremely lively audience discussion it emerges that people are still not so inclined to believe whether this is true. The advantages of non-classical reading and learning are emphasized (for example, audio books) and also that digitization makes access to knowledge and text more democratic – the keyword is self-publishing.

Overall, it was a fascinating morning with the most committed audience debate of the last few days.

The evening at Schloss Spitz was then filled with activity. There was wine-tasting and moderator Gerwig Epkes invited five wonderfully different writers on stage in succession. Swiss writer Arno Camenisch started things off – he evidently enjoyed his appearance, playing the literary sunny boy and regaling the audience with two short stories that he almost related by heart. The anecdotes concerned human relationships, stolen televisions and seedy corner pubs. His books should be enjoyed like vintage whisky – not too quickly and in small sips. The audience visibly showed how it felt superbly entertained.

The pleasantly calm contrasting programme was composed by Norwegian writer Hanne Ørstavik who recounted her narrative about a mother and son relationship. Snow, darkness and no accord – apprehension like in a David Lynch script – all of this shines through in this short extract from her current novel “Love”. “I’m not as much fun as my predecessor,” she remarks, almost apologetically and you think: “Fortunately!”

Next on stage was the Ingeborg Bachmann Prizewinner, Sharon Dodua Otoo. The focus is London and Berlin and why as a “person of colour” in England she concentrated on German Studies; it’s about Heidi, liverwurst and Magdeburg. The most impressive sentence that lingers from the interview is probably: “I’m pleased when I am acknowledged as a black person and there is no awkward attempt to skate around the colour of my skin.” Appealing and easy-going – that’s how it should always be in German literature of “people of colour”.

Dana Grigorcea, who joins Gerwig Epkes next, also has plenty of enthralling things to report. For example, about Aunt Johanna who once taught her German in Bucharest; about her mother, a qualified Arabic scholar who lived in Baghdad and Tripoli from where she imported the first colour television, as well as how a small translation lapse in the Romanian version of her novel opened an entirely new level of meaning. Dana reads from her novel “Das primäre Gefühl der Schuldlosigkeit” and captivates the audience in the hall with her gentle, humorous and passionate prose. She explains that she misses sensuality in life, hence she wanted to write a consistent romantic novel. I say: more Dana Grigorcea please – more sensuality for everyone!

Stevan Paul from Hamburg rounds off the evening with his current novel “Der große Glander”. Here too, there is plenty of talk about sensuality, though this time the culinary variety, and the topic of the Swabian dialect and cheese smörgås gets a mention. Recipes from the book are also adapted to present the inspirational gourmet buffet which was served following the readings. This day at Schloss Spitz drew to a sensuous close.

Rasha Khayat

Rasha Khayat, b. 1978 in Dortmund, is a German-Arabic writer, translator and editor. She grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and studied comparative literature, German Studies and philosophy in Bonn. Since 2005 she has lived in Hamburg. Her first novel, Weil wir längst woanders sind, was published in spring 2016.

Rasha Khayat, geb. 1978 in Dortmund, ist eine deutsch-arabische Schriftstellerin, Übersetzerin und Lektorin. Sie wuchs in Djidda, Saudi-Arabien auf, studierte Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaften, Germanistik und Philosophie in Bonn. Seit 2005 lebt sie in Hamburg. Im Frühjahr 2016 erschien ihr erster Roman Weil wir längst woanders sind.

Rasha Khayat, b. 1978 in Dortmund, is a German-Arabic writer, translator and editor. She grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and studied comparative literature, German Studies and philosophy in Bonn. Since 2005 she has lived in Hamburg. Her first novel, Weil wir längst woanders sind, was published in spring 2016.

Rasha Khayat, geb. 1978 in Dortmund, ist eine deutsch-arabische Schriftstellerin, Übersetzerin und Lektorin. Sie wuchs in Djidda, Saudi-Arabien auf, studierte Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaften, Germanistik und Philosophie in Bonn. Seit 2005 lebt sie in Hamburg. Im Frühjahr 2016 erschien ihr erster Roman Weil wir längst woanders sind.

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