Direkt zum Inhalt | Direkt zur Navigation

Sektionen

Literally Swiss – A Literary Cabaret

Deborah Levy, a leading light of British literary culture, takes to the stage at London’s Tabernacle and declares that she has never visited Switzerland.

            Slightly nervous laughter erupts from the audience. This is the official launch of Literally Swiss – a project designed to promote Swiss literature in the UK, and to showcase Swiss writers and British writers with Swiss links. Is Levy going dangerously off script? Rosie Goldsmith, leading the project for its supporters – Pro Helvetia and the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK – and our host for the evening, is unfazed, however. Levy’s writing ranges wide – across many cultures and landscapes – and she is here to read from her work inspired by the Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung.

            Perhaps more importantly, though, Levy wants to learn about Swiss literature – she is here to represent those of us who are the target of the Literally Swiss efforts, which aim to introduce English-speaking audiences to the wealth of Swiss literary culture, in all its languages. Levy, in characteristic style, expresses her position with a metaphor: ‘I want to swim in your Swiss lakes’, she declares.

            In fact it strikes me that experiencing Swiss literature in a physical way is an unconscious theme of the evening. It opens with British author Alain de Botton – who was born and grew up in Switzerland – discussing his trips to and from the UK, where he went to school. Now based in England, and writing extensively about architecture, among other topics, he tells us that his current home, down to its furniture and fittings, could have built by a Swiss architect in Zurich.

            Another non-Swiss writer, Xiaolu Guo, who is a guest professor at the University of Bern, and has taken up writer residencies in Zurich, also discusses her experiences of the country in physical terms. Her reading is a hilarious account of her visit to Maienfeld – the area that inspired Johanna Spyri to write Heidi. High up on the alp, Chinese-born Guo experiences the awe and wonder the green of the swath and the blue of the sky inspire in any visitor. Then she turns to see a group of flip-flop-shod Chinese tourists disembarking from their coach for the eight minutes allocated for ‘Heidi’ photographs, before, she feels sure, they descend back into the valley to eat noodles in the only Chinese restaurant in the region.

            The Swiss writers appearing at the event also discuss their home country in terms of the physical. German-speaking, prize-winning novelist Monique Schwitter is a resident of Hamburg, yet she intimates that her aim is to return home to Switzerland. The north-German city is just too flat for her; the quality of the walking just isn’t the same. Is there a sense here that being at home involves something strenuous but necessary?

Walking takes on a similar symbolism for Peter Stamm. His latest novel, To the Back of Beyond, sees a man walk out of his family home on a whim, perhaps never to return. What could be the reason? A possible explanation is the quote Stamm relates to us from the great Swiss author Robert Walser – which is greeted by giggles of recognition by many in the audience, including my Swiss friends: a Swiss man takes his heart out of his chest, examines it, then puts it back inside and goes on his way. ‘Er nahm sein Herz heraus, schaute es an, verschloss es wieder und wanderte dann weiter.’

            Where the heart lies is an issue for another of the night’s Swiss writers: Nicolas Verdan. Of Swiss and Greek parentage, he writes in French, but he tells us that to the French literary establishment his status as a Swiss writer means he is something ‘other’. The variety of these national ‘pulls’ seem to me to say something about the Swiss experience.

            The final author of the evening emphasises the physical theme without really mentioning it. Not only is Pedro Lenz, who writes in the Bern dialect of Swiss German, a man of large stature, his performance is corporeal, almost visceral. In English translation his work is often rendered in the Glasgow Scots dialect – which is at the kind of distance from Standard English that Bern German is from Swiss German. After a short reading in the Glaswegian (ably performed by the Brit Max Easterman), Lenz takes to the microphone. Not a German-speaker myself, and certainly not a Bern dialect one, I understand not a word. Thus witnessing Lenz’s huge voice, his rapid, rhythmic phrasing, his massive presence and the gales of laughter from those around me who do understand what he is saying is a purely physical experience – and one I enjoy enormously. It is, to adopt Deborah Levy’s metaphor, like swimming in one of Switzerland’s glacial lakes: literally breath-taking, Literally Swiss. And a perfect end to an event that is an object lesson in how to present the generally passive and cerebral activity of reading in an active, physical and engaging way.

 

Literally Swiss – A Literary Cabaret took place on 9 February 2018 at The Tabernacle in London, with an all-star literary evening of readings, conversation, music food and wine, featuring Alain de Botton, Monique Schwitter, Peter Stamm, Deborah Levy, Pedro Lenz, Xiaolu Guo and Nicolas Verdan (www.eurolitnetwork.com/literally-swiss-2/).

 

Literally Swiss is supported by Pro Helvetia Zurich and the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK.

West Camel

West Camel ist Schriftsteller, Kritiker und Redakteur. Er redigierte Dalkey Archives Best European Fiction 2015, und arbeitet derzeit als freier Redakteur und Schriftsteller für new press Orenda Books, Yale University Press ua.

West Camel is a writer, reviewer and editor. He edited Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2015, and is currently working as a freelance editor and writer for new press Orenda Books, Yale University Press and other organisations.

West Camel ist Schriftsteller, Kritiker und Redakteur. Er redigierte Dalkey Archives Best European Fiction 2015, und arbeitet derzeit als freier Redakteur und Schriftsteller für new press Orenda Books, Yale University Press ua.

West Camel is a writer, reviewer and editor. He edited Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2015, and is currently working as a freelance editor and writer for new press Orenda Books, Yale University Press and other organisations.

Alle Beiträge von West Camel
Freitag Fr 11 11 Mai Mai 05 5 18 2018 Mai Mai 05 5 Freitag Fr 11 11 18 2018 10 10 10 10 56 Uhr AM