Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » Germany http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org The website for the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 EWWC Highlights Film http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:43:51 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5435 EWWC Highlights Film Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the festival throughout the past year]]> Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the EWWC festival throughout the past year, and read more about the Conference on our About the Conference page. ]]> http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/feed/ 0 Sophie Cooke on the EWWC in Berlin http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/sophie-cooke-on-the-ewwc-in-berlin/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/sophie-cooke-on-the-ewwc-in-berlin/#comments Tue, 25 Sep 2012 16:45:26 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1302 Saturday: discussion between Georg Klein, Tim Parks and myself

Main theme: ‘Big Time’

Georg Klein’s keynote speech asked us to see the novel as a means of stepping away from the ever-faster whirring present. A magic rabbit-hole (or should that be wormhole?) down which we can plunge, and find ourselves in a deeper time which reminds us of the smallness of our lives. In this ‘big time’, he seemed to say, we can consider the larger questions of the human experience – what it is to be alive on this ball of rock still hurtling outwards through the universe. He was asking for the novel to persist as a philosophical tool that digs deep into perennial problems, and for it to stay away from the changing concerns of the present – away from superficiality, new technologies and fashions.

I liked the idea of ‘big time’ a lot. However, I believed there was no need for a conflict between the novel as a philosophical tool, and its engagement in the contemporary world. If philosophy is about the search for human happiness and meaning in our lives, then our current circumstances are always going to inform our philosophical questioning. I thought the novel could tap into ‘big time’ in order to answer questions posed by the present time, and said that, in the search for happiness and meaning, everything fundamentally returns to love.

Tim Parks believed that the whole obsession with timelessness was a Western phenomenon, and that non-Western cultures were not interested in whether stories were timeless or not. He pointed out that ego-driven heroes belonged to one particular literary tradition.

This opening discussion set what proved to be an enduring question throughout these twoBerlindiscussions: Does the novelist have any responsibility towards their readers? Other than showing them a good time, of course… do we want our work to be more than simply beautiful? Our discussion on the future of the novel therefore tied in quite closely with that other debate, ‘Should writing be political?’

The question of responsibility opened up a host of other questions, which we could only begin to tackle here. Such as: Can the novelist be in a position to give their readers the stories that, today, they might need? If these ‘necessary novels’ exist, what might they be like? Are they desirable? How, given today’s circumstances, could a single author be in a position to write this sort of book? Is the age of the novelist as a closeted artist nearly at an end? And – if the readership has changed (see Tim Parks’ interesting blog on this, below) – then how does that in turn affect the novelist’s responsibilities towards these readers?

Sunday: closed-door discussion with Georg Klein, Janne Teller, myself, and writers resident in Berlin or taking part in the ILB

Main themes: Authorship & Authorial Responsibility (am actually just going to focus on a small part of the discussion, as it was too huge to cover here)

Thomas Boehm (chairing) asked me what I thought of the possibility of a many-authored novel. I said I believed it was certainly possible, and nothing new given the precedent of fairy-tales – narratives that have no single author, and that exist in many versions, and which have persisted for centuries. I am a huge fan of fairy-tales and thought it would be quite exciting if we could create a modern equivalent. Thomas then mooted the possibility of a novel written by its readers. I wasn’t so excited by this idea as I thought it was already being done in the virtual reality setting of Second Life. The discussion moved back towards the social and political responsibility of the writer. I had argued the previous day for the growth of a multi-heroed novel, in order to combat the amorphous, many-headed antagonist of global corporate capitalism. I had proposed an alternative to the capitalist culture hero who seeks fulfilment in the private sphere. So Thomas asked me if this meant I would also advocate a multi-authored novel. I thought a multi-authored novel could work with a closed group who all were working from the same shared plan or principles (I was thinking of novels like ‘Q’ by the Italian authors’ collective known as Luther Blissett – but in fact it could work among writers living in different parts of the world from one another). This type of novel could co-exist with the traditional novel.

Xiaolu Guo spoke about the responsibility that the novelist has to speak for those who can not speak. She explained how she herself feels a responsibility for the dead: to speak for people murdered by the Chinese government atTianenmen Square, for example. She also spoke about how, when Western writers say they do not want to be responsible, it is perhaps because they live such nice lives.

I agreed with Xiaolu, and mentioned how great writers like Charles Dickens once exposed injustice, but that a writer living in London today, wishing to do the equivalent of exposing the workhouse, would have to go and spend time in the labour camps of the Free Trade Zones. The globalisation of our economy means that much of the greatest injustice in the world is just not visible to those of us writing in the West. We will only see it if we choose to see it – and even then, there is the practical problem of how we can find out the detailed truth about it, sufficiently to write a novel. For me, that’s where new technologies come in.

Janne Teller made some very interesting points regarding the neuroscience of the reading experience. Part of it was about literature’s dependence on the activation of the readers’ imagination. Novels are unusual among other art forms in that they don’t provoke any immediate sensory reactions. The text on the page is not arousing until it has been interpreted by the brain. The novel exists only when the reader transforms the words into images. In this process, the reader lives and truly feels the experiences, because they are happening wholly within their individual brain, drawing on their own personal experiences and memories to create this new imagined experience (whereas films present the experiences to our eyes, and remain externally realised). So novels widen our sense of life experience and insights, as well as strengthen our capacities for empathy and humanity. Janne also stated that the crux of the novel is love, re the continental term Roman arising from romance. Love is the defining human emotion and action.

Briefly, then, here are my thoughts on the future of the novel. Of course I do not dream of telling other writers what they should or should not write, or claiming this to be ‘the truth’. Simply my own feelings on the subject:

  • We live in a globalised market-driven society and culture, in which human dignity is subordinate to economic worth.
  • This system (like most mega-systems, whether Communist or Capitalist) is not conducive to the happiness of most human beings within it.
  • As a writer, I create stories in which people try to find happiness.
  • Therefore I find myself wanting to question the mega-corporatism of global capitalism within my writing – and so long as our democracies become increasingly corrupted by corporatism, and so long as inequalities keep on worsening within the current unjust economic system, then I imagine this will continue. Having addressed the problem in short stories and monologues, I am in the process of working out how to tackle it in a novel. The novel has unique demands in terms of narrative structure and heroes, which make it a particular challenge.
  • The only sure route to happiness is love. Not love of the quest-and-possession variety, but the kind of selfless love that enables people to transcend their egos. A sort of social love. I think this could partly be why crime writing is so appealing: because the detective is correcting an injustice on behalf of a victim with whom they have no personal connection; simply they are members of the same society. It could be argued that the crime novel is a love story of sorts. The detective is paid, so we can’t exactly call it altruism. Still, the detective hero cares about bad things happening and wants to put them right even though they are not themselves the victim, and nor are they related to the victim. Perhaps the detective could be called morally and emotionally altruistic, if not financially. I think the hero of the future novel could develop along these lines (for me!). And as I mentioned, I am also exploring multi-heroed novels. I think some of Kate Atkinson’s novels already head in this direction.

Thanks again to the International Literature Festival Berlin for inviting me to these discussions. It was a huge pleasure to be part of the discussion, and to hear the other points of view.

Sophie Cooke

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Greg Baxter’s take on The Future of the Novel – EWWC Berlin http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/greg-baxters-take-on-the-future-of-the-novel-ewwc-berlin/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/greg-baxters-take-on-the-future-of-the-novel-ewwc-berlin/#comments Wed, 19 Sep 2012 12:07:00 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1234 The Future of the Novel: Some Tendencies to Watch

This is just a brief and incomplete note to follow up two discussions on the future of the novel that took place here in Berlin, as part of the Edinburgh World Writers Conference. I attended the first, and took part, more or less, in the second.

I feel compelled to write something, even in haste. I acknowledge, from the outset, that as a person who has written a novel and plans to write another, I’ve become one of the least qualified people to discuss the future of the novel. But I still feel compelled to express a general dissatisfaction with the way these conversations always seem to go, not because I want to dismiss the conversation or the people who want to have the conversation, but because I think tendencies develop that make it difficult to have fair, open, and illuminating discussions.

These tendencies usually reflect – if the people having these conversations are novelists – a desire to reverse the losses in status and prestige that novels once brought upon themselves and literature in general, and, importantly, upon the authors of novels. Rather than propose or contemplate various future directions for the novel – or if new directions are proposed, they are usually absurd, or they are simply very old new directions – novelists just make their own demise more undignified.

There’s a tendency to think of the novel’s growing social irrelevance like an illness being suffered by a sick patient, rather than the fatigue of a very, very old person. Solutions, therefore, are prescribed like medicine, or surgery is performed, and we’re puzzled by the fact that interventions just make the patient worse. These solutions often take the form of sentences with the word should in them. Sometimes even a must.

There’s the tendency to think of the novel’s future – or its health – as its ability to appeal broadly, to sell well, and get into the hands of people who will see what – under the demands of television, social media, the working life, bad books, and laziness – they’ve been missing. The problem is that this tendency leads us not only into the business-end definition of books but also to lethal considerations of what readers need and want, and how to appease or seduce them.

There’s a tendency to belittle the essay and experiments in nonfiction, and this tendency reinforces the outdated and dangerous prejudice that novels are big literature and everything else is small literature, that novelists are talking about profound things and everyone else is talking about trivial things. We defend this position with banalities and cliché.

There’s a tendency to turn a conversation about how we should respect the limitlessness of literature into a conversation about how we should impose limits on literature.

There’s a tendency to claim, without too much evidence, that the novel cultivates strong moral and ethical citizens, whereas new technology does the opposite. The suggestion is that humanity needs the novel, and technology is a threat to humanity.

On the other hand, there’s also a tendency to become smitten with the possibilities that new technologies bring to the novel. I think this is like being smitten by the sight of alien warships collecting over all the large cities in the world and starting a countdown. (Welcome! Save us! BOOM.)

There’s a tendency to let the conversation be led by people trying to sell you pet theories. This leads a lot of very accomplished novelists to complain that what is wrong with literature is that the majority of people do not accept that his or her pet theory is self-evidently correct. The concern here is that these accomplished novelists, many of whom are critics, then apply this pet theory to everything they encounter. New novels, then, tend to be good or bad based on how they fit inside the pet theory. This tendency prizes intellectualism and devalues both curiosity and humility. It makes us blind to the new, and it leads us to celebrate the predictable.

There’s a tendency to support pet theories with language that is empty, that is based on a knowledge of, but no sympathy for, theory.

There is a tendency to miss the obvious, and to say outlandish things that only sound profound until someone says, ‘Yes, but that already exists.’ There’s a great deal of overlap between this tendency and the tendency to think that the novel’s future is about collectivism. Or about innovations in narration.

There’s a tendency to complain about the injustice of prizes. There’s a tendency to complain about the dire state of criticism and book reviews. There’s a tendency to complain about the publishing industry. If you ask a room full of novelists about the future of the novel, you will hear a lot of complaining. And the people – I was sitting right beside one – who offer intriguing and worthy insights on the subject, rather than merely complain, are perceived as cracked. Or they are merely met with glances that say, Why don’t you write an essay about it?

Greg Baxter

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EWWC Berlin Digest http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/ewwc-berlin-digest/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/ewwc-berlin-digest/#comments Mon, 17 Sep 2012 13:57:33 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1332 Catch up with the surrounding conversations from the Berlin Conference leg on Storify here:



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Tim Parks blogs on The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/tim-parks-blogs-on-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/tim-parks-blogs-on-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Sun, 16 Sep 2012 13:04:28 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1199 Tim Parks © Basso Cannarsa

Tim Parks © Basso Cannarsa

The future direction of the novel will be largely dependent on two aspects of fiction-writing that are presently extremely unstable. The most important is the relationship between the writer and the community he writes toward. Until some twenty or thirty years ago, most novel writers would have thought of their work as existing within the context of a national literature. Although while writing a novel they may not have thought of addressing it to anyone in particular, nevertheless they would have supposed that its first readers would be their co-nationals, reading it in the language it was written in, buying it from the kinds of bookshops the author also frequented, living in the same social and political context. This necessarily influenced both the style and content of the work. Much shared knowledge could be assumed; certain allusions would have a powerful affect. Only at a later date and on condition that their work was well received in their own country would it be translated and perhaps celebrated in other parts of the world.

That is no longer the case. More and more a writer will be aware of other communities of readers. In my case for example it is not unusual for a novel of mine to appear in Dutch a month or two before it appears in English, and to achieve its best sales and most penetrating reviews in Germany. Writers working in languages that are not widely spoken and hence addressing an initial reading public that is quite small (and perhaps getting smaller as people read more and more translations from English), may well feel that if they are to survive economically they had better accommodate the idea of an international audience in their original project.

In general then, people are reading more novels which do not speak of their home communities, while their home writers worry that a novel too deeply engaged in the local culture may not easily travel. To complicate matters an international and liberal readership has formed which tends to appreciate novels that attack the authorities in their home cultures, inviting the reader as it were to side with the individual against some foreign oppression. Many international literary prizes have tended to follow this formula, giving generous awards to writers exposing authoritarian realities in their own countries, but perhaps more for the benefit of the international community than the country itself. Thus a sort of triangle develops: an author grows up and matures in a particular cultural milieu then appeals beyond it to a global world. In any event, this decoupling of the writer from the world he lives and moves in, something that brings freedom but may diminish the possibility of a certain kind of engagement and responsibility, is bound to have an effect on the way authors write. No doubt people will react to the changing situation in all kinds of different ways.

Related to this question of interchange between writer and readership is the rapidly changing dynamic of how an author earns a living from what he writes. The advent of ebooks, the possibility of publishing in all kinds of ways on the net, the crisis of book publishing and book retailing, have all made the old formula of relying on an advance against royalties from a publisher and then simply getting on with one’s life without thinking any more about how a book is sold and how one earns from it, is beginning to look extremely fragile. Again, writers will routinely tell us that their work is not influenced by questions of income, but this is naive. Certain projects require such large investments of time and research and effort that it is hard to imagine people routinely undertaking them without being fairly sure of some income. It’s impossible to say how this will play out over the coming years. It’s clear that the world has a huge appetite for certain kind of written narrative, so it’s reasonable to suppose that ways will be found to remunerate those who provide the goods. But whether less popular writers can feel confident about making a living from their labours is altogether less clear. 

Copyright: Tim Parks

Tim Parks will be discussing ‘The Future of the Novel’ with Sophie Cooke and Georg Klein at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in Berlin on 15 and 16 September. 

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GEORG KLEIN – The Future of the Novel: Discussion Continues http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/georg-klein-the-future-of-the-novel-discussion-continues/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/georg-klein-the-future-of-the-novel-discussion-continues/#comments Sun, 16 Sep 2012 10:30:24 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1002 International Literature Festival Berlin

Sunday 16 September 10:30am CET

The Future of the Novel: Discussion Continues


UK author Sophie Cooke was joined by German author Georg Klein and several others at the British Council, Berlin on 16 September 2012.

This event continued ‘The Future of the Novel’ Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference discussion which took place the previous evening, when Georg Klein presented his keynote text and discussed it with UK authors Tim Parks and Sophie Cooke in front of a live audience at the International Literature Festival Berlin (ilb). The event was Chaired by Thomas Böhm.

Authors participating in the discussion, which took place in English, included:
Janne Teller
Greg Baxter
(USA, based in Berlin)
Martin Jankowski
Xiaolu Guo
Clare Wigfall
Barbara Wahlster
(journalist/critic Germany)

A full list is available on our Participants page.

(Above Image: Georg Klein © Georg Klein)

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GEORG KLEIN – The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/the-future-of-the-novel-tim-parks-georg-klein/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/the-future-of-the-novel-tim-parks-georg-klein/#comments Sat, 15 Sep 2012 18:00:28 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=946 International Literature Festival Berlin

Saturday, 15 September 6:00pm CET

The Future of the Novel


Author Biography:

Georg Klein was born in Augsburg in 1953. He studied Literature, History and Sociology in Berlin. His big literary breakthrough came in 1998 with the publication of his debut novel, “Libidissi”, followed by “Barbar Rossa” and “Sünde Güte Blitz” as well as  the publication of his short stories “Anrufung des blinden Fisches” and “Von den Deutschen”. He was awarded the Brüder-Grimm Prize and the Bachmann Prize. For his novel “Roman unserer Kindheit”, published in 2010, he won the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair. Klein lives with the writer Kathrin de Vries in Berlin and East Frisia. More information: www.devries-klein.de.

(Above Image: Georg Klein © Georg Klein)


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Klein in Germany – Keynote on The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/klein-in-germany-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/klein-in-germany-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Sat, 15 Sep 2012 14:35:19 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=2410 The Future of the Novel

Keynote address given by Georg Klein

First presented at International Literature Festival, Berlin

Georg Klein Keynote text: “ESCAPE TO BIG TIME: On the Novel and the Future”

I want to begin by making a confession: I like it when novelists are dead. I find it pleasant to hold a novel in my hand and to know that its author is no longer among us. The spontaneous sympathy I then feel for both, text and writer, is even a little bit more heartfelt, if the book is out of print, if I had to get hold of it second hand: From one of those dubious online dealers who offer as-new copies so cheaply that the cost of delivery exceeds the now no more than symbolic cost of the book itself.

I always read a novel which has become that cheap to the end. I feel an almost personal obligation to do so. I keep going to the very last page, even if it can’t really grip me and push against my limits, even if I begin to fear that it was never, even when it was written, a good book. Then I put it in the wastepaper sack along with the newspapers of the last few days. It’s a little like laying to rest a mummy, which for far too long was displayed in a museum in an undignified way. The memory of this good deed is then the last future which, for a little while at least, we will share.

I know that this feeling has something to do with the way I imagine the past of the novel: If I don’t shy away from a megalomaniac sense of vertigo, I am briefly able to imagine the totality of all the novels ever written: Thousands, thousands upon thousands of novel manuscripts, of which many, presumably only a minority, but still a mighty host, have become books, lingering for a time in libraries or other memories until they too will disappear into nowhere.

The history of literature tries to control this vortex of time. Where there’s a twisting maelstrom of production and destruction, it claims to recognise stable linearity: Beginnings, development, opposition and gain, sometimes something new, indeed better even, progress without end. The history of the novel, at least the history of the European novel, then turns into a tree whose growth we can supposedly reconstruct. This oak rises from the fertile soil of older narrative forms, at some point a separate sapling emerges from the epic thicket. The wood of the trunk grows stronger and harder, gradually the tree becomes aware of the tradition it forms, but also of unrealised possibilities. Grown stately and proud, it forks into powerful branches. Its youngest twigs reach further towards the light, towards new, not yet explored kinds of writing.

I like this illusion. I enjoy the idea that I could know what is old and what is new, that I understand how the new emerges from the old. Like every illusionary control of time it can help one to keep going, if one submits to it at the right moment. But there is also the fatally wrong moment: I remember a young woman author telling me about her collision with the history of the novel. She had written her first work of prose, a slim, autobiographical volume, in the finest enthusiasm of naïve creativity. Before she tackled a proper novel, she simply wanted to see just what had been written so far. She asked experienced readers for help and drew up a list. No more than a selection from the supposedly most important German-language novels of the twentieth century, twenty or thirty titles.

She began in chronological order. What had been conceived as an instructive game with time, turned into a nightmare. She had entered the forest of literature in order to collect a few fine mushrooms in her basket. But she was forced to realise that a giant mushroom rhizom ran through the gentle grove from one end to the other. A network of dead fibres, but also of damp living ones. Not everything which strove towards the twilight there was in good condition. Much was maggot-eaten, there was much ugly rank vegetation, above all far too much iridescent beauty. In the young writer, however, the emotional surplus of yearning, anticipation and fear, the many-armed dream-catcher, which her future novel had been, shrank away into despondency and resignation.

A pity! With a little luck things could have turned out differently. From the experience of frightening greatness she drew the fatal conclusion that whatever there was inside her, driving her to write a novel, was embarrassingly small. The  shock of greatness now prevented her from achieving what experienced readers spontaneously succeed in doing time and again: The fusion of one’s own creative system with the structure of the text, the magnificent identification of a reading consciousness with the imagined world of the novel, the flight into a wonderful and vast expanse.

That could be called escapism. And there are spatial metaphors which suggest themselves to describe the experience. But someone who escapes into a novel, is also escaping from a particular time. Every habitual reader, the genre junkie just as much as the lover of subtle language games, senses and enjoys the fact that he is escaping that time which is constantly being presented to him as the really important, decisive one. This deceitfully dominant time format could perhaps be called “small time” in contrast to the grand experience of time of the novel.

This small time has something to do with our everyday lives. And its dogmatic champions maintain that dealing with daily life prevents us squandering our always scarce hours on reading never mind writing novels. An old, threadbare reproach. But who can feel so certain of himself in this respect? A few weeks ago I was talking on the phone to an author; almost forty, his most recent novel was about to appear. I thought our conversation was going to be all about this happy, forthcoming event, when he abruptly asked me what kind of nursing care insurance I had. At the moment he felt tormented by the thought that in the future, in thirty or thirty five years he could be at the mercy of the infirmities of old age without appropriate support. His son would then find himself in the terribly awkward situation of having to take care of a poor, invalid writer, one perhaps even suffering from dementia.

A few days later I started reading his new novel. I can no longer say how many pages it took before I forgot the nursing care insurance cover. But it was quite a few. On the unusually difficult way into the promise of time of the novel I felt that what prevented my immersion was a kind of future. It’s not the presence of everyday life, its demands and duties that stand in the way of experiencing a novel. On the contrary: every genuine reader knows the special pleasure which comes of escaping into the time of the novel in the middle of everyday life, in the middle of the automatically prolonged present of getting things done, of errands. Not the sheer practice of the present, but a particular kind of future, a feeling of apprehension, a specific anxiety, indeed cowardice, appeared to me to be the time-enemy of the novel.

So I don’t believe most people who claim that unfortunately they don’t have any time to read novels never mind write them, although in fact they feel strongly drawn to do one or the other or both. Out of a mistaken sense of consideration I don’t say to them: It’s only your small future that stops you dedicating yourself to the bigger time of the novel. The fact that you don’t allow yourself to push against your own limits is a great pity, because it’s precisely the experience of the novel that could help prevent your soul being soured by too much small future.

Four years ago the books editor of a newspaper asked me whether I would like to contribute to a series in the arts pages of the publication. Its title was “The Future of Yesterday”. Short essay-like texts were supposed to discuss utopian novels of the past three hundred years. I was very taken by the idea, because I looked forward to re-acquainting myself with texts I had read for the first time decades before. Most of the titles that involuntarily came to mind were so-called science fiction novels from the second half of the 20th century.

Fortunately the editor didn’t expect me to consider whether they contained forecasts which had subsequently come true in technology, politics or society. Only the cheap know-it-all attitudes of those born too long after would throw themselves at these novels to explain that they told of gadgets, social orders and forms of rule which have not or perhaps even have become contemporary reality. Indeed, I didn’t feel in the least that the technological, social or political environment around me would have been the future of these novels. I doubted that these authors, like members of some literary-military special unit equipped with telescopic sights and laser pointers, had been aiming at our 21st century.

Admittedly, as genre literature the majority of these books had in some formal aspects satisfied the expectations of genre readers. Probably the vain desire to predict something which could still come true in the lifetime of the author had played a limited part in the writing. But this prognostic ambition had evaporated from the space of reading like some initially overpowering but then not very enduring perfume. How liberating to enter into the apocalyptic visions of these novels without the possible nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the former USA forcing itself into one’s mind. How fascinatingly open to fantasise about a fictitious cyberspace and its obscure matrix without having to see this fictitious system and its world as representatives of yesterday’s or today’s Internet. How good, not to be the posterity of these novels.

Relieved of all prognostic expectations they seemed to me to have gained in scope. And my reading profited in more than a futurological way from the character of our contemporary shared world: If I am not deceiving myself, then in recent decades a certain pressure of expectation has very much diminished. The novel no longer has to provide the guiding thread linking a historically tamed past with a critically comprehended present, a string of knots, by which one is then supposed to feel one’s way forward into the already looming future.

I know there are phenomena which distract from this liberation of the novel. Even when I’m writing I often don’t feel as free as the present-day novel actually is. The demons of small time know all about my diffidence and regularly lead me into temptation. It’s not so long ago that an agency which looks after the media advancement, the public future of its clients called me up. A very energetic young man got to the point right away. They had heard that my prose texts had an interesting closeness to science and technology. They had read random samples. I was the right man. An important client, a well-known German scientist, the cutting edge of medical-biological progress in person, was looking for someone who could relate in an attractive way what his research team had discovered and which was about to cause a sensation. I should immediately look at the client’s Wikipedia entry, the agency had brought it right up to date.

The Wikipedia article was very long, fairly well written and just easy enough so that with my chance bio-chemical and medical knowledge I was able to follow it. All cleverly and skilfully done. What could this established and eminent authority expect from me? The future was quickly told. Planned was a best-seller, that is, one with sales figures in the six-digit range. I asked for examples, and my caller had them at his fingertips. To my surprise these included not only popular non-fiction books but also downmarket fiction. As a professional, I would no doubt immediately appreciate that – the future quite evidently lay in the fusion of up-to-date scientific topics with narrative forms of presentation. Time was short. It would be best if I could provide a written sample as soon as possible. An introductory chapter. The relevant material had already been prepared.

In the meantime I know what I should have replied: You’re mistaken, I’m not an expert provider of narrative services. I am not an expert at all. I am a very dogged amateur in the field of experiencing big time. I don’t believe in the continuous progress of science, I think that the natural sciences, especially medicine, are, just like literature, a maelstrom of production and annihilation. Consequently, in common with many authors, I love doctors as literary figures. I doubt whether the latest equipment and approaches are always better than yesterday’s machines and abandoned procedures. I can certainly see that there is change. But I think that most of what we encounter as new is a surprising variation on and combination of older more or less well-remembered or even quite forgotten elements. I enjoy the phenomenon of “novelty” as an invigorating feeling, as hormonal agitation, but I am far from wanting to make a bony fetish of whatever’s new. I would probably not buy the book that I’m supposed to write for you. And if I got it as a present and began to read it out of curiosity it would probably bore me to death. Of the many forms of future, of the expectations, longings, fears I have so far fallen victim to, the future you have in mind is among the most inhibiting. If it were to become dominant, this future-obsession would cannibalise everything that I find hopeful about writing.

Of course I didn’t say any of that. Its not often that I make grand statements on the phone. I merely said: “I’m really sorry. Thank you very much for thinking of me. But the imaginary scope of a possible novel has begun to absorb me. It will be called ‘The Future of Mars’ but have almost nothing to do with what you imagine as the near future of ‘science’ and ‘fiction’. We’ve simply got a small time problem here, a time problem among contemporaries. But you can certainly call me again in one and half, in two or two and half years!”

That time is up. That future is over. The nervous young men never called me again. I finished my novel in June of this year. The book on which I was supposed to collaborate as a ghost-writer was considerably faster. It never became a bestseller. One can now buy copies online for 99 cents plus postage. I am afraid that the experience of big time can make one arrogant towards other forms of the experience of time. Perhaps I should order a copy and read it right to the end as slowly and devoutly as possible and then also lay this narrative mummy to rest in an appropriately dignified manner.

Georg Klein, 2012


Below is text of the keynote speech given by Georg Klein in German:

Über Roman und Zukunft

Um mit einem Geständnis zu beginnen: Ich mag es, wenn Romanciers tot sind. Es ist mir angenehm, einen Roman in die Hand zu nehmen und zu wissen, sein Autor weilt nicht mehr unter uns. Die spontane Sympathie, die ich dann für beide, den Text und seinen Verfasser, empfinde, ist noch ein bisschen inniger, wenn das Buch vergriffen ist, wenn ich es mir also antiquarisch besorgen musste: Über einen jener obskuren Internethändler, die neuwertige Exemplare so billig anbieten, dass die Versandkosten den nur noch symbolischen Preis des Buches übersteigen.

Einen derart billig gewordenen Roman lese ich immer bis zu seinem Ende. Ich fühle eine fast süße Verpflichtung hierzu. Ich halte bis zur letzten Seite durch, auch wenn er mich nicht wirklich fesseln und entgrenzen kann, auch wenn ich zu befürchten beginne, dass er nie, nicht einmal zu seiner Entstehungszeit ein guter Roman gewesen ist. Dann lege ich ihn zu den Zeitungen der letzten Tage in den Altpapiersack. Es ist ein wenig so, als würde ich eine Mumie bestatten, die allzu lang auf unwürdige Weise in einem Museum zur Schau gestellt gewesen ist. Die Erinnerung an diesen guten Akt ist dann die letzte Zukunft, die wir noch eine kleine Weile miteinander teilen werden.

Ich weiß, dass diese Empfindung damit zu tun hat, wie ich mir die Vergangenheit des Romans vorstelle: Wenn ich ein megalomanisches Schwindelgefühl nicht scheue, schaffe ich es kurz, mir die Gesamtheit aller je geschriebenen Romane zu imaginieren: Tausende, abertausende von Romanmanuskripten, von denen viele, wahrscheinlich nur eine Minderheit, aber immer immer noch eine gewaltige Heerschar, zu Büchern geworden sind, die eine Zeitlang in Bibliotheken oder anderen Speichern verweilen, bis auch sie im Nirgendwo verschwinden werden.

Die Literaturgeschichte versucht diesen Zeitstrudel zu kontrollieren. Wo sich ein Malstrom aus Produktion und Vernichtung, aus Aufmerksamkeit und Vergessen dreht, behauptet sie stabile Linearität zu erkennen: Anfänge, Weiterentwicklung, Widerspruch und Zugewinn, Neues, ja sogar Besseres, Fortschritt ohne Ende. Die Geschichte des Romans, zumindest die Geschichte des europäischen Romans wird dann zu einem Baum, dessen Wachstum wir angeblich rekonstruieren können. Eine Romaneiche entspringe aus dem fruchtbaren Boden älterer Erzählformen, irgendwann erhebt sich ein separates Stämmchen aus dem epischen Dickicht. Sein Holz gewinnt an Stärke und Härte, allmählich wird sich das Gewächs seiner Tradition, aber auch unverwirklichter Möglichkeiten bewusst. Stattlich und stolz geworden, teilt es sich in mächtige Äste. In deren jüngsten Zweigen geht es weiter lichtwärts, neuen noch nicht erschlossenen Schreibweisen entgegen.

Ich mag diese Illusion. Ich genieße die Vorstellung, ich wüsste, was alt und was neu ist, ich verstünde, wie das Neuere dem Älteren entspringt. Wie jede illusionäre Zeitkontrolle kann sie einem weiterhelfen, wenn man sich ihr im richtigen Augenblick hingibt. Aber es gibt auch den mörderisch falschen Moment: Ich erinnere mich, wie mir eine junge Autorin von ihrem Zusammenprall mit der Romangeschichte erzählte. Sie hatte ihr erstes Prosawerk, ein schmales, autobiographisches Bändchen, im schönsten Furor naiver Schaffenslust verfasst. Bevor sie einen richtigen Roman anpackte, wollte sie einfach mal sehen, was denn bislang überhaupt so geschrieben worden war. Sie fragte erfahrene Leser um Rat und stellte sich eine Liste zusammen. Nur eine Auswahl der angeblich wichtigsten deutschsprachigen Romane des 20. Jahrhunderts, zwanzig oder dreißig Titel.

Sie begann in chronologischer Reihung. Was als lehrreiches Zeitspiel gedacht war, wurde zu einem Albtraum. Sie war in den Wald der Literatur gegangen, um einige schöne Pilze in ihr Körbchen zu sammeln. Aber sie musste feststellen, dass der lauschige Hain von einem riesigen Pilzrhizom durchzogen war. Ein Geflecht aus abgestorbenen, aber auch feucht lebendigen Fasern. Nicht alles, was daraus ins Dämmerlicht strebte, war in guter Verfassung. Viel Madenzerfressenes, viel hässliche vegetative Geilheit, vor allem allzuviel schillernde Schönheit. In ihr jedoch schrumpfte der emotionale Überfluss aus Sehnsucht, Erwartung und Angst, der vielarmige Traumfänger, der ihr zukünftiger Roman gewesen war, zu Mutlosigkeit und Resignation.

Schade! Mit ein bisschen Glück hätte es anders kommen können. Aus der Erfahrung erschreckender Größe zog sie den fatalen Schluss, was in ihr zum Roman drängte, sei peinlich klein. Im Schock der Größenerfahrung gelang ihr nicht mehr, was erfahrenen Lesern unwillkürlich immer aufs Neue gelingt: die Verschmelzung des eigenen kreativen Systems mit der Struktur des Textes, die grandiose Identifikation des lesenden Bewusstseins mit der imaginierten Romanwelt, die Flucht in eine großartige Weite.

Man kann dies Eskapismus nennen. Und es bieten sich räumliche Metaphern an, um diese Erfahrung zu beschreiben. Aber wer in den Roman entkommt, rettet sich auch aus einer bestimmten Zeit. Jeder notorische Leser, der Genre-Junkie wie der Liebhaber subtilen Sprachspiels, spürt und genießt, dass er derjenigen Zeit entkommt, die ihm als die entscheidende, als die wesentliche Zeit vorgegaukelt wird. Man könnte dieses trügerisch dominante Zeitformat im Gegensatz zur grandiosen Zeiterfahrung des Romans versuchsweise „die kleine Zeit“ nennen.

Diese kleine Zeit hat mit unserem Alltag zu tun. Und ihre dogmatischen Verfechter behaupten, die Bewältigung unseres täglichen Lebens hielte uns davon ab, die stets knapp bemessenen Stunden mit dem Lesen oder gar mit dem Schreiben von Romanen zu vergeuden. Ein alter, abgenutzter Vorwurf. Aber wer könnte sagen, er wäre auf der sicheren Seite? Vor wenigen Wochen telefonierte ich mit einem knapp vierzigjährigen Autor, das Erscheinen seines jüngsten Romans stand bevor. Ich dachte, unser Gespräch stünde unter dem Zeichen dieses Weltgangs, als er mich jählings fragte, wie es mit meiner Pflegeversicherung aussähe. Ihn quäle zur Zeit, dass er zukünftig, in dreißig oder fünfunddreißig Jahren, den Gebrechen des Alters ohne entsprechende Rückendeckung ausgeliefert sein könnte. Sein Sohn geriete dann in die fürchterliche Verlegenheit, sich um den hinfällig gewordenen, armen, vielleicht sogar dementen Schriftsteller kümmern zu müssen.

Wenige Tage später begann ich seinen neuen Roman zu lesen. Ich kann nicht mehr sagen, wieviel Seiten ich brauchte, um die Pflegeversicherung zu vergessen. Aber es dauerte schon. Auf dem ungewohnt mühsamen Weg in das Zeitversprechen dieses Romans spürte ich, in wie weit das, was mein Eintauchen behinderte, eine Art von Zukunft war. Nicht die Präsenz des Alltags, seine Erfordernisse und Pflichten, stehen dem Romanerleben entgegen. Im Gegenteil: jeder echte Leser kennt die besondere Süße, die es bedeutet, sich mitten in diesem Alltag, mitten in der sich selbsttätig verlängernden Gegenwart des Erledigens und Besorgens, in die Romanzeit zu flüchten. Nicht die schiere Praxis der Gegenwart, sondern eine besondere Art Zukunft, ein Beklemmungsgefühl, eine spezifische Ängstlichkeit, ja Feigheit, schien mir der Zeitfeind des Romans.

Deshalb glaube ich den meisten Menschen nicht, die behaupten, sie hätten leider keine Zeit, Romane zu lesen oder gar zu schreiben, obwohl es sie eigentlich heftig zum einen, zum anderen oder zu beidem hinziehe. Aus falscher Höflichkeit sage ich ihnen nicht: Nur deine kleine Zukunft hält dich davon ab, dich der großen Zeit des Romans hinzugeben. Dass du dir diese Entgrenzung nicht gönnst, ist sehr schade, denn gerade die Romanerfahrung könnte dir dabei helfen, die Übersäuerung deiner Seele mit zuviel kleiner Zukunft zu verhindern.

Vor vier Jahren fragte mich ein Literaturredakteur, ob ich mich an einer Feuilleton-Serie beteiligen möchte. Ihr Titel war „Die Zukunft von Gestern.“ Kleine essayartige Texten sollten von der Lektüre utopischer Romane der letzten drei Jahrhunderte erzählen. Die Idee bezauberte mich, weil sie mir die Wiederbegnung mit Texten versprach, die ich vor Jahrzehnten zum ersten Mal gelesen hatte. Die meisten, an die ich unwillkürlich dachte, waren sogenannte Science Fiction-Romane aus der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts.

Mein Auftraggeber erwartete glücklicherweise nicht, dass ich nun prüfte, ob sie Prognosen enthielten, die sich später in Technik, Politik oder Gesellschaft bewahrheitet hätten. Nur die billige Besserwisserei der Spätergeborenen würde sich darauf stürzen, dass diese Romane von Apparaten, Gesellschaftsordnungen und Herrschaftsformen erzählten, die in den den letzten Jahrzehnten dann eben nicht oder vielleicht doch zeitgeschichtliche Wirklichkeit geworden sind. Ja, ich hatte nicht einmal das Gefühl, die technische, soziale oder politische Umwelt, die mich umgibt, wäre die Zukunft dieser Romane gewesen. Ich bezweifelte, dass diese Autoren wie Angehörige einer episch-militärischen Spezialeinheit mit Zielfernrohren und Laserpointern auf unser 21. Jahrhundert gezielt hatten.

Zwar hatten die meisten dieser Bücher als Genre-Literatur in manchen formalen Aspekten den Erwartungen von Genre-Lesern gehorcht. Vermutlich hatte der eitle Wunsch etwas vorherzusagen, das noch zu Lebzeiten des Verfassers eintreffen könnte, am Rande der Niederschrift eine gewisse Rolle gespielt. Aber dieser prognostische Ehrgeiz hatte sich gleich einem zunächst penetranten, dann aber nicht sehr nachhaltigen Parfüm aus dem Raum der Lektüre verflüchtigt. Wie erlösend, sich den apokalyptischen Endzeitvisionen dieser Romane hinzugeben, ohne dass sich einem noch zwangsläufig der mögliche Atomkrieg zwischen der Sowjetunion und der einstigen USA in den Sinn drängte. Wie faszinierend offen, über einen fiktiven Cyberspace und dessen obskure Matrix zu fantasieren, ohne diese fiktive Systemwelt als Repräsentanten des gestrigen oder des gegenwärtigen Internets verstehen müssen. Wie schön, nicht Nachwelt dieser Romane zu sein.

Entlastet von allen prognostischen Erwartungen schienen sie mir an Weite gewonnen zu haben. Und meine Lektüre profitierte auf eine andere als die futurologische Weise von dem, was unsere gegenwärtige Mitwelt ist: Wenn ich mich nicht täusche, hat in den letzten Jahrzehnten ein bestimmter Erwartungsdruck stark nachgelassen. Der Roman muss nicht mehr die Zeitleitschnur liefern, die eine historisch gebändigte Vergangenheit mit einer kritisch begriffenen Gegenwart verknüpft, eine Knotenschnur, an der man sich dann in die bereits dräuende Zukunft vorantasten soll.

Ich weiß, es gibt Phänomene, die von dieser Befreiung des Romans ablenken. Selbst wenn ich schreibe, fühle ich mich oft nicht so frei, wie es der gegenwärtige Roman ist. Die Dämonen der kleinen Zeit wissen um meine Befangenheiten und führen mich regelmäßig in Versuchung. Es ist noch nicht lange her, dass mich eine Agentur anrief, die sich um das mediale Fortkommen, um die öffentliche Zukunft ihrer Klienten kümmert. Ein sehr forscher, junger Mann kam sofort zur Sache. Man habe gehört, dass meine Prosatexte eine interessante Nähe zu Wissenschaft und Technik besäßen. Man habe stichprobenartig hineingelesen. Ich sei der richtige. Ein bedeutender Kunde, ein namhafter deutscher Wissenschaftler, eine personalisierte Speerspitze des medizinisch-biologischen Fortschritts, suche nach einem, der in attraktiver Form erzählen könne, was sein Forschungsteam herausgefunden hätte, was in Bälde Furore machen werde. Ich solle mir gleich mal den Wikipedia-Eintrag des Kunden ansehen, den habe die Agentur eben auf den neuesten Stand gebracht.

Der Wikipedia-Artikel war sehr lang, ziemlich gut geschrieben und gerade so schwierig, dass ich ihm mit meinen bio-chemischen und medizinischen Zufallskenntnissen folgen konnte. Alles schlau und geschickt gemacht. Was konnte diese etablierte Koryphäe von mir erwarten? Die Zukunft war schnell erzählt. Geplant sei ein Bestseller, also eine Verkaufszahl im sechsstelligen Bereich. Ich bat um Beispiele, und mein Gesprächspartner hatte sie parat. Zu meiner Überraschung waren es nicht nur populäre Sachbücher, sondern auch Werke der trivialen Belletristik. Dies würde ich, als Fachmann, bestimmt sofort verstehen, die Zukunft liege ganz offensichtlich in der Verschmelzung von aktuellen wissenschaftlichen Themen mit narrativen Formen der Darbietung. Die Zeit eile. Am besten wäre es, ich würde gleich eine Schreibprobe abliefern. Ein einleitendes Kapitel. Man habe das entsprechende Material bereits aufbereitet.

Inzwischen weiß ich, was ich hätte antworten müssen: Sie irren sich, ich bin kein Fachmann für narrative Dienstleistung. Ich bin überhaupt kein Fachmann. Ich bin ein sehr zäher Amateur auf dem Feld der Erfahrung großer Zeit. Ich glaube nicht an den kontiniuerlichen Fortschritt der Wissenschaft, ich denke, dass die Naturwissenschaften, gerade die Medizin, ähnlich wie die Literatur, eine Malstrom aus Produktion und Vernichtung ist. Wie viele Autoren liebe ich deshalb Ärzte als literarische Figuren. Ich bezweifle, dass die neuesten Apparate und Verfahren immer besser sind als die gestrigen Maschinen und die untergegangenen Prozeduren. Ich sehe schon, dass es Wandel gibt. Aber ich denke, dass das meiste, was uns als neu entgentritt, eine überraschende Variation und Kombination von alten, mehr oder minder gut erinnerten oder ganz in Vergessenheit geratenen Elementen ist. Ich genieße das Phänomen „Neuheit“ als ein frisch durchblutetes Gefühl, als hormonelle Aufregung, aber es ist mir fremd, aus dem Neuen einen knöchernen Fetisch zu machen. Ich würde mir das Buch, das ich für sie schreiben soll, wahrscheinlich nicht kaufen. Und wenn ich es geschenkt bekäme und aus Neugier zu lesen begänne, würde es mich wahrscheinlich tödlich langweilen. Unter den vielen Formen von Zukunft, unter den Erwartungen, Sehnsüchten, unter den Ängsten, denen ich bisher erlegen bin, gehörte die Zukunft, die Sie ins Auge fassen, zu den beengenden. Wenn sie dominant wird, kannibalisert diese Zukünftelei alles, was ich an Hoffnung mit dem Schreiben verbinde.

Natürlich habe ich das alles nicht gesagt. Am Telefon neige ich nur selten zu grandiosen Bekenntnissen. Ich sagte nur: „Es tut mir wirklich leid. Herzlichen Dank, dass Sie an mich gedacht haben. Aber die imaginäre Weite eines möglichen Romans hat angefangen, mich aufzusaugen. Er wird „Die Zukunft des Mars“ heißen, aber fast nichts mit dem zu tun haben, was Sie sich als die nahe Zukunft von „Science“ und „Fiction“ vorstellen. Wir haben da einfach ein kleines Zeitproblem, ein Zeitproblem unter Zeitgenossen. Aber Sie können mich gerne in anderthalb, in zwei oder in zweieinhalb Jahren noch einmal anrufen!“

Diese Frist ist abgelaufen. Diese Zukunft ist vorbei. Die nervösen Jungs haben nie mehr bei mir angeklingelt. Mein Roman ist zurückliegenden Juni fertig geschrieben worden. Das Buch, an dem ich als Ghostwriter mitwirken sollte,  war deutlich schneller. Es ist kein Bestseller geworden. Inzwischen kann man Exemplare für 99 Cent plus Versandkosten über das Internet bekommen. Ich befürchte, dass die Erfahrung von großer Zeit hochmütig gegen andere Formen der Zeiterfahrung machen kann. Vielleicht sollte ich mir ein Exemplar bestellen, es so langsam und fromm wie möglich zu Ende lesen und auch diese narrative Mumie auf eine angemessen würdige Weise bestatten.

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