Clemens Meyer visits Leeds

Thanks to funding from the DAAD, I and the German department at Leeds were able to host renowned Leipzig writer Clemens Meyer in Leeds for two days. The highlight of his visit was a packed-out bilingual reading at Leeds Central Library. Alumni from German, German students from several universities, members of the Leeds Anglo-German Society, SMLC academics and the general public were held captive by Clemens’s entertaining and raucous bilingual reading.

The evening started in German, when Clemens read from his short story, set in a prison, ‘Wir reisen’, and then switched to English when Dr. Catriona Firth read from the English translation. Clemens has often been compared to Irvine Welsh, so Dr. Firth’s Glasgow accent seemed appropriate! However, in interview with me afterwards, he admitted that while he admired Trainspotting, he doesn’t feel much affinity with Welsh’s later work. When discussing the short story form, film and the question of East German literature after the fall of the Wall, Clemens revealed an astonishingly wide range of literary influences and references, from Goethe to Yorkshire’s own David Peace. He also reacted robustly to the German press’s frequently dismissive attitude to his gritty writing from the streets of Leipzig. ‘They call me a one-trick-pony: well, I’m not, but better a one-trick-pony than a no-trick-pony!’ he said.

Clemens also taught a creative writing workshop and a translation workshop with students of all levels during his time at Leeds.

We had an even more raucous time afterwards in the Reliance pub, discussing Scottish nationalist film and East German scooters, but the less said about that, perhaps the better…

Thanks are due to the DAAD for co-financing his visit, the University of Leeds SMLC Literary Studies Research Group for organising the ‘International Writers at Leeds’ series, to Leeds Central Library for hosting the reading and inaugurating a partnership, and to Clemens’s publisher And Other Stories for making the visit possible.

Clemens’s visit follows in a long line of visits by distinguished German literary guests to Leeds, showing the strong links between teaching literature, translation and literary research at Leeds.

About Clemens Meyer

Clemens Meyer is a leading light among young German writers. His publishers And Other Stories describe him as a born storyteller. Born in 1977 in what was then East Germany, he studied at the German Literature Institute, Leipzig.

He won a number of prizes for his first novel Als wir träumten (While We Were Dreaming), published in 2006, in which a group of friends grow up and go off the rails in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Die Nacht, die Lichter (All the Lights) was his second book. It won the prestigious Leipzig Book Fair Prize in 2008. Since then he has published his third book, Gewalten (Acts of Violence), a diary of 2009 in eleven stories.

Livetweet: WIGS2011

Ingrid Sharp and I are presented with gorgeous orchids for our work in organising the conference

Phew! I think I’ve pretty much recovered from the annual Women in German Conference, held at Leeds last weekend – but the energy of the conference is still buzzing with me. It was a fantastic success, with nearly sixty female Germanists from Ireland and Great Britain present, as well as two brilliant and opinionated crime writers, Sabine Deitmer and Gitta Kloenne. The feminist fictioneers kept us entertained as well as enraged with hilarious and troubling readings from their novels about prostitution, debates about women’s rights and bumping off unnecessary husbands.

The papers were also wonderful, and the extraordinary turnout meant that we could have themed panels covering topics ranging from mediaeval printing to Muslim feminist hip-hop. Not all that wide a leap, indeed – both are very much about means of circulating, marketing and adapting texts! The conference began and ended up with papers given by postgraduates on the ways that the GDR has been represented in the British media and publishing industry. That was an unintended coincidence, but I think it represents what WiGS does best – promote brilliant young postgraduates and talk about the ways in which German culture matters in Ireland and the UK.

I think I’m particularly exhausted post-conference because I also took on the task of live-tweeting all the way through. The results are below! Another post on the trials and benefits of live-tweeting is to follow, but for now, enjoy WiGS in 140 characters or fewer…

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Portsmouth: Translation and Memory Conference, 5.11.11

I’ve had a wonderfully exciting and stimulating Reading Week at two conferences – just what Reading Week should be about, except that I didn’t actually have any time to read! Can we have a second Reading Week to follow up on all the wonderful ideas that others propose at conferences?

The first conference was the Portsmouth Translation Studies Conference, on Translation and Memory. I was speaking on H. G. Adler, and my abstract was as follows:

Translating Trauma: the fiction of H. G. Adler

The Prague German writer and scholar H. G. Adler (1910-1988) wrote a massive body of work concerning the Holocaust, much of which has sunk without a trace until a recent revival of interest in his work. While his works of historiography, principally his ‘Theresienstadt: Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft’ (1955) have been viewed as classics of Holocaust scholarship, his literary works and novels have received little reception, despite repeated republication since the 1960s. In particular, publishers rejected them in the 1950s because the way in which they translated Holocaust memory into literature was felt to be inappropriate. Following Adler’s centenary, however, these novels have begun to be translated into English, French and other languages, and are finding a new audience.
This paper addresses itself to two intertwined questions: Firstly, how do Adler’s novels, particularly ‘Eine Reise’/’The Journey’ and ‘Die Unsichtbare Wand’, both written in the late 1940s, address the problems of translation of memory within the texts themselves? Although the two novels have very different poetic strategies – one a highly experimental and polyvocal text, the other a first-person narrative told in mostly realist fashion – both are answers to the question of how to translate memory into text. Artur Landau, the protagonist of ‘Die Unsichtbare Wand’ and Paul Lustig, the only survivor of his family in ‘Eine Reise’, struggle to communicate their experiences in a post-war world bent on forgetting and on the creation of new forms of language that elide the specificity of Holocaust experience, and when faced with a dislocation of the self that makes saying ‘I’ impossible. Drawing on the theories of Agamben, I look at the various strategies that Adler employs to translate the memory of ‘homo sacer’ into literary language, that further draws on the literary memory of the destroyed Prague School. Further, I address some of the problems facing the translation of these texts into our post-memory-boom culture.

Of course, I didn’t get through all of that material at all – abstracts are always so over-ambitious! – but I did manage to get as far as using Agamben to talk about Adler’s impossibility of saying ‘I’, and I look forward to writing up the material into a paper.

I also had a go at livetweeting the event, and rather than have the tweets disappear into the ether, I thought I might as well paste them below. Obviously the chronology now runs from bottom to top, rather than top to bottom, but that’s the multi-directional, non-linear nature of the internet, isn’t it?
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Larissa Boehning visits Leeds

In March 2011, I was lucky enough to be able to bring German author Larissa Boehning to hold a translation masterclass and reading at the German department in Leeds, giving students an insight into literary translation and publication

Larissa Boehning and I discuss the translation workshop with my colleague Ingrid Sharp

On the 28th of March 2011, German author Larissa Boehning held a translation masterclass and a reading at the Leeds German department, accompanied by her translator Lyn Marven, who is also an academic at the University of Liverpool.

Students from all undergraduate levels and Masters students really enjoyed coming together to tackle particularly tricky translation problems in Boehning’s new unpublished novel, ‘The Song of the Cicadas’, and to bounce their ideas off Boehning and Marven.

Afterwards, Boehning held a reading from the novel, and she discussed political issues in her work with academics from the Department of German, Russian and Slavonic Studies. She also discussed her writing style and how she tackles the big issues in European history, from Stalin’s purges to the US occupation of Germany, while maintaining a focus on individual stories and family tales in her writing. Boehning’s work explores the way in which family histories and the histories of Europe criss-cross each other.

The event was a great opportunity for students of German literature and translation to see the work of a young writer and translator in action, and to get a taster of the professional literary translation process. As a result of this and other events, several students are now considering literary translation as a career. Larissa Boehning is just one in a series of distinguished German literary guests at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures in Spring 2011.

About Larissa Boehning

Larissa Boehning received great critical acclaim with her debut collection of short stories ‘Schwalbensommer’ and her novel ‘Lichte Stoffe’, about the experiences of the daughter of a black GI growing up in suburban Germany. She was trained in cultural studies, philosophy and art history. After four years in Palma de Mallorca, she has been back in Berlin since 2007. In 2000 she won Jetzt magazine’s short-story contest, and in 2002 the Prenzlauer Berg Literature Prize. ‘Lichte Stoffe’ received an award in 2007 for best German-language debut novel. Boehning regularly teaches creative and literary writing at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf.