Nobel Awarded Elfriede Jelinek Writes Next Novel Online

Ever wanted to look across the shoulder of a real Nobel laureate as she (or he) writes? Austrian Elfriede Jelinek (Nobel Laureate in 2004) decided to post her forthcoming novel “Neid” (“Envy”) online, chapter by chapter.

The text starts with this sentence: “Kleine Lebenswelten stürzen nach außen, die dazupassenden kleinen Lebensweisheiten nach innen. In der Mitte treffen sie einander.” (Which translates, word by word, as follows: “Small living worlds crash to the outside, while the fitting small truths of life (dive) inward. They meet in the middle.”)

But if you consider this an act of public writing, you’re dead wrong. Elfriede defines her new book as a “private novel”. Two chapters are already available, with a lot more to come.

The writer who always walked the fine line between public fame and private retreat has been an avert reader of international writing (provided it has the kick of, for example, Thomas Pynchon – whose “Gravity’s Rainbow” she translated into German) when hardly anyone outside the German speaking audiences had ever heard of her.

Print – Dead or alive

It is interesting to see how large corporations now start to allow (or even encourage) their thinking staff to do their thinking in public, hence online. Remember when journalists in the field were first allowed, not so long ago, to blog about their reporting?

Now I was pointed to a blog titled “Print is Dead” – which states in the opening, a bit paradoxically, but rightly so, I guess, that print, in fact, is not dead at all for some time – where Jeff Gomez, the director of marketing of the Holtzbrinck publishing group (Germany / UK / US) collects bits and pieces and thoughts about his title statement in order to prepare a book on that matter to be published later this year by an (Holtzbrinck owned) imprint, Palgrave Macmillan.

 Frankly, a good source of information to be in the loop of an interesting, yet highly fragmented debate.

Translation – feedback

The initial essay of this blog on Translation (and the decrease in translations globally) found a nice and critical echo from imomus who – from his perspective: correctly – pointed to the fact that those statistics that illustrate the paramount predominance of English just mirror a classical network and hypernode scheme (one hub – English – and a lot of secondary spikes).

To some extend I agree, as the pattern is obvious, and I pointed to that earlier myself and was approvingly discussed in this respect.

But I guess that this does not explain it all.

What we see is a double (or even multi) layered structure: The simple fact is that people don’t only communicate across books, but on many media levels and channels. The interesting point is to ask what that means for books. My take is that the role of books is changing, and we don’t know yet how, and even why exactly.

That will need some more blogging in those pages, and additional exploration and facts – which will happen on these pages over time. That’s a promise.

What are you reading!

Myself? At the Salon du Livre,I picked up a rather exotic reader (of ‘editions errance’) “La culture est-elle naturelle?” (“Is Culture Natural?”), reflecting about recent research in early (paleolithic and neolithic) human culture. I was puzzled that Actes Sud who obviously acquired or distributes that series considered it useful to carry 3 copies of such a book to a very popular book festival hoping for an audience (at least, they sold one – to me). This shows how the Long Tail actually works, and not only in cyberspace, but in the real world as well.

It tells us something about us readers: We’re more of a bizarre and fickle flock than we are aware of, I guess.

When I studied (German and French) literature at the university of Graz, Austria, in the 1970s, we had a very localized mindset: We did not ‘German’ literature, reading hardly any Goethe or Schiller, but Austrian, and by that fact, every new book of a then pretty lively Austrian literary scenery (yet, published predominently by German publishers, but there were a few Austrians, with great pride and zeal!) was really picked up instantly by us – Peter Handke, Thomas Bernhard, but also lesser know names, Klaus Hoffer, Peter Rosei, Elfriede Jelinek (unimaginable to expect her, of all writers, to become a Nobel laureate one day, or her mentor, Alfred Kolleritsch, who is still editing that literary magazine of ‘manuskripte’ in Graz today).

Strangely enough, something hints at a new trend towards such local cultural orientations. The point (and difference, though) is that today’s local pride is inscribed in a context of globalisation.

So at a first glance, our literary world has a very ‘global’ appearence, not for Dan Brown and Harry Potter, but for all those recent novels like “The Kite Runner” or the “History of Tractors in the Ukraine”, or, as it all started somehow a few years ago, with that “God of Small Things” of Kerala born Arundathy Roy which poped up, in 1997/1998 from nowhere and hit bestseller lists all over the world within one year.

But in fact, all those books are only small islands, local peaks, with little secured land in between.

I have no real conclusion at this point. But it is remarkable, I think.

Paris reading – or what do you do with a comic book?

It’s a book fair. But most people line up – for someone drawing and painting often entire pages, in ink and bright colour!

Getting back from Paris and the Salon du Livre, happy to have survived aisles jammed by endless cohorts of youth lining up for their favorite comic book stars, I still have a smile on my face. Those comic book heros have been held responsible, in my youth, for an expected decline in reading. Yet today, all across Europe, and particularly so in France, comic books are, in every respect, a foundation of the book market and of reading culture.

Titeuf, that boy with his daring blond hair, is considered to have had not such a strong year in 2006, with ‘only’ 570800 of his 11th album sold in a country of 50 million (which put Titeuf still on top of the year’s bestseller ranking once again)… Altogether, the French comic book market is growing steadily now for 12 years, and even in 2006, comic books are, with +0.5 %, one of the rare segments of growth.

However, even the dungeon that is French home grown comic book culture, for years has come under huge pressure from Far Eastern contendants, or to put it more simply: Mangas tend to overtake the French heros now more and more often, thereby triggering, according to Livres Hebdo, the serious threat of a ‘bubble’ of overproduction. In this week’s top 20 bestseller list of ALL books sold in France, “Naruto” (with vol. 20) is number 2, while a 50th anniverary volume of Gaston Lagaffe is only sixth.

While Europe this weekend was celebrating not only Gaston Lagaffe, but also the 50th anniverary of the European Union (what a coincidence indeed), I must remember, still smiling, as I said, that question of an American friend of mine who was wondering not so long ago: ‘Is there a comic book tradition in Europe’, he asked.

Kehlmann – at last – not anymore Germany’s #1 bestseller

Bestsellers in Europe are strange these days. Since fall 2005, or for 78 weeks in a row, a novel about two learned men of the 18th century topped all the lists in Germany.  Last year in France, where traditions count probably more then anything else in culture, a book written by an American writer (in English) of Polish Jewish origins about the atrocities of the Eastern front in World War II was the main sensation of the season (Jonathan Littell’s “Les Bienveillantes”). And now, in Germany again, every reader’s eyes are on a first novel about the murder of a farmer family and the portrait of a village community as an anti-idyllic place, published – to make the success even more unlikely – by a small press that so far was better known for its post-leftist ambitions (Andrea Maria Schenkel: Tannöd. Edition Nautilus. For a German review see here.)

But at least Tannöd is a crime novel and thus fits into what seems to be the main European reading pattern in the first place: Well researched and written, somehow authentic and always highly localised crime fiction, which can be found in any country and region, from Greece to Sweden.

By the way, so much for globalisation and culture, when every village has its own direct line to fame!

A global culture and its bottleneck

or, Why translation matters.

Oddly enough, globalisation (and the internet) brought, as for books, not many more translations from all those books from all over the world. Quite the opposite has happened.

The number of translated books has declined continuously in most countries since the mid 1990s, and that is not only true for those ‘smaller’ languages that are considered to be threatened anyway. Even translations of originally English (or French) titles, e.g. into German has been roughly halved since the mid 1990s.

Wanna learn more? Then go to A global culture and its bottleneck.

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