European Literature Days 2018 | Day 4

The Courage and Will to Learn Something New

Accompanied by wonderful music from the “Contraston” trio, a chamber music ensemble from Budapest, whose creative repertoire includes both Baroque and Jazz, the European Literature Days 2018 draw to a close. At Schloss Spitz, many festival guests meet again, as well as writers and filmmakers, to attend today’s prize-giving ceremony for the “Austrian Book Trade Honorary Award for Tolerance in Thought and Action”.

This year the prize goes to the writer Ilija Trojanow. The talks preceding the award ceremony already highlight how, throughout his life, Ilija Trojanow has engaged with the exploration of the Other, which includes people who think differently, and particularly foreign lands and cultures. Yet, he has not only concentrated on this, but observed very closely, too, whenever he ventured into new territory and showed interest in new and foreign things. He even refers to this in the interview on the stage after receiving the award: writers are often criticized for trying “to explain the world so smartly and for supporting utopias and ideals”, but exactly why should they actually know everything better? Trojanow’s answer is that they might not know everything better, but purely because of their metier many writers are in the unusual and also privileged situation of being able to take the time to perceive and observe the world. Time is therefore a crucial factor. How many people could afford, like he has done, to take a year to travel around the world simply to write about it? A writer has time to closely observe the world and so to compile a highly exact, albeit not perfect picture of it. On his travels, he has driven through Central Asia, among other places, where he encountered many big cities in which there was not a single bookshop. That made him feel sad, because during the quest for truth no medium gives a person access to the world with such clarity, and at the same time so comprehensively and with all its contradictions, as a print book. Literature has the capacity to adopt perspectives and to drop them again, to dig deeper to investigate human existence. This is also a major precondition for societies’ potential to embrace democracy. The Internet partly means a ghettoizing of one’s personal, previously created interests and pursued paths. We are to this extent treading water by perpetually circulating and wading in the same pre-confirmed channels of personal existence, rather than discovering new pathways. “You find what you’re not looking for in a bookshop”, says Trojanow with his deep, pleasant-sounding voice. He reports, not without grinning about it, how last summer he got locked in overnight in Innsbruck’s “Wagner’sche” bookstore and stumbled, among other things, upon erotic literature that he was previously totally unfamiliar with.

Trojanow is delighted to receive an award for “tolerance in thought and action”. However, he also emphasizes that he is an intolerant person when the focus is campaigning against power. And in our world, as it exists today, there is still far too much need to act against perfidious and all-encompassing political and economic power structures. The writer warns about the ongoing sinister and dystopian effects of prevailing turbo capitalism. In response to the question what appears to him to be sacred, he says only common goods and rights are sacred for him, and that they stand above everything else. For example, the Charter of Human Rights. In other words, the opposite of a comprehensively commercialized world order. He recounts the brutal absurdity of our present age in which even relief projects have to produce profits.

I haven’t yet read any of Ilija Trojanow’s works, and after reflecting these thoughts, which I could only partially describe here, I am more than motivated to catch up very soon on this omission. I’m pulling my suitcase across the carpet of pebble stones stretching between the castle walls at Schloss Spitz; I enjoy a last dish of delicious dumpling soup and bid farewell to many new friends whom I was privileged to meet at this festival. The shuttle bus is departing for Vienna Airport, and on the right is the beautiful, murky Danube, which it finally leaves behind. The mist of the past few days still hangs over Wachau, but my spirit feels a little brighter after these days spent exchanging ideas with my colleagues, writing and, it’s true, maybe even a little thanks to the excellent Grüner Veltliner from Spitz.

llinca Florian

Ilinca Florian, b. 1983 in Bucharest and now living in Berlin, is a German-speaking writer. She worked for the Berlin Grips Theatre and is a director of short and documentary films. Her debut novel Als wir das Lügen lernten was published in spring 2018.
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