German

The Bureaucrat’s Recommended Reading List

The unending and illogical madness of government bureaucracy didn’t truly hit me until I worked for the government. For one year, the term kafkaesque permeated my life and my unfortunately battered psyche. Sure, I had read plenty of Kafka’s works up to that time, but they didn’t resonate in the same way until I found myself running in circles only to ram head first into a wall of slow policies and paperwork covered in absurdity resulting in bad handwriting and 4:30 martinis. But this sort of insanity can be found in other works by other authors as well.

Bureaucrat's Reading List

According to Merriam-Webster, Kafkaesque is defined as :  of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially :  having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality <Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays>

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Catch-22. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” One of the great American novels of the 20th Century, Joseph Heller’s World War II-set narrative finds bombardier Yossarian caught in an illogical roundabout that exams the insanity, idiocy, and other problematic facets of war.

Metropole. When a linguist boards the wrong plane in Budapest, he arrives in an unknown city where he can’t seem to understand anything anyone is saying. There is excessive queuing and official information is constantly changing from one day to the next.

The Passion According to G.H. A claustrophobic, ecstatic stream of consciousness begins when the maid quits, leading G.H. to go into the former employee’s room to find it spotless save for a cockroach that she goes on to kill. Language, memories, and philosophies are tangled around the lifeless vermin for inspection.

Invitation to a Beheading. I’ve always maintained that if you covered up Vladimir Nabokov’s name on the front cover and gave it to a new reader, they would immediately assume it was written by Kafka based on the style, tone, and premise. In an unnamed country, Cincinnatus C. is sentenced to death by beheading for being found guilty of “gnostical turpitude,” an undefined crime.

The Joke. This is Milan Kundera’s first novel and written during the brewing Prague Spring. Ludvik is sentenced to hard labor after sending a friend a joke written on a postcard that pokes fun at the communist regime. He is turned in and his trial is nothing more than a kangaroo court. 

The Garden Party.  The young Hugo is sent by his father to a garden party to meet a local bureaucrat who his father is certain will employ Hugo. The party-goers mistake him for a seasoned employee and soon Hugo is put in charge of liquidating the liquidation office. He fools them all by quickly mutating his language to that of the bureaucracy.

The CastleThis list wouldn’t be complete without Kafka, right? There are so many to choose from, but The Trial and The Castle are always cited as the most “kafkaesque” of them all. K. is a land surveyor who has been summoned to an unnamed town. He keeps trying to get into the castle to speak with a mysterious and unseen official. Paperwork and the unknowable are just two blockades to his pursuits.

These are just a few selections. Do you have any further recommendations?

Selected dialogue from The Garden Party,

The Garden Party


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is Abandoned. The creator shows a photo from Berlin that is excellent and writes: “I’ve always loved wandering inside and taking photographs of abandoned buildings. Ruins are fascinating: in these physical spaces, the past, present, and future are one, and time becomes fuzzy.”

I am currently working on a piece of writing that deals a lot with abandoned places, especially ones that are right in front of us, but somehow are forgotten or overlooked, hiding secrets and history. I once wrote a post titled, “Cities That Inspire Us For all Sorts of Reasons,” which included two photos relevant to this topic. Below are my photos of the block around the corner from where I stayed during my last bout in the former GDR city of Leipzig, Germany. I come back to these photos of the abandoned schoolhouse often and have even written a story about it.

Places, spaces, and how we relate to them in fiction and writing is a top fascination of mine. I thank you for indulging me and if you want to see some more excellent abandoned photos, look at the Doublewhirler photo-blog, where they have captured some haunting images of the graffitied bobsled run from the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie

I’ve never participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge before and because of last week’s post–Bookishly Me–I felt motivated for two reasons. 1) No one has ever seen my face in this here land and 2) my undying love for Kafka and Prague. My reflection off the case surrounding a model from a film version of Franz Kafka’s short story, “In the Penal Colony.” The film never came to fruition and the model finds its home at the Franz Kafka Museum in the Lesser Quarter of the city.

I suggest going to this museum. It reminds me of a weird visual art exhibition if curated by David Lynch. Kafka’s writing is already absurd, horrifying, and kafkaesque. To whomever curates this museum–bravo. It can be so uncanny that there is even a warning sign to children at the cashier’s desk and I saw a crying girl brought out by her mother. This museum is so odd, that there is a water statue out front of two men peeing toward each other.

I have a few photos that count as “selfies” that might have been more interesting, but, alas, they showed too much of my face and for the time being, I would rather be obscured by a clay model of a man being tortured.

If you haven’t already, read “In the Penal Colony.” You can read it for free online, both in English and the original German. Enjoy!

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post script While typing this post, I accidentally typed Frank Kafka instead of Franz. I imagine Frank Kafka lives above a laundromat in Queens and enjoys Indian roti take-out. One day, someone will create a Lynchian curated museum to him, as well.

Celebrating the 200th Post at Acid Free Pulp

How exciting! Yesterday marked the 200th post on Acid Free Pulp. In celebration (and because it’s Friday and time to goof off), I’ve compiled some bookish bric-a-brac for your perusing. Here are some internet finds that I’m finding amusing–or self-indulgent–today. Enjoy!

  1. If you haven’t had your daily dose (or any dose) of German poetry in English translation, I recently put up a new one on my personal project, Translations of Dead German Poets. Haven’t heard of avant-garde poet Else Lasker-Schüler? Well, now you have!
  2. This morning, I read a Q&A with debut novelist Yangsze Choo about her new book The Ghost Bride, which finds its inspiration in Chinese folklore about a woman who is asked to become the wife of a dead man. I’m excited and you should be, too.
  3. Short stories need to make a comeback and I’m a huge proponent of making the push for commuters (trains, bus types) finding the joy in the medium. Here is a list with links to the stories included of classic stories by Margaret Atwood, Grace Paley, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury and more for your short reading pleasure.
  4. If you didn’t catch JJ Abrams talking about the new book on the Colbert Report last night, you need to watch the clip. Co-written with novelist Doug Dorst, S looks super rad and I just want to touch it. Take a look at the photos on Amazon. It seems like some sort of mash-up of BS Johnson and  Mark Z. Danielewski. Me want!
  5. A new art project in London is designing city book benches inspired by such classics as The Wind in the Willows and 1984. The project hopes to raise enough funds for 50-70 BookBenches. Check the photos here.

‡For an honorable mention (or dishonorable?), I point you to this strange and cringeworthy news article. After reading it, I thought, “What poor book was he using?” Librarians and  book lovers, alike, beware….

Have any Friday fun to share? Please leave your finds in the comments.

Cities That Inspire Us For All Sorts of Reasons

This weekend marks the second year that I’ve been writing Acid Free Pulp. My first post was titled Prague and it was conceived after I returned back from a trip, which included a visit to the Czech Republic. Prague is one of my favorite cities for various reasons including its ability to inspire me. The hometown of one of my all time favorite writers, Franz Kafka, my mind constantly whirls with ideas when I’m in Prague. Even on a follow-up trip, as I sat on a wall overlooking the Vltava River, the skeleton of an idea came to me, which I was able to flesh out later in our apartment and on my flight back to the US. What came of this visit was a novella concerning a mysterious event in Prague (when I am done with my current project, I hope to return to it and expand on the characters and plot).

As I was contemplating the blog’s 2 year anniversary, I read a profile in New York magazine for their Winter Travel edition, which focused on “lesser-known cities for equally fine wine, just-as-ancient architecture, and even-more-secret warehouse parties.” They profiled Leipzig, a city about an hour away by train from Berlin. While Berlin is also a favorite destination and I’ve spent a good deal of time there, there is Leipzig, a former East German city that had once been grand before the World Wars.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig is a city I have mixed feelings about, but it has inspired me exponentially. I have written some of my best stories while living there or now, thinking back to it. It is a strange place where beauty and destruction have been forced together. There are elegant villas lining some streets, with a row of odd Soviet bloc apartments (plattenbauten) still standing and sticking out like sore thumbs. I’ve twice stayed in one of these apartment buildings where all personality is stripped and the shower can only be used when the sink is turned on. A third time in Leipzig, I stayed much longer and lived on a different side of the city with abandoned warehouses that had been turned into businesses or which were normally abandoned save for the midnight parties they hosted. Leipzig is a former city of greatness that is striving to retain that glory. I took the above photo in the neighborhood where I lived the third time. The buildings crumble on one street and empty spaces are being used by students for art and literary readings.

It is a city that inspires me in a different way than Prague. Where Prague is a city filled with rich colors and beautiful buildings, Leipzig crumbles around its own beauty. Part of it is full of life, where a large portion is still a ghost town since the dissolution of the USSR.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig, Germany.

There are many cities that inspire me–Prague, New York, Bratislava, Edinburgh, to name a few–but something still holds me to Leipzig. I do not know if I will ever return; I feel as if my time there is done with. I have soaked up as much as I can and the friends I have there are starting to float away to other places, too. As I walked the streets, the thoughts of its great past always came over me.

Leipzig has been home to many great writers and musicians. Also, the second largest book fair in Germany takes place there–Leipziger Buchmesse. Many of the photos I have of the city are of crumbling buildings and graffiti but the city is quite beautiful in many places. Here are a few.

Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life

By now, most of us know that the new incarnation of the Doctor will be Scottish actor, Peter Capaldi. He’s fantastic and I am extremely curious to see how he’ll be as the new Time Lord.

But…

In 1995, he won an Academy Award for a short film he wrote and directed titled Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The film focuses on one night as Herr Kafka is trying to write his famous novella, The Metamorphosis. He can’t seem to get that opening line right. What shall poor Gregor transform into? Kafka is continually interrupted by a strange knife sharpener, a gaggle of girls having a Christmas Eve party, and a costume saleswoman. Below is the video for the entire short film. Enjoy!

“Gregor Samsa, blah, blah, blah.”

Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind

spring awakeningSpring Awakening (or The Awakening of Spring as it had been translated into in the past, or the more closely Spring’s Awakening because of the original German title, Frühlings Erwachen) is a particular favorite of mine. Wedekind wrote the play in the late 1800s, but it was not performed until 1905. I have never seen it staged before–although, I know there was some kind of musical adaptation a few years ago–but, as a written text, it works very exquisitely.

“Oh, this feeling of shame!–What good to me is an encyclopedia that won’t answer me concerning the most important question in life?”

These are the words that are declared by Moritz, one of the three main characters of the play. Spring Awakening concerns itself with the fourteen year old school children of the village. There is not much distinguishing the adults (except their funny names: Knochenbruch, Zungenschlag, Fliegentod, tr. broken bone, tonguing or a manner of speaking but literally “tongue hitting,” fly’s death) and they serve to illuminate the lack of sexual education that the children are getting and are often the abusers both physical and emotional.

The play deals with abortion, sex, homosexuality, rape, suicide, and incest, which to say the least, were shameful topics to discuss during the time of the play’s conception. Young Wendla’s older sister has given birth and when her mother goes on about the stork delivering the baby, Wendla insists that her mother tell her the truth. She becomes flustered and refuses to tell her the truth. Instead, her mother concocts the idea that babies only come to women who are married and extremely in love with their husbands. I’m sure, close reader, we all have an idea how that will end. Meanwhile, Wendla’s schoolmates, Moritz and Melchior are also discussing sex. Melchior seems to be the only one of the school children to know anything about the matter and tells Moritz that he will write it all out for him with diagrams included.

The play sometimes carries the subtitle, A Children’s Tragedy. The story unfolds unpleasantly for the three characters because of the undue stress they are put under and the uselessness of the adults. The plot itself is quite intricate for a piece that takes about an hour to read. In his introduction to the 1909 translation, Francis J. Ziegler writes: “‘Frühlings Erwachen’ may not be a pleasant read exactly, but there is no forgetting it after one has perused it; there is an essential strength about it which grips the intellect.”

He is so right in these few words. I could go more into the plot of the play but it would be ill of me to ruin it for those who have never read it. It is boiling with misery, emotions, and brutality. The writing feels like it is part of modernity and a bold piece of art from the later 19th Century. The characters of the children are fleshed out even in just the written word without the help of a staged performance. Each sentences oozes desperation and melancholia. Moritz, Melchior, and Wendla’s frustration is vivid.

You can read Spring Awakening for free at Project Gutenberg (English translation) or Amazon (original German).

This is Number 2 on The [International] Reading List.

Reading & Chatting at the Bridge Series

bridgeYesterday was all rain and chill in New York City. So what better way to spend a damp evening than to go to The Bridge Series event hosted by Goethe Insitut. The Bridge Series “is the first independent reading and discussion series in New York City devoted to literary translation.”

I was pleasantly surprise. I can be a tough critique when it comes to readings (meaning, normally they are incredibly boring). But these translators chose mighty fine selections and their discussion after the reading was quite interesting. The translators included Ross Benjamin, Isabel Fargo Cole, Tess Lewis, and Tim Mohr. All four are working from German to English.

The standout of this whole event was how exciting all of the selections were. If they are not already released, the novels will be available very soon this year in the US (the UK already has some available in translation). Also, for any Kafka aficionados out there, Ross Benjamin is currently working on a translation of Kafka’s complete Diaries.

There were two questions that most peaked my interest. The first being, what happens if the author includes a blatant error in the original. An example given was an author writing about New York City had listed Gansevoort Street as being down near the World Trade Center (when in reality, it is over west in the Meatpacking District). The original author did this because he liked the sound of the name. It was convenient that he is a contemporary author because the translator was able to discuss this point with him and it was subsequently corrected in the translation. But whether or not such a mistake should be corrected was discussed further with one of the most notorious errors: Frank Kafka putting a sword in the hand of the Statue of Liberty in his work, Amerika. 

The second question was about how contemporary German literature (and foreign lit as a whole) has changed recently and how does that apply to translating. The translators hit upon the fact that many references are no longer solely Germany/Austria/Switzerland based. They also incorporate many North American trends and concepts. The translators didn’t weigh on whether they thought this was a good or bad thing but they did note that they didn’t have to look up as many culture reference anymore.

All in all, I was delighted to go to last night’s Bridge Series. I recommend it. Not only do they cover German literature but other languages as well. You can visit their website for more information.

Emerging German playwright, Juliane Stadelmann talks writing, theatre, and jet skis

Not only is Juliane Stadelmann a talented emerging playwright, she is [I hope!] the first  in a line of interviews on Acid Free Pulp. I wanted to showcase her talent and get her perspective on writing and publishing outside of the US.

Juliane is originally from Salzwedel, Germany. She has studied as an actor, worked as a surf instructor in Hawaii and France, and co-edited Tippgemeinschaft 2013. This past year she worked in collaboration with an American playwright to translate and stage dramatic readings of both of their plays in New York City. She currently studies writing at Deutsches Literturinstitut Leipzig and was awarded a place this year in the Stuck für Stuck program at Schauspielhaus in Vienna.

js1How did you make the leap from actor to playwright?

It was not really a leap I think. I’ve been playwriting even before I started acting and going to drama school in Berlin. It was more a thing of changing priorities. After drama school, I felt like I loved being on stage but at the same time I realized working as an actress cuts my personal freedom in a really weird way. From psycho group processes in a company over weird castings to how the fuck am I gonna earn money with that?? So I decided to focus on writing and applied at the Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. I got in and finally had the space and flexibility I needed to be creative and happy but still theatrical.

You recently were involved in a translation project with an American playwright. I know this was the first time you had your work translated. How was the process? Were there aspects you expected or didn’t?

The technical process was getting in touch with each other by a workshop in Leipzig lead by the translator, Uljana Wolf, and then work on our translations over the winter and present the work in New York in April where we had another great workshop with the distinguished Walser-translator Susan Bernofsky. The process on a personal level was quite unusual I think: I met my translation partner here in Germany personally which has been a quite luxurious situation because usually you are not interacting with your translator on that personal level I guess. Still it was hard for me to give my text away to him. (Maybe, especially because I got to know him.) It was harder than giving it to a theatre (because that’s what naturally happens with dramatic texts). Maybe because I was afraid he’d change too much by putting it into English. While our annotations went back and forth via email I was thinking all the time: Hopefully he understands what it all MEANS! Like literally. I know I shouldn’t have but that’s the truth. Putting text on stage is an act of translation, too, but it allows room for interpretation whereas putting a text into a different language might change it completely. You really have to trust your translator. I had to learn that.

But also I appreciated the things I learned about my own language. And it’s true what [another collaborator] said in one of our presentations: You don’t have to be fluent in the language you are translating but you have to be perfect in your own language. And there is something really true about it. You sometimes touch the border of almost untranslatable phrases…that’s where it becomes really interesting not only as a translator but as a writer.

You’ve been involved with prestigious awards and workshops in Vienna and Graz recently. What have these experiences been like?

For me it has been great. I know that other writers feel different about it, but I think I have a very competitive character. I would trying being an athlete if I wasn’t trying to become an author. And if I was 15 pounds lighter, of course. But that’s a different issue. I like this mixture of competition and creative gathering, because usually those drama awards go hand in hand with some workshops before. So it’s not just about winning. You come together with other authors, in groups of maybe 4 to 6 and some mentors (dramaturges, directors, theatre heads, writers – anyone who is already successfully making a living with words or theatre work) and you read and discuss your text. Sometimes, as in Graz, you even get a director and actors to try some first rehearsals and stage concepts. So it’s a great chance to really work with your words! Critiques in those workshops are often sharper and maybe more honest than in the seminar-situation of my writing class in Leipzig, beause we don`t know each other that well and we all want to have “the best play in the universe” to MAYBE win the award at the end. I really enjoy it though it can be frustrating sometimes of course. You are compared to each other all the time and influenced by the critical words of the jury maybe more than by your own ideas. But that’s something you have to learn to deal with in general.

Although, Austria and Germany share, to an extent, the same language and certain historical and cultural points, are you finding any differences in the theatre world between the two countries?

That’s a hard question. I guess a real theatre-reviewer could write a whole essay about that issue. I can only say that theatre in the German speaking world is diverse in general. Even from Hamburg to Leipzig you’ll find different theatres with different concepts and a different approach to scenic work. That’s the nice thing about theater and playwriting: take one sentence out of a play and every group of a director and some actors will create something different out of it. Besides this, the ensemble-system exists in both of the countries which still is something really “old-school” that other European countries don’t have anymore in that strong of a way. I think tradition still plays a big role in German theatres on stage and also behind the scenes–in some more, in some less. But the hierarchies inside the business are strong and it’sworth being reformed in Germany and Austria. But that’s my personal point of view.

What is the German literary world like? How is it for young, emerging writers and what is the process?

That’s another question which is hard to answer. A common and popular way to get some attention is to win some “Literaturpreis” (literature prize) given away by some publishing house, TV stations or magazines. You apply and you can be awarded with some cash and maybe some publishing deals but there’s no guarantee to be successful after it. Also many young writers think the way those awards are given away are cheesy and you have to write “commercially” to be successful in this game. I’d love to know how you write commercially though…I’d be ruling the world with my books then! But I guess everyone has to decide which game to play. I like having those workshops around any award or prize because whatever you win or don`t win, you can always get some work done with those people and you have a well crafted text after that process. But not all the prizes go with workshops. Some are just pure gambling: Win or loose. I never took part in one of those.

Another way is residencies given away by German cities or states (Bundesländer). They usually go with a free apartment for some months and a little grant. So you have a chance to focus on your work for a couple of months. But usually those are given away to people who already have had some little success or at least got printed somewhere.

And then you can of course just do your own thing. Publish your stuff by yourself and try to keep it underground and individual. There are good possibilities to get support for those projects, at least here in Saxony where I live right now. It’s a lot of organizing and paperwork but you are free do make your own decisions and you also get to know other people publishing.

In general, I guess in the literary world it’s still more complicated to get one’s foot into the door than into the playwright world, because I feel like the general need for good young plays right now is bigger than the need for another novel. But I don’t have figures to proof that. It’s just a feeling.

Jet ski or 100 bottles wine? Which is a better prize?

Are you kidding me?? Every author should win a JETSKI! We would all be better writers and human beings, I`m sure. And I could finally work on my big-wave-career because from a certain wave size on you need a jetski that pulls you into the wave as your human paddle-arms are not able to speed up the way a jetski does. You have to be as fast as the wave to be able to catch it. That’s what I’m talking about!