30 November 2011

A carve-up or a meritocracy? Hamburg's literary prizes.

Alongside six grants of six thousand Euro each for new German literature, a team at Hamburg's Kulturbehörde headed by Wolfgang Schömel grant three literary translation prizes of € 2500 each year. The literary translation prizes are exclusively for translations into German. I submitted an application including a sample translation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 1930s modernist masterpiece "A Scot's Quaire", a work largely unknown in the German speaking world. Have a dip here into the novel if you're not familiar with it.

Dr. Schömel informed us per email that there were 194 applicants in total for these nine prices, including the three for translation. Of these only ten were translators. Not to have won a prize which - purely statistically speaking - you've got a one in three chance of winning is quite the opposite of inspiring.

Under "Förderpreis für Übersetzung" I understood something like supporting young talent, a prize to bring unknown translators on their way to their first proper contracts for literary translation. Not a bit of it.
Ingo Herzke, one of the winning translators, has done nearly all the German A. L. Kennedy & Allan Bennet's "The Uncommon Reader"; Susanne Höbel does, among other things, the German versions of the Graham Swift novels. Ursel Allenstein, the final winner, translates from Swedish and Danish and has a row of published translations to her credit.

So these prizes "award achievement" do they? Then you need to have a serious read of poet & satirical artist Tom Leonard's critique of prize-giving inside the literature industry which is spread, magnificently throughout his journals of the last two years.

11 November 2011

On filthbook (like this!)

I returned from filthbook the other night with the predictable feelings – vacuously psyched-up, morosely enjoying the illusion of having done something, while knowing full well that a kitsch, peter-pan nowhere land had again managed to rob me of ninety minutes of my life, time which I shall never again recover. I came across my closest friend from my young adulthood –aged twenty-two, I’d broken off the friendship with him completely, an action that had meant a lot to me. There he was, taking a home-made quiche out of the oven, sending out his charming, playful, bashful smile in photos taken thirteen years later. Suppressing the separation-pain and necessity of the break – buzz, buzz, click, click – I click him the pre-formulated filth request – or, to use the official party language, I filth him –  which he filths back, accepted, without message, some days later. So now we’re friends in filth on filthbook & if we meet, by chance, on the street in Edinburgh – him say coming up from one of the Cowgate pubs and me going down that street by the back of the Tron, past where the City Cafe used to be – we’re less likely now to blank each other, though the objective shame flowing under the swapping of Broughton High School news would only be the greater, because of the official link between us in the book.
It makes me think of card-carrying party members in one-party states; of course most of them know and knew in private that being in the pary is the lowest of the sheepish low; but being in the party can get you jobs, get you deals you wouldn’t have got, kid you into a tolerable self-image. Is that a bad-taste comparison? -  however bad-taste filthbook may be, it doesn’t torture or kill you, like the apparatchiks did. I wonder. The middle-aged man sounding of in front of 104 filthy-friends about the coolest piece of 1990s techno he’s currently listening to – isn’t he desensitising a piece of his consciousness for ever, murdering it actually? And who are we, sitting with bags under our eyes, flicking through these posts – bystanders, curious for 0.25 seconds, the vicarious pleasure not worth the skin of scum settling thereby on the soul.
But must finish now. Writing this article, I’ve been neglecting my duties on The Book for far too long.