Julian Gough’s four-day visit to Vienna started on November 12th, with a reading at Lane & Merriman’s Irish Pub. The Pub features pictures of Samuel Beckett and pint glasses with Oscar Wilde on them, as well as the latter’s appropriate quotation for such an establishment: “Everything in moderation, including moderation” on the wall. The Pub also provided the perfect setting for a lively reading and a long and engaging Q & A session that touched on a number of important current issues—ra(n)ging from 21st century technology to the pros and cons of a return to a gift economy.
The reading was co-hosted by write:now, the Association of English-Language Writers in Austria, the Irish Embassy in Vienna and the English Department at the University of Vienna, each of whom managed to blackmail bring a fair amount of people to the event—the room was packed and the “antici… pation” was palpable. After I had introduced Julian, he took the imaginary stage. READ MORE…
Mirza Purić (b. 1979) is a translator and musician. A graduate of the University of Vienna, he has been an Editor-at-Large with Asymptote since 2014.
Who are you and what do you translate?
Out of necessity, I’ll translate whatever will bring home the bacon, but what I am is a literary translator. When I set out years ago I worked on fiction almost exclusively. These days I mostly do poetry, I don’t know how that happened. I also play obnoxious music on a bastard instrument which is neither a bass nor a guitar. I’m not sure if this answers the first question.
Describe your current/most recent project. Why is it cool? What should we know about it?
I’m working on a selection of poems by Yusef Komunyakaa, who is one of my favourite poets. There’s this sad cliché that says you can’t write about music just like you can’t dance about sculpture, or something to that effect. Whoever came up with that nugget of brilliance has obviously never read Komunyakaa. Apart from that, I try to make myself available to young, up-and-coming authors, people who swim against the tide and/or operate outside of the mainstream, so I’m always on stand-by for Sarajevo Writer’s Workshop, a group of promising young writers and poets founded by the American writer Stacy Mattingly (check out her essay on a project she led for the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program). As Asymptote’s editor-at-large I constantly snoop about for new talent. This country being what it is, a lot of gifted people don’t have a platform. Asymptote provides one, and I do what I can to help these people hop on it. READ MORE…
Ariadne Press has been publishing translated Austrian literature since 1988 from Riverside, California. Their 260 titles range from exciting new fiction to autobiographies, pioneering critical work, and plays, on diverse subjects from Nazism to science fiction to music and humor. I spoke with editor Karl Johns and founding editor Jorun Johns on the phone about Ariadne, Austria’s modern literary masters, and the intersection of Vienna and California.
Eva Richter: How did Ariadne Press start?
Karl Johns: That’s interesting, how everything starts. The International Arthur Schnitzler Research Association was founded in 1962 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Arthur Schnitzler. When all the German-language refugees came to the United States, California was actually the second most popular goal after New York, in spite of the fact that the Midwest and Chicago already had German speakers and German newspapers and all that. So there were a lot of people in California and Los Angeles. Many of these people survived as psychoanalysts. They were the ones who were most prosperous, maybe. Some of them were the admirers of Arthur Schnitzler, and that’s how that was started, and that led to the journal, which became more and more general, not just Arthur Schnitzler but all of Austrian literature, and it was called Modern Austrian Literature. My mother, Jorun Johns, was one of the editors of that. It sort of grew, and it became the standard place for people to publish articles about modern Austrian authors.
The logical thing was that these people needed to publish books for their academic credentials. And it’s always difficult to find a publisher! So my mother founded Ariadne together with two colleagues, Donald Daviau at UC Riverside and Richard Lawson at San Diego State University. The first book they published was the memoir of Leon Askin, who had begun as an actor in Vienna and emigrated. Since then, Ariadne has put out 260 titles, and we have a number in the pipeline, including Shaking the Empire: Shaking Patriarchy, an anthology of feminist writings from Eastern European languages. All our books are translated into English, with one exception, and the idea is to make Austrian literature, authors, and studies of them available to the English-speaking audience. The Library of Congress does not distinguish Austria from Germany, but it really is a separate tradition.
From afar, judging by our gesticulations and the vehemence with which we’re defending our opinions, you’d think we were discussing the economy, the upcoming elections, pension funds, mortgages, the Hague Tribunal or some other inevitable aspect of our daily lives. Hell no! We’re trying to pose the dumbest question (and succeeding)! Meho is the reigning champion. He just keeps ’em coming: “What do you call a male turtle? What do you call a male squirrel? A male giraffe? A male seal? A male shark?” Someone counters, “A male shark is called ‘Jaws!’” Meho doesn’t let this phase him and on he goes, “If you have a goldfish in your aquarium, how can you tell if it’s male or female?”
“Well?” “You give it a bit of fish food: if he eats it, it’s male. If she eats it, it’s a female!” From zoology, we move on to physics: “How come you get circles on the water when you toss in a square brick?” The hot summer afternoon, dripping with alcohol, goes by in ostensible happiness and an easygoing atmosphere until it’s time to pay up—a bleak hour when dark clouds converge over everyone’s faces. Each of us has an overdue bill, a debt, an unpaid bar tab, a pair of shoes with worn-out soles, a car or a washing machine on the fritz… In the drunken stupor the conversation veers off to literature, as in a dream when images follow one another by some alien logic, and someone tells a story about Ivo Andrić. During his time as a consul in Rome, he met the Turkish consul, an exceptionally well-educated, wealthy, handsome man with a beautiful family who would regularly get wasted on cognac. Andrić asked him about it, and the man replied: “You know, Sir, as soon as I have a drink, I turn into another man—a ‘second man,’ if you will.” “So?” “Well, this second man then says, ‘I’d like a drink as well,’ and so it goes.” Meho interrupts the story, “If that’s the case, I’m the third man.” “How come? “I start off with a double!”
In the science fiction of movies and television, the future looks more or less uniform. Digital technology is (somehow) even more omnipresent than it is today. A continuous mosaic of audio and video spills across every available surface. A glass skyline stretches toward the horizon with sleek automobiles gliding past the frame. If human culture has existed, say, for more than a few decades, the evidence of that is not visible.
This kind of scenario is a reflection of contemporary reality, of course. Science fiction has traditionally dressed up the future in contemporary styles. And this presentism seems justified today. In our swiftly urbanizing world, the built environment often appears as if it had emerged overnight, without precedent. The megalopolises of Asia and Latin America, with their endless high-rise apartment blocks and elevated thoroughfares, seem to presage something universal for humankind, at least while we can keep industrial civilization going.
But there is another kind of future city, one defined by the accretion of time, where reality is defined by the weight of history rather than its absence. The late Austrian polymath Gert Jonke made a career evoking such places. His complex, often bizarre novels explore how the past continually impinges on the present, particularly in Awakening to the Great Sleep War, first published in 1982 and brought to English last year by Dalkey Archive Press.