Stefan Sprenger [Liechtenstein]
Interview translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Do you see your work as fitting into the traditions of European fiction--or indeed any national or regional tradition?
I'm not part of a Liechtenstein tradition of literature, because there is no Liechtenstein literature, and never has been. There are a handful of authors in Liechtenstein, but they are individuals and solitary; there are no groups and no common ground. Roman Banzer, the director of Literaturhaus Liechtenstein and editor of the publishing house's own annual, sees things a bit differently: for him there certainly is a literature of Liechtenstein, even if it's only been a tenuous thread through the past few decades.
However, in terms of regions I'm in a very interesting spot: to the south there’s Romansh and its arrows aimed at German; to the west there’s the Swiss war of four quarrelling languages; to the east is Austria's fight to define its blindly innocent self, and to the north are the rumbles and grumbles of the Bavarian Free State. In the middle of all this there’s this money-crazed and nobility-whipped fossil of a principality that is Liechtenstein—11 municipalities, 36,000 inhabitants—which is attempting, despite a curious mixture of ideological torpor and commercial hyperactivity, to smuggle some interesting stuff out as well. So I’m inclined, loaded as I am with concerns about Liechtenstein and what lies just beyond its borders, to make a bricolage out of foreign traditions: that’s the freedom of being in the periphery.
Are there any exciting trends, movement, or schools in contemporary Liechtenstein fiction? Who do you feel are the overlooked contemporary authors writing in Liechtenstein who should be more widely read and translated?
How could there be one? Literature and publishing need a critical mass in order to function. The Nanoprincipality of Liechtenstein isn’t even remotely close to this size. There’s also the fact that for the past century our national sport has been banking secrecy, keeping absolutely silent and discreet. There are individual books that manage to encapsulate the local mixture of history, neuroticism, dreamlike qualities, pragmatism, and defiance; all this glides smoothly together into a book like Mathias Ospelt’s The League, which was, unsurprisingly, made out of texts composed over a decade for his cabaret troupe "The League." To my knowledge there is only one indigenous, full-fledged, and radically subjective literary counterproposal: both of Iren Nigg’s short story collections, "Fever Time" and "Man wortet sich die Orte selbst." If there were such a thing as "life-friendly" stem cell research for languages and dialects—and thus for free play of beauty and pleasure—it could be found in Nigg’s stories. And really, all Liechtenstein’s authors deserve to be discovered and translated.
Who are the contemporary European writers from other countries that are writing compelling fiction?
Per Olov Enquist (The Visit of the Royal Physician, Lewi’s Journey) and Uwe Timm (Penumbra). Recently passed away but still, in my eyes, part of the literary continuum and unsurpassed in their quality: Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) and W. G. Sebald (Austerlitz). For a book that’s beyond the standard narrative—A does something, B writes about it—Peter Handke (My Year in the No-Man’s Bay): H gets out of the house and writes about it.
Are there enough publishing outlets in Liechtenstein for contemporary fiction? Is there a market for literary fiction in Liechtenstein?
No. There isn’t a publishing house that would bring out the professional, long-term, and programmatic literature that comes out in and around Liechtenstein. That would presume a small national market: let’s say, to be generous, that such books would sell 500 to 800 copies. Those numbers are all the reason that there isn’t a publishing house here. It would only be possible if the government decided to use state funds for such an endeavor. Since literature is always a betrayal—especially considering Liechtenstein’s banking secrecy—we’re far more likely to have a Royal Liechtenstein Space Station on Titan than to finance a publisher of Liechtenstein’s literature.
Do you want your work to be translated? Why or why not?
No, of course not. I never would have taken part in BEF 2011 if the Archbishop hadn’t ordered it and if the royal service hadn’t threatened me with confiscation of my state-subsidized electric bike.
Given a choice, would you prefer a faithful, literal translation of your work or an interpretive re-imagining of it? Why?
Translation is digitalization: the sound is broken down into smaller bits; the amplitudes are decreased from above and below; new housing is used; it’s all consistently mixed. Most of what a writer is interested in—complexity, hints, melodies, rhythms—must be lost. It’s an absolute and irrevocable loss. At best, it can be replaced by a similar sensitivity in other languages, if not made better. The translator is always a coauthor. I personally prefer to have an intense exchange with my translator, because both of us can come away with a better understanding of the text and become more confident in the transition from one language to another. As the text finds new form and sound in the target language, it stops playing on my desk.
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