IGCS Artist in Residence, Fall 2016: Kathrin Röggla

August 26-September 8, 2016

photo by Karsten Thielker

photo by Karsten Thielker

The Institute for German Cultural Studies was especially delighted and honored to host Kathrin Röggla—Vice President of Berlin’s Academy of Arts and prize-winning author of multifaceted work in narrative prose, theater texts, radio plays, and documentary film—as IGCS Artist-in-Residence for two weeks at the start of our fall semester. Over the course of her stay she generously shared excerpts from her newest literary work, critical thoughts on “stuttering” as aesthetic strategy, and poetological reflections on the futurity of contemporary literature in relation to global capital. Three key events are described in more detail below. A video recording of Kathrin Röggla’s Cornell Lecture on Contemporary Aesthetics (Sept. 6) is available on the IGCS Website <http://igcs.cornell.edu/home/visitors/aesthetics> and through CornellCast http://www.cornell.edu/video/kathrin-roggla-contemporary-aesthetics-2016.

Literary Reading: Nachtsendung: Unheimliche Geschichten

The German word unheimlich, typically translated as uncanny, describes the occurrence of the strange within the familiar. It indicates the frightening moment when what is very cozy or intimate reverses into its horrifying opposite. This reversal appears in and through language and reveals itself as a ghostly presence in the dark and hidden corners of private and social interactions. Kathrin Röggla uses the uncanny as categorical framework for her new book Nachtsendungen:.Unheimliche Geschichten, from which she read for the first time to an exclusive audience at the A. D. White House on Monday, August 29. Röggla presented three of forty chapters from her most recent book, which combines years of research and interviews, an ethnographical gaze, and a fine ear for dark nuances in the language of a ruptured contemporary moment characterized by new and alienating forms of communication. Her literary language brings the uncanny into presence and combines larger political and social questions with images from daily life and individual perspectives. One can find something uncanny in a bourgeois family in a province in Germany or at the G7 summit in Brussels, in the inner monologue of a simultaneous interpreter, translating the endless confessions of war criminals. One can find it in a dark cab parked at an airport in Mumbai, in liminal spaces, hidden corners, and in various forms of mis-communication and interpretation. It appears in the paradoxical language of economies and politics. This happens for example in one extended inner monologue set in a room full of chatter at a political conference in Berlin, as participants wait for a minute of silence to begin. Röggla creates neologisms such as Tatsachen- und Gefühlskonferenz and Schweigeminutenstartmusik, and in the process invents a form of word art that emphasizes the moment of rupture, the rifts and cracks of contemporary public discourses as well as the playful and creative capacity of a literary language, with its potential to resist and reformulate, to access and to show an alternative to a language of pure numbers and empty phrases. (Annekatrin Sommer)

Compact Seminar: Stottern als ästhetische Strategie

On Friday, September 2, IGCS Artist-in-Residence Kathrin Röggla conducted the compact seminar Stottern als ästhetische Strategie for faculty and graduate students. The seminar aimed to differentiate the aesthetic from the pathologic discourse of stuttering and to trace the former as a strategy that destabilizes and simultaneously expands the scope of language. Based on Gilles Deleuze’s piece “He stuttered” and two of Röggla’s own texts – the essay “Stottern und Stolpern” from the 2013 collection besser wäre: keine and an article that was published as “Ästhetik des Stotterns: Wenn die Sprache ins Schlingern gerät” in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on September 3, 2016 – the seminar discussion revolved around stuttering as metaphor, the cultural and historical dimensions of stuttering, stuttering as a systemic intervention that causes language to flounder, and the question of whether stuttering can be consciously used as a strategy.

Kathrin Röggla, who led the seminar together with literary scholar Christian Metz (Feodor Lynen Fellow and Visiting Scholar from the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt), situated the discussion at Cornell as part of an ongoing dialogue between this year’s Artist-in-Residence and scholars in Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Ithaca. Drawing on examples of stuttering in popular culture such as Woody Allen, The Who, Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” and David Bowie’s “Changes,” the writer talked about her interest in the literary and social stakes of this widespread phenomenon. Röggla’s work is often based on interviews and conversations. She proposes a dialogic notion of literature predicated on the belief that writers ought to explore world views and perspectives different from their own. As Röggla explained with respect to both German “Reality TV” and her own experience as radio host, the audience’s longing for authenticity is often countered by a professional and flawless public appearance. Based on this observation and her experience as an Austrian exchange student in Berlin who was surprised to learn how little German students stuttered in comparison to their Austrian counterparts, Röggla asked after the cultural and historical conditions of stuttering, and after the absence of stuttering as well. Addressing the question of why the idea behind Kleist’s Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden was replaced by a rhetoric favoring stutterless and faultless oral production that leaves no time for speakers to think about their words, the discussion then turned to the metaphorical dimension of stuttering.

Seminar participants discussed metaphors of balance and flowing that are frequently used to describe language and stuttering, and participants also inquired into the conditions of possibility for an aesthetic of stuttering at the level of linguistic system. Finally, Röggla directed the seminar’s attention to the concept of Abstottern (to pay something off) and the phenomenon of the human being in debt (der verschuldete Mensch). Whereas stuttering on the level of spoken language has become a rather rare phenomenon that, according to Röggla, one might desire more of, at the same time Abstottern is omnipresent (as in: man kommt aus dem Abstottern gar nicht mehr heraus). This omnipresence threatens to undermine the poetic demand for more stuttering. (Matthias Müller)

Poetikvorlesung: Literatur und Zukunft, Literatur als Stoff des Zukünftigen

During the Fall 2016 Cornell Lecture on Contemporary Aesthetics on Tuesday, September 6, at the A.D. White House, Austrian writer Kathrin Röggla spoke about the question of futurity under the title “Literatur und Zukunft, Literatur als Stoff des Zukünftigen.” Analyzing different literary projects engaging with futurity, she discussed various narrative tropes and strategies for dealing with the (in)determinacy of the future in contemporary society.

Röggla focused on the difficulty of considering futurity given the quasi-paradoxical conditions of being trapped between a present obsessed with the future, on the one hand, and a future already occupied by the present, on the other. She mentioned that her interest in futurity had been partly inspired by the legacy of Heiner Müller’s Landschaft mit Argonauten; yet where Müller’s work focuses on the collective guilt of the German people regarding the legacy of their National Socialist past, Röggla stated that she finds herself increasingly interested in the idea of a guilt towards the future, a debt owed to future generations. While twentieth-century literature was primarily directed backwards, according to Röggla, contemporary literature directs its anxious gaze at the future. Drawing a connection to contemporary finance capitalism and neoliberalism, Röggla proposed that the explosion of prognoses and predictions in the sectors of economy and finance have dragged the future into the present even as pessimists have already announced the cancellation of humanity’s future. In reference to Maurizio Lazzarato, she argued that the future-oriented economy of finance capitalism regulates and contains unpredictability, erasing the possibilities presented by an indeterminate future: thus the present consumes the future just as the future infiltrates the present. She pondered the relationship between (financial) debt and guilt, and the way their persuasive entanglement structures social relationships in contemporary capitalist society.

In this seemingly hopeless situation, Röggla proposed that literature plays an important role because of its ability to switch and move freely between different times and tenses, thus depicting not merely one possible future, but the interplay of different versions of an undetermined future. She did not see a solution in science fiction and dystopian literature, a genre that she perceives as being too predictable; instead, she turned towards various other examples of contemporary literature, including Tim Etchell’s The Broken World (2008), Ágota Kristóf’s Das Große Heft (1986), and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996). One common theme she pointed out in these works’ engagement with futurity is their shared interest in the motif of “game/play”.

Röggla proposed a strategy of writing in the subjunctive, which destabilizes timelines and standpoints, as another literary solution. She admitted to having been influenced in her use of the subjunctive by other Austrian writers such as Robert Musil and Ernst Jandl. She also mentioned her own engagement with the topic in her recent work Normalverdiener, which takes on the social demographic of middle-class anti-capitalists who are incapable of perceiving reality other than in retrospect and thus miss their own present and the opportunity for action.

Ultimately she questioned whether our present, in which a state of emergency characterizes normalcy, is still capable of producing moments of surprise and unexpected turns. The exceptional role of literature, she argued, lies precisely in its ability to practice the art of the unpredictable by destabilizing certainties and employing strategies of not-showing and not-knowing. Röggla concluded her lecture with thoughts about how this kind of futurity-centered literature could or should maintain its connection to realism, ultimately proposing strategies of framing and staging as alternative means of linking realism with the project of invoking unpredictable futures. (Hannah Müller)