Kathrin Röggla

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Kathrin Röggla is an Austrian author and playwright, as well as a prolific writer of radio plays. She is a member of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin. Her work, which is often political in tone and critical of the media, has won many awards over the past two decades, most recently the Arthur Schnitzler Prize in 2012.

In a 2011 interview with Roland Steiner, she addressed the question of whether it is possible to write about politics without writing about media: “You always have to take the media along with it…You have to find a way to turn it into literature by asking the right questions. Literature is a medium that has a lot more room to depict complex situations. It also has its limits, but in comparison to film or other forms of media, it offers more possibilities because the way it is experienced and received is more temporal. You can bring together many more threads and demonstrate systematic contexts more clearly.”

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Die Alarmbereiten (The Vigilant)

The stories in this collection portray a society in a constant state of panic. Röggla’s experience in theatre shines through in tragicomic monologues and dialogues that reveal the speakers’ psyches and the culture of anxiety that is their milieu. Black humour, irony, and hyperbole are tools Röggla wields with mastery, whether writing about global warming, the work of NGOs, or the media circus surrounding the abduction and escape of Natascha Kampusch. A review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung drew comparisons to the work of Thomas Bernhard, calling Röggla “an exaggeration-artist whose astute distortions and fine shifts in accent reveal the truth.”

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3 Comments

  1. As I can’t attend the meeting next week, here are my comments on die alarmbereiten:

    The book is certainly not an easy read, although I was glad to have stuck with it. Röggla uses reported speech throughout, often reporting what other people are saying to a first-person narrator without the narrator’s own comments. It is also entirely in lower case, which made less of a difference but marked it from the beginning as “experimental”.
    Once I’d got over the difficulties of reading a book in the subjunctive form I did appreciate the point of it all, with relation to the subject matter. The voice is detached and deliberately ugly; verb forms such as “ich kennte” jarred every time I read them. And I eventually found that very effective in communicating the collection’s mood – disaster at every turn. There were times when I wondered whether there was some continuity between the stories, whether that first-person narrator was the same person, for instance. I didn’t find an answer to that question but it didn’t matter.
    I was interested to read above that Röggla has a background in theatre, because the stories often felt reminiscent of new German drama. I could imagine them being staged, perhaps with added outlandishness – a stage made of mud, naked actors in animal masks, whatever. And she seemed to take the underlying panic seriously, although she plainly didn’t like her characters.

    I’m glad I read it and now know what everybody’s raving about with Kathrin Röggla. I’m glad she’s pushing the envelope with her writing and addressing contemporary issues in a fresh way. But, and this is a big but, this is not a book I’d want to press upon others. It’s very special and unique but for me it was more about how she wrote and the mood she created than the stories themselves, which aren’t exactly plot-led. I’m also unsure whether rendering the reported speech would work well in translation.

    But if you read German and are interested in avant-garde writing, do read this book.

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  2. sally says:

    I was going to comment on this, but actually Katy has pretty much summed up what I think about the book — really interesting linguistically and politically, but not an easy read, and it raises the question of how to translate the reported speech, which works so well and neatly with the German subjunctive. Achieving the same distancing effect in English would be a real challenge, I think.

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  3. Kim Sanderson says:

    Similarly, I wondered how easy it would be to find a way of conveying the (what I felt to be significant) impact of the lower-case in a translation into English, where it would be less different to standard usage.

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