Contemporary French literature – and this refers to the highly mobile, unlabeled, as yet uncanonised literature of the moment, littérature de l’extrême contemporain, is still one of the most diverse and lively literatures in Europe. It reacts like a highly sensitive seismometer to transformations and upheaval, collective fears and stranded utopias. Its highly differentiated voices speak of precarious living conditions, troubling breaks, of estrangement and of the contemporaneity of individual and collective pasts. These voices form a narrative which Cécile Wajsbrot describes as follows: „une plaine hantée par des consciences et des ombres, un fleuve dont elles remontent le cours, un océan où elles naviguent […].“ These and other questions lie at the heart of what one might call “écriture migrante”, a term encompassing social, geographic, and temporal migrations which allows one to order these prose texts along a thematic line. “Migration” (lat. migratio) is understood here as a movement which implies transition, departure, as well as crossings. My (provisional) selection of texts for my contribution to the public lecture series “Wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit? Poesie und Literatur in posthumanen Zeiten“ (8 May 2017 at the Institut français Bonn) includes the following works:
Maylis de Kerangal, Naissance d’un Pont (2010; dt.: Die Brücke von Coca), Marie NDiaye, La Cheffe, roman d’une cuisinière (2016) und Mathias Énard, Boussole (2015, dt.: Kompass); ferner: Hélène Cixous, Gare d’Osnabrück à Jérusalem (2016), Didier Éribons, Retour à Reims (2007; dt. Rückkehr nach Reims), Édouard Louis, En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (2014; dt.: Das Ende von Eddy), Shumona Sinha, Assommons les pauvres! (2012; dt.: Erschlagt die Armen!) sowie Leonora Miano, Écrits pour la parole (2012).
Born in Berlin, and educated in France, Jeanne Mammen’s water colours and drawings had a considerable and lasting impact on our image of the ‘Golden Twenties’. As a precursor to the comprehensive Jeanne-Mammen-exhibition in the Berlinische Galerie from October 2017 onwards, the edited collection Jeanne Mammen: Paris – Bruxelles – Berlin was published by the Deutsche Kunstverlag. It is based on the international conference “Paris – Bruxelles – Berlin: French Elements in Jeanne Mammen’s Art” which was organised jointly by the Friends of the Jeanne-Mammen-Foundation and the Centre for French Studies, Freie Universität, in October 2014. The interdisciplinary contributions and the partly hitherto unpublished works of art throw a new light on the art and life of the painter and graphic artist (1890-1976).
In line with Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the literary field, Gesa Stedman and Sandra van Lente (Centre for British Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) have created the Literary Field Kaleidoscope where they write about literary activities and the key agents in the field from Britain, France, and Germany. I have introduced readers to the first, up to now virtually unknown French bookshop in Berlin on the Kaleidoscope website, rediscovered in Françoise Frenkel’s memoir Rien où poser ma tête (1945/2015). The book was published by Carl Hanser Verlag in a German translation by Elisabeth Edel, entitled, Nichts, um sein Haupt zu betten. The book will shortly be published by Random House Australia, entitled No Place To Lay One’s Head.
From 1921 to 1939, the Maison du Livre français was able to hold its own in its increasingly aggressive and xenophobic, and at the end violently anti-Semitic surroundings, first in Kleiststraße 13, then in Passauer Straße 27 and finally in Passauer Straße 39a, today an annex to the KaDeWe. The Polish Jew Françoise Frenkel (Frymeta, Idesa Raichenstein-Frenkel, 1889-1975) hat opened her French bookshop as early as 1921 and made it a cultural and social centre with language courses, readings and dances. One could find sophisticated contemporary literature, children’s books as well as bibliophilic editions and literary and fashion magazines on her shelves. Françoise Frenkel was able to flee at almost the very last moment, in July 1939, when she took a special train to Paris organised by the French Embassy. After several attempts, she managed to flee to Switzerland in 1943.
After the fall of the wall, many French writers came to Berlin to live here. Their work reflects the changes which occurred in the city, the omnipresence of history, modern architecture but also the sweetness, the ‘douceur’ of Berlin. The edited collection Après le mur: Berlin dans la littérature francophone is the first systematic analysis of this kind of ‘contemporary berlinicised literature’ (littérature contemporaine emberlinisée, Pierre Assouline). It shows the manifold French perceptions of and approaches to Berlin and opens a new chapter of literary history in the 21st century.
The work of Cécile Wajsbrot, the novelist, essayist, translator and writer of radio plays who lives in Berlin and Paris, was the main focus of a colloquium which Roswitha Böhm and I organised at the Centre for French Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. Our edited collection on European memorial culture was based on this colloquium and is the first academic publication on Wajsbrot’s oeuvre. The collection contains an interview with the author, the first publication of her short story La ville de l’oiseau in the French original and translated into German, as well as international scholarly articles.
Table of contents | Preface | Silence and forgetting in Cécile Wajsbrot’s oeuvre | Link to the publisher
The CD Christine de Pizan. Chansons et Ballades was developed in close cooperation with the vocal ensemble VocaMe, based in Munich. It is an attempt to uncover the lyrical voice of Christine de Pizan. This attempt was achieved on the basis of the four female voices of VocaMe: when they reinterpret Christine’s elaborate chansons and ballads we are able to hear the incomparable voice of this great Franco-Italian writer situated between the middle ages and the early modern period.
I have long been friends with the French artist Colette Deblé and we have been united for many years in an endeavor which in 1994 Colette Deblé described thus: “My project is the attempt to reflect on the different representation of women from ancient history till today, in order to enable a visual analysis of different attitudes, situations, and performances. In contrast to the literary quotation a visual quotation cannot be literal, because it depends on the hand and the individual style of the person who is quoting. From this results a slight quiver and movement which refers in equal measures to the quoted work as well as to the person doing the quoting. My project explores this slight quiver and movement, because it is based on an extremely long-term use of quotations and its ultimate fading.” (Jean-Joseph Goux / Colette Deblé, Femmes dessinées, 1994, translation: Gesa Stedman)
Reading with the French author Marie Ndiaye on the occasion of the founding of the observatory of contemporary literature at the Centre for French Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, 27 September 2011. The reading with the winner of the Goncourt prize from her work “Y penser sans cesse/Unablässig daran denken” (German translation by Claudia Kalscheuer) took place during the XXXII. Romance Studies Association Conference at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
The staff of the Centre for French Studies at Freie Universität Berlin 2012, founded in 1998 at the Technical University Berlin: Michèle Schaal, Etienne François, Margarete Zimmermann, Anne Kwaschik, Marie Bergeron (from left, along the banisters); Zoi Vasiliadis, Stephanie Bung, Diana Haußmann (in the middle from left to right); Béatrice de March, Roswitha Böhm, Melanie Aufenvenne (back row from left to right).