Blog: Allyson Fiddler reflects on multilingual authorship

haderlap 2aI’m very excited to be representing the Authors and the World research hub at this year’s Austrian Studies Association conference at the University of Michigan (Dearborn) next week (26-28 March).  I’ll be talking about Maja Haderlap’s 2011 novel, Engel des Vergessens. The novel is already highly regarded in literary circles. Some markers of Haderlap’s growing literary standing are awards such as the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize and the Bruno Kreisky Prize for the political book of the year (both in 2011). The novel has appeared in Slovenian translation as Angel pozabe (Litera, 2012, translated by Štefan Vevar), and in Italian translation as L’angelo dell’oblio; Keller, 2014, translated by F. Filice) but awaits full publication in English. However, Tess Lewis has recently won the Austrian Cultural Forum (New York) Prize for translation for an extract of ‘Angel of Oblivion’, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that this terrific novel will soon become accessible to an English-speaking readership.

The novel can be located in the context of many others whose thematics have addressed the Slovenian-Austrian border.  Haderlap’s work is not the first to use the long perspective and raise historico-political concerns through the lens of a particular community in this region of Austria. Her Generationenroman [generational novel] cum Bildungsroman [coming-of-age novel] approach chooses to present local history (southern Carinthia) and personal history using the learning curve of a young girl acquiring the co-ordinates of her own background in the process of growing up and at the hands of her grandmother, a survivor of Ravensbrück concentration camp. There is warm narration of childhood experiences (these themselves not without difficulty and hardship) but also insights into the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis against the Slovene minority, the anti Partisan sentiments and the difficult pathway towards partial recognition and acceptance, both for the Carinthian Partisan fighters but also for the Slovenian language in Austria per se.

Some of the questions we’ve been asking in the hub’s work on multilingual and collective authorship chime with me as I prepare my thoughts for this conference.  In various related research events, such as the colloquium on multilingual authors in the Francophone context, or our forthcoming July conference, we have begun to reflect on: What happens when an author writes in different languages, how do translators relate to authors, and can authorship ever be a truly collective process?

Haderlap herself hails from southern Carinthia, a pocket of Austria with a complex and highly charged history. Like her autobiographically inspired protagonist, she, too, grew up with Slovenian as her mother tongue and German her second language. After first publications (poetry) in Slovenian, she turned to using German, a development that is thematised in the protagonist’s development.  I have no ‘fixed’ answers to the hub’s questions, but the author’s bilingual footprint certainly inspires and colours her writing. The reader engages with the language politics of this region and gains insights into the family’s location between languages, with different access routes to both Slovenian and German.  The central character presents the voices and stories of many of her relatives and friends and of the people of her Carinthian homeland.  Haderlap chooses to conclude her writing with a dream sequence in which her now deceased grandmother sits on a path leading to the woods behind the family house. She holds high a funnel-formed  cloth, or ‘baldachin’ and sits trying to catch voices. ‘Sie sagt, ein paar Stimmen seien ihr schon ins Netz gegangen. Man müsse nur geduldig sein und die Hoffnung nicht aufgeben’ (She reports that she’s arleady had a few voices go into the net. You just have to be patient and not give up hope.) The dream sequence is something of a mise-en-abyme, in my opinion. This is just what Haderlap’s novel does.  Patiently, and with great care and affection, Haderlap catches voices and weaves them into a fascinating novel.

AllyAllyson_Fiddlerson Fiddler is a steering committee member of the Authors and the World hub.


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