May 2, 2008
Participants: Young-ha Kim, Dafna Zur, Etgar Keret, Abdourahman Waberi and Ingo Schulze (Moderated by Radhika Jones)
"Short Stories" was an outstanding panel. Jones asked very direct questions that not only got the writers talking about their work but also generated discussion between writers. I'm sure that these writers have talked on numerous occasions about their interest in the short story, its status among other literary genres, and the different ways they approach writing. Even so, there were numerous moments of "thinking out loud," of discovery and unveiling.
a miniature country (république miniature), so "écriture économique"
seems suited to it (He claimed that Djibouti is smaller than
Israel--unless you count Gaza and the West Bank as parts of Israel, it
--emphasized the importance of breath, breathing room, his stories run 10 pages maximum
--also wanted to write poetry but was discouraged from doing so in France, pushed towards the short story
[Dafna Zur is a translator of Korean literature into English and is
currently a Ph.D candidate at the University of British Columbia. She
scored huge points from (at least) all of the translators in the
audience. She remarked that she was not simply an interpreter for Kim,
whose works she has translated, but rather saw herself as a participant
in the dialogue. She remarked that though translators are often made
invisible, she hoped that her presence in the panel would challenge
this perception of translators and translation. She also asked the
writers to recognize the translators of the works they read out loud.]
--from South Korea, once a year the major papers (there are about 8-9 in South Korea) host a short story contest. The winner gets his/her story published in major news outlets an a $10,000 prize--some think that the legacy of Japan's occupation (1910-1945) has something to do with the popularity of short stories in Korea, but Kim thinks this happened too long ago to still be an influence--about 100 literary magazines in Korea "churning out" shorts stories--anyone who wants to make it as a writer in Korea must prove him/herself as a short story writer
--his novel I Have the Right to Destroy Myself started out as a short story and of all of his works, it has enjoyed the most international success-->he observes that lately there's been a wave against the short story in South Korea (here Dafna commented that she has had trouble marketing her translations of his short stories and also noted that South Korea very much wants a Nobel Prize in Literature and to that end is encouraging the production of novels)--you can find some of his stories on line, check out "Honor Killing" (via Esquire) and "The Man Who Sold His Shadow" (trans by Zur, via WWB).
--Israel has no organic continuity--formed in 1948--the past is the Holocaust, a black hole and the future is another black hole of possible invasion by Iran, terrorism at the hands of Jewish fundamentalists--the present is a "sandwich," fragmented--time in Israel is marked hour by hour, regular hourly news updates are the Israeli measure of time--Keret read his story "Hat Trick" (from The Girl on the Fridge, a collection of his earlier work--direct PDF link to the story) which features a magician who unwittingly pulls ghastly things out of his hat, a severed rabbit head, for instance--for Keret this story visualizes the "tapping into the unconscious" that he does as a writer--"pulling something out of a hat but not being quite sure what will come out--writing without control"--"writing is going to that place where you don't have to be considerate"
--spoke about being the child of Holocaust survivors--trying as a child to keep things under control, not crying, making sure everyone was happy--in writing "you can make characters beat each other up, pee on the carpet, and it doesn't hurt anyone"
--short stories tend to be set in transit zones
--in Djibouti the horizon is a constant, visible line--this line has shaped setting in his writing, Benjamin's work also an influence
--bare line of the horizon by which nomads orient themselves
--in a novel authors can create a whole/entire space, architecture whereas the short story is like being in an airport terminal--b/w routines--and those moments in between can be moments of truth, revelation
--"only when you move between apartments do you see how much junk you have"
--there are four Chinese characters that mean to kill someone with a short weapon, in Korean these characters refer to an astute, powerful, incisive short story or poem--used to think about the short story as a solid form that contained/revealed everything--now thinks of it more like a donut and meaning slips through the hole--the meaning that slips through the hole is what the story is about.
--"a wonderful metaphor"--novel vs. short story--"easier to kill someone with an atomic bomb than with a toothpick"
--regarding his collection of stories In the Land of Shadows (Le Pays Sans Ombre)--thought of it as a "mosaic"--more like political vignettes than short stories
--(offers a sports metaphor to explain his response to "advice for young short story writers")--on the football (soccer) field, players are brutal, narcissistic, taunting...but often, after a game, they are interviewed and suddenly they are generous team players--so, writing a short story does not have to be like a clean birth, it can be a caesarean section, it can be like vomiting all over the place
--write a bad short story, take revenge on the world
--(on translation) hearing one of my stories in German is like encountering your child after twenty years and wondering "is it mine?"--it kind of looks like me but is it really mine? (AXJ: translation as changeling!)
--there is something inherently "intranslatable" about spoken, colloquial Hebrew--"the first half of the sentence could be understood by Abraham and the the other half is more like hip hop"--this is very natural in Hebrew but maybe not so in other languages--(paraphrasing Bialik) "reading translated work is like kissing through a handkerchief"
There wasn't a lot of time for the Q&A, which was fine by me since I so enjoyed hearing these writers speak. I do have to point out, though, that the first question/comment was posed by someone who claimed to have "a lot of experience with the short story--in print and in film." She observed that despite everything that the writers on the stage had said, they still seemed "to accept the canard that the short story is a weak form of writing...there are economic reasons [in the publishing industry] that explain why this idea is perpetuated...we need to ask ourselves why." Who was this mystery person? Annie Proulx! I am sure of this--she was one of the few people who submitted an accurate author pic (I can't tell you how many authors at this festival haven't updated their pic--you can't be a "young writer" forever!). If anyone can confirm this, please comment.
Link: Chekhov's Mistress wrote up a good summary of this event and includes links to other bloggers' impressions of the panel.