The photo that reads the whole Mind System book
LiES. The book
For the head of a literary house, at first glance, it is not exactly obvious to deal with simple language when you are classically dealing with demanding and correspondingly complex literature. How did you and your team come up with this?
In the beginning there was a question. The staff unit for inclusion of the city of Frankfurt, with the Hessian Ministry for Social Affairs and Integration in the back, came to us and asked: Literature with fewer barriers, what does the Literaturhaus Frankfurt come up with? And since we are not known for driving forward the ghettoization of literature, the parceling of genres, sections and audiences, we quickly knew what was really urgently missing.
Which social groups are there that must be given access to participation in literary events using simple language?
We have tried not to obstruct our way with this question. The only goal is to exclude as few people as possible. So no hard door. Uneducated, close to education, old, young, fit or frail, blind or deaf, gifted or deeply gifted, frequent reader or YouTube watcher, feature pages or Twitter, boarding school or palliative ward, delicatessen or supermarket. All of these attributions and stamps of ownership are supposed to cease to be in force one day. Statistically, we know that one in four people in Germany cannot read particularly well, and one in twelve is dependent on plain language.
How did you manage to approach these groups? Can you give a few examples?
Of course we did network work. And of course we are still at the beginning. The Inclusion network, Aktion Mensch, the Chaja Foundation, hr2-Kultur have been important partners for us in Frankfurt when it comes to not excluding them. From the beginning there was an extremely mixed audience. For example, the Germanist who is writing her bachelor thesis on Nora Bossong. The family with their two three-cheese-high sons, one of them with Down syndrome. The teacher, who actually wanted to be outraged, but then impressed by Mirko Bonné's text, only wanted to encourage them to continue. The deaf and mute group from Rödelheim. Confessing autistic people, secret first reading visitors, literary house fans, people with opening gestures and open faces. Ah, you felt, that is how inclusion succeeds, everyone was somehow challenged and pretty well entertained.
How did you manage to get so many well-known writers to get involved in writing in plain language?
It was easy. Artists know that art is finished when it no longer tries, dares nothing, when it says: We're done. Literature for a lot? There never was, we don't need it!Everyone who is there was there immediately. Everyone was in the mood for a new departure, for dissolving boundaries, for attracting readers instead of driving them away. We cannot lament a million-fold decrease in readers every year and at the same time accept that there is virtually no literary text offer from popular contemporary authors for 20 million people. And now here is a publisher that sees it that way across all publishers and presents it with authors who are at home with Suhrkamp, Hanser, S. Fischer, Matthes and Seitz and Rowohlt.
How did you jointly define what is meant by simple language?
We gathered the authors and after a day of work they set up their own rules, also together with a specialist editor for simple language. These barely a dozen rules do not come from any authority. The rules do not obey the strict criteria of simple or even easy language. But they are a framework behind which many wonderful texts are now being created.
Did the authors find it difficult to adhere to it? Did you have to take corrective action?
The authors have to answer that, of course. Your texts clearly say: no! On the other hand, it is not easy for authors to fill the famous blank sheet of paper either. This is the constant struggle between self-claims and self-doubt. Literature in simple language is not an undemanding festival, but rather an exploration of new territory with Bauhaus ideas.
Is there anything that is easier to express in plain language?
The poet Arne Rautenberg once wrote that when it is cut, everything is much better. “I love you!” Can on many occasions be more appropriate than a Klopstock quote or a maudlin trumpet! Or to take an example from the book: Julia Schoch wrote very touchingly, very simply and numerically about love and stewed cucumbers.
How were the reactions at the readings?
Surprise, approval, shining eyes, red ears, thunderous applause and the tangible certainty that the wheelchair ramp has not banished the stairs. And that it is good that many more people can now find their way into the textual worlds and ideas of Judith Hermann, Arno Geiger, Alissa Walser or Henning Ahrens.
What development opportunities do you see for literature in simple language?
There are over 20 million people in German-speaking countries who cannot read well. Does that mean "potential" in marketing? For me it is the desideratum of the coming decades. With Enzensberger that would mean the gap that the devil leaves. A gap that we can fill.
Are there any attempts to translate literary texts that have already been published into plain language?
There are. These are translations from literary language into simple language, which are also abbreviations. Mostly rather artless retelling. But this is a necessary way of making classics and canonical literature accessible to many people.
If art is defined as a product of human creativity that has a specific openness and ambiguity, and literature in particular as text that does not make any clear sense, how can that be realized in simple language?
Oh, these texts are also open and ambiguous. And when words are involved, nothing is clear. It is much more important whether something is important and for how many it is important. And since we are faced with shrinking processes, I see: meaning without ceasing.
10 rules for literature in simple language
1. We can invent in the texts.
2. We write texts that are read aloud for 20 minutes. (This rule applied to the public reading, but not to the printed texts.)
3. We use simple words.
4. We write simple sentences.
5. When we use speech images, we explain them.
6. We avoid leaps in time.
7. We tell from just one perspective.
8. We structure our text image clearly.
9. As few nouns as possible!
10. As many verbs as possible!
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