Lertxundi places Cercas, Darrieussecq and Zelik in the skin of writers in languages with an uncertain future

The “Demagun ehun urte barru” meetings are the result of the carte blanche that San Sebastian 2016 has given Anjel Lertxundi.

On 12 and 13 December, European authors and translators will reflect on literature created in non-hegemonic languages.

Javier Cercas, Marie Darrieussecq and Raul Zelik have accepted Lertxundi’s challenge. In this exercise of empathy they will be accompanied by translators Karlos Cid, Adan Kovacsics and Miguel Sáez.

San Sebastian 2016 gave one of its cartes blanches to Anjel Lertxundi, and in response to this creative licence, the Gipuzkoan writer came up with the "Demagun ehun urte barru" meetings on the future of literature in non-hegemonic languages.

This proposal to speculate on what awaits during the next one hundred years is based on a conjecture by Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz, who, reflecting upon the future of Polish literature, wrote in a letter to Czeslaw Milosz: “In a hundred years, if our language still exists ...” Like Gombrowicz, the uncertainty surrounding his tool of work, the Basque language in this case, occupies a prominent place among the concerns of Lertxundi, National Essay Award; and he has invited to San Sebastian three writers and the same number of translators from Europe to share this concern, within the framework of the “Demagun ehun urte barru” project which he has organised for the European Capital of Culture, with the collaboration of writer Harkaitz Cano.

This native of Orio has asked Javier Cercas, Raul Zelik and Marie Darrieussecq, authors in languages with an immense literary tradition (Spanish, German and French, respectively) to put themselves in the place of colleagues who write in non-hegemonic languages, marked by a scarce literary tradition, situations of diglossia, a lack of official status for centuries or doubts with respect to the survival itself of the language. How do they think this situation would affect their writing in a literary sense?

Likewise, Lertxundi has also invited translators to reflect on this, as he considers that, in a cultural context that is strongly influenced by globalisation, their contribution is essential for exchanges between languages and for their survival. Participating at the meetings will be Adan Kovacsics (translator of Austrian and Hungarian authors), Miguel Sáez (translator of German literary classics) and Karlos Cid (translator of Czech to Basque).

“Demagun ehun urte barru” will have two sessions on 12 and 13 December (at 19:00 in the Aquarium), within the framework of the special agenda on occasion of the end of the Capital of Culture year. Antton Valverde will accompany the meetings at the piano. In this project, Lertxundi covers three of the lines of San Sebastian 2016: the sustainability of language diversity, the promotion of empathy and the European dimension. The intention is that next year a book will be published with the thoughts expressed during the meetings.

Demagun ehun urte barru

Aquarium | 19:00 – 21:00 | Free entry

12 December: Demagun denbora ez dugula lagun

Participants: Javier Cercas, Marie Darrieussecq,  Adan Kovacsics, Anjel Lertxundi

The first meeting will deal with the sustainability, the uncertain future, of literature in non-hegemonic languages, from the perspective of the expressiveness of language. With regard to literary creation in a language that tends towards utilitarianism in its forms of expression, what options does it have to face an active and stimulating use of its varieties? What kind of levy must they pay where the more expressive every-day language and artistic manifestations are concerned? For Lertxundi this is not a trivial issue, because if they do not manage to preserve their expressiveness, he considers that the literatures of non-hegemonic languages are to a large extent destined to disappear.

13 December: Demagun itzultzailea dela mamua / Ghost in Translation

Participants: Karlos Cid, Miguel Sáenz, Raúl Zelik, Anjel Lertxundi

The second session will focus on the work of translation, which often goes unnoticed by the public. Authors, however, are very aware that they are essential, as without translators they would be nothing beyond the field of their mother tongue. Those who write in the languages of small communities are even more aware of this work: either because they sometimes translate their own work or because, being polyglots, they continuously receive interferences from different languages. What is the footprint left by that which should go unnoticed?

Brief biographies of the participants

Javier Cercas (Cáceres, 1962) is a writer and professor of Spanish literature at the University of Girona. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have received many national and international awards; worth highlighting are the National Narrative Award for The Anatomy of a Moment (2009), or, among the more recent, the Foreign Novel of the Year in Beijing for The Impostor (2014). For his entire body of work he has been awarded the Premio Internazionale del Salone del Libro di Torino in 2011 and the Prix Ulysse in 2012.

Karlos Cid (Madrid, 1963) has a degree in Hispanic Philology, a PhD in Linguistics and is currently a professor of Basque Philology at the Complutense University of Madrid. He is also a translator, mainly from Czech to Basque, a language into which he translated The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera in 2009, as well as works by Jaroslav Hašek, Josef Škvorecký and Miroslav Holub. He is the author of several articles on Basque syntax and onomastics, translation and linguistic typology.

Marie Darrieussecq (Bayonne, 1969) published her first novel, Pig Tales in 1996, which was an instant success and became a best-seller, translated in 44 countries. The New Yorker described her as "the best young novelist" of France in 1998 and over time she has established herself as one of the most important voices of contemporary literature. Her novel Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes received the Médicis Award and the Prix des Prix in 2013, the same year it was published.

The work as a translator into Spanish of Adan Kovacsics (Santiago de Chile, 1953) focuses on the work of Austrian and Hungarian authors such as Zweig, Schnitzler or Kertész. He has also translated German literary classics such as Goethe or Kafka. As a result of his linguistic concerns he has published several books and articles. He has received the National Translation Award from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and the Literary Translation State Award in Austria.

Miguel Sáenz (Larache, Morocco, 1932), doctor in Law and BA in German Philology by the Complutense University of Madrid and honorary degree in Translation and Interpretation by the University of Salamanca, he is a member of the Spanish Royal Academy and of the German Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung academy and is, basically, a translator (Franz Kafka, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Bernhard, Michael Ende, Günter Grass, Salman Rushdie...).

Raul Zelik (Munich, 1968) is a writer and political scientist. His literary début Friss und stirb trotzdem was published in 1997. It was followed, among others, by the Berliner Verhältnisse novels (2009) and the political road movie Der bewaffnete Freund (2010), all of them published in Spanish and the latter also in Basque by the Txalaparta publishing house. Along with Petra Elser, he translated the novel Lagun Izoztua by Joseba Sarrionandia, from Basque to German (Der gefrorene Man, 2007).

About Anjel Lertxundi

Anjel Lertxundi has received one of the three cartes blanches of San Sebastian 2016. The other two were for multidisciplinary artist Esther Ferrer and for dancer and choreographer Jone San Martín.

Anjel Lertxundi (Orio, Gipuzkoa, 1948) is a writer and journalist, as well as a film and television scriptwriter. His work covers genres such as narrative, essays or poetry, generally written in Basque. He received the National Essay Award in 2010 for Eskarmentuaren paperak, translated that same year into Spanish with the title Vidas y otras dudas (Lives and other Doubts); he has received on two occasions the Basque Literature Award and on two more (in 1983 and 1992) the Critic’s Basque Narrative Award. His novel Otto Pette (1994), translated into Spanish as Las últimas sombras (The Last Shadows), is considered a milestone in the normalisation of literary Basque, as well as an essential reference in contemporary Basque narrative. Several of his works have been translated into a number of languages.

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