03 December 2012

Narrowcast the message: speak to the one hundred.

Sudhanva Deshpanda speaks in that lovely, bubbly Indian English which it’s almost impossible not to like. His fellow panel members at the Sprechwerk theatre last night alternated between speaking north German (translated for Sudhanva) – which, in public at least, will tend toward the analytical & the cold – and English. The discussion, under the heading ‘What can theatre in public spaces achieve?’ was followed by a total of thirteen people, including the panel members, so the thing felt like a ritual, where the converted turned-up to validate the preachers. Despite that, Sudhanva conveyed through use of photo-image and the word thought-provoking messages to his little flock.

(Photo of Sudhanva Deshpanda)
            Irregular circles four metres by four metres forming a non-elevated stage, the crowd pushed up within centimetres of the actors faces, others at the back of the audience shimmied up onto a wall, or cycle-rickshaw or each other’s shoulders to get a glimpse: slides of this sort formed the evening’s core. Taken from Mr Deshpanda’s thirty years experience doing street theatre in India, to crowds ranging from a hundred to twenty-thousand. The use of black & white to photograph performances even into the 1990s, perhaps out of choice rather than necessity, accented the ancient, ritualised atmosphere emanating from the images. And all these audience members, and all these performances – nigh on 250 per year – brought to life without one cent of institutional funding.
            Because Mr Deshpanda’s theatre is almost entirely funded from donations that the audience give after the performance; as the audiences are 95 % poor, the average donation given is by western standards tiny. But large audiences, frequent performances & a philosophy of spending very little on play development, costume, stage set & even transport means that the theatre has flourished with these simplest of economics.
            All a very far cry from street theatre in Hamburg. Tom Lanzki, who took part, this year, with his company Bängditos in Altona’s international festival of street arts – STAMP – informed the audience how STAMP 2013 has already been cancelled, as the organisers know in advance they won’t hit their ‘minimum’ budget of € 200 000 – a budget under which, apparently, ‘none of the organisers earn anything.’ This being the budget for a three day street-arts festival. The irony in the room – that Mr Deshpanda & his team have for years produced a torrent of theatre with no institutional nor corporate funding, while the people from STAMP, already institutionally funded by the city of Hamburg & the district of Altona, are making a political show of cancelling because they’re not getting their two hundred grand – was probably just too huge for anybody to find the energy to mention it directly. Perhaps the people from STAMP & all the other ‘nothing under two-hundred-thousand Euro’ lot out there should pay heed to Mr Deshpanda’s closing message from yesterday. In a world where everyone’s dying to broadcast themselves to the maximum possible audience – you’ve gotta have your snazzy website, facebook-fan page, google-ads; then twitter it – the real task in hand is to narrow-cast ourselves. Think not what the phantom ten thousand online might think of you – they are neither listening nor concentrating properly – think what, if anything, you have to say, live, to the ten or the one hundred. Then get into your street-theatre, pulpit, mosque, Buddhist retreat, atheist club, coterie reading audience or sport’s-club board of directors. And go and say it. Heart to heart and intellect to intellect. 

26 November 2012

Rosa Luxemburg in English.

If you thought crowd-funding to finance translation & literature was something newish, like I did for at least a couple of days, well, then we were both wrong together. Going under the old term of collecting subscriptions, crowd-funding to publish print literature by major authors went on for centuries & at least into the 1930s. An American committee established in 1937 to finance W.B.Yeat’s writing raised the equivalent of $96 000 USD in today’s money (or €74 000), which helped Yeats go on producing world class literature in the last 18 months of his life. What is new about the Toledo Translation Fund, established this year to support the translation into English of major works in the humanities and social sciences, from a wide range of world languages and cultures, are the dynamics of donating.

(I was given the above photo by a friend, of this moving painting of Luxemburg painted in 1928)

And the guys running the TTF -- under the leadership of Prof. Peter Hudis --  have chosen a more than dynamic author to translate, for the first major work in the series. Rosa Luxemburg (1871 - 1919) -- whose Complete Works are due to be published, thanks to the TTF, for the first time in English by Verso, in 14 volumes from February 2013 on. Those of you who've stuffed Rosa Luxemburg into the drawer marked “difficult, political, avoid”, may want to take a peek at Jacqueline Rose's fiery review in the LRB of the companion volume, titled The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, review available here.

Jacqueline Rose would like us to pull Luxemburg back out of the drawer & stick on new labels: “must-read, audacious, lyrical”. To get a comprehensive introduction to Rosa Luxemburg as an historical figure, listen to this radio programme on the American college station Against The Grain. Rosa Luxemburg's Complete Works should also break down other categories inside our minds: does our fascination with / professional work in translated fiction mean we're somehow disinterested in translated literary non-fiction? Which of us manage to be simultanously really into Ingo Schulze's novels but able to blank out all his critiques of capitalism, shouting out from any German newspaper you care to open?

Your own answers to these questions can tell us why the TTF model could also work for translating fiction in the future. Enough people enthusiastic about a book or group of books, & willing to put their credit cards where their mouths are: and then new ideas can move into new worlds. As you may have guessed by now, I'm going to be one of the translators in the translation-team for the Luxemburg edition, so my interest in the Toledo Fund raising the $ 11 000 / c. € 8500 it still needs -- (up to know they've already raised $ 19 000 / c.€14500) -- is not solely altruistic. And I'm going to be enjoying the fundraising work, by sending the appeal letter (no email for such serious matters) to famous well-off Germans who have at any time shown an interest in that side of philosophical & political life that Luxemburg embodies. You know the type: champagne socialists, others we may love to hate, others still who we would love even more if we knew more of them -- Günter Grass, Stefan Raab, Fritz Raddaz, Charlotte Roche, Gregor Gysi, Ingo Herzke -- and a hundred other individuals of that ilk who might wish to back the intellectual inheritance of one of the most intriguing women in German history. Writing to celebs & the nearly-famous in the off chance they'll back your project isn't just childish, it has pedigree: a good Hamburg friend got £1000 for acting school through an unsolicited letter to Anthony Hopkins. And a very polite refusal letter from Richard Briers as part of the same fundraising offensive.

So, if you're now itching to lunge for the credit card & donate online to making quality translation happen, then ... Don't let me stop you:

 With many thanks,Willie MacFarlane