How useful are technical signs in life

Even fictions can be useful - An interview with Martin Zähringer

The international Climate Fiction Festival will take place for the first time from December 4 to 6, 2020. In addition to numerous face-to-face events in the Literaturhaus Berlin - in compliance with the applicable hygiene regulations - there will be a comprehensive digital offer with panels from London, Istanbul, Copenhagen and Zurich. Signs & Times spoke to program director Martin Zähringer about the festival and the topic of climate and climate change in literature.

How did the idea for the first Climate Fiction Festival come about?
Martin Zähringer: The idea arose after I went on a trip through the USA with my partner and co-author Jane Tversted, during which we researched a radio play for WDR and DLF entitled “Climate Fiction”. Our WDR editor Leslie Rosin had a good nose at the time when the topic was not yet so en vogue in Germany. This radio play was quite a success and we thought we'd take it seriously now.

How did you personally come to this topic?
I myself had been writing about ecological or environmental topics and approaches in literature for a number of years. A longer article about Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi) appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung after I discovered several German translations from this new literary trend in a single season. But in the German publishers and feature pages there was actually no mention of cli-fi, I found that strange and then I did some research and published something about it.

Who were the initiators of the Climate Fiction Festival?
That was the CLIMATE CULTURES network berlin, and there we are again: Jane, me and a little later the literary critic Sieglinde Geisel. We formed the core in 2019. We met Sieglinde at a technology workshop at DLF Kultur, which was about the right microphones for professional radio making. At lunch we noticed that the topic of climate was missing in literature, at least in the conversation about literature, where we are active as critics. Then the serious idea of ​​a festival came up, we talked to a lot of people, other colleagues joined the CCnetwork and our application for funding an international themed festival immediately convinced the jury of the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe: You are funding us with 85,000 euros, another 20,000 euros came from Pro Helvetia from Switzerland, Statens Kunstfond from Denmark and part from the Literaturhaus Berlin, where the festival takes place.

Who do you want to reach?
We want to reach all readers who can and want to do something with difficult topics in literature. Because it is a difficult subject because it affects the whole world. But that is precisely why it is so important that literature also deals with it. And after reading a lot, we found out that this global topic of global warming and the climate crisis has found its way into literature in a fascinating variety of ways. At Cli-Fi, the usual separation of E and U literature is not taken so seriously, but quality does.

What highlights or special formats will there be?
As a programmer, I personally find it difficult to speak of high points. I can not only tend the most beautiful flowers in this garden. Each plant or species must be cared for individually. But the authors at our festival are perhaps a kind of literary plant society, to put it ecologically - they are all somehow connected, and these connections are what make the greatest attraction to me.

As far as the format is concerned, you will find everything you know - such as a review panel, individual discussions with moderators, a great performance on Friday, created especially for us by the poet Mikael Vogel and the sound artist Jana Irmert, several international panels, which the team from the Literaturhaus recorded in advance, because the international guests are unfortunately not allowed to travel. Many thanks to the team at the Literaturhaus Berlin, which is responsible for the entire technical implementation and design.

It won't stay with the first issue, what's next?
We intend to further elaborate the relationships between climate science, media, activism and politics, and of course art and literature. We are planning a big festival with a really global focus on the climate crisis and climate cultures with our own film program curated by Greenland-Dane Ivalo Frank from Greenland Eyes. The application is running. We'll get in touch soon and are really excited. And otherwise, as CCnetwork, we also offer other interested parties smaller formats curated and moderated by us, evenings with Cli-Fi authors or others, plus film or sound, somehow creative mixtures that deviate a little from the usual, including texts and multimedia formats.

Has the subject of climate and climate change already arrived in the literature? Is it even perceived as such?
In any case, although we still need a little critical classification, but we are working on it. In the Anglophone world from the USA to Great Britain to India or Australia, there have been seminars on climate fiction, anthologies, websites such as by Dan Bloom or Burning Worlds by Amy Brady, which are also hosted for some time is at our festival. But an international festival on climate fiction is actually taking place in Berlin for the first time, and we are extremely proud of it.

The festival is very international. Are there countries where these questions are more in focus than in Germany?
Yes, as I said above. But also in Europe, in Norway for example, where Maja Lunde's famous climate quartet comes from, but a lot more that awaits translation. Also in Denmark, we have found very interesting authors there, or in Switzerland, where Franz Hohler has been drumming with his “end of the world” for decades, and in England Maggie Gee has been writing cli-fi for decades. There are also many others who are on the subject.

Does literature have an influence that the media and science may not have?
Sure, I'd say it's a matter of time. The facts conveyed in the media have a relatively short duration and scientific climate knowledge is very complex, it takes a long time to understand something. That is a deterrent, although there are people who write clearly like John Schellnhuber from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). He will be with us on Saturday and discuss with Ilija Trojanow and Maggie Gee. The fictions, on the other hand, convey facts, topics and problems of the climate crisis to us in a cultural mode. Narratives, stories, poetic narratives generate cultural knowledge, and that has a completely different period of effect. Both on the collective level and individually, literature remains. When reading, the individual has the matter in hand, and that is important with this topic, this feeling of independence, which could be transferred to the will to act in an environmentally friendly manner.

Isn't there also reason to fear that this topic will be misused just to get novels on the bestseller list?
Sure, there is, but there is nothing you can do about it. That is the logic of the market. We can only try to separate the wheat from the chaff, especially as literary critics who allow themselves a literary festival one day. As a theme festival, we want to clarify the criteria.

What does it take to write a good book about the climate crisis?
What I have discovered to be an extremely important criterion is the personal attitude of the authors. Most of the time, if you don't approach this issue with sincerity, it won't work. I recommend our relevant articles on the CCnetwork website, there is a collection from the CCnetwork berlin under the menu item Media.

Has the public become more sensitive to climate change and necessary climate protection measures in recent years?
I think so, you can no longer overlook what's going on on this globe.

What titles can you recommend because you enjoyed reading them?
For example the ones on my podcasts. May I close with the great African American author Octavia E. Butler and her book "Parable of the Sower"? This is a dystopian novel, told through the diary of a young woman who survived in the chaos after a climate catastrophe. There is a scene in it in which she explains the meaning of the books to a friend: “… use your imagination, any kind of survival information from encyclopedias, biographies, anything that helps you to live off the land and to protect yours. Even a few fictions can be useful. ”That's pretty much what we mean by“ cli-fi ”.

Martin Zähringer, grew up in the southern Black Forest, has been a Berliner by choice since the wild 1980s, has switched professions several times from unskilled laborer to trained stonemason and sculptor to master's degree and finally freelance literary critic and radio author. Meanwhile also active as a festival organizer and curator with one of his main areas of work, climate fiction.

Photos: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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Posted in BooksTagged Berlin, Climate Fiction Festival, Climate Change, Literature, Literaturhaus Berlin, Martin Zähringer