'In literature, everything can be said; literature isn’t about taking a stand or imposing your opinion upon the reader. It’s about telling a story and using that story – if it’s told well – to have an impact on the reader, to inspire and galvanise them.’ Lina Muzur, editor of a startling new volume of short stories by female authors, talks to NBG.
I’d been thinking for some time about publishing an anthology featuring the most interesting contemporary writers in the German language. Then, in the context of the #MeToo debate, people were asking: what contribution can and should literature be making to the important societal debates of our time? How topical can literature be? First and foremost, these stories should be good literature. But the anthology is also about experimenting: to what extent can these seventeen stories, taken together, result in something new if you read them with this very current topic in mind?
Although the writers featured in this book are very different from each other, I feel they all have a very distinct language and style. I was interested to see what creative paths they would choose if I were to set them this topic. Some contributors were initially sceptical, because they assumed the intention was to publish a completely uncritical #MeToo book. That wasn’t the case at all – right from the outset the point was that there would be no taboos, that all vantage points, perspectives and settings were welcome in the collection. When the stories slowly began to come in, I was thrilled: they were all so different, and every one of them shed light on a distinct, often surprising aspect of this very broad topic. And above all, all of these voices taken together do add up to something, a choir, whose main message is: we are many, and each of us has a unique story to tell.
There are a lot of parallels between the stories, and it’s fun to look for them. In my introduction, I mention three of these parallels – anger, fear and shame. Of those three, it’s anger that interests me most of all. There are a lot of very angry women in this anthology, from Margarete Stokowski’s ‘I’m going to shoot that fucker!’ to Nora Gomringer’s ‘He’s just an asshole. A fat asshole.’ I think anger – which always has a cleansing, purging quality to it – is a prerequisite for further reflection on this topic to be able to take place. Shame, on the other hand, is – as the cliché goes – a very female emotion, and it’s omnipresent here, often paired with pity. Many of the protagonists in this collection pity the men that harm them, while at the same time being ashamed at the harm. In other words, they are passive.
And then there are almost just as many protagonists who resist this familiar pattern – they become aggressors and perpetrators themselves. In Mercedes Lauenstein’s story, a young woman forces a man to have sex with her and is not ashamed in the slightest; Juliane Liebert’s character Beate wants to sleep with her boss at all costs; and in the world of Anna Katharina Hahn’s story, girls harass a little boy. We have bosses trying to get into their employees’ pants and employees sleeping with their boss; we have boys bullying girls and vice versa; we have a woman being left by a lover eighteen years her junior – we have a very broad palette of what’s possible between women and men, girls and boys.
‘Every era has the literature it deserves, and maybe literature in 2018 is female first and foremost, and only then universal.’ That’s the slightly provocative final sentence of my introduction – just as it was a discriminating decision to include only women in the anthology. And the provocation is as follows: now, at this moment in time, it’s women who are given priority and who get to have the first word.