New Narrative Forms – Novels in Trouble, Autobiography Flourish

Best known for small yellow magazines: Independent publisher SUKULTUR in Berlin under program director Mark Diggins begins a new series on the motoring novel with “Sonnenbrand” (Photo: Martina Seber, book cover: Sukultur Verlag)

We usually read the biography of an actor, politician, or writer to learn something about that person’s life. But that’s the thing about autobiography. Does the writer lack a space when the subject and object of writing coincide? Can the writer even remember all the details of his life?

Goethe already addressed the unreliability of autobiographical memory in his autobiography, Poetry and Truth. Since then, many have done the same. Since the turn of the millennium, another term has appeared in biographical research: the autobiographical novel. A separate series of automobile novels has now begun at SUKULTUR Publishing in Berlin.

Myriam ZayehDiggins, you are the publisher. What does this concept of the autobiographical novel not contain and does not contain the autobiography?

Mark Diggins: According to the dictionary definition, an autobiographical novel is a mixed narrative technique in which autobiographical elements are intertwined with fictional plot elements. This is actually the extra thing that makes it different from a CV. But I will go a little further in our series, because personally I understand this term more comprehensively. I also include traditional textual genres such as letters or diaries, but also entirely new narrative forms such as digital conceptual literature.

Forms of non-fiction and automatic fiction are increasing

toe: Well, subjective literature – if we stick to its encyclopedic definition – has been a very popular genre for several years. Norwegian author Karl Uwe Knausgård frequently mentions in this context. In Germany, for example, Isabel Lane recently wrote an autobiographical novel, “Frühlingserwaken,” about a writer named Isabel Lane. It is often cited as a feature of spontaneous literature that the main character has the same name as the author herself. Do you have an explanation for why this type of spontaneous literature is so popular right now?

sword: I think it has to do with the fact that there is currently a certain decline in the importance of traditional and traditional genres, such as the novel. I think there is a certain crisis that comes from competing with other new forms such as television series, computer games and role-playing games, which authors are now focusing on a newer form of text and a return to the power of literature. As a result, many authors deal with these subjective ways of writing, which is why non-fiction forms such as essays, nonfiction, memoirs, and autobiography have flourished in recent years. Personally, I think that very interesting texts are being created in the field of subjective fiction. I think this is a result of the dedication of the authors.

toeWhy does spontaneous fiction need its own series?

sword: This has to do with the fact that I don’t think this series exists yet. Or maybe it’s also about the definition I said at the beginning, which expands the term and goes beyond the normal lexical definition. Personally, I lived in Toronto for four years and noticed there, especially in the alternative literature scene, in the “Alt Lit” movement, created primarily with digital writing tools, that automatic visualization techniques are used a lot there. Driven by the need that there is still a place to be established in Germany, where these texts are presented, we established the SUKULTUR series for this reason.

Different materials, different characters

toe: The first volume of the Autobiographical Literature Series has already been published. It came from Cologne author and plastic artist Rene Kemp, born in 1982: “You only exist three times for me” is the name of the volume. As readers, we follow the first narrator of Renee Kemp during the years 2014 to 2016. We follow him on everyday matters, getting up and making coffee, reading newspaper, reading books, how he writes scholarship applications and prices. We also learn at the end of the volume that these entries, each with a date, are based on a blog written by the author himself. Why should this blog become a book now?

sword: I think that texts of different physical significance have different personalities. I got to know René Kemp personally as an illustrator, then became acquainted with his blog and it was an almost daily blog where he commented on political and cultural events, but also on the weather. And when I read it on my smartphone after waking up in the morning, it was like reading a newspaper, so it was a kind of escort during the day or rather a newspaper article you read over and over. However, over time, I discovered that the red threads also became visible and that these red threads, this new-like quality, were experienced in the selection of this volume, that is, in selection and assembly. As a result, I believe, a completely new text appeared from it in the form of this book, which has very strong narrative features.

toe: But one could argue that the whole thing is not entirely new. There is also a whole series of ecclesiastical references that run through this text. In part, there may also be literary models. Rainald Goetz appears, of course, with references to his blog projects “Abfall für Alle” or “Klage”. Wolfgang Herndorff’s memoirs “Work and Structure” are also quoted online. How does Renee Kemp fit into this tradition? What’s new in his style of self-referencing and digital writing?

sword: The two reviews you provided are definitely correct. This was an online diary that also identified the genre. I still find it amazing about René Kemp, or what isn’t new now, but what I find fascinating is his descriptive power and his sharpness of perception, which is out there that is different from many literary memoirs online – and there are even many not – or from classic diaries. I think it plays a big role in that René Kemp is primarily a painter. And I don’t know why, but I have always noticed that women painters are often very skilled writers. Whether it is Unica Zorn that comes to mind, Martin Kippenberger, Werner Buettner, …

toe: We have already mentioned Wolfgang Herndorf, who was also a painter.

sword: Yes exactly! I don’t know what it is, but it’s something I think comes up powerfully in the book.

What matters is what is not documented

toeDiggins, you as editor and publisher also appear in Renee Kemp’s notes. Once they complained that they wanted to visit her in Toronto for a long time. Once you are sitting in an ice cream parlor in Berlin-Hermesdorf and you have to explain who Wolfgang Welt was. How strange or familiar is this literary version of yourself to you?
sword: It’s always something special when you show yourself in literary texts. And the special thing is not just what is written about you, but what has been left out. I’ve seen this a lot in my colleagues’ diaries and also with Renee Kemp. It just goes to show that something like a diary, and that her documentary character has been divided by this fictional level. So the real question is: To what extent is not every autobiography considered a subjective fiction, too?

toe: Aufreibesystems by Renee Kemp “You Only Exist Three Times to Me” is just the first volume in your new series of self-portraits. What’s Next?
sword: We have planned a book by Sarah Berger called “Milchhonig” to be the next volume. Sarah Berger is a writer from Berlin – no, multi-talented! She is a photographer, writer, philosopher and feminist performer. She became known – no, it wasn’t her who became known, but milch_honig’s social media activities became known. This is an artistic character. And the next volume we do is a kind of autobiography of this fictional character.

toe: Are there plans for something like automated lines? If you plan to extend my theory of the concept of subjective imagination, are there also theory handbooks?

sword: I’m definitely watching it, but I haven’t been able to see it yet. I also think our series is – as the plural already says – a series of self-perceptions. Many different brochures will be issued, perhaps one for each volume.

Statements made by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not take the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.

Rene Kemp: “You’re only there three times for me. Ream Systems”
SUKULTUR Verlag, Berlin, 112 pages, €18

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