In an interview, writer Feston Mwanza Mugila spoke about literary spaces that transcend nations and the necessary change in perspective.
Mr. Mogila, you focus on transnational perspectives in literature. Why is this important?
I think a homogeneous nation is a fantasy. Nowadays, with the use of social media and online communication, the worlds are getting closer to each other in time and space. And there is no longer a split in national literature either, because the borders have become very porous. At the same time, much talk is still made of German or French literature. Literature from less common languages or, for example, from the black diaspora is less promoted. This is why transnational perspectives are needed.
Was this also where you came up with the idea for the “Continental Drift – Black Europe” group you published, in which the voices of 33 black poets find space?
Yes exactly. For me, it was inconceivable that I could not find a collection of poetry by black writers in German in a German library. There are important black writers in Britain or Holland, but they are rarely translated into German and are almost unknown here. All of the group’s authors were born or raised in Europe. So they are European, but at the same time they have African or Caribbean roots. I think Europe is no longer the center of the world, so Europe can also take inspiration from voices like this. There should not only be international solidarity, but also a willingness to learn from the former colonial countries and from the people with whom they have connections.
In the anthology, the works were published in the original language and with a German translation. Why was that important?
I think the mother tongue is very important. If we delete them, we contribute to letting them die. Language must also be visible across borders and thus persist. The language here also serves as a place of remembrance. Often people from former colonial countries write poems in the languages of the colonial powers, and this is justified, but it is important to me that the small languages continue as well. The death of a language also means the death of a country and a people.
Is this also the crux of transnational literature, this switching between languages, sometimes without explanations for readers?
I think it’s important as a writer not to explain everything. Nor did I understand everything when I read a German book like Heinrich Böll. However, I really enjoyed reading his work because I saw similarities in post-war Germany and the Congo today. When a German writer writes, he doesn’t think about how the Congolese might understand the text, and that’s okay.
Feston Mwanza Mugila Poet and writer. Born in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, he has lived in Graz since 2009. His work focuses on transnational perspectives.
“World Word Traveler” It is the name of the festival in Graz that Mogila is organizing for the second time in October. It aims to open up a space in which borders can become places of meeting.
33 black poets: from the inside From eight countries find space for their transnational views in the anthology edited by “Continental Drift – Das Schwarze Europa”.
Continue reading: Further texts for the appendix “Utopische Rundschau” can be found at fr.de/paulskirche
Does the transnational approach also help to break away from the European view of the world?
Yes, but the important thing to remember is that beyond boundaries doesn’t mean you forget your roots. It means being rooted in a tradition but also being open at the same time. This is how I see the world. I am a Congolese writer, but I also find myself in a European context because I write in European languages and live in Graz. For Europe, cross-border means learning from other parts of the world.
You are an artist yourself, but also the founder and coordinator of the transnational literature festival “Weltweltreisende” in Graz, one of the days this year conceived under the idea of “language as an island of freedom”. Could literature, as you understand it, create this island of freedom, or is this still more than a utopian idea?
I see the utopia as something universal. But I believe a book can change a life. Because books changed my life, too. I wasn’t social to be a writer. I come from a business family. So it could override the ideal, books could definitely be Liberty Islands.
However, the change of perspective between Europe and Africa was not entirely successful.
The great dilemma is that since the beginning of the colonial period, ethnologists and scholars, for example, have repeatedly tried to portray Africa as the opposite of Europe. But rather we must find bridges between the continents. As someone whose parents were born in the colonial era, I have always been interested in the bridges that can exist between Africa and Europe. Through literature we can build these bridges.
And by changing perspective in literature, increasing understanding in everyday interactions?
exactly. I think we should find islands of understanding. Do not separate the spaces in which we move into a space for Europe and another for Africa. The goal is to create a third room.