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Encountering the Other—Beyond Political Correctness: Interview with Barbara Frischmuth Karin Ye§ilada Introduction The prestigious literary prize of the city of Graz, the Franz Nabl Prize, was awarded for the year 2000 to Barbara Frischmuth. Born in 1941, she is one of the most prominent Austrian women authors today; the prize honors her extensive oeuvre in its entirety. It is not by chance that Barbara Frischmuth was also chosen to deliver the tribute for the conferral of the German Booksellers' year 2000 Peace Prize in St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt am Main: The recipient of the Peace Prize is the Algerian author Assia Djebar. Coming from cultures that at first glance seem very different, the two prize winners have a shared proclivity for making women central to their literature. Both authors, the one an Algerian historian, the other an Austrian Orientalist, know the tensions in the encounters of "Orient" and "Occident" and write along these seams and junctures. Frequently they situate their female protagonists on a quest for self-realization in the conflict zones of intercultural and gender-specific relations. Multicultural aspects permeate Barbara Frischmuth's work. A specialist in Near and Middle Eastern Studies and a certified interpreter for Turkish and Hungarian, she knows "foreign" cultural circles first-hand, from her studies in Vienna and Graz as well as Debrecen, Hungary (1963), and Erzurum in eastern Turkey (1961). Two of her earlier works reflect her student days in Turkey: the radio play Eine Liebe in Erzurum (A Love in Erzurum, 1993), for which she received the Prix Italia in 1994, and her first novel, The Shadow Disappears in the Sun (Das Verschwinden des Schattens in der Sonne, 1973), an autobiographical depiction of an Austrian woman's experiences in Turkey. For the next two decades the intercultural thematic as such is absent; nevertheless , Turkish characters appear repeatedly in Frischmuth's prose; the encounter with the foreign is a constant. Because it is impossible to present Women in German Yearbook 16 (2000) 2 Interview with Barbara Frischmuth an overview of Frischmuth' s extensive oeuvre here, readers are referred to Ulrich Janetzki and Lutz Zimmermann's comprehensive bibliography and interpretive study (KLG). I explore here a few aspects that are relevant to the interview. Time and again, women are the focus of Frischmuth's narratives. Often subsumed under the rubric "women's literature," Frischmuth's work is, according to Janetzki, "not bound by the ideological standpoints of the emancipation movement" (KLG 6). Rather, as can be seen in the Sternwieser and Demeter trilogies of the 1970s and 1980s, the female characters, who are often recognizably autobiographical, try "to find a way that unites emotion and reason harmoniously, to form a relationship that is liberated from traditional negative implications and seeks the best possible compromise" (KLG 7).1 The nonconformist ways of Frischmuth's protagonists are reflected in her narrative form: fantastic elements turn up in her prose; genres such as dreams and fairy tales appear (e.g., Mörderische Märchen [Murderous Fairy Tales]). Frischmuth herself, in a lecture on poetics from the early 1990s ("Traum der Literatur" [Dream of Literature]), called her narrative principle "associative non-method." In this connection , Wilhelm Solms commented on misunderstandings on the part of literary critics, who tend to interpret the ribald and fantastic aspects of Austrian literature as a flight from reality. Rather, Solms argues, the specific artistry of Austrian literature is imbued with a thoroughly political function, which he describes as "a transformation not of social structures but of subjective standpoints" (48). It is in that sense that Barbara Frischmuth's political engagement can be observed in her writing. Over time, the multicultural aspect comes to play a greater role. Known since the 1970s for her statements on the situation of the country ("Österreich—versuchsweise betrachtet" [Austria —tentatively considered], which was fictionalized in Über die Verh ältnisse [On Austrian Conditions]), Frischmuth has spoken out more explicitly on behalf of tolerance and a culturally diverse Austria, especially in the last decade. In her recently published speeches she confronts Austrian taboos (cf. Das Heimliche und das Unheimliche), making the "other" view accessible to readers in an altogether unpolemic manner, a view of the other...


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