Viola Rohner: Volim slobodu stvaranja vlastitog svijeta u priči

Viola Rohner. FOTO: Lukas Maeder.
[ENGLISH BELOW]
RAZGOVARALA: Ivana Golijanin

Švicarska književnica Viola Rohner je protekli mjesec u okviru TRADUKI rezidencijalnog programa boravila u Sarajevu. Razgovarale smo o radu u okviru rezidencije, o njenoj književnosti za djecu i njenoj posljednjoj knjizi, zbirci priča „42 stepena“, te podijelili pitanja i odgovore koji se tiču njenog angažmana u okviru radionica kreativnog pisanja koje uspješno vodi.

Viola, drago mi je da ste došli u Sarajevo u sklopu „Traduki rezidencijalnog programa“. Recite mi, na čemu ste radili tokom ovog boravka?

Radim na novom romanu za odrasle. Prije nego što sam stigla u Sarajevo, provela sam mnogo vremena istražujući i razmišljajući kako ispripovijedati glavnu priču svog romana.

Kakvo je vaše čitalačko iskustvo sa bosanskohercegovačkom književnošću?

Biću potpuno iskrena, još uvijek nemam značajnog čitalačkog iskustva. Naravno, čitala sam romane Saše Stanišića koji mi se jako sviđaju, ali ne znam da li bi se njegova književnost mogla označiti kao bosanskohercegovačka. Od početka svog boravka ovdje čitam knjige Lejle Kalamujić, Damira Ovčine, Semezdina Mehmedinovića, Aleksandra Hemona, Atke Reid i Hane Schofield i pjesme Adise Bašić kojoj se jako divim. Sve ove knjige tematiziraju rat na različite načine i smatram da su izuzetno vrijedne i značajne.

Vaša posljednja knjiga „42 stepena“ je opisana kao zbirka priča o ženama koje se nalaze na prekretnici u životu. Kako biste je vi opisali?

Moji likovi žive život koji nije u potpunosti njihov jer misle da nema drugog načina. To je zapravo način na koji žene često moraju da žive sa svojim muževima, partnerima, roditeljima, i u skladu sa zahtjevima zajednice. Likovi mojih priča dolaze do one tačke u kojoj jasno osjećaju da ne mogu nastaviti dalje tako živjeti. Vrlo često ih pokreće suočavanje s teškim trenutkom iz njihove prošlosti. Tada počinju nazirati i druge opcije koje im se u životu pružaju. I tada, moje priče završavaju.

Šta vas je motivisalo da napišete tu knjigu? Neko posebno intimno iskustvo? Da li vaše pisanje uvijek počinje ličnim odgovorom na temu kojom se želite baviti?

Ne, nema konkretnog odgovora kojim počinjem pisanje. Rekla bih da je više riječ o tome da postoji jak osjećaj ili snažno interesovanje za nešto, za određenu temu. Volim reći da je to kao kada se zaljubiš. Ne mogu se osloboditi intenzivnog osjećaja do te mjere da počinjem da razmišljam o njemu sve vrijeme. Njega može pokrenuti dijete koje vidim na igralištu, miris, uspomena koja izbija iz prošlosti ili slika koju sam slučajno vidjela u novinama ili u nekoj umjetničkoj kolekciji.

Čini mi se da su se žene posebno istakle u žanru kratke priče, u zadnjih nekoliko godina, možda i više. Mislite li da postoji nešto u ovom žanru što se naročito otvara za spisateljice?

Pretpostavljam da je to u mnogome povezano sa specifičnim životnim okolnostima. Govoreći uopšte, žene su – do danas – osjećale veliku odgovornost prema svojoj djeci, partnerima, roditeljima, kolegama, i naročito prema zahtjevima svog posla. Za stvaranje umjetnosti potrebno je zaboraviti na sve te odgovornosti. To je vrlo sebičan čin – pogotovo ako ne zarađujete od njega. Pisanje kratkih priča vam daje mogućnost da stvarate umjetnost, a da pritom ispunjavate svoje dužnosti, svoj posao brige za druge. Roman se ne može napisati tokom kratkog odmora ili ta dva sata uveče nakon što djeca leže u krevetu. Na tome morate raditi redovno tokom određenog broja sati svakoga dana.

U vašoj biografiji stoji da ste studirali nemački jezik, istoriju, pozorište i psihologiju u Cirihu i Berlinu. Kako ste uspjeli spojiti sva svoja interesovanja i upisati ih u književni rad?

Mislim da se sva ova interesovanja savršeno uklapaju. Mene zanimaju ljudska bića, a njih ne možete razumjeti bez psihologije i istorije. Studirala sam njemačku filologiju sa posebnim fokusom na književnost i pozorište. Bez istinskog zanimanja za ljude, ne možete razumjeti i prodrijeti niti u književnost ni u ono što je suština teatra.

Vidite li sebe isključivo kao spisateljicu njemačkog govornog područja?

Nikako. Voljela bih da moje knjige budu prevedene na što više jezika. Posebno knjige za djecu jer zaista mislim da su teme kojima se bavim univerzalne i lako razumljive djeci širom svijeta. Nakon što je moja zbirka kratkih priča „42 stepena“ prevedena na arapski jezik, shvatila sam i da su moje knjige za odrasle – za koje sam mislila da su zanimljive samo evropskim čitaocima koji dijele moj kulturni kontekst – čak zanimljive čitaocima iz potpuno različitih kultura. Možda je to zato što kulturna pozadina istinskih čitalaca više nije toliko drugačija. Većina tih ljudi je išla na fakultete, živjela u gradovima, borila se sa istim problemima u odnosima sa drugim ljudima, sa očekivanjima roditelja ili društva. Oni putuju, žive u različitim zemljama kao i većina mojih protagonista.

Govoreći o tome: pisci, kažu, uvijek upisuju nešto od sebe u svoje protagoniste. Koliko toga vi dijelite sa svojim likovima?

Mnogo toga dijelim s njima jer ih u suprotnom ne bih razumjela, ali ne pišem autobiografski. Volim slobodu stvaranja vlastitog svijeta u priči, ali vrlo često koristim dijelove iskustva koje sam stekla u privatnom životu.

Autorica ste i nekolicine knjiga za djecu. Šta vas je potaklo da ih počnete pisati?

Nisam mislila da ću pisati za djecu sve do svoje četrdesete. Ja sam imala teško djetinjstvo; bila sam seksualno zlostavljana i pretrpjela sam dosta nasilja u svojoj porodici. Dakle, nisam htjela da se prisjećam sopstvenog djetinjstva i vraćam u taj period, a bez sjećanja na djetinjstvo ne možete pisati za djecu. Morala sam ponovo da se povežem sa djetetom koje sam nekada bila. Nakon toga sam počela pisati književnost za djecu. Trudila sam se da ispričam priče koje sam htjela da je meni neko ispričao dok sam bila dijete.

Šta mislite o načinu na koji djeca doživljavaju svijet u poređenju sa načinom na koji to rade odrasli?

Postoji velika je razlika između percepcije svijeta djece i odraslih. Dječiji pogled na svijet je najčešće snažno filtriran od strane njihovih staratelja i njihovog odnosa s njima. Što su djeca mlađa, to je njihova zavisnost od ovih ljudi veća. Tačka gledišta sa koje odrasli promatraju svijet može biti objektivnija; imati različite perspektive, postavljati pitanja i formirati vlastito mišljenje. Djeca to sporije uče, a tu škola igra važnu ulogu.

Kako je pisati za djecu i na koje teme ste najviše fokusirani?

Pisati za djecu znači da nužno morate imati dječju perspektivu, gledati njihovim očima i biti u potpunosti ograničen ovom okolnošću. To je veliki i zanimljiv izazov koji mogu uporediti sa pisanjem poezije. Morate ispričati nešto što jednostavnije moguće, a da pritom ne izgubite složenost samog sadržaja. Ali za razliku od pisanja poezije, ni u jednom trenutku ne možete pobjeći u nepreciznosti i nejasnoće. Naročito volim pisati tekstove za slikovnice. One obično imaju samo dvanaest crteža i određeni broj riječi i priče moraju biti zanimljive ne samo djeci, već i odraslima koji ih pričaju.

Da li je dječija književnost marginalizirana? Ovdje, u Bosni i Hercegovini, svakako jeste.

Dječija književnost je još uvijek marginalizirana, pa tako i u Švajcarskoj. Ali u posljednjih deset godina tržište je ono koje je najviše poraslo. Odrasli čitaju dvadeset posto manje beletristike, ali roditelji i dalje žele da njihova djeca čitaju knjige. Bilo da im ih oni čitaju ili im jednostavno govore da to sami rade. Dobro obrazovani roditelji posebno znaju koliko je razumijevanje čitanja važno za akademski i profesionalni uspjeh. Nove studije jasno pokazuju da čitanje beletristike podstiče maštu i stimuliše kreativnost. A kreativnost je danas najtraženija osobina.

Je li književnost prostor slobode?

Naravno, književnost je prostor slobode. Pogotovo na početku svakog novog rada na knjizi. Potpuno ste slobodni. Imate toliko mogućnosti da kreirate okruženje, likove, priču, glas naratora ili perspektivu. Ali nakon što napravite nekoliko izbora – a morate ih napraviti – mogućnost slobode se smanjuje. Kao pisac možete živjeti nekoliko života pored svog stvarnog života i možete proživjeti sve aspekte svoje ličnosti – neke koje čak nikada niste nikome pokazali.

Ako je književnost prostor slobode, kakvo mjesto spisateljice imaju u njemu?

Ne bi trebalo da postoji razlika između pisaca i spisateljica i mislim da bi se svi složili oko ovoga. Ali budući da društvom još uvijek dominiraju muškarci i književnom scenom koja je dio toga, ženska književnost je manje prihvaćena i svakako manje nagrađivana. U Njemačkoj, Švicarskoj i Austriji nedavno su započeli ogromnu raspravu o ovoj temi nakon što su naučnici – jednostavnim prebrojavanjem – otkrili da je 70% kritika koje su napisali muški kritičari (a to je ¾ svih tamošnjih kritičara) o knjigama koje su napisali muškarci. A njihove recenzije knjiga su skoro duplo duže od recenzija o knjigama koje su napisale žene. S druge strane, kritičarke gotovo podjednako pišu o knjigama koje su napisali muškarci i žene. Stoga nije iznenađujuće da najveći dio književnih sredstava i nagrada ide piscima i da knjige autorica koštaju u prosjeku 45% manje od onih koje su napisali muškarci. Još uvijek postoji predrasuda da je žensko pisanje naivno i osjetljivo, a muško mudro i briljantno. I to nije samo mišljenje u glavama muškaraca već i u glavama žena. Ali kako bi moglo biti drugačije nakon što su žene gotovo isključivo čitale knjige muških autora u školi, na fakultetu i naučile da je to jedina „vrijedna književnost“?

Viola, vodite radionice kreativnog pisanja. Možete li nam reći više o tome? Kako je podučavati kreativno pisanje?

U Americi, kreativno pisanje postoji na nivou priznate univerzitetske diplome već nekoliko decenija. Poznati autori predaju dugi niz godina prenoseći svoje znanje i iskustvo, a mnogi njihovi učenici su takođe postali veoma uspješni. U zemljama njemačkog govornog područja, s druge strane, ideja o briljantnom piscu koji se oslanja samo na svoj talenat, opstajala je jako dugo. Ovo ima mnogo veze sa nacionalsocijalizmom tokom kojeg je jezik postao važno oruđe za širenje ideologije. Postojao je strah da će nastavnici zloupotrijebiti svoj položaj kako bi uticali na učenike i da će književnost postati roba. Ali kada su izdavači i autori shvatili koliko je ovaj sistem uspješan u SAD-u, časovi kreativnog pisanja postali su sve popularniji i u zemljama njemačkog govornog područja. Tokom jednogodišnjeg boravka u Boulderu (SAD), zajedno sa suprugom i našom djecom, pohađala sam časove kreativnog pisanja i usvojila njihove načine podučavanja. Oni se zasnivaju na širenju vlastitog iskustva u stvaranju književnosti na nekoliko različitih načina i, s druge strane, na razgovoru o rezultatima rada sa nastavnikom (iskusnim autorom) i kolegama studentima. Ovo vas kasnije postepeno vodi ka stvaranju vaših vlastitih tema i usmjerava ka vašem vlastitom pisanju.

Dobili ste mnoge književne nagrade i grantove. Znače književne nagrade i dalje? Šta one za vas predstavljaju?

Da, naravno! Književne nagrade su podstrek i afirmacija

Za kraj: Živimo u vremenu književne hiperprodukcije. Da li je ovo dobra ili loša stvar?

Sa jedne strane je jako dobro jer vam to daje mogućnost da se izrazite na vrlo radikalan način. Ljudi imaju priliku da budu kreativni – za razliku od pasivnog gledanja filmova i konzumiranja serija. A opet, postoji i dosta loše književnosti koja je objavljena u posljednjih dvadeset godina. Umjesto da prisustvuju i promoviraju afirmirane autore, izdavačke kuće stalno traže nove autore sa pričama koje samo reproduciraju društvene trendove. Tržište književnosti je kao i svako drugo tržište, a izdavačkim kućama u današnje vrijeme nije lako opstati i zato mi je drago da ima toliko izdavača entuzijasta koji preuzimaju taj rizik.


Viola Rohner: I like the freedom of creating my own world in a story

By Ivana Golijanin

The Swiss writer Viola Rohner spent the past month in Sarajevo as part of the TRADUKI writers residency program. We talked about the residency and her latest book “42 Degrees”. Viola shared with us her experience as a writer of children’s literature and talked about the creative writing workshops she has been successfully running for several years.

Viola, it is a pleasure to have you here as part of the „Traduki residency program“. Tell me, what did you work on during your stay here?

I’m working on a new novel for adults. I did a lot of research before I came to Sarajevo and now I am trying to figure out how the novel should be narrated.

What is your reading experience with Bosnian literature?

To be honest I don’t have a lot of reading experience yet. Of course, I have read the novels by Saša Stanišić which I like very much, but I don’t know whether his literature could be labeled as Bosnian. Since the beginning of my stay here I have been reading books by Lejla Kalamujić, Damir Ovčina, Semezdin Mehmedinović, Aleksandar Hemon, Atka Reid & Hana Schofield and the poems of Adisa Bašić, which I really admire. All of these books deal with the war in a variety of ways. They are very valuable and important.

Your book „42 Degrees“ has been described as a collection of stories about women at a turning point in their lives. How would you describe it?

My characters live a life that’s not completely theirs. They slithered in it because they thought there is no other opportunity. It’s the way women have to live. Meaning to live in a certain arrangement with their husbands, their boyfriends, their parents, the guidelines of society. The characters of my stories come to a point when they clearly feel that they can’t go on like this. They are very often triggered by facing a difficult moment in their past.  And all of a sudden, they glimpse another possibility of life, of their being. At that moment my stories end.

What made you write this book? Any particularly intimate experience? Does your writing always begin with a personal response?

No, there is no specific response I start with. There is more of a strong feeling or a strong interest in something. I always say it’s like falling in love. I can’t get rid of a certain strong feeling, a certain strong interest. I start to think about it all the time. It can be initiated by a child I see in a playground, a smell, a memory that pops out from the past or a picture I saw by chance in a newspaper or in an art collection.

It seems to me that women have excelled in the genre of short story, in the past couple of years, maybe more. Without generalizing to the point of idiocy, do you think there’s something about this genre that opens itself up for women?

I don’t think so. I guess it has more to do with specific circumstances of life. In general, women – until nowadays – have felt very much responsible for their children, their husbands, parents, their colleagues, the demands of their work. To create art, one needs to forget about all these responsibilities. It’s a very self-serving act – especially if you don’t earn money with it. Writing short stories is a possibility to create art and still fulfill your duties, your care work. A novel can’t be written during a short vacation or those two hours in the evening after the children lie in their beds. You have to work on it regularly during a certain number of hours every day.

Your biography states that you studied German language, history, theater and psychology in Zurich and Berlin. How did you manage to combine all your interests and incorporate them into literary work?

I think all these interests fit perfectly together. I am mainly interested in human beings. And you can’t understand human beings without psychology and history. I studied German philology with focus on literature and theater. Without a deep interest in people, you can’t decode literature and theater.

Do you see yourself exclusively as a German-speaking writer?

No. I would like my work to be translated into more languages. Especially my children’s books. Because I think topics I engage with are universal and easy to understand for children all over the world. But after my short story collection ’42 Degrees’ was translated into Arabic language, I also realized that my books for adults – which I thought are only interesting to European readers with a background similar to mine – are even interesting to readers from completely different cultures. Maybe it is because the cultural background of real readers is not so different anymore. Most of them went to universities, lived in cities, struggled with the same problems in relationships, with the expectations of their parents or society. They travel, they live in different countries like most of my protagonists do.

Speaking of which: writers, they say, always write something of themselves into their protagonists. How much do you share with your characters?

I share a lot with them. I wouldn’t understand them otherwise. But I don’t write autobiographically. I like the freedom of creating my own world in a story. But very often I use parts of experience I made in real life.

You are the author of books for children. What prompted you to start writing books for children?

I never thought I would write for children until I was over 40. The reason is that I had a difficult childhood. I was sexually abused and endured quite a lot of violence in my family. So, I didn’t want to remember my own childhood. And without this memory you can’t write for children. During a crisis I had to reconnect with the child I once was. Thereafter I started writing for children. I told the stories I wished someone had told me when I was a kid.

How do you feel about the way children perceive the world compared with the way adults do?

There is a big difference between the perception of world between children and adults. Children’s perception is heavily filtered by their close caregivers and their relationship with them. The younger they are, the greater their dependance on these people is. Adults’ perception can be more objective. We can take on different perspectives, inform ourselves, ask questions and form our own opinion. Children are slow to learn this. The school plays an important role here.

What is it like to write for children and what topics are you most focused on?

Writing for children means you have to have a child’s perspective. Your perception while writing is totally limited by this circumstance. That’s a big challenge and very interesting to me. It’s comparable to writing poetry. You have to tell something as simple as possible without losing the complexity of the content. But unlike writing poetry, you can never take refuge in imprecision and vagueness. According to this I especially like writing texts for picture books. They usually have only twelve drawings and a certain number of words and the stories have to be interesting not only for children, but also for the adults who tell it.

Is children’s literature marginalized? Here, in Bosnia, it certainly is.

Children’s literature is still marginalized. In Switzerland as well. But in the last ten years it’s the market that has grown the most. Adults read twenty percent less fiction books, but parents still want their children to read books. They read to them or tell them to read books by themselves. Parents with a good education especially know how important reading comprehension is for academic and professional success. New studies clearly show that reading fiction promotes imagination and stimulates creativity. And creativity is the most sought-after trait in workers today.

Is literature a space of freedom?

Of course. Literature is a space of freedom. Especially at the beginning of a new project. You are totally free. You have so many possibilities to create the setting of a novel, the characters, the storyline, the narrator`s voice or the perspective. It’s just wonderful. But after you’ve made a few choices – and you have to make them-, the freedom diminishes. But still, liberty is immense. As a writer you can live several lives beside your real life and you can live through all of the aspects of your personality – many of which you never show.

If literature is a space of freedom, what place do women writers have in it?

There shouldn’t be a difference between the place of women and men in literature. I think everybody agrees about this. But because society is still male-dominated and the literature scene as a part of it too, women’s books are less well received and less rewarded. In Germany, Switzerland and Austria started recently a huge discussion about this topic after scientists – by simple counting – found out that 70% of reviews written by male critics (and that’s ¾ of all critics there) are about books written by men. And their book reviews are almost twice as long as the reviews about books written by women. On the other hand, female critics write almost equally about books written by men and women. It’s therefore not surprising that the bulk of literary funding and awards got to men and that women authors’ books cost on average 45% less than those written by men.

There is still this prejudice that women’s writing is naïve and sensitive and men’s writing is sage and brilliant. And this is not only the opinion in the minds of men but also in the minds of women. But how could it be different after generation of women almost exclusively read books by male authors in school and at university and learned that this is ‘valuable literature’?

Viola, you run creative writing workshops. Can you tell us more about that? What is it like to teach creative writing?

In America, Creative Writing has existed as a recognized University degree for several decades. Famous authors have been teaching there for many years passing on their knowledge and experience and a lot of their students have also become very successful. In German-speaking countries, on the other hand, this idea of the brilliant author who draws entirely from himself has persisted for a very long time. This has a lot to do with National Socialism, during which language became an important tool for spreading ideology. There was this fear that teachers would abuse their position to influence their students and that literature would become a commodity. But when publishers and authors realized how successful this system in the US is, creative writing classes became more and more popular in German-speaking countries.

During my one-year stay in Boulder (USA), together with my husband and our children, I took some creative writing classes and learned their ways of teaching. It’s especially based on extending one’s own experience of producing literature into several different ways and, on the other hand, discussing the results with the teacher (an experienced author) and fellow students. This gradually leads you towards your own topics and your own writing.

You have received many literary awards and grants. Do literary awards still mean anything? What do awards mean to you?

Yes, of course! They are encouragement and affirmation. And they were also important to me in the sense that the principal of the high scool where I taught until this summer showed his appreciation by giving me unpaid vacation. This enabled me to work intensively on new projects. 

We live in a time of literary hyperproduction. In your opinion, is this a good thing or a bad thing?

On one side it’s very good. A lot of people are being given the opportunity to live another life beside their daily life.  They are creative – in contrast of passively watching movies and consuming series. Producing literature gives you the possibility to express yourself in a very radical way and that’s just wonderful.

On the other hand, there is maybe more malarkey that’s been published in the last twenty years. Instead of attending and promoting their proved authors, publishing houses are looking steadily for new authors with stories that reproduce social trends. But to be honest literature market is a market like any other. And for publishing houses it’s not easy to survive nowadays. I’m glad that there are so many enthusiastic publishers who take that risk.


Ovaj intervju je objavljen u okviru projekta “Web portal P.E.N. Centra u BiH”, uz finansijsku podršku Ministarstva kulture i sporta Kantona Sarajevo. Intervju je prvotno objavljen u štampanom izdanju lista “Oslobođenje” (03. septembar/rujan 2022).

This interview was published as a part of the project “Web portal of the PEN Centre of Bosnia & Herzegovina”, with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Sarajevo Canton. The interview was originally published in the printed edition of “Oslobođenje” magazine (September 3, 2022).

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