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A city listens with rapt attention

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28 May – 1 June 2008 saw a new festival of literature in Salzburg. Jochen Jung reports

It must be a long while since an audience has been as enthused, relaxed and happy after an event as were those present at the opening evening of the first Salzburg Literature Festival. And this was not just down to the five authors who gave such truly hilarious readings. No, in reality, it was thanks to the works themselves, because good texts promote good feelings, and, on this occasion, also because they resonated with the audience, who felt themselves being taken seriously despite the comedy of the words.
 
Prominent names such as Martin Walser and Michael Köhlmeier appeared alongside less famous – but nonetheless fascinating – authors such as that literary knockabout turn Brigitta Falkner and the virtuoso poet Jan Wagner. Masters of the narrative form like Robert Menasse met up with colleagues such as Michael Lentz and Albert Ostermaier, who interweave their texts with music to thrilling effect. Both challenging and light-hearted fare was on offer; you could enjoy yourself but be coaxed into reflection at the same time.
 
It was all so simple really. The concept of a festival of literature is far from new, and there had already been a few attempts which had foundered due to conflicts of interest. However, in a city like Salzburg, which thus far has been flooded with a plethora of festivals devoted to Music, Theatre, Dance and Art, the desire to add Literature to the mix was unusually strong. In the end all that was needed was sheer impetus, determination, and an imaginative decision as to what form the event would take, and the Literature Festival was under way.
 
The idea was to take a wide variety of authors and the broadest range of themes and literary forms of expression possible, and, in just a few days, create a picture of the phenomenal richness of the way in which literature reacts to the world. It wants to entertain us, to look for answers to the great questions of life. It wants to explore, quite simply, how people live, how they get on with one another, or for that matter, how they don’t. It wants to be truthful, and it wants to grasp the unique chance – which the art of letters and words at their most powerful so spectacularly achieves – of creating beauty.
 
Literature is by no means a public art form. We encounter it alone, book in hand, beneath the glow of a lamp. The text and I, that’s the challenge, that’s the pleasure of it. And an encounter with an artist in our increasingly alienated world always ends up becoming a reference to ourselves. Another person, an author, reads to us what he has created, observed and experienced, and we sit there listening, our own experiences and that of the author forming a silent dialogue. The unique quality of the few days at Salzburg began with the authors, and the gratitude felt by all who liistened to them was, first and foremost, our tribute to them.
 
Everyone was in agreement that Salzburg’s first literary festival should definitely not be its last, and by the time it drew to a close we were already looking forward to its anticipated successor.
 
 
Translated by Jamie Searle.
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Jochen Jung
is publisher at Jung und Jung, the independent publishing house in Salzburg, and is himself a novelist and translator.
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