The pillars of the Vilenica programme are the literary events that will take place on various occasions and at various locations in Slovenia (and Italy). The focal point will be Saturday, 5 September, at the festivities surrounding the awarding of the Vilenica prize. Approximately 40 authors will appear, reading from their works in the original languages, Slovene translations of the works will be projected onto a screen, while English translations will be available in printed form in the 2009 Vilenica Almanac and in publications made for the occasion. The leading contribution to the Almanac will, as in previous years, be awarded the Crystal Vilenica, which will be presented at the Štanjel literary matinee by an internal jury made up of Festival guests. Especially prominent guests will appear on the evening immediately preceding the opening of the Festival at various locations throughout Slovenia (as well as in Gorizia, Italy).
Theoretical Component: Who chooses?
A book does not exist in a vacuum, although this may seem to be the case for the creator when s/he is (still) alone with it. Once it has been published, it begins a life that is in many respects unforeseeable. Its destiny is determined by objective and entirely arbitrary circumstances and individuals. The themes of the 23rd, 24th, and 25th Vilenica illuminate in critical terms the path the book takes from the author to the reader in time and space. If last year’s concern was who writes?, next year we will concern ourselves with the one who reads, this year’s theme, as might be expected, is what happens in between. Who chooses? is the motto of the 2009 Vilenica, which will scrutinize the choosing of authors and their works for the market and in the media.
As the book trade is well aware, this is a legitimate subject of investigation in literary criticism, one which up to now has not been accorded adequate systematic reflection. At Vilenica this will be dealt with at the CEI round table, which will be led by Dr. Andrej Blatnik, and the 7th International Comparative Literature colloquium under the direction of Dr. Marijan Dović.
As Dović notes in his draft plans for the discussion that will take place, on the path from the author to the reader a book passes through various filters: the first is represented by the literary journal and publisher as traditional institutions of literary mediation; then there is the media space and its critical apparatus but also every public appearance of the author, followed by the institution of literary prizes; last in the chain is academic discourse and the forming of the canon. Included in the system of literary mediation are also institutions which deliberately promote (national) literature abroad, as well as individuals: translators, literary agents, cultural managers and others. This mechanism, of course, is not linear, as its elements influence each other in a complex and intricate manner, though the fact remains that at each of these levels there occurs a selection of authors and his/her works, which in addition to intrinsic literary criteria intentionally or unintentionally respect a number of extra-literary viewpoints, such as the ethical and aesthetic norms of the time, declared or latent ideology, the taste of the reading public and the resulting sales statistics, the author’s reputation and popularity, as well as personal acquaintance, interest and particular tastes.
The fact remains that the mechanisms for the selection of authors and works are necessary, heterogeneous, and subservient to the function and goal of the choice, but in any case it is possible to agree that today these mechanisms are perhaps particularly non-transparent, often unpredictable, discriminatory, and short-sighted in their inclination towards profit and immediate success. In the words of Michael Ondaatje, they are “random and manic.” As such they reflect the general state of things in a society that dances to the beat of the market and media popularity. The elevating of market values into the main arbiter of the quality of the literary work can lead into the blind alley of enforced conformity. The value of the book lies precisely in its moving beyond the expectations of a particular cultural context.
Perhaps the difficulty stems, among other things, from the contradiction between two obstinate and hard-to-reconcile systems: the artistic and the economic. As Dović notes in his draft for the colloquium, when we consider Bourdieu’s sociological model, there is “a mediating function […] a place, in which are intertwined most obviously the forces of opposing types of capital, the economic and the symbolic,” and is it is “precisely in art [that] such crossing produces the most contradictory effects.” The friction between them in some way embodies the function of the editor as a point “in which the world of art meets with the world of business” and as one who “stands with one leg in the world of the unlimited freedom of the author’s creating that is characteristic of modern art systems, but who simultaneously has the other leg firmly anchored in some structure, some hierarchy (be it business or politics).”
The system of literary mediating is complex and engenders a number of challenges for the branch as well as various agents in the genesis of the book. Of the many questions, which the present theme elicits, we will, over two days of discussion, focus only on the few that represent especially interesting viewpoints for the present. The problem area, over whose boundaries a holistic debate will occur, is noted in condensed form by Andrej Blatnik in the concept of the CEI round table, where he wrote: “”Extra-textual circumstances on the one hand enable not only the survival of literature, but also its response in the public, and on the other lessen its possibilities of autonomy (also by not adapting the activities to a particular literary work), and thus reduce the possibilities of conception, existence, recognition and survival of the internally comprehensive and radically innovative works of art. All those participating in the selection processes in the literary sphere therefore take part in choosing between freedom (new, different) and command (known and recognised), in which not only their aesthetical taste, but also ethical choice is involved.” Anyone who chooses a book, be it randomly and unwittingly, assumes a certain responsibility, since s/he indirectly influences what will be read and sold, and what overlooked and marginalized in a given culture.
The third event linked to the topic will be included in the accompanying Vilenica programme and will be held on the Sunday before the week of Vilenica in the Negovan Nemec Gallery in Bilje in cooperation with the Slovene Writers’ Association Youth Club. A discussion entitled “who chooses young authors of the past and today?” will attempt to illuminate the challenges, difficulties, but also the joys with which literary creators are confronted today when their work is first published, and to define what makes today’s situation specific. The discussion will also consider how the complex mechanisms of choosing influence the creative climate and the self-confidence of the young authors of today.