A Reading and Discussion at the English Theater Berlin

good evening thanks for coming out on
this windy but wonderful summer night everybody should doing something else
but as he said my name is Gregor dots i am the literary editor of their tagesspiegel
in Berlin and it’s my pleasure to introduce two wonderful young writers to
you Fiona mizelle in the middle and Karen Russell to my right…. the english
theatre berlin is located in Berlin’s multicultural center kreuzberg the US
Embassy has a long-standing and fruitful partnership with a theater using it is
one of the main locations for visiting authors as part of the English
literature series is English theater marquee Eleison nvidia haider arbitron’s
i hiding in the arm for several years now the english theater has been
organizing readings like tonight’s it’s great to be working with the American
Embassy again and continuing the literature series we hope this will
continue in the future we also occasionally have readings of detective
novels so that one can really say that this has become a tradition in the
English theater is it IM englischen to other employers interdits yo nam as
fiona invited Karen to share her reading this is not a pairing of chance the
pairing of choice they have admired each other for quite some years now and the
fact that both of them are fella on fellowships in Germany like you just
heard allows us what to find out what connects the both in terms of literary
style and taste apart from the fact that they both belong to the five under 35
National the National Book Foundation annually selects for their presentations
she Fiona had this in 2008 and Karen 2000 I know just the other way round and
both were writers in residence at Bard College so let’s start with Fiona which
is why I want to ask Karen first she calls wake up lonely let me quote a
funhouse Hall of Mirrors whose dark and hilarious distortions revealed some most
sorry revealed some almost unbearable truths
about what it means to be lonely in America today what are these unbearable
truths I know my goodness I’m sorry is this oh that’s working um I love Fiona’s
new novel I got the great pleasure of being an early reader for it and I think
one of the ways that you want to use this humor in the book to incredible
effect is to to never make her characters themselves jokes but always
to speed up I call it unbearable but I think just the way that people are
leaving these incredibly partitioned lives in America right now and kind of
the this terrible disjuncture between commercial reality you know the sort of
the myth you mentioned the happily married couple right so there’s this
sort of glossy cartoon of cartoon kind of a really impoverished dream of what
happiness is that involves I don’t know this myth of just a sexual bliss around
the clock SUV make a mansion you know Mick franchise there’s sort of these
dreams that are sort of dictated by corporations and then the real the
really private way that people suffer in her book so there’s a character who has
this terrible illness and and how how sort of impossibly private that is and
how that that pain is accentuated by this sort of the commercial reality you
know that that’s sort of streaming live 24 7 we learn about that in a moment but
do you really think there’s a substantial maybe the empirically
measurable rise of loneliness in Western societies or does this loneliness rather
consists in hopes and expectations no contemporary life can satisfy any more no I don’t think so you want to go all
right now we’re good whoo no I think that that loneliness is on the rise in
Western culture and or at least we’re more aware of it primarily because
social networking has brought people together you know quote unquote in such
a way as to make a paramount just how unbelievably bifurcated and fractured
people’s lives are most people now communicate almost exclusively via text
and email and if you look at the stats I did a lot of research for the novel and
the stats were unbelievably depressing you know every single form of social and
civic engagement in the country has fallen off by something like sixty
percent in the last five years we used to have bowling leagues picnic leagues
people used to do stuff together go to church go hiking and now people are
living solitary lives of course there’s a big distinction to be made between
being solitary and being lonely solitude is quite nice loneliness is quite
devastating can we do anything about this loneliness well depends who you ask
really i mean the mandate for this cult in the novel is that the cult should
kind of try to assault and perhaps or mount loneliness in america by having
people go on speed dates and confess to each other at a very high level there
are all these kind of forced ways of getting people to interact by way of
accosting loneliness but no I mean there’s this kind of fundamental tension
you know we’re born alone we die alone this is you know the existential
condition of human spirits and is there any way it ever surmount that I mean I’m
certainly not the first author to tackle this problem do I think it’s soluble I
don’t know and I’m not even sure that that’s the appropriate question and
that’s what the novel is kind of about is that really is that really what we
want to be spending all of our time on or is it just one of those questions
that you just sort of forget about and in the meantime you have that
immovable fact of the feelings that you have for the people around you in my
introduction I mentioned it was the Wallace who with the pale king left as a
whole novel and boredom isn’t lonely it’s just the flipside of boredom and
isn’t boredom again a symptom of the information overload in a way at least
in parts social medias information overload at the same time I don’t know i
mean loneliness doesn’t have to be an evacuation of your inner life I mean you
don’t have to be dismissed of all creativity in order in order to feel
lonely whereas boredom seems like anathema you know to all the creative
instinct they are both sweeping rather deadening American preoccupations but
the pale king had these amazing i don’t know how many people have read it but
you know they’d had these amazing set pieces that were the opposite of boring
I mean you know this man can dwell on boredom in such a way that boredom seems
like the most inspiriting enlivening experience you know what can have and
loneliness can certainly feel that way you can feel energetic especially if you
are if your loneliness trucks with a high degree of despair despair always
being potentially comic and invigorating

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