Standing together also means keeping one’s distance. In a pandemic, solidarity is no longer expressed with a firm handshake or a brotherly kiss but by keeping a safe distance. But even before such measures to restrict the spread of infection, partially keeping others at bay was part of living and working together amicably. Neighbors, for instance, preserve distance through discretion, especially concerning everyday conversations about private and professional details. Among colleagues, critical distance is valued, because it promises a second, objective view of one’s own work. For instance, adopting a professionally distanced attitude toward literature is considered central to literary and artistic critique, in scholarship and in newspapers, or when awarding literary prizes—and failing to uphold it often leads to scandals.
In recent decades, however, intimate readers have also become increasingly important for literary production, whether as mentors in writing schools or on social media where readers can like, retweet, and comment on the writing process in real time. These developments are challenging the old concept of critical distance and its institutions. In contemporary literature, authors have begun playing with a distanced-observational style on the one hand, and immersive writing on the other. Again and again, the spaces between the narrative voice and the characters, between authorship and autofiction, between past, present, and future are renegotiated. Here, irony, pretence, and detachment are put to the test as methods of narrative distancing.
Again, it is not only a matter of creating and maintaining distance but often also of overcoming it. Sharing one’s own background or one’s own class affiliation can raise awareness of the disparities between social groups and can help renegotiating these relationships. Thus, narration and translation are used by contemporary literature to build bridges and reduce distances. But more than that, they open up new possibilities for linguistic differentiation and distancing.
It is these questions of critical and playful distance, of enforced or desired divides, and of the spaces that literature creates, endures, or conquers that we want to address at the ZfL Literature Days. With eight readings and talks, as well as a panel discussion, the event will take place in June 2021 at the Literaturhaus Berlin.