Why time travels can be cruel, comical, and filthy | Writer Harald Voetmann | Louisiana Channel



“The writing is beautiful,” said the praised New York poet, Patti Smith, feeling both “optimistic and grateful” after reading Harald Voetmann’s Awake – the first in a series of historical novels.

Voetmann’s three historical novels, ‘Sublunar’ (about Tycho Brahe in the Renaissance) ‘Visions and Temptations’ (about Othlo of St. Emmeram in the Middle Age), and ‘Awake’ (about Pliny the Elder) are all about men, who has “this urge to conquer.” “On the one side, it’s the curiosity and the scientific driver, but on the other, it’s brutality and tyranny. That’s the duality that is present in several of my books,” Voetmann concludes.

“A thing that the characters in these novels have in common is that they’re defined by their drives. It’s as if hooks in their flesh pull them along by one drive or another. But when you create characters that are controlled by their drives they also inevitably become comical. In my books, they also don’t escape. And that makes them comic characters but at the same time horrifying. And that’s where comedy is also the cruel genre.”

“What interests me is to try to evoke an image of the place, the time, and the atmosphere. That is at the expense of everything else.” “I think it’s important to speak to the senses in the way that the text attempts to awaken sense memories in the reader. Senses are awoken through language and this is part of what fiction can do,” Voetmann says.

“I think we risk being laughed at some time in the future with our perception of how everything hangs together which then will seem comical.”

In this interview, we take a trip to the Swedish island of Hven with one of Denmark’s most celebrated younger writers Harald Voetmann. Here he presents his novel ‘Sublunar’ which takes place on the island around the astronomer Tycho Brahe, who built his observatory on Hven in the 16th century. Voetmann mixes existing old texts with his own, calling his historical novels “time travels” seen from “down in the dirt, where life is lived.”

When working at an autobiographical text in 2008, Harald Voetmann discovered that it “didn’t seem right, just telling my own story directly.” Instead, Voetmann simultaneously told a story of the pastor, who named the street, where he grew up. “I found out that through this method of delving into something other than myself that was the way I could open up to myself.”

“I’m very interested in what happens in the meeting with the voices of others.” “There’s a lot of talk about finding your own voice. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s overrated. I’m very interested in what happens in the meeting with the voices of others. It’s a question of meeting the other halfway, somehow which is also the case when you translate. To me, that process is far more interesting than the idea of cultivating a style that is supposedly my own. That’s where literature is the most interesting – in the meeting that may take place.”

Harald Voetmann (born 1978) is a translator and writer. He published his first book of prose ‘Kapricer’ in 2000. Since then he has published more than 10 books of prose and poetry. For ‘Sublunar’ Voetmann was awarded the prestigious ‘Kritikerprisen’. As a translator, Voetmann has published translations by writers such as Satyricon, Pliny the Elder, and Petronius.

Excerpts read in this video are translated by Johanne Sorgenfri Ottosen. Harald Voetmann was interviewed by Christian Lund at the island of Hven in September 2020.

Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard

Edit: Kasper Bech Dyg

Produced by Kasper Bech Dyg

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2020.

Supported by C.L. Davids Fond og Samling

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