Verfreundungseffekt: Engaging with German-speaking culture

Jen

Veffekt 2 Publicity CoverWith the myriad of online magazines about lifestyle, art, music, fashion and relationship cropping up all over the globe (us being one of them, of course), it is a rare experience to find an independant print magazine in a book shop, by chance, that includes none of the subjects you’d normally expect. Or at least not in the way you are used to. But if, after a stroll through the Tate Modern exhibition rooms in London, you wander into the shop, hunting for a postcard of that one mesmerising painting, it might just happen to you. You could pick up an Issue of Verfreundungeffekt, an Anglo-German magazine, puzzled about its meaning, unsure about what it signifies, what the hell it is supposed to tell you.

Incidentally, Verfreundungseffekt will be launching its 2nd Issue this coming Thursday, the 29th January 2015, 7 pm, at The White Building in London (event description etc.). You can go and find out all about it there, but to set you up with everything you need to know, we’ve asked founder and chief editor Jen Calleja a few questions.

The Re|view: Jen, first of all – what does Verfreundungseffekt mean?

Jen: Verfreundungseffekt is an adapted version of the word Verfremdungseffekt, Bertolt Brecht’s well-known method of creating a feeling of distance in his theatre. This ‘alienation effect’ or ‘effect of making strange’ was a means of making the audience see their own lives and circumstances in his plays in the hope of inciting socio-political change, rather than allowing them to watch for entertainment and as an escape from reality. This would be by breaking the fourth wall for example.

Verfreundungseffekt is doing the same kind of thing: a move away from fetishising, stereotyping or distancing oneself from foreign culture and actually engaging with contemporary German-language culture and German-speaking people. By swapping the ‘fremd’ (alien, foreign) part with ‘freund’ (friend) I made my own term, ‘friendation effect’ or ‘the feeling of familiarity’. It’s also a hilariously long word, and you would expect nothing less as the title for a German-focused magazine. As the cultural commentator Nein Quarterly points out in his fragment in the journal, the uncanny feeling we get when we come into contact with another culture is fundamentally what makes other cultures so inviting and simultaneously why we find the experience a little unnerving. So, it’s a balance between the fascination with the foreign and the connection through the familiar which is what a love for another culture is.

Contributors would ask “Is that what you’re looking for?” and I would just say, write whatever comes to mind.

The Re|view: You have previously described this as an ethnographic as well as an arts magazine. What exactly what can your readers expect?

Jen: The way I see it, the journal’s only purpose is to act as a record of real experiences, interests, memories and passions to do with the opposite culture (German-speakers on English-speaking culture, and vice versa). I simply want to prove that an Anglo-German culture exists. It’s not an attempt to define either culture, none of the content is sought out or commissioned (apart from the interviews I conduct), I simply asked in the call-out for submissions for people to write or create based on how something or someone from the other culture has affected them or something they find particular to that culture or about the Verfreundungseffekt itself. It’s a hands-off editing process in a way as I didn’t want to influence what people wrote or made.

Contributors would ask “Is that what you’re looking for?” or “Is that right?” and I would just say, write whatever comes to mind. You can’t start with an idea in your head of what Anglo-German culture is, otherwise it would just be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and rather boring. You couldn’t find these kinds of submissions. I don’t want to give away too much, but topics range from The Simpsons to London banking culture to pronouns to wrestling politicians.

The Re|view: You will be launching the 2nd Issue of V-Effekt next week in London. How do you feel in relation to the first – have things developed or changed?

Jen: This second journal is far more ambitious, just quantatively. It’s about three times the size of the first. I was able to include so much more work, though the submissions are the same: translations, ruminations on culture, playing with the ideas people have of different cultures. The main development is a move away from German culture meaning Germany: this new volume includes an interview with Austrian artist and musician Heinz Riegler who was part of the Australian post-punk scene in the 90s and at least three of the performers at the launch are either Swiss or have Swiss parents, which is kind of a promise to have more Swiss, Austrian and examples of German culture and English-language culture from further afield for the final one.

The Re|view: The final one?

Jen: Yes. As things stand now, I want to make a trilogy. What will happen after that – who knows.

The Re|view: What is your own take on the intercultural relations between Germany and the English speaking world? 

Jen: My impetus for starting the journal was because I overheard someone at my university, while I was doing my MA in German Studies, say that they liked German literature and culture but found German people annoying. I mean, what is that? It’s a particular phenomena in academia and study I think. In opposition to that, when I was 18 and living in Munich I witnessed German teenagers trying to be less German and more American, British, Scandanavian or French and it made an impression on me. There is intercultural work going on, the British Museum had a huge exhibition on German culture, which was brilliant. However, on the other hand, it played on a pretty traditional, pre-conceived, premillennial concept of Germany. But can you name a contemporary German/Austrian/Swiss artist or an emerging German-language author? You will after having read Verfreundungseffekt. It’s about what’s going on now.

Really the magazine is part of a wider dialogue on the ethics and emotions of cultural exchange, that’s why Mona Kriegler’s piece on her work on Iraqi culture opens the journal. I still cringe when any culture is summed up in certain personality traits or when specific instances of experience are used to represent the entire culture. Try summing up British culture in one book, one historial event, one personality. Impossible.

I went to Asymptote Journal‘s fourth birthday panel discussion at the Free Word Centre recently and literary translator Deborah Smith pointed out that because so little literature is translated from Korean and Asian languages a single book can suddenly take on huge cultural significance and will be used as a go-to for understanding a country’s entire identity. Depending on the book, this can be dangerous. Imagine if something like American Psycho was the only book the world had to judge English-speaking culture on for a generation. It would be deliberately misinterpreted and used as a weapon. Cultural economy can have real socio-political affects. The journal is my attempt at ‘soft diplomacy’.

I’m a print person. It’s worth all my savings.

The Re|view: These days it is much easier to publish online. Why, then, go for print? And will there be an online version available in the future?

Jen: I suppose things don’t really ‘exist’ anymore unless there’s an online version, even your self. I’d like to scan all the issues and have an archive online, for access purposes, seeing as the journals are in relatively short runs. But I’d prefer a book made of all three instead. Joe Hales, who designs Verfreundungseffekt, creates incredible publications. He obsesses over paper, colour, fonts, and his work allows for a lot of space (or the German term: Luft, which means air) on the page. White space online isn’t the same as on a page. You can’t have fold outs, just picture reveals, and you can’t have textured paper, just the impression of texture. It’s just not the same, I’m a print person. It’s worth all my savings.

Photographs courtesy of Jen Calleja. You can meet her at the launch event and ask her anything you like, in case we haven’t covered everything.

You can also PREORDER the 2nd Issue of V-Effekt.

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