Sehr geehrter Herr Minister Neumann, Madam Permanent Delegate of Germany to UNESCO, dear Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig, Mr Ambassador of Germany to France, dear Reinhard Schäfers, Madam President of Arte France Paris, dear Véronique Cayla, Dear Guy Walter, Lady President of the Genshagen Foundation, dear Christel Hartmann-Fritsch, Dear Stéphane Hessel, Dear members of the jury, Dear laureates, dear Céline Minard, dear Thomas Melle, Dear friends,
«The boatman in his small boat
Is seized with a mad pain,
He no longer sees the reefs,
He always looks up.
I think the waves have finally
Swallowed the boatman and his boat
And this is the Lorelei, with its fatal song,
Who did all this harm.”
These verses, which were learned by so many German schoolchildren, are signed Heinrich Heine, probably the most Parisian of your writers. At a time when the European Union sometimes seems to falter, we can at least hope that it will not suffer the fate of Heine’s boatman’s boat.
This is the occasion, once again, to remind us that intellectual and cultural flows are the very subject of our common boat; and that the Europe of culture, far from incantations, has always preceded political voluntarism. Our Franco-German cultural cooperation works to promote the visibility of these exchanges, to encourage them as well, in order to help us define and keep what Jacques Derrida, in Liber, the European Journal of Books, called “the other way”.
What imminence is there? Something unique is going on in Europe, in what is still called Europe, even though we no longer know what is called that. (…) Rejecting analogy as well as anticipation, what appears to be unprecedented. Anguished experience of imminence, crossed by two contradictory certainties: the very old subject of cultural identity in general (before the war, we might have talked about the «spiritual» identity), the very old subject of European identity has certainly the venerable antiquity of an exhausted theme. But this "subject" may have a virgin body. Wouldn’t his name mask something that doesn’t have a face yet?"
These lines were written twenty years ago, a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are more current than ever, and this «something that has not yet a face», our contemporary literatures contribute precisely to shape it.
For the second year, the Franz Hessel Prize for Contemporary Literature will help deepen the already rich intellectual and literary exchanges between the two banks of the Rhine, enriching them with new perspectives, promoting translation, between our two languages, our contemporary literary creation. As you know, the aim of this prize is to introduce a German author to France and a French author to Germany. By promoting the translation of the two winners' award-winning books for publication in the other country, our two ministries want to contribute to giving a better editorial visibility to the works that contribute to the construction of our common literary and cultural landscape, these works that explore the limits of our lives in the face of modernity, as Franz Hessel masterfully did in his time, between Paris and Berlin.
I welcome the partnership between these two major cultural laboratories, the Villa Gillet and the Genshagen Foundation, which will offer a joint residence to the two laureates, offering them a programme of meetings and public debates.
I would especially like to greet the members of the jury for their commitment and the demands they have made: Nils Ahl, Francesca Isidori, Christine de Mazières, Augustin Trapenard, Guy Walter, Hatice Akyün, Thorsten Dönges, Hans-Peter Kunisch and Ulrike Vedder.
After Maylis de Kerangal and Kathrin Röggla last year in Freiburg-en-Brisgau, Céline Minard for So Long, Luise, published by Denoël, and Thomas Melle for Sickster, published by Rowohlt, are this year the winners of the Franz Hessel Prize.
Dear Céline Minard, after studying philosophy and working as a bookseller, you devote yourself to writing novels and stories, where the inventiveness of your prose is characterized by a hybridization of registers and languages that profoundly renews contemporary writing. You were a resident of Villa Medici in 2007 and Villa Kujoyama this year. Your novel Bastard Battle received a special mention from the jury of the Wepler Prize – La Poste Foundation three years ago. The tales, the fantastic, the bucolic intersect in your works, and we find all the formal freedom in your latest novel So Long, Luise – a love novel between two women across Europe, testamentary writing blurring the boundaries between the real and the marvelous, in search of a heavenly vision of existence.
Dear Thomas Melle, after studying comparative literature and philosophy in Tübingen, Austin (Texas) and Berlin, you translate the Californian writer William T. Vollmann, you publish several plays and a collection of stories, Raumforderung. Sickster is your first novel, a portrait of a virtuoso era, where failed writers and «business-punks» of a perverted capitalism, disoriented and solitary characters in the nightlife and the bottoms of a Berlin traveled under Vodka Red Bull. With you, the stroll dear to Franz Hessel and Walter Benjamin takes a completely different turn, if it is still possible.
Both of you, on our worlds, our languages, our literatures, look indispensable to our time.
I now give the floor to Minister of State Bernd Neumann.