Animals and Other People | Day 4

Victoria Strobl and Irene Zanol report daily from the European Literature Days.
auf buchfühlung (Victoria Strobl & Irene Zanol)

11.00 – Literary-Musical Matineé and Honorary Award to Philippe Sands

For one last time during this festival, the spotlights are again directed towards the stage in the Klangraum Minoritenkirche, and the auditorium is dimmed. Duo Sonoma’s violin and guitar music gets us in the mood for a celebratory Sunday matinée for Philippe Sands that Walter Grond opens with a welcome speech and words of acknowledgement.

The British-French lawyer and author Philippe Sands today receives the Honorary Prize of the Austrian Book Trade for Tolerance in Thought and Action. Benedikt Föger, President of the Main Association of the Austrian Book Trade, has travelled to Krems to present the prize, and the journalist and university professor Ernst Strouhal is here to give the laudatory speech for Philippe Sands.

“When we awarded the prize to Philippe Sands in March”, says Föger, “it was still a different world. From today’s perspective, too, one must say: our decision couldn’t have been more appropriate.” In the following award speech, Strouhal primarily focused on one aspect of Sand’s work: on the brilliant narrator and on how he interweaves historical facts with personal stories and allows his gaze to pivot between present and past.

Sand’s acceptance speech was touching. He dedicated the prize to those members of his family who are no longer here and whom he never had the chance to get to know. He explained how he has a special relationship to Austria, the land of his ancestors, being himself the son of Jewish parents and born in London, while many previous generations of family members who fled Austria became victims of the Holocaust: 

“It feels in a sense like an embrace in two directions. It is to be frank never entirely without nuance or complexity for me to be in Vienna and in Austria. But I feel your embrace and I embrace you in return. Because I have a deep connection with this country. It is a place that courses through my veins. I have no doubt that my Austrianness in some ways influences what I do and what I write. And at this very difficult moment in the world – I think we all feel that – where tolerance is so important, this moment for me personally is as though a line has been drawn, that was a past in my relationship with Austria and there is the future going forward. And that is a very wonderful thing.”

In the following discussion with Rosie Goldsmith, Sands gave insights into the creation of his works – the academic, legal as well as literary writing. According to Sands, his cases as a lawyer were the basis for everything that followed. However, the big difference in writing the first part of his literary trilogy, “East West Street” (“Rückkehr nach Lemberg”), derived from the fact that he had to and wanted to incorporate the personal dimension into the work, which tends to be conventionally avoided in the academic field. Sands further described the effects of the books on his family as well as on his own Jewish identity.

At the end of the event, the author acknowledged the immensely important function of music, particularly in times like these, and personally thanked the two musicians from Carinthia, Sara and Mira Gregorič of Duo Sonoma. They combined the most diverse genres in their musical contributions – from classical to tango and jazz as far as contemporary music – and in an original and imaginative way they opened up new spaces for contemplation and reflection.


The intense debates of the past few days – during events on the podium, but also during breaks, meals and walks through autumnal Krems – don’t end with this day. Thoughts linger; they want to be further reflected and perhaps even reconsidered. To round off with, we asked some of this year’s participants at the European Literature Days for their personal (interim-)conclusion:

Rosie Goldsmith, British multi-media journalist, founder of the European Literature Network and busy every year at the European Literature Days as a brilliant moderator, gives her verdict:

“I have to start with the end, which is Sunday, and the day Philippe Sands was given the award from the Austrian Book Trade. And I must say, it could not have been a more extraordinary, remarkable, wonderful end to the festival because not only did he speak about literature and storytelling but also about the rights of humans and also animals and about the environmental laws. He drew the conclusion of the whole festival himself. In that sense the ending was as wonderful as the beginning, where we were all finding our way with this rather complicated topic, which was for me quite a new topic. I really had to think hard about that topic of humans and animals and equal rights and putting ourselves into the minds of animals and the needs of animals, trying to think differently about the world. And through the few days I just learned so much, not only about animal rights and animal welfare, but also about what they need from us and what we need from them, how we have to treat them better. So, it’s been a wonderful voyage and discovery, which is why I love festivals.”

The visual and sound poet Kinga Tóth looked back over the festival enthusiastically: 

“I really liked the diversity of the festival. What I find particularly valuable is that there were also so many contradictions at the festival. Our topic was animals and nature and several of the guests were vegan, like me; however, there were also people who eat meat but campaign for nature conservation; then there were other people who like to go hunting. I found that good – not the point about hunting – but coming together of different opinions. We need this critical debate. We cannot always be polite and nice, and all pay each other compliments that we have the same opinion anyway. If there is no discussion, then we will never discover new points and new arguments. I think that happened here. At least, there were two occasions when I got really het up. But that’s just fine, because that’s the path of how change can happen. As far as the technical and organizational side goes, the European Literature Days were a resounding success. I was richly rewarded with wonderful experiences.”

Responding to the question what “had stuck in her mind” for Mara-Daria Cojocaru during the last three days, she said: 

“‘It stuck with me’ that unfortunately I arrived here too late for the controversy on the first evening between Anne Sophie Meincke and Michael Köhlmeier. I think it’s often the case that discourses in the literary world lag behind a little, and you can constantly resort to ‘I just think’ or ‘I just simply see it differently’. And yet there is already scientific consensus – and that goes in an entirely different direction. Culture ought not to lag behind so much but rather it must be a pioneer. Literature and culture should be an avant-garde and experimentation space, and in many cases, they are as well. For instance, I really enjoyed finally catching up with Kinga Tóth. I was also pleased that dog readers were at the festival who have also read my multi-species literature. Their critique was actually really good. Overall, it was a very friendly atmosphere. What has given me food for thought is that we sort of left out one perspective, namely, the animalification of humans. There was a lot of debate about the anthropomorphizing of animals, but not much about the opposite case.”

Anne Sophie Meincke reflects about what she will take with her as a philosopher from this exchange with literary practitioners: 

“What seems astonishing to me is that there is a dialectic in thought that we seem to find it difficult to imagine that we can actually find common ground with our non-human animal partners, yet without anthropomorphizing them. That was a crucial point in the discussion. In fact, that doesn’t make sense to me because this position actually presumes what it should prove, i.e. that we are entirely different. What I found very refreshing in the discussions as well as in the literature that was presented here was that literature offers a space to explore and fathom this supposed otherness: what do we have in common and where are we perhaps also different? The great potential of literature also lies in questioning: how can one develop a common language between animal and man? However, that would first have to begin with there being a common language in the first place in the discussion about the language of animals. Which also immediately caused me to reflect about how difficult it can already be to find the same language among people.”

Kitted out with new food for thought, richly supplied with fresh ideas, new friends (people as well as animals) and wonderful literature, this time once again the European Literature Days will linger in our minds for a long while; at least for as long as until next year we are greeted with – welcome to the European Literature Days.

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