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That was the Rainald Goetz moment of activist literature

Kim de l'Horizon had not prepared a speech.

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That was the Rainald Goetz moment of activist literature

Kim de l'Horizon had not prepared a speech. The author, who defines herself as non-binary (in this text the female form will be used in the following) stood on stage in all her queer, dazzling, colorful splendor, after she had just walked exuberantly through the Kaisersaal, almost danced, and hugged friends and helpers . Karin Schmidt-Friderichs, head of the Börsenverein, seemed almost motherly worried about the award winner and had asked her to take a breath while she read out the reasons for the award decision, written in typical juror poetry: "Kim de l'Horizon receives the German Book Prize 2022 for 'Blood Book' ... With enormous creative energy, the non-binary narrative character in Kim de l'Horizon's novel 'Blood Book' searches for his own language. What narratives are there for a body that defies conventional notions of gender?”

So far everything was still within the framework of award ceremony rituals and processes. Exuberantly happy and hugging your partner or agent, that's what book prizewinners have been in the past, that's part of the game. But Kim de l'Horizon wants to be neither a prizewinner, but something third, something that has never existed before, which she demonstrates both in her entire stunning appearance and in her deliberately irritating writing. The inheritance of the classic avant-garde – Rimbaud's “Il faut être absolument modern” – is now being taken up by those, like Kim, who are looking for language and narrative forms beyond the binary gender difference. And like all avant-gardes, the abolition of the separation between art and life is part of the project.

So when the author is standing there, she first says "Wow", putting on her glasses with a charming apology for the aesthetic break in style. But then she thanks her mother in a breaking, tear-choked voice in Schwyzerdütsch, and that's such a great, touching, intense moment that manages without any pathos and suddenly lets a whole biography flash with all its trauma and injuries. Even those who haven't read "Blutbuch" intuitively understand that the whole thing is at stake, that someone wrote about their lives.

Then Kim de l'Horizon suddenly sings, in a professional voice, a cappella - "I'm giving you a night call to tell you how I feel/ I want to drive you through the night, down the hills/ I'm gonna tell you something you don't want to hear/ I'm gonna show you where it's dark, but have no fear" - and transforms the Kaisersaal into a literary ritual with its cheerfully festive, but also somehow stuffy and unglamorous Varieté, a true literary festival hall, a sexy, a bit wicked transperformance. The song "Nightcall" is from the soundtrack to "Drive" with Ryan Gosling. The applause finally turns into a storm of jubilation.

But the unprepared acceptance speech, which also contains mentions of editor, agent, companions, has a second political part, in which Kim de l'Horizon places her success in a supra-individual, political context. After saying, "This award isn't just for me," she pulls out a razor and cuts her hair. The prize is a "sign against hate, for love" and solidarity for women in Iran, which finally turns the event into a political demonstration. She also mentions the misconception that we all thought femininity was only emancipated in the West. This was something of the Rainald Goetz moment of the new committed (some say “activist”) literature. Instead of drops of blood, hair fell, but just as it did at that legendary moment in Klagenfurt in 1983, the body also authenticated the text today – albeit as a quote from a political gesture of our day.

The German book prize thus experienced a double break with its forms, after the personal song about mental crisis and consolation - which almost sounded like a whistle in the dark forest - came the grand gesture of global solidarity. Of course, that also had something of emotional blackmail.

But at the same time, literature broke out of its rituals of self-reflection and self-celebration according to the motto: "It's nice that we're finally seeing each other again after the pandemic". The world is not at all pretty, and the fact that the book prize began like this, uplifting, megapathetic, emotional, wild, outraged and also a bit embarrassing, was the best thing that could have happened to literature at the start of this book fair. From zero to one hundred, literature is in the middle of this world.

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