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19 October 2000

"Nightwalk" — A Present from the Heidelberg Department of Chinese Studies for Nobel Prize Laureate Gao Xingjian

The department of Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg has thought up a special gift for the literature Nobel Prize laureate 2000 — Professor Dr.Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik presented the Chinese author Gao Xingjian a German version of "Nightwalk" containing Gao's reflections on the theatre — A group from the department worked day and night to translate the work

This year's Nobel Prize laureate for literature, Gao Xingjian, has received a very special gift from the department of Chinese Studies at Heidelberg University. A group from the department has translated the work "Nightwalk" into German and the Chinese author was presented with the first copy by Prof. Dr. Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik. At a press conference by the Frankfurt Book Fair Society on 18 October 2000 Gao Xingjian met the translators and the publisher of the new volume. In an interview with the author Prof. Weigelin-Schwiedrzik emphasised the crucial necessity of promoting discussion of his work by making readable translations available to the public. Up to now, she said, such a discussion has been hindered by lack of information and a relatively muted response by the German press. Gao Xingjian expressed his gratitude to the translators and praised the selection of texts included in the collection.

Hectic activity in Heidelberg

Ever since the official announcement from Stockholm on 12 October 2000 that Gao Xingjian would be receiving this year's Nobel Prize for literature, the phones at Heidelberg University's Department of Chinese Studies have been shrilling non-stop. At last a Chinese author has been awarded the Nobel Prize; but no one really knows who he is. High time for the experts in Heidelberg to set about informing the public about the man who spends most of his time living and writing in a secluded Paris retreat. The corridors of the Department were full of comings and goings, in the library a film team from Hessian Radio was recording an interview with Prof. Rudolf G. Wagner, on the fourth floor a squad of translators were working round the clock.

Vice-rector Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, professor of modern Chinese studies, and a group of staff from the Department translated a selection of essays by Gao Xingjian and were fortunate to find a publishing house — Edition Mnemosyne — flexible and enterprising enough to get the book ready to coincide with Gao's presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair. On Tuesday morning the labour of love was accomplished. The translations were done, the layout complete. Via telephone the files were sent to the printers in Bamberg and only a few hours later the wonders of digital printing meant that the first 30 copies were already out in print.

Gao Xingjian: A Noted Dramatist

Gao Xingjian (b. 1940) has published a number of lengthy autobiographical novels available in French and English but yet to be translated into German. But his reputation rests perhaps most squarely on his dramatic works, expressing the traumatic experiences of his generation in the idiom of the Theatre of the Absurd. Drawing heavily on the resources of traditional Chinese drama he blends these elements with features stemming from his productive engagement with various modern western authors (Beckett, Brecht, the nouveau roman).

Some of his early plays were translated into German in the 1980s but are now out of print. To give the German audience a representative and more substantial impression of Gao's oeuvre, translators Martin Gieselmann, Andrea Janku, Andrea Riemenschnitter, Irmy Schweiger and Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik selected four hitherto untranslated texts on theatrical topics and a text about the author published in the People's Republic of China. They got them finished just in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Gao's reflections on drama and the theatre reveal him to be a connoisseur both of modern European drama and of traditional Chinese theatre. In quest of a form of theatrical representation in line with the modernist tradition, he discusses the role of actors, directors and authors in this connection. The volume rounds out with the only text published in the People's Republic on his work since 1989, in which author Zhao Yiheng reviews his achievement in the context of Zen Buddhism, and an informative postscript by Natascha Vittinghoff.

Long-Time Ties with Heidelberg

The publication is a handsome confirmation of the long-lasting bonds of friendship between the Department of Chinese Studies in Heidelberg and Gao Xingjian. In 1988 students at the Department gave the first-ever performance of his play "The Far Shore"; Gao has attended many of the conferences on modern Chinese literature organised in Heidelberg by Professor Dr. Rudolf G. Wagner and as recently as March 2000 accepted an invitation from Dr. Andrea Riemenschnitter to participate in a workshop on modern Chinese theatre. But no one at the Department seriously anticipated their frequent and much-prized guest being awarded the Nobel Prize some day. Gao himself stressed at the press conference that he had been taken completely by surprise and had only learned a few days before that the Stockholm jury had been closely observing his literary progress over the last 10 years.

Unlike many other names from China, among them the poet Bei Dao, conjured with as possible candidates for the ultimate literary award over the last 10 years, Gao's name had never been publicly aired — until 12 October, that is. All that remains now is to hope that the award will not only make him the cynosure of all eyes for a few brief days but will also ensure greater interest in his work after the Book Fair has closed its doors.

Gao Xingjian: Nachtwanderung, translated into German by Martin Gieselmann, Andrea Janku, Andrea Riemenschnitter, Irmy Schweiger and Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik. With a postscript by Natascha Vitztinghoff, approx. 144 pp., linen, with a drawing by the author. GS 3 B, ISBN 3-934012-08-6, DM 28

Available from bookshops as of 25 October 2000

Please address any inquiries to:
Prof. Dr. Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik,
Martin Gieselmann et al.
Phone: 06221-547638 or 547487
Fax: 06221-547639

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 24.10.2000


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