She Said (a #metoo anthology)

September 08, 2018

I have to admit, after having enjoyed an extended vacation with my family, I had trouble getting back into the swing of things aka everyday life in Leipzig. So I spent a lot of time of at the lake on the southern edge of town—called “Cosi” by the locals—and sleeping in. There were a few events in Berlin I considered taking the train to (including the Matthes & Seitz party in Prenzlauer Berg and LCB’s Sommerfest out in Wannsee), but I simply couldn’t muster up the energy.

But there if there was one thing highlighted in my late summer calendar, it was a unique reading not far from where I live in Leipzig. The location: a traditional delicatessen shop that had been the home of a shop selling all manner of Russian wares, but now the new home of Merve Verlag. Those of you with an affinity for philosophy, art history, left-wing politics and theory will recognize Merve—which was born in 1970 as the brainchild of self-described “socialist collective” based in West-Berlin district of Schöneberg—as the premier purveyor of heady, left-leaning manifestos. Due to various reasons, they have now pitched their tent in one of Leipzig’s quirkiest little streets—Kolonnadenstrasse.

It was the first of September, a warm evening with the slightest nip in the air. The reading started before eight because some of the participants had to take the last train back to Berlin later that evening, but the cozy space was packed. Considering the events that had taken place less than a week before, much of the chatter was focused on Chemnitz and right-wing extremists in Leipzig, the reading was all about another contemporary issue. If we’re honest with ourselves, this isn’t something new. We all have seen something, known someone who has experienced some sort of sexual abuse or harassment. And if you don’t anyone, you probably haven’t been listening or asking the right questions. Incidentally, this is a fairly quick turnaround on the part of the publisher Hanser Berlin, considering the snail’s pace that accompanies the production of most books.

In her introductory essay, the editor Lina Muzur—who is also figures behind the Zeitonline 10nach8 series—explains to the German audience the context of the anthology with the subtitle “17 Stories About Sex and Power” deriving from the English phrase “he said, she said.” In keeping with the title “She Said,” this collection of short stories from 17 women authors largely depicts interactions along the nexus of sex and power, mostly from a female protagonist’s point of view. Julia Wolf read from her story, which depicted the cares a fears of a young mother while her partner is away. Fatma Aydemir, also one of the readers, presented a rather explicit tale of rape—with a twist at the end. For my part, I was most impressed by Anke Strelling’s Raus [Out], in which a friend tries to grabble with the black box of a relationship her friend is ostensibly stuck in.

Although I was initially cautious about the anthology, for various reasons. I feared they may be too autobiographical, or that 17 explicit stories of abuse might be hard to take. Instead, the collection gathers different voices telling tales about sex, power, and the gray zones that characterize many human interactions. Many of the women’s voices are angry, or even pity the men who harm them and some of the female protagonists are even the violators, compelling boys to do things they don’t necessarily want to do. As someone who survived a complicated, abusive situation with a male academic advisor (#metoo), I know how tricky these dynamics can be. Although some American and British publishers may hesitate to translate the whole collection, I would love to help some of the stories reach a wider audience. Some of the details are specifically German, but the themes are universal. She said.

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