Lithub has a feature on a German literary festival:
This weekend, the Neue Festival Literatur is offering a crash course in the best of contemporary German literature, with panels and readings from some of the most notable writers currently working in German. This year’s festival theme is “Seriously Funny.”
The post features English-language excerpts from recent work by Vea Kaiser, Xaver Bayer, Sibylle Berg, Iris Hanika, Pedro Lenz, Christopher Kloeble. Inspiring to see so much new German fiction getting a hearing in English.
My only objection is to the title of the post, which is 'Six Great Contemporary Writers Working in German'. No, these writers aren't great. They may be talented, interesting, innovative, wryly funny, or challenging, but they're not great. They're all way too young to have earned that adjective yet.
It looks like LitHub has been struck by what I call 'great' inflation: the tendency in German cultural circles to label about 60% of Germany's total literary production in a given year 'great'. Writers you've never heard of are described in German Feuilletons as 'great', as are books that sold 457 copies, won the Johann-August-Nepomuk Schleifenbumser prize from the town of Pflängenholz, and then disappeared.
I get it: the German urban haute bourgeoisie is terribly proud of the fact that it still Reads Books, and believes its mission on this earth is to convince as many people as possible to Read Books. One of the tactics they've settled on is 'great' inflation. Perhaps if we keep describing all books not directed at a mass audience as 'GREAT' often enough, people will begin reading more of them.
But it backfires. I've read some of the books described as 'great' over the years by German critics, and none of them was. Don't get me wrong: some were quite stimulating and very much worth reading. But not 'great'. Others, frankly, were crap -- which leads me to believe that many of these 'greats' are being doled out as favors to friends inside some incestuous literary clique. Reviewers should be required to reveal if they're friends with the people who wrote the book under review.
German critics! Please stop the great inflation. If you apply the word 'great' to any but the most overwhelmingly magnificent 2-3% of literary productions, you drain it of all meaning. Look in your thesauri for other ways to express approval. Think long and hard before bestowing the title 'great' on a book or a person. The result will be clearer, more honest, and more lively reviews.