Parochista Khakpour: Contemporary Iranian American Literature (Leipzig Book Fair 2012 Update 2)

On Sunday, I attended the reading by Iranian American writer Parochista Khakpour, supported by the US Consulate Leipzig.

Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles Area.

At the Leipzig Book Fair, Parochista Khakpour read excerpts from her debut novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects (Grove, 2007), which is set in suburban California of the late 1980s and deals with questions of identity among Iranian immigrants to the US and their children. The negotiation and struggles of identity, both Iranian and American, is a key theme of the novel, and Khakpour noted that the figure of her father is central to treating this issue in her work.

Khakpour also presented some excerpts from an autobiographical essay titled “Camel Ride, Los Angeles, 1986,” originally published in Guernica, an online “magazine of art and politics.” In the essay, she describes the traumatic experience of being taken to a camel ride in the Los Angeles Zoo by her father.

Parochista Khakpour also spent a semester in Germany in the Winter Term 2011/2012 as Picador professor at American Studies Leipzig and worked on various writing projects. Khakpour remarked that writing about identity in a foreign country gives an author a different perspective, that she liked Leipzig as a city very much, and made friends while there.

Currently she is working on her second novel and a number of essays.

Tobias Endler: US Foreign Policy After 9/11 (Leipzig Book Fair 2012 Update 1)

Now that the Leipzig Book Fair 2012 (Leipziger Buchmesse) is over, I would like to share some thoughts about my impressions. There was so much to see that any attempt at catching everything of interest was doomed to failure. Nevertheless, I managed to attend some of the readings supported by the US Consulate Leipzig, as mentioned in my earlier post.

On Thursday, March 15, I went to see Tobias Endler of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) presenting his book After 9/11: Leading Political Thinkers about the World, the U.S. and Themselves.

The book is based on a collection of interviews that Endler conducted with a variety American public intellectuals across the political spectrum. These public figures talked at length about how they imagine the role of the US as the remaining superpower after the Cold War.

Endler mentioned that the trauma of 9/11 is still present and informs national discourse in the US. He pointed to the 2012 Republican presidential primaries which had currently reached several Southern states in the US. Within the campaign rhetoric of the current crop of candidates, both the tropes of a potential Iranian nuclear threat and the fear of terrorism featured prominently.

Endler also talked about a specifically American “revolving door of public life,” a phenomenon wherein university professors often transfer to governmental posts, then to think tanks, and finally back to university or into journalism.

This mechanism, which is often difficult to understand from a German perspective, leads to a lively public debate in the US.

The discourses of public intellectuals in the US focus on such topics as the role of the US as a superpower, or the ability to survive crises.

Endler mentioned that in the public discourse, 9/11 entailed a sense of loss of the “free” US security provided by its geographic location. 9/11 was registered as the first attack on US territory since two hundred years, except for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Since 9/11, the US government has been willing to defend what it defines as American values with military force. This rationale has been put forward by the Bush administration, but also has been acknowledged by President Obama.

Endler mentioned that a look back at the past three years of the Obama administration reveals a shift towards “realism” in its foreign policy approach.

From a German perspective, he noted, US public debate often looks like a traveling circus, and seems rather strange. From the American perspective, on the other hand, this willingness to controversial discussion is seen as embodiment of democracy.

This also includes public opinion about the president, as documented by polls. Endler pointed out that recent polls show diverging evaluations of Obama as person and Obama as politician. While Obama as a person still gets relatively high approval ratings, Obama the politician is seen comparatively worse by the American public. The president also still has an image problem as he is seen as “elitist” by large parts of the population.

Endler also mentioned that in comparison, the political spectrum of the US is generally more to the right of Germany.

A few examples from the interviews with US public intellectuals underscored this point. For instance, he mentioned Michael Novak of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), whom he characterized as an archconservative Catholic who forms a bridge between the Christian Right and neoconservatives. Novak thought of Obama as an extreme leftist.

Endler described how many conservative public intellectuals in the US also see Obama as “great nibbler” who hesitates to tackle problems of foreign policy at the root.

On the other end of the left-right spectrum, Endler gave the example of MIT linguist and icon of the US Left, Noam Chomsky. Chomsky told Endler that there was no substantial debate going on in the US. In his opinion, the educated classes are indoctrinated. Chomsky noted broad support for the US invasion of Iraq, and the absence of a “principled objective” to invading other countries. According to Chomsky, there exists a double standard for other countries’ invasions of foreign countries. In Chomsky’s view, the nature of the discourse on the invasion of Iraq was such that the only question asked was “Does it cost US too much?”

Endler pointed out that foreign policy generally plays a small role in US elections and that war fatigue has risen among the US  public. One case in point, Endler argued, was President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address, which did not discuss foreign policy matters.

In Endler’s opinion, the dialogue between the US and the EU has been set aback lately.

He concluded that there is by and large a consensus across the political spectrum in American public debate about the status of the US as a superpower and the benefit of exporting democracy.

I found the talk very interesting, but it was unfortunately a bit short, as the whole event including introduction and questions at the end had to fit into a thirty minute time slot. I certainly would have liked to hear more about certain aspects of current US foreign policy, especially the aforementioned ‘realist’ turn of the Obama administration.

As the audience of a reading at the Leipzig Book Fair is much broader than merely American studies people, it is certainly sensible to not dwell on details only of interest to (aspiring) specialists. I am of course biased here and would have gladly taken in some more information. Then again, I am probably a little spoiled by attending readings at my university, which usually have the luxury of a ninety minute time slot.

Overall, the talk got me interested and I will put the book on my to-read list.

American Literature at the Leipzig Book Fair 2012 (Preview)

The US Consulate Leipzig is present at the Leipzig Book Fair this year with a booth in hall 4, E301, and it supports a number of authors and performers from the US and dealing with US-related topics.

Among the featured artists are:

  • American writer David Guterson (Seattle), Ed King.
  • American writer Holly-Jane Rahlens (New York/Berlin), Everlasting.
  • American writer Jaimy Gordon (Baltimore), Lord of Misrule.
  • American writer Jeffery Deaver (Glen Ellyn, Illinois), Carte Blanche.
  • American Indian singer/songwriter Mitch Walking Elk, There Will Be No Surrender.
  • Iranian American writer Parochista Khakpour (Picador Guest Professor at the University of Leipzig 2011-2012).
  • American poet Peter Gizzi (Holyoke, Massachusetts, USA)
  • Tobias Endler (Heidelberg Center for American Studies), After 9/11: Leading Political Thinkers about the World, the U.S. and Themselves.

The full list can be found here (.pdf).

Please note that not all events take place at the fair ground. For details, see the pdf document.

I am certainly going to attend some readings between Thursday and Sunday. As I am particularly interested in US politics, I hope I can make it to the 9/11 reading.

E-Books Are Huge At The Leipzig Book Fair In 2012

While browsing through the program for the Leipzig Book Fair this morning, I noticed that there is quite a high number of events dealing with various aspects of ebooks. In fact, ebooks are one of the special foci this year.

From end user-centric introductions about ebooks and ebook readers to questions for aspiring writers and publishers, there will be talks, presentations, and workshops throughout the four days.

I am looking forward to attending some of those events, but I have not made up my mind on which ones I will pick. With 44 events in the Category “E-Book/Internet” it will be absolutely impossible to visit all of them. Nevertheless, there will be a mountain of information, I am certain of that.

One question that I hope to find an answer to is whether there will be an affordable ebook reader that can display .pdf documents in A4 format well in the near future. So far I have had the opportunity of briefly checking out Amazon’s Kindle reader at a friend’s place and I found the e-ink display very pleasing to the eye. In my opinion it is definitely better than staring at a laptop screen for a long time. For reading novels or other texts that do not heavily rely on formatting, this is quite good. But when you have to read journal articles, the small size is a disadvantage.

Tablet computers, on the other hand, are bigger but do not have an e-ink display. Especially when you look at a glossy screen, this is becomes rather inconvenient after a while. From a reader’s point of view, I think this is a drawback.

Maybe somebody at the book fair knows whether the affordable A4 format ebook reader is around the corner. I would be tempted to buy one.

Yay, I am Going to the Leipzig Book Fair (Leipziger Buchmesse)

The Leipzig Book Fair (Leipziger Buchmesse) is one of the biggest of its kind in Germany (the other heavyweight being the Frankfurt Book Fair), with a long tradition going back to the mid-eighteenth century. This year it takes place from March 15 to March 18.

According to the official booklet (Strukturdatenbroschüre 2012, available on the official website), there will be over 2,000 exhibitors from 36 countries this year. In 2011, 163,000 visitors, among them 45,000 trade visitors were attending. Not too bad!

As a Leipzig humanities graduate looking for a job, this seems like a good place to go. I will buy me a ticket for the whole four days and immerse myself in the experience.

During the past years, I had sporadically been visiting some reading events, which are scattered all across town at various venues in Leipzig during the book fair. Until now, I did not fancy going to the fair ground directly because I thought it would be much too crowded. I shall see first hand this time.

I am particularly interested in Friday, March 16, which is scheduled as Career Day (Karrieretag). There will be quite a few talks on the state of the publishing industry and career opportunities. I hope to get a few ideas and talk to some professionals in the field. Yes, this will be my attempt at networking. Wish me luck!

When I get back from the action, I will write some more posts about my impressions.