Rolf Niederhauser, Swiss author of ‘Seltsame Schleife’, or ‘Strange Loop’ visited EMU’s campus Monday, Nov. 7, to speak at an event sponsored by the foreign language department.
The event, ‘Creating transcultural, literary spaces with Language in “Seltsame Schleife,” was organized by Professor Margrit Zinggeler in order to discuss Niederhauser’s literary work and perspective.
In an interview before the event, Niederhauser spoke of why he chose to travel to the U.S. and provided unique insights about his book. His main interest in coming to the U.S. was to observe election week of the 2016 presidential election. He felt that in a largely programmable world, the Republican nominee Donald Trump is the opposite of predictable or programmable. He wanted to experience the “on the ground experience.”
“Hearing from afar is not as good as being there,” said Niederhauser.
This concept of predictability or programmability versing unpredictable human life is continuously intertwined throughout “Seltsame Schleife.”
The protagonist of “Seltsame Schleife” is a German immigrant who works at MIT with artificial life projects aimed at creating controlled simulations of life through programming language. Niederhauser explained that the program language used was a large influence on his work.
“Simulating life is exactly what literature tries to achieve,” said Niederhauser.
For the protagonist, this highly controlled atmosphere is comfortable, but he abruptly leaves his current life to embark on an unexpected journey full of new places, people and languages. This journey quickly becomes one of self-discovery and self-realization. The protagonist travels from Michigan to Texas and throughout Mexico, Central America and South America – specifically Columbia.
Niederhauser spent 20 years researching, for the novel, including extensive travel to the various settings in the story. Niederhauser said he is personified through the protagonist because both individuals have multicultural identities.
Overarching concepts of “Seltsame Schleife” address the unique characteristics of multiculturalism and its effect on individuals. Multiculturalism can lead to instances of split consciousness, or being culturally split because an individual is living in two different cultures. Two other important aspects often accompany multicultural identity include trans-culturalism -- seeing oneself in the other -- and multilingualism.
The physical writing of the book is published in German, the protagonist’s native tongue, with sections in English, the protagonist’s second language, and Spanish, the protagonist’s ethnic language. This structure showcases the journey of wading through multiple cultural identities by showing language surpasses cultures but translation and meaning of languages may be lost or unclear -- showing language is imperfect.
The discussion consisted of approximately 25 individuals who spent over an hour discussing “Seltsame Schleife” together. Language and culture were discussed as fluid/ever changing; meaning what was once relevant or true may no longer be as soon as they are spoken.
Students and faculty also discussed language barriers during multicultural interactions, language used for specific influences such as propaganda, and language as an advantage that widens your perspective of the world.
The use of language splits within the novel resembles the possible language splits that individuals who live in multiple cultures, such as Niederhauser, often experience. Our globalized and digitalized world facilitates increased opportunities for individuals to have multicultural life styles, which increases the unpredictability of life.
Niederhauser’s work paralleled to the 2016 election. Although many aspects of life may be controllable and programmable, the unpredictability of humanity prevails.
This work, as well as the discussion addressed the change in today’s world. Striving for control and battling against the unpredictability of humanity.
Niederhauser explained culture as, “…something you feel as a force. Culture is your reality.”
There is not a fully translated version of “Seltsame Schleife,” however, if you are interested in learning more about Rolf Niederhauser’s work visit http://rolfniederhuaseen.com/lcbenslauf/