Let Me Sing You a Story 1


In 1948, George Orwell wrote his last novel, which would not only have a considerable cultural impact by introducing terms and concepts like "Big Brother", "memory hole" or "doublethink" for denoting totalitarian authority, but it also inspired numerous music artists to adapt its themes and portions of the book into songs.

Originally intended as a satire of Stalinism, its documented horrors of total surveillance and invasion of personal privacy have exceeded the limits of dystopia and gained an almost prophetic effect.

Here is a selection of my favorite songs inspired by 1984:


BLOW UP - in search of the invisible author

Sometimes, on a day off when it is really hot outside I have this ambition to do something for my cultural education, rather then spending the day dozing at a pool. Even though I'm generally a curious person who loves to learn about new things, especially anything related to art, I have to admit that the prospect of cool, air-conditioned rooms is probably the most attractive point about spending a summer afternoon at a museum or an art gallery. On one of these missions, I recently visited the "Albertina", one of the largest art galleries in Vienna, whose history goes back to the 17th century.  The museum continues attracting visitors from around the globe (including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who visited the gallery on a spontaneous trip to Vienna a couple of years ago) with its impressive collection of drawings and master prints.
The exhibition I was particularly interested in was "BLOW UP" a photography exhibition dedicated to Michelangelo Antonioni's cult film of the same name from 1966. I really enjoyed the exhibition. It offered a detailed overview of the diverse areas of photography presented in the movie and additional material about the photographers involved in the making of the film, which illuminated its cultural and artistic background. 
Yet, the more I took in the provided information and background stories, the more I felt slightly irritated.
The problem is, I am not a photographer, nor an expert of photography. I admire and enjoy good photographs and at times my own amateurish attempts of capturing a moment with my camera turn out more or less respectable, but I wouldn't go as far as calling myself an expert. Although I am a film theorist, the Blow Up exhibition did not inspire me to analyze the information provided in relation to the cinematographic imaging of the film. In fact, it was my literary academic self or maybe even more the author in me, who finally left the gallery with a bitter aftertaste.

In its folder, the exhibition is promoted with the words:

"This cinematic study of the representation of images and their ambivalence has since provided the artistic basis for the works of a variety of contemporary photographers, which demonstrates that Blow-Up has retained its cultural relevance since its creation in 1966."

Reading these lines, it is hardly surprising that in regard to this exhibition, Antonioni takes full credit for the thematization of the relationship of photography to reality in his film. Yet, the importance of the angle of the beholder for the interpretation of reality was not Michelangelo Antonioni's original idea. Antonioni, who dedicated his creative spirit to filmmaking as well as painting, was an admirer of photography. He certainly dedicated a lot of research and preparation time to make this extraordinary film. But he owes the idea and initial point for his congenial storyline to the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar.  In 1959, Cortázar, one of the pioneers of the "Argentinian boom", published a short story called Las babas del diablo. The main topic of this story is the difficulty of presenting reality through art, in particular through writing and photography. The protagonist of Las barbas del diablo  is a young photographer who witnesses a situation between a young man and a woman at a park, while another man is half hidden in a car. As the others become aware that they are being watched, the young man flees and the woman threatens to destroy the film roll. The photographer does not know what to make of the scene that he has captured, and afterwards he enlarges (blows up) the photo various times and puts it on the wall of his study. Every time he looks at it from a different angle he interprets the situation differently.

The parallels between Cortázar's story and Antonioni's film are obvious. Yet, while the author is mentioned in the credits at the beginning of the film, he is invisible in the exhibition as well as in almost every critique and commentary about the movie.
The question of plagiarism is treated slightly differently in every country. Often it is almost impossible to determine who was the first to come up with a certain idea. Yet, original ideas could be handled more carefully than they often are, especially when it comes to adaptations. We live in a time where many school kids couldn't name as much as ten different authors and recognize classics only by their most recent film adaptations.

It has been a long, ongoing discourse, whether writing should be considered as mere text, which stands on its own, or in the context of its author and time.
However, Blow Up, the exhibition, deconstructs Antonioni's film into many pieces, putting them in context with pop culture, fashion, art, as well as with the lives and work of people involved in its making, yet it ignores the author whose thoughts had inspired the director. In the exhibition's critical presentation of "Blow Up", Julio Cortázar remains invisible.

As Goethe once said, everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again. If we know, who has thought it before, shouldn't we at least pay tribute to the original thinker?

100 years of Cortázar
Julio Cortázar (August 26, 1914 - February 12, 1984)


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My Little World of Horror 4

The Mother of Gothic Fiction
What scares you? One of the main motifs of Horror Fiction is to trigger an unsettling feeling in the readers. No matter if there is an underlying message or if the story is merely a playful experiment testing the limits of the reader's imagination, it is the intention of Horror writers to shock their audience. Of course authors of Horror Fiction also want to entertain, but the laughter some parts of the story might provoke should only serve to release tension. I doubt many authors of  Horror stories aim at being ridiculous. Yet, it has become kind of difficult to shock an audience who is well acquainted with horror, being fed with the most appalling pictures in the papers and on the news on a daily basis. The curious thing is that I often find classic Gothic novels creepier than modern Horror stories. Maybe it is the fantastic element in the newer novels that seems too abstract and unbelievable at times. I personally think that a malicious ghost is still way more unsettling than any alien energy threatening life on earth. Maybe it´s what Freud called "das Unheimliche" (the uncanny), a suppressed trauma or fear which is relived and triggered by mysteries and monsters which makes Gothic Fiction so intriguing.
It might also be the mix of romance, drama and hints at the forbidden that contributed to this genre´s past popularity and that continue to attract a modern audience.

Somehow, the Gothic novel can be seen as some sort of counterpart to the classic adventure story. The only difference is that it often deconstructs stereotypes and rather creates anti-heroes instead of supernaturally glorious knights and helpless ladies. One of the secrets of Gothic Fiction is that it obliterates the borders between black and white and paints a world in passionate colors. It doesn't really matter why the hero falls off his pedestal. Could be that the devil seduced him, or a spirit possessed his mind. The most important thing is that nobody is perfect anymore and everyone is capable of doing evil things.

One of the most prominent dedications to the fans and readers of Gothic Fiction was Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1817). Austen imitates a Gothic storyline and parodies the Gothic novel reader's tendency to assume mysterious secrets and sinister villains behind everything that seems inexplicable. Among other works of Gothic Fiction mentioned in the book, there is particularly one author who is pointed out: 
Ann Radcliffe.

If you are a passionate reader of Horror and Gothic Fiction and haven't heard of Ann Radcliffe, you should go and look her up immediately, for not knowing about her is like going to the theater on a regular basis and not having heard of William Shakespeare. 

Ann Radcliffe (1764 -1823) was not only one of the pioneers of Gothic fiction and probably the most influential writer of this genre in general, she was also an early example of a bestseller author- particularly notable because of the fact that she was a woman. Her most popular novel The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) has often been described as the archetypical Gothic novel. Set in a romanticized, exotic landscape in southern France and northern Italy, the story is full of villains and desperate damsels, romance and terror. 
While fantastic elements have already been part of earlier novels such as Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1763), Ann Radcliffe was the first author to take the trouble to explain these supernatural occurrences, often tracing them back to natural causes. The Gothic villain, as introduced in her novels, would become a new type of dark romantic hero, who was an early role model of the modern day bad guy. The sinister character never failed to draw fascination and secret adoration and was probably one of the main reasons as to why Radcliffe's novels enjoyed great popularity among female readers.  

The unsettling feeling Radcliffe's Gothic novels triggered in her readers was also an exciting one. The adventures the heroes and heroines had to endure served as a welcome distraction from her upper middle class audience's boredom of everyday life. The shock and terror which was induced by her stories was almost a sensual experience.
While contemporary male writers of Gothic fiction, like Matthew Lewis (The Monk), focused on more physical acts of horror and exposed their readers to demonic powers and bloodshed, Radcliffe created a parallel world of spiritual mysteries and imagined terrors. It was for Radcliffe's preference for the "divine supernatural" that critics have described her writing as "female Gothic" in opposition to explicit scenes of horror as presented by male writers of her time. (cf.R. Miles, "Radcliffe, Ann")
Ann Radcliffe is an early example for a more complex form of Gothic fiction working on the imagination, the subconscious and the emotions rather than feeding the readers with shocking sensational images. Whether you see her as an early example for literary feminism or heroinism (cf. Ellen Moers), or simply enjoy her original descriptions of landscapes, which are often shaded by the obscure, the charm of her writing is timeless and the looming terror which underlies her stories has not lost its impact. 

"To the warm imagination, the forms which float half-veiled in darkness afford a higher delight than the most distinct scenery the sun can show" (The Mysteries of Udolpho)


The fictional side of science

I realized that I haven't shared any updates on my writing in a very long time! That doesn't mean I haven't been busy. In fact, I have been very busy and finished a couple of stories lately as well as edited my German novel and made progress with my English novel. At the moment, I'm working on my first Science Fiction story, which is very exciting. I have written a couple of Speculative Fiction stories before but they were always set in a familiar context spiced with surreal elements. Now, for the first time I get to invent the whole scenery and create my own world. 
Science Fiction isn't my favorite genre when it comes to pleasure reading, but I have read some of the classics. My favorites are the dystopian stories like This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, or  George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four but I also enjoyed the stories and novels by Ray Bradbury. As social anthropology is one of my major academic interests, Social Science Fiction appeals  to me more than Hard-SF with lots of technical details. Either way, I sometimes wonder if writing a dystopian story still makes sense. As we see on the news every day, science has already nearly  trespassed  any limits of our imagination and made many of our worst nightmares come true.

Here's my personal playlist for Science Fiction themed songs: