sedaris and the sarotti-mohr
i’m not a fan but i have read me talk pretty one day. a suggestion from a former goethe institut student, andy from iowa. so i thought i would continue on my exploration of the berlin foreign author reading circuit. david sedaris was reading at dussmann’s on friedrichstrasse.
the kulturbühne am wasserfall was fully packed. the reading confirmed that my recent experience with the actor-translator was not a random event. this reading had its own, with his distinct passages to read as well. maybe it’s a trend i’ve missed. or maybe i just rarely attended readings where translations are necessary.
although i’ve lived in europe for awhile, it still strikes me when i’m the only black person in the room. i’m a worst case scenario kind of person. i figure if someone pulled out a white, pointy hood and a machine gun no one would be looking to help me out in that situation. not only was i the only black person, but i was the only black person at a reading in an exhibition room for the sarotti-mohr, a black character dressed in a turban and assorted eastern type accessories used to sell chocolate. i’m sitting there, the only black person, except for black faces with googly eyes lining the wall. the first time i’d even heard of the sarotti-mohr was at the black atlantic. obviously in a different, critical context. the glimpse i had of the exhibition seemed like it was trying to be the parallel of "100 years of Mr. Peanut, look how he’s changed!"
would i sit in a room full of sambos and full of white folk, with an author joking about making "snow negroes" (an attempt at a snowman but made more of mud than snow) in his childhood anywhere in the US? was i unwittingly starring in the first episode of Spike Lee‘s version of Candid Camera? i was more than uncomfortable and many questions ran through my head. i wondered what the author thought about translating racialized jokes. how does that really translate into other societies that don’t seem to even have a vocabulary to talk about racism/white supremacy? what would the translation "Schneeneger" mean to a german person, when people still call black folk Neger for real? and why was the audience playing the laugh track? not just on the racialized tip. i had a hard time with a berlin audience cracking up at david sedaris’ story about visiting the anne frank house and wishing he could buy it and move in. it was amusing but not funny enough for me to laugh at. i imagined, say, a Southern all-white audience, laughing at an author relating a story about wanting to buy slave quarters, how in the movies the slave quarters looked so cramped but they are really quite charming, and what about those shackles…
it made me shiver. i didn’t bother to get my book signed.