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Drawn picture; 2 people sit next to each other, inbetween them plays a radioTobias Schrank © Goethe-Institut

What could be more straightforward?

How the "Time to Listen" project came about - and its ongoing legacy


Herta Müller, T. C. Boyle, Ken Follett, Sofi Oksanen are among authors from right across the globe who have come together in a narrative project. Thomas Böhm describes how this compilation of narrative videos came about.
 
The "Time to Listen" project came about in the early days of the Covid 19 epidemic. Epidemics, insecurity and fear are part of the daily lives of many people worldwide, but never before has there been such global synchronicity in the context of a pandemic which challenges the way we live together. An unprecedented situation which has developed in unpredictable ways. A situation which creates fear.
 
As we searched for ways to counter this fear, a paradigm began to present itself. That of the "Decameron" - namely setting the horror of suffering and death against the power of narrative and the vividness of stories. The twin qualities of contemporary relevance and timelessness which characterise Boccaccio's style are clearly demonstrated by the way in which further projects and series of articles have also modelled themselves the Decameron - and by the fact that this book has been so often read and quoted in recent weeks. It has been simply inspirational.
 
For what could be more straightforward? Someone tells a story. Moreover, they tell it in the most "straightforward" setting: their home. Using the most straightforward modern method: their phone camera. But all the viewers know that there's nothing remotely straightforward about this at the moment. We are forced to stay at home; technology - and in particular "cold" technology - provides the means for us to express our feelings.
 
But all thoughts of this - of physical space, of the individual on the screen, of the whole situation - vanish as soon as the story begins. As soon as we immerse ourselves in the fiction, let our imaginations fuse with the fictive reality.
 
And what incredible realities these are. This project enables us to forget virtually everything that's going on in the outside world. Many of the authors whom we see in the videos are unknown to us. We have never visited the places where they sit and narrate. We know little about their home culture. But their stories bind us together. Because they all deal with things that are familiar to us: feelings, experiences, hopes. Or things that we know nothing about, but which arouse our curiosity. 
Broaden our horizons.
Maybe … touch us.
Or maybe not.
Or maybe not yet.
 
Finding known and unknown story-tellers across the globe was - and this is the most singular thing about the project - also quite straightforward. It just needed a few people to send a few emails. However, it could only be this easy because these people had already wanted to get to know the stories of the world as part of an institution, a network: the Goethe-Institut.
 
Thus arose this worldwide communal enterprise, which will remain and continue to grow. For recent months have also shown us that we are a global community. We have long "known" this; we have long been aware of the need to act as a global community. But we have done nothing about it. Perhaps because we have been too much strangers to one another. Because we haven't known one another.
 
In this project, we can get to know others - in the most straightforward way.
 
The title is both an invitation and an exhortation for the future:  it is “Time to Listen".
 
Thomas Böhm
 

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