Röggla is an Austrian author and playwright. She was born in Salzburg in 1971, and has lived in Berlin since 1992. She is the Vice-President of the Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste) in Berlin. She has written numerous plays and radio plays, as well as novels. Her influences include Michel Foucault, contemporary sociology and Sprachkritik (language criticism) of Karl Kraus and the Vienna Group. Her works have a documentary quality; they often derive from interviews she has conducted with different groups, for example, management consultants, charity workers, interpreters or survivors of the 9/11 attacks in New York. She is perhaps best known for her short novel wir schlafen nicht; we never sleep (2004).
wir schlafen nicht; we never sleep (2004)
Although wir schlafen nicht is set at a trade fair in Germany, it is really a novel about the way we all live and work now.
This is a world in which employees work around the clock, they are constantly available via phones and internet, and they are expected to communicate and network constantly with each other in order to maintain their increasingly precarious positions. There is a pervasive sense of crisis as companies go to the wall – the novel was written the wake of the Enron scandal of 2001. The six characters work under the threat of burnout and unemployment. Indeed, as management consultants, their job is to restructure and rationalize companies, often causing massive job losses.
The six characters – a key account manager, an intern, an online editor, a tech assistant, a senior associate and a partner – discuss their jobs with an anonymous narrator/interviewer, who has edited and adapted their statements into reported speech (subjunctive 1). There is no conventional plot, very little actually happens. The characters just talk about various aspects of their lives, such as work-related stress, the lack of sleep, the absence of a private life, and the strange feeling that they are no longer alive, but undead. At the end, the characters appear to go on strike, and refuse to co-operate any further with the mysterious narrator/interviewer.
The novel is written almost entirely in reported speech (subjunctive 1), thus conveying a pervasive sense of unreality, suspicion and paranoia. Therefore, the book is particularly suitable for students who want to practice their subjunctive 1.
This novel should be required reading for anyone considering a career in business management!
Kathrin Röggla, We Never Sleep, trans. by Rebecca Thomas, Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture and Thought (Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 2009)
Further Reading in English
David Clarke, ‘The Capitalist Uncanny in Kathrin Röggla’s wir schlafen nicht: Ghosts in the Machine’, Angermion 4 (2011), 147-63
Katharina Gerstenberger, ‘The Public Intellectual as Survivor: The Cases of Josef Haslinger and Kathrin Röggla’, Telos 159 (2012), 120-31
Elaine Martin, ‘New Economy Zombies: Kathrin Röggla’s wir schlafen nicht’, in Transitions. Emerging Women Writers in German-Language Literature, German Monitor 76, ed. by Valerie Hefernan and Gillian Pye (New York and Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2013), 131-48
Áine McMurtry, ‘Literary Interventions and Texts in Transit in the Work of Kathrin Röggla’, Austrian Studies 26 (2018), 72-90
Anna Katharina Schaffner, ‘“Catastrophe Sociology” and the Metaphors We Live By: On Kathrin Röggla’s wir schlafen nicht’, Modern Language Review 112:1 (2017), 205-22
Ernest Schonfield, Business Rhetoric in German Novels: From Buddenbrooks to the Global Corporation (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2018), Chapter 8: ‘Producing Ethos in Kathrin Röggla’s wir schlafen nicht, 2004’, pp. 153-70
Ewa Wojno-Owczarska, ‘Global Crises in Ernst-Wilhelm Händler’s Wenn Wir Sterben (When We Die) and Kathrin Röggla’s Wir Schlafen Nicht (We never Sleep)’, Comparative Literature Studies 55:2 (2018), 303-25
Further Reading in German
Anke S. Biendarra, “Prekäre neue Arbeitswelt. Narrative der New Economy”, in Das erste Jahrzehnt. Narrative und Poetiken des 21. Jahrhunderts, ed. by Julia Schöll and Johanna Bohley (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2012), 69-82
Christian Kremer, Milieu und Performativität: Deutsche Gegenwartsprosa von John von Düffel, Georg M. Oswald und Kathrin Röggla (Marburg: Tectum 2008)
Further Reading in French
Herta Luise Ott, ‘Nous ne dormons pas: critique idéologique à travers une critique des langages chez Kathrin Röggla’, Germanica 39 (2006), 57-74