Carmen-Francesca Banciu







Transforming Materiality into Immateriality through Play: Reflections on the Intersection of Literature and Art


Ludics. Play. Playfulness. Creativity.


(Presentation for the Mahindra Humanities Center Ludics Seminar at Harvard University)





Life plays its own games with us. Through us.

Life is play. And we are well advised to play along. Otherwise we waste precious energy. Creative energy. Life energy. And spend our time living against life. Swimming against the stream.

We are well advised to accept the invitation of life and dive into the game. Deeply and unconditionally. We are well advised to forget ourselves in it. Like children.

When children play, they are play. They are life. They are. Without knowing that they are. Without asking themselves who they are.

They are. And that is enough. And life does not ask for more.

We adults, we ask of ourselves. We ask ourselves who we are. Mostly because we have lost ourselves. Because we ourselves have gotten lost.


When one is, one stands decidedly and naturally on one’s individual inner soil. In which one is rooted. And one always carries one’s roots around. And they grow into the outer soil. That is part of the wide world. Is part of the univers. Of universes, perhaps. The inner and the outer worlds.





And this is how one nourishes oneself. From oneself and from the world. And this is how the world nourishes itself out of oneself.


When one is, one stands decidedly and naturally on one’s individual inner soil. And simultaneously one strives to allow one’s spirit to reach into eternity. When one is, one carries one’s roots with oneself and doesn’t need a fixed location in order to feel secure. When one is, one does not need borders in order to feel secure. When one is, one feels the strength of one’s being within. Feels the strength of one’s heart and simultaneously one’s levity. Whoever is, floats and puts down roots at the same time.





I think that this is often what I sense: I am my own homeland. And I am also simultaneously my children’s homeland. And that of my friends. And the homeland of strangers, who themselves are my children. I think that I carry my roots with me. And plant them again and again in the soil that is currently available. And nourish myself from it. And in this way from the soil of my children. Of friends. Of strangers.


I play with words. I play with perceptions. I play with thoughts. I play with things. I play with everything that I discover. I play with everything that surrounds me. With everything that I carry inside me. I play with my own self. Like a child.

I am a child. I play with my self. And am. And then I am. Sometimes I am.





I play with words. With perceptions. With thoughts. And with things that surround me. With things that oppress me. With things that are unsuccessful. And I transform them. Play changes life. Changes one’s point of view on life. On single incidents, situations. Puts them into perspective. Changes the meaning. And transforms them into art. Metamorphoses them into brilliance. Into preciousness. Into uniqueness. Into liberation. Into happiness.

I play. And sometimes I forget myself while playing. And sometimes I forget to play. And ask myself who I am. And who the other is. Who is the other, when I am no longer one with myself. When I am no longer one with the other. With the others. Who are the others. And am I also one of them? Belonging to them? Am I a part of them?





We live in a time of division. Of being torn. Of separation. More and more often we forget to play. To dive into play. To dive into life. To be.

That frightens us. When we don’t play any more, we lose our trust in life. Feel marginalized. Divided. Separated from the whole. And we are overcome by the fear of others.

When we don’t play any more, we become afraid of failure.

It was instilled in us [or “forced down our throats”] with breast milk. This poisonous, annihilating, petrifying fear of failure. And sometimes a lifetime is needed in order to free oneself from it. To purge one’s being of it. To expel this poison. To neutralize it. To even transform the poison. To turn it into something valuable. And that works best through play. Through creativity.





Play is a serious matter. An important matter. A healing matter. Children know this by themselves. (Before it is driven out of them.)

Adults have to relearn it.

Artists retain the ability to play. Or seize it back. Attain it again. Sometimes through a prolonged and relapse-accompanied, painful process of refinement.





Creativity is the recovery of the drive to play. The ability to play.

Is the living out of one’s own creativity the actual creator of original sin?

Fear of failure is the actual expulsion from paradise. After birth, one is driven from paradise step by step with the best intentions. (As long as one doesn’t fight back.) Parents, family, school, everything participates. Is this a desire to protect us from God’s wrath?

Does God not grant us equal standing with himself? Is his wrath the threat of failure. And how will the human handle it, when he or she one day enables the robot to develop its own creativity? Will they avenge themselves on their own creation? And will the machine one day proclaim: The human is dead?!! And how far away are we from this point?





To play. To try. To risk. To create. To bring into being. To give birth. To transform.


Ludics. It is the irony of history, the irony of life itself, to of all things be invited to a Ludics Seminar.

As a child I was not encouraged to play. On the contrary. I was supposed to leave playing to the other children. I was supposed to do serious things. To strive for perfection. To permanently improve myself. To develop further. To busy myself with meaningful things. To take on tasks that weren’t necessarily suitable to my age.


“I was always supposed to do something useful. ***1


I secretly rebelled against this. I learned early to write and to read. Instinctively I chose freedom. The freedom that is given by books. The freedom that is bestowed by one’s own expressiveness. Drawing. Painting. Reading. Writing. (Later writing became a task.)

Without realizing it, I found my own means to play for myself. With. In words and images.

My parents were obsessed with work and duty. Leisure, cheerfulness, playfulness, joy and levity were frowned upon. Frivolous.





Frivolity was deemed a sin, although not in a religious sense.

The permission to play I gave myself much later.


Mother didn’t play with me. And Father certainly did not.

Mother didn’t play with me. And even in the rare cases in which she had perhaps wanted to play, she beat me playfully.

Mother did not allow herself to do anything that wasn’t useful. She permitted herself playfulness and joy, creativity and expressions of love only when they simultaneously served a higher purpose. Were useful. And were in accordance with her duties.

Mother liked to cook. And it was her only way of showing us her love. And her way of not being ashamed of her joy. Which is why Mother couldn’t bear it when I left the proof of her love on my plate.


Mother’s Day page 66:


It could be said that my novel Mother’s Day is a game. The game is called: the search for the mother. A high-risk game: thematic, linguistic, as well as in terms of form. Many chapters are named after the parts of the mother’s body. Mother’s arms. Mother’s tongue. Mother’s neck. Mother’s legs. Mother’s breasts. Mother’s lap. The form itself is not consistent. It alternatives between prosaic and lyrical.





I could say that the casting of thoughts, sensations, the experienced, the watched and the imagined in forms, in words. That the play with words and images saved my life. Or at least my sanity.

In my autobiographically colored story, “Das Strahlende Ghetto” or “The Radiant Ghetto,” my narrator has come to the end of her strength. Despairing she experiences the last years of the dictatorship under the worst conditions in Bucharest. And saves herself through irony, imagination, through her wealth of ideas, creativity.


Many other stories are to be seen from this perspective. Among others, the story “Fingerübungen” or “Finger Exercises” from my volume of short stories Fenster in Flammen, „Window in Flames“. In this case, wordplay itself is the subject of discussion.





Consciously or unconsciously, the playful has always occupied me in my writing and in my artistic expression. Sometimes it is expressed as play with individual words. Play with different languages. Again and again words from the languages of my childhood, such as Hungarian, German, Italian, French or Russian, and Romanian of course, play a role. And although English arrived on the scene much later, its place in my writing has become more and more meaningful. The sound of the languages triggers images that sound more distinct, acute, clearer in one or the other language, that have different expressive effects on me. I grew up surrounded by many languages. They shaped the range of my awareness. And this expresses itself in how I handle language. In my literary language. This arises in all of my books, in Vaterflucht—Father Flight—among others. Bucurie is a Romanian word with a wide opening. Radiance. Charisma. It cannot be replaced by another word from any other language familiar to me. La joi is a beautiful, but incomplete word. It is a light touch of things. An allusion. An attempt that itself does not believe in itself. A fast opening that is far too quickly cut short. La gioia is incomplete, and doesn’t have the strength to express that all-encompassing happy feeling of joy, but would be my second-best choice. Freude opens with strength and radiance, but quickly restrains itself, as though it were afraid of its own strength. Of all that which it were capable of triggering. Of its own magic. The Greek Xara doesn’t express any expansiveness. Its repetitive, temperate tone affects me more lamentoso. For star, I chose Csillag. Csillag shines, flickers, sparkles.

Perhaps carbuncle—Karfunkel in German—possesses a similar sparkling power. Means something different though.





Sparkling and funkelnd affect me equally powerfully. Equally vividly.

In my writing I always decide for the word in the language in which the cultural context of the text is most fitting and has the strongest expressive force.

For example, in the story “Das Weihnachstessen,” The Christmas Dinner“I consciously used café au lait and not Milchkaffee. My characters live in a multicultural setting, where German and Romanian or other languages, too, are spoken. Often even a colorfully mixed Babel of languages, which is shaped by the French, Hungarian or by another language and culture. This is not just a game, it is also a way, among other things, to characterize figures, to make their personalities and their faces comprehensible and unforgettable.

Play with language comes about in different ways.





Play in life, as in writing, has a healing, liberating and constructive effect.


As soon as one dares to play with language, even when it isn’t one’s native tongue. Even when one does not have total command of the language, one feels comfortable in one’s skin. One feels self-assured on one’s inner soil. One feels one’s own power. One makes the language one’s own. One owns it. Until one day it becomes a part of oneself. One becomes one with the language. That is the best way to have ownership over one’s own life. To determine. Become master of oneself. Find expression for one’s life. This is the key to happiness.





Happiness! Because what else are we looking for. And what are we looking for. What would it all be worth without the quest for happiness and self-determination. Or is self-determination simply happiness. A facet of happiness. Paradise on earth exists. Here in life. In the everyday. Every second that we manage to play and to be ourselves. Every second that we manage to be independent and creative. Autonomous, independent trade, freedom and creativity are inseparably connected with one another. Play is power—Macht. One makes with words. From words. The world anew.


I play with words. Invent words. Mix languages. Change the meaning of words. Rearrange sentences and change the grammatical structure. I change sentence construction. Compromise. Cut in order to create clarity and to express the never-ending diversity and uniqueness of life. To transform the incompleteness of life events. Let it become art. And to come nearer to the beauty of life. Nearer to happiness.


I play with sounds. With words and things. I play with the energy of thought. With the real and the surreal. With the realistic and the virtual. I play with the tangible and the intangible. With materials and the immaterial. I play with and in realistic and virtual worlds. I connect the realistic and the virtual. The border between worlds has become fluid. Surmountable. We learn to move between worlds and connect uneven planes. (Ideas with matter. Matter with image. With moving images.) Ideas become matter and matter becomes presentation.


I make mistakes and metamorphose the mistakes through play. Through creativity they become individual and valuable.

Play is the ever returning victory of life over the fear of life. Over the failure in life. And this is the source of all creativity. (And what is art. Perhaps the reflection about life in a playful, ludic way.)

There is no failure.

There is no failure, only the fear of it. It blocks our drive to play. Our ability to play. Our lust for life. Our creativity. Our access to beauty. To happiness.

There is no failure. Because it is within one’s own power to metamorphose failure. Refine. To transform it.


Play is the victory of life over death. The border between the planes of life, between the worlds, is becoming ever more transparent. We conquer more and more planes. Dimensions. Will we ever succeed one day to enter the plane of death without fear. Will we succeed in transforming fear. Into art. To move here and there freely in its world. Perhaps death is a virtual world in which we will one day play. Perhaps we will succeed in liberating ourselves from the fear of failure. To take playfulness with us into death. To handle death playfully. To move here and there between death and life. And to become one. With life and with death.


Everything in life can be transformed. To let pain and unhappiness become something valuable.

One can begin with the small things of the everyday.













Carmen-Francesca Banciu was born in Lipova, Romania and studied Byzantine art and foreign trade in Bucharest. As a result of being awarded the International Short Story Award of the City of Arnsberg for the story « Das strahlende Ghetto » (“The Radiant Ghetto,” 1985), she was banned from publishing her work in Romania. In 1991 she accepted an invitation extended by the DAAD Berlin Artists-in-Residence program and came to Germany. Writer-in-Residence at Rutgers University from 2004-2005 and University of Bath in 2009, Banciu currently lives in Berlin and works as a freelance author and co-editor/deputy director of the transnational, interdisciplinary and multilingual e-magazine Levure littéraire. Since moving to Berlin, Banciu has written almost exclusively in the German language. Her book-length works deal with the geographic, psychic, and linguistic migrations of the woman author in Europe under and following the fall of Communism.



Recent Books:

Berlin is My Paris, PalmArtPress 2016

Light Breeze in Paradise: Ελαφρύ Αεράκι στον Παράδεισ, PalmArtPress 2017

Lebt wohl, Ihr Genossen und Geliebten, PalmArtPress 2018







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