Transcript

Running Text
The poet as a catapult for metaphors / Heiner Müller on the decline of empire -
Intertitle
What is dramatic material? Is the collapse of the Soviet empire dramatic material?
Müller
For the time being, I see that as epic material. It's not the case that something is breaking or getting blown up. At the moment, something is crumbling.
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
And it's still too early to have an overview of what . . .
Kluge
It was a ruin before, and it's a ruin now, only now one sees it a little better?
Müller
One sees it more clearly, but it's absolutely impossible to foresee where it will lead.
Kluge
Earlier, you cited a sentence by Brecht: "Petroleum resists five acts." How does he mean that?
Müller
That's a problem.
Kluge
So he feels that petroleum presents a challenge to him?
Müller
You can only do something dramatically with a process that makes sense in terms of subjects, individuals, biographies, and these are increasingly more difficult to discover, because the processes take place on the level of masses.
Kluge
Yes. Seven million retired people, three million soldiers . . .
Müller
It certainly also has something to do with changes in perception, in optics . . . Television de-individualizes everything, television flattens biographies out, annihilates biography, really, eliminates the subjective and converts everything into serial processes.
Intertitle
"Petroleum resists being divided into five acts" - Bert Brecht.
Müller
. . . and here two energies that contribute to the same type of effacement encounter each other. I also notice in my own case, entirely self-critically, that my interest in biographies, in the fates of individuals, is rather rudimentary or is dwindling, that I'm no longer interested in anything but structures or in relationships between events. I've always considered the Trojan War to be an example of what's happening now but is not yet interpretable, do you remember the story? The Greeks destroy Troy, Aeneas escapes from there to Italy by way of Africa, founds Rome, and Rome supersedes Greece, so that history has taken a kind of a detour. And that's very similar to what happened with the Soviet Union, I believe. If one starts from this thesis of Toynbee's, which is not at all stupid, that the only way of industrializing Russia, of forcing it into the capitalist process, was by means of a Western ideology, and that was the function of the Leninist variant of Marxism, to force Russia into capitalism, and then there were certain delays and disavowals and displacements . . .
Kluge
Isn't is true that you never actually work with the documentary material you collect?
Müller
No, I can't do that.
Kluge
No.
Müller
Somehow it works its way in, but I can never use it directly, because fundamentally it's always a matter of manufacturing metaphors, and that type of material only creates friction in the metaphor catapult . . .
Kluge
So your brain is a catapult for metaphors?
Müller
Yes, or something like that.
Intertitle
Waste Shore / Medea material / Landscape with Argonauts
Kluge
And now you're doing something completely different, called Waste Shore ([Verkommenes Ufer]). What is that?
Müller
Yes, it has a title like a tapeworm: Waste Shore / Medea Material / Landscape with Argonauts ([Verkommenes Ufer / Medeamaterial / Landschaft mit Argonauten]). Those are three scenes, and it's actually a variation on the Medea story.
Kluge
Wie variierst du das? Also Jason kommt ins Schwarze Meer und landet in Kolchis auf der Suche nach dem Goldenen Vlies.
Müller
For me that story was always really the first formulation of, the first epic depicting a colonization.
Kluge
Aggressive trade.
Müller
Yes.
Kluge
By sea. He steals, after all. He doesn't conquer Colchis, but he takes away what's most valuable.
Müller
Yes. And Medea is really a collaborator, she helps him with the theft, and she kills her brother, etcetera. It's really a very political story, I believe, but the material has been treated very freely. It was something one was not supposed to talk about.
Kluge
But to return to the collapse of Russia. Gorbachev said, a state is being stolen here. Marx says, the state is theft, that is to say, he imagines the state in terms of the property owners sitting down in parliament . . .
Intertitle
"The state is theft" / "A commonwealth is being stolen"
Kluge
. . . and making a law to have the foresters do the dirty work for them, and as a result people may no longer take wood from the forest, and in this way class relations are slowly created. That's more or less the ideal type of how he imagines that process, and he then wrote dissertations about it. But now the opposite is taking place, not in the sense that the state is withering away, but in the sense that it's being embezzled, the embezzled state.
Müller
I think that Gorbachev is thinking things in categories, and is caught up in categories, that don't describe the matter precisely.
Kluge
Because the state is not a building and Europe is not a building with multiple apartments, etcetera.
Müller
And what happened with the Soviet Union, that was from the very beginning a violent construction, and this whole regionalization that is now taking place there, the break-up into regions, into regional interests is only the consequence of the suppression of regional needs, especially in Stalin's time, but Lenin also already did that. There's a Bulgarian joke that I like because it captures something about the concept of the state. From the diary of a Bulgarian partisan: "Monday: We drive the fascists out of the forest. Tuesday: The fascists drive us out of the forest. Wednesday: We drive the fascists out of the forest again. Thursday: The fascists drive us out of the forest again. Friday: The forester drives us and the fascists out of the forest." That's what happened there, and the result was the forester: the Soviet Union, and now the process is reversing itself, and that's completely unavoidable.
Kluge
Nonetheless, I have the impression that many windfall profits are accruing there, that is to say that many people are turning the need for regional autonomy into a vehicle for founding a state of their own, a smaller band of thieves, so to speak, that's easier to control and in which one can make really juicy laws so as to appropriate something for oneself, embezzle something during the process of redistribution.
Intertitle
Interfering with the Dead
Müller
Yes. For example this Bulgarian-Turkish conflict, that was a really classic example, I think. There the issue was names, the Turkish minority was supposed to adopt Bulgarian names and give up their Turkish names.
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
That's a case of interfering with the dead, and the dead are the sore spot. I think that happened everywhere in these regions of the Soviet Union, that the state interfered with the dead. That starts with Antigone, this conflict . . .
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
. . . and that continues up through Bitburg, really . . . now, from Aeschylus's position of superiority with respect to Sophocles, the excitement over this issue was completely unjustified. In Georgia twenty or thirty years ago there was not only already a mafia, but actual gangs to which entire industrial complexes belonged or that controlled the entire transportation system in a region, that already existed . . .
Kluge
And now these gangs, even without tax revenue, can keep a national guard functioning for an entire year. Someone must be paying for that. By the way, that's Colchis, isn't it? That's the area inhabited by the descendents of Medea's parents.
Müller
Yes.
Intertitle
The difference between the conquests of the Third Reich and the current theft of land in the East / The drama of "explosion" and of "implosion"
Kluge
What's happening here is not theft, as was the case, for instance, when the Third Reich annexed territories in the East. That's obviously not the case.
Müller
It's very difficult, what you're describing now. It also has to do, for example, with the fact that the concept of public property as opposed to private property unfortunately remained an abstraction.
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
I remember that once in a very early play, in the '50s, I didn't describe, but rather actually invented an episode like that, in which German soldiers chase a collective farmer across a corn field, I don't know if you remember that?
Kluge
No, help me.
Müller
And naturally they catch him pretty quickly, because he always runs around the corn and they run over it, and for that reason they have an advantage in terms of speed and catch him quickly, and they're drunk, and the lieutenant is in a good mood and says, we'll allow you to shovel your grave in your own field, so where is your field? The whole thing is gigantic, a corn field as big as Saxony, and the farmer says obstinately: all of this, my field. And the soldiers say: No, where is your personal field, that's where you get to dig your grave. But it does no good, he just keeps saying: all of this, my field. Perhaps at one time it was not an abstraction, but now it's become one, and it's disappeared without a trace. That's the strange thing, that the old has simply returned as though it was the most natural thing, including the old relationship to property, and public property really existed only in the song, although this song was sung by many people for a time, and they also believed in it. For me, that's a phenomenon that's very difficult to describe.
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
That's what I'd like to describe, this disappearance, without a trace, of such a utopia.
Intertitle
I'm increasingly interested in what's disappearing.
Müller
Perhaps what's interesting about it . . . I'm increasingly interested in what's disappearing, and in what has disappeared, and in this regard I'm very distrustful of myself, because this is also very much a religious impulse, a religious need, but I think one must be very cautious with the condemnation or with the negation of religious needs, because I think that in the future there will be no politics without theology.
Kluge
By "theology," though, don't you also mean that people take the dead seriously?
Müller
Yes.
Kluge
They're in the majority.
Müller
Yes.
Kluge
They should be in the majority.
Müller
Yes. I still haven't figured it out, I still can't prove it to you, but . . .
Kluge
No, you've started claiming, in the meantime, that the living are a majority and are taking the grave away from the dead, so to speak.
Müller
Yes, something like that.
Kluge
But it's true that, if you take the example of the Black Sea Fleet, then you can say that the sailors of the Battleship Potemkin are dead. But they are already the third generation since the founding of the Black Sea Fleet, or since it was sunk for the first time in the entrance to the harbor at Sevastopol. It was sunk in order to prevent the Allies from entering Sevastopol in 1855. And then comes the Battleship Potemkin, an uprising and a film that has a tenacious life and that becomes an issue for German censorship, so an important film that describes . . .
Intertitle
How many and which metaphors are in a position to slow the movements of our time to a human scale?
Kluge
. . . a part of the Black Sea Fleet, and then comes a generation that has nothing to do with this, the grandchildren of those who could have served aboard the Potemkin, and they are now really fighting under truly hopeless circumstances in this rather narrow basin of the Black Sea against German submarines, Italian ships and all of those types of things, but they are somehow incorrectly equipped, and then they are suddenly correctly equipped and can even perform maneuvers with the Americans in the Mediterranean and earn the respect of foreign admirals. What they're doing now at this moment, is they're running around like a bride who's up for sale, and really it's a question, so to speak, of whether one can afford six cruisers, twenty submarines, if they are manned with first-class crews and are really state of the art, are perhaps even ahead of their time, after a long development, and biographically speaking that is no longer connected to anything, no longer connected to the founders. Is that what you refer to as a "structure?"
Müller
I think so. Yes, that's what I want to describe.
Kluge
And at the same time, that's also public property.
Müller
Hm, hm.
Kluge
A little of the Ukraine's labor power is contained in it, a little of Russia's labor power, and now these brothers must divvy it up.
Müller
On the other hand there's another aspect to this process, and this is really meant as a dumb joke and not as a metaphor: If two dogs fight and one lays down on its back, then the other one can no longer bite, and it also has that facet, the whole process.
Kluge
But that law doesn't govern relations between republics.
Müller
No, not at all. I mean now from a global perspective, the East has lain down on its back, and now the West can no longer bite.
Kluge
But what makes you think that that's how countries behave, the West for example, which doesn't even really exist?
Müller
I really do think that that's how they behave.
Kluge
But parts could bite, for example the banking industry could bite, the military doesn't bite, the black market bites, the Sicilian mafia . . .
Müller
Yes. In any case it's so diffuse, this process . . .
Intertitle
The EXPLOSION is epic, the IMPLOSION is dramatic.
Müller
. . . this decline in the East is so diffuse and also so difficult to survey as a unified process, I think it's a prologue to a catastrophe in the monetary economy also. I don't think it's possible to bring that under control.
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
At least I hope not, as a wicked person.
Kluge
In other words, there will be repercussions for the banks that don't get their Russian credits paid back, is that what you mean?
Müller
That's one aspect of it, yes.
Intertitle
It's not the moment that's dramatic, but rather the relationship between moments.
Müller
It's not the moment that's dramatic, what's dramatic are the structures or the relationship of moments to each other.
Kluge
. . . Moments that succeed each other, that come into contact, that are there simultaneously, for example when the coup is there and the Great Communicator of 1986, who actually . . . when the President spoke or the General Secretary, then people listened, all means were available. And now he sits in front of his home video camera and actually looks as if he had been photographed by terrorists, and his son-in-law is the only source of information, and a rowboat is supposed to bring the secret message to Greece and from there to the global public, and then the whole thing starts functioning again.
Intertitle
Sketch of a tragedy on the scale of antiquity: "The Guest Worker"
Müller
A story that I heard at the end of the war interested me, maybe we've already talked about it once before, the title would be The Guest Worker ([Der Gastarbeiter]). Three women, a grandmother, a mother, a daughter, all three of them widows, from a family of officers, nobles in Mecklenburg, are sitting there in their castle with twenty rooms and waiting for the Russians, in other words, for the end. Some fleeing members of the SS pass by and soldiers in civilian dress, in underwear and such. A Croatian SS lieutenant comes by and asks for a civilian suit. They say he can have one, he can pick out whatever he wants, only he has to kill them, because they don't have any means of killing themselves, and they want to die. But he has also already discarded his weapons and now searches around and finds an ax in a shed, and they disperse into their twenty rooms, and he slays them one by one, then he puts on the suit that he has chosen for himself and continues towards the west. A story by Makavejev that he always wanted to film and was never allowed to film in Yugoslavia: A Croat, a guest worker, leaves the Federal Republic after a year or a year and a half of work, a peasant, in order to visit his family. He comes in an Opel Kadett or Kapitän and in a ready-made suit from the Federal Republic. He arrives at night, stops at the bottom of the hill where the house stands, where his wife lives with their two children. He takes his suit off, takes his peasant's clothes out of the trunk, puts them on, stows his suit in the trunk, goes up to the house, sleeps with his wife, kisses the children, and the next morning he gets up, eats breakfast with the family, then he kills his wife, then the children, and goes downstairs, takes his peasant's clothes back off, puts his West German suit back on, and drives back to the Federal Republic. These two stories reveal something about each other, that's what I'm driving at.
Intertitle
Necessary self-hystericization?
Kluge
Where do you get the motor impulse that's essential for drama? How do you procure it for yourself?
Müller
I think the precondition is that one . . . to describe it psychoanalytically, a balanced personality will not have the need to write plays, only one that is unbalanced.
Kluge
No, you need a pound of hysteria, acceleration . . .
Müller
I need tension.
Kluge
And how do you make yourself so nervous? How do you maintain yourself in a state of nervousness? One can't endure that forever, one dampens it after 5 PM with a little alcohol.
Müller
Yeah, but there's not that much alcohol in the whole world, there's no way I could drink enough to dampen that.
Kluge
It's a necessary self-hystericization, though, isn't it?
Müller
Certainly, yes. Although I don't know what will happen now when I write again. It's really a completely new situation, it's a real turning point.
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
I don't know if I'm very interested in what's still coming, maybe I'm more interested in what was and what was not.
Intertitle
The Collapse of the Soviet Union, a dramatic material? What is dramatic material? "On the BATTLEFIELDS of labor \-"