Transcript

Intertitle
Heiner Müller, the winner of the 1990 Kleist Prize, on legal questions - - "I think that I'm not allowed to reflect on that, I have to write about it" Lichtenberg and Gertrude Stein on metaphors / Legal cases in Shakespeare's plays and in socialist dramas / "The Foundling" by Heinrich von Kleist / The Road to Volokolamsk I-V / Interview with Heiner Müller
Kluge
So one takes the stick, the crutch, the metaphor . . .
Müller
. . . and then there's the law of the lever, and the metaphor takes you further than you could have imagined beforehand. Afterwards you can perhaps reflect on what the metaphor has . . .
Kluge
Who said that?
Müller
Lichtenberg: "The metaphor is cleverer than the author."
Kluge
The Lichtenberg from the eighteenth century?
Müller
Yes. And then there's a beautiful text by Gertrude Stein about Elizabethan literature that contains the very naïve sentence: "Everything is so very much in motion." And really she's writing about the speed with which meanings changed during this period of colonization. Because there were constantly new words and words that took on new contents as a result of this global process of colonization. And this is shown by . . .
Kluge
In Shakespeare's age . . .
Müller
Yes, yes. And that's what made the language of the Elizabethans so iridescent, so mobile. The change of meanings . . .
Kluge
So are you saying that metaphor slows things down?
Müller
No, it accelerates, it accelerates, I think it accelerates . . .
Kluge
. . . it accelerates . . .
Müller
. . . No, everything is so very much in motion, she says, in the work of Shakespeare and of the Elizabethans. And then she also describes how, finally, this motion slowly comes to a stop with the consolidation of the British empire . . .
Kluge
. . . and with brutalism . . .
Müller
. . . and with brutalism. And then Shakespeare stops writing. In his final plays . . .
Kluge
. . . he takes his leave . . .
Müller
. . . the language because allegorical rather than metaphorical, or . . .
Kluge
. . . yes, the Tempest . . .
Müller
. . . the mode of communication becomes allegorical. And that's where the acceleration comes to an end.
Kluge
Yes. And so metaphor is characteristic of a time that is moving faster than human beings can process experiences.
Müller
Yes, yes. Or I once formulated it this way: Metaphor is a screen that protects one against too many impressions that one is unable to process. And it's also an instrument for bundling.
Kluge
Now you seem to do something else again. You take materials like Kleist's "The Foundling," a story by Anna Seghers, or other such literary material that already possesses a form, you break this form into fragments and then tell a story about it, almost like telling a new story about the echo of an earlier story. Why, for example, is The Road to Volokolamsk, that's something I still don't understand. There's not one story there, but several. What is Volokolamsk?
Müller
This road, you mean? It's a real location. Near Moscow on the Volokolamsk Road there's . . . it was a road to Moscow. One of the few roads suitable for automobiles that was still intact, and hence also suitable for tanks, and there's even a memorial on this road. And that's the point where the German advance on Moscow was stopped. That was the Volokolamsk Road. And today, of course, that's a metaphor once again, if you relate it to Prague, to Berlin. So that tanks go there, and then tanks return, but different ones. And then again, in the fifth part, it marks a kind of endpoint, where it's impossible to continue.
Kluge
But what is this now, in this book that I'm reading? These are almost like poems.
Müller
I wouldn't put it that way. I would say that they're dramatic texts . . . Dramatic texts. And they're very difficult to stage, because the details are realistic, but the constructions aren't. So every sentence of dialogue that's cited contains a very real gesture, but the context is not necessarily realistic.
Kluge
Now, you don't tell it once, but rather several times. Several times you tell what are obviously different stories. And sometimes there are . . . so Kafka is mentioned, Anna Seghers is mentioned . . .
Müller
Yes, the strange thing is . . . in a certain sense these are all legal cases, they are all questions of law. So, for example - this is a little digression now, but . . . I met Arthur Miller two years ago at a PEN congress in New York. And for some reason he liked me, and so we conversed a number of times. As a pragmatic American, he told me a story about what he thought the problem with the Russians was. It may also have been three years ago. He understood it for the first time when he was in Moscow. He was still the president of PEN, and he was there to organize a congress having to do with the topic of peace, or whatever, and the Russians very much wanted to take part in this congress, but they said that they couldn't participate if the dissidents took part, Solzhenitsyn, Aksyonov, and others. And Arthur Miller told them, I'm sorry, but there's a PEN statute, they are members, you are members . . .
Kluge
. . . I can't exclude them . . .
Müller
. . . I can't exclude them. And then the Russians said, but you're the president of PEN. To which he said, yes, I am. And the Russians said, then you can change the statute. And he said, that's the problem with the Russians, they don't know law. And that's what I thought was great about Alexander Bek's book, already the first time I read it at some point in the late 1950s, that for the first time it raised legal questions, which Gorbachev has in the meantime done very explicitly.
Kluge
He's a lawyer, Gorbachev.
Müller
Yes.
Kluge
Legal questions, that is to say that you describe a battle, and you disguise it as a question of law.
Müller
Yes, I think that's in all the parts, and most productions disregard this entirely. People just read it like the Iliad, which can also be read in that way.
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
But conventionally they are read as some kind of a description of a battle or as an epic song, and then no one understands anything.
Kluge
No.
Müller
But in almost every case what's at stake is a legal question, for example the problem with the second part becomes especially . . . and in the first part as well . . .
Kluge
Describe that. What is the first legal question?
Müller
The first legal question, in the first part, is that a commander is worried about the fighting strength of his troops, and so he fakes a German attack, and someone shoots himself in the hand while fleeing from this supposed German attack.
Kluge
Out of fear, in order to make himself unfit for combat.
Müller
. . . Yes, yes, and for that he gets shot, which isn't allowed under European law, or really under Roman law, because it was a fiction . . .
Kluge
Because it wasn't a true action, it was a fiction.
Müller
. . . it was a fiction, that's the first legal question. That reminds me of a related point, that a couple of years ago Stefan Hermlin was completely beside himself, he said that he had just heard for the first time that in the Red Army, the Soviet Army, soldiers get beaten by their officers. And he said, and that was a strange sentence coming from Hermlin, he said that in the Nazi Wehrmacht it was forbidden for an officer to hit a soldier. That was a shock for him, when he learned that, whereas the Russians no doubt see it very differently, they're glad if they were only beaten.
Kluge
That really was forbidden in the Nazi Wehrmacht.
Müller
Yes, that's one such point. Or there's also the fact that the Russians' superiority in the Second World War was based, among other things, on the fact that there weren't any human rights, also no conception of human rights. Or there's this dialogue between Eisenhower and Zhukov, are you familiar with that?
Kluge
No.
Müller
Eisenhower reports that they were discussing the best method of clearing a minefield, and Zhukov said: The best method of clearing a minefield is with the boots of a marching battalion.
Kluge
Did he really say that?
Müller
Supposedly he said that, or so Eisenhower claims.
Kluge
That's what the Americans say.
Müller
And I believe it, too, it's perfectly plausible.
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
There's a tradition behind that. There's an anecdote by Jean Fawl about Peter the Great visiting the British fleet in London. He wanted Russia to be a naval power . . . you know all about that, and he was interested in keelhauling, the famous punishment for sailors. You lowered them in front . . .
Kluge
. . . You lowered them in front and pulled them through underneath, and whoever made it through under the keel would have his life saved, he would be pardoned. But no one made it through.
Müller
Yes, yes, exactly. And he wanted to see that, and the English told him, well, they were sorry, but they couldn't demonstrate that, because they didn't have any condemned sailors at the moment, and Peter the Great said: Well, then take one of my people. And this attitude has continued throughout Russian history.
Kluge
How does law actually come into being? Who produces such a thing?
Müller
It arises out of necessity, out of compulsion, out of inherent necessities.
Kluge
But first a primitive accumulation, an expropriation has to have taken place, so that I get a real longing for law.
Müller
Yes, yes, and that's the second point, the second episode, once again based on Alexander Bek, in which a subordinate officer demotes a superior officer, which, in terms of military law . . .
Kluge
This, too, is necessary, in order to generate law.
Müller
Yes, but it's completely anarchistic when viewed purely in terms of existing law. This relationship between the codification of law and anarchy is really the theme, and also the need for anarchy in order for a new law to . . .
Kluge
And now the second story.
Müller
That's the second story, this demotion.
Kluge
The demotion, so it's not revolution, the relationship between officers and troops is not changed, but there's a shift in power from below to above.
Müller
And the third part is the Seventeenth of June in the GDR.
Kluge
And what's the legal question there?
Müller
That's somewhat more complicated, the legal question, it delves more deeply into historical questions, I think. Up until what point does a state or a structure have the right . . .
Kluge
. . . to demand obedience.
Müller
. . . to deploy tanks against the population.
Kluge
And up until what point does a state have that right?
Müller
Up until what point does a state have . . . yes, the right to subordinate the needs of the population to a strategy or to a perspective?
Kluge
And how is that question answered? Or is the question simply posed?
Müller
The question is simply posed, I think, because I think it was hardly possible to answer it in that context. That was a very complicated story, this Seventeenth of June '53. There is now some information about the events that preceded it. Ulbricht was in Moscow, he had been ordered to Moscow with Honecker, I don't know who else was present. Two other people were also present, and they were confronted with Beria's plan, and his plan was to give up the GDR, to use it as a bargaining chip.
Kluge
And then?
Müller
'53, right. Naturally, the NKVD was better informed about the real situation than the GDR government, and they were of the opinion, it's getting too expensive, we have to get rid of it, it doesn't benefit us, we can't maintain it.
Kluge
Because it was also simply impossible to incorporate the population.
Müller
Yes, yes, yes. And Ulbricht accepted that, and he flew back to Berlin with the others, they all accepted it, so free elections, and that would have been the first transition. And they got to Berlin, and the Seventeenth of June took place. And then Beria's plan was no longer feasible, they had to reestablish the structure, even though they knew better.
Kluge
But now there were two factions.
Müller
Yes, and then they found a scapegoat, that was Herrnstadt, for example, and Honecker went to him, and I think Mielke was already with him, and they said, Comrade Herrnstadt, you supported Beria's plan. He said, it wasn't me, it was Walter. No, you supported Beria's plan, and you are now the enemy of the party. They appointed enemies of the party, because they couldn't admit that it was Ulbricht who had accepted this plan.
Kluge
There are some eighty-three different expressions for violence or power in the Latin language, so that it deals with these topics with great subtlety . . .
Intertitle
Latin expressions for violence: imperium / spectrum / maiestas / tyrannis / auctoritas / ius / vis / bracchium / potestas / potentia / licentia / virtus / violentia etc.
Kluge
. . . and every expression has a different meaning, a nuance, so auctoritas . . .
Müller
That's not exactly the same thing.
Kluge
But it's approximately the same thing. Imperium is something completely different, imperium functions precisely in the absence of authority. Voltaire says: "A king who has to explain his commands is no longer a king." That would be imperium.
Müller
That's also true of literature, by the way. There's a really beautiful sentence by Jünger: "A writer who comments on his own work stoops below his own level." That's the same thing.
Kluge
That's something you never do. You don't do that. I saw an interview with you in which you didn't answer at all for three\- quarters of an hour, because you were being asked to comment on your work. But if you consider different expressions for violence that have been pulled together, for example, that have been integrated into the state, but which then also appear and predominate in agreements and in spontaneous actions.
Müller
I think that I'm not allowed to reflect on that.
Kluge
No. Okay.
Müller
Because I have to write about it.
Kluge
No, no, okay. You have to write about it.
Müller
Maybe there's another point that would interest me in this context or that interests me, the problem of the - and this has to do with metaphor - the problem of different layers of time, so art has a different time or occurs in a different time than politics or history.
Intertitle
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Müller
Art has a simultaneity of past, present, and future, all of them are there simultaneously, and that's why it uses metaphor as . . . as a vehicle in which past, present, and future exist simultaneously. And that's also why there's this necessity, for instance here with "The Foundling," Kleist, assuming, of course, that one is familiar with that or can look it up, that's one story, and then another story is told that intersects with the first one at a diagonal, but this other story reads differently if one is familiar with Kleist. And this produces a kind of dialogue between epochs or even between legal systems and structures, so that one comments on the other.
Kluge
And if you take such a story, that's like a tree with two trunks . . . What is "The Foundling," what is that for Kleist? I'm not familiar with the story.
Müller
You're not familiar with it?
Kluge
No.
Müller
The story goes like this: A rich merchant travels, I believe, to Italy from the Caribbean, or something like that, I don't remember the places exactly, but the structure is in any case as follows: A rich merchant goes on a business trip with his son, whom he loves very much, and arrives in a city where the plague has just broken out. The son dies of the plague, and the merchant survives. At some point on the return trip a child, a boy, is standing alongside the path or at the edge of the road, orphaned, among other things, by the plague, his parents are dead. And the merchant takes him as a replacement for his son. And this boy then ruins the merchant's life and his family by extorting the wife and also attempting to extort her erotically, and the wife kills herself or dies as a result. And then the stepfather kills the stepson, and the conclusion is that he says, even while he's standing under the gallows, that he very much wants to go to hell so that he can go on killing this stepson.
Kluge
And what did you do with that, the second Volokolamsk story?
Müller
You mean "The Foundling?"
Kluge
Yes.
Müller
That's based on a story told by a man who was in Bautzen for five years. He told me the story of a fairly young man, he was nineteen years old, who had been sentenced to five or even more years of hard labor, he was the adoptive son of a high\- ranking party functionary who was no longer able to have children, he'd become sterile as a result of penal servitude, or a concentration camp, or whatever, and this son was a kind of projection for him, this stepson. And the stepson then, as a reaction against his parents' protected and privileged home, and no doubt also as a result of experiences he had had with other young people, kept doing things like, for example, writing "Russians out, freedom\!" on a bridge in Dresden. And things like that, which are cited here. Then he distributed pamphlets, and finally he stole a border patrol ship on Rügen in order to use it to escape to Denmark . . .
Kluge
And he was captured there.
Müller
. . . and he was captured there. Previously, his old man had always gotten him out of everything, had been able to protect him, but now he could no longer do anything. Then he was in the penitentiary in Bautzen, and the prison guards feared him, because he had the ability to eat light bulbs, and if you could do that you were obviously king. His old man visited him constantly and brought him presents. The son never said a word, he took the presents and distributed them to the other prisoners, and he never again spoke a word to his stepfather, who suffered greatly as a result. That was the story.
Kluge
Say, what have you done there to your hand?
Müller
It's quite simple. I attempted, with all of my natural-born technical ability, to fill a lighter.
Kluge
You burned yourself?
Müller
Yes. When I lit it, so much lighter fluid had dribbled down the sides of the lighter that my hand was engulfed in flames. It looked really great.
Kluge
And what is that elegant dressing you have there?
Müller
This bandage? That was done by a surgeon here with a Japanese name. Apparently it's a Japanese method. And of course he's right, yesterday I still had my whole hand in a single bandage, and naturally it's better to wrap each of the fingers separately. Then at least you can . . . but otherwise, it's no problem.
Kluge
But don't you write with that hand?
Müller
Yes, I do. But I can write with either hand . . .
Kluge
Are you left-handed or right-handed?
Müller
Left-handed, actually.
Intertitle
Heiner Müller, the winner of the 1990 Kleist Prize, on legal questions - -