My Rendezvous with Death

Conversation with Heiner Müller after his Operation

20 Feb 1995
Ten to Eleven
Heiner Müller
Heiner Müller


The title of the interview is from a line in a poem written by an American about the battle of Ypern in World War I: “My rendezvous with Death took place in a trench.” Müller begins the interview by narrating how he prepared himself, both mentally and physically, for his throat operation to remove a cancer. Here he provides detailed descriptions of the nature and difficulties of such an operation; what was removed from the area of the esophagus; how he learned to make certain sounds again, to eat and swallow once more, etc. He compares learning to live without an esophagus as comparable to removing an elevator in a building and having to go up and down on the cables that once propelled it. Müller compares his postoperative trauma with the collective shock experienced by the population of eastern Germany after the Russian invasion in 1945. He also mentions the importance for him of reciting rhymed poetry as a way of dealing with postoperative pain while in the intensive care unit. Prose, he says, was not effective. Asked by Kluge whether this experience for a dramatist was a dramatic one, Müller allowed that it was not. The only interesting thing about it, he says, is the extent to which the body becomes an instrument or vehicle. In conclusion, Müller recites two poems that he wrote while in the intensive care unit. One of these is entitled "Theater Death," in which an actor is depicted dying on the stage of an empty theater.