Text: A life-saving surgery on his esophagus is the reason for Heiner Müller's rasping voice / As winner of the European Playwright Award 1994 in Taormina and the renowned stipend of the Getty foundation, Heiner Müller is one of the most-decorated writers in the German speaking world / In the MONTAGSJOURNAL, Alexander Kluge interviews the playwright about the dark side and the inevitability of democracy / Heiner Müller says that democracy has its roots in the tragedy of the Atreidae - -
Kluge: The things we could have learned ...
Text: OMNIVORE DEMOCRACY - - / Heiner Müller about the phrase: "Compliance spreads"
Kluge: In your last poem you talk about learning … and in the poem you wrote after the surgery, the first of the "new era", so to speak, it's once again all about: learning, learning, learning ...
Text: Heiner Müller, playwright
Kluge: …you with only half the energy, but with great pathos – learning in general. Is learning Tatarian? If they don't have any property, can they learn anything?
Müller: I hardly think they don't want to learn anything …
Kluge: …are they able to?
Müller: ...they just want to leave.
Kluge: That's true, by the way, speaking of leaving. The Huns are gone because there's others following behind them. And they march into Rome and Byzantine ….
Müller: Yes, yes ….
Kluge: ...because they don't have a choice.
Müller: Just like the Goths who come to Rome, they also just want to get away from the Huns …
Kluge: The Tatars, displaced to Inner Russia, want a comeback. But let's talk about … learning. The worst allegation on TV is to say that something is learning, that it is educational TV. That's the worst allegation that someone like Gottschalk can afford to make, and he thinks he's being funny.
Müller: Yes, there's a dialogue in Brecht's Fatzer fragments where three or four soldiers, whom Fatzer wants to teach something, whom he wants to explain the situation to, say simultaneously: "We don't want to learn." Then he says: "Here is someone else who does not want you to learn." That's the point.
Kluge: Well, the thing is that propaganda for learning is always made by people who know too much …
Kluge: … that has something of a know-it-all, at first. And I probably would say that I can't talk to my children about it by presenting them with the "pathos of learning", instead you have to be sneaky – and that's probably the worst thing that you can do as a teacher. The teacher basically gives away that he's an opportunist in order to get someone to learn; every teacher is basically a mini-GDR. Bound to fail in 1989. But when YOU comment on learning, at the somewhat slower pace that you have after a surgery like that, when you have tasted death …. you are for them a learning dinosaur …
Müller: Well, it is ...
Kluge: We dare not tell anyone that this is what we are thinking …
Müller: … very primitive. Brecht once said, and it sounds very religious coming from him: "to learn is mainly to comply", and that's something you have to learn, I think: you have to acquiesce to developments and processes, and only then can you understand them. You can't influence things if you don't acquiesce to them. And I think that is learning: complying with material, with objects, processes, developments. And then you can understand them, then you can use them.
Kluge: And that is learning?
Müller: That is learning, yes.
Kluge: So that was basically … this empathizing, what Ulysses does, that is learning?
Müller: Yes, I think so, yes. Ulysses is the first politician. The first political creature.
Kluge: You say at one point in the poem that the story about the Atreidae marks the beginning of democracy. But barely anyone knows who the Atreidae are. That is the story about … it starts with Pelops, right? Who ruled or founded the Pelopponesus. He wanted the daughter of a king who was one of the best charioteers and who defeated all the admirers of his pretty daughter in a race with his horses – basically the prototype of Helen of Troy – only to have them executed afterwards. He didn't want anyone to lay a hand on his daughter. Now, what's Pelops supposed to do? He tricks him by bribing the charioteer. Tells him that he will get to sleep with the young woman and that he will also get treasures, the dowry, if he agrees to replace the linchpins of the wheels with wax and that's how the young bride's father dies, and he's got the daughter … but now he doesn't want anyone to sleep with the daughter, doesn't want anyone to sleep with his bride and doesn't want to give away the treasures, and so he murders the charioteer. So the father of the bride and the charioteer curse the line of Pelops. That's basically the prehistory. And then there's Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Orestes, Clytemnestra , one murder after the other.
Müller: Regarding the birth of democracy, I think it's interesting that the deciding vote, Athena's vote was basically against the rules … that was basically election fraud.
Kluge: She meddles …
Müller: ...she meddles. Even though she doesn't really belong.
Kluge: A prompter of reason. A city gal.
Müller: She is not entitled to vote, but her vote tips the scale. So the birth of democracy happens through manipulation.
Kluge: Well, Athena is a "headbirth" herself, after all.
Kluge: She emerges from the head of the highest god, is raised in his thigh like in a mother's womb, and now she represents urban reason. Do you mean that negatively, critically, skeptically?
Müller: Neither nor.
Kluge: … neither nor, but in accordance?
Kluge: You want to see what happens first.
Kluge: So how does it turn out for you?
Text: "Ernst Jünger would be suspicious - -"
Kluge: Jünger would have been suspicious of democracy, the way it develops here.
Müller: The most important thing about a democracy, or about this system is – besides the fact that it was always an oligarchy …
Kluge: A non-tatarian oligarchy.
Müller: Yes. But the most important thing is that this structure called "democracy" can process any resistance and can basically swallow anything. It is an omnivore. And any opposition strengthens it, and that's why maybe there is a chance that … utopias can only develop in a democracy. That means alternatives to democracy can only emerge within a democracy.
Kluge: And you need this avalanche of guilt feelings that will be forgotten soon.
Kluge: This avalanche of forgetfulness, that is part of history from Pelops to Iphigenia. Eventually Thoas, leader of the Scythians, gets betrayed as well. Ulysses never betrayed as many people as the line of the Atreidae, and when you pile up all the guilt until it's so high that it can never be worked off, then you have this omnivore … or does it happen differently?
Müller: What do you mean when you say "omnivore"? The democratic …
Kluge: … the democratic principle that digests everything, that also kills Socrates, by the way.
Müller: Yes. Well, maybe the strength of democracy is also its weakness. It is not a volcanic principle, but a neptunean. Rather water than fire, and water can absorb anything.
Kluge: Absorb anything … you don't become a democrat out of free will, you become a democrat because inconsistencies and tragedies have ground things down to sand or water. Could you say that?
Müller: You could say that, yes.
Kluge: From that perspective the people of Antiquity don't seem very democratic.
Müller: They are completely undemocratic, yes.
Müller: There is a theory or a somewhat mystical philosophy from this Russian whose name I've forgotten, from the 19th century. Very mystical, very strange: it was about how all the dead who were killed, who didn't die a natural death, will be resurrected, will come back to life. So it doesn't matter how many you kill because they will come back to life anyway. If you now draw a parallel between Stalin and Zeus in relation to Prometheus. Prometheus prevented the creation of a new mankind. Zeus has a new mankind in mind, he knew that this model wasn't working, and wanted to create a new model. But the precondition for that was the elimination of the old mankind. Prometheus prevented that, basically was the first revolutionary; and maybe that was the original crime, Prometheus' impatience. And if you put that in relation to Stalin … Stalin knew that the elimination of the old human was the precondition for creating a new human. Stalin as Zeus, and then stuff happens, everything that can happen happens, and the thing with the new humankind doesn't work out. But the first half of it worked out …
Müller: Ivan Denisovich in Solzhenitsyn's first novel, there are some oddly positive passages that seem very Russian. When he describes this Gulag quasi as a purgatory, from which something new and better arises, and later that's over, he's worked through it, but it's still a part of Ivan Denisovich, this faith in the idea that destruction almost automatically creates something new.
Kluge: Where does such an idea come from?
Müller: At first probably from the concept that in Russia – if you understand Russia as Asian – that it's never about quality, but always about quantity. About the masses, where it doesn't matter if you kill 5,000 in one night or 50,000. It already starts with Peter the Great or Ivan the Terrible, 15,000 in one night in Kiev or … and only ends with Zhukov, this story with Eisenhower in the mine fields … have you heard about that?
Müller: Eisenhower says: How do you clear a mine field? Zhukov says: with the boots of a marching battalion. Or Peter the Great in London. There's a story about the fleet inspection in London that has been told by Chamfort, the French moralist. Peter the Great wanted to see the keelhauling, this punishment for sailors. He had heard about it and he wanted to build a fleet, so he figured he also needed a judiciary for it. Keelhauling, so throw someone under the bow …
Kluge: He didn't need that little crime and punishment … he simply did it with farmer's sons …
Müller: Yes, exactly. And then the English say: Unfortunately we don't have a guilty sailor right now, so we can't show you. And he says: Just take one of my people. That was always so normal for the Russians...
Kluge: And that is what you call Tartarian, and for Peter the Great, the most Western ...
Müller: This thread leads all the way to the history of cinema. Tarkovsky's movie Andrei Rublev. I don't know the exact number, but a lot of horses died during that shot where the Tatars ride up the stairs to the church. Just like that, a dozen of horses died, just so that the shot would be perfect.
Kluge: That's in the interest of the director, right?
Müller: Yes. Eisenstein has done the same thing, for Bezhin Meadow … he needed a mise-a-scène without telegraph wires or poles. They had to cut them down so that he could get his shot.
Kluge: And you think that this space-creating moment is Tatarian.
Müller: I think it's maybe Asian.
Text: The Grand Inquisitor & democracy?
Kluge: As a writer of tragedies or as a playwright or whatever you want to call it – how do you feel about how you might deal with Jesus Christ? The Grand Inquisitor, could you write something like that?
Müller: The Grand Inquisitor, yes, that would work, I think.
Kluge: So everything Dostoyevsky does with it, you could empathize with and represent accordingly? He is a horribly defeated man. Luther in his Christmas stenographies wants a horde of Saxons to overrun Jerusalem, the Holy Land, and free him belatedly by force. Is that something you could relate to?
Müller: I don't think so, no. Dostoyevsky I can relate to very well, I think. After all, he's the first who saw Auschwitz as the prolongation of history, of European history, and of course it actually really starts with it – it's stupid but … 20 or 30 years ago I didn't have a problem killing any insect that flew by or bothered me. Now it's an issue. Even it bothers me a lot, I have to really force myself to kill an insect.
Kluge: You're becoming compassionate …
Müller: I don't know if it's compassion. I don't think so. Maybe it's more a getting used to existing connections and trying to fit in.
Kluge: The compliance is spreading …
Müller: ...yes, the problem of compliance.
Kluge: ...it spreads until it stops. Until …
Müller: Yes. And only when it stops, there can be movement again, only then there is room to think of a new movement.
Kluge: In your poem you once said "Cosmos is cold".
Müller: Dreamless, dreamless...
Kluge: Dreamlessly cold ... but you are in a cocoon, and this cocoon on Earth, where it's warm, is filled with compliance. The medium of transportation is guilt, recognizable guilt. Can you describe how Rome was built in your opinion? After all, the Roman theory about the genesis of Rome is that it originates from the fall of Troy. After ten years the city is antiquated, it is destroyed. Troy will never exist anymore, but there are ruins, Schliemann can dig them up, but basically it's destroyed and from this destruction Aeneas emerges, with his father on his back, and he exports some remains. And now you describe the birth of Rome. The first victim …
Müller: What's important, I think, is …
Kluge: You have the smell of burning in your nose .. .
Müller: …the question of the detour. History happens along detours, it's not linear, and something disappears …
Kluge: So the gang of thieves that actually founded Rome would never have been able to found Rome …
Kluge: … but he needs a mental detour that goes back to Troy, that's the first point.
Kluge: And at the same time, the ones who come from Troy have to go through hellfire, smoke and guilt …
Müller: I think the central motive is revenge, for historical processes in general.
Kluge: So Rome is revenge for Troy.
Müller: Rome is revenge for Troy.
Kluge: Things turn bad for the Greeks.
Müller: Yes, exactly.
Kluge: They become a province and get robbed of everything and no thought is left un-romanized. They will never be who they were. That's your train of thought. And what's up with this woman?
Müller: That's Dido of Carthage. She …
Kluge: And she doesn't die once, but twice, in the form of Hannibal's elephants that have their bellies cut open, when Scipio, this Roman butcher … How would you describe the Romans? They are cruel in an insect-like way …
Müller: I think an important point is the relationship between the Romans and the Phoenicians. The example of Hannibal. Hannibal was standing before Rome, he could have taken Rome, and there is a pile of literature about why he withdrew. At the core of the story is probably – I did not come up with this, but I like the theory – that the Phoenicians, a nation of traders, were only interested in balance; it was never about destroying Rome, only about showing that they had the means, that they were just as strong. They wanted to restore the balance so that they would be able to do business. But the Romans could only think in the category of defeat, and it's still like that in European politics and thought, that you can deal with an enemy only by destroying them, or by focusing on their destruction. Falin who visited me a couple of days ago, told me a story. He was at a meeting with George Bush, and Falin said to Bush: Carter said that we only have to make sure that the Russian worker does not have any meat to eat anymore, and then we will have won. Then Falin said to Bush: And now you have won. And Bush was very embarrassed, because he didn't want to hear it being spelled out that bluntly.
Kluge: That was December 6th, 1989, at the summit meeting during the winter storm on Malta.
Kluge: That was the first time Falin was offensive and pouting, because he felt like his voice was not heard by Gorbachev, because there was no discussion about the preservation of the two super powers who could have at least come up with a legislation for Europe.
Text: OMNIVORE DEMOCRACY - - / Heiner Müller about the phrase: "Compliance spreads"
Kluge: The Soviet Union as the highest district court judge, that could have been saved. And that's why he started this argument with Bush, because they hadn't anything to do either. The agenda was quickly taken care of, outside was a winter storm, and Bush was not seasick.