"Wastage" of humans / Comrade Mauser / "Victim of History"

8 Jul 1991
News & Stories
Heiner Müller
Heiner Müller


In this conversation, taking place shortly after the German reunification, Alexander Kluge and Heiner Müller discuss historical developments from the perspective of playwright Heiner Müller's view on subjectivity. Among other things, they talk about the theoretical work of political philosopher Carl Schmitt, Russian literature, Müller's play "Mauser" and an artwork by Anselm Kiefer.

1989, Heiner Müller put "Hamlet" on stage at the Berliner Ensemble. He was fascinated by the parallels between the play and contemporary real-life events. Müller describes this phenomenon as " the intrusion of the time into the play", in reference to Carl Schmitt, who wrote a book on Hamlet. According to Schmitt, Shakespeare's Hamlet is only a tragedy because of the astonishing analogies between the play and contemporary historical events. The following conversation also revolves around Carl Schmitt's theory. Müller has studied his late text "Theory of the partisan" (1963) particularly closely. In regard to the French Revolution, Schmitt develops the idea that the necessity of a total image of the enemy emerged only with the concept of a peoples' war: the difference between civilians and military disappears, the entire nation is militarized. Vilém Flusser's quote that the French Revolution can be understood only with the Bolshevik revolution in mind, leads Kluge and Müller to talk about the Russian Revolution. Unlike the revolution in February 1917 and Kerenski's interim government, which Kluge describes as democratically organized war, Lenin had an attitude towards the war ("Socialism or Barbarism") that, before the backdrop of the experience of World War I massacres ("Protest against the slaughter of Verdun"), helped him win over the masses.

Could things in Russia have happened differently? Kluge and Müller discuss the influence of the West on Russia (philosopher of history Arnold Joseph Toynbee described "Marxism as a vehicle of early capitalism in Russia") and wonder whether Russia's development under Lenin, whom Schmitt calls the "academic Pugatchev", corresponds to "the Russian people's instinct for endless suffering" (Guido Ceronetti).

Lenin, "the eternal emigrant", who knew little about Russia, couldn't even imagine that things in Russia might go differently, according to Müller. He didn't realize "the potential of slowing down".

Can there be resources for any possible number of people? For Müller, World War I caused a shift in meaning in regard to the difference between life and death, that had an effect on our individual behavior: When life becomes militant, impossible, obscene, death loses its obscenity.

In regard to the intolerability and the boredom of modern life, that renders "all life forms militant", Müller talks about "empty time", which for him is when reality prevents him from pursuing his actual passions and interests: "I will have to do things that I'm not really interested in doing. That's how life time is wasted that I'd rather spend doing something else."

In regard to young men and women who have given their lives for the Russian Revolution, Kluge and Müller talk about the "wastage of humans", the wastage of people for a goal that was never reached and only exists as a concept anymore.

Müller's play "Mauser" (1970) also deals with the wastage of a person for duty: a man is ordered to perform executions, until he starts to enjoy it and loses his humanity, because it is the only way to make it bearable.

Anselm Kiefer's artwork "Lead airplanes" also gives expression to this increasing abstraction, the mechanization of killing.

Finally, Kluge and Müller talk about the reunification. Müller suggests that it is his job as a writer to upset, to confuse, to disturb the common sense. In his speech as Kleist prize winner 1990, he criticized the idea of order, the hurry and the colonial nature of the German reunification, even though it was exactly the arising chaos that had the potential to allow for the East to influence the West in return.