Den Menschen spielen in seiner Wollust nach Bösartigkeit

Text: News&Stories

Text: Corinna Harfouch’s breakthrough on the theater stage was the role of Lady Macbeth in a Heiner Müller production / She was born in 1954 in Großenhain, Saxony / Corinna Harfouch: One of the few great film and drama stars of the Federal Republic / From the bottom of her heart: a star of the East / “PLAYING MAN IN HIS CRAVING FOR MALICE” / Portrait of actress Corinna Harfouch

Alexander Kluge: There is this popular song: “Once there was a faithful hussar.” What do you feel when you hear that?

Corinna Harfouch: I can’t even imagine what a faithful hussar would look like. Fidelity is about me as a woman, not about the fatherland. In that regard I don’t even know what kind of category that would be.

Kluge: Once there was a faithful hussar, who loved his girl for many years, many years and so many more, their love never came to an end …

Harfouch: Hard to imagine.  

Kluge: A completely different time.

Harfouch: Yes.

Kluge: But this song is apparently sung by a woman.

Harfouch: Yes. Probably out of longing.                             

Kluge: Yes. And she is probably the one who depends on his continued love, so that he doesn’t leave with every transfer of garrisons.

Harfouch: Exactly. It’s more likely that he left, and what she was left with was a song to sing.

Kluge: You once said in an interview how much you were emotionally affected by the return of the men in 1945, the returnees. During their absence, the women had led an independent life. For children it was a happy time without their fathers …

Harfouch: I think so too.

Text: Corinna Harfouch, actress

Kluge: … and really a completely different, independent life. And now they come back. In the first days, they can’t even sleep in the same bed together.

Harfouch: Not just in the first days, I think. I believe that the effects are still noticeable, even in our generation: the fact that they experienced something so separate, the men experienced such horrible things, most of them were never able to speak about it, or if they did, only … I do know fathers who talked a lot about it, but in a flood of words, nothing clarifying, but rather… and I believe that they simply couldn’t explain to each other what they experienced, what they went through, and this caused a deep rift between men and women …

Kluge: But apparently it was different from 1918, where you had immense amounts of narratives, and there were even more in '70/71 of the battle of Sedan, my grandfather couldn’t stop talking about it. It’s also a matter of guilt.

Harfouch: Of course.

Kluge: A war with a very different ending. And also because returning to Großenhain is different from coming back to, let’s say, Bad Arolsen or Marburg. Things are broken, and there is basically no public discourse around it.

Harfouch: Yes, I think so too. And eventually it becomes a habit – I think from that point on, their lives are truly separate. I mean the men and the women.

Kluge: The men and women who were separated by war have not been reunited.

Harfouch: I think so too. And you can still feel that today. It had consequences for the education of the following generation, and the one after that, and so on.

Kluge: How do you do it – technically and professionally – when you, as someone who can’t possibly have acquired any life experience before 1954 – how do you put yourself into the shoes of a character from a previous era?

Harfouch: This role … well, I only played one role like this, and that one went wrong because the film didn’t turn out well, but I did play it for my mother. I had a very strong feeling that I really wanted to play this role for my mother. She was very young after the war, my father was also very young, they got to know each other shortly after the war, fell into each other. And they are still a couple, but I was able to observe what that really means.

Kluge: What did he do professionally?

Harfouch: Well, he was a soldier during the war.

Kluge: And your mother?

Harfouch: My mother was a flakhelfer or so, of course during the war young women didn’t get any proper education. They stayed with farmers, worked on their farms, did their practical year there, and as the war was coming to its end, they were sent to dig trenches and so on. And after the war, she returned to her small hometown, not Großenhain, but a small town near Wittenberg. And he ended up there after the war, because his mother had fled there. And there they met and married very quickly, within a few weeks.

Kluge: 1946? 47?

Harfouch: '46.

Kluge: That was a black-market era that is difficult to imagine today. With different rules of exchange. Carpets for potatoes, human for human, relationship for relationship. It’s pretty interesting. It’s a completely different time. But for you, it’s enough to imagine yourself in that role. You wanted to play it for someone else …

Harfouch: In that particular case.

Kluge: In that particular case. And the second thing is that you choose a cipher, anything you can relate to. And you extend that to everything else.

Harfouch: It always depends. I’m interested in different roles for very different reasons. Sometimes it’s simply the money, if it happens to be time to make some money. Or I would like to achieve something that I haven’t managed to do before. Or I’m interested in something that touches me emotionally, that … like with this film. And then it’s even more frustrating when it doesn’t work out.

Kluge: So you say that from time to time, you have to challenge yourself. It doesn’t matter what for. That’s the foundation on which you can build a house. But first you need a reason. It can be calculating or athletic, or professional, or it can be about a challenge.

Harfouch: It can also be social – I want to push myself, I don’t want to be bored.

Kluge: Just like the tiger needs something to chew on, you need something challenging once in a while. Routine is unacceptable.

Harfouch: No, it makes me sick.

Kluge: And the thing is … I would be curious to know … in a way, an actor is like an author, who adds to the things writers come up with. It’s not just a process of translation, it’s also an act of completion. Because you have to divide everything into individual movements, into snapshots. But if you act out an experience that you haven’t had yourself; if you are supposed to play a woman in Ancient Rome, or a woman from 1946 – how do you do that? You need to employ your imagination. That’s something I can do as a writer as well …

Harfouch: That depends. With Lady Macbeth, for example, I’m not interested in concepts like “power,” “greed,” or something, because I don’t really know what that means. Why power, why greed, that’s what you need to ask yourself: Why? And in regard to Macbeth, for example, I think that she simply wants to be very close to her husband. She loves him, and she wants them to have a shared experience that will forever keep them together. But that’s her great mistake, her tragedy: in the very moment that he executes the plan that she comes up with, they are already divided. Just like the men who go to war, and their women at home were cheering when they left, but afterwards they are separated forever. And with Macbeth, I am interested mostly in love and error, and not in such a cold phrase as “the desire for power.” Power is something you want so you can do something with it, after all.

Kluge: And what could you do with a kingdom … that would be a strange idea nowadays. To be the Queen of England … nothing special nowadays.

Harfouch: I imagine that must be horrible.

Kluge: … horrible. Has nothing to do with Lady Macbeth. That kind of power cannot be gained through murder. But it’s possible to entrap people.

Harfouch: In her case, she can be smart and scheme, but there needs to be a goal, a reason, and in this case her reason is the man she wants and doesn’t have, and later will never have again.

Kluge: And in a way, she does what our genes teach us. Somehow they are subconsciously involved, in order for one family line to reproduce and find a solid nest, a good cuckoo’s nest. And in that sense she wants her dynasty and her strong man – physically speaking, he is strong. And psychologically dependent on her. She makes him dependent.

Harfouch: She makes him dependent on her. Many women do that. Often as a form of revenge. Or, well, what does that mean, revenge … I’m not talking about Macbeth here. But it’s often like this: a man wants a woman, wants to own her, and he succeeds. He wants her because of certain character traits, because she is strong, smart, radiant, beautiful, because he desires all of her.  

Kluge: A convincing reason.

Harfouch: Yes, a convincing reason. But the moment he’s got her in his house, all those strong character traits become a threat to this man. To every man. And then he has to start the hard work of taking her apart, of hacking this woman into pieces.

Kluge: She doesn’t put up with that.

Harfouch: Well, perhaps she can’t see through him, the woman, in which case she does put up with it. And from one moment to the next, she is suddenly completely scattered and chopped up in this house with this man.

Kluge: She is kept in the pantry, so to speak as provisions .

Harfouch: So to speak. And then he goes to bed to recover from the heavy work of having to chop her into pieces. And she picks herself off the floor, and begins her revenge. And this revenge is called caretaking. That’s what usually happens. And she spins a web and renders him completely unable to deal with life, to a point where he can’t do anything but open his mouth for her to drop his meals into. He doesn’t know how to live anymore. And within this horrible entanglement, all energy fades, and life passes uneventfully. That’s how most people, or many people, live.

Kluge: Now you are talking about a 1982 production. At the time, you are still working at a theater in Chemnitz, but at the same time …

Harfouch: Back then it was Karl-Marx-Stadt. That’s something I have to insist on, I’m afraid.

Kluge: And Heiner Müller is the director. What is it like to interact with Heiner Müller? He isn’t always particularly talkative, after all.

Harfouch: My advantage was that I didn’t know Heiner Müller at all. I didn’t know what incredible gift this was, or what kind of offer, I didn’t understand that at all.

Kluge: It was the capital of the GDR, a good job, an interesting part …

Harfouch: Well, it was Lady Macbeth. Good God. But the younger you are, the stronger you feel, and the stupider you are, the more naïve. It’s easier to approach certain tasks that you don’t actually have a claim on yet, if you were capable of considering it.

Kluge: Did you speak with a Saxon dialect as a child? Do people in Großenhain speak Saxon?

Harfouch: It’s very Saxon. But my parents didn’t speak with a Saxon dialect, because they were not actually from Großenhain, but from elsewhere. We didn’t speak Saxon. I did not have to train myself out of that.

Kluge: So you said: I’m going to accept this part.  

Harfouch: Of course, sure. And the great thing was that I didn’t understand what kind of environment I was working in. What that meant. Therefore I was very carefree, and pretty happy most of the time. And I could certainly do a lot of things that I wouldn’t be able to do anymore this easily today. Today, I would be much more afraid of such a challenge. I would still do it, no question, but not quite as cheerfully, not as unselfconsciously, not with the attitude that I deserve this, of course, why not. 

Text: Corinna Harfouch, actress

Kluge: You commuted between Karl-Marx-Stadt and Berlin … like a traveling student. Did you have an apartment here, or …?

Harfouch: I didn’t have anything here. I lived with my child in Karl-Marx-Stadt, and went to Berlin to work.

Kluge: And the child would be watched by a babysitter?

Harfouch: By friends. We didn’t use to have babysitters. There weren’t as many unemployed women, and therefore no babysitters. Friends did that. That job was certainly the one performance in my life that I did not understand even by the day of the premiere, but which influenced me for years after.

Text: Heiner Müller produces Shakespeare’s MACBETH - -

Kluge: He gave you a lot of freedom and waited to see what you would do with it.

Harfouch: That’s true. But because I was so young and naïve, somehow she turned out to be like that as well. She started as a little girl and grew into a woman because she experienced this great pain, because her man did not want her anymore. That was her great pain in this production, and that was also my opinion of her.

Kluge: Did you come up with that or did Heiner Müller …

Harfouch: It happened without anyone having to say it explicitly, that was the wonderful thing about this work.

Kluge: Who was your Macbeth?

Harfouch: There were three: Dieter Montag, Michael Gwisdek, and Hermann Beyer.

Kluge: Why three?

Harfouch: It was a division into strength, mind, and intrigue.  

Kluge: They all interacted with you at the same time?

Harfouch: All three of them at the same time. Each one had a different role to play.

Kluge: It’s more universal like this. No matter what kind of man he is, the basic conflict of marriage, which leads to rebellion and to the man’s entrapment by the woman, will always be the same.

Harfouch: It’s like this. The strongman, played by Dieter Montag, is the one she wants, and she would have been able to control him. But then two others emerge from within the strongman, the politician and the schemer. And they begin to rule her, and she loses control. I assume that’s why the role was given to three men, among other reasons. Depending on what function they needed to fulfill, simply to make that clearer, one appeared or the other, or the third one. Dieter Montag was the butcher.

Kluge: In that sense, it’s kind of a political play. And the more you focus on a human issue – as you say: ‘I play this woman and her desires’ –, the more you integrate personal experience, the more dangerous the politics become.

Harfouch: Of course. The more vulnerable the woman becomes, the more lost she is in the end.

Kluge: And the less likely it is that their actions are going to reach a goal. Like a game of pool, in the end with 23 balls. That’s something Müller was certainly interested in.

Harfouch: I think so too.

Text: The wife of Georg Forster, the revolutionary from Mainz / Movie role

Kluge: You played Georg Forster’s wife. Who is that?

Harfouch: First of all, he was a naturalist, an explorer. He sailed around the world with his father and Cook.

Kluge: He discovered Australia, so to speak. As a child?

Harfouch: Well, as an adolescent. And he became very active politically, and welcomed the French Revolution. Then he founded and proclaimed a Council Republic in the city of Mainz. And when the ground there became too hot, he went to Paris and had to discover that he …

Kluge: … was being accused and was crushed beneath the wheels.

Harfouch: His brother was executed by guillotine, and yet he still wanted to stand with the revolution, but then died such a gruesome death – nothing to eat, nothing, he was very, very sick. Especially with the knowledge that his own engagement had led to … It’s almost comparable to Stalinism, absolutely.

Kluge: The revolution doesn’t devour its children, but it is so indifferent, so fast-paced, that it simply forgets them.

Harfouch: Absolutely. He did not have any influence, no one wanted to have anything to do with him, even though he dedicated his life to the cause. Quite the contrary, everyone was very suspicious of him. All foreigners were looked at with suspicion, especially the Germans. And so he had to realize that he was basically surrounded by enemies among his friends in Paris.

Kluge: The director is your husband?

Harfouch: Yes.

Kluge: And what is the part of the wife, Therese Forster?

Harfouch: Well, the film takes place over the course of three days. It’s a fictional story. In all the notes and writings about Forster, by Forster, by Theresa, by Huber, her other lover, there is a gap, and that’s precisely those three days. They met in Neuchâtel in Switzerland in order to discuss how to approach the divorce. Forster had taken in Huber, a mediocre writer, and Therese started an affair with Huber, simply out of the desire to be with a man who was weaker than she was and who also stayed at home and wasn’t always going to be travelling the world. Someone she can keep an oversight of. I mean, that is a desire I understand. It never ends well, but I understand the desire, to simply get to rest, to relax as a woman. And in the film, the three meet up, together with Therese and Forster’s children, and during those three days they negotiate what they are going to do. And this results in many situations and conversations about the revolution, the political situation, the German intellectuals’ position regarding the French Revolution. Most of them have turned away from it, including Therese.

Kluge: It’s a taboo. There’s Forster, who used to be part of polite society. He was the favorite of the figures of Weimar Classicism, a chosen young genius. And they despise him as if he’s a RAF member. German society is uniformly opposed to the French Revolution, for them it’s the devil.

Harfouch: And Forster was one of the very few who stood with the Revolution. In that moment, Therese – partly simply out of fear for her existence, and she had two children to feed, that’s something to keep in mind, that’s something she needs to take care of –

Kluge: She saved herself. Rescued herself onto Noah’s Ark, so to speak.

Harfouch: Yes, exactly.  

Kluge: Is that still a GDR film?

Harfouch: Yes.

Text: How did you experience November 9, 1989?

Kluge: How did you experience the year ’89? You were in Paris when the Wall fell.

Harfouch: I was here on November 9. But on November 9 in the morning we left from Paris, because we had just shown Travers at the cinema in Paris. And then we arrived here early on the 9th, Michael had a movie premiere that night, and when he came home, there was suddenly – well, actually not so suddenly, I had watched Schabowski on TV, after all. We had very exciting days. At the theater, there was a kind of ‘courage training’ for people who for the first time … that was incredibly moving, a unique event, that’s a very vivid memory in my life and I’m very grateful I was allowed to experience that. The theaters opened their doors to people. It was disguised as Q&A sessions with the audience after the performances. We had Germania on the program, and afterwards there was always a Q&A. And people stood up and practiced speaking.

Kluge: It was a proper Agora, a real market place, a public sphere.

Harfouch: And I still remember, there was a situation for example, when in October people here were arrested on the streets and locked up in garages or something. Some of them were beat up, or at least severely humiliated. And it was a great shock for the population, because people didn’t generally know that they used Gestapo methods … We had never seen water cannons, and then they suddenly appeared. We had also never seen such a highly armed police, you didn’t see that on the street. 

Kluge: It was a very confrontational situation.

Harfouch: And people were being arrested on such a massive scale, it wasn’t possible to keep it a secret anymore. Shaking and crying, people read accounts of their experiences out loud after the performance at the theater. And I remember that a young man, pale and thin, suddenly stood up and said: I would like to say something. I am a member of the barracked State Security, and I would like to tell you from my perspective what things have been like for us these past few days. After a certain point, they did not let us go out anymore, they told us that mobs were running loose outside, criminal elements that were influencing the public opinion. We were prepared for an operation, and because they didn’t let us go outside and no one was informed and no one was allowed to go home, the aggression in the barracks increased until, so this young man told us, people were basically ready to go and strike out. They built up this atmosphere. And he stood there and was deeply upset about the things he had just heard, what had happened everywhere and repeatedly. But what I like to remember is that in this situation, he was actually able to stand up and say what he had to.

Kluge: There is also a sense of achievement, that people say … you once said in an interview, we basically wanted to show what we can do ourselves. Insofar there is this patriotic moment in December.

Harfouch: That was a patriotic moment.

Kluge: And it may have been more wide-spread than people assume. But it didn’t survive Christmas.

Harfouch: It didn’t survive November 9. That’s when it was over. And I knew it during that night. Don’t get me wrong, I was at the Brandenburg Gate and I was happy and all that. But I knew that what had started there was already over.

Text: To where would you build bridges in Europe?

Kluge: If you had to say, from your own point-of-view: Where would you orient yourself within Europe? Is Paris a place to build a bridge to?

Harfouch: Me personally, no. I don’t speak French either. But I was there a couple of times, and Paris in particular … the city, the way it appears to me, is extremely cold, extremely …

Kluge: … self-absorbed ….

Harfouch: Self-absorbed, extremely egotistical and very tough, just the way I always imagined America. What I encounter in Paris, that would have to be America, that’s how I imagine it. But it was Paris, and that was a shock for me, I have to say.

Kluge: You think America is cold?

Harfouch: I’ve never been in America.

Kluge: New York?

Harfouch: I’ve never been. But maybe that’s something I’m going to do soon. A lot of it is legends or stories anyway …

Kluge: But one does have clear expectations. And London?

Harfouch: I have never been there either.

Kluge: And Rom?

Harfouch: That I have seen, it’s beautiful.  

Kluge: But nothing where you could say, we want to build a bridge. Work together.

Harfouch: That would be nice, but we don’t really have the weather that would be necessary for us to understand each other.

Kluge: No one wants anything. We have a language barrier and no practical offers.

Harfouch: Hm.

Kluge: But what would be the nearest ally? If we wanted to establish an Eastern Mafia, we would have to send out a radio signal somewhere in Europe, and say: With whom do we want to team up?

Harfouch: That’s only possible with the Eastern countries, I think.

Kluge: And where? Prague?

Harfouch: Prague would be nice, but it’s not possible. Because we hate each other right now.

Text: Corinna Harfouch, actress

Kluge: Stockholm? Trieste? That’s also a North-South-Axis.  

Harfouch: The Northern countries, perhaps. They are a bit more austere, a bit poorer.

Kluge: Moscow?

Harfouch: Oh God, Moscow.

Kluge: Could you imagine a film about November 89, or October, November, the threshold, up to the Alexanderplatz on November 4? Like Germany in Autumn back then.

Harfouch: That would need to be translated. Every attempt so far has failed.

Kluge: You can’t simply put 400,000 extras together, it doesn’t have the same effect.

Harfouch: Ms. Trotta tried something like that, and it failed thoroughly, in my opinion. Beginning with this scene on November 9. If I remember correctly, it was very quiet back then, not loud at all. It was a moment of cheerfulness, incredulity, amazement, but people were also very gentle with each other.

Text: Corinna Harfouch, actress

Kluge: Like the distribution of presents on Christmas Eve.

Harfouch: It was crazy, yes. When we shot that night, about three years later, there were 1000 extras, it was freezing cold. They told those 1000 extras that they’d be shooting for two nights. And they were prepared for that. Maybe simply because they wanted to relive that experience. It certainly wasn’t about the money, but simply about revisiting the experience. But shooting a movie works differently – you can’t simply start running, live out your emotions. The filmmakers keep braking, stopping, they become technical, they take everything apart. And the longer this night lasted, the more I felt like all the memories, all the emotions were fading. Then they tried to cheer people up a little, with some beer and so on, and in the end there was an atmosphere like on a soccer field, and it didn’t have anything to do anymore with the actual event. And insofar I would say that it’s simply impossible to represent that accurately on screen. I don’t think it is possible. A while ago I shot a film, a low-budget-film. And it sort-of made an attempt to tell that kind of story. Two married couples meet each other through an accident, a West German couple and an East German couple. And they are in completely undetermined territory, it is not clear at all where we are. Are we still in this country or where are we? And the two men head off to get help, and the two women are left to their own devices and eventually head out as well, because they don’t know what to do with each other. And then a dog comes running, and because one of them is terribly scared, the two women climb down a drain cover, and suddenly they are in a shaft that reaches about 200 meters below ground. And up there is the dog, and they have to go down. And they descend into a labyrinth of something entirely incomprehensible, a completely different world. And suddenly the characters are unfolding in this situation where you don’t know where you are, it’s a shift in time with repeated signs indicating that perhaps we are either suddenly in a time before 1989, or two-thousand-something, it’s impossible to understand, everything shifts, time and so on … and they have to figure out how to get out of this situation, just like the men above ground. And then it turns out …

Kluge: It’s like The Third Man, in the movie?

Harfouch: It’s simply a situation where I am removed from everyday reality and in a different world that still has something to do with my world, with my fears, with my knowledge about …

Kluge: Traumatic. It was one of those Stasi tunnels that could take you from West to East.

Harfouch: In the end, yes. And down below everything branches out in many directions. And somehow they reemerge together. And come to stand in front of the Wall. And there is suddenly a soldier, and he says: Stop, this is the Wall. Then a man shoots, my husband shoots him, and suddenly we have a murder on our conscience. And it becomes more and more insane. And the West German people understand nothing. They keep saying: But you have to, you only need to, there’s a constitution, and you can … And the East German people know deep down that there is no constitution in life, they don’t place any trust in something like this. They simply deal much better with the situation.

Kluge: That would be more like a translation.

Harfouch: Yes, that’s more like a translation. And the final result is, and that’s the height of cynicism, which rings absolutely true for me – it turns out that there is an amusement park into which they have stumbled, where someone who is interested, and there are quite a few, can experience an adventure, if they’d like, with all the apparent risks … just like Heiner Müller used to say, before the fall of the wall: One day Disneyland is going to buy the Berlin wall, and then we can experience an adventure holiday. We can play a border guard … and then they reveal it and the entire situation turns out to be not existential at all, not like the participants are experiencing it; instead it’s a game, just a game, like on television or something. And it’s somehow as if the people are hanging on strings, moving like marionettes, without knowing it, because they believe they are truly in control of their own reactions.  That’s the height of cynicism, and that is precisely the problem, I think: That you always feel like you can do something, and I want to do something, and I can react strongly and personally, and still, in the end I am trapped in a system that does something with me I don’t know anything about, and I can’t control it, my entire engagement is contemplated cynically from above. And once again, I am also a player in a game who doesn’t really influence the course of things, but where …

Kluge: The feeling you are describing, that is basically Kafkaesque. And our children – I also have two – they are not going to be satisfied with that. They would experience what you describe as reality. They know that feeling too, they have nightmares, but they don’t want to have nightmares, they want to be comforted, they want the light to be switched on. Insofar there is a basic need for the encyclopedia, for enlightenment, for a categorization of experience, the good things go into the pantry, the bad things go into the pot, and so on. These are basic emotions. And we take stock of an entire century. It doesn’t begin with the GDR, not with the Federal Republic, not with the constitution, but with the gas kitchen of Verdun, which then leads to gas in Auschwitz. Things could not have been much worse than in this century. It’s a veritable torture chamber. And at the same time there is all this material – if you take it apart and transform it into experience, and present it for discussion, like you said, so that people in the audience start turning theater into a public sphere. All the remedies already exist in this pharmacy. What would you hope for? Do you think it would help if we performed Schiller on stage?

Harfouch: I don’t think so because … I believe …

Kluge: But Wagner, what we are listening to right now, Tannhäuser, if we could perform that without the music, would that be educational as a stage play?

Harfouch: It’s important to show an overview. But I believe that people … I recently spoke to a Russian woman, who said: The Russian human being is completely destroyed. This is not the one from Tolstoy’s book anymore, he isn’t any of those things anymore. He is completely wrecked and destroyed by this century-long tradition of absolute … it was no different in the Soviet Union than under the Tsar and so on …

Kluge: And now the public sphere is further dismantled. There is a public only for the very few.

Harfouch: And I believe that we cannot avoid showing man – if we are talking about theater now – man as he functions in his depths and his wants, and his craving for malice, to show that mercilessly, just like it is. And in my opinion, it’s necessary to show stories like this at the moment.

Kluge: The malice that creates something good. The miser who turns generous. Is that what you mean? If the planned economy of the good hasn’t worked, then the planned economy of the evil won’t work either. Isn’t that a slice of hope?

Harfouch: That would be nice. But I don’t know. We aren’t that far in our knowledge at the moment. At the moment I rather think that malice is almost infinite, limitless. There are a few lone voices in the wilderness, but humankind as such is …

Kluge: If you speak from your own personal experience, could you honestly say that malice is the dominating force inside you? And could you also tell me in what kind of coalition that wouldn’t be the case?

Harfouch: That’s true, but I’d like to know … I’ve never been in the kind of extreme situation where I had to choose between the malicious and the benign parts of my personality. Thank god I was always able to live out my good side more than my bad side. But I know my own fantasies, I know what people think about every day. And I don’t know how thin the ice is that keeps you from possibly doing something like that at some point.

I mean, I know my fantasies, my subconscious. What I would have never imagined years ago: For example, when I considered someone an enemy, I kept playing out in my head how I would humiliate this enemy, with words and arguments, with mind games. And I was never able to imagine what it is like when someone has entirely different violent fantasies, and might even … But now it’s the same for me, whatever may have led to this, that I simply think: A pistol. Today I’m going to get a pistol, and then I’ll shoot him, or her, or first them, and then myself. I don’t do any of those things, that’s true, but …

Kluge: But this force is also part of a surgeon’s nature. When he’s slicing, he needs an incredibly aggressive attitude. And the homoeopath – and my father as country doctor – has the same attitude in controlled form. Or a gardener. It really doesn’t matter. That might be the message we could spread. That we don’t have to be afraid because in the grand scheme of things, malice can be helpful in certain coalitions. Because, if it were ever really total, evil just wouldn’t be enough fun.

Harfouch: Just once I would like to go to the theater and understand how a person, evil as they may be, lives their life and eventually finds goodness, not through their head, not through moral reasoning, but through, I don’t know what – I don’t know what the element would be.

Kluge: If it was coincidence, if there was a certain amount of real solution, of chaos. In a chaotic way the bad intention turns into something good. That’s something people would watch, that’s something … Kleist and his sister ride in a horse-drawn carriage to Boulogne, where Napoleon is just readying his army to ferry over to England. And he shows up, and has developed a bunch of resolutions based on Immanuel Kant and his own poetic imagination, and he wants to tell the soldiers about them in detail. And he thinks he’s going to produce an army of the good. I kind of like that. And when they don’t listen to him, but arrest him for a bit and then send him away, he acquires a country estate in Switzerland and tries to practice ecology. Practice horticulture.

Harfouch: That’s his retreat.

Kluge: That’s his retreat. And then he marches ahead again and starts a newspaper in Berlin, the Berliner Abendblätter.

Harfouch: He retreated into a corner, hatched something, and reemerged. It’s like in nature. Birds do that too.

Kluge: And he invents something that I consider an exemplary stroke of genius. He writes all those long stories in short form, because otherwise they would not fit into the Berliner Abendblätter. And that’s where the typical Kleistian brevity comes from. The Marionette Theater, the story of the fencer against the bear and so, those are all from the Berliner Abendblätter. And we basically have the stage directions. If we could fill those out together, coming to it from the theater. That’s something that writers cannot do, that’s what we need actors for, who take it to the singular, the sensory, the filigree, the capillaries. Emil Jannings in The Broken Jug only ever makes The Broken Jug. He’s from our region too, by the way.

Harfouch: Emil?

Kluge: Yes, he speaks … you can only recognize it in the language.

Harfouch: That’s also really funny, that the East Germans are so much easier to recognize by their language, isn’t it?

Kluge: And the Swabians.

Harfouch: Okay. They are also still very autarchic and strong in their ways.

Kluge: The Saxon and the Swabian lip movement shows an overeagerness.

Harfouch: True. Especially in women.  

Kluge: But that’s where poets come from. Other parts of the country don’t have many poets.

Harfouch: I never noticed that.

Kluge: The majority of them are Saxon or Swabian.  

Harfouch: They emerged from narrowness, so to speak.

Kluge: Yes.

Harfouch: I understand that. That’s what I did. That was my main incentive. Out. Just get the hell out.

Text: “PLAYING MAN IN HIS CRAVING FOR MALICE” / Portrait of actress Corinna Harfouch