You studied politics and literature. How has this study influenced your writing? Do you feel that the demands on you are increasing because of your literary background?
Writing follows an entirely different impulse. You don’t have to have visited an academy to write, and most writers have never been to a literature seminar. What can be helpful, however, is to get an idea of the size, expanse und depth of the sea, before rowing into it with your boat. The shores of language, its abyss, shoals, and horizons, how is the wind and weather out there and so on… Besides, ‚studying‘ is probably the only opportunity in life when you are permitted to waste your time with reading permanently without feeling guilty (at least if you don’t have to pay back student fees for decades). Does it make writing more demanding? Possibly. After reading Jean Paul, Arno Schmidt or Eckhart Henscheid, it’s harder to write like some sort of blogger who thinks he’s coming with a ‚fresh approach‘.
You have published two novels in which your signature style is clearly identifiable. The incorporation of irony and humor into a romance novel is notable. Why did you choose this style, and how did you achieve it?
You never have complete control over your style, it opens up rather intuitively. In my case the text carries a lot of cultural and religious subtexts, symbolisms, metaphors, and a play with tradition. To endure such an almost godsearching pathos, you need a style that is both flexible and self-reflected, has a light ironic tinge and swinging, without getting brutally cynical or sarcastic. It must have wings to make it fly, otherwise such heavy baggage would stay leaden on the ground. It needs a distance from itself. And the Gods themselves had humor, as we know at least since the Homeric Laughter.
The title of your latest book ("Alles in allem") is very open and leaves us readers only guessing what the book will actually deal with. Can you give a preview of what the book is about? How does the title show up in your book?
Authors are usually well-advised to come up with a title that is giving some hint as to what to expect from a novel („Berlin Alexanderplatz“, „Bonfire of the vanities“ and so on). „Alles in allem“ is rather a certain state of mind. In the course of the book, the two main characters apparently strive to reach a peculiar condition, in which for a moment of erotic union they become everything or all (a bit like in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde: „In dem wogenden Schwall, in dem tönenden Schall, in des Welt-Atems wehendem All…“). It’s bound up with old mystical ideas of self-loss and dissolution reaching far back to Mechthild von Magdeburg (and a number of others), a 13th century nun and mystic herself, who features prominently in the novel. And since both lovers are bound together and entangled in each other, they finally become all in all, alles in allem, at least for a while.
But that’s only a part of the book. It tells the story of a sluggish theologian who is drawn out of his abstractions into an unexpectedly lively and earth-bound mystery.
In your novel you play with different forms of love, sexuality and spirituality. You tell these themes in a way that is both new and ancient. You combine ancient Greek oracles and hip Berlin clubs. What was the idea and inspiration behind this connection?
As with much else in the modern dietary lifestyle, the erotic and the spiritual have lost considerable weight over the years, although they might survive somehow as ever-present simulacra (sex has got its very own museum on 5th Avenue already). To get in touch with these forces again, you either have to look far back or far ahead, or find some other way to completely estrange yourself from what you seem to know about them. If you break through the rock-hard concrete of certain concepts, the erotic and the religious are far wider spheres than we are used to dealing with. It’s not only a question of language, which rarely reaches them completely, but also of perspective and procedure, attitude and consciousness. That’s why I dared to introduce comparatively intelligent people in the novel (although they are as sensitive and sensous as they are smart, maybe too much so).
Are there any authors or books that have influenced you and your writing?
More than I can mention, since everything and everyone leaves a trace on your perceptions... I found myself reading John Cowper Powys, Henry de Montherlant and Thomas Hardy lately, but also lots of Walter F. Otto, an almost forgotten classical philologist. I have no idea where this will lead.
"Alles in allem" is an erotic novel, and yet not an erotic novel. What made you pick up this genre and rehash it differently? What made you decide to write an erotic novel yourself?
If someone had told me years ago I would write this sort of thing, I would have shrugged my head in disbelief. I was never drawn to erotic literature, and rather disliked what I read, even from greater authors. It mostly sounds embarrasing and cheap, striving desperately for attention, and the terms rarely suit their objects. So I tried to do it differently, with a phenomenological approach of sorts, very slowly, shunning all ready-made models and explicit language. So it’s probably not erotic in a strict sense, since it stimulates your alertness more than your arousal. You could do the same with a walk through the park or drinking a cup of coffee, just by changing the pace and perspective, and the whole thing can open up in surprising ways. It has to come near to the miracle it truly is (and even a cup of coffee can become a miracle, if you are patient enough).
Both of your novels are narrated by first-person narrators. How much of you as an author is in the characters, or in other words, how much of the characters is in you?
I find it easier to have a narrator, who I can empathize with, and whose possibilities are somewhat within my reach. So I can let him do, what I wouldn’t necessarily do myself, which is an enormous relief and possibly the only adventure, I can indulge in from time to time. It’s a strategy to get out of the house, without getting out of the house in person. But of course there are characters I do not quite understand, and so they remain more independent and free, which is good for them, I guess.
In another interview, you said that you write your works in the basement. What are your plans for New York?
There are far too many people in the basement here, washing clothes, bringing down their garbage! I wanted to write an essay of quite transcendent content, but I find New York just too titillating to stay inside. I feel like I have to catch up on the whole 20th century, and a few weeks are just not enough…