1. Is this your first stay in New York? What are your impressions of the city so far? Did you already make some interesting discoveries since you have arrived?
Yes, this is my first stay in New York. Of course, I’m impressed by the sheer immensity of the city, and that it never gets boring. Many cities have a few vibrant and pretty neighborhoods, but also many rather dull ones. It seems in New York, you can just start walking in any direction and be sure you will come across something worth seeing.
I found the Jewish museum in Williamsburg, Coney Island and Brighton Beach, the Queens Museum, the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan museum, and the Niemeyer/Le Corbusier secretary building for the United Nations particularly impressive.
I found the 9/11 Museum overwhelming (not the memorial fountains, which first and foremost mark a void). The suggestive Überwältigungsarchitektur. Those deformed steel beams and iron crosses. The huge amount of battered and dusty artifacts of catastrophe. Along with the endless acoustic incantation and evocation from the ceiling, the cries for help, the eyewitness accounts, the newscasters…
For a visitor, who is deaf on his heroic ear, there remains a declamatory reenactment of horror. And all of a sudden one can’t be sure anymore whether this is a memorial designed for the victims of 9/11 or rather for Mohammed Atta.
2. Could you tell us a little more about your creative process and your work routine? When and where do you like to write? As someone who has lived in Bern, Zürich, Munich and Stanford, and now in New York, does the environment, in which you write (and live) have a significant impact on your writing process?
That’s one of those things with residencies in exciting cities. When the writing process is going well, it’s wonderful. In this case, I work in the mornings, finish up my correspondences at around noon, and still have a few hours of daylight to explore the city. However, when I have a difficult time writing – which is most of the time – that is to say when I wasn’t able to get anything on paper, then I can’t go outside with a good conscience, but at the same time you have this wonderful city right outside your window just waiting to be explored. So the pressure comes from two directions. On the one hand you have the obligation to write breathing down your neck. On the other hand you fear that you mightn’t take advantage of the few weeks you have in this city.
The great thing about this particular residency is the apartment. You have a great view when you sit at the desk. So you are still able to experience and enjoy the city even when you’re working.
In how far the cities affect the way I’m writing is difficult to tell. Perhaps they aren’t supposed to do so very strongly or at least not directly. My writing hardly has biographical elements.
With a little bit of distance I sometimes utilize the cities, which I have visited, as settings. Presently, I am working on a substantial narrative, which is set in Stanford. [Jonas Lüscher recently spent nine months as a visiting researcher at the Department of Comparative Literature at Stanford University.]
3. At which point in your life, did you decide you wanted to become a writer? Was there a specific moment that you recall, or was it always something you aspired to do?
I had this idea [of becoming a writer] in my head from a very early age. Perhaps when I was 12 or 13 years old. Reading books was my main activity. I simply thought that it was the most interesting thing to do in life. Therefore, it was only logical that I would want to write books myself. However, I didn’t have enough self-discipline for a long time.
4. As someone who has had one foot in academia and one foot in the literary world for quite some time, do you find your approach to the writing of academic/scientific and literary texts differs?
Academic writing is very functional. You focus on the target group when you’re writing academically. When I’m writing literary texts, however, I try not to think of the reader. Literary writing follows the modus operandi of story-telling, academic writing, to the contrary, of well-founded assumptions. In literary texts, I describe a specific case, a unique singular event. Academically, you usually focus on the general. You want to make a point that has as much of a general significance as possible. However, to me it seems desirable to keep the differences between academic and literary writing as small as possible, or rather to embrace the narrative as source of authoritative knowledge, which, however, might conflict with academic conventions.
5. You have a very diverse work history with jobs ranging from teacher, editor, dramaturge, research assistant, and now literary writer. You’ve also written a libretto for an opera and numerous academic texts. What is it like wearing so many hats, and what has driven you in the past to try your hand in so many different fields? Was writing always the driving force behind these ventures?
Oftentimes it was just an opportunity that I took advantage of. Usually, I liked doing this because there is very little I’m not interested in. It basically comes down to my passion for telling stories and my interest in the political.
6. Your novella Barbarian Spring tells the story of a group of English bankers stranded in a Tunisian luxury resort, following an exuberant wedding and the simultaneous crash of the British pound. What made you decide to focus on this particular subject matter and choose this setting to tell the story?
The world of corporate finance is one of the most influential powers of our time. It would be a reprehensible failure if literature failed to address it. Many authors, however, avoid this subject matter, presumably because they feel like they don’t have enough knowledge about it. I had the advantage of already having discussed economic subjects in my academic papers. Perhaps this is why I had the courage to broach this subject matter
7. May we ask what you are currently working on? What do you think (and hope) 2015 will have in store for you?
I’m currently working on a play, an assignment for the Schauspielhaus Zürich. I’m also preparing a presentation on the topic “The Writer and the University,” which I will present in Paris in April. Afterwards would love to begin working on my next book project – in this case a novel.