You wear many hats: you are a writer of experimental prose, theater, and radio plays, a performance artist, an academic lecturer, and a collaborator both in the worlds of visual and acoustic arts. How do you determine which format your upcoming projects will take and do you work on many different projects simultaneously or rather concentrate on one thing at a time? How do you differentiate between your work in academia and your more creative pursuits?
That’s a good question. Let me start answering here: In German, you’d say “she is dancing at many weddings” to describe a person who does a lot of different things at once. So, in my mind, I see myself frantically juggling with headgear, getting entangled in well-dressed relatives, ruffling up the order of things, still holding on to the thought that this is how I want (have) to work… Well. I am a very curious person – if there is “too curious”, then that might apply – I just can’t say no to ideas and especially not to collective constellations that open up new fields of thought, of images, of words. So whenever someone interesting, kind, and passionate proposes to work together, I have to say yes. It is also a way to challenge myself, to stay porous (in a good, essential way), to keep exploring, questioning, and listening. To complement the overachieving wedding crasher, there’s also a poised discipline enthusiast inside of me who is never happier than when ticking off boxes on my three-column-to-do-list. (Yes, I am a Gemini.) So I usually have a tight plan when I work on which project, because I can’t do it simultaneously. I need to focus and dedicate myself completely to whatever I am working on. My calendar is a series of hollows or hideouts, I know when which project is going to be realized well in advance. This allows for a lot of parenthetic deliberation as to which form the project should be taking.
What is your mindset while writing? What are your goals and intentions in your writing process and what is your ideal writing scenario?
I absolutely love to write in libraries. My favorite ones are the Staatsbibliothek am Potsdamer Platz in Berlin and the London Library. I love the rustling of other people’s thoughts, the acute productivity, the way one is carried by all the other hands on their keyboards and notepads. Being with others and being completely withdrawn, this also describes the writing itself in an ideal form – I am writing to get closer to the world, but not mastering it, solving, knowing. I like writing when it looks at things from the side, from below, when it is aware of the blanks, the brittleness, but in a gentle, generous way.
One of the books that you draw great inspiration from is Yoko Ono’s Acorns. When did you first read it and why did it have such an impact on you? What’s the story behind your fascination with it?
On my fridge at home there’s a postcard with Yoko Ono’s map piece on it: “Draw a map to get lost.” It is, to me, a proposal to commit to being in the moment – confidently, fondly – and to not know, not to follow, not to direct. This is echoed in Hélèn Cixous’ concept écriture féminine, which she describes at one point as not creating objects, but movements, in movement. Ono’s pieces are invitations, they welcome us as readers with open arms. I can’t help but be a bit disappointed whenever I see objects realizing Ono’s instructions, like the mending piece, because they dissolve the magic of the writing’s potentiality. I am not sure if transparency would be a good word to describe what I love about reading the pieces – there is no imposition going on, you get just the ingredients and do what you do with it on your own. I came across Acorns in a bookstore in Cambridge, when I visited a friend at MIT. The white silkscreen print on the pale blue cover was so delicate, so vulnerable in comparison to all the tech and science books around it.
Acorns inspired you to experiment with “exercises” (Übungen) as a literary form. Could you speak a bit more about this ultra-short form of writing and how you decided to publish them in different iterations such as Übungen zum Ent-Entfernen (2020), Übungen, um die Begegnung zu feiern (2020), Solitude Exercises (2019), and Exercises for an Urban Cowboy (2018)?
Writing exercises, to me, is learning to become transparent. It is a very fine line that decides if an exercise is good or not. Sometimes they are too heavy, sometimes to light. To get the balance right, I have to be writing from the point of being immersed rather than knowing where I want to end up.
Next to your writing career, you are a lecturer for creative writing at multiple universities, among others at the Hochschule der Künste Bern HKB. What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Creating a space that invites everyone to be and express themselves. To me, teaching writing is building a sense of togetherness. From there, we can critique and experiment, we can listen to each other and share. Actively being (in) a group doesn’t come naturally to me, as I said earlier, I am absolutely not a crowd person. So I collected and invented a lot of methods that can be helpful with becoming a productive organism. Apart from that, playfulness is my motor – I think it’s important to get to know a bunch of strategies to get into writing or keep writing or finish writing. Little games that we can play with ourselves in case we get stuck. So I draw a lot on the Oulipo methods, but also on écriture automatique, visual writing prompts etc. Listening to these texts, that often are written in five minutes, is a lot of fun. I enjoy teaching most if there is a lot of sincere laughter in the room.
Themes of speechlessness and interpersonal relationships within communities and societies play a central role in your work – for example in the novella “Federn lassen.” What fascinates you about these concepts and why are they an important component of your artistic practice?
Well. I wouldn’t say that speechlessness is a concept that fascinates me. It is more like this: You are a child and you observe the world around you and you think: It shouldn’t be like this. But when you try to explain why you hurt so much that the emptiness inside almost feels like a friend, they don’t listen, because you are a child. This child is still inside of me. It can see the strings of power, the predetermined breaking points of abuse, aggressions, neglect. And it is outraged and this is what I write about. I guess this is also why transparency and brittleness are important notions for me – certainty and predictability in an emotional, human sense were not things my world consisted of.
Are there any authors that influenced you and what is your experience with other writers?
Influences are hard to trace, but my literary heroines, so to speak, are currently Maggie Nelson, Lydia Davis, Carmen Maria Machado, Claudia Rankine and Kae Tempest. In the German speaking world I am fascinated by Valerie Fritsch’s and Yade Yasemin Önder’s writings. (But I read mostly in English, I have to admit, as the short story is my favorite genre, which the German speaking book market sadly deems “unsellable”, so only few authors manage to get short stories published.)
If we may ask, what is your current project and what do you hope to achieve during your time as the writer-in-residence at Deutsches Haus at NYU?
Speaking of which, I am working on a collection of short stories, and I am planning to draft a couple of them while I’m here (the discipline enthusiast checks the project outline, clicks the pen and specifies: at least three, ideally four). My passion besides writing is food, so there is a lot to discover and enjoy. If anyone has a recommendation for a must-visit chef or must-eat dish (vegetarian, apart from this no restrictions, all curiosity ;o) – let me know!