What's your favorite political science fiction novel
Dath total - Interview with Dietmar Dath
Photo: Uwe Dettmar
Nine novels, two essay volumes, two short stories and a non-fiction book ... Dietmar Dath, for whose works publishers (Verbrecher, Implex) have already been founded, is not only one of the most extraordinary, but probably also the most productive young German writer. The author, who was born in 1970 and lives in Freiburg and Berlin, was editor-in-chief of the pop culture magazine Spex from 1998 to 2000 and has been editor at F.A.Z. His new novel "Dirac" is a biographical fantasy about the physicist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Dirac (1902-1984) and a story about a group of friends in search of truth and beauty. People die, disappear, are born. Roswell, Israel, the German present ... time travel, extraterrestrials, world rising. Marc Degens spoke to Dietmar Dath about work, life, writing and "Dirac".
Marc Degens: Why do you write literature?
Dietmar Dath: To me, the world looks as if it functions more through storytelling than justification. Reasons have their legitimate place in social behavior - without them, for example as a linguistic abbreviation for cause-effect relationships, for coordinating joint action among people, etc., it is not possible. But the big picture, the totality, is more of a story than an argument. And because that's how it looks for me, whenever it becomes fundamental for me, I also start telling the story myself.
Marc Degens: How long have you been writing literature?
Dietmar Dath: For twenty-five years; it's going slowly.
Marc Degens: Although you have been working in Frankfurt for five years, you don't have an apartment there, but mostly stay in a guesthouse. Why?
Dietmar Dath: Pension, furnished room, subletting: these are the ways of life of the contract killer. From this very position I prefer to do what is called journalism, because that makes these things more strenuous, bottomless, faster and more urgent in a beneficial way. If I actually move to Frankfurt in the near future, the fun will stop.
MD: F.A.Z.-editor, Spex-publisher - these are grueling full-time jobs. Nevertheless, your literary output is enormous.
DD: Hard effort is a marvelous thing; we wits shouldn't leave all the fun to the extreme sports idiots.
MD: Is it actually true that the worst-selling Spex edition appeared in your era as the editor? Who was on the cover?
DD: I think it was only the one with the second worst sales figures, but of course the legend was useful because of rebel, risk, madness and such kitsch. It was the devil's issue with the beautiful Felix Reidenbach picture, December 1998, and since it was my first, it seems reasonable to assume that the sales figures also had something to do with what had happened before. In collectors' circles, the magazine is now a lot ... well, no, more like: worthless at all.
MD: Is the issue with the Berlin band "Mutter" on the cover the worst-selling one?
DD: Maybe, I don't know for sure.
MD: In an interview you described journalism as your economic mainstay. Is existence as a professional writer a desirable way of being for you?
DD: I am already a professional writer when I think about the form of the text, about values and subtlety in journalistic work that I make a living from, which are not taught at the journalism school. But if the question is whether I can imagine myself writing novels and short stories for the rest of my life, the answer is no, because then there will likely be forms of routine and laziness that will affect the novels and narratives of my opinion after serious damage.
MD: Has the daily journalistic business influenced your literary style and your way of working or are they two different things?
DD: Every style of every text is regulated by the place of publication as well as by all world knowledge at the time of writing. Day-to-day business is a nice resistance that you have to overcome every time in the newspaper in order not to ossify.
MD: Last year you received a media award for creative word creation for your word creation "Charismakler". Which word creation did you use to win the award this year?
DD: Yes, the creative word creations, that happens sometimes when you look a little blurred at the screen while writing. I don't want to deliberately invest in it, otherwise it will be a bit bland.
MD: In "Cordula Kills You!" do you write that between the ages of 13 and 17 you were left-wing extremists on the question of women, and then suddenly when you were 18 you suddenly bought amiporn. Your change from "Konkret" and "Edition ID" archive author to F.A.Z. editor seems just as radical, albeit less abrupt. Did you upset old and new companions with it?
DD: You forgot to include the context of the quote: Later, after the interlude, I became even more radical left. Unfortunately, the essence of correct insights at a very young age is that they have only been made up instead of being acquired, checked and consolidated in reality. If I wasn't a determined enemy of the existing system before my F.A.Z. - now I am. I was able to get to know old and new companions everywhere along the way, especially in the last five years. The disturbed have not read what it says attentively enough.
MD: Your interests and topics are extremely diverse. Do I remember correctly that you were at the F.A.Z. was introduced as an editor for the field of "Physics"?
DD: It was like that, but then the restructuring of the feature pages quickly resulted in other tasks, especially when it came to displaying the final page.
MD: Is it true that Harald Schmidt praised your F.A.Z texts on television?
DD: He once read an outburst of hatred against Lou Reed of mine on the show in such a way that for a few minutes this text seemed a lot better to me than it probably is.
MD: Last year you co-edited the F.A.Z. book anthology "Classics of Comic Literature". That was definitely a very nice job for you. Which volumes have you selected and introduced with essays?
DD: The main work was Andreas Platthaus, the rest of us only intervened with comments. I spoke about Batman, the Smurfs, and the Simpsons. It works because the intersection of these three ways of looking at the world pretty much results in my brain.
MD: You worked through your time as Spex editor and publisher in the fantastic novel "Phonon". Will we soon get to read a "F.A.Z." Or a work like "10: 9 for straw" by Eckhard Henscheid? The editorial insights of the journalist and writer Robert Rolf in "Forever in Honey" looked pretty realistic.
DD: It does not have to be more key novel than any novel - it's always about the totality of authors' attitudes towards the world. "Phonon" was possible because the material was very special and at the same time hidden universal. This does not apply to the Frankfurter Allgemeine: What is special about it does not interest the novelist so much, the publicist is of course even more interested, and what is general about it does not have to be told in encrypted form, everyone can see that.
MD: What do you think of journalistic specialists? For example full-time theater critics or pop journalists?
DD: If you write well, you immediately get my attention. Diversity of interests helps some people, specialization helps others. The good text justifies both.
MD: During your time at Spex you were often referred to as a "poplinker". How did you feel about this label?
DD: Very imprecise, but therefore reasonably comfortable. Pop? Heavy metal! Left? Marx!
MD: The writer and journalist David Dalek from "Dirac" felt the collapse of the Soviet Union at that time as a heavy blow, especially for the young left of the Federal Republic of Germany. You also?
DD: As usual with him, David Dalek sees very little again. The blow did not hit the Heimatverein, not even the world left, but humanity, especially because it was not entirely undeserved by the Soviet Union.
MD: Like you, David Dalek broke off his physics and linguistics studies after a short time. His reasoning in "Dirac" is extremely original: a sentence from Stalin and the realization that Dalek's intellect is not enough to ever find anything new in physics. What was your reason
DD: The intention to write literature. The raw talent that was there needed and still needs massive training efforts, there is no time for something as serious as physics.
MD: How old were you when you became a freelance writer?
MD: Would a university education as a writer have been of interest to you? How do you rate the opportunity to be trained as a writer in Leipzig or Hildesheim these days?
DD: I think that only works where the state idea of the community that maintains such institutes itself has something to do with literature, or at least with culture, instead of just taxes, armed departments for the protection of property and the management of misery. So not here, but only in socialism.
MD: Was there a time when you worried that you couldn't make a living from writing?
DD: Always. Even today. There is no stability in this profession if you want to do it well; you shouldn't be lulled by temporary permanent positions.
MD: So far you have had very little contact with the literature business. You have not received any scholarships or prizes, you read in pubs rather than in literary houses, and your novels were rarely discussed in the feature sections. Was that a conscious decision?
DD: You really have to ask the scholarship cornucopia owners, literary custodians and columnists; as I got to know her, it was probably not a conscious decision, because very little is consciously decided.
MD: What might that be?
DD: The question is what these institutions, jobs and so on are there for. I think there has to be a lot of brushing before a Leonardo comes out of it, and the same applies to literature: A lot of normal clutter has to be written, praised, promoted, so that at some point, purely statistically, something gets a chance that is stricter Selection as particularly good or bad would disrupt operations, change the status quo and thus disturb all the dear ground staff. In other words: If a hundred prizes are given to nonsense or banal stuff, this does NOT block the extraordinary, but on the contrary creates exactly the necessary full comfort and indolent satisfaction of the company with itself, which at the decisive moment maybe as a generous allowance express something special. If the table is rich enough, one day there will be something for the good guys too. Therefore: Long live the multitude of prizes, foundations and sausages; may it get even more.
MD: You have published in many different publishers. In large and small, in prestigious and in alternatives. Which publisher is your favorite?
DD: Every book of mine that has been published is ideally suited to its respective publishing location (even the one utterly bad one). The only open wishes left for me are a communist state publisher (I'm afraid that will take a while) and Tor Books in America, the best address for literarily valuable science fiction.
MD: Your first novel "Cordula kills you!", Published in 1995 by Verbrecher Verlag, was supposed to be the prelude to the hexalogy "Tensor or the very strenuous journey into the more than sufficient comprehensibility". The following volumes have already been announced in the book with their title and year of publication, but have never appeared. Why?
DD: The announcement was a joke that was supposed to make fun of the long term people chaining to certain endeavors rather than taking advantage of the wonderful learning opportunities that the intellectual profession offers. The joke was at my expense in the end: I actually wrote what should be in the subsequent volumes; that is now called "Forever in Honey", was published last year and is out of print. This is how it can come.
MD: I see. I thought that it was this long-term nature and steadfastness that fascinated you about people like Dave Sim. I still remember your "Heaven Sent" interview with Neil Gaiman, in which you mainly wanted to talk to him about Dave Sim, a comic book maker who chose his character "Cerebus" as his reason for existence and in 1977 decided to do at least one a month from now on To publish "Cerebus" booklet. 300 booklets long. The last issue appeared two years ago.
DD: In and of themselves, I find such long-term self-commitments harmful; Dave Sim, for example, was thereby tied to certain characters, framework narratives and so on, from which he might otherwise have emancipated himself at a profit. On the other hand, he made the greatest of it and perhaps couldn't have worked otherwise. So here again: the result justifies the plan. Persistence, however, that is to say that you finish what you start, is something I always appreciate. But you shouldn't necessarily start certain things.
MD: In "Cordula Kills You!" You also wrote about your "Rainald Goetz problem" and your unfortunate encounters. Hopefully the later meetings were more enjoyable. Now you both publish with the same publisher. Are you in contact with each other?
DD: Very occasionally. I used to admire him but didn't know him; now I admire him and like him.
MD: In your novels there are many intricate storylines, leaps in time, intertextuality, physics, mathematics, theory ... You have to challenge the reader. Do you sometimes worry about overwhelming the readers of your books?
DD: No. The modern local transport, the television program and the job market are also regulated, and my simple love stories cannot compete with the intricate storylines, leaps in time, intertextuality, physics, mathematics, theory, biology, Islamism and VAT.
MD: You have written a non-fiction book about computers, "Beautiful computing", and published the book "Höhenrausch" with the subtitle "The mathematics of the 20th century in twenty brains" in Enzensberger's "Other Library". In all the reviews that I know, you have received great praise for the imaginative, stylistically diverse literary implementation of the mathematician's biographies, but the reviewer of "Spektrum der Wissenschaft" complained about technical errors. Other reviewers criticized the fact that you fail to explain mathematics and that you fail to understand mathematical facts by reading it. Are the critics right?
DD: If, for example, the completely pointless word "communicate" is re-edited for mathematical quantities that are supposed to "commute", or if the final correction does something like this because they don't know the expression in question, it is of course bitter. When reviewers notice, you get upset for the second time. And it is inevitable that with twenty portraits of geniuses from one of the most exciting centuries in the history of science, a few actual blunders that even pass through the filters of friendly experts without hindrance is inevitable. I like to hear that kind of criticism; you learn from it, and I wouldn't have chosen those topics if it wasn't for me to write about things in which the difference between right and wrong plays a role. But it becomes uncomfortable if the literary criticism has to fit because of the mathematical content of a text and then passes the thing on to a person who is excited that one does not learn to calculate from it - especially when it is written in and on it several times, for example in forewords and afterwords, that this is not intended. Hence the clarification in the "Dirac" afterword: "It is not the purpose of the painting of the Battle of Alexander to spare the viewer the history lesson." Peter Hacks has rightly pointed out that poetry communicates less knowledge of the world than attitudes towards it. Knowledge can of course be useful.
MD: I was very impressed by your book "She is awake" about the TV vampire hunter Buffy. You don't just analyze the TV series or approve it with a wink, you take it seriously and describe why, how and what touched your heart. Do you think that happens too seldom when dealing with popular culture?
DD: It happens too seldom when dealing with EVERY form of culture. Criticism does not understand often enough that its cause is uncritical, and with this lack of understanding it blocks an important source of knowledge.
MD: I recently attended a very dignified reading event that hailed Stephen King's "On writing" as one of the best books on writing. The organizer's wife, a bookseller, couldn't figure out how to read Stephen King's books. Do such prejudices annoy you?
DD: Absolutely not, what for? Anyone who doesn't understand something is unlucky, but the world is full of that sort of thing and after all I don't understand a hundredth of what I would like to understand myself. Peace to the ignorant.
MD: Stehen King is an author whom you often come across in your books. What is it about his work that fascinates you?
DD: The dismaying and fascinating thing about King is that in the form of his career one can experience what a good writer can be today without anyone noticing - except the reader. In the Victorian nineteenth century, one didn't have to think long about whether Charles Dickens was a classic. But the Victorian nineteenth century was also the pinnacle of human civilization (Marx, Darwin, Maxwell, Jack the Ripper), while we sad cardboard noses condemn our greatest to toiling as a bestseller millionaires uncomforted. Heaven may be worth it.
MD: Science fiction and horror literature, like comics, is much more widely accepted in America than in Germany. Do you think that will change in the near future, for example with film or photography?
DD: I don't care at all. I don't want to promote the acceptance of genres, I want to help make the difference between good and bad things in ALL genres clearer.
MD: You published the horror novel "Die Ehre des Rudels" by MAAS Verlag and the science fiction novel "Am blinden Ufer" by Verbrecher Verlag. There are certainly more relevant publishers for horror and science fiction literature in Germany. How are your books received in these readership circles?
DD: I don't know because I have little more in common with this scene than some preferences. The magazines, websites and so on that give me my information and reviews on such genres are almost all English, that is: American.
MD: Many writers who are important to you also come from America. Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Norman Mailer, William T. Vollmann ... What might that be?
DD: On imperialism, of course. It also has good sides: you learn a lot about the interaction between world power and world literature. This forms an eminently political concept of literature and also makes the highest demands on one's own will to form.
MD: Are there also German science fiction and horror authors that you like to read?
DD: Science fiction: Carl Amery, Arno Schmidt, Wolfgang Jeschke, William Voltz. Horror: Thomas Bernhard.
MD: Then it is certainly also a great pleasure to contribute an afterword to the new edition of Arno Schmidt's "The Republic of Scholars"?
DD: Absolutely. It's just a shame that he can no longer contradict me and my praise.
MD: In 2003 Barbara Kirchner founded the Implex publishing house with you. Did the Implex activities give you insights into the publishing industry that were new to you and that surprised you?
DD: Since I am not involved in the day-to-day business of the store, I only marginally noticed how quickly someone goes crazy when she or he gets an insight into the publishing industry. As far as I understand, it's mainly about discounts, cutthroat, delivery problems and bullshit.
MD: Two books have been published by Implex so far, both by you. On the one hand "She is awake", on the other hand the almost 1,000-page world rescue novel "Forever in Honey". Could these books have appeared elsewhere in this form?
DD: Determined; I was just too lazy to search. Writing the books is harmful enough to health.
MD: Your first book was published by Suhrkamp Verlag last year. There are currently many changes in personnel and content taking place internally. As an author, did you notice a lot of that?
DD: Enough. In any case, it is always about what is wanted in terms of content, i.e. ultimately about texts. I find that very pleasant "despite all the unpleasant individual moves" (Sigmund Freud on the Soviet Union).
380 pp., Hardcover, € 19.90
MD: Your new novel "Dirac" is now Suhrkamp's top title, which means that the company's attention is inevitably directed towards you. Are you applying soon with a text for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize of the City of Klagenfurt?
DD: We'll take a closer look at the inevitability and operation in a while. Klagenfurt: Going so far to present so little stuff to so few people seems a little uneconomical to me. But maybe someone else will explain it to me.
MD: Some of the protagonists from "Dirac" are already known from "The Salt White Eyes", your letter essay on the fascination of the drastic in popular culture. Do you always just write the same book over and over again?
DD: You learn different things about these people in the first of the two books mentioned than in the second; the representation sometimes even deviates so much that one could ask oneself: Are they really the same people? So there is no way that the same book is available twice. Of course, all the books together result in one thing at the end, the title of which must be: How I thought it out.
MD: Literature and physics, I immediately think of Thomas Pynchon's short story "Entropy", which uses a thermodynamic law motivically. In your epilogue you write that physics and literature are two ways of exploring the world and that the subject of "Dirac" is not physical science, but the attitude towards life in the modern age that is determined by it. Has physics also changed your attitude towards life?
DD: Yes, it did. It is very useful to understand that there are right and wrong statements about the world. Many people who make art don't know that.
MD: Paul Dirac appears in many of your books, and in "Höhenrausch" you have dedicated a separate chapter to him. What is it about him that fascinates you?
DD: He not only worked on the world with mathematical tools, but also made these tools into objects to be worked on. That connects him with painters who turn to colors and shapes, composers who rethink their material analytically, and of course with a lot of people today who do something on the computer. Treating tools like workpieces is one of the most important achievements of the modern age, and few have done it more consistently than he has. In addition, at times when philosophical partiality was demanded of physicists, for or against positivism, for or against certain ontologies, he managed to insist that the work of the scientist does not consist in closing the bag or in the given section of work anticipating great epistemological gestures, but rather finding out what you don't yet know. Acting so smart and decent reveals a form of love that I think fits very well with the other types of passion, devotion, friendship and greatness that Dirac is about.
MD: "The Salt White Eyes" is a collection of letters from the author David Dalek to his old school crush Sonja. In "Dirac" Sonja and Dalek talk about this book publication and the fact that Dalek processed Sonja's person into literature without being asked - with small changes, of course. In ostensibly autobiographical works, this is an extremely tricky device that creates extreme density and continuity. I first encountered this method in the comic series "Peepshow" by Joe Matt. You surely know other examples?
DD: Well, metafiction. Most manically, of course, with Arno Schmidt, where his "I" types kept writing Schmidt's books; Best of all with John Crowley in "Engine Summer", where it turns out that the narrator IS the book you read and that he dies when you stop reading it.
MD: In your last books you dealt a lot with the worldview and the problems of adolescents. Why?
DD: Because this is the lifetime in which you can already think but don't have to earn any money, so the best phase of life for intellectuals. Because whoever has to earn money gets scared and stupid. Children, on the other hand, are not yet afraid, but they cannot yet think either. Five short years between the ages of 13 and 18 - civilization socialized through wage labor does not leave us any more time to try out and develop our minds, and it is precisely in this phase that the sexual clutter messes everything up. This is as tragic as it is funny.
MD: There are two narrative levels in "Dirac". On the one hand the events surrounding David Dalek and his friends, on the other hand the passages from the "Dirac" biography on which David Dalek is writing. Why didn't you write two books?
DD: Because it's about the relationship between these two stories - that gives rise to a third story, and that's what it's all about.
MD: How much of you is there in the character of the writer and journalist David Dalek?
DD: David is the lovable loser I would have liked to become. Unfortunately, I was lucky.
MD: You are an avowed heavy metal fan. Have you ever played and sang in a heavy metal band like David Dalek?
DD: Yeah. More band members than audience, changing names, loud and indistinct, that's how it was.
MD: Do you like to shock?
DD: No. Dealing with shocked people is usually terribly boring, because they keep telling you what is none of your business: How it looks in them.
MD: Why is David's last name Dalek? Ingeborg Bachmann once addressed the importance of names for writers in a lecture.
DD: I'd rather not tell Ms. Bachmann that. She can google a little and then guess how it's connected.
MD: And where does your preference for first names with C come from? The wondrous women in your books are called Cordula, Candela, Cathrin.
DD: trade secret; it has to do with copyright.
MD: The cool Paul, the clever Johanna, the mysterious Candela ... Do these characters from "Dirac" and other of your books actually have such real role models as David Dalek?
DD: Yeah. All. In a different mix, composition, compression, displacement. To invent is to rebuild.
MD: Are you in as close contact with them as David in "Dirac"?
DD: A novelist who does not treat his characters in the fictional very closely is no good - especially if they are made up.
MD: I can imagine that David, like Paul or Johanna, will continue to play an important role in your next books. Or am I on the wrong track?
MD: Now a question from the editor: How do you imagine the ideal reader of "Dirac" to be?
DD: You should bring some of your own views on what is currently going on in the world and how the last hundred years of life, everyday life, knowledge, art and politics have contributed to this state of affairs. Then she will find these views of me and my characters, of their love stories and other adventures, hopefully very fundamentally confirmed or questioned. We all have something from that.
MD: You dedicated "Dirac" to Harlan Ellison, an author who has not only written numerous novels, short stories, screenplays and comic scenarios, but also frequently spoke out socially and politically.
DD: He writes so well that conventionally one would have to assume that he doesn't also have time to deal with the injustice on earth. He does it anyway, and maybe that has to do with how well he writes.
MD: Compared to "Forever in Honey", your two Suhrkamp books appear extremely dense, concise and pointed in terms of style. Has "Dirac" been revised many times?
DD: The Suhrkamp books are tight because they deal with topics that have to be precisely milled out. A joke is short and sweet, an epic is not. In addition, the Suhrkamp editing helps because it doesn't criss-cross the text in order to have done as much as possible in the end and to have been nicely creative, but tries to find details that can be improved in a few, but well-considered places. At Suhrkamp, I first had an editor, then an editor - both of them impressed me because they do their work according to Lenin's beautiful motto, "Better less, but better".
MD: Does the internet as a source of research and inspiration have an influence on the technical side of your writing? Do you often go online when you write?
DD: The internet lies a lot and knows a lot, that makes it interesting and annoying. But television plays a much bigger role in my work.
MD: You heard about your "Dirac" novel project years ago and also read excerpts. How long did you work on "Dirac" in total?
DD: Around seven years.
MD: Will we soon be able to read books of poetry or plays from you?
DD: That depends on the definition of "soon". Tomorrow: No. Never: I wouldn't say.
MD: What is it like to answer questions that have already been discussed in detail elsewhere.
DD: At some point you become very suspicious of certain answers that you have given before, or even several times. Then you give others again. It's very stimulating.
MD: In an interview you predicted the probable end of the world for December 22nd, 2012. What will happen that day? And how do you know the date?
DD: That day either an invasion of non-human intelligences begins or time ends. I know that from the Mayan calendar. You can read about it in the work "Maya Cosmogenesis 2012" by John Major Jenkins, published in 1998 by the publisher "Bear & Co". The downfall of the present world could, however, if the next one were very pretty, be seen as a godsend.
MD: Can the end of the world still be prevented?
DD: Probably not. But it could happen earlier than expected.
MD: Do you have another question that you would like to answer?
DD: Question: What is more important, style or thought? Answer: Indeed.
MD: I thank you for the nice conversation and the inspiring book.
DD: I have to thank you; and back to work.
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