Against the vanishing of human beings

English translation of "Gegen das Verschwinden des Menschen"

One day years ago, when I had a cold, Heiner Mueller - whiskey and a cigar in hand - surprised me by recommending I buy capsules "containing the concentrated energy of bees". I wouldn't have thought he was versed in such matters. The intensity with which he fought to prolong the few remaining years of his life showed even those who did not know him well that his cynicism and reputedly defeatist attitude were only a strategy of saying little about himself and a great deal about everyone else: "Working on the disappearance of the author is resistance against the disappearance of the human race." The same reasoning explains the terrors that prevail in his texts: The act of representation and the power of language are the only way to end terror. Unlike those who produce his plays, he insisted on making a distinction between literature, theatre and reality, rather than confusing representation with the thing itself. "Text is not recognised by German theatre as reality; it is only used to make statements about reality. That is a degradation of the text ... Theatre is treated as a surrogate and never as a reality, its vital function as a constituent of life." His tragedy was that the theatre has never been able to cope with his texts. No other playwright (apart from Brecht) has been so poorly produced. All that the theatre has been able to do is transform his texts into shallow rhetoric, thus robbing them of their literary strength. And people are still on the same tack: theatre critics in all the major newspapers feel called upon to write an obituary even though they have never seen a Mueller play staged well enough to hear the language (except perhaps in his own thoughtful "Lohndruecker" production and in Wilson's "Hamletmachine"). Having read Mueller's plays as they would read Strauss or Kroetz rather than Buechner, Kleist or Kafka, they are complaining, days after his death, that towards the end of his life he worked to prevent the disappearance of the history of East Germany.
The fact that he wrote for (or against) a theatre that was incapable of finding a form for him and, in his last years, even fought on behalf of the Berlin Ensemble indicates his almost naive belief that productive confrontation with the public must be possible. It was very important for him to be close to the public to whom his work was addressed. He would probably not have admitted this but we realised it after playing concerts with him, when we saw the alacrity and delight with which he came back for curtain calls, always pushing us to join him. This also came as a surprise to me.
At the moment the images are too numerous for me to write them all down. What the poet Durs Gruenbein said is probably true; the loss will become greater with every passing day. Perhaps in this way he will come back. We will miss his sense of humour too. A year ago we met for the last time just after his major cancer surgery, in Sicily, where he had been awarded the European Culture Prize. That night in the town square of Taormina, he whispered a joke about Kohl into my ear with the one vocal chord he had left. I've forgotten the joke - its impact was muted by my shock at his terribly weak voice. So a few months later I was happy to hear over the telephone that his voice was back to normal, thanks, no doubt, to enormous effort on his part. It was the voice with which he once taped a text by Edgar Allen Poe for me that begins: "Ye who read are still among the living; but I who write shall have long since gone my way into the region of shadows."
I spent the night before New Year's Eve with this recording.

Heiner Goebbels
in: ECM Newsletter 1996/I