“The Büchner Prize is the Greatest Surprise of My Life”. An Interview with Walter Kappacher
Mr Kappacher, in your most recent novel “Fliegenpalast” (i.e. The Palace of Flies) (2009), you describe the visit to the spa town of Fusch by ageing Austrian poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), whose stay there is characterized by heartache, loneliness and fear of failure. Is the Hofmannsthal in your book a kind of alter ego?
In some ways, yes. Apart from not being famous like Hofmannsthal, I am very familiar with all this: health problems, a fear of not completing the work I have planned to do, and loneliness coupled with a feeling that I can no longer stand to be among people. Writer’s block, a sensitivity to the weather...
No stage for language
Before you became a writer, you did an apprenticeship as a car mechanic and trained to be a travel agent. You then wanted to be an actor. How (and why) did you end up writing?
In the drama school near Munich I realized that it was in fact the language of Lessing, Goethe, Kleist and Shakespeare that fascinated me – and that I do not need a stage in order to work with language.
Your fascination with motorcycle racing is reflected in your early work (“Die Werkstatt” (i.e. The Workshop), 1975) as well as in later novels (“Silberpfeile” (i.e. Silver Arrows), 2000). The roar of powerful engines is something of a contrast to your quiet, curbed and often rather sad and melancholy style in your books. To what extent does your work combine literary deliberateness with hustle and bustle, and art with real life?
I have never given any thought to that sort of thing. I have tried to write stories, and have never spent time on the interpretation of literature.
“We talked very little at home”
In your book “Selina” (2005) – your breakthrough novel, in fact – a young teacher takes time out from his life to renovate a farm in Tuscany. The peaceful descriptions of nature, among other things, are highly reminiscent of Adalbert Stifter. Who are your literary role models?
Strangely enough, I only discovered Stifter at a very late stage, so his style certainly never influenced me. When I started writing I was very impressed by the novels of Knut Hamsun, for example Hunger and Mysteries, and perhaps also by the satirical writings of Heinrich Böll and Wolfgang Hildesheimer. I was also fascinated by the work of Samuel Beckett and by Thomas Bernhard’s short stories.
In no small measure “Selina” is the tale of someone who first has to fight for the simple things in life and for language. What meaning does (native) language have for you? And what about literature? Writing?
I grew up, to a major extent, “without language”: we talked very little at home. When I write, I also do not “have” any language. I have to get myself into a sort of dozy, day-dreaming state before I can, perhaps, write anything. It is not a question of fighting for something, it is more of a humble attitude which is behind my writing.
Photography as appropriation of the world
For the past six years, you have photographed reed stems in the Salzburg lakes on an almost daily basis. What does this kind of “meditative appropriation of the world” have to do with your literary art – or does it in fact have nothing to do with it at all?
Photography has taught me to see things more clearly and to record my impressions more intensively. Seeing plays an important role before I can start writing. When I am out walking each day, I try to get into a state in which I forget myself: I have to see what I want to depict, because I also want the reader to ‘see’ what I write, and for the sentences I write to give the reader the impression of something that is alive. I wrote Selina completely from memory, twelve years after I had last been there.
At the end of October you will receive the Georg Büchner Prize which is bestowed on authors “who make an important contribution to shaping current cultural life in Germany”. What does the prize mean to you, and what significance does its eponym Georg Büchner have for you?
This prize is probably the greatest surprise of my life. As I am not a theatre person, the only work I have focused on, time and time again, is Büchner’s fragment Lenz. Büchner for me is the last great poet in a long series which, within half a century, contains so many outstanding names, starting with Lessing. This must be something quite unique anywhere in the world.
Longing for uninterrupted mornings
What are you working on just now?
My life has changed quite a bit. For the past nine months, I have managed to write nothing – apart from a few small pieces. And I fear it will be some months more before I get back my uninterrupted mornings at my desk.
conducted the interview. He is one of the two directors of the editorial office Südpol-Redaktionsbüro Köster & Vierecke. Furthermore, he works as a culture and science journalist (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, NZZ am Sonntag, Westdeutscher Rundfunk) in Cologne.
Trnsaltion: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Online-Redaktion
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