Friday, July 27, 2007

Terry Eagleton: Take Note

Tel, if you want to slag off writers for their shallowness of commitment or lack of cojones, this is the way to do it:

You deliberately keep your distance from other living writers.

No, not deliberately at all. It comes naturally. Where there's no interest, there can be no inclination.

Sometimes you hurl abuse at them too, like Canetti or Handke for example.

I don't hurl abuse at anyone at all. That's nonsense. Almost all writers are opportunists. Either they affiliate themselves with the right or with the left, joining ranks here or there, and so on, and that's how they make a living. And that's unpleasant, why shouldn't that be said. One works with his illness and his death and wins prizes, and the other runs round in the name of peace and is basically a nasty stupid fellow, so what's the big deal?

From a non-Austrian perspective, this comes as a surprise – in France, you are often named in the same breath as Handke.

Well, that breath will change. A new breath with come. But habits like that last for decades. They're impossible to eradicate. If you open a newspaper today, almost all you read about is Thomas Mann. He's been dead thirty years now, and again and again, endlessly, it's unbearable. Even though he was a petty-bourgeois writer, ghastly, uninspired, who only wrote for a petty-bourgeois readership. That could only interest the petty-bourgeois, the kind of milieu he describes, it's uninspired and stupid, some fiddle-playing professor who travels somewhere, or a family in L├╝beck, how lovely, but it's nothing more than someone like Wilhelm Raabe. What rubbish Thomas Mann churned out about political matters, really. He was totally uptight and a typical German petty-bourgeois. With a greedy wife.

For me, that's the typical German writer combination. Always a woman in the background, be it Mann or Zuckmayer, always making sure these characters get to sit next to the head of state, at every idiotic opening of a sculpture exhibition or a bridge. Is that where writers belong? These are the people who always make deals with the state and those in power, who end up sitting at their elbows. The typical German-language writer. If long hair is in fashion, then he has long hair, if it's short hair, then his is short too. If the left is in government, he runs to the left, if it's the right, he runs that way, always the same.

They've never had any character. Only those who died young, mostly. If they died at 18 or 24, well, at that age it's not so hard to maintain some character, that only gets hard later. You get weak. Under 25, when no one needs more than an old pair of trousers, when you go barefoot and content yourself with a gulp of wine and some water, it's not so difficult to have character. But afterwards. Then they all had none. At 40 they were all absorbed into political parties, totally paralysed. The coffee they drink in the morning is paid for by the state. And the bed they sleep in, and the holidays they go on, all paid for by the state. Nothing of their own any more.

. . .

You sometimes give the impression of biting the hand that feeds, for example when you describe Heidegger as a "weak-minded pre-Alpine thinker" and...

He didn't feed me. Why should he have fed me? But he's an impossible character, he has neither rhythm nor anything else. He lived off a few writers, he cannibalised them, to the last, what would he have been without them?

I was thinking of the word "Lichtung" (clearing).

That word existed before Heidegger, 300 and 500 years before. He was nothing, a philistine, gross, nothing new. He's a perfect example of someone who unscrupulously eats all the fruit other people have jarred and who gorges himself, thank God, which makes him sick and he bursts. Gets stomach ache.

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