PRINT April 1997


Heiner Müller

IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INTERVIEW with Brigitte Mayer, her face is suddenly frozen. Rather than her voice we hear a professional reader reciting a poem of Heiner Müller’s about a beautiful woman’s neck and cheeks—perhaps those of Brigitte Mayer, Müller’s widow and executor of his literary estate? As vulgar as such televisual machinations may be, the broadcast demonstrates the continued public fascination with the dead author, his young widow, and his two-year-old daughter. A year and a half after his death, Müller remains the most conspicuous and certainly the only figure in the literary industry of the Federal Republic who is read in both the East and the West.

Linked to a world-historical, Hegelian version of communism yet given (especially in his last years) to citing the right-wing author Ernst Jünger as a reference point for his postcommunist thinking, Müller was one of the few writers who could combine global concerns and a global reputation with an intimate relation to the particulars of East German history, without being discredited (or at least rarely so) by Stasi collaboration, as so many others were. As a playwright he was the true successor to Brecht, so it was only logical that Müller should come to direct the Berliner Ensemble, where pieces of furniture used by Brecht and his collaborators have been landmarked for preservation. It was there that Müller’s final play, Germania 3—Gespenster am toten Mann (Germania 3—Ghosts at the dead man), was performed last summer after a brief run in Bochum. In this blustering yet at times absurdly funny work, troubling parallels are made between Hitlerian fascism and Stalinism, and the history of the (specifically East) German stage is reenacted through the appearances of various Brecht-associated directors as well as Brecht’s widows. It was Brecht’s family, after all, that used power of attorney to attempt to ban performances and publication of a number of plays (by Brecht and others, including, ironically enough, this one); in Germania 3 Brecht and his “widows” speak in a way they are never thought to have spoken: they bicker and do what widows (and executors of artistic estates) are wont to do—that is, attempt to fix meanings.

And now Müller, Mayer, et al. can also live up to these roles. Something of a Brecht widow himself, the playwright became the subject of a legal battle waged by his own widow. A plan for a new edition of texts by Müller’s first wife, Inge Müller, who committed suicide in 1966, featured a poem penned by Wolf Biermann, the playwright’s East German successor, spokesman, and rival; in the poem, which was to serve as the book’s preface, Biermann indirectly blames Heiner Müller for not saving Inge’s life. An insult to his memory, fumed Brigitte Mayer, who attempted to block publication of the book. (She succeeded, at least in part: when the book was published in the fall, Biermann’s poem was omitted.) This quarreling by and about widows and widowers and who’s entitled to what interpretations relates, of course, to the status of all former citizens of East Germany, widows and widowers of a state whose meaning has also, since its demise, been subject to endless dispute.

An affectionate little recent volume by Klaus Theweleit, Heiner Müller Traumtext (Heiner Müller’s dream text), provides an altogether different vision of Müller. In this work the author of Male Fantasies manages to define Müller as the crucial if not sole German author to no longer draw psychologically on the war dead—something for which Müller had been reproached in the past. Theweleit privileges Müller’s “artistic” politics rather than fawning over his supposed status as a state author, a representative first and foremost of East Germany, and ultimately the reunified nation. He also offers his interpretation of Müller’s final text, the brief transcription of a dream of an unconquerable wall surrounded by a pond, which Müller walks alongside on a narrow path with his daughter; protecting her from falling in the water, he falls in instead, but he sees that his actions have prevented her from drowning. In addition to the obvious German historical references, the theme seems even more to be about Müller’s imminent death as well as his concerns over his infant daughter’s future.

In one of his conversations with legendary Berlin religious-studies scholar Klaus Heinrich (Theweleit’s second source), Müller, who at times toward the end of his life presented himself clownishly in less-than-earnest interviews and discussions, clarified in a serious moment his often ambiguous concern with the German nation and German history, claiming he actually wished for a “burial of the nation”: not monuments and gravestones, but disappearance. Some may have doubts about the accuracy of Theweleit’s interpretation, particularly in light of other materials, but right or wrong, it’s the most refreshing and productive interpretation to come around in a long time.

Diedrich Diederichsen is publisher of SPEX magazine in Cologne.

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.