What motivates writers

Interview 5 plus 1
The writing is the real thing

"Why is literature created? Nobody writes who lives completely satisfied and happy in this world. Because there is no reason for them to invent new characters," says the German writer Ferdinand von Schirach. In the interview he talks about his motivation to write.

You discussed language and crime with Vigdis Hjorth in Oslo. You made writing your profession a good ten years ago. Does being a writer give you something that you tended to miss earlier as a criminal defense lawyer?

We only ever understand the broad lines of our life in retrospect. And for me it's basically like this, I wrote my first play at the age of 13, a very bad play by the way (laughs). It was an adaptation of the Three Musketeers, but I only had two actors, so there were only two Musketeers.
Everyone had told me that writers die of pneumonia in dark, cramped basements that are damp and very poor. And I couldn't. And because there are so many lawyers in my family, law school was an obvious choice. But then, strangely enough, I wasn't particularly interested. Except for constitutional and criminal law.
At some point I started writing. If I look back today, then the legal and the 20 years as a lawyer were more of an intermediate step to the real thing. The writing is the real thing.

In your new book “Coffee and Cigarettes” you bring together biographical information with notes and insights - a particularly personal book. What principles did you use to compose the content of the chapters?

All real art is new art, and in the book I am writing in a whole new way. It is structured differently, more in parallel. The way we perceive things no longer corresponds to Theodor Fontane's novel. It's about bringing two things together. We cross the street, we see something in a shop window, and we think of something completely different. I tried this type of montage at "Kaffee und Zigaretten".
Why is literature created? Nobody writes who lives contentedly and happily in this world. Because there is no reason for him to invent new characters. Only when you are dissatisfied with something and you are not completely resting in this world do you invent new characters.

On a talk show with Giovanni de Lorenzo you said that writing beyond truthfulness is pointless.

That is quite simply the point. You can also do pottery or batik cloths, paint flower vases in your basement or anything else. And that is fine and you are allowed to do so. If you enjoy doing it, do it. But if you write seriously, then you have to be truthful, otherwise it's hotel art or elevator music and completely meaningless. Only if what you write completely corresponds to your point of view, and if you are not lying to yourself there and not doing something because it sounds good at the moment, or because it has a certain effect, then it means something. And only then does it mean something for the others, i.e. for the people who read it. You can't be fooled.

Last but not least, your latest book tells of a certain loneliness. And that is nothing new, but is considered a hallmark of the digital age: All the world is networked, but its citizens seem to be losing their emotional balance more and more. The happiness of personal encounters is becoming rarer. Do you know an antidote?

I can't give you any advice other than stuff no one wants to hear. The thing that helps most against this kind of loneliness is knowing that others are too. The diabolical thing about loneliness is that you always think you are the only one. But that's not the case.

When it comes to labels, to assigning good or bad, you have often spoken out against thinking in black and white. So I would like to ask you: Why do you think nuances are important?

Why is it important? Because it's human - very simple. Otherwise it is simply nonsensical. It's only in comics, this good and bad. The penguin, for example, as you know from ten kilometers away, is the bad guy.
We often need these judgments to get through the world, but it is still wrong. As a criminal defense attorney, but also as a normal person, you understood that at some point. There is only one difference, and I find that interesting. However, it is extreme and very rare. We are talking about state crimes. They are different because they are done cold.

Plus 1:
If you hadn't become a lawyer or an author, what other profession could you have imagined for yourself?

Musician. My instrument would have been the piano. Music is immediate and it is understood universally.


Jutta Martha Beiner, Head of Web Editor, Goethe-Institut Norway

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Norway, May 2019

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