Not to start – with Tim Staffel

Tim Staffel. Born 1965, Kassel. Student of Theatre Science. Playwright: "The girl with the Flamethrower" etc. Modest success. 1998 Terrordrom. Apocalyptic vision of Berlin. The new enfant terrible of the German literature scene. Stage adaptation by Frank Castorf for the Volksbuehne. 2000 Heimweh. Performances, more plays and soon a new novel. Living in Berlin. "Failed Projects" could be the subtitle to most of his projects.

Hello Tim Staffel, we actually invited you as a specialist on "Failed Projects", the title theme for our second issue of Plotki. Can you relate to that, or are you leaving now?"
If you are referring to my private life, you are damn well informed. On private matters, I do consider myself a specialist on failed projects. This explains why failing is a reoccurring theme in my books. I find it unbelievably sympathetic to fail.

In your novels, people are failing big time indeed. What is your interest in the failures of your characters?
I write about people who have big problems adjusting to the norms of society and living in its structures. Passolini once coined the term "culture of unconventionality" to describe this. This is where I start to get interested in people; in people who are different, take pride in this and don’t try to assimilate themselves. From the moment you live as you want to, everything you try to do becomes essentially more complicated and therefore you get more predictions of failure. Yes, this is a great theme. You could even start philosophising on that. What does failing really mean? What is a failed project? A failed project is one that was never even started. To fail mostly means not to start.

Yes, this is probably what makes your characters so sympathetic. Your heroes in "Heimweh" (Homesick) are trying to get the start-up credit from their bank with a little help from their guns. This triggers a road movie with splatter-effect: Tizian and Marvin’s endeavours in their search for "Heimat" ("home", a native place – but more than that).
That’s right; in both books, my characters have clear projects and try to accomplish them. In principle, I sympathize with everyone who is pursuing their projects. This goes for unsympathetic projects as well. I consider someone like Tom in "Terrordrom" to be good – although he is actually an asshole of a person. Because he also is a person in despair. I like people who are unbelievably hip and act as if they were on top, but nevertheless confess to their despair.

However, when Tom is left standing naked in front of his secretary’s front door on New Year’s Eve, after displaying his erect sexual organ, it’s hard to detect any sympathy.
That’s Tom, in that moment. But I meant that to be an example of masculinity. Its a typical of men to suffer from extreme self-overestimation and therefore to think of themselves as tremendously attractive and irresistible to women.

But most of your characters do have sympathetic projects and still fail. Do they fail because of society?
No, that would be an example of self-pity. I am not like that and my characters aren’t either. They don’t fail because of society, but rather within society. I am not into pointing fingers.

So, you are not a political author?
What is a political author? That definition is a load of crap. Let me put it this way: it does piss me off that it isn’t cool to have an opinion or a position towards anything at all, no matter what. This also goes for the so-called young German literature. This is literature focused almost exclusively on atmosphere. I am not interested anymore in diaries of whoever. It’s not important which event I was at on Thursday and which socks I wore on Tuesday. I would never say I am a political author, but I can’t switch off the world around me and I really don’t want to.

Your perception of the world around you is expressed in the apocalyptic scenario of Berlin at the turn of the century that you portray in "Terrordrom". Is it really that bad living in Berlin?
I always had an ambivalent relationship to Berlin. I have been in Berlin for over 7 years now and I have never really felt good here. There is a lot of posing going on. I can’t keep up with that at all. That’s just the speed of the surface which you should keep up with to be up to date. But I don’t want to be up to date.

Your heroes in "Heimweh" flee from Berlin to the South-East.
Yes. Fleeing is always good, in my opinion. It is also a way of mastering problems and the borders of the East are open now. On the other hand, the East is marching in here. There are people who have a panic fear because of this, but it’s a movement that can’t be stopped and promises to be truly exciting. In the end, this city isn’t interesting because it became the capital, but because of the influx from the east.

And in the other direction? What is happening with your work? Is it finding its way to the East? Are there any translations?
The only translation that was planned was in Latvian. But it didn’t happen because there was no money for the translator. I would have declined my own commission, but I didn’t want to pay additionally for the translator myself -another failed project.

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