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"Language Is Not an Instrument for Me but Existence": Interview with Marlene Streeruwitz Helga Kraft Introduction This interview with dramatist and novelist Marlene Streeruwitz was conducted in Vienna on 27 March 2006. She made her mark on the theater scene with critically acclaimed plays in the early 1990s. As a politically outspoken feminist, Streeruwitz belongs to a group of prominent Austrian writers who have been praised for their literary achievements but also criticized by conservative political factions. In the mid908 she shifted to writing novels, prose texts, and theoretical essays. She holds a PhD in Germanic Studies and has lectured widely, including at the University of Tübingen, the Free University of Berlin, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. In the following interview she talks about her relationship to language, feminism, globalization, and her new novel Entfernung. Marlene Streeruwitz was the invited guest at the 2005 WIG annual convention in Kentucky. Interview Helga Kraft: First I'd like to know yourpoint ofview as a contemporary writer. Writers work with written language, which was believed to be dependable. How have you come to terms with the instrument of language and the ease with which it can be manipulated? How have you interpreted women's linguistic boundaries or the disintegration of languages that Hofmannsthal describes in his "Letterfrom Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon ? " And do you feel affinities with the Wiener Gruppe (Viennese Group) that startled readers with language experiments but also recognized language 's influence on our thought processes and our ability to make independent decisions? We are manipulated by the media, and many profit politically or commercially from our impaired vision. Has anything changed in this respect? More specifically, has Women in German Yearbook 22 (2006) Helga Kraft75 your use of language changed since you've been a writer? Do you use this medium today as you did at the beginning ofyour career, or has your use of language, and thus your literary output, changed? Figure 1: Marlene Streeruwitz; Photo by Peter Rigaud Marlene Streeruwitz: I believe that language is for me in principle not an instrument, but existence, equal to physical or emotional being. It's a matter of life or death. Language is like skin, which both expresses and simply is life. Language, like life, develops and then exists and can then only be described and not judged in advance. Just like I only know about life after having lived it, I only know something about the sentence after it has been uttered. It's very important for me that it's not something planned within the framework of a canon. Although I know the language of the canon, as a woman I live outside of it. And these 76Interview with Marlene Streeruwitz two levels cross each and make quite different demands on language than if I were Hofmannsthal representing a decadent class of society with decadent language. In this case my words would probably disintegrate , in fact would logically disintegrate, since I, as a woman, would be starting with ruins. These days everyone deals with these broken pieces, because power, most visibly in the last ten years, has brought all of language within its grasp. We know this from the media and the power structures that surround us daily, from advertising to bank statements , which present entire narratives that we have to fragment ourselves to understand. I do feel an affinity with the Wiener Gruppe, which describes precisely this process. They set out to lay bare the broken and existential aspects of language. Only the Wiener Gruppe is able to base its judgment on the familiar, on an agreement in a canon. They can depend on their destruction being generally understood. If I have to assume that many areas of importance have remained unarticulated and have not been put into language (including many of those areas with which the Wiener Gruppe dealt) because they are supposed to stay in the non-verbal region to avoid challenges to existing power structures, then I must use certain strategies to be understood. These strategies, too, need certain political preconditions. Not being understood would mean forcing oneself into silence. Therefore, there is an eternal back and forth between the breaks...


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