Müller: In our country [of East Germany circa 81], theater allows you to have five or eight hundred people together in one room reacting at the same time, in a the same space, to what is going on onstage. The impact of the theater here is based on the absence of other ways of getting messages across to people. Films are not as important because there’s so much control. They also require much more money than the theater. As a result, theater here has taken over the function of the other media in the West. I don’t believe theater has such a great in West German for instance. You can do anything onstage there, but it doesn’t mean anything to the society. Here the slogan of the Napoleonist era still applies: theater is the revolution on the march.
Lotringer: That’s why you chose the theater as your medium?
Müller: Maybe it was not a choice – it just came out of contradictions and situations in which you can’t speak out or feel that you are a subject in our own right. When you are an object of history you need other figures to talk about your problems. The first image I have from my childhood goes back to 1933. I was four years old. I was asleep. Then i heard some noise coming from the other room and through the keyhole I saw that some men were beating my father. The S. A., the Nazis, were arresting him. I went back to my bed, pretending to sleep. The the door opened. My father was standing in the doorway. The two men beside him were much bigger that he was. He was a very small man. Then he looked inside and he said: “Oh, he’s sleeping.” Then they went away with him. That’s my guilt. I pretended I was asleep. This really is the first scene of my theater.
Lotringer: What is it about East Germany that you have to go back to the Greeks in order to talk about the present?
Müller: There are two reasons. One is ideological. At the time of the antique drama, Greek society still relied on the laws of the clans. The step from the clan to the city, to the “polis,” marked the beginning of the class society. Now East Germany’s goal is to put an end to this kind of society. So the two turning points can be related ideologically in our minds. The other reason I’ll borrow from Goethe’s diary at the time he was writing Iphigenia. Working people, he says, are dropping from hunger, but I still have to write Iphtgenia.
Lotringer: Is it paradoxically a positive factor for you, as a dramatist, to write and be performed in a country where things cannot be discussed as explicitly as they can in the West? Is that an intrinsic part of the mask?
Müller: There’s a remark by Hölderlin (I’m always trying to use quotations) on the function of drama at the time of Sophocles. Words should take effect, Hölderlin writes. Words are murder. A text has two levels of transmission: one is information, the other, expression. The expression is much stronger and words are much more effective here than in the West because information is repressed. Here words aren’t just a vehicle for information, you derive information from expression. This is a better situation for drama. When I am in the West for any extended period of time, I become aware of the inflation of information. Nobody can possibly read the newspaper in one day. It’s a full-time job. And when you do it, you don’t really get any information because there is so much of it. This is a way of misinforming people by informing them.