June 6, 2012

Who is Marion? An interview with Wolfgang Müller

As you might have noticed in my blog, I've spend these last weeks in Iceland with Wolfgang Müller. Wolfgang Müller, Berlin artist and author, visited Iceland for the first time in 1989 on invitation of the Icelandic artist Magnus Pálsson. Since then he has been back to Iceland on a regular basis, writing many books about Iceland such as Blue Tit, Neues von der Elfenfront – Die Wahrheit über Island, Die Elfe im Schlafsack, and released the CDs Island Hörspiele and Ich habe sie geseh'n ... Elfen, Zwerge und Feen.
Now our journey in Reykjavik is coming to an end and I did this short video interview with him in German. Here is the English translation:

AP: In your Blue Tit book about Iceland there is an image of the German artist and performer Gunter Trube, showing four sign language gestures for “Angst”.

WM: Those are four gestures in DGS (German Sign Language) for the word “Angst”. It shows that all languages have plenty of possibilities and not just one word to express something. Many hearing people believe that DGS has only one word way to express “Angst”, but just as in other languages there is a wide spectrum of “fear”, “dread”, etc. ... various differentiations.

AP: How is that in the Icelandic language?

WM: Also in the Icelandic language there are multiple meanings and many of those are untranslatable. I found that interesting when I made the audio play Thrymskviđa (Thrym Song). It is a travesty story with the god Thor and Loki. Many of these ambiguities emerge and are essentially not translatable into German.

AP: These old Icelandic Edda are also popular in Germany.

WM: The Edda were of course used by the Nazis in such a way that their humor totally vanished. This medieval poetry was read and transmitted in such a constrained, one-sided manner: all the fun was gone. I thought that was a shame. It is beautiful to show people the multiple meanings.

AP: How did you work with this multiplicity?

WM: When the god Thor decides to travel together with Loki to Jötunheima both disguised as women – it is the first drag queen story in medival germanic literature! – Loki says: “Both of us ride then to Jötunheima.”1 The Icelandic “both of us” can express three different sexes: “tvö” is male/female, “tveir” male and “tvær” female. The joke is when Loki says “both of us” and transfers it to a mixed group. That is not without ambiguity! At this point Icelanders can laugh. But in German it is simplified as “we” - neuter.

AP: Do such language games also happen in Icelandic contemporary literature?

WM: There are similar things. Lately somebody told me about crime stories by the writer Arnaldur Indridason. There is a reappearing figure named Marion, a name that can be male or female. The whole of Iceland discussed if Marion is a man or a woman.2 In her translation into German the translator Coletta Bürling just changed it into a man. Especially in Germany there is a tendency toward simplification.

AP: You yourself doubled an institute as an art concept: the Goethe Institute.

WM: Yes, Coletta Bürling used also to be the director of the Goethe Institute in Iceland. I doubled the Goethe Institute only after it was closed down. I made an art concept out of it - I need to emphasize that, a “private Goethe Institute.” That went well for a long time, but after three years I was charged,and then I had to watch out. I received a cease and desist declaration. The art concept got so mixed up with the perception of reality that people believed that I really was the leader of the Goethe Institute and not a performance artist. I had to rename it as the Walther von Goethe Institute, the gay grandson of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

AP: Did you notice anything particular during this stay in Iceland?

WM: So many things happened, I could write books about it. I have to control myself a bit. It is of course extremely inspiring and one has to watch out that one doesn't examine everything on the surface. I need some time, to let it set in, to see how I'm going to proceed.

AP: Thank you.

WM: You are welcome!

1“Við skulum aka tvö / í Jötunheima.”
2See for more information about this figure Marion: http://internationalnoir.blogspot.com/2008/09/arnaldur-indridason-arctic-chill-from.html

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