”I think a lot about chance and coincidence. We tend to regard the status quo as necessary, but in fact small details rule our existence. Absolutely anything in life could be completely different. For a writer this is an ideal situation: The novel is the art form of ambivalence.” Meet German writer Daniel Kehlmann, author of the global bestseller Measuring the World.
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Daniel Kehlmann (b. 1975) is often referred to as a literary German Wunderkind. At an early age he wrote and published his first novels, receiving national recognition with his book ”Me and Kaminiski” in 2003. In fact though, books have been present in Kehlmann’s life from the very beginning, he tells in this compelling interview: ”Marcel Proust once said, that you never live as intensely as when you were a child reading on these long afternoons, that you at the time thought you were missing out on. And I think, there is a lot of truth in that.”
Daniel Kehlmann grew up in artistic family – the grandfather being a writer, the father a filmmaker, the mother an actor. ”I always knew, I wanted to be a writer. And opposed to my father, who had to sell ideas, raise money and convince other people to be able to make his films, I always knew, I wanted to do something independent of other people. If you have paper, you can write almost everywhere. This means wonderful freedom. The backside of course is: if you fail, there is only you to blame.”
In 2005 Kehlmann published his ”Measuring the World” that turned into a global bestseller and is regarded as one of the most successful books in German literature after World War II. Kehlmann tells: ”Writing is a solitary process. When you write, you don’t remember much, someone else takes over. There is another person hidden inside of you. And hopefully this person is more funny, daring, thoughtful and intelligent than your everyday personality. While writing, you are alone with that person.”
Kehlmann himself never wanted to write political or realistic fiction. ”I like dark comedy. That does not mean, that there aren’t any good novels with political subjects. But I am not the one to write them. As an artist you have to find out, what you can and what you want to do. That’s a messy process. It is nothing, you know beforehand.”
Finally, Kehlmann reflects upon the burden of German history. For every German and every artist this is an extremely important topic, but not every author has to write books about that subject, Kehlmann says. ”In fact there are so many mediocre novels, who try to gain weight and importance because they deal with the dark sides of the German past. But there is no obligation for an author to do that. You don’t have to write historic novels full of darkness and seriousness. And if you do, then it better be extremely good, because the topic is important. I myself have not found a way yet, how to write about this topic like no one has written about it before. It would be an interesting challenge.”
Daniel Kehlmann was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner.
Camera: Jakob Solbakken & Amdi Brøner
Edited by: Kamilla Bruus
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Louisiana Channel, 2014
Supported by Nordea-fonden