Sibylle Berg

Are We Still Able To Love?

Sibylle Berg is a writer. Among her novels and theater plays are Wünsch dir was (2006), Und ich dachte, es sei Liebe. Abschiedsbriefe von Frauen (2006), and Die Fahrt (2007). She is also a contributor to various magazines and newspapers including Neue Zürcher Zeitung in Switzerland and Die Zeit in Germany.

Are we still able to love? Or have we perhaps forgotten how?
I think nothing about people’s general ability to love has changed. I am unable to say whether there was more pure love present in other centuries, when people sat close together in involuntary communities. Perhaps people can’t love? Perhaps all the focus on love in literature and art over the centuries is only an expression of the longing for an impossible state? Perhaps there is only the hormonal relationship to one’s offspring and the short, hysterical arousal at the beginning of a sexual relationship. It is always a personal definition that one has of a word. What does love mean for the individual? For many, when we are talking about a partnership, it only means arousal. No era, no form of society makes the feeling of love easier or produces it automatically. Perhaps our form of society is the ideal breeding ground for love, because we have few existential problems. We do not have to fight daily for survival; we can afford the luxury of loving our friends, our colleagues, art—yes, I would say we live in the heyday of the ability to love.

One aspect of your newest theater production “of those who will survive”, initiated with Raphael Gygax, is the use of a reproduction of a communal house built by an ancient, matriarchal Chinese minority, the Mosuo, as a stage set in the Schauspielhaus in Zurich (my suggestion). The peaceful Mosuo practice free love, in the sense that women freely choose their sexual partners and can change them without having to commit to a relationship. Among the Mosuo, there is no suppression (of women), no “possession” or marked system of power. Can the question whether people learn to love better or at least to deal lovingly with each other have to do with a form of society? Or for this must one live, like the Mosuo, high in the mountains and far away from everything (for example, in Switzerland)?
I have no idea what it is or was like among the Mosuo or in matriarchates. I doubt that we can judge it free of yearning that distorts our view. In many areas that we call the Third World, I have observed that it seems at first glance that the families are fervently tied together, helping and loving each other. But it seems to me that a closer look shows that these are communities of necessity. One sticks together to make survival simpler. The more inroads capitalism makes in such regions, the faster these communities deteriorate. That makes me doubt the purity of love as we think we observe it in foreign countries and impoverished regions. I think affluence is more important to a person than love; if one has affluence, one can afford to do without love.

You write a lot about communication problems, violence, and neglect between people, lovelessness. Are there ways out of spirals of violence?
I think there have been aggressive people at all times. Idiots who can be restrained only by laws. In the smallest, most charming tribes, there are aggressive, brutal idiots who tyrannize others. The apparent increase in violence is presumably a subjective one, because there are simply more people and ever less space, which is becoming more rare. People are generally less aggressive when they have less financial worry, when there are good prospects for the future, good education, and a good quality of life in general. So I think things don’t look bad, because the world is slowly but increasingly becoming more affluent, education is improving, and someday even equality will have penetrated to the most remote corners of the world.

Do you think it is possible to think or write gender-neutrally?
No, that’s not possible at the moment. Not in my generation, in which women are still disadvantaged and receive lower wages and in which equality does not prevail even in such highly developed countries as Germany or Switzerland. As long as women—all over the world—do not get the same wages and have the same chances as men, as long as women do not have the right to be just as stupid as men, a kind of war will prevail.

Printed in: Mathilde ter Heijne: If It’s Me, It’s Not Me, page 23