The Week of the Festival: Literatur & Wein in Krems

The Universe is Talking

Interview with Raphaela Edelbauer

/ by Robert Prosser

Miss Edelbauer debuted not long ago with the Essay-Prose-Poetry-Illustration-Mashup Entdecker, published by Klever. A fantastic, daredevil expedition through natural science in graphics and language, Entdecker stirs curiosity and wonder with its elaborate, yet thoughtfully transfer of poetics into literature. Style, form and even the tiniest graphic detail form a surprisingly complete and surprisingly fresh text. Born in 1990, Edelbauer definitly has some more amazement in store for us.



"When the earth falls off, when mountains and rivers fall off, everything reveals itself as language."




"Perpetually and everywhere words are spoken and heard. Only those who can hear and speak can contain the universe within themselves." [1]



Robert Prosser: Is there a special text or philosophy which influenced your debut, not necessary concerning content, rather the poetical approach?


Raphaela Edelbauer: There was, indeed: When I first read Dogen Zenjis Shobogenzo, whose work written over 750 years ago, I was stunned by how much it resonated with my belief that we are profoundly shaped by language. Not just in the universally-acknowledged sense of the Sapir-Worff Hypothesis or a Wittgensteinian model of a life-form, but in a very literal sense, one that is unmatched in radicalness and seeming megalomania.  The universe, says Dogen, is talking (and this is by no means intended to be a metaphor), and everything we see and hear and experience is a monologue the world holds in front of itself.


How do you transfer a spiritual and philosophical universe like Shobogenzo's into your own literary cosmos and your writing?


Immediately, one is inclined to discard an idea like this as poetical exaggeration, koan-like irony, that aims to bring the reader to a cathartic, spiritual state. But for me the reading of Dogen’s text coincided with my obsessive occupation with mathematics, physics and biology. Maturana and Varelas paradigm of autopoiesis, for instance, the self-creation of nature, that experiments within itself, like a babbling child. Those two (a biologist and a neuroscientist) developed a model that describes how the world is created through the self-consciousness of living systems, and that sounded a lot like what I read in Dogen’s work.


Another example would be quantum-physical entanglement that somehow reacts to us "looking into the box;" or just the banal fact that we can condense and calculate physical processes on a piece of paper. All those things pointed towards the conclusion, that there was something "poetical" going on in the very essence of what we call natural laws. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to try to develop a poetical system that would reflect on those phenomena.


And in this poetical system, how did Entdecker evolve?


The evolution of the text itself was then more or less trivial: After writing a novel, I intended to create something that wouldn't be a "product" instantly, that would refuse classification into a genre. I started with an experiment that was composing six short texts that worked like different micro-organisms, finding an interface between bacteria and literature. Then I felt that describing syllables as particles of different minerals, and slowly starting to allow them to form phantastical substances, could be interesting, and so on. Every time I finished one of the chapters, I suddenly became interested in another field of natural sciences, and its connection with poetical systems.

Now Entdecker is not only text and science, it's also illustration. Simon Goritschnig's artwork forms an important part of the whole book. How did you two start your collaboration, how did you conspire?


I got to know Simon through an art-zine he published in 2015, and we instantly bonded over the aforementioned interweaving of art and nature. He, for example, was fascinated by "reaction diffusion," an algorithm that describes the blending of chemicals during DNA-base-pairing, and looks astonishingly similar to aboriginal art. We had a lot of discussions about isomorphic structures and the congruences in seemingly unrelated areas of exploring the universe: Language and physics, treeroots and certain mathematical formulas, even walnuts and the surface of our brain. 


Simon illustrated one of the chapters while I was writing the next one, and after a few months I finished a very heterogenous but otherworldly fascinating manuscript. Simon illustrated all six chapters, drew the cover and even designed the book layout! It felt quite natural, as each one of us had asked themselves the same questions for years. One thing I particularly enjoyed was that we both are perfectionsts in a way that we worked endless hours on details that are often considered irrelevant, like the drawing of the ISBN-number. It really turned out to be a neatly crafted book, visuals-wise.


Apart from  Shobogenzo – what kind of literature do you consider important for yourself?


There seems to be a recurring theme in Europe's contemporary literature, a noticable steering towards natural science - think about Jérôme Ferrari in France or Gundi Feirer -- Judith Schalanskys Naturkunden that, though in a different form, prove the interest that readers of fiction now have developed towards such publications. I try to read a lot of the stuff other people write about the interaction of art and nature, because I'm – obviously – very interested in that. 


I love everything that is considered obscure, dark and comical, classics like Kafka or Raymond Roussel, Poe, Borges, Shelley -- gothic novels, so to speak. I also have a sweet spot for science fiction, Stanislaw Lem or Triptree Jr. And then, of course, Austrian literature, beginning from the 1950s: Jelinek, the Viennese Group, Bernhard, Schwab, Jonke and so forth. 


Recently I was really thrilled by a book a dear friend of mine, Timo Brandt wrote – his first volume of poems called Enterhilfe für das Universum. Timo is the exact opposite of me, regarding his approach towards big topics – never analytical, but attention to the detail to an incredible extent. His literature can be really absurd from time to time though, a combination that always stuns me.


[1]                Fehlbaum, Dieter: ZeitSprache. Zwanzig Auslegungen zum Shobogenzo. Parerga, Berlin 2003. 

Robert Prosser