“Digital texts are forms of text that constantly flood our everyday life”

Interview with Martin Peichl

Week of the Festival: Krems, Austria

Talking to Martin Peichl about leaving texts in different spaces, online and offline, “gatekeeping” in the literary world and wasp nests.

Photo Martin Peichl © Matthias_Ledwinka

“The question of a relationship status is also always a question of an estimation”.

These and many more quotes of the Vienna-based writer Martin Peichl can be found not only in his novel “Wie man Dinge repariert” (How to repair things, Edition Atelier, 2019) but also on beer coasters and on Twitter. The author, who is currently working on his second book “In einer komplizierten Beziehung mit Österreich” (In a complicated relationship with Austria) talks about his relationship to beer coasters and why the separation of the digital world from the “real” world is artificial. 

Katherina Braschel: A notebook is mostly perceived as something rather private, containing personal thoughts, notes and often fragments of texts in a very early stage. Something in which one can scribble down anything, knowing that nobody else will read it until you want them to. Something one wouldn't show to any stranger on the street. You have stated on various occasions that you use Twitter as a notebook. When you started doing so, what was the original appeal for you to blend these spheres of the private notebook and the public digital space of Twitter?

Martin Peichl: Twitter was the first platform I used to share some of my earliest texts and ideas. I had discovered that there was a small community of writers on there that used the 140 characters per tweet (which since then have been upgraded to 280) to share very concise and poetic thoughts. Those writers often had blogs that were linked to their Twitter accounts, where they also published longer texts, but there was something very intriguing about those minimalistic, very immediate texts. As a result, I wanted to be a part of it and from then on I used Twitter as a sort of notebook, starting out with just a handful of random followers I didn’t even know personally. The beautiful thing about sharing your thoughts, these small fragments, in the very moment you come up with them is that you get fast and direct reactions, a sort of feedback: you get a feeling about what resonates and what doesn’t.

K.B.: In your texts, one can find many traces of “the digital“, e.g. online dating platforms, Facebook messages and, perhaps the most significant one, the “relationship status updates”, which separate each chapter from the next in your book “Wie man Dinge repariert” (How to repair things). What is it that can be written and said using these forms of expression, that makes them so interesting to you? 


M.P.: Digital texts in the form of messages, posts and even “relationship status updates”, like you mentioned, are forms of text that constantly flood our everyday life. I think we can no longer separate the digital from the rest, the so-called “real” world — these two spheres of life have become so closely linked to each other that any attempt to distinguish where the one begins and the other ends would be artificial, in my opinion, and blurry at best. As a result, my texts are also full of those traces.

What I found particularly interesting about “relationship status updates” was that it turned out to be the ideal “genre” to address toxic and unhealthy preconceptions about relationship and romance, to dismantle the mechanisms of LOVE (this overused word and its therefore deflated connotations) in the digital age, so to speak. 

Photo of beer coaster © Martin Peichl

K.B.: You also write minimalistic texts on beer coasters and leave them in bars, pubs and public spaces for other people to find. This reminds me of a way of tweeting in an analogue way, as if you were to tweet something and immediately afterwards cancel your account, never being able to know what the reactions might have been to your coaster texts. When did you start doing that and was there a specific intention behind it?

 

M.P.: I started writing texts on beer coasters sometime around 2015 with no clear intention and without any elaborated concept in mind. But the more I experimented with the possibilities and restrictions of this medium, the more I uncovered its potential. Which also led to my first public reading that was basically me and a friend of mine reading beer coaster “poems” and throwing them into the audience. 

The writing of the coasters itself and how they feel when you touch them is a haptic sensation and therefore provides a welcoming variety considering that most of my texts are written with a keyboard, on a computer. Once the coasters are written, they can be easily distributed and/or left behind in bars and other places, like libraries, bookstores, subway stations and so on. Coasters are familiar, everyday objects, and the texts I tend to write on them are also rather low-threshold and approachable, in my opinion. They consist of mostly four to five lines and operate somewhere along the fine line between the comical and the tragic, the romantic and the toxic: YOU ARE THE LOUDEST WASP NEST IN MY BRAIN, for example, can be read as a flattering confession, but also as quite the opposite, as something almost threatening — it’s up to the reader, really, and about context.  

K.B.: How does the interaction with people who read (or hear) your texts change for you whether it is online on social media or offline at a reading? 

M.P.: I hardly ever really interact with people online. Since I use social media channels, like you mentioned at the very beginning of this interview, primarily as a digital notebook — it’s kind of a one-way road with very little actual exchange. But I find the immediate reactions at readings very interesting and helpful and I do like a good long chat afterwards, maybe over a glass of beer.
 

K.B.: Online publishing is a growing factor in literary writing. Some literary magazines or grants won’t accept submission if the text or some of it has already been published, online or offline. At the same time, literary blogs often have more outreach than print magazines and are financially more accessible because they are mostly free to read. What is your view on these challenges in the literary world?

M.P: To say that I dislike this differentiation between online and offline publishing would be an understatement. I feel that the literary market and its mechanisms still haven’t adapted to modern developments — to the fact that the old system of “gatekeeping” via publishing houses is outdated (to put it nicely). It almost feels like you’re only a “true” writer (for some people) if you get your books or texts published by a renowned publishing house. Which also means that some texts will never get published, not because they are of poor quality, but rather because they operate outside literary conventions, because they experiment with new and innovative concepts and therefore might not have a mass-market appeal — which is still a very important criterion for most publishers, who (as a business) try to make money, after all. Some of the most interesting texts and the writers behind them can be found and discovered online, in my opinion, on platforms like Twitter and Instagram and I think it’s beautiful. At the same time, it can be very frustrating for writers who focus on publishing their work online, if literary criticism does not treat their texts equally, just because they have not (yet) found a publisher, just because they operate outside the established market.