The School of Being: Hermann Nitsch in Conversation with Paul Sakoilsky

the school of being: hermann nitsch in conversation with paul sakoilsky ~ recorded at schloss prinzendorf, the morning after the 2-day play, (120th action ~ Parsifal.) — july/aug 2004.

Abbreviations ~ N. : Hermann Nitsch; S.: Paul Sakoilsky


S. I’m sitting in Prinzendorf castle, on August 3rd, 2004, after the successful completion of Hermann Nitsch’s 2-day play (120th action). Firstly, for the English audience, for whom the story of your version of Parsifal will be entirely novel, can you say something of the origins of this 2-day play?

N. You know, my main work, is my 6-day play; and the first version of the 6-day play, was realized 6 years ago…[And all]…performances I did, and I do, and I will do, are connected to my main work. And all of this 2-day aktion, was just a part of the 6- day play and whenever I do a new performance, I learn something more. I had the feeling this time that the music was very, very important; and, there’s another thing…the Viennese State Opera…invited me to do the art direction, and the sceneography…[for Wagner’s] Parsifal. And the Director invited me, but then the political situation changed, and he kicked me out. But now I am much happier that I did my own Parsifal, because, all this stage work is just craft-work; and here [at Prinzendorf] I did my own work…When I heard that I would not get this Parsifal thing, I said, “Okay, okay; maybe it’s a waste of time to do this? I [will] use my time for better things.” So I used my time to realize this 2-day play. And, it’s not on the front of the posters,  but, it is the 120th aktion; and let us say the subtitle is Parsifal…

I’m a great admirer of Wagner. I like this, especially his music, and…also his drama; I like it very much. But I’m a hundred years after Wagner, and I’m in a very different situation. Wagner was before Nietzsche, before Freud, and he was very influenced by Schopenhauer, and he had this, I would say…this old, old aesthetic philosophy in his mind. And I’m very influenced by Nietzsche, I like life, I enjoy life; I’m influenced by Freud, by Jung; and I see all these Parsifal rituals as neurotic rituals. The ‘wound’; you say in English?

S. ‘The wound’, same word, the wound, yes.

N. The wound, let’s say, is a symbol of sick life, of unrealized life. And, I want to change Parsifal…The spear is for me a phallus symbol. Also, when you read Wagner’s text, at the end: “Only one weapon can close the wound.” That’s the Spear. And so all the spears that are used are phallus symbols, and also, I want only to show with the spears something [e.g. reality, not a representation]. I show the wound, I show the genitals, especially from the ‘wife’ [sic. Qua. Woman, in 2-day play]; the open body of an animal…

Anyway, that was my version of Parsifal. A hundred years [after Wagner]. And not against Wagner, absolutely not, absolutely not! I admire him, and it was a work of deep admiration.

S. To discuss the concept of abreaction within the context of the OMT: I slept, after the aktion in Dieter Roth’s tower; and I had the most beautiful sleep…The first good night’s sleep in the last three; and then suddenly, in a nightmare or vision, I was the steer, the bull, and the bull was me, I was also the stiertrager, the platform for carrying the bull.

N. Ja.

S. – and the platform was me; and then suddenly all of its weight, at the same time [sound of hands being smashed together] crashed down upon me! And you can ask Thomas [Draschan], I woke up, naked, screaming: “AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

N. [Laughter].

S. …and standing there…you know; I nearly jumped out of the window.

And I can only maybe take one of these in my life. If it happened again the next night, then, maybe, okay, again? I think even I, and I’ve experienced lots of extreme things, couldn’t take it…but, it’s okay — somehow necessary…

N. You have spoken about abreaction. That’s always in my work. Maybe it’s better to use the word, ‘Catharsis’. I want to bring out so much depressed energies, and in the same way, to bring out the trueness…

S. The truth, yes.

N. And also, there’s a kind of ontology. It is always the question, the question about Being. The symbol of [the] Grail; that’s Being…Essere.

S. …You are influenced, obviously by existentialist philosophers; and Zen, and Heidegger, etc.; the Pre-Socratics –

N. I would say, for me, all of the history of philosophy is very important…the old Greek philosophers, the for-Socratics [sic.], —

S. The Pre-Socratic.

N. Ja, ja, very important for me. And then all the Eastern philosophy: Hinduism and Buddhism; Taoism, Zen Buddhism; and, um…I was, very influenced by Schopenhauer, that was very, very important for me when I was young. And then, very much, by Nietzsche. He [taught] me to enjoy life, to enjoy Being. And then, very important for me, was Existentialist philosophy, especially Heidegger. Jaspers, yes, but – anyway, he also influenced me. Not so much Sartre, because he was a pupil of Heidegger. The basis of his work is a big essay about Heidegger, the ‘Being and Nothingness’. Anyway, he was a political philosopher. This kind of existentialism don’t — didn’t interest me. And then, Zen Buddhism is very important for me, but, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not Catholic, I’m not Hinduist, I’m not Buddhist, and, I’m not Zen Buddhist. But most of the ideas of the Zen Buddhists influenced me, and like them and I would say, that’s very, very modern philosophy. And, I am not like John Cage. He made Zen Buddhism into his special thing. It’s not a question of belief,  I respect it very much, and I respect the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. And everybody who saw [sic] my work, he must…must feel the influence of Zen Buddhism.

I say the Grail is not the wound,  or not the…chalice. Everything is the Grail. This here, this here, this here! [Picking up & pointing out objects on and around the table]  His face, your face! Being –

S. Being is the Grail?

N. Being is the Grail. And also that’s the light of [the] Grail. And then, erm…Empedocles.., Origen said, “The fire— is the root of everything”…And there you have also the light of grail. The grail is the fire of Being, fire of movement,  fire of creation…But…it’s only…I’m not a scientist—

S. No, you are a philosopher –

N. I never say, there is this.

S. I studied philosophy and, you know, you can keep returning to Nietzsche forever. Heidegger similarly.

N. Ja. And, I forgot. Heidegger influenced me…[But] I don’t agree with his politics. Politically, that’s very sad. I always say, that’s…a man who has an objective for…the Cosmos, for the Whole. And in the closed situation of politics, he was blind.

S. …he was totally and utterly blind.

N. He was blind –

S. Terribly.

N. And he lost his way.


N. I’m very interested in Sein und Zeit [Being and Time]; that’s a great work; and also for me, the Phanomenologie is also very important. You know Husserl was his teacher and so on.

S. Yeah.

N. And I would say,  I like everything that he had written, but I agree not with what he did.

S. Except for his political speeches. [Ha ha ha…]

N. Ja, ja…. We have a problem with some German writers. Also Gottfried Benn. He was a great poet, and he had a problem with fascism. But after 40 days,  he understood his mistake.

S. Yeah, and stopped…then there was like, the Junger brothers, Jun-ger brothers? You know,  ‘Total War’; anyway…the one thing…um…you are basically an existentialist, or para-existentialist, or something like this?

N. I would say,  there’s a deep connection.

S. Yes. But the difference is that…to understand your philosophy – you can only understand your philosophy by taking part, and in taking part, you are literally thrown into your body , totally thrown into your body. The weight, the excessiveness, and the impossibility of dragging out this bull that Thomas and I did.

N. Ja, ja.

S. It’s impossible that we could pull this bull [out of the truck]; and yet Thomas and I did it on our own. You are thrown into your body, and that’s – your philosophy is in the aktion. You know, as we said before…

N. I hope so.

S. No, not, ‘hope so’, it is a fact. And for me, you are one of the greatest living existentialists, or para-existentialists But I can’t explain to other people, or other philosophers…they have to take part.

N. I would say, I would say, I’m a post-existentialist. (ha ha).

S. Ja, para-, post-. I can’t explain to another philosopher,  I would say, ‘You have to take part in the aktion’, and then you can read his theory.

N. Ja, ja… a ‘School of Being’

S. Absolutely.

And, maybe one more thing. The aktion in the Chapel? That’s the first time there’s been an aktion in the Chapel?

N. The first time I used the Chapel for an aktion.

S. And this,  is this a special occasion, or special thing?

N. The aktion in the Chapel, is something I would repeat. Yeah, you would repeat it again…I was very happy about the treatment, I was very happy about that,  but I was not so happy about the performance I did in the Chapel. But, anyway, the next time we do it better.

S. One can never attain perfection, or one would stop, I think, yes?

N. Ja, ja. I don’t believe in that…without mistakes. I’m full of mistakes.

part two.

S. Can you please explain something of the central role of Schloss Prinzendorf for the Orgies Mysteries Theatre?

N. Let’s say, let’s say, that’s a mythology. Half of my relations are coming from here. The mother of my mother was born in Prinzendorf, and, ja, my grandmother was born in Prinzendorf. And, during the war we always got food from the farmers here, because in the big cities there was no food. And then we always…went to Prinzendorf to get some food, to drink some wine; and we were always invited to the wine cellars when…[we were children]. It was wonderful. The grown-ups they were drinking and we, the children, we also got a little bit of wine, and we were naughty—

S. Ha ha ha…

N. And it was wonderful…And when I was here, let’s say, when I was 17 or 18 years old, and, at this time I studied art, and I got a very deep connection to this wonderful landscape, and this landscape is a little bit similar to what the Impressionists painted, and later Van Gogh. These cornfields you can see here; the sunset. And I got a very, very deep feeling for this landscape. And then, I saw this castle. And it was really like a great experience to see this castle. And I was meaning, when I was getting old, and I am famous with my work [that] the government will give me this castle to realize my work, to realize my theatre. And then they [the Austrian Government] put me in prison three times, because of my work.

S. Yeah, I know.

N. And then there was no more hope that I would get this castle. And then…I did exhibitions in America, in Germany, and I always had photographs from Prinzendorf, and I said, that is the Orgies Mysteries Theater…. Then my wife, Beate…[who later] died by a car accident…We [his wife Beate and he] got a little money from her parents and she wanted to buy a house in Germany, in Bavaria, and it was so expensive…it was not possible. We tried to find one house, but it was much, much too expensive. And then, we were in the wine cellar of my uncle, and um…Beate my wife, asked if it would be possible to buy a house here in Prinzendorf. “Yes, there are enough houses to buy, but why you not buy the castle?” And the castle was so cheap. And she was a psychologist. She said they will make…[A home for Children…. for handicapped children]. For her, it was no problem to do this really, and also top realise my theatre here. And she bought it very, really very, very cheap – Well, and then I got this castle, and it’s my Bayreuth. No architect can plan this ‘theatre’ better than it is here. Ja, that is the story of Prinzendorf, that is the story of the castle.

S. Psychology…you said you’re wife was a psychologist. But the psychology of the Orgies Mysteries Theatre, or better, to use Nietzsche, the ‘physiology’, not psychology, but physiology of Prinzendorf [as ‘theatre’ etc]. It’s like, um…The  first aktion I took part in here on the 2-day play; or the first aktion with the blud and the wasser [blood and water], etc.; it was the big tub here [near where we are sitting] with Igor [as] Amfortas. And, I had a really bad problem with the first one [aktion]. You see the photograph [ha ha ha], — I really wanted to throw up. And then…as the day progressed, you go through waves – it’s, ‘Urgh, Oh my God!”, and then it’s okay, and then,  ‘Oh my God!’, and then it’s okay, and then you’re just breathing, relaxing, beautiful music, like, ecstasy, catharsis, and then, ‘Urgh!’ again – this [cycle is] continuous. But then afterwards…after this aktion even, which was so bad for me, the first one – afterwards, you go in the shower, you wash it off –

N. Ha Ha ha.

S. And it’s nothing, it’s just ‘shit’, it’s only blood, it’s nothing?

N. Many people say, it’s much better to be in a live aktion than to see the photographs and all these things… it’s very important to be in the aktion; also with the music, it brings you in, it takes you in…and then you’re in a kind of moving cosmos.

S. For sure.  Well, it’s the gesamtkunstwerk

N. I hope, I hope so.

S. No, not ‘hope so’. For me it is simply a fact.


©paul sakoilsky 2004/2011

[The interview was first played on resonaceFM, 20.10.04]


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