Why don't people want to pay writers


Writer Jonas Lüscher fell seriously ill with Corona and was in a coma for seven weeks. In the interview, the 43-year-old talks about his anger at euphemists and conspirators - and says what good literature can help to understand the crisis.

This content was published on August 24, 2020 - 3:31 pm
Linus Schöpfer / Sunday newspaper

Mr. Lüscher, you had Corona. How did your illness go?

I had a difficult course. On March 15, I jumped in at short notice in the Munich municipal elections, helped with the ballot box and with the counting. I guess I got infected there. At first I had the familiar symptoms, a cough and a high fever. After a positive test, I was referred to the hospital. The doctors there diagnosed pneumonia and my condition quickly worsened. I was put into a coma and resuscitation began. I was in a coma for seven weeks, nine weeks in intensive care and three weeks in rehab. The lung function is still somewhat impaired and I struggle with the usual side effects of a long coma, but I have, and this is very fortunate, not suffered any cognitive damage.

After this experience: How do you assess the public debate?

When even immunologists still publicly say today that Corona is not dangerous for healthy people under 45, I find that - to put it mildly - very strange. I would probably have been annoyed if I hadn't been infected. Now it annoys me all the more because this trivialization negates my medical history. I don't belong to any risk group, I was healthy, had no previous illnesses, I'm not 45 yet. The convenience of the argument is obvious: If the virus only affects the old and the sick, they can be locked up. But, firstly, this is wrong, as not only my Corona history shows, secondly, inhuman and thirdly, it does not work, as we can see with the example of Sweden. And all the conspiracy theorists ... well, these people are just a catastrophe.

Does Corona point to a greater evil? Or is it just a particularly nasty zoonosis?

It would at least be a missed opportunity if we did not use the undeniable crisis to ask ourselves some fundamental questions. The pandemic acts like a burning glass, it increases the already existing social upheavals and shows the problems very clearly. Of course, we have to ask ourselves whether an economic system that is so vulnerable because it relies on constant growth and unchecked consumption can still be described as meaningful in the face of a pandemic. We must of course ask ourselves whether our relationship with animals does not need to be fundamentally reconsidered. And in view of the gigantic aid packages, we have to talk about who actually bears the greatest burdens, who is most vulnerable and how we can distribute the burdens fairly. Once again, the focus is on the question of distributive justice.

But are these questions discussed at all?

Amazingly not. It is actually obvious that in this extraordinarily dramatic situation the Hoffmanns and Oeris, the Brenninkmeijers and Blochers, would have to give up a billion or two. But this discourse is not being conducted. Everyone seems to be hoping that we will soon be able to return to the pre-Corona era. Sure, it may be that in three or four years we will look back calmly to 2020 and then the Corona period will only be remembered as a distant horror. Just as many today hardly remember the financial crisis of 2008. But it is also possible that we will never go back to normal. That we have to come to terms.

Redistribution appears to you to be an urgent concern of the Corona crisis. It is not obvious.

Yes, absolutely. The Corona crisis has shown the inequality of our society very clearly. Anyone who has a beautiful villa on the Zürichberg with a garden and swimming pool can easily see the corona crisis as an opportunity to slow down. Practice some yoga, brush up on French ... The single parent with her two adolescent sons in a small rented apartment experiences the crisis very differently. Her life became even more precarious because of Corona. Yes, we finally have to distribute the money better.

Why is there no awareness of this?

Because we have internalized the neoliberal thinking of the last thirty years. We simply lack the imagination to think of a better world. Apparently we still cannot imagine that a nurse would earn more wages and better working conditions than before. And that, although the importance of this nurse, her systemic relevance has become very clear in the last few months.

"We simply lack the imagination to think of a better world."

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You are a social democrat. Your private, but also the social corona crisis has strengthened your conviction.

Yes. This crisis is proof that we need a state capable of acting. Let's just look at the USA, which is currently failing completely in the crisis: a weak welfare state, a miserable health system, ailing infrastructure, and incompetent people in key positions.

Not only Trump, but also Bolsonaro and Johnson cut a bad figure. Will the era of the populist dilettante come to an end with Corona?

Of course, this crisis is revealing. Trump and his ilk obviously don't even have the basics of administration, have no idea about crisis management. The question arises, however, whether that interests their voters at all. Whether the reality can still affect their fanatical followers. With Trump, only one of these crazy interviews would have to be enough to convince everyone of his ineligibility. The fact that a Jair Bolsonaro actually gets away with a mild Corona course is unfortunately an educational disaster. That now seems to legitimize his "It's just a cold" story.

Unlike Boris Johnson, who suffered quite a bit.

I read that the corona disease changed him, made him more thoughtful. On the one hand, this is of course gratifying. On the other hand, it cannot be the case that a politician is only made aware of a problem when he is personally confronted with it. Such a person seems to lack empathy. If a prime minister must have had Corona in order to recognize the problem - then that disqualifies him for his office.

You explain in your most recent book that our society underestimates storytelling. You rely too much on quantitative methods, more idolized statistics ... Corona refutes you: We have to be able to calculate better in order to be able to understand the number of cases and the probabilities.

At first sight it seems that way. Yes, in the corona crisis we need scientific precision, and epidemiology is actually largely a statistical subject. The question remains: what do we do with the whole numbers? We have to develop a narrative out of it. Because numbers alone say nothing. So we need narratives based on these numbers - narratives with explanatory quality and cosmopolitanism. The Berlin virologist Christian Drosten is a good example of a competent science storyteller. His podcasts are nothing more than numbers that Drosten transforms into understandable, cautious and nuanced stories. Germany is lucky to have such a scientist. On the other hand, there is the stupidest of all Corona stories, the crude denial based on conspiracy theories.

"Of course, this crisis is unmasking. Trump and his ilk obviously do not even master the basics of administration."

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On the crest of the first wave, the apocalyptic Corona tale was also popular. Lukas Bärfuss, for example, predicted that Switzerland would fare worse than Italy.

It is always easy to make fun of "scare tactics". Christian Drosten said the beautiful sentence: "There is no glory in prevention." And that's the way it is: Because some people sound the alarm, measures are taken which then mean that things don't get as bad as threatened - and then they stand there like the alarmists. But if they hadn't warned and no action had been taken and things got worse, they would probably have been accused of inaction by the same critics. And it didn't take much: let's just imagine that the Basel Carnival had taken place. Then the pandemic could actually have turned out as badly as in northern Italy.

They are convinced that literature can give us a better understanding of the world. Is the big Corona novel coming soon that will open our eyes?

If the press soon calls out the big Corona novel, one can confidently be skeptical. Because such enormous demands overwhelm books in most cases. A novel cannot do that comprehensively to deal with a topic like Corona. Rather, it will be a network of artistic narratives - including films or songs - that will gradually emerge and give us a more multifaceted, deeper understanding of Corona. Terms such as “corona” or “viruses” do not even have to be explicitly discussed. Rather, it is about how the pandemic is shaping major human issues such as “love” or “family”. Just as the good stories about the 2008 financial crisis - think of the texts by Rainald Goetz or John Lanchester - dealt with this crisis implicitly.

"Certainly my letter after Corona will be different in a certain way."

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In your books "Spring of the Barbarians" and "Kraft" you also dealt with the financial crisis and the ailing neoliberalism. Is Corona interesting literary material for you?

From a social perspective, yes. I will not write about my own illness - or at least nothing that I will publish. But I'm sure my writing after Corona will be different in a certain way - but that probably applies to every serious author.

Corona has consequences for the art business: concerts, but also large readings are hardly possible anymore, many companies are facing bankruptcy. Is the devastation of the cultural landscape coming now?

In any case, it is a very critical moment. Because much of what is now disappearing should not come back. Small, subsidized businesses in particular will have a hard time. And many areas of cultural production are based on self-exploitation - in the independent theater scene, in jazz, in dance, but also in literature. For many, it is hand-to-mouth life. Most writers cannot make a living from book sales. You are dependent on the readings, which are now canceled. Those whose books were published in the middle of lockdown were hit particularly hard. You worked on a novel for five years and then the book just disappears into nowhere.

Is Corona also an opportunity for new beginnings? Techno DJ Westbam, for example, means that if old clusters in the cultural scene are cut, it is not all bad.

That sounds a lot like Silicon Valley to me, like “disruptive talk”. Of course, there is a risk that the same structures will always come into play in stuck structures. But most of the time, these supposed rope teams are very nice and meaningful networks that have emerged over the years and have been maintained with a lot of work and dedication. If these networks break down now, it will take a long time to re-establish them.

And what about the much-touted renaissance of the book?

Well, a lot of people just streamed more. (laughs) The bookstores were closed in lockdown, so they could not benefit much. It may be that one or the other has taken a book off the shelf again. But if you didn't read before the lockdown, you will hardly have started it in the lockdown.

How do you feel about the autumn and winter?

With great concern. If we have to go into lockdown again, we will have to pay a significantly higher price for it. Economically, of course, but also socially: single people, those lonely, families in apartments that are too small, broken, violent partnerships, unemployment ...

And you personally?

I was lucky in my misfortune, got away with, let me say, a very black eye. Doctors assume that I will be immune to the virus for a while. I live a life that is privileged in many ways. In a spacious apartment. In a good relationship. Have a small financial cushion. I'm doing comparatively well.

This article first appeared in the SonntagsZeitung Externer Link and has been reproduced here with kind permission.