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Interview With Mathias Freese Author Of The i Tetralogy .: Knowledge Base
Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest Mathias B. Freese, author of The i Tetralogy.
Thanks Matt for agreeing to participate in our interview.
Matt, please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Teacher, writer, psychotherapist, I came to writing as I came into myself; it was an attempt to self-nurture myself, all writing is. Whatever I’ve studied or learned, as I look back over the decades, has been a kind of serendipitous search for self and meaning.
Kazantzakis and Krishnamurti have impacted upon me, one for his richness and passionate writing -- Kazantzakis had the temerity to write a two volume sequel to the
Odyssey, in verse, no less, and by all accounts succeeded; the other chose to help his fellow man to decondition himself, to slay the idols of the mind, a teacher who suffered no fools and who took no prisoners.
When I practiced psychotherapy, I sought to help the other to be free…free of me as well. I cannot explain my life; perhaps life is trying to explain me. We shall see.
How did The I Tetralogy come about? Why did you decide to write the book?
The opening lines of the first volume came to me while in my car waiting for a friend to return home, just like that. I wrote all through that night and for about two weeks thereafter; it was a channeling of a kind. I trust my unconscious, the real writer in each of us.
The book hardly needed editing. I surmise, for I am not sure, I wanted to say something about being a Jew, an American Jew, and about Jewry throughout the ages. It is a book written from pain, despair and sorrow. I wrote a book that few people would want to read because they would rather not know.
I wrote it because it was an effort at self-definition and a query into the nature of man. I think now of Kazantzakis, who wrote, “Overdraw me. Lord, and who cares if I break!”
How would you respond to potential readers who might be turned off by many of your graphic descriptions and about the subject matter of the book?
I answer many of these questions in the extended autobiographical essay at the end of the book. The essay was written because publishers posed these questions. So I addressed them. I’ll try to condense my perspective here.
It is human indifference that I am after -- and I have no expectations about that. Human beings devote their entire lives to a denial of death. The Holocaust carries as much fear, for we are a species that prefers not to be aware, the ultimate defense.
I taught myself to see life without eyelids that is how I am constructed. (I associate to Teiresias trying to have Oedipus see.) The graphic descriptions, to my mind, are attenuated compared to what actually happened. If I had put more in the book, the reader would not believe it, such as rendering human fat into soap or using human skin to cover books.
What is fascinating is that extrapolations from historical facts by my imagination led to horrors as well, and I committed them to paper, knowing full well that the reality was worse.
Shirer’s, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), contains the recipe for making soap from flesh. I have little patience for human beings who are unaware of how they are the “willing executioners” (Goldhagen) of their fellow human beings under special circumstances. Yes, such awareness makes one shudder…and? Freud knew that civilization had a paper thin crust to it.
Can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your book?
Decades of scattered reading, especially The Autobiography of Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz who was ordered to write it in jail before hanged in 1947. Hersey’s, The Wall, was an astounding fictional achievement.
I have used no research techniques except to go back to certain books I’ve read to verify facts, such as Robert Jay Lifton’s seminal work, The Nazi Doctors. Rather than research, I blew my breath into all I learned growing up as a Jew. I used my imagination as an interior internet. I visited me before I wrote and dwelled within. This may explain my risky effort, to wit, to write Nazi “poetry.”
A piece of curiosa: Kurt or Karl May was a German novelist in the early 20th century who wrote romantic novels about the primeval American forest. Hitler read his books! It is this kind of fascinating trivia that clung to me as a writer. I make mention of it in the book.
How did you approach writing your three characters? Did you plan them out or did they evolve as you wrote the book? Did you have a hard time fleshing out your characters initially?
I write 20 pages or so, letting my unconscious mind unfold its latent feelings and thoughts about the character(s), and then I cut back to 10. I like to revise, like whittling on a stick.
I am an intuitive soul, I guess, for that is how I worked as a therapist. I do not plan, I let my unconscious cook. I let it unfold although I generally have an idea of what I want to accomplish in this chapter or section.
I believe a book, an athletic effort, an expressive dance step or painting is already accomplished in our nether self. It would kill my spontaneity if I planned it out; yet there is structure, there is a “plan.” Let me say, then, I believe that chaos itself has order to it.
Look at the night sky. Evidence of a kind: only months after writing i, the first volume, did I realize I had used aphorisms, parables, dreams, all the collective unconscious of being Jewish. I discovered in that volume legends from Hebrew school that I had metabolized decades ago, my readings about the prophets and so on.
You include some very detailed dialogues in your book. Where did the dialogue come from?
I wish I knew how they affect the reader…I entered dangerous waters here. I immersed myself, let us say, in the Nazi mind. I did not allow myself the grace nor courtesy of backing off, or pulling punches. I did not censor thinking and feeling. I engaged that horrific part of self that would be a “willing executioner.”
Not as hard as you might think. We are all victim and perpetrator; Krishnamurti taught that the observer is the observed. I posed question after question, an interior dialogue with myself.
You will note in the dialogues,Gunther, for example, questions not only himself but his interrogator mercilessly. Between the questions I rode the mobius strip, coming upon answers here and there. I pushed myself to avoid cliché, to be glib, to give the usual and mundane answer. You know, Norm, 25 years as a therapist exploring with the other in that little room helps one to see (!) and to ask the next appropriate question.
You write with a very vivid and descriptive style. Do you use any particular techniques to help with your writing or to help flesh out descriptive imagery? Are there any writers you admire or look to for inspiration?
This is the kind of question I love to answer. What are my wellsprings?
Kazantzakis…Kazantzakis…Kazantzakis. Read his The Last Temptation of Christ to enter his fever dream of messianic transcendence. When he describes a bowl of fruit, you see the dewy sweat on the grapes. Where else would I get the chutzpah to end the Tetralogy with a psalm? A psalm! He had an early impact on me as a reader, circa 1960, because of his passion.
I learned to risk. I was also an aficionado of Conrad for a while, for the density and profundity of his mind, “The horror…the horror!” Early on I learned not to mimic, but to be inspired. I had no idea that I would be a writer- that came much later. We are often the last person to know ourselves…how strange, how curious. I am a self-taught writer. I am ornery about that.
What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges?
I decided early on to tell the truth, always the truth. I write about that in the essay at the end of the book, how the prophets, Nathan, in particular, would come down from the mountains with god’s words on their lips and condemn the kings. David got a mouthful from Nathan, lived long enough to cry “Absalom! Absalom!” So I kept at it.
If a Nazi in the book, Gunther, in particular, said or did horrific things, I strove to see his truth without succumbing to it. I did not judge, as one does not do that with clients. I attempted to see!
At moments I made, what I thought was such a telling case for his actions that I had to reflect and rethink all that. The premise is simple – Nazis are human beings, not aliens; they worry me more than Martians. It is my task as a writer to tell the truth. At the end of the tale of the emperor’s clothes the child says the king is naked. It is the cast of my mind to know full well that the real ending is at night when the king’s men come to kill him.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading The i Tetralogy?
To argue with me, to argue with themselves interiorly; to become engaged; to see into who they are, how deeply flawed we are, how the repetition compulsion to make war and kill, I think, is genetic; that we can only morally inhibit ourselves, and that by itself has proven to be a mere band-aid. Late at night let my reader wake horrified, discomforted, and ask: what is to be done? May the next question be harder to pose.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
This book is a giving, to Jew and Christian alike; it is my unheard scream about us as a species. My wife tells me, wisely, that I write well about pain. I have known great sorrow in my life.
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