Ask The Author: Marcus Speh

“The Sodomized Dictator” by Marcus Speh appeared in the January Issue.

1. Where is the sodomy in this story or do you prefer to create titles to your work that misdirect your reader’s expectations?

The sodomy is not in the text per se but it is in the true story that made me write it and that surrounds the scene described, the capture and killing of Muammar Gaddafi, widely broadcast in October 2011 [1]:

«At least four mobile phone videos showed rebels beating Gaddafi and manhandling him on the back of a utility vehicle before his death. One video pictured Gaddafi “sodomized with some kind of stick or knife” or possibly a bayonet, after his capture. In another video, he was seen being rolled around on the ground as rebels pulled off his shirt, though it was unclear if he was already dead. Later pictures of his body showed that he had wounds in the abdomen, chest, and head.»

I made the mistakes to watch some of these videos and the images unfortunately stayed with me. Technically, hinting at something through the title that isn’t actually described in the story is a way to expand a micro narrative in time and space: if you have only 170 words to work with, such a title helps to get a sea of associations going. However, I would never misdirect my reader’s expectations on purpose. Flash is too serious an undertaking for that. The title of a very compressed piece is like a fuse.

2. What ghosts would you like to speak with?

The ghosts of my father and my mother perhaps. The ghost of Gertrude Stein to teach me simplicity. James Joyce, though I expect his ghost to be too preoccupied for serious conversation. I imagine Freud’s ghost to be wonderful to talk to.

3. What would you carve a lair into?

I don’t really get the question. I like the word “lair” though. It suggests a cold and stormy night, a count standing at the top of a cliff, a pack of wolves howling in the woods. It makes me want to sit down and write a vampyre novel, right now. Perhaps I will.

4. Which country do you wish you could rule with an iron fist?

I think as a people, Germans have given up on the whole “iron fist” idea and personally I can’t really relate. It seems other nations are beginning to doubt the usefulness of the concept, too.

5. What do you want to stop but can’t?

There’s nothing like “can’t stop”, it’s always “don’t want to”. I had too much therapy to believe otherwise. I’d like to stop teaching but the truth is, I don’t really want to because it helps to keep me grounded as a writer. I’ve always been more interested in starting something than in stopping anything.

6. How would you stop a volcano from erupting?

Seriously? — I don’t think I would want to do that. There’s something very natural about a volcano erupting. We live on a volcano all the time, both as a collective and as individuals, and it wouldn’t be quite as exciting if there was no chance of an eruption, would it?

Volcanos have fascinated me since I was a teenager when my dad took me to Pompeii, wiped out by a volcano in AD 79. I walked around alone in the ruins of that town: it fueled fantasies about a whole world gone under. I’m much more aware of a world disappearing than I was even a few years ago. Perhaps because I’ll be 50 in two years and I’m beginning to feel the grief for the perdition of my own world. As with the Arab Spring, the price of a new world gained is an old world lost. There’s grief in that and a brutality that I feel acutely and that I long to express and that I’ve tried to paint without preaching in my story.

  • Matthew

    Good interview Marcus. And story.

  • Marcus Speh is a rare person and thinker. His compassion bursts through all his interactions, whether it be his written words or the more personal communications he has with friends and colleagues. Personally I feel blessed to be in his sphere.

  • What a joy to once again get into the head of this good man! Love his writing; love his intensely passionate and yet openminded way of thinking.

  • Always so glad to see deeper into Speh. I like his take on Stein and volcanoes. And the whole iron fist thing, for sure. 🙂

  • Great questions and answers!

    I see the clear connection between not wanting to stop and letting the volcanoes erupt as they wish!

    It’s a wise man that does not stand in the way of nature but moves with it instead.

    Great answers and story, Marcus! This story stays with us like those images stayed with you.

  • Beautiful interview, Marcus! Love your answers and I so agree on the volcanoes@!! The story is exceptional, as always!!

  • Interesting answers to odd questions. Marcus did a fine job of explicating his position in the world in spite of the fragmented nature of the questions. We all speak with ghosts, all the time, if we are listening well enough, and none of us can stop a volcano if it’s intent on erupting. Instead, we must move far enough away to be content with documenting the aftermath for those who remain.

  • Andrew Stancek

    A glimpse of a fascinating mind: a philosophy of writing, politics, living a life of non-violence, free will… As always, thanks for sharing, Marcus.

  • Fascinating questions and answers-

  • I especially like the comment on “it’s always ‘don’t want to'”, it reminds me of the exquisite ethical dilemma of Many thanks, to use your metaphor, for the prodding of memory.

  • Especially liked the “ghosts” question