with Sascha Engel:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Sascha: I started writing for publication in 2011. My initial writing experience, amateurish though it was, was in an academic context and heavily influenced by the reading I had done in philosophy for a few years prior. Particularly, I’ve always been fascinated by Jacques Derrida’s work (especially his Grammatology), arguing that speech and ultimately everything that has meaning is an instance of a form of writing – or writtenness. Teasing this out has been my project ever since; first in academic publications and now in experimental writing. You could say that Dada/Letterism is as big an influence, although it was indirect, and a strange, anarchically refracted Hegelianism.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Sascha: In terms of my experimental prose, I think I am most influenced by reading manuals and handbooks for computing machines – that is, for 1950s and 60s computers. There’s something laconically inhuman about their precise prose that influences me every day. (To what extent it shows, though, I can’t say.)
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Sascha: In undergrad, when I first encountered philosophical thinking. The idea that the whole world and everything we perceive is irreducibly broken down by a prism of language made me realize that that’s what I want to do: make such a prism of my own, and maybe share it with others.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Sascha: Every time I have a conversation, however short, with anyone who shares my interests, that helps a lot. The latest of these was with Jonathan Deasy, my good friend and co-editor in Strukturriss, who helped me past an impasse and so contributed to finishing my work on artificial intelligence.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & have any travels away influence your work?
Sascha: I’m originally German, and due to my parents’ occupation moved about all over the place, from Bavaria to the Netherlands, to West Germany and then to former East Germany, and then back to West Germany. I think this has led to the realization that there isn’t really a ‘home’ per se, nor a ‘place’, but only a set of identities that shift about. When I went to the U.S. to teach in academia, and then again when I returned to Europe after dropping out of that, I think that reinforced this.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Sascha: The “Twenty-One Computations” that just came out in Beir Bua Press are the culmination of five years of reading ‘ancient’ computing manuals and thinking about the humans projected by them. I think both in terms of experimental prose and philosophical statement, that’s my most meaningful work to date, not least because it helps me grapple with the existential meaning of being tethered to a smartphone all day every day…
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Sascha: I have a place a few kilometres from home where I go to turn everything off and unwind. And I am unreasonably obsessed with the Star Wars universe.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?
Very difficult to choose from so many, but I think pride of place belongs to a passage from Derrida’s Writing and Difference, which guides how I conceive of what I do: “Wanting to say the miraculous overcoming, from which thinking announces itself, terrorizes itself and, at its height, attempts to insure itself against its destruction and drowning in madness and death. At its highest point, the hyperbole, the absolute opening, the uneconomic expenditure is always surprised by, and taken back into, an economy. This constitutes a relation between reason, madness, and death,” and that relation is writing.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
My “Twenty-One Computations” are out from Beir Bua Press: https://beirbuapress.com/2021/07/25/twenty-one-computations-by-sascha-engel/
I also publish ruminations on artificial intelligence on a regular basis at the Centre for Experimental Ontology: https://centreforexperimentalontology.com/author/thinkcontinuum/
And I’ve just launched a website! http://thinkcontinuum.eu/ This has forthcoming work as well.