2021 Neustart. Federal Ministry of Culture and Media Germany (Grant)
2021 Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, Berlin (Grant)
2019 Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, Los Angeles (Donation)
2010 Michael Shugrue Cultural Development Fund, New York (Donation)
2005 Rusch Foundation, Hamburg (Donation)
2004 Villa Aurora, Berlin/ Los Angeles (Grant)
2004 The Bernard and Barbro Osher Foundation, San Francisco (Donation)
2003 Stiftung Preußische Seehandlung, Berlin (Donation )
2002 RIAS Berlin Foundation, Berlin (Grant)
1995 Ralph Emanuel Trust, London (Donation)
1993 German Academic Exchange Service, Bonn (Grant)
Assignments / Recognitions
Akademie der Künste – Berlin
Akademie für Publizistik – Hamburg
American Embassy – Berlin
Aspria – Berlin
Autorenbuchhandlung – Berlin
Badische Zeitung – Freiburg
Basler Zeitung – Basel
Bayerischer Rundfunk – München
Berliner Synchron – Berlin
Berliner Zeitung – Berlin
Berner Zeitung – Bern
Biografietage – Nordwalde
Biografiezentrum – München
Brandstätter Verlag – Wien
Bührnheims Literatursalon – Leipzig
California Institute of the Arts – Los Angeles
C.H. Beck Verlag – München
College of Staten Island – New York
DAS MAGAZIN – Zürich
De Gruyter / Deutscher Kunstverlag – Berlin
Delta Film – Berlin
Der literarische Salon – Berlin
Der Spiegel – Hamburg
Der Tagesanzeiger – Zürich
Der Tagesspiegel – Berlin
Deutsche Welle – Köln
Deutschlandradio – Berlin
Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – Bonn
Die Wochenpost – Berlin
Die Welt – Berlin
Die ZEIT – Hamburg
DuMont Verlag – Köln
EKZ Bibliotheksservice – Reutlingen
Evangelische Medienakademie – Berlin
Feltrinelli Editore – Milano
Foto Magazin – Hamburg
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – Frankfurt am Main
Frankfurter Rundschau – Frankfurt am Main
Freie Akademie der Künste – Hamburg
Friedrich Ebert Stitftung – Bonn
Gallissas – Berlin
Goethe Institut – Los Angeles
Hachette – Paris
Hamburger Abendblatt – Hamburg
Hessischer Rundfunk – Frankfurt am Main
Hochschule Bremen – Bremen
Hoffmann & Campe – Hamburg
Insight Magazin – Rommerskirchen
Jüdische Allgemeine Wochenzeitung – Berlin
Kammergesellschaft – Berlin
Kaufleuten – Zürich
Kerber Verlag – Berlin
Kölner Stadtanzeiger – Köln
Kulturtipp – Zürich
Kunsthaus Müller – Wurzbach
Leipziger Volkszeitung – Leipzig
Leselust – Wilster
Literaturhaus Bremen – Bremen
Literaturtage – Schwerin
Luxemburger Wort – Luxemburg
Männerschwarm Verlag – Hamburg
Neue Bildende Kunst – Berlin
Neues Deutschland – Berlin
Neue Zürcher Zeitung – Zürich
New York University – New York City
Norddeutscher Rundfunk – Hamburg
Nürnberger Zeitung – Nürnberg
Opernwelt – Berlin
PearsonLongman – New York City
Perlentaucher – Berlin
Ralph Emmanuel Trust – London
Rheinischer Merkur – Bonn
R.I.A.S. Berlin – Berlin
Rusch Stiftung – Hamburg
Salis Verlag – Zürich
Salzburger Nachrichten – Salzburg
Schleswig-Holsteinische Landeszeitung – Rendsburg
Schweriner Volkszeitung – Schwerin
Senat für Soziales – Berlin
Sender Freier Berlin (RBB) – Berlin
S.Fischer Verlag – Frankfurt am Main
Schweizer Fernsehen DRS – Zürich
Schwules Museum – Berlin
Shugrue Cultural Development Fund – New York City
Sleek Magazine – Berlin
Staatliche Fachschule für Sozialpädagogik – Berlin
Steidl Verlag – Göttingen
Stern Magazin – Hamburg
Stiftung Preußische Seehandlung – Berlin
Süddeutsche Zeitung – München
Tanz Aktuell – Berlin
Theater Heute – Berlin
The Huntington Library – Pasadena
Theodor Springmann Stiftung – Berlin
The Osher Foundation – San Francisco
University College London – London
Universität der Künste – Berlin
Y.I.V.O. Institute for Jewish Research – New York City
Villa Aurora – Berlin/ Los Angeles
Villa Bösenberg – Leipzig
Wagenbach Verlag – Berlin
Washington Square News – New York City
Weser Kurier – Bremen
Wilstersche Zeitung – Wilster
Wirtschaftsblatt – Wien
Wissenschaftssommer – Insel Sylt
ZDF – Mainz
ZEIT-Magazin – Hamburg
Failure is what it's all about. Steven D.Lavine – A Life devoted to Leadership in the Arts – Deutscher Kunstverlag/ DeGruyter, 2020
“A georgeous portray!”
An eminent book about an eminent man
Prof. Dr. Peter Weibel, Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe
A magnificent and captivating book, which I read all weekend long.
An absolute treat!
Prof. Dr. Annette Jael Lehmann, Freie Universität Berlin
I did not go into this (project) anxious to talk about myself. But Jörn Jacob’s careful research and questions that frame the conversations got me to look at aspects of my life I never would have looked at independently. He found out things as deep as when my grandparents passed through Ellis Island when they immigrated from Eastern Europe – something even my family didn’t know. And that’s just the beginning of the depth of what he prepared. And then, as he framed the whole book — which he really framed as a novel almost because it has a thorough arc — I discovered things about myself I hadn’t known.
When a copy of the book first came I was afraid to read it. I knew that in these conversations I had wandered all place and thought I’d receive something shapeless and embarrassing – and instead Jörn had sort of seen through it to what the real story was: the human story and the cultural story. Seeing the exposition of my life (with) such a deep background an American writer probably wouldn’t have put in, issues a German-American collaboration in a very interesting way. So at the end of the day it turned out to be a real gift. I’m just thrilled that the book exists and very happy with it.
Prof. Dr. Steven D. Lavine, President Emeritus, The California Institute of the Arts (quoted from an Interview)
> Reviews <
„Author Jörn Jacob Rohwer defies form, crafting a hybrid of biography and memoir. He leads Lavine through a series of interviews that move swiftly across topics: culture, family, mental health, loneliness, love, art, education, politics, racism — bringing the reader on a strange, unexpected journey through Lavine’s life. (…) Rohwer is generous with his descriptions — there’s a richness to his prose that works to engage the reader with some immediacy. (…) The style of the book’s introduction is reminiscent of The Great Gatsby as we learn who Steven is through the author’s eyes, then transition into interview transcripts — a biography à la My Dinner with Andre. (…) The real soul of the book is how Rohwer deconstructs and expands Steven’s character. (…) The spirit of Rohwer’s unsatiated curiosity drives the narrative, leaving almost no stone unturned in the course of Steven’s life. (…) Failure Is What It’s All About has diverse potential to grab the reader: the history, the profound conversation, the self-help aspect, or sheer interest in the subject, either Steven or CalArts. Rohwer covers a vast territory, casting a wide net to gather in a larger audience.“ > Full review click here: Conversations on Imperfection, Los Angeles Review of Books (03/2021)
Monopol > Magazin für Kunst und Leben (11/2020)
LinkedIn > Steven Smith (03/2020)
> Podcasts <
Diplomatische Landesvertretung Schleswig-Holstein in Berlin > Das Wunder des Fragens oder Was ist Wahrheit? (11/12/2020)
One World. One Idyllwild > For video click here (6/1/2021)
> Interviews <
Writer’s Life Magazine > A personal account of the author and his book (06/2021)
The Art Collector > Interview Part I+II (1/15/21)
> Features <
Writer’s Life Magazine > A personal account of the author and his book (06/2021)
Breakaway Magazine > Failure is an integral part of any creative person’s life. Interview (2/4/21)
San Diego Jewish Journal > For essay on issuu click here pg. 29-30 (01/01/21)
> Video Conversations <
Kunsthochschule für Medien, Köln > Leadership in the arts (12/05/21)
Zentrum für Kunst und Medien, Karlsruhe > A Life Devoted to Leadership in the Arts (24/03/21)
Colleges of Arts Association, Chicago > Book presentation: Failure is What It’s All About (02/12/21)
> More information on and about the book <
Meet & Greet Authors Q&A > go to Archive M-R for Rohwer
Deutscher Kunstverlag > Publisher’s web-bookpage
Steven D. Lavine > Personal web-bookpage
Amazon > Author’s page
Die Seismografie des Fragens - Salis, 2014
> For German Version please click here
7th place on the jury’s list of favorites of the NDR broadcasting company and Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper (05/2014).
Elucidation: “Every questioning,” wrote the philosopher Martin Heidegger, “is a search” – for the truth, of course: what else? And so Jörn Jacob Rohwer asks contemporaries about the truth of their own lives. Perseveringly, with deep knowledge, and – as the title suggests – plumbing the levels and layers of the hidden self, he lets them tell him what they know about themselves, what they remember, what they think – and occasionally what they no longer want to know, because not everyone readily reveals everything. Then he sets off on the trail and gently guides his interlocutor farther, until an accurate likeness results, a fitting portrait. Rower is a perfect master of questioning; he is not inquisitorial – and does not have to be. He conducts his biographical talks sensitively and sometimes mercifully. And we read with pleasure and profit in the lives of others. (Dr. Andreas Wang, Chairman of the Commission)
A century is surveyed in this book against “lack of destiny”, as the author Jörn Jacob Rohwer writes in the essay accompanying his biographical talks. A person who tells something exposes himself, places himself in relation, sets accents, and composes pictures against extinguishment by time and atomization. And he who encounters people as Rohwer does lives from the grace of participation – in other people’s experiences, perceptions, and mental worlds. Each encounter in this book can be read as a “reflection of truth” (Rohwer), but in each talk one conducts, “a glance, a sigh, a surprising turn can suffice to lose it to the moment again”… to transience and the quivering of fleeting images reflected in water.
48 (!) talks between 1995 and 2010. Heinz Berggruen and Ute Lemper, Louis Begley and Tomi Ungerer, John Neumeier and Rosamunde Pilcher, Robert Wilson and Anne Bennent, Montserrat Caballé and Susan Sontag, Yoko Ono and Guy Baron de Rothschild, Ingrid Feltrinelli and David Hockney. And so forth and so on. In a diction that doesn’t use, but feels the word. As if the questioner’s aim in a tête-à-tête is always to convey some of his own inner conflict, solitude, and uncertainty, as well.
Rohwer consciously rejects the term “interview”, because conventional interviews usually seek to putty over a contradiction – between what someone keeps silent about himself and what he elicits from others. In the media market, the questioner more and more frequently presents himself as an insister, that is, as dominating. He doesn’t ask, he tears open and tears down. This is the reptilization of public space. It triggers, in self-defense, the most miserable aspect of what intellectuals of every kind are able to do with each other: the cultivation of what is sayable. So that the unspeakable disappears.
I remember Peter Sloterdijk’s words about encounters with dutiful journalists: “After three or four sentences are exchanged, you feel weary of life”, because of the questions “whose character is that they are invitations to become stupid. Their subtext is always: isn’t it about time you joined us in misery!” Rohwer’s talks are far removed from this terrain of the vocabulary business. But what are they?
A not-stopping at what is merely verifiable. A story told from many positions. Each has force. But, the book says, no position deserves celebration as if one had striven for it and were now at the goal. Oh, what a lesson for parliaments and editorial boards. Rower asks a lot, because he absolutely wants to do one thing: to show himself, as well, in the cage called the “self”. You never know how you could ever come out of this cage – and so it’s worth considering that you could invite others to keep you company in it. When language contemplates life in this way, it becomes a treasure. It becomes a book like this. Becomes dialogue. Harrowing and of inconceivable veracity is the encounter with the Jew and resistance fighter Hans Keilson, the man in search of what’s most essential: “what makes you feel guilty”. Good and evil: “two givens” in us, “with which we have to wrestle daily”. Why did he postpone emigrating back then? “In my stance lay a strong tendency not to grasp reality in its entire dimension … it was easier to live with a deception.” Deception about a system, a situation, relative strengths – this is apparently our timeless, existential basic law. Keilson, and others as well – poets, thinkers, philanthropists – were later almost forgotten in their former homeland, but someone like Heesters came to an arrangement with evil and is feted even in old age; “Isn’t that utter insanity?” asks Rohwer. Keilson: “No, it’s truth: that’s how man is, despite Fascism and Communism.”
It makes no sense to press the spirit of these almost eight hundred pages into the bottle of a review summary. Perhaps like this: reading, you gain a feel for diversity. Be curious to find mystery in the profane, darkness in the obvious, a labyrinth in what is easily surveyed. Enter resiliently the overstrained. Existence as the search of the ascetic soul. For what? For the good, the beautiful, and the just, of course. It can be found; it can be read about here. But every search always also leads to new accretions of the eternally old. Life’s most beautiful grace: not absolutely wanting to resolve contradictions, but rather to create space for them to be able to move in. A thought of Marx’s. The mind can be free even in irredeemable situations. But gracefulness always also provides a reason for horror. Not everything that happens is endurable.
Arthur Miller speaks about skepticism: “An individual can have no better possibility for self-knowledge. But also no better place than America. Artificial limitations like religion or class are less powerful here.” The attorney Heinrich Hannover speaks about being on the Left; he considers Germany’s Social Democratic Party to be merely “in favor of a different form of capitalistic special interest lobbying”; as a socialist, he laments the passing of East Germany’s “reform communism” that “was destroyed by the all-too-rapid reunification”. The composer Krzysztof Penderecki praises the desire to think today in a way that may be completely differently from yesterday: “I try to be honest, but the world looks different to me every day.” The sociologist Richard Sennett is concerned, far beyond “the tiresome Marxist rhetoric” of the opposition between labor and capital, with the question “what values people experience as reliable and confidence-building within flexible structures and how they can maintain themselves in such an unstable world”. He names as a possible answer, “truth to oneself, which entails a sense of responsibility toward one’s neighbor”. Film director Oskar Roehler distances himself from “dogged seriousness and the clerical lack of sensuality” of orthodox Leftists and of the German (film) schools “in which reality raises its ugly head and every nimbleness is sacrificed to a societal approach”. To the same degree that the past is called up in talks, prediction also arises. Anthony Giddens dreams – not without fear – of the “synergy of genetic technology transfer and communication … perhaps we are on the verge of the age of immortal humans, in which our brain activity can be stored in a computer and our body’s parts are replaceable”.
There are and have been giants of dialogue. Fritz J. Raddatz with the dialectical tension of his dialogues in “Die Zeit”. Alexander Kluge with the surreal, fantasizing, sensitive caution of his TV and book interviews. Günter Gaus with his respectfully/ruthlessly persistent explorations of the person. André Müller with his narcissistically provocative, expressive portraits in question and answer in “Die Zeit”. Jörn Jacob Rohwer’s books (“Hinter dem Ruhm” [Behind the fame], “Veruschka. Mein Leben” [Verushka. My life]) thereby enrich a gallery of the significant. His talks are formed pieces. No sound-on-tape stumbling. Questions and answers composed as the driving steps of a texture that feels twinned with dramatic literature. In addition, it is an elegant book. Questions and answers in a well-styled layout, thematic cross-references to other pages in the margins, the paper not profanely thick, extensive biographies, a solid afterword (by editor Patrick Schär). In the foreword, Rohwer himself tells fascinatingly about his philosophy, how the talks came about, and authorization conflicts (for example with Leni Riefenstahl). I confess: my favorite interview is the one with Werner Herzog. “Even if we fail because our designs are so great, the point is that we attempted something. Precisely failing wrests a certain dignity from the existence we are burdened with. The moment of death, in contrast, is a moment of indignity that overshadows everything. “A tough, enchanting trustee of himself. Filming, a pedestrian, forest wanderer, and border crosser. Happy in impassibility – where you forget happiness because pulling through is everything.”
(Hans-Dieter Schütt) Neues Deutschland
This book and its author remind us what really makes a talk: namely, interest, respectful curiosity, the suspense to actually experience something from it, to learn, and to let oneself be enriched. And this with questions that enable the interlocutor to unfold himself and that inspire him to say and relate things that in turn give the other, the questioner, insight and knowledge. In this way, Jörn Jacob Rohwer’s talks are something very special, because they are personal in the literal sense. When one reads them, they actually seem not intended for an audience, a public; rather, one notes instinctively that he wants to know something, he is interested in the person sitting across from him. (…)
The word “authentic” is, unfortunately, an adjective that has been beaten to death and that one really can’t use anymore. But in the case of Jörn Jacob Rohwer, I use it once again, consciously, in a sense – in the pure sense – of being in touch with oneself. For that is the delightful impression that these talks awaken for us readers: here, two people are in touch with themselves – the questioner with his individual personality and the answerer with his. And I think that is Jörn Jacob Rohwer’s unique talent and real art: precisely in letting the kind of people be in touch with themselves who are accustomed to avoid this as far as possible (…), people who are actually never authentic in relation to any public, but who always put on the mask that they consider fitting, depending on the occasion – which is understandable, because that’s how one protects oneself from the mob. And how should these people know that this Jörn Jacob Rohwer does not belong to this mob? That he manages is testified to by his talks, which, collected in the book we can now read and enjoy.
(Dr. Joachim Scholl) Deutschlandradio
He doesn’t conduct conventional interviews. For that, the talks are too meticulously prepared, too profound, and too long. Nor does he write portraits in the ordinary sense. For that, the utterances are too authentic and too strictly oriented toward the question-and-answer format. There is no label for the texts written by Jörn Jacob Rohwer, originally from Rendsburg; the genre of biographical talks comes the closest. They could also be categorized in the field of literature, though those questioned are well-known names. His most recent book, “Seismografie des Fragens” (Seismography of questioning, Salis Verlag) collects 48 of these talks from two decades. The 49-year-old interviews primarily the generation born around 1900 and the war and immediate postwar generations; the result is cross-references and a very individual history of the 20th century. Rohwer’s working method, based in critical empathy, stands out in that even persons who otherwise hermetically shut out the public, like Guy Baron Rothschild and Leni Riefenstahl, open their doors for him. (…) After his meetings, he reworks each talk, working in background information. Questions and answers take on a new, unified tone that takes up the personality of his interlocutor. When reading his texts, as well, Rohwer varies these registers. (…) The subtle detection of forgotten, repressed, or hidden details of biographies everyone is familiar with has been his trademark for many years.
(Gabriele Knoop) Norddeutsche Rundschau
The art of questioning: In his volume of talks, “Die Seismografie des Fragens” (Seismography of questioning), the journalist Jörn Jacob Rohwer uses targeted questions to elicit unknown sides from 48 personalities in the fields of culture and society. From the kitsch author Rosamunde Pilcher through the Reich’s film director Leni Riefenstahl to the combative intellectual Susan Sontag: in the German journalist’s book of talks, disparate personalities gather in harmony. He conducted long talks with them between 1995 and 2010. (…).
“Mrs. Pilcher, you always have a glass of whisky beside you when you write, don’t you?” With such provocative introductory questions, he draws out celebrities, beyond the prefabricated and often-posed answers. “Listen, you can’t formulate it like that – it sounds as if I clutched the bottle from morning till night!” the British lady answered indignantly. In the course of the talk, the otherwise apolitical author will make several statements on politics and society. Even the topic of sexuality, which Pilcher studiously brackets out of her love novels, is raised. She says she is glad that, with her own children, there have been no “major diversions… I mean, lesbians and such…” As backward as she seems in some answers, that’s how strong and independent she appears in others.
The 95-year-old Leni Riefenstahl makes another, even more contradictory impression in conversation – oscillating between consciousness of her role in the Third Reich and the firm conviction that she was a victim. “I was fed up with no one believing me – many still don’t believe me today. And that is the great tragic quality of my life under which I suffer unspeakably,” she says, for example. Elsewhere, however, she underscores that she regarded her fate as justified, since she believed in Hitler. She leaves a deeply riven impression with the interviewer, as well; as he asks himself in the foreword, “Whether she presented the truth or just play-acting – who would seriously want to assess that?”
Rohwer always encounters his interview partners with empathy, but also with the necessary critical attitude. With meticulous preparation and his smart questions, which go back to childhood in the psychoanalytic sense, he is usually able to speak with his interlocutors also about their unknown sides. For example, he talks with the British author Ian McEwan about the latter’s past as a garbage man and his drug escapades. The question, “As a child, were you taught to distinguish good from evil?”, McEwan answers, “Not at all,” and supplements this with an illuminating glimpse into his early work.
Not all discussion partners are equally willing to give candid information. “What else there is to say about my life is in my plays,” informs us the American author Arthur Miller, for example. And Rohwer was disappointed by his encounter with Oscar prizewinner Maximilian Schell because “instead of being confident, jovial, and wise, he displayed the opposite,” as the journalist confided in the SRF broadcast “Aeschbacher”. But usually he finds access to the celebrities, makes his moves as in a chess game, eliciting a response from the other. The talks with these usually older personalities also open up for the reader the widest range of viewpoints on historical events. One of Rohwer’s foci is the Third Reich. He asks particularly persistently about this topic and wants to trace his interlocutor’s ethical, philosophical, and moral positions. The 48-year-old Rohwer rightly calls his volume “the seismography of questioning”, since he manages to capture his interlocutors’ stirrings and emotional tremors with precision. The result is an extremely fascinating, sometimes amusing, and often illuminating read about the contemporary history of the 20th century and the people behind the success.
(Babina Cathomen) KulturtippSchweiz
In reality, he’s a collector, a collector of stories about famous people, stories no one has really noticed yet. The Berlin journalist Jörn Jacob Rohwer brings them to light in intensive, long talks based in mutual trust and empathy. (…) Their famous names appear regularly in various media and one thinks one knows them well – and then, reading Rohwer’s descriptions, one plunges, fascinated, into entirely new realms. (…) As a trained journalist, in his carefully prepared and pre-researched talks, Jörn Jacob Rohwer practices a very differentiated technique of inquiring. Usually it refers to hardly known, surprising facts and illuminates niches whose deeper effects often first enter the interview partner’s consciousness while they narrate and look back. In turn, Rohwer reworks the result so thoroughly that, while the authenticity is preserved, the linguistic and substantive quality achieves literary dimensions and reaches the reader who is interested in cultural history. Over the years, the 49-year-old has established his own style and genre, which won a place on the list of best nonfiction for his newest book.
Rohwer relates that, already as a child, he was conspicuous for his constant questioning (…), molded by the vivid conveying of family history – and by the gap that opened up because of the silence of his grandfather’s generation. Interest in history led him to study and then teach in England and the United States. Questions led him to Isabelle Allende, Arthur Miller, Paloma Picasso, Susan Sontag, and Guy Baron de Rothschild, who granted him the only biographical talk published during Rothschild’s lifetime. Preparation requires “knowledge, imagination, and suggestion,” explains the discoverer and collector of telling examples of individual fates that, stripped of personal “sprucing up”, connect in a global whole. “An image must arise that, in the talk, one brings into balance with what the other and oneself think and feel,” says Rohwer. The “seismograph of questioning” is thus also a seismograph of knowledge.
The author’s essay on the art of questioning is already a pleasure. And there is no question that, after one reads the individual interviews, one finds as good as all the important personalities of the 20th century (and far beyond its limits) in the index of persons at the end of the book. I’d like to briefly sketch two of these intensive talks – although that is a daring undertaking, because they live from their own inherent rhythm.
She is considered an eccentric rebel among fashion designers. When Rohwer interviewed Vivienne Westwood in 1995, she shone and provoked with a collection she called “Vive la Cocotte”. As she sees it, fashion – like everything people do – is closely tied to politics. In her opinion, only thinking for oneself can take a person further. In this interview, she laments the lowbrow quality of our culture, reveals which person of human greatness and elegance she would have liked to clothe, and formulates a knockout answer to the question why men widely dominate the fashion world.
David Hockney, who was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1991, has always thought in pictures and been interested in deep shadow and intense light. Even in a room that Rohwer and Hockney agreed was ugly, the British artist finds something interesting that could give rise to a pictorial concept. Here Hockney narrates completely unpretentiously how he discovered his homosexuality, when he really finds enjoyment, and how he would like it if his bed stood in his studio.
Now you will ask whether, in addition to these talks, I also read all the others in the brief time since the book appeared. Some, but not all. Or do you drink your entire cellar full of good wine to the dregs in one evening? These talks want to be savored, each for itself. They have a long-term effect, because they aren’t conversations that remain on the surface – neither on the part of the questioner, nor on that of the one who answers. They bury themselves deep in the reader’s consciousness and come to the surface again at unexpected times, day and night. That’s what’s wonderful about this book – that, and that its truths flare up, though unobtrusively.
(Susanne Rikl) Kommbuch.com
“Die Seismografie des Fragens” is a special book, already because there is no term for its genre. It is neither specialized nonfiction, nor a novel, but a collection of 48 talks (…). The selection is not random; the majority of those interviewed can look back on an already advanced or lived career. In addition, there seems to be a kind of hidden network among them – somehow their diverse fates seem to touch each other. (…)
In his talks, Rohwer’s interest is in retrospective looks at life, at world views, at certain stances toward existence or toward art. One senses while reading that Rohwer is a questioner who prepared his talks for months. Rohwer goes to the archives, reads what these people have written about themselves or interviews they have already given. And he then confronts his respective interlocutor with knowledge, including from the attics of life, although the information wasn’t secretly provided, but publicly accessible. And that is the second attraction of this work: the well-honed, unorthodox technique of questioning, which, with many personalities, leads to the deeper areas of their world view or emotional state. This in turn gives rise to moments when, at one blow, familiar ways of viewing a person change and many insights, glimpses – illuminating, enriching, disturbing, but also enjoyable – result.
The talks have been edited in such a way that they follow the dates of birth of the interviewees – a chronological order. This, too, produces a fascinating effect, namely, that if one reads these questions about lives in their aggregate, the result is a tour through history, a fragmentary history of the 20th century. What is brilliant about this book is this subjectivity. Because in it, as a mosaic of many hundreds or thousands of often contradictory details, the reality of an era can be grasped.
(Martin Maria Schwarz) Hessischer Rundfunk
Jörn Jacob Rohwer (*1965), German scholar of Jewish Studies, pedagogue, and journalist, is esteemed as a master of the interview who has managed to promote “a journalistic genre (the interview) into literature”. What this assessment means can be found in the more than 870-page volume “Die Seismografie des Fragens”, which has been published by SALIS and truly enables more than just one look at Rohwer’s mastery as a conductor of or partner in conversation.
“Herr Barlog, how long or how short is life at ninety?” “Herr Ludwig, wasn’t it once considered vulgar to talk about money?” “Herr Ungerer, you seem so distracted…” Just a few beginnings of talks, selected arbitrarily by the reviewer from among 45 others, that show how Rohwer approaches his interlocutor. A question that addresses a whole life with just a few words, a question about “once” (followed immediately by an answer from “today”), a question that takes up the momentary state of the interlocutor – and the talk is already under way. And when Tomy Ungerer explains why he seems a bit confused, he thereby reveals so much about himself as a person that one must continue reading with enthusiasm.
Anyone who cherishes biographical talks or carries them out professionally himself will find in this book 48 of these dialogues that indeed often cross the boundary into literature. Thanks to Rohwer’s intelligent dramaturgy and his recognizably meticulous preparation for the talks, he gives his counterpart every opportunity to present his work and his view of life. In the afterword, Rohwer’s technique for beginning a talk is termed, in analogy to chess, the Rohwer Opening. It serves to lure his interlocutor out of his reserve and thereby make it possible to continue developing the following moves. An analogy that can at least initially be made, even if biographical talks of value must never aim at checkmating the dialogue partner. And Rohwer’s talks don’t do so – they are timeless and without any ambition to ”vanquish” the other. And behind all the diversity of the interlocutors, they show first and above all the universality of being human – whether a person is named Riefenstahl or Penderecki, Fry or Tabori.
(Archi W. Bechlenberg) Das Herrenzimmer
Veruschka - DuMont, 2011
“An impressive biography and contemporary history.”
“One of the highlights of the Frankfurt Book Fair: in conversation with the journalist Jörn Jacob Rohwer, for the first time, (Vera Lehndorff) tells of her eventful life.”
“Veruschka’ is a biography in interview form (…), also because it was simpler for (Vera Lehndorff) to answer questions than to say without prompting that often in life she had stood at the brink of death.”
“The conversations have been conducted by an experienced author: Jörn Jacob Rohwer. And what a life he displays in this glorious book. (…) The writer as a partner, Veruschka in her original tone, revealing surprises from her life – an autobiography as it should be.”
“One of the greatest icons in 20th century fashion and celebrity culture, Vera Lehndorff aka Veruschka saw to it that she became one of those figures whose public presence stands in marked contrast to what the world really knows about them. She has experienced more highs and lows than one life can accommodate, but has also created an image so far removed from reality that the thought of her talking about herself seems almost absurd. But here it is, her autobiography, based on conversations spanning an entire year with author Jörn Jacob Rohwer. As anyone who’s ever met her will know, it’s to the author’s credit that she sounds here like a real person talking about her real life.”
“In her biography, which the journalist Jörn Jacob Rohwer composed in talks, (Vera Lehndorff) looks back on a life that was so typical of the extremely upheaval-marked 20th century and simultaneously unique. (…) A life between war, expulsion, the brave new fashion world, finding herself, and dealing with the past. (…) ‘Thank God,’ muses (Lehndorff), ‘at some point you reach the point where you can live with your history.”
“One of the most beautiful young women of the 20th century was the model and the current performer ‘Veruschka’. In the 60s, the photographer Richard Avedon, for example, took downright divine pictures of her. She shone in Antonioni’s film ‘Blow Up’, terribly gaunt due to illness and yet full of a vibrating radiance. (…) In his interview biography, Jörn Jacob Rohwer has now coaxed out of the former supermodel a life retrospective that also seems to vibrate, and not merely because of the magnificent photo illustrations.”
“The spectacular photos aren’t what make this book a sensation. (…) Suddenly (Vera Lehndorff’s) success story rises from the lightness of appearance over dizzying abysses: recurrent depressions, suicide attempts. But it’s not what one might immediately think, not the ruthlessness of the industry that plunged the model, the actress, the artist into existential crises. The woman with the unique look turns out to be typical of her history-buffeted generation. The death of her father, Heinrich Count von Lehndorff, whom the Nazis executed as a resistance fighter; the overburdened mother; and the rigidity of postwar institutional upbringing left their traces. “Back then no one asked about psychological suffering, especially not in a child,” says (Lehndorff) in conversation with the journalist Jörn Jacob Rohwer, who has skillfully enriched the subjective retrospection with historical facts, documents of the times, and diary entries.”
Neue Zürcher Zeitung
“In this multiply interrupted and at least twice almost suicidally-ended life, much fits together only imperfectly, does not add up, and leads nowhere: fragments of a biography that was violently sent off course or voluntarily abandoned life paths once chosen. Here, a woman never arrives, is always on a hunt for herself, seemingly shamelessly reveals herself as a projection screen for a public greedy for images, and then again is a hermit, reeling on the brink of psychosis, searching for meaning. Curious, open-minded, at the same time eaten up by anxieties, self-destructive and generous, distrustful and open, extraverted and like a snail in its shell. The flashing of the cameras thrills her and frightens her, warms her and isolates her. She shows herself and, again and again, withdraws. And of all things it is thereby her body, which she long disliked, that frightens her, that leaves her in the lurch – her playground, her realm of exploration, sometimes as if improvised, sometimes obsessively. Veruschka, little Vera, as gently whispered in Russian, is an artificial figure, but Vera, the Prussian Deutsche, is a disciplined body artist. To this day, ‘Veruschka – My Life: The Alter Ego’ now presents this colorfully enigmatic and sometimes very sad existence in a book. (…) It is not a true biography, but more a mosaic of questions from the delicately insistent author Jörn Jacob Rohwer and of the sometimes concrete, sometimes digressing answers. Plus reports from contemporary witnesses, newspaper clippings, diary entries, paintings, photos. Scraps of a chronicle that provide a concentrated, but incomplete picture. Vera/Veruschka is here, divulges herself, and yet is evasive. What remains is the lust for life, for truth, for authenticity.”
“She didn’t want to become one of these ‘boring nobility bimbos’ under any circumstances. And Vera Gottliebe Anne Countess von Lehndorff truly succeeded in that. Under the name Veruschka, she was the first German supermodel to take the international art and fashion world by storm. The bony, tall beauty from the region of Masuria graced the covers of ‘Vogue’ and ‘Life’, played in Antonioni’s cult film ‘Blow Up’, won respect as a painter and performance artist, dined with Salvador Dali, smoked dope with Peter Fonda, and partied with Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger. In ‘Veruschka – My Life’, the 72-year-old speaks about the rollercoaster ride of this avant-garde, nomadic life. Including nightmarish memories.”
“The reminiscences of her early years are the saddest, but also the most powerful passages in the book, long stretches of which constructed as an interview.”
“In dialog with the journalist Jörn Jacob Rohwer, (Vera Lehndorff) tells of a life that began in a country ‘that no longer exists today’. The von Lehndorff family has its roots in Steinort in the region of Masuria. Vera is the second of four daughters. World War II began a few months after her birth. After the outbreak of the war, her father, initially clearly a sympathizer with National Socialism, began increasingly distancing himself from the ‘Führer’ and his henchmen. In 1941, Heinrich Count von Lehndorff joined the military resistance against Adolf Hitler and worked as a liaison officer in ‘Operation Walküre’. ‘His task was to recruit people for the resistance,” the daughter remembers the little she was told about her father. When the July 20, 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler in the ‘Führer Headquarters’ failed, von Lehndorff was among those arrested and was soon executed. The daughter was separated from her mother and placed in a home. (…) Her memories of her father and life in Masuria have long since faded. Remaining to Vera Lehndorff are the traumas of someone born into the war. Like so many of her generation in Germany, it would take ‘Veruschka’ a whole life to deal with them.”
“When the woman who became a myth as an external appearance now opens a glimpse deep into her interior, she doesn’t omit touchy themes. In talks with Jörn Jacob Rohwer, who supplements Lehndorff’s retrospection for the book with diary excerpts and newspaper articles, she reports on early suicide plans, for example. She makes public how sad she was that for many years her father was hardly mentioned at memorial ceremonies for July 20 would-be assassins of Hitler. She hints at her disappointment that Marion Countess Dönhoff, Lehndorff’s godmother, seldom stood by her mother in the difficult times after the war. And then there are the breakdowns, depressions, phases of withdrawal (…), and later too, when she wants to be taken seriously as an artist. Shortly before her 35th birthday, she has a psychotic breakdown and plunges from a cliff to the beach in Greece. Today she knows that she must have fallen like a cat. Her will to survive, she says, is apparently very strong. (…) Summit and abyss, lightness and pain clearly lie close together for Vera Lehndorff.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung am Sonntag
“A smart woman, no question about it, and also smart not to write her life story herself but to let a – smart! – journalist like Jörn Jacob Rohwer interview her. That’s what makes these memories of a life between her homeland East Prussia and the catwalks, studios, and galleries of Paris and New York so vibrant. (…) In the end, (Vera Lehndorff) always did only what she thought was right, showing what character means even as an early supermodel. No wonder the photographer Richard Avedon was so taken with her: ‘Veruschka is the most beautiful woman in the world. She’s one of a kind.’ For: ‘She invented herself!’ What, after all, is beauty alone?”
“(Lehndorff’s) encounters and collaboration with countless famous persons, alone, are fascinating in this continuously illustrated biography: the product of months of dialog with the author, whose extensive research made him an outstandingly informed prompter. Supplemented with letters and excerpts from diaries, (Rohwer) shows this unearthly beauty’s development into a contemplative woman who answers with clear reflection, without exposing intimate details. This impressive biography belongs in – great – libraries.”
Hinter dem Ruhm - Steidl, 2005
“A beautiful, intelligent book”
Bernhard Schlink on Rohwer’s book
“Your book is of great interest to me. It’s very well written and positively different from other collections of conversations.”
Christa Wolf in a letter to the author
“Heavens, that was harder than three hours on Sigmund Freud’s couch!”
Stephen Fry, after a conversation with the author
“The way you get people talking is special and unique. What kind of a gift or ability do you have that brings people to really talk about themselves – and gladly, apparently?”
Vera Countess Lehndorff /Veruschka in a letter to the author
“He is feared and respected as once was Günther Gaus with his legendary television program “In Conversation”. (…) Jörn Jacob Rohwer is a master of the interview, or better: a virtuoso of continuing conversations which, for ten years now, he has led with people of prominence and often of world fame, whose names are known to every one of us (…)
Interviews are games with unequally distributed roles. One person asks questions, the other has to answer them. In our medial society, interviews belong to the indispensable program formats: Short and to-the-point, the interviewed is to express his views. His competencies are desired, his personality is of no interest. Different the conversation: it is led by the partners eye-to-eye, concerns personal, often very private matters and does not remain, if possible, on the surface, but provides a lively, in-depth portrait of the person. Jörn Jacob Rohwer has specialized in that. He wants to know what is hiding behind the etiquette of the fame or the popularity that society has attached to its celebrities of culture and academics (…). Nearly all conversations that Rohwer collects here give away the friendly, even candid, atmosphere in which they were made. As for example with composer Krysztof Penderecki in Warsaw, with theatre producer George Tabori in Berlin, with film director Werner Herzog in Los Angeles. Extremely characteristic encounters are successful with authors like Susan Sontag in New York or Doris Lessing in London. (…) The conversation with Arthur Miller (…) belongs to the most successful of the whole volume. It shows the famous dramatist as we used to know him: intellectual and introverted, polite and tolerant, yet unrelenting in the ethical positions he represents in his works.
Norddeutscher Rundfunk (Broadcast)
“A modern form of transcendence is what attracts us to conversations with celebrities, as a private audience with extraordinary people makes us feel as if we were part of an intensified reality. Fame today, in times of democratization, is “synonymous with withdrawal and transience”, writes Jörn Jacob Rohwer in the epilog to his collection of conversations titled “Behind Fame”. At the same time, Rohwer believes that fame causes more sensation and desire today than it has ever before. (…) He manages to complement his meticulous preparation with spontaneous reactions to the responses given, so that every conversation develops a unique atmosphere.”
Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Newspaper)
“Conversations like those Jörn Jacob Rohwer conducted for this book must have been fueled by curiosity. Besides, the best discussions are always those that don’t know anything, but want to learn something (…) It’s exciting when a conversation is a kind of complete lack of questions. When the interviewer moves freely in the life of the interviewee and is permitted to feel his or her surprise and thawing. (…) Rower’s ambition is dialog: and so he is dramatist and dramaturge in one, and a truth is revealed that a portrait conversation has to measure up to: written conversations, if you please, must turn into a piece of art.
To write is to conceal one’s self. Is that what made an author like Rohwer, who was patronized by the Countess Marion Dönhoff, dive into the genre of conversation as deeply as he did? Did he take up an opportunity to refer to himself, but only indirectly? Strictly taken, a conversation can be regarded as a report of loss. What people say naturally contradicts what they do. This contradiction is contested with perseverance, heavily denied, and mercilessly deemed soluble, especially where Lutheran principles have dug deeply into our understanding of civilization. It cannot be solved, however; the word develops a life of its own in the face of the deed. What we say, is a world. Rohwer uncovers twenty worlds. A game, but one consisting of the verity of vibrating discussion situations.
Whenever our speech takes up a public function, it more or less signals the insurmountable distance between our selves and the image that expresses us. This is what any common interview is about: When a question is asked, a person usually gives way to an unexpressed pressure to justify and legitimize, and his answer pretends to be one singular valid opinion. This, however, is untruthful as it leaves out anything which, at the moment of questioning, does not seem supportive of the proclaimed opinion. A conversational tends not to make use of all doubts and objections the interviewee would have to deal with, if only he would think further before answering. In a conversational situation, we thus use speech in a way to position ourselves between concealment and disclosure. Experience shows, however, that the chances of being represented holistically and unmistakably in this situation are slim. The information we impart ends up being rather general. Rohwer’s conversations are well aware of the aforementioned shortcoming. They do not want opinion, though. They are striving for situations in which the portrayed individuals are not opening up to a stranger but to themselves. Indeed, the interviewee candidly talking to himself would be the interviewer’s dream; the only thing that would be left for him to do would be to sit
there and be silent. The idea is surreal and very close to art, which does not simply reproduce perspectives, but shifts them. In this space, there is little point in pursuing individual interviews and in taking notes on statements. These are twenty short stories, built with precise language and not a single word placed randomly. Here you have the mentioned distance that Rohwer takes to the common professional interview which is immediately transcribed from a tape recording. In the middle of their precision and finely carved stylistics, these portraits are glamorous celebrations of the preliminary, interim, fragmentary. Above all, they are an indication that, in the world of the factual, there is a world of ideas with which people exalt or relativize themselves, however this may be judged case by case.
The conversationalist Jörn Jacob Rohwer is aware of the sketched contradiction between the authenticity of everything that is said and an authentic self. That’s why his interest could not be to avoid this tension, but to deal with it in a way that corresponded with his own way of thinking and design for living. None of the talks strain to be original, even less do the questions crave for attention at all. Although it focuses exclusively on prominent figures, the book radiates a pleasant everyday quality in its tremors, uncertainties, and existential troubles. Between quiet, unfulfilled loves and extraverted breakouts. – The author knows the gradients between the extreme of a flatteringly conducted conversation and the other extreme of exposing the interlocutor, in which the questioner clearly aims to intellectually celebrate himself. Rohwer’s conducting of the talk never simply settles down in the tepid middle between the two poles, of course. And he did not succumb to the complacence of a technique that is called the “statement” today. “Hinter dem Ruhm” (Behind Fame) is a book that brings a journalistic genre into literature.”
Neues Deutschland (Newspaper)
“‘I feel that it is a downright obligation of any educated human being to become conscious of what is happening inside him as well as around him, and to preserve this on paper. To me, that is the meaning of life.’ These words from the conversation with Ian McEwan could serve as a motto for the whole book.”
“Like no other, Rohwer achieves to have famous contemporaries respond in ways that never show façades but uncover foundations, emotions, and sometimes even secrets. His book is highly recommendable.”
Radio Berlin Brandenburg (Broadcast)
“Conversations on paper are no longer mere conversations. When the interviewer manages to put the spoken word into readable form, it becomes literature. Jörn Jacob Rohwer has succeeded pleasantly in this with his book “Behind Fame”. The conversations in this book have become literature, as could happen with a published exchange of letters or a personal diary that can be read like a novel (…) It is admirable how knowledgeable and well-prepared Rohwer asks his questions. Every single one of the conversations deserves special mention (…) A well-working, well-written book”
Hessischer Rundfunk (Broadcast)
“With his extensive and deep-sounding conversations, Jörn Jacob Rohwer cultivates an art that has become rare here in these parts and that does not very often find expression in publications. To Rohwer, it is always about a great deal more than just interviews. To him, everything circles around the exchange and the daring exploit of a connection that two people risk who differ from each other in age, origin, history, and experience, when they meet one single time to have a conversation and never see each other again.”
Leipziger Volkszeitung (Newspaper)
“A kaleidoscope of human life-journeys which took place removed from conventional lifeplanning. Rohwer demonstrates a feel for impressive personalities who are to be discovered behind their fame, and he sensitively accommodates to his partners-in-conversation. The particular appeal of these conversations lies in the close and familiar atmosphere the interviewer creates. The reader thus experiences the feeling of personally sitting next to Louis Begley, Rosamunde Pilcher, or Bernhard Schlink.”
Rheinischer Merkur (Newspaper)
There were a number of tough nuts for Jörn Jacob Rohwer to crack among his conversation-partners (…) But most of the artists and intellectuals willingly responded to the Berlin authors’ inquiries. The result: Clever, candid, precious conversations with exceptional people.”
Der Tagesspiegel (Newspaper)
“In a dialogic process and concentrated atmosphere, Rohwer succeeds in uncovering the character and personality of the person questioned. (…) The interviewed present themselves open in a comfortable way, without the exhibitionist confessions one knows from television and popular magazines. The personalities of those questioned become clear in a suitable and plausible way. One believes to have known them for a long time… Internal motivations (…) become evident in an unpretentious, explanatory manner. The artists speak openly about their personal developments, about their convictions, and also about their faiths. (…) The con-versations lead to the essential without beating about the bush and without appearing too intellectual or analytical. Full of anecdotes, they are extremely entertaining as well. Notably, these conversations are coined by the disillusionment of our time. Big social designs and hopes have been replaced by the awareness of an individual responsibility.”
Badische Zeitung (Newspaper)
“It is exemplary how Rohwer understands to balance the line between making further inquiries and accepting boundaries. For this read, it does not matter whether or not one already knows the artists, who come from various fields. Rohwer concentrates on the individual in front of him, but all the while, he never forgets that this person has created something that needs to be named.”
Hamburger Abendblatt (Newspaper)
“An insatiable curiosity and a strong will drive Jörn Jacob Rohwer: he wants his questions about the lives of human beings answered. Out of this curiosity evolved the book “Behind Fame”, conversations with the great of our time (…) Rohwer is like a collector of butterflies, who catches especially beautiful and exotic kinds, lets them wriggle (and then fly again). His secret: He led his conversationpartners toward a suggestive truth, without offending or insulting them: ‘Whoever asks questions insensitively and unprepared, should not be surprised when receiving platitudes. The meaning of journalism is to search for authenticity and integrity and to find out what nobody knows.’”
Schleswig-Holsteinische Landeszeitung (Newspaper)
“Celebrities’ memoirs often slide into retrospectively glorifying self-portraits. Conversations with celebrities, on the other hand, can at the least hint at unfounded matters and contradictions, if not reveal them. This is ensured through the spontaneity of the situation and through consequent inquiries of the one asking the questions. The Berlin author Jörn Jacob Rohwer has “molted” into a specialist for “profile-conversations” with personalities of international acclaim who have already taken their place in our collective memory during their lifetimes. Rohwer’s selection of conversations “Behind Fame” allows far more than mere personal insights into extraordinary life-histories, as again and again, we dive deeply into historical abysses of the 20th century—first and foremost in matters of anti-Semitism. Many of those interviewed-from London author Doris Lessing to theatre director George Tabori—have experienced World War II first-hand as young adults. The conversations do not get lost in hints, mostly because Rohwer lards his questions with biographical material and well-fitting quotations. That way, they remain comprehensible. More so: Rohwer’s extensive and thorough preparation heightens the questioned personalities’ respect toward him. Often, their obsessions prove to be the foundation of their glory. For example, the popularity of New York neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, who himself frequents an analyst regularly, is rooted in a traumatic experience he had as a youth in boarding school. Similar can be observed about homosexual American author Edmund White’s obsession with writing: a chronic insecurity paired with a desire for recognition is what drives him. – Again and again, Jörn Jacob Rohwer succeeds in creating an atmosphere of openness during his two to five hour long encounters, an intense interplay of question and answer. And (it is) good to be able to follow the flow of memories as well as the argumentations of his partners-in-conversation so completely undisturbed while reading.”
Deutsche Welle (Broadcast)
“Perhaps it is true what Rohwer believes: that the long conversation with cultural greats, touching on intimate matters, is not that unusual, it is just that Germans cannot deal with them. Be that as it may, here, one finds Berggruen about Frida Kahlo and her “Giant” named Diego Riviera; Edmund White about homosexual loving in an empty skyscraper (before Aids!); and Susan Sontag about her rapturous call to the Manns in their Californian exile.”
Perlentaucher (Online Literature Reviews)
“Prominent figures of the world of the mind (…) in conversation at eye-level. Unveiling personal and often very private details. Conversations that become reflections of distinctive biographies. And that (Rohwer) prepares for weeks, even months. Here, every question is to the point. And, what did he see behind the fame? Genuine, self-willed, and also ambiguous people who defend their dignity, credibility, and identity. A book worth reading.”
Schweriner Volkszeitung (Newspaper)
“These conversations with prominent personalities do not belong to the kind of “what-you-never-really-wanted-to-find-out” (…) Mostly, the conversations, led in intimate atmosphere, circle around questions of life and meaning, questions we all work on mentally, and which, again and again, we fail to answer.”
Berner Zeitung (Newspaper)
“Jörn Jacob Rohwer gets the Jet-Set Intelligentsia talking. The finest form of gossip is the conversation with intelligent and famous partners. Rohwer has specialized in that: with notable success.”
Frankfurter Rundschau (Newspaper)