»I don’t know anyone who has died of AIDS«

An interview with Simon Froehling

With his first novel „Lange Nächte Tag“ (approx. „A Long Night’s Day“), the 32-year old Swiss author Simon Froehling was very much attracted to the subject of love and HIV. We caught up with him last May at a reading in the Volksbühne Theater’s Roter Salon.

Stimmen in der Stadt: What interests you about the subject of HIV in 2010?

Simon Froehling: One aspect is sure: HIV to a certain extent has become invisible. And this has caused the subject to be less discussed. I observe a great willingness to take risks. And a point that I never read about is the allure of the risk. Since the book was published three very young acquaintances of mine have become infected with the virus. And I would say for all three it was about playing with fire and the possible acceptance of infection was involved.

Stimmen in der Stadt: Why would anyone consciously expose themselves to an HIV infection?

Simon Froehling: In my novel there is an encounter between Patrick and Jirka, who fall in love with each other. Jirka becomes infected with HIV. Patrick notices that Jirka begins to distance himself because of the virus; he experiences an identity crisis in an incomprehensible way. In the book there is both the confrontation that Jirka highlights, and a chain. The virus as a chain that holds them together. That is what Patrick is looking for. Closeness and equality are strong aspects for him. Or also something outside the partnership: to be somehow depended on. That is a theme that has been less dealt with, these feelings of bonding. I have only read about it once: I think it was in a 2005 edtion of “Rolling Stone” magazine.

Stimmen in der Stadt: Patrick seems to have a real longing to get the virus.

Simon Froehling: Yes exactly, in order to bridge the differences, the gap that has suddenly appeared. To also have this third element that has broken into the relationship.

Stimmen in der Stadt: And then it provides something like a kick…

Simon Froehling: In a society where gays are becoming more accepted, the wish to be subversive is perhaps growing, towards being different, something that was much more prevalent earlier. An ugly paradox but one that I can understand. I can therefore understand precisely this virtual, superficial world in which my characters move. We know that diseases of all kinds can result in identity problems because they occupy everything and can run your life.

Stimmen in der Stadt: „An angry, scandalous, profoundly endearing book“: that is how your novel is presented in book stores. Let’s start with the first adjective: angry about what?

Simon Froehling: My protagonist Patrick is angry that he has been lead this far, that is has come to this. It is very frustrating having to always think about all of it. I know this from myself that one is continually confronted with the fact that something really beautiful – namely sex, whether for pleasure or for love – can be deadly.

Stimmen in der Stadt: That is nothing new.

Simon Froehling: No but it’s nonetheless the truth. And I also understand that sometimes, perhaps under the influence of drink and drugs, you think: “The hell with it. Whatever happens, happens. I’m gonna have a hot night.” And then it’s maybe too late. And of course there’s the anger at oneself, for having done it.

Stimmen in der Stadt: Your protagonists communicate with each other on internet sites, including the “Blue Salon”. They communicate differently than in the 80s or 90s, when HIV and Aids finally took on an important place in literature. Does the virus also communicate differently today?

Simon Froehling: Yes the communication has shifted to the virtual and in this sense the virus also: it is no longer visible. We no longer see the images. We know them from old films but dead from Aids are no longer part of our awareness – at least much, much less. This is surely a generation question. Just yesterday after a reading I spoke with an elderly gentleman who still has all of these images. As I said “we don’t see these images anymore” his answer was “and I don’t see my friends anymore because they are all dead.” Personally I know quite a few infected persons but I don’t know anyone who has died from Aids. And you can’t determine who is infected by looking at them. As I said: the virus has become invisible. And something that is invisible and is no longer really tangible, naturally takes on less communicative proportions than something directly in front of your eyes.

Stimmen in der Stadt: Is this why it perhaps needs a new voice?

Simon Froehling: In my book there are passages where this is addressed: how does one call the virus, what is the vocabulary used to discuss it? Both of my characters in the novel call it “the plague”. Maybe they use this term ironically to soften something that is horrible.

Stimmen in der Stadt: Is there a new tabooing of HIV and AIDS?

Simon Froehling: I find it alarming that I am constantly asked „aren’t you afraid that you’re now labeled as the Aids author?” It’s really terrible that anyone would harbor the feeling I would write myself into exclusion just because I tackle such a subject.

Stimmen in der Stadt: In any case the critics do not see you on those sidelines. We wish you many readers for your book and thank you sincerely for the interview.

Interview by Martin Kostezer

English translationby  Jerome Frazer

Simon Froehling: Lange Nächte Tag. Bilgerverlag, Zürich 2010. € 21,80