Monday, September 03, 2012

A Translation of Immanuel Kant by Thomas Bernhard

(For a PDF version of this translation, go to The Worldview Annex.)

…which isn’t to say
that one must imitate life in the theater…

[Ce qui ne veut pas dire qu’il faut faire de la vie au théâtre.]

                                                Antonin Artaud

Dramatis Personae

FRIEDRICH, a parrot

On the High Seas


Two folding-chairs, six non-folding chairs
The steward is standing behind the right folding-chair and saluting
Enter Kant and his wife, followed by Ernst Ludwig (carrying the covered cage containing Friedrich in his right hand, and a bag of birdseed in his left) 
Steam-whistles sound

STEWARD springing to attention
Good morning, Professor Kant
Kant steps in front of him, appraises the folding-chair
Wind west-
Professor Kant

It’s cool today
to the steward
today you must cover up my husband
especially well

Wind west-northwest
Excellent weather conditions
excellent Professor
steam-whistles sound
Mrs Kant
I have personally consulted the chief meteorologist
turning to Kant
on your instructions Professor Kant

All possible gradations
of eccentricity
from those of planets
to those of comets

Last night my husband requested
a second blanket
but nobody brought him
a second blanket
He has suffered since his sixth year
Steam-whistles sound
from a tendency to catch colds

Nature works here
as it does elsewhere
through imperceptible stages*
the steward and Mrs Kant adjust Kant’s folding-chair
steam-whistles sound
Kant observing the two of them
I am talking about the precisely circular motion
of the elementary
albeit about the purposelessness
of nature
ladies and gentlemen
suddenly, while Mrs Kant and the steward are adjusting Kant’s folding-chair, to Ernst Ludwig
Don’t remove the cover abruptly
don’t do it abruptly
Friedrich’s eyesight
is priceless
So-called scribes
and parrots
have the most sensitive eyesight
The true philosopher
in himself
quite slowly
only little by little
should you remove his cover
Set him down
Ernst Ludwig makes as if to set the cage down in a non-folding chair
Not there
not in that chair
in the chair next to my chair
Friedrich in the closest proximity
points with his cane at the non-folding chair next to his folding-chair
put him there

There there

Naturally there
Ernst Ludwig sets the cage down in the non-folding chair next to
Kant’s folding-chair

Such an intelligent
such a supremely philosophical animal

Psittacus erithacus
the philosopher in himself
of himself

Psittacus erithacus

He looked quite listless
this morning
but then my husband said his name
My husband said Friedrich Friedrich Friedrich


Imperative imperative imperative
Ernst Ludwig makes as if to tug at the cover of the cage

KANT striking him on the finger with his cane
No not
like that
little by little

Little by little

Everybody’s making such
oafish hand-gestures
and disturbing
and frightening him

MRS KANT to Kant
Aren’t you going to sit down

KANT as if he has not heard her
with a gentleness of touch
tugs gently at the cover of the cage
to Ernst Ludwig
tug at the cover
extremely circumspectly
only little by little
can the light
penetrate the cage
Psittacus erithacus
is the most sensitive of species

MRS KANT to Ernst Ludwig in an accusing tone
Ernst Ludwig
you’ve been with us fully twenty-five years now
and you still don’t know how to
take the cover off the cage
Ernst Ludwig joins Kant in tugging at the cover of the cage

Like this
little by little
Ernst Ludwig starts tugging slightly faster
Kant strikes him on the finger
Slowly I say
The two of them tug at the cover
Kant suddenly
Not yet
not yet

MRS KANT to Kant
Do sit down

KANT steps up to his folding-chair
The further
the dispersed parts
of the original material
are from the sun
the weaker the force
that induces them to sink down
sits down in the folding-chair
Oh no
tries to stand back up but is unable to do so on his own
Mrs Kant and the steward help him
Sometimes it seems to me that
I hear downright poorly
On the other hand
the more poorly I see
the better I hear
A one-of-a-kind race
for eyesight
my one and only hope
to the steward
Everything in order
steam-whistles sound
on the high seas

STEWARD springing to attention
Everything in order
on the high seas

KANT sits back down, and his folding-chair is adjusted, then
I must
have the ideal line
licks his right index finger and holds it high in the air
ideal line

STEWARD springing to attention
ideal line

Ideal line ideal line

MRS KANT to Ernst Ludwig
Pull Friedrich
up here right next to my husband
Ernst Ludwig pulls Friedrich up right next to Kant
Now that Friedrich is up here right next to him
my husband will find the ideal line

KANT as if searching for the ideal line, with outstretched arms
The ideal line
Now I have the ideal line

Imperative imperative imperative

KANT leaning back
to the origins of the celestial bodies
into the primeval matter
My name is Leibniz he said
into the fundus of history
the constriction of the pupil
is traceable to overexertion
The steward swathes Kant’s upper body and lower body in two blankets each
The view
of the causes
Columbia University
is awarding me an honorary doctorate
to the Steward
There are no better
than the ophthalmologists
of Columbia University
It is no accident that I have received
an invitation from the very university
that has the best ophthalmologists in the world
Kant will not lose his eyesight
Between one and two in the morning
my wife reads to me
my new Estimation of the Vital Forces
An absurdity
on the high seas
but by means of it I am better able to put up with the turbines
This hour of reading has become absolutely essential
Laws have no bearing
on any instances of motion
in the absence of a consideration of their velocity
Luxury fanatic
It is so deep
much too deep
The steward and Mrs Kant adjust Kant’s folding-chair
is the most aristocratic of distinguishing traits
among comets
tugs slowly at the cover of the cage to the astonishment
of Ernst Ludwig
Psittacus erithacus
inspects Friedrich
Everything in order

KANT to Friedrich
The proceedings have commenced

The proceedings have commenced

KANT to Ernst Ludwig
Sit down
you blockhead
to Mrs Kant
Do sit down my dear
with the assistance of Ernst Ludwig suddenly covers Friedrich
back up, licking his right index finger and
holding it up
Full speed ahead

STEWARD springing to attention
full speed ahead
Mrs Kant and Ernst Ludwig sit down

Central force
Ernst Ludwig stands up and adjusts the cover of the cage and sits back down
because the sun’s axial rotation
does not yet by a long way
equal Mercury’s velocity,
cocks an ear towards Friedrich 

Does not yet
by a long way equal

orbital velocity
to Mrs Kant
You should not have eaten
the stew yesterday evening
to Ernst Ludwig
The conscience of the world
is dead in you
conclusively dead

Ernst Ludwig’s sister
is dead
writes her husband

KANT to Ernst Ludwig
Be of good cheer
on the high seas
no possibility
of attending a funeral
How old was your sister


As old as a cat’s tongue is long
as old as a cat’s tongue is long
cocks an ear towards Friedrich

As old as a cat’s tongue is long
as old as a cat’s tongue is long
Mrs Kant beckons the steward over to her side and whispers something in his ear

KANT simultaneously to Friedrich
which are according to nature
The resistance of all parts
the particle of the original material


MRS KANT to the steward
Bring us the menu
The steward makes as if to leave
Mrs Kant calls him back
Listen steward
The steward turns back to Mrs Kant
Mrs Kant while Kant whispers something to Friedrich
My husband would like some tripe
do you understand
whispers something into the steward’s ear

KANT, diverted once again by Friedrich, and gazing out at the ocean, speaks at the same time as his wife
A person who has gone blind
always hears more excellently

More excellently more excellently

my name is Leibniz
said Leibniz
Exit steward

This evening
there’s going to be an engagement party on board

An engagement party

The millionairess
is treating the betrothed to a marzipan torte
that is three meters in diameter

I have the ideal line

Three meters in diameter
exactly one hundred seventy-six centimeters tall
like the groom-to-be
do you know who the groom-to-be is

The optical illusion
of the nineteen comets is deceptive


The mineral collector from Gelsenkirchen
is the groom-to-be
And do you know
who she is

A baroness from Clairvaux
from Clairvaux

The specific density of the stuff
is always the same

The millionairess is traveling
to America for the third time
she has been working on raising the Titanic
for twenty years
Her grandmother
went down with the Titanic
and with her grandmother sank
all the family jewels
The millionairess is from Ludwigsburg

Ludwigsburg Ludwigsburg Ludwigsburg

KANT inquiringly
From Ludwigsburg

Coal coke metal

KANT to Friedrich
Psittacus erithacus

Psittacus erithacus

She makes linocuts
she has even once produced
an exhibition of her linocuts in America

The optical illusion
of the nineteen comets is deceptive

She says
she knows you
Moreover the captain has read
your Eccentricity of the Planetary Orbits
On the last evening
before our arrival in America
we shall be his guests
at the Chinese lantern party
at his dinner table
along with the cardinal
and the admiral
and with Friedrich naturally
and Ernst Ludwig naturally

And Ernst Ludwig naturally
Enter the steward, who gives Mrs Kant the menu
Kant suddenly, sitting up
That is too deep
much too deep
Steam-whistles sound
I must have the ideal line
The steward adjusts Kant’s folding-chair
Kant loses patience with Ernst Ludwig and strikes him with his cane on
the knee
Why are you sitting there
and gaping like that
help the steward

Help the steward help the steward
Ernst Ludwig leaps up and helps the steward

Do you think
I pay you to do nothing
Ernst Ludwig has fallen to his knees before Kant and is swathing Kant’s feet in the blankets
Kant is holding his cane with its bottom tip touching Ernst Ludwig    
Creatures like you are all paid
for doing nothing but loaf about
We hired you to be our servant
Friedrich and I
but we are paying for the services of an idiot
you aren’t even worth the headpieces
that I have given you during the twenty-five years
that you have been with us
to Mrs Kant
How long has Ernst Ludwig been in my
and in Friedrich’s
and in our employ how long

Twenty-five years

KANT exclamatorily
Twenty-five years
to Ernst Ludwig
You are every bit as imbecilic as you were on the first day
You still can’t ever manage
to wrap my feet properly
and when I tell you
to stir my pap every morning
you never manage to do it
to say nothing of your performance of the rest of your duties
Friedrich deserved a better servant
to the others
I’m obliged to be constantly worrying
that this idiot
who has been carrying my priceless Friedrich
behind me for fully twenty-five years
will drop my Friedrich
and then my Friedrich will be dead
One fine day
he’s going to drop him
thwacks Ernst Ludwig on his upper back and addresses him in a hectoring tone
and then it’ll be time
for the likes of you to settle up
Right now time is on your side
but the day is already in sight
when everything will gang up on you      
and on imbeciles everywhere
licks his right index finger and holds it high
precisely west-northwest

West-northwest Professor Kant

on the high seas
Kant has
never left
they say
Where Kant is is Königsberg

STEWARD with a bolster
What about your bolster

Give him the bolster

Bolster bolster bolster

Give me the bolster
The steward places the bolster under Kant’s neck
The earth has something of its own
that we may liken to the dispersal of
the comic vapors and their tails
Turns to Friedrich and whispers something in his ear

MRS KANT at the same time
From time to time my husband
suffers from the thinning of the air

KANT with his head raised
The key-date
will be a Tuesday

Will be a Tuesday

MRS KANT immersed in the menu
On Tuesday we’re arriving

STEWARD springs to attention
If all goes well
we’ll arrive on Tuesday

KANT licks his right index finger and holds it high
West-northwest isn’t it

West-northwest Professor Kant
exit the steward

KANT to his wife
You should not have eaten
the stew
When on the high seas
every rational human being
eats high sea food
You eat continental food
Your fatty diet
is your curse
cocks an ear towards the cage
Psittacus erithacus
is the most intelligent species
For example
seventeen years ago
I dictated the following sentence to him
There is no such thing
as a unique unconditioned universal
fundamental principle of all truths
Yesterday he repeated this sentence to me
absolutely verbatim
The Steward approaches with a bundle of old newspapers
How old are those newspapers

Six weeks old Professor

Then they’re fine
I make it a fundamental principle to read only newspapers
that are at least four weeks old
six weeks old
is even better
The steward gives the newspapers to Mrs Kant
These old newspapers
have a salutary effect
they occasion absolutely no aggravation of one’s condition
from the outside world’s point of view
I am
depending on the age of the newspapers
four or five or six weeks behind
The most recent events
are long since forgotten
to the steward
At first
thirty years ago
my wife read to me
only from French papers
twenty years ago she suddenly switched to nothing but English papers
nowadays I no longer read any newspapers but the German ones
I have never had any ambition
to read Portuguese papers
for instance
to Ernst Ludwig
Have you thoroughly mixed the birdseed
show it to me
Ernst Ludwig leaps up and towards Kant
Kant pointing at the bag
Open it
I want to see
if you have thoroughly mixed the seed
psittacus erithacus

Psittacus erithacus

If he tacitly
mind you tacitly condensed
several sentences into one
he merely
simulated the illusion
of a simple fundamental principle
Ernst Ludwig opens the bag and lets Kant peer into it
Kant inquiringly


Professor Drahgut
that the seed should be pulverized
He was wrong
Psittacus erithacus
must partake of entire undamaged kernels
By now the so-called zoologists
have brought about the degeneration of the entire animal kingdom
to the steward
On Sundays
my Friedrich receives
a toasted breakfast-roll
he consumes it with the greatest gusto
I once said that to Professor Drahgut
My Psittacus erithacus
consumes for breakfast
a toasted roll I said
Drahgut didn’t believe me
And so I invited Professor Drahgut
to breakfast
He was able with his own eyes to attest to the fact
that Friedrich is capable
of consuming a toasted roll

Drahgut Drahgut Drahgut

That was the only time
that I put Friedrich on display to a professor
This man naturally had
a devastating effect on Friedrich
to Ernst Ludwig
You must inspect the seed
for Friedrich
inspect every single kernel with the utmost meticulousness
so that he doesn’t swallow any stones
At the very top
you once slipped a stone

A pebble

Nonsense a stone
into the bag 
whether out of inattentiveness
and therefore completely accidentally
or deliberately
I do not know
to the steward
Friedrich would have
choked to death on it

Choked to death choked to death choked to death

You should have seen the pallor
Friedrich’s pallor
Ernst Ludwig makes as if to close the bag
Kant stops him from doing so and takes a sample kernel
from the bag
I always sample a kernel
from the bag
ever since Ernst Ludwig
slipped Friedrich a stone in the bag
sticks the kernel into his mouth and chews it thoroughly
to Ernst Ludwig
Are these the Brazilian seeds
or the ones from Guatemala

The ones from Guatemala

In other words the Guatemalan seeds
Ernst Ludwig nods
Actually the seeds
from Guatemala
are more wholesome
than the Brazilian seeds
more wholesome and cheaper
directly to the steward
It happens quite often
that something is more wholesome
and at the same time cheaper
The most expensive thing is not always
also the most wholesome thing
he is quite visibly ruminating
Seed from Guatemala
for Friedrich
suddenly, loudly, and declaratively
In the end we are
on a luxury liner
to the steward
Initially I couldn’t
make up my mind
whether to opt
for the Corocopsis vasa

Coracopsis vasa

Or for the Psittacus erithacus

Psittacus erithacus

The Coracopsis vasa
lives even longer
Numerous specimens
have surpassed the age of sixty
to Friedrich
In two years
we’ll celebrate your fiftieth birthday
on the high seas
who knows
looks around
I shall charter
an even much larger ship
for that birthday celebration
to the steward regarding Friedrich
He likes it best
when my wife reads to me
and hence also to him
from the Nürnberger Nachrichten
that amuses him
it makes him almost laugh himself to death
The more serious the article
the greater the danger     
that he’ll laugh himself to death
licks his right index finger and holds it high
full speed ahead

STEWARD springing to attention
full speed ahead

KANT to Mrs Kant
We can begin
cocks an ear towards the cage
regarding Friedrich
His attentiveness
is superlative
No human being
is possessed of such powers of attention
Steam-whistles sound
My most significant my most important lectures
I have delivered to Friedrich
I know why Friedrich
whenever I deliver a lecture
is always at the very front of the audience
even in front of my academic colleagues
Steam-whistles sound
to the steward
That is why Friedrich
is the arch-loathee
most of all university professors loathe him
because he always sits
in the foremost place
The professors envy him
his attentiveness
Nothing escapes his notice
whereas virtually everything
escapes the notice of scholars
From the very beginning
I have always traveled
only with Friedrich
throughout Germany
It is said
that Kant has not
left Königsberg
but where Kant is
is Königsberg
Königsberg is
Where Kant is
to Friedrich
Where is Königsberg

Where Kant is

And where is Kant

Kant is where Königsberg is

KANT inquiringly
Psittacus erithacus
is monosyllabicity
in itself
If the contrary of something
is affirmed
it is itself denied
If the contrary of something
is true
the something is itself false
Leibniz he said
Professor Leibniz

Leibniz Leibniz

Leibniz was afraid
of Friedrich
Leibniz turned down
a chance to give a lecture in Königsberg
because he couldn’t bear
Friedrich’s presence
On account of Friedrich
A man suffering from seasickness is led past Kant
and his companions by a steward
Seasickness is
of everything
to Ernst Ludwig
From now on
buy only
the Guatemalan birdseed
no more of the Brazilian

None of the Brazilian

KANT raises his head
As though the wind
were changing direction
Licks his right index finger and
holds it high in the air
Wind west-northwest

Wind west-northwest
full speed ahead

They say
to go ashore in America on a Tuesday
is bad luck

MRS KANT bursting into laughter
For you
it’s good luck
good luck for you
What’s bad luck for others
is pure good luck for you

KANT musingly
Surely the professors are expecting me
in black
But I shall disembark
in white
to all present
We shall all
disembark in white
With the exception of Ernst Ludwig
who must disembark in black

Ernst Ludwig in black
why Ernst Ludwig
In particular

Because his sister has died

But Immanuel
If that’s the reason
shouldn’t he already be wearing black on board

Possibly in this case
a black band
on his right arm
will suffice

Where are we supposed
to get hold of a black suit for Ernst Ludwig

On a first-class luxury liner
like this one
even black suits in all sizes
can be scrounged up
on a luxury liner like this one
nothing is impossible
directly to Mrs Kant
But you’re right
a black armband will do
sew him a black armband

But of course Immanuel

His sister’s death
obligates him to wear
a black armband at minimum
at minimum

At minimum

KANT to Ernst Ludwig
What did she die of

Of the garden shovel

Of the garden shovel

The garden shovel
broke her head

An absurd death
to have one’s head broken
by a garden shovel
A single clumsy move
and the garden shovel
breaks one’s head
to the steward
We are traveling
as you know
for the first time
to America
I never had any desire
to go to America
A trip to America is an act of perversity
I am taking this one only
for my wife’s sake
She has dreamed
of doing this all her life
Now when Columbia University
has made an honorary doctor of you
you have to go to America
she said to me
and I unhesitatingly acquiesced
Can you believe it
I acquiesced without hesitation
I was planning on traveling with nothing
just with my head and with Friedrich
and with Ernst Ludwig naturally
but now we’ve got this huge pile of luggage
women always travel with huge suitcases
A tasteless habit naturally
For my part
I am content
if I can change my clothes
every two days
Everything that is not
is not
Everything that is
The principle of identity
you must be familiar with it
cocks an ear towards the cage
Occasionally I think
he is stone dead
but then I discover
that his intensity is at its highest pitch
to the steward
When I hear nothing
literally nothing
his intensity is at its highest pitch
He mistrusts my wife
he abhors
the female sex
My wife is unique in having once
expressed a snide opinion about Friedrich
Nobody else has ever dared to do that
my wife once dared
to belittle Friedrich
In Sopot my wife
belittled Friedrich
but I brought my wife
to justice
before Friedrich
she was obliged to apologize to Friedrich
since then my wife has not been allowed
to comb Friedrich
a privilege
that my wife enjoyed for thirty years
Only Ernst Ludwig is permitted to comb Friedrich
Friedrich is combed
every day between five and half-past five in the morning
One time my wife wanted to varnish his talons
which would have almost driven me mad
only a woman can
think up such a piece of perversity
At night I lock up Friedrich’s room
with my own hands I lock up
Friedrich’s room at night
and Ernst Ludwig guards it
Here on the ship
we naturally have difficulties
with our living arrangements
I would not have made the voyage
if I had not managed to get
an extra cabin for Friedrich
a virtually totally soundproof cabin
as Friedrich absolutely cannot tolerate any noise at night
psittacus erithacus
needs absolute nocturnal silence
the most difficult thing to obtain on a ship at sea
My wife fell in love with Friedrich
thirty years ago
I gave her an ultimatum
either or
she had been obliged to renounce Friedrich
In Königsberg word of this affair had gotten around
I sent my wife to Sopot for a year
during this period I was alone with my Friedrich
it was the happiest period of my life
to the steward suddenly
Full speed ahead

STEWARD springing to attention
Full speed ahead Professor

An operation
would prove everything naturally
an operation that enabled me to see
the inside of Friedrich’s head
I would have complete proof
directly to the steward
This head keeps in storage everything
that has ever been said to it
a head as completely ordered as this one has no peer
If only I could see the inside of this head
and could hold it fast
I would have complete proof

FRIEDRICH suddenly agitated
Imperative imperative imperative

I pondered whether to take this American trip with Friedrich
very thoroughly and at great length
There would actually
be no risk
in sending Friedrich by himself
to the world’s universities he is capable
of providing an unsurpassable summary
of everything I have ever said and thought
cocking an ear towards the cage
It is merely out of self-conceit
that science refuses to have anything to do
with such an adventure
On behalf of Kant
I shall summarize
for example
the principle of contradiction
I can hear Friedrich saying that
to Friedrich
What do you say
at the conclusion of your lecture

I thank you for your attention

Everything that is
Everything that is not
Is not
The world is the reverse side
of the world
Truth the reverse side
of truth
to the steward regarding Friedrich
He lives entirely
in my conceptual world
He abhors
what I abhor
He calls to account
what I call to account
What is the date of these newspapers anyway

The twenty-fifth

In other words the twenty-fifth of August

Naturally Professor Kant

Then today is
the twenty-fifth of September
to Mrs Kant
How my eyes long for
the next rainy day
This constant sunlight
almost completely blinds me
If my eyes were my sole consideration
I would spend the entire voyage
below deck
in my cabin
But I believe that in the cabin
I would suffocate
Friedrich too suffers
in his cabin
from a fear of suffocation
to Ernst Ludwig
Can’t you see
that my feet are freezing
to the steward and his fellow-sitters
He can’t see it
He has the best eyes
and sees nothing
Ernst Ludwig leaps up and swathes
Kant’s feet more tightly in the blankets
suffer from absolute blindness
even though
as has been proved
they have the best eyes
they see everything
and nothing
kicks at the blankets and Ernst Ludwig is obliged
to swathe Kant’s feet once more

Imperative imperative imperative

Never in my life
could I have dreamed
of undertaking a voyage like this one
It’s a question of saving my eyesight
Mrs Kant whispers something in the steward’s ear
A tiny incision
in the iris
a trifling procedure

You are bringing America reason
America is giving you eyesight

Kant is going
to America
in order to save his eyesight

All America
is expecting you
The newspapers
are full of articles about you

Columbus discovered America
America has discovered Kant
Mrs Kant whispers something in the steward’s ear
Ernst Ludwig’s right arm
is actually
fatter than
his left one
because he has been carrying
Friedrich’s cage for fully thirty years
Mrs Kant bursts out laughing
Kant licks his finger
and holds it high
full speed ahead

STEWARD snaps to attention, salutes
Wind west-northwest
full speed ahead

Full speed ahead

The president of the United States
will attend my first lecture
I believe he understands
a great deal about music
one of the few musical personalities
in America
to the steward
I naturally always employ
indirect inferential methods

MRS KANT to the steward
Behind our house
we have built for Friedrich
a house of his own
in which everything is tropical


Every Saturday
Friedrich is in the tropics

The native habitat
of psittacus erithacus
Guinea Angola
Lake Victoria don’t you know
To Friedrich
Your native habitat

Native habitat native habitat

whose contrary is false
is true

I thank you for your attention

KANT suddenly to the steward
Are there icebergs around here

No iceberg
Professor Kant

Who says
there isn’t
when they say there’s
no iceberg
there’s an iceberg
Just think of the Titanic

Titanic Titanic

KANT cocking an ear towards the cage
All those people
with their luxury
who went down with the ship
The dance-band played
while everyone was going under
to the Steward
Aren’t you ever afraid of going
down with the ship
Are you a swimmer

I am a non-swimmer
Professor Kant

KANT exclaims
A non-swimmer
He is a non-swimmer
In your place I’d be worried
night and day
I am a swimmer
I have always been a good swimmer
My wife is a non-swimmer
Ernst Ludwig too can swim
to Friedrich
And Friedrich can fly
if need be
he will soar above us all
Mrs Kant whispers something in the steward’s ear
The first person here
who will go under
is Ernst Ludwig
to Mrs Kant
I can just see you
clinging to Ernst Ludwig
and Ernst Ludwig dragging you down
What a tragic end
to steward
Tell me
how many lifeboats
are here and ready to go

Twenty-two lifeboats

Women and children first
covers his eyes with both hands
how my eyes ache
I certainly
do not deserve glaucoma
is the most important thing
without my eyesight
my head will also be lost

MRS KANT has been studying the menu for some time
to the steward
See to it that my husband’s veal is minced
No sauce
no salad

KANT removes his hands from his eyes and gazes
out at the ocean
Everything is cloudy

I’ll have the steak as it is

Ernst Ludwig has stood up and is making as if to remove
the cover of the cage

KANT angrily
Don’t you dare
remove that cover
Even I
following Friedrich’s lead
now suffer under exposure to bright light
Ernst Ludwig sits back down, places the bag of birdseed between his knees
Entirely different thoughts
on the high seas
than on dry land
Mrs Kant whispers something in the steward’s ear
One’s head affirms
what it has denied
cocks an ear towards the cage and remains in this posture for a while, then
Tuesday my fateful day
which is also your fateful day
Mrs Kant whispers something in the steward’s ear 
Exit steward with the menu
Kant to Friedrich
We belong together
no matter
what the world thinks
the world thinks
nothing but impudent twaddle

MRS KANT to Ernst Ludwig
my husband’s head
Ernst Ludwig leaps up and straightens Kant’s head

KANT to Mrs Kant
I think
I’m coming
to America
at exactly the right time
At bottom I am
a hater of Americanism
I have always detested Americanism
For decades I have been turning them down
now I’m going to America
In this case anyone would go
is to blame for the end of the world
irascibly to Ernst Ludwig
You’re hurting me you know
Haven’t I taught you
all those ways of gripping the head
thirty years
and the result is this catastrophe
I once saw
your sister
a lovely child
It’s incredible
that she was your sister
Grace incarnate
and you
are brimming over with blockheadedness
She with her nerves of exceptional acuity
and you with the antithesis
Pushes him away
to Friedrich
We haven’t managed to find anybody better
than this blockhead
he gives you the seed to early
or too late
People of this stripe
Ernst Ludwig sits down
have no sense of timing
they are totally anti-sensibilitistic

MRS KANT leafing through the newspapers
More assassinations
are you listening
The prime minister of Cambodia
has been assassinated

All my life I have been against newspapers
all my life I have devoured them absorbed them
Mrs Kant bursts out laughing
Why are you laughing

It’s this caricature

Everything is a caricature

MRS KANT bursts out laughing
A completely inaccurate weather forecast
For the month of August
bad weather is predicted

KANT bursts out laughing, then
To pursue the chain of truths
all the way to its last link
The overthrow of all governments
is immediately imminent
Leibniz said Leibniz
my name is Leibniz
to Ernst Ludwig
The signature trait of you and the likes of you
is refractoriness
with which you have contrived to get yourself
and the likes of yourself paid
is lethal
Society has committed
in following the path of socialism
society has completely
misunderstood socialism
I am a socialist
the only true the only real socialist
everybody else is in error
And communism
is a faddish delusion
Marx a ne’er-do-well
That poor feebleminded sap Lenin
completely misunderstood me
All those people
were nothing but born novelists
who never exercised their proper genius
suddenly laughs
May I speak to the cook
I must speak to the cook
to Mrs Kant
the cook must come here
he must come here

Enter STEWARD, who salutes
Do you desire something Professor Kant

I must speak to the cook
to the head chef
I will tolerate no cumin
in my cumin soup
Get the head chef up here this instant
Mrs Kant whispers something into the steward’s ear
Exit steward
Kant to Ernst Ludwig
These ship’s cooks are insidious
there is nothing more insidious
than a ship’s cook
On the high seas one must keep one’s wits about one
vis-à-vis the food
that the ship’s cooks cook

But you’ve already spoken yesterday
with the ship’s cook
with the head chef

I must speak with him every day
I want to see him every day
in all these people a dangerous transformation is always underway
and they are apt to start doing what they want all of a sudden
Enter steward with the ship’s cook
Kant to the ship’s cook
Are you the chef
the ship’s head chef

At your service Professor Kant
Kant’s wife beckons the steward over and slips him
a banknote

KANT looks at his pocket watch
to the ship’s cook
is deadly
don’t you agree
A deadly substance
literally a deadly substance

SHIP’S COOK looks around, then repeats
A deadly substance

I know several kings
who have died
from an excess of cumin in their soup
You know
what I’m driving at
cocking an ear towards the cage
to Friedrich
It’s a good thing that you’re provided for by Ernst Ludwig’s bag
to the ship’s cook
Before I eat a spoonful
my wife must eat a spoonful
I’ve been insisting on this
for fifty years
holding up his right index finger threateningly
Cooks are the most dangerous of all people
No cumin in my soup
After a pause, during which everybody glances at one another
and no hair
You may go
Exit cook
Kant calls him back
Ship’s cook turns around, remains stationary
How many cumin seeds are there usually
in one bowl of soup

SHIP’S COOK inquiringly
In one bowl of soup

Don’t say
how many
Keep on calmly cooking
Soon the fish of the Atlantic
will be pretty much inedible
to the steward
Do you know that
the more of them that are caught
the more poisonous they are
My wife couldn’t care less
that eels have become downright unpalatable
Herrings are absolute life-shorteners
Mrs Kant whispers something in the steward’s ear
Kant to the steward
The problem
in all epochs
has been the holes in the nets
A cousin of mine
imported sea fish
into the Alps
He was the inventor of the refrigerator car
There is a monument to him in Innsbruck
But it has not yet been unveiled
looks around
At every moment I think
the ship will burst
quite simply burst asunder
and that we all will all fall through
to the bottom of the ocean

Imperative imperative imperative

Every single life
is of the greatest importance
looks around

Perhaps it will be better
if he eats a puree
Steam-whistles sound
a finely-whipped puree

Logic teaches
that nothing is more easily digested
than a puree
or tripe
Enter the secondary steward, who whispers something in the steward’s ear
Mrs Kant bursts out laughing and violently folds shut a newspaper
Steam-whistles sound

Dinner is served Professor Kant
Everybody rises and goes to dinner
Ernst Ludwig packs up the cage and exits last

KANT stopping halfway to the exit, licking his right index finger and holding it high
Steam-whistles sound

STEWARD saluting
Wind west-northwest
full speed ahead

Middle Deck

Several folding-chairs and non-folding chairs
Mrs Kant and the millionairess are promenading together

There are many famous people
on board
Their pretended anonymity
does nothing to conceal them from the crowd
Word has already gotten around
that Kant is on board
If this trip isn’t productive
the next one will be
My grandmother
a born advertising poster
coal coke metal don’t you know
with ambitions to be a pianist
traveled with the full coffer of family jewels
on the Titanic
The steam-whistles sound three times
She had always said
that she would die on the high seas
The iceberg literally cut
the Titanic wide open
Lloyds must quite simply raise the Titanic
I will stake everything
on the raising of the Titanic
My late husband
on his deathbed made me swear to him
that I would stop at nothing
to see the Titanic raised
In any case it is Lloyds solemn duty
Kant on board
Isn’t this an enormity
They say he’s never left Königsberg
All very witty people
The steam-whistles sound three times
I have spoken with the steward
We’ll be dining at the captain’s table
with the cardinal with the admiral
at the Chinese lantern party
I keep thinking about the iceberg
I didn’t sleep a wink all night
after the cardinal’s story
on the one hand I was all ears
on the other hand I was drinking whisky nonstop
The ship’s doctor says that a couple of glasses in the evening
won’t do me any harm
On a voyage like this
one must quite simply
surrender to the pleasures it affords
suddenly, while inspecting Mrs Kant’s dress
What a lovely dress
a proper sea-dress
Every morning I am in the greatest perplexity
when I think to myself
what ever am I going to wear this time
The steam-whistles sound three times
on the one hand it’s quite windy on deck
on the other hand it’s awfully hot below deck
But on the high seas I have yet to wear
the same dress twice
It must be interesting
to be married to such an illustrious man
as Professor Kant
The steward says the professor is
an honorary doctor ten times over
I heard you’d met your husband on the Tristacher See
A see marriage
bursts out laughing
A see marriage

Yes on the water

Your first trip on the high seas
and for such a grand incentive
An honorary New York doctorate
what a climax

My husband’s doctorate is from Columbia University

But of course that makes no difference
Just having any honorary doctor
at one’s table
just having Kant in person
I’m just now realizing what that means
The cardinal is quite beside himself
with the thought that he is on the same ship as Kant
Kant and the cardinal
I love America more than anywhere else
Don’t you

We are traveling to America for the first time

To think that these days there are still people
traveling to America for the first time
gazes out at the ocean
This vast expanse
this infinitude
I firmly believe
Lloyds will raise the jewels
then I will have gotten
what I wanted
After all I owe it to my husband
He had always wanted to become a shipbuilding engineer
a proper shipbuilding engineer
Well you know he came from
a proper proletarian family
Kant in person
It must be marvelous
to be married to a global celebrity
to Kant
Do you go to the masseur every day as I do
I get a daily massage from the ship’s masseur
such a handsome physique
an elegant appearance
he’s told me
he’s basically a doctor
On account of a drawn-out case of pleurisy of his mother’s
he hasn’t been able to finish his MD
Oh yeah illnesses screw up everything
One day you’re on the royal road
to developing a talent
to becoming a genius
and suddenly it’s all reduced to nothing
because some illness has appeared on the scene
Every morning the ship’s doctor comes
and takes my blood pressure
I’ve got my own personal blood-pressure kit here with me
regardless of where I’m traveling to
I always have my personal blood-pressure kit with me
Doctors always work with the dodgiest instruments imaginable
Do you have dreams as absurd as mine
I dream that I’m walking along Fifth Avenue
and talking to a man and I ask him what time is it
and he turns out to be the shah of Persia
bursts out laughing
and he says
my dear
your garter has come undone
My garter I ask my garter
Indeed my dear your garter he says
and so I bend down
and in actual fact
my garter has come undone
Hey I say what are you of all people doing here on Fifth Avenue
But as I’m standing back up
I find myself on the Grossglockner
no kidding
People have the most absurd dreams on the high seas
or they suffer from insomnia
The cardinal has already vomited twice
Seasickness is really god-awful
Have you at least got a decent cabin
I used to be terrified to travel alone
a solo sea voyage quite simply terrified me
with my husband I traveled all over the world
and always by ship
by ship as a matter of principle
whispers in Mrs Kant’s ear
He was an epileptic
again aloud
I hate flying
Ah I like it here on the ship
and being here on the ship suits my tastes
If I’m having bad dreams
I go up on deck
and think about Panama
do you know what I mean sailors love oh yeah
And if my clothes are starting to fit too tightly
well we do after all have a tailor on board
a proper Bohemian tailor
a genius in his own bailiwick
In a couple of days I’ll have Lloyds enough in my pocket
to make them raise the Titanic
A pearl necklace just think of it
that Maria Theresia wore around her neck
and a heap of archducal rings
brilliants diamonds from all the imperial residences
Don’t you find
the cardinal extremely good-looking
He would make a handsome pope
I’m sure one day he’ll be pope
Then I’ll be able to say
I traveled with the pope by ship to America
There are naturally bigger ships
but none of them is nicer
Luxury is nice
High-sea luxury is nice
I don’t understand a thing about philosophy
but please do tell me what is your husband philosophizing about anyway
It’s literally incomprehensible
I would so very much like to read something of your husband’s
do you have anything extra you could spare me
I certainly would prefer not to meet Kant
while knowing nothing by Kant
gazes out at the sea
My mother always told me
don’t talk so much child
it weakens your organism
Supposedly the Titanic has made more money
for the survivors’ lawyers
than the whole ship was worth
Are you also insured by Lloyds
Oh yeah
what a lovely afternoon
suddenly curious
What is your husband’s philosophy based on anyway
Oh yeah
Can you believe the surprise I got
when I stepped into my cabin
I’d left the tap running
here it is two in the morning and I’m ankle-deep in water
it wasn’t until four in the morning
that I managed to go to bed
The skittishness of people is astonishing
a change in the weather is in the air
Have you got your lanterns yet

What lanterns

Why the ones for the Chinese lantern party

I haven’t yet even given a thought to them

I’ve always only ever had yellow lanterns
Yellow is my favorite color you know
it has been since I was a child
I love these onboard theme parties
Once when I was bound for Jamaica
with my husband
there was an incident
The party was already in full swing
and there was an explosion
The ship has exploded I thought
A panic just imagine a real panic
But it was only a firecracker going off
Your husband will enjoy it the party that is
You’ll need at least six lanterns for it
That’s two lanterns per person
your husband you and your husband’s assistant

Ernst Ludwig

Right Ernst Ludwig
Three times two is six

You’ve forgotten about Friedrich


My husband’s parrot

MILLIONAIRESS bursts out laughing
Oh yeah the parrot
That’ll be a real jaw-dropper
when the parrot walks in with two Chinese lanterns
a jaw-dropper
gazes out at the ocean
I love moments like this
when I’m standing here
and looking out
Stay longer in New York
You must stay there longer
You must see Central Park
oh and the many lovely blouses on Thirty-eighth Street
Broadway is no longer
what it once was
that’s all dead and done with
The great actors are all in the cemetery 
and the ones who are alive are nothing
But I’m sure you have no interest in the theater
I don’t go to the theater any more
it no longer has anything to offer
the theater is an anachronism
An acquaintance of mine
an author
and also a philosopher like your husband
has published a book
in which he proves that the theater
is an anachronism
Do you know Strindberg
There’s a real man for you
everybody else is nothing
so I’m better off taking a hot footbath
than going to the theater
Suddenly lifts up the hem of her dress
Mrs Kant looks at the millionairess’s right knee
My kneecap is prosthetic
It’s a long story
It all happened quite suddenly
I was walking along the street three days after
our wedding day
forty-two years ago
and going to the jeweler’s to pick up a napkin-ring
I had given my husband the napkin-ring as a present
an engraving don’t you know
with the date of our wedding on it
As I’m just about to enter the jeweler’s shop
this man walks up to me and says watch out
watch out do you hear me watch out
I’m thinking he’s a lunatic and I laugh
At that very instant the man hits me
in the knee with a metal rod
and with a single blow dashes my kneecap to pieces
It all happened so quickly
that the man escaped unidentified
The case has never been solved
At first the doctors made a wreck of me
In Europe of course basically only bungling hacks practice medicine
after several unsuccessful operations in Viennese and Swiss clinics
I went to America
by then I had already resigned myself
to having a stiff leg for good
but at Columbia University
they fitted me with this prosthetic kneecap
moves her leg to and fro in the air
It’s completely normal
even though my kneecap is prosthetic
completely normal as if nothing had happened
The American doctors are geniuses I tell you
lowers the hem of her dress and stands back up on both feet
Naturally I spared no expense
The experts are always expensive
If I had stayed in Europe
I’d still be hobbling about with a stiff leg everywhere
they both sit down
but probably I would have long since killed myself
because I’m not the sort of person
to hobble about as a cripple all her life

We have high hopes
of my husband’s being helped
in America

America has helped tons of people
At first people are skeptical
Anyone who doesn’t know America hates it
Before I’d gone to America
I also hated it

My husband’s eyes
are getting worse every day
The day
is already in sight
when he’ll have ceased to see at all for good
I’m talking specifically about glaucoma

And for glaucoma especially
your husband will be in the best hands
I know a professor there in Chicago
who will make a tiny incision in the iris
and your husband will see better than he did before
nowadays glaucoma is no longer a serious problem
Glaucoma has lost its terrors

My husband is placing all his hopes
on America
on the American doctors

I marvel at your husband
a man who with such bad eyes
sees so much
The cardinal says that even already as of now
your husband has thought deeper thoughts
than anybody else
I never would have dreamed
that I’d get to meet Kant in person
Nor will anybody believe that I have

Is your cabin as terribly drafty as ours

All the cabins are drafty
At night I put on a knitted cap

That’s a good idea

After all my grandmother
suffered from drafts
on the high seas
she was a passionate sea-voyager
every year at least one sea voyage
if possible around the entire world
that was an enormity in her day
My grandmother was never
without a knitted cap on board
My child she always used to say
if I didn’t have this knitted cap
Anyone who doesn’t have a knitted cap on the high seas
will come down with every possible illness
they start out as perfectly harmless colds
but they all eventually turn into chronic illnesses
A single night without my knitted cap
and I’d have caught my death of cold
I assume my grandmother had her knitted cap on
when she went down with the Titanic
I can’t picture her doing otherwise
Oh yeah one can’t protect oneself enough
So aren’t you going to knit yourself a knitted cap like mine

Certainly a knitted cap like yours
would be beneficial to my husband

A knitted cap like mine
is the best protection
I must of course devote a considerable outlay
to the raising of the Titanic
So far Lloyds has shortchanged me
it’s an uninterrupted struggle
to get hold of what you’re legally entitled to
This is my third trip to America
on Lloyds-related business
but I’m not giving up
I promised my husband
when he was on his deathbed
to take the matter in hand
Two lanterns per person
remember that
A parrot with two Chinese lanterns

Ernst Ludwig will have to carry Friedrich’s lanterns

A screamingly funny fellow
Where in the world did you dig him up

Without Ernst Ludwig
my husband would be lost
He’d be unable
to carry Friedrich himself

A screamingly funny fellow
An intellectual trio
bursts out laughing
An intellectual trio

You’re right about that

Say somebody stuffs a fortune
into a certain head
for instance Kant’s head right
then at the very least that somebody is going to learn
what the point of the intellectual world is
The intellectual world is
a whole different world
I grew up in the capitalist world
I am a true child of capitalism
My husband only ever addressed me as
my capitalist child
The first night at sea
he always had diarrhea
For days on end I’ve been observing your husband
he’s fascinating
What I find most striking
that your husband undoubtedly
has a large shoe-size


That’s exceptionally large

At clearance sales
it’s an asset

Yes at clearance sales large sizes
are absolutely an asset
Kant and the others are approaching

Here comes my husband

These footfalls herald the arrival of Kant
Both of them turn around
Enter Kant with a sheaf of papers, Ernst Ludwig with Friedrich, and the steward with blankets
Mrs Kant and the millionairess stand up

KANT promptly taking a seat on one of the folding-chairs, to the millionairess
My wife prizes such universal breadth of conversation as you afford

We understand each other
Professor Kant
We understand each other perfectly
Mrs Kant and the steward adjust Kant’s folding-chair
Ernst Ludwig has set down Friedrich’s cage and the bag of seed and is swathing Kant’s feet

MRS KANT to Kant
Will you be needing your head-cushion

Naturally my head-cushion
at midday I obviously need
my head-cushion
to the millionairess
The atmospheric conditions are worsening
licks his right index finger and holds it in the air

STEWARD springs to attention
West-northwest Professor Kant
Kant adjusts his eyeglasses and opens the sheaf of papers

My finest sea-voyage
Professor Kant
To have such a lofty intellect on the ship
I am in raptures
I have recommended to your wife
the wearing of a knitted cap for the prevention of colds
I knitted my own knitted cap myself
But you can also buy knitted caps below deck

Raise your head

Head raised
Mrs Kant and the steward are inserting Kant’s head-cushion
Wait wait
that’s just right
looks straight ahead
Now I have the ideal line
to the millionairess
Do you know Joseph Conrad

Who is that

One of our greatest authors
a Pole

MRS KANT to the millionairess
Won’t you be seated

KANT to the millionairess
Please do take a seat
Ernst Ludwig moves Friedrich’s cage to a position immediately next to Kant’s folding-chair and swathes Kant’s legs in the blankets
The steward swathes Kant’s upper body in the blankets
Even on the high seas
darkness reigns supreme
One’s frame of mind varies
is the quintessence of artificiality

I showed your wife my knee
my artificial kneecap
my American kneecap
as my husband always called it
exposes her knee
Look Professor Kant
here is my prosthetic kneecap

American surgeons
fitted her with it
American doctors
are the best

The best in the world
without a doubt

KANT staring at the millionairess’s knee
I see nothing
You know I have glaucoma
I see nothing
almost nothing any longer
a pair of foundational principles perhaps
then darkness reigns supreme

MRS KANT to the millionaires, who has pulled back down the hem of her dress
He can see your knee
but he can’t tell
that your kneecap is prosthetic

For an intelligent person
the fear of going blind
is the most appalling of all fears
I have always thought
better to lose a leg
than an eye
bursts out laughing
Eyes are still pretty much never replaceable
All joking aside
as far as ophthalmologists go
Columbia University really is
the most celebrated place
to Mrs Kant
I had a niece
who went blind over the course of just a few days
the poor child
Once I went out with her to pick raspberries
in the Black Forest
but the poor child couldn’t find a single berry
Mrs Kant beckons the steward over and whispers
something in his ear
In European institutes for the blind
the most indescribably appalling conditions reign supreme
Tell me Professor Kant
what is the basis of our more or less permanent fear of death
our dread of the end

KANT flying into a rage
Don’t say the word end

Oh yeah well everyone’s got their own finishing-line
after a pause
Are you seasick Professor

You can quite easily see that I am see-sick
you can quite easily see it on account of my glasses

I mean seasick
not see-sick

My husband is not seasick
he is never seasick

Such intellects always suffer
from horrible seasickness occasionally
Kant leafs through his papers

MRS KANT to Kant
I shall knit you a cap

Knit your husband
a red cap
a red cap will go well with his face
not a blue cap
not a green cap
a red cap
tightly knitted
a cap with holes only
for the eyes and the nose
to Mrs Kant
I haven’t the faintest idea
why I’m suddenly thinking
about the story of Little Red Riding Hood
to the steward
Hey why don’t you fetch me
a double whisky
it’s too lovely here
one must take advantage of such opportunities
to Kant and Mrs Kant
May I treat you two
to a whisky

My husband doesn’t drink

Well that’s too bad
Exit steward
Soon it will rain again
and everybody will be miserable
Kant is jotting down notes on his papers
An artist I always used to say
or a scientist one must be
an artist or a philosopher
then I suddenly married Richard
dragged him out of the mud so to speak
But life on my side
was entirely too strenuous for him
I wore him out
For the proletariat
the atmosphere of luxury is too thin
my father always used to say
Oh yeah, I have been on my own now for an awfully long time
Re-enter the steward
with a double whisky for the millionairess
The millionairess drinks a large gulp of whisky
Life is too short
to be allowed to slip away
don’t you think so too Professor
I have always been a happy person
at bottom
What I’m saying is a platitude
but I am actually happy
With Kant in person
on a ship
bound for America
drinks another gulp
For some people it’s always a catastrophe
and for others a huge blessing
raises her glass to the everyone in turn
I drink to your healths
Professor Kant long may you live

KANT cocks an ear towards Friedrich’s cage
to Ernst Ludwig
Nothing not the faintest sign of activity

Perhaps he’s sleeping

We were up too late last night
Kant is the one
The Psittacus erithacus the other
Probably the doctor’s procedure
exhausted him
I summoned the doctor
and had him auscultate Friedrich’s head
The doctor kept his opinion to himself
cocks an ear towards the cage again
to the millionairess
Will you allow me for simplicity’s sake
to call you Millionairhead
Of course you may also address me simply as Professor

You flatter me Professor Kant
How ever have you managed
to become so famous
How do you keep all those philosophies of yours in your

I have stored everything
I have ever thought
in Friedrich
If I lose him
I shall have lost everything

I have always marveled
at people
who have written books
naturally philosophical ones
most of all

It is a question of working
He who works through history
in one direction
as in the other
through the whole of history
do you understand

My that’s exciting
drinks a hefty gulp
Mrs Kant beckons the steward over and whispers
something in his ear

Every thought
is the whole of history
is past and future
is everything
do you understand
a patriarchy naturally
cocking an ear towards Friedrich’s cage
The doctors are deranging
everything in a certain person
killing everything in a certain person
starting with Friedrich
to Ernst Ludwig
Has he eaten
Ernst Ludwig nods
How much
Ernst Ludwig indicates the amount on the bag of seed
If the development of a body itself
produces the axial rotation
then it is reasonable that all the spheres of the cosmic structure must have it
why then does the moon not have it
gazes meaningfully at everyone in turn
suddenly to the millionaires
Tell me
do you by any chance play the piano

Where did you get that idea

It’s just a question
you seem very much like
someone who plays the piano

I like listening to music
is that it

That’s it
I can plainly see that
That’s it

Where can one buy your books
I should like to buy literally everything you’ve written
Professor Kant

all over the world

I can hardly believe it
an event
a once-in-a-century event

Leibniz said Leibniz
I said Kant Kant
The causes are the heavenly bodies

The most important thing
that has ever been thought
has been thought in your head
according to the cardinal
Ah it would be wonderful
if he became pope
The world has never had
such a handsome pope
suddenly to Kant
What do you think of the Church

KANT while jotting down notes
The ecliptic
is another
The direction as area
is another

MILLIONAIRESS drinks a hefty gulp
A whole new system of thought
I think
Kant cocks an ear at the cage and beckons Ernst Ludwig over
Kant and Ernst Ludwig both cock their ears towards the cage
These animals
are very sensitive
I had a titmouse
who understood everything I said
suddenly he fell from his perch
before my very eyes
it made me really sad
To this day I still carry the dead titmouse with me
in spirit
a quite harmless perversion perhaps
drinks a hefty gulp

KANT to Mrs Kant
Doctors induce
nothing but deteriorations of one’s condition
a rustle of flapping wings from within the cage

Do you hear that
Kant shoves Ernst Ludwig aside and listens
He’s woken up

He’s woken up
possibly from a fainting fit

Fainting fit fainting fit
Kant tugs at the cover and briefly peers into the cage

That bird is the most important thing
that you own Professor Kant
the very most important

KANT lets go of the cover
to the millionairess
The system is a false system
the system is always a false system
The steward makes as if to leave

Fetch the podium
My husband will now give a lecture
Exit Steward after filling the millionairess’s glass

Now now now

Towards the ecliptic

Perpendicularly perpendicularly

My husband gives
his lecture
without warning
at a precisely determined
unforeseen point of time
The Millionairess swallows a hefty gulp
In Würzburg he had only a dog
for an audience

KANT to the millionairess
A brilliant lecture
quite possibly my most brilliant lecture
Kant has never left Königsberg
This lie is widely believed

MRS KANT to the millionaires
My husband has asbestos arch-supports
in his shoes
he fears
he’ll catch fire
if he doesn’t have
these arch-supports in his shoes
when he’s lecturing

I’ve also always been afraid
of electricity
You just stick your hand in
and you’re carbonized
bursts out laughing
to Mrs Kant

Carbonized carbonized carbonized

Are you not also insured by Lloyds Professor Kant

Lloyds Lloyds

In your position
I’d have taken out a huge policy
on the parrot a long time ago
Lloyds will insure pretty much anything
Two three million
in the event of that untimely occurrence Professor Kant
Or maybe you should insure
your own head
your brain Professor Kant
for a million
what am I saying
for ten million
drinks a gulp
to Mrs Kant
In Duisberg they fitted me with a kneecap
that wasn’t rustproof
I have always dreamt about it
with a capacity to hold together
in the most confined space
The light of eyesight
for the light of reason

Where is your husband buried

In New York
By the evening after our arrival
I shall be with him
My first business visit
is my visit to him in the cemetery
The steward and substeward are carrying a podium on to the deck

MRS KANT crying out and leaping up
The podium
The millionairess drinks a gulp
Mrs Kant points to a spot behind Kant
Put it over there
The steward and the substeward set up the podium behind Kant
the podium

The podium
stands up
Ernst Ludwig assists Kant

Ladies and gentlemen

KANT motions for the folding-chairs and non-folding chairs to be cleared away
Away with all this
Away away
The steward and the substeward move the folding chairs and non-folding chairs away from the vicinity of the podium
Kant looks on as the steward and the sub-steward and Ernst Ludwig set up the podium at the spot desired
by Kant
Everybody steps back
The millionairess has stood up
Kant stations himself behind the podium and is soon deeply immersed
in his papers
Ernst Ludwig places Friedrich’s cage next to Kant
Remarkable acoustics on the high seas
Enter upstage the cardinal along with several passengers
one at a time
Please sit down
Please do sit down
Mrs Kant sits down
The millionairess sits down
Everybody else sits down one at a time

Ladies and gentlemen
Ladies and gentlemen
Ladies and gentlemen
Ernst Ludwig opens the bag of seed, removes the cover
from the cage completely, and feeds Friedrich
Ladies and gentlemen
Millionairess drinks a large gulp
Enter two passengers
The steam-whistles sound three times

KANT flustered
Please sit down
Please do sit down at once
The steam-whistles sound three times
Sit down
The passengers sit down

Sit down sit down
The steam-whistles sound three times

KANT after a fairly long pause
It is impossible to speak of reason
on the high seas
The steam-whistles sound three times

Rear Deck

A small drawing-room
Dance music is playing in the adjacent large drawing-room
Kant, Kant’s wife, the millionairess, the cardinal, and the admiral dining around a table
Ernst Ludwig with Friedrich in a covered cage
at a small table stage right
Enter the steward and the substeward
The dance music grows louder
The steward displays a bottle of champagne to the captain

CAPTAIN reads aloud from the bottle
Château Maginot
Murmurs of strong approval all around

But there’s no Sunshine
There’s no Sunshine

There’s no Sunshine
That art collector’s never on time 
The steward opens the bottle and pours
The captain to Kant
The finest weather conditions
Professor Kant

What a lovely Chinese lantern party

I enjoy these Chinese lantern parties

CAPTAIN pointing at Ernst Ludwig
A solicitous soul
this specimen
of a well-nigh extinct breed of the human race

An authentic bird-protector
He devotes his life completely
to the animal

Friedrich is almost fifty

An astonishing age
for a bird

Psittacus erithacus
in the right conditions
lives to the age of a hundred

The native habitat of Psittacus erithacus
is Guinea
if I’m not mistaken

You were the nuncio there
weren’t you

Indeed I was

I gave Friedrich a sleeping pill
Conscious participation
in this Chinese lantern party
would irritate him inordinately

Typical of someone with a head like a storage-bank

Or a storage-bank like a head

Without Friedrich my husband
couldn’t exist

There is no doubt
that one may grow accustomed to such an animal

My husband is no animal-lover
that is something different

I love animals
more than anything else
I have always
loved animals

In America the love of our fellow creatures
is extremely intense

The finest weather conditions
Professor Kant
lifts his glass and glances at all the guests in turn
Still no Mr Sunshine
an old friend of the ship
Since thirty-seven at the latest
Sunshine has been traveling on this ship
The most celebrated art collector
of all time
A Goya specialist
an anthroposophist
a student of human nature
a cosmopolitan
surveys the guests
My dear Professor Kant
it is an edifying moment
to have you here
on my ship
on the Pretoria
and to raise a glass
with all my guests this evening
Everybody raises his glass and drinks
I must say
that this is the most wonderful Chinese lantern party
that I have ever hosted
peers into the large drawing-room, in which the music is now
even louder, then
This Chinese lantern party will
go down in history
not only in nautical history
but also in the history of philosophy
Mrs Kant applauds the captain

MILLIONAIRESS joins her and exclaims
To think that I am allowed to be present at the making
exclaims loudly
of the history of philosophy

Tomorrow morning
at exactly eleven-twenty
American time
we shall be arriving in New York
Enter one of the ship’s officers, who delivers a message
to the captain
The captain after having read the message
The problem with the engine has been fixed
We had a problem with the engine
Everybody is completely motionless for an instant

I didn’t detect the faintest hint of it
Kant is raising his eyes
I didn’t detect the faintest hint of it
Exit the ship’s officer

Everything is in order
Everything is in order

That hunch of yours
about that strange sound
to Kant
Don’t you see
it really was something
to the others regarding Kant
My husband has quite an extraordinary sense of hearing
he had a hunch there was a problem with the engine

But please set your mind at rest
everything is in perfect order
raises his glass
Everybody raises his glass and drinks
The dance music grows louder

This is the most exciting sea voyage I’ve ever been on

My husband is never mistaken

It’s hardly a pleasant thing to think about
going down with the ship

A guardian angel
is on board
We have a guardian angel on board
drains her glass; the steward immediately refills it

It is absolutely impossible
for a ship like this one to sink
It is so well constructed
that it can even run aground of an iceberg
and not sink
We’re no longer living in the days of the Titanic
raises his glass to everyone else in turn
To your health Professor Kant
 Everyone raises his glass to Kant’s health and drains his glass
The steward refills everyone’s glass

ocean liners are
the safest means of travel

Do you remember how the entire Manchester Philharmonic Orchestra
sank off the coast of Argentina
Since then there’s been
no Philharmonic in Manchester
My brother-in-law was on board
he managed to escape drowning

Sea travel hasn’t witnessed a disaster
on that scale in decades

My husband was apprehensive
The steward opens a second bottle of champagne
about undertaking this sea voyage
But I managed to set his mind at rest

The stars are auspicious

Are you conscious of this Professor
that your philosophy is the only one
that the world is compelled to acknowledge
has shaken it from the ground up
all the rest of them count for absolutely nothing

The ecliptic
in defiance of reason
proves all laws

The astonishing thing about it of course
is its enormous impact
but naturally this impact
is not itself astonishing at all
to the cardinal
The Church naturally always
clings to its ecclesiastical standpoint

MILLIONAIRESS to the cardinal
Your eminence I have a question for you
is it true that when a pope is elected
white smoke ascends
Everyone exchanges glances with one another
At the very instant
at which a new pope is elected

white smoke
actual white smoke

Do you think
that at the next papal election
a Roman
or a non-Roman will become pope
suddenly enthusiastic
You would be the ideal pope
There has never yet been
a pope as sublimely elegant as you
Enter the art collector

CAPTAIN exclaims
Sunshine our art collector
greets the art collector and leads him to the table
art collector sits down after bowing
in every direction
Our art collector
collects only the most valuable pieces of art

That is of course
a debatable assertion

Of course

A specialist in Goya

I love Rembrandt

CAPTAIN to the art collector
Have you been able to buy the drawings
to the others
He has a soft spot for Kubin
You all know who Kubin was

The only exception I make
is Kubin
otherwise I collect only old art

MILLIONAIRESS to the art collector
Tell me Mr Sunshine
don’t I know you from Brussels
Let me think
suddenly exclaims
Of course
but of course
you are a third cousin of mine
does Monfalcone mean anything to you

It’s where my maternal ancestors hail from

You see
You are a relative
drains her glass
No matter where I go
I run into relatives
Each and every time I’ve traveled to America
I’ve run into some relative on the ship
Oh yeah chance encounters are the spice of life

Our relatives are
wherever things are beautiful
and wherever things are interesting

Mr Sunshine
is an Italian
but he has an American passport
The steward opens a third bottle of champagne
and if I am not mistaken
a Portuguese one as well

And a German one

Do you specialize more in oil paintings
or in drawings

Oil oil
I exclusively collect oil
with very few exceptions
Toulouse Kubin whom I mentioned earlier
The captain stands up and asks Mrs Kant to dance with him and leads Mrs Kant into the large drawing-room

MILLIONAIRESS to the admiral
How were things in Persia
do tell me
was it your first trip to Persia

My first trip to Persia

were you not thoroughly impressed by it
I am a column fanatic
In Persia I saw
the most beautiful columns
Too bad though
that I couldn’t read
what was written on them
Did you also visit the stone tombs
The admiral shakes his head in the negative
You really should have seen them
gone into the tombs
directly into the tombs
Do you speak Persian
The admiral shakes his head in the negative
The millionairess drains her glass
One can’t master everything after all
to Kant
Isn’t that right Professor Kant
one can’t master everything after all
If only life weren’t so short
Life is much too short

You are absolutely right about that my dear

There’s no end of things
one ought to see
I was especially impressed by the faces
of the lepers in Shiraz
those faces that had been
almost completely eaten away
I had never heard anything
about this reign of leprosy in Persia
On the one hand
this superabundant luxury
on the other
this dreadful poverty

A land of contradictions

In Persia you’re constantly worrying
you’re going to come down with something fatal

In Tehran conditions of absolute chaos
reign supreme

A horrible city
to the cardinal
Have you ever been to Persia your eminence

To Afghanistan yes
to Persia no

of course there’s no Christianity in Persia
Ever since I was in Persia
I’ve been unable to stand the sight of a Persian rug
Even long before I had had an aversion
to Persian rugs
to the admiral
As an admiral you’ve surely seen
the whole world
or at any rate the whole coastal part of it

The whole coastal part of it at any rate
have been everywhere
literally everywhere
They are familiar with everything

Everything except the Alps
In the Emmental you’d be hopelessly lost

You’re right about that my dear
the Emmental is more than a match for me

I’m talking such a load of rubbish
and Professor Kant is sitting across from me
Oh yeah
I’ve never been this interesting
on my way to America

KANT beckons Ernst Ludwig over
calls out to him
Ernst Ludwig
Ernst Ludwig straightens the cover of the cage and comes to the table
your glass
Ernst Ludwig fetches his glass from his table
Kant beckons the steward over and motions him to pour champagne into Ernst Ludwig’s glass
Pour him
some champagne

A loyal servant
of his master

The likes of him
are a dying breed
an irrevocably dying breed

KANT to Ernst Ludwig
When Friedrich wakes up
remove the cover
These important people must see him
regarding the captain
They should hear Friedrich
hear how he pronounces the word captain
to the cardinal
And the word cardinal
and to the admiral
and the word admiral
and to the millionairess
And the word millionairess
raises his glass and toasts Ernst Ludwig,
who toasts him back
Ernst Ludwig returns to his place and eats and drinks some more and watches the scene at the table; now and then he cocks an ear towards the cage and peeks under the cover
Psittacus erithacus
needs a great deal of sleep

MILLIONAIRESS exclamatorily
So you’re a zoologist too
Professor Kant
I was completely unaware of that
A philosopher and a zoologist
to the admiral
You have a really remarkable way of holding your fork
a really remarkable way

It’s owing to a bullet wound
that I sustained in the Ardennes
at a secret conference

An assassination attempt

An attempt
on the life of the Tunisian ambassador
who was killed
I myself
was only wounded
in my left hand
To this wound I owe
my Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor

MILLIONAIRESS inquisitively leaning over towards the admiral
Oh yeah
the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor
What were you doing in the Ardennes anyway

Attending a secret meeting
of the French and British governments

So you were in the government

I was her majesty’s counsel

The queen of England’s

Yes of course
I held this position
for six years

How exciting
to be honest
I’m a pacifist
I am against war
I am against everything having to do with war
looks at everyone else in turn
Everyone’s got to be against war
to the cardinal
How about you your eminence
what brings you to America

I am delivering the inaugural lecture
for a professorship in equilbristics
The captain and Mrs Kant re-enter and sit down
in Chicago
a favor for a friend
Moreover I have a high regard
for American doctors

All invalids are drawn
to America
American doctors
have the best reputation
In Europe there are
no longer any decent doctors

European medicine
is no longer worth anything
The steward opens the fourth bottle of champagne

MRS KANT to her husband
Do you see
the hopes of all invalids
are set on America

A body can right itself
much more fully
vis-à-vis many oblique surfaces
than it can in relation to those
that it encounters head-on
and perpendicularly

MRS KANT regarding her husband
My husband has always
stretched his faculties to their very limits
this is what has brought on his glaucoma
if you know what I mean by that
a case of glaucoma
otherwise known as the green cataract

One can’t think as deeply for decades
as Kant has done without being punished for it
drains her glass

The dreaded green cataract
nowadays no longer leads to total blindness
one’s so-called ocular pressure
can now be kept safely at bay
thanks to modern medicine

I was told the same thing by the ship’s doctor

A first-rate human being to boot

A typical ship’s doctor

Doctors are the true eccentrics
of this historical epoch

I can only agree with you on that point admiral

My husband has always had nothing but contempt for doctors

Contempt of doctors
is quite common
among thinkers

Who exactly was this Leibniz person
you’re always talking about
Over and over again you keep mentioning his name

Mr von Leibniz
A close acquaintance of mine
with whom I went on many long walks
we never got tired
we understood each other
from the very beginning
like no other two people
Mrs Kant beckons the steward over and whispers something in his ear and then slips him a banknote
With Leibniz
one heart one soul my dear
two perpetually
converging magnitudes
We made each other’s acquaintance in Sopot
was our employer
if you know who Newton was

I think I’m going to have to bail on you
Professor Kant
to the art collector
Goya was a genius wasn’t he
Did you know him

Not personally

I have such an incredible fascination
for Rembrandt
How he distributes his colors
he always knows
where to put the colors
holds her glass out to the steward; the steward fills it, and she drinks its entire contents at one go
Do you know
that I am planning a trip to the North Cape
it would be too lovely
if you all went with me to the North Cape
points at Ernst Ludwig
He looks a lot like your Friedrich
He basically
has the same facial features
Professor Kant

MRS KANT regarding Ernst Ludwig
As a child
he fell from a tree
and so became mute
The Blue Danube can be heard playing in the large drawing-room

MILLIONAIRESS crying out enthusiastically
My favorite waltz
I love the Blue Danube
The admiral stands up and asks the millionairess to dance with him
The millionairess exiting arm-in-arm with the admiral
My favorite waltz
The Blue Danube grows louder

KANT turns to Ernst Ludwig, whispers to him
Do you hear anything
is he still sleeping
Ernst Ludwig peeks under the cover of the cage and shakes his head
Kant to the cardinal
Friedrich evinces no interest whatsoever
in merrymaking
The steward opens the fifth bottle and pours
On these tablets
he sleeps for two hours
But I simply cannot
place Friedrich at the mercy of this whole situation
I dreaded this journey
everywhere I go
people say
There’s Professor Kant
who has never left Königsberg
Mankind has gone mad
Insecurity has increased
Mrs Kant whispers something in the steward’s ear
Mankind dreads nothing more
than itself
Security is always
only a lethal security
I now grasp for the first time
what I am aiming for
glaucoma has
opened my eyes
Mankind has committed treason
to the cardinal
I have been interested in
equilibristics all my life
My talent was once a completely different talent
I was enormously talented as an equilibrist
Truth is in equilibrium
In Chicago you say
a professorship in equilibristics
That is an enormity
All my life I have been interested
in the method of equilibrium
All my life I have suffered from
a weakness of equilibrium don’t you know
shipwreck people
writers of comedies
Before the darkness enters completely
to punish a pair of illuminations for the crowd
witches’ curses
executions of the intellect
My method is the total method don’t you know
The fear of losing my eyesight
has opened my eyes
It is nothing but a race with waning eyesight
I hate America
everything American is loathsome to me
In truth all the American universities have invited me
but I have accepted none of these invitations
My wife found out
that there are doctors in America
who specialize in glaucoma
glaucoma specialists don’t you know
Glaucoma is still completely unexplained
Glaucoma research is still groping about completely in
the dark
Nothing is known about glaucoma
But it surely has something to do with the destruction of the soul
Basically it’s my wife alone
who has brought me on to this ship
in truth dragged me on to it dragged me dragged me dragged me
I would never have voluntarily boarded this ship
I dreaded boarding it from the very beginning
Travel on the high seas
what a lethal concept gentlemen
what an enormity  
The Blue Danube grows louder
When I compose a lecture
it is always a lecture on death
on illness progressing to death don’t you know
on this process
that from here to infinity will remain unexplained
Health is a usurpation gentlemen
Health is an act of rape
The integral is hell
A ship’s officer approaches with a telegram
The steward takes the telegram from him

MRS KANT beckons the steward over, takes the telegram from him and reads it silently, then announces
Immanuel a telegram

KANT inquiringly
A telegram

A telegram
from Columbia University


Shall I read it out

From Columbia University
You know I pretty much
can’t see anything at all anymore
I didn’t see anybody
delivering a telegram at all

MRS KANT holds the telegram aloft
Here is the telegram
here it is

A telegram from Columbia University

MRS KANT to everybody else
May I read it to you
reads the telegram aloud
We welcome Kant
to America
the event of the twentieth century
Applause all around

I am bringing America reason
America is giving me eyesight
Applause all around once again

Columbus discovered America
America has discovered Kant

We must celebrate this
this bestows greatness on our Chinese lantern party
raises his glass
To Kant

And to America
all rising and exclaiming in only vaguely approximate unison
To Kant and to America
to America and to Kant

I thank you for your attention
If tension
is like a line
then force
is like a square
Everybody sits back down
The integral is the hell
in which we all perish
The steward opens the sixth bottle and pours
Regardless of
whom we deal with
it is a lethal process
But history is a feast for the eyes
A feast for the eyes
stands up and for a moment remains completely motionless
A feast for the eyes gentlemen
sits back down
My wife
is the victim of this lethal science
and Friedrich
turns towards and points at Friedrich
its executor
Millions of asses’ ears
in my writings
Millions of asses’ ears gentlemen
from time to time I think
I am mad
An environmental punishment naturally
An excess
A total lack of kindness
My lectures always end with the sentence
I thank you for your attention
Friedrich has a command of this sentence that is second to none
I thank you for your attention
to the cardinal
The Church is the beneficiary of my achievements
The Church is the murder of nature
The Church is where
nothing but artificiality reigns supreme
It is an enormous libel suit
I am making this journey
in order to find my eyesight again
for by now I am pretty much blind
When there is virtually nothing but shadows
reason has no foundation whatsoever
I thank you for your attention

I thank you for your attention
I thank you for your attention

KANT turns towards Friedrich
Do you hear
how he imitates me
he has been noting down everything
Psittacus erithacus
the genius of numbers and numerals
the feathered conscience of my cognitions
the only person
whom I have ever possessed in his entirety
Ernst Ludwig
bring him here
He belongs here
He has woken up and belongs here
Friedrich belongs here
Mrs Kant whispers something in the steward’s ear
The cardinal whispers something in Mrs Kant’s ear
The art collector whispers something in Mrs Kant’s ear
Kant to the art collector while Ernst Ludwig is carrying Friedrich
to the table
Art collector
The steward opens the seventh bottle
You are an art collector right
takes the cage from Ernst Ludwig and holds aloft the cage including Friedrich
Here my dear Mr Art Collector
I offer you the greatest work of art in the world
lowers the cage
my Friedrich

Friedrich Friedrich Friedrich
Ernst Ludwig takes the cage including Friedrich from Kant

KANT exhausted
The greatest work of art in the world
my Friedrich
Mrs Kant stands up and with the help the steward makes enough room on the table for the cage to be placed on it
Ernst Ludwig places the cage including Friedrich on the table
Kant to the art collector
Here take
what you have been searching for all your life
My Friedrich
tears down the cover of the cage with lightning speed

Friedrich Friedrich Friedrich
Mrs Kant whispers something in the steward’s ear and slips him a banknote of large denomination

KANT to the captain
My captain
my Friedrich
licks his right index finger and holds it high
Wind west-northwest
full speed ahead

STEWARD springs to attention, saluting
Wind west-northwest
full speed ahead Professor
The admiral and the millionairess return from the large drawing-room, in which a waltz is being loudly played
The admiral goes to the table and sits down

THE MILLIONAIRESS now almost completely drunk, walks up to Kant and spreads her arms
Ladies’ choice Professor Kant ladies’ choice

Ladies’ choice ladies’ choice ladies’ choice

Ladies’ choice Professor Kant
Kant rises from the table
The millionairess takes him in her arms
Ladies’ choice Professor Kant
come along

Go on then
Go on

Kant is dancing
Kant is dancing

This is quite inconceivable

Kant is dancing
The millionairess leads Kant into the large drawing-room
Everybody gazes after the two of them

FRIEDRICH screeching loudly
Kant is dancing Kant is dancing Kant is dancing


The captain, steward, substeward, ship’s officers, and sailors are lined up on board to take leave of the passengers
The steam-whistles sound
On shore are people awaiting passengers; among the expectants are doctors and male nurses from a New York mental hospital
The cardinal appears first and is taken leave of
by the captain
Sailors carrying the cardinal’s luggage follow him
down the gangway and ashore
The steam-whistles sound twice
The cardinal is followed by Sunshine, the art collector
and other passengers
The steam-whistles sound three times
The next to leave is the millionairess with her entourage
Then Kant with Mrs Kant, immediately followed by Ernst Ludwig with Friedrich in his cage, as the steam-whistles sound three more times
The steward and some sailors carry Kant’s luggage

MRS KANT stopping halfway down the gangway and pointing to the shore with her outstretched right arm
the delegation from Columbia University
A brass band on shore strikes up
The steward walks down to Mrs Kant and helps her keep her balance

a delegation from Columbia University
Kant and his entourage disembark

ONE OF THE TWO DOCTORS walks up to Kant and asks          
Professor Kant

KANT, surveying his surroundings with head held high, replies proudly and distinctly
You recognized me
The steam-whistles sound three times
The doctor takes Kant by the arm and leads him offstage
The nurses follow them

The End

Translation unauthorized but ©2012 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Stücke 2 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988)


Anwar said...

Great work sir! Thanks a lot. Your work is worth appreciation as always.

Cy Lester said...

A wonderful translation (for the non-German reader & lover of Thos. Bernhard).

Unknown said...

Have you translated any of Thomas Bernhard's plays?