Monday, September 16, 2013

A Translation of "Politische Morgenandacht" by Thomas Bernhard

Matutinal Meditation on Politics [1]

Meditation: the orientation of one’s thoughts
towards a given subject
Meyers Konverationslexicon [2]

If I now deign to lower myself from the thought that I am thinking, from the rope that I am so expert in climbing, down into the arena of quotidian existence in order to state my opinion of one among several national visions of the Austrian fatherland (my fatherland is world history), if I now delve from the inhumane heights of speculative ideas and ideational speculation into the cartography of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen and into their corporeal and spiritual shiftlessness (in order to tell the truth and nothing but the truth), if I precipitately hurl myself from the heights that, let it be said, you abominate, down into your maws, as though I had suddenly lost all power to resist you, I shall do so in the belief that the following sentences, composed as concisely as decisively as possible, will probably be taken to task for their criminal arrogance, for their treasonous attitude to our country and our people, not to mention their blindness and ridiculousness; some readers them will feel that I am a criminal and belong in a prison (but which prison?), others that I am insane and belong in a mental institution (but which mental institution?).  But such considerations do not perturb me in the least.  To the contrary, they compel me to make the humblest obeisance to the virtue of frankness, in other words to my own self-consciousness.  
I have been asked what I think about (Austrian) culture, obliquely summoned to expatiate on the level it has attained as of this very instant, and basically arrested for the sake of supplying (from my head!) information on that culture, of explaining what sort of influence (Austrian) politics has on (Austrian) culture.  The knowledge, which we may take as a given, that culture has from time immemorial been to all inward and outward appearances the mirror of the politics and politics the mirror of the culture of individual minds, groups of people, and half and whole worlds, licenses me to lean more heavily on the word politics and less heavily on the word culture for the purposes of this explanation that I am now essaying.  For the history of our Austrian politics is, as I know for a fact, more present to [today’s] Austrians[--]in contrast to the Austrians of earlier ages, the Austrians of the monarchy, of the empire[--]than the history of Austrian culture, and the word “politics” has become less of a foreign word than the word “culture” to today’s Austrians—but to the Austrians of today even the word politics, and hence politics in general, and Austrian politics in particular, is not as present in the unique, indulgent, responsible way we that we once took for granted (and whose restoration has since not ceased for an instant to be desirable and needful); from what resplendent heights, heights from which it showered light and warmth upon the entire globe, has it plummeted in the course of a single half-century to its present nullity; an infinitely deplorable casualty, as far as its stratospheric flights are concerned, of a decidedly devastating and annihilating stage in the development of humankind, the global proletarian revolution.  Today, a half-century after the dissolution of the empire, its inheritance is spent, the heirs themselves are bankrupt.  (This state of affairs applies today to all countries and nations in the world that have been reconstituted by the proletarian revolution [as well as to those that have yet to be reconstituted by it].)  Over the wasteland that is the republic, under the most appalling and perfidious intellectual conditions, baseness and stupidity preside in alternation.  In sprouting among us the seed of revolution has proved our ruin, we (grave-robbers that we are) shall go down in history as the genius-less generation.  A spectral symmetry of inferiority and intractability and of intractability growing out of inferiority has become our constitution.  Our nation is a nation without vision, without inspiration, without character.  Intelligence, imagination, are non-existent concepts for it.  In its alpine exclusive feeble-mindedness, it continues at every given moment to prove itself a nation of petty goods-traffickers and dilettantes.  On the miniature mock-up of a territory it has been left with (a mélange of insane asylums and open-air museums for mid-market globetrotters) it works itself up into superlatively horrifying spasms of the mimicry that it has come to regard as an end in itself.  The lowest common denominator is never transcended and the politicians (we are, after all, talking about politicians) and the artists (we are, after all, talking about artists)—science is a unanimous exodus!—are[--]as I, along with everybody else, can observe, my eyes filled with barely conceivable terror[--] the bottom line-driven fabricators of a world conceived with a view to pressing us ever deeper into the slough of disastrousness and ridiculousness.  Meanwhile our downhill march into absolute intellectual (and hence artistic) and hence fundamental (and hence national-governmental) nullity has reached the level of the bond-slave to the most horrifying of all possible visions, driven by nostalgia for his country of origin[;] the trajectory of the perverse emotional hypertrophy of the nation and its social organization now extends into the event horizon of the grotesque.  Wherever one looks, an integral composition of mountains and rivers of the agonized theatrical contemplation of surfaces.  A comatose harmony of fractured dimensions.
At times such as this, one hears on the streets of the capital, which for no clearly discernible reason feels obliged to stage for the world a rousing demonstration of self-abasement, much talk of the fatherland and the government, of democracy and socialism…But the Democrats do not know, or do not wish not to know, what democracy is, and the same goes for Communists vis-à-vis communism and the Socialists vis-à-vis socialism, and so on and so forth…And so the upshot is this: a hundred years ago, a person who said the monarchy was nothing was put in prison and beheaded, today a person is put in prison (or “beheaded”) for saying that Communism is nothing, that socialism is nothing, etc…it’s always the same old story, but I find the same old story with culture preferable (because it is from culture alone that I have derived anything of value at any point in my life) to the same old story without culture, and so on and so forth.  And if I do not adduce any reasons for this preference, reasons that are bound to be completely superfluous to anyone who understands how to think and hence to look and hence to observe (I detest all parties and so forth!), this is because I have neither the desire nor the time to do so…And that the proles (perforce!) have no culture, and that the proletariat has no culture, and that the proles like the proletariat have absolutely no interest in culture, because culture is pretty much incompatible with the concept of the proletariat, and so on and so forth, is an irrefutable fact.  Equally irrefutable is the fact that my existence, and it may be an absolutely abhorrent existence anyway, is of no value to me without the concept of culture, and that when I make use of the concept of culture I am looking to apply the highest, the supremely highest standards, that I have always looked to do so and shall continue to look to do so until the day I die…“The Wicked Monarch and the Poor Prole” has always, in every age, been a fairy tale, and “The Poor Prole” (today proles are ashamed of being proles!) is now an outright lie…In my refusal to repress my devilish irony, I can describe the fact that, for example, “half the administration has defected to the opposition” (just give the sentence a thorough think-through, why don’t you!) as nothing more than a propagandistic glimmer of hope, under whose auspices, because there is no longer any prospect whatsoever of change, everyone is clinging to the god-awful old-timers.  On the foundation of a global political catastrophe, of a global political quandary, a society drawing on every resplendent stripe of imbecile has established itself in Austria, a society that under cover of a thousand-fold supposedly democratic blasphemies about rights and laws adjudicates and proliferates ever more extensively until eventually and conclusively everything with any seemingly just title to the clear and decisive distinction known as fame is utterly annihilated.  The truth is a painful operation to which in certain circumstances the patient’s entire body must be sacrificed.  Austria along with the idea that we have of it must be sacrificed to the truth.  We have derived nothing of value from the annihilation of the monarchy a half-century ago, from the annihilation of Hitler twenty years ago, nothing!  The truth is that with a degree of precision that in hindsight could not but chill us to the bone (if, that is, we were to surrender for but a single moment to the truth as our sole possible rational recourse) the republicans have made Austria into a laughingstock in the eyes of the world and destroyed it, and that for the past two decades we have been being led by, for example, a perversely impotent Nazistic two-party dictatorship that in parliament, in the so-called highest legislative body of the republic, has been all the while washing its mountains of dirty laundry, into an ever deeper abyss.   This is all owing to the fact that the republican ideal in general (one must not lose sight of what a weak-limbed thing it is!), and communism and socialism in particular, are and always have been vague and completely unrealistic concepts, poetic pipe-dreams of solitary uncomprehending noncomprehenders, of nineteenth-century high voltage-brained schizophrenics haplessly smitten with the world and its highly cultivated structure, people who attempted through a series of catastrophic nation-wracking short circuits to electrify the entire world and ultimately did electrify it and incinerate it…and so on.  
Much as I abhor making a long story out of a short one, I cannot refrain from affirming that we in Austria no longer have anything to hope for from the “concept of Austria.”  We will come undone in a Europe that may come into existence someday, in another century, and we will be nothing.  We won’t turn into nothing overnight, but one fine day we will be nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  And we are practically nothing already.  A cartographic nullity, a political nullity.  A nullity in culture and art.  Just open your eyes and you will see that this absolute darkness as yet amounts to but a few microseconds of the full span of history.  How, at this moment, as I behold in its entirety the despair that permeates our nation in doubtlessly permanently impassable labyrinthine permutations, am I to summarize the logic of traditions, my own hair-raising, comprehensive knowledge of the whole subject?:  Austria on the world stage, acting out its own tragedy (in the Shakespearean sense), a tragedy that in full view of the audience has lost its mind and its very consciousness!  By all rights, our existence ought to be an example of pure horror, but in fact it is merely pathetic.        

[1] Editors’ note: First printed in Wort in der Zeit, Vienna, Vol . 1, pp. 11-13; a volume dedicated to the theme The Mis-Politicization of Our Culture.

[2] Andacht on its own can indeed mean “meditation,” but the  word I have translated as “mutitanal meditation” is Morgenandacht, meaning “matins”—i.e., morning prayers or devotions.  The definition of Andacht given by Bernhard corresponds verbatim to the one in the 1893 edition of Meyers, which continues “especially towards God and divine matters, with the aim of elevating oneself above finitude, baseness, [and] selfishness.”  In isolating “Andacht” and truncating its definition, Bernhard seems to be saying both that devotions may be paid to things other than God and that politics is in a certain sense a sacred subject. 


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2013 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011).

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