Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Translation of a Letter about Ludwig Wittgenstein by Thomas Bernhard

Grand Hotel Imperial Dubrovnik [1]


Dear honored Doctor Spiel, [2]

I have promised you an article for your Ver Sacrum—you write, “something about Wittgenstein,” and I have been thinking about this idea [of yours] for two weeks, in other words since the day of my return from Brussels—now I am once again on the road, [in] Ragusa, Belgrade, Rome, etc., and the difficulty involved in writing about Wittgenstein’s philosophy and above all [his] poetry—for in my opinion in Wittgenstein we are dealing with a thoroughly poetic brain (a BRAIN [3]), with a philosophical BRAIN,[3]  hence not with a philosopher—is extreme.  It’s the same as if I had to write something (sentences!) about myself, and that isn’t going to happen.  It’s a cultural-cum-mental-historical state of affairs that defies description.  The question is not: am I to write about Wittgenstein?  The question is: [can] I be Wittgenstein for a single instant without destroying him (W.) or me (B.)?  This question cannot be answered and therefore I cannot write about Wittgenstein.  In Austria (mathematical-musical) philosophy and poetry are an absolute mausoleum; we regard history [from] a vertical [point of view].  In a nutshell, [a nutshell that] is appalling on the one hand, [and] auspicious on the other: in Austria, in contrast to other nations, philosophy and poetry exist not in the consciousness of its people but rather in the consciousness of its philosophy and poetry(-culture) etc., which is a [great] boon for the philosopher and the literary writer, a boon of which he is conscious.
As for Wittgenstein: he combines the purity of Stifter [with the] clarity of Kant and is the greatest [Austrian] since (and along with) Stifter.  Wittgenstein is now for us what we have not gotten from NOVALIS, the German—and one further sentence: W. is a question that cannot be answered—for this reason he is at one with that level of merit that precludes answers (and an answer).
Our present-day culture is in all its unbearable manifestations a culture whose answer anybody who thought it worth doing could easily figure out—only in the case of Wittgenstein is it different.
And the world is always the same excessively moronic, unconceiving world, which is why it is always without concepts—the concepts stand for themselves as concepts.  This is lethal to the MASSES of heads, but no consideration should be shown to the masses of heads.  So I’m not [going to] write about Wittgenstein because I cannot, [or] rather because I cannot answer him; all [the implications of this] are completely self-explanatory.

Best regards and wishes,
Thomas Bernhard

[1] (Editors’ note): First printed in Ver Sacrum, Vienna, 1971, p. 47.

[2] i.e., Hilde Spiel.  For background on her association with Bernhard, see flowerville's translation of Krista Fleischmann's interview with her.

[3] Respectively, GEHIRN and HIRN, two words that are effectively as interchangeable (or non-interchangeable) as though and although or till and until.


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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