Thursday, December 03, 2015

A Translation of "Ein junger Schriftsteller," a 1965 Short Story by Thomas Bernhard

A Young Writer

Today I was prevented by the local police from making progress in my scientific work
and at the moment it seems to me that thanks to an intervention every facet of this work has been destroyed; entire mountain-ranges have vanished from the terra firma of my thought thanks to the uncouthness with which I was torn away from my books and texts and escorted to the police station; entire tracts of land have been simply obliterated.  Now again, as I was a year ago, I am merely a man groping in the dark.  My understanding is a wage slave of madness.  In this handful of hours dictated to me by our melodramatic police a colossal deterioration of my researches and my physics has occurred.  –It is all centered on the young writer who vanished several weeks ago and whom the public (the police) are implicating in the assassination of the foreign minister.  It is a good thing that the man is finally dead, but it is ridiculous that the writer, the very person who has caused quite a sensation in our immediate neighborhood with a handful of books, the author of Sthenia and Asthenia, is being associated with a political event, any sort of political event; theforeign minister, the social democratic bugbear, with the thirty-year-old who wrote The Forest in March!  The police interrogated me for more than two hours.  The police have an enormous mistrust of people who think for themselves, an even more enormous mistrust of people who write their thoughts down and a downright appalling mistrust of people who publish their written thoughts, who make the public aware of them.  The police have an especially great mistrust of writers.  The written word is dreaded.  I said regarding W. that his jacket was black, his head large, his hearing poor; then I said nothing further, nothing until my release two hours later and I thought: in point of exquisiteness of style he is one of our greatest; his titles, because they are so short, are the best ones.  At bottom he is a philosophical mathematician.  Reading aloud gave him no pleasure; he despised his listeners.  He was always surrounded by an overly numerous literary riffraff.  He had always written the loveliest letters, lived through the most horrible childhood.  He was ill; I didn’t know anything about the nature of his illness.  Counting to a hundred had occasioned him difficulties; he had found it impossible to cause pain to anybody; and this is the man who supposedly has killed the foreign minister…He had a predilection for analyzing everything; for weeks on end he said nothing.  Because his jacket was black, everybody must have supposed that he was coming straight from a funeral, or that he was going to a funeral, because his trousers were also black.  He loathed hats.  He loved newspapers, women of an entirely unguarded disposition, children, children who ran around barefoot.  He dreaded dogs and all his life he was worried about catching a cold.  In company his unflagging taciturnity was conspicuous.  He could give you a description of the various species of birds like nobody else’s and was well-versed in physics and with the ecclesiastical liturgy.  He was always talking about rowboats; never about material exigencies.  He said that he always got his flashes of inspiration at night; that he wrote but read nothing.  That he found friendships oppressive.  That as the son of an organ builder he was especially knowledgeable about the preparation of rare woods and light metals.  That he had very often endeavored to secure contentment with his life, but that his disposition had not allowed him to seek out any refuge of any sort that had ever been offered to him.   That nobody knew how widely he had traveled, that he was familiar with almost every European city and landscape; that he was acquainted with the most various, the most mutually antithetical sorts of people and he was falling for fewer and fewer fallacies.  That he now had only so-called inner puzzles to solve; that he conceived of the external world as a body on which one could continually study the scabies afflicting all of nature; that one came upon enormous modifications for its eczemas on its surface.  That he was interested in “a magical something under the earth.”  That he finally and ultimately wished to analyze causes, not effects.  That where the world was fantastical he perceived it, emphatically, proximately; but that everywhere else he was repelled by it.  That half of humanity was nothing and the other conceived of everything as an exercise.  He spoke of the perseverance with which unbeknownst to his intellect he had lagged behind so long “as if in an ulcerous prison of superficies” in his childhood and youth; he spoke of his “beauteous, triumphant vapidity.” He said that he had found it an incredibly thrilling moment when he suddenly began making, producing thoughts out of the images that had seemingly surrounded him “for millennia,” for such production constitutes the greatest of all human endeavors.  Youth exists only in images; the average human being also exists only in images, not in thoughts; the average individual has never had a thought, and the same is true of the average so-called intellectual in his rubbishy, menial world; it is otherwise with the extraordinary individual who can engender thoughts and make and produce them in the extraordinary world.  He said that he had no experience, for no human being has experience; not even an intuition of experience; that he had an intuition of the interstices of life, of the interstices in the nature of life.  That he had been enamored of certain walks and of certain people associated with these walks, people with whom he had been able to express himself in a certain fashion.  That he facilitated conversations; he did not conduct them.  At bottom his participation in the world consisted in remarks on everything.  Incapable of telling a story, he wrote better than anybody else of his generation, anybody else of his time, anybody else in all of Germany.  His contentedness surprised people, as did his congenital need to be highly demanding.  He was too proud as well.  A streak of abusiveness towards his own body was discernable by everybody who encountered him.  Time and again he maintained that he had no use for himself.  Poverty depressed him and so did wealth.  He was always sceptical in the presence of the slightest hint of good fortune, which he described as pseudo-good fortune, a means of taking oneself away, farther away, of deceiving oneself and others from time to time.  Not only did he wear black clothes on the outside, but also his inner self seemed to be lined with a black that he had invented for that purpose.  One was not allowed to feel oneself on a secure footing with him on any subject; he could kill a person with any one of his thoughts.  In every conversation he was accessible to the point of inaccessibility.  When he surveyed everything from a high seat of darkness to which he alone had become accustomed in the course of his development; although this darkness was slowly crushing him; this mechanism, this process, was clearly visible, one could observe this process, he saw through it as well, but only to the point of peering into the distances that left open his brain’s aggregated tensional possibilities.  From time to time he would crawl away into the gloomy rural valleys, into the gloomy civilizations.  The displeasure of repeatedly being in the company of people who disgusted him, and most people disgusted him, was worth hundreds upon hundreds of books to him.  Rivers that stubbornly held to their courses were great favorites of his, as were especially irritating, especially precise figures of speech.  He had never alighted on desirability, only mediocrity.  His lugubriousness was a manifestation of strength of will.  At times he seemed horrified by theories that he had suddenly discovered to be delusional constructions built by his adversaries, by the human residents of the rest of the world, by the rest of the world itself.  He accusingly asserted to the world that he had never wished to behold it; would that he had never been born, he said, would that he had never needed to open his eyes!  He said that his daily effort to rise “above the rank and file and their muck, above their dimwittedness” had embittered him from a very early age.  To be a dog or a cat, he had often thought.  One time, the last time, we were walking through the city, I heard him say that he was a purposeless creature, but that human beings, and above all the masses, impressed him as equally purposeless.  Even I find from time to time that the entire physical geography gives me an impression of horrible purposelessness; every single day at street intersections one can observe the purposelessness of human beings, the purposelessness of nature.  The only true purpose is observing the purposelessness (of nature); thus do the philosophers and their philosophies grow old and thus does even science grow old with an enormous purposelessness!  Purposelessness hisses and roars and it stinks and howls and is ravenous.  Purposelessness is rampant in Europe and in all the other continents; the water is purposeless and the air is purposeless; all of matter itself is purposeless.  This purposelessness is persuasive.  It is purposeless that anything exists; thoughts cannot think their way out of purposelessness.  I also, years ago, walked with him through the forest; during that walk he had spoken in exactly the same way about how purposeless he himself was.  If, he had said, he was purposeless, then everything was purposeless.  I understood immediately: the cerebral competence of the incompetence of nature…the coarseness of those who are perfectly satisfied with their own purposelessness, of the whole heap of normal human beings, had repelled him and overawed him from his earliest childhood onwards.  For a long time, three decades, he had had the world and its enveloping atmosphere served up to him as a supremely sensible regimen; he said that although he had always found this highly distressing, he had always spooned it up without demur.  Suddenly he took a look at it and refused to merge into it ever again.  The success he enjoyed seemed laughable to him.  For him the whole thing was nothing but a “charade.”  He marveled at nothing.  For a long time it had pained him that he was obliged to be here.  Now, I thought (the interrogation had ended, abortively), he has succeeded in achieving what he always desired.  I asked myself where he was staying, but I could not imagine where he could be.  So many places existed in my memory, but not a single one of them was right for him anymore. He no longer fitted into any town, into any city, into any territory, into any system.  I tried to shift him into an imaginary landscape of familiarity, of constancy, but that didn’t work either.  He has killed himself; at any rate he has supposedly killed himself.  But they haven’t found his body.


Source: Thomas Bernhard, Werke 14, herausgegeben von [Works, Vol. 14, edited by] Hans Höller, Martin Huber und Manfred Mittermayer (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003), pp. 364-369.     Originally published in Wort in der Zeit [Word in Time] 10 (1965), H. 1-2, pp. 56-59.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2015 by Douglas Robertson   

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