Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Translation of "Als Verwalter im Asyl," a Prose Fragment by Thomas Bernhard

The Words of an Administrator at an Asylum1:

Suddenly in connection with a crime, I read, people must have an alibi for a day about which they pretty much no longer know anything, no longer can know anything, I think, with a certainty that horrifies me, hundreds of thousands of people, merely on account of their forgetfulness regarding a specific, hence in many cases a literally lethal day, are persecuted by the judiciary and incarcerated for years, for decades, indeed, for life; one should not believe that prisons are populated only by the guilty; probably there are more innocent people than guilty ones in the prisons; how many innocent people have been executed, I think, and: what was I doing two Tuesdays ago, three Mondays ago, or for example on the day I turned 34?...I no longer even know what I did yesterday, to say nothing of the day before yesterday…suddenly a person is expected to remember what he was doing on April 311 , 1967, today, three years later…it certainly makes a mockery of the judiciary, but at the same time, many of them are among the most unfortunate people whom one can imagine…a person who does not know today what he was doing on April 31, 1967, can, as I read, be sentenced to twenty years of deprivation of liberty, in other words, imprisonment, I think during breakfast, while they are talking…I am silent, because I have made a habit of  being silent during breakfast; they are talking during breakfast, because they have made a habit of talking during breakfast…they talk uninterruptedly while they are eating their breakfast, whereas I think, whereas I am uninterruptedly silent while they are eating their breakfast, while I am thinking…it is the most depressing thing in the world, I think, to think about the judiciary, there is pretty much nothing more depressing than thinking about the judiciary; every day during breakfast I think about the judiciary, I no longer ever manage not to have to think about the judiciary during breakfast…and in virtue of this I would probably be the most fortunate of human beings if I no longer had to think about the judiciary, if I were completely indifferent to everything having anything whatsoever to do with the judiciary…I think: they are talking, whereas you are being silent; by turns I think about the judiciary, and I think with ever greater intensity about the judiciary, about the thousands and hundreds of thousands of judicial errors, about this enormous multi-millennially ancient judicial catastrophe...What does it mean for there to be a judicial error! and what does it mean to be innocent and incarcerated and to have to sit innocently for days and years and decades in our horrible prisons…about this incredible judicial anachronism that nobody ever brings up for debate…you are uninterruptedly thinking, whereas they are uninterruptedly talking, I think, and as they are talking and as you are thinking and as they are eating and as you are eating and they are not allowing themselves to be disturbed as they eat and you are not allowing yourself to be disturbed as you think, as they are eating with ever greater intensity and as you are thinking with ever greater intensity, and while you are thinking and while they are eating, you are all of a sudden becoming preoccupied with the connection between your thinking and their eating and between your silence and their talkativeness and between your art of thinking and their art of eating and between their dilettantism in eating and between your dilettantism in thinking…with what sort of connection there can be between your thinking about the judiciary and their eating, between judicial errors and their ultra-cheap clothing, between your loathing of our brainless laws and of our brainless authorities, between your loathing of the judiciary and their pitifulness, what sort of connection between their constant voracity and your judicial loathing…with the fact that it all boils down to a completely degenerate judiciary on the one hand and completely degenerate people on the other, to rotten and tattered people’s rotten and tattered shoes and rotten and tattered people’s rotten and tattered laws, the fact that there is an unignorable connection between judicial feeblemindedness and asylal feeblemindedness…between criminality and the spooning up of breakfast soup by the inmates of asylums, between the national government and between the municipal council responsible for the asylum, between the legislators of the judiciary and the legislators of the rules of the asylum, between the judicial jails and judicial prisons on the one hand and the old people’s homes and asylums on the other…the fact that the regulations in the prisons and in the asylums are plainly and simply the same as the laws in the jails and in the old people’s homes, that the judiciary may be likened quite unproblematically to the elderly sitting around their soup tureens, that, indeed, these two things, the judiciary and the elderly, the judiciary and the soup tureens, the judiciary and the spoon and the voracity with which this spoon spoons up the soup, are identical to each other…

1 A literal, but no less mystifying, translation of the title would be “As Administrator in the Asylum.”

2 Sic on the nonexistent date, to which Bernhard seems to have had a peculiar partiality:   On February 22, 1981, he wrote to his publisher, Siegfried Unseld, “I wish to publish...a book that I shall deliver on April 31, if this is all right with you!!!”


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2016 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Thomas Bernhard, Werke 14, herausgegeben von [Works, Vol. 14, edited by] Hans Höller, Martin Huber und Manfred Mittermayer (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003), pp. 390-392. Originally published in Merkur 12 (1970), pp. 1163f.

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