Friday, February 26, 2016

A Translation of Am Ziel, a Play by Thomas Bernhard. Act I.

The Goal Attained1

Les misères de la vie humaine ont fondé tout cela;
comme ils ont vu cela, ils ont pris le divertissement.

[The woes of human life were responsible for all this;
Upon seeing this they betook themselves to amusements.]




In Holland

Act I

In town
Early morning
Large first-floor room with an adjoining kitchen
Two doors, two windows, a sofa
Several suitcases, some them already packed and shut and others still open; a large oblong traveling trunk
The mother is sitting in a wing-chair and examining an itemized bill
The daughter is making tea in the kitchen

THE MOTHER who is wearing spectacles and a long, warm raincoat
It was my idea
it was my wish
it was my idea
Why have we ever gone there
Now we’re getting our comeuppance
for purchasing season tickets
We shouldn’t have waited so long
Why ever did I invite him
A terrible mistake
Save Yourself if You Can the worst ever title
A talent I said
You are a great talent
And yet I certainly wasn’t all that convinced of it
Successes are really only a matter of chance
Any old thing can enjoy a success
nobody can tell
even when all the ingredients are in place
nobody can tell
It even could have been a complete flop
From the start I thought it would come to nothing
That nagging that intransigence
Are these really human beings I asked myself
Then they suddenly applauded like savages
I don’t begrudge him it naturally
At first I thought it would come to nothing
wallowing in squalor
throwing people’s own muck at them
from up on stage
More and more muck on the stage
until the whole stage is full of muck
then the curtain goes down
when the stage is full of muck
what else is it but muck
Yes naturally they have talent
the young people
and the old artists the theatrical hacks
Don’t you think
it’s trashy to show the people
nothing but their own muck
shouting into the kitchen
Make it strong
I want my tea to be strong
Do you hear he’s demanding eighty thousand
They’re all megalomaniacs
a completely megalomaniacal company
The whole company is infatuated
with itself
setting aside the bill
I shouldn’t have had the vault renovated
I should have left it as it is
The toppled obelisk was really quite a curiosity
eighty thousand just for re-erecting the toppled obelisk
and a bit of concrete
A literary dramatist
what’s the big deal
People enjoy a bit of success and turn exploiters to a man
Published thoughts
All transcribed clichés and aggregated trash
They fancy themselves world-shakers
He maintains he’s an anarchist
that a literary dramatist is an anarchist
An entire hour about actors
and yet he didn’t give a single thought to me the whole time
to the fact that I’m old and hard of hearing
enter the daughter with the tea
and that basically nothing interests me anymore
not thespianism at any rate
not the theater at any rate
the daughter lays out the tea things
The stonecutters are insolent
all craftsmen are insolent
They now outstrip the intellectuals
The triumph of the craftsmen my child
the workers are triumphant
but our kind have not yet grasped this fact
for forty or fifty years now
the workers have been triumphant
they call all the shots
they dictate they determine
they’re polishing us off
the daughter is about to pour some tea
her mother stops her
It’s not time yet
You don’t know a blessed thing about tea
you don’t know a blessed thing about world history either my child
You must let the tea steep
For twenty years I have been trying
to teach you that
Your father wanted an obelisk
he picked it out himself
even back then that was ludicrous
Times have changed from top to bottom
everything’s changed from head to toe
everything’s gone topsy-turvy
expertly done my child expertly done
Now pour the tea
the daughter pours the tea
Now we’re getting our comeuppance
for the fact that I didn’t cancel our season tickets
it’s all just a matter of habit by now
of course we stopped liking the theater a long time ago
we only pretend to like it
we hate it
because it has become a matter of habit for us
But we even hate Shakespeare
and we hate ourselves
when we go to the theater
Even before the start of the play
we have seen through it
beginning to examine the bill again
I haven’t been very quick to pay
it took two years
for the obelisk to be re-erected
more than two years before everything was finished
I haven’t paid them anything in two years
Paying tit for tat my child
One mustn’t deal with people so straightforwardly
They threaten me with a lawsuit
they threaten me with a second lawsuit
then I pay
and naturally I deduct twenty percent
even then it’s still always much too expensive
Of course people are impressed with themselves
if they have even managed
to hammer in a nail
Dilettantism reigns supreme everywhere
but it’s especially repellent in craftsmen
If we’re lucky
it won’t rain
on the other hand I don’t mind traveling on rainy days
It will rain
I know why I never have anything done here
everything would have to be changed
but I won’t let a craftsman in my house
nothing is ever going to be changed here again
Sure if the lights fall down
but otherwise nothing
The whole thing is already crumbling to bits
whenever you walk I think
the house is about to collapse
you have picked up such an awkwardly loud gait
on the other hand you can’t help it
I say please don’t walk so loudly
but it doesn’t change a thing about your gait
We should have sold the foundry while there was still time
and gone to the seaside
nobody not a human being in the world could have stopped us
but we missed the right moment
because nobody would buy a foundry these days
at least not such an outdated foundry
we had a great offer my child
eighteen million
but I thought that wasn’t enough
If we miss the right moment
it never comes again
I thought I could drive the price up sky high
then suddenly it was over
I thought the same way about the twenty-five million
I gambled away
Some people drink tea
others coffee
they can be divided into those two categories
You are a coffee-drinker
He no longer dared
to touch me
his mere presence disgusted me
I was very consistent
after we came back from Rome
he had stopped touching me
You were already twenty-two
good Lord I thought
what kind of child is this
unattractive somewhat mentally backward
but loveable
You always took more after your father
It could have been anybody else
Well it was your father
the foundry played a big part
I wasn’t sure
whether I was marrying the man or the foundry
I never really knew
whether it was the foundry or the man
to whom the foundry belonged
and the house at the seaside
I found that enormously charming my child
a man a man who was by no means hideous
with a house at the seaside
I had always wanted that
a house at the seaside that belonged to me
On the one hand there was the foundry
and house at the seaside
and the security that emanated from that entire constellation my child
I can’t say
I had no other choice
no I can’t say that
He had turned up
and he told me about his foundry
and that he was all alone
that his parents had lost their lives
the two of them at the same instant
I was moved when he said
they had died instantaneously
between Florence and Bologna
I had been moved by that my child
and he said he had a house at the seaside
Perhaps I had never been moved so much by any other story
we hear something moving
from a man who because he is telling us something moving
becomes moving in his own right and we marry him
I didn’t want to have anything to do with my husband
The foundry and the house at the seaside
and then on top of all that a child
your brother the poor thing
two-and-a-half-years old and gone
He had a face that looked ancient
I didn’t want him I found him too hideous
can you picture it to yourself
he had come out looking just like an old man
it happens in one out of every three million births
ancient-looking skin
every part of him was deformed
This is my punishment I thought
now you have been punished
I thought continually about nothing
but how to get rid of him
at one point I got the idea
of incinerating him in the oven
but what next
I wrapped him back up and sang him a song
I made myself sentimental
and in doing that I made myself much trashier
I wheedled myself along
and in secret I wished for my child’s death
I didn’t dare show my child to the world
everybody wanted to see him
but I didn’t show him to anybody
and I kept saying the right time would come someday
I had miscalculated my child
The foundry and the house at the seaside
and the child
I had miscalculated
Then I traveled to the seaside and thought things would get better there
but things couldn’t have been any worse there
I wanted to pull the blanket over his face
and smother him
but I didn’t dare
I thought that if I did that I would have ruined myself
on account of a person who wasn’t a person at all
an unprepossessing little beast
I loathed Richard
Your father was the most unfortunate person
he kept coming out from town and asking
what mischief is our child making
I hated it when he asked that
I thought you were mischievous enough to make the child you piece of trash
and now you can’t stop asking me
what mischief this deformed creature is making
I couldn’t help wondering what’s going to happen
when the creature is fifteen or twenty
or twenty-five
But he never made it that far
I had yearned for his death so ardently
that he died
how ever much I retched
whenever I pulled back the little curtain
he was still in his wicker pram
but then all of a sudden he was dead
suddenly he had a beautiful face
ancient-looking but beautiful
because I so ardently dreamed of his death
Richard do you understand
your father the Wagner fan
just when I was on the point of showing my child to the world
these were my very words to myself
it was dead
I kept telling people
that I had never seen such a beautiful child
that I had waited so long to show him to everybody
so as not to damage his beauty
that I had wanted to keep their grubby gazes away from my beautiful child
yes I said just when I was on the point of showing you him
he was dead all of a sudden
it was raining cats and dogs
crazy isn’t it
those people had no idea
of what was lying in the coffin
something horrifying
something ancient
a white coffin
and so many fresh flowers
Our Richard
I had him chiseled in stone
Suddenly I became anxious
All my moments were anxious
And I loathed your father
I got him out of the way
I barricaded the door of his room
points at the door
For weeks on end years on end
I stared at that door
and dreaded
that he would emerge from behind the blockaded door
he knocked but I didn’t open it
he pounded on the door
but I didn’t open it
he was already half-dead with pounding when he stopped
then I took my pills
By the morning he was gone
the foundry needed him
I traveled to Katwijk
I stayed there a whole year
Low and high tide
High and low tide
then I traveled back
and then you came  
We never escape my child
Pack only the bare necessities
I always say to myself
Only the barest necessities
and now we’ve once again packed a huge amount
The daughter rises and resumes packing
I wanted to help you
even with my pains
but you refused to let me
They always start in my heels
and then spread up to my back
The daughter opens the large traveling trunk
That trunk has a long history
it was my only contribution to our marriage
that trunk
And do you know what was in the trunk
Have I ever told you
Haven’t I ever told you

No Mama

An old horse blanket
of my grandfather’s
nothing else
that was it
Your great-grandparents had pretty much nothing
he was a clown a clown
his wife was completely deaf completely and utterly deaf
drinks and puts her cup back on the tray
It didn’t taste right
when you make tea it never tastes right
brewing tea is a science
naturally the water
but it is an art
I want my cognac now
Get the cognac my child
The daughter fetches her cognac
Completely deaf do you understand
and he was illiterate
genuinely illiterate
they brought five children into the world
poor people have the most children
two survived
one of them was my mother
your grandmother
the daughter pours her mother a glass of cognac
She cast me out somewhere in Holland
at in inn
she went into the inn
to the lavatory
and cut me loose
and came back out with me
went to the house of a girlfriend
who took her in for a week
then she went back to work
Only one of us is allowed to drink
only I am allowed to drink
From nothing do you understand
suddenly in a house like this
a foundry
a house at the seaside
to say nothing of everything else
But naturally it didn’t happen overnight
This hideous individual showed up
with his hideous voice
and told me about his foundry
back then your father had the habit
of saying the first word
of every sentence twice
it was unbearable my child
I was horrified by this man
as he had sat there
and talked about his foundry
And then he had said
when I have had enough of the foundry
I travel to the seaside
I have a lovely house there in Katwijk
naturally that hadn’t meant anything to me
I had of course had never yet seen the sea
I had always wanted to see the sea
anybody who hasn’t seen the sea
isn’t a human being yet I always thought
and I still think that today
So I pack my things
and head for Katwijk at the seaside
a big house and high and low tides
which I had never seen high and low tides
he demonstrated them to me
he bent all the way over
and demonstrated to me the high and low tides using both his hands
I had taken him for a madman
A madman I thought
But then it had become apparent
that everything he was saying made sense
the foundry made sense
and so did the house at the seaside
and even the high and low tides
and the money at the bank
I asked my friend
would you do this
even though you couldn’t stand the man
the way he talked about the high and low tides and demonstrated them
the way he was always talking about his foundry and describing it
and about his house at the sea
that his grandfather bought
he exudes such a horrible stench I said
from his mouth
and I don’t care for his fingers
or his hands overall
his face is hideous
but the way he talks about the high and low tides
would you do this
then she just said yes
And what a Yes it was
I can still hear that Yes precisely
I have had it in my ears for twenty-five years
I can’t do an impression of it
I should be able to do an impression of it
I can’t do an impression of that Yes
Yes she said nothing else
she heard me out and said yes
And then I did it
do you understand
I loathed everything about that man
I even loathed the way he walked
I hated his gait
and the way he sat down
and the way he stood up
and the way he folded his hands
and the way his nostrils flared wide open
when he said low tide
and flared just as much when he said high tide
This friend you understand
the one I asked
to take me in with you
she had never seen the man and she said Yes
the daughter puts a beige dress into the trunk
I already had the trunk
when you came into the world
I took it abroad with me
Of course I hadn’t gotten around much yet back then
and I still hadn’t seen the sea
But I thought the foundry was interesting
just like the fact that my husband said all’s well that ends well
he said it all the time
even when there was no reason for it
All’s well that ends well
That was a habit of his
He blew his nose too loudly
All’s well that ends well
at every opportunity
On the other hand he had very good manners
as befitted a member of the upper gentry
and yet his manners weren’t quite the best manners
in fact he cut a fairly ridiculous figure
whenever he exerted himself
for example as he was opening a champagne bottle
that was always very amusing
he didn’t realize this
and I was always asking him to do it
your father was clumsy
a thoroughly clumsy individual
I was fascinated
by the way he said foundry
he said the word foundry
as though it had been a real treat for him
When you say the word foundry
you remind me ever so slightly of him
ever so slightly
ever so slightly
He was in the habit
of sleeping with the windows shut
I couldn’t stand that
I kept opening the windows
but then he would come down with colds
so I simply moved out
At first we shared a bedroom
but that didn’t last long
It was stupid of me
to keep lecturing him
on how unhealthy it was
to sleep with the windows shut
I should have said it two or three times
but I kept saying it over and over again
over and over again
and plenty of other things over and over again
stupid things that got on his nerves
I preached and he listened
but he didn’t understand a single word I was saying
All’s well that ends well
Whenever he came in for breakfast
he would say all’s well that ends well
and when he came home from the foundry he would say
all’s well that ends well
We would be walking along the shore my child
and suddenly he would stop and say
All’s well that ends well
One fine day he decided he wanted a dog
I didn’t want to deny him his wish
but it was a silly idea
he started saying all’s well that ends well to the animal
I couldn’t take it anymore
I poisoned the animal
you won’t remember that still
it was too long ago
but you were already around
but you were so little that
you won’t still be able to remember the dog
I wouldn’t let any dog any animal anywhere near you
When we would be walking in the park with you in the middle
and there was reason whatsoever for doing so
he would say all’s well that ends well
he used to say it to your brother too
All’s well that ends well
I gave him books to read
but he never read them
I would ask him to summarize the books for me
but in doing this I simply tormented him
I am going to the foundry he would say
and he would invariably add all’s well that ends well
He loved cufflinks
he had large gold cufflinks that he had inherited from his father
but I couldn’t abide cufflinks of any sort
he also insisted on wearing a specific type of sandal at the seashore
I hated those sandals
because they exposed his hideous toes to view
he just couldn’t comprehend that he didn’t have the right feet for sandals
He had no liking for any kind of literature
I of course had always been in the habit of reading
because I’d never had anything else
but he loathed literature
and the theater
The only exception was Hans Andersen
he would sit there in that window
right there do you see it
and read the story of the little match girl
hundreds of times
I let him do it
I would have been a criminal not to
I was filled with contempt for him as he sat there reading
and my contempt was unfathomably deep do you understand
drinks; then
You must pack the coats separately
from the dresses you know that of course
and put the heavy things at the bottom
and the light things on top
If I didn’t suffer from these pains
I would help you
tries to stand up and immediately sits back down
It’s the humidity in this house

At the seaside it’s also humid

Yes but not in an unhealthy way
it’s not unhealthy at the seaside
at the seaside it’s humid
but not in an unhealthy way
but here it’s humid
and it makes you ill
everything here makes a person ill
we must make sure
we get away from here
this is the best time of year
When I asked your father why
he had gone into the inn
where he made my acquaintance
he said he didn’t know
that he had gone into it purely by chance
Then I explained to him
that it had not been by chance at all
I couldn’t stand it when he said
that he had made my acquaintance
purely by chance
It was not by chance at all I said
it was calculated
naturally he didn’t understand
When I saw the foundry for the first time
I was appalled
what business did I have being the wife of the owner of a foundry
I had buried my face in my hands
but suddenly I had discovered something to take pleasure in there
namely all the noise
and the people in the midst of this noise
and in the stench
all that smelting and sizzling do you understand
They had taken advantage of him
your father was stupid
he should have treated those people completely differently
he had a manager
who had been bilking him for years
who had set aside millions for himself
but I put an end to the whole thing
I cleared away all those people
I let go half of all those people
I would have let it come to a trial
but it didn’t get anywhere near to coming to a trial
You are the dupe
you are the moron
I said
You are being taken advantage of diddled
When you’re new on the scene
you have an incorruptible view of things
When he came home he was exhausted
All’s well that ends well
I put ornamental plants
all around all the common areas
all of a sudden everything looked completely different
inviting do you understand
The trade union had him in their pocket
But then I came
and took over everything
as was only proper
we are the dummies I said
not them
we are the ones who are being exploited
not them
There were some protests
but they died out on their own
The workers and I understood each other
Ever increasing demands
and they met them
it couldn’t last
You decide what has to happen at the foundry
not them I said
it’s your foundry
not theirs
it’s your life
our existence
not theirs
I had a good hand
We had to let half of them go
in order to convalesce
His illness had flared up
You were seventeen years old then
We were in Katwijk
when his illness flared up
You still had a year of high school to go
I thought then
before anybody had begun thinking it was serious
this is the end for him
It took its time my child
progressed imperceptibly for years imperceptibly
until it finally flared up
Have I told you
how I said to the doctor this is his death isn’t it
and the doctor answered
Yes this is his death
It was so obvious
It didn’t really upset me at all
I was so busy with the foundry
Back then I let him into my room a couple of times
but nothing changed
back then he also made me sick
When he went out
When nothing had changed and when he went out
he would turn round at the door
there at that door
in that clean nightshirt that he loved so much
and say all’s well that ends well
it made sick but I said good night
I knew he would be dead soon
he didn’t know it
he was so naïve my child
he saw nothing that was coming his way
he didn’t see the revolution coming
and he didn’t see his death coming
but I saw both
the revolution and death
his death
All’s well that ends well it sounded so helpless
and yet squalid
I wouldn’t allow myself to fall for it
I said good night and loathed him
He always wanted those same ankle-length nightshirts
with the green border of roses on the collar
How I loathed those nightshirts
but I couldn’t bring myself to take
a couple of such trifles away from him
He climbed freezing into my bed
but couldn’t manage to get warm
From Saturday to Sunday he would beg
but then I wouldn’t let him in
the daughter folds a black dress and makes as if to put it into the trunk
For twenty years I’ve been dragging it around
and in those twenty years I have not put it on
a single time at the seaside
Let me see it isn’t it already in tatters
the daughter brings her the dress and holds it up to the light and the mother examines it
It had its appointed day
But to put it on a second time
would have been mendacious
But pack it all the same
who knows
I may suddenly get the urge to put it on
the daughter takes the dress back to the trunk and packs it
Every year exactly the same garments
And I haven’t bought any new ones in years
because I have you
with your talent as a seamstress
Most of them have gone out of fashion
Bring along your blue suit

Yes mother

I love it
when you are walking along the shore with me in Katwijk
and you are wearing that blue suit
I love it
And the black shoes from mother

Yes Mama

You should buy new shoelaces
the old ones are already knotted
Buy some new shoelaces in Katwijk

I am already looking forward to Katwijk so much

Yes so am I
it is the same every year
I have only one goal the entire year

DAUGHTER points to a gray dress
Shall I iron it first
holds it up high

no don’t
The daughter puts the dress in the trunk
During the day I’ll wear my sundress
and in the afternoon I’ll have my pleated skirt
which you have ironed nicely
If I didn’t have you
And we’ll make the day trip to Amsterdam
Perhaps this year our virtuoso violinist is already there
Why do these people always have colds
But you will have your literary dramatist of course
It was my idea
it was my wish
We have a moment of weakness
and commit a blunder  

What was this blunder

My inviting the literary dramatist to Katwijk
you wanted it
you wanted him to travel to Katwijk with us
I didn’t want it
how can I want it
no I don’t care for these young people
and I certainly don’t care for these intellectuals
these people with their intellectual ambitions
I have never cared for these people
they only ever throw everything into confusion
and turn everything upside-down
It was a mistake to invite him to come with us

But he’ll only be staying for just a day or two

Yes that is the plan just a day or two

He was so delighted
he really admires you Mama

It was a mistake to invite him
But it was a momentary feeling
a remarkable feeling
of loyalty to you do you understand

Such a great success Mama

But that doesn’t prove anything
the people were in the right mood and they made a success
but it could have gone the other way and then there wouldn’t be any success
nothing was definite until the very end
nothing absolutely nothing
then there was silence
and the people applauded

And we applauded Mama

I cannot comprehend
why they applauded
when it had obviously been a play
in which they were pilloried
and in the basest manner
to be sure with wit as well
but with a malevolent wit
with maliciousness even
with absolute maliciousness
And then they applauded all of a sudden

It was a proper a really huge success

A success what does that mean
then the people pour out into the street
and the whole thing is forgotten
that means nothing a success on one evening
And if it reached to a lifetime’s work

What is a lifetime’s work Mama
The people clapped they liked it
They liked the actors
They all liked it

I liked the actors
the actors were magnificent
but the play

I think it is quite an extraordinary play

As if you understood even the slightest thing
About literary drama
the people understand nothing
and applaud themselves to death
because they simply feel like applauding
but they applaud even the most nonsensical things
They even clap at their own funerals
they applaud every box on the ears
that they receive
they are boxed on the ears from up on the apron
and they applaud this
There is no greater perversity
than the perversity of theater audiences
It was a senseless idea
for us to meet
with your literary dramatist afterwards
An autograph
What a perverse idea
What have we got to show for it now
now we have fallen out of the habit
who knows

He agreed immediately

I didn’t say
we’re going to the seaside come along
of course I didn’t want that at all
I said we’re going to the seaside
and then he said he would also
like to go to the seaside
Have you been to Katwijk then I said
and he said no
he hadn’t been to Katwijk
then you talked about how lovely Katwijk is

It’s true Katwijk is lovely

Then I said
she’s right Katwijk is lovely

Katwijk is quite lovely I said
because we have a whole house to ourselves there
and you can walk alone along the shore for hours on end

And then I said
have you ever been at the seaside anywhere
and then he said naturally
a literary dramatist
must be familiar with the sea
must be familiar with the high and low tides
a literary dramatist must be more familiar with the sea than with anything else
if he is familiar with the sea
he will also be familiar with the laws of his art
I found everything that he said
very perplexing and pretentious
Suddenly I said to him several times
a literary dramatist
which seemed absurd to me but I said it
A literary dramatist
must always be familiar with the sea and himself
while he is writing
while he is propelling his work of art forward
with the high and low tides

High and low tides he said
he kept saying high and low tides

It was fairly preposterous what he was saying
he was agitated
the people exalted him to the skies
But they could just as easily have annihilated him
with a single blow
that evening
they opted for applause
not for annihilation
But it is a theater
in which both things are possible at any time
or annihilation
and at the end too
or annihilation
I reckon our literary dramatist
had a lot more luck than brains
We see something that we can’t excuse
that we loathe
and applaud and then
I didn’t applaud at first
but then I did applaud after all
I couldn’t do otherwise
But then once we had left the theater
I felt ashamed
I applauded which was shameless
And then that arrogant face of his

He is not in the least bit arrogant

A literary dramatist
is inherently arrogant
they are applauded and are megalomaniacal
or they leave the theater through the back door
with their head retracted

Little by little
it leads to catastrophe

And constantly threatening to keel over
When one gives free rein
to actors who have developed to such perfection
with such devotion to the work of art
whereas I am not sure
whether or not it really is a work of art
With what shamelessness the public
is unprecedentedly abandoning itself
At the end they are all just standing there exhausted
and nobody knows what just happened anymore
and they are overwhelmed with applause
Your father couldn’t be taken into a theater
under any circumstances
He had his foundry
You got your love for the theater from me

Yes Mama

But my passion has diminished a bit
Drains her glass and pours another drink
I have become rather skeptical indeed about
what comes down from the stage
I used not to be
now I ask myself
whether this is still profitable
whether I shouldn’t cancel our season tickets
it’s nothing but repetition
we have already seen everything
seen everything and heard everything
that comes down from the apron
Good Lord what else do they show you
but people who are sick and who die
violently or otherwise
that they’ve got to give up the ghost
that they’ve got to be stabbed or else
poisoned or else
or they quite simply pass out
which makes for a spooky effect
And we have already seen our fill
of costumes haven’t we

No no there’s always something new every time
it’s always entirely new
if we have the will for it
if we really want to see something new

If we really want to see something new
Well who says
that I want to see anything new
Perhaps I never want to see anything new again
Because I have had enough

He has offered
to carry our bags downstairs

Has he now

Yes he’s offered to
A couple of days at the seashore
that will surely do him good
Since we have so much room in our house

And where will he be accommodated

In the room next to yours I guess

That won’t do

It would be the simplest thing

No no that won’t do
he will sleep upstairs in the attic
or downstairs

Upstairs or downstairs what difference does it make

It makes no difference
yes naturally it makes no difference
He will only be bringing one small bag
for two days

He is going to tutor me in the art of drama
He is going to read me The Broken Jug

The play by Kleist

Yes he promised me to do that

You are going to listen to him
you are going to sit right in front of him and listen to him

Yes Mama

And he is going to read you Kleist’s comedy
perhaps even outdoors on the open sea
and in a loud voice and you are also going to listen to what he is reading

These are going to be a lovely couple of days
It’s all going to be so much fun

that’s what you call it

But maybe he won’t be in the mood for Kleist
and he’ll read me something of his own
something new he’s written

Oh good Lord you imagine it so elaborately
as if you already knew exactly
what is going to happen there
what is going to be there

I don’t know
what’s going to be there

I can easily imagine

Perhaps he’ll sleep late too
and lie in bed with the windows open
to let in the sea air
it’s a necessity for him
A whole year with the play
with the comedy as he calls it

The sea air there will certainly do him good
I often ask myself why a person makes something
that is basically nothing
What is he actually making
Of course I also ask myself what it is
that I am making
And you
and everybody else
It’s nothing absolutely nothing
and everybody is utterly consumed with this futility
that is tailor-made for them and they wear themselves out
annihilate themselves
and they do it with such consistency
What good does it do me to say
I am a literary dramatist
I am the owner of a foundry
I am the widow of an owner of a foundry
or does it do you to say
I am the daughter of a widow of an owner of a foundry
What is all this
that’s what I ask myself
Or if somebody asserts that he’s the pope
and that humankind can’t do without him
that’s what I ask myself
these are all nothing but tailor-made exercises in futility
and all of them put together are human society
It all fails to convince me
it’s always failed to convince me
But why amid so much sheer futility
shouldn’t there also be literary dramatists
Do you think of him as honest
I mean as far as what he writes goes
what he’s trying to say
after all every literary dramatist
is trying to make a statement
isn’t he

He is honest Mama

But what he’s doing is futile
Naturally because everything is honest
even mendacity is honest
we say we are honest and yet we sometimes lie
we lie and yet we sometimes tell the truth
perhaps that’s what it is
Whenever I talk like this I really build up quite a head of steam
but it’s futile
We go to the theater and see a play
we step out of the theater and tell ourselves it’s futile
and we don’t go back to the theater
and don’t see any plays and tell ourselves it’s futile
And if he reads The Broken Jug to you
it will also be futile or won’t it

The Broken Jug is his favorite play

Naturally The Broken Jug is his favorite play
but your favorite dramatist is your literary dramatist am I right

But you used to like The Broken Jug as well

Yes twenty years ago
even fifteen years ago
back then I liked everything by Shakespeare
but I also liked operettas
Wasn’t that nice
the way we kept going to operettas
less to the theater proper

I don’t know

That was much nicer

We have progressed

We progressed from operettas
and not from operettas to opera
but rather from operettas directly to the theater proper
that really is quite remarkable

That really is better
from operettas to plays
and not just to opera

You say that as if you understood something about it
It sounds really fine
it is extraordinary
but it’s still tasteless
it’s extremely tasteless my child
this is all owing to the influence
of your literary dramatist
And when you say
the upper classes should be abolished
and moreover radically abolished
that isn’t coming from you at all
that is your literary dramatist talking
the man who whips up the downtrodden masses as you say
Say it do say it my child
such pure drivel do say it
Rouse humanity to action
that sounds hilarious when you say it
when you say promulgate the truth
It’s like when your father said all’s well that ends well
it’s the literary dramatist talking
it’s the anarchist talking
it’s the road map talking
But does your literary dramatist really know his way along the road
is there a single human being who knows the way
it’s all tasteless all deception
all self-deception  
It was terribly unfortunate my child
that you ever stumbled upon literature
If only we had never set foot in a theater
now we are paying the price
for our for assiduous pursuit of culture
smites her forehead
it is of course insane
what you’re working at is crazy of course
suddenly in a different tone of voice
do you still hear from Johannes every now and then
the daughter shakes her head in the negative
These people don’t accomplish anything either
they make a splendid entrance
embark on careers
tackle everything with youthful gusto
uproarious applause wherever you turn
and all of a sudden there’s silence
they’ve turned into nothing
And Raimund
Have you heard anything from Raimund
the daughter folds a sundress and places it in the trunk
But he did write to you
How were things in Paris anyway

He didn’t write to me

I know for a fact that he wrote to you
Raimind wrote to you

He didn’t write to me

Everybody pulls away from you
because you bungle everything
your bungling is the issue
To think of all the things I tried
but you were too stupid for my attempts
my simpleton of a child
who never could comprehend anything
I liked Raimund
He was always tight-lipped at the right moment
then talkative again
and elegant he was always elegant
and when you conversed with him
you didn’t need to feel embarrassed
the only thing that always bothered me was the way he said supper
there was something perverse about it
but otherwise
I was also fond of his parents
You should have made an effort
but you have never made an effort
And Ludwig went to America
that was no big surprise
the troublemaker the visionary
have you heard anything from him

No nothing

New York is hell my child
At first it seems to be an enjoyable city
but it turns out to be hell
You’re not the emigrating type
I’m not either
I would perhaps have let you roam
if I were healthy
but it’s better for you that you are here
by my side
protected by me
I often ask myself whether you’re worth protecting
I don’t know
I protect you
Father didn’t believe in you
she’s going to rack and ruin he always said
she’ll come to nothing
she’s got nothing but drivel in her head
she isn’t agile enough
she is unmusical immusical
and she hasn’t got any business sense either
Good Lord how easy it was for him to say all that
We’re too hard on other people my child
We see and see nothing
one person becomes something
and we never thought it was possible
and another becomes nothing
and we sank all our hopes in him
Everybody has a deceitful development
All’s well that ends well
Your father was no seer
the foundry crushed him
sometimes at night he would throw himself against my door
which thank god was locked shut and scream
that he couldn’t take it anymore
I would said nothing in reply
And wait until he had calmed down
not a word from me nothing
then he would go back to his room
he would whimper at the door
I would hear him but I wouldn’t open the door
He would be sinking ever lower I could hear it
he would knock a couple of more times
and then fall silent
I would tiptoe up to the keyhole and see him lying there
but I wouldn’t open the door
Everybody must manage to cope with himself my child
but there’s no escape
The daughter clears away the tea things
Always the same movements
always the same facial expressions
You never change
but you’re aging like everybody else
but I can observe it in you
how quickly you’re aging
It’s just a neutral statement
getting away and getting old
I only hope he’s punctual
your literary dramatist
What is so mysterious
about artists
so special about them
They are different it’s true
we speak completely differently with them than with the likes of ourselves
we listen to them more attentively
we observe them more intently
when we see through them we are disappointed
what is left is an upset stomach
and a disturbed head
We stuff them full of extraordinariness and exceptionalness
and tear it back out of them
until it makes us sick
Sure once upon a time I thought
I was going to marry an artist
not an actor a genuine artist
I didn’t have any clear idea of one
but he would have to be an artist
I hated businessmen the commercial world
But everything turned out differently
When I had reached the very end of my rope
this man with a foundry sat down at my table
I had been blubbering earlier
My eyes were still sopping wet
where to now I didn’t know
All’s well that ends well I can still hear it
the word foundry the word seaside
I was repelled and attracted at the same time
repelled by the man
but attracted by the word foundry
The truth is that I had fallen in love
with the word foundry
I thought I was dealing with a madman but no
A complete stranger and your father
He was a rotten individual
his character I don’t know
but he had no other choice
I refused to let him go
I cleaved tightly to him
I embraced him
he had no way to escape
All’s well that ends well he said to me in the park
when I told him that a child was on the way
you are a dimwit I said
you’re a moron you’re worthless
exit the daughter with the tea things
her mother calls after her
I said you’re an idiot
I thought I’ve married a madman
And then this child
He was a huge Richard Wagner fan
Richard he said to the old man in the cradle
He had thrown up when he saw the child
Whose fault is this he asked me
I am going to smother it I thought
enter the daughter with several coats
the letters he wrote me
were too fatuous
he talked me into traveling with him
to Basel where he had business to attend to
The people he rubbed shoulders with made me sick
But I didn’t run away quite the opposite
she drinks
we were in Naples in Florence
we were in Russia
I got bored my child
I had quickly gotten used to luxury
to the new clothes to the big rooms
I got settled in Katwijk
I walked up and down the shoreline
I had acquired so many things
I had never even dreamt of
the daughter hangs the coats on a hook in preparation for packing them
Astonishingly he couldn’t dance
I laboriously taught him
a couple of steps
till he could manage to tango
Your father had never been to an art gallery
I hadn’t either
so we went to one and looked at the paintings
but I found it boring
high art bored me
I learned to write
to read and write
because in truth I couldn’t do either
when I met your father
at first he was more than my match in all things intellectual
but all of a sudden I had overshot him
at first he didn’t notice this
that was my trump card
he fell for my feints more and more often
I could already write letters
I corrected business letters
I soon learned how to dress
addressing her daughter point-blank
At first I had just one dress
and now I have so many dresses
that it almost drives me mad
it was bound to get out of hand
a pair of shoes
and now
always more and more
but we soon lose our appetite for it
A surplus turns into a surfeit
The fact that his parents weren’t alive anymore
was an asset
the story of their misfortune
naturally didn’t move me
he always told it the same way
and waited for a sign that I was moved
but I was never moved
It’s good that they’re not around anymore I kept thinking
If they had been we couldn’t have gotten married
Richard that horrifying face of his
as if he was already eighty years old on his first day
there was no explanation for it
It was impossible to stop him
from going to the cemetery every Saturday
one fine day I told him
that I would leave him
if he continued visiting the cemetery
you are driving yourself completely mad with your cemetery visits I said
all week every week I heard nothing from him but
on Saturday I’m going to see my parents
by which he meant going to the cemetery
that had to come to an end
But I know that he secretly called on them
The moment Richard was in the ground
he stopped going there
it happens in one out of every three or four millions births
a newborn looking like an old man
children are a curse in the best of cases
be glad that you haven’t got any children
You were a hideous child
with good-natured eyes but really hideous
it took a long time for a human being
to become visible in that hideous flesh
you smiled that was it
that reconciled me to you
but everybody was appalled
they wouldn’t admit it to me
but I saw that they were appalled
You should have been a boy
We’ll stop by Amsterdam and buy ourselves headscarves right
Ah once we’re in Katwijk
Of course I don’t know a thing about our literary dramatist
is he from the country or from the city
I haven’t the slightest idea
I don’t know this man from Adam and I say
do come with us to the seaside at Katwijk

He is a city person

From Amsterdam

No from Rotterdam

Of humble origins no doubt

His father worked on a fishing cutter

How does one come to be a literary dramatist
a moronic question
it’s like asking
how does one come to be old
Well of course he must be musical as well

He is musical
he used to play the violin

Used to play the violin
everybody used to play the violin
Rotterdam’s not a bad place to begin
I know a few people who are from Rotterdam
and who have amounted to something

He left Rotterdam when he was young

What did he study at school anyway

I don’t know

you can study theater
the art of drama I don’t know

He lived for a long time on a stipend
but I don’t know what kind of stipend

A drama stipend probably
but what is that
probably you go to a famous writer
and ask him
to teach you how to write a play
You go to a theater and see how a play is performed
No one knows how to become a literary dramatist
They say his plays have been staged and have been successful
but how did that happen
He certainly couldn’t tell me
explain it to me
There are these plays
that rubbish everything
that belittle everything into rubbish
A man enters the stage and with the first words he says
he has pronounced his own death sentence
And the woman he’s speaking to
he tears to pieces along with himself
it’s all so reckless
everybody enters and is sentenced to death
and he calls his play Save Yourself if You Can
because it’s clear that nobody can save himself
it’s ridiculous to think about saving yourself
everybody is destroyed at the denouement
everybody is running himself into the ground
as they all set about trying to rescue themselves
they talk and they run into the ground
they sit around and run themselves into the ground
there is no exit
Do you believe that life is the way it is in that play
Save yourself if you can that’s cynical
puts down her glass and stands up and goes to the trunk and peers into it
This was always the coat trunk
takes out a coat and folds it and places it back in the trunk
At the seaside all the wrinkles just drop right out
she helps her daughter pack
I always wanted
to go to Peking I don’t know why
I had a soft spot for the Chinese
now it’s too late
now I’ve also lost all desire to go there
just a couple of years ago we still could have gone there
not any longer
All my life I dreamt about meeting new people on a ship
about a proper adventure on the high seas
I used to think about a captain
a world-traveler
who knew the world
but in the end I never met one
If the foundry had never existed
and your father made that impossible for ever
How quickly we adjust
assimilate to use that lovely word
lifts a winter coat up high
Still quite a beautiful piece of clothing isn’t it
So much naphthalene
I really can’t stand it

Sit down Mama
I can do all this by myself
the mother goes to the chair and sits down
the daughter looks at her watch
When he comes will we be ready

I have always loathed packing
but also unpacking
of course everything we pack
we have to unpack again
drinks and raises her voice
Take a sip
one sip for you come on
the daughter goes up to her and takes a sip from her glass
What don’t I owe you everything my child
And now
do you intend to leave me
you won’t leave me
you simply can’t
you simply can’t survive without me
you would perish without me
if you go away you will perish
But you are completely free naturally
You can do whatever you want
I’ve always told you that
free free my child
Now finish packing
so you’ll be ready when our friend arrives
our dramatic genius our successful writer
who wrote the drama Save Yourself if You Can
the daughter goes to the trunk and packs the coats
Once we’re in Katwijk and listening to the Bolero
with the windows open what do you think
will you be tickled

Yes Mama

When we’re sitting side by side
and playing the Bolero
as we always have done
or I’m reading you something
or you’re reading me something
when we draw lots you to me or me to you
It is really quite nice when I’m listening to you
as you read to me
or as I read to you
and you’re listening to me
So many books in Katwijk
Or does all that not tickle your fancy

Yes Mama

I don’t know if it tickles mine
I had such a great hankering for Katwijk
and now all of a sudden
the thought of going there makes me sick
I loathe that trip
that empty landscape
that horrifying house
But it’s simply a habit
We can’t break it
We’ve been leaving town on this date
for thirty-two years
But for twenty years we’ve been making the trip alone
just the two of us

Twenty years are enough
And of course he’ll only stay for two days

Who knows
He may come to like it and stay longer
or you may come to like his being there
It was a mistake on my part
I was overhasty
I should have said young man your play is an extraordinary play
and we were really impressed by it
and then we should have left
We should have gotten his autograph from him
and then vanished straight-away
Because I had a weak moment
I said do come with us to Katwijk
Now after this success
you can treat yourself to a couple of days at the seaside
You weren’t opposed to the idea

I wasn’t opposed to the idea

I need not have invited him

But it was quite a good idea
to invite him to Katwijk

You say that so readily
It was not a good idea
We must forever be doing something to spite ourselves
we don’t know why
We go with him to the market
We listen to fine music with him
We dine in a fine restaurant with him
How old is he  

I don’t know

Barely over thirty
am I right

Yes perhaps

He didn’t take a bow at the end of the performance
but it’s traditional for the author to bow
at the end of a performance
He simply has to make an appearance then
it’s something he simply owes the audience
he faces the audience and takes a bow

That’s not his style

Not his style
It’s his style to high tail it outside
through the back door
Through the rear entrance
as if he had a guilty conscience
Probably our literary dramatist actually does have a guilty conscience
It’s that kind of play
it makes sense if he has a guilty conscience
he’s got to have one
he has no other choice
so he’s got to withdraw through the rear exit
and naturally he doesn’t take a bow
That wouldn’t make sense
and strictly speaking it would be in poor taste
And does he earn any money
I mean has he got any

I believe so yes

Where does he live anyway
Where does he live

In Rotterdam

In Rotterdam that tells you nothing
Who knows what kind of life he leads

I think everything he does
is quite normal

How can you be sure of that
these people are dangerous
they sound you out
they sidle up to you
and then they detonate something


Something or other
Being in the company of people like him always gives you the creeps
You embrace them with open arms
and they murder you

You make everything so dramatic mother

Perhaps we ourselves
are dramatic material in his view
we’re a treasure chest
literally a treasure chest for a dramatist
for a dramatist like him
who hauls out everything
from the deepest depths


Perhaps you say
He has tasted blood
he has seen us for only a couple of instants
and has tasted blood
Katwijk what a lode of material for him
and to begin with your father and all the others
how and from what we got to be what we are
He’ll come to Katwijk and beat some capital out of us
He takes what people give him
have you seen his eyes
creepy aren’t they

Do you think so

I do think so
I do
By the way he said
I would be glad to be your guest
his very words were glad to be your guest
Which of course means that we
will have to pay for his train ticket

Yes that’s what it means

Isn’t it unusual
to buy a man one hardly knows
a train ticket to Katwijk

But everybody knows him really well
he is a celebrity

Perhaps he is a celebrity he could be
But I cannot buy him a train ticket to Katwijk

Naturally we’ll pay for the ticket Mama

I have no intention of doing that
on the other hand
how will I come off looking
if I don’t pay for his ticket
if I don’t cover all his expenses
given that I have invited him to Katwijk
I said do come with us to Katwijk
I didn’t say come see us in Katwijk
so probably I’m obligated to pay for his ticket to Katwijk

He’ll be a great help to us
You know how much trouble we always have
getting our luggage to Katwijk

If he’s robust and dexterous

He is dexterous

But he isn’t robust

He’s dexterous and he’s robust

A literary dramatist isn’t supposed to be robust

Oh but Mama

How can you know that

He is robust

These people are megalomaniacal
but robust they aren’t
from the fact that he writes robust dialogue it obviously doesn’t follow
that he is robust
And who knows perhaps he’s lazy
Writers are lazy individuals
perhaps literary dramatists are even more lazy
But perhaps we’ll find him not only dangerous
but also entertaining
that certainly wouldn’t be a liability
But once you’ve seen his play
you’ve got to be apprehensive about this person
Now we’ve invited him to come along with us

You invited him to come along with us

I invited him along
I said
come with us to Katwijk
He accepted the invitation immediately
which really astonished me
I didn’t think he would accept it

He immediately said yes

Even though he had no idea where Katwijk is

I think that’s sweet
the fact that he accepted without knowing where Katwijk is

People like that are dangerous
people who make up their minds to do something
without hesitating for an instant
these people frighten me
We should learn more about him
about his parents and so forth
Does he have siblings


We’re taking into our house a person
of whom we know nothing
apart from this play of his with the remarkable title Save Yourself if You Can
he is a cynic
But he is still quite young
but that is what makes him dangerous
Are you writing another play yet I asked him
and he said nothing in reply
But it would have been so easy to say something
at least yes or no
but no he said nothing whatsoever
He found the question tiresome
examining the bill
Erection of an obelisk
Masonry work etcetera
eighty thousand
sets the bill aside again
All year long I think of nothing but the moment
when we can get away from here
but we’ve attained our goal
everything is in reverse
to the daughter point-blank
Come pour me some more
I need it
I can’t put up with this without it
the daughter goes up to her and pours her some more cognac
To think that you can tolerate it
without touching a drop
You are my pure child
I am your impure mother
your dreadful mother isn’t that so
the daughter returns to the trunk
The mother who keeps her child clasped to her bosom
and never lets go of her anymore
until she suffocates
Am I not right

You’re only tormenting yourself

My favorite preoccupation
is self-torment
As I have been butchering you
as I have been butchering you all these decades
I have also been butchering myself
in love do you understand
we are chained to each other in love
in true maternal love
A mother doesn’t want to give away her child
she chains it to herself
and never lets go of it again
and if it tears itself away
it is punished with death
no sooner has it torn itself away than death ensues
Do you understand me
You are intended for me
I brought you into the world for me
You are not Richard
the child that got away
You are here for me
for me and me alone
Don’t you ever doubt
that you belong to me and to me alone
every last particle in your body belongs to me
exit and reenter the daughter with one arm laden with skirts, all of which she sets down on the windowsill
I loathe the stench of naphthalene
looks around the room
All year long this room stinks of it
Because we never let any air in
But then when we’re at the seaside everything is open
Day and night everything is open
and the sea air floods all the rooms
Every time we leave on a trip
I am condemned to inactivity
then I can’t cope anymore
then I am reliant on your help
One fine day the foundry will be all eaten up what then
Then we’ll move for good to Katwijk
and give up everything here
and using the money we’ll get for this house
we’ll live in Katwijk
I of course won’t be alive much longer
And for you I’m sure we’ll find some solution
But don’t ever think about escaping
You have tried it so many times
but you have never succeeded
I’ll never set you free
I brought you into the world for me
for me alone
as long as I’m here you belong to me
You enjoy every liberty you know that
but you are duty-bound to me through the end of my life
You can treat yourself to anything
I have never yet denied you any wish
at least not any reasonable wish
but I won’t leave you out
not now that you have become completely accustomed to me
We have gotten used to each other so nicely
Ah my dear child
You mustn’t make me feel sad
beckons her over
Come here
come here right now
I want you to come here
the daughter goes to her
the mother takes the daughter by the hand
Even if you’ve had a rough life
perhaps it’s really the only possibility
Kneel down before me
Please kneel down
the way you used to
You were just a little girl
Back then I forced you to kneel down
Now I ask you to
the daughter kneels down before her
her mother kisses her on her forehead
We ourselves are to blame for everything
We had no other choice
We are facing the consequences
This is the way I have always loved you
in front of me on your knees
This regal bearing of mine
And you wait for me to give you permission to rise
From one second to the next
My little girl
my little girl from Katwijk
come rise
enough rise
the daughter rises
I can’t stand it when you kneel down before me
But I can’t do a thing about it
I want to see it
the daughter returns to her work
You have never done anything
without my permission
You never would have done anything without my instructions isn’t that right
There’s no need for you to answer
He was always saying that you were his creature
but you are my creature
you came out of me
you have derived yourself from me
I should have kept making visits to the foundry
but I no longer had the gusto for it
If your father had lived longer
it would have been just as horrible
basically neither of us should have been involved in it at all
What would he have developed into
a baneful development
He would have ended up with foundry on the brain
and from then on taken no interest in literature
and not wanted to hear a note of music
and his brain would have gotten more and more tired
Can you imagine what it would be like him still alive
and we having to put up with him
Even then he was getting more and more like an animal
Back then he would lie on the sofa for hours on end
and stare at the ceiling
I have completely lost control of myself he would say
I am all torn up inside
then he would say all’s well that ends well
that calmed him down
points at the sofa
Then he lay there and told me I was to read the story of the little match girl to him
and I refused
if I had known that he had only two days left to live
but I didn’t know that
I knew he was going to die
But I didn’t know he would within two days
At the end he didn’t ask to see you
He didn’t ask where is our child either
I told him you had gone to Katwijk
but that apparently was of no interest to him
although he did cry out for Richard quite often
For our old man
Early in the morning he wanted to go out
but of course he couldn’t walk at all anymore
I told him no not today no
I’m sorry
but when I saw him lying there
with his mouth open completely emaciated
he looked as he done at the inn
like the man who told me about his foundry for the first time  
I sat there and observed him and loathed him
soon I won’t have to see this face anymore
this dimwitted expression I thought
removes a ring from one of her fingers
Come here
You shall have it
You know it’s my most valuable piece of jewelry
So come over
You always hesitate
You needn’t hesitate
Perhaps our literary dramatist will like it
Come here
the daughter goes up to her
the mother puts the ring on her
I saw it in a jeweler’s window as we were passing by
he didn’t hesitate
takes her daughter by the hand
How lovely the ring is
I was planning
to give it to you in Katwijk
why not now
We will have a lovely summer in Katwijk
we have always had lovely summers there
even the rainy summers in Katwijk were lovely
It’s really nice that we’re together
that we’re alone
without any interlopers
Nobody can be allowed to pull us apart do you understand
The daughter returns to the trunk
When we form a picture of a person
and we think we are picturing him as he is
we have pictured him completely inaccurately
it’s not like that with the picture I have of you
We tell a story
and it’s a completely different story
We go see a person
and he’s a completely different person
We are horrified by what we placed so much trust in
In principle I have nothing against other people
if they leave us alone
You think about your missed opportunities
everybody has always missed every opportunity
I think we ought to be content
and to be sure we are when we’re by ourselves in Katwijk
Perhaps the violin virtuoso will be there
and his friend the magician
It really was a lot of fun watching the two of them
But we mustn’t let them get too close
People fraternize with one another and annihilate one another
Artists are the most dangerous types of all
But is a literary dramatist really an artist
You can observe him
it will quickly become clear that he isn’t right for you

Maybe for you

MOTHER aghast bursting into laughter
For me

Yes for you
Maybe he’s right for you

Wherever did you get that idea
It would be absurd frivolous

He accepted your invitation
I didn’t invite him
I didn’t think he would come with us

You never would have dared to invite him would you
not without my permission
I said come with us to Katwijk

He can read you something
and you can listen to him
while I take a walk

Your taking a walk
while he reads me something
Do you think I have any interest in that

You’ll really enjoy it
And you’ll have what you’ve been looking for for so long
and what’s more thanks to a dramatic artist
who’s very good-looking

Do you think he’s good-looking
Perhaps you’re right

It doesn’t much matter to me that he’s a
literary dramatist

You say that with such an insinuating air

I’ll be happy
if he provides you with some conversation
Most of the time we really are quite bored in Katwijk

Is that true
Do you see it that way
I have never been bored in Katwijk
here I’m bored
here where there are supposedly so many opportunities for conversation
No as long as I’m satisfied with myself

DAUGHTER raising her voice
Satisfied with yourself

You can’t imagine
You really can’t
you need a good whipping

Perhaps you’re right

I am right
But I don’t need one
I converse best with myself in solitude
Other people only disturb me
I don’t care for interlopers
because they disrupt my conversation

Your conversation with yourself
For thirty years forty years you’ve been carrying on nothing else

I was alone with your father as well
I was totally oriented towards myself
He meant nothing to me I can say that for sure
I couldn’t converse with him about anything
he went out of his way to be boring
All his employees were boring
For years I tried conversing with him
and eventually I gave up
But unlike him I never allowed myself to be annihilated by the foundry
I had no interest in that
I always talked best with myself in solitude
People don’t understand this
Because they always need to be in a group in order to be entertained
I’m a group on my own that’s what I am
In Katwijk I am so many people at once my child
the daughter folds a blouse and lays it in the trunk
Because you don’t need me at all in Katwijk
I need you that is clear
I have always needed you
but that is something different


I have grown lethally accustomed to you yes lethally

I wait on you
I am here for you

Yes my child you have gradually learned
to divine my every wish from my eyes
or from a subtle hand gesture
You have learned a great deal along these lines
And so all your wishes will be fulfilled

DAUGHTER bursting into laughter
All my wishes

I know your laugh
it doesn’t affect me anymore

Naturally it doesn’t

You always laugh the same laugh
and yet it’s always with a different nuance


What if he writes a play
in which this laugh plays a role
I could imagine such a thing happening
and he calls his play The Laugh
And this laugh keeps being heard over and over
But Save Yourself if You Can is also a lovely title
I like his cynicism

You are always the same

Everybody is always the same
they try as hard as they can
to get away from themselves
to become another person
in vain
they put on the face of another person
but it melts away
You have never tried to be anybody else
You wouldn’t dream of it
you are ever more yourself
it is a process of calcification isn’t it
Your nature is self-calcifying
that was already evident when you were still quite a young child
I thought she will always be herself
but more and more calcified more dogged
you never wanted to come out of your shell
you only ever wanted to go deeper and deeper into it
Now you are completely trapped inside yourself
You never give a thought to escaping
isn’t that right
In Katwijk I will go straight to the tailor
the skirts need to be altered
the linen needs to be mended
in the country they still alter things mend things
For that reason alone I should go to Katwijk
the daughter goes to the kitchen and drinks a glass of water
Bring me a glass of water too
the daughter returns with a glass of water
the mother drinks then
At first we wanted to change everything in Katwijk
now I’m glad that nothing has happened in Katwijk
Even if everything has gone to pieces
the whole thing is in a desolate state
hand her daughter the glass
But that’s the charm
never knowing
whether the rain will seep in
whether or not the whole thing will collapse right over your head
I can’t love a house like that
Even if he likes Katwijk
I think he writes so that I’ll know
that he likes Katwijk
But if he likes Katwijk
the daughter takes the glass into the kitchen
You have seen him only two times
once on your own
and yesterday at the performance
raising her voice
How did things go when you talked to him on your own
the daughter returns, goes to the trunk
Did you get the feeling
he was an honest sort of person
An artist never gives you that feeling

It really didn’t last very long

Was he dismissive

No not dismissive

How did it go
if it didn’t last very long
how did it go
Did he ask any questions
or did he just talk about himself

I don’t know

These people only ever talk about themselves
Once I was quite horrified in Katwijk
suddenly a man was standing in my room
A stranger I thought
but it was your father
It’s quite spooky sometimes in Katwijk
Are you ever afraid in Katwijk


In that we differ
I am afraid
you aren’t afraid
it should be exactly vice-versa
Have you ever given any thought to that

To what

To the fact that you should be afraid in Katwijk
not me

Not me

No you
not me
it doesn’t make any sense


That you are not afraid in Katwijk
that I am afraid

I have never been afraid in Katwijk
because you are with me when we are in Katwijk

Because I am with you
Then for a while you are quite happy
you have a good complexion
when we get back from Katwijik
Now you’re already quite gray-faced
it can’t just be age
the whole atmosphere of this place
I don’t look so good either
the doorbell rings

He’s here

MOTHER after checking her watch
Fairly punctual fairly
exit the daughter
the mother talking to herself
We will lodge him in the attic
all the way upstairs
naturally all the way upstairs
enter the daughter with the writer
We’re almost ready
almost finished packing
We’ve gotten this far already
Please do have a seat
she points at a chair; he sits down
the daughter puts a waistcoat into the trunk
You don’t have the best complexion either, sir
Everybody’s gray here
it’s high time we were in Katwijk
It’s been thirty years
more like forty years
since my husband was still alive
we haven’t changed our rhythm of departure
to her daughter
isn’t that right my child
to the writer
She doesn’t remember exactly anymore
In any case it’s unimportant
The important thing is for us to get to Katwijk in good shape
For forty years we’ve been taking the same train
By the way how do you like traveling by train

I enjoy it very much

I am a passionate train-traveler
First class naturally
and naturally a window-seat
on account of the train air
There is no lovelier place in the world
for train travel than here in Holland
don’t you agree

Yes it’s lovely
to ride in a train through Holland

My daughter and I
we have a quite specific rhythm
in Katwijk
You are the first person in many years
who has interrupted this rhythm
We have always been quite alone in Katwijk
Are you familiar with Katwijk

Unfortunately I’m not

Well you’ll soon see what kind of place Katwijk is
It’s been in the family for quite a long time
and remarkably it hasn’t changed at all
in all those decades although of course in those same decades
the world overall has changed enormously
My daughter was quite enthused by your play
Don’t you feel yourself endangered
in enjoying such a huge success
isn’t it dangerous for your work
aren’t you horrified by the reaction
I believe a literary dramatist wants to have a success
but once he’s really had one
it’s such a violent success
that he’s actually horrified isn’t that right


I can well imagine
that it’s very dangerous
to enjoy such a success
a cataclysmic success as they say
thanks to such an unpredictable audience
thanks to such a genuinely unpredictable set of critics
A literary dramatist
a person who is after all unsociable by nature
suddenly bombarded with applause
But this is all so much reckless rambling
No doubt you celebrated all night long

I ran away
at first I thought I was going to celebrate
because the actors were celebrating
they all were celebrating
but then I ran away
I wandered around the city half the night
I hadn’t the slightest idea
of what had happened

Were you really expecting your success

I was hoping

What were you hoping

That things would go well

And in fact they went excellently
You can’t ask for anything more
now they can call you a successful literary dramatist
perhaps someday even a famous successful literary dramatist
Don’t let yourself be bothered by too much applause
just calmly revel in it
In Katwijk you’ll have enough time to reflect on
what should happen next
There you’ll sit on the terrace
and first of all just let everything pass by
And then everything will be clear again
One is completely bowled over by so much applause isn’t one
It’s all applauded
and destroyed
And one needs a lot of time afterwards to put everything back in order

I stood up right until the end in the theater
and applauded

I kept saying let’s go why don’t we
it’s all exaggerated I said
but you were impervious to my words

The people wouldn’t leave the theater
they stood in the lobby and talked
I think they all had been deeply impressed

Yes that’s nice
with the writer’s help, the daughter closes up the trunk
My daughter is highly receptive
to literary drama
It was always her wish
to perform on the operatic stage
for years she took singing lessons
but it didn’t work out
the daughter and the writer press the trunk firmly shut and lock it
One has to deal with the fact
that one isn’t getting anywhere
Yes that’s the way it is sir
to her daughter
You can call the maid
when everything’s ready
to the writer as he takes up his bags
The theater is one of the possible ways
of putting up with it isn’t it
exit the daughter
the mother speaking to the writer and looking out the window
whenever we go to Katwijk
the weather turns nasty  


  1. This title, apparently given to the play by Stephen D. Dowden in his 1991 monograph Understanding Thomas Bernhard, is the one by which it is best known in English.  The original German title is most literally translated as At the Goal.  The play was premiered on August 8, 1981 at the Salzburg State Theater as part of the Salzburg Festival in a production directed by Claus Peymann.

Source: Thomas Bernhard, Stücke 3 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988), pp. 284-350.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2016 by Douglas Robertson

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