Friday, February 26, 2016

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

The Goal Attained1


ACT II

At the seaside
The evening of the same day
A large ground-floor room with a terrace
The mother and daughter still in their travel clothes
unpacking the trunk


WRITER sitting in an unupholstered chair
I could have followed that path
but I took the other one
they said it will lead to a dead end
you’ll be a failure
A course of study in architecture madam
settled upon in advance by my father
Blueprints made of pure fantasy
fantasy cathedrals
It looked as though I were listening
but I was following the other path
from the outside it looked as though I were following the path that had been settled on for me
but I was doggedly following the other one
which I had to follow
Even though I couldn’t have had a clue
about what a writer was
even though I had no idea
of what literary drama was


MOTHER
So you dared
to go against the grain


WRITER
I did dare to do that
and I thought against the grain
I thought against the grain about everything
Being against the grain held my interest


MOTHER
And you confided your thoughts to your mother


WRITER
No naturally not even to my mother
I couldn’t allow myself to confide in anybody
I had to go it alone
alone with the utmost decisiveness and in the utmost secrecy


MOTHER
To set out on your adventure


WRITER
To set out into the darkness
I oriented myself towards the darkness


MOTHER
So you made yourself quite at home
in the darkness


WRITER
If you insist on putting it so grotesquely
yes
They told me I had to brush my coat clean
but I didn’t brush it at all


MOTHER
You had always thought along those lines
and double-crossed your family
who were always well-intentioned towards you


WRITER
They were indeed well-intentioned towards me
But I was also always well-intentioned
but in a different way


MOTHER
In a different way in what sense


WRITER
I wasn’t quite as well-intentioned as they were


MOTHER
Which strengthened you
you offended everybody
you destroyed everything
for the sake of getting your own way
you had no need to show any consideration
you annihilated everything around you
for the sake of being able to breathe more deeply isn’t that right


WRITER
I felt a sense of solidarity with myself
and with nobody else
I extricated myself from the others


MOTHER
You extricated yourself at the expense of your family
What sort of people were your parents


WRITER
Everything disturbed me everything irritated me


MOTHER
Everything irritated me


WRITER
They would slip me into my jacket and say
this is the jacket you will be wearing for the rest of your life
and I would slip right back out of the jacket


MOTHER
And they would slip you right back into the jacket


WRITER
Yes


MOTHER
And you would slip right back out of the jacket


WRITER
They would slip me into it
and I would slip out of it
time and again they slipped me into it
and I slipped out of it


MOTHER
Until they were exhausted


WRITER
Yes


MOTHER
And you no longer had any obstacles


WRITER
I went away and made myself self-sufficient


MOTHER
Away to where


WRITER
I wanted to see Paris and went to Paris
But in Paris things weren’t so easy either


MOTHER
Why not


WRITER
I didn’t know a word of French
and couldn’t understand anybody


MOTHER
Were you good at picking up languages


WRITER
I picked up French
in six or eight weeks
because I was hearing nothing but French
and I wanted nothing more
than to speak French
But once I could speak French
far from perfectly of course
I realized
that Paris wasn’t for me
it was crushing me
Before it completely crushed me I left Paris


MOTHER
And where did you go next


WRITER
To England
because I already knew English
and it didn’t present any difficulties to me


MOTHER
And how did you earn your living


WRITER
I worked at the port
Ports are the same everywhere


MOTHER
Because of course you’re from Rotterdam
People from Rotterdam feel more comfortable in England
than in France
this is always being proved afresh
You go from Rotterdam to Paris and fail


WRITER
But that experience was necessary to my work
A writer who has failed in Paris
has a certain advantage


MOTHER
That’s interesting


WRITER
We make an attempt
to change society
but naturally it doesn’t succeed


MOTHER inquiringly
No


WRITER
Yes we can clearly see
where all these attempts have led
namely back to the starting point
everything ever thought is repeatedly
thrown back to the starting point
Naturally this is already a step forward


MOTHER
Do you want to change society


WRITER
Society can’t be changed


MOTHER
You see


WRITER
But we keep making the attempt


MOTHER
Yes


WRITER
It all hinges on the attempt


MOTHER
Very interesting
You write even though you know
that you can’t change society by writing


WRITER
Yes
No writer has ever
changed society


MOTHER
It’s been proved


WRITER
It’s been proved
We have evidence only for the failure
of writers
All writers are failures
there have only ever been failed writers


MOTHER
And Shakespeare


WRITER
Shakespeare too
I said all didn’t I
they all start from the same place
namely failure
if they’re worth anything
Only the dimwitted ones the bottom-shelf ones
have never once had this thought
The thought of failure
is the essential thought


MOTHER to the daughter
This is all absurd
don’t you think
Everything is cut and dried and everything fails
because it must fail


WRITER
We must come to this realization
that we fail
whether we acknowledge it or not


MOTHER
I don’t pay it any mind
as long as it’s interesting enough
A writer learns from himself you say
by studying his position


WRITER
By studying himself


MOTHER
My daughter thinks it was quite natural
for me to invite you to Katwijk
I still can’t fathom it
After all we don’t know you from Adam


WRITER
So it’s an adventure


MOTHER
To think that I am capable
of inviting a person
whom I have seen just one single time
and the briefest of times at that


DAUGHTER
You saw him two times


MOTHER
I saw him two times
but each time was the briefest of times
For me this invitation
has something revolutionary about it
Probably I thought
this exhausted individual must be helped
we are going to Katwijk
he’s got to come with us
that was the idea


DAUGHTER
I think you couldn’t have asked for better actors
I can’t imagine
that there are any others
who could do your play justice


WRITER
If we’re very lucky
and happen upon the best of the best
but we’re not always so lucky
then the whole thing is stillborn
even before the curtain rises


MOTHER
You have been that lucky sir
The way that old king
said the word moralist
the way he said it


DAUGHTER
And the way the farm girl curtsied
she didn’t do anything else
but that curtsy


MOTHER
These horrible silent roles
these characters who are perpetually silent
there actually are such people in real life as well
One person talks and the other holds his tongue
he might have a lot to say
but he’s not allowed to say it
he has to tough out this onerous ordeal
we offload everything on to the shoulders of the tongue-holder


WRITER
Everything


MOTHER
You also slip your characters
into a hideous jacket
All your characters
And they can’t slip out of their jackets
like you
who slipped out your jacket
You thrust all your characters
into hideous jackets


WRITER
There literally are jackets
hideous jackets
which I thrust my characters into
but of course they slide right into them voluntarily
they are actors after all


MOTHER
Do you think so


WRITER
An actor wants nothing more
than a hideous jacket
the more hideous the jacket
the writer has given him is
the better
The most hideous jacket
for the greatest actor


MOTHER
As if you were trying
to make all these people crazy
as if you had a craving
to drive them mad


WRITER
Oh no
it’s not like that
at the last minute all these characters slide out of
their jacket
they tear off their jackets
before they suffocate
there hasn’t yet been an actor
who’s suffocated in the jacket
a writer has slipped him into
the jacket’s not lethal
it’s not a lethal jacket madam


MOTHER
How lovely that you’re here
I thought you might have a cup of tea with us
sits down at the table
Please do sit down
make yourself comfortable
looks at the sea
You really have expressed in the most wonderful way
how a literary dramatist
makes the high and low tides his own
Enter a maid, who serves tea
Naturally we live in a completely different world
my daughter and I
Our mechanism is quite different
One might argue that it is monotonous
but it’s really that way only superficially
to her daughter
So come on and sit down with us
A hot cup of tea
at the cold seaside
looks out at the sea
After we get here it rains
it rains for a couple of days
I get used to the rain
and then I actually start getting annoyed
when the sun comes out
the daughter sits down at the table with them
I was surprised
that you look so young
a bit exhausted but still quite young
exit the maid
I used to enjoy classic plays exclusively
then I suddenly made this habit
into an accusation
on the other hand


DAUGHTER
Someday our writer
will be a classic


MOTHER
Good Lord this child
to the writer
you see now you’re blushing
The road to becoming a classic is an awfully long one
on the other hand
one is either a literary classic from the outset
or one isn’t
This fresh air from outdoors
this is what Katwijk is about
You will see that it will do you good
You will in any event profit from it
You will leave Katwijk
with a good idea
I’m quite certain of that


DAUGHTER
Perhaps it’s too peaceful for him here
nothing happens
for days on end nothing
for weeks on end nothing


MOTHER
Perhaps that’s just the point
When everything is superficially peaceful
as peaceful as it is here in Katwijk
then the scene in our minds
is most certainly quite dramatic
to the writer
have I hit on something
I think I’ve really hit on something with this remark
the writer looks out at the sea
You’re searching for good fortune I think
Where is it your good fortune
My husband used to stand out there for hours on end
leaning on the lamppost
and gazing out at the sea
When I asked him what did you see
Because I loathed him when he stood there leaning against the lamppost
I kept asking him what the hell do you see
time and again I asked him what the hell do you see
I wanted to torment him
he wanted peace and quiet
I didn’t want it
so I tortured him
I kept asking him from over his shoulder
just like now I would sit here and stare at his back and ask
now what do you see
what do you see tell me what you see
Of course you don’t see anything I would say
he wouldn’t budge an inch
you don’t see anything and you’re staring out at the sea
Now what do you see out there
I knew he wasn’t going to answer me
He would turn around and walk right past me
without saying a word
he never replied
Everybody sees something different when he gazes out there
everybody sees what he wants to see
to the writer
Even you whom we know nothing about
But then we aren’t going to ask you


WRITER
Ask me


MOTHER
There are some people we interrogate
and drive to distraction
and others to whom we don’t pose a single question


WRITER
A couple of years ago
I wouldn’t have let myself be interrogated
Now I couldn’t care less


MOTHER
A couple of years ago
the daughter opens the trunk and takes out the coat on top


WRITER
When I shunned questions


MOTHER
When you ran away from questions


WRITER
When a person is a nobody


MOTHER
But every person is


WRITER
Yes but there are people
whom you can’t get away with questioning
or at least not until a certain definite point in their lives


MOTHER
Not until they have become somebody
then they dare to answer questions
But of course you have become somebody
that’s what all the newspapers say
And Lord knows
what will be written about your premiere tomorrow
You have nothing to worry about


WRITER
Who knows


MOTHER
I have a feeling
you will enjoy success
it will last for a while


WRITER
Then it will end
all of a sudden


MOTHER
Maybe
it’s clear that you are enjoying success now
and you ought to exploit this success


WRITER
But the way I am


MOTHER
What


WRITER
Unlike you I can’t say exploit


MOTHER
Ah yes because you’re with us in Katwijk
and letting yourself go just a little
and dining well with us
and walking along the shore


WRITER
I should do that
turning to the daughter
Will you come with me


DAUGHTER
I would enjoy that very much


WRITER
It’s so easily proposed
and just as easily accepted
A walk along the shore and back


MOTHER
There’s nothing lovelier
If I were in better shape


DAUGHTER
Mama


MOTHER
I couldn’t even if I wanted to


WRITER
Unceremoniously
without thinking about the future


MOTHER
That is your curse
that you are constantly thinking about the future
or about the past
that’s just as bad
You should think about the present
pensively
Every time we sit here the first night
we’re disappointed
it’s cold and sinister
don’t you think so too
we talk ourselves into believing it’s nice here
to think of all the things we talk ourselves into believing
That the air is better here
that we come up with different ideas
that


DAUGHTER
All year long mama has only one goal
to go to Katwijk
and then it gives her the chills I’ve never known her to be any different


WRITER
But we aren’t always disappointed
when we arrive somewhere


MOTHER
I remembered the house being much bigger
And the people friendlier
the way they always rushed to greet us
today it was quite different
Yes disappointment is the right word


WRITER
You must get some rest madam
Tomorrow it will look quite different


MOTHER
By then you will have slept well
and taken a morning run
turns to the daughter
with you perhaps
we must make use of these days
we always think there are an infinite number of them
when there are all too few of them left


WRITER glancing around
A beautiful house masterly architecture


MOTHER
Studying architecture
that of course was something else you could have done


WRITER
Undoubtedly
in a certain way it’s a bit similar
to the art of drama


MOTHER
Perhaps by now you would be a well-known architect


WRITER
No that I can’t imagine
from the start I couldn’t
I dreaded building contractors
you have to deal a lot with the government
which is depressing
little by little it destroys your soul


MOTHER
You need only a sheet of paper and something to write with
nothing else
You build your plays yourself
and nobody else stands in your way


WRITER
Right so it’s the only possibility


DAUGHTER pulls a coat out of the trunk
Making art for yourself alone as you do


WRITER raising his voice
Art art
for myself alone
what is more terrifying than being alone
with yourself


MOTHER
But you did say
that the best company is one’s own
that the best conversations are with oneself
that the best impetus is oneself


WRITER
I did say that
but in practice


MOTHER
Ultimately everybody is alone
people may join forces as they see fit
they remain alone


WRITER
But a writer is most especially alone


MOTHER
He wants to be


WRITER
Yes he wants to be
he curses it and he wants it


DAUGHTER
It had always been my desire
to meet a writer


MOTHER
A literary dramatist
a famous one naturally
success is the attraction


WRITER looking out at the sea
Or a painter
but everything has already been painted
everything has already been written
everything has already been full stop
We repeat what has already been
in our own way
we slip into the jacket that is our subject
and step out into the street in it
so we showcase something new
Look at that remarkable jacket they say
look at those outrageous trousers
in doing this we are no different from other people
from anybody who has ever lived


MOTHER
Every time before we come here I think
the house really isn’t that cold
and the house turns out to be terribly cold
wraps herself up in a blanket
Won’t you take a blanket
I used to ask my husband that
won’t you take a blanket
he refused because I had asked him
he was ill then
immobile for three weeks
he didn’t budge from the spot
brimming over with pain
he loathed Katwijk
he flourished once we were back in town
enter the maid with the writer’s bag
the mother to the writer
Your bag
to the maid
Where was the bag anyway


MAID
In the garage


MOTHER
In the garage
that is really remarkable
exit the maid
of all things your bag
the writer makes as if to take his bag and leave the room
No don’t
You stay put
You can’t leave us on our own now
You’ll have plenty of time to unpack
once we have unpacked
to her daughter
shall I help you my child


DAUGHTER
Nono mother


MOTHER
Nono mother
my good child


WRITER
It’s like in the old novels
where people always travel with so much luggage


MOTHER
Yes like in the old novels
like in Tolstoy like in Dostoyevsky
oh how I love those writers
just imagine
I have read War and Peace here in Katwijk
while sitting on this terrace
in a single day and a single night
consecutively
We used to travel with only three trunks
now we have five
and lots of bags
instead of less luggage we have more
instead of less clothing we have more


WRITER
That runs directly counter to the global trend


MUTTER
That was nicely put
to the daughter
He utters one sentence and everything livens up
it’s just that simple
You know on account of the variableness of the weather
one day it rains and it’s cold
and the next day terrible heat prevails here
and we can’t let ourselves forget when we go back
it’s now almost winter
we must have something for every occasion
For you it’s a bit different
You’re traveling with one bag
for two days


WRITER
For two days


DAUGHTER
Or three four days


MOTHER
We will of course have to see
how long we can put up with one another
to the writer point-blank
If it makes you happy
as it might very well chance to do
and if this happiness
manages to communicate itself to us


WRITER
Yes


DAUGHTER
Perhaps together we could take a trip to Amsterdam
to the writer point-blank
Perhaps then you will still be here
next week


MOTHER
Literary dramatists haven’t got either that much leisure or that much time
It’s hardly a well-thought-out idea


WRITER
Right


MOTHER
You are of course no mere copycat artist
creativity doesn’t afford one any time or leisure
That’s what drives all of them to ruin
I thought that when we got here I would put on
my summer dress
and here I am wearing my winter coat
and I don’t plan on taking it off ever again
What a good thing that we donned our winter coats
When it comes to clothes
you can’t allow yourself to be dictated to by the calendar
They say we’re headed for another ice age
what do you think of that hypothesis


WRITER
I don’t know


MOTHER
There are so many signs of it
the scientists are saying it also
Summers used to be quite different
I never used to wear a winter coat in summer
The Gulf Stream has already pretty much ceased to have any effect
to her daughter
come here my child
come here
the daughter goes up to her mother, who takes her hand and kisses it
I promised my husband
when he was on his deathbed mind you
that I would always be there for my daughter
My child has nothing to worry about
she lets go of her daughter’s hand
Tell me
was your mother a cheerful person
you don’t have to answer
the daughter goes back to the trunk and then opens both French windows giving on to the terrace even wider
I could imagine
that your mother was a cheerful person
There is so much wit in your play
What an inspired phrase Save Yourself if You Can
What a magnificent title
It’s reminiscent of Shakespeare
How long does it take you to write a play
Perhaps I’m being indiscreet
Writers loathe nothing more than when people interrogate them about writing
No I won’t interrogate you
Of course we know a ton of things already don’t we
Can you live off of it or not
that’s a stupid question isn’t it
like when you ask a singer why do you sing
It’s a lucky thing that nothing ever came
of my daughter’s career
just imagine by now she would have been a soubrette
Nothing came of it
but it’s been twenty years
since she’s given any thought to anything like a singing career
That was when her vocal cords gave out
which was a blessing for me
otherwise I might very well have ended up all alone here
so now I have my child
who looks after me and vice versa
I have chained my daughter to me you know
and vice versa
and we will drag these chains around
for ever for all time
We are my husband’s handiwork
suddenly
Do you know what a foundry is
Naturally you don’t
I didn’t know either
Many years ago I met
a man
who said he had a foundry
I thought that was really funny
and in addition to the foundry
he had a house at the seaside
ah you know people stumble by chance
into the most remarkable situations as I said
And their entire life changes
Tell me why did you immediately consent


WRITER
Consent to what


MOTHER
To travel with us to Katwijk


WRITER
Consented
I immediately consented
I don’t know perhaps
MOTHER
Don’t say it
there are too many possible reasons
for your having consented
If you reflect on it you’ll see
it wasn’t something you did for no reason at all


WRITER
Yes perhaps


MOTHER
Perhaps you were quite simply fed up
with the city like us
and wanted to go to the seaside
that’s understandable
You were lured by the light-hearted atmosphere
the fresh air
The potentiality of an adventure

WRITER
Yes


MOTHER
When we reflect too much
we end up walking in place
but when we surrender ourselves to contingency


WRITER
Spontaneously instantaneously


MOTHER
When we don’t ask why and wherefore
looks up at the ceiling
Then we get lots of good ideas upstairs
the writer makes as if to stand up
the mother prevents him from doing so
Please stay put
until your room is ready
We have always done everything very simply here
We have always done everything very simply in town as well
We have never changed anything
not in Katwijk and not in town
Because we have never been followers of fashion
Believe me
we are happy that you’re here
to her daughter
Aren’t we my child


DAUGHTER
Yes very much so
I am and so is Mama


MOTHER
Both of us are
to her daughter
You should unpack only the most important things
The maid will unpack the shoes
to the writer
But one mustn’t leave everything at the mercy of the help
not the fine fabrics
That is why of course we prefer to do our packing ourselves
and our unpacking ourselves
I don’t trust anybody around my clothes
to her daughter
You needn’t unpack everything
if you’re not in the mood
to the writer
It’s all so expensive and so poorly made
All my things are decades old
We have so much with us
and yet we always put the same thing on
but on the other hand we can’t just come here with a single change of clothes
Suddenly
three years ago there was a ball
we attended it
Officers captains the so-called High Seas Ball
By the way have you ever been to a ball of any sort anywhere


WRITER
No never


MOTHER
That’s what I thought
And yet in your drama you describe a ball
and outstandingly well at that
remarkable
so one needn’t have been to a ball
in order to be able to describe a ball outstandingly well
one needn’t be acquainted with what one describes


WRITER
Of course I have never been in a penitentiary either


MOTHER
And the way you describe it
nearly takes my breath away
You have a good faculty of intuition
and style sir
But I don’t understand a thing about it
I don’t understand a single thing about literature
but the thought of that has never troubled me
instead of how to understand literature I learned
how to add and subtract
But that was an absolute necessity
At a certain point in your life you said
can one get away with asking certain people questions


WRITER
I didn’t put it that way I said
they’ll talk if one forces them to


MOTHER
Because they are sufficiently protected


WRITER
Perhaps


MOTHER
But we live only when we ask
we exist only when we ask
even though we know
that we’ll get no answers
we never get any answers
that we can bring ourselves to accept isn’t that right


WRITER
That’s possibly right


MOTHER
At the end of life we realize
that all our life we have been asking mere questions
but have not received a single answer


WRITER
Yes it’s depressing madam


MOTHER
But we keep fabricating illusions for ourselves
we can’t believe that everything is so hopeless
that it’s all so evil
We keep presuming that it’s not all that evil
even though it’s purely evil
Do you think that’s the reason everybody has died so far
because everything is so evil
because nature is so evil


WRITER
I say as much in my new play
that people die because everything is so evil


MOTHER to her daughter
Did you hear that
those are my very thoughts
perhaps that’s why your play fascinated me so much
because you expressed my own thoughts in it
everything in the play could have come from me
even the idea could have come from me
each of your characters talks the way I talk
on the other hand it is true that all the characters
talk like you
each of your characters thinks like you and talks like you
In a very precise sense
they all speak with one voice
and each of them speaks like all the rest
in this way the whole thing attains a kind of universal quality


WRITER
Exactly right


MOTHER
We think this is typical of this person
and at the same it’s us
us as well
but this is almost spiritual
I think you’ll get along very well
with my daughter
What you think she thinks as well
but she has no opportunity
to express it publicly
Perhaps you will give her this opportunity
She says it because she thinks it
and you publish it
she and the writer laugh
For three years
we have had a piano in the next room
Can you play the piano


WRITER
I can’t play the piano


MOTHER
Almost everybody can play the piano
in my day it was taken for granted
we weren’t even four or five years old
and we had to learn the piano
to the daughter
It’s impossible
or will you play us something
Perhaps it will relax you
You don’t have to unpack everything today of course
the daughter hangs up a coat
Any old etude any old anything
to the writer
you love music don’t you


WRITER
Oh yes


MOTHER
But that’s not very encouraging


WRITER
I like listening to music very much


MOTHER
Classical music


WRITER
Yes


MOTHER
She plays Mozart quite beautifully
exit the daughter
It’s enrapturing hearing it from in here
I love leaning back here and listening
the daughter’s piano-playing is heard
I think I’ve annoyed you
I have posed
meaningless questions
it is difficult to answer
such questions
One fine day we decided
to buy an old piano
we had seen it at the flea market
just imagine
an instrument that was completely out-of-tune
but the piano tuner said
it was an extraordinarily well-made instrument
Her playing was only amateur-level
but we all dally at something at the amateur level
Last year
on the evening of our departure
she played this piece
I don’t know what it is
do you like it


WRITER
Yes


MOTHER
You say that as if you weren’t by any means sure that you liked it


WRITER
But I do like it very much


MOTHER
The world is cold
and its devices are gruesome
perhaps this is an apology
for such a faux pas


WRITER
What faux pas


MOTHER
This sentimentality
leans back with her eyes closed
that we indulge in
while she sits at the piano
in a certain way
it’s even a perversion
but precisely as such it is a sign
of our times
We flee into a secluded house
and listen to tasteless music
to be sure it’s Mozart but it’s tasteless
we buy an old piano at the flea market
and have it refurbished
We travel with old clothes to an old house
in which any normal person would want to vomit
we take all our luggage with us
and also take along a young writer
how mendacious this all is sir
how mendacious
the piano has fallen silent enter the daughter
her mother sits up and looks at the ceiling
to the writer
Once you’re up there
you’ll have an expansive view of the sea
and be completely undisturbed
to her daughter
You haven’t practiced in a long time
it’s been a whole year since anybody played that piano
it’s already out of tune again
it’s terribly humid here
a set of variations wasn’t it my child


DAUGHTER
By Beethoven


MOTHER
Beethoven
at bottom I don’t care for Beethoven
Mozart yes but Beethoven no
But out here it sounds fine
A set of Beethoven variations


WRITER
to the daughter
Will you take a walk along the shore with me sometime
he and the mother look at the daughter


MOTHER
Early in the morning that’s especially nice
before six


DAUGHTER
I always enjoy walking along the shore
with Mama


MOTHER
Will you take a walk along the shore with our literary dramatist


DAUGHTER
Why yes naturally
to the writer
if you really can get up so early


MOTHER to the writer
Early enough to be out by six


WRITER
I get up very early
I get up at four
you don’t believe me
but I do get up at four
my grandfather would get up at three


MOTHER
But he wasn’t a literary dramatist


WRITER
He was a philosopher madam


MOTHER
The grandfather a philosopher
the grandson a literary dramatist
it’s quite funny isn’t it
the daughter resumes unpacking the trunk
Grandchildren get everything from their grandfathers
the maternal ones
did you know that
Here you can walk alone along the shore for hours on end
You don’t run into any people
And do you know that winter is the nicest time of year here
it’s cold and you feel quite
exposed to the elements  
rises and fetches herself a bottle of cognac
I basically have no power of resistance
Wouldn’t you like a sip yourself
she takes two glasses and fills them for herself and the writer
Yesterday I thought I can’t take another drop
but then I drank an entire bottle
and earlier today
And now I’m in the mood again
she raises her glass and drinks and the writer also drinks
to her daughter
To your health my child
to the writer
And to your health
rises and goes out to the terrace and the writer follows her
I asked you
if you would come with us to Katwijk
and it didn’t faze you in the least
it fazed me more than you
Can you still hear it
Can you still hear it


WRITER
What
MOTHER
The audience clapping the applause
I hear it I hear it
Can’t you hear it hear the audience clapping
the applause
You must admit you’re happy about it
Even if you say
the applause has destroyed everything for you
you can’t get away with saying that
I hear the sea and it’s the audience clapping
The roar of the sea is the applause for your play
You’ve attained your goal sir
she takes him by the hand
Can’t you hear the ovation
she tightens her grip on his hand and leads him back to the table
You are the luckiest person in the world
You’ve just got to comprehend it
You’ve got to admit it
she sits down; the writer remains standing
you’ve got to tough it out
you’ve got to tough out your triumph
and cope with it
Save Yourself if You Can
to her daughter
Magnificent isn’t it
it’s quite in my vein of thought
Save Yourself if You Can
and nobody can save himself
nobody has yet saved himself
not a single person out of all those millions and billions
not a single one
and then you call your play Save Yourself if You Can
You’re a bold individual a brazen one
You’ve got to know that
you’ve got to let yourself be told that
and you’ve got to know that
Now you’re here and you have this awareness
You must have this awareness
Say to yourself I have this awareness
force yourself to say it you must force yourself to say it
drinks
I don’t understand you
You just stand there and say nothing
Come on sit down
Suddenly you’ve turned speechless
But that’s the way all young people are nowadays
They just stand there and they’ve turned speechless
Please won’t you sit down
the writer sits down
And have a drink with me
follow my example
My example my example do you hear me my example
drinks and pours the writer a glass
What’s the matter with young people nowadays
At twenty they’re already thinking about a pension
as if it’s something to spend their entire lives working towards
That’s what I call a boring youth
they’re born and they’re bored until they die
and they die the very instant
in which they’re born
It’s stiff and starchy and speechless
am I right
But that is also your theme isn’t it
that is of course something you too have dealt with in Save Yourself if You Can
the stiffness and speechlessness of youth
who have lost everything before it’s even there
I can’t believe my eyes when I see young people
instead of waking up and making rubble of everything
that stands in their way
and all of history stands in the way of this youth
and youth has always had the strength
to clear this decayed and spoiled history out of its way
with all its strength with the greatest will to annihilate
every generation of youth
has cleaned up with the means at its disposal
but this one
never before has there been so spineless a generation of youth
Of course you say this as well in your play
You say it in Save Yourself if You Can
You say it with your own peculiar cynicism
which is also my cynicism
Nothing is being given to the current generation of youth even though they’re being given everything
indeed precisely because they’re being given everything
and they slough it off they slough it off
instead of taking what is withheld from them
Of course we were quite different in my day
we took the history that stood in our way
and we made it into rubble into rubble
and out of this rubble we made a new history
But this generation of youth is spineless
and lets itself be crushed by the old history
they silently and idly stand there and contemplate
but they do nothing
You yourself are the best example
You contemplate and do nothing
You see the squalor but you don’t attack it
You are the observer of this putrefaction
but you don’t follow up your observing with any cleaning
drinks
Mark my words youth has the right to destroy history
to annihilate it in order to make the annihilated bits
into a new history
it is obligated to do so
But they can’t just keep waiting until it’s too late
and now it already seems to be too late
You say that yourself in your play
that perhaps it’s too late
But you only say it
You say it and you observe how people react to what you are saying
but you do nothing you spectate but you do nothing
That is the bane of the literary dramatist’s existence


WRITER
But after all it’s still something


MOTHER
It’s too little
spectating and temporizing
they all do that
everybody spectates and temporizes
they observe the putrefaction and add to it


WRITER
But one day


MOTHER
Not one day
right now
drinks
Ah yes if I were thirty years younger
if I were only twenty years younger
But what am I talking about that’s no excuse
But it’s actually something that you say in your play
that the moment has already progressed quite far
But it’s not enough for a couple of young people
to bash in a couple of people’s heads that’s ridiculous
everything must be wiped away everything overnight
it can’t just be a lot of shilly-shallying as my husband would have said
And just imagine there
she points
he stood there on the terrace and pondered how to blow the royal palace sky high
He didn’t look as though he was thinking anything of the kind
I certainly didn’t think he was capable of thinking such a thing
it was a clear summer evening
I was quite worried about the packing
we had to return to town
and he had been standing on the terrace for a long time
And I spontaneously asked him what ever have you been doing
all this time on the terrace
what have you been thinking about on the terrace
And he said I have been thinking about how I am going to set about
blowing the royal palace sky high
I had burst into laughter
I thought he was crazy
but little by little I became convinced that he had meant it in earnest
drinks
Possibly he still had the makings of anarchist
bursts out laughing and the writer joins in
He had an active imagination my husband
The foundry hamstrung him
I didn’t let myself be hamstrung by the foundry
I soared thanks to the foundry
but he was hamstrung by his family foundry
Often I thought
possibly I’ve stumbled upon an anarchist
he said all’s well that ends well to me too often
Why did he keep saying that
He must have had something really dreadful in his brain
in his brain in his mind
Don’t you sometimes think
of blowing everything sky high
surely that is the most insistent of a writer’s thoughts
am I right
the thought of first off making a little revolution in your own brain
then a bigger revolution
then an even bigger revolution
and then bringing a revolution outside of your own brain
into the world as one brings a child into the world
and making everything explode
a literary dramatist really needn’t think
about anything else
how am I going to blow the whole world sky high
how am I going to make an end of the whole phantasm
Am I not right
to her daughter
My child gets quite beside herself when I say anything like this
but when I don’t say it
Literary dramatists don’t say it
or they say it and don’t do it
Perhaps it isn’t even the literary dramatist’s job
to blow the world sky high
perhaps the whole thing is an absurd idea
Perhaps I’m still a bit overwrought from the trip
It drives me insane when I consider
that we still have all these things to unpack
and who knows once we have unpacked everything
perhaps we’ll head straight back to town
because we can’t put up with being here
raises her voice
Basically the very thought that we are here in Katwijk
gives me the chills
But it was my idea
Every summer on this date we travel here
as if she feels chilly
It’s so cold here
but of course you can’t turn the heat on in the middle of summer
that would really be absurd
But don’t you fall into the habit of staying in bed when it rains
that’s an incredibly pernicious habit
When you wake up you must step out of your room
and freshen up and dash out of the house
Whoever stays in bed a-mornings my father used to say
soon finds himself staying in bed for good
And I’m right about this
when we stay in bed in the morning
as if we are hamstrung
we become disgusted with the world
I am horrified by the mechanism of my own life
the daughter tries and fails to push the trunk closer to the window
Ah please lend my daughter a hand
the poor girl can’t manage it on her own
a unique specimen that trunk
the writer jumps up and lends the daughter a hand
That trunk has a quite peculiar history
basically it’s the hub of our existence
This trunk that belonged to a clown
you’d never guess that from looking at it
My grandfather was a clown you see
he was born in Maastricht
and traveled all over Europe with that trunk
and performed his clown routine
If you’re interested
I can show you a picture of him
I have photographs in which he is shown
going through his routine
A real sensation in those days
But he was a drunk
he died at the age of forty-two
at an inn in Kerkrade
hence not far from the town
in which he had been born
I often say to my daughter
how easily I could have gone the other way
I have gone the other way
drinks
Have I told you that I made the acquaintance
of my husband at an inn
not far from Apeldoorn
a scatterbrained child
And that I was fascinated most of all by the word foundry
I got hung up on the word foundry
the daughter and the writer lift a heavy winter coat out of the trunk
A foible
We’re traveling in the middle of summer to Katwijk
and we pack that heavy winter coat
a habit
the habit of my husband your father
on the cold summer evenings
when he went out on to the terrace
he had worn that coat
a relic of another age
A folly
do please lift it up high up high up high up
the daughter and the writer lift the coat high up
You can already see right through it
but not because it was worn so often
no
because we keep packing and unpacking it
that wears away at the fabric makes it threadbare
the daughter hangs the coat in the window
Then we hang it on that hook there
and have no idea what to do with it
the daughter resumes unpacking


WRITER
A beautiful garment
English naturally


MOTHER
Naturally English
My husband wore English coats exclusively
back then that was still the height of luxury
and English shoes naturally
and the finest English socks
I was quite dumbfounded when I saw
the man’s lush sartorial luxury
the writer goes to the table and sits down
You mustn’t be surprised
Here everything has gone crazy
For example here I always wear do you see it
a buckle
to hold my coat shut
for roughly thirty years I have had this buckle
in this place
it has never occurred to me
to sew on the button that goes here
Or to sew up that hole there in the curtains do you see it
points at the hole
that hole has been there twenty-five years
I know that so exactly
because my husband made it
with his umbrella
He was coming in from the beach
and his umbrella skewered the curtain
a funny story isn’t it
This is our form of creativity sir
the fact that we make holes in curtains
and never close them up
that we pack and unpack coats
and never put them on
and it’s like that with hundreds of other things
stockings socks blouses waistcoats etcetera
In some fashion or other all of this surely
has something to do with my grandfather’s traveling trunk
in a mysterious fashion don’t you think
there is a knock at the door
enter the maid
the mother to the writer
Your room is ready
the writer stands up
You will be tired
Your premiere just think of it
and your triumph
A one-off triumph
but you yourself can see that
offers the writer her hand and he kisses it
Ah don’t kiss my hand
that’s simply ludicrous
Where have you seen that
in Austria
My God
and then the trip
and everything else that has come your way
the writer picks up his bag and makes as if to leave
And don’t be shocked
if in your room
you notice
some downright curious objects
those old clothes and those rifles
and all those hats everywhere
my husband was quite attached to all that stuff
the writer curtly bows to the mother once again, bows to the daughter, and exits; the maid follows him
the mother after a pause, after taking a sip from her glass
The question is not at all
whether it was wise to invite him
he’s here
suddenly agitated
Now I need fresh air
she goes up to the French windows giving on to the terrace
the daughter brings her the chair that the writer was sitting in
the mother, after seating herself in the chair
I am afraid
he is going to be staying longer than just a couple of days


Curtain


  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.


THE END


Source: Thomas Bernhard, Stücke 3 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988), pp. 351-387.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2016 by Douglas Robertson