Friday, August 31, 2018

A Translation of "Die Aktualität der Philosophie" by Theodor W. Adorno

The Present Relevance of Philosophy

Anyone who chooses philosophical study as a vocation today must from the outset forgo an illusion that philosophical schemata used to take as their starting point—the illusion that it is possible to comprehend the totality of the real through the power of thought.  No vindicatory reason could rediscover itself in a reality whose form and structure quell every pretense to reason; all that reason does is polemically showcase itself to the percipient as reality in full while vouchsafing him the hope of someday stumbling into the correct and just reality only in traces and ruins.  Today philosophy that passes itself off as such serves to do nothing but disguise and perpetuate reality and its present state.  Preempting any answer, such a function is already inherent in the question, that question that nowadays is termed radical but that is actually the least radical of all: the question of Being per se [Sein schlechthin], as it is formulated by the new ontological schemata and as, despite all the antinomies, it also underlay the idealistic systems that are regarded as having been superseded.  For this question presupposes as a precondition of its answerability that Being per se is commensurate with and accessible to thought, that the idea of the existent [Idee des Seienden] is open to questioning.  But the commensurability of thought with Being as a totality has disintegrated, and in the process the idea of the existent itself has become impervious to questioning; this is an idea that could only be situated above a rounded and self-contained reality as a star in a pellucid transparency and that perhaps faded from human view for all time the moment the images of our life started being guaranteed exclusively by history.  The idea of Being in philosophy has become impotent, nothing more than a formal principle whose archaic grandeur assists in the costuming of contents of any and every sort.  Neither may the plenitude of the real as a totality take shelter under the idea of the existent that used to impart meaning to it, nor may the idea of the existent construct itself out of the elemental constituents of the real.  This idea is a lost cause for philosophy, and with its loss its pretense to encompass the totality of the real has been nipped in the bud.  
This is witnessed by the history of philosophy itself.  The crisis in idealism is tantamount to a crisis in philosophy’s pretense to encompass any kind of totality.  The autonoma ratio—which was the thesis of all idealistic systems—was supposed to be capable of independently developing out of its own resources the concept of reality and all of reality itself.  This thesis has come to nothing.  To be sure, the Neo-Kantianism of the Marburg School, which has been quite rigorously striving to lay hold of the content of reality by extracting it from logical categories, has held onto its systematic self-containedness, but in exchange it has renounced all title to influence reality and sees itself exiled to a region in which every content-orientated decision evaporates at the virtual terminus of a never-ending process.  To be sure, the antipode of the Marburg School on the globe of idealism, Simmel’s philosophy of life, a philosophy orientated towards psychology and irrationalism, has kept in contact with reality, with which it has dealings, but in exchange it has lost all meaningful title to influence the empirical world that is pressing against it and resigned itself to a blind and unenlightened concept of nature as the land of the living, a concept that it is vainly attempting to work up into an obscure, illusory transcendency in its More-than-Life.  Finally, the southwestern German school of Rickert, which mediates between the two extremes, believes that in values it has at its command more concrete and manageable philosophical criteria than those possessed by the Marburgers in their ideas, and it has fashioned a method that posits an admittedly questionable relationship between the empirical world and these values.  But the site and origin of the values remain undetermined; they lie somewhere between logical necessity and psychological diversity, non-binding in the realm of the real, opaque in the realm of the mind; this is a pseudo-ontology that is as unable to bear the question of where validity comes from as it is that of why anything is valid. At a considerable distance from the puzzle-solving attempts of idealistic philosophy labor the scientific philosophies, which from their earliest beginnings have forgone embarking on idealism’s founding quest for the constitution of the real; they acknowledge validity only within the framework of a propaedeutic to the established sciences, the natural sciences in particular, and in exchange, they believe they are in possession of a secure foundation for data—whether on the nexus of consciousness or of research within the particular sciences.  When they lost their connection to the historical problems of philosophy, they forgot that all the presuppositions of their own findings are indissolubly tied to historical problems and the history of the problem and cannot be cut loose from them.

This is the context in which the effort of the philosophical spirit currently known to us as phenomenology has been initiated—the effort, after the disintegration of the idealistic systems and via idealism’s instrument, the autonoma ratio, to attain a binding supersubjective order of being.  It is a profoundly paradoxical feature of all phenomenological intentions that by means of the categories engendered by subjective, post-Cartesian thought they strive to attain the very objectivity that these intentions gainsay at their origin.  It is therefore no accident that Husserl’s phenomenology took transcendental idealism as its starting point, and the recent products of phenomenology are all the more powerless to disavow this origin the more assiduously they strive to conceal it.  Husserl’s genuinely productive breakthrough—a more important one than the superficially more influential method of “eidetic intuition”—was to acknowledge and fecundate a concept that had been developed by the positivistic schools of thought, the concept of the underived given, in its significance vis-à-vis the fundamental problem of the relation between reason and reality.  He wrested the concept of the originarily given intuition from the possession of psychology and in his development of his descriptive methods won philosophy back the creditability of circumscribed analysis that it had long since forfeited to the individual sciences.  But it is impossible not to notice—and the fact that Husserl himself openly acknowledged this attests to the thinker’s great and pure forthrightness—that all of Husserl’s analyses of the given remain anchored in an implicit system of transcendental idealism whose idea is ultimately formulated in his work; that his “jurisdiction of reason” remains the court of last resort for establishing the relationship between reason and reality; and that accordingly all of Husserl’s descriptions fall within the compass of this reason.  Husserl purged idealism of all speculative superfluity and took it to the highest level of reality attainable by it.  But he did not demolish it.  In his domain, as in Cohen’s and Natorp’s, the autonomous spirit reigns supreme; he has merely abjured the assertion of the productive power of spirit, of Kantian and Fichtian spontaneity, and contents himself, as only Kant himself was ever still content to do, with taking possession of the sphere of what is adequately attainable by it. The received historiography of philosophy of the past thirty years views this streak of self-denial in Husserl’s phenomenology as proof of its limitations and regards it as the beginning of a development that ultimately leads to the execution of a complete blueprint for that very system of being, a blueprint that is only formally projected in Husserl’s description of the noetic-noematic relationship.  I must expressly gainsay this view.  The transition to “material phenomenology” has been effected only illusorily and at the expense of the evidential creditability that alone vouchsafed the legal basis of the phenomenological method. If in the course of Max Scheler’s development the eternal basic truths were displaced in abrupt alternation in order ultimately to be relegated to the impotence of their transcendency, one may certainly descry therein the indefatigably questioning insistency of a mode of thought that partakes of truth solely in its movement from error to error.  But Scheler’s enigmatic and disquieting development wishes to be understood in stricter terms than those of the simple category of individual spiritual destiny.  It indicates rather that the transition of phenomenology from the region of formalism and idealism to that of materialism and objectivity could not succeed without a hitch and beyond all doubt, that, rather, the images of a trans-historical truth which that philosophy once so seductively sketched against the background of a self-contained Catholic doctrine unraveled and disintegrated as soon as they were looked for in that very reality whose ascertainment constitutes the program of “material phenomenology.”  It seems to me that Scheler’s last turn owes its genuine, exemplary justness to the fact that by then he freely acknowledged in material-cum- metaphysical terms the leap between eternal ideas and reality that phenomenology interpolated itself into the material sphere in order to overcome, and that he ceded reality to a blind “urge” whose relationship to the celestial realm of ideas is dark and problematic and now only barely leaves room for the faintest trace of hope.  In Scheler material phenomenology dialectically rescinded itself: all that remains of its ontological blueprint is its metaphysics of the urge; the last version of eternity that his philosophy has at its disposal is that of unlimited and ungoverned dynamism.  Under the aspect of self-rescission even Martin Heidegger’s doctrine is amenable to being represented in a different light than the one cast on it by the pathos of the beginning for which it is best known.  In Heidegger’s writings, at least the published ones, the place of the question of objective ideas and Being has been taken by its subjective counterpart; the postulation of material ontology is reduced to the domain of subjectivity and seeks in its depths what it is incapable of discovering in the open plenitude of reality.  It is therefore no accident—even from the point of view of the history of philosophy—that Heidegger is falling back on the latest blueprint of a subjective ontology brought forth by occidental thought: the existential philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard.  But Kierkegaard’s blueprint is in tatters and irreparable. No firmly grounded Being enabled Kierkegaard’s clueless dialectic to attain subjectivity; the utmost depths disclosed to it were those of the despair in which subjectivity is disintegrating; an objective despair that magically transforms the blueprint of Being in Subjectivity into a blueprint of Hell; it knows of no way of saving itself from this infernal space but taking a “leap” into transcendence; the inauthentic, insubstantial, and itself subjective act of thinking remains and finds its loftiest purpose in paradoxicalness, such that here subjective spirit must sacrifice itself and therefore retains a belief whose contents spring exclusively—and contingently, as far as subjectivity is concerned—from Bible verses.  Only via the presumption of a fundamentally undialectical and historically predialectical “ready-to-hand” reality is Heidegger capable of evading such a consequence.  But here a leap and a dialectical negation also constitute his sole justification: they insure that the analysis of what is present, in which Heidegger remains tied to phenomenology and fundamentally distinguishes himself from Kierkegaard’s idealistic speculation, prohibits the transcendency of faith and its spontaneous adoption in the sacrifice of the subjective spirit and in lieu of this acknowledges nothing more than a transcendency in blind and dark Being Thus [Sosein]: in death.  In Heidegger’s metaphysics of death phenomenology puts its seal to a development that Scheler already inaugurated in his doctrine of the urge.  There is no concealing the fact that with the affixing of this seal phenomenology is on the verge of terminating in that very vitalism that it originally claimed to be waging war against: the transcendency of death in Simmel is differentiable from that in Heidegger merely in virtue of the fact that it remains sited in psychological categories, whereas Heidegger speaks in terms of ontological categories without actually—say, through an analysis of the phenomenon of anxiety—supplying any means of differentiating the psychological from the ontological.  It is entirely in keeping with this conceptual feint—that of the conversion of phenomenology into vitalism—that Heidegger managed to evade the second great threat to phenomenal ontology, the threat posed by historicism, only by ontologizing time itself, by formulating it as a constituent of the essence of the human individual; and via this formulation the effort of material phenomenology to seek out the eternal in the human individual is paradoxically nullified: all that remains of the eternal is transient temporality.  The only things still left with a title to ontological validity are the categories whose sovereignty the phenomenology of thought wished to overthrow: those of pure subjectivity and pure temporality.  With the concept of “thrownness” [Geworfenheit], which is posited as the last condition of human Being, life becomes as intrinsically blind and devoid of meaning as it was only in the philosophy of life, and death is as little capable of allocating it a positive meaning here as it was there.  The totalitarian ambition of thought is itself being thrown back onto thought and ultimately also smashed to pieces there.  This is made plain by mere insight into the narrowness of the Heideggerian existential categories of thrownness, anxiety, and death, concepts that are obviously incapable of exorcising the plenitude of the living, and the pure concept of life is taking complete possession of the Heideggerian ontological blueprint.  Unless nothing is at all what it seems to be, with this expansion the decisive collapse of phenomenological philosophy is already in preparation.  For the second time philosophy stands impotent before the question of Being.  It has been as little capable of describing Being as self-sufficient and fundamental as it was previously capable of unfurling it out of itself.
I have given this account of the most recent phase of the history of philosophy not for the sake of providing an orientation towards intellectual history in general but rather because it is solely via the historical interlinking of questions and answers that the philosophical question of present-day relevance yields itself in precise terms.  And after the failure of all efforts on behalf of philosophy plain and simple, this is specifically the question of whether philosophy itself is relevant at all now.  Here relevance is not to be understood as some vague sort of “ripeness” or unripeness founded on certain unbinding notions of the general intellectual situation; rather, what must be determined here is whether after the failures of the latest great endeavors there still subsists any kind of proportionality between philosophical questions and the possibility of answering them—whether the recent history of the problem has not demonstrated rather that the cardinal questions of philosophy are fundamentally unanswerable.  The question is by no means to be regarded as merely rhetorical; it must, to the contrary, be taken quite literally; today every philosophy that is dedicated not to safeguarding the intellectual and social status quo but to ascertaining the truth is faced with the problem of a liquidation of philosophy itself.  The liquidation of philosophy has been taken in hand by science, in particular by the science of logic and mathematics, with a well-nigh unprecedented earnestness; an earnestness that derives its genuine importance from the fact that the natural sciences, even the mathematically orientated natural sciences, have long since rid themselves of the naturalistic conceptual equipment that made them so patently inferior to the idealistic theories of knowledge in the nineteenth century and have fully absorbed the material content of epistemology.  With the aid of more finely honed epistemological methods the most progressive school of logic—I am thinking of the New Vienna School as founded by Schlick and now continued by Carnap and Dubislav in close collaboration with Russell and the logisticians—is endeavoring to make all genuine, cumulative knowledge of experience their exclusive preserve and to look for all propositions that in any way reach beyond the circumference of experience and its relative character solely in the domain of tautologies, of analytical propositions.  In this school’s terms, Kant’s question of the constitution of synthetic a priori judgments is absolutely meaningless because there are no such things as such judgments; all venturing beyond what is verifiable in terms of experience is forbidden; philosophy is reduced to an organizer-cum-supervisor of the individual sciences and prohibited from adding anything essential of its own to the findings made by them.  This ideal of an absolutely scientific philosophy is closely associated—not, to be sure, from the point of view of the Vienna School, but rather from every point of view that would like to defend philosophy against the pretensions of scientificity yet for all that acknowledges the legitimacy of those pretensions—with the concept of philosophical poetry as a supplement and appendix to science, a concept whose non-binding character in the eyes of truth is outfaced only by its alienness to art and its aesthetic inferiority; it would be far better to liquidate philosophy lock, stock, and barrel and dissolve it into the individual sciences than to rush to its assistance with a poetic ideal that signifies nothing but a shabby ornamental antimacassar for erroneous ideation.
Nevertheless, it must now be said that even today the thesis that all philosophically formulated questions are fundamentally resolvable in terms of formulations derived from the individual sciences is by no means assuredly incontestable; above all, it must be said that even in philosophical terms this thesis is by no means as implacably unconditional as it makes itself out to be.  I would like to draw your attention to just two problems that cannot be mastered by this thesis.  The first is the problem of the meaning of the “given” itself, the fundamental category of all empiricism, a category that always has been and always will be associated with the question of the appurtenant subject and that can be understood only in terms of the philosophy of history, for the subject of the given is not a historically invariant and transcendental one, but rather one whose shape is constantly changing and acquiring historical insight with the passage of history.  This problem has never been addressed at all within even the most modern schemata of empirio-criticism, which has instead naively taken Kant’s starting point for granted.  The other problem it has managed to solve in a trice, but only arbitrarily and without an iota of stringency.  This is the problem of the alien consciousness, of the alien ego, an entity that in the eyes of empirio-criticism can be made accessible only by analogy, belatedly confabulated on the basis of one’s own experience; even though in the form of language it has at its command and in its postulate of verifiability, the empirio-critical method perforce presupposes the actuality of the alien consciousness. Merely in addressing itself to these two problems the doctrine of the Vienna school is being drawn into the very mainstream of continuous philosophical thought that it is so keen on keeping at arm’s length.  But this detracts not a jot from the extraordinary importance of this school.  I descry its significance less in the possibility that it will actually succeed in effecting its projected transposition of philosophy into science than in the fact that by dint of the trenchancy with which it is reducing all the scientific aspects of philosophy to formulas, it is highlighting the contours of all the aspects of philosophy that are subject to the supervision of other powers than those of logic and the individual sciences. Philosophy is not being transformed into science, but under the pressure of the empiricist attack it is exorcising from itself all inquiries that in being specifically scientific in character rightfully belong to science and only serve to muddy philosophical inquiries.  In saying this I do not mean to imply that philosophy ought to sever or even attenuate all the contact with the individual sciences that it has finally won back and whose reestablishment it regards as one of the most fortunate results of the most recent phase of intellectual history.  On the contrary: nothing but material plenitude and the concretization of its problems will be able to extricate philosophy from its present position vis-à-vis the individual sciences. It will also not allow itself to be thereby exalted above the individual science, so that it accepts its “results” as definitive and meditates on them from a safe distance. Rather the philosophical problems lie constantly and in a certain sense irredeemably decided in the most specific questions of the individual sciences.  What distinguishes philosophy from science is not, as received opinion still supposes nowadays, a greater degree of generality.  It is neither in virtue of the abstraction of its categories nor the character of its material that philosophy is separable from the sciences.  The difference mainly consists, rather, in the fact that the individual science accepts its findings, in any case its latest and deepest findings, as indissoluble and intrinsically quiescent, whereas philosophy construes the first finding that comes its way as a sign that it is obliged to decipher.  Simply put: the central idea of science is research and that of philosophy is interpretation.  Whence the great, perhaps the perennial, paradoxes: that philosophy must always and ever behave interpretatively towards truth-claims without ever possessing any specific interpretative key; that it is never vouchsafed anything but fleeting, evanescent hints in the puzzle-figures of the existent and their bizarre entanglements.  The history of philosophy is nothing but the history of such entanglements; this is why it is vouchsafed so little in the way of “results”; this is why it is constantly having to begin all over again; this is why it is unable to dispense with the thinnest thread that previous ages have spun and that may be the very thread that can supply the extra lineation needed to transform the encrypted messages into a text.  Accordingly, the idea of interpretation is by no means coextensive with the problem of a “meaning” with which it is most often confused.  For a start it is not the task of philosophy to substantiate and justify such a meaning as positively given, to substantiate and justify reality as “meaningful.”  All such justification of the existent is impermissible owing to the brittleness inherent in existence itself; even if our perceptual images are shapes, the world in which we live and which is not merely constituted by shapes, is not; the text that philosophy has got to read is inchoate, contradictory, and brittle, and much of it may be in the throes of blind demonic possession; indeed, perhaps our sole task is to read it and in reading it solely to acquire a better understanding of the demonic forces and to learn to exorcise them.  On the other hand, the idea of interpretation does not hypothesize the existence of a second world, a world behind the world of appearances that may be rendered accessible via the analysis of those appearances.  The dualism of the empirical versus the intelligible as instituted by Kant and only ever really propounded from the post-Kantian perspective on Plato, whose heaven of ideas still lies open and undisguised to the mind—this dualism is rooted in the idea of research rather than in that of interpretation—in the idea of research, which awaits the reduction of the question to given and familiar elements, such that nothing would be necessary other than the answer.  Anyone who interprets while searching for a world-in-itself behind the phenomenal world, a world that underlies and supports the latter, is acting like someone who hopes to find in the puzzle the likeness of a Being sited behind it, a likeness that mirrors the puzzle on which it is based; whereas the function of the solution to the puzzle is to illuminate the shape of the puzzle for the briefest of instants and to sublate it, not to cling to it and mimic it. Authentic philosophical interpretation does not hit upon a meaning that is already clinging to the other side of the question; rather, it suddenly and momentarily illuminates the question and consumes it at the same time. And just as solutions to puzzles evolve as the singular and scattered elements of the question are arranged in various patterns over and over again until they click into place to form the figure from which the solution leaps forth even as the question vanishes, philosophy has got to arrange its elements, which it receives from the sciences, over and over again into alternating constellations, or, to employ a less astrological and more scientifically up-to-date expression, in alternating experimental setups, until they turn into the figure that is legible as an answer, even as its question likewise vanishes. The task of philosophy is not to investigate the hidden and extant intentions of reality, but rather to interpret reality in its intentionlessness, as by dint of the construction of figures, of images, out of the isolated elements of reality, it sublates the questions whose pregnant formulation is the task of the sciences [cf. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels {Origin of German Tragic Drama}, Berlin 1928, pp. 9-44, in particular pp. 21 and 23]; a task to which philosophy remains continually bound, because it is incapable of igniting its luminous power in any other way than by striking against those hard questions.  Now would be a good moment to explore the evidently quite astonishing and peculiar affinity that subsists between interpretative philosophy and the mode of thinking that most strenuously repels the conceptualization of the intentional, the signification of reality–namely, materialism. Interpretation of the intentionless via the juxtaposition of analytically isolated elements and the illumination of the real by dint of such interpretation: that is the program of every authentic materialistic epistemology; a program that the materialistic modus operandi all the more adequately fulfills the further it distances itself from every sort of “meaning” in its objects and the less it correlates itself with an implicit meaning—a religious one, for example.  For interpretation has long since dissociated itself from the entire question of meaning, or, to put it another way, the symbols of philosophy have passed their expiration date.  If philosophy must learn to forego the question of totality, it follows from the outset that it must learn to get by without the symbolic function in which the particular has so far seemed to represent the universal, at least in idealism; that it must learn to relinquish the great problems whose greatness used to attempt to vouch for the totality, given that today interpretation is running like water through the huge leaks in the great problems.  If interpretation can truly thrive only via the juxtaposition of minutiae, it can no longer take much interest in the great problems in the traditional sense; at any rate, it can only take an interest in them in a such a way that it refutes the total question in a concrete finding that formerly seemed to represent the question in a symbolic fashion.  Accordingly, the constructive elaboration of small and intentionless elements must be numbered among the fundamental prerequisites of philosophical interpretation; the turn towards the “dross of the world of appearances” proclaimed by Freud has implications that extend beyond the sphere of psychoanalysis, just as the turn of advanced social philosophy towards economics does not merely spring from the empirical predominance of the economy but also and equally from the immanent demands of philosophical interpretation itself. If philosophy were now to go questing for the absolute relationship between Being-in-Itself and Appearance or, to adopt a more current formulation, for the Meaning of Being plain and simple—it would either become bogged down in a non-binding formalism or break up into a multitude of arbitrarily sited worldviews.  Nevertheless, let us suppose—this is merely a thought experiment whose feasibility I cannot guarantee—let us suppose it is possible to group the elements of a social analysis in such a way that in the aggregate they constitute a figure in which every single moment is sublated; a figure that, to be sure, is not organically available but rather must be manufactured beforehand: the commodity form.  In that case, the problem of the thing-in-itself would by no means be solved; not even if, say, the solution still envisaged by Lukács were achieved, if the social conditions in which the problem of the thing-in-itself comes into being were exhibited; for the truth-content of a problem is fundamentally different from the historical and psychological conditions from which it develops.  But it is possible that in the presence of an adequate construction of the commodity form the problem of the thing-in-itself would simply vanish—that like a source of light the historical figure of the commodity form and of exchange value will reveal the shape of a reality whose deeper meaning the investigation of the problem of the thing-in-itself strived to discover in vain, because it has no deeper meaning that is dissociable from its one-time and first-time historical appearance.  My desire here is not to frame any material assertions but rather simply to indicate the lines along which I can see the tasks of philosophical interpretation developing.  But all the same, if these tasks were properly formulated, something substantial would be agreed upon with regard to the questions of philosophical principle that I would like to avoid explicitly posing;  namely this: that the function that the traditional philosophical question expects from trans-historical symbolically signified ideas is being fulfilled by micro-historically constituted and unsymbolic ones. But as a result the relationship between ontology and history would be couched in fundamentally different terms without thereby engendering an artificial requirement to ontologize history, in the form of “historicity,” as a totality, whereby every specific tension between interpretation and its object would be lost and nothing but a masked historicism would remain.  Instead of this, history would in my opinion no longer be the site from which ideas emerge, get airborne on their own power, and disappear again; rather, the historical images would themselves be quasi-ideas whose interrelationship would constitute intentionless truth instead of truth’s occurring as intentionality in history.  But here I am going to interrupt this train of thought, because general statements are nowhere more questionable than in a philosophy that wishes to exclude abstract and general statements from its purview and requires them only in emergency transitions.  Instead I would like to describe a second essential connection between interpretative philosophy and materialism.  I said that the solution to the puzzle is not the “meaning” of the puzzle to the extent that a meaning would allow the puzzle and its solution to subsist simultaneously; that the solution would be contained in the puzzle; that the puzzle would constitute nothing but the appearance of the solution and as intentionality would finish off the solution in itself.  Rather, the solution is strictly antithetical to the puzzle; it needs to be constructed out of the pieces of the puzzle and destroys the puzzle, which is not meaningful but meaningless, as soon as the solution is percussively furnished to it.  The movement that is playfully effected here is effected by materialism in all seriousness.  In this case seriousness means that the answer is not confined within the hermetically circumscribed domain of knowledge but is rather furnished in praxis.  The interpretation of discovered reality and its sublation are mutually referential.  To be sure, reality is not conceptually sublated, but out of the construction of the figure the demand for its actual transformation always promptly emerges.  The transforming gesture of the playful act of puzzle-solving—not the mere solution as such—limns the archetype of the solutions that materialistic praxis alone has at its command.  Materialism has bestowed on this relationship a name with an unimpeachable philosophical pedigree: dialectics.  It seems to me that philosophical interpretation is possible only in dialectical terms.  If Marx accused the philosophers of having only variously interpreted the world and pointed out to them that it was necessary to change it, this statement is legitimated not only by political practice but also and equally by philosophical theory.  The authenticity of philosophical interpretation is certified only by the annihilation of the question, and pure thought is incapable of fulfilling itself on its own power: hence, this fulfilment must be induced by praxis.  It is superfluous to single out a version of pragmatism in which theory and praxis are so mutually intertwined as in the dialectical one.

Although I am acutely conscious of the impossibility of implementing the program that I have described to you—of an impossibility that does not merely spring from the time-limitations of this lecture but is of a general character, inasmuch as this program is less amenable than any other to implementation as a program with all the comprehensiveness and universality of application that this implies—although I am acutely conscious of this, I distinctly perceive that I have an obligation to give you a few hints along those lines.  First of all: the idea of philosophical interpretation does not shy away from that liquidation of philosophy that seems to me to be signalized by the recent failure of the arrogation of totality.  For the rigorous exclusion of all questions traditionally regarded as ontological, the avoidance of invariant universal concepts—including, for example, that of the human being—the elimination of every notion of a self-sufficient totality of spirit [Geistes], even in a hermetically circumscribed “intellectual history” [“Geistesgeschichte”]; the concentration of philosophical questions on concrete micro-historical complexes from which they must not be detached: these postulates are tending towards something exceedingly similar to a dissolution of what has hitherto been called philosophy.  Given that philosophical thought of the present, at least its official strain, has hitherto aspired to keep aloof of these requirements or when worst comes to the worst to assimilate them one at a time and in an attenuated form, it seems that one of our first and most immediately relevant tasks is to undertake a radical critique of the dominant strain of philosophical thought.  I am not afraid of being accused of expounding fruitless negativity—an expression that Gottfried Keller once characterized as a “gingerbread expression.”  If philosophical interpretation can only truly thrive dialectically, then it is being presented with its first dialectical point of attack by a philosophy that cultivates those very problems whose elimination seems more urgently necessary than the appending of a new answer to so many old ones.  Only a fundamentally undialectical philosophy oriented towards ahistorical truth could imagine itself capable of eliminating the old problems by forgetting them and starting afresh from the very beginning.  Indeed, the imposture of the beginning is precisely where the critique takes shelter in Heidegger’s philosophy.  Only through the most rigorous dialectical engagement with the most recent attempts at the dissolution of philosophy can a genuine transformation of philosophical consciousness be achieved.  This engagement will mainly have to draw its specifically scientific material from sociology, which is crystallizing out the small, intentionless elements that despite their lack of intentionality are tightly bound to the philosophical material, and it is doing so in the manner exacted by interpretative grouping.  One of the most influential academic philosophers of the present has supposedly answered the question of the relationship between philosophy and sociology by saying that the philosopher is like an architect who provides a blueprint for a house and then executes this blueprint, the sociologist is like a cat-burglar who scales the outside of the house and takes from it whatever is within his reach.  I am inclined to acknowledge the aptness of the simile and to adapt it for the benefit of the function of sociology in philosophy.  For this house, this huge house, has long since fallen into a state of dilapidation from its foundation upwards and not only threatens to crush to death all its inhabitants but also to destroy all the things that are being stored in it, including many things that are irreplaceable.  If the cat-burglar steals these things, he is doing a worthy job provided that they are merely salvaged; he will hardly hold onto them for long, for they are but of little value to him.  Admittedly the acknowledgment of sociology by philosophical interpretation requires quite a bit of restraint.  Interpretative philosophy’s most important task is to construct keys that cause the door of reality to spring open.  Its key categories are now of a peculiar size.  The ones chosen by the old idealism were too big, so they didn’t even fit into the keyhole.  The ones chosen by pure philosophical sociology are too small; the key certainly fits, but the door won’t open.  A large proportion of sociologists take their nominalism so far that their concepts become too small to be aligned with other concepts, to enter into constellations with them. An unmissable illogical nexus of mere stipulations of the ostensibly present [Diesda-Bestimmungen] is left behind, a nexus that scoffs at every form of organization via knowledge and no longer yields an iota of critical mass.  Thus the sociologists have sublated and replaced, for example, the concept of class through innumerable descriptions of individual groups without being able to arrange them into comprehensive unities, even though they undoubtedly figure as such in appearance in the empirical world; or they have treated one of the most important concepts, that of ideology, with the utmost rigor by formally defining it as the well-defined contents of consciousness in well-defined groups without any longer allowing the question of the truth or untruth of the contents themselves to arise.  This kind of sociology can be pigeonholed as a kind of universal relativism whose universality can no more be acknowledged by philosophical interpretation than that of any other, and a relativism that philosophical interpretation possesses an adequate means of correcting in the dialectical method.  It is not by accident that in my philosophical handling of my conceptual material I have been speaking of grouping and experimental setups, of constellation and construction.  For historical images, which do not constitute the meaning of existence, but which do solve and dissolve questions about existence—these images are not mere self-evident givens.  They are not organically embedded in history; no special insight or intuition is required for us to become aware of them; they are by no means magical historical divinities that must be submitted to and worshiped.  Rather: they must be manufactured by human beings and in the end can only be legitimated to the extent that reality comes rushing towards them from all sides with flagrant obviousness.  In this respect they are most different from the archaic, mystical archetypes discovered by psychoanalysis, the ones that Klages hoped to enshrine as categories of our faculty of knowledge.  Although they may resemble them exactly in a hundred of their features, they part company from them where the latter begin to trace their portentous course in the human head; they are manageable and comprehensible, instruments of human reason even when they seem objectively to focus their attention on themselves as magnetic centers of objective Being. They are models with which the ratio searchingly, probingly approximates a reality that refuses to bow down before the law but that may simulate the schema of the model again and again provided that it bears the right imprint.  One may see in this an attempt to revive the old conception of philosophy that Bacon formulated and on whose behalf Leibniz passionately labored all his life, a conception that idealism derided as old hat—that of the ars inveniendi.  Every other notion of the model would be gnostic and unanswerable.  But the organon of this ars inveniendi is the imagination, an exact imagination that strictly perdures in the material that the sciences serve up to it, and reaches beyond them solely in the minutest features of its configuration—features that to be sure it must originally and spontaneously regurgitate.  If the idea of philosophical interpretation that I have undertaken to expound to you is valid, it is articulable as a demand for the relentlessly repeated impartment of knowledge about the question of a pre-discovered reality by an imagination that regroups the elements without exceeding the scope of the elements, and whose exactitude will become verifiable with the vanishing of the question.

I am sure that many of you, perhaps most of you, are not in agreement with what I have been presenting here.  It is not only scientific thought but also, and even more so, fundamental ontology, that contradicts my conviction about the present task of philosophy.  Now a form of thought that takes objective relations rather than isolated internal coherence as its starting point is likely to demonstrate its right to exist not as a result of disproving the accusations loudly and apodictically leveled at it, but rather in virtue of its fruitfulness in the peculiar sense in which Goethe wielded the concept.  In any case I may still say a few more words about the very latest accusations inasmuch as I have not construed them but rather given voice to them as representatives of fundamental ontology, and as it was they that initially compelled me to formulate a theory after previously working exclusively within the confines of the praxis of philosophical interpretation.  The accusations essentially boil down to this: that my approach is likewise based on a concept of the human being, a blueprint of existence; that out of blind dread of the power of history I am merely chary of logically and distinctly driving these invariants out into the open and am leaving them shrouded in darkness; that in lieu of bringing them to light I am conferring on historical facticity or its configuration the power that actually belongs by right to the invariants, to the bits of ontological real estate, that I am idolizing historically produced Being, bilking philosophy out of every constant standard of truth, volatilizing it into an aesthetic picture game, and transforming prima philosophia into philosophical essayism.  To these accusations I can only respond by acknowledging that for the most part they are substantially well-targeted but also by championing their targets as philosophically legitimate.  Moreover, I refuse to determine whether my theory is based on a well-defined notion of the human being and of existence.  But I am taking issue with the necessity of referring back to this notion.  It is an idealistic demand that from the absolute beginning is unenforceable by anything but pure self-sustaining thought; a Cartesian demand that believes itself obliged to make thoughts conform to its conceptual presuppositions, to its axioms. But philosophy, which no longer asserts any claim to autonomy, which no longer believes that reality is founded in the ratio, but rather always and repeatedly accepts the perforation of autonomous and rational legislation by a Being that is not adequate to it and cannot be rationally conceptualized as anything but a totality, will not pursue the path leading to rational presuppositions to its end, but rather remain standing where irreducible reality makes incursions; if it betakes itself any further into the region of presuppositions, it will be able to attain these only formally and by selling short that reality in which its actual tasks are sited.  But the incursion of the irreducible is enforced in concrete historical terms, and this is what the history of the movement of thought demands of all presuppositions.  The productivity of thought is capable of acquitting itself solely in dialectical terms and through historical concretion.  Both achieve communication in models.  For the sake of my commitment to the form of such communication, I am only too happy to weather accusations of essayism.  The English empiricists along with Leibniz called their philosophical writings essays because the sheer might of the freshly disclosed reality with which their thought was constantly colliding compelled them to recognize the hazardousness of what they were attempting.  Only in the century after Kant’s death and with the waning of the might of that reality did the hazardousness of the attempt wane.  This is why the essay dwindled from one of the forms in great philosophy to a minor form in aesthetics, whose semblance-character nevertheless served as a refuge for a concretion of interpretation that authentic philosophy had long since ceased to have at its disposal.  If with the breakdown of all security in great philosophy the attempt makes its entrance there; if in doing so it latches onto the circumscribed, contoured, and unsymbolic interpretations of the aesthetic essay, this does not strike me as reprehensible, provided that the topics are judiciously chosen: provided that they are real.  For spirit is probably incapable of begetting or comprehending the totality of the real, but it is capable of infiltrating the real in miniature and in this miniature realm exploding the heaps of the merely existent.

May 7, 1931

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2018 by Douglas Robertson

Source:  Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Werke, Rolf Tiedemann, ed. in collaboration with Gretel Adorno, Susan Buck-Morss, and Klaus Schultz (Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main, 1986; Directmedia: Berlin, 2003), Vol. I, p. 325ff.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Translation of Der Schein trügt by Thomas Bernhard

Appearances Are Deceptive

We’ve got a right to our annuity
we have done our work honestly
to the utmost perfection

Dramatis personae

KARL, an elderly circus performer
ROBERT, his brother, an elderly stage actor

A large city at year’s end

Act I

At Karl’s house

Scene I

Old, uncomfortable furniture
A woman’s wardrobe and a man’s wardrobe with a dozen pairs of men’s shoes   underneath and in front of it
A sink with a canary in a gilded cage beside it
A large table
A pile of women’s clothes on a small table
Pictures displayed as mementos of Karl’s career as a circus performer
A photograph of his deceased common-law wife
An old radio, an old record player

crawling on the floor in winter underwear and with a pair of spectacles hanging from a string around his neck, looking for his nail file
We mustn’t let ourselves be defeated
especially not now
in this abhorrent age
after a pause
Perhaps it isn’t all that abhorrent
What matters most is virtuosity
in other words character
if we allow ourselves to be made fools of
we’ve already lost
How I loathe these Tuesdays
I loathe the Thursdays even more
Sameness isn’t similarity
A probate court
It’s nice that we never sought out a university
How nice that we’ve stayed in Europe
Our mistakes haven’t done us in
addressing Maggi the canary point-blank
Our zest for life has never deserted us
not even now
Even if we’ve been unhappy most of the time
Our organs have atrophied
Mathilda has deserted us
but we’ve got our zest for life
as he looks for the file under the woman’s wardrobe
Never monkeyed around
too often frightened
that’s it
after a pause
The weekend cottage
bequeathed to Robert
not to me
the actor deserved it
not the circus performer
the impostor
not the common-law husband
So much dirty laundry
ladder-ridden stockings
We take a wife for eternity
commit ourselves to her forever
and she deserts us at the most unpropitious moment
looks for the file under the man’s wardrobe
I waved the baton
she danced
to Maggi point-blank
the extraordinary ones
the outstanding ones
have always made things difficult for themselves
sticks his head under the man’s wardrobe then says
A bad omen
the vacancy left behind
glancing at the pile of women’s clothes
The dresses won’t be auctioned off
the dresses are staying here
looks for the file under the sink
these revolting procedures for getting dressed
Now I even need reading glasses
to cut my nails
Through the same glasses I read Voltaire with
I see my toenails
effortfully stands up
We shouldn’t live long enough
to need eyeglasses
to cut our nails
that’s depressing
because we certainly haven’t become any cleverer
only more sniveling
And at the most unpropitious moment
we also lose the person closest to us
to Maggi point-blank
The spice of life
the spice of my life
I would have simply called you Hans or Karl
Women are always in search
of grandiosity
of extraordinariness
as he looks for the file under the bookcase
The catastrophe begins the moment
one’s visual acuity starts to decline
when we
pass water
stop hearing
the doorbell
What an effort it took me
to make it up the stairs yesterday
with just a sausage and the bottle of milk
in my net
surveys the floor of the room
At first I thought
I’d go to the cemetery every day
but I haven’t been to the cemetery
since last Friday
It wasn’t an oath
just a plan
We shouldn’t be taken in by doctors
they cut us up
and ruin us
they sound us out
and discover a terminal illness
as he looks for the file under the sink
My loss of appetite
is just a symptom
of mourning
No don’t auction them off
her dresses won’t be auctioned off
I’ll tell Robert
her dresses won’t be auctioned off
nothing will be auctioned off
rises and picks up one of the dresses and sticks his hand into it
At the most unpropitious moment
puts the dress back down on the pile
to Maggi
She was the one who bought you
not me
looks for the file under the sink
How I loathe these Tuesdays
but I loathe the Thursdays even more
This is more convenient
Robert comes to me
The Thursdays are arduous
No elevator
that repulsive furniture
that tasteless wallpaper
that nauseating stench of toilets in Trappistenstrasse
A typical bachelor
performed for the queen of England
Never dreamed
of getting married
out of avarice
out of laziness
Always been bone idle
a mamma’s boy
a lifelong lisper
Playing King Lear
But I adored his Tasso
adored it
that was magnificent
My toenails are poking through my socks
two pairs of English socks
looks for the file under the bed
Who will mend them now
I don’t like to part company with objects
but it was my idea
not Robert’s idea
Everything must go to the pawnshop I said
at the very first moment
It’s only gradually becoming clear
that she’s gone for good
Everything is more or less
but her piano playing was too lousy
got her hands on
So she decided
to become a pianist
she became hell-bent
on playing classical pieces
in a schoolmasterly way
At first I thought Yes
then I thought No
then Yes again
but I didn’t marry her
Her playing was amateurish
The piano won’t be sold
stands up and sits down in exhaustion at the table
Mozart sonatas every Sunday
now we miss it
I let her get away with that
We’ve got to put up with a horrible lot of stuff
when we have a partner
She was terrified of thunderstorms
that was simply ludicrous
her with her face contorted by panic
in that corner
points at the corner
it disgusted me
surveying the room
Nobody cooked such fine potato soup
a fine cook
a lousy seamstress
In her gray dress
she looked quite nice
on her deathbed
Her last wishes were granted
Literally crammed into her gray sonata dress
a real job of work
but I did it
I didn’t let her take the emerald with her
The people
spouting inane bilge
Funerals aren’t
all that expensive
finds the file under the sink, grabs it, lifts it up into the air as though admiring it and sits down in one of the chairs to cut his toenails
as he is cutting his toenails
I forbade myself music
after a pause
a page of Voltaire
or a page of Pascal
that is our salvation
raises the file up into the air
No matter who we are
keeping our socks from getting full of holes
is more important than anything else
continues filing his nails
We are a wreck
and fancy
we are an intellectual giant
rises and goes to the sink and continues cutting his toenails there
On the other hand it’s important
for us not to break off contact
with people
these Tuesdays are important
just like the Thursdays
Sometimes I say half brother
which offends him
Seeing each other regularly like this
is actually a nuisance for both of us
Not giving up
surveys the room
not giving up Maggi
Everybody’s dying off
I thought I’d be the first
but no
Our numbers are dwindling
that’s not good for anybody
looks out the window
This nadir of a moment
When the days first start getting longer
I’ve lived quite properly
been neither too dissipated
nor self-indulgent
but also not abstemious
We shouldn’t get so old
that everyone we’re left in touch with
is in the cemetery
To be honest
whether they were family or not
we were never really in touch
with anyone
unfulfilled desires
It’s only once they’re dead
that we realize
they were ever here at all
speaking lingeringly
dusts off the file
But none who have ever given us anything
We never kidded ourselves either
did we
They say
that after death
your nails and your hair
keep growing
for a while
to Maggi point-blank
We aren’t moving
you’ve no need to worry
a foolish idea
We won’t give up this place
that would be the death of us
A sip of cold milk
that’s refreshing
surveys the room
forgoing everything
a familiar place
with a perfect view
and an elevator
looks at the window
An old house
is an asset
nobody notices anymore
that it’s falling apart
to Maggi point-blank
We were never indecent
were we
Some small-time con jobs
but no indecency
whatever that means
looks at his shoes, notices that they are not pointing straight ahead, stands up and points them straight ahead
while contemplating his shoes
You pedant
sits down again and resumes filing his toenails
Naturally I had no patience
for backtalk
That exacerbated the situation naturally
her favorite dish
The box at the opera
I never had any use for the opera
The theater yes
The opera no
Little streams of garrulity
behind my back
When she was alone
she’d eat snacks
or she’d write to her sister in Oberolingen
we don’t need to fraternize with everybody
to Maggi point-blank
Can you believe
that I once played the trumpet
when I was about twenty
goes up to Maggi, taps on the cage
my secret observer

Scene Two

Ten minutes later

as he is hanging the dresses up in the wardrobe                         
Nothing will be auctioned off
and nothing is going to the charity shop either
Scraps of memory
quite personal scraps
The very idea was distasteful
At government offices
she’d get so agitated
she could hardly write her own name
she’d forget her birthday
She didn’t care for reading
Playing chess
Philosophy of any kind
As a child she had nothing to laugh at
fingernails bitten to the quick
the unfortunate child
who was always knocking over everything at the dinner table
constantly soiling her clothes
Not a pretty voice
looks at the clock
half-past five
I introduced her to beauty to style
little by little pulled her out of her
petit-bourgeois shell
When she came to me
I said
where the hell did you get those scars on your bottom from
reaches out and touches a dress
Daily beatings from her father
her mother held her peace
no vacations no festivity
what awful people
But he let her take piano lessons
admittedly from a charlatan
not a single flawless passage
she couldn’t express syncopations
bursts out laughing
She was a pianist
doubtless a certain similarity
to our sister
the sensitive child
looks at the bed
She was blindsided
how pleasant it is to lie in such a big bed
on such a nice broad mattress
I had to teach her everything
She came to us completely clueless
but at the same time at just the right moment
I promised her that trip to Tuscany
and then we traveled
She was always worried
her father would catch me with her
I read Voltaire to her
when I asked her
if she understood
she said no
just plain no
I found that disarming
while polishing his shoes, then putting on his stockings and socks
Finally I was the one
who taught her German
and a bit of French
I made her presentable first
I took her to the theater
I said Lessing to her
she had never heard the name before
Basically none of it was of any use
to Maggi point-blank
She wanted to take you in
I didn’t come up with any part of the idea
I kept reminding her
to brush her hair every day
Grocers are introverts
her father was a lecher
Of course that doesn’t mean
that we have to give up
the weekend cottage
but it irritates me
that she bequeathed it to Robert
I can relax in it as I can nowhere else
I can regenerate there
as I can nowhere else
She wanted to live on the ground floor
that’s understandable
She was a grocer’s daughter
that’s why she had that attachment to the ground floor
but it would have been tacky
Given that we’ve got the elevator
Basically no facility whatsoever with languages
Complete incomprehension
where comprehension was essential
It never occurred to me
that she was making a will
of course I had thought
she didn’t own anything
and I’d forgotten
about the weekend cottage
She didn’t leave it to me
but to Robert
It bothered her
when I was busy thinking
she tried to hide it
but I noticed it
a poor performance
rises and hangs the remaining dresses up in the wardrobe
The actor
who used his illnesses
more than his artistry
to draw attention to himself
I can listen to Schoenberg’s music for hours on end
he’s bored to tears by it
In truth he is an anti-artist
like actors in general
Twenty-one plates at a time
and in a sold-out Olympic stadium
that was something
not a hoax by any means
everything was public
But I never thrust myself into the foreground
It’s not my style
to make a spectacle of myself
On the other hand I loved
his Tasso
in a certain way
his helplessness
suddenly he ran out of breath
goes to the window and looks out
Trumpets were played
and not at all badly
always a preference for wind instruments
Music has always been my salvation
I was the musical one
not Mathilde
to Maggi point-blank
she wasted her energies
in the kitchen
She often said the phrase
the common good
When she forgot your birdseed
I’d chase her back into town
It serves you right I’d say
she’d have to be back in twenty minutes
No mercy
We didn’t let her get away with anything
turns on the radio
If you come
by the thirty-first
a thirty-percent discount
if you come punctually by the thirty-first
a thirty-percent discount
turns off the radio
seats himself in one of the chairs and stretches his legs out as far as possible
On New Year’s Day she was allowed to pin on the emerald
that I had bought her in Grenoble
nineteen fifty-eight
my farewell performance
Mountains snow
a nightmare
rises and sweeps up the toenail clippings from the floor with the clothes brush
In the Tuileries
I had stomach pains for the first time
throws the toenail clippings into the wastebasket
In my youth I basically traveled
I performed everywhere
at the Lido
at the Circus Renz
sinks down exhausted into one of the chairs
Napoleon left
the Bourbons came back
it wasn’t thanks to Napoleon
but along with Napoleon that Europe fell to pieces
Europe incinerated its genius at Elba
and thereby finished itself off
glances at his watch
I’m no longer interested in travel
sits down at the sink and lathers his face
Made history
Did I
make history
sticks out his tongue, then
Everybody makes history
The day she died was a Tuesday
I never noticed that at all
She said rendezvous
in that funny way
If I said something in Latin
she would get cross
Her soft spot for the aristocracy
was off-putting in a certain way
sticks his tongue out
I always had more instinct
than Robert
Twenty-one plates all at the same time
nobody else ever managed that
I was one of a kind
stretches his head forward so that he is looking directly into the mirror, exclaims
Acrobat tightrope-walker
laughing with his head held high
to Maggi point-blank
I didn’t have to answer to anybody
apart from myself
I mastered my art
In Lyon I came a cropper
a select audience
I repeated the routine
instead of twenty-one plates
I had thirty-one plates in the air
my greatest triumph
my greatest tribute of applause
wrested from the jaws of my bitterest defeat
my highest pinnacle attained
within a span of three minutes
Then Grenoble
and I quit
at the pinnacle of my success
Unlike Robert I didn’t wait
for a career-terminating case of strep throat etcetera
A world-conquering performer
I never gave lessons
I showed what I could do
that was all
nobody else ever managed that
I got by without any help whatsoever from the classics
and so I managed to travel the length and breadth of Europe
In Grenoble on my fiftieth birthday
I treated myself to that luxury
quite simply stopped
I had insured myself
was never dependent on anyone
And I didn’t miss it
I never even attempted a comeback
and I didn’t talk about it anymore either
Mathilde had no use
for the word plate-spinner
After Grenoble the feminine sex so to speak
Naturally I didn’t dream of getting married
never dreamt of it
a union sure
a coupling
a shared destiny
I took in the failed pianist
I clothed her
I taught her the German language
and initiated her in the culinary arts
I didn’t show her how to do anything
On Sunday I let her play Mozart sonatas
so we lived a pleasant life
from the first year to the last
A frustrated childhood so to speak
a character-maiming house to grow up in
a dimwitted father
a rachitic mother
I liberated her from that
washes his face, cools it with an expensive aftershave lotion
Don’t exaggerate anything
I said
don’t accelerate anything
pats his cheeks and sticks out his tongue
The present is always bad
we must get through it
in the end we’ve got
a pleasant inconspicuous nest
I said
an oasis
a mental oasis
to Maggi point-blank
isn’t that right Maggi
goes to the window and sits down
November days
even when they drag on
don’t bore us
because we have our great intellects
goes to the bookshelf and fetches a book and sits back down at the window after glancing at his watch
A master of the art of the soliloquy
Time for the other sex
that was the real surprise
basically too late
naturally I didn’t dream of getting married
but of being with someone
A grocer’s mentality
known from childhood
glances at his watch, sets aside the book, stands up, goes to the man’s wardrobe and puts on his trousers, slips into the trousers, exclaims
what a word
A zest for life
Strength of character
puts on his shirt
slips his suspenders over his shoulders
From the bottom up
it’s always incredibly difficult
looks at his shoes
Now and then a certain delicacy
polishes his shoes as he says
A wealth of experience
Gladly acquired
stands erect, looks at the window
We’ve drawn the right conclusion
We’re just spending the night here in the world
so to speak
to Maggi point-blank
At about this time she’d be sitting down at the piano
and playing Mozart
Even though it was all played wrongly
The dilettante always profanes the greatest of great works
the holiest of holies
The cutlet that was burnt to a crisp
do you remember that
In the end everything
falls prey to ludicrousness
opens the table-drawer and takes several tablets out of a glass, swallows them, and slams the drawer shut
I can’t forgive her for drawing up a will
to Maggi point-blank
I’ve always been quite partial to the phrase
“cemeterial duration ”
No singing
no songs
no eulogy
It was all over in twelve minutes
picks up the photograph of Mathilde and contemplates it for a while
I pulled you out
pulled you out
out of that morass
and up to my level
puts the photograph back on the table
A mania for compromise
glances at his watch, puts on his jacket, buttons his shirt, and looks at the shoes under the man’s wardrobe
A shoe-fetishist
glances at his watch
Unpunctuality is something we’ve never had any patience for
we have no patience for it
we can’t have any patience for it
sits down at the window
Every Tuesday this same enormity
the thespian who fails to make his entrance
How I loathe these Tuesdays
This anti-actor
basically he’s always had a lisp
looks down at the street
surveys the room
Never managed a clear U
or an open O
the way he said dying
and figure of speech
Those great roles
he played
The obnoxious thing is
we just waste time
as we’re waiting
Because we can’t do anything intelligent then
can’t read further along in Voltaire
or Rabelais
As soon as I open the book
he shows up
Half brother
undoubtedly an offensive term
He’s acted at the Burgtheater
what does that actually mean
Droned out Shakespeare
in miserable translations
It vexes me
that she bequeathed the weekend cottage to him
At the end of her life
yet another slip-up
if not a vile prank
A prank played on high art
on a deity
the love of her life was supposed to exit empty-handed
I’m the one who needs to be helped
I was always the one in a precarious situation
I was
I never bellyached
perhaps I was too wrapped up in myself
with his gaze fixed on Maggi
Women make catastrophic wills
rises and puts two glasses on the table
Their starry-eyedness
has always really put me off
adjusts the position of the glasses
They look up to stage actors
not to circus performers
seats himself at the table and stretches out his legs
I could have squirreled it away
the will
we coddle and cosset a person
and she bequeaths her weekend cottage
to somebody else
Hypocrisy was always abhorrent to us
picks up the book and leafs through it
We detested
Brazen chicanery
sets the book aside and rises and goes to the window
We aren’t regenerating as quickly
as quickly as we thought we would
sits down and looks out at the street

Scene Three

Fifteen minutes later

sitting on the bed, tying his necktie
Electric light
all the bills paid
surveys the room
Won’t have it painted
If we have the furniture reupholstered
It’ll have to be an armchair upholsterer
of the first rank
Craftsmanship’s gone to rack and ruin
A sign of the times
It doesn’t all have to be new
But we also mustn’t fall through the chair
when we sit down
rocking back and forth on the bed
Forty-year-old feathers
handmade after all
It’s got to be clean
not too clean
We go quickly to seed
if we let ourselves go
Don’t let go
Once my goal was to be a philosopher
A writer
an extravagant publisher
An author of books
no novels
no descriptions
Everything firmly nailed down in my brain
rocks back and forth on the bed
Orthodox in all things
rises and goes to the window, looks out
a high-ranking clergyman
not a monk
A cathedralist
clerical celebrity
No contact
with my relatives
except my intellectual relatives of course
Kept my nieces and nephews
at arm’s length
Two people could live on this annuity
I told her
kept my assets a secret
an absolute secret
This because I had been planning
to live alone
That lisp
that he’s always had
he got it from our mother
A mannerism so to speak
pushed to the limit
In a certain sense all actors are morons
even the greatest ones
even the most famous ones
run away from their mediocrity
and their mediocrity catches up with them
all of them
They make things too easy for themselves
Brilliant the people say brilliant
but it’s really nothing but dilettantism
Everything in their vicinity is tasteless
even the noblest things start to stink
On the other hand it’s really quite impressive
those endless lines learned by heart
lines he basically didn’t understand in the least
Once I asked him quick as a flash
what it was
he’d just recited
he was incapable of answering
they don’t know what they’re saying
either what they’re saying
or what they’re pretending to do
Of course I’m no flatterer
A devotion to consistency
This hundred-and-thirtieth line of Goethe
what does it mean in relation to the one forty-six lines earlier
that really put him in a tight spot
He wriggled out of it that’s exactly what he did
chickened out
I had twenty-three plates in the air at once
that was really something different
in all honesty
the impression I made in Lyon
There wasn’t a man woman
or child there who
glances at his watch, sits down
I could be on my deathbed
he wouldn’t come
At least it’s a matter
of intolerance
I’ve never spoken about
my infirmities
Developed my art in the background
in a discreet manner
didn’t make every head cold into a tragedy
I was never the spoiled one
bends over, looks at his shoes, pulls out a rag and polishes them
We’ve got a right to our annuity
we have done our work honestly
to the utmost perfection
goes with the rag to the small table, sets the rag aside
When he comes
he never sits in the chair
I offer him
he takes the other one
shifts it out of its proper place
If we have no relationship with geometry
we have no understanding of the world
as I understand it
A confused lapse in taste
When our mother read to us
he would fall asleep
she was smitten
with her badly-behaved child
not with her obedient one
I eagerly absorbed
from my very infancy onwards
Literature poetry aphorisms
He’s a case of arrested development
I was always an early riser
still in bed at half-past nine
that’s no way to live
Mathilde was besotted with him
Actors haven’t a trace of imagination
a weak sense of smell
everything’s got to be beaten into him
Actors’ heads
are revoltingly hollow
On the other hand I’ve always loved Robert
been incessantly moved to tears just thinking about him
tried to get closer to him all my life
a well-nigh suffocating act of futility
glances at his watch, goes to the window, sits down
looks down at the street
I never allowed myself to be idle
to Maggi point-blank
We need people Maggi
we perish if we’re alone for very long
we think we can get by on our own
Not true
we break down
unbuttons his jacket, stands up, sits back down
Unpunctuality is unacceptable
looks down at the street
In Metz
I had a great day
I said to that director
make my check out
for twenty-two thousand
and don’t ask any questions
don’t make a fuss
he made out the check
then composure
takes his notebook out of his pocket, opens it
Mathilde’s fur boa
for our niece
re-pockets the notebook
Read Baudelaire by seventeen
Racine by nineteen
I did not him
for my own pleasure
I saw a girl near the east train station
I put the mink on her shoulders
glances at his watch
At the end we hardly need anything anymore
Two jackets
Two pairs of trousers
Two pairs of shoes
not even a toothbrush anymore
surveys the room
We wonder
if there’s still any point in buying anything
If we had our druthers we’d even stop getting out of bed
that is the truth
looks at the floor
but we also don’t kill ourselves
stands up and picks the book up off the table, sits back down at the window, opens the book; the doorbell rings; he jumps up

Scene Four

Ten minutes later
Karl and Robert are sitting at the large table
Robert is wearing a thick winter coat

Miss her
Shared everything with her
for at least thirty years
a remarkable expression
A heart attack lasting just seconds
Thought I wouldn’t
make it upstairs
with the sausage and the bottle of milk
It’s less about me
than about Maggi
to Robert point-blank
Won’t you at least take off your coat
it irritates me
helps Robert take off his coat
This lovely garment from our grandfather
Garments have
their own history
hangs the coat on the door, comes back, sits down
Scottish wool
from the Hebrides
We love them
till they fall off our backs
I was interested in geometry
from the beginning
in mathematics in general
whence my interest
in music
The tailor who made this coat
for our grandfather
has supposedly gone insane
Have you brought me the Times
Robert pulls the Times out of his jacket pocket
Karl takes the Times, opens it

Not a day
without the Times
I haven’t subscribed to it
in years
but since you started subscribing to it
after a pause
It’s not rising anymore

The price of gold

Yes the price of gold
leafing through the paper
Won’t you at least
have a cup of tea
or a glass of mineral water
for your kidneys
puts the Times down on the table
What does the doctor say
Did you see him

Nothing to cause any worry

Not even about your liver

My liver is spotless

So you’re really watching yourself
Especially as regards booze etcetera

Not a sip of it
since Mathilde died
not a trace of a need for it
I sit there all day
and stare at the floor
points at the place
is where it hurts

Probably your gall bladder
the same old story
stands up and fetches a bottle of mineral water and two glasses, fills the glasses

I had another go
with Lear
but I keep forgetting the lines
I can’t retain anything anymore
The words quite simply
leak out of my mind
Pacing up and down in the park
for nothing
Visited Mathilde’s grave
everything had wilted
probably it’d be a good idea
to get another gardener
but it’s hard
to get any plants that bloom
this time of year
Bought my tablets in silence
carried the barest necessities home
not a word exchanged with anyone
Letters from America
torn up and thrown away
People write because they’re bored
never for any other reason
The doctor thinks
Arosa would do some good
but I’m not going to Switzerland
He recommends an altitude of two thousand meters
My lungs
my kidneys
my spleen
and now my gall bladder as well
takes a sip of mineral water
Lay on the bed
listening to Brahms
fully dressed
thinking about the music
with my eyes closed
Karl takes a sip of mineral water, picks up the Times, leafs through it

Call it quits at fifty
but no
couldn’t make a commitment
turned fifty and then some
turned sixty and then some
turned seventy and then some
every decade a mistake

Mankind never changes
Have you never had the faintest interest
in riding
I mean in horseracing
I’d have quite enjoyed that
do you know what an oxer is
Irish officers
are the best
Equestrians have got to be in good shape
if they break their necks
turns a page of the paper
predominantly rich people
a select class of spectators
Equestrians don’t absolutely need to be intelligent
Horses are stupid
Pigs are the most intelligent animals
that’s why pigs are so difficult to train
A woman’s won an Olympic medal for dressage, for horse-training
well now
A grand pig routine
that would have been something
a pig on the tightrope
on the high wire
doing a headstand

Mathilde was right
one doctor
not several
one person to ruin another
not several
Tomato soup is good for me
a green salad
chopped meat
minced meat

I’ve always been interested in fashion
Men’s fashion
obviously I always took pleasure
in being well dressed
people often took me to task
for my quest for elegance
that expensive robe
but I have never given a damn
about people’s opinion
turns a page
An aversion to a transatlantic crossing perhaps
A fear of ocean voyages
to be able to live on deck and not on land
at my leisure
leafs through the newspaper

She maintained
Maggi was blind in one eye
in all seriousness
she said she’d noticed this

A three-year-old child from Modena
ate so much orange marmalade
that he dropped dead
sets the Times aside
in one eye
A crazy idea
In a certain respect
she was crazy
all her life
Mathilde my darling child
Maggi blind in one eye

In the left one
she had proof
she tested it

Tested it

she said
she had tested it

But how

She came up with something

came up with something
a test
picks up the Times and leafs through it
Always loathed
Loved Spain
The Catholic Church
has always dissembled
I left it way back in forty-three
you didn’t
I was courageous enough
it wasn’t about the taxes
Money played
no role at all in it
My worldview
My world-penetrating worldview
a nauseating figure the pope
to Robert point-blank
Have you subscribed to the new treasury bond


I’d also advise you against buying stocks
turns a page
Do you still remember
when we rescued that nun
at Attersee
and she wasn’t even grateful

Perhaps I’ll go
to Zermatt
Would you like to come with me

Not necessarily

Billeting in a first-class hotel
in the best room in that hotel
the best food
first-rate food
Taking walks
doesn’t that appeal to you

not necessarily

Or to Bodenmais
Where we were with Mathilde

You know
I loathe the Bavarian forest
even the goats get bored there
puts down the newspaper, surveys the room
What this place needs
is a basket chair
A wicker chair
like from the old days
A wicker chair
that’s comfortable to sit in
I don’t find these chairs comfortable
to sit in
do you
I don’t
But when I get
a basket chair like that
possibly we’ll need two here
so that we can both sit in comfort
The Black Forest or the Bavarian Forest
that’s no good
Switzerland’s no good either
I can’t say
I find it comfortable
to sit in these chairs
Our grandmother brought them into the family as part of her dowry
gazing appraisingly at the chairs
Slovakian craftsmanship
so-called curved wood
a spectacular novelty at the time 
resumes leafing through the Times

On Monday an X-ray
More lab work
Wrote a letter to Copenhagen
Of course I write letters
from time to time
out of habit
not that there’s any obvious point to it
It just makes the evenings seem shorter
I wanted to know
whether Edith had left the business
probably she isn’t even in Copenhagen at all anymore
that’s no good either
had Chinese food with Mathilde
two days before she died
got a horrible stomachache
I detest Chinese food
it clogs up my intestines
she absolutely loved it
Did you know
she had a brother in Canada
born out of wedlock
near Ottawa

Yes I knew

She never
talked about it
not to me at least
I knew about
almost everything else
He killed himself
threw himself off a high-rise building
at the age of sixty-four
emigrated at thirty-seven
sold lumber
married two children
an unhappy marriage naturally
takes a sip of water
Went on an expedition to Alaska
they wrote to each other occasionally
did you know that


You never said anything about it


of housecats
In Rome she told me
that she had always loved you
on the Spanish steps
when we were staying at the Hotel de la Ville
next door to your beloved Hassler
The papal audience
that she wanted to have
stayed Catholic all her life
despite your influence
She had a curious
relationship with Maggi
and with Russian short stories
You taught her everything
of substance
she was clever
but you wanted to make her even more than that
that’s your style
forcing everyone to give their all
whatever the cost
in every part of life
A kind of inhumanity perhaps

opening the Times
I loathe purebred dogs
People lose their partner
and get themselves a dog
A substitute for a love interest
And the dog dictates the entire course of their day
they center their lives entirely on the dog
They want to go the Riviera
but the dog says no
they want to go to India
but the dog says no
They want to go to London
but the dog says no
they want to take a steam bath
the dog forbids it
They prepare better meals for the dog
than they’ve ever prepared for themselves
It’s said that a professor at Oxford
used to ask his dog for permission
to deliver each of his lectures
if the dog said yes
he would deliver the lecture
if the dog said no
he wouldn’t deliver it
I once knew a breeder
who had his pet bitch impregnated
in Northern Ireland
fifty-five years ago
when that was still quite complicated
turns a page

Perhaps I should have played Lear
as long ago as ten or fifteen years ago
maybe even earlier
and if I could play him today
I wouldn’t be allowed to
because everybody I used to know
who had any real influence
is dead now
all those general managers of theaters
are dead
At least I got to play Tasso
which you liked didn’t you

Yes very much

At the end
the writer locked himself
in the cage
I liked that
We performed Tasso
over a hundred times
in front of a sold-out house
until I broke my leg

turns a page
Social hypocrisy
Palaver about peace
Take a look at that seagull
shows Robert the Times
A flying seagull
resumes browsing the Times by himself
I’ve always loved flying seagulls
the sea in general
its expansiveness
The English style of photography
but what a seagull
turns a page

We’ll make the weekend cottage
an even cozier place for us to stay at
plant a couple of trees
prune the others
Lots of grass around everything
possibly winterize it


Possibly dig a well


I imagine
it can be heated
it’ll be a nice place
for us both

sets the Times down on the table; both men take a sip of water
Our mother didn’t have to die
The victim of the family
a sacrificial victim
of the family morass
stretches out his legs
Does the phrase fashion accessories
mean anything to you
it should mean something to you
If there’s one thing
I’ve always loathed
about you
it’s your unpunctuality
Not that I’m reproaching you for it
I love you all the same
but it’s interesting to observe
The word discipline
was our maternal grandfather’s pet word
goes to the woman’s wardrobe, pulls out a fur boa and drapes it around his shoulders
striking a pose
In Venice
just round the corner from the Gritti
is where I bought this boa
walks to and from the window, passing the table on his way back
turns round to face Robert
That craving for luxury
It was my craving
not hers
she was
as frugal as could be

Scene Five

A quarter of an hour later
Karl is sitting at the table
In the music room Robert is playing the Mozart sonata that Mathilde always used to play

With his legs stretched out in front of him
I’ve always been interested in history
The Napoleonic period
certainly more in the nineteenth century
than in the twentieth
in the intelligent century so to speak
as opposed to the brutal one
Global slavery
the whole thing a political cock-up
that’s for sure
The world of intelligence the Devil’s world
as if he is only now beginning to pay attention to Robert’s performance
Too little pedal
too punctilious
and lackluster on the other hand
musical feeblemindedness
A trial run
shouting into the music room
enough of this
I can’t stand to hear any more of this music
I listened to it for thirty years
it’s perverse
Robert stops playing

When we have such magnificent
Plenty of recordings
by magnificent musicians
I should have stopped up my ears
thirty years ago
but I didn’t stop them up
out of consideration for Mathilde
out of consideration for humankind in general
Benevolence perhaps
Compassion possibly
Thirty years of repressing
what I should have openly expressed
Robert audibly slams shut the lid of the piano and emerges from the music room

Out of consideration for my ears
for my sensitivity
I’m still in mourning
Robert sits down at the table

Studied composition at one point
then stopped for good
the truth is that I understand a thing or two about music
I’m not even a practicing musician
but I understand more about it
than most of them
I know what I’m hearing
To think of what these ears have had to listen to over thirty years
Now that’s all over
When we run through it again in our minds
it’s frightening
what we’ve had to put up with all our lives

It was just a trial run
a little reminiscence
Of course I can’t play it
I play it even worse than Mathilde

To the contrary
you play it much better
of course that’s exactly why
it irritated me so much
thirty years of listening to that dilettantism
thirty years of wrong notes

Mastery of the piano requires daily practice
It’s been years since I last played it

You don’t need to play it either
it really doesn’t sound good
it’s demoralizing
I tolerated my life-companion’s playing
Mathilde’s playing sure
but there’s no need for you to play
at least not the Mozart sonata
please don’t

The piano is pretty badly out of tune

That’s a problem as well
after a pause
it won’t be auctioned off
nothing will be auctioned off
everything will stay as it is
stand and sit where it is
People don’t spend big money on used stuff anyway
let everything stand and sit in place
Turning a profit
that’s a thing of the past

Suddenly everything would be empty here

Empty empty
At least it reminds us of Mathilde
of her presence

She loved Brahms too

Yes naturally
That was it

A thoroughly classical-
romantic disposition

and so unmusical
No sense of pitch
whereas of course I have absolute pitch

And on top of that you’re musically educated
a philosopher of music so to speak

if you say so
Music was always the main thing for me
Perhaps acrobatics was even
a terrible mistake
I could have achieved
a certain level of excellence as a musician
but I opted for the circus
I’m a circus performer
Whereas you are musically inclined
Acting is musical
Circus performance is something different
Recently I read an article
about cold-bloodedness as a prerequisite for being an actor
very interesting
but these interconnections deserve more careful thought
I’ve always been interested
in actors
in the important ones
A philosopher could grow old
just pondering the concept of the curtain
now I’ve found the word
I’ve been looking for the whole time
jumps up and goes to the window, looks back into the room
Possibly I could have
without the circus
as a kind of artist
An anti-musical artist so to speak
No matter what I would have achieved something
I would have become great
What fascinated me above all
was the idea of being famous
of causing a sensation
of being number one
goes to the bed and sits on it
On the trampoline
I was only thirteen
I got the idea
of being a plate-spinner
to Robert point-blank
You had an actor inside you
from the very beginning

I had no clear idea
something interpretive

The stage
generating yourself
realizing yourself
bred to be a lawyer
born to be an actor
In Bad Cannstatt at the age of twenty-one you played
an eighty-year-old

In a comedy


An English actor
of the nineteenth century

A Victorian verse play
catastrophically translated

The unfortunate man threw himself
into the Thames
because his life companion had cheated on him
In old age I haven’t played
old men so well
I played old men successfully
until the age of thirty-five
For years I only played nephews
It’s never been a passion
In Zurich I played Faust

Alongside a feeble Mephisto
beyond the pale

Eight months of work
and a single scathing review
It’s never been a passion

As far as I’m concerned
I’ve got to say this
It was always at the same level
but never the same thing
completely different each time
I was never so hell-bent on absolute supremacy
on supremacy sure
not on absolute supremacy
Sure there was kudos
but it always made me suspicious
The circus ring isn’t the stage
Vaudeville isn’t the Burgtheater

Nothing’s ever fall into my lap

Into any of our laps

The theater was a possibility
I didn’t have any other

We’re more or less
Even when we do see a way out
it’s always just a dead end

The less art
the greater the possibility
of regularly being around other people
of giving up
of going to pieces

out of nothing but fear

A completely
unmusical family
but unmusical
thoroughly unartistic

an obsessive idea
A lawyer to start with he said
then the stage
but I spared myself that detour
broke with Father
for life
In a certain sense with Mother as well
but she had faith in me

It would be nice
if that were true
Our parents wanted to hold us down
and smother us

I would have killed myself
It’s so easy to say now
but every day I was on the verge
of killing myself
Tried to distract myself by reading
Pulp novels and the like
I was too much of a coward to do it

Weak sniveling

To be sure
Private instruction
in other words
not a penny from home
not a bit of support

surveys the room
It’s not actually cold
and yet I’m freezing
Two large basket chairs
perhaps also a new table
on the other hand
I wouldn’t change a thing
not here

Scene Six

A quarter of an hour later
Robert sitting at the table, reading a book

Standing at the cage, staring at Maggi, suddenly exclaims
I’ve never had
domestic warmth
to Robert
Perhaps you’ve had it
that was it
driven to the margins
but I struggled
against atrophy
against shutting down
Being on my guard
that was it
it made me strong

Of course she only loved me
on account of my afflictions

Imaginary ones
Hypochondriacal ones

We’ve always had
a two-columned relationship
but two-columned
I preferred
to cower
cowered for twenty years
thirty years
broke free only slowly
I was punished later
Neither of us had
domestic warmth

An average family
with thoroughly disastrous effects
on the progeny
bends over and straightens the shoes on the floor
In a certain respect
everybody deserves
what’s happened to him
Quite shamefully
left on our own by our tutors
introduced to toys
not people
Our sister
up and took off
at a propitious moment
I was dislodged for the first time
by the weaker sex
she gave me self-confidence
to Robert point-blank
You’ve always been afraid to leave
after a pause
until today


A never-ending stream of maladies
All figments of your imagination

First my lungs
then my kidneys

Yes yes your kidneys
first you lungs
then your kidneys
stands up with a pair of shoes in his hands
I bought them in Bad Homburg
thirty-five years old
and good as new
Robert looks at the shoes

those were the days
puts the shoes back down on the floor
When I think back
on where we’ve come from
middle-class origins
a rough upbringing
unsympathetic parents
who had been planning on making us
into their literal successors
sits down exhausted at the table
in a certain sense
in my case as well
it was art
all-consuming artistry
that came to the rescue
perhaps the artistry of a circus performer
should even be rated higher
than that of an actor
I’ve always thought it should be
Everybody wanted me to do it
the way it had always been done
but I did it
the way I wanted to
the way I thought was proper
that was undoubtedly the secret of my success
of my unsurpassed success undoubtedly
stands up and picks up a photograph in which he is performing his plate routine in Paris; contemplates the photograph
that was an unusual night
a once-in-a-lifetime venue
I won them all over completely
in the long run

contemplating the photograph
At the Lido

At the Lido yes

That was what made you famous

I got famous in Paris
at the Lido
puts the photograph on the table
Our parents were appalled
by me as well as
by you
but more by me
their favorite child
whom they’d bred for a career in the civil service
Bred to be a successor
Things took a different turn
In the Tuileries
I used to brood along those lines
back then
Just after the war
wild entertainments

without looking up from the page he is reading
I played Tasso
that made me successful
that spurred me on

They were all hungry
for art
Performances of all kinds

Possibly the war
was our salvation


Enormous enthusiasm
rapturous reviews

after a pause
But I really miss Mathilde
A touching creature
in a certain sense
I spend the evenings
sitting here
thinking about her
without moving a muscle
Then towards one I go to bed
and I can’t fall asleep
I keep thinking about Mathilde
I wasn’t expecting that
suddenly to Robert
It would do you good
to take a walk in the zoo every day
and then walk back
or in the cathedral
and then walk back
You pretend every little sniffle
is a terminal illness
to him point-blank
Lose more weight
take walks
consume next to nothing
for a while

I’ve hardly been eating anything
since Mathilde died

You’ll outlive me
I can picture you
standing at my grave
A literally stunted figure
left on your own
You can’t enjoy anything
that’s what it is
stands up, goes to Maggi, stares at Maggi
Blind you say
blind in one eye

slams the book shut
In one eye

How can you tell

She could tell

She could tell
She could tell from what

From the way his left eye looked

presses his face against the cage
From the way his left eye looked
blind in his left eye
I don’t see anything
taps on the cage, carries it to the table, puts the cage down on the table, sits down
He’s getting skittish
that’s quite natural
Blind in his left eye
turns towards Robert, looks at the window, stands up, takes the cage back to the sink and covers the cage
What time is it

picks up the Times, starts reading it
Half-past seven

At this time of year she
used to cook us that fine St. Peter’s fish

Act Two

At Robert’s apartment

Scene One

Comfortable furniture
A photo of Robert as Tasso on the wall
A record player

in a warm dressing gown, sitting in the room’s only armchair, staring at the floor
until old age
Didn’t let go of anything
A beauty-fanatic
Touched the dead pigeon
in St. Mark’s Square
with my left shoe
Naturally that was the exception
Reached my peak
at sixty-five
Negotiations about the inheritance
The word megalomaniacal was said
immediately afterwards
The people quickly
went home
Discontentment with myself
An excess of solitude
I thought
I was going
to play Lear
to make it big
First my lungs
then my kidneys
Blather medical jargon
A trampoline moment
How I loathe these Thursdays
Not a single pain-free moment
not even in the park
Chichester has been rechanneled
The sailing ship
was all that interested him
The weekend cottage
A music fanatic
we’re too reproachful
especially towards ourselves
stands up and takes some tablets out of a chest of drawers and swallows them, looks out the window
A specialist’s clinic in Basel
It was on
the eighteenth of November
I’ll never forget it
he wanted a packet
of English stockings
sits back down in the armchair
Didn’t subscribe to the Times
bad lighting
A disastrous relationship
with Father
Mother was often treated like dirt
perfidious sibling incest
as a child he’d put out the light
and secretly suck away
I was incapable
of making her privy
to his fortune
he went so far
as to prescribe to her
what kinds of clothes to wear
Haggled down the price of the boa
to the tune of eight thousand
Mathilde warned me
about Basel
An actor driven snivellingly mad
the theater a pit of ignominy
I didn’t deserve
to have to carry his coat for him
that time at the train station
A weak constitution
he laughed
I took three steps
and got winded
the hypochondriac
the evangelist of illness
Platonic he said
mostly absent
not absentminded
which is much worse
No interest
in what I think
At the train station the first
to enter the compartment
and sit down
never asks
where I want to sit
pronouncing the phrase very slowly
sick and tired of life
Philosophy in small doses
Intellectual extravagance
The first half of life melodramatic
the second
Hotel fetishism
Shoe fetishism
Mind fetishism
His favorite word
Of course there’s no need for the theater
he said
when we’ve got hundreds of first-rate novels
that we can read
without having to feel embarrassed
Loathes dance to a remarkable degree
Survives everything
You have become obsessed with Lear
and in the process made yourself unhappy
you and the people around you
you exude this Lear-induced depressiveness
Didn’t say a word at the funeral
didn’t utter the name Mathilde
a single time
Hanging around with you makes everything darker
You’ve given up
It is getting darker
In the end
the past
doesn’t matter
Between you and me
the Iron Curtain has descended
He walked briskly into the restaurant
at the very threshold of the cemetery wall
he suppressed his appetite
He talked about Chaliapin
All of a sudden in town
came this remark
Mathilde gave me
cold compresses
I can’t make those cold compresses
on my own
Helpless Robert Helpless
He went home immediately
Loathes people
who need to use a cane
everybody and everything that’s crippled
talks incessantly
ceases talking abruptly
A great craving
to tread the boards again
he said
Plays are performed
so sloppily nowadays
he said
Shamelessness theatrical illiteracy
strut at will onstage
Suddenly in the park
of course we also
could have run into the dog
stands up and switches on a lamp, sits back down
A flight into the arms of religion
He’d always told Mathilde
that he had nothing
that we had nothing
that she had to be thrifty
we couldn’t splurge on anything
he said
Not a single penny in savings
in debt up to our necks
She died thinking this was true
A choreography of existence
his patented invention
the doorbell rings; he stands up and goes to the door
Enter Karl

who immediately helps him out of his coat
I was getting worried
about you

It’s wet
and cold
Every time I come to see you
it’s cold and wet
I’ll sit right down
sits down

has hanged up Karl’s coat, asks

No thank you
The Tuileries you know
a colossal experience
Metternich was misunderstood
absolutely misunderstood
stretches out his legs
On my way over here I thought
but that’s not for us
possibly it could have distracted us
Too much mourning makes
a person unhappy
causes depression in the long run
I’ve thought this through
It needn’t be opera
No not opera
Not Wagner no
not Wagner
Surveys the room
More congenial than I thought
At least the atmosphere here isn’t mentally poisonous
I was a bit worried it would be
a little bit worried
I don’t know if it’s a good idea
to do this every Thursday and Tuesday
perhaps Friday and Monday
or Sunday and Wednesday would be better
no no
let’s stick to this
Habit’s got to be king
It’s only now that I’m gradually getting a clear sense
of what Metternich was like
he was misunderstood
given the cold shoulder
I’m hot on his trail
soon the mystery will be solved
Robert sits down

Those hideous faces
on my way over here
always the same thing
Cluelessness about life
Probably we’re setting
our standards too high
we’re put off by these things
we’re disgusted by them
looks at his suit
I had this suit made
when she was still only ill
it had to be black of course
as it was going to be worn
in mourning
since by then everybody could already see
that she was bound to die
more or less bound to
I felt a need to wear a new black suit
to the funeral
I was planning to spend a fair amount on it
stands up
strikes a pose
But the suit wasn’t ready
until eight days after Mathilde’s funeral
I wanted a loose-fitting suit
a more or less all-purpose suit
do you think I look good
in this suit
first class workmanship
and not just made for mourning
I was thinking of wearing it
on festive occasions
possibly at a gala
don’t you think
it’s appropriate for a gala
for example the opening of the opera season
naturally I never go
to the opening of the opera season
for the New Year’s ball
naturally I never go
to the New Year’s ball
for something extraordinary
for a gala
contemplates the suit from all angles
Robert has stood up and is also contemplating the suit

I said
it would have to be a suit
for a variety of purposes
for mourning naturally
but also for festivities

Mathilde would have been thrilled by it

Do you think so

I think so
Yes I think
she’d have been thrilled by it

I always refused to have
a new jacket made
I resisted the impulse
resisted Mathile’s incessant nagging
now I’ve got that kind of evening suit
strikes a pose
I’ve never before owned
such an elegant garment
isn’t it

undoubtedly excellent

bends down
I wonder if they’re a bit too long
the trousers
I’ll have them hemmed
have them hemmed

The trousers aren’t too long

Not too long
Too long
too long

The trousers aren’t too long
not too long

Not too long
The trousers are too long
an excessively long pair of trousers

The trousers aren’t too long

I was thinking
of having them hemmed

the trousers aren’t too long
Karl stands back up, draws himself up to his full height

ROBERT [Thus in the original. Has Bernhard neglected to delete the speech prefix or iterated this line one too many times and in the wrong place? (DR)]
The trousers aren’t too long

bending down again
Not too long

ROBERT [Thus in the original, although Karl still seems to be speaking (DR)]
The trousers
aren’t by any means to long
Karl stands back up, draws himself up to his full height
I was thinking
of having them hemmed
having them hemmed
having them hemmed
bends over again
just a tad

The trousers aren’t too long

draws himself up to his full height
They aren’t too long
you say they aren’t too long
falls exhausted into the armchair
Robert sits down

Never thought
of getting married
in this kind of suit
stretches out his legs, with his eyes closed
after a pause
Quite comfortable quite comfortable
My place isn’t this comfortable
after a pause
Lived together with Mathilde
for at least thirty years
You never thought of getting married
not once
of getting hitched
not once
of getting hitched
after a pause
Possibly you could have spared yourself
all these illnesses
if you’d gotten married
Naturally we love our brother
When I say half-brother
You take offense
The most expensive imported cloth
the lightest fabric

touches the suit
I once had a blazer
made of the same fabric

We automatically become elegant
in clothes like this

A formal dinner suit
the kind of suit you’ve always loathed

with his eyes closed
Have I

you’ve always loathed
these sorts of suits

These sorts of suits

You’ve always refused
to put on this kind of suit

Have I

You have

possibly I used to loathe them
loathe them loathe them
on account of Mathilde
not on account of people in general
only on account of Mathilde
suddenly raising his eyes
I’d very much like
to listen to some music
I don’t want to talk
stands up, goes to the record player, puts on a record of the beginning of Moses and Aron and sits down
I know
you love Brahms most of all
shuts his eyes and stretches out his legs

Scene Two

An hour later
Both men are drinking mineral water

making a guess




after a pause



Of course not
raising his voice
how preposterous


No no


No way


Voltaire of course
It’s really quite impossible
to imagine a Russian
writing that sentence
quite impossible
you should have sensed that
nothing Russian
nothing from a novel naturally

I was completely convinced
that it was a quote from a Russian author

French of course
Voltaire of course
stretches out his legs
We used to try this
with Nine Men’s Morris with checkers
Something philosophical
nothing from a novel
again that word’s popping into my head
this concept
you always suffered from it
never got involved in anything
you’ve always hoped for it
but the ideal isn’t coming
there’s no such thing
Then one fine day it’s too late
We make excessive demands
when we quite simply
should have been content with what we had
Having children really early
lots of children
without thinking about it
that’s the key
But that’s not happiness either
Evasive flights into megalomania
that’s been the upshot of this catastrophic procrastination
Anyone who’s fussy
who thinks too much
who broods
ends up a failure
sits down in another armchair

By the way
I paid for the obituary

You did

I discreetly
had three lines put in the paper
I don’t know if you noticed it
this horrendous kinship
They disparaged us
for just saying goodbye
In deference to Mathilde’s wishes
I had said
she frequented the BLUE GOOSE

In that cold dank weather
I could get away with wearing my coat
my old suit
That was a stroke of good luck

Move somewhere else
I thought
it’d be silly
to give up this nice apartment
where I’m only a couple of steps
from the park
and the greengrocer
and the milkmaids
that’s important
you underrate that
when you’re young
Illness sharpens your senses
In the morning a couple of pages in Lear
while pacing up and down
at the window
Walking makes you
memorize it better
My chats in English with the tobacconist
do me good
blind in both eyes
that strengthens your wits
stands up and picks a photograph up from the table
shows it to Karl
the great stage actor


In Berlin
The Chichikov Boarding-House
do you remember
on the Kurfürestendamm
when I woke up at the crack of dawn
and there were people standing there
in my room
and buying up all the furniture
three marks the landlady said
and pointed at the chair
eighteen marks
she pointed at my bed
when they’d priced everything
they vanished again
I thought I’d dreamt it
I hadn’t dreamt it
I was playing a racing cyclist


I already had pains
in my legs
the first symptoms

the first symptoms of what

Of my kidney problems


stops showing Karl the photograph
Suddenly the idea
of giving my notice
goes back to the chest of drawers with the photograph
Latin America
was my watchword
puts the photograph down on the chest of drawers
But the military regimes there
disgusted me
comes back, sits back down

Going to other countries
to other hemispheres
that just makes you weak
it just ruins you
Do you know
that I once had the idea
of buying a small island
a Robinsonade so to speak
not of giving up
just a Robinsonade
a couple of hundred steps from one end
to the other and back
eating sleeping
surrounded by the ocean
A crazy idea of course
after that I fell into that state of extreme anxiety
when I was in Rome
when I was thinking of breaking up with Mathilde
but I didn’t want to do it
it was already impossible by then
the child was stuck to me
a strong emotional affinity
a union of souls
brought about quite uncalculatedly I think
First the performative phase
then the philosophical phase
one makes oneself
makes oneself so to speak
into a philosopher
into a philosophizer
not a philosopher
A philosophizer
we lived almost as though we were performing philosophical etudes


            We ended on a philosophical note so to speak

            There was also a pathological process

Naturally a pathological process
A large room
so that I can walk for a long time in one direction
and then in the other
without going outdoors
and in a thoroughly cultivated manner mind you
with a single thought
taking up this thought just one time
and chewing and mulling it over
until there’s nothing left of it
working on all thoughts in that way
working on them all mind you
Robert fills both their glasses

Proceeding in a tactical manner
utterly nonchalant towards my own mind
but equally so towards everything outside of it
not giving a single hoot about the rest of the world
bearing the universe so to speak
alone on my head and shattering it
pulverizing it
To be sure
it’s only a thought
fleeting like all the others
after a pause
Put Mathilde’s letters in order
Glossing over things
I always loathed that
Expressing oneself against the grain of one’s convictions
spoken written hypocrisy

So is none of Mathilde’s stuff
is going to be auctioned off

not now
probably not any of it ever
in the end they’re not just her things
they’re also mine
I bought everything after all
purchased it
Had the piano tuned for the first time
a year ago
This humidity
is bad for it
a piano is sensitive
like the human body
Robert coughs

This high humidity
is bad for it
If I go through with the auction
and the whole house ends up empty
I’ll at least have the smell
of those happy times
after a pause
she wouldn’t have it
Robert coughs

Financially we’ll be secure
if you’ll only just listen to me
and not get involved in anything
that I don’t know about
surveys the room
When a place gets this old
it gets those cracks
I like them
We’re constantly thinking about renovations
but we never have them done
our aestheticism forbids it
How comfortable it is here
much more comfortable than at my place
but I’ve always wanted it
to be that way
more or less uncomfortable
my unusual temperament
has got a lot to do with it
the fact that I’ve been obsessed
with the great minds
more or less obsessed with them
in a preposterous way
The trip to Italy
that I didn’t take with Mathilde
I could now take with you
a mourning trip so to speak
in remembrance of her
Florence Pisa
perhaps even Rome
the Spanish steps
But then the Hassler by all means
If we can find a good place
for Maggi
it will be difficult

Put all the photographs in order
Didn’t leave the house for two days
Thought about our sister
who had had to die
so early
Some book purchases
no desire to read
after a pause
Then what
apart from that
Thought about the time
we went to Switzerland
Mathilde warned me
No mail
We completely forgot
how to write letters
When the days start getting longer again
Incessant back pains
had an excessively long dream
that I was walking through town in perfect health
not the slightest trace of discomfort
I happened upon a lot of things
that I hadn’t seen in years
after a pause
I admire your style
Always hanging around other people
You always refused to fall ill
No confidence in doctors
No confidence in yourself
rises and goes to the chest of drawers to take his tablets and comes back
Voluntary self-restriction
Never yet fallen flat on your face

Or at the Riviera
Robert sits back down

No power of resistance
Everything too loud

Always thinking about you
celebrated belatedly

now we miss her
after a pause
It irritates me
that she left the weekend cottage
to you

To me

slowly and emphatically
Mathilde left it to you

To me

It went from Mathilde
to you

That irritates you

it irritates me

It irritates you

It irritates me
after a pause
it’s irritating


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2018 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Thomas Bernhard, Stücke 3 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988), pp. 388-463.  Der Schein trügt premiered on January 21, 1984 at the Schauspielhaus Bochum with Bernhard Minetti as Karl and Traugott Buhre as Robert in a production by Claus Peymann.

The authorized translation, Appearances Are Deceiving, is by Gitta Honegger and was published in 1983 in Volume 15, Issue 1 of Theater.