Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Translation of "Goethe schtirbt" by Thomas Bernhard

(For a PDF version of this translation, go to The Worldview Annex.)

Goethe Dighs

On the morning of the twenty-second Riemer urged me to speak during my one thirty-scheduled visit to Goethe on the one hand softly, on the other hand not so softly to the man of whom it was only now being said that he was the greatest luminary of the nation and at the same time the very greatest of all Germans who had yet lived, for he now heard on the one hand at one moment with downright appalling clarity, at another almost no longer at all, and one did not know what he heard and what he did not hear and although it was the most difficult thing while interviewing the genius, who was lying there more or less motionless the whole time, on his deathbed, which faced the window, to arrive at a suitable volume in one’s own utterance, it was nonetheless possible, especially by way of a supreme sensory attentiveness, to discover in the course of this now merely melancholy-inducing interview precisely that middle way that accorded with his now universally evidently terminal mind.  He, Riemer, had spoken with Goethe several times over the past three days, twice in the presence of Kräuter, whom Goethe is said to have adjured to stay with him uninterruptedly and right up until his last moment, but once alone, because Kräuter, allegedly in consequence of a sudden attack of nausea precipitated by Riemer’s entrance into Goethe’s room, fled the latter in great haste, whereupon Goethe immediately, as in the old days, had spoken with Riemer about The Skeptical Principle and the Non-Skeptical Principle, exactly as in the first days of March, during which, said Riemer, Goethe time and again and time and again had alighted upon this topic, time and again and time and again with the greatest vigilance, after having been occupied, said Riemer, at the end of February, almost exclusively, as his so-to-speak daily matutinal exercise with Riemer, thus without Kräuter and thus without the person described by Riemer time and again as the demon, as the voyeur of the Goethean dissolution, with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and having on every occasion described Wittgenstein’s thought as the body of thought most nearly akin to his own, as the body of thought that would take over where his was leaving off; such that this body of thought of Goethe's, when the decision had been made between that which Goethe all his life had been compelled to perceive and receive as Here and that which he had been compelled to perceive and receive as There, had had simply and ultimately to be occluded, if not completely precluded, by the Wittgensteinian thought-corpus.  Goethe is said to have gradually become so vexed by this thought, that he adjured Kräuter to have Wittgenstein come, to fetch him, whatever the cost, by hook or by crook and as soon as possible and in actual fact Kräuter would have been able to bring Wittgenstein thither to call on Goethe, and to do so, remarkably enough, on this very same twenty-second; the idea of inviting Wittgenstein had occurred to Goethe at the end of February, Riemer now said, and not initially at the beginning of March, as Kräuter maintained, and it may have been Kräuter who learned from Eckermann that Eckermann had wanted by hook or by crook to prevent Wittgenstein’s traveling  to Weimar; Eckermann orated to Goethe something shameless to this effect about Wittgenstein, said Kräuter, such that Goethe, then still in full possession of his vital forces, naturally even to the physical and quotidian extent of being capable of walking out into the city, hence of leaving behind the Frauenplan completely, and thence by way of Schiller's house into Wieland’s neighborhood, said Riemer, such that Goethe forbade Eckermann to say another word about Wittgenstein, the most venerable of the venerable, as Goethe is said to have described him verbatim, Goethe is said to have said to Eckermann that his services, which he had hitherto and to be sure unflaggingly performed, were as of this most melancholy of all hours in the history of German philosophy null and void, he, Eckermann, had had by petty stratagems to discredit Wittgenstein in Goethe’s eyes, had unforgivably cast aspersions on him, and had had immediately to leave the chamber, the chamber Goethe is said to have said, quite against the grain of his customary idiom, for he had always called his bedroom simply the room, at once he, said Riemer, had hurled the word chamber at Eckermann’s head and Eckermann had stood there for a moment completely speechless, had not uttered a single word, and had left Goethe.  He wanted to deprive me of my most sacred possession, Goethe is said to have said, he, Eckermann, who owes everything to me, to whom I have given everything and who would be nothing without me, Riemer.  Goethe had, after Eckermann left the room, been incapable of speaking a single word, he is said only to have constantly been saying the name Eckermann, to have said it in actual fact so often, that it seemed to Riemer as though Goethe were on the verge of going mad.  But then Goethe had suddenly pulled himself together and had been able to speak some further words, words not about Eckermann but about Wittgenstein.  It meant to him, Goethe, the highest happiness, to know that his most intimate confidant was at Oxford, only separated from him by the Channel, said Riemer, who in the midst of telling this story actually seemed completely trustworthy, rather than fanciful, untrustworthy, as on all other occasions; from the first Riemer’s account actually had the ring of authenticity that I had failed to detect in his accounts on all other occasions, Wittgenstein at Oxford, Goethe is said to have said, Goethe at Weimar, a felicitous thought, dear Riemer, who can feel what this thought is worth, apart from me, who am the happiest man alive thanks to this thought.  This thought pertaining to Wittgenstein at Oxford.  When Riemer said at Cambridge, Goethe is said to have said Oxford or Cambridge, it is the most felicitous thought of my life and this life of mine was chock full of the most felicitous thoughts.  Of all these most felicitous thoughts, the thought that Wittgenstein exists is my most felicitous.  Riemer initially did not understand how a connection between Goethe and Wittgenstein had been established, and he had spoken with Kräuter, who however, just like Eckermann, had wanted nothing to do with the idea of Wittgenstein’s admission to Weimar.  Whereas Goethe, as I myself know from certain of Goethe’s remarks to me, wanted to see Wittgenstein as soon as possible, Kräuter said incessantly that Wittgenstein must not come before April, March was the most infelicitous terminus, Goethe himself did not know this, but he, Kräuter, knew this, Eckermann in long hindsight had not been wrong to try to dissuade Goethe from receiving Wittgenstein altogether, which naturally was pointless, said Kräuter to me, for Goethe had never allowed himself to be talked out of anything by Eckermann, but Eckermann always had good instincts, said Kräuter to me, as we were walking by Wieland's house; Eckermann on this questionable day, on the day on which Goethe had unmistakably asked for Wittgenstein, for the personal admission of his successor, so to speak, had gone too far, he, Eckermann, had quite simply on this day overrated the vital forces, the physical and the psychical vital forces of Goethe, along with his competencies, and Goethe, on Wittgenstein’s account and no other’s, had cut himself off from Eckermann.  An attempt on the part of the women downstairs (who were standing in the hall!) to talk Goethe into abandoning his plan that had indeed already become a definitive resolution to drive away Eckermann in actuality, and to be sure on Wittgenstein’s account for ever, which the women were naturally incapable of conceiving, had miscarried, for two days Goethe had indeed, as I know for a fact, categorically refused to allow any women to visit him in his room, this was the very same Goethe, I said to Riemer, who throughout his life was unable to abide the passage of a single day without the presence of women; Eckermann is said to have been standing with the women downstairs in the hall, speechless, as Kräuter later said, the women are said to have in a manner of speaking charged him to attribute the entire state of affairs to Goethe’s overall poor condition and not to take the whole thing so seriously, at least not so seriously as Eckermann was taking it at the moment and one of the women, I can no longer remember which of the many of them who were standing in the hall it was, had gone up to Goethe to ask him to allow Eckermann to enter, but Goethe could no longer be talked into anything, he is said to have said that he was not to be deceived by such an extremely insulting ruse on the part of any human being who had ever lived, including Eckermann, whom he would see never again.  This never again of Goethe’s had subsequently often been heard in the hall, even long after Eckermann had vacated Goethe’s house and was literally no more to be seen.  Nobody knows where Eckermann is today.  Kräuter had inquiries made, but so far these inquiries have yielded nothing.  Even the police departments at Halle and Leipzig were brought in and, said Riemer, Kräuter sent news of Eckmermann’s disappearance as far away as Vienna and Berlin, said Riemer.  In actual fact Kräuter, said Riemer, had several further times tried to dissuade Goethe from allowing Wittgenstein to come to Weimar, and it had indeed not even been certain, according to Kräuter, that Wittgenstein was actually coming to Weimar, even if he had been invited by Goethe, by the greatest of Germans, for Wittgenstein’s body of thought made all such certainties precarious, according verbatim to Kräuter, he, Kräuter, said Riemer, had cautioned Goethe against Wittgenstein’s admission into Weimar but in an uncommonly circumspect fashion, he had not proceeded as awkwardly and in actual fact as confidentially as had Eckermann, who in this Wittgensteinian case had simply gone too far, because he had been too certain of himself in this matter, because he did not know that in the matter of Goethean thoughts and conceptions one could in fact never or in any case be certain, which went to show that to the very end Eckermann had been unable to cast off his intellectual limitations, of which we are aware thanks to Eckermann, said Riemer, but not even Kräuter had succeeded in dissuading Goethe from allowing Wittgenstein to come to Weimar.   One doesn’t telegraph such a mind, Goethe is said to have said, one cannot invite such a mind in a telegraphic fashion, one must send a living messenger to England, Goethe is said to have said to Kräuter.  Kräuter is said to have said nothing in reply to this, and Goethe therefore had resolved to see Wittgenstein face-to-face, as Reimer now said with great pathos, because Kräuter is said to have said it in exactly the same pathos-ridden manner, Kräuter was ultimately, as difficult as he found it, obliged to yield to Goethe’s desire.  Goethe is said to have said that if he had been in better health he would have traveled to Oxford or Cambridge himself in order to talk to Wittgenstein about The Skeptical Principle and the Non-Skeptical Principle, he had no problem with going to meet Wittgenstein, moreover, if the Germans simply did not understand such a mind, he, Goethe, completely disregarded that misunderstanding, as he had invariably disregarded all German ideas, precisely because he was the German, something it would have been completely natural to declare to him, I am happy to travel to England at the end of my life, Goethe is said to have said to Kräuter, but my vital powers are no longer adequate to such a journey, hence I am compelled to propose to Wittgenstein that he should come to me.  Obviously, Goethe is said to have said to Kräuter, Wittgenstein, my philosophical son so to speak, according to Kräuter, who guarantees the verbatimness of this assertion of Goethe’s, will stay at my house.  And to be sure in the very coziest room we have.   I am having this room fitted out in exact conformity with what I believe to be Wittgenstein’s tastes.  And if he stays here for two days, what fairer object can I desire? Goethe is said to have exclaimed.  Kräuter, said Riemer, is said to have been appalled by these fully concrete wishful fantasies of Goethe’s.   He had excused himself and left Goethe’s room for at least a few moments in order, said Riemer, to deliver the news of Goethe’s plan to invite Wittgenstein to his house to the women in the hall and even in the downstairs kitchen.   Naturally the wenches had absolutely no idea who Wittgenstein was, Kräuter is said to have said to Riemer, said Riemer.  They thought that Kräuter had gone mad.  This Wittgenstein person is the most important person in the world for Goethe, Kräuter is said to have said to the kitchen wenches, whereupon they had concluded that he was mad.  Time and again Kräuter had walked through Goethe's house and had said Wittgenstein has suddenly become the most important person in the world for Goethe, and everybody who heard this is said to have buried his face in his hands.  An Austrian thinker! Kräuter is moreover said to have exclaimed to the doctor who was treating Goethe and who would pitch up twice a day, whereupon this doctor (I shall not mention his name, lest he sue me!) is said to have said to Kräuter that he, Kräuter, was insane, whereupon Kräuter is said to have said to the doctor, that he, the doctor, was mad, whereupon the doctor is said to have said in turn that Kräuter belonged in Bedlam, whereupon Kräuter is said to have said to the doctor that he belonged in Bedlam, and so on.  Finally Kräuter had believed Goethe had in the interval calmed down thanks to the notion of inviting Wittgenstein to Weimar and even into his own house, and after a short time he reentered Goethe’s room.  The genius, Kräuter is said to have said, according to Riemer, was now standing at the window and contemplating an iced-over dahlia in the garden.  Take a look, Kräuter, at this iced-over dahlia! Goethe is said to have exclaimed and his voice is said to have been as strong as it ever had been, That is the Skeptical Principle and the Non-Skeptical Principle!  After saying this, Goethe is said to have remained standing at the window for a long time and to have ordered Kräuter to look up Wittgenstein at Oxford or Cambridge (it really makes absolutely no difference which!) and invite him over.   I fully believe the Channel is frozen over, and that means that you will have to bundle yourself up in a proper fur coat!  Goethe is said to have said to Kräuter.  Bundle yourself up in a proper fur coat and look up Wittgenstein and invite him to come to Weimar on the twenty-second of March.  It is my life’s desire, Kräuter, to see Wittgenstein precisely on the twenty-second of March.  I no longer have any other desire.  If Schopenhauer and Stifter were still alive, I would invite the two of them along with Wittgenstein, but Schopenhauer and Stifter are no longer alive, and so I am inviting Wittgenstein alone.  And when I consider the matter carefully, said Goethe at the window, his right hand propped up by his walking stick, I conclude that Wittgenstein is the greatest of them all.  Kräuter is said, according to Riemer, to have drawn Goethe’s attention to how difficult it would be in this cold and inhospitable season to travel to England, through half of Germany and across the Channel and then to London and beyondIt’s appalling, Goethe! Kräuter is said to have exclaimed, according to Riemer, and to this exclamation Goethe is said to have rejoined as brutally as follows: Get going, Kräuter, get going!  Whereupon there was nothing left for Kräuter to do, said Riemer with his famous Schadenfreude, but vanish and set out on his journey.  The women made a terrible fuss about him.  Out of the Goethean wardrobe they collected an entire row of fur coats, among the two dozen of which numbered even that travel-coat of Cornelia Schellhorn’s that Goethe had held on to and that for religious reasons he had never worn, not to mention, said Riemer, a fur coat of Katharina Elisabeth Schultheiss’s, and finally even one that Ernst August had once absent-mindedly left behind with Goethe, and it was this one that he immediately opted for, because it, according to Kräuter, said Riemer, was exactly the right one to wear during this journey to England.  Finally within two hours Kräuter was at the train station and on his way.  Now Riemer had time with Goethe, as he said, and Goethe confided to him, Riemer, many secrets about Kräuter but also about Eckermann and the others, secrets that cast a far from favorable light on them.  So Goethe complained, Riemer loudly said, about Kräuter immediately after his departure for England, that this man, Kräuter, had always neglected Goethe.  Goethe did not explain himself any further, nor did Riemer any further to me, but incessantly with reference to Kräuter Goethe had kept saying to Riemer the word neglected.  Goethe is even said to have said to Riemer that Kräuter was a stupid person.  That Eckermann was even stupider still.  That Ernst August had not been the great Ernst August that everybody now took him for.  He was stupider, Goethe is said to have said, commoner, than people suppose.  Ulrike too he is said to have described as stupid.  Along with Frau von Stein and her circle.  Kleist he had annihilated, and did not regret having done so.  Riemer could not make head or tail of this, whereas I really do believe I understand what Goethe meant.  Wieland, Herder, he had always valued more highly than he had treated them.  In the wind rattle the banners, Goethe is said to have said, where does that come from?  Riemer didn't know a thing, I said, about Hölderlin, Riemer simply shook his head.  He, Goethe, had ruined the national theater, Goethe is said to have said, said Riemer, he, Goethe, had actually run German theater into the ground, but this would  not begin to dawn on people for at least another two hundred years.  What I wrote is doubtless of the greatest merit, but also the instrument with which I have crippled German literature for a couple of hundred years. I was, my dear sir, Goethe is said to have said, a crippler of German literature.  They have all been taken in by my Faust.  In the end the whole of it, for all its greatness, is nothing but a cutting from my innermost feelings, a part of the whole, thus went Riemer’s report, but in no part was I supremely superior.  Riemer had believed Goethe was speaking about a completely different person, and not about himself, when he said to Riemer: thus have I led the Germans, who are better-qualified to be thus led than any other people, down a blind path.  But at what a high level! he, the genius, is said to have exclaimed.  Earnestly, and with hung head, he is said to have thereupon contemplated the portrait of Schiller on his night table and said: I annihilated him, with main force, I quite consciously destroyed him, I first disabled and then annihilated him.  He wanted to do a single Same ThingThe wretch!  To have a house on the Esplanade as I had one on the Frauenplan!  What a mistake!  One that I regret, Goethe is said to have said and thereupon to have fallen silent for a rather long time.   What a good thing, said Riemer, that Schiller himself was no longer alive to hear that.  Goethe is said to have drawn Schiller’s likeness up to his eyes and said to it: I am very sorry for all the weaklings who cannot measure up to the great ones, because they haven’t enough breath.  Thereupon he is said to have placed the likeness of Schiller, which a female friend of Wieland’s is said to have made for Goethe, back on the night table.  What is to come after me will have a rough ride, he is said to have said.  By this time Kräuter had already traveled a good way towards his destination.  We heard nothing from him except that at Magdeburg he had purchased a relic of J. S. Bach, a lock of the cantor of St. Thomas’s hair.  Kräuter did a good thing in vanishing from Goethe’s orbit for a spell, said Riemer.  Now we can converse undisturbed and Goethe is free of that demon, that unhuman being, for a change.  He broke with Eckermann, said Riemer, and he’ll also break with Kräuter.  And women, said Riemer, no longer play any role whatsoever in his life.  It’s about philosophy now, and no longer about the art of poetry.  Nowadays one sees him more often at the cemetery, it is as if he is looking for a plot, I always run into him at the plot that, in my view, is the best.  Sheltered, completely isolated from all the others.  I had no idea, Riemer now said on the Esplanade, as to the cause of this matutinal restlessness that Goethe had suddenly begun evincing in his last days.  When I am with him again this evening, said Riemer about Goethe, I shall discuss The Skeptical Principle and the Non-Skeptical Principle further with him.  We shall outline the theme, Goethe had always said, and tackle it and destroy it.  Everything that he had thitherto read and pondered over was nothing, or at any rate practically nothing, compared with the Wittgensteinian essence.  He no longer knew what or who had brought him to or into Wittgenstein.  A little book with a red dust-jacket, published by Suhrkamp, Goethe once said to Riemer, perhaps, I can’t say anything more than that.  But it was my salvation.  It is to be hoped, said Goethe to Riemer, that Kräuter will enjoy success at Oxford and that Wittgenstein will come soon.  I no longer have much time left.  Goethe is said to have sat in his chamber for days on end and, so Riemer’s said, done nothing but keep waiting for Wittgenstein, who for him is the personification and conceptualization of the Highest, said Riemer.  He kept the Tractatus under his pillow.  The tautology has no truth conditions, for it is true unconditionally; the contradiction is under no condition true, he, Goethe, quoting Wittgenstein, is said to have often said during this period.  From Karlsbad expressions of hope for his recovery from his treatment are said to have issued, and from fair Elenbogen somebody sent Goethe a looking-glass on which he is depicted together with Wittgenstein.  Nobody knows wherefrom the Elenbogenians got the idea that Goethe and Wittgenstein were one, said Riemer, on the looking-glass they are one.  A lovely looking-glass.   From Sicily a university professor resident in Agrigento came forward with an invitation to Goethe to inspect his collection of Goethe manuscripts.  Goethe wrote to the professor that he was no longer in any fit state to travel across the Alps, although he preferred their glow to the roar of the ocean.  Goethe had completely withdrawn into his correspondence, said Riemer, into a kind of philosophizing valedictory correspondence.  To a certain Edith Lafontaine at Paris, who had sought his opinion of her poems, he wrote that she would do better to apply to Voltaire, who had undertaken as his official duty the task of responding to literary begging-letters.  To the proprietor of the Hotel Pupp in Karlsbad Goethe applied to ask if he, Goethe, might not buy his hotel exclusive of personnel, as they say, for eight hundred thousand thaler.  Meanwhile, day in day out, the ordinary, vulgar, and tasteless delivery of mail would arrive at the Frauenplan, to be sorted by the pool of female secretaries and subsequently discarded by Goethe, not personally of course, but rather by Kräuter or me, the best part about it to be sure was that we had at our disposal so many large stoves into which we could fling these worthless, importunate, completely insentient letters.  Everyone in Germany without exception suddenly believed himself entitled to appeal to Goethe by letter.  Every day Eckermann would haul huge basketfuls of mail to the various stoves.  So most of the time Goethe heated his house with letters he had received in recent years.  But back to Wittgenstein.  Kräuter had, as Riemer now reported to me, actually succeeded in finding Wittgenstein.  But one day before  Kräuter looked him up, Wittgenstein had died of cancer.  He, Kräuter, said Riemer, had only ever seen Wittgenstein lying in state.  A lean man with a sunken face.  Nobody associated with Wittgenstein, so Kräuter reported, had heard of Goethe.   So Kräuter had headed back to Germany in a depressed state.  The big question now, said Riemer, was whether or not to tell Goethe about Wittgenstein’s death.  At this very minute, I said to Riemer, we were walking past Schiller’s house, were on our way back to the dying Goethe, who had once again fallen completely into the custody of the women who enveloped him, at this very minute I would have been picking Wittgenstein up at the train station.  Riemer looked at his watch, while I was on the point of saying the following: nobody, apart from Goethe, desired Wittgenstein’s visit to Weimar more than I did.  It would even have been the culmination of my existence, I said existence where Goethe would have said life.  Wherever Goethe had said life I had always said existence, it had been thus at Karlsbad, at Rostock, at Frankfurt, at Rügen, at Elenbogen.  Even if Wittgenstein and Goethe had merely sat or stood face to face, and remained silent the whole time and even if this time had been ever so brief, it would have been the most wonderful moment imaginable, as far as I am concerned, if I had witnessed it.  Riemer said Goethe had rated the Tractatus more highly than his own Faust and than everything else that he had written and thought.  Goethe actually said that.  He’s actually that kind of person.  When Riemer on the last morning, hence on the twenty-first, had stepped into Goethe’s chamber, he now said, a chamber in which to his, Riemer’s surprise, Kräuter was standing, Kräuter who, with his slightly paralyzed right hand raised high and three downright dramatically extended fingers, seemed to be signifying with appalling ruthlessness to Goethe, who was then already lying in state on his bed like in the mass-produced representations of the scene, with four pillows that had been embroidered by Ulrike under his head, that he, Goethe, had only three more days still left, not a single day more (wherein he, Kräuter, was ultimately mistaken!), Goethe had first said only that the cockerel was guilty, several times Goethe is said to have said the cockerel is guilty.  Kräuter, still completely knackered from his English commission, said Riemer, is said to have plunged a linen handkerchief into cold water contained in a washbasin on a small white-painted kitchen chair standing at the window, and to have wrung out the linen handkerchief over the washbasin so long that it had seemed to Riemer like an eternity, a stretch of time protracted to a colossal length by Kräuter, said Riemer.  While Kräuter had been wringing out the handkerchief over the washbasin, Goethe, already quite weak, is said to have been gazing into the garden through the open window, while he, Riemer, had been standing the whole time in the doorway of Goethe’s room.  Riemer, said Riemer, had not had the strength to tell Goethe that Wittgenstein would not be coming, and even Kräuter had guarded against announcing to Goethe this appalling news, neither of them would have said that Wittgenstein had been dead for quite some time.   And although the people in Wittgenstein’s circle had never heard of Goethe, in order to spare Goethe’s feelings, because he had been asked whether they had heard of him, Kräuter had several times replied to Goethe: Everybody knows who Goethe is, everybody.   Goethe had been quite agreeably moved by this each and every time.  Goethe had not initially noticed Riemer’s entrance into the room, and had quite calmly said to Kräuter that if he were now to name one person whom more than anybody else he had met in his life (not: in his existence) literally anybody else, he wished to be at his bedside now, he could utter no other name than Eckermann, which naturally surprised us, Kräuter and me, said Riemer.   At the mention of the name Eckermann, which Goethe had suddenly pronounced quite calmly a second time, Kräuter had taken fright and turned his back on Goethe.  This remark had struck me as characteristic of a person in a mentally deranged state, Riemer now said.   Kräuter, is Riemer not there?  Goethe then suddenly said, whereupon Goethe looked at me, but differently than before.  It was clear to me that this twenty-second day of the month would be Goethe’s last.  Eight days had passed since Wittgenstein’s death.  Now it’s his turn, I thought.  Kräuter later admitted to me that he too had had this thought at that moment.  Kräuter thereupon pressed the cold, damp, handkerchief on to Goethe’s forehead, in that repellent theatrical manner, said Riemer, that we have come to expect from Kräuter.  And also from Eckermann.  Thereupon, said Riemer, Goethe had said that he, while in the midst of building himself up to his present greatness, had completely annihilated everything beside him and around him.  Truth to tell he had never elevated the Germans, but rather annihilated them.  But the eyes of the world were blind to these thoughts.  He, Goethe, had attracted everybody to himself in order to destroy them, to make them unhappy in the profoundest sense of the word.  Systematically.  The Germans revere me even though nobody has done them more harm than I have in centuries.  Kräuter guarantees that Goethe stated this quite calmly.  The entire time, said Riemer, I got the impression that Goethe had chosen as his last nurse an actor from the National Theater, when he eventually committed himself to Kräuter’s care, and I thought, as he saw Kräuter acting that way at Goethe’s side, saw how he pressed the handkerchief on to Goethe’s forehead, how Kräuter stood there as Goethe said: I am the annihilator of the Germans! and immediately thereafter: and yet my conscience is clear!, how he shifted Goethe’s hand, because Goethe himself had no longer had the strength to do so, to a slightly higher part of the counterpane, in conformity with his, Kräuter’s, aestheticism, said Riemer, and yet not in such a way as to make Goethe’s hands seem to be clasped together like a corpse’s, which even Kräuter would have found tasteless, how Kräuter at length wiped a bead of sweat off Goethe’s face with a pocket handkerchief  and generally made such a revolting fuss about the day, which fuss is said at minimum to have discomposed him, Riemer, if not mortally wounded him; to think that in the end a degenerate such as Kräuter may very well have been the perfect match for Goethe, whom we cannot but conceive of as great, indeed probably the greatest of all intellects, that this degenerate was capable in the most decisive fashion of elevating his baseness and charlatanry up to the level of an intellectual giant like Goethe in this giant’s last moments.  Wittgenstein will not stay at the Elephant, Goethe is said to have kept saying, even after he had knowingly retired to his deathbed, but in my house, right next door to my roomThere is nobody else who is qualified to do so.  I insist on having Wittgenstein beside me! Goethe is said to have said to Riemer himself.   When Goethe subsequently died, precisely on the twenty-second, I immediately thought what a masterstroke of fate, that Goethe had invited Wittgenstein to come to Weimar on this very day.  What a sign from the heavens.  Goethe’s penultimate words are said to have been The Skeptical Principle and the Non-Skeptical Principle.   In other words, a phrase from Wittgenstein.  And shortly thereafter those two words that are the most famous ones he ever wrote or uttered: More light!   But in actual fact the last words Goethe said were not More light but rather More night!   Only Riemer and I—and Kräuter—were present at the time.  The three of us, Riemer, Kräuter, and I, immediately agreed that we would tell the world that Goethe’s last words had been More light and not More night!.  From this lie qua falsification, which has long since killed off Riemer and Kräuter, I still suffer, to this day.


Translation unauthorized but ©2011 by Douglas Robertson

(Translation revised in July 2014)


  1. Thank you for this translation. It seems better to me than the one by James Reidel, though I can't find the German text and might be mistaken. There were spots where I could not follow the fuddle of Reidel's syntax.

    A somewhat unrelated question: do you have a sense of Bernhard's influence among current Germanophone writers? In corners of the Anglosphere his influence seems almost total, but how are things at home?

    (I am curious because it surprises me how continuous Bernhard's influence is in English, a half-century after his debut.)

  2. Thank you. Considerably better than the authorized mangling of this piece. I have linked to this translation from a video I published on myYouTube channel.

    Hopefully, you won't mind my doing that, but if you should have any objection, just let me know and I'll unlink.