Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Translation of "Wiedersehen" by Thomas Bernhard

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


Whereas I for my part had always spoken too loudly and above all [uttered] the word drudgery always much too loudly, I said, it had always been characteristic of him to utter everything too softly , whereby we had made it difficult for each other the whole time that we were together, above all, when we, as was often our custom towards the end of winter, had gone into the forest, daily, as I expressly said, without [preliminary] ado, completely mute in [our] instantly understandable mutual understanding; we had accustomed ourselves to a rhythm of walking, which had corresponded to our rhythm of thinking and feeling, but more to my rhythm of thinking and feeling than to his and out of this rhythm of walking developed a completely correspondent rhythm of talking, above all in the mountains, where we had been so often with our parents, who twice a year would go to the mountains and always forced us to go with them to the mountains, even though we detested the mountains.  He had hated the mountains every bit as much as I did and at the beginning of our relationship this hatred of ours for the mountains had been the means by which we were drawn closer to each other and ultimately for years and decades [it] had united us.  Our parents’ mere preparations for [traveling to] the mountains had incensed us against them and consequently against the mountains, against fresh air and against the attendant rest for which our parents incessantly yearned, the rest that they believed they could find in the mountains and only in the mountains, and actually never did find but in them, as we know; the mere way in which they had spoken of their [imminently] forthcoming montane sojourn, in which they [had] packed up their montane accoutrements, and confronted us with this packing up of their montane accoutrements, had incensed us against their montane design and against their montane passion and ultimately against their montane madness and we had been repelled by this montane design and passion of theirs, along with their montane madness.  Your parents had a much greater montane passion than mine, I said and I said it again too loudly for him, so that I possibly for this reason received no reply from him, so that I thereupon said that his parents had always had on bright green wool stockings, unlike the bright red ones [favored by] mine, his parents had donned those bright green stockings in order to avoid attracting any sort of attention in the nature that they had sought out, whereas mine had donned bright red ones in order to attract attention in nature, his parents had always staked everything on the assertion that their design was to avoid attracting attention in nature, whereas my parents had always staked everything on attracting attention in this [selfsame] nature, his parents had said time and again that they wore bright green stockings in order not to attract attention in nature, my parents had said time and again that they wore bright red ones in order to attract attention in nature and his parents argued for their bright green stockings with the [self]same tenacity with which my parents [argued for] their bright red ones.  And they had at all times drawn attention to the fact that they had knitted these bright green and bright red stockings themselves, I always saw your mother knitting those bright green stockings, and seen mine knitting the bright red ones, as if at daybreak she, my mother, had had nothing in mind but the knitting of those bright red stockings and yours [the knitting of] those bright green ones.  And in addition to the bright green stockings your parents always had on bright green caps, I said, mine bright red ones.  In actual fact they say that in the mountains accident victims with bright red stockings and with bright red caps are more easily discovered than the rest, I said to him, but he did not reply to me. His parents had always regarded me with mistrust, I said, admitted me into their house only with mistrust, and on account of this mistrust I had always found visiting his parents’ house a [very] spooky [experience], but my parents had been equally mistrustful of him, and so his parents had quite often prevented me from visiting him, mine him from visiting me, whereas I had desired nothing more ardently than his visit, for I had throughout my childhood and for long afterwards felt him to be my savior from my parental imprisonment, an imprisonment that I had always felt to be a lethal one.  But I am also aware that living with his parents was exactly the same way for him, that his parents’ house was very much the same sort of prison.  Not for nothing had we by reciprocal agreement described our parents’ houses only conjointly as The House of Horrors.  As long as we were in our parents’ houses we were in reality locked up in two prisons, and if one of us believed he was locked up in the most awful prison imaginable, the other would one-up him with his accounts of life in a prison that was even more awful.  Parents’ houses are always prisons and the tiniest minority manage to break out [of them], I said to him, the overwhelming majority in other words, I suppose, something like ninety-eight percent, remain locked up in this prison for their entire lives, are slain in this prison and ultimately ruined and in truth die in this prison.  But I broke out, I said to him, at the age of sixteen I broke out of this prison and have been on the run ever since.  His parents had always presented to me the aspect of people who could have been horrible parents, just as mine [have been] appalling parents [in his eyes].  When we met up between our parents’ houses, on the bench under the yew, I said, remember, we spoke of our parental prisons, and about how it [was] impossible to break out of them, hatched plans, only immediately to reject them on account of their absolute hopelessness, time and again discussed the intensification of our parents’ mechanism of chastisement, against which no means of resistance existed.  Your parents had always reproached me for being there, I said to him, [just] as they had also always reproached you for the same thing; they punished me by incessantly describing me as the intruder, who had inhibited and ultimately destroyed your legitimate and therefore human development, [just] as they had always told you that you had destroyed them, I said.  They greeted you, when you came home, only with threats, [just] as mine had always greeted me with a threat when I came home, above all with that lethal threat that I [would be] the death of them.  We could not know that they had shaped us deliberately, I said, by the time I knew it I was of course already incapable of offering any resistance to it.  My parents tried gradually to put me in solitary confinement, I said, as they had little by little put you in solitary confinement.  And the air-holes that we had had, at the beginning, they gradually plugged up.  Ultimately we had ceased to receive any air any longer, I said.  The walls that they had erected around us had grown ever thicker, soon we could no longer hear, because nothing from the outside world any longer penetrated [our ears] through those thick walls.  Your mother had always worn her hair completely loose, mine had always [worn hers tied back] and smooth on her head.  With the passage of time she went on at me ever more [unintelligibly], absolutely [unintelligibly], but when I said I did not understand her, she punished me.  My relationship to her was only a relationship of the mechanism of punishment, thus with the passage of time I only adopted a more and more abject demeanor towards her, just as you have only ever behaved in an abject manner towards your mother, perpetually in dread of receiving a blow on the head or a curse word.  On Sundays, a day on which they had always been said to be quiescent, it had been hell in our house, I said.  Just waking up had been nothing but a glimpse into hell, I said, when I washed myself, I was afraid of doing it incorrectly, [and] so I often dropped the soap, and crawled around on the floor trying to find it, shivering from head to toe, you know.  I could not comb my hair at all, because I was not restful [enough].  While getting dressed I was perpetually worried that my mother would come in and box my ears for a reason of which I was ignorant, because I had buckled my belt too tightly around my stomach or too carelessly, on account of a missing button on my shirt or on account of a flattened crease in my trousers or because I was tear-stained.  At breakfast I always seemed a person who was completely tired of life, indeed almost like a person who had been utterly destroyed; I took my seat at the table as our family’s disgrace.  And they likewise on every occasion gave me to understand that I was the disgrace of the family, for which they gave me a name, I often used to think, if they could only from the very beginning have designated me the disgrace of the family, which I have indeed always been and always remained.  And when I think back, I said to him, I see that things did not go any differently for you, perhaps you have told less about them than I have, I said, always less than I have said about it, but you went through the same things, I said, things were exactly the same in your family, as in ours, you were affected exactly in the same way as I was affected.  The wordlessness that was always abused by my mother, I said, and that always wounded my soul profoundly.  Wordlessness was one [of] my mother’s means of mortally wounding me.  My father had always been the patient sufferer of this enormity, the observer of my annihilation by my mother.  And when I think back, it was exactly the same with your mother and with your father.  They lived well, I said, but they merely existed, while they annihilated me.  And while, as time passed, they, your parents, were annihilating you, they lived quite well in their house, which however for you was only the prison out of which you would never emerge as long as you lived, for in contrast to me, who broke out, you never broke out, because you never had the strength to do so.  Then they filled up their rucksacks and feasted their eyes on the contempt that I evinced towards them on this occasion.  I detested everything that they put into these rucksacks, the extra stockings, the extra caps, as they said, the sausage, the bread, the butter, the cheese, the gauze bandages, et cetera.  My father [at the last minute] stuck in, on top of everything else, the Bible, out of which he subsequently read aloud at the Alpine hut.  Always the same [selections] with the always unchanging cadences, remember.  And we were obliged to listen and forbidden to say anything.  Throughout the period of our montane sojourn we were forbidden to say anything.  If we said something, it was regarded as an act of impudence, and invariably drew along an act of punishment in its wake.  Then we were obliged, from time to time more quickly uphill more swiftly downhill in certain cases, because our verbal misdemeanors or even crimes had been so great, a contradiction qua enormity, to contend with receiving nothing to drink when we were thirsty, nothing to eat when were hungry.  Above all during these montane excursions I had to contend with sensing my mother’s severity, her inexorability.  My father was always merely the observer of her severity and this inexorability of hers, not once as I recall did my father interrupt with a comment either for her or against her.  My mother was horror personified, my father was the observer of this horribleness, and your parents were exactly the same.  Moreover, your father said nothing like as your mother tortured you with words and nearly killed you with cane-lashings.  Fathers leave mothers alone with their annihilation-mania and do not bestir themselves.  We have perished in our parents, I said.  But for you everything was even much worse than for me, for I of course broke out, enfranchised myself, whereas you never enfranchised yourself, you did to be sure cut all ties with your parents, who were your progenitors and throwers and tormentors, but you never enfranchised yourself from them.  At the age of sixteen it is already almost too late, from then onwards only a destroyed human being ever goes through the world, which points fingers at him, because from then onwards he is recognizable from a long way off as a destroyed human being.  The world is ruthless when it catches sight of such a parentally destroyed human being, I said.  I ran away from them and tried to get as far away as possible, but I soon broke down, I said.  Both of us had wanted to break out, I said, but I had the strength, you [did] not.  Your parental imprisonment [had] turned out to be for life.  Subsequently you would dine apathetically in your bedroom, I said, and would stare at the paintings that you had hung in your bedroom, those valuable but nonetheless lethal paintings.  You allowed yourself to be locked up in this room and subsequently from then onwards only ever ran around with shackled feet, in the final analysis from then onwards only from one meal-interval to the next, that is the truth.  For decades.  You came to an arrangement with your keepers.  They taught you how to read books and look at paintings, how to listen to music.  They taught you how to cry out in the forest so as to elicit the corresponding echo, and you never defended yourself against [this].  Thus literally for decades you have been staring at paintings in the way your parents taught you, with that addle-brained gaze, and reading books with same addle-brainedness, and also listening to music equally addle-brainedly, as your parents taught you to do.  You say the same things about Goya that your parents incessantly said about Goya, you read Goethe exactly as your parents [did] and you listen to Mozart just as they [did], in the most vulgar fashion.  I however have made myself self-sufficient, because I seized the opportunity at the decisive moment, I said, and enfranchised myself and listen to Mozart the way I listen to him, in opposition to my parents, look at Goya the way I look at him, in opposition to my annihilating parents, read Goethe, when I read him at all, the way I read him.  Then finally they would tie the zither and the trumpet to their rucksacks, before they left the house, as behoove[ed] musical individuals.  My mother always said this [phrase], as behooves musical individuals, it pursued me in my bed throughout the night and I could not put it down.  She played the zither because her mother [had] played that selfsame zither, my father played the trumpet because his father [had] played the selfsame trumpet.  And because his father, when he was in the mountains, [had] made sketches, my father also always made sketches in the mountains and he always had a sketchpad in his rucksack.  Like Sagantini, he was always saying, like Hodler, like Waldmüller.  He would pick out a rocky peak and sit down so that he had the sun to his back and sketch.  In the end we had every room in our house filled with his sketches, nary an empty space remained, we had hundreds if not thousands of montane landscapes in our house, in order to avoid seeing them I had to keep my gaze trained uninterruptedly on the floor, but over time that drove me mad, I said.  Hundreds of times he sketched or painted in watercolors the Ortler, hundreds of times the Tre Cime di Lavaredo and time and again Mount Blanc and the MatterhornThe masters, he was always saying, always paint or sketch the same thing.  They are masters only because they sketch and paint the same thing.  But what my father painted was revolting, I said.  The talent of his father, my grandfather, in him had completely shriveled up, but that did not prevent him from degenerating into a colossal production of sketches and watercolors.  The terrible thing [about it] of course was, I said, that many cultural associations had organized exhibitions [centered on] his products and that the newspapers had only written favorably about his sketches and watercolors and thereby spurred him on to produce on an even greater scale.  And in actual fact all the people around him were collectively of the opinion that he was a great artist, in the end he believed this nonsense and this vulgar twaddle and existed in this catastrophic delusion.  Anybody who wants to get an idea of what kitsch is all about, I said, need look no farther than a couple of my father’s sketches or watercolors.  My house is a permanent exhibition of my art, said my father and every couple of weeks he would nail or paste another set of sketches and watercolors to the walls, in the basement he had naturally already accumulated thousands, I said.  I am the montane specialist, he said of himself, I am more advanced than Sagantini, more advanced than Hodler, both of whose art I left behind me some time ago.  Even in the kitchen he had hung up as many sketches as possible in the belief that the culinary vapors would perfect his works.  When I let the culinary vapors imbue my opuses for several weeks, above all during the winter months, and above all over the Christmas holidays, the charm of those sheets increases enormously.  Then he used to collect stones, I said, you remember.  Against this there was nothing to be said, because all these stones were of the same type and he carried them all the way home himself.  The place is still strewn with thousands of them.  They are amassed in such huge heaps, they are so uniform, that it is unbearable.  An entire series of these stones has the form of the human body, chiefly of the female body, and he found them above all in [certain] Swiss rivulets, in the Engadin.  Of one of these stones in particular he was always saying that it was actually impossible to ascertain whether it was a stone that had been worn down over millions of years or a primitive work of art.  Nature is incapable of producing breasts like those, he said time and again, holding the stone up to the light, a spiritually endowed head like that.  I recall, I said, that one time my father even showed you this stone.  That is a sculpture, he exclaimed, a thousand year-old [sculpture], not a product of nature, a work of art.  They always kept everything shut, your parents, like mine too, whereas I for my part always like to leave everything open, I loathe doors that are shut, wherever I happen to be, I always leave my door open.  And they were always clearing things away straight away, no sooner had I cast aside an object, than they cleared it away, in this way they well and truly systematically impeded the development of a human being in our house, they were always worried that thanks to me or to my sister our house might all of a sudden begin to live.  Every personal quality they rebuked if not from the beginning then as soon as possible afterwards, thus we always felt our parents' house was a [house of] the dead.  The word discipline, which in our house came to be spoken with extreme frequency, impeded every deployment.  When I got home, everything was once again exactly the same as it had been when I woke up, I said to him.  The house of death, as my sister and I had always called our parents’ house, [had been] restored.  [Nothing] can be allowed to spring up here, my mother would repeatedly say and clear away [cast-aside] articles of clothing, shoes, etcetera, that [were lying around] the house.  I said: do you remember?  The heavy shoes that they stuck us in.  The heavy hats that they put on our [heads].  The heavy weatherproof capes that they wrapped around our [shoulders].  On three sides of the house the Venetian blinds were shut year-round, I said, only where it was important for my father’s watercolors and sketches were they open.  And in your parents’ house they were all always closed, I said, summer and winter, as was said, in summer on account of the gnats and flies, in winter on account of the cold and on account of your mother’s neuritis, do you remember?  Throughout the entire year you had a pale face, as if you had been mortally ill, I said.  Only when we went with our parents into the mountains did our faces assume any color, not tan like our parents’ faces, but red.  In contrast to our parents we did not acquire tan faces, our faces immediately [turned] red, our lips [immediately] chapped, and for weeks on end as a result of the sunburn we were unable to sleep.  And our eyes always for months on end suffered from this montane solar irradiation, such that for a long time we could no longer read anything, do you remember?  Our eyes ached and we fell far behind in school on account of these aching eyes, so extensive and not only in this one matter had been the devastation wrought in us by these montane excursions with our parents.  At bottom everything about our parents had been rough, they were rough and ruthless to us throughout their lives, I said, when they had supposedly been nothing but circumspect, solicitous, towards us.  My mother would slam doors shut behind her at all [hours of the day and night], my father would stamp through the house in his old climbing boots.  Twice a year they went to the mountains in order to find rest, but of course they brought their lack of rest with them wherever they went, of course the valleys they went to were actually restful, but only as long as they had not entered them, the forests were restful, as long as they had not gone into them, the summits of the mountains [were restful] only as long as they had not climbed to them.  Even the Alpine huts they visited were naturally restful only as long as they [had not] been visited by my parents, I said.  In the end our parents’ house had been at its most restful when our parents were away, naturally, I said.  These people like our parents never get any rest, I said, because they themselves are unrest and this unrest is [present] wherever they are [present], and [goes] wherever they [go].  They search for rest, but they naturally do not find it, because they are unrest, they set out in search of a restful place and by appearing there they make this restful place into a restless place, the most restful place into the most restless.  But this is a restful place, they say, and look around, and it is in truth a restless place, because they have entered it.  Hence it was absurd when my father said I insist on getting my rest.  Just as when my mother said [the same thing].  In the end, just as when I said it, for all three of us were unrest incarnate, my parents as far back as I can remember, myself via my parents.  My parents made me restless, and I shall never again get any rest, I said, just as you will never again get any rest, because your parents have made you restless.  For man’s primordial essence is rest, I said, he is made restless only via his parents, via the parental system, which is becoming the system of the world, of every single human being.  Hence naturally there are no restful human beings, I said, all of them are restless, and when they look for rest it is madness.  All of them from time to time fall into this search for rest, even though there is no such thing as rest, for the essence of man is unrest, and wherever he arrives there is unrest, and where he is not he cannot find [rest].  When we look for rest we are mad in the extreme.  We are continually searching for rest and we obviously [never] find it, because we are unrest incarnate.  These montane excursions were our parents’ biennially undertaken mistak[en notion] that they could find rest in the mountains.  In the Alpine hut.  On a summit.  On the contrary, these montane excursions augmented the unrest in all of us.  When we believed we were attaining rest, we [were] at our most restless, I said, do you understand.  Our parents naturally did not comprehend this, for throughout their lives they were wary of thinking.  They blamed but they did not think, they incessantly mistook blaming for thinking, and there are to be sure almost as many blamers as human beings in the world, but hardly any thinkers.  The error of [believing] that rest was something that could be found was of course only one of the many that my parents [were prey to] and cultivated, I said.  They pulled on their bright red stockings and put on their bright red caps and set off in search of rest.  They always surmised [the presence of] rest in the mountains, in Switzerland or South Tyrol, at Meran, near the Seiser alm, on the Ortler, on Mont Blanc, near the Matterhorn or in the Totes Gebirge.  They pulled on their bright red stockings and put on their bright red caps and tied their zither and trumpet to their rucksacks and set off for rest.  But they did not find it.  And in the end they inculpated me for the fact that they had not found it.  I had been the obstacle, the original culprit who was culpable for everything.  I and my sister, who had ruined their plans.  When they had been throwing the sentence I insist on getting my rest at each others’ heads for months on end, they would pack their rucksacks and set off on the quest for rest.  They purchased the requisite train tickets and traveled restward.  Each and every time they were certain that they were going to find rest in a valley in Switzerland or on a mountain-ridge or on a summit in South Tyrol.  Always walking faster, always climbing higher.  With pickaxe and rope in tow, with zither and trumpet.  But they did not find rest.  At first they always believed that finding rest would be the easiest thing [in the world], but then they perceived that it was [actually] the most difficult.  Once they had failed to find rest, they began to incriminate me.  At first only diffidently, scruples plagued them at the bar, at the timberline, suddenly, on the verge of exhaustion and in face of total disappointment, they ambushed me, the original disgrace, the original misfortune, who would not let them rest for a single instant in the mountains.  And your parents, I said, practiced the same approach on you.  My parents had of course brought me along for the sole purpose of holding me accountable for their failure in the quest for rest, [just] as they had always held me accountable for everything troublesome and appalling.  They only ever turned to me when they were obliged to unload their hatred of everything, then I was ready to hand, I was at their disposal.  Thus was I obliged, even on the highest mountaintops, to be at their disposal for the realization of their lethal plans, they did not flinch from goading me and kicking me up and down the Ortler, for the sake of incriminating me for their misfortune at the summit.  And your parents did the same thing with you, I said.  Your father vented his rage at you, the moment we had arrived, dead tired in the end, at the underside of the Glockner glaciers.  Do you remember?  The thunderstorm came and I was culpable, the avalanche took place, and I had, as they said, precipitated it.  On the peak of the mountain was also the peak of our parents’ hatred of us, of their defective product, as my mother often said, of the culpritI insist on getting my rest, said my father and packed up his climbing boots and his sketchpad, and my mother packed her rucksack and in the kitchen, because that seemed the most suitable place, tuned the zither, and she vilified me because I packed up my things so slowly, and added to them a repulsive book, the poems of Novalis, as I recall, and we hurried to the train station, and set off on our journey into darkness, so as to be able to begin our ascent at the crack of dawn the next day.  Even before we had begun our ascent, I was already exhausted, you were also already exhausted, to say nothing of my sister.  We had to walk silently without demurral.  Until father freed himself from the group, because he had always been the most robust, had always walked farther and farther ahead, in the end [he] even was the first to ascend. My mother remained all bitterness.  My sister howled, helped nothing.  My father decided upon the route.  My mother followed him wordlessly, I still remember the murmur of the strings of the zither that hung from her rucksack.  I insist on getting my rest, this sentence, although uttered by nobody, was adverted to incessantly.  I was unable to get this sentence out of my head, time and again I would hear the paternal I insist on getting my rest.  My father had hurried on ahead of us in those great loping strides of his in order to be equal to that sentence of his I insist on getting my rest, but never managed to be equal to that sentence, he held his own every time.  He was always already there when we were [just] nearing the peak and [he] used to gaze down exhausted into the landscape below us.  I have never seen the world in a more threatening and wounding light than on the summit of a mountain.  Whereas my father said a couple of times what restfulness prevails here on this summit, a majestic restfulness, at bottom he could no longer endure pure unrest, for unrest is wherever one expects the very greatest and the absolute degree of rest, and he painted several more paintings while averring that he was now enjoying the greatest degree of rest, all of a sudden we were all enjoying the greatest degree of rest, and he said to us, [even though] we were not listening, that we were enjoying  the greatest and indeed in actual fact the absolute degree of rest, I said; he incessantly called upon my mother to say and concede that we were now enjoying the greatest and the absolute degree of rest and my mother indeed said a couple of times that we were enjoying the greatest and the absolute degree of rest, how quiet, how restful it is here, everything is restful, she said, the very greatest degree of rest is here.  And because I was not of exactly the same opinion as my parents, I said, they called upon me to say that up there on the summit the absolute degree of rest prevailed, and so, in order to put an end to their threats, I had also said up here on the summit the greatest degree of rest, the absolute degree of rest, prevails.  If I had not said this, if I had said the truth, namely that the greatest degree of restless, absolute unrest was on the mountaintop, they would have profoundly wounded me, I said.  So they made do with my having said several times the words greatest and absolute degree of rest.  Because we were crouching in a sheltered cranny, it was possible for my mother to take her zither out of her rucksack and to play [it].  She had always played the zither badly, in contrast to my grandmother, who played the zither as well as nobody else could and on that day on the summit her playing had been a catastrophe, I said.  My father imperiously ordered her to stop her zither-playing, I said, whereupon he took his trumpet out of his rucksack and blew into it.  But the wind had savagely buffeted his trumpet notes in every which direction, and he [had] soon became disgusted with his [own] blowing.  He stuck the trumpet between two sheets of rock, and allowed my mother to cut for him two large pieces of bread on which he himself placed several slices of bacon.  They also encouraged me to eat, but I could not keep a bite down, as they say.  Such rest as this, said my father several times.  Soon the wind was a storm, and we believed that we were doomed to freeze to death on the spot.  So we huddled farther back into the cranny and gaped at [the storm] outside.  The storm was a good omen, my father said.  Yes, my mother said, I said.  The ascent had taken eight hours.  My parents had huddled together in the rocky cranny and shivered from head to toe.  The storm was so loud that I hardly understood what father was saying: what restfulness prevails here.  Even he had become completely exhausted, like my mother.   For my part I did not know how I had managed to keep up with my parents at all.  They took off their climbing boots and stretched [their] arms and legs and scraped each others’ teeth.  I felt as though I were dreaming, I said.  Since then I have always found the Ortler loathsome, I said.  But every couple of years it had to be the Ortler, I said, I do not know why.  And your parents also at least every two years went with you to the Ortler.  And then you were exhausted for months on end and were thrown back, do you remember? I said.  Our parents of course had never withdrawn with a book in order to read, as they always maintained, it was only a pretext for withdrawing from us, I said.  As your parents did from you.  Let us get some rest! only ever had a single purpose, that of allowing them to quarrel in the absence of witnesses, to wear each other down, as my mother very often aptly characterized it.  My father sought rest in his bedroom, in order subsequently to [suffer] even greater unrest in his bedroom, like my mother in hers.  Whenever my father went into the garden in order to get some rest, [by] digging and soil-aerating and tree-pruning he would work himself ever deeper into his unrest, whenever he went to town, wherever he went to, I said.  And just like my mother, who incessantly insisted on getting rest, and came into an ever deeper unrest, until she began packing her rucksack because she saw that my father had already packed his.  Nothing then remained but the question whether to travel to Switzerland or to the South Tyrol.  They went to Switzerland [in order to] show off, to South Tyrol out of mendacity, rank sentimentality.  Your parents to be sure always traveled with my parents, and climbed mountains [with them], yours always with mine, never vice-versa, and we had to travel with [other people] and climb with [other people].  And instead of being relaxed by the return of the Swiss or South Tyrolean mountains, our parents were always totally exhausted by [them], we ourselves were more or less not of sound mind, mortally ill, for months.  My sister was afflicted the most, I said, for she had always been the most defenseless of us all, who had never been capable of offering the slightest resistance.  It was altogether logical that she died at the age of twenty-one, I said, our parents killed her, she had not been able, like me, to escape from their murderous design.  Parents make children and give their all to annihilating them, I said, my parents just like yours and like everybody’s parents everywhere.  Parents treat themselves to the luxury of their children and kill them.  And they all have the most diverse, the most customized methods.  Our parents annihilated us while perpetually charging us with the crime of having caused their unrest and in the final analysis everything that afflicted them.  Our parents shoved [our feet] into the shoes of every instance of culpability, that is the truth.  Thus we are not to reject out of hand, I said, the suspicion that our parents pretty much made us only so that we could act out their culpability, I said, [the suspicion] that in our lives we possibly never were and have henceforth never been anything other than the actors of their culpability, for which we are being held accountable.  [The suspicion] that our parents made us for the sole purpose of being able to unload their culpability on us and to shove [our feet] into its shoes, I said.  When my father was irritated, I had been the cause, when my mother was agitated, I was the one who had caused her agitation.  When there was bad air in the house, I was culpable.  If one of the doors in the house had been left open, I was the one who had [left it open], even when I knew full well that I could not conceivably have [left it open].  [If only we could get] some rest from you [two]! my father exclaimed to my face and my sister’s face, and then they took us with them to the mountains instead of going alone, probably yet again only so as to be able to unload all their culpability on us.  If we arrived too late at the inn or at the Alpine hut, we were culpable, do you remember?, I said, if the bread had gone moldy in the rucksack, I was culpable.  And so there were thousands of examples of this relation, I said, this truly horrible relation between me and us and hence between my sister and me vis-à-vis our parents.  If my father was plagued by gnats, he held me to be culpable, because I had been in his room and turned on the light when the windows were open, which had naturally been not only strictly forbidden but a forgone conclusion.  And just as your parents did you, mine always called me a hypochondriac, with reference to my illness, a charlatan with reference to my course of reading, even to my later writing activities, do you remember, I said?  So much is now evident to me, I said, that had completely escaped my recollection for decades.  Especially this one horrible, this one ghastly [fact], I said, that a person no longer dares to utter, because its efficient causes have been dead for some time.  But I am daring all at one go to relate this horrible and appalling [fact] in its entirety.  I am even finding it easy.  It can hardly even be horrifying and appalling enough.  When we had returned from the mountains, I was first thoroughly punished for my behavior in the mountains.  Like you too, I said.  I remember [that] very clearly.  Then they reproached me for my repulsive behavior in Switzerland, at Egandin or in South Tyrol, on the Ortler, they enumerated and denominated everything for me and devised a perfidious penal system.  I had not gazed far or deeply enough into the lovely landscape, they said reproachfully to me, I had disobeyed their orders, had slept during the day and not at night, as behooved me, as my father often said.  I had a false relation to nature, no eye for the grandeur of creation, no ear for the warbling of birds, for the murmuring of streams, for the soughing of the wind, and a horrifying eye for nothing.  Then they cut down my meals and quite consciously struck my favorite dishes from my diet.  I was no longer allowed to go out, for weeks on end, and had to wear the very clothes that I detested [the most].  And the very same thing happened to you, when your parents had gotten back from the mountains, I said.  My father displayed his sketches and watercolors in his room and I was obliged to say apropos of all these sketches and watercolors what they represented and that they were the best.  [In this] I erred, being incapable with the best will in the world of remembering the so-called presentation of nature, he was furious.  Your father read aloud to you the poems that he [had] composed during this montane excursion , and you listened or you did not listen, but you could say nothing about these poems, I said, for which reason you were punished by your father.  Your father published three books of poems, I said, my father organized so many exhibitions of his sketches and watercolors, our fathers believed that in this way they were escaping, while they were exerting themselves only very slightly, via the detour, so to speak, of the art of the hiker, they had wished to be rescued, but this wish could not get off the ground.  On the contrary, with these sketches and watercolors and with these poems, published poems at that, they had vulgarized themselves.  Consequently they insisted on their vulgarity, and, even though they are long dead, they are still insisting on it today.  If my father did not successfully finish a painting, he inculpated me, I had been blocking his light, I said, by means of a single spoken word I had destroyed his intuition, as he always put it.  I had pretty much only ever been the destroyer of his artistic genius.  The son is [present] in the world only as the destroyer of the artist who is his father, my father once said, do you remember? I said.  He painted worse than he sketched, I said, while my mother played the zither, he would sketch not better, but to the contrary, and yet he spoke incessantly about his artistic genius, indeed every now and then even about an artistic family, meaning ours.  While your father called himself a poet, even though his poems did not deserve this designation, for they were nothing but rhyming inanities, as you know.  Bound and brought to the market they came across as much more vulgar than [they did] on his private writing desk at home, I said.  And while my father was still alive, I did not write so much as a single line, I said.  As soon as he was dead, I attempted a [brief essay] on his dead face.  I successfully completed this [essay].  But for years afterwards I was unable to produce anything.  It was [all] nonsense, brittle, decrepit, worthless.  And as soon as your father was dead you moved out of the house, you spurned your mother, as, so to speak, the peak of your life.  You withdrew from her, but that made you suffer even more.  In that department I never suffered my parents to outpace me, as long as I was around them they were causing me lethal damage, I said, I had never had a motive for having a guilty conscience about them, as you have about yours.  That is the difference, I said.  Because I broke out of the prison and you [did] not.  Because I [had] spurned them by the age of sixteen and you first [did so] as an old man.  That is the truth.  At the age of fifty-two you really are nothing but an old man.  Embittered, otherwise nothing.  The world has left you behind, I said, has passed you by.  You still have on your father’s overcoat, I notice, and not his actual one, that shabby, threadbare, forty-year-old one, but rather the other one, the so-called paternal mental overcoat.  You are stuck in this paternal overcoat.  Under the eyes of your mother, by whom you refuse to be told what to do about it.  Who has only ever looked on, looked on to the fullest extent of her powers, as you have gone to ruin in the paternal overcoat.  For of the fact that you are a ruined individual there can be no doubt, I said.  But probably in contrast to me you never had the chance to break out, to spurn your parents, you had to wait until your father’s death for your eyes to be opened to [the truth] about your mother, namely that she was just like your father, was your destructress.  What you tell me of your suffering only disgusts me, I said.  False sentimentality only ever disgusts me, and you are talking about them in a completely falsely sentimental vein, just as you have always talked only in a completely falsely sentimental vein.  You have never broken out of the false and mendacious prison of sentimentality that is your parents’ house.  Everything you say is false and mendacious, likewise out of falsehood and mendacity you have assumed that humiliated demeanor in the paternal overcoat, I said.  I would never have put on a piece of my father’s clothing, never, you at the age of fifty-two are still wearing your father’s shabby overcoat. That should have given you plenty of food for thought, the [reflection] that a person can never get away with slipping into parental clothing.  But you simply wrapped yourself in the paternal overcoat and hunkered down inside it. Your whining is disgusting, I said.  Childhood nauseates me.  Above all everything that is connected with childhood and that is brought before the law court of life.  The lot of that is disgusting, I said.  Thinking about these parents is nothing but disgusting.  These people naturally have no right whatsoever to get any rest, I said.  Nor have they gotten any rest at any point in their lives, I said.  I insist on getting my rest, as uttered by my father (and by your father as well), was really nothing but [a piece] of perversity.  I am convinced, I said, that you, when you are alone in your house, which is still your parents’ house, possibly at dawn, put on your father’s bright green stockings and, sitting on the edge of your bed, picture yourself climbing the Matterhorn.  And you also have on your head a bright green cap knitted by your mother, your mother knitted dozens of such bright green caps, as mine [did] dozens of bright red [ones].  The bright red ones, because they are visible in the event of an accident, I am mistaken, I said, the bright green ones, which keep their wearers from attracting attention.  What a piece of tastelessness, I said, you are sitting on the edge of your bed with your tongue hanging out, I said, and you have on those bright green montane stockings and that bright green montane cap, and you are picturing yourself climbing the Matterhorn, even more deliciously, I said, the Ortler.  You play with the Matterhorn in your fashion, I said, with the Ortler, and possibly play with your mother.  I [can] imagine it sends your mother into ecstasies.  And on the summit you screamed nothing but reproaches at each other’s faces.  You hail from the family of the bright green stockings and bright green caps, I said, I hail from the family of the bright red ones.  When my parents had died, I discovered in a box and in two chests of drawers nothing but hundreds of bright red montane caps, I said, nothing but bright red montane stockings.  All of them knitted by my mother.  My parents could have gone to the mountains for thousands of years with those bright red caps and bright red stockings.  I burned all those bright red caps and bright red stockings, I said.  I had donned one of those hundreds of bright red montane caps of my mother’s and in this get-up burned  all the rest, laughing, laughing, all the while laughing, I said.  Probably your mother knitted just as many bright green caps and bright green stockings as mine, only you did not have the courage to look for them, surely you need only open any drawer in your house to release a flood of hundreds of them, I said.  For decades our mothers knitted those caps and stockings.  Do you not remember that they always knitted those caps and stockings, I said, do you not remember?  I only ever saw your mother knitting such bright green stockings and bright green caps, when I was at your house, I said, those caps and stockings must still be somewhere.  Hundreds of bright green caps and bright green stockings, I said, in the course of her life.  I only ever saw your mother knitting those bright green caps and bright green stockings.  Do you remember, I asked.  Whereupon he said he did not remember.  He had taken the six o’ clock train and had missed his connection here, at the Schwarzach-Sankt Veit station.  He was completely soaking wet, he said and I took a good look at him and saw that he was completely soaking wet.  We have not spoken to each other in twenty years, I said, I can still distinctly recall the way you pronounced the word drudgery, I said.  And that I always spoke much more loudly than you.  We did not speak much, but I always spoke much more loudly than you, I said.  I said he should get up and go with me into the refreshment room, where it was undoubtedly warm.  No, he said, he did not want to do that, he would wait on the bench for his train to come.  I said that at first I had only recognized his overcoat, his father’s overcoat, which I knew [quite well].  Do you remember how we spent the night at Flims? I asked him.  He shook his head.  Do you not remember? I asked.  No, he said, and added in a completely restful and quite faint tone: I remember nothing whatsoever.

Translation unauthorized but ©2012 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Goethe schtirbt.  Erzählungen (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010).

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