Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Boswellian-Johnsonian Syllabus--Part I

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

The Letters of Samuel Johnson, edited by R. W. Chapman (Oxford, 1952)—Letters Nos. 202, 400, 411a, 421a , 575a, 657, 850, 920, 953a, 972; Boswell—Life of Johnson, ed. Chapman (Oxford, 1953), pp. 334, 347-350, 1327; Boswell—Letters, ed. C. B. Tinker.  (No. 127)
(Selections from Johnson’s correspondence with Hester Lynch Thrale/Hester Lynch Piozzi and with Boswell, along with certain passages in the Life dealing with HLT/HLP.) 

Non-Boswellian Johnsonians delight in pointing out that the total number of days Boswell spent in Johnson’s company (240 according to Jack Lynch) is rather puny.  We should accordingly not be misled, they caution us, by the preponderance of Boswell-involving passages in the Life, into thinking that Boswell was nearly as significant a figure in Johnson’s life as Johnson was in Boswell’s.   We must remember, they remind us, that Johnson knew scads of other people, a fair proportion of whom he encountered either much more often, much more regularly, or over a much longer time-span than he encountered Boswell.  “All well and good,” I say, “but we must also nip or quash in the bud any hopes of reconstructing some sort of alternative, equally vivid and vital extra-Boswellian Johnson from the remnants of his transactions with those scads of other people over the course of those remaining 27,250 or so days.”  Those with whom he spent the most time of all—Robert Levett, Anna Williams, Lucy Porter, John Taylor et al.—were relatives, childhood friends, or housemates; people he felt bound to more by obligation than by inclination.  Consequently, we should not be surprised that his surviving correspondence with them is dominated by inquiries into their health, advice on their business dealings, and the like, and that much (if by no means all) of it does not make for especially interesting reading.  We are rather more within our rights to be disappointed in his letters to David Garrick, Bennet Langton, Joshua Reynolds, and Charles Burney—men of learning and genius with whom he went out of his way to associate, and who as readers might have been expected to elicit from him the same ready flow of wit they elicited from him as viva voce interlocutors.  But in tone these letters are oddly hyper-formal, and in subject-matter they overlap to a dismaying extent with the letters to the obligatory correspondents: yes, the nominal referent is usually loftier—a painting or an edition of Shakespeare as against an old horse or a case of the dropsy—but the occasion for the reference still tends to be preeminently administrative in character: rather than offering his judgment on a painting or a passage of writing, he seeks advice on how to get the painting exhibited or how to round up subscribers for the edition.  In short, it would seem that however much Johnson may have loved or admired certain other people more than he did Boswell, of all his friends (save one, shortly to be named) he certainly liked Boswell the most and felt the least inhibited in his company, such that for all the slenderness of the Life’s chronographic basis, the reader whose notion of “Johnson the man” is derived entirely from that text may rest assured that he has gotten roughly 90% of the picture of that Johnson that is still available to us.  The remaining 10% or so is to be derived from his letters to one Hester Lynch Thrale, nee Hester Lynch Salisbury and morte Hester Lynch Piozzi.   Axiomatically no Johnsonian completist would wish to be ignorant of this 10%, but it is not in the interest of completism as such that I am now drawing the reader’s attention to it.  I am drawing his attention to it rather (and in any case to a tiny fraction of it), as an entity that repays reading in counterpoint to the 90% (or rather a tiny fraction of it), chiefly insofar as it affords insight into the differences that obtain between male-male and male-female friendship at their respective limits of intimacy.  The sheer disproportion in volume between the two surviving correspondences alone hints at the numinousness of such differences.  Johnson’s acquaintance with Boswell is almost exactly contemporaneous and coextensive with his acquaintance with Mrs. Thrale:  he met him in 1763, her in 1765, and remained in touch with both of them through the year of his death, 1784.  And yet even though Boswell clung like kudzu to every scrap of paper in Johnson’s hand he ever received or came across, Johnson’s surviving letters to Mrs. T. outnumber his letters to Bozzie roughly five to one.  Boswell found Johnson a woefully lazy correspondent for whom not writing back was the rule rather than the exception, and who when he did honor Boswell “with returns” to his letters could not be “prevailed with to answer” (No. 127) any of the questions posed in them, but rather simply wrote about what he was in the mood to write about (e.g., the various vicissitudes involving their shared acquaintances in London) or what he thought Boswell deserved to read (e.g., the viciousness of Boswell's flaunting of his constitutional melancholia).  In true Johnsonian form, Johnson refused to apologize for something over which he felt no remorse and defended his epistolary negligence by generalizing, both about himself ( “You are not to think yourself forgotten, or criminally neglected, that you have had yet no letter from me. I love to see my friends, to hear from them, to talk to them, and to talk of them; but it is not without a considerable effort of resolution that I prevail upon myself to write”) and about letter writer-manqués in general (" ").   What he says of letter-writing in general seems to be just, and what he says of his own disinclination to write seems to have been generally—i.e., vis-à-vis every correspondent but Mrs. Thrale—true.  But with Mrs. Thrale, the tables of Johnsonian epistolary practice were both turned and amplified.  When the two of them were apart, he rarely let a post-day pass without sending her at least some token of communication, and if more than two post days in succession passed without his having received a letter from her, he did not scruple to implore and berate her negligence (No. 400) much more soundly than Boswell ever implored or berated his.  And altogether, the letters she elicited from him are by far the best he ever wrote, whether considered as person-to-person communications or as literary productions.  They constitute not only the core and soul of his correspondence, but a substantial module of the Johnsonian corpus, equal or superior in heft and pith to Rasselas and The Life of Savage, and definitely surpassed therein only by The Rambler and the Dictionary.  Here the administrative stiffness that often fatally mars his letters to everybody but Boswell, and the grumpiness that typically (if less fatally) mars his letters to Boswell himself, are totally absent.  What was it about this woman that was capable of captivating Johnson as nobody else was capable of captivating him, and capturing him on paper as others could do only in conversation?  By way of beginning to answer this question I cite again a certain passage from the Life that I quoted in “Johnson du côté de chez Wilson”:

“In our way, Johnson strongly expressed his love of driving in a post-chaise.  ‘If (said he,) I had no duties and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman; but she should be one who could understand me, and would add something to the conversation’” (Friday, 19 September 1777; p. 845).

The last time round I was mainly interested in the post-chaise, but that is of course only one of two desiderata for perfect, life-exhausting enjoyment mentioned here; and it is reasonable to assume that by 1777 Johnson had already acquired the other one via his friendship with Mrs. Thrale.  True, numerous surviving portraits in various media prove that she was no great beauty, but then Johnson required a merely “pretty” woman, and in the eyes an elderly man even most women of below-average looks are very pretty indeed.  But did she “understand” him, and did she generally “add something to the conversation”s she engaged in with him?  Depending on how much metaphysical gravity is to be attributed to “understanding,” and “adding,” the answer to both these questions ranges from a qualified to a resounding “yes.”  Certainly on a purely referential level she understood him better than any of his “obligatory” correspondents and many of his other “voluntary” ones: into his letters to her he routinely incorporated tags from the Latin classics (202), discussions of current political affairs, and miniature disquisitions on moral philosophy—all without evincing the slightest trace of the self-consciousness of the writer writing down to his reader; and he occasionally wrote to her in French (No. 400).  And while the best part of her side of the correspondence consists of vapid chit-chat, it is still evidently the production of a woman of some intelligence and learning. Invoking a Shakespearean idiom, she adjures him on 17 April 1784 to “Eat away my dear Sir & fear no Colours,” and later in the same letter she quotes Swift in writing that “we read, and walk, and talk, of Cyrus & Scipio ‘naming the Ancient Heroes round’” (953a).   True, her classical learning seems not to have been deep enough to enable her to respond to Johnson’s tag-dropping in kind, but the same can be said of most of Johnson’s other “voluntary” correspondents.  In summary: judged solely in the light of Mrs. Thrale’s aesthetic and intellectual qualifications the Johnson-Thrale friendship seems merely to be a case in proof of Johnson’s apercu that as domestic companions women are relatively fungible, an apercu articulated in the two Life-originating assertions “Were it not for imagination…a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a Duchess,” and “[There are] fifty thousand women in the world, with any one of whom a man may be as happy, as with any one woman in particular.”  This is, to be sure, a scandalous lesson to inculcate in our gynocratic age, but at least it leaves the integrity of Johnson’s Besonnenheit uncompromised.  Yes: Mrs. Thrale may not have been the cleverest or most literate person, or the prettiest woman, he had ever met, but she was clever and literate and pretty enough to cause him to feel that in talking and writing to her he was spending his time exactly as he wished to spend it.  

In thus far presenting so technicoloristically rosy a picture of the Johnson-HLT/HLP friendship, though, I have of course been building up to a transition to the effect of “But there was a dark side to this technicoloristically rosy picture.”  So then: But there was a dark side to this technicoloristically rosy picture, a dark side evident most dishearteningly in the friendship’s acrimonious disintegration over the last three years of Johnson’s life.  Virtually from its inception the friendship had been materially inalienable from a gestalt comprising HLT, her husband Henry, and the guarantee of hospitality Johnson enjoyed at the couple’s country house in Streatham.  With Henry’s death in 1781 the gestalt was immediately denucleated, as it were, and very soon thereafter it was essentially destroyed when HLT sold the house along with the family brewing business, one of the wealthiest private concerns in all of Great Britain, and moved to Bath.  At first, Johnson took the loss in his stride, discharging his duties as one of Henry Thrale’s executors with great zeal—at the sale of the brewery he was reported to be “bustling about with an ink-horn in his button-hole, like an excise man” (Life, 132)—but by the end of the year, he was beginning to be openly anxious about the staying-power of HLT’s presence in his life.  Chapman tentatively dates “the first fear of an estrangement” to 8 December 1781, when Johnson implored her “Do not neglect me, nor relinquish me” (No. 753).  On October 10 1782, he composed a prayer in which he took formal leave of the Thrale family (Life, 1191), “commending them” to God’s fatherly protection,”—i.e., implicitly, in lieu of the paltriness of the protection the Thrale girls could expect from their mother (based in turn on her treatment of him)—and in June of the following year, he saw fit to preface his account to her of a stroke he had suffered with the extraordinarily bitter disclaimer that it was “a narrative which would once have affected you with tenderness and sorrow, but which you will perhaps pass over now with the careless glance of frigid indifference” (No. 850).  The definitive breach immediately followed her announcement to him of her impending marriage to one Gabriel Piozzi, an impecunious 44-year-old Italian dancing master, in July 1784 (No. 969a).  Johnson wrote back to her upbraiding her for the “ignominious”ness of the union; she replied in turn that she was ending their correspondence, provoking from him a final letter (No. 972) which, though much gentler in tone than the one before it, offered not a word in direct palliation, let alone retraction, of its harangue. 

Now from the above synopsis of my selection alone the reader will have gathered that the dissolution of the Johnson-Thrale friendship is one of the more miserable unhappy endings on record.  The question he must ponder in reading the selection itself is whether this ending is tragic or merely pathetic in essence.  If any two reasonably reasonable and decent people in identical or similar circumstances were bound to behave towards each other more or less exactly as Johnson and HLT/P did, then the ending is pathetic—meaning among other things that non-human forces alone (e.g., “fate”) can be held to blame for it.  If either of them, Johnson or HLT/P, could reasonably have been expected to behave differently than he or she actually did, then it is tragic—meaning that the blame for it must be ascribed to one of the two human parties or somehow apportioned between them.  So long as one confines oneself to the Johnsonian-HLTian epistolary corpus proper, one will not find it difficult to plump unreservedly for a “pathetic” interpretation.  After all, as entitled as Johnson was to feel slighted by HLT’s marginalization of him after all the thousands of hours they had spent together, HLT was surely equally entitled to center her domestic and connubial life on a man closer to her own age than he.  But the supplementary documents prove that HLT’s withdrawal from Johnson after Henry’s death was motivated by something much more ignoble than a regretful overruling of affection by equitable self-regard.  Particularly damning is the following passage from the Life (“Mrs. Thrale’s words” are quoted from her Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson, published after Johnson’s death):

It must be admitted that Johnson derived a considerable portion of
happiness from the comforts and elegancies which he enjoyed in Mr.
Thrale's family; but Mrs. Thrale assures us he was indebted for
these to her husband alone, who certainly respected him sincerely. Her
words are,--

'Veneration for his virtue, reverence for his talents delight [romans Boswell’s here and ff.] in his conversation, and habitual endurance of a yoke my husband first put upon me, and of which he contentedly bore his share for sixteen or seventeen years, made me go on so long with Mr. Johnson; but the  perpetual confinement I will own to have been terrifying in the first years of our friendship, and irksome in the last; nor could I pretend to support it without help, when my coadjutor was no more.'

Alas! how different is this from the declarations which I have heard
Mrs. Thrale make in his life-time, without a single murmur against any
peculiarities, or against any one circumstance which attended their

There are only three possible, and equally inculpative, spins to put on HLP’s retrospection: 1) She is lying about her earlier feelings for Johnson; or, to put it another way, revising them to make them coincide with her present feelings for him  2) She is telling the truth about her earlier feelings for Johnson now but habitually lied about them then (her Henry Thrale-era letters to him [e. paucissima g., 411a, 421a , and 575a] fairly brim over with “declarations” of the gushing sort attested to by Boswell). 3) She is telling the truth about them now, and habitually told the truth about them then (i.e., by complaining to Johnson, in the now-irrecoverable viva voce portion of their friendship, about what a burden he was to her).   If No. 1 or 2 is the truth, she is criminally mendacious; if No. 3 is the truth, she has been criminally malicious.  But in none of these cases is Johnson by any means let off the hook of blame merely because HLT has been caught by it; rather, in each of them he must be blamed for a failing at once different from and complementary to HLT’s.  If he mistook either her phony “declarations” as sincere (No. 2) or her whimsical “declarations” as firm (No. 1), he was guilty of a serious lapse of Besonnenheit; if he allowed her to treat him like a doormat (No. 3), he was guilty of a serious access of unmanliness.  Suffice it say, none of these scenarios is particularly agreeable to a dedicated Johnsonian, and indeed, “the admirers of this great moralist have never less reason to indulge their hopes of supreme excellence” than when they contemplate the Johnson-HLT/P friendship from any angle.  All the same, even after one has given the most damning exhibits for the prosecution their due, there remains a plausible interpretation of the J-HLT/PF that, while not quite hoisting Johnson’s conduct therein up to the level of full-fledged Besonnenheitsvollheit or manliness, preemptively extenuates its participation in the contrary qualities.  According to this interpretation, in hitching his social and affective star to the Thrales, Johnson was engaging in a gamble, a gamble that looks unwise only in hindsight, in the light of an event that at the time he placed his stakes Johnson had good reason to believe he would never witness.  The event in question is Mr. Thrale’s predeceasing of him; for as long as Mr. Thrale remained alive, Johnson could feel secure of being welcome wherever he or any member of his household happened to be.  Henry Thrale, although substantially older than Hester, was still young enough to be Johnson’s son.  In 1765, Mr. Thrale was in perfect health, and Johnson could have had no inkling then that Henry would ever metamorphose into the twenty-stone, apoplectic, lamprey-gourmandizing actuarial catastrophe that he became in the late 1770s.  Admittedly, no matter how safe the bet is made to seem, it will always have more than a faint whiff of the perverse and the gratuitously complicated about it, for it is certainly irrational enough to use one’s friendship with another man as surety for a parallel friendship with his wife.  But on such perverse and gratuitously complicated betting-shop shenanigans the hopes and satisfactions of most human beings are in fact generally superstructured.  If these shenanigans seem bizarre to us, this is merely because our official venues for communication of truths about the so-called human condition—novels and movies—do not treat of them, except perhaps as matter for farce.  How, after all, can you write a serious, powerful, heartwarming story about a man who marries a woman he despises because he has taken a shine to her dog, or about a happily married non-lesbian who becomes suicidally depressed when the elderly postwoman who has been delivering her mail to her for the past ten years is suddenly replaced by a svelt young man?   It is far better to stick to stories of desires vectored along or athwart society’s dictates: boy falls in love with girl from wrong side of tracks, boy falls in love with boy instead of girl, etc.  The only narrative-maker in the entire western canon who has even taken a crack at describing and representing desire’s true trajectory is Marcel Proust, via his metaphysics (which is also an erotics) of names.  Unhappily, though, because Proust was simultaneously taking a crack at describing the manifestly erotocentric subculture of homosexuality, the non-parochiality of his analysis does not always come through.  (To put it bluntly: the early twenty first-century reader cannot resist the temptation to exclaim, “If only this guy had been out of the closet, he could have spared himself the pain of getting all hot and bothered about hawthorns, women’s hats, and medieval aristocrats!”)   The Johnson-Thrale-Boswell documentary corpus, by favorable contrast, presents us with respectable men of the world behaving respectably out in the open, yet suffering as keenly as the most transgressive social outcasts for the heterodoxy of their desires.  In the genius Johnson’s epistolary snubbage of his fellow-genius Boswell we learn more effectively than from any other source “that friendship…is so small a thing that [one] find[s] it hard to understand how men with some claim to genius…can have been such simpletons as to ascribe to it a certain intellectual value, and consequently to deny themselves friendships in which intellectual esteem would have no part” (Proust/Moncrief –The Guermantes Way, Chapter Two);  as we do from Johnson’s idolatry of Mrs. Thrale the truth of Proust’s apercu “that the pleasure of playing with a troop of girls is less destructive of the spiritual life, to which at least it remains alien, than [erotically uncharged] friendship” (ibid.).

Sunday, April 08, 2012

A Translation of Ereignisse by Thomas Bernhard


TWO YOUNG PEOPLE flee into a tower, which serves as the town’s defensive fortification, and ascend it without uttering a single word.  They intend not to extinguish their silence with a betrayal and they set about their scheme with thoughtless speediness.  Halfway up the tower they glimpse an incalculable detail of the landscape in which the tower is situated.  The coldness of the walls causes them to stagger upward as if through the inside of a block of ice: with mouths open and arms stretched to the front in the idea that by means of these half-sincere gesticulations the distance they wish to cover might be artificially diminished.  Now it becomes evident that the girl by force of imagination is capable of pressing forward with greater speed than the intellectually limited young man, and it is important to remark that the girl, although climbing eight or ten steps behind the young man, her lover, is in reality fifteen or twenty step-lengths ahead of him.  The completely windowless tower is an incipience of darkness and quite distinctly recognizable as such.  When they finally reach the top they undress and fall naked into each other’s arms.

THE GIRL is sitting on a bench under an apple tree next to the front door of a castlesque building that stands in a lofty valley and that a distinguished gentleman has discovered on one of his rambles, which is leading him from church to church and from one unusual architectural structure to another.  He is standing [perfectly] still [behind] the garden fence and is fascinated by the beauty of the girl, who wears her hair in long pigtails.  He pretends to be writing something in his notebook, but in fact he is observing the girl uninterruptedly.  He is being observed by the nuns who are working in the vegetable garden; but he does not notice this.  He wants to avoid destroying the tension that exists between the girl and him; for this reason he does not step up to address her.  But at a given instant he will introduce himself, he thinks, and strike up a conversation with the girl.  He will relate to her the story of his travels, and connection[s are] easily established in ways like this.  He will tell her about the world in which he lives.  But at the moment at which he resolves to approach the girl, the girl stretches a full length stocking-swathed leg into the air and [starts] pull[ing] her pigtails with both hands.  Because she cannot speak, she emits incomprehensible noises.  She keeps tugging at her pigtails until her eyes turn dark with blood.  Now the man first becomes aware of the fact that he is at the site of a madhouse, and he quits [the site] immediately without attracting any attention on the part of the nuns, who lay hold of the girl and drag her into the house.

THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD MAN has been catching the [same] bus for twelve years.  As he is walking home he reflects that somebody else is to blame for his unhappiness.  Not he.  Even though he does not know for certain who forced him into the twelve-year ordeal, he utters a term of abuse against the person in question.  He rounds the corner where the elder bush is shedding its leaves.  Naturally he does not perceive this at all.  Clamped under his arm is a well-worn briefcase in which on every day of the twelve years apart from Sundays, excluding vacations, he has kept his afternoon tea.  As a rule he does not eat any of it.  It is eaten by the children when he gets home.  At the spot where his path discloses to view the house in which he lives with his family, he raises his eyes for the first time.  He pictures to himself his wife [now] setting dinner on the table and putting their children to bed.  He suddenly sees how his wife is removing her blouse and draping it over the back of the chair.  She takes from the kitchen stove a cup of coffee, crumbles some white bread into it, and laps up [the mixture] with a spoon.  Now he is cold and turns around and walks back along the same path that he has just taken.  He walks through the woods and goes to bed with his mistress, who owns a one-story house with a vegetable garden.  At this instant his wife is saying to the children: be quiet, or else the Christ Child won’t bring you any presents.

THE CASHIER at an ironworks has married a woman eight or nine years his senior.  Shortly after their wedding the quarrels begin.  It is with a boundless antipathy that the two of them fall asleep and wake up.  Eventually the wife falls gravely ill, [an event] that is assuredly connected to her childlessness, gets better time and again, but suddenly loses the power of speech and can make herself understood only by using her hands, at home she writes everything on the pages of a calendar: “I plan to go away,” for example, or “It’s lovely outside.”  She hates it when people feel sorry for her.  Eventually she gets pains in her legs and grows quite stiff.  She has to be pushed [around] in a wheelchair.  She [sits] on the lookout at the window.  When her husband gets home he has to wheel her outside.  Always the same stretch.  Always farther.  She shakes her clenched fists at him.  She is always hungrier for new houses, new trees, new people.  She peers out of the [hood of] her winter cape, looks through [the gaps] between the trees on the avenue.  One evening, as he is pushing her along near the curb [of the sidewalk], he turns the conveyance around and tips it into the abyss.  She cannot cry out.  The metal conveyance splits into pieces.  This deed [is something] he dreams [about].  But he will do something like this to her, he thinks.

THE CELLIST knows there is nothing but loathing between her and the operetta conductor.  In spite of this every day at the same hour she slips through the door of his room and into his bed.  Evil has taken possession of the thirty-year-old woman and the harder she [attempts] to fend [it] off, the more relentlessly the process of her destruction advances.  In the attic of the conservatory she incessantly plays sonata movements that she plunges into for the sake of tearing them to pieces.  With incredible ruthlessness she starves herself, all day long she lies drunk in bed for the sake of pursuing her annihilation project all the more energetically.  She sells everything, is suddenly left with a single black high-necked dress.  Smashes to pieces her instrument, gripping its neck with both hands.  She accelerates everything.  Laughs.  Is silent.  After her final assignation with the conductor she sits on an artist’s suitcase in the squalid, gloomy passageway and weeps.

THE LANDED PROPRIETOR dreams that one of his laborers [has been] digging up the earth at numerous spots on his estate, and that [at every site] a corpse [has been] turning up.  He has the laborer dig up the entire area around his house.  But there is not a single spot under which a corpse does not lie.  Now the landed proprietor has his entire estate dug up by a hundred laborers, but that fact of the matter is that under a thin stratum of soil it is uninterruptedly covered by a thick [layer] of corpses.  He has all the turned-up corpses, which are of all ages and both sexes, shown to him, and he remembers that he has slain them all with his own hands.  But for all that, the fear of being killed himself keeps him from informing [anyone] of his crime.  He hits upon the idea of having [the crime] or the murderer found out.  To this end he organizes a committee of government officials whom he buys off handsomely.  Only a few days later a murderer is discovered.  Although the landed proprietor knows that in this man, who is a complete unknown, he cannot possibly be dealing with the murderer, he has him delivered to a court of law that sentences him to death.  The murderer is executed.  In this manner, the officials discover even more murderers.  Eventually they discover exactly as many murderers as there are murder victims.  They are all executed and buried on the landed proprietor’s estate.  Now the landed proprietor wakes up and rises.  He walks into the forest in order to determine which trees he still has to have cut down this autumn.  This question preoccupies him throughout the day.

THE [VILLAGE] PRIEST’S SISTER falls ill one day and when she is allowed to get up again people remark that the illness has affected her brain.  She gets up to [things] that a normal person under normal circumstances never gets up to.  For example while flourishing a myrtle wreath she dances through the village square with her tongue sticking out, to the offended bemusement of uncomprehending [bystanders].  She is also in the habit of suddenly stepping up to the altar in the middle of mass service and strewing about stemless roses out of a little basket.  Or she will write to the bishop a letter in which she apprises him that the mother of God has said to her in the potato field that she would be welcome to reside in the church itself from now on.  Not that anybody makes fun of her, people regard her anxiously, timorously.  She mutters tales involuntarily.  Among the aforementioned tales is one to the effect that when everyone in the village without exception is asleep, the Redeemer walks through the square pursued by his tormentors, without saying a word, with bleeding stigmata.  One evening she does not show up for supper, which is partaken of in the rectory.  Nobody [can] find her.  First thing next morning the schoolchildren find her frozen into the large flat of ice behind the brewery.  Her open mouth is larger than her face.  Around her neck she is wearing, as always, a pointy starched collar.  Her arms are spread out.  The water froze swiftly.

THE ACTOR has a part as an evil enchanter in a pantomime.  He is thrust into a sheepskin [costume] and into a pair of shoes that are far too small [and] that cramp his feet.  The entire get-up is so uncomfortable that he breaks into a sweat, but of course nobody notices this; and on the whole he is never happier than when acting for children, because they are the most grateful [of all] audience[s].  The children, [all] three hundred [of them], take fright when he enters, because they are entirely on the side of the young couple, whom he has transformed into animals of separate species.  They would most of all like to see nothing but the young couple covered [from head to toe] in colorful clothing, but then the play would not be a proper play; because from time immemorial a pantomime has had to include a malevolent, inscrutable figure who tries to destroy or at least render ridiculous the good and the scrutable.  With the second rising of the curtain, the children can no longer be contained.  They leap from their seats and on to the stage, and it is as if there were no longer three hundred of them but many times as many and even though the actor is weeping underneath his mask and entreating them to please stop kicking him and hitting him, as they are doing with hard metal objects, they refuse to be swayed and keep hitting him and stomping all over him until he ceases to move and his pale mutilated hands jut upwards into the dusty air of the gridiron.  When the other actors come rushing over and remark that their colleague is dead, the children burst into a colossal din of laughter that is so loud that it causes them all to lose their minds.

SEVERAL SHADOWS leap out at a homeward-bound workman.  They violate him on the riverbank and leave him behind.  The moment he tries to get up to set off on his way, the shadows are there again and strike him.  They pull him out of his coat and drive him into the river.  They push his head under the water and draw long knives through his auditory canals.  They attempt to hold him under water until he asphyxiates.  At another place he regains consciousness and walks further naked.  Again the shadows suddenly appear and strangle him.  They throw him into a pit, into a bomb crater and fill it in.  He wakes up again and runs along the railway embankment.  Now the shadows attack him without warning and throw him into the darkness.  He escapes and begins running faster than before.  But the shadows haul him in.  He hears them screaming his name.  They throw him between two boulders that squeeze together and crush him to a pulp.  Now he wakes up and turns on the light.  He discovers his wife beside him in the bed.  He puts on his coat and leaves the house for a couple of hours.  In the early morning he is seen riding on his bicycle to the construction site.

THE PRESIDENT has a quirk noticed by everybody who encounters him, at bowling matches and beer-drinking sessions, at night and during coition; indeed, even at the sittings of parliament over which he has presided since the advent of the great revolution.  Gesticulations of various sorts are directed at the quirk, which nobody can explain but which is so plainly visible that it does not even elude [the attention of] the uninitiated.  People maintain that it came from a development that can no longer be checked, [but whose] checking is still desired.  They summon up the remembrance of moments in which they became aware of a phenomenon that might have given rise to the quirk.  Actually everybody knows what it is about.  Out of fear [that] they might be called to account, they refrain from publicly speaking or debating about it.  Indeed, they quite deliberately wipe away every trace.  But it is not only in the corners of the president’s eyes.  It is also in other parts of his fat, restless body.  Even in his dreams.  It produces in everybody who discerns it a tension that gradually infects them with the quirk.  They are gradually possessed by [the quirk].  [The quirk] is nothing other than brutality.

THE PROFESSOR was driven mad by the study of butterflies.  First he [was] brought into the institution, only to be discharged two years later because somebody got the idea that his madness was not dangerous to the world.  He has been in the peculiar [habit] of capering around the park with a butterfly net; which is a highly amusing sight inasmuch as the professor is of a quite diminutive stature.  He takes hardly any meals and at his request there [was] installed in his room a large, black chalkboard on which he writes the word JOY.  Invariably, after he has written the word JOY on it, he rings for the institution’s janitor, who is obliged to erase [the word] with a large sponge.  Each time he receives for his pains a coin from the professor, such that by now he has accumulated a whole sackful of these coins.  When the professor is obliged to leave the institution, to his great sadness, he requests that the word JOY should be left on the blackboard.  He will instruct the janitor to erase it at a point of time that is yet very distant.  The employees of the institution are actually inconsolable when the professor is picked up and carried away to his sister’s country estate.  There he can of course move about freely but he still lives entirely in his recollection of his residence at the institution.  Everything that existed before then he has long since forgotten.  Here on the estate, in the summertime, he wears white and cream-colored clothing.  The [peasants/farmers] make fun of him when they see him climbing [and descending] the hill while swinging his butterfly net.  From a certain day onwards, though, he insists on no longer leaving the house at any time but at night, [an insistence] that his sister and the family doctor, who center their entire existences on him, are hardly inclined to approve.  But he manages to get his way.  He says he wants to catch the lights, every light, because there is nothing more precious than light.  He wants to gather [together] the lights, hold them in trust in a safe place, and publish a book about them.  So he walks about undisturbed throughout the night and catches the lights.  One night he [slips and] falls on to the railway track.  He holds his butterfly net up to the swiftly enlarging twin lights of the express train.  Just before they reach him, he catches them with a swift movement of his tiny clasped hands.

THE BUILDING PAINTER has climbed [to the top of] a scaffold and realizes that he is some forty or fifty meters above street level.  He [leans against/is supported by] a plank of wood.  As he rakes around in his bucket with a long splinter of pinewood, he looks down at the people who populate the street.  With great avidity he searches for acquaintances of his and manages to spot some, but he has no intention of shouting down [at them], as they would then look back [up] and find him ridiculous.  A ridiculous individual dressed all in grimy yellow clothes [and] with a cap made out of newspaper on his head!  The painter forgets his task and gazes perpendicularly down at the black dots.  He discerns that he knows nobody who would [ever] find himself in such a ridiculous situation.  If he were fourteen or fifteen years old!  But at [the age of] twenty-five!  Throughout this meditation, he is raking around in his paint bucket.  The other painters are too busy to notice anything about their colleague.  A ridiculous man with a cap made out of newspaper on his head!  A ridiculous individual!  An appallingly ridiculous individual!  Now he feels as though he is plunging into this meditation, deep into it and downwards, into eddies of seconds, and cries [of alarm] are heard, and once the young man has splatted, the people scatter.  They see the overturned bucket fall on him and immediately the painter is doused by yellow [industrial] paint.  Now the passersby look up.  But of course the painter is no longer above [them].

THE SPECIAL DELIVERYMAN flees with his full leather satchel across the border.  He swims across the river and [pulls himself out] by means of a stump of a bough protruding from the thicket.  He removes his shoes and roams through the woods barefoot.  The farther away from his village he walks, the gloomier the landscape becomes.  Eventually he is at the mercy of the darkness.  He is obliged to crawl over mossy surfaces and skins his knees.  By his reckoning another full day must so far have passed.  But the darkness does not vary.  Even the cries that he emits while sitting on a fallen tree trunk receive no echo.  He sees a light, the outline of a peasant’s house.  He approaches [it], dragging the satchel along behind him.  He opens and [snaps] shut the satchel and trudges forward once again.  Then he suddenly discovers: I am not allowed to go in!  Hunger begins its work and eventually throws him feverish into a ditch.  The impact wakes him up and he remarks that the whole thing was only a dream of which nothing remains but his feverish body.  He gets up and goes out.  He takes a walk and lies back down to go to sleep only at four in the morning.  Nevertheless the next day he resigns from his position as a special deliveryman and has himself transferred.  To his wife he says that he would prefer to live in the city, among a large number of people, [that] the darkness [will] not be so pronounced there.

THE PLATELAYER who for seventeen years has been doing his job to the satisfaction of his superiors and with some saved-up money has built himself a small house under the railway embankment, discovers on his way home through the freight-yard an open refrigerator car in which some slaughtered pigs are hanging.  As none of the customs officers who are otherwise always stationed near the cars is to be seen, he climbs, his curiosity now piqued, into the car in order to learn through his own skin how cold it is in the car.  He sits down on a plank of wood that spans the floor and falls asleep.  Because the man is sitting in a corner that cannot be seen by the customs officers, he is not discovered by them[;] they seal up the door after they have carried out their inspection, before the platelayer has climbed out.  Four days later at the train’s destination the man is found dead in the midst of [and] underneath the pig carcasses [and] sitting on the wooden plank.  At first the people who find him believe that he froze to death, but then they discover that the man, who is wearing only his work-clothes, and of whom they consequently know nothing, can hardly have frozen to death, as the car’s refrigerating mechanism has broken down and the pork, as closer scrutiny proves, is spoiled and inedible.  The men who transport the deceased to the loading bay for the time being conjecture that in his terror at [the thought of] never getting out of the car and [of] inevitably freezing to death, he had a stroke.

THE INNKEEPER along with his wife and his two sisters is busy stuffing black puddings into a long sausage skin and hanging them up to dry.  By mixing in barley meal he manages to tie off more than his allotted number of black puddings, but nobody is any the wiser about this.  After the work is over and the last remnant of the offal, which has lasted all day, has been flushed away, he sends the others off to bed.  As he is taking in some fresh air in the front doorway and planning dinner for this Sunday’s church-day festivities, which he is going to host on the front yard of his house, he is approached by a drunkard, who imparts to him his intention to kill himself.  He is going to hang himself from the nearest tree, he says.  The innkeeper laughs at this, shuts the front door and retires for the night.  Next morning as he is dragging two of the planks for the shooting gallery on to the lawn, he discovers the drunkard from the previous evening on an apple tree.  He really did hang himself.  But since the church-day festivities must take place there on Sunday, the innkeeper does not run to the police to tell them about the incident, rather, he cuts the corpse from the tree and lets it fall on to the grass.  He harnesses up a horse and carries the corpse to the [bridge]-wagon.  With swift resolve, he thereupon drives into the woods sited a half an hour from his house.  He fastens an iron wheel on to the dead body and drops it into a pond behind the woods.  [This having been done], the church-day festivities can take place without disruption.  Between the shooting gallery and the free food the people have a good time.  Nobody is any [the sadder] for long about the drunkard from the neighboring parish, who is indeed looked for all that day but has also been forgotten soon afterwards.

A MACHINE that is like a guillotine is cutting off large pieces of a slowly advancing mass of rubber and letting them fall on to a conveyor belt that is advancing one level below and at which are seated female temporary workers who have to inspect the pieces and eventually pack them into large cardboard boxes.  The machine has been in operation for only a few weeks, and the day of its dedication by the factory’s management [is one that] nobody who was present at that solemn ceremony will ever forget.  It had been brought to the factory in a specially constructed train car, and the man who made the dedicatory speech emphasized that this machine represented one of the greatest of all technological triumphs [to date].  Its entrance into the factory was greeted by the strains of an orchestra and the male workers and the engineers welcomed it with doffed hats.  Its installation took fourteen days and its owners were able to assure themselves of its efficiency and reliability.  It simply has to be lubricated regularly, and naturally every fourteen days, with special oils.  To this end a female worker is obliged to climb a steel spiral staircase and slowly release the oil through a valve.  The female worker is thoroughly briefed down to the smallest [detail of the operation].  In spite of this, the girl loses her footing in such an unfortunate way as to end up decapitated.  Her head splats like the pieces of rubber down below.  The female workers who are sitting at the conveyor belt are so appalled that not one of them can cry out.  They deal with the head in the usual way they deal with the pieces of rubber.  The girl at the end of the line picks up the head and packs it into a box.

THE YOUNG MAN is trying to prove to an old man that he, the young man, is alone.  He tells him that he came to the city in order to meet people, but he has so far not succeeded in doing so, or even in finding a single human being.  He has employed various stratagems for winning people’s trust.  But he has repelled them.  To be sure, they let him say his piece and even listen to him, but they refuse to understand him.  He has brought along presents, for with presents one may be able to coax people into friendship and devotion.  But they do not accept the presents and show him the door.  For days on end he has pondered why they have not wanted him.  But he has not figured out why.  He has even transformed himself in order to win people over; he has been now this person, now that one, and has successfully dissembled, but he has not by this means won over a single human being.  He remonstrates with the old man so vehemently that he suddenly feels ashamed.  He takes a step back and suddenly remarks that nothing is happening in the old man.  In the old man there is nothing that would be of any yield to him.  Now the young man runs to his room and hides under the covers.

THE STAR PUPIL, whose life is more methodical than those of grownups, dreams that he cannot solve an arithmetical problem and that moreover its solution has so far not been found, as his teacher peremptorily insists.  The teacher takes him to task during class and threatens to inform his parents of the incident.  His schoolmates are brimming over with Schadenfreude and push the star pupil, who is a physical weakling, into a canal out of which he extricates himself only with the utmost effort.  The next day he does not dare to enter the school and remains standing in its [front] doorway for ten minutes after the start of the school day.  He does an about-face and plays truant.  He runs around in a park and there is discovered by the school porter, who reports the incident to the administration.  Now the star pupil awakens from his dream.  He rushes sweating and half-naked into his parents’ bedroom.  But they sound him so deeply and by such means that he does not tell them what his dream was about.  Time and again he refuses to talk about it.

BEINGS OF SUPERIOR STRENGTH order him to read a longish paragraph in a book, a paragraph that he cannot understand because he has not come to terms with what the paragraph says.  And even though they keep telling him that the content of the paragraph is simple and [that] for that reason he must understand it, he has no idea where to begin with the matter treated of therein.  Thereupon they send him to another room, where he has to answer various questions, which he does without making a fuss; for the questions are posed in such a way that even he could have addressed them to the questioners.  Eventually, however, the last question comes, and even though he goes to great pains to answer it, it is impossible for him [to do so].  The beings of superior strength accord him the period between the eleventh and the thirteenth hour, then they conclude that the question must be regarded as unanswered.  To the end of solving his problem, they send him to another floor.  They mentioned to him a door number for which he is now searching.  He searches for hours on end, and when he collapses from [sheer] fatigue, he starts searching again, because for him there is no other choice but to search for the door number.  Eventually he faints.  He comes to, continues his search for the door number.  By now he is on the thirty-fourth floor, and he has still not found the door number.  The corridors are long.  At a not-very [determinate] point they peter out in darkness.  So it takes him days to reach the sixty-fifth floor.  But even on the seventieth and on the seventy-fifth floor he does not find the door number, even though the higher he climbs the likelihood of his finding the door number is constantly increasing.  Every door may supply the sought-after number.  He casts off his clothes in order to move more swiftly forward.  He works out a feasible method of taking in two or even three door numbers at a glance.  The thought that he might be under the uninterrupted influence of drugs gives him unexpected powers between the ninety-ninth and one-hundred-tenth floors.  On the hundred-tenth floor he collapses.  But a voice that claims that it is that of a human being tells him that there are only four more floors in this building.  And so he struggles to his feet and covers the [remaining] distance.  Once he has drawn level with the last door number, he believes that the number that the beings of superior strength mentioned to him simply does not exist.  In reality he has forgotten it.  Out of fear that the beings of superior strength will think him mad, he remains on the top floor and hides behind a wastebasket.  There he is discovered only months later.

THE CHANCERY CLERK is appealing to the authority of a male voice that he heard on the near side of the bridge when he was about to go home.  This voice, he says, called upon him [to commit] the statutorily criminal act.  “This voice became so forcible that I was at its mercy.  But perhaps you do not know, gentlemen, how it is when one is dominated by such a voice.  These voices catch one completely unawares.”  He describes his route home in all its particulars.  Yes, he says to himself, I must still tell about this and this too, and I am not allowed to forget the most trifling detail.  One sees in his face the enormous effort that remembering entails for him.  People like him, members of the lower civil service, appear in court every day, and it is the very precision of their information that bores their listeners.  The clerk says that he never wanted his life at all, “but ultimately once you have yielded to it and it has yielded to you, you can’t just turn around and destroy it, simply demolish it.”  As a child he was always at a disadvantage.   Naturally he tried through exceptional attentiveness to win the friendship of his teachers, but over time these efforts turned out to be pointless.  He pitched up at a bureau and grew old.  He got married because his contemporaries of the same grade had married, and lost his wife through the negligence of a motorist.  He describes how he tried to tear the briefcase away from the old man.  “I believe,” he says, “that at the time it was important for me to take the briefcase and run away; I had absolutely no intention of doing anything more.  I never had any such intention.  No[ne],” he said.  “But the man refused to be convinced of this.  He cried out.  He did nothing but cry out.  And even though I could then have run away, I stayed put.  Is that not sufficient proof of my innocence?  It was as though I had suddenly become a constituent part of this man.  I told the man why I did not intend to run away, but he did not listen.  Your Honor[s], what I am saying is true.  It is all true!  And even if it were a lie, it [would be] true.  “Moreover, gentlemen,” he says, “I happen by nature to be a good man, perhaps less [a] good [man] than [an] irreproachable [one].  I ask you please to bear that in mind.”  The court has no sympathy for him and even less for some male voice confabulated, as they believe, by the accused [himself].  The court sentences him to twenty years in prison.  To the maximum term, because, of course, the crime in question was a robbery.                                                                             

THE CHIMNEY-SWEEP, who has been living in the village for forty years, but throughout this period has remained an outsider and whom none of the farmers, nor even a single one of the villagers, takes seriously, because he has not acquired the tiniest parcel of officially registered land, is on his way home from an inn at which a bender has taken place.  He is so drunk that he has lost his way and is walking in a direction directly opposite to that of his lodging.  At the site of the milk-table, on which in the early morning the farmers set the milk-cans for the dairy-van, he slips out of his coat and casts it off.  A couple of steps farther on he makes a discovery that stops him in his tracks.  He finds, in the middle of the road, a man who is undoubtedly dead.  The chimney-sweep does not notice this and stoops down towards him.  He addresses him as though the dead man, a farmer who has had a stroke on his way home, is his best friend, and he kisses the dead man and says [that] he is glad to have found him, [that] now he is no longer afraid, until now he was afraid.  “Nobody wants me,” he says.  The man lying on the ground is well-disposed to him.  He alone.  Actually the chimney-sweep knows the dead man.  He says his name.  He reels around him a couple of times, then he drags him so close to the edge of the road that the dead man rolls into the brook.  He is now completely screwed into the snow.  He will lie down next to him, he says, and sleep with him.  He does this very thing.  He lies down next to him and presses his warm body against the already frozen-stiff [other] one.  He falls asleep immediately.

THE CATTLE-DROVER on his way to T. fancies that he is in a position to buy up all the beeves in the province.  He suddenly sees how the other cattle-drovers are driving cattle from all [points of the compass], and at its center he sits down and [starts buying].  He sits on a three-legged stool.  By and by the cattle-owners even come to sell him their livestock in person. They no longer treat him like a completely ordinary cattle-drover, as they always have done until now—they even invite him to their elegant houses.  He has rented a large space so that he can house the cattle [on the spot].   As well as the farmhands who have to feed the cattle, to milk the cows.  Eventually nobody comes to him with a beef anymore, because he is now in possession of all the beeves in the province.  There [is] not a single cow left in a single barn, everybody says.  This proves that he is the richest person in the province.  Suddenly the densely packed cattle grow restless, and they recognize in the drover the being responsible for the terrible situation in which they find themselves.  By and by the feeding farmhands are no longer able to penetrate the penned-up drove, which is unmissably huge, and the cattle get hungry and revolt and band together.  At the moment at which two of the distended cow bellies are crushing to a pulp the already insensible drover, he again sees before him the town of T., which he must [get to], and to the rump of the beef in front of him, which is plodding along the torrid country highway towards the town, he delivers a thump that causes the beef to emit a pain-deadening noise.

THE TOBACCONIST is gazing out of her kiosk on to the square, which is sited between the canal and the cemetery wall, and in which twice a day large crowds of workers in gray smocks band together and wait for buses.  It is six o’ clock in the evening, and as void of people as the square is right now, it will be as chock-full, as suffocatingly gray in six or seven minutes.  The flood of workers will disgorge itself and inundate the square.  Amid the gray mass the kiosk will jut out like an island.  The young people will be the first ones, the old people the last.  In the course of thirteen years the picture in her [stereoscope] has not changed.  She takes a pack of tobacco down from the storage rack and shoves it under the shelf.  Then she cradles her round, poriferous face in her elbows and looks across at the large tree that juts upwards into the sky without enabling her to see [that it does].  Her round breasts are held back by the fabric of her blouse, one has the feeling that they are bound to ooze out at any moment.  In this soundless attitude she awaits the arrival of her lover.  Like everybody [else] he is employed at the factory.  He is about twenty years older, even fatter, even more poriferous.   While [contemplating his] image, which she beholds steaming in the square as if [through] a bank of fog, she is seized by a fit of nausea.  For a while she contemplates everything even more intensively without stirring.  But then suddenly, in contravention of the rules, she lowers the roller blind, pulls the cash drawer out of [the register], circumspectly places it in [her] shopping bag, and leaves the kiosk.  She flies across the bridge and thence runs through the alleyways.  The foul stench of the workers, who behind her back are now streaming out of every aperture, makes her gag on the nausea [welling up] in her throat.

THE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL summons the teacher into his presence and accuses him of having abused one of his pupils.  [The principal] does not know what he should say, but [the teacher’s] transfer to another village is inevitable.  But probably he will even have to give up his career as a teacher.  In any case [the principal] must make a report to the district superintendent of schools and the whole affair will have much grimmer repercussions even than those just disclosed.  The teacher makes no [attempt] whatsoever to explain himself, he merely asserts that he has not abused the pupil,  [that] the very idea of committing such an act, as the principal cannot refrain from describing it in detail, would never have occurred to him.  But no matter how the teacher answers back, it is no use.  Effective immediately he is suspended from service, says the principal, and dismisses him without offering him his hand, as he was always formerly wont to do.  Because the teacher is conscious of no guilt, he thinks that in time he will publicize his innocence and [that] he will quite simply treat his suspension as a leave of absence.  [That t]he rumor [will] never even spread beyond the school.  But he [is] mistaken.  The rumor spreads like wildfire, and even the city newspaper reports on it.  [The paper maintains] that a man like the teacher ought to be put behind bars.  [That n]o punishment could be too severe for him.  [That] young people, and above all children, must be protected from him.  Because the teacher has recently married, the affair is doubly unpleasant for him.  His wife does not believe him and leaves him when she hears of the accusation.  Only a few days after his suspension the teacher receives a subpoena from the district court.  Nobody knows what he is up to in the days preceding the trial, in any case, he no longer shows his face in public.  Meanwhile nobody is any longer unfamiliar with his story.  His landlady insists that he move out and gives him back his check for the present month’s rent.  A day before the trial his body is found in a river that is on the verge of flooding, seventeen kilometers from the town where he lived.  He most certainly did not, as it turns out, commit suicide, but rather had the misfortune of falling into the river and drowning.  Now the pupil comes forward and says that the whole story is a lie, [that] he made it up in order to get even with the young teacher.

THE DICTATOR has selected a shoeshine man out of a pool of over a hundred applicants.  He entrusts him with no other duty than shining his shoes.  This suits the simple man from the countryside, and he swiftly increases in importance and over the years the [physical dissimilarity] between him and his superior—and he is subordinate only to the dictator—[dwindles] to a hair’s breadth.  Perhaps this is partially owing to the fact that the shoeshine man eats the same food as the dictator does.  Soon he has acquired the same fat nose and, after he has lost his hair, the same bald pate.  A pair of puffy lips appear, and when he grins he displays his teeth.  Everybody, even the cabinet ministers and the dictator’s most intimate confidants, is afraid of the shoeshine man.  In the evening he crosses [his] boot[ed legs] and performs on a [musical] instrument.  He writes long letters to his family, who spread his fame throughout the countryside.  “When you are the dictator’s shoeshine man,” they say, “you are closer to the dictator than anybody else.”  The shoeshine man is quite literally closer to the dictator than anybody else; for he always has to sit in front of the doors [to his chamber], and even to sleep there.  He is not allowed under any circumstances to leave his post.  One night, though, when he feels himself strong enough, he enters the room without warning, awakens the dictator, and strikes him down with his fist, rendering him stone dead.  Swiftly the shoeshine man gets out of his clothes, slips them on to the dead dictator, and throws himself into the dictator’s [uniform].  [Standing] before the dictator’s looking-glass he remarks that he really does look [just] like the dictator.  Without a moment’s hesitation, he dashes outside through the doors and cries out that his shoeshine man has suddenly attacked him.  [That] in self- defense he has struck him down and killed him.  [That the shoeshine man] should be taken away and his survivors notified.

ON THE GROUNDS OF THE MANOR HOUSE there [is taking place] an important christening ceremony that may safely be described as a celebration.  The landed gentry, timber-merchants, and common people from all the [surrounding] countryside [have] come together [there].   Over the forest fireworks explode, wracking the landscape with a harmless thunderstorm of several mintues’ duration.  Bursts of light rend asunder the contours of the forest.  Enormous quantities of champagne and wine, brandy and French cognac, are transported to the spot by early afternoon.  A chef who is herself a baroness has cooked and laid out a dinner of hot weather-friendly ingredients and sliced up a mountain of white bread.  An orchestra has set up in the park that stretches from the stately residence down to the riverbank.  If they are indeed the same band of musicians whom one invariably meets with on such occasions, the spectacle that they are capable of staging cannot but delight anybody who should happen to contemplate it from a bird’s-eye view.  The celebration, which began at around seven o’clock in the evening, and to which a magician and a poet have contributed their mutually distinctive shares, culminates at around eleven-thirty with the appearance of the young mother, who along with her husband has spent the whole of the evening so far at the neighbor’s estate.  The christening, which during its performance is described as the most successful in the entire region, ends at around four in the morning.  At this point of time the young mother remarks that her newborn son is [lying] asphyxiated under a damask blanket.  The [child’s] nurse takes the blame.

THE SACRISTAN is disclosing himself in front of the altar, in the choir-stalls.  Each time he lights the candles, [he sees] his own thin figure sandwiched between the pillars.  He runs towards it.  The moment he reaches it, the image vanish[es].  After mass it is the same.  The people are gone, he extinguishes the candles, and he sees himself walking through the rows of pews.  This figure, his own self, makes him so anxious that he collapses at the foot of the altar.  But he never talks about [this] experience.  Not once to his wife, who has been bedridden for years, does he so much as drop a hint about it.  And yet he cannot completely conceal it.  Everybody notices that something has changed.  They perceive that he is getting even thinner, and during card games he makes mistakes that nobody makes.  In the afternoons, he locks himself away and pores over the old newspapers that from time to time the resident priest leaves for him in the vestibule.  His wife encounters him only at mealtimes, but she is like all wives; she does not draw his attention to his affliction, she tries, whether she knows it or not, to avoid reminding him of it.  On Easter Sunday he receives a blow on the head from this figure, whom he ever more clearly recognizes as himself, and tumbles to the floor.  Even before the first members of the congregation have arrived, he manages to stand up.  On the crown of his head there is a warm bloodstain.  He is obliged to bandage his head.  The priest asks him what happened to him, and he replies: “[I] fell down.”  He lost his footing, he says.  A few days after Easter some members of the congregation find him dead with his head split open.  To this day nobody knows who killed him; for nobody harbors so much as the faintest suspicion of his neighbor or of himself.

THE OVERSEER OF THE LADY LANDOWNER’S ESTATE is accused by [her mistress] of having stolen no fewer than forty eggs.  She denies the accusation and says that she has stolen not a single egg.  [That] she had “no need whatsoever to steal even one egg.”  [That] she buys her eggs in town.  [She wonders], she says, how the landowner could ever have been so base, so despicable, as to suspect her, to accuse her.  [She says that] she has worked for her for twenty years and has “always” been obliged to work “very hard.”  [That] in all these twenty years nothing [untoward] has ever [happened].  And [that] now she, her mistress, [suddenly] suspects her of having stolen eggs [from her].  At night by way of getting even with the landowner the overseer decapitates all the flowers on the grounds of the estate.

A PAIR OF PEOPLE are obliged to dig a hole and are being watched over as they dig by two soldiers with one machine gun.  [The pair hail from] a family with a famous name, a fact that is of no significance to the two uniformed [men], who are following their every movement with unremitting attention.  It is four in the morning and cold.  The forest casts a large, arm-shaped shadow across the hole, which is swiftly getting bigger, because both the soldiers are impatient.  The entire scene takes place in silence.  Only the shovels and the clods of earth that roll off the heap are audible.  When the hole is big enough, the people, who have dug it, are obliged to station themselves at its edge with their backs to the forest.  They are shot down by the machine gun and fall face-first into the hole.  Shortly afterwards an officer appears with a group of six soldiers. The two [men] who shot the civilians down into the hole are now, like their victims, compelled to station themselves at the edge of the hole and felled.  Shortly afterwards the sun rises, the slain are shoveled in, and the setting is completely void of human [presence].

THE CUSTOMS OFFICER is, on account of his tininess, made fun of by the children of the town.  They shout terms of abuse at him, sitting up in the trees, they pelt him with chestnuts so that he often writhes in pain on his plank-bed.  He is of a philanthropic temperament.  If he had longer legs and a broader torso, he would be popular with everybody.  For all that, he has been keeping more and more to himself and spending his free time either with comrades or alone in the garden of the custom-house.  Since a certain point of time, he has been hatching some extraordinary idea and keeping it a secret, because, as he tells himself, one ought to keep one’s most brilliant flashes of insight to oneself.  He has set up an army, not an army that is compelled to serve him, but an enemy army.  It is composed of the trees that line the avenue leading to the little custom-house on the bridge, of willow-columns, of fern-formations, of snake’s-tongue-units.  It is not easy for him to expose himself every day, unobserved, to such a mighty enemy host.  But it is precisely this strategy, which costs him the better part of his energy, that he requires, no other [will do].  He talks about it in his dreams, but the other customs officers have no idea what it is about.  They notice that he requires them less than [he used to].  He has completely given up his visits to the town.  He is now only ever seen in the avenue, amid the willows, amid the ferns, amid the snake’s tongues.  In their midst he comports himself like Alexander, like Napoleon.  In the evening he eats a great deal and gets fat.  One day the customs officer loses his nerve out of sheer excitement, and he raises his revolver and wildly shoots down one tree on the avenue after another until he runs out of bullets.  As all this has taken place in full view of the other customs officers, they take the weapon away from him and lock him in the cottage.  Late that night he is hauled off by two men in military overcoats.

THE SURVIVOR NOTES: towards the end of the war there are drilled into the mountains of both cities tunnels into which people stream because they are threatened with annihilation.  Only because they go into the tunnels do they escape with their lives.  At first they do not dare to venture into the light of day.  Only hesitantly do they let those whom they regard as weak and worthless step outside the gates, eventually [they] also [let] the children [out], and in the afternoon they all silently abandon the tunnels, in which many of them have asphyxiated because they had too little oxygen.  They voluntarily haul out the dead and hurriedly bury them in front of the exits.  But now that the war is at an end, something happens that nobody can comprehend: they do not fill in the tunnels, but rather, in conformity with established habit, go into them.  Every day at the same hour.  As long as they live, they will seek out the tunnels.    


Translation unauthorized but ©2012 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Ereignisse (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2001).