Friday, October 14, 2016

A Translation of "Es ändert sich kein Mensch" (Thomas Bernhard silently interviewed by Kurt Hofmann)

Nobody Ever Changes

You really don’t need to worry about catastrophes; they just happen.  But perhaps from time to time you need to provoke them because on their own they take too long.  And then you die, and then it’s just no fun anymore.  But at bottom you’ve got lots of options; you’re really only too restrained and too tense around other people.  Sure, you can set fire to everything or even kill somebody, even go on a rampage with a club; perhaps that would even introduce some novelty.  Of course there are long stretches when you can’t rely entirely on your inner reserves.  Every place becomes a dead end, bollocks, it becomes empty after a while.  But it makes no difference whether I’m sitting here in Ohlsdorf  or in a city, because you’re sitting there alone unless you do something about it.  You can sit like that in Bochum or in Wuppertal too, or in some place where there are ten million people.  Nobody pays any attention to you unless you initiate something yourself.
Of course I yearn for peace and quiet when I’m away from here.  And when I get back here I’m also quite happy.  Then I step inside, but no sooner do I put my toiletries down somewhere than it starts getting to me again; I basically can’t stand it.  Just like I really don’t like Sundays; I’ve always loathed them, because everything’s peaceful and unnatural.  Perhaps that’s also a mistake.  Basically I’ve always fancied that I couldn’t live anywhere but in the country, because of the way my lungs are, but perhaps that isn’t true at all.  I was just now out there, where it’s supposedly so unhealthy, and I felt really well there.  Basically, though, I’m a person who can’t stand being anywhere for long.  I really can’t stand harmony; I don’t care for family life either, where everything is just right and it’s pseudo-peaceful; that’s not my scene.  My brother is just the opposite; he’s always raved about families, children, and harmony and so on.  I’m happy when I don’t see them.  All that stuff irritates me.

Of course nobody ever changes.  You’re already there in your essentials when you’re a child, and in this respect I’ve never changed.  I’m familiar with that harmonious family life; obviously I know all about it.  But since I need to travel I couldn’t put up with it day after day, but of course it’s all a pack of rotten, hypocritical lies anyway.  So I take off for some place and say to myself, “You’ve done this out of necessity.”

Naturally I have acquaintances who are pleasant company sometimes; they’re all really, you know, pleasant, but I don’t see anybody here; when it comes to human beings, you generally only have one in your life.  The awful thing about that is that as a result you pit everything against them, and yourself against them in a horrible fashion…Like with my female neighbors, I’m lying there with my lungs—“I’ll bring you something to eat at noon”—, meaning noon, then she showed up at seven at night.  Me with a 41-degree fever, then I told my neighbor, “Throw yourself and your soup right back out the door.”  When you come right down to it, you can’t get anything out of ordinary people, because ordinary people exist entirely on the surface, as collectable examples of interesting or spectacularly moronic behavior.  But as for any human qualities?  Of course you only have friends, if you have any at all, from a long time back, when you yourself were still nothing, meaning a blank slate.  I still have lots of friends whom I’ve known since I was two years old, but to whom I naturally no longer have anything to say.  You obviously can’t sit around eating omelets forever, and saying “Do you still know so-and-so?” and “Can you remember such-and-such?”; that really gets on your nerves.  That fizzles out over time, but these are still the only people that I could still ultimately, uninhibitedly, hit up for some money, for a cool thousand; I’m always telling myself that.  But everyone else, later acquisitions, obviously aren’t even as valuable as the trash in that trash can over there; none of them amounts to anything at all.

Of course people really have no idea of how superficial it all obviously is, and then they pick out maybe twenty sentences that I uttered earlier in the context of local politics; of course they’ve got nothing to do with these people.  Then I end up being on their side.  Then they keep saying, “What did you say back then?”; the whole thing naturally has an entirely different context.

Today once again I went somewhere; there were actual Nazis standing around, saying, “What a bum, sittin’ in the coffeehouse and not doin’ a lick o’ work,” you can hear them saying it the whole time; I’ve already put it all behind me.

“He writes, but it’s rubbish, because it’s of no use to anybody or anything; it’s worthless, and you don’t even see anything.  A parasite.  He lives away from everybody else, does nothing, drives around in his car, wolfs down food, sits in the coffee house starting first thing in the morning, scowls and makes a living from shady doings.  So definitely not by working.  You should always make short shrift of such people.  They just pour scorn on other people all day, they’re useless, pointless, and do nothing but make scenes and they live off their scene-making and try to talk people into believing that it actually amounts to something, that mind and brain actually  amount to something, but who bothers trying to prove that…?”  I’ve got nobody, so I know that.  For example, I haven’t got anybody I could rely on, who would be there when I needed something.   

At the moment I actually can’t even deal with being around a cleaning woman or whatever.  So here from some time there’s been this person who stops by, but she’s charming and goes away afterwards.  But in Vienna, the idea that somebody would come in and then…I can’t abide it.  Of course I’ve always taken care of everything myself; not once in my life have I employed a secretary or whatever, to deal with my writings, not even a single line of them.  My grandfather employed typists, even though he supposedly never produced anything, and spent enormous amounts of money on those people’s services; the idea of doing that has never even crossed my mind.  Now as ever, I type my own stuff myself on cheap, absorbent paper stock and leave it at that.  Anybody who thinks it’s not good enough can get stuffed.

Because you’d really have to have some bitchy girl who types everything up, writes everything, organizes everything.  I saw that kind of thing once at Zuckmayer’s place when I was visiting him; he had an actual office.  The whole ground floor was full of three-ring binders, with readers’ contact information, in alphabetical order; tens of thousands of records, I presume.  There were two people who had been looking after all that stuff and maintaining it and keeping it in order the whole time.  With my stuff there’s absolutely nothing, because I don’t allow myself to get involved in any of that.  It’s out of the question.

Of course you also have to deal with people who just want to shoot their mouths off, and most of the time you find yourself in the situation of one of the proverbial beggars who can’t be choosers.  That’s what most situations are like: you’re dealing with people who you actually can’t stand and think are idiots; you eat your dinner and try to put on some kind of show for them.  Of course on the other hand you can’t be completely alone; you really can’t do that either.  You can do it for long periods; I’m a past master of it, but sooner or later something’s got to happen, and when it does, I think to myself that in any case I’m naturally alone for longer periods than I’m not alone.

Sometimes the biggest cataclysms don’t bother you at all, but then you’re moved by the most ridiculous things; that’s the way it is; of course you’re aware of it.  Of course you’re weak; you’re simply hanging on by a thread.  A human being, who is delicate and sensitive to changes in the weather and has back problems and doesn’t know whether his bladder is going to hold out or not, how is he supposed to be independent of all these things?  Of course he’s at the mercy of everything.  And he sleeps, sleeps badly and is lazy and vulgar and brutal and gentle and sensitive and everything; you can add anything you like to the list—you’ll find it in me.

I’ve had every possible kind of relationship that you can think of with women and with men.  What am I supposed to tell you?  That every person is completely different and the method you use in confronting one person won’t work with another?  Then you’ve just got to find another method.  And if you look for one, you won’t find it.  Either you’ve got it or you haven’t; there’s no grid that everything falls through on command.  You just feel attracted to someplace.  And then you’re either turned on or you’re not, and so on and so forth.  Whether it’s a woman or a man, in the final analysis it really makes no difference.  It’d be much more beneficial if more men did it, probably then there wouldn’t be so much overpopulation.

I’ve got the feeling that men and women are only ever experimenting.  That’s my opinion.  Because cohabitation and relations between men and women is [sic] really always an experiment, from the man’s perspective.   And it’s not any kind of natural recreation.  It’s also much more speculative.  Less cunning, because women are much more cunning and certainly more speculative.  Because I very seldom hang out with other people, my experimentation is always highly discontinuous.  Often even for months.  Afterwards I experiment again passionately, perhaps for a couple of days.

Now from time to time you get a kind of feeling of pleasure, and the more you reflect on it, the more abhorrent you’re bound to find everything, logically.

Then things can also get pleasant again.  Then you get a bit of a feeling of triumph, which doesn’t last long either, because then you see again that the triumph is really based on very little, or on almost nothing at all.  So it can’t be changed.  But it can always be turned around or rather flipped.  Then you’d have to keep relearning what turning around is and what flipping is.  And you wouldn’t get anywhere.

Every person has his path, and every path is the true one.  And I think there are now five billion people and five billion true paths.  Human beings’ great misfortune is that they don’t want to follow their own path, that they always want to follow a different one.  They strive towards something other than what they are.  Of course every one of them is a great personality, whether he paints or sweeps floors or writes.  People always want something else.  That is the great misfortune of the world, ninety-eight percent of it; maybe we can even add a percentage point to that.  Every time you’re talking with somebody, you’re talking with an idiot.  But they’re likeable, because of course you’re no killjoy; you keep talking with people, you have dinner with them and it’s charming and nice.  And at bottom they’re brainless, because they never make the slightest effort.  Whatever you don’t use atrophies and dies off.   Because people only use their mouths but never use their brains, they get highly developed palates and chins, but there’s nothing left in their brains.  That’s the way it usually is.

I make sure that I’m as independent as possible from everything and everybody.  That’s always the first requirement, because it’s only then that you can act completely differently.  Even by yourself.   That’s the only way it can happen.

Humanity is logically always getting more intelligent, because it’s at the end of time, because there’s more and more inside it than fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, and so on.  That is on the one hand a step forward, as they say, but on the other hand, it naturally gets more and more spiteful the more it knows.  Because of course it sees more and more.  And people today see a lot more than people ten years ago, because of course they had no way of knowing what would be happening in ten years.  All that’s a part of us now.  And so we’re much smarter.  And if Wittgenstein were alive today, he wouldn’t be writing the way he did back then anymore.  In other words it’s less valuable than if Wittgenstein’s brain were thinking it today.  In that case there would of course be more stuff inside it now than then, but Wittgenstein’s brain isn’t around anymore.
I think it’s all very good.  They’re sentences1 that strictly speaking just fall apart again and dissolve into nothing, but they’re actually very well constructed and stir the imagination more than most of the others that have ever been written.  

If any elegant people have stopped by here, they’ve always been Wittgensteins.  Of course I never knew him personally.  I only knew his nephew.  The family owned a peninsula and some mountainside houses; those people have long been filthy rich, right up until today.   At some point they got rich, I have no idea when, and the same goes for the Köcherts, the Viennese jewelers; of course they’re all related; the Wittgensteins, Köcherts, have those palatial houses in Vienna and have been patrons of the arts for two hundred years, and Hugo Wolf, Johannes Brahms and everybody else they wanted to stayed there overnight and lived there and wrote pieces of music for them; really well-to-do people for whom money, even millions, was no object.  You can calmly give away seven million when you’ve got a hundred.  And I can calmly go to any village anywhere and “simplify” myself as a schoolteacher if I have four million pounds in the Bank of England.  But that’s really not so unpleasant.  You just can’t get by on it.  You see all these people constantly looking for exits and always on the run.  Everybody always is.  Even the chimneysweep.  Until at some point he never comes up anymore.


  1. Here Bernhard seems to be talking about Wittgenstein’s propositions in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Source: Kurt Hofmann, Aus Gesprächen mit Thomas Bernhard. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1991, pp. 64-73.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2016 by Douglas Robertson