Friday, April 21, 2017

A Translation of "Der Magus des Nordens oder der Idiot des Südens" (Thomas Bernhard Silently Interviewed by Kurt Hofmann)

The Sage of the North or the Idiot of the South

If you go around acting like a nice person, you’re finished.  Because you’re written off as a cabaret artist.  Of course in Austria they turn everything serious into cabaret and by doing that they defuse it.  Every serious person takes walks in the funny papers and so the Austrians will tolerate seriousness only in the form of funniness.  Of course I’m quite a serious person myself, but not non-stop, because that would drive me crazy and on top of that it would be pointless.

Everybody dissimulates; the old proverb that everybody is a better dissimulator than the next man always hits the mark; you can’t deny it.  But I just have to say that absolutely nothing ever succeeds, that nobody ever succeeds at anything.  You’re always trying and always blowing your stack about everything, and the final result can only ever be a washout.  And it’s that way with everything you do, and then you shove it all out of the way again.  You have another go at it, and to that extent you’re producing something, but whatever it is that you really want or that the world calls a finished piece of work is never realized.  Just consider how many philosophers there have been so far, and how many billions of people!  As of now we’ve made no progress whatsoever, and nobody knows what electricity is either, whether it’s a gift from God or not.  No progress whatsoever yet.  Despite the fact that we can produce plastic and things like that.  But of course not even the people who make it know what it is.  It’s exactly the same with so-called works of art.

Everything that happens is a result of calculation.  Even a little baby cries calculatedly, because it knows that if it cries, something will happen to it.  Until their last gasp, they’ll all do everything calculatedly.  I guarantee it.  Basically nothing exists apart from calculation.  Even emotions are summoned up on account of it.

And if you reinforce your opinions with the great philosophers, you’re even stupider.  Because you can glean something different from each of them.  They’re really just a bunch of poor people who couldn’t make ends meet any other way.  In their office at home or in a law office, in a castle or in a cottage, whether they were the sage of the north or the idiot of the south, it ultimately always comes to the same thing.  These people die, rot, and are gone for good, and they get a little roadside cross, if things go well.  Later on of course there are people who take pleasure in what they’ve written.  But even then only occasionally.


Source: Kurt Hofmann, Aus Gesprächen mit Thomas Bernhard (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1991), pp. 129-130.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2017 by Douglas Robertson

Friday, April 07, 2017

A Translation of "Wie sich das Angenehme mit dem Unangenehmen verbündet" (Thomas Bernhard Silently Interviewed by Kurt Hofmann)

How Unpleasant Things Are Bound Up with Pleasant Ones
Two people can find two completely different things pleasant.  And when two people are walking through a landscape and a pleasant wind is blowing, one of them says, “Ah, this breeze is really pleasant.”  And the other one thinks to himself, “Not to me,” but he either says nothing or he forces himself to show solidarity with the other person, and pretends and lies because he doesn’t want to spoil the other’s pleasant mood.  And he says, “Yes, you’re right; it’s really pleasant,” and he says even more in this vein.  Or he tries to hurt his feelings. Most of the time one person finds unpleasant what the other person finds pleasant, and then he finds the right words to cut short the other person’s pleasure right away.  In fact, I’m going to tell you something now: I was extremely displeased and horrified to see you; then I sat down on the bench, and then I relaxed.  And then everything was suddenly very pleasant here.  Of course I have no idea how long pleasure lasts.   You can say something, and all the pleasure is suddenly gone, and everything collapses inside me; of course I have no idea what it is.
I live for periods, meaning days on end, that are very pleasant, and weeks on end that are very unpleasant.  But of course I don’t know what that is.  You can’t know what it is either.
When you do something successfully, you find that pleasant.  It begins as soon as you get out of bed without feeling bad as a result.  When getting out of bed doesn’t occasion any difficulties, that’s somehow already pleasant.  When you succeed at working out your first combination in your mind, or at putting together any sort of decent sentence, or when something occurs to you that hasn’t occurred to you before—that’s all pleasant.   When you repeat yourself, or when something hurts you, that’s all unpleasant.  And of course that’s the only reason a person gets old and gets wrinkles and dies, because most of life is unpleasant. If more of it were pleasant, people would live to be a hundred and fifty or three hundred years old.  Because it’s mostly unpleasant, they isolate themselves; they lose their teeth and pick up thirty embittered faces; they hate everything and everybody that’s bigger than they are.  If one of them drives a moped, he hates the guy who drives a 70,000-schilling Honda. The guy who drives the Honda hates the guy with a Mercedes.  The guy with the Mercedes says: “I’d like to have a castle.”  The guy with the castle would like to own literally all of Europe.  So they never escape from their unhappiness.  The street-sweeper admires Mr. Wittgenstein, who’s walking by with his money.  Mr. Wittgenstein is thinking, “Good Lord, what I wouldn’t give to be free of all this, my tasteful socks and trousers and shoes from London.  If only I were there pushing the broom, then I’d be at peace, and it would be very pleasant.”  That’s insane.  Nobody finds his own situation pleasant.  I guarantee you there’s not a human being alive who finds it pleasant.

Source: Kurt Hofmann, Aus Gesprächen mit Thomas Bernhard (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1991), pp. 126-128.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2017 by Douglas Robertson