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