Friday, February 23, 2018

A Translation of "Über Gedichte," a Lecture on Modern German Poetry by Ingeborg Bachmann

On Poems

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A beginning has been made, and the foundation-stones of the first misunderstandings have been laid.  At the beginning the beginning seems like the hardest part--but once you have finally started speaking, uttering a thing or two, the continuation proves to be even more difficult.  Such being the case, I would prefer for us to go on a ramble rather than discuss something specific, and as we ramble to and fro to bend over to pick up a word that was dropped at the beginning.

There is nothing more daunting for someone who has written poems himself than to present a survey of contemporary lyric poetry; his knowledge is for the most part slighter than one assumes; moreover, whatever new is being produced in other countries will remain hidden from all of us for a long time; for the most part we become familiar with it after a lag of one or two generations; we know Eliot, Auden, and Dylan Thomas--perhaps simply because he died recently, because he is a legendary drunkard; we know Apollinaire, Eluard, Aragon, René Char almost as the most recent of the French poets; of the Italians we hardly yet know Ungaretti and Montale, of the Russians Blok and Mayakovsky and finally Pasternak, owing to a questionable political dust storm, and this is not merely because poems are rather rarely translated; even if we happen to have another language or several other languages at our command and try hard to keep a watchful eye on the other side of every border, our present view of poems is still very much a blurry one.  When they possess a new power of comprehension, this power is appreciable only within their respective languages and does not manifest itself to the outside world like that of novels and plays.  There is scarcely a single new novel, a single new play, of whose publication or performance in Paris or New York or Rome we would not expect to receive speedy news; there is scarcely any such work that we do not speedily set about reading or are not speedily forced to see.  But poems also happen not to be very marketable, and so their effect even within their own language communities remains extremely minimal even when—as is asserted today in a few countries, including Germany—the most vigorously gifted writers are to be found among the lyric poets. Whether the assertion is accurate or not is anybody’s guess--in any case, there is also another, more disagreeable, side to this, for there is no setting in which dilettantism burgeons more abundantly than in the lyric poem, and there is nothing that gives most readers a poorer idea of whether or not this or that author has really “got something.”  And many people are even so disagreeable as to assume that no volume of poetry in our language could ever have any effect but to encourage twenty more young people to start writing poems themselves.  I am more troubled by the question whether confining ourselves to German poems as representative of modern poetry is simply a mistake.  I do not believe that it is, not in this case, for of course they initially demand to be perceived as what they truly are here and now and by us; their foreign words, their foreign bodies wish first and foremost to be adopted by their own language.  

Admittedly you are not now going to become acquainted with all the modern poets in existence--for that purpose, there are plenty of treatises in which they are ranked and sorted into nature lyricists and lyricists of consciousness and God knows what else, complete with examples; there are anthologies, reprints every month in every magazine, and there are volumes of poetry that can be found in the libraries; with these you can adequately brief yourselves.  For I am incapable of presenting them to you with individualized labels on them and coining some pithy adage about each of them.

So on to our rambles…

Contemplate your fingertips: is their color already changing?
One fine day it’ll come back, that eradicated plague.
The postman will chuck it like a letter into the rattling mailbox,
put it on your dinner plate like a ration of herring!
the mother will nurse with it like a breast.
What do we do now that no one’s left alive
Who knew well how to keep company with it?
He who is good friends with the horrific
can await its visit equanimously.
We keep on preparing ourselves for happiness
but it doesn’t willingly sit in our chairs.
Contemplate your fingertips!  When they change color to black
it is too late.

This poem is by Günter Eich.  I hope that nobody is inclined--if such a thing were possible--to raise his hand because he has been unsettled by the question, What is the poet trying to say here?  But what observations are we capable of making; what could actually emerge from a preoccupation with this poem?  I for one am inclined to assume that this poet drafted his design in a different way than poets a generation and two generations before him.  It is quite hard to picture him as a prophet or as an artist, as a magician, as [---]; there is not a jot of self-importance, of presumption, in his conception of himself, for throughout the work such a conception is evident; his claim, his position, is constantly being asserted.  Here there is already a change in which one can observe that something has taken place here, namely an alteration in the position of the producer himself.  And yet despite the resignation on so many [---] no abdication, no retreat is available to the speaker even though the place from which he is speaking has been shifted into a fatal solitude, shifted not voluntarily, not arrogantly, but rather as a punishment imposed by a society in the midst of society, a place in which he does not feel at home, and staying awake becomes difficult for a person who must, can, will, be watchful.  A watchful man is speaking; he is a sleepless quarry of exposure dwelling in our midst...  

When the window is wide open
And the earth’s ghastliness is blowing in
The infant with two heads
--one of them slumbering, the other screaming—
screams at us from the world’s length
and suffuses the ears of my beloved with horror.

The vocables of reality simply are what they are [in Günter Eich’s poems]; their stage is populated by window, garbage dumps, rubbish, freight train, rain-, rust-, and oil-stains, thermos, bakery, factory, subway; the world is questioned but not left at a loss for answers.  The only entity left at a loss for answers is this I, which is pursued, warned, and asked to issue warnings of its own.  What this specifically means, ladies and gentlemen, is that nowadays there can no longer be any talk whatsoever about a sacred song, about a mission, about a chosen community of artists.  By way of deliberately drawing your attention to an extreme version of this tendency, I shall quote a profession of faith made by a member of Stefan George’s circle during its heyday:

We are of the proud belief that for these years we have not merely gathered the best that a plenary assemblage of tribes in a specific domain of human ability was capable of producing; rather, we hope that we have also paved the way in pursuing which those who are to come and become after us will discover an ever-purer artistic firmament. 1     

But for all the weightiness of this “pure artistic firmament”’s foundations, it proved unsustainable, and these spirits, who at that time quite understandably rose up against a trite, insipid school of naturalism and whose achievements we shall not forget, have somehow managed to survive the collapse of their artistic firmament.  Expressionism soon dealt the first counterblow, and under the impact of the First World War isolated human voices asserted themselves, sometimes in execration, sometimes in exhaustion.  And new aesthetic revolts followed, revolts that must also be talked about, specifically because they led to never-endingly influential linguistic discoveries and discoveries about reality, although in one respect they have been disavowed for exemplifying what we now regard as the worst tendencies.

I am thinking here even of surrealism with its idea of beauty:  the surrealists insisted that beauty had to be terroristic, breathtaking, and demonically bewildering, that surrealism was going to lead us to our deaths, and in the second surrealist manifesto, André Breton, the spokesman for the new literary movement, wrote that surrealism was by no means an artistic school, that, rather, it was striving for total insubordination, for outright sabotage, that everything must conspire to annihilate the ideas of the family, the fatherland, and religion--so far, so good; this was quite impressive--but then came the apodosis: that surrealism was striving for nothing other than power. “The most simple surrealist act consists of picking up a revolver, going down into the street, and shooting randomly into the crowd as long as one can.”

This prescription was of course never subsequently put into practice by the surrealists; oh, no; and yet you probably also know that all writers and painters were discredited, ostracized, threatened with death under the German dictatorship, and yet there remains an unexplained residue, a suspicion that without realizing what they were doing, its victims allowed their language to converge at its limits with the language of power.  Naturally surrealism had intellectual weight, an anti-bourgeois animus; it was serious about wishing to shock; it had nothing in common with the factitious praxis of murder that was carried out later on by a completely different party.

Much more questionable still were the beauty-proclamations of the futurists, for they called--understandably, to be sure, in a thrust, a violent burst of desire--for the embracing of the technical world in its beauty and, to be sure, for recognizing it as nothing but beauty.  It was Marinetti who with a young man’s flair for fanaticism cried:

We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

In the later futurist manifesto, which coincided with the outbreak of the Ethiopian colonial war, one reads:

For twenty–seven years we Futurists have rebelled against the branding of war as antiaesthetic.. . . Accordingly we state: ... War is beautiful because it establishes man's dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the ceasefire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others. . . . Poets and artists of Futurism! . . . remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art ... may be illumined by them!2

This is the way the apotheosis of l’art pour l’art can sometimes look.   Here the flashover was formulated distinctly enough.

Please do not suppose that I am so narrow-minded as to dwell insistently on questions of guilt in artistic matters and to push such questions into the foreground.  Let us calmly take yet another step forward.  I by no means regard it as a matter of pure chance that Gottfried Benn and Ezra Pound---a writer whom a few of our young poets must discover for themselves at this moment of all moments, an American who had the most convoluted ideas about revitalization and a renaissance of the Renaissance--that in the case of both of these poets (and they are both poets; of this there can be no doubt), it was only a step from the pure artistic firmament to currying favor with barbarism.

But there is a maxim from which Karl Kraus can never be dissociated and which one hopes never to tire of emphasizing: “Everything of any merit in a language is rooted in morality.”  And morality here does not signify anything that can be popularized or liquidated, like bourgeois or Christian morality--not a codex--but rather that airstrip on which the standard of truth and lies must be established ever anew by every new writer.  Just now we were hit by a maxim: “War is beautiful because by means of gas masks, flame throwers…” and so forth...

And here is a poem of our time in which a gas mask also makes an appearance; this poem has been included in an anthology of love poems from recent years, and you can see the different sort of light into which its objects have been thrust; a light that signalizes the shattering of an entire aesthetics of delirium: “Frog Prince the Bridegroom” by Marie Luise Kaschnitz:

How hideous
Your bridegroom is
You virgin Life

His countenance a gas mask
His girdle an ammunition pouch
His hand
A flamethrower

Your bridegroom the frog prince
Rides with you
(A bike flies hither, once thither)
Over the houses of the dead

Between two
He presses himself
Into your lap

Only in the darkness
Do you touch
His wettish hair

Only at daybreak
Only at
Only at

Do you behold his

The only things that are still called beautiful here are the bridegroom’s eyes, his mournful eyes.  “Mournful” precedes the word “beautiful.”  And at the beginning this man with a flamethrower, with an ammunition pouch, this man with a claim to power, is referred to in a line that reads “How hideous your bridegroom is...”

There are such things as new specifications that are met, new definitions, even in poems.

At this same moment, in Sweden, the oldest living German female poet is writing something that applies to young people and likewise describes what they are doing and what they have to do: this poet is Nelly Sachs.

Here she is writing about a young man who lacks a sense of direction, a young man who is in conflict with all the lights of heaven:

From the races
acclimatized to rocking chairs
he divests himself

having strayed outside himself
in his fiery helmet
he vulnerates the night.

(Reminding us “who are building the new house,” of the foundation on which we are building, of how many graves, how many sites of sins, this foundation consists; and at the same time imploring us not to sigh, not to waste our minutes on weeping, but rather to insure that our walls and equipment are as receptive as Aeolian harps.)

But here the prophetic and psalmodizing mode is not be confused with artistic prophesying; this is no gesture, but rather a movement arising from the experience of suffering. And could it be accepted in any other spirit? Have we not become both quite sensitive and quite sober and excessively dismissive of intoxication with language on the one hand and conservative verbal Biedermeiers on the other; now affectedly ill and now affectedly healthy; are we not on the point of being permanently impervious to fascination by any word at all?  Do we not perhaps desire nothing more than to establish a legal relationship between language and humankind?

And shall we not make use of this legality or of no legality whatsoever, and do we wish to forge a path through the errors and the yielded truths, or no path whatsoever?

What does the literature that lies behind us really amount to?: words hewn from the endocardium and a tragic silence, and fallow fields full of talked-to-death words and sloughs of fetid, rotten silence; everything, language and silence, has already been imparted, and in a twofold fashion. And we are constantly being beckoned and tempted by both of them; our sympathetic participation in error is of course fully secured, but where does our sympathetic participation in a new truth begin?       

How does a poem--because we are trying to talk about new poems--how does a poem begin to participate sympathetically in such a truth?

[Hans Magnus] Enzensberger’s

must the vulture feed on forget-me-nots?
what do you want the jackal to do,
skin himself?—and the wolf? must
he pull out his own teeth?
what don’t you like
about politruks and popes
what on the lying TV are you
dumbly peeping at from the laundry basket?

who sews the stripe of blood
on the general’s trousers? who
carves the capon before the usurer
who proudly hangs the tin cross
before his snarling navel? who
takes the gratuity, the silverling
the hush-penny? there is
much stolen, few thieves; who
rewards them with applause, who
pins on their insignias, who
pants after their lies?

look in the mirror: timid,
shrinking from the labor of truth,
averse to learning, consigning
all thinking to the wolves
your nose-ring your costliest jewel
no hoax too unsubtle, no solace
too feeble, extortion itself
is always too kind to you.

you lambkins are sisters,
interchangeable ones, who bleat:
you blend into one another.
brotherliness rules
among the wolves:
they roam in packs.

all hail the predators: you
enticements to rapine throw
yourselves on the fetid bed
of obedience. lying even
as you whimper. you long
to be torn to bits. you
aren’t changing the world.

“You arent changing the world.” Indeed.  And what about poetry itself?  What effect does it have?  Is it not perhaps the case that because a poem like this makes us unhappy, because it manages to do this, and because there are new poets who can make us unhappy, there is also a jolt within us, a jolt instinct with insight, a jolt under whose influence we comprehend the larger one that is taking place?  There is a really wonderful letter by Kafka about what he demands from a book:

"If the book we’re reading isn’t waking us up with a punch to the skull, why are we bothering to read the book?  So that it will make us happy…?  Good Lord, we would be happy already if we didn’t have any books at all, and if push came to shove we could always write the kinds of books that make us happy ourselves...A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.  I believe this."

Perhaps it has been bothering you for I while now that I have said nothing about the new forms in the new poems, and hardly anything about the new language in them.  But in connection with this poem I would like to say something on these topics in a roundabout way.  There were recently published two books by a man who was not really a literary historian but rather something of an outsider; I am referring to the pair of studies entitled Die Welt als Labyrinth [The World as a Labyrinth] and Manieirismus in der Literatur [Mannerism in Literature] by Gustav René Hocke.  These books deal with the authors I have mentioned, along with many others, complete with illustrative quotations; and the thesis propounded in them is basically as follows: the provocative formal and thematic phenomena that we have been observing not only in literature but also in the other arts since about 1850 are not new, and this is not the first time that they have come upon the scene; rather, the modern artists themselves have been adhering to a hidden tradition; their audacious linguistic sallies and their “intellectual vices,” as he terms them, are ultimately of Greco-Oriental origin. The second revolution took place in the middle of the sixteenth century and faded away in the middle of the seventeenth.  In the domain of literature, the last such revolution dates from Baudelaire’s debut.  These three epochs have been subsumed under the generic heading of “Mannerism” for the sake of more firmly defining the anti-classical constant in European intellectual history.  The poets of these periods are trying to be “modern.”  They are characterized as such: they eschew immediacy, love obscurity, grant admittance to sensuous imagery only in abstruse, highly camouflaged metaphors; an intellectual system of signs is utilized towards the end of apprehending the real or super-real; their works are enigmatic, hieroglyphic, and this is why they evade aesthetic scrutiny with the help of classical standards.  I have no intention of going beyond this outline and can only urge you to read both studies, even at the risk of your temporarily smelling a whiff of “mannerism” everywhere and in everything and forgetting your judgment thanks to your astonishment.  But this highly stimulating book with its important findings has triggered an extremely remarkable reaction.  For it admittedly cannot exit the stage without first letting a few drops of wormwood fall on the new linguistic drilling-grounds, on the metaphor laboratories and the fission of verbal nuclei.  Because somebody has always stolen a march on this sort of thing, whether in 1600 or in 1900.  I hear tell that a couple of hundred years ago a man by the name of Athanasius Kirchner constructed a metaphor machine that could generate a complete poetic image out of nothing. We are now witnessing at least the third occurrence of abstract orthography: letterism, which Isidor Isou inaugurated as a last resort a couple of years ago in Paris in order to slit open the alphabet in order to conjure up Being with the aid of a few new supplementary characters, has a precursor in the third century, and another one is Hugo Ball, who in the first year of Dadaism in Zurich wrote letterist poems, admittedly with a different intention; namely, a polemical one.  This state of affairs seems a bit sad to many people who believe that revolutions and reclamations of land in literature must be primarily sought in formal experimentation and sometimes overlook the fact that the latter can only take place in the aftermath of a new idea.

On the other hand the discovery of “mannerism” was honey to many critics because they were now at last being handed a couple of solid criteria for the judgment of modern literature, criteria as applicable to verbal salad-mixing as to true verbal might.  Thank goodness, we’ve always already been here before; none of it is actually new; we don’t need to be intimidated anymore when we run into metaphors like “black milk”; of course the exact same thing can be found in Marino’s “red sea” (of the sixteenth century); we’ve always already been here before; ultimately we understand it, and understanding everything means pardoning everything.  Or else, if the critic is a member of a different, barbed armor-clad species, it means this is all passé, and so it’s not interesting anymore; this has already been done better, it’s a shoddy imitation, a carbon copy; the Surrealists did this too, and did it better, the Poètes maudits also did it better, and naturally the ancients did it better still: remember Marino, remember Góngora, remember, remember.  

But whom should we resolve to remember as we reflect once again on this poem [“the wolves’ plea to the lambs”]?  Is its author a mannerist?  He has written poems in which neologisms like “manitypistin” and “stenoküre” occur, so yes: he certainly is one (but with what intention?: that is the real question!).  And if we were compiling an anthology of younger authors, as long as we stuck to hunting down formal structures, to gaping at metaphors, at similarities, at the authors’ exploitation of an anonymous lexicon, at their canny facility with certain fashionable cocktail recipes, we would certainly have a very easy time figuring out what they were fundamentally all about.  But at the same time we would fail to see the most important thing; namely, when we are dealing merely with affectations, with finger exercises, or merely misbegotten trial runs, and we would fail to see when someone is actually trying to commit a robbery and is being robbed by language and robbed by truth, when the inimitable is devouring the imitable.  Because of course all of them, almost all of them, have, I believe, some tincture of the merely fashionable about them, and we also keenly sense this when we take up older works of long-established stature; we sense that their period lexica and period figures of speech hold their own only thanks to the firm and fairly robust context in which they appear.

But why--and you are perhaps still unsure of the answer to this question--did I happen to select these particular poems, and what am I trying to demonstrate by discussing them?  Perhaps the good “disposition” of these authors.  This conjecture is certainly plausible.  But what is a disposition, and who does not emphatically claim to have one?  To be liberally and amicably disposed, and from there it is no longer any great distance to well disposed, but well-disposed to whom?  And if the radicalness of every form of aestheticism has bequeathed to us a certainty that is binding, it is the certainty that with a good disposition it is no longer possible to produce a good poem.  I do not know whether it was really true, as a few people, including Benn, believed, that it was necessary to remind the Germans of this over and over again because they had still never managed to grasp it and were still highly receptive to “versifying” and “atmospheric images.”  So let us remind ourselves of it one more time, even though, if one thinks of the young people who have published poems in the last ten, fifteen years, one gets the feeling that hardly anybody caters to this plebiscitic desire anymore.  Much more onerous is the desire of a few for art [----] critics with their diagnoses and prognoses; for them everything is always in a crisis, they demand that the crises should be overcome; and recently even mannerism has been expected to be overcome, and then there are the crisis in the novel and the crisis in the theater; everything is expected to be overcome or integrated to some extent.  But when one finally ponders these sentences one begins to get cross, for who after all is expected to be overcome by whom here?

You can overcome an adversary or a pain or a weakness, but as for a crisis in the novel or in culture or in one of those flayed conceptual monsters—nobody can overcome such a thing.  The statements are worthy ones; they are often creditable; they often hit the mark, but the questions that affix themselves to them are poorly framed, of practically no importance, and merely squeeze the former out of the small circle of genuine questions that are posable at all.  Admittedly the sting of these questions can be felt only by the individual, and by those who have been more moved by a couple of apothegms from afar than by an entire assortment of problems, and one of those apothegms, apothegms that do not even ask to be vulnerated, is for example that of Bertolt Brecht: “What kinds of times are these when a conversation about trees is almost a crime because it encloses a silence about so many foul deeds?”  This is why people of later birth are somewhat shy about showcasing their worries about form, about expression, about intellectual capacity, worries that have been agonizing from time immemorial.

In a few passages in Günter Eich’s work there is talk about discomfort caused by beauty, discomfort caused by happiness; that whole tension between horror and beauty, which of course condition each other; the cult of beauty and of horror has given way to another one.  The poems, which are highly heterogeneous, are not savory but rich in insight, as if in an age of extreme linguistic distress they were obliged to make something out of their extreme contactlessness in order to ablate the distress.  From this achievement they derive a dignity, a dignity that they do not even dare to aspire to.

Having strayed outside themselves in their fiery helmet they vulnerate the night. This is also true to a large extent of the poet about whom I will speak in conclusion.  About Paul Celan.  He made his first appearance among us with an epitaph, his “Death Fugue,” and with some highly illuminating dark words that undertook a journey to the end of night.  And this I in these poems also forgoes an oppressive blueprint, an extorted authority, and gains an authority, even as it asks for nothing for itself other than: “Make me bitter, count me with the almonds, count me with…what was bitter and kept you alive…”

But today I have brought along his most recent collection of poems, “Sprachgitter” [“Speech Grille”] because it tours a new and still little-known territory.  The metaphors have completely vanished; the words have cast off every vestment, every veil; not a single word flies towards another one any longer; another one intoxicates.  After a painful figure of speech, an extremely severe inspection of the references of word and world, it arrives at new definitions.  The poems are entitled “Matière de Bretagne” or “Railway Embankments, Waysides, Waste Places, Debris,” or “Blueprint of a Landscape” or “Debris Barge.”

They are uncomfortable, palpating, reliable, so reliable in being called what they are that their titles must go exactly as far as they do and no further.


But suddenly, on account of the severe retrenchment of scope, it is once again possible to say something, to say it quite directly, unencryptedly.   It is possible for somebody who says of himself that he is chafing at reality and questing for reality as he commences to speak with his existence.  At the end of his great poem “Engführung” [“Stretto”], there is a particularly striking passage, and I would like to close with this passage--and before I do, I would also like to mention that for Celan the stars are “the work of man,” that here they are to be understood as a human construct.

still has some light
nothing is forsaken

  1. Blätter für die Kunst. 3 Folgen, 5 Bände, Auslese aus den Jahrgängen 1892–1898. Verlag Georg Bondi, Berlin 1899. Text aus der Einleitung. S. 24. [Art Journals.  Three Series, Five Volumes, Selections from the Years 1892 to 1898.  Georg Bondi Publications, Berlin 1898.  Text from the introduction, p. 24.]
  2. As Bachmann’s editors point out, here she is quoting Marinetti indirectly (if at all [for they add that Marinetti’s daughter was unable to find the passage in her archive of her father’s works]) via Walter Benjamin’s essay “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter der technischen Reproduzierbarkeit” (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”), which is also the source of the attribution of the context of the passage to the Ethiopian colonial war.  The translation is Harry Zohn’s from the Hannah Arendt-edited collection entitled Illuminations.
  3. According to the editors, in her typescript Bachmann did not indicate what poem was to be read here.


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2018 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Ingeborg Bachmann, Frankfurter Vorlesungen.  Probleme zeitgenössischer Dichtung [Frankfurt Lectures. Problems in Contemporary Literature], Munich and Berlin: Piper, 2016.  This is the second of a series of five lectures that Bachmann delivered at Goethe University Frankfurt during the 1959-1960 winter semester and recorded for Bavarian Radio in April 1960.

Friday, February 09, 2018

An Alternative Translation of Minetti by Thomas Bernhard

Dramatis Personae

MINETTI, a distinguished stage actor
The girl’s BOYFRIEND

Scenes One, Two, and Three: an old hotel at Ostend
Epilogue: the Atlantic [sic] Coast at Ostend

Scene One

The lobby
An old English elevator stage left
A reception desk, a receptionist leafing through old hotel register books at stage right
A lady (in a red dress) sitting on an old sofa smoking Virginia cigars in the background
A porter enters stage left carrying an enormous old suitcase and sets it down in front of the reception desk

What is this

PORTER softly to him
A funny old gentleman
The receptionist and the porter gaze in the
direction from which the porter has carried in the heavy suitcase

LADY drinking, then to the receptionist
To be left standing
all alone
Don’t forget my champagne
If necessary two bottles
I intend to drink it by myself
by myself
Bursts out laughing and gazes in the same
direction as the others
Of course it doesn’t matter
I must defend myself  you know
Defend myself
The world is literally
populated by madmen
The degeneracy is typical
having turned to the receptionist
A snowstorm
an actual snowstorm
gazing in the same direction as the other two
Then I’ll put on my mask
I am coping with New Year’s Eve
I have my methods
I’ll go to bed wearing my monkey-mask
and wait
and with the mask on my face on my head
I’ll drain the whole bottle of champagne at one go
This is the third year in a row
that I’ve been ringing in the New Year like this
as if observing an unusual-looking person
in certain circumstances
two bottles
a ruse naturally
a flirtation with asphyxiation
A perversion
I’ve put on some weight
Three times already I’ve had to patch up the monkey mask
to patch it up
I fold my hands underneath the monkey mask
But not at home
at the hotel you know
here at the hotel
as if going over a to-do list
Hold out until eleven
and then go upstairs
to your room
put on the mask
drink all the champagne
and get into bed
With the mask on your head
and the stockings on your legs
bursts out laughing
And if that doesn’t do the trick
then another bottle as well
drinks and looks at the suitcase, then back in the opposite direction
I’m sure this is the gentleman
who’s the owner of the suitcase

Enter MINETTI in an old ankle-length winter coat, black leather shoes with spats, a broad-brimmed hat, and a raincoat slung over his left arm, dragging an undone underpants strap behind him along the floor; he walks slowly, surveying his surroundings, until he reaches the center of the lobby, when he stops and says to the receptionist
pulls a change-purse out of one of his coat-pockets and searches in it for s specific sum of change; having found the change, he stretches his arm out with the lightning speed towards the porter to offer the change to him, but the porter does not touch it.
The porter takes the change
Minetti looks at the ceiling and at all the walls and into all four corners of the lobby
How much it’s changing
how much it’s slowly changing
to the lady
thirty years ago
thirty-two years ago to be precise
was the last time 
to the porter
Room sixty-four
looks at the ceiling again
Changing completely
Change is always marching forward
It’s all just a question of time
the lady drinks
A question of time
the elevator is summoned from upstairs
Minetti introducing himself to the lady
who has renounced
classical literature
looks at the ceiling again
Detest progress
detest progress
to the lady
Don’t you think
that one must detest progress
from a certain point onwards
thumps his coat with both hands
A snowstorm in Ostend
what a monstrous aberration
to the lady
I have
an appointment here
with the general manager of the theater
in Flensburg
I am an actor
looks at the ceiling
It’s changed so much
I love Ostend
The grayness
The coast
The Atlantic coast
The elevator arrives with a fairly large group of masked revelers who pour out into the lobby laughing and screaming, then almost knock over Minetti as they hurry past him through the lobby and out the front door
Minetti shouting at them as they leave
As the lady drinks she notices Minetti’s underpants strap
Minetti to the receptionist
I’m expecting the director of the general manager of the theater in Flensburg
At the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the theater in Flensburg
I’ll be playing Lear
I haven’t acted in thirty years
it’s been thirty years since I last appeared on stage
to the lady
Lear you know
King Lear
The most significant work of drama
in the entirety of world literature
quoting lines from the Shakespeare play as he looks back in the direction he has come from
Thou think’st ’tis much that this contentious storm
Invades us to our skin
So ’tis to thee
But where the greater malady is fix’d
the lesser is scarce felt
looks at the ceiling
points with his umbrella at the rearward stage-right corner
There in that corner
I spoke with Ensor
with Ensor in person
points at his suitcase
In this suitcase
is a mask for Lear
personally made by Ensor
This mask
for Lear
is the most precious thing
in my possession
to the lady
The mask is Lear
points with his umbrella at the corner again
In that corner
A philosophical settling of accounts no doubt
James Ensor
I wanted the Lear mask
to be made by Ensor
and Ensor
made me the mask
A colossal perversity
to wear world literature in its entirety
on one’s head
and on one’s face
points at the corner again
I suddenly believed
he was Shakespeare
as I was just talking with Ensor
Drama is a colossal art form
I said to Ensor
make me the mask
for my debut as Lear
I said
the lady drinks
But the man hadn’t the faintest understanding of Shakespeare
He wanted
to study Lear
but I told him
don’t study Lear
forget classic literature in its entirety
in its entirety do you understand
The man hadn’t the vaguest clue about Shakespeare
and no clue whatsoever about Lear
and no clue whatsoever about world literature
But Ensor made the mask
for me
the most colossal mask
that has ever been made
In this mask I’ll perform
at the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the theater in Flensburg
I gave the general manager my word
An actor like me
can’t leave the general manager of a theater
in the lurch
looks at the ceiling
in Ensor’s mask
the lady drinks
An old man with a limp enters stage right, receives a room key from the porter, and limps back offstage
Minetti to the receptionist
Didn’t the general manager
leave some kind of message with you
What time is it anyway

Half-past nine sir

MINETTI checking his pocket-watch
Half-past nine
I was delayed
in the snow storm
dusts down his coat once again, then
Has anybody at all
asked about me

No sir
the lady drinks

No telephone call

No sir
No telephone call sir

This will all be explained
to the lady
to the receptionist
I’ll wait here
wait here
wait here in the lobby
to the lady
It’s possible that you know the general manager of the theater
in Flensburg
he comes here this time of year
every year
He agreed in a telegram
to be here at the hotel
at nine
looks at the ceiling, then
It was a real conquest
to get me to play Lear
one more time
and also a crowning moment
Just one more performance madam
then never again
I’ve sworn it
never again
just one more performance
Thirty years I’ve shunned the stage
thirty years of nothing
I have renounced all classic literature
except Lear
Now just one more time I’ll play Lear
in Ensor’s mask
My nerves are frayed
it’s this appalling climate you see
the lady drinks
Minetti very softly to the lady
He didn’t understand
a thing about Shakespeare
as if he
had never heard a thing
about Shakespeare
and then
turns around and points at his suitcase with his umbrella
this mask
I always have this mask
with me
in this suitcase madam
No trips without this suitcase
and in the suitcase is Ensor’s mask
I’m not selling out
just Lear one more time
It is the general manager’s desire
for me to play Lear
at the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the theater in Flensburg
peers into the corner and then points at the corner with his umbrella
A timid person my dear
and at the same time a redoubtable one
I was worried
All artists worry
art and worry
These people determine the course of history
Mutually antagonistic atrocities you know
loudly and declamatorily
What is
the so-called art of painting
I asked Ensor
to his face
He said nothing in reply
The so-called art of acting
he asked
the elevator is summoned from upstairs
An accident
a promise of a guest performance
A lady from Rotterdam
with a terrible cold
with whom I promised to make my debut in Rotterdam
as Lear
Then I ran into Ensor
and came to an agreement with Ensor
in this hotel
just as I have just now
come to an agreement with the general manager
And Ensor made me the mask
and I played Lear in Ensor’s mask
quite softly
Sometimes we have everything
at our disposal
An elderly married couple enter the lobby from stage right, receive a room-key from the receptionist, and go to the elevator, which has arrived from upstairs filled to capacity with laughing young masked revelers.  The revelers, who are carrying wine-glasses and wine-bottles, run laughing and screaming through the lobby and out through the front door; the elderly couple get into the elevator and ride it upstairs.
Minetti, after having observed the elderly couple closely
in Ensor’s mask
are the epitome of the horrific

LADY suddenly
Your underpants my dear sir
your underpants have come undone
Minetti bends over and sees the unfastened underpants strap and tries to refasten it but fails to do so.
First your underpants come undone
they come undone first
drinks and laughs
your underpants
your underpants

My underpants naturally
naturally my underpants
gives up trying to fasten the underpants
the porter tries to fasten the underpants and ultimately succeeds in doing so
The times are changing
tugs at the collar of his shirt
The underpants strap
the lady drinks
Increasing exhaustion
Exhaustion increasing
the porter returns to the reception desk
I have renounced                                                                      
classic literature

RECEPTIONIST interrogatively
A room with a bath
Mr Minetti

MINETTI defensively
No room
no room
I’ll wait here
looks at the clock
possibly I’ll stay here
who knows
I’m the general manager’s guest
points at his suitcase with his umbrella
If it’s in the way there
put it somewhere else
the porter picks up the suitcase and makes as if to carry it away
Drop it
leave it there
put it down there
the porter puts the suitcase down a meter from where it was before
the porter picks the suitcase up again
Minetti points with his umbrella at the spot where he wants the porter to put down the suitcase
over here
the porter puts the suitcase down at the designated spot
Ensor’s mask
the porter returns to the reception desk
The classless society
understands nothing
understands nothing
We are incessantly developing
a tragedy
or a comedy
when we’re developing a tragedy
at bottom it’s actually just a comedy
and vice-versa
with soundness of mind as our medium
I’ll have you know
Time and again only the art of acting
the lady drinks
The art of acting
I’ll have you know
Its construction is a dramatic theatrical one
Its medium a theatrical one time and again
The art of acting
while we are serving the art of acting
a colossal construction
in which we are all involved
My brother the mathematician
with whom I spoke about the integral
in this building
thirty-three years ago
took the one road
I took the other
he took the road of science
I took the road of art
the artistic road madam
I became addicted to an insane idea
when I became addicted to the art of acting
hopelessly lost
in the material of the art of acting
do you understand
I myself used to lead my brother’s existence
mathematics ad absurdum
The art of acting as a reason for existing madam
what an enormity
The obscuration
the occultation
of the soul
by the odium and opprobrium
Severed all ties with other human beings
severed all ties with each and every one of them
to the receptionist
Severed all ties with the material sir
for the art of acting’s sake
in defiance of the audience
in defiance of them
in defiance of them
in defiance of them
always only in defiance of them
My brother went this way
points in one direction with his umbrella
I myself
points in the opposite direction
went that way
If we want to reach our goal
we always have to go in the opposite direction
to the lady
In the opposite direction madam
to the receptionist
Ever greater solitude
ever greater incomprehension
ever greater misunderstanding
ever deeper disapproval
Once we have reached our goal
we have surpassed
we have surpassed our idea
surpassed the entire community of humankind
surpassed nature
checks his watch
Once we have abandoned the material
it is but an instant
a brief instant
the briefest of instants
until we’re dead
The pulling of a grimacing face is all that’s left
nothing else
A gesticulation
The horrified head
nothing else
all our lives we
are putting on an act
that nobody understands
But we take this road
no other one
this road and no other
until we’re dead
and all our lives we have no idea
if it’s mathematics
if it’s the art of acting
to the lady
It is insanity madam
he thinks the general manager of the theater is entering the hotel and about to approach him, but it is a Lilliputian in a sailor’s uniform who receives a room-key at the reception desk and walks through the lobby to the elevator and takes the elevator upstairs.  Minetti takes a step back, and then says to the lady
I thought the general manager
had come in
the porter makes as if to lift Minetti’s suitcase
Minetti lunges at the porter and hits his fingers with his umbrella
The suitcase stays here
the porter returns to the reception desk
I won’t stay
Maybe I’ll travel on
travel back
to Dinkelsbühl
after a pause
I’ve been putting on the mask
all my life
society is horrified
I myself have been horrified all my life
we fear
what we can’t see
the lady drinks
Minetti to the lady, waving about his umbrella all the while
The actor
the artist
the madman do you understand
The bankrupt
the hypersensitive of the stage
the violent criminal
the violent art criminal
the lady drinks
The actor approaches the writer
and the writer annihilates the actor
as the actor annihilates the writer
extinguishes him do you understand
Settling the bill
Settling the bill
If when we’re settling the bill
we leave out the writer
the writer leaves out the actor when he’s settling the bill
In every case
we’re driven to insanity
And if the actor settles up with the writer
and if the writer settles up with the actor
nature goes crazy
then art my lady becomes
an artist-scape
These hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of endeavors
exertions reduced to nothing
we’re afflicted with every possible incitation and violation
and stricken dead
we can do whatever we like
points at the audience with his umbrella
such a madman such a lunatic must be saying to himself
from down there
you’ll be killed
to the lady
Do you understand madam
the world is brimful of annihilating art-existences
as if in an aside
looks at his watch
How dare this old loon
keep rambling on like this
you’re thinking
bends over to see whether or not his underpants strap has come undone again
It hasn’t come undone again
my underpants strap madam
hasn’t come undone again
How dare he keep rambling on like this
when he should keep his mouth shut
always on the point
of mortally wounding madam
of plunging into the abyss madam
starting at stage left the Lilliputian paces up and down the lobby
Minetti looking at the Lilliputian
When everyone is silent
he is the one
who talks
thus his entire existence is always
a different existence
his head a different head
what he himself is silent about
is something different
he behaves differently
taps his head
dies differently
to the receptionist while tapping his head
In this head sir
everything is different
Everything is different sir
different books read
different philosophies studied
completely different people encountered all my life
a completely different
yes a completely antithetical relationship to nature
contemplates his shoes
and everything is nothing but a mistake
to the lady, who is drinking
isn’t it madam
as a result a person like me destroys
something different
than what other people accuse him of destroying
as he walks into the center of the catastrophe
looks at the ceiling
This hotel
is full of misunderstandings
that are bound
to drive a person like me insane
just as the entire world is bound to drive such a person insane
the lady drinks
Then it suddenly seems to me
as though it were all nothing but intellectual rubbish
as if in an aside
Intellectual rubbish
tries to sit down and sinks down exhausted onto the sofa and next to the lady
And nothing but purposefulness madam
in which we are all perishing
perishing madam
looks at the clock
The mind artist
who has fatally wounded himself as a head artist
who is walking into the center of the catastrophe

Scene II

As before

MINETTI with his underpants strap undone again
Suddenly the falling crash
into comfortableness
The world wants to be entertained
but it deserves to be disturbed
disturbed disturbed
wherever we look we see nothing
but an entertainment mechanism today
Everything deserves to be shoved
into the art catastrophe madam
into the most incredible of all art catastrophes
shoved in do you hear
shoved in
after a pause
The young person
who I used to be
he went into the fatal art of acting
and fatally injured himself
Nobody today
fatally injures himself
we exist in a repulsive society
that has renounced fatal self-injury
staring into space
in search
of the work of art  
constantly searching for the intellectual object
brooding and burrowing
towards the artwork
lady drinks
With the artwork
in defiance of society
in defiance of dimwittedness
suddenly thrashing the air with his umbrella
Chase them out
with head hung
Crown dimwittedness
with the cap of intellect
loudly, indignantly
with the cap of intellect
crush dimwittedness
crush society
under the cap of intellect
instigate a spectacle
and crown dimwittedness with the cap of intellect
Do you hear madam
The actor tears off
the writer’s mask
and puts it on
and chases out the audience
while he crowns the audience with the cap of intellect
We mustn’t capitulate
mustn’t capitulate
if we give in
it’s all over
If we give in for just an instant
Not for an instant
softly, calmly
crown dimwittedness
with the cap of intellect
time and again
every day
defying everyone
defying everything
all our lives
all our lives do you understand
the lady drinks
Minetti to the porter
Never letting ourselves be put off
dear sir
never letting ourselves be put off
softly, while tracing the horizon with his umbrella
Then suddenly
reigns in the presence of the spoken word
aside, quite slowly and softly
Do you hear
The sea
This word coast
almost singing
and then
suddenly shouting
quite softly
addressing the lady point-blank
If only the O still rules
or only the U
or the I
crowing like a rooster
after a pause
addressing the lady point-blank
Movements madam
Soundlessness madam
It’s a process of derision
a process of detraction
and a process of derision all one’s life
staring into space
The science of the head
and of the legs
notices the unfastened strap of his underpants, beckons the porter over and points at the strap with his umbrella
the porter bends over and starts fastening the strap
the lady drinks and laughs
Minetti to the porter
An artistic body sir
an artistic body
everything’s an artistic body sir
to the porter, helping him finish fastening the strap with the tip of his umbrella
the porter jumps up and returns to the reception desk
Control of one’s body
Control of one’s mind
to the lady
Magnetism madam
Displaying the whole of classic literature
in a single instant
perceiving it
and destroying it
annihilating it
in a single instant
Standing history in its entirety on its head
or one’s head on the entirety of history madam
looks at his watch
In Flensburg madam
In celebration of its bicentenary
with his head hung
These people are
always ailing
always catching colds
the ones who are most resilient
who fancy they are
addressing the lady point-blank
The general manager of the theater
is a boyhood friend of mine
a distant relative
a very distant one
in Flensburg
Mustn’t let exhaustion
repress it
with one’s intellect
the lady drinks
Minetti to the receptionist
Only young people
have a connection
to insanity
a natural connection
only young people
have an intelligent motive
The elevator arrives from upstairs and a large group of laughing and screaming young masked revelers emerge and race through the lobby and out the front door 
Minetti watching them as they exit
and fanaticism
to the lady
New Year’s Eve fanaticism
New Year’s Eve
the same group of people come back into the lobby and get into the elevator and ride it upstairs
New Year’s Eve fanaticism
Youth is audacious
looks at his watch
General managers of theaters
are the epitome of unreliability
of unpunctuality
An actor has never
been able to count on the punctuality of a general manager
to the lady
In Lübeck
in the Hanseatic city of Lübeck
forty years ago I’ll have you know
when I was the general manager of the theater
before I decisively
renounced classic literature
I loathed
constantly acting in classic plays
I loathe classic literature
I loathe classic art
everything classic
Except for Lear
Deposed I’ll have you know
chased out of town by the senators
to Dinkelsbühl
Sooner or later
all general managers of theaters are chased out of town
Out of that horrible city Lübeck
All those cities along the sea stink
but Lübeck stinks most mercilessly of all
to the lady point-blank
I loathe the Baltic Sea
I love the North Sea
Ostend you understand
very portentous
But my favorite place of all is England
of all countries I love England the most
Shakespeare and Scotland Yard
or vice-versa
as if balancing his umbrella on the tip of his right shoe
But a Continental actor in England
is an impossibility
A person like me
is absolutely
doomed to lead a Continental existence
all his life madam
Here in Ostend I fancy
I’m inhaling the English air
the English air
An absolutely Continental existence madam
is a curse
addressing the lady point-blank
One time
somewhere near Folkestone
I was thrown out of an inn
and into the English Channel
on New Year’s Eve
While clinging to a copy of the weekend edition of the TIMES
I had myself pulled out of the water
such being the case I owe my subsequent existence
to the TIMES
To be sure madam
I have often asked myself
whether it wouldn’t have been better
to forget about the TIMES
I would have spared myself a lot
to the receptionist
No news at all
A nine o’clock appointment
and no news at all

No news at all
Mr. Minetti

MINETTI to the lady, while pointing at the corner with his umbrella
James Ensor and Shakespeare
You must have seen the two of them
There in the corner
looks at his suitcase
I’ve been carrying around this suitcase
for thirty years
and in the suitcase is the Lear-mask
made by Ensor
and several newspaper cuttings
about me
articles about me
Above all the articles
about the lawsuit
that the city of Lübeck had filed against me
In point of fact I lost
the lawsuit
A person like me
loses every lawsuit
Our corrupt society
wins every lawsuit
Justice was on my side
but the city of Lübeck won the lawsuit
I lost the lawsuit madam
because I had renounced classicism
The individual
no matter how firmly justice is on his side
loses every lawsuit
Enter a drunk man, who receives a key from the receptionist and walks to the elevator and rides it upstairs
That lawsuit cost me
everything I had
quite softly
Because I renounced
classic literature
Thereupon I sentenced myself
to thirty years of solitary confinement in Dinkelsbühl
I know what I’m talking about madam
Life is a farce
that pretentious eggheads call existence
I was chased out of Lübeck
ever since then I’ve loathed Lübeck
My native city
For thirty years I have refused
to appear on a classical stage
I would have played Lear
with Lear it’s something different
Naturally this has caused me to go to rack and ruin
thirty years of Dinkelsbühl
Vigilante justice madam
I own nothing but that suitcase
The general manager of the theater
My boyhood friend
A Frisian
A Frisian madam
A Frisian
suddenly with great pathos
All of Germany was against me
and annihilated me
Woe betide anyone
who dares to lock horns
with public opinion
Thirty years of Dinkelsbühl
Everything that had even
a classical sort of look to it
I abhorred
I am in flight from classicism madam
A significant artist has to be in constant flight from classicism
Thirty years of unemployment in Germany
in Dinkelsbühl
because I renounced classicism
He jumps up because he believes the general manager of the theater has just entered, but the only person who has just entered is a cripple on crutches and wearing a dog-mask; he asks for the key to his room and moves through the lobby to the elevator and rides the elevator upstairs
Minetti, watching the cripple as he exits
and others
after a pause
Anyone who is consistent
becomes subject to social annihilation
sits back down
the lady drinks
I have had every possible opportunity
but I haven’t been able to exploit
any of these opportunities
A fanatical devotion to truth
Hypersensitivity madam
the lady drinks
It’s a vow I’ve taken
I’ve taken a vow
pulls a photograph out of his coat pocket and hands it to the lady
Here in this picture
you can see me
as Lear
My farewell performance in Lübeck
the lady contemplates the photograph, compares the photograph with Minetti
in Ensor’s mask
stares straight ahead
A portrait of the artist
as a young man
the lady gives the photograph back to him
I played Lear
all over northern Germany
but nobody
understood Lear
They understood neither Shakespeare
nor Lear
to the lady point-blank
It’s depressing madam
puts the photograph back into his pocket
When you travel around with Lear
and nobody understands Lear
and nobody understands Shakespeare
and nobody understands the actor
who’s playing Lear
clutches at his head with both hands
It’s lunacy 
after a pause
Then I was sued
then I was dismissed
then I went to my sister’s in Dinkelsbühl
in Dinkelsbühl
if you know
where that is madam
and I went into hiding there
planted vegetables
wintered cabbage
plucked onions
loudly, flying into a rage
Lear went into hiding
leaning on the umbrella, staring straight ahead
And now I’ll play Lear again
after thirty years
in Flensburg
stands up and goes to the suitcase and points at the suitcase with the umbrella and says to the lady
Because I have been consistent
consistent madam consistent
The elevator arrives from upstairs and some laughing and screaming revelers rush out of it

Scene III

In the bar.  Minetti and the girl on a sofa.
The suitcase in the foreground on the floor
The girl is sitting next to a small transistor radio that is softly playing jazz music

You don’t believe it
I’m famous
I was famous
who renounced classic literature
I played Lear in Lübeck
The art of acting
is an insidious art my child
points at the suitcase
In that suitcase
I have the proof
At first
I started with quite simple tricks
with the simplest tricks
like making people disappear
for example
A magician
nothing but a magician do you understand
all over northern Germany
and all the way down the coast to Biarritz
with my father
but suddenly in my wrist
here look
shows his right wrist, shakes it
an inflammation
my career was over
My father was devastated
Our whole family was on the brink of ruin
I made people disappear my child
three people at a time
or four
or five
suddenly that inflammation in my wrist
do you understand
shakes his wrist
Then I remembered my original vocation
and I became an actor
an absolutely dedicated servant of dramatic literature
I gave up the art of performing magic tricks
for the art of drama my child
for dramatic literature
Shakespeare Strindberg do you understand
How long have you been waiting so far

Not long

     We’re both waiting
     the girl turns up the music
You’re waiting for your boyfriend
I’m waiting for the general manager of the theater
I have an appointment
with the general manager from Flensburg here
he has invited me
to play Lear in Flensburg
You don’t know what that means
Lear Shakespeare my child
looks all around the room
During this storm
You’re probably going to a ball
with this boyfriend of yours
What kind of mask are you going to wear
You will be wearing a mask I take it
the girl shakes her head
No mask
No mask my child
Thirty years
it’s been since I last played Lear
since I last played any part onstage
on any stage in a proper theater
I have renounced classic literature
But of course I need only don the mask
The mask was made by Ensor personally
I saw Ensor
together with Shakespeare
points at the lobby
An incredible encounter
hold on
pulls the photograph out of his coat pocket and shows it to the girl
That’s me
in Ensor’s mask
points at the picture
when I was a very young man
the girl takes the photograph from him
A sensation my child
rises and recites from the play
O reason not the need
our basest beggars are in the poorest thing superfluous
allow not nature more than nature needs
man’s life is cheap as beast’s
We mustn’t permit ourselves to be demeaned
to be demeaned my child
But there’s no such thing as a recipe for living
Now I’ll show you the proof 
opens the suitcase and takes various old newspapers out of it
reads from a page
Our theater owes so many of its peaks
to this significant artist
and this evening in the role of Lear
and in Ensor’s mask
he has overshadowed
everything else in the entire canon of dramatic literature
overshadowed it all
overshadowed it all
reads from another newspaper
The art of this actor
is at its peak
at its peak
at its peak my child
reads out of another newspaper
One of our greatest actors
who this evening has once again
given a monumental performance
nauseating nauseating nauseating
it’s nauseating my child
takes the newspapers and sticks them back into the suitcase and pulls out a pile of other newspapers
Not much later they filed the lawsuit against me
chased me out of Lübeck you understand
was chased out of northern Germany
because I had renounced classic literature
chased out as a general manager
and as an actor
In Dinkelsbühl I woke up again
in Dinkelsbühl
having taken the pile of newspapers to the sofa, he kneels down in front of the sofa and leafs through the newspapers
that was written about the lawsuit
Aspersions and perversions
rooted in nothing but spite
Claims that I ran the theater into the ground
That I put the people’s nose out of joint
that I
that when I renounced classic literature
I committed the greatest possible crime against theater
That I made the theater into a laughingstock
and ultimately annihilated it
defrauded the audience
deluded and defrauded them
picks up a newspaper and reads
Here it says
Mr Minetti is a disgrace to the city of Lübeck
What was your father

A train engineer

A train engineer

In Liège

In Liège
in that hideous city Liège
my poor child
sits down next to the girl on the sofa
one fine day you up and left it
the girl nods
You did the right thing
Wherever you’re from
you’ve got to get out of there as soon as possible
because otherwise you’re finished
peers into the lobby to see if the general manager is coming in; then looks at his watch
I myself failed to turn my back on Lübeck
in time
and I paid for that crime
Anybody my child who accepts a position as the general manager of a theater
is committing suicide
If we hadn’t learned a thing or two
and if we hadn’t had our art to depend on
we’d certainly have sunk ever deeper into despair with each passing day
peers into the lobby to see if the general manager is coming in, then
At first they’re all punctual
but then
they’re the epitome of unpunctuality
I almost believe
he’s never going to come
but ultimately he’s the one who wants something
not me not me
you’ve made
Once you’ve made
an appointment with somebody
it’s an enormity
to stand him up
Minetti never stands anybody up
But general managers of theaters are megalomaniacal
there was a time
when people said
there’s nobody else to equal him
Then they filed the lawsuit against me
because I renounced classic literature
The city of Lübeck broke its contract
The city of Lübeck has me on its conscience
My native city has its native son on its conscience
A person’s place of birth is his murderer
Do you want to see it
the girl does not know what he means
The mask
Ensor’s mask
The Lear mask
that Ensor made me
I’ll show you the mask
tries to open the suitcase but fails and gives up
It’s not meant to be
my child
In Flensburg I’ll put the mask on again
and play Lear
whom I haven’t played
in thirty years
most recently in the senate
nowhere else since
a so-called closed performance
No applause
my child
Complete silence
after the final curtain
not a pair of hands stirred
An enormity
Then they filed the lawsuit against me
The actor is the victim of his own idee fixe on the one hand
on the other he’s the abject victim of the audience
he attracts the audience
and repels it
I for my part
have always repelled the audience
the greater an actor is
and the more accomplished is his artistry
the more violently the audience is repelled
The audience pours into a theater to see a great actor
and in reality it’s repelled by his artistry
and the more incredibly accomplished is his artistry
the more violently the audience is repelled
People applaud
but they’re repelled
Or people are as repelled as the senators in Lübeck
who were so repelled by my artistry
that not a single pair of their hands stirred ever again
People come to a theater
to see a great actor
and they are immediately repelled by his uncanniness
If an actor evinces his uncanniness
and he can’t help evincing it
the audience is repelled
The actor must evince it
Uncanniness or nothing
with excessively precise articulation
nothing but uncanniness
The audience pours in from all directions
pours in pours in from all directions
to see the actor
and the actor greets the audience with nothing
but uncanniness
The audience is put to the test
The audience must be appalled by the actor
First he’s got to hoodwink it
and then he’s got to appall it
The great actors have always appalled their audience
at first they have hoodwinked it
and then they have appalled it
lured it into the historical trap
into the intellectual trap
into the emotional trap
lured it into the trap
and appalled it
The actor’s worst enemy
is his audience
If he knows that
his artistry will improve
At every moment the actor must tell himself
the audience is lunging at the stage
He must act in this state of mind
in defiance of the audience
in defiance of their human rights do you understand
All my life I’ve acted
in defiance of the audience
so that I could withstand the tension
so that I wouldn’t be enfeebled
My father the magician
was my teacher
my only teacher do you understand
the epitome of ruthlessness
The man of understanding
from him I learned
to hear
and see
to understand my child
People have no ears
to hear with
they have no eyes
to see with
they have no understanding
We live in a completely un-understanding society
who can’t comprehend that my child
looks at his watch
Only a single time
for the two hundredth anniversary celebration
quite softly
The train ticket
from Dinkelsbühl to Ostend
cost me all my money
If he doesn’t come
stands up and walks to the threshold of the lobby; returns with a disappointed air
to the girl
You don’t understand people
the only reason they exist
is to diddle one another
the whole thing
is a mystification
a mystification
I think
it’s the general manager
but a Lilliputian comes in
or a cripple
Every time the door opens I think
it’s the general manager
to the girl
I’ve lost the evidence
the telegram
in which the general manager
invites me to come to Ostend
sits down next to the girl
For thirty years
I’ve been putting on the Lear mask
at dawn every day
in front of the mirror my child
for thirty years a couple of moments of Lear at dawn every day
in Dinkelsbühl
I’ve acted in Berlin
in Moscow
in Minsk
in Constantinople
An actor’s mind like no other
nothing but hypocrisy
suddenly in a single instant
I renounced classic literature
I loathed classicism
everything classical
at that moment I had the whole world against me
Whether they care to admit it or not
all their lives artists are dependent
on the so-called cultivated world
and if an artist renounces classical art
and the so-called cultivated world drops him
he is a dead man my child
looks at his watch
At first I believed
I would retire in disappointment
naturally in disappointment
for the briefest period to Dinkelsbühl
into that sleepy little nest
in which the cabbage heads say good night to one another
but I stayed a full thirty years
in Dinkelsbühl
thirty years my child
in which I studied the entire canon of classic literature
so that I would eventually learn
why I was renouncing it
I said yes to Lear
but no to the entire remainder of classic literature
In the attic of my sister’s house in Dinkelsbühl
I played Lear on the thirteenth of every month
in front of the mirror
always punctually at eight in the evening
in Ensor’s mask my child
so as not to get out of practice
And with commensurate declamation
every single day
always the same Lear-lines
and on the thirteenth always the complete Lear
once in English
and once in German
in my own translation naturally
An artist is a true artist
only once he has become thoroughly mad
once he has thrown himself into madness
made himself a method of it
The true artist my child has made the madness
of his art into his method
let the world write and say whatever it likes
He just has to make sure he isn’t a coward
Naturally an artist must never be a coward
Society took away the ground from beneath my feet
when they took the stage away from me
and the senators filed their lawsuit against me
and ruined my existence
but amid all that base chicanery my artistry
never faltered
to the contrary
But what an effort it’s taken my child
To be in artist
in my sister’s attic in Dinkelsbühl
I’ve never asked myself
whether it is admissible or not never
Each day brings nothing but proof
of the maliciousness and shamelessness
and of the unsoundness of mind of the people
who call themselves human society my child
Each and every day humankind seeks refuge
in classic literature
because in classic literature it’s unmolested
and in classic painting
and in classical music
which is nauseatingly ubiquitous
In classicism society is unmolested
by itself
But an artist has to renounce
the process of this shamelessness
to the girl point-blank
But what does a beautiful girl like you care
about what a crazy man like me thinks
suddenly incensed
I am the incensed artist
in contrast to the other one
the appalled one
in contrast to the other one
addressing the girl point-blank
Wait my child
The longer you wait
the more beautiful you are
It’s a fairy tale
a fairy tale is what it is
peers out into the lobby, then to the girl
The general manager
is an old friend of mine
we were at school
He’s been the general manager in Flensburg
for twenty years now
A Frisian do you understand
he’s Frisian
Do you know how tiny Dinkelsbühl is
You can tell I’ve been living
in Dinkelsbühl for thirty years
This is what a person
who’s been living for thirty years in Dinkelsbühl looks like
These old trousers
this old coat
these old shoes
looking the girl directly in the eye
Don’t go to Dinkelsbühl
not to Dinkelsbühl
You love him don’t you
how old is he


When I was seventeen
I was beginning
to preoccupy myself with Shakespeare
Not with Lear
But at eighteen
I was already playing Lear
already at eighteen
If he’s seventeen has your boyfriend
got big plans
really big plans
Is he from Ostend
the girl nods
Minetti firmly
Don’t leave Ostend
I squandered all my savings
on a one-way ticket to here
I couldn’t afford
a round-trip ticket
a group of laughing and screaming revelers run unseen through the lobby
People use this day
to save themselves
when they get drunk
put on masks
I’ve been staring at the door
for the longest time
but he’s not coming
quoting from King Lear
Thou wert better in a grave
than to answer with they uncovered body
to the girl
Have you got any siblings



Two brothers

Where do your brothers live


In that horrible city Liège
Having siblings
is a nice thing
I had a brother
he’s buried in Lübeck
every year
I’ve visited the grave
the place
where he’s buried
Thirty years now since the last time
suddenly incensed
They chased me out of Lübeck
quoting from King Lear
Thou wert better in a grave
than to answer with thy uncover’d body
the girl turns up the volume of her radio
It’s unfortunate
that I left for Ostend
Without saying a word
I took off
They’ll try to find me
Southern Germany is horrible
but the north
is even more horrible
Did I tell you that Ensor
promised me the mask
for Prospero
When I play Prospero
I told him
I should have played Prospero
points into the lobby
a storm is drawing near
There in the corner
Ensor promised me the mask
I said
I would have time
In twenty years perhaps
I said
Lear now
Prospero in twenty years
Twenty years after Lear Prospero
But Ensor is dead
I have never played Prospero
but in Dinkelsbühl I’ve never stopped dreaming
of playing him
in Dinkelsbühl
in the attic I’ve dreamed
my child
Thirty long years
I’ve gotten up
and stepped up to the mirror
and played Lear
People said
I was crazy
the girl turns down the volume of her transistor radio
but I thought
those people were crazy
Time and again Lear Lear Lear
When I had long since been written off as crazy
pacing up and down
as Lear
The storm is picking up force
Until I receive a proposal
to play Lear
in a proper theater
Until I’m invited to play Lear in the theater
Artistry deteriorates easily my child
when the artist neglects it
lets himself get distracted
neglects it even for a single instant
I haven’t been neglecting it my child
haven’t been neglecting it
I’ve been suffering odium
For thirty years I have been opposed
and oppugned in Dinkelsbühl
stands up and turns his left and right coat-pockets inside-out in that order
I’ve lost it
the telegram
the piece of evidence
To play Lear
at the two-hundredth anniversary celebration
in Flensburg
looking at the door
Suddenly we fall prey
to an idea
and we can’t do anything at all
but pursue this idea
cocking an attentive ear
The entire coast is raging
how the coast is raging
it’s raging the coast
Ostend’s in a snowstorm my child
Enter a fairly large group of laughing and smiling masked revelers from the lobby
a few of them stop in front of Minetti

THE FIRST REVELER points at Minetti with a bottle
This man has been waiting
two hours for the general manager of the theater

That’s what the receptionist says

And the lady in the red dress says it

Says it

Says it

Says it
They all burst into laughter and withdraw

MINETTI trembling with rage, shouting at them
quite softly
The girl turns down the volume of her radio
The shamelessness of these people
knows no limits
The classless society
has gone crazy
He sits down exhausted on the sofa
The girl turns the volume of her radio back up
Minetti to the girl
Don’t leave Ostend
The girl shakes her head
Ostend’s your town
after a pause
I never should have gone
to Dinkelsbühl
I no longer dared to leave
For thirty years
I was worried
constantly worried
that I’d forget my lines
That I’d no longer
be able to play Lear
sits down next to the girl and looks at the suitcase
We’ve stuck together
for thirty years
that suitcase and I
A conspiracy
rises and goes to the suitcase and opens it and takes a newspaper out and sits back down beside the girl and reads to the girl from the newspaper
Today the sacked theater actor Minetti
left the city of Lübeck
The citizens breathe a sigh of relief
folds up the newspaper and stands up and presses it into the suitcase and shuts the suitcase with the help of his right knee and sits back down next to the girl and looks at his watch
Eleven sharp

The GIRL turns up the volume of her radio and asks
Do you like music
Minetti stretches his legs out to their full length and nods shortly afterwards

Enter from the lobby the LADY walking almost with a marching gait, but not completely drunk; with her head held high she walks up to and past Minetti and the girl, and as she passes she says
Good night sir
and sleep well
She is now trailed by a waiter with two bottles of champagne on a tray

MINETTI following the pair as they exit, then eavesdropping on them
I like music
very much
the girl’s boyfriend appears in the bar, and the girl jumps up and runs up to him; the two of them kiss; the girl realizes that she has left the radio on the sofa and makes as if to take it with her but only turns the volume up slightly and returns to her boyfriend and looks at Minetti one more time.  Then exeunt the couple.
Minetti with his legs stretched far out and eyes closed, listening.


The Atlantic coast at Ostend.  Minetti on a bench.  In front of him his suitcase.  Ever more violently driving snow.  The cripple with the dog mask, limping ever faster past Minetti from stage right, vanishing stage left

MINETTI following the cripple with his eyes
then aside after a pause
Rises and checks to see if he is unobserved and opens the suitcase and takes out the Lear mask and closes the suitcase again only with the help of his right knee and checks again to see if he is unobserved and sits back down on the bench and takes a small silver canister out of his left coat pocket; from the canister he takes several tablets, which he swallows with lightning speed.  Then he no less quickly puts on the Lear mask and turns up his coat collar and sticks his hands into his coat pockets and remains sitting perfectly still and staring straight ahead for a fairly long time and then says
Go now
even drunker now, laughing loudly and screaming, the group of masked revelers that passed by him earlier in the bar approach him from stage left and pass by him

THE LAST of the masked revelers lingers a moment and recognizes Minetti and points at him with his index finger and exclaims
The artist
The dramatic artist
and runs away
Minetti remains motionless until he is completely buried in snow

The end

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2018 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Thomas Bernhard, Stücke 2 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988), pp. 204-250.  Minetti premiered at the Staatstheater Stuttgart on September 1, 1976.  There are two authorized translations of the play--Gitta Honegger’s in Theater 30, no. 1 (2000) and Tom Cairns and Peter Eyre’s (Oberon Books, 2014).