Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Translation of "Am Ortler. Nachricht aus Gomagoi," a Short Story by Thomas Bernhard

At the Ortler.  A Message from Gomagoi.

In the middle of October we set out on the path leading from Gomagoi to a chalet that had been left to us by our parents thirty-five years earlier, to a small brick farmhouse in the Scheibenboden beneath the Ortler massif; our intention had been to spend two, three years together up in the Scheibenboden, undisturbed and entirely alone, preoccupied with our experiences and ideas and with thoughts about a world that as far as I, now in my forty-eighth year, was concerned, and my brother, now in his fifty-first year, was concerned, no longer had anything to do with us.  The farmhouse, sited eighteen-hundred meters above sea level, seemed, as far as we had learned or as far as we still remembered, to be superlatively well suited to our purposes, about which we had uttered not a single word to anybody else, because we wished to keep our project absolutely secret and not to imperil it by leaking so much as a single one of its particulars or by occasioning any impertinent and injudicious gossip and because we had no desire to be taken for fools.  One reason, not the fundamental one, my dear sir, for our reactivating the farmhouse on the Scheibenboden, had been the idea of the affordability of an existence in the mountains, an existence devoid of human beings and therefore devoid of distractions.  Well-equipped and with eight or ten days’ provisions in our rucksacks (our intention in the first instance vis-à-vis our property in the Scheibenboden had been: to enter the chalet at the beginning of November for the purpose of minutely inspecting it with a view to its inhabitability), we put Gomagai behind us just before four in the morning; the night was well-lit by the moon; we had no need of our English lanterns and thanks to our taciturnity and being imbued as we were by our single forward-moving and fascinating and absolutely fettering idea--no commitments, no scientific expertise, on the one hand, and our fantastic enterprise on the other—we made very speedy progress.  But soon, my dear sir, thanks to a sudden handful of remarks on an entirely different topic, it became evident that although we were exclusively preoccupied with our enterprise, with the chalet in the Scheibenboden as a goal yet unfit for bipartite taciturnity, we would be obliged to suspend our taciturnity and we all of a sudden were engaged in a remarkable conversation, a conversation that we initially found irritating but soon found completely familiar, a conversation that if nothing else occasioned in us a kind of
abhorrent delight, a conversation about the main theme of our lives, or, rather, the main
theme of our existences, my dear sir, a conversation which on account of its fragmentary
character and quite close topical connection with my brother’s palpably degenerative
illness and with the changes in my own person induced by the degenerativeness of my
brother’s illness, a conversation which probably requires analysis by a quite different
person than my own, will also engross your interests, as you of course throughout his
life, and not only in your capacity as an agent, maintained a form of contact with my
brother maintained by no other human individual.  We, who were already quite some
distance from Gomagoi, were suddenly conversing with each other in the following
manner: whenever you have been pulling off one of your feats of acrobatic artistry, I said to my brother, who, as you know, did nothing but pull off feats of acrobatic artistry throughout his life, I have always been obliged to think of your feat of acrobatic artistry as a life-imperiling feat of acrobatic artistry; complementarily, you, whenever I have been engaged in my studies (of atmospheric strata), are obliged to think of my studies as life-imperiling.  And so all our lives, while you have been pulling off your feats of acrobatic artistry and I have been engaged in my studies (of atmospheric strata) our lives have constantly been imperilled, I said.  And yet we don’t ask ourselves, he said, how we ever came by our feats of acrobatic artistry, how we ever came by our study (of atmospheric strata), and I how I came by my feats of acrobatic artistry (both on the ground and on the tightrope) and how you came by your study (of atmospheric strata), etc.  And about how we have managed to perfect our feats of acrobatic artistry and how we have managed to perfect our study, etc., he said.  At first he had believed he would never succeed at pulling off his feat of acrobatic artistry, any feat of acrobatic artistry whatsoever, but then he did succeed at pulling it off; just as I had believed that I would never successfully complete my study (on atmospheric strata) and yet I did succeed in completing it.  Always: a different, more complicated feat of acrobatic artistry! he must have thought and he always succeeded at pulling off a different,  more complicated feat of acrobatic artistry, just as I always, repeatedly, succeeded at finishing a different (and yet the same) and always more complicated and always, repeatedly, much more complicated study (and yet always, repeatedly, the same study of atmospheric strata).  To begin with, the first feat of acrobatic artistry; then the second feat of acrobatic artistry, then the third, the fourth, the fifth, etc.  A redoubling of my exertions on my feats of acrobatic artistry, I have always repeatedly thought, he said, a redoubling of my exertions on my study (of atmospheric strata), I have always repeatedly said, I thought.  We were now crossing the Trafoier Bach.  I quite simply redoubled my exertions and I succeeded at pulling off my feat of acrobatic artistry, he said.  Ultimately an incredibly complicated feat of acrobatic artistry.  You saw that my feats of acrobatic artistry were getting more and more complicated, but you never told me so; I mustn’t let him notice it, you were always thinking, I must withhold all that I have been observing, I mustn’t betray it to him; just as I never told you that I was noticing that your study on atmospheric strata was getting more complicated, and always with ever-increasing interest, with the greatest imaginable degree of attentiveness, the greatest anxiety, etc., he said.  Your study, he said, was getting more and more complicated; all those thousands, those hundreds of thousands of sums and figures, he said; thanks to them I was pulling off ever-more complicated feats of acrobatic artistry.  The interdependency of my study (of atmospheric strata) and his feats of acrobatic artistry was, he said, enormously great.  It would someday be necessary to analyze this interdependency, he said and added that our period of residency in the chalet was going to be immensely and irreplaceably beneficial to such an analysis.  Because after all in the chalet we would be unable to be wrapped up exclusively in meditation and only ever in nothing but meditation, he said, he very strongly wished for us to concretize on paper various points of our thought that seemed important to us.  Even though we have resolved not to abuse the chalet in the Scheibenboden by engaging in written study there, he said, I have brought some writing paper along, obviously, he said.  By dint of study, by dint of uninterrupted observation of your study on atmospheric strata, he said, gradually and especially during my time in Zurich, he said, at the same time and in the same proportion as you were perfecting yourself in your study of atmospheric layers, I attained perfection in my feats of acrobatic artistry.  A certain perfection, he said and immediately added: faster, let us walk faster, the path leading to the Scheibenboden is extremely long, the ascent to the Scheibenboden is extremely difficult, extremely onerous, as I recall.  By dint of specific arm- and leg-movements and the regulation thereof, by dint of this specific, forward-racing bodily rhythm, he said, it is possible to walk even faster, to progress even faster, we shall progress even faster.  He had said this sentence in the exact same cadence as that of our father, who at every instant of our earlier ascents of the Ortler had always used to say the sentence to us, who detested those ascents of the Ortler, in order to keep us moving forward.  When you were observing me insistently, insistently and unrelentingly, said my brother, I was always thinking and when I was always observing you just as insistently and unrelentingly, when we were observing each other always unrelentingly and insistently with regard to my feats of acrobatic artistry and your study, each of us was observing the other unrelentingly and with an ever-increasing, ever more ruthless insistence, each of us was observing what the other was doing and how he was doing it, constantly observing what and how, to the very verge of madness, he said, and in so doing we schooled each other throughout our lives.  It was all, he said, a question of the art of observation and in the art of observation a question of the ruthlessness of the art of observation and in the ruthlessness of the art of observation a question of the absolute constitution of the intellect.  Because we were ultimately interested in nothing apart from our feats of acrobatic artistry and our studies, he said, it became impossible in the most horrible fashion for us to get along with the people around us, who accordingly punished us with their total lack of interest.  The people around us began ignoring us at the precise moment when we ceased to have the slightest interest in them, he said, obviously.  This state of affairs, he asserted, was ongoing; it now verges on absolute insufferableness; there is nothing we are more familiar with than with the ongoing attempt at or ongoing temptation by or ongoing desire for death.  How evenly you always breathed before and after your feat of acrobatic artistry, I said. Respiration is the most important thing, he said.  When one has mastered one’s respiration, one has mastered everything.  He did not regret having enrolled in this school, this school accredited by nobody besides himself, this school of respiration.  One must master one’s mind, one’s thoughts, one’s body through respiration, he said, and only by mastering respiration can one develop proficiency in this, the finest of all the fine arts.  Initially you believed, I said, that you were not going to be able to get the hang of your feat of acrobatic artistry, because you were unable to get the hang of breathing in the appropriate fashion, because of course one must always be able to breathe in the fashion appropriate to the feat of acrobatic artistry one is hoping to pull off, that one is going to pull off; one must be able to breathe in a fashion appropriate to the study, the intellectual study, that one is hoping to pull off, that one is undertaking, he said; respiration is everything, nothing is as important as respiration; the mind, body, and brain can come into their own only thanks to respiration, he said; initially, you cannot get the hang of your feat of acrobatic artistry, because you cannot breathe in the manner appropriate to your feat of acrobatic artistry; then I said, you can breathe in the appropriate manner; he said, but you cannot get the hang of your feat of acrobatic artistry, this is all a process lasting years, lasting decades, he said, and then you do get the hang of your feat of acrobatic artistry, because you have gotten the hang of breathing in the manner appropriate to that feat of acrobatic artistry, and you cannot perform it!  For the art of performance is, of all arts tout court, the very most difficult art.  You have mastered your feat of acrobatic artistry, but you cannot perform it; there is nothing more depressing, no form of depression that is worse, no state of being that is more horrible.  This accounts for the title of my little text Acrobatic Artistry and the Art of Performance, a subject that has preoccupied me all my life, as you know, and a subject that has never ceased to preoccupy me and a subject that always will preoccupy me.  All told the very most delicate of all subjects, he said, whose power to inspire dread is by no means confined to the so-called artistic world.  And what subject could be more worth tackling, he said, than a subject that inspires dread in the entire world.  He said he really would be so bold as to maintain that the subject of the art of performance in all its refractions was the most important of all subjects, full stop.  For what would, for example, my feats of acrobatic artistry amount to without my art of performance and what would, for example, all of philosophy and all of natural science and all of science, full stop, and all of humanity and all of humanness, full stop, amount to without the art of performance? he said.  I was always working on this text, at a specific point, a point that fettered me to it, he said, I would set to study on it and develop it and develop it all the way to the stage of its perfection, which at the same was the stage of its dissolution, of its disaggregation, he said.  In this fashion there came into being roughly thousands of texts on this theme, the most astonishing, the most remarkable, the most outrageous instances of ratiocination.  Granted, a few slips of paper still exist, a few slips of paper, a few particles of subject.  Texts, he said, basically exist only for the purpose of being annihilated, even a text on the art of performance, he said.  The raison d’être of all texts is doubt about their subject, you understand, is doubting everything, investigatively extracting everything from the darkness and doubting it and annihilating it.  Everything.  Without exception.  Texts are texts that are meant to be annihilated.  The difficult thing, he said, is extracting everything from the same head, from a single head, everything that has been thought, from a single brain; then he added: using a unique, always the same unique body.  This is the difficulty of displaying or making public the product of the mind or the product of the body, in other words my feats of acrobatic artistry or your studies, my corporeal art or your intellectual art (mine being on the ground and on the tightrope) and yours on atmospheric strata, of displaying the product of the mind or the product of the body without being obliged immediately to commit suicide, of undergoing this horrible process of self-abasement without killing oneself, of demonstrating what one is, of making public what one is, he said, of going through the hell of performance and the hell of making something public, of managing to go through this hell, of being obliged to go through this hell, of ruthlessly going through this most horrible of all hells.  We caught sight of the Payerhütte and my brother said, even though by he was now totally exhausted, don’t slow down, don’t, because we are moving uphill, slow down.  He mimicked this paternal sentence with unexampled fidelity.  Don’t slow down, because we are moving upwards; don’t slow down, because we are ascending.  And he added: keen air! keen air! like my father.  You were always anxious before one of your feats of acrobatic artistry, I said.  Anxious before the feat, anxious after the feat.  Never anxious during the feat.  Your acrobatic artistry-inspired anxiety, I said.  And you were always anxious before embarking on one of your studies, when faced with the results of your researches.  Never-ending anxiety, he said.  Your scientific anxiety and my acrobatic-artistic anxiety, he said.  He relished this expression and he repeated it two, three times, as we began breathing more easily and thereby actually managed to make speedier progress, progress along a path that had been an uphill one for some time.  Not in the middle of the feat, he said, not in the middle of the feat, never anxious in the middle of the feat.  But your anxiety was perpetual, your anxiety was an unremitting anxiety, he said.  And I: and I was always anxious on your behalf as well.  During your feats, I said.  During my carrying out of a feat, he said, I was not anxious about suddenly failing to master it, because I was not thinking about that, because I could not think about that; I was carrying out a feat; during my carrying out of a feat, I was never anxious, but you were always anxious while I was carrying out a feat.  In the forest he spoke about how it had all of a sudden become no longer possible for him to do anything but carry out his feats of acrobatic artistry, while I spoke about how in the blink of an eye I had found myself completely alone with nothing but my studies, with atmospheric strata, I said, with nothing besides them.   And what did that signify, of what use was it to have the rudiments of a fairly lengthy study in my head, given that I did not have it in my head in just the right way I would have needed in order to carry it out, and so I was left with the intuition: and what did that signify.  In an instant I had once again become conscious of the fact that one must not merely be constantly practicing, having thoughts and quite simply practicing with those thoughts, that one must also be constantly practicing being able to express those thoughts at any time, for unexpressed thoughts are nothing.  Thereupon he said that it was precisely unexpressed thoughts that were the most important ones, as history had proved.  For in every case expressed thoughts were diluted thoughts, and unexpressed thoughts the most efficacious ones.  Admittedly also the most devastating ones, he said, but he had no intention of dwelling on this; he was forbidden to dwell on such a topic.  And why was that?  To this question he gave an answer that was a non-answer: we shall see the Koenigsspitze when we see it; but today we shan’t see the Koenigsspitze.  Such a reaction and such a sentence coming from him characterized him better than anything else would have done.  Because all of a sudden everything in me became concentrated on my feats of acrobatic artistry, I was for the majority of my life the most despair-ridden of human beings, he said.  You exist only for your feats of acrobatic artistry and are, in a very strict sense, your feats of acrobatic artistry, I kept repeating to myself.  Everything is a feat of acrobatic artistry. Everything a feat of acrobatic artistry.  The entire world a feat of acrobatic artistry.  I said: I have always thought, if only he doesn’t fall, if only he doesn’t fall to the ground and have a fatal accident and how many years have I been obliged to keep thinking this, I said and you have not fallen to the ground, you have not had a fatal accident.  Now we are walking to the Scheibenboden, I said, and going up to the chalet.  The endpoint, the moment is always incredibly ridiculous, he said.  The fact that we have resolved to walk up to the Scheibenboden, that we have resolved to seek out the chalet, that we ever withdrew back to Gomagoi at all!, he said.  We sent telegrams, we met up in Gomagoi, we resolved to effect a hiatus in my acrobatic artistry, a hiatus in your studies (on atmospheric strata), we all of a sudden came up with a crazy plan and focused on the realization of this crazy plan and now are focusing on the realization of this crazy plan; we are climbing higher and higher, to the Scheibenboden, up to the chalet, he said.  Our requirement, as if all the answers were to be found therein, to be all of sudden together again in seclusion and sequestration, because for several decades our time together had been thwarted by disturbances; the will to complete freedom from disturbances, and in fresh air to boot, I said, in the highest of heights.  Forsaken abodes, forsaken people, forsaken cities, forsaken projects, everything was forsaken.  Only once your feat was over and done with did I exhale, I said.  And he: no anxiety, that was what frightened me.  When you were working on your atmospheric strata and I was thinking, he is working on his atmospheric strata and when I was rehearsing and carrying out my feats of acrobatic artistry and you were thinking, he is rehearsing, he is carrying out his feat of acrobatic artistry, we were at peace.  And when we would go into a inn, as we did at Pinggera, he said, but now we are not going to stop at Pinggera, we shan’t stop at Pinggera no matter what and we passed by Pinggera; on the one hand I would have quite liked to stop at Pinggera, on the other hand visits to inns at such an early hour of the day have tended to have a devastating effect on me and on us both; a couple of glasses of schnapps, a devastating effect in the morning, and when we would go into an inn, like the one in Pinggera for example, said my brother as we passed by Pinggera, and we were gradually warming up, you would say, a corner seat, right away: a corner seat, your habitual utterance, he said, nobody behind me, your wish.  Do you remember? he said and Pinggera was already behind us, into the forest, into the darkness, upward, upward, higher, higher.  Having all of a sudden drawn to a halt, he said: your experiment with the university!  And I: your experiment with the academy!  Then farther, even more rapidly farther; at first they had encumbered us, now our rucksacks no longer encumbered us.  And when you were buying shoes, he said, you would ask me whether you should buy the shoes.  Are these the appropriate shoes? you would ask.  When you were buying a coat, is this the appropriate coat?  What insanity it was, he said, to go to the university, said he and I: what inanity, what a huge waste of time, to go to the academy.  Amid the illnesses, the most dangerous, prolonged illnesses.  Infections unremittingly, he said.  Unremitting corporeal frailty, he said.  On the one hand the illnesses of our mother, on the other hand the illnesses of our father.  And then illnesses that are illnesses of our mother and of our father.  Entirely new, unresearched illnesses.  Always of the greatest interest to all doctors.  Apathy.  Antipathy.  Very early on left alone, perished, I said.  No protest.  And then the feats of acrobatic artistry and then your science and alternately more interest in feats of acrobatic artistry and more interest in science, but always a more intensive interest.  Unexampledness.  How out of our state of having been left alone and out of our anxiety we fashioned our feats of acrobatic artistry and our science.  No assistance.   No encouragement.  No fortuitous ovations, he said.  Our frugality, which came to our assistance.  Otherwise nothing, he said.  And the art of not thinking about it.  Your words, he said: precision, more and more precision, incorruptibility, sagacity.  My words: effects, possibilities of refinement, ostentation.  Our joint unremitting contempt for the people around us.  Repel, reject, have done with, he said.  Time and again: in all circumstances, in any weather, in all circumstances.   Do you remember that?  In Basel I was anxious because I thought it might not succeed, in Vienna I was anxious, in Zurich, in Sankt Valentin.  Anxious because I thought it might not succeed.  Too many people on the one hand, then again too few people.  Too much attention one time, then again: too little attention.  Too much ado, too little ado, too much impatience, too much experience.  Faster, children, he said, over the Suldenbach, faster, children, over the Suldenbach.  I still hear our father.  If we say what we think, he was extremely ruthless, it was something else.  What did he always box your ears in Pinggera specifically? I said.  Faster, children, over the Suldenbach, faster, children, over the Suldenbach.  I still hear my father.  The privilege of being boxed on the ears by our mother instead of by him.  My brother said: as soon as she was dead, we began developing according to our capacities and according to our requirements.  After her death we dared out of a characteristic strength of will to exist our characteristic existence; without parents we were free.  No forbearance, he said, no forbearance.  No falsehood.  How I was ailing and how little by little there was nothing in me but a decline in strength.  Under the influence of our parents, he said.  Can you still hear, he said, him saying: faster, children, over the Suldenbach, faster, children, over the Suldenbach?  No falsehood.  No acquittal.  Their shared ruthlessness and our shared vulnerability, he said.  No acquittal.  Their shared despicableness, he said.  Faster, children, across the Suldenbach.  No forbearance.  Being in the Scheibenboden as a punishment, said my brother now, going up to the Scheibenboden as a punishment and coming down from the Scheibenboden as a punishment and walking through the Suldental as a punishment and walking to Gomagoi as a punishment, and coming home as a punishment, everything as a punishment.  Our life as a punishment.  Our childhood as a punishment.  Everything as a punishment.  Suddenly the Tabarettakamm.  And then farther through the forest.  Do you remember?  Books.  Texts.  Subtexts.  Parents.  Childhood and everything after it.  The process of isolation.  Fragments of despair.  The fact that we showed up in Berlin in Hubertus coats.  Do you remember?  Twenty years with a shoe size that was too small and a head that was too big.  The problem has always been an insoluble problem.  But farther, onward.  Always given the cold shoulder when we got there.  I ask, nobody answers.  Instructed in the wrong instruments, the wrong combination of steps, a completely wrong choreography, he said.  Two years with the same frayed trouser cuffs on the street in Dortmund.  We hoped for some encouragement.  No encouragement.  We hoped for a response.  No response.  No letters.  Nothing.  Wuppertal, what squalor! he said.  For two years you say nothing, two years.  Two years side by side and not a word.  Do you remember?  Suddenly you say the word HEAD.  Total eclipse.  The catastrophe will come, you say, over and over again, the catastrophe will come, incessantly, the catastrophe must come.  Do you remember?  Love affairs, but pursued unenthusiastically, over and done with in a flash, nothing.  First your school comes apart at the seams, then your head comes apart at the seams, falls to pieces, he said; your head breaks up on you in fits and starts.  At first you hear nothing as your head is breaking up, he said, in fits and starts your head is breaking up; you don’t hear it.  Insomnia and nausea alternate.  Various pointless journeys, purposeless petitions, several escape attempts.  To return is inconceivable.  Not to Gomagoi.  Unwarrantable, he said.  Do you remember?  Your talent as a speaker, my political pthisis, your fanaticism, my political uselessness.  Do you remember?  Several times he now said: do you remember?  The emergence of revolutionary machinations.  Our difference of opinion.   Then withdrawn into the Moorish villa near Schruns with nothing but newspapers, from that point onwards nothing but newspapers.  From that point onwards everything came only from the newspapers, one’s entire life, everything from that point onwards came only from newspapers, each and every day heaps of newspapers.  Do you remember?  Cultivation.  Occultation, do you understand, he said.  If only we didn’t have perfect pitch! he said.  Every day I say to myself, I have perfect pitch, every day, I have perfect pitch, I have perfect pitch, I have perfect pitch!  My feats of acrobatic artistry nothing but feats of musical composition.  Music.  But then too: our perfect pitch has killed us.  Then the bend in the road at Unterthurn, not Oberthurn, not, as with our parents, the bend in the road at Oberthurn, but rather the bend in the road at Unterthurn.  First it is the broken-up instrument, said my brother, then it is the broken-up head.  Do you remember?  If only we didn’t have so much patience!  I often said that: if only we didn’t have so much patience!  And this high art of saying that, he said.  Do you remember?  Anxiety about burglars, about newspapers, collections of human beings.  To be obliged to drown, to plummet.  When I was leading you by the hand across the Suldenbach, I said, your uninterrupted weariness of life.  In your entire body.  Uninterruptedly the word anachronism on white paper, the word conspiracy.  Do you remember?  The sentence: we like walking with our parents to the Ortler a thousand times on white paper.  Do you remember?  The word obedience two thousand times.  Because we dreaded human beings, so many human beings.  Because we dreaded our parents, always together with our parents.  Because we loathed the cities, into the cities.  Because we loathed the Ortler, to the Ortler.  Because I loathed feats of acrobatic artistry, feats of acrobatic artistry; because you loathed science, science.  Studies on atmospheric strata, he said, because you hated everything having to do with atmospheric strata.  Written matter, he said.  Fatigue, ultimately nothing but fatigue and anxiety about timetabled trains.  Intellectual anxiety.  And extreme pitilessness, extreme pitilessness.  All of a sudden nothing but cold water, the cause of your back pains.  Your contracted leg in bed, he said, contracted by cramp.  If my existence outlasts my interest in my existence, then effectively I am as good as dead.  Time and again: a letter! No, no letter!  A letter!  No, no letter!  Do you remember?  Outer restfulness, inner restlessness, never any inner restfulness.  In identical garments even after the deaths of our parents, because we always loathed that, in our identical black trousers, identical black coats, with our identical black hats on our heads.  In our slouch hats, he said.  And always in identical shoes.  When I am thinking about my feat of acrobatic artistry, no thoughts of eating.  When you are working on a study, no thoughts of eating.  Then, at the Laganda Inn: inhaling nature, suddenly again inhaling nature in deep breaths and exhaling science, exhaling everything, everything.  Exhaling garbage.  All incidents classic incidents time and again.  Do you remember?  Making life into a habit of dying with the passage of years and with the dependability of science during those years.  Do you remember?  Thought is death, he said, then: in our forlornness we believed we were obliged to walk among human beings, obliged to pull off feats of acrobatic artistry, obliged to toil away at science.  Proverbs derived from forlornness.  Unsoundness of mind derived from forlornness.  And derived from forlornness into forlornness time and again.  Simplification derived from a superabundance of complication, complication derived from a superabundance of simplification.  Refinement because we loathed brutalization; brutalization because we loathed refinement.  Exactitude, he said.  Naturally, an incessant suspicion of madness, he said.  Through your method of simplification you believed you were catching up with us, but no such luck!  Thanks to that method, thanks to everything else, you grew farther and farther away from us, we of course had not withdrawn from you, he said, we hadn’t done that, you distanced yourselves from us; that is the difference, that is the factual crime of which they are now accusing us.  But we shan’t surrender ourselves ever again; we shan’t afford any further occasions for the surrender of our body, our mind, our existence.  We shan’t let them come here to see us again.  Life as a habit, vigilance as a habit, nothing more.  In truth my feats of acrobatic artistry killed me off a very long time ago, just as your studies (on atmospheric strata) killed you off a very long time ago, said my brother.  One of those feats of acrobatic artistry, the most difficult one, he said.  One of your scientific points, who knows which.  Because on account of one’s interest in feats of acrobatic artistry, one cannot have done with them, he said.  Because one cannot sign off.  It is the most perfect of all thoughts that has killed me off; it is the most concentrated of all thoughts that has killed you off, he said.  The feat of acrobatic artistry is alive; the person who executes it is dead, he said.  You, sir, are acquainted with his manner of speaking and so I need not draw your attention to its peculiarities.  And you are familiar with my manner of speaking; in other words, the way in which I listen.  Because I have gotten used to my brother’s way of speaking, because I have gotten used to my brother’s illness, because I am familiar with his illness down to its most inconspicuous particulars.  And as you know, all my life I have been concentrated on my brother’s illness, I have for the most part, over the longest stretches, of my existence, devoted myself to contemplating my brother’s illness; I have relegated to the background everything pertaining to me, always kept in the foreground everything pertaining to him.  Everything has only ever derived from our cohabitation, nothing from me, nothing through me, everything from us, through us.  Probably my brother will make no further appearances; my wish is for him to make no further appearances, to stay in Gomagoi.  All signs point to his making no further appearances; probably recently, without needing me to point it out to you, you have managed to ascertain that in the art of performing his feats of acrobatic artistry my brother has been in decline; his feats have indeed long since ceased to be the perfect feats of acrobatic artistry that he used to exhibit.  They have long since ceased to be the feats of acrobatic artistry that flabbergasted us.  His feats of acrobatic artistry are not defective, but they are no longer feats of acrobatic artistry that are perfect.  The perfect feat of acrobatic artistry has been impossible for him for a very long time; the progression of his illness, I think; doubts, not only regarding his art, you must be thinking.  And the impossibility of his continuing this colossal exertion that we are accustomed to in him.  For such a long time my brother made the most demanding exertions imaginable, much more demanding exertions than ever could have been required by his art, but now he has declined in making these exertions.  He is not giving up, I think, but he has declined in his art.  And so it is my wish that he should make no further appearances, that we, for a certain period of time, I am not thinking, two, three years, that he should quite simply for a short time stay in Gomagoi; why in Gomagoi and not at the chalet in the Scheibenboden I shall explain later.  Our ascent then decelerated appreciably.  In point of fact we had of course not mastered the economy of an ascent like one to the Scheibenboden, which requires the highest and most painstaking degree of economy.  We were not fit for ascents like the one to the Ortler, like the one to the Scheibenboden, like any sort of venture involving climbing out of the Suldental.  Our footfalls decelerated, which was probably also the cause of our conversation that was no conversation.  But never sentimental, I must say, even if it had the semblance of sentimentality; we differ from every person of a similar character and a similar age whom we know in depreciating sentimentality, but it sometimes seems that what we used to flag as sentimental isn’t sentimental after all, that it wasn’t sentimental after all.  The word childhood, like other words that always lie some distance behind it, induces such an impression.  What an enormous amount of landscape!  What an enormous amount of mental pathology! he suddenly said.  When I think it is enough, landscape comes back to light.  That is what is so frightening, the fact that landscape keeps coming back to light.  Again: what an enormous amount of landscape!  Again: what an enormous amount of landscape!  Then: there is no use in maintaining that you are dead.  Onward! Onward! he said in his paternal cadence.  And: Higher! Higher! in the paternal cadence.  You are aware of his proficiency in the art of mimicking voices.  Near the Laganda Inn he said: but we shan’t go to the Laganda, not to the Laganda.  Too many memories, he said.  Why acrobatic artistry? He suddenly asked.  Why acrobatic artistry?  No question, he said.  At first it’s enough to stick out your tongue, he said.  To stand on your head.  Unremitting intellectual work and unremitting corporeal work, he said.  The problem is what is so frightening.  The cap worn backwards, it is no longer enough, the left shoe on the right foot.  Doubt.  Unbearability.  A different feat of acrobatic artistry, a more complicated feat of acrobatic artistry, he said.  The problem is that it’s always the same and yet always a different feat of acrobatic artistry, always the same and yet always a different study.  With the refinement the refinement of despair, he said.  Unfulfillable demands.  Unfulfillable contracts.  The difficult thing is to see ever more in the more and more darkening darkness, to see better, to see more, to see everything.  To perceive unbearable pain not as unbearable pain.  Snubs not as snubs.  Not to the Laganda, he said, because he believed I wanted to go into the Laganda; in point of fact we always used to go to the Laganda with our parents.  But we were starting from the assumption that the Laganda had not changed in the intervening two or three decades; not to the Laganda.  Higher!  Higher! said my brother, you know his voice, you know the manner and fashion in which he speaks.  Even though the air is thinning, not to perceive the thinning air as ever-thinning air, he said.  The method is conceivably simple: everything is something else.  And if we turn up our collars, he suddenly said, the backs of our heads will stop freezing.  But we did not feel cold at all; to the contrary, both of us felt quite warm thanks to the rapidity of our ascent.  No membership.  Nothing.  No church.  Nothing.  But seclusion for too long, he suddenly said, is lethal.  Being away from human beings for too long, lethal, he said.  The chalet lethal, he said.  Time and again practice drills, nothing but practice drills.  As we were crossing the Rosimbach he said: at this spot I didn’t want to go any farther.  Do you remember?  We were both exhausted.  Waterlogged shoes, waterlogged feet, a condition of total exhaustion.  Our anxiety in anticipation of the Scheibenboden, he said, do you remember?  But our parents were the extremity of pitilessness.  No lies, he said, no lies, no consideration.  Onward! Onward! he said in his paternal cadence; then onward! Onward! in the cadence of our mother.  Can you hear it? he said, our parents are commanding us, commanding us to death once again.  How we dreaded not being able to go any farther, he said.  Do you remember?  We went farther out of anxiety in anticipation of punishment.  Onward to the boulders! they commanded.  Our father would turn around and monitor us.  We knew what it meant to lag more than a hundred paces behind our father.  The three-day confinement.  Do you remember? said my brother.  The headpieces.  Do you remember?  We were well acquainted with everything near Razoi, the tree, the brook, everything.  Even amid altered atmospheric conditions and hence soil-ratios, my dear sir, more and more particulars that we were acquainted with, inconspicuous objects, roots, rocks, unchanged.  And along with these objects, along with this network of roots, with these rocks, the attendant threats of castigation from our parents.  Obedience, said my brother.  Already when we were walking through Gampenhofen, anxiety in anticipation of sudden faintness, dread of castigation.  Our attacks of faintness, said he, beneath the Ortler, mental damage as a consequence of the ascent of the Ortler.  Our father, a practiced mountaineer, ruthless, infatuated with the mountains.  Our mother subservient.  But already back then there were feats of acrobatic artistry, dodges.  Going through the Suldental signified something worse than oppression.  Your high walking speed, he said and our decrepitude.  Do you remember?  And up to ever-higher mountains, up to ever more unapproachable summits.  Do you remember?  It is all a question of drawing the appropriate breaths, said our father.  Marching on and marching up and marching off into exhaustion.  Our loathing of rucksacks and of everything in our rucksacks.  Our loathing of hiking boots, he said.  We loathe rucksacks and are walking to the Scheibenboden with rucksacks, he said.  We loathe the Ortler and are walking to the Ortler.  We loathe what we are doing, he said.  The reason for our suddenly walking to the Ortler, and at the gloomiest time of year at that, was suddenly again unclear to us.  Our parents had bequeathed to us the chalet in the Scheibenboden, but out of loathing of the Ortler and of the Scheibenboden and out of loathing of the chalet and out of loathing of everything having to do with the Ortler and with the Scheibenboden and with the chalet, we had not gone through the Suldental in over two, three decades and, because we had been in the world for decades, during those decades we had not been at Gomagoi, we had not thought at all about the chalet, had not gone up to the Scheibenboden and the chalet.  And now we were climbing to the Scheibenboden.  For a reason that appeared even to us as ever more dubious all of a sudden, when we reached the end of the Suldental, the reason for our going up to the Scheibenboden became dubious.  But we did not talk about this.  We climbed higher and higher and did not talk about it.  We thought, we doubted, but we did not give voice to the fact that we were in doubt.  We may both have been thinking: suddenly we had, down in Gomagoi, where out of exhaustion by our, as you know, two very different professions, we were planning to stay at the Martell Inn for only a couple of days; only a couple of days, then we’ll go back, only a couple of days, then we’ll leave Gomagoi again; in point of fact, my dear sir, only two days earlier we believed we were only going to be in Gomagoi for a couple of days; then suddenly: a fairly good long while at the Scheibenboden, two, three years in the chalet, while all of a sudden everything was once again being cast into doubt, and so, my dear sir, the evening before we believed in the durability of our resolution, our resolution to go and spend two, three years in the chalet at the Scheibenboden, everything was so suddenly different; as recently as the evening before we had had the sudden flash of an idea of immediately next morning hiking through the Suldental and then heading uphill, up to the chalet in order to inspect the chalet in the light of our intention of staying up at the Scheibenboden for two, three years; we were suddenly captivated by this idea; both of us and not, as you will be thinking, my brother alone, were captivated by it; we had been unable to sleep and had been thinking of nothing but the Ortler, which we could not get out of our heads, and the sudden flash of an idea in the evening was followed by the ascent in the early morning, a more than dubious schema, you will be thinking, and how ridiculous must this seem to you, this account that you may be receiving as soon as the day after tomorrow’s mail delivery, but the truth is as follows: after pacing back and forth through Gomagoi for several hours, we suddenly got the impression that the chalet at the Scheibenboden at the foot of the Ortler could be useful for our purposes: for a little while, I repeated, for two, three years it could be useful.  And then all of a sudden, when we had covered two-thirds of the vertical distance, doubts occurred to us.  But then we all of a sudden reflected that these doubts must be occasioned by our exhaustion from the ascent and suddenly we once again had no doubts whatsoever.  And with even greater intensity we climbed higher.  By now we had only a good hour still ahead of us.  During this interval my brother said the following, which I am now recording if not verbatim then at least virtually verbatim: we aren’t walking down to the Laganda (to the aforementioned inn) because we aren’t thinking of walking down to the Laganda, just as we are not walking to Sulden because we are not thinking of walking ti Sulden, or we think we are walking down to the Laganda and don’t walk down to the Laganda and think we are walking to Sulden etc. and don’t walk to Sulden; we don’t say we are walking down to the Laganda even though we think we are walking down to the Laganda, we don’t say we are walking to Sulden etc., we listen, we think we are walking to Sulden, because we know we are not walking down to the Laganda; it is possible for us to walk down to the Laganda, just as it is possible for us to walk to Sulden, but we don’t walk down to the Laganda, we don’t walk to Sulden etc.  We think about our walking as we do about our thinking, while we are thinking we are walking down to the Laganda, we are not walking to Sulden, because it is our wish not to walk to Sulden, not to walk down to the Laganda etc., even though we are not walking down to the Laganda and not walking to Sulden, at the same time as we are not going down to the Laganda we are not walking to Sulden etc. while we are walking, while we are thinking, while we are thinking, we are not walking down to the Laganda, not walking to Sulden.  We walk with our legs and think with our heads, while we are not walking to Sulden and not walking down to the Laganda etc., if we suddenly no longer had heads, he said, and suddenly could no longer walk, because we no longer had legs, but we both still have our heads etc.  If we redouble the exertion of our wills, he said, yet again redouble the exertion of our wills and yet again make the most extreme exertion of our wills, etc.  How I wished we were already at the Scheibenboden! in the chalet!, my dear sir.  Then my brother said in the manner of speaking that is also familiar to you, but much more breathlessly: perhaps we will find it possible, even under these circumstances, at this altitude, to increase our strides, to ensure that we will move forward more quickly, increase our strides without first increasing our velocity, or increase our velocity without increasing our strides etc; either you will increase your strides, he said and not your velocity, while I increase my velocity but not my strides, or vice versa or vice versa, to make sure we stay together, side by side, he said.  We must consider, he said, whether we should increase our strides first, but not our velocity, or increase our velocity first, but not our strides.  Or whether both of us should increase our strides simultaneously or both of us increase our velocity simultaneously or both of us simultaneously increase our volocity and strides.  From the moment at which it became clear to us: it is all rooted in our heads!, ever greater insularity, ever greater coldness.  Do you remember? he asked.  I don’t remember, I said.  Always a different method, always different people, always different settings, always different relations.  Do you remember?  I don’t remember, I said.  Playing truant from school.  An aversion to history, he said.  When the large-scale connections were clear to us and the particular was not and the particular connection was not and the particular and the particular connection were and the large-scale connections were not.  Make no warmth out of the cold, he said.  Redouble our mental exertions.  Increase our strides and redouble our mental exertions.  No affection, nothing.  No questions, nothing.  No papers, nothing.  No sums of money, no contracts, nothing.  And then: if we keep going farther, as we have done so far, when we believe we have gone as far as it is possible to go and transform our exertions once again into the utmost extremity of exertion and again at least, as we have done so often before, induce a redoubling of our strength of will, which we, as we know, understand to mean a redoubling of our immediate mental capability and hence an immediate redoubling of the causative energies of our head etc., we can count on thereby going farther etc. and therewith simultaneously induce a redoubling of our strength of will, which we etc. Competencies that we recognized as competencies very early on etc. without being obliged to exist in the uninterrupted oppression of our competencies etc.  We are anxious only in anticipation of being anxious etc., whence the fact that we walk with an ever greater exertion of our wills and think with an ever greater exertion of our wills and do not ask ourselves why and how and whither in reality during the act of walking and do not ask ourselves why during the act of thinking, because we are simply walking and simply thinking etc., walking and thinking, which, as we know, over the course of our life has become our habitual preoccupation etc.  Suddenly, my dear sir: the fact that we are anxious in the presence of the void in our head and in the presence of the void in the landscape called forth by the void in our head, in the presence of the oversensitivity of our head, the fact that we do not know what it is that makes us think and what it is that makes us walk, do not know whether to increase or reduce the velocity of our walking and thinking, he said, or to call a halt to them.  Suddenly he said several times call a halt to them, call a halt to them, call a halt to them.  Because we do not know how, when we are walking, we are thinking about walking, how, when we are thinking about thinking, how, when we are thinking about walking etc.; how we know absolutely nothing about the mastery of our art.  For which reason we do not dare speak.  Thereafter, my dear sir, there was nothing.  By then we had reached the chalet, but of the chalet nothing was left but a shapeless heap of bricks.  No armature, nothing.  Bricks and beneath the bricks the chalet’s foundation.  Everything had collapsed into rubble, everything.  I erected a makeshift shelter for us out of bricks and fragments of timber, because I did not want us to perish from exposure.  We were too exhausted to climb back down that very day, but the next day we managed to reach the Suldental.  At the Laganda Inn I was able to find a bed for my brother to rest in while I walked, as I was obliged to do, first to Sulden and then to Gomagai to fetch help.  Since this morning my brother has been residing in the Innsbruck suburb of Büchsenhausen, in an institution.  I do not believe he will ever again make any appearances.


Source: Thomas Bernhard, Werke 14, herausgegeben von [Works, Vol. 14, edited by] Hans Höller, Martin Huber und Manfred Mittermayer (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003), pp. 166-189.  Originally published in Midland in Stilfs (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1971).

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2015 by Douglas Robertson