Monday, December 31, 2012

Notes on Certain Plays of Thomas Bernhard, and on My Translations of Them

To judge by all the established empirical indicators—none of which I shall or will name—the translations of Thomas Bernhard’s plays posted at this site have not attracted a major fraction of the interest that has accrued to their sympatric brethren in the genres of novella and short story.  The explanation for such comparative neglect that immediately springs to mind—namely, that Bernhard is much better known as a novelist than as a playwright in the English-speaking world—is no less question-begging than it is obvious.  Granted: by now, most of Bernhard’s novels have appeared on paper in English under the imprint of a famous British or American bookseller; whereas only four or five  authorized English translations of his more than twenty plays have been published, and these only by minor indie presses or in small-circulation journals.  But why did translators and big-name publishers give such a high hat-cum-wide berth to the plays in the first place?  They did so, it seems to me, on account of two characteristics of the Bernhardian quasi-narrative prose text that are perforce absent from the Bernhardian dramatic text and two further (and complementary) characteristics of the Bernhardian dramatic text that are perforce absent from the Bernhardian quasi-narrative prose text.  So, to dispatch the first two at one go: from the very startup days of the Anglophone Bernhard industry—i.e., 1970, with the appearance of Gargoyles, when there were as yet no Bernhard plays, even in German—the most beloved of Bernhard’s stylistic traits among English-speaking readers has without a doubt been the exceptional length of his sentences.  Indeed, it has become something of a ritualistic gesture when writing on Bernhard in English to include the word-count of a specific sentence (usually the opening one of one of the novels); the Anglo-Saxon Bernhardian flourishes his word-count like a fisherman proudly displaying his latest catch alongside a yardstick.  And what spectacle greets such a lover of the bi- or tri- sesquipedalian period when he eagerly and willy-nilly turns for the first time to a page of one of Bernhard’s plays? –why, the supremely disheartening spectacle of a succession of glorified haikus; in other words, short blocks of free-ish looking verse separated from each other by the capitalized names of speaker-characters, and subdivided into unpunctuated lines consisting of no more (and usually far less) than a dozen words apiece.  So even at the purely ocular level—a level that must on no account be made light of (consider the effect of certain visual patterns on epileptics)—a Bernhard play is a very different affair or beast or skin condition or what have you from a Bernhard novel or novella or short story.  In the plays, there are no sentences at all, let alone any long ones.  As for the second of the aforementioned pair of characteristics: among his English-speaking fans the most beloved of Benhard’s epistemological-cum-metaphysical traits is unquestionably what W. G. Sebald described as his (Bernhard’s, not WGS’s) “periscopic” attitude to narration, evinced in the fact that (in the novels) nothing is ever reported as simply having occurred, but rather is constantly being bracketed as the testimony of some specific person, which may in turn be bracketed by its debt to the testimony of some third person, and so on, right on up (or perhaps down) to the root-level voice of the master-narrator (e.g., Atzbacher in Old Masters, or the unnamed insurance salesman in The Lime Works), who is never presented as omniscient.  The cumulative effect of all these bracketings is a Wirklichkeitsvorstellung that is less “cinematic” or purportedly “objective” than any other in world literature—it is the effect of being trapped not so much “in somebody’s head” as in a phantasmagorical hall of heads (I did not invent the phrase, but I blush to name its inventors) whose lack of engagement with the so-called outside world is curiously invigorating.  In the plays, no such Vervremdungseffekt is even attempted.  The reader is presented with a dramatis personae, and the characters listed in it proceed to enter and exit and speak their lines before an implied audience as Godlike, as epistemologically privileged, as any addressed by traditional drama.  Try as hard as one might, one cannot escape the impression that one is reading about something that is supposed to be occurring not hypothetically or conjecturally or counterfactually in some Russian doll’s nest of disembodied heads, but “for real” among “real” corporeal people in some “real” material place.  No amount of literary-historical genealogical puffery linking up the Bernhardian dramatic corpus with the most illustriously subversive names and schools in the twentieth-century theatrical avant garde (Beckett, Artaud, theater of the absurd, actionism, &c.) will suffice to staunch the disappointment of the Anglo-Saxon Bernhardian in face of these two differences, for he quite simply doesn’t give a tosslet about the stinkin’ twentieth-century theatrical avant garde; he just wants his long sentences and periscoping narrators back.

All this notwithstanding—and this is a very big “all this notwithstanding” (but then so are all “ATN”s by comparison with “nonetheless” and “in any case”)—I think that the average Anglo-Saxon Bernhard fan—call him or her Joe Grüner Veltliner or Jill Linzertorte–will or at least should find much to love in the plays.  He or she will or should do so first of all because many—if perhaps not quite most—of the episodes in the Bernhardian novelistic corpus (or “BNC” for short) that he prizes most highly owe much of their Punchkraft to devices that are used to similar punchpackendenes effect in the plays; devices that are often theatrical in quite a technical sense and always at least eminently amenable to being adapted for the stage.  Consider, for example, two of the most impressive stretches of single perspective-delimited prose in the entire BNC–Reger’s in Old Masters and Murau’s in Extinction.  What would either of them be without its recurrent indications of the presence of a largely silent listener—Atzbacher in Reger’s case, Gambetti in Murau’s?  The plays are full of similar pairings of garrulity and taciturnity—from He and Katharina in Simply Complicated to Herrenstein and Richard in Elizabeth II to the Millionairess and Mrs Kant in Immanuel Kant to Claus Peymann and Hermann Beil in Claus Peymann Buys Himself a Pair of Trousers.  Any Bernhardian who relishes the comic tension generated in the novels by a monologist who carries on for thousands of words at a time on his own in defiance of the availability of an interlocutor cannot fail to be charmed by the recurrent generation of such tension in the plays.  As for theatricality in a freer sense, the sense one invokes when speaking of “dramatic pacing” in any context—it seems to me that the prominence of this sort of theatricality in Bernhard’s novels has always been unfairly downplayed, probably because it enjoys an unhappy association with the regressive fetishization of “good storytelling,” and hence with the likes of such lowbrow comic book-gourmandizing riffraff as post and heed spoiler warnings.  Now Bernhard’s novels seldom if ever “tell a story” in the sense prized by such riffraff; indeed they seldom if ever have a plot in any sense (alternatively one might say that they almost all have the same plot, reducible to the following unspoilable sentence: “I (Mr. A reports) arrived at Place X, and then I left it.”).  Still, it cannot be denied that the ending of a Bernhard novel seldom even superficially gives the effect of having been occasioned solely by the exhaustion of its author’s paper supply or typewriter ribbon; that indeed the typical ending of a Bernhard novel manages to clinch the work’s various strands of interest with a tidiness and jaw drop-inducingness worthy of the most architectonically wartertight thriller or whodunit.  Sometimes the ending really is properly dramatic in the sense of involving a large number of personages like the finale of an opera or a classical tragedy (or, indeed, a Thin Man/Agatha Christie-era whodunit), as in Extinction; at other times it is as simple and understated as a punch line, as in Yes—but it always appears as the surprising yet logical culmination of everything that has preceded it.  The plays conform to this same familiar Benhardian architecture in that while nothing much seems to happen in them, they end with a bang or a whimper that it would seem could only have come just then as a consequence of all that has “happened” before.  The collapse of Herrenstein’s balcony in Elizabeth II, the packing off of Kant to the mental hospital in Immanuel Kant, He’s audition (via audiotape) of the lines he spoke at the play’s beginning in Simply Complicated, and the italicized commentary (masquerading as stage directions) at the conclusion of Claus Peymann Buys Himself a Pair of Trousers are all codas that echo specific contrapartal conclusions in the novels—not just qua isolated moments, but qua summings-up; such that fruitful pairings of specific plays with specific novels may also be made.  In the crowd in Herrenstein’s drawing room we are reminded of a similar (albeit not demographically coextensive) gathering of the remnants of pre-republican Austrian high society at the conclusion of Extinction, and accordingly are left to ponder the affinities and discrepancies between Murau and Herrenstein, qua representatives, respectively, of the older (and plainly post-moribund) agricultural aristocracy and its evidently still vital bourgeois-industrial successor.  In He’s auto-audition we are reminded of the narrator of The Loser’s playing of Glenn Gould’s LP of the Goldberg Variations, and immediately reflect that for all He’s apparent narcissism, it actually behooves him to listen to tapes of his own performances, given that, for better or worse, he is as it were his own Glenn Gould, having carried on his métier as an actor in the absence of mentors and rivals (“I am myself alone,” he declares, apparently quoting Henry VI’s future Richard III).  And in the stage directions at the end of Claus Peymann, summing up the ensuing sameoldsameold-ish night’s itinerary at the Burgtheater, we are at once reminded of Atzbacher’s panning of the Burg’s “terrible” performance of The Broken Pitcher, an appraisal that is both reaffirmed and undercut by what we have learned of Peymann’s attitude to Austria and its official theater in the preceding three scenes.  (Basically we are left wondering why a country with such a flair for the dramatic mode in everyday life does such a piss-poor job of embodying it “within the wooden O” itself.)                    

But before I go, and while the above sentence about “nothing[‘s] happening” in the plays remains (hoffentlich) fresh in the reader’s mind, I wish to draw to his or her attention a certain epiphenomenon of this non-happening that just might serve as the Grundrisse of a dossier for a plausible case that the plays are in both a literary-technical and (even more siginificantly) a metaphysico-technical sense far more subversive than the novels.  According to the traditional specifications of all the traditionally temporally-structured literary genres (e.g. [in principle (but i.e. in practice)], the novel, the epic, the short story, the comedy, and the tragedy, [together, of course, with their filmic analogues]), events must prepare and succeed each other in conformity with three equally ineluctable sets of laws—those of nature, those of man, and those of human psychology.  Oedipus manages to kill his own father without knowing it because the laws of nature decree both that babies are helpless and clueless, and that young full-grown men are physically stronger than old full-grown men.  He manages to marry his own mother, who happens to be the queen of Thebes, without knowing it because the laws of man decree that if you save a city-state from destruction you are entitled to rule it.  And he manages to ferret out the unfortunate secret of his birth and marriage because the laws of individual human psychology decree that until trying to get what you want gets you something else that you emphatically didn’t want, you will go on trying to get it.  From Sophocles right on up through to Shakespeare, the principle of sufficient dramaturgical reason consisted of, let us say, five parts law of man, three parts law of nature, and one part law of human psychology—in other words, the main thing keeping our boy or girl in the hot seat from winning out was what the king (or God) said he could or couldn’t do, followed at a near second by what was physically impossible to do, and followed in turn at a distant third by what people were like made impossible to do.  Beginning towards the end of the seventeenth century, the law of nature dropped out to make way for a series of face-offs between the law of man and the law of human psychology, at the conclusion of which scuffles the law of human psychology generally triumphed by demonstrating its eternally perduring plucky resourcefulness as against the clunky arbitrariness and transience of such forms of obedience as were imposed by dukes, counts, country gentlemen and the like so-called authority figures.  (The loca classica here are Fielding’s Tom Jones and Beaumarchais-DaPonte-Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.)  Efficiently instrumental to this demonstration are intrigues conducted by intrigants, people forever rushing about the stage and whispering to one another intelligence and directions centered on some third party they are trying to get the better of.  It was a dramaturgical schema admirably suited to its era, the era of the so-called great bourgeois revolutions, an era that it has mysteriously managed to outlast by at least a good full century.  In what respect, or which respects, has the course of the Weltgeist overtaken the schema?  Well, for starters, the law of man has pretty much contorted itself into every conceivable posture trying to make things easy for the law of human psychology.  One can now count figuratively on one hand (and literally on two hands) the number of countries worldwide whose constitutions or statute books contain a single law whose enforcement would stand in the way of any citizen’s realization of 100 percent of his or her potential as a human being on account of his or her race, sex, creed, preferred football club, autc.   This is not to say that in a practical, quotidian register the law of man in any country does not erect all sorts of barriers to the realization of people’s potential as human beings (or human beings’ potential as people), but merely that these barriers are so fine-grained and specific, and so palpably unconnected to the achievement of any grand purpose good or bad, that one would be better served by terming them administrative rather than legal measures.  (The bus-rider rightly resents a rise in trip-fares as an unwarranted impediment to his efforts to live thriftily and “green”ly, but no sooner has he begun fuming about an automobile industry-spearheaded vendetta against mass transit than his eye alights on a newspaper headline reporting that highway toll rates for drivers have also gone up.) Secondly, the law of nature has ramified on the one hand into an ever-expanding compendium of wearisomely unhelpful factoids about the unhuman world, a compendium that casts a retrospective pall of irrelevance on every scientist from Copernicus onwards (One especially cantankerous contemporary of ours, an historian of such old-fashioned humania as battles and treaties, has gone so far as to query, “What difference does it make whether the earth goes around the sun or vice-versa?”) and a series of technologies for the meddlesome manipulation of the human world—effectively, an instrument of the administrative legal tendency noted in the preceding sentence.  As for the law of human psychology—well, one naturally expects me here to go on about the slate-clean-wiping, book-of-received-wisdom-out-the-window-flinging high jinks of Freud and his successors (chief among them the neuropharmaceutical set), but in all frankness I must confess that I see little evidence of any transformative effect of these high jinks on the way people plot either their own or other people’s psychic terrain.  Oh, sure, our contemporaries are more than fain to appropriate the terminology of scientific psychology as an ad hoc administrative cudgel (“You obviously wouldn’t be giving me all this work, boss, if you weren’t clinically bipolar”); or as boilerplate for their job-title preempting self-introductory name-badge (“Hello, my name is Cuthbert.  I could describe myself as an accountant, but I prefer that you think of me as an obsessive-compulsive.”)  But im Grunde, when shove is reached by push, they chalk up their own and their fellowmen’s motives and purposes to the antient daemons of greed, jealousy, envy, lust, hope, fear, ambition, &c.  (Academic philosophers, in the desperate dream of having their own nomenclature employed as a mass-produced cudgel or boilerplate, have come up with a term for this disposition of the laity to cling to the old psychoheuristic ways—“Folk psychology.”  Fatuous sods.)  So then the kids of old-school bourgeois psychology are all right?  Not exactly.  You see, in the absence of the old pre-bourgeois law of man holding up its unbudgeable nay-saying palm like a five hundred-pound punching-bag, the old pre-bourgeois law of human psychology has lost much of its pre-twentieth century muscular tone.  It remains vital, yes, but more after the manner of a seventeen-stone quinquagenarian couch potato than of a vigentigenarian flyweight boxer.  This loss of tone is perhaps most palpably evident in the behavior of the will in conjunction with the faculty of memory.  Nowadays people are quite commonly sincerely passionate about a particular person, cause, etc., at a specific moment, but over the course of years or even months they tend not only to flit from hobbyhorse to hobbyhorse with superfeline fickleness, but also to retain little if any recollection of their hobbyhorses of yore.  Remind an ardent isolationist dove of our day that he once cheered on the prosecution of the war that he is now campaigning against, and you will most likely be greeted by way of reply not with the scowl of resentful remorse or spate of sheepish hemming and hawing about “the sins of my youth” that you would have received from, say, a former Jacobite or ex-anti-abolitionist in ca. 1765 or 1880, but rather with a perplexed and slightly worried frown photographically indistinguishable from that worn by a heavy drinker who has just been briefed on his most recent blackout-obliterated bout of besotted bêtises.  And you will be so greeted because even with the most would-be well-toned will in the world it is impossible to get as worked up as intensely or as long about present-day U.S. intervention in the Middle East as it was in olden times to get worked up about the line of succession to the British throne or the legal condition of slavery; and because the trace left on the memory by fleeting passions is perforce faint.    

And yet in face of all these revolutions in (or perhaps rather “unravelings of”) the Weltgeist, the prevailing mode of narrative and dramaturgical organization remains, as I said earlier, centered on the facing-off of the forces of the law of man against the law of human psychology—on the assumption that some legal or “cultural” prohibition can be both binding and constrictive enough to keep its enforcers and resisters busy for a lifetime (or two hours or two hundred pages standing in for a lifetime).  (Typical specimen of such pandemic dramaturgical anachronism: COLONEL.  With almighty God as my witness, major, I swear that braided scrotal hair will be permitted in the U. S. Army only over my dead, naked, shaved and rather imposing mons pubis.  MAJOR. Oh really, Colonel-sir? Perhaps, sir, you’d care to vet [sic] your reservations, sir, to my boss, sir.  COLONEL: Your boss?  COLONEL: Yeah [not “yes”], sir.  He resides at 1600 Pennsylvania AvenueCut to shot of the colonel’s shoes, over which two flows of steaming brown liquid are cascading from under the cuffs of his trousers.)  And this willful historical parochialism is by no means exclusively a lowbrow phenomenon.  Our leading so-called serious or “literary” writers and filmmakers (read: the combined roster of non-pundits and non-musicians interviewed on National Public Radio and BBC Radios 3&4) may try to occlude their promulgation of the Great Untruth with huge downy cloudbanks of dropped names—names of comic book characters, TV shows, athletes, movie stars, pop stars, household gadgets, minor signatories of the Declaration of Independence or U.S. Constitution, minor courtiers in minor courts of minor European dynasties, medical conditions, news events, culinary crazes, sartorial crazes, terpsichorean crazes, software applications, sex toys, and the like.  But the reader or viewer is not fooled thereby.  Notice that I did not just write “the intelligent reader or viewer” or “the literary historically informed reader or viewer” but “the reader or viewer” without qualification.  I did so because however batty or Pollyannaish this admission may make me seem, I really do not believe that one must be possessed of either the genius of an Alf or Alb Einstein or the erudition of an E. or H. Bloom to pick up on and be put off by the derivativeness and out-of-date-ness of what passes for textual and non-static visual art nowadays.  

And it is for relief from such fatuity that the reader gratefully turns to Bernhard.  For his is the only contemporary poetics that acknowledges the full force of all three of the above-explicated facts of the Weltgeist, and most centrally, the conjoined facts of the individual human psyche’s undiminished energy and its loss of muscular tone.  Essentially all his texts insistently pose the old Russian revolutionist’s question “Что делать?”—“What is to be done?”—only this time round the entity about which one knows not what to do is not the impoverished peasant or industrial worker but the Kantian subject, the self-conscious ‘I” uncompromisingly committed to the notion (i.e., not merely the “sense” [i.e., illusion]) of Zweckmassigkeit or purposiveness (sometimes also known in English as purposefulness).  It is in its explicit and unabashed posing of the historically informed Kantian subject as its subject that Bernhard’s work may be distinguished from that of certain of his illustrious senior contemporaries, notably the Francophone existentialists—Sartre, Camus, and Beckett.  The existentialists’ preoccupation with the “absurdity” and “meaninglessness” of the world tout court may seem identical to Bernhard’s preoccupation with the apparent purposelessness of the post-nineteenth century Kantian subject.  But their preoccupation in fact differs signally from Bernhard’s in its presupposition that the subject’s formidable suitcase-load of hundred to thousand year-old outmoded purposes can be summarily jettisoned, that every resident of the modern world by default enjoys the luxury of behaving like his own Adam.  In conformity with this presupposition, they treat the reader either to old-school realist narratives in which the hero “finds himself” by arbitrarily committing himself to a cause (Sartre, Camus), or to science-fictionesque scenarios centered on non-people in non-places at non-historical periods (Beckett).  Bernhard does not believe in the possibility of such luxury; accordingly all his heroes—and why bother blushing about calling them that?—are native residents of a specific country (Austria) at a specific time (the late twentieth century), and must cope with all the difficulties presented by this temporal-cum-spatial emplacement.   Hence all the ranting about all things Austrian from the loftiest to the lowliest register, from the state of Austria’s national government to the state of its public toilets; hence the disproportionate attention to matters musical in a country known both to itself and to the rest of the world chiefly as the birthplace of Mozart and Johann Strauss, Jr.; hence the seemingly anachronistic preoccupation with the landowning aristocracy in a country that remains prevailingly rural in contrast to its all its European fellows west of the Iron Curtain.  Hence at the same time, though, the compellingness of Bernhard’s assertion “I’m not some sort of local luminary, some sort of national bard: I write world literature.”  The Austrianness of the targets of Bernhard’s vituperation is not contingent, but at the same time it is not essential.  As a would-be Kantian subject of the late twentieth century, one cannot choose but to take first aim at one’s immediate surroundings because they are the most immediately irritating and incapacitating among the facts of one’s existence.  But because the irritation and incapacitation of the subject is a trans-national phenomenon that has made use of identical or at least homologous instruments throughout the world, in kvetching with sufficient eloquence about his impotence vis-à-vis the local anti-subjective powers that be, any WBKS wherever he may reside perforce sets off bells that will resonate in the minds of WBKSs in other countries.  The goal of the Bernhardian poetics is to exhibit the state-of-the-art Western mind qua would-be agent, qua would-be master of the world, pitting itself as energetically as possible against as many plausible antagonists as possible; pontificating and raving and castle in the air-building as if the year were still 1799.

At this point, I am finally ready to close up my mammoth quasi-digression and get back to the plays.  For it is one thing to present, as Bernhard is licensed to do in his novels, a mind lashing out at a succession of antagonists that it may summon or dismiss at will, and quite another to present, as Bernhard is constrained to do in his plays, a no-less froward mind obliged to contend with creatures that are free in their own right to come and go as they please.   A less dexterous champion of the Kantian subject than Bernhard would deal with the dramaturgical constraint by allowing the antagonistic forces to scheme effectively against the subject and finally to triumph over him—this by way of conferring a kind of tragic dignity on the KS’s struggle against them.  But Bernhard knows full well that such dignity is no longer so cheaply to be bought, that one cannot blame the defeat of the subject on his sub-subjective antagonists without ascribing to them a factitious power of agency, and thereby conferring on them a factitious dignity that cancels out the dignity one would bestow on the subject; he knows that what has turned out to be bad for the civilized gander has likewise turned out to be bad for the philistine goose.  And so he gives his dramaturgical Geistesmenschen, his stage ranters, a tether that is superficially no less slack or lengthy than the one enjoyed by their novelistic counterparts, he lets them “have their talk out” unmolested by the obligation to engage with their fellow characters.  At the same time, he allows these other characters, these intrigants, to get their fill of the sorts of activities at which they would have excelled in a traditional bourgeois drama of the Figaro era—pushing about stage props, tittering, gossiping amongst themselves, and generally giving the impression that they are collectively “thinking up something special,” to quote the Bass/Baron in The Celebrities.  The denouement, when it finally comes, may be favorable either to the Geistesmensch or to the intrigants; sometimes the one side appears to finish up on top, at other times the other does.  But in neither case will the final event of the play be explicable in terms of a happy concatenation of the three laws of traditional drama, and least explicable of all in terms of the Figaro-era ascendancy of the law of human psychology.  ‘Our hero’ will not have won by outwitting his fellow characters; nor will he have lost by being outwitted by them.  The denouement will be explicable, rather, only in terms of the characters’ respective significances in the constellation of preoccupations delineated by their respective dramaturgical essences.  “Oh, I see: you mean that it will be explicable in terms of what the characters symbolize.”  Indeed I do not.  That would be giving the characters—apart from the Geistesmenschen, who indeed constitute a special category—too much credit.  Taken on his or her own, the typical Bernhard character is at best the one-dimensional, pointillistic peformer of a simple, mindless, endlessly iterable, non-signifying routine—like one of the ghosts in Pac Man (the original arcade video game, not the TV cartoon spin-off).   And it is only in coalition with his fellow pointillistic points that this character acquires significance of any kind, a significance that I would still demur at terming symbolic in favor of some more concrete and visually oriented term—hence my reference to a constellation of preoccupations.  Take Count Neutz in Elizabeth II.  Assessed in isolation, he consists of a single character trait—exhibitionism; he loves nothing more or other than to “bask in the limelight” awarded him in appreciation of his dialect-slathered impressions of long-deceased members of the Hapsburg nobility.  But when we consider him in juxtaposition with the Lady with the Red Hat (a.k.a. Countess Winterhalter), who has just sold off some apparently montane property known as “the Aschenhöhe” in parallel to his own off-selling of “Kurring” and “the Trautensee,” we conclude that he is part of some more general trend among the old aristocracy to abdicate their traditional responsibilities as landowners.  Then consider E2’s Countess Gudenus.  At first blush—namely, before her entrance, in Herrenstein’s comments on her; and in the first few lines she speaks after her entrance—she seems simply to represent a one-woman, intellectual or philosophical pro-Herrenstein fifth-column amid the “bone-headed riffraff” comprised by the remainder of Herrenstein’s high-society guests.  But no sooner has she begun to address the philosopher Guggenheim at length than we see that her passion for philosophy is no more substantial than the boy-band groupie’s passion for music: the highest praise she manages to bestow on Guggenheim’s book is that “in [its] every sentence I can tell that you were a professor at Oxford”—as though Oxford were some sort of brand name certifying the brilliance of everything produced under its auspices—such that in the end she actually reinforces rather than undermines one’s sense of the aristocracy’s unphilosophical bone-headedness.  Finally, consider the Doublemint pair of the One Lady and the Other Lady.  They appear at front and center stage just long enough to compliment Herrenstein on “how fantastically well” he looks and then dutifully mosey upstage to the buffet.  But this single, split-second LED flash of a remark links up with other remarks made by other aristos—with the Lady in the Red Hat’s that Herrenstein “is a poster boy for healthy living” and Neutz’s that “the Trautensee is still in the [i.e., “my”] family”; remarks that likewise highlight the aristocracy’s propensity for lying.  So: between the half-dozen or so of them these characters delineate an “aristocratic” or “high-society” constellation consisting of a combination of brazen dishonesty, exhibitionism, unphilosophical bone-headedness, wanton disregard of the traditional obligations of one’s class, and flagrant fetishization of that class’s history.  Now, such constellationizing is by no means a dramaturgical innovation of Bernhard’s, and indeed its rudiments were already present in the ancient Roman comic playwrights Plautus and Terance’s employment of stock figures—suitor, beloved, pimp, servant, etc.  But in earlier dramatists the constellationizing is but so much propaedeutic scaffolding for the action (i.e., a collection of productive intrigues), an analogue to the setup in jokes that begin “A Texan, a Scot, and a Belgian were all on this plane…”  In Bernhard the assembling of constellations is the action, and once this assembling is complete, “it’s a wrap,” as they say in the rival world of the cinema.  Hence, in Elizabeth II, once the high-society types have shown the full peacock’s spectrum of their true (or, rather, false) colors, there is nothing to do but to pack them all off to Herrenstein’s balcony, which collapses literally under the weight of their collective fatuity.

Meanwhile, there has of course been no shortage of traditional intriguing: Richard, Herrenstein’s manservant-cum-lover, while constantly staying “in cahoots” with Fräulein Zallinger, the housekeeper, for some unspecified purpose, has attempted to secure a place as Herrenstein’s principal heir by threatening to emigrate to America with his new love-interest, Dr. Schuppich (who has lately published a book in which Herrenstein is libelously represented); an employee of Herrenstein’s named Kreiseleder has been up to mischief apparently harmful enough to require his summons before the firm’s board of directors; a pair of Herrenstein’s guests, the Bartenstein brothers (business rivals or distant relatives?), are exploiting the queenwatch as an opportunity to “case his house”; and Herrenstein himself has been working on sending sixty thousand gun-barrels to the Philippines.  As we learn of all of these episodes only by report, we are well advised not to take their actuality for granted; and specifically with regard to those reported on by Herrenstein, as they all center on some person or object in which he has a selfish investment, we are well within our rights to wonder whether they are not mere figments of his paranoiac imagination.  Nevertheless , vis-à-vis Herrenstein we must at all costs avoid committing the AP English teacher-esque errors of assuming that because a character’s testimony is unreliable it is mistaken and then regarding this mistakenness as the metaphysical and moral crux of the entire text that he inhabits.  For Elizabeth II is no “My Last Duchess” and Thomas Bernhard is no Robert Browning.  He takes no interest whatsoever in debunking the pretensions to “objectivity” of the high and mighty: for him all human testimony is on a level epistemological plane of “unreliability” (which complementarily is also a plane of “entertainability,” whereon anything is conceivably true.  “Might not the atmosphere of the earth be composed of metaphysical air?” queries Prince Saurau in Gargoyles.  “Why yes,” answers Bernhard; “but then again, the earth itself might end up as cat’s piss on Mars.  In the end that’s a possibility.”).   Dramaturgically, morally, and metaphysically speaking, the reported intrigues in Elizabeth II have but one function—to point up the ineffectuality of the law of human psychology by contributing absolutely nothing to the denouement, to serve as a mighty heap of feathers weighed in the balance against the moral-cum-corporeal pair of twenty-ton cast-iron dumbbells that bring the balcony crashing down.  No matter how clever or how stupid they may be, and no matter how much or how little they may have schemed against Herrenstein, the “eighty or ninety” people who plunge to their deaths in the final minute of Elizabeth II perish not because of what they have done and tried to do but because of what they are—interchangeable mass-units of the quintessentially Viennese “inquisitiveness” and the more broadly Austrian mania for noble titles (both of which qualities, we may infer, are especially pronounced in the Vienna-resident Austrian nobility).  Poetic justice?  In part, yes; but also prosaic injustice; for the vicious aristos are joined in death with at least one figure who one supposes deserved to be spared such a fate—Guggenheim, the sporting ex-expat Jewish philosopher, whose gratitude to England for saving his life during the Nazi period even the curmudgeonly Herrenstein acknowledges as a worthy motive for spectating on Queen Elizabeth’s passage.  The law of nature—which here gloatingly triumphs at the expense of the laws of man and of human psychology—is indifferent to the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving.

Before moving on to Immanuel Kant, and returning to the topic of the specifically dramaturgical aspects of Bernhard’s plays, I must make one observation about a salient quality of Elizabeth II that is related at best tangentially to this topic—namely, that apart perhaps from Wittgenstein’s Nephew and In the Cold, no other Bernhard text addresses more eloquently or extensively the miseries of old age and physical infirmity.  Herrenstein is by no means a young old man: at eighty-six has he has reached an age at which no matter how healthy one is, one must take life extremely slowly and carefully on pain of sustaining devastating injuries.  And from his lugubrious remarks about his physicians’ prognoses and the episode wherein he orders Richard to touch his chest, we know that he does not regard himself as healthy even for his age—indeed, that he believes that he may drop dead at any moment; moreover, from his breathlessness, tenebrous eyesight, and lengthy and complicated schedule of medications, we suspect that he is not much exaggerating the precariousness of his condition.  On top of all this, of course, he has to deal with the absence of both his legs, which he was deprived of as a very young man; such that he has presumably been dependent for more than half a century on close personal attendance of the sort provided by Richard.  If these hardships were counterbalanced by any forces sustaining Herrenstein’s engagement with the world, we might be able to discount octogenareity, paraplegia, and cardiopathy as the ultimae rationes of his existence.   He does of course have his business, the firm of Herrenstein and Herrenstein—an apparently multimillion-schilling concern with a transatlantic reputation and transpacific interests.  But the business seems to get on well enough with minimal supervisory input from him, input that would appear to require at most a few minutes of his time a day.  The remaining fourteen hundred-plus minutes (or, at any rate, the non-monologic balance thereof) he typically whiles away by having Richard read to him from his favorite authors—Goethe, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Tolstoy, and Turgeneev.  But many if not most of these texts he is so familiar with that he need never hear them again, and all of them are dispiriting reminders of how he has “made the world into a much darker place for [him]self through literature” (cf. the bile-mouthed final line of Philip Larkin’s “Study of Reading Habits”:  “Books are a load of crap.”).  He also tries from time to time to satisfy his intellectual-cum-cultural jones by traveling abroad within continental Europe—to Portugal, Italy, and Poland.  But apart from the extremes of beauty and hideousness to be encountered in the faces of the inhabitants of Lisbon, he makes no mention of any peculiar qualities of any of these destinations, such that one suspects that he finds them effectively interchangeable.  Socially, he is almost completely isolated, being surrounded morning, afternoon, and evening by people (Richard, Fräulein Zallinger, Holzinger, and Viktor) who are financially dependent on him and who all lack either the courage or the desire to say anything to him that could be construed other than as a manifestation of unqualified submission to his will.   The only person he habitually deals with on something approaching an equal footing is Guggenheim, with whom he does indeed enjoy a proper friendship extending all the way back to their childhood years—a friendship that, in listening to Herrenstein’s up-building description of it before Guggenheim’s arrival, one expects to center on the swapping of philosophical aphorisms and tender reminiscences about their playground days in the Ringstrasse.  Instead, it proves to be a forum for yet more Herrensteinian monologizing, but not on account of any deficiency of attention to the friendship on Herrenstein’s part.  Indeed, Herrenstein cannot seem to get his fill of panegyrizing Guggenheim and all that he signifies and embodies for him, to the eventual and embarrassingly fulsome extent of proclaiming, “There is so much talk about helping out one’s neighbor /the two of us put it into practice.”  The problem is that Guggenheim himself has no interest in playing along; he is there to see not Herrenstein but the queen, and he accepts his old friend’s invitation to join him on a jaunt into the mountains with an ill-concealed reluctance bordering on bad grace: “Yes if that is what you want” and “yes if it has to be,” he groans, in virtual echo of another Bernhard listener’s (Atzbacher’s) acceptance of an invitation from another lonely octogenarian Geistesmensch (Reger, at the conclusion of Old Masters [“Very well, I said to Reger, Atzbacher, records, if that is your express wish”]).  We need not, it seems to me, seek the explanation for Guggenheim’s tepidity in any place of great moral or psychological charge; we need not, for example, infer that Guggenheim harbors a grudge against Herrenstein for any injury real or imagined, or even that he does not regard Herrenstein as his own closest and dearest friend.  More than likely, we may infer, Guggenheim would rather not go with Herrenstein to the mountains simply because he is a much more nearly typical octogenarian than Herrenstein—because his “blood is caked and cold and seldom flows,” and “’tis lack of kindly warmth that he is not kind”; because unlike Herrenstein he sincerely “no longer desires anything of the world” and finds it irredeemably taxing to deal for very long with someone who still “desires so many things so strongly of it.”  Hence, to the extent that we are to regard Guggenheim as a norm—in other words, as an embodiment of how an octogenarian ought to behave in pointed contrast to Herrenstein’s embodiment of age-inappropriate paranoia, cupidity, volubility, etc.—we are correspondingly obliged to concede that in one’s eighties one always might as well already be dead as still alive. 

Now, as for Immanuel Kant: the first thing about it about which one must be immaculately clear, in brazen defiance of one’s inner AP English teacher, is that its eponymous IK is not just some schlub of a late twentieth-century schizophrenic who happens to believe that he is Kant rather than Napoleon or Ethel Merman.  Despite his association with scads of deviations from the real Kant’s biography, the Kant of this play is indisputably the real Kant (just as the Glenn Gould of The Loser is indisputably the real Glenn Gould, and the Goethe and Wittgenstein of Goethe Dighs are indisputably the real Goethe and Wittgenstein despite their associations with scads of equally wild deviations of the same sort [Incidentally, a stop really needs to be put to the practice—rendered pandemic since ca. 1990 by a rash of sitcoms starring actors playing themselves—of referring to real-world person Mr. Jones as “a character called  Mr. Jones” whenever he happens to be represented as doing, saying, or possessing something that he is supposed never actually to have done, said, or possessed.  As Mr. Saul Kripke proved more than four decades ago, it is metaphysically impossible for a name to refer to any entity other than that to which it was originally assigned).  We can be sure of this because none of the other characters ever refers to Kant by any other name than Kant or (in Mrs. Kant’s case) Immanuel—not even when he is absent from the stage and therefore indisputably out of earshot.  In what light, then, is one to interpret Kant’s apprehension by personnel from “a New York mental hospital” (Bellevue?) at the end of the play?  What’s that you said in reply, dear gentle reader?: “Kant is history’s champion champion of reason, and yet here he is being nabbed as a victim of reason’s nominal antithesis, madness, also sometimes known as unreason.  Oh, the irony:  one certainly could not cut it with a spork.”?  Indeed, one certainly couldn’t, but why is this champion champion of reason nabbed as a madman specifically in late twentieth-century New York at the end of a sea voyage with his wife, his pet parrot, a lady millionaire, et al., and after having spoken several hundred lines of dialogue dominated by quotations from one of his earliest, most obscure, and most marginal works and culminating in a rant that has no parallel in tone, wording, or substance with anything in the actual Kantian corpus?  Bernhard is clearly up to something more purposive and historically mediated than an iteration of the timeless ancient Erasman paradox “Wisdom is folly, and folly wisdom.”  So, to address penultimate things first: nowadays (i.e., since ca. 1830) we (i.e., almost everybody who has heard of Kant since ca. 1830) tend to think of Kant exclusively as a philosopher in the modern (i.e., post-ca. 1830) sense—someone who ponders such imponderable questions as “How can God’s existence be proved?” and “In what does the good life consist?” and “Does the pope s**t in the woods?,” questions that we think of as having nothing in common with the sorts of questions asked by scientists (e.g., “How does the world work?” and “How can we build a better mousetrap?” and “How can we get a mouse to grow testicles the size of a bull’s?”)   Even more specifically, we think of Kant as the principal founding father of a philosophical tradition known as German idealism, a tradition that fairly smugnesses itself on its uselessness and flaky at-loggerheadedness with the down-to-earth, matter-of-fact, positivistic worldview of modern science, a worldview it assumes to be headquartered somewhere in Britain or the United States.  But in Kant’s own (i.e., pre-1830) day, science and philosophy were not yet regarded as mutually distinct fields of inquiry.  Kant himself contributed no less copiously to the literature of “science” than to the literature of “philosophy,” and he regarded both contributions as parts of a single, unified intellectual project.   It is against the background of this eighteenth-century sense of a single grand philosophical tradition that we must interpret both such tactical Bernhardian feints as having Kant designate Newton as his and Leibniz’s “employer” (Newton quite literally gave work to Leibniz and Kant—to Leibniz by vying with him for the discovery of the differential and integral calculi, and to Kant by inspiring him to attempt a synthesis of Newtonian physics with the metaphysicses of Descartes and Leibniz) and the grand Bernhardian strategy of largely confining Kant’s self-quotation to the Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven, a hodgepodge of “pure science” and metaphysics that tenders such preposterous propositions—but what other than “our” abject deference to the testimony of scientific so-called experts has predisposed “us” to regard them as preposterous?—as that the denser a planet is, the denser (as in “stupider”) its inhabitants will be.  “One must remember,” Bernhard reminds us by means of these tactics and this strategy, “that the two principal intellectual factions of our time, the so-called ‘culture of science’ and the so-called ‘culture of the humanities’ share a single origin in the weltanschauung of the Enlightenment and ultimately must stand or fall on the foundation of its leading lights’ most dubious productions.” 

At the same time in this connection it should be noted that the overwhelming majority, if not the entirety, of Bernhard-Kant’s quotations from the Universal History are confined in turn to a single chapter thereof, “The Eccentricity of the Planetary Orbits” (Part II, Section IV) and that this chapter considered in isolation is a work of “pure” or “straight” science—that is to say, it deals exclusively with natural forces and phenomena and is free of metaphysical speculations about the relation of physical to intellectual density and the like.   It should further be noted that this chapter is the only one of Kant’s works mentioned by title by anybody other than Kant—specifically, by Mrs Kant when she informs her husband that the captain has read it.  Next, it should be noted that the captain, in common with all the other non-eponymous characters, is unimplicated in Kant’s mental pathology (recall that the doctors and nurses in the final scene show no interest in anybody but Kant).  Finally, it should be noted that the quotations from the “Eccentricity” chapter gravitate, as it were, towards the first half of the play, where they form the bulk of Kant’s non-situational utterances, and throughout which Kant is uniformly calm and equable vis-à-vis all non-situational matters (even if vis-à-vis most situational matters—e.g., the ingredients of his soup and the composition of Friedrich’s birdseed—he tends to be quite irascible).  In the aggregate, these notable facts appear to delineate a Kant who according to the play’s scale of efficient causes—strong, heavy, concrete, down-to-earth “scientific” America vs. weak, light, abstract, head-in-the-clouds “philosophical” Europe—need harbor no fear of being institutionalized; such that all admissible evidence of Kant’s insanity must be sought in the second half of the play.  During the first half of this second half we witness Kant venturing into discursive territory that hints at, without necessarily quoting verbatim from, certain properly (in the modern sense) philosophical texts that we think of as core texts of the Kantian corpus—the second Critique, “What is Enlightenment?”, “Perpetual Peace,” &c.  “Every single life,” he asserts, “is of the greatest importance,” in reaffirmation of the most beloved formulation of his Categorical Imperative: Treat other people only as ends in themselves and never as mere means to an end.  And he proclaims: “I am a socialist / the only true the only real socialist” as if by way of tetchily reminding us of his timely advocacy of the French Revolution in the Metaphysics of Morals.  And all the while that he is alluding to texts that provided the philosophical basis for the liberation of the subject, he intermittently enacts this very liberation (albeit in not quite a manner guaranteed to satisfy a dedicated Kantian).  For here, in marked contrast to his essentially autistic social habitus in the first half of the play (wherein he addressed his occasional situational utterances mostly to the inner Kantian circle of Mrs Kant, Ernst Ludwig, and Friedrich), he is fairly comfortable and clubbable, letting his hair down far enough to report on his wife’s adulterous liaison with Friedrich to a near stranger, the steward; and to kvetch in sitcom-husband-worthy fashion about women’s incapacity to travel without “huge piles of luggage.”  The moral of this middle section would thus appear to be: Left to its own devices, and unthreatened by a more forceful antagonist, the subject will merely indulge itself in banal and fruitless Geschwätz—gossip and chit-chat.  But in the penultimate scene of the play, the scene of the Chinese lantern festival on the rear deck, Kant undergoes a second transformation:  to begin with, he reverts to his autistic disposition of the first half, a disposition more conspicuously anti-social in the setting of a dinner party at which the remaining guests converse in a manner not radically dissimilar to that of characters in an Agatha Christie novel or BBC costume drama; and when, towards the end of the scene, he resumes ‘philosophizing,’ in place of quoting from his own works he improvises a rant that would not be out of place in the mouth of any other Bernhard protagonist in rabid meltdown mode (a mode, incidentally, that tends, as here, to supervene a few pages before the end of the text): “When I compose a lecture it is always a lecture on death / on illness progressing to death don’t you know /on this process / that from here to infinity will remain unexplained  
Health is a usurpation gentlemen/ Health is an act of rape /
The integral is hell.”  I would argue that it is solely in virtue of his behavior in this penultimate scene, and most especially in virtue of his delivery of its just-quoted rant, that Kant is institutionalized in the final one.  Mind you, I am not arguing that there is any demonstrable causal connection between the one event and the other—that, for example, in slipping the steward a “banknote of large denomination” Mrs Kant asks him to wire news of Kant’s breakdown to New York; for intriguing in Bernhard—and I cannot iterate this point emphatically enough—is never diagetically effectual; and indeed one would perhaps best be served by thinking of it as a purely gestural and ritualistic element, like the actions of the figures in Japanese Noh drama.  In the earlier scenes, Mrs Kant’s whispered confidences to the steward constitute the sole gesture of intrigue (save for one prolepsis of the penultimate scene’s big bribe, when she slips him a banknote of unspecified—and therefore presumably small—denomination), and they serve merely to highlight in a low-key fashion Kant’s detachment from the daily grind in his capacity as a generic intellectual; in the penultimate scene the whispering spreads to other characters—the cardinal and the art collector—and is augmented by bribery, and thereby serves to point up Kant’s total estrangement from all of late twentieth-century Gesellschaft in his new capacity as a certifiable loony.  Not that we should attach too much importance to this certifiability, for Bernhard hardly maintained a very high opinion of the psychiatric profession: “Of all medical practitioners,” he wrote in Wittgenstein’s Nephew, “psychiatrists are the most incompetent, having a closer affinity to the sex killer than to their science.”
 
In any case, the certification is robbed of all conceivable normative weight by the verbatim debt of loony Kant’s rant to one of Bernhard’s most notorious apercus, delivered not via a Geistesmensch, but in his own voice, during a prize-acceptance speech: Everything is laughable when one thinks about death.  Indeed, why mince words, here? Why not frankly acknowledge that in the two final scenes of IK Bernhard is effectively proclaiming, “Immanuel Kant, c’est moi”—or, rather, “Immanuel Kant serait devenu moi had he lived an extra hundred seventy years”?  It is rather like the reply the composer Charles Ives made to someone who asked him what his rambunctious, cacophonous compositions could possibly owe to the nobly retenu works of Beethoven: “They’re a continuation of the same spirit.”  Bernhard-Kant’s impassionedly demented raving may at first blush seem to constitute a total non-sequitur in relation to the body of smugly pedantic remonstrations we have inherited from the Kant who died in 1804, but in all plausibility, if not incontrovertible fact, they may actually constitute the residue that would have been left behind by those remonstrations had they ever been honestly and thoroughly put through the paces of nineteenth and twentieth-century world history in all its significant registers—political, intellectual, and social.  I mean seriously, Volker (sic), can any mind of a truly philosophical bent give half a monkey’s about the movements of the planets of our solar system once it knows within spitting distance of a reasonable certainty that the larger, lighter planets of this system are not inhabited by sentient beings of any sort at all, let alone beings of a higher and nobler order than our own vulgar earthy selves?  And how can such a mind maintain that one must regard human beings as ends and not means once the instrumental nature of all human relations has been promoted from a universally unacknowledged open secret to a universally cossetted article of faith?   To a truly philosophical mind fully cognizant of such historical transformations, every utterance is indeed an utterance about “death, on illness progressing to death,” because deprived of the promise of a more nearly pure form of life elsewhere, one is compelled to regard the termination of biological existence as the sole telos of life ici-bas; and such a mind likewise must regard “health” as a “usurpation” because the noble ends that he has in view for life could be realized only in a world devoid of life as we have hitherto known it, life as an affair of nothing but [in Theodor Adorno’s words via Anatole France] “eating and being eaten.”  (One may succinctly sum up the process I have been describing in the present paragraph as a subjection of the Kantian moral law to the rigors of the Hegelian dialectic, whereby over time, through the movement of the Weltgeist, phenomena come into their own only by being transformed into their opposites [or antitheses.])                                                                    

A word or two of course must be said about the millionairess, if only in the light of the sheer abundance of dialogue with which she is graced.  No other character in the play but Kant has more lines, and not even Kant has a single speech longer than her longest one—a mammoth 130-liner that overspills a two-page spread at both ends, such that upon turning at hazard to its central portion (pp. 296-297), one is at a loss as to both who is speaking it and to whom it is addressed.  Clearly if portrayed by an actor of above-average skill and looks (like Sunnyi Melles in the 2009 Burgtheater production) the millionairess will steal the show.  But is she meant to?  Is Immanuel Kant one of those dramatic texts like Julius Caesar and Der Rosenkavalier that are effectively misnamed, and is the millionairess its Brutus and Ochs?  The answer to this question it, seems to me—and delighted though I would be to maintain so grain-defying a thesis as that entailed by its contrary–is a firm “No,” inasmuch as one cannot affix the millionairess to a Weltanschauung or ethos sufficiently well-defined and anti-“Kantian” to serve as an alternate, and ultimately more powerful, center of dramaturgical gravity, an affixation that would establish her as the true hero or “anti-hero” of the play.  To be sure, we gather that Kant—at least the middle-period Kant of the “middle-deck” scene—does not hold her intellect in especially high regard, for why else would he ask her for permission to call her “the millionairhead”?  But this one-off remark hardly suffices to establish her as the play’s resident standard-bearer of stupidity, while any one of a number of certain other bits of her own dialogue would heartily suffice to establish her as the play’s vice-resident exponent of intelligent Vernunft.  Like a true exponent of Enlightenment—and unlike any of the other characters save Kant himself—she is endlessly curious, forever asking questions, and occasionally even indulging in speculative thought experiments.  “Say somebody stuffs a fortune / into a certain head / for instance Kant’s head right / then at the very least that somebody is going to learn / what the point of the intellectual world is,” she conjectures in a striking parallel to Kant’s own speculative designs on the cranium of Friedrich (“An operation /would prove everything naturally / an operation that enabled me to see / the inside of Friedrich’s head”).  To be surer, these questions and thought-experiments add up to but a small fraction of her dialogue, the overwhelming bulk of which consists of personal anecdotage of no obvious interest to anybody but herself—but then again, as I mentioned earlier, so does that of the middle-period, middle-deck Kant; moreover, it is pretty much exclusively through the window or prism of this millionairessian corpus of anecdotage that we get anything approaching a glimpse of the world writ large, a world independent of the play’s characters, a world populated by such tantalizingly eccentric specimens of humanity as a terminally diarrheic proletarian husband, a street thug with an animus against knees, a sea-faring, pianizing, jewel-toting grandmother, a filially pious ex-medical student turned masseur, and so on—in short, types whom one would expect to be most at home in a first-rate page-turner of a novel dating from  the high season of bourgeois realism (ca. 1840-1910).  We may not approve of the motives guiding the emanation of this anecdotage, but to the extent that our attention is captivated by it, we cannot stigmatize it in good faith.  “Narcissistic rambling may be the best that the noblest, the most would-be altruistic liberated subject can come up with on his own a la Kant,” Bernhard here implies, “but complementarily even the most despicable, the most unabashedly self-centered liberated subject may, a la the millionairess, bequeath gifts that gratify her fellow-subjects’ least narcissistic impulses.”  To be surest, the millionairess does suffer from one utterly irredeemable flaw—her almost complete lack of knowledge of matters intellectual and cultural: she is indeed an ignoramus’s ignoramus and a philistine’s philistine.  But even pace “late,” “rear-deck” Kant’s baleful imprecations against “Americanism” qua cause of “the end of the world,” in order to regard the millionairess as a stand-in for the barbaric Ameriphilic tenor of the times—and thereby to read the play as a whole as a satire on this tenor—one would have to point to some native twentieth-century figure in the dramatis personae who embodied or expounded a full and authentic relationship to the life and produce of the mind; and one will look in vain therein for such a figure.  Oh, to be sure1, a number of them talk about their reverence of art or philosophy in the abstract, but not one of them ever evinces so much as a ghost of a sign of any interest in or understanding of a particular work of art or philosophical text (any text by Kant very much included).  The fatuous triumphalism of the captain’s post-toast remarks—“This Chinese lantern party will /go down in history / not only in nautical history / but also in the history of philosophy”—points up the purely fetishistic character of the non-Kants’ culture-fandom.  All of them to a man and a woman value culture only insofar as it emits an aura of grandeur and importance, and beneath this aura they apparently have no desire to penetrate.  And it is surely no accident that the most voluble of these European culture-vultures is Sunshine the art-collector, a man whose very vocation encourages him to regard works of art as fully fungible speculative investments.  (The millionairess, by contrast, is according to Mrs Kant, a practicing artist—a linocutter—and at least cares enough about the formal qualities of visual art to enthuse about “how Rembrandt distributes his colors.” [One of course mustn’t make too much of either of these facts, but one also mustn’t make absolutely nothing of them.])  So: for all its undeniable Ameriphobia, Immanuel Kant hardly reposes any hope in Europe qua bastion of cultural vitality, and in according so much floor-time to an uncultivated Europhobic European “child of capitalism” like the millionairess, the play seems to want to suggest that whatever life may be left in the moribund Kantian subject is perforce life of a decidedly barbaric, post-European, post-cultural nature.

Finally, a bit of dot-connecting in connection with three minor yet conspicuous figures—Friedrich, Ernst Ludwig, and Mrs Kant.  The most obvious implication of the fact that Kant’s best friend is a parrot—namely that the great philosopher desires to be surrounded not by colleagues but by yes-men—has already been remarked by at least one critic.  But given that this parrot’s name is Friedrich and that Friedrich happens to be the forename of an extremely famous German philosopher who postdated Kant, it seems to me that one must countenance the possibility that he, the parrot, stands in for some other quality than abject discipleship tout court—especially if one happens to be familiar with a particular pair of passages from the Bernhardian corpus, one antedating IK by over a decade, the other postdating it by just three years.   The first, and earlier, passage is from Gargoyles, and consists of the mad Prince Saurau’s assertion that “no philosopher since Kant” has produced anything worthwhile.  The second hails from a point in the Monologues at Mallorca when Bernhard is explaining to Krista Fleischmann the necessity, in setting oneself a philosophical syllabus, of separating the first-rank philosophers from the second-rank ones.  Among philosophers of the first rank, he explicitly names only three—Kant, Schopenhauer, and Pascal—and maintains that the greatness of all such FRPs consists in their ingenious proclivity for jesting; jesting not as in cracking jokes but as in behaving in a manner that (intentionally or otherwise) arouses mirth.  (Whatever reservations one may have about Bernhard’s Kant, one cannot deny that he is a mirth-arousing figure.)   “And the lesser ones,” he continues, “the second category, they’re all basically boring, because they just chew the cud that these philosophical jesters have written out for them beforehand.”  From a biophysical point of view chewing a cud is of course a very different operation from mimicking a sound; indeed, the two operations occur in two entirely different systems of the organism (to say nothing of the biophysically incommensurable differences between the avian and bovine nervous and digestive systems).  But as far as the history of metaphor is concerned, they are essentially identical acts, the vehicular lynchpin of the whole diptych consisting in the unoriginality of the worked-upon medium: just as the utterances of a parrot are not being spoken for the first time, having originated in the mouth of a human being; so is the cud in the mouth of a cow, bull, heifer, steer, or ox not being chewed for the first time, having originated as a mouthful of fresh grass that was subsequently swallowed and regurgitated.  Such that provided the Monologues are regarded as admissible evidence towards the outferreting of the Bernhardian Intentionschaft (and I consider Bernhard one of those rare authors whose off-typewriter remarks carry virtually equal intentional weight with their writings), and after triangulating the above-quoted passage from them with the less intentionally problematic passage from Gargoyles, one must be forgiven for conjecturing that in naming Kant’s pet parrot Friedrich Bernhard meant to say that Nietzsche’s writings were effectively a gratuitous echo of Kant’s—a provocative thesis, to be sure2, but by no means an insane one, from the point of view1 either of the history of ideas or the Gedankschaft of IK.   Certainly the actual Kant, although professedly a theist and a Christian, came remarkably close to saying “God is dead” in refusing to accord any epistemological or legislative authority to Scripture; the Christian gospels, he averred, may have come closer than any other as-yet existing text to articulating the moral law and the nature of God, but they were still a mere contingent manifestation of man’s groping intuition of these things, not the sole, necessary, infungible, efficient cause of his unbudgeable certainty of them.  (Here Kant was perhaps even more subversive than such notorious “infidels” as David Hume, who in banishing religious faith to the realm of the irrational at least left open a loophole for such ancient and still-respectable theological watchwords as Tertullian’s “It is certain because it is impossible.”  )  Such that1 one may not implausibly argue that at least in a theological register the difference between Kant’s sprawlingly involuted meta-metaphysical ethics and Nietzsche’s snappy post-metaphysical anti-credo is more stylistic than substantial; an argument that we may infer Bernhard’s Kant would ringingly endorse, if we take his extrapolative genealogy of the history of political philosophy as a pattern—a single spoke in the wheel, as it were—of his view of the debt of subsequent philosophers to him in other domains.  If Bernhard-Kant has no trouble viewing himself as “a socialist / the only true the only real socialist,” who was “completely misunderstood by that poor feebleminded sap Lenin” despite having died nearly a half-century before the foundation of the socialist movement and more than a full century before the Russian revolution, he is likely to find it easy enough to entertain the conceit of himself as “an atheist / the only true the only real atheist,” who was equally “completely misunderstood by that poor feebleminded sap Nietzsche.”  As for Bernhard’s flagrant desecration of the icon of St. Kant the Eternal Bachelor by way of the figure of Mrs Kant, it can be accounted for via a passage from a 1986 interview Bernhard gave to Werner Wögerbauer:

[Thomas Mann] was totally uptight and a typical German petty-bourgeois. With a greedy wife.  For me, that's the typical German writer combination. Always a woman in the background, be it Mann or Zuckmayer, always making sure these characters get to sit next to the head of state, at every idiotic opening of a sculpture exhibition or a bridge. Is that where writers belong? These are the people who always make deals with the state and those in power, who end up sitting at their elbows. The typical German-language writer.    

So far I have had occasion to mention only one side of the actual Kant’s political ethos—the revolutionary, progressive, “socialistic” side.  But there was another, and plausibly more essential, side to this ethos: the side of Kant the institutional brown-noser, who never missed an opportunity of advertising his university appointment at Königsberg, who went out of his way almost every day to rub elbows with the town’s worthies, and who never publicly dreamed of raising a finger in defiance of the arbitrarily wielded prerogatives of the monarchical Prussian state.  This is a Kant who would indeed probably crave “get[ting] to sit next to the head of state at every idiotic opening of a sculpture exhibition or a bridge” a la Mann or Zuckmayer, and in Bernhard’s Mrs Kant he is indeed blessed with a consort whose sole care and function seems to be to engage in “background” maneuvering (over the production and placement of blankets, menu items, pillows, knitted caps, &c.) to ensure that her husband arrives alive and in one piece at such a privileged ceremonial spot—viz. the conferee’s chair of an honorary doctorate awarded by the chief university of the chief city of the chief world power.  Of course, Bernhard’s Kant affects to be incapable of caring less whether he receives the doctorate or not, to maintain that all excitement on this score emanates entirely from his wife, and that he himself has consented to undertake the present voyage solely in the hope of curing his eye condition.  But from the fact that we first learn of the prospective award of the degree from Kant himself, and a mere six pages into Scene I, we may safely conclude that he attaches a great deal of importance to it.  Such that2 in hitching up the Eternal Bachelor to such a prosaic, pomp-hungry consort as his Mrs Kant, Bernhard seems to be saying, “Kant may not have got around to getting married, but he clearly deserved a wife—albeit a wife no better than this—for the twin sakes of his private power-humping ethos and his public role as the first German ‘intellectual’.”   (A salutary comparison may here be drawn to Bernhard’s representation of the second great German “intellectual,” Goethe, who, according to the unnamed narrator of “Goethe Dighs,” “throughout his life has been unable to abide the passage of a single day without the presence of women.”)  Unlike Mrs Kant, Ernst Ludwig does correspond at least in function to a figure in the life of the real Kant, who really did have a manservant who waited on him hand and foot twenty-four hours a day.  But the real Kant’s manservant’s name was not Ernst Ludwig; it was Martin Lampe.  The fact that Bernhard elected not to call his Kant’s servant Martin Lampe and yet christened him with a proper name (as opposed to the functional titles borne by all the other figures in the dramatis personae save Friedrich and Kant himself [The art collector counts as a half-exception, as we do eventually learn his surname]) suggests that Ernst Ludwig is to be regarded as a stand-in not for Lampe but for some other historically actual person, a person who in real life was named Ernst Ludwig and was no more a servant than Friedrich Nietzsche was a parrot.  The only plausible contender for this role in the real Kant’s life—an obvious starting point for our search, if hardly an inevitable ending point for it—is one Ludwig Ernst Borowski, his first biographer.  I personally am mighty loath to settle for an unequivocal identification of EL with LEB, not so much because ELB is surnamed Borowski rather than Ludwig (for if the “Ludwig” in “EL” were a surname and not a middle name, Kant and his wife presumably would address EL not as “EL,” as they do, but merely as “Ernst”) or even because “EL” is no more “LE” than “James Henry” is “Henry James” (for Bernhard may have deliberately or inadvertently transposed the two name-components) as because ELB seems both to have been a rather marginal figure in the real Kant’s Lebenswelt and to have subsequently become an equally marginal figure in the Lebenswelt of Kantians; to have been and become more of a John Hawkins than a James Boswell—the guy who merely wrote about the Great Man first rather than most perceptively or illustriously.   And who was Kant’s Boswell in this second sense?  Why, a bloke by the name of Ernst Cassirer, author of Kant’s Life and Thought, the classic secondary source on all things Kantian.  I trust the reader is beginning to get the picture: by transposing the forename and middle name of Kant’s first biographer, Bernhard bestows on Ernst Ludwig the forename of Kant’s most famous biographer and thereby makes his stage character a composite figure standing in for the entire Kantian biographical tradition.  And what is he thereby saying about this tradition?  Why, the obvious thing that one would expect to be said by the equation of a writer’s biographer with a semi-mute and apparently illiterate muscleman: that literary biographers do all the heavy lifting for their subjects, performing work that is undoubtedly indispensable in that (in Joseph Addison’s famous words) “a Reader seldom peruses a Book with Pleasure, ’till he knows whether the Writer of it be a black or a fair Man, of a mild or cholerick Disposition, Married or a Batchelor, with other Particulars of a like nature,” and where is the reader going to get these particulars if not from a biography?; and at the same irredeemably ignoble in that it requires precious little genius or invention and therefore could be performed by almost anybody.  And in Ernst Ludwig’s unenviable charge as guardian of Friedrich, one cannot quite resist the temptation to descry a mini-allegory of the less than swimmingly harmonious relations that obtain between the biographers and the disciples of philosophers (although I balk at attributing to Bernhard the conjecture that in boosting Kant’s reputation Cassirer was also attempting to “poison” Nietzsche’s).

On the Translations

It perhaps beho(o)ves me to preface these remarks by remarking (or these notes by noting) that many of them would probably be most usefully housed in footnotes to specific plays, and that I am placing these many here only because the B****er text-editing window, while finding plenty of room for such un-writerly genres of insertion as animated characters and video clips, does not allow automatic footnoting.  “Seriously, schlöndorfs,” I would be tempted to query on this head, “we can crash a robət into Mars and fantasize about crashing a man into an asteroid—can we not then bring the functionality of our state-of-the-art bl***ing software in line with that of the word-processors by whose aid our grandsires penned their first grammar-school composition exercises?”—I would, I say, be tempted to query thus, did I not know full well that B****er, like all other mainstream software applications of the post-Mac era, is pitched not only primarily but also ultimately and solely to the illiterate, and that any benefits that may accrue from it to the literate and semiliterate are merely vestigial holdovers from the golden age of pre-WISYWIG word processing.  To grouse about the lack of automatic footnoting in B****er is as pointless and therefore basically churlish as to grouse about the absence of a mounting rail in a modern motor-car: one should simply be grateful that the thing still has down-rollable windows.

Having remarked all that, I shall begin the remarks proper (as it perhaps beh(o)oves me to do) with those few remarks that are not ideal footnote-fodder inasmuch as they apply more or less equally to all or at least most of the versions of the plays available here at the PWAAd hunc finem imprimis: in the first part of this essay, I observed that the Bernhard plays give the typographical impression of being in free verse.  Whether they actually are or are supposed to be (in) free verse or indeed verse of any other kind is beyond my ken, for amazingly enough at no point in the several thousand words of commentary on the Bernhardian dramatic corpus that I have so far encountered has anybody—either Bernhard himself or his commentators—made mention of this corpus’s typographical or prosodic qualities.  And so as a translator I am left to sift out and catalogue as many such qualities of this sort as I manage to observe, and to deal with them in their order of apparent objective priority.  So, ad hunc finem () imprimis: it seems to me both that the plays are not in free verse or verse of any other kind, and that they are at the same time not entirely—or, to be more precise, not consistently—unmetrical.  Now, I admit that this pair of “that” clauses at first blush seems to constitute a paradox, a paradox along the lines of that contained in the following sentence: “I know full well that that there heap of brown matter is a just a pile of excrement deposited by a cow ten minutes ago, and yet at the same time I maintain that that same heap is not only a work of architecture, but of specifically Palladian architecture.”  Meter (=Palladianism) is a property of a certain kind of verse (=architecture), a more restrictively organized kind of verse than free verse, which is in turn at least traditionally more restrictively organized than mere prose (=mere excrement); such that to assert that a given collection of words is mere prose would seem perforce to preempt or short-circuit the possibility of its being even sporadically metrical.  But it is just this prima-vista paradoxical state of prosodic affairs that Bernhard’s dialogue embodies; inasmuch as for the most part, for all its division into verse-line like segments, it does not benefit from any sort of analysis in terms of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables (a la metered verse), or even from syntactic division into discrete lines (a la free verse); and yet it does occasionally lapse into passages that reward metrical analysis of such rigor as are exacted by the most restrictive traditional metrical verse forms.  So, why not simply say that it is mostly in prose but partly in verse?  Why, because that would be to imply that the metered passages were formally set off from the unmetered passages as mini-poems, whereas in fact they seamlessly follow and precede them.  A good—albeit probably not exactly the best—example of this contrast occurs in the following pair of dialogue segments from Die Berühmten (entitled The Celebrities in my translation):

BASSIST zum Tenor:
Herr Kollege
Kennen Sie das denn auch
daß die Stimme plötzlich weg ist
und plötzlich wieder da ist

TENOR stimmlos auf seinen Kehlkopf deutend, heiser
Ich habe heute keine Stimme
verkühlt
velleicht verkühlt
velleicht
ich weiß es nicht

Considered on its own, the bass’s passage is metrically irregular from start to finish.  To be sure, each of its lines is scannable as a variation on a genre of prosodically established line—trochaic dimeter in the first line, iambic trimeter (or trochaic tetrameter) in the second, iambic tetrameter (or iambic trimeter) in the third line, and iambic trimeter in the fourth.  But the presence of disruptive pyrrhic (i.e., unstressed disyllabic) feet in each line, together with the absence of even two lines exhibiting the same metrical pattern, insure that none of these line-genres manages to overcome the effect of merely accidental metricality, let alone establish itself as a governing meter of what could be called a stanza only in the event of such an establishment.  Accordingly, in translating this segment, although I have tried (and managed) to preserve each line’s semantic integrity, I have made no attempt to reproduce its pattern of stresses:

My esteemed colleague
are you at all familiar with this
with the voice suddenly disappearing
and suddenly coming right back

The tenor’s segment, in contrast, is metrically rigid at the resolution of each line and metrically cogent at the resolution of what may in this case indeed legitimately be called a stanza.  The first line is in perfect iambic tetrameter (final unstressed syllables do not count as irregularities), the second in perfect iambic monometer, the third in perfect iambic dimeter, the fourth (like the second) in perfect iambic monometer, and the fifth (like the third) in perfect iambic dimeter—such that we have a metrical scheme of ABCBCB; moreover, apart from the single unstressed syllable at the end of the first line, the segment consists of iambs from start to finish, such that it could easily be rearranged into two lines of near metrically perfect iambic pentameter.   Accordingly, in translating this segment, I have tried (and managed) to reproduce its pattern of stresses:

Today I’ve got no voice at all
a cold
perhaps a cold
perhaps
I’m not quite sure

Admittedly, this prosodic exactitude comes at the cost of a slight loss of semantic integrity: verkühlt is the past participle of verkühlen, “to catch a cold,” such that a perfectly literal translation of line two would be not “a cold” but “caught a cold,” which for clarity’s sake would best be amplified into “I’ve caught a cold”; and “I’m not quite sure” is a shade more colorful and equivocal than “ich weiß es nicht,” which literally means simply “I don’t know (it).”  But both losses seem to be amply overbalanced by the gain.  And of course even in reproducing the meter, I have hardly conveyed the full cargo of the original’s extra-semantic content: for example, ideally the collective lexicon of lines two through four should consist of two words, not three; and ideally these two words should both start with the same letter (or, to be more precise, the same consonantal phoneme followed by some vowel phoneme).  But any nearer approach to such conveyance could doubtless be purchased only with further erosion of sense.  Or perhaps not: certainly the only example that I have so far come up with (“Ménière’s / mayhap Ménière’s / mayhap”) suggests as much, but one never knows what will occur to one tomorrow.  In the meantime, today, one presses on to the next chunk of dialogue, which in all probability will be, like the above Bassic chunk, a metrically chaotic segment that one can set about translating exactly as one would any block of ordinary, full-stopped, margin-to-margin stretching prose; the only departure from such a procedure consisting not in the translation proper but in the post-translational work of dividing the segment into sub-segments of such mutually proportional lengths as allow (provided the insuperable differences between German and English syntax do not already forbid it) such quasi-poetic events as the replication of “suddenly” in the above Bassic chunk to occur at some place within spitting distance of their corresponding place in the original text.   And should it not be such a chunk, should it in prosodic terms more nearly resemble the above Tenoric chunk, one will very probably have to resign oneself for semantic fidelity’s sake to rendering its prosodic properties less nearly exactly than one did those of that chunk, to falling back on the old Anglo-Saxon accentual tradition, wherein the number of stressed syllables alone counts, and the number of unstressed syllables is permitted to vary from zero to infinity.  Hence, for example, in Englishing one of the lines that accompanies Die Berühmten’s Soprano’s assault on her mentor Lotte Lehmann, a line consisting of the single monosyllabic lexeme so, I have not scrupled to expand the monosyllable into an iambic disyllable consisting of the two lexemes like this— first because the only semantically plausible monosyllabic alternative—namely, thus—has probably not been used in the past two centuries by an empirical English speaker to the end to which the Soprano avails herself of her German so—namely, the end of illustrating how to do something; and secondly because the like, being unaccented and coming before the accented this—a this, that incidentally and presumably, like the so, will coincide exactly with the soprano’s delivery of her blow with the champagne bottle—will be as it were only half-heard (either by an actual audience or by the so-called inner ear of a reader).  And yet even here, Greco-Latin pedal-syllabic prosody is not irrelevant, for I certainly would have scrupled to render the so by way of the perfectly semantically plausible trochaic pair of lexemes this way, on the grounds that the way, in being unaccented and presumably posterior to the blow, would constitute a vestigial anticlimax thereunto.                     

“Something too much of this,” and at the expense of what is probably a more important and certainly a more nettlesome one for the translator—namely, capitalization.  In any English-language text devoid of punctuation, capital letters function as the sole unequivocal indicators of those perhaps-factitious but undeniably handy syntactical-cum-grammatical units known as sentences; marking off as they do those places that in a solicitously pointed text (SPT) would have been immediately preceded by an inhalation-mandating period (a.k.a full stop).   What is more, in such a text, capital letters supply the only indicators—unequivocal or otherwise—of such sub-sentential syntactic and pneumatic partitions as would normally be marked by commas, semicolons, and dashes, inasmuch as the placement of these partitions must all be deduced, as it were, from the lie of the sentence and from within its territory.  “But what about line breaks,” you ask?  Why, they are of no reliable syntacticocartographic use whatsoever.  True, the author may deliberately have begun a certain line at a certain point in order to set off a clause that in a(n) SPT would have been preceded by a caesura-marking semicolon; but alternatively he may have started the line there simply in order to emphasize (as Bernhard seems to like to do) some syntactically and pneumatically irrelevant correspondence between its contents and those of its predecessor.  “Fine,” you concede: “I’ll retract in full my plea for line-breaks as syntactic markers provided you qualify that ‘unequivocal’ up there with a prefatory ‘nearly’.”  And why the d***l would I ever dream of doing that?  “Because there are two cases in English in which a capital letter does not unequivocally signal the start of a sentence–viz. when it begins a proper name and when it is coextensive with the pronoun I.”  You’re quite right to point those two cases out, and in particular to point out that second one, inasmuch as it is an ambiguity that one never encounters in German, wherein the I equivalent ich is (as you just saw) uncapitalized—such that it occurs to me now that I really ought to collate all my I-starting lines with their counterparts in my source-texts, and, when I discover one of these Is corresponding to a lower-case ich, see if I can’t get away with bumping it up or down a syllable or two by way of insuring that I do not introduce into my translation an instance of ambiguity that is perforce absent from the original.  As to instances of your first case, instances of lines starting with Bob or Suzy or Dave or Sophronia, I need worry about them far less, inasmuch as German capitalizes its own proper names, such that provided my placement of a Bob, a Suzy, autc. at the beginning of a line has not been occasioned by some freak of interlingual syntactic divergence, any ambiguity emanating from that placement will be but a carryover from the original German text.  But all this (beginning, that is, from “Something too much of this” above) has essentially been a mere propaedeutic to my commentary on the main nub of the nettle presented to the translator of these plays by capitalization; namely, that in German all nouns, whether common or proper, are capitalized—such that the relative respective values of the capital letter qua sentence delimiter in English and German are roughly comparable to the relative respective monetary values of a present-day English pound and a present-day Euro (inasmuch as common nouns account for at least a quarter of the total lexicon of both languages, and the pound reliably outstrips the Euro to the tune of 25% in the currency market); such in turn that while the translator of a Bernhard play may simply wave through each occurrence of a capitalized line-beginning preposition, pronoun, verb autc. with the blaséness of a Washington Union Station ticket inspector at rush hour, he is obliged to scrutinize every occurrence of a line-beginning capitalized common noun with the impassible suspiciousness of a south Philadelphia pawnbroker overdue for a lunch (i.e., cheesesteak) break.  In schoolmarmishly punctilious theory, the criterion of the appraisal is quite simple and clear-cut, albeit tryingly tedious to apply: if the line-beginning capitalized noun 1) does not occur at the beginning of a dialogue segment (Bernhard capitalizes every word in this position, regardless of which part of speech it instances) 2) functions as the subject of a verb that follows it, and 3) is not preceded by a relative pronoun, then its counterpart in the translation deserves to be capitalized; otherwise, it does not.   “But surely,” you demur in your best impression of a schoolchild in desperate, physiologically genuine need of a bathroom-pass, “not all—nay, not even most!—non-relative clause preceded subject-plus-verb combinations are the beginnings of sentences; surely most of them are (like the present clause), mere subdivisions of sentences.  And then there are other cases in which a noun clearly does deserve to be capitalized, despite not being followed by a verb.  Sentence fragments (like the present one), for example.  Surely Mr Bernhard intended some more than negligible proportion of his capitalized, line-beginning nouns to be considered in one of these two lights.”  “Well then,” the schoolmarm counter-demurs as sternly as if she were turning down your request for a bathroom pass on the grounds that you (or Mr Bernhard) had fiddled your last ten bathroom breaks into afternoon-long hooky sessions at the nearest Cineplex, “Mr Bernhard should have thought of some way of signaling this intention before he set about writing punctuation-free plays.  He could easily, for example—and a la Stefan George—have adopted a non-Teutonic capitalization style; i.e., left his common nouns lowercase by default.  But I suppose the fear of coming across as jugendstilisch altmodisch preempted such an adoption.  When ever will you children learn that looking ‘uncool’ is not the worst thing that can happen to you?”  On the whole, I have to say, I find the schoolmarm’s arguments quite convincing; and on the whole my capitalization policy corresponds to the one that she would enjoin—such that, for example, while Immanuel Kant’s original German millionairess refers within the span of two lines to “…eine Menge erzherzöhglicher Ringe / Brillanten [note the uppercase B], Diamenten, aus allen Kaiserhäusern [note the absence of any verbs since “Brillanten”], and thereby certainly leaves open the possibility of an implicitly full-stopped sentence ending with “Ringe” and followed by a sentence-fragment beginning with a capitalized “Brillanten,” my Anglophone millionairess refers within that same two-line span to “…a heap of archducal rings / brilliants [note the lowercase B] diamonds from all the imperial residences,” thereby implying that the two lines comprise a single sentence that is terminated only immediately before the following line’s inaugural “Finden,” whose capitalization, being that of a verb, cannot have been accidental, and which I have accordingly transferred to its Anglophone syntactic (albeit not semantic) counterpart “Don’t.”  Nonetheless, I must confess to having knowingly strayed from this policy more than occasionally for reasons that I have always deemed just and yet not always found transparently clear.  In the last segment of proper dialogue in Die Berühmten, for example, the bass utters the following three lines: “Champagner / Champagner / Champagner,” and while the schoolmarm would have had me render them thus: “Champagne / champagne /champagne,” I have instead rendered them thus: “Champagne / Champagne / Champagne,” thereby ending each line with an invisible exclamation point when from a strictly syntactic point of view an invisible comma or semicolon at the end of the first and second lines (as implied by the schoolmarmish version) would have been perfectly plausible.  Plausible, yes, but somehow wrong, possibly because the fist-pounding with which the stage directions tell us the bass accompanies these last words suggests that they must at least end as an exclamation, and it is hard to imagine a string of uncapitalized words building up to anything more emphatic than a period (but why is it so hard to do this?); and possibly also because in the absence of punctuation some other typographical device must be employed to signal that a play as a specifically spoken dramatic entity, as a succession of intelligible verbal utterances, is here coming to an end.  (The final scene, in consisting entirely of stage directions, effectively marks Die Berühmten’s permanent desertion of the dramatic mode in favor of quasi-novelistic narration-cum-description.) 

But all this, from the first “something too much of this” above to the preceding sentence, has essentially been a mere propaedeutic to the following caveat-cum-prescription: as I have on the whole been quite sparing, quite n*****dly, in my apportionment of capital letters in my translations of the plays, the user of them, be he a solitary reader, a stage director, or an actor, must work out their pneumatic rhythm—the placement in them of accents and pauses—largely on his own.  He must expect as a near-given that between any two capitalized letters there will be stations at which he will have to pause without cue, and he must determine where these stations are by simply (but often far from expeditiously) reading the stretch aloud (or, what comes nearly to the same thing, imagining it being read aloud by someone else), and stopping whenever it seems to him that he would be making so much as a jot less sense to the listener by pressing ahead.  On one level, as they say, I feel really bad about, as they say, imposing such a tedious chore on the user, especially as I suspect that ninety-nine times out of a hundred we, the user and I, would agree on where these pausing-stations should occur, and that nine times out of ten we would even agree on which punctuation signs should mark them.  But what can I say?  My hands are, as they say, tied.  “‘My hands are tied,’ you say,” you say, “and yet you have certainly been nimble- fingered enough to insert  into your translations words, phrases—nay, whole sentences—whose siblings—nay, eighteenth cousins nineteen times removed—the reader will search for in vain in the original text—e.g., ‘sweeping judgment’ for Pauschalurteil (literally pocket judgment), ‘HERR HOLZINGER, a manager at Herrenstein’s firm,’ for ‘DIREKTOR HOLZINGER, ein Angestellter’ (literally, DIRECTOR HOLZINGER, an employee), ‘burning your blowtorch at both ends’ for hängt man an einem Kälberstrick (literally, hangs everything on a calving rope), even ‘do you really think you can say anything without picking up a broom?’ for ‘Können S’alles ausweitern, nicht” (literally, Can y’expand everything, not.).  “Why, your confounded cheek fairly buggers description!”  Oh yeah?  Well your confounded description buggers my cheek!  But seriously, Rudiger, you have in fact hit on a genuine ethical paradox confronted by the translator—a paradox not unlike the sileni of Alcibiades, as my maternal grandfather’s partial namesake Salvatore Camporeale seldom missed an opportunity to say—the paradox that the translator’s tender regard for his source text’s reputation for virtue obliges him in certain settings to take certain liberties with her that the most abandoned seventeenth-century rake would blush to inflict on a half-shilling St. James’s whore, even as it more predictably obliges him in certain other settings to refrain from begging certain favors of her that the most morally precise seventeenth-century Puritan parson would not blush to request of the most respectable married woman in his congregation.  Now, as for the raisin debtor for such an apparently schizoid disposition: the first setting (the whoremasterly one) is one in which a given infelicity or difficulty appears to issue from differences of linguistic decorum between the source language and the target language, whereas the second (or parsonic) setting is one in which the I or D in Q seems to issue from some private whim of the author; and when dealing with a source text hailing from a literary tradition as abundantly represented by middle-of-the-road English translations as is the German-language tradition, one owes it to that text to play down such linguistic quirks as are common to all German-language writers, lest one’s reader suppose that one’s author is addicted to impersonating, say, Martians or the Amish (“What’s up with all these as saids thees and thous?  I didn’t notice anything like them in the translation of Doktor Faustus I just finished reading.”) [The treatment of dialect—such linguistic quirks as are common to only a minority of the source text’s speakers and writers—is a trickier matter {see Note 2  on Elizabeth II below}], whereas when the quirks are genuine idiosyncrasies (i.e., components of an idiom) one owes it the source text to include them—or at least some equally off-putting Anglophone approximation—lest one’s reader suppose that one’s author is just ein gewöhnlicher Kerl, a veritable Hans Zweiliterhumpen.   Now the vagaries of Bernhard’s capitalization and punctuation style seem apodictically enough to present be quirks of the idiomatic sort and to demand the most gingerly parsonic treatment—in other words, I am pretty sure that most German-language writers, or even more specifically German-language playwrights, do not capitalize and punctuate their plays in the Bernhardian manner, and so I have gone out of my way not to tinker with this style; to convey it as best I can with Lelyesque fidelity, however annoyingly counterproductive I may find it (and I do find it awfully annoyingly counterproductive).  The likes of Direktor Holzinger, hängt man an einem Kälberstrick, and so on, on the other hand, seem to me to belong to the general Germanic sort of linguistic peculiarity, and to demand whoremasterly treatment.  “But surely,” you demur, “there are whoremasters and whoremasters, or rather—to refer to another term in your conceit, by way of getting away from this unsavory rapscallion the WM—there are liberties and liberties.  Clearly one can’t just plunk down any old string of words—e.g., “Furiously sleep ideas green colorless”—in place of Direktor Holzinger or hängt man an einem Kälberstrick.  Surely there must be some rationale for the libertine’s vector—for how far and in which direction he roams.” Indeed there is, but the distance and direction must be calibrated for each specific case (or at most, as small set of cases), such that one can never explain why one took a certain liberty except in specific terms (or at most, in terms of highly straitened generality).  “And how does one get around this problem of ungeneralizability?”  Why, by setting down one’s specific, discrete rationales in a series of targeted notes—i.e., notes of the footerly sort that I long ago promised this second section of these Notes would prevailingly consist, a promise that I am sure I can dream of fulfilling only if I immediately leave off this discursive vein and proceed as follows:

Footnote-like Notes to Specific Plays

I. Elizabeth II

1.  So then—as I may as well start with a passage that is fresh in the reader’s mind—why did I elect to change “DIREKTOR HOLZINGER, ein Angestellter” to “HERR HOLZINGER, a manager at Herrenstein’s firm”?   First(ly) and most exigently, because while in the Germanosphere it is considered normal and not at all pedantic to refer to or formally address a person by prefixing to his surname his functional job title, here in the Anglosophere, our prefatory titles derive for the most part from generic academic qualifications (Dr Spock, Professor Kelp) or in default of these, generic respectable personhood (Mr Spock, Miss Piggy).  So at minimum, Direktor Holzinger must be transformed into Mr Holzinger, or, in a sop to Germanophone plausibility that I have provisionally renounced in subsequent translations, Herr Holzinger.  But in jettisoning Direktor (meaning “manager”) and leaving in Angestellter (meaning “employee), I deprive the reader of certain information about the nature and status of Herr Holzinger’s job—I leave open the possibility (and indeed incline the reader to infer the probability) that Herr Holzinger is a mere janitor or mailroom clerk—hence the necessity of substituting “manager” for “employee.” (“Executive” would probably have been more in line with present-day Anglophone business-speak, but I find it a shade too pompous, at least for application to such a colorless nonentity as Holzinger shows himself to be.)  As for the postfix of “at Herrenstein’s firm,” I have added it by way of forestalling the question I should immediately ask upon reading that a certain person was a “manager” plain and simple, viz., “What is he a manager of—conflicts?  mutual funds?  a 7-11?”  I confess that the above substitution-cum-addition, while despoiling the reader’s nose of no skin, does not amount to an unalloyed gain for the pure spectator of the play, who, in perforce knowing Holzinger from start until his first appearance as “a mere mister,” will be denied the undeniable albeit negligible thrill of anticipating the arrival on the scene of a person of at least marginal authority somewhere, a full-fledged director or manager.  Directors (of plays, not businesses) who are skittish about this shortfall certainly have my blessing to append a “from the office” or “your lackey at the company” to the first mention of the character (by Richard, on p. 15 of the PDF version).         

2.  “If yah wanna piece o’ me / help y’self,” attributed by Count Neutz to the Kaiser on p. 64 of the PDF version, reads in the original “geh’ hörn S’ auf / ham S’ mi gern,” evidently a broad Viennese -dialectal approximation of “geh(e) hören Sie auf / haben Sie mich gern.”  The first of these two strings of text may be translated almost word for word as “Now stop it”; the second literally means “Have me gladly,” but according to the dictionaries it is also an idiom meaning “I’ll see you further first”—an oddly clunky and recherché alternative to such tried-and-true Anglophone expressions of defiance as “I’d like to see you try” and “over my dead body.”  So semantically speaking in the second line Neutz’s Kaiser is essentially iterating the first line with a bit more peremptory oomph: “Now stop it, or else…” And between the two of them these lines amount to the couplet “Now stop it / now stop it, or else…,” hardly the sort of remark one expects to elicit a peal of uproarious laughter that is slow to subside,” as it is said to do.  Why then does Neutz’s audience find it so funny?  No doubt partly because of the Kaiser’s accent, which, whatever else it may be—including an accurate impression of his actual one—is decidedly sub-posh and therefore intrinsically comical coming from the mouth of an emperor.   So at minimum the translation must suggest a plebian accent.  But is the funniness really all in the accent?  I would wager not, on the assumption that in German as in English have is one of those verbs that is always amenable to being taken in a naughty sense—that in other words in saying “Have me gladly” Neutz’s Kaiser may be construed not only as defying the other fellow to take a swing at him but also as inviting him to have sex with him.  So the translation must likewise invite both pugilistic and sexual interpretations, as I believe “[Do] you want a piece of me?” patently does in the light of piece of’s ineluctable Lockean tendency to bring in tow the word ass and thereby put the reader in mind of one of our language’s most beloved metonyms for the sexual act.  But because “Do you want a piece of me?” on its own sounds a bit too coldly rhetorical to my ears, because “haben Sie mich gern” has overtones of outright gemütlich hospitality that are decidedly wanting in “[D]YWaPoM?”—“I would be glad, nay delighted, if you had me,” “hSmg” fairly squeals—I have felt compelled to absorb “[D]YWaPoM?” into a full-fledged “if…then” construction terminating in the sole indispensable expression of every good Anglophone host—viz. “help yourself.”  Now, as for the dialect or accent, it is the generic petit-bourgeois judeo-italick, four boroughs-’n’-four counties New York City-area accent that everybody knows from the works of Messrs Scorcese, Allen, Coppola, “Dice” Clay et al.; as near as I can render it without resorting to the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association.  Whether this dialect is really the best quasi-equivalent of the Viennese dialect is a question that is certainly open to debate and that will doubtless remain so until some serviceable consensus arises out of the ten thousand per annum and counting-strong tally of that classic parlor game played in Anglophone drawing rooms from Juneau to Jodhpur—viz. “Is Vienna the New York, the New Orleans, or the Norwich (England) of the Germanosphere?”  All I know is that ever since I heard New York native Jerry Stiller inaugurate a session of fisticuffs with Julia-Louis Dreyfus by way of “You want a piece of me” spoken in this dialect, I have been unable to imagine “YWaPoM?” uttered in any other, and to the extent that millions of my fellow Anglophones cannot but share my incapacity, I am being faithful to the heritage of “YWaPoM?” (if to nothing else) in forcing the Kaiser to pronounce it in cod New-Yorkese.

Immanuel Kant

1.  Millionairhead (p. 54 in the PDF version) corresponds to Bernhard’s Millionärrin, a portmanteau word composed of Millionär (i.e., “millionaire”) and Närrin, the feminine form of Narr, meaning “fool.”  In asking the millionairess’s permission to call her Millionärrin, then, Kant is asking her for permission to call her simultaneously a millionaire and a female fool.  In millionairhead I am quite certain that I have captured Millionärrin’s foolishness, as my 1990 Concise Oxford Dictionary defines airhead in its second, non-military, “esp. US sl[ang].” sense as “a silly or foolish person”; and I am pretty well sure that I have captured its femininity, in that airhead is one of those terms of opprobrium that while not being pegged by the private parts to a specific sex tends almost unfailingly to be applied to one and not to the other.  (Just as James Boswell averred that he had “never heard blockhead applied to a woman,” I can aver that I have never heard airhead applied to a man.)  What I am certain I have not captured in millionairhead is the virtual phonological identity of the original term with its substitute, an identity that renders it not only possible but almost inevitable for the millionairess to be “flatter[ed]” (as she says she is) rather than offended by Kant’s request.  Millionärrin, you see, is only an extra r away from Millionärin   or “millionairess,” an r that does not affect the pronunciation of the ä that precedes it; such that Bernhard’s German-speaking Kant can privately savor his little jibe in the secure assumption that the millionairess will fail to realize that he is taking the mickey out of her.  This is obviously not a luxury so quiescently enjoyable by my English-speaking Kant, for while the h in “airhead” is plausibly (if only just plausibly) elidable (i.e., on the pattern of the old-school pronunciation of “forehead” as forrid) there is no way in heck that one can pronounce that final d so as to make it mistakable for an s.  Still, I do think it fairly plausible that the Millionairess should hear the “air” in “airhead” not as the first syllable of that word but rather as the last syllable of the word “millionaire”; that she should, in other words, hear the entire coinage not as “millionairhead” but rather as “millionaire-head”—a bemusing construction, to be sure, but hardly an “unflattering” one.  “But isn’t this plausible mishearability very much a two-edged sward, in that the audience no less than the millionairess is likely not to pick up on Kant’s joke?”  Yes, but given that the sward is even sharper on both ends in the original German, it is clearly Bernhard and not me who ought to be taken to task for this hole in IK’s epistemological economy.  I personally—that is to say, in just shooting from the hip of my gut feeling—think that this epistemological hole is no oversight but a deliberate act of self-vandalization on Bernhard’s part, that Bernhard is just being a dick, as we say in the American sector of the Anglosphere, in keeping the pure spectator out of the loop of the Millionär(r)in joke; that this hole is just one of the thousands of gestures—e.g., the afore-beatentodeath absence of punctuation, the ever-sketchy indications of décor, and the generally nonexistent indications of costume—whereby Bernhard gives vent to his oft-expressed contempt for the exigencies of the people who produce and consume live, in-the-flesh drama.

2. Speaking of TB’s fudging up or being a dick, the continuity error occasioned by Mrs Kant’s declaration that Ernst Ludwig is mute after he has spoken eight times is all Bernhard’s.  Of course, one might argue that Mrs Kant is meant to be mistaken and that this lapse (as it would then have to be regarded) points up her bourgeois hauteur in showing how flagrantly oblivious she is of even the most glaringly conspicuous traits of the hired help.  But this would tend to make her seem in certain respects even more out of touch with the hic et nunc than Kant (who treats Ernst Ludwig’s capacity to speak as a matter of course), and to what end?  I am not suggesting here that it is impossible that Bernhard deliberately put inaccurate words into Mrs Kant’s mouth, but merely that if he did, he neglected to work out why they needed to be put there.                              

3.  The Millionairess’s characteristic ejaculation “Oh yeah” corresponds to the German achja, which in most cases may legitimately be translated as “Ah yes,” or “Oh yes” or “Oh yeah,” or even (if one wants to get kinky or affect to seem streetwise) “Ah yeah”; but in some cases must be translated as something entirely different.  So regrettably a few of those achjas had to become “Oh well”s, and my millionairess to become a trifle less irritating than Bernhard’s.  As to why I opted for “oh yeah” rather than “ah yes,” autc.—well, it just seems both more American and more “airheaded” than the alternatives.   To be sure, plenty of clever Brits say “Oh yeah,” but from “Oh yes” or “Ah yes” (and unlike from “Oh yeah”) it is an easy transition to “I say,” and thence an even easier transition to “I rather would fancy marmite sarnis for tea today.”       

III.  The Celebrities

1.  The difficulty of producing an adequate English title for this play shows how even so basic and apparently straightforward a distinction as the one between literal and idiomatic meaning can be annulled by the vagaries and vaguenesses [No, these two are not essentially the same word: check your COD if you do not believe me.] of history and “culture”—or, to be more precise and honest, by the limits of the translator’s knowledge of these vees and vees.  Its original German title, Die Berühmten, consists of the nominative plural form of the definite article followed by the plural of the adjective berühmt, recognizable as a de facto noun from the facts that it is capitalized and not followed by another word.  Lower-case berühmt may be translated variously as “famous,” “celebrated,” or “renowned,” but it derives from a verb berühmen, meaning “to praise,” “to extol,” or “to glorify,” after the fashion our own adjectives “bespoke(n)” from “to speak,” “bedaubed” from “daub,” etc.  Now, when we call somebody “famous,” we usually mean that he is both widely known and celebrated, but we may mean that he is merely widely known, widely-known full stop; that while scads of people certainly have heard of him, it is possible that not a single scademe among them has so much as praised the color of his sneaker-laces.  Case in point: the recumbent anthropomorphic glyph on the yellow CUIDADO: PISO MOJADO signs that bestrew the lobbies of our hotels and office buildings—more famous than, say, Michael Phelps, but hardly as celebrated.  (To be sure, if we want to convey that the person is both widely known and detested, we use a different adjective—“notorious.”)  This conventional ambiguity attending “famous”—an ambiguity that to the extent that an obvious etymology can be trusted, apparently does not attend berühmt—inclines the translator away from kinsmen of “famous”; and this disinclination is strengthened by the reflection that our lexicon does not contain a countable noun derived from “fame,” such that in sticking to a “fame” derivative, he would have to call the play something like The Famous People, which of course sounds awful.   But suppose he goes for a “celebrated” derivative.  Is he then obliged to call the play The Celebrated People?  Of course not, for our language lexicon does contain a countable noun derived from celebrate—viz., “celebrity.”  And as The Celebrities is what I have in fact chosen to call my translation, the present pseudo-footnote would seem to have exhausted its raison de continuer in the preceding sentence.  And yet it continues.  Why?  Because a celebrity in all varieties of present-day English (save, conceivably albeit none-too-plausibly, the Indo-Pakistani one) does not denote a person who is celebrated tout court but rather a person who is celebrated in a certain way in certain places, or by certain types of celebrators.  Celebrities are written about (and photographically depicted) in mega-mass circulation magazines like People and Us (if it is still around), which celebrate them mainly by recording how much weight they have gained or lost recently and speculating on the exclusivity and solidity of their latest sexual liaisons.  Of Die Berühmten’s eighteen characters (not counting the two servants but very much counting the nine dummies) there is only one whom I would unreservedly call a celebrity in this sense—viz., Arturo Toscanini, who was indeed gossiped about and photographed ad nauseam in mega-mass circulation magazines throughout the 1930s and 1940s, albeit—if only in the light of his advanced age—probably not in quite so prurient a spirit as Brad and Angelina and Kate and Wills are now.  Of the other seventeen, the most I would say with confidence is that they are universally celebrated among other people of the same job title within the Germanosphere–the Bass and by Richard Mayr by other German-singing basses, the Tenor and Richard Tauber by other German-singing tenors, and so on.  “Do you actually have the temerity, sir, to call the göttliche Lotte Lehmann, she who received [,say,] a four-hour standing ovation at the Met, a mere German soprano’s German soprano?”  No, but I do actually have the timidity not to call her a full-fledged celebrity in deference to the fact that I had never heard of her until years after hearing of hundreds of female vocalists (e.g., Ely Ameling, Lucia Popp, and Judith Raskin) whom I unhesitatingly would debar from the pantheon of celebrityhood.  You are now beginning to appreciate, I trust, the practical benefits of the notion of famousness as against the notion of celebrity-hood: to call someone famous allows him and his fans the full measure of glory to which he is supposedly entitled without encroaching on the claims to fame of rivals (e.g., to the title of greatest German-singing tenor or bass) and super-rivals (e.g., to the title of the greatest tenor or bass tout court); for fame, as Laurence Sterne recognized way back in the 1760s (albeit that he used the word “reputation”), is a medium whose limits of propagation may always be seen as coextensive with those of the entire world, even if that world turns out to be “no more of” the actual entire world than “four English miles diameter” around the “cottage” where the famous person dwells; such there is no person too obscure to be regarded as famous by someone; whereas to dub somebody a celebrity is automatically to assert that he is or ought to be known by literally everybody the world over.  Bernhard himself (i.e., in his own character) evinced an irritation at this very sort of bumptiousness on the part of another German analogue to countable “celebrity” when he bristled at Krista Fleischmann’s designation of the real-world counterparts of the characters in Woodcutters as Persönlichkeiten:  “Whether they are celebrities [Persönlichkeiten] or not is debatable; there are, I believe, 40,000 writers in Austria; I very much doubt (laughs) that we have 40,000 celebrities.”  (Yes, here I have once again had to avail myself of the accursed C-word; this time because “personality” is current as a countable noun only in compound forms [e.g., “television personality” and “radio personality”].)  In other words, no matter how well-known an Austrian writer is to other Austrian writers, the odds of his being a proper celebrity are remote in the light of the huge number of writers in Austria (40,000) as against the tiny total number of Austrian celebrities (100? 10? one [If only one, then that one is course Arnold Schwarzenegger]?) across the board.  If only Fleischmann had called Woodcutters’s writers Berühmten, and Bernhard had demurred at that word as forcefully as he actually did at Persönlichkeiten!  For then the translator could be sure that he was not artificially amplifying, for example, the Bass’s megalomania in making him proclaim “I am a celebrity [Berühmtheit]” or the publisher’s sycophancy in making him conjecture that his fellow dinner-guests are “at the pinnacle of the internationality of [their] celebrity [Ruhmes].”                

2.  The Bass, as Bernhard indicates in his dramatis personae, is a baron; and in the original German text he is addressed as Herr Baron on numerous occasions.  I have rendered each of these Herr Barons as “my lord.”  And why did I not rather render them by some formula that did (or does) not reduce his barony to mere generic nobility?  Why, because “my lord” is one of only two forms (the other being the equally generic “your lordship”) by which a sub-ducal noble may properly be addressed in our tongue.  “Baron” on its own would have debased the title to a buddy-buddy nickname on the level of “Doc” or “Coach,” and Herr Baron untranslated would have thrown up a screen of Germanophone inscrutability that, as I hinted earlier, I have of late been sedulously keen to avoid erecting.   No, Sir: “my lord” is just the mot juste (pr. “Moe Juiced”).  In an Anglosphere wherein though barons, earls, marquesses, and viscounts teem in greater numbers than at any earlier point since the Norman Conquest, these selfsame peers suffer themselves to be addressed a la Joe Bloggs by such handles as Patrick, Seb, and Melvyn; in such an Anglosphere, I say, “my lord” conveys a note of anachronistic servility that is equally appropriate to an Austria that had been without a legally recognized nobility for nearly sixty years as of 1976, the year of Die Berühmten’s premiere.  (It will be seen that the “my lord”-ing of the Bass will leave the pure spectator in much the same sort of semi-dark that he is left in by the “Herr”-ing of Direktor Holzinger, but in this case if he sticks around long enough—viz. until a few minutes into Scene I—he will be enlightened—viz., by the Conductor’s explicit reference to the Bass’s barony.)

3.  Verkrüppelung, the thing and quality to which Adorno is said by the publisher to attribute all artistic greatness, presented me with pretty much the same difficulty as did Berühmten, namely its grammatical incompatibility with a semantically perfect English twin.  The krüppel in Verkrüppelung is as vrai an ami allemand as an English word could desire: it looks almost exactly like what it actually means—“cripple.”  And that “ung” at the end of Verkrüppelung is indeed a cognate of the particle “ing.”  As for the “Ver” prefix: it is a cognate and synonym of the Latin “per,” meaning “thoroughly” or “through and through” or “completely.”  But let us not worry about that prefix for now; let us assume that it can pretty much be omitted from the translation (as it can from the translation of plenty of other German words—both “hindern” and “verhindern,” for example, may be rendered as “to hinder,” “to prevent,” “to impede,” etc. [such that in dealing with a conspicuous juxtaposition of the two verbs (i.e., as uttered by the Director in the second prologue) in order to avoid flagrant repetition while acknowledging the lexical overlap, I have been obliged to do some violence to the sense in translating hindern as “prevent” and verhindern as “preempt”]); let us take the negligible liberty of Englishing Verkrüppelung as “crippling.”  We must then still acknowledge that “crippling,” unlike scads of other English “–ing” terminating words (e.g., “acting,” “hunting,” and “lying”) has yet to enjoy much success as a gerund—that is to say, a kind of honorary noun denoting the activity accomplished by the verb.  By default we take “It is as easy as lying” to mean “It is as easy as to tell a lie,” whereas “It is as harmful as crippling” we are more likely to take to mean “It is no less harmful than it is causative of a crippled condition” than “It is as harmful as to cripple.”  In other words, we are less likely to regard “crippling” as a gerund than as a participle—i.e., an honorary adjective.  Even less likely are we to regard “crippling” as one of those -ing-terminating words that has graduated (a la “misunderstanding”) to the status of a full-fledged proper countable noun, the sort of word that any translation of Bernhard’s Verkrüppelung perforce must be, in the light of the dozen or so occasions on which the playwright sees fit to prefix the big V-word with some German equivalent of “a(n),” “the,” “his,” “her,” or “their.”  So I was regrettably obliged to search for a more decorous synonym for this gawky, ungainly “crippling” noun, to seek out a word that meant “the thing in virtue of possessing which a cripple is a cripple,” which search immediately yielded the pair “handicap” and “disability” and then stalled for good.  I trust that I do not need to specify at length the shortcomings of these two words qua Verkrüppelung-alternative, as to do so would be merely to iterate a certain boilerplate so-called anti-PC curmudgeon’s tirade that I trust the reader knows much better than the Gettysburg Address or “To Be or Not to Be,” a tirade to the effect of “When I was a nipper, we called them there gimps cripples; but that wasn’t nice enough; so we had to start calling ’em ‘handicapped’; but that wasn’t nice enough, so we had to start calling ‘’em ‘disabled’; but that wasn’t nice enough, so we had to start calling ‘em ‘differently abled.’  What’s next—calling ’em ‘hung like a blue whale on performance-enhancing drugs?’ Doh!/What a kantree!”   “So much for not iterating the tirade, YFC.”  I beg your pardon: that was a radically condensed paraphrase, not an iteration.  In any event/in short, the shared historical burden of handicap and disability obliged me to venture into the second tier of Verkrupplung’s dictionary-certified Anglophone analogues, within which tier I discovered and eventually resigned myself to deformity.  In point of fact, while undoubtedly semantically inferior to any c-word derivative, “deformity” has a decided edge over “handicap” and “disability” in more than one salient albeit not-quite overriding respect.  First because not necessarily lesser, it is a perfect prosodic match for Verkrüppelung, consisting as it does of four syllables tapping out an iamb followed by a pyrrhic, and thus facilitating the transmission of the intermittent metricality that I wrote the reader’s eyes off about earlier.  Second, “deformity” happens to be one of the classic antitheses of “beauty”—“ugliness”’s older upmarket sibling, as it were (case in point, The Deformities of Johnson, a satirical anthology of Samuel Johnson’s writings published in response to an earlier collection called The Beauties of Johnson); such that were the Publisher’s assertion that “Absolute beauty does not fascinate,” preceded by an assertion that “People with disabilities always exert a fascination” it would seem a virtual non sequitur by comparison with the assertion that it actually follows in my translation, viz. “People with deformities always” &c.  Indeed, out of this particular counterfactual mismatching one may fashion a kind of creation myth for the replacement in English of “cripple” and its derivatives by euphemisms derived from “disable.”  It would seem that the condition by which a cripple is afflicted—whether a withered leg, an extra thumb, or a missing eye—must always be something that not only makes the performance of certain acts harder for him than for normal people, but also makes him less cosmetically attractive, less shapely, than normal people.  “Disabled”et al., in purging “crippled” et al. of this cosmetic stratum, allowed everyone to pretend that the whole kerfuffel was really only about the impairment of capacity, whereas what the crippled actually resented most of all was being thought less pretty than their uncrippled contemporaries.  Well, as I said, this is only a creation myth.  And in any case, as long as our species continues to be blessed by deformities—from strawberry birthmarks to  extra nipples (among men at least) to missing wisdom teeth—that are not also disabilities, “deformity” will never afford an altogether satisfactory translation of Verkrüppelung, whence the present pseudo-footnote.              

4.  The publisher’s quotations of Novalis are all genuine and accurate, with the exception of one that I have translated as “Seriousness must be merry / pain must shimmer with seriousness,” wherein the word “pain” corresponds to the word Schmerz, which in Bernhard’s text stands in the place occupied by Scherz—meaning “joke” or “merriment”--in Novalis’s original aphorism.  So the quotation ought actually to read “Seriousness must be merry / A joke [or “jokiness,” “merriment,” etc.]  must shimmer with seriousness.”  Naturally one’s inner AP English teacher assumes that the insertion of the extra “m,” while inadvertent on the publisher’s part is quite deliberate on his so-called creator’s, that it is a deftly thrifty means of pointing up the publisher’s fatuity (or inanity).  And so it probably is, but I believe there is a real albeit slim chance that it is just a typo.  (Bernhard complained that editions of his works were full of them.)  Note that I did not say that I believed there was a chance that the mistake was Bernhard’s, that it was his rather than the publisher’s eyes or memory that was at fault, because for that to be plausible the quote as printed in the play, however asinine its upshot, would still have to make some sort of sense–the way that, for example, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds” makes sense although it is merely a truncated and misleadingly banal version of Emerson’s original trenchant apothegm, viz. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”  (See Next Stop Wonderland starring Hope Davis for an entire movie built around this particular misquotation of this particular apothegm.)  Bernhard’s publisher’s misquotation, though, is logically incoherent.  The original aphorism is essentially a chiastically framed paradox—it states twice that a certain thing (seriousness) is one of its classical antitheses (merriment or jokiness), the only effective difference between the two statements being the order of the two things, which are swapped for each other the second time round: “1) Seriousness is jokiness.  2) Jokiness is (or “must shimmer with”) seriousness.”  AB
      BA    
the statement in general terms of a received wisdom-confuting paradox followed by an exemplification of that paradox: “Seriousness [--contrary to what you believe--] must be merry (Statement) / A joke [i.e., a particular instance of merriment] must shimmer with seriousness.” (Exemplification)  The publisher’s quotation is a statement of the same general paradox followed by an equally general statement that reasserts the very bit of received wisdom that the paradox was intended to undermine.  “Seriousness[—contrary to what you believe--]must be merry / Pain [--in exact conformity with what you believe--] must shimmer with seriousness.”  At bottom it is logically coextensive with the sentence “Black is white, and white is white,” which prompts one to conclude that everything is white and that therefore whiteness is an otiose and meaningless concept.  Clearly on the whole Bernhard regards his celebrities as men and women of low genius, but I am not at all sure that he regards them as so stupid as to be incapable of recognizing such flagrant nonsensicality as this.  And I think we should be especially wary of assigning preeminence in stupidity to the publisher given that 1) Bernhard himself never spoke of Novalis but with unqualified veneration (that is to say, absent the sort of caricaturistic lampooning with which he always leavened his acknowledgments of debt to, say, Schopenhauer and Kant), b) the animal head assigned to the publisher in the last two scenes is that of a fox, the proverbially least stupid of all furry beasts, and, most materially, 3) the publisher gets the last word (not counting the bass’s chants of “Champagne”) in the play, and through it enunciates a sentiment that resonantly echoes dozens of Bernhard’s depreciations of performing artists both in his own voice and in the voices of characters who, say what one will about them, are certainly not morons.

5.  “Burn your blowtorch at both ends” for “hang everything on a calving-rope.  For an explanation—or, at any rate, rationalization—of this improbable metaphoric vehicular transformation, one must consult the metaphor on which the calving-rope metaphor riffs, the metaphor to which the bass pointedly contrasts “HEoaC-R”--viz. “hängen alle an einem Faden,” which literally means “to hang all things on one thread.”  In its inclusion of an exclusive burden-bearing medium (a basket in place of a thread) this would appear to be a kid glove-tight translational fit into our English “put all one’s eggs in one basket,” and I concede that in certain settings “PAOEiOB” probably does fit “HAaeF” like a potholder’s mitten.  Why only like a potholder’s mitten even in these settings?  Because in “PAOEiOB” the emphasis is on the fragility of the burden rather than of the medium: one is meant to worry not that the bottom of the basket will give way but that the eggs, being a byword for frangibility, will break thanks to any number of plausible mishaps, none of which need cause any damage to the basket.  But in “HAaeF” the emphasis is on the fragility of the medium rather than of the burden: the “all” in question could for all we know consist of a gross of indestructible twenty-pound titanium bowling balls, whereas we know that the thread, being a byword for snappability, cannot support any ponderable weight for long even if it is itself spun from titanium.  And in our play this second emphasis is very much to the foreground, for “HAaeF” is adduced in it immediately after the bass’s generalization that “Young people think
they can indulge themselves in everything,” which in turn immediately follows his upbraiding of the tenor for dreaming of eating ice cream only hours before he is to sing and leads into the director’s woeful tale of actors who drink and whore themselves into a state of permanent professional incapacity.  In these cases, the alle or “all things” is clearly the performing artist’s collection of bad habits, and the thread is clearly his talent or livelihood as an artist.  Hence it is advisable to substitute for “HAaeF” some idiomatic English metaphor wherein the term corresponding to “all things” is manifestly destructive, lest the reader or spectator wonder why these pernicious habits are being implicitly likened to something as wholesome as a bunch of talent-eggs; hence “they burn their candle at both ends.”  Now, as for the necessity of replacing “calving-rope” with “blowtorch”: first of all, a calving-rope is a looped length of rope or twine used in the extraction from the bovine womb of an incipient newborn cow or bull child, a load of considerable weight and limited tractability.  Such that in saying that after the age of forty one starts hanging everything on one of these here calving-ropes instead of on a thread, the bass may mean either that one then continues indulging in one’s established vices but on a securer financial or reputational foundation; or (as seems more likely, in the light of the tetchy rejoinder the metaphor provokes from the soprano) that one then exploits this securer foundation by indulging these vices with more intensity or augmenting them with new vices.  In either case, the analogue to the calving-rope in the translation ought to bear the same relation to a candle as a calving-rope does to a thread: it ought to be both substantially bigger (i.e., both longer and thicker) than its predecessor and capable of withstanding much more vigorous and protracted assaults on the thing to which it owes its integrity (tensile strength in the case of the thread, combustible fuel in the case of the candle).  At the same time, though, the calving-rope analogue ought not to be geometrically bigger and stronger than the thread analogue; for after all, a calving-rope is not a drawbridge-chain or a suspension-bridge cable: like a thread, it is something that a single human being can directly put to use with his own two hands.  And finally, the CRA ought to be a more specialized and complicated tool than a candle just as a calving-rope is a more specialized and complicated tool than a thread.  Whence “to burn your blowtorch at both ends.”  I concede that the analogy is not perfect; that it would be better if the CRA retained the candle’s non-distinction between container and fuel; such that the application of heat to its base would result in the immediate if gradual (and silent) consumption of both, rather than the gradual consumption of container followed by the sudden (and explosive) consumption of fuel.  In return, though, I demand the concession that the application of heat to the base of an ordinary candle will cause it not properly to burn but merely to melt, such that to make such a candle properly burnable at both ends would require an extension of its basal wick a good inch or two beyond its normal limits; and from imagining such an operation it is surely an easy transition to imagining a blowtorch with a second ignitable jet at its base, as which chimerical entity I accordingly beg the reader to picture the blowtorch in my translation.

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