“Playing Watten” by Thomas Bernhard

May 21, 2013

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Oh, Thomas Bernhard! Bringing the thunder, bringing the classism—an excerpt from “Playing Watten” (translated by Kenneth J. Northcott), from Three Novellas:

We often maintain, to ourselves above all, and in so doing justify ourselves to ourselves, that we know something through and through, that we have completed something, only so as not to have to bother ourselves with this thing (this person), because we are afraid that we shall be embarrassed by this preoccupation and that this preoccupation will make us totally unreliable with regard to ourselves, dear sir, because we fear the nuisance, something that we have to regard as fatal, caused by occupying ourselves with this matter (this person!), because we despise ourselves. Nothing is indubitable, dear sir. Were I to go and play watten again, I say to the truck driver, the whole thing would be nothing but an elementary disorder and nothing but sorrow, which is basically nothing but wretchedness, which is more or less nothing but madness. We are at the peak of concentration when we are playing. Playing watten. In the theater, dear sir, even the impossible is entertainment, and even the monstrous, as the improbable, is an object of study, everything in the form of hints. People believe that the philosopher can handle his subject, that is, philosophy, whereas he knows absolutely nothing about this subject. But basically none of us knows anything about subjects. When nature anticipates you, I say to the truck driver, although I know that the truck driver does not understand what I am talking about, yet it is precisely to the truck driver that I say: if nature anticipates you, if it takes Siller (or any other person) out of the submissive world, as it did on that Wednesday, with its mysterious weather, because it comes naturally to it and, as we believe, closes an individual nature, has to close it, if it makes, form one moment to the next, a dead man out of a live one, which is not saying a lot, I say, should we not ask: why not by means of its own artificiality? I say, I have often thought ah, that’s a theologian! who explains everything to you and gives you reassurance for your whole life and ah, that’s a mathematician! and ah! that’an artist! and ah, that’s an irreproachable scientific nature! more and more ah, a simple human being! and ah, the simplest of all human beings! who explains everything to you and will give you reassurance for the rest of your life, but, when all is said and done, not a single person has been able to explain anything to me, and not a single person has given me reassurance, has been able to give me reassurance even about the most ridiculous thing, on the contrary, I say, with the passing of time, I have become progressively more and more disturbed. Now, in the nature of things, I ask no more and no one, not another single person, for in reality there is no one you can ask, unless you are a fool.


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