Wednesday, December 01, 2010

It has been a circle

What we are speaking of here is unfathomable, we are not properly alive, our existence and suppositions are all hypocritical, we are cut down in our aspirations at the final, fatal conclusion of our lethal misunderstanding with nature, into which science has led us and abandoned us; appearances are deadly and all the hundreds and thousands of hackneyed words we play with in our heads in our loneliness, the words that are recognizable to us in any language and within any context as the monstrous truth revealed in monstrous lies, or better, monstrous lies revealed within a monstrous truth, the words we say and write to one another and the ones we dare suppress, the words that come from nothing and go to nothing and serve nothing, as we know and keep secret, the words to which we cling because our impotence makes us insane and our insanity makes us despair, these words merely infect and ignore, blur and aggravate, shame and falsify and cloud and darken everything; by mouth and on paper they abuse by means of their abusers; the very character of words and their abusers is an outrage; the spiritual condition of words and their abusers is that of helplessness and catastrophic good cheer.
This is the first part of Thomas Bernhard's speech accepting the Büchner Prize in 1970, to be found in My Prizes translated by Carol Brown Janeway. See also David Auerbach's telling response to Michael Hofmann's review of Old Masters. Enough of Bernhard as ranter.

Ten years earlier, Paul Celan gave an acceptance speech for the same prize which we know as The Meridian. You can download extracts from Pierre Joris' forthcoming translation of the critical edition at Jacket Magazine. And we English wonder why some accuse our literature of interminable mediocrity!
Enlarge art? No, on the contrary, take art into your innermost narrowness. And set yourself free. I have taken this route with you today. It has been a circle.

1 comment:

  1. Apropos TB,
    I think his favourite Austrian word might have been "naturgemäss". They say he invented it but I think it had fallenout and he re-invented it.

    My own two favourite and commonly heard Austrian words are:
    "Jain" - a combination of Ja (yes) and Nein (no)
    "Naja" - a combination of Na (no) and Ja (yes)

    Mark Twain's two favourite German words:
    "damit" and "womit".



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