Monday, 22 February 2010

selections from Watten: a novel by Thomas Bernhard

There is no such thing as a translation. Every translation is a new book. (Thomas Bernhard)

The following work-in-progress is continually under revision, or would be if I had time:

Watten is a card game played mainly in Tirol and Bavaria. It is also the title of a novel by Thomas Bernhard which I am translating in my head so to say. I shall try to make a loose written translation of it, a kind of short story out of it. But I will keep to the style of the original as far as possible, especially with regard to flow and structure. For ease of reading the text will appear in page-size blocks, as in a book. Since the game Watten is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world I shall for the purposes of this exercise call Bernhard's book The Card Players.

The Card Players

At the end of September, following the death of my guardian, I received from the sale of the Oelling Estate half the proceeds, my cousin getting the other half, a considerable sum of money, which I did not have any need of, and which I therefore decided to donate to a good cause, to support and encourage the written work of the mathematician and jurist Undt whose written work is concerned, as it happens, with the inevitable hopeless situation facing newly released prisoners, this was my decision, for this man, not only through his writing but also through his own presence, his personal devotion, provides a service to our society's outcasts, and so it goes without saying that I, in a short letter, offered him the sum I had surprisingly received (...) and on the 13th I received the following reply: Dear Sir, If you are offering me the sum of one-and-a-half-million without any condition other than that it is used for the cause for which I have worked for nearly three decades, and I believe not completely without success, then I will accept the amount. Yours respectfully, F. Undt. On the same day I arranged the transfer of the money to Undt. Two days later the recipient confirmed that he had received the one-and-a-half-million, he wrote: Dear Sir,

the sum, that I have received today, will immediately be used to adapt Thurnau Castle, which is known to you, for I propose to house there before the onset of winter some eighty men released from Suben. Yours respectfully, F. Undt. Two months later, on the 17th November, Undt answered my letter of 13th November (...) He wrote: Dear Sir, my most important works, and I only list these, are: Books / Neglect I, Neglect II, Neglect III, Articles / Damaged by Incarceration, Judgement and Sentence, Essay / Body and Chaos. Excellently Undt. (...) I turned in the chair and used the windowsill, not the writing desk, to rest on and wrote: Dear Sir, On waking up I usually think: why am I alive?, and then: why do I live in a shed?, and people ask me, why do you live in a shed?, and I answer, because I live in the shed, dear sir. On getting up I think, there will be a time when it won't be possible to walk to the quarry anymore, yes, it's a great strain even to walk to the rotten fir tree. With shocking regularity I have walked the same route for the last twenty years: shed, rotten fir tree, quarry, rotten fir tree, shed. Now and then I make a detour to the pond, dear sir. In the middle of the quarry I think of nothing but swallowing air. I breathe deeply in and out. That I have this

habit has saved my life I think. I walk, and when I walk, I count my steps. Four thousand to the rotten fir tree, eight thousand to the quarry. In great heat. In severe cold, dear sir. Now I don't go to the quarry anymore. Not even to the rotten fir tree. And now not even out of the shed. Yesterday: got up, got washed, then dressed, and then Fuhrmann came and asked me why I hadn't been to play cards, and I made the attempt, to explain, why, but I can't explain, why. I say: no, no more cards. (...) you come in here and sit down and stretch out your legs and always ask the same question: why no more cards, doctor? I: would you care for a drink? You say: no no! and you repeat: why no more cards, doctor?, I say: no, no more cards. Today he wore his winter cape, I thought, that means, it is winter. I go to no more cards, I think, I say: Look here, I don't go to the rotten fir tree anymore, never mind to the quarry, let alone to the inn. Naturally, I say, I have tried to go to the inn, but I haven't even been able to get as far as the rotten fir tree. It has no sense to speak to me about it. I say to Fuhrmann: I don't go to play cards anymore, it is impossible. (...) It is always the same, dear sir, he remains sitting and says repeatedly at short intervals, I should again go to play

cards, and I always answer: no, no more cards. When he is gone, I swear, if he comes back I'll not let him in. But I open the door to him again, and he comes in, and the scene repeats itself: why no more cards, doctor? and I: no more cards. Yesterday: the winter cape is from his father, I think. I order my papers, when I also know, that it is pointless, I sort through the mixed-up heaps of papers on the writing desk, notes, letters, bills, old prescriptions, reminders, plans, all on there together. But I also know that chaos only gets greater. When I've already said to you a hundred times, I say, that I don't go to cards, it is nonsense, that you seek me out, to repeat to me, to go to cards, but Fuhrmann does not hear me. Every week you come and waste your time and ruin mine, by repeating yourself to me. He hears nothing. But if I even had the desire to go and play cards, I would go no more. Leave me in peace, I say. Find yourself another man. Everybody plays cards here. I don't play cards anymore. Many are only waiting for someone to ask them to play cards. Why don't you leave me in peace (...)

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