PRINCESS DRAMAS [1]

Death and the Maiden V

THE WALL

Translation Lilian Friedberg © 2005

[Sylvia and Inge are performing ritual slaughter on a male animal (a ram). They tear out his testicles and smear themselves in blood. The scene, in stark contrast to the spoken words, must display a gruesome air of archaic cruelty! In the course of the dialogue their dresses get so trashed that the women have to change clothes. Ingeborg slips into a dirndl and hiking boots, Sylvia dons a one-piece bathing suit from the 50s, but also wears hiking boots on her feet.]

[While the dialogue is arranged by paragraph here, the characters could easily double up or triple up on their lines; the paragraphs are there merely to indicate chunks of dialogue, not to draw distinctions between the characters of Sylvia and Ingeborg because each of them speaks on behalf of many others. But this time, dear directors and directresses, you absolutely must follow the stage directions I have provided, at least in their basic outline, because I have written them into the script. Sorry about that.]

Oh just settle down. Itís not like youíre pulling balls out Uranus, ripping rungs from the ladders of upward motility, those tubes teeming with sperm cells ready to jump at the chance to finally knock some fertility into us! And youíre certainly no Cronus shooting his wad to sea or up his motherís twat or wherever, nor some fertile Crescent of primordial slime swimming with immortal flesh, and if thereís one act you canít pull off itís Aphrodite stepping out of the spindrift in her new bikini, strolling straightaway into the lightning storm. Not with that figure. Hopefully, nature will call her dogs off again before long. No idea what set her off this time. Just what does she expect? These days, anyone can just sail the ocean blue sowing his wild oats, scattering his seed willy-nilly, simple as that, even without our help. Itís certainly not the blood on our hands that set her off. Besides, everyone knows nothing can ever come of anything once we lay hands on it. Not even if we took a sickle to the task would anything ever come of this. We might end up with a pile of bull fodder, but thatís about all. And seeing as how there arenít any children running around to be swallowed whole these days and well, what the hell. If only weíd just stick to our own gender, but why would we want to do that? Just because we are all of woman born? And you know, wherever we turn to place our step, there will always be stones placed in the way. Oh, and that one, the one youíre working on now, heís just our little Burli Boy, his homies are waiting for him. They still donít know what happened. And down at Demeterís place, theyíre waiting on him, too. We were supposed to make the delivery today. But this time theyíll be waiting in vain. The shelves at the Safeway store are and shall forever remain empty. The buck stops here!

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Yes, of course, of course. And theyíll never take him now, not in the shape heís in.

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With the way weíve got him laid out.

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With the way weíve got him laid out. Thatís what Rita always saysóuh, I mean Rhea. But ultimately it boils down to a question of this thing: whether youíve got one or you donít. Do we or donít we?

Weíve got one now, but itís the wrong one. Whatever! Itís never the world blowing up in our faces and spitting its guts in our gaping eyes like a watermelon split down the middle.

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So nothing ever came of the watermelon seeds. And yet, just take a look around to see what came and has come and keeps on coming of Uranusís seed! Prominent personalities. A sight for sore eyes! A hundred unscathed limbs protruding from the armpits and fifty heads per person stuck between the shoulders. They all went on to become stunt men. Payís not bad. All they ever had to do was sow their oatsósimply scatter their seed, thatís it. All the reporters had to do was sit there waiting for the Shining Idols, the Gods,† to come, two by two, clad in flamboyantly ceremonial costume, and make their grand entrance at the Festspiele in Bayreuth. Cheeks all aflush and mouths turned up at the ends, I mean tongues forked up the middle!

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Heroic figures? Not us. Effective military strategists? Out of our league! Regardless, weíre still always on the verge of a rise, in every respect, itís just that we havenít yet figured out how to get a rise out of anyone. Weíre too busy lusting after that one thing, thinking itís the only thing that will ever get a rise out of anyone, at least thatís what we always believed. But the only reason weíre after it is that weíre too beautiful to die. OK, boys, letís go! Farewell to the primal pre-phallic stage. Do the wag-the-dog-thing with the thing. Flip-flop over the fence, up the wall, and before† you know it youíre falling fast--as is always the case in cases that would fall from the face of the earth should they land in a court anywhere outside the field of psychiatry. That thing weíve been lusting after for ages has itself become as obsolete as the notion of cognitive dissonance was obsolete before the cog ever got stuck in the wheel. In our writing, we passed judgments, we issued sentences, instituted insanity and a court of justice, a room for fixations of our own, but here we sit again, knocked down from the wall. Before weíd even come close to the ceiling! Before we had a chance to close on a marriage deal or so much as close the shithouse door behind us. And we didnít sew up any other deals else either. Because we hadnít even begun opening the doors before they began closing in on us. And any thought of† the front door to the house never crossed our minds. No sooner has someone hung our portraits high in the hallowed halls, and suddenly here we are again, at the bottom. Already the wall is crumbling down around the cracks where we tried to hang our portraits.

This wall is mine! Go rain on someone elseís parade! Iím the one talking now, and Iím telling you in blood-splattered little scraps: it doesnít matter that I try to build my words on empirical knowledge of the world and, no matter what objects I take as my reference, see: wall, all I can truly relate to is what I see. Unfortunately, I havenít had the chance to see much of anything. Iíd like to quit this place and see something else for a change. Travel to faraway places, meet strange people.

Listen, you know there was another woman before us who conjured up a little wall of her ownóone said to have been completely invisible! And that is where youíd have finally found your reason for not taking leave. Youíd have been able to stay there because you simply couldnít pull yourself away. There was no need to voyage out in life because there was no there there!

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Bullshit. You can only look into something once an object itself is in view. And itís not necessarily always the same one! That is to say, if I can describe the object, letís say, a wall, as if it were actually there and designed to act as a tool for making some sense of something, as a sort of a tack to take or a tool to tackle some problem, no, as a tack to tackle, no, a tack to be taken to the taxidermistsí rack. Then we could go out and stuff ourselves all on our own.

Surely you mean as a tool to knock us out of this senseless sleep? No. No sense in knocking yourself out over that. What would be the point. Why bother?

Leave it to some upstart young poet to take on the task of beating some seminal sense back into the castrati and the mentally disseminated, but heíll be beating a dead horse for old crones like us. OK, great, so you familiarize yourself with the wall and it soon becomes the crack itself and consumes itself, ravenously, and when you are climbing the wall, thereís no one there to catch you when you fall, to leave you lynched, lying in the lurch or to take you out to lunch--whatever the case may be. Itís probably just an oversight on the part of the wall. Thatís all. Weíre not getting anywhere here.

Itís easy enough to imagine a wall with a crack in it, but, as far as Iím concerned, a wall into which you disappear, an invisible wall you can only pass through by taking a pass on life altogetherówell, I canít quite imagine that. Werenít you the one who said you had disappeared behind one of those cracks? That was a lie! The wall is still standing, and so are you. Look out! Now youíre about to butt heads with it, now bashing your head to bursting on the wall. Youíre dying in the desert, wasting away in the sand that has crumbled from the invisible wall over the millennia and eroded now into floury grain. Patty cake, patty cake. But the wall does not appear as anything more than mirage, it is and remains invisible. You capitulate and disappear yourself. You even managed to set a new precedent with your disappearance, and Iím talking about a new precedent for everything under the sun, right down to the missionary position--you wouldnít settle for anything less. Nothing less would suffice, even if less were perhaps more, still you wouldnít settle for less. A new precedent is the only thing you know how to set. It consists of an inner sense of direction turned inside itself. If you ask me, Iíd say itís about as invisible as the wall. But I think it important to point out that weíre talking about human empirical knowledge here. But thereís no point in that as long as youíre seeking empirical knowledge from an object that is another human being. This way, though, the object is but a wall. And beside it, your head, smashed-in, who the hell put that thing there, as if you were some sort of fallen angel in the house or something!† Thereís so much to know and yet all you care to know about is this wall, and the only reason you want it is so you have a place to go.† So someone climbs the wall, groping all the way to the top, only to find your grinning smashed-in head lying there decapitated, possibly even with a clove of garlic stuck in your mouth. Or a blank shopping list. With invisible entries etched indelibly there to the point where the paper tears under the weight of the dog shit, the chicken bones and the apple cores. After that, youíre charged with doing guard duty. And itís your job to guard the wall, regardless of whether it is invisible or not, but, in any case, youíre pressed up way too close against it so you canít see a thing. And you think just because you canít see it, itís invisible. And you simply slip away. Blinded by your suffering. But the disappearing act just makes you all the more visible, you know that. Even if itís just because nothing like this has ever happened before and so of course it gets printed in all the papers. I think itís probably just the wallís lack of resistance that inspired you to tuck yourself away in precisely the one nook where there was nothing. And suddenly, things are getting cramped here. You expect even this wall to fall in love with you! So that you may Be! You just canít get enough. And it serves you right to have been devoured and consumed by the wall. How the hell are you supposed to know anything about anything when all you can see is this wall? I can see how it might work. You just have to squeeze yourself into the wall and become the wall itself. You are virtually compelled to go wherever you donít belong just because no man has dared go there before. What appeals to you about that? I can just hear how hard you are to swallow for the wall. It cannot be a pleasant experience. I can just hear the wall tearing you from limb to limb, digging itís teeth into you, gnawing at you, this wall of knowledge. Itís really not nice of her to do. Let me take a stab at it! I canít so much as expect that youíd consider that! Youíd never stand for anything of the sort.

Wait! Wait! Wait a minute here! Once, one of those days when Iíd again sought to run away from myselfóuntil then, the forest had always been there, but not this time. Thatís why Iím using the wall as an example. Suddenly, I couldnít see the forest for the trees. I thought I was seeing the trees as usual, but then suddenly this wall appeared, see-through. Thatís something only a woman would describe. Weíre even shaking in our boots over the atom, you know? Men would never waste their time on something you canít even see. Itís always about us, but weíre not really where itís at. Theyíd rather calculate the consequences of something well in advance, only to conclude: it is of little consequence!†† The radius is remarkably limited† even though our knowledge is explicit in its reference to the so-called object. But how are you supposed to know anything about an object that is see-through, yet nevertheless said to be there.

Excuse me, but ultimately, squeaky clean windows are so clear you can see right through them. Itís better than being clear as noodles swimming in a can of Campbellís soup with our fate hanging in the ladle if our hungry man husbands donít like the taste of it. What do you think I am: chopped liver? Or, as we say in Austria, you think I just floated in here with the noodles in the soup? We are experts on the subject, remember that! Remember that it should at least be clear to us, as human beings, that something can be invisible.

To think is to know about an object. No, I donít think so. The object must reveal itself to us before we can reveal anything about it to others. But, you can see right through the motives of anyone who creates a see-through wall: itís about not having to wait around and instead revealing what you know right from the start since you canít see anything anyway. Thereís no way around it, no matter what it is, and no matter what kind of vaulting horse or hurdle is put in the way. Thatís what theyíd like to think. Thereís nothing there to see and yet thereís no way around it and it spreads utter agony, thatís very important. Thereís got to be agony involved, thatís the most important point of all. Many heroes are very nice people in real life. Why they put themselves through the agonyóbeyond me. Love croons and comforts, when itís mutual, otherwise: just another source of turmoil, disruptions for the authorís pen, where love is lavishly done up in words of denial--youíve got to make a living doing something, after all, especially when thereís nothing better to do with your time. Outdone, if need be, by a wall, a wall that gives nothing in return. Especially if itís see-through. How the hell are you supposed to take measure of the human mind? Using a human feeler gauge to determine whether man is human, no,† I mean whether woman is human, no, actually, I do mean man. No. Heís not human after all. Men are simply inhumanely inhuman. Women, on the other hand, are human. Women are the only humane humans. The wall is a potential revelation, that is, it would be, if you could see it. But it is see-through. No echo, no nothing. Nada. The woman is inside it, everything else remains outside it. At least thatís how the writers see it, seeking knowledge, testing their faculty for thought in computer tomography, leading themselves to believe that itís there, what is that I see on the medical imaging monitor? A wall. And the image just bounces back off of it. Shit. A wall, absent knowledge of itself, a wall without walls, without form, without shape, but weíre supposed to have knowledge of it. The shits of it is, you havenít so much as seen the wall, so what do you know about it?

Whatís a girl to do! If I canít so much as see it! You forget that this isnít the wall I had in mind, it was the other wall, that one over there, that I had in mind, the one with the crack sprung in its basin, the one with the basin sprung before the crack, thatís the only one I dare, no, the one with the basin that I placed before the crack that sprang in the wall, before I sprang into the crack, so that no one could see me spring into the crack, so that no one could see my crack. So that no one could see where I sprang into the crack. I want to be honest. What is more: to be significant! Important! And thatís where the wall is see-through. Itís not so much as a fragment,† the most iniquitous subject of our revelations is the most ubiquitous subject of our revelations. But what is the difference between revelation and thought? There is none, not if you canít see anything. Does that mean that women in particular are blind?† Probably. She scrubbed that wall so clean no one could see it. ShineRite through und to thine ownself be true. And Ajax, Comet and Lysol Basin-Tub-and-Tile Cleaner, just steer clear of the Soft-Scrub.

But writing about it, now thatís a snap for us. We donít need to know anything. Donít need to experience anything. But write, that we can do. We shed light on our knowledge of new insights with the new lamp we just bought, looks more expensive than it was, this knowledge. But not the lamp. How are our verdicts supposed to be beyond appeal, but not our insights, no, the other way around, no,† how are we to arrive at a verdict that is beyond appeal in the interest of arriving at an appealing insight when the only thing we have our sights set on is this wall?

So please, just donít steal my wall, I was here first! I was the first to not see it! And now Iíve been standing here scrubbing away at it for over an hour, and only now do I realize that itís actually a mirror. If only Iíd read the directions on the label of this spray bottle, Iíd have known that this spray is only for use on glass and mirrors. You have to use something else for a wall. But if it were a mirror, Iíd be able to see myself. That only works with glass if youíre the dark object behind it, or if there is some other dark object behind it. But thereís nothing behind it. No problem. All this time, the vampire thought he cast no reflection in the mirror and, as it turns out, the problem was that there was no mirror there! Maybe it was just the ceramic tiles of the kitchen wall. The fact that you canít look into something that isnít a mirror isnít necessarily a reflection of your ability to thinkónot by a long shot. Unfortunately. You can look into something, and you can reflect on it, that is to say, you can think, from my perspective, on the left, which, in the mirror would be inverted, that is, then, actually on the right, I donít know, maybe it was a chalkboard you had in mind, something to write on, and you just took it for a wall? The light is bleeding into it, no, that was me, and the light still hasnít gone off in my head. That is to say, whatever it is Iím cleaning, is still see-through; that,† or it isnít even there.

Anyone who is more intelligent than anyone who is a woman would have figured that out by now.

No, itís mine, the wall, but what I mean is that itís mine because I disappeared into it. I can see it, so to speak, no, that is, not to speak, from the inside out. Where you can see more clearly. The woman kept cleaning until the object disappeared out from under her. Can you say that about us? The woman just kept cleaning whatever was there, as a given, and then it was taken away from her. It was a given she was never given in the first place. That was quite the experience, I can tell you that much, when I figured that one out. Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, merry, merry king of the bush is he. Stop, Kookaburra, stop Kookaburra, save some gum for me!

The only reason youíre doing that is so that you can place your own purpose and position as a woman writer above the purpose of certain other women who are in no position to write. Best would be to place yourself in a real position over those women whose purpose and position in life is to be pretty, to be the fairest of them all. But youíd be awfully out of place in that position. Itís absolutely not your place to be fair.† All women were meant to be fair: itís a dirty job, but somebodyís gotta do itóand not all of us do. No matter. You place yourself above everyone else. You just strap on that Self-testing device, the handle lights are blinking red, the cordís plugged into the wall, all clear, ready, set, go, now you can set the parameters for your own ability to test your own limits, you probe and probe, testing the limits of your Self.†† Then you switch on† a generator and suddenly what began as a test of your own personal limits, personally limited as you are, well, oh never mind,† what would you call it, knowledge? Insight? No. Verdict. Foregone conclusion. They say your conclusions shouldnít be contradictory, only then can a verdict be reached. Here is a verdict about the top 50 super models and which are the fairest of them all, placed in order from first to last. But you draw your conclusions without allowing them time to contradict themselves. You always issue these sentences, verdicts, hastily, but never hurried. They arenít contingencies, just dictated words. The sentences speak for themselves simply by virtue of the fact that you are the one speaking them. Or by virtue of the fact that youíre speaking them now. But as soon as youíre the one speaking, the sentences lose their weight as verdicts.† Mine never occur to me until after the fact. I donít know. What can I say: If you think your knowledge of the fact that you disappear behind the wall is infallible, then it follows that this contradiction, you know, wall--disappearance, wall, disappearance, becomes a paradox--that is, the contradiction becomes the insight. Otherwise, youíd have long since bashed your head in on the wall. Youíve already been there and done that, too, I know, I know. In point of fact, youíre looking rather dinged up yourself. But your beauty is completely different from mine, and still, youíre kind of pretty in way. Of course, Iím the fairest of them all. I donít need a step-mother or a mirror to see that.



[1] This piece is one of 5 ďdramolettsĒ in a volume titled Prinzessinnen Dramen in German. ďDeath and the Maiden: The WallĒ is the 5th in this series of ďPrincess Dramas.Ē The subtitle ďThe WallĒ† refers to the 1963 novel of the same name (Die Wand) by Austrian author Marlen Haushofer, whose unnamed protagonist awakes one day to find herself completely alone in a world that has died; separated from the outside world by an invisible wall, she writes on scraps of paper in the attempt to retain her sanity through the ordeal.


Die Wand © 2006 Elfriede Jelinek
Translation Lilian Friedberg © 2005

 

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