Thursday, September 25, 2008

Noted: Thomas Bernhard

From "The Cellar: An Escape", in Gathering Evidence, Bernhard's remarkable memoir collection (translation by David McLintock; italics all in the original):
Truth, it seems to me, is known only to the person who is affected by it; and if he chooses to communicate it to others, he automatically becomes a liar. Whatever is communicated can only be falsehood and falsification; hence it is only falsehoods and falsifications that are communicated. The aspiration for truth, like every other aspiration, is the quickest way to arrive at falsehoods and falsifications with regard to any state of affairs. And to write about a period of one's life, no matter how remote or how recent, no matter how long or how short, means accumulating hundreds and thousands and millions of falsehoods and falsifications, all of which are familiar to the writer describing the period as truths and nothing but truths. His memory adheres precisely to the events and their precise chronology, but what emerges is something quite different from what things were really like. The description makes something clear which accords with the describer's aspiration for truth but not with the truth itself, for truth is quite impossible to communicate. We describe an object and believe that we have described it truthfully and faithfully, only to discover that it is not the truth. We make a state of affairs clear, yet it is never the state of affairs we wished to make clear but always a different one. We are bound to say that we have never communicated anything that was the truth, yet throughout our lives we have never stopped trying to communicate the truth. We wish to tell the truth but fail to do so. We describe something truthfully, but our description is something other than the truth. We ought to be able to see existence as the state of affairs we wish to describe, but however hard we try we can never see this state of affairs through our description. Knowing this to be so, we ought to have given up wishing to write the truth long ago and so given up writing altogether. Since it is not possible to communicate and hence to communicate the truth, we have contented ourselves with wishing to write and describe the truth, as well as to tell the truth, even though we know that the truth can never be told. The truth which we know is, from the point of view of logic, a lie, and this lie, since we cannot circumvent it, is the truth. What is described here is the truth, and yet at the same time it is not the truth, because it cannot be. In all the years we have spent reading, we have never encountered a single truth, even if again and again what we have read has been factual. Again and again it was lies in the form of truth and truth in the form of lies, etc. What matters is whether we want to lie or to tell and write the truth, even though it never can be the truth and never is the truth. Throughout my life I have always wanted to tell the truth, even though I now know that it was all a lie. In the end all that matters is the truth-content of the lie. For a long time reason has forbidden me to tell and write the truth, because that only means telling and writing a lie; but writing is a vital necessity for me, and this is the reason why I write, even if everything I write is bound to be nothing but lies which are conveyed through me as truth. Of course we may demand truth, but if we are honest with ourselves we know that there is no such thing as truth. What is described here is the truth, and at the same time it is not, for the simple reason that truth is only a pious wish on our part.

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