1. i’m slowly making some progress with German. i’ve pimped my own parallel texts thus, original text in paper, translation on Kindle:
i’ve been able to find many English translations of German books online for free, though i doubt the legality. In some cases, i already own these translations, in paper form in England. A Kindle plus book is slightly unwieldy but much less so than two books (i forced myself through Il Gattopardo and La Chute in this way and it’s physically difficult, certainly not possible on the train).
i found Bernhard difficult, mainly because of the grammar – long, intricate, insane sentences. My passive vocabulary is now pretty good, though i can’t use most of it because i can’t remember if nouns are der, die, or das. People wag their fingers and say, Ja, you must learn the gender when you learn the noun! – which i do, but then the gender fades and i’m left with a noun i can’t use correctly.
2. Having finished Bernhard i moved on to Nietzsche’s Der Antichrist, not the best choice for s-bahn reading given the German habit of craning over to read other people’s diaries, homework, pornography, work reports, emails, text messages, novels, philosophy etc. The lurid Satanic cover and occasional remarks about Jews would have been better consumed in private; it’s a sign of how left-wing and PC England is that i instinctively worry about the police being called and my having to pay a hefty fine or go to prison for offending some minority or (more likely) some ridiculous white person who has decided to get offended on behalf of a minority. However, Germany is much less intrusively PC than England.
3. This is the first Nietzsche i’ve read in about a decade. i chose it because it’s the only short Nietzsche work where i could find a free English translation online, as i didn’t want to be stuck reading a 600-page monster like Human, All Too Human for the next six months.
i read everything i could find of Nietzsche’s in my early 20s, and then it helped blow my worthless life apart; then, it seemed shocking and true. i was never interested in re-reading him, as i felt i’d absorbed what i could and that was that. The Antichrist is, i vaguely recall, one of his weakest books. His attack on Christianity is strangely pointless, clearly emotive rather than rational. If you agree with his premises (which often contradict each other), then it will all be very powerful. If not, it’s mainly just pompous sneering and grandiose ranting, and the Nietzschean idiom seems irritating, full of addresses to a wholly imaginary audience (things like “but do we not, we free spirits, see through all this disgusting Jewish Platonism?”), the atheist-believer’s assumption of a superior perspective and vision, the ineffable stupidity of anybody who disagrees. He bangs on about reason and then constructs arguments based wholly on appeals to emotion and imagery, mistaking interpretation for reality. And since he contradicts himself every few pages – offering wildly varying final definitive explanations for the same phenomena – it’s hard to know how to read it. So he says Judaism and Christianity were cold-bloodedly created by priests to control the populace; then he says Christianity naturally developed as an aversion to physical reality; then he says that the various Biblical laws slowly & organically developed through trial & error and were then at some point codified and claimed to be the work of God. He makes no attempt to reconcile these differing explanations, nor does he even acknowledge that he’s offered other allegedly final & definitive accounts just a few pages earlier. After a while it’s like talking to a pathological liar who can’t keep track of his lies; you just nod and say, I see, how interesting.
But then The Antichrist isn’t his best. Nietzsche’s worst books have the best titles: The Antichrist, Twilight of the Gods, The Will to Power, Beyond Good & Evil. The best books have odd or bland titles: Dawn, The Gay Science, Human, All Too Human.
A century ago, Nietzsche seemed bold and shocking, and indeed he struck me so back in my early 20s. Having now suffered all the inanities of left-wing theory at university, and the left-wing thought police state of England – all more or less derived from Nietzsche – The Antichrist seems safe and unremarkable. Nowadays he would be offered a prestigious Chair or rise to the top of a NGO or major charity, though i hope he would have the syphilitic balls to get fired.
4. Far more interesting than The Antichrist – Georg Trakl. i more or less wasted 15 quid on a parallel text, translation by Jim Doss & Werner Schmitt. The English translations seem leaden and graceless to me, literal (often staying as close as possible to the original word order). i’ve stopped reading the English aloud as it was depressingly lame, but the German is excellent; here is Trompeten (Trumpets):
Unter verschnittenen Weiden, wo braune Kinder spielen
Und Blätter treiben, tönen Trompeten. Ein Kirchhofsschauer.
Fahnen von Scharlach stürzen durch des Ahorns Trauer
Reiter entlang an Roggenfeldern, leeren Mühlen.
Oder Hirten singen nachts und Hirsche treten
In den Kreis ihrer Feuer, des Hains uralte Trauer,
Tanzende heben sich von einer schwarzen Mauer;
Fahnen von Scharlach, Lachen, Wahnsinn, Trompeten.
This is translated:
Under pruned willows, where brown children play
And leaves drift, trumpets resound. A churchyard’s shudder.
Flags of scarlet fall through the maple’s sadness,
Horsemen along rye fields, empty mills.
Or shepherds sing at night and stags step
Into the circle of their fire, the grove’s ancient sorrow,
Dancers rise from a black wall;
Flags of scarlet, laughter, insanity, trumpets.
“Flags of scarlet” sounds weak to me; i see no reason not to translate it as Scarlet flags. i found this good youtube video of a chap talking about how he first read Trakl (at 13.43) – translating it word for word with a German dictionary:
i remember, along with writing enormous & terrible Nietzschean letters, doing things like this 17 years ago. There’s no way i would spend so much energy now, with such a narrow focus, but if one had to do it, one could do it with Trakl.
5. And then there is the music of the German language: