thomas bernhard on dogs, loneliness & schopenhauer

“I won’t tolerate this dog comedy, which we can see enacted every day if we only open our eyes and haven’t become blinded to it by daily familiarity. In this comedy a dog comes on the stage and makes life a misery for some human being, exploiting him and, in the course of several acts, or just one or two, driving out of him all his harmless humanity.”

 

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At the sight of the corner where we used to keep a dog when we were children, I couldn’t help thinking, If only I kept a dog at least! But since I grew up I’ve always hated dogs. And who would look after the dog, and what should it look like, what kind of dog should it be? I’d have to get somebody in to look after the dog, and I can’t put up with anybody in the house. I can’t put up either with dog or another person. I’d have had somebody in the house long ago if I could have stood it, but I can’t stand anybody, and naturally I can’t stand a dog. I haven’t gone to the dogs, I told myself, and I won’t. I shall die like a dog, but I won’t go to the dogs. The dog used to sit in this corner just next to the door leading into the yard. We’d loved the dog, but now I’d be bound to hate such an animal, always lying in wait. The fact of the matter is that I love being alone. I’m not lonely and I don’t suffer from loneliness. I’m happy when I’m alone. I know how fortunate I am to be alone when I observe other people who aren’t alone like me and can’t afford to be, who spend all their lives wishing they were but can’t be. People keep a dog and are ruled by this dog, and even Schopenhauer was ruled in the end not by his head, but by his dog. This fact is more depressing than any other. Fundamentally it was not Schopenhauer’s head that determined his thought, but Schopenhauer’s dog. It was not the head that hated Schopenhauer’s world, but Schopenhauer’s dog. I don’t have to be demented to assert that Schopenhauer had a dog on his shoulders and not a head. People love animals because they are incapable even of loving themselves. Those with the very basest of souls keep dogs, allowing themselves to be tyrannized and finally ruined by their dogs. They give the dog pride of place in their hypocrisy, which in the end becomes a public menace. They would rather save their dog from the guillotine than Voltaire. The masses are in favour of dogs because in their heart of hearts they are not prepared to incur the strenuous effort of being alone with themselves, an effort which in fact calls for greatness of soul. I don’t belong to the masses, I’ve been against the masses all my life, and I’m not in favour of dogs. What we call our love of animals has already wrought such havoc that if we were to think really hard about it we should be positively frightened to death. It isn’t as absurd as it may at first appear when I say that the world owes its most terrible wars to its ruler’s love of animals. It’s all documented, and one ought to be clear about it for once. These people—politicians, dictators—are ruled by a dog, and as a result they plunge millions of human beings into misery and ruin. They love a dog and foment a world war in which, because of this one dog, millions of people are killed. Just consider for a moment what the world would be like if this so-called love of animals were at least reduced by a few paltry per cent in favour of love of humanity—which of course is also only a phrase. There can be no question of whether or not I should keep a dog. I am mentally opposed to keeping a dog, which I know would have to be given more care and attention than any human being, more than I demand for myself. But humanity sees nothing wrong in the fact that all over the world dogs get more care and attention than human beings, that in fact it gives more care and attention to all these billions of dogs than it gives to itself. I take leave to describe such a world as perverse, grossly inhumane and totally mad. If I’m here, the dog’s here, if I’m there the dog’s there too. If the dog has to go out, I have to go out too, and so on. I won’t tolerate this dog comedy, which we can see enacted every day if we only open our eyes and haven’t become blinded to it by daily familiarity. In this comedy a dog comes on the stage and makes life a misery for some human being, exploiting him and, in the course of several acts, or just one or two, driving out of him all his harmless humanity. It is said that the tallest, most expensive and most precious tombstone ever set up in the history of the world is one to the memory of a dog. No, not in America, as one inevitably assumes, but in London. Once we get it clear, this fact is enough to show how dog-like humanity really is. In this world the real question to ask about a person has long been, not how humane he is, but how dog-like, yet up to now, instead of asking how dog-like a person is—which is what they really ought to ask out of respect for the truth—people have always asked how humane he is. And that I find disgusting. There is no question of my keeping a dog. If you kept a dog at least! my sister said just before she left. It wasn’t the first time. She’s been saying it for years just to enrage me. A dog at least! I don’t need one of course—I have my lovers, she said. At one time—just to assert herself, I think—she gave up having lovers and got herself a dog. It was so small that—at least in my imagination at least—it could have crawled underneath her high-heeled shoes. It was the grotesqueness of it that appealed to her; she had a little velvet waistcoat with a gold hem made for this creature, which didn’t even deserve to be called a dog. People stared at it in amazement at the Sacher, and this she found so distasteful that she gave the animal to her housekeeper, who naturally passed it on to somebody else.

—from Thomas Bernhard, Concrete (1984) pp 52-4

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