Claus Peymann Buys Himself a Pair of Pants and Joins Me for Lunch


Vienna

Peymann after trying on six pairs of Zegna light summer pants in a boutique on the Graben and eventually buying the second pair and wearing them out of the store, with his old pants under his arm, walking quickly but not frantically toward the Plague Column

A pair of pants that fits
can make you feel better than anything else
don’t you think so Bernhard

Me
That is the truth

Peymann
On the one hand a pair of pants that fits
on the other hand Richard III in your head
it makes you feel good Bernhard
So all right then let’s take a little walk Bernhard
enchanted by his new pants
Trying on trying on trying on Bernhard
that’s the thing
it’s exhausting of course
with pants it’s like with The Winter’s Tale
it’s like with Leonce and Lena with pants
putting on a pair of pants is exhausting of course
putting on Shakespeare is exhausting in exactly the same way
when we put on a pair of pants it’s exhausting exactly the
same way
as when we put on Kleist or Shakespeare
When we have on a pair of pants that fits like this
a pair of pants that really sits well Bernhard
it’s the same feeling of happiness
as when we’ve brought into being
a Shakespeare that fits
a Kleist that fits
a Schiller that sits well Bernhard
stops and looks down at his new pants
They sit well sitting down too these pants
tries them out sitting down so to speak
Nice aren’t they
sit excellently
good store don’t you think
When you’re over forty
you only buy top-notch
well-fitting pants
straightens up again
Buying pants has always been a tragedy
I don’t know
is it more appalling to put on Shakespeare
or six pairs of pants Bernhard
I don’t know
This city tempts you to buy pants
They really do fit well Bernhard these pants
don’t you think
his face twisted with doubt
don’t you think

me
They fit excellently
Zegna makes the best pants
An Italian cut suits you
You have absolutely the wrong body type
for an English cut
Your body type
was made for an Italian cut Peymann

peymann
You think

me
Definitely
you look best in Zegna pants

peymann
Years back I was running around in rags

me
Forty years ago you were running around in rags
in the winter twenty-two below zero
you had nothing on but frayed jeans
and a so-called Coca-Cola cut-off
until you put on Iphigenia in Stuttgart
after Iphigenia you were suddenly very elegantly dressed
You underwent this transformation in Paris

peymann happy about his new pair of pants
Seriously Bernhard
do these pants fit

me
Clothes make the man Peymann
should I carry your old pants for you

peymann
No
nonono

me
You know what
let’s go get lunch at the Zauberflöte

peymann
At the Zauberflöte

me
The Zauberflöte is an establishment
where you can get top-notch food at a reasonable price

peymann
Well then let’s head there Bernhard

me
I’ve always
hated buying pants

peymann
Me too

me
Every time I’ve tried on a pair of pants
I’ve had a choking fit
It’s not just one pair of pants
we try on you know
there are always several pairs
there are lots of times I’ve tried on seven or eight pairs of pants
and every time I thought
I’d have a stroke in the changing room

peymann
But you never did have a stroke
You’re tough Bernhard
I hardly know anyone tougher
Ten or fifteen years ago
you were already saying
you were going to have a stroke

me
The pants changing rooms are too narrow
there’s no air in them
There have already been so many strokes
in pants changing rooms
just ask the garment guild
they’ll confirm it for you
People go into a store
and want to try on just one pair of pants
and they try on seven or eight
and have a stroke that is the truth
clothing establishment changing room strokes are the most
common kind

peymann
It’s like if I
rehearsed The Winter’s Tale for three days and three nights

me
Just ask the doctors in the cardiology ward
Cardiac fatalities while trying on pants
are no rare thing
If we could read the cause of death
on people’s gravestones
then every time we looked at the gravestones
no matter which cemetery
we would read
Cause Of Death Trying On Pants
If you’re honest
you have to admit
that this trying on pants is more exhausting
than trying out a play
a rehearsal is nothing compared to pants
People go into a pants store
and all they want is to buy a pair of summer pants
an especially light pair of summer pants
as they say
and they try them on and try them on
and have a stroke
When trying on pants
extreme caution is recommended
We just try on a light pair of summer pants
and Death comes to get us
It’s interesting death
in men’s changing rooms is much more common
than in women’s changing rooms Peymann
women slip into their skirts so easily you know
whereas for men it takes serious effort
On the other hand it’s in changing rooms like that
that I’ve come up with the best ideas
I was trying on pants once
when I had the idea for a novel
a novel I wrote too
in Würzburg believe it or not
but it’s true I put it aside immediately
and threw it out
that is the truth
I’ve thrown out more novels than I’ve published
not to mention all the other prose
that I’ve written and thrown out
and not published
We just try on a pair of pants
and we conceive of a novel
or a stage play
Ghastly this term “stage play”
The word “stage” in general
but the word “play” too
and especially “stage play”
I hate the word “theater” too
and “actor” there’s no word I hate more than “actor”
everything that has to do with theater
I hate it more than anything
dramatically
I hate the stage
I hate the actors on the stage
I hate the world of the theater

peymann
I can’t agree with you there

me
That’s true
After all you’re a theater person
as they say
but I’m not a theater person
Body and soul
and with your whole heart
you love the theater
you’re crazy about the theater
I hate the theater body and soul
and I loathe it more than anything
nothing is more repellent to me
but that’s exactly why I’m in its clutches
I hate the theater
and everything that has to do with theater
and have been handed over to it
You are in its clutches from love
I am in its clutches from hate

peymann
The theater is my world

me
It’s not my world

peymann
The theater is my passion Bernhard
nothing but theater

me
With me it’s just the opposite
I loathe the theater
it draws me in
because I loathe it
You love actors
I hate them
You love the public
I hate it
You love the stage
I hate it
Everything you love
I hate
everything you loathe
I love
I love everything
you loathe

peymann
A good beef soup Bernhard
that’s what I’m in the mood for
when it’s hot
you want a hot beef soup
Austria is the land of beef soup
nothing’s better in Austria
than the beef soup
There’s no country in the world
where they have better beef soup Bernhard

me
Shouldn’t I carry your old pants for you

peymann
What are you trying to say Bernhard
you think I’m not even strong enough
to carry an old pair of pants by myself
What do you think I am
At the end of the day I’m the Director of the Burgtheater
so I must be stronger
than I’d need to be just to carry my old pair of pants Bernhard
walks faster down Kärtnerstrasse toward the Opera House
As Director of the Burgtheater
it’s a constant test of strength
I’m not afraid of it Bernhard
The Burgtheater is a heavyweight Bernhard
A heavyweight that’s what the Burgtheater is
how on earth could you think
that I can’t even carry my own old pair of pants
when I’m the Director of the Burgtheater
The Director of the Burgtheater has to carry
the whole Burgtheater day in day out Bernhard
figuratively speaking Bernhard figuratively
just imagine that
day in day out the whole Burgtheater as it lays and stands there
Bernhard
this whole Burgtheater overflowing with actors and dramaturges
to pick it up early in the morning
and lift it high in the air
and keep lifting it higher and higher Bernhard
always higher and higher Bernhard
and always higher than the other directors lift their theaters
the Director of the Burgtheater has to lift the Burgtheater
just imagine that Bernhard
You wake up early in the morning and you know
you have to lift the Burgtheater high into the air
and in fact always higher and higher
and in any case as Director of the Burgtheater to lift the
Burgtheater higher
than all the other directors lift their theaters
these ridiculous stages Bernhard
these ridiculous stages in Germany and Switzerland
all these ridiculous European stages
every day I raise up the Burgtheater so high
no other theater director can raise his stage to that height

me
Yes you’re a real Kraftlackel

peymann
What’s a Kraftlackel

me
A Kraftlackel is someone
who doesn’t have anywhere near as much strength
as he needs
but shows more strength than anyone

peymann
That’s a Kraftlackel

me
Yes that’s a Kraftlackel

peymann
These Austrian words
are unbelievably funny
lots of things here almost everything
is unbelievably funny
it seems to me that here
nearly everything is unbelievably funny
Austria is the craziest comedy
I’ve ever come across

me
The Austrians think
their fatherland is a tragedy
but it’s really a comedy

peymann
A comedy that’s what Austria is
and what a comedy
an outrageous comedy
it’s as though a reincarnation of Shakespeare had written it
In fact I often have the feeling these days Bernhard
that Austria is a comedy by Shakespeare
that you don’t have to stage
it’s already there
the one complete grand comedy the craziest comedy of all
is the Austrian comedy
Just think of the actors
they’re already there
just think of the set
it’s already there
just think of the score
it’s already there
the craziest comedy of all time
that’s Austria
no play in the world comes anywhere near it
and the Austrians themselves have staged this craziest comedy
of all time
the complete people’s comedy is Austria
the complete people’s comedy
No writer not even you my dear Bernhard
could write this craziest of all comedies
no director not even me
could direct it
and this Austria as the set
is also the craziest one there’s ever been
Probably this Austria is
the one and only total complete world comedy Bernhard
If there is theater
then Austria is it
if there are actors
then the Austrians are they
if there is a set
then Austria is it
Compared to this Austrian world comedy
you my dear Bernhard are nothing
and I myself am nothing compared to it
because you could never write something so monumental
something so singular
something so outrageous
and I could never direct something so monumental and singular
and outrageous
and our friend Karl-Ernst Herrmann
could never build something so monumental
and something so singular and something so outrageous
compared to this we theater people are basically ridiculous little
dwarves
You are a dwarf-writer Bernhard
I am a dwarf-director
Herrmann is a dwarf-stage-designer
compared to this Austria
Whenever someone asks me
so where is the best theater in the world
I always answer “Austria”
I say “Austria”
and then the people always ask “where in” Austria
and I answer “not in Austria Austria
Austria itself”
go to Austria I tell these people
and you’ll show up in absolutely the best theater in the world
buy yourself a good ticket I tell all these people
get yourself a room at the Imperial or the Bristol
at the Sacher or the Ambassador
and enjoy the craziest theater in the world
I tell all these people
and of course they’re taken aback
I thought say all these people
the craziest theater was
where you work Herr peymann
and you do work starting now at the Burgtheater
so the Burgtheater starting now must really be
the best theater in the world
No I say nono it’s not me
it’s not the Burgtheater either
it’s Austria
it’s Austria that’s the best theater in the world
that’s how I take people aback Bernhard
that’s how I make them uncertain
the people then think
I’m crazy
they factor in my megalomania
and discover
that I’m nothing but crazy
for saying that Austria
is the best theater in the world
My dear Bernhard
my whole life long I’ve led people
around by the nose
just like you your whole life long have led them around
by the nose
as the Director of the Burgtheater it’s practically my duty
to lead people around by the nose
I thumb my nose at them
and lead them around by the nose
as the Director of the Burgtheater there’s nothing else I can do
but lead people around by the nose
the thumbed nose
a Director of the Burgtheater is of course a great big
around-by-the-nose-leader
you know that Bernhard
you the great around-by-the-nose-leader
It makes me happy to think
that the two of us
you as a writer
and me as the Director of the Burgtheater
lead people around by the nose
what else is a Director of the Burgtheater there to do
but lead people around by the nose
by the Burgtheater nose
by this gigantic swollen Burgtheater nose
You should really write a play Bernhard
where you lead everyone around by the nose
that’s the kind of play I wish you’d write
a real lead-around-by-the-nose play
you need to sit down Bernhard
and write a lead-around-by-the-nose play like that
Great theater Bernhard
all fatherland all scandal all megalomania
all criminal tasteless sordid
real Burgtheater theater
a real grand lead-around-by-the-nose comedy that destroys
everything
put all your ruthlessness onstage for once
all your loathing of the world
not just half of your loathing of the world but all of your loathing
of the world Bernhard
write a play for the world theater
that will rip the Burgtheater to shreds
a real grandiose world joke Bernhard
that blows up the Burgtheater
that shakes the whole city of Vienna
you know what I mean
you know what I’ve always hoped for from you
this great big throw that overthrows the world
this comedy for everyone that really and truly takes the whole
world off its hinges
this comedic monster you know Bernhard
write something that puts everything else
in the shade
get all of world literature down on paper for once
just write it all down for once lock stock and barrel
pull yourself together Bernhard and write the world’s head off
write a real worldbuster Bernhard

me who has followed Claus peymann to the ring road and then back again on Kärtnerstrasse, without actually being able to keep up with him
Are you sure you don’t want
me to carry your old pants for you

peymann
What are you trying to say Bernhard
you forget that I’m at the height of my powers
suddenly stopping short
You really have no idea Bernhard
how good I feel in this new pair of pants
A new Director of the Burgtheater
also needs a new pair of pants
don’t you think Bernhard don’t you think

me
That is the truth that is the truth

peymann
It’s too bad that we can’t go just like that
and buy ourselves a new head too Bernhard
right now at this moment I’d love to go into a shop with you
and buy myself a new head
our whole life long we run around
with a single outworn I want to say worn-out head
with a head that’s gotten all shabby Bernhard
everyone’s wearing a shabby head
every head we see is a worn-out head
me too of course I have a totally worn-out head
we hardly have a head at all
and already it’s worn out
the world is full of nothing but worn-out heads Bernhard
Wouldn’t that really be something Bernhard
if there were a store we could go into right now
and buy ourselves new heads
and you’d be wearing a new one
and I’d be carrying your old worn-out one in a plastic bag
and I’d be wearing a new one too
and you’d be carrying my old head in a plastic bag
and with new heads on our necks we’d go
have lunch at the Zauberflöte
and have our old heads in plastic bags
But sometimes it’s enough
just to go buy yourself a new pair of pants Bernhard
it doesn’t have to be a new head
or a new hat
and to carry your old hat in a plastic bag
Ah Bernhard
all the great things I expected from you as a playwright
But I haven’t given up hope
I often say to myself when I wake up in the middle of the night
one day he’ll write the play I’m waiting for
I haven’t given up hope Bernhard
I’ve never given up hope

peymann walks into the Zauberflöte with me and we sit down, after he has looked at the menu and chosen something to eat and looked around in the Zauberflöte
So who’s that

me
The Vice Chancellor
a Nazi

peymann
And him

me
The Minister of Agriculture
an old Nazi

peymann
And him over there

me
The Defense Minister
a Nazi

peymann
And him

me
The Foreign Minister
an old Nazi

peymann
And him over there

me
The head of the General Accounting Office
an old Nazi

peymann
And him

me
The Editor-in-Chief of the most prestigious newspaper in Vienna
an old Nazi

peymann
And that guy there

me
The Editor-in-Chief of the second most prestigious newspaper in Vienna
an old Nazi

peymann
And him over there

me
That’s the Minister of Culture and Sport
an idiot a moron

peymann
And that guy there

me
That’s the Chancellor
an idiot

peymann
And him

me
That’s the newly elected President
an old Nazi

peymann
And them over there

me
They’re all Nazis

peymann
And those other guys

me
Those are all idiots and Nazis

peymann
And the waitress

me
She’s a Catholic and knows everyone and doesn’t know anything

peymann
All right then so we’ll get beef soup

me
Yes of course

peymann
What else do you recommend Bernhard

me
Viennese boiled beef

peymann
Then we’ll eat some Viennese boiled beef
to the waitress
So we’ll have beef soup with liver meatballs
then boiled beef with horseradish bread
and then some dessert
how bout a sweet cream strudel with vanilla sauce
tucks the napkin into his collar
Crazy city Bernhard
crazy country Bernhard
Austria’s something else Bernhard
stretches his legs before taking the first spoonful of soup and then,
as though in a sudden burst of happiness, cries out
Soon nothing at all will surprise me here Bernhard
not a thing not a thing
spoons his soup slowly at first, then very fast

Curtain

—Translated by Damion Searls

Bernhard’s Heldenplatz, the world-busting play peymann implored him to write as they walked to lunch, premiered at the Burgtheater in 1988, fifty years after the Anschluss. The play, which sought to force Austrians to confront their past complicity with the Nazis, met with widespread protests. President Waldheim called it “an outrage against the Austrian people,” many angry letters were written and threats of harm issued. An old woman on a bus attacked Bernhard with her umbrella. Nonetheless, the first performance concluded with a forty-five-minute ovation for writer and director. Bernhard died three months later.

Bernhard’s Heldenplatz, the world-busting play peymann implored him to write as they walked to lunch, premiered at the Burgtheater in 1988, fifty years after the Anschluss. The play, which sought to force Austrians to confront their past complicity with the Nazis, met with widespread protests. President Waldheim called it “an outrage against the Austrian people,” many angry letters were written and threats of harm issued. An old woman on a bus attacked Bernhard with her umbrella. Nonetheless, the first performance concluded with a forty-five-minute ovation for writer and director. Bernhard died three months later.

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