'On the Royal Road' by Elfriede Jelinek: Excerpt
A searing farce based on Donald Trump’s presidency, as topical as the evening news, yet with insight built on a lifetime of closely observing politics and culture, On the Royal Road brings into focus the phenomenon of right-wing populism, which spreads like a virus and has a lasting effect on global politics.
Translated from the German by Gitta Honegger
(Miss Piggy, made up as the blind seer, with a cane, bleeding eyes, as tradition calls for. Altogether, I would like for the following figures from the Muppet Show. But since this is not possible, maybe just suggestions, touches of those creatures, a psychosis perhaps, no, plush pants hanging on someone, a removable head, a nice frog, etc. Some fantasy, please.)
Whom do I actually want to talk about, I’ll have to confer with myself about that. First off, silence would suggest itself, I would prefer that, it’s no work. Blindness: Also quite practical. Let me be, I see, that’s what you’re doing anyway, let me be, for I am ill and understand nothing, I can see, no, I can’t, eyes on the balls, homerun! Poor blind me, I don’t understand what I ordered here, is it a birdhouse or a new garage, at least the car port I want to let grow over with ivy, if this is what I ordered. If it is what I’ve got. I don’t know what’s coming. I don’t want to talk about my mother, not ever, I couldn’t care less if everything’s in order with her, and I won’t elaborate on it either. What fault have I committed, what debt incurred unwittingly? Well, in that regard, the King scores much higher than I, at this time he is busy, he has to carve millions of scores into his pistol, that is, into the barrel, and did he have some barrel, out of this world! Really, nobody believes it. And none of his relatives have been bought, they do the buying themselves. When they feel like seeing the sun for once, they just go there and so they see it. No, I don’t mention my mother, the father’s murderess, but I helped her a little, maybe it was even more than a little. Attention, here comes the new King, quick, turn on the device!, make sure, you stupid cow, not to bring shame upon him. Watch out that he won’t drive you out of the country! But that’s another country, the country I am in! Oh, he’ll think of something! No, he won’t buy the other country, he concentrates on his homeland. I hold my hand in front of his face, he doesn’t see it. He already saw nothing before. That’s the proof. There he stands and no light is left for me. A pity. Still: I am speaking. No. I foresay, no, I foreswear, no, that’s not it either. I just say: No one else did it. No idea, what. The King doesn’t look to me as if he wanted to do anything at all. Other than default, but that is surely our fault as well. He borrowed money knowing that he will pay, no play his debts to a tee. The tee gets him to the next hole. Debts got him very far. Of course, he was a daredevil, it paid off, he made a few killings.
Run, kids, or don’t run, I am no Medea, no, and no Electra either. I would not kill children. Mommy, sure, but I delegated this task to a brother I don’t have. After all, the King also delegates everything, but there are things he takes into his own hand, uh-uh, not what you mean! He pays back in everyone’s own coin. If someone cons him, he cons him back, but ten times as rotten, that feels good, man, what a great feeling! Oh, just do what you want. From the man’s mouth you will hear that he does not want to kill but to build. Many buildings. Still more buildings. And what’s this site doing here? That one has holes! Holes? That pig. Did he buy that one too, that site? He must have gotten it for a good price, there is nothing one can do with this site. Now he’s calling Scotland, because he wants to buy another site there. Earlier he called Argentina, or he has been called, now he always gets called, he doesn’t have to worry, now everyone wants to be in touch with him and he immediately asks if he can finally build something there too, for example something he has wanted to build for a long time. The day laughs golden, the building also laughs golden. All is gold that glitters. What, that building too? That one looks as if it tolerated neither rain nor sun or light. And it’s made of pure gold. Something had to be torn down before, but that’s not visible now, of course not, because people are driven to gold until they cling to it like tinsel to a Christmas tree.
What’s this God talking about, what does he tell you, now you can finally see him, he foretells you a brilliant future, which you already knew, you don’t need a God for that: A future, which no longer is one, it is the present. You’ll get the value of your presence weighed, not in gold, there’s nothing to weigh and not even that is worth the weight of what you say. Everything has weight, but who should lift it? Only shortsightedness and the constant need to beef could assume that this is just a specific, if random worldview of someone sufficiently aggressive, who’d enforce his view hellbent. He is about to start, just pulled the club out of the wrapping. Help, my self-assurance is also coming to life now! And you will also get used to the feeling of feeling good. Just to make sure, we put a populist stamp on it and off it goes. Those coins are being issued now, there, look!, the self-assured folks get the same thing on both sides, this coin is valid only for the bringer, but he can’t buy anything with it. He’s been bought himself, and even paid for it himself! A rare feat!—The generosity alone in the name of the father and his two sons, who grew like trees to heaven and no one noticed, costs!—There is a goal to accomplish, after all! Everybody has a father whether he knows him or not, but this father can be procured provided your profits fit the bill. It all goes hand in hand, both of which are held out, one pulling this way, the other that way, so that the money can rain into them and bring blessings. These hands are always open. Their owners are not. They are just taking.
No, no, say it again, please, then we’ll better understand what’s not supposed to be understood. Beefers be gone! Whine-os, stop pissing. Keep it inside your pants, oh, right, there’s no more room. The bottom, that’s what you are yourselves. What is it that’s been pulled off here because so many pulled on it? Is this an episode, no, a hit, no, the expression of a serial hitter, so then expression or obsession?, what is it now?, of the existential will, no, the existential unwillingness of the subjectivity of the subject, the subjects, all of them without a consciousness, and if you are unconscious, anyone can cut you crosswise, drill into you, pierce you, scratch you all over, you won’t notice. Something hits, but it misses, unfortunately, still, it keeps hitting, undaunted, it hits on every feeling, because that’s all it is, they can’t do more than feel, those who cherished and chose you. So now that world view will turn for those who don’t know the world, because they never viewed the world turning in a soap, that world view turns into, well, what does it turn into, spit it out!, it turns, let’s take a look, no idea what that’s supposed to be, I, at any rate, have something else, a different world view, now the King will say what has often been said: Old age is a massacre, can’t even look at you, awful!, well, then I’ll just hide behind my world view, which I often showed off with. A world for show, as it turns out now, is becoming the definitive, sole world view we’ve got, after all, we don’t have another world to view and now will you finally show yourself!, you are quite a looker, why are you hiding? Oh Lord, now we finally get it—why you’ve been hiding from us for so long! It is because of the hairdo! You need a different coiffeur! You are a nightmare! And better too, your mouth would stay shut. Rather, let’s turn to those who don’t have to hide themselves, who haven’t been touched yet by the darkness of death, who are not tarnished, who can last a bit longer.
Who are those turning up all of a sudden! They are taking off, they take up arms, they take themselves out, no, not that, they cover our silence and scream. They scream out everything they know, luckily it doesn’t last long. Only until the white paint dries with which they whitewashed themselves, in case their original color was different. Let’s hope it covers as well as indicated on the bucket. So. Here they are. Not a minute too late! Finally! They are showing themselves and their world view, which someone like you doesn’t have, it’s under the whitewash. Should we add another layer, at least give it a thought?
The view is looking for someone who needs one. Most people have got one already. They paid enough for it, now it is finally worth something. What kind of forces are those beginning to be effective? You don’t say, someone’s hanging on a tree? This can’t be collective violence, no, no, and there, entire packs are crossing the border, masses of them, weapons to the masses!, but quite a few people are still needed to balance this out. There are more weapons than people. Or maybe not. I don’t know. When collective forces are at work, they are already consolidated and get cracking, let’s roll! Violent unanimity, is that what caused this? Apparently. But such unanimosity vanishes completely behind the myths and the lies that bubble out of the TV, the man speaks, he is his own religion, now you can throw away the one you’ve got. God is here. Don’t underestimate him! You’ll still need him, so then he better be powerful. Or you’ll be lost. Consider all the capital, no, not that one—you couldn’t even imagine that one, let alone consider it; rather, consider the pent-up hate-potential, the pent-up distrust, and if people are drawing from it, a new being gets drafted, the King takes shape who is prepared any time for the violence of his neighbors and will therefore return the neighbors to the neighbors. Thanks.
Anything the neighbor does just proves to us that the neighbor has aggressive tendencies. We deport him. Or we are as aggressive to him, or more so, or more frequently. Since this is what he is planning against us, it is only just. The violence for which we prepare ourselves by turning it against those violent ones before they turn against us, violence has such power, it won’t vanish on its own. It can’t do it. It is here to stay.
Life goes on, folks go away, life is inexplicable. It is inexplicable to me how life keeps moving, why it won’t keep still, always wanting to catch a view of something. The view expands, everything is going too fast to gain such a view or another—the latter, however, doesn’t count, that lottery we lost already. Deny people force and they’ll be the first to turn against you to get it back again. Force is their favorite hobby and it’s also a nice profession. They cast their vote, but don’t know who they voted for, even though they did it themselves. They voted for someone with a certain view in the hope he would let them keep the violence, the only thing they have and exercise and execute. They take their liberty, they take up their arms, they attack everybody and afterwards it all gets covered with silence like a pile of dog shit with leaves. And then the next one steps into it. Things are not as bad as they look or—as the saying goes elsewhere, nothing’s eaten as hot as it gets cooked. Just ask the cook. Life’s inexplicability explains why we can’t view things without getting them explained to us. How come? Earlier, on the net, things looked so good and now it’s all gone, even the preview of a view—it’s even the one we had hoped for, the King has exactly the same!—from whose high horse we can always only gain something nobody else wants. Who’s got it, where is it, the view, someone’s got to have it, pray who?, the world simply must be viewed in order for one to get a view, you don’t have one, where on earth could you get it if you always stay at home and are even afraid of red traffic lights, while it was at a green one where you thought yourself safe, you were almost run over. This could never happen to us, we always count on an attack in order to preempt it, we adapt to the King and now we have adopted his view, it was ours to a tee, just that he’s got more of them, more views, so he has enough to change. Like underwear. He tells us that already earlier we thought like him who never thinks. Everything we already had before returns to us as a threat: more show of force. The King is in charge of it and applies it and he is not for sharing it. He just decided this once and for all, thus validating you to the very end. And all others expire. Have expired. For violence is not something external, in case you have observed it with children, the way they share shovel and sand bucket, voluntarily, and yet, the very next moment the bucket including its contents fly in the playmate’s face. Violence is not superficial, even though we would like to think it is, it fuses, it has long fused, it goes in very deeply and then down, wherefrom very dark forces emerge and fuse with your cancer, with your losses of people and stocks, the earthquake in Italy or wherever, it meets your own violence, which is also ready to break out and mow down everything any time, even though the grass you don’t want to have, you don’t want your neighbor to have either, this innocent, immaculate grass, which does nothing but grow—yes, the dandelion in it unfortunately does too—has nothing done to you, except being there and having also brought you the dandelion and you didn’t like that. Go get the reaper, get the mower that makes such a racket; it runs on gas and no one inspects the exhaust, what’s coming out of there, after all, they do that with cars, inspect and adapt the motor to the inspection, why, the inspection can’t adapt to the motor, can it now?, see, you can already see with me how violence meets violence in me; it is always there, waiting. Waiting to be let out. The neighbor gets my leaves blowing around his head, great, serves him right, he deserves it for his stupid grass. I don’t know how the grass is supposed to be stupid, that’s far beyond my brain, stupid me!, for getting at the rot, no root of this, brains no longer strive for something, hands don’t reach out; we lost, my brain understands how grass is the way it grows, but that grass including weeds clearly reaches further, it reaches me, it hands me the weapon which I immediately aim at the disgusting weed. It’s gotta go. Everything’s gotta get out. And shoot! So start up the mower, right, yes, got myself another blood blister on the heel of my hand, it’s where the hand ends and the fingers want to start working but can’t do it, there’s nothing there for them to do. I don’t even feel that kind of thing. I am totally on foreign territory with this, well, just as I had in mind. Where’s the violence? Go, get the ball! Grrrrrr! There it is. Good. We can really use it. It’s all we’ve got.
In case you are looking for your world view, we have it, you can get it or a similar one, whatever we have right now, any time. But it’s painful to look at the world!, horrible!, take our specs from our brand optician, not from the other one, who also carries brands, but they have expired, they have lost their appeal but that’s all there is for poorer folks if they also want to see something they don’t understand. Look through this certified glass, the fit doesn’t matter, you can throw one any time, it’s the glass that’ll cut it for you, straight to the bone, then you’ll be able to see better; so, one more time, but I don’t remember the first time, which already happened several times and pushed itself to the front as if it were new again or like new: World-viewability, no, you’ve got that already, but now it shall be the world-feudability that just turned world-view, you can shove that up yours and thus show yourself to the world, so that you can be moved forward and clearly seen in front of the viewing platform. That’s a really good view. Better than what we’ll get to see. If we’ll get anything? No. Today the world won’t show itself to you. Come back tomorrow.
The path-breaker shows himself but he doesn’t know what he broke, why and how he should be ahead of all the others, he doesn’t understand it, he was no frontrunner, he just likes breaking things, but now he’s got them and doesn’t know what to do with them. He certainly fought, together with his good-looking wife, for lookers, and he got them, he can get them all and stick his fingers into them, he can have his fingers in everything and play them as they lay, he gets everything, he gets them all. He shows himself, go ahead, look at him, don’t shy away from this sight, you’ll get to see worse ones!, as the path-breaker of a certain political and nativist style, nonsense, not nativist, he does not have to emphasize the nativist aspect, there is only one nation in the world, one Volk, that goes without saying, we are not in Germany now!, been there, done that, it’s over. So, the nativist stuff is a non-issue, he can also say I or we, maybe he also says: The Volk, but that’s us, pardon me, we are of course a different Volk, not the one we were, but one and at one with each other we are not either, as little as the Volk, the Reich and the new Führer. That he is new already shows he is not dangerous, the dangerous ones had their turn already, so many had to take their clue from us in order to take us to court, but that’s over, nothing to be done about that. Okay, so the path-breaker has finally come, he has arrived, the urns have decided for him, when they were emptied there were no ashes in them, strange, he fought his way to the front and right through it, his mouth opened and closed again, it happens to all of us, and now hardly anyone can see him anymore, he has gotten way out of sight, wind and fog are his allies. One can’t see anything, we are blown away by the new wind like his speak, well maybe everything gets blown off before he can blow it all up and he’ll be really out of sight. But there are other possible reasons for not seeing him—because folks were looking for him in the wrong place. So, now, folks, choose your path-breaker, the path doesn’t count anyway, only the breakthrough and he made it and not that woman, who kept hitting the roof but could not break through the ceiling. So, people, pick your path-breaker now, it’s not the path that counts, only the breakthrough. And he contests it. He contests everything, now is the right time to contest everything, yes, even the university for the sale of buildings, which however always only cheated and sold people, that will be settled now, but you better believe him, he will pay you back for this too. Eventually your turn will be first, no doubt, that is, if you nicely keep in line, if you deftly walk the line, however far it goes. But here is your path-breaker. I personally gave him lip, since then he is the only one talking, now you’ve just got to listen to him, then you can chase after him for all I care, end of story, if you love me, follow me, but all the others too. Well, that is not what he wanted. Did you vote already? We did, thank you very much. Tomorrow will be someone else’s turn, though it’ll take a while until tomorrow and then someone else will sniff the sun coming out tomorrow and step up to us, isn’t that nice of him.
And at bottom, even the opponents and the backward-looking will somehow move on, but they don’t know whereto; no, they don’t have to turn around, those are the kind that have headlights on their back rather than in front so that no one would kill them from behind while they are tilling their field, which already belongs to the bank, yes, the house too, that’s been taken already by those forging ahead, who just wanted to have it all and took it away from them, because they couldn’t get it anywhere else, they did not get it back to how it was before and where they want to go back to pigheadedly, they do still have their car, it is piled up high with belongings for which they have no home, it is the bank that owns it now. The interests were higher than the house, no, than the value of the house. If you pack anymore on the roof of your automobile, there’ll be an auto-da-fé. Then everything will go up in flames because the vehicle can’t breathe anymore. No idea, where it’ll get the oxygen. For what do you need a path-breaker when all you are is broke and dying to get back, to where the wooden fence with the lopsided For Sale sign blocks your view, you wouldn’t really want to buy back your own house, would you? No more house, no more shelter, no truth, no property. Tell me, are you testing me now? I can explain why we all belong to the banks, which had to be saved before, because if they hadn’t been saved we would have been safe. Let’s move on, we have to anyway, it’s just a bit difficult with that big trailer. Our car is a bit too weak to pull it, even though the old time is pulling away with us. We no longer see the new one. Others don’t yet see it. We no longer do.
Go ahead, walk right through the masses, they won’t split for you and they won’t split anything with you. You cannot see your leader at this time because you are storming ahead so blindly, because you think there is something to get for nothing, you don’t know what, you only know that something is given, an election gift, which is not a gift you’d have selected, but who is checking when something is for free. He does his thing with gifts to make you think you can chase after him, whereas he is already after you by now. When he thrusts himself forward, there will be cohesion, no, such coherence existed before, now there is a furious collision, a crash between those who push back, because their leader is behind them and those who press forward because they haven’t yet caught on that he is now pushing from behind, if only they’d know whereto, tsk, tsk, now you make him a scapegoat, just because you don’t know where he is, or could he have vanished into thin air? You’ve gotta be kidding! Where the hell did he go? Fuck him! We’ll fuck him over like we got fucked, which did not take a village, well, so we didn’t make it in the city, we hate the city, because it didn’t let us in, it didn’t even let us near it. Now we exercise violence, it is the essence of violence that it demands surrender, utter surrender, yes, and even exercise, or we could not exercise it. We still look at violence as something external, while it is inside us, it is already inside us, we surrendered to it and then it wasn’t even our lover. We’d have never wanted a horrible type like that, did you see his face, his hair? That’s not what we wanted, we never wanted that, but we got him and now he is inside us, we sacrifice for him, we sacrifice ourselves to him, but this sacrifice does not appease him. He wants to continue to live in his sky-fucking-scraper with all that gold, I don’t think it’s real because there is so much of it. And from there he will call us to order.
Go ahead, you starter of sensational pleasures, step on the gas!, isn’t that also exactly where you wanted to go? Back? Backwards? So why are you pushing like that? I don’t get it, but what do I know. Now someone is carried past. No idea. It must be the opponent, the backwards striver per se in search of his braces, or else he will drop, so those are carried by a person’s world-viewability, isn’t that the truth, no, not true, we had that once already—that something wasn’t the truth but we still insisted on it, so then man carries his world-viewability on his back, no matter if it’s viewable or not, the world’s always around, he better view the world calmly before its owner arrives and threatens us with a weapon, but we have our own weapon, because everybody has one, to each his own. Everyone has his own facts and everyone else also has his facts, but different ones. Of course they are not the same, but both are true. Thus everybody has a weapon against everybody. A no-brainer. We were told he’d never be elected and we believed it! He can vote alright, but he will never be chosen, you guaranteed this to us, and now the warranty has supposedly expired already?, it only expires in two years when the device falls apart, that’s already scheduled, that way you can look on how the mendacious notions that something would last forever are shattered by their own predetermined breaking point. And you can also recognize how much strength they had, now that it’s too late and you have to dispose of the device which broke not by your violence, but all on its own. And that poses even more problems for you. It’s all outdated now, it hasn’t been updated, or it would be like new again. I think I’ve got something in my eye.