“Stupidity Cuts the Heart of Things in Half” is an excerpt from the novel Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador, which was originally published in 1997; New Directions will publish the first English translation, by Lee Klein, on July 26, 2016.
You’d have to be crazy, definitively, like yourself, Moya, to believe that you can change anything in this country, to believe it’s worth it, to believe that the people are interested in changing anything, said Vega, not even eleven years of civil war served to alter anything, eleven years of slaughter and the same rich people remain, the same politicians, the same fucked plebes, the same imbecility permeating everything. It’s all a hallucination, Moya, you understand: the people who think for themselves, who are interested in knowledge, the people dedicated to science and the arts, should get away as fast as they can from this country. Here you’ll rot, Moya, I don’t know what you’re trying to do, your idea of starting a new kind of newspaper is truly naive, a stupid idea of feverish brains like yours that refuse to see reality. The people of this country are fighting against knowledge and intellectual curiosity, Moya, I’m completely sure that this country is out of sync with time and the world, it only existed when it was a bloodbath, it only existed thanks to the thousands who were assassinated, thanks to the criminal capacity of the military and the communists, beyond this criminal capacity, the people of this country have no possibility of demonstrating their existence in the world, said Vega. The newspapers are precisely the best evidence of the intellectual and spiritual misery of the people in this country, Moya, until you leaf through the two morning newspapers you can’t understand what country you’re in; to understand the intellectual and spiritual misery of those who create and buy these newspapers, you have to understand that these newspapers aren’t made to be read but to be leafed through, because no one in this country is interested in reading, and because there aren’t people at the newspapers capable of writing readable articles, it’s actually not about newspapers in the strict sense of the word, no one with the least bit of education would call these catalogs newspapers, these collections of special offers, which is why I say that people don’t buy them to read them but to leaf through the ads, to be aware of the best offers, it’s the only thing that interests people in these newspapers, the special offers and the ads, the only thing they’re good for, the newspapers, are to help people stay on top of the special offers and advertisements, said Vega. And I’ve never seen such fanatical editorial writers, writers so rabid and obtuse, with the same intellectual and spiritual misery of the newspapers: this very morning one of the editors wrote that Bill Clinton is a communist, that the secretary general of the UN is a communist, that the UN is really controlled behind the scenes by communists. It doesn’t matter that it’s been four years since the communists left in a stampede, it doesn’t matter that it’s the President of the United States; for the editorial writer of these nasty catalogs containing special offers, time hasn’t elapsed, and the world only revolves around his pathological obsessions, said Vega. They are truly revolting newspapers, if you think about it, Moya, but people like them, these people are so brute, so abject, that this is the type of newspaper they like, nothing can be done about it, Moya, which is why it’s better not to stick your oar in these waters, it’s better not to think you can change people’s tastes with a newspaper you expect them to read, I assure you, no one will buy it, I assure you no one will be interested in a newspaper that’s supposed to be read, it would be the strangest thing for a newspaper to exist in this country that’s supposed to be read, people here are only interested in ads and special offers, said Vega. Luckily I’m only spending one more week in this pit and then I will be able to avoid shocking my nerves with these rabid catalogs they call newspapers here; luckily I no longer have to endure my brother and his family, Moya, luckily I can now lock myself in my hotel to read my books, to wait for the call from the lawyer to sign the last documents to complete the sale of my mother’s house. You can’t imagine the relief I feel knowing that I’ll spend tonight in my hotel room, Moya, said Vega, I feel an enormous relief knowing that the week I have left here, I can spend locked away in my hotel room with the air conditioner on, without having to accompany my brother and his wife on all sorts of horrible outings that they insist I go on, to all these horrible places that supposedly Salvadorans returning home are so anxious to visit, these places they call “typical” that theoretically I should have missed during my eighteen years abroad, as if I ever felt nostalgic for anything related to this country, as if this country had anything worthwhile for which someone like me could feel nostalgia. It’s stupid, Moya, a tremendous stupidity, said Vega, but they didn’t believe me when I told them that none of it interested me, they thought I was joking when I repeated that I hadn’t been nostalgic for anything, and they schemed to take me out to eat pupusas in Balboa Park, to do nothing more than eat these horrible fatty tortillas stuffed with chicharrón they call pupusas, as if they produced in me anything other than diarrhea, as if I could enjoy such fatty diarrhea-inducing food, as if I would want to have in my mouth the truly revolting taste of pupusas, Moya, there’s nothing fattier, more harmful for your health than pupusas, nothing filthier and more detrimental to the stomach than pupusas, said Vega. Only hunger and congenital stupidity can explain why human beings here eat something as repugnant as pupusas with such relish, only hunger and ignorance explain why these people consider pupusas the national dish, Moya, listen to me closely, never let it occur to you to criticize pupusas, never let it occur to you to say they’re dealing with a repugnant and harmful food, they’ll kill you, Moya, keep in mind the tens of thousands of Salvadorans living in the United States always dreaming about their repugnant pupusas, so ardently desiring their diarrhea-inducing pupusas that now there exist pupuseria chains in Los Angeles, said Vega; never forget that five million Salvadorans still in El Salvador religiously eat their plate of repugnant pupusas on Sunday afternoons, those fatty tortillas stuffed with chicharrón, this nasty greasy homecooked meal they serve like the host on Vespers communion. The fact that pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador shows that these people have dull palates, Moya, only someone with a totally dull palate would consider those repugnant fatty tortillas stuffed with chicharrón somehow edible, said Vega, someone like me with a healthy palate must endlessly refuse to eat such greasy nastiness, I once refused in such a way that my brother suddenly understood I wasn’t joking, I wasn’t going to eat those repugnant pupusas and perhaps this was the first altercation we had, in Balboa Park he began to reproach my ingratitude and what he called my lack of patriotism. You can imagine, Moya, as if I considered patriotism a virtue, as if I weren’t completely sure that patriotism is one of many stupidities invented by politicians, as if patriotism had anything to do with these fatty tortillas stuffed with chicharrón that always destroy my intestines, that exacerbate my nervous colitis, said Vega. These were the outings with my brother and his family, Moya, a true nightmare, a way to exacerbate my nervous colitis, an effective way to disturb my nerves, there was nothing more destructive for my emotional equilibrium than these outings with my brother and his family, Moya, especially because my brother’s sons have all the necessary characteristics to finish off my tranquility, just remembering that pair of kids can unhinge me, a pair of kids particularly stupid and pernicious because they don’t do anything other than watch television, boys who don’t have anything in their heads other than the television series they watch every day, for whom life is nothing more than a television series, it’s truly horrible, Moya, I don’t know how I tolerated them for so long without losing my temper, I don’t know how I was able to withstand these stupid, pernicious boys for fifteen days, who disturbed my mood the moment they called me “uncle,” said Vega. No single living human being seems more intolerable than these boys, Moya, there’s nothing more unendurable than being with them, which is why it would never occur to me to live where there are children, said Vega, only the extreme state of my disturbed nerves produced by returning to this country explains why I accepted my brother’s invitation to live in his house during my monthlong stay, knowing that my brother had two boys who are nine and seven years old, two boys more irritating than any children I have ever known in my life, because for my brother’s sons I am not just any adult, for my brother’s sons I am Uncle Eddie, what an honor, Moya, my brother’s sons call me Uncle Eddie, there’s no way to stop these stupid, irritating, pernicious boys from calling me Uncle Eddie, it hasn’t helped at all that I’ve repeated time and time again that my name is Edgardo, that they should call me Edgardo because that is my name; it hasn’t helped that I ignore them, that I pretend not to have heard when these boys call me Uncle Eddie, they’ll never understand that my name is Edgardo, that it’s Edgardo and not Uncle Eddie is beyond the reach of their stupid, pernicious little heads that only understand the language of television series, said Vega. Never in my adult life has anyone called me Eddie, Moya, much less Uncle Eddie; if there’s anything I detest with intensity it’s this horrible custom of diminutives, only vile imbeciles would refer to each other with diminutives, only a vile imbecile would call me Eddie instead of Edgardo, which is what I said to my mother many years ago soon after adolescence, when I had just finished my courses at the school of the Marist Brothers, that’s where I knew you, said Vega, and it cost my mother the world to stop calling me Eddie, she understood that my name was Edgardo once I moved to Montreal and two years passed before I said a word to her, I didn’t have any communication with her. That’s the truth, Moya: stupidity cuts the heart of things in half, it doesn’t understand shades of gray, said Vega, which is why I’m content now that I won’t have to see or hear my brother’s sons anymore, the fact relaxes me that I won’t have to hear those irritating boys call me Uncle Eddie, I won’t have to respond to their foolish questions about the stupid, pernicious television series that supply their spiritual nourishment, nor will I have to accompany them on outings that only serve to disturb my nerves, said Vega. The worst of all the outings, Moya, the most infamous of these outings, the one that destroyed me almost completely, that left my nerves reduced to dust, was when my brother decided to take me to the port, it was his unfortunate bright idea that we’d go to the sea, to eat seafood and swim together with his wife and his two pernicious kids, because they supposed that a Salvadoran recently returned after many years abroad must long for a trip to the beach and would want to take advantage of the fact that the port is hardly thirty kilometers from San Salvador, my brother imagined that I would return with a robust desire to head to the port, said Vega. A revolting port, Moya; calling a port La Libertad in a country like this can only be the product of a doomed mind, to call a useless and abandoned port La Libertad is more than a joke, calling a ramshackle pier about to crumble into the water La Libertad clearly illustrates these people’s concept of liberty, Moya, it’s a depressing port, a really horrible place, which is what I said to my brother, how could he consider it a good time to visit a place so depressing, so brutally hot, where the sun beats down with vicious brutality, where the inhabitants typically have the expression of someone who’s always brutalized by the heat and sun, said Vega. My brother insisted that we stop at a restaurant called Punta Roca located on the beach some fifty meters from the ramshackle pier, a restaurant whose main attraction is its proximity to the sea and the ramshackle pier, which I tolerated only because it protected me from the brutalizing sun, and there was a breeze that hardly made a dent in that dense, brutal heat, said Vega. Once settled at the restaurant, Moya, with the pernicious boys ruining everything, my brother invited me to eat a conch cocktail, he said there wasn’t a greater joy than returning to this country to enjoy a conch cocktail and an ice-cold Pilsener, he said this to me, Moya, as if I hadn’t told him that this revolting beer gave me diarrhea, as if I hadn’t said that I didn’t have any desire to eat conch, for the clean and simple reason that it revolted me, there’s nothing more repugnant than those mollusks twisting under lime juice, Moya, it seemed to me inconceivable that someone could eat something so revolting, Moya, only one time did I try those creatures more than twenty years ago, and that was enough to confirm that these filthy creatures tasted like excrement, nothing seems more like eating excrement than eating conch, Moya, the taste of it I uniquely associate with the taste of excrement, it’s something nauseating, a truly nauseating act that could only occur to people brutalized by the heat and sun of the coast, which is what I said to my brother, that I didn’t have the least interest in eating something as nauseating as a conch cocktail, that for nothing in the world would I decide to put in my mouth a living creature that tasted like excrement, said Vega. My brother got especially annoying, Moya, because I told him that conch seemed to me more nauseating than pupusas, that conch and pupusas were the typical snacks of this country only confirmed my idea that the people here have dull palates. You can’t imagine how I suffered on this outing, Moya, you can’t imagine the grade of desperation that came on thanks to the sultry brutalizing sun and heat, nor can you imagine the level of my nervous irritation at this port under the brutal sun and heat, nor the agitation I suffered in this restaurant accosted by those pernicious kids and the presence of my brother chewing these nauseating conches with their taste of excrement and the sight of the ramshackle pier there in the distance, said Vega. The worst was when my brother proposed we take a dip, he said it like that, we should take a dip now that the tide was low, jumping into the sea would reanimate me, the force of the waves would do me good, there’s nothing more healthy than bathing in the sea under the sun; he would lend me a bathing suit, it would cheer me up, is how he said it. It’s incredible, Moya, that my brother thought that I could be ridiculed in this way, said Vega, that I could feel pleasure going out almost nude under the brutal sun and cover myself with dirty sand and salt water, that I would enthusiastically go out and roll around in the waves and the filthy sand. I’ve never seen more horrible beaches than those in this country, Moya, I’ve never seen dirtier sand than on these beaches, and the port of La Libertad without a single doubt has the most abominable beaches with sand so filthy, one would need to be exceptionally shameless to roll around in it, only the most shameless could feel some pleasure rolling around in the filthy sand of these abominable beaches, which is what I said to my brother, that for nothing in the world would I go out and brutalize myself under this sun, and cover myself in filthy sand, stay there sticky with the malodorous water of this abominable beach, said Vega. Now I’m calm because I won’t have any more of these outings, Moya, my brother won’t have the audacity to invite me on an outing again, to invite me to return to those places that Salvadorans living abroad miss with a feeling that reveals their congenital stupidity, although to tell the truth the primary instigator of these outings was my brother’s wife, Clara, about whom I haven’t said anything to you, Moya, nothing is more repulsive to describe than this human being, this is the first time I encountered someone of such a nature, a freak whose entire intellect is limited to the newspaper’s society pages and Mexican soap operas, an ex-employee of a chain of clothing stores, no one knows how she hooked my madman of a brother and convinced him to fund this gruesome thing she calls a home, said Vega. You wouldn’t believe it, Moya, how this freak rummages through the society pages of the newspapers, spends every morning of every day microscopically combing the society pages of those newspapers with extreme emotion; it’s her principal entertainment, the only thing that gives meaning to her life: knowing about tea parties, birthdays and anniversaries, engagements and weddings, the births and deaths of people whom she will never know, because she was only a clerk at a chain of clothing stores lucky enough to meet a lunatic dedicated to keys and locks, said Vega. It’s incredible, Moya, this little ex-clerk spends all her time talking about society events, knows each and every thing about the society people, she passionately enjoys what happens to them thanks to meticulously memorizing the newspaper society pages. I’ve never seen a freak of this nature before, Moya, I swear to you, I never imagined I’d encounter someone whose greatest ambition in life is to appear in the newspaper’s society pages, I never imagined someone who called me brother-in-law would a second later want to relate to me the most recent gossip about people she knows only from the society pages in the newspapers, said Vega. A vomitous freak, Moya, a little ex-clerk who could only ever appear in these society pages with great difficulty, undoubtedly she’ll never meet the society people she reads about with so much excitement, because society people aren’t interested in meeting little ex-clerk social climbers, especially some freak who spends the morning with her head filled with curlers, the television on, and her attention glued to gossip about society people in the newspapers, said Vega. You’d have to see her, Moya, with her head filled with curlers and the television at top volume as she feverishly combs the newspaper society pages, it’s a grotesque spectacle, a vomitous aberration, said Vega. And in the afternoons it’s worse: she sits in front of the television to watch those worthless Mexican soap operas, all afternoon she spends in front of the television moved by these worthless stupid Mexican soap operas, while simultaneously gossiping on the phone with her friends about people she’s read about in the society pages and about the Mexican soap operas currently intoxicating her, she spends her life chattering on the phone with friends who are surely, or have been, clerks at the same chain of clothing stores where she worked and who also dream of appearing in the newspaper society pages and personally knowing people whose gossip they continually read about, little clerks, or little clothing-store ex-clerks, who live as if life were a Mexican soap opera, as if they were the frivolous, stupid actresses starring in these worthless Mexican soap operas, said Vega. My brother’s wife is truly a nutcase, Moya, a nutcase right out of the Mexican soap operas, a freak who makes me surprised at my capacity to endure fifteen days in that house, which was a feat for me, although it cost me my health, although it cost me the exacerbation of my colitis and was a shock to my nervous system, truly it was a feat for me. But order another whisky, Moya, don’t wait for me, said Vega, I can only handle two drinks, not more, thanks to my colitis; here’s what I do, Moya: I drink two whiskeys and later I stick with pure mineral water, because although I know I can only handle two drinks and I can’t have one more thanks to my nervous colitis, I drink them hurriedly like I have today, every day it’s the same, I can’t help it, I drink my pair of whiskeys rapidly, and later I stick to drinking pure mineral water, said Vega, because at the end of the day what I most enjoy is calmly spending a couple of hours, without those annoying drunks from the bars, where they drink that appalling diarrhea-inducing beer; I enjoy listening to the music that I like, thanks to Tolín who satisfies my requests at this hour when he hardly ever has anyone else here. I enjoy the dusk, Moya, I love savoring the dusk from this patio, it’s the only thing that calms me, the only thing that relaxes me in this city made especially to irritate my nerves, on this patio I get refreshed, Moya, under these mango and avocado trees I take refuge from this stiflingly hot city, this has been my oasis to flee my absurd agitation and the stupidity of my brother and his Mexican soap-opera freak and their pernicious kids. I’m lucky now that I can pass the time locked in my hotel room reading the books I brought from Montreal, said Vega, I had the foresight to bring with me enough books to avoid sinking into the most profound desperation, I foresaw that in this country I wouldn’t encounter anything to nourish my spirit: no books, no art exhibitions, no theatrical productions, no films, absolutely nothing to nourish my spirit, Moya, here they confound vulgarity with art, they confound stupidity and ignorance with art, I don’t believe there exists a place more at odds with art and manifestations of the spirit, you only need to stay in this bar until after eight at night, when the so-called artistic events begin, to realize that they confound art with imitation here. I don’t believe there exists another place with its creative energies so sapped when it comes to anything related to art and manifestations of the spirit, said Vega.