Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ich bin ein Moerder

I am a Murderer (1929)
Kurt Tucholsky

"I, Ignaz Wrobel, love cheating the conductor on the bus, then I can ride for nothing. I have a violent temper: twice I ripped my bath robe to shreds, just to punish it; slashed ties; slammed a glass to the floor. I can't stand the sight of blood. Actually: I can stand the sight of blood, of animals. A strange feeling - not pleasant; well, yes, pleasant, I hesitate to say it, pleasant. I've often loved two women, they knew nothing of one another, but I knew. Once at one in the morning I had a strange impulse: I lay near Conrad on the sofa, we were talking about women, when I began to tremble, I wanted to touch him. I didn't do it - I was afraid of being ridiculous, nothing more. Now and again I have bloody dreams. I eat irregularly - sometimes nothing for days, then excessively. I'm unsound - I'm afraid of diseases, otherwise I'd go out every few days and talk to a girl on the street corner. I'm a coward and malicious: I spilled ink into my cousin's new hat, ripped my mother's lace handkerchief - later, with the most harmless expression: "No idea. My goodness. . . completely torn! Oh, it's ruined." - I like to listen when a couple makes love. Also when they hit each other. I lie for the sake of lying, with heart beating fast, whether it will come out. Most of the time it doesn't come out. I'm very good at lying. I hate my father. As a boy I had to do with my brother and afterwards wanted to beat him terribly, but he was stronger. I live irregular . . . I said that already. What is it all?"

"Nothing special. Look around you - : that man, that woman, they, all of them, carry some package small or large around with them . . . everyone has one. They have a spiritual hump of which they're ashamed. No matter how naked someone undresses before you - : they won't show you that. Sometimes not even themselves. It's nothing special."

"It's nothing special - ? I have nothing to fear - ?"

"It's nothing special. You have nothing to fear. Unless -"

"- ?"

"Unless you stand before a court of law. Unless some heavy suspicion falls upon you because of some deed that you deny. Then . . ."

"- ?"

"Then . . . all these facts you told me become something different. Then they are no longer the anomalies that every judge, every prosecuting attorney, every juror, every foreman could feel as a seed in themselves, if they would only be honest. Then, my friend, it's an entirely different matter."

"What . . . what is it then -? If they all have it?"

"Things like that don't exist in a courtroom. They all play a life that they don't have; a morality they don't possess; a purity of which no man is capable. Children in their Sunday best suddenly can't comprehend that specks of dirt exist in the world. Then all of a sudden these little characteristics become something new -"

"And what - ?"

"Evidence, Mr. Wrobel."

"- and that is why their verdict can only be: The accused is sentenced to death."


Many thanks to Tony Murphy for kind permission to use his photo of the Texas state capital building in Austin. You may view his entire gallery here. Thankful acknowledgement goes also to Alice of Wonderland or Not, for helping to locate the accompanying photo.

The original text may be read at the German language Kurt Tucholsky blog:

Note: The final line, about the verdict, was added by Kurt Tucholsky for publication in "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles," where it was matched with photographs of Oberstaatsanwalt Mueller and Minister Hustaedt who were responsible for the death sentence in the Jakubowski trial. A questionable trial built on extremely shaky evidence, in which an apparently innocent man was put to death. The German original runs: "- und darum kann ihr Wahrspruch nur sein: Der Angeklagte wird zum Tode verurteilt." Thanks to Friedhelm Greis of the Tucholsky Webblog for this background. A good article in German about the Jakubowski trial by Erich Shairer may be read here.

Notes about the translation: I gave a lot of thought to the next to last line of this text which I translated as "Evidence, Mr. Wrobel." The original runs "Indizien, Herr Wrobel" and may not be all that translatable into English. It's short for Indizienbeweise, roughly the same as "circumstantial evidence." But there are several types of evidence, including direct, circumstantial and character evidence. The latter best describes the evidence in the preamble, I think. The official English translation chose "suspicious circumstances," which I think isn't as startling as "Indizien" in German. These things are suspicious from the start, they don't suddenly become suspicious. Another, more literal translation, might run "Indications, Mr. Wrobel, of guilt." Doug of Waking Ambrose suggested in an e-mail, that perhaps "circumstantial" by itself might work. In any case, I think the word has to be concise and it has to startle. If the phrase is too long, it misfires. (As Mark Twain said: The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.) I think "evidence" does it best, at least the best in recreating what I felt when I read the German original. What does everyone else think?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like "evidence." It's stronger than "circumstantial," and we can tell it's character evidence from the text.
Reminds me of Kafka.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Indeterminacy said...

Mrs. Weirsdo: I recalled that a good friend of mine studied law in Scotland, so I sent this to him. His answer:

I think
"Evidence, Mr. Wrobel."

Is perfect. That it is circumstantial is obvious, and saying "circumstantial evidence" lessons the impact:

Usually you would say "that is *only* circumstantial evidence" – but here you want impact not legal or literal Genauigkeit. (Genauigkeit = precision)

So two opinions (mine makes three) is good enough for me. ;-)

P.S. I agree about Kafka. There are differences in style though, at least in Kafka's short stories. They (in the original German) use a very complex and intense language, thick with nuances. I found myself reading his pieces several times to get at the meaning. Tucholsky is also a master of the use of language. He always uses just the right word, in sound and meaning and complexity that doesn't hide the message but gets it across immediately. (Those are just my random impressions - maybe I'm completely wrong).

12:06 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Oh, bother. It's a great translation amd a great passage. Wht do I know?

5:12 AM  
Blogger Indeterminacy said...

Doug: I was surprised I didn't think of "circumstantial" myself. It was a great idea, too. Please continue to "bother"

5:24 AM  
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