Lord Chandos: My case, in short, is this: I have lost completely the ability to think or to speak of anything coherently. …
Even in familiar and humdrum conversation all the opinions which are generally expressed with ease and sleep-walking assurance became so doubtful that I had to cease altogether taking part in such talk. It filled me with an inexplicable anger, which I could conceal only with effort, to hear such things as: This affair has turned out well or ill for this or that person; Sheriff N. is a bad, Parson T. a good man; Farmer M. is to be pitied, his sons are wasters; another is to be envied because his daughters are thrifty; one family is rising in the world, another is on the downward path. All this seemed as indemonstrable, as mendacious and hollow as could be. My mind compelled me to view all things occurring in such conversations from an uncanny closeness. As once, through a magnifying glass, I had seen a piece of skin on my little finger look like a field full of holes and furrows, so I now perceived human beings and their actions. I no longer succeeded in comprehending them with the simplifying eye of habit. For me everything disintegrated into parts, those parts again into parts; no longer would anything let itself be encompassed by one idea. Single words floated round me; they congealed into eyes which stared at me and into which I was forced to stare back — whirlpools which gave me vertigo and, reeling incessantly, led into the void.
Since that time I have been leading an existence which I fear you can hardly imagine, so lacking in spirit and thought is its flow: an existence which, it is true, differs little from that of my neighbours, my relations, and most of the landowning nobility of this kingdom, and which is not utterly bereft of gay and stimulating moments. It is not easy for me to indicate wherein these good moments subsist; once again words desert me. For it is, indeed, something entirely unnamed, even barely nameable which, at such moments, reveals itself to me, filling like a vessel any casual object of my daily surroundings with an overflowing flood of higher life. I cannot expect you to understand me without examples, and I must plead your indulgence for their absurdity. A pitcher, a harrow abandoned in a field, a dog in the sun, a neglected cemetery, a cripple, a peasant’s hut — all these can become the vessel of my revelation. Each of these objects and a thousand others similar, over which the eye usually glides with a natural indifference, can suddenly, at any moment (which I am utterly powerless to evoke), assume for me a character so exalted and moving that words seem too poor to describe it. Even the distinct image of an absent object, in fact, can acquire the mysterious function of being filled to the brim with this silent but suddenly rising flood of divine sensation. Recently, for instance, I had given the order for a copious supply of rat-poison to be scattered in the milk cellars of one of my dairy-farms. Towards evening I had gone off for a ride and, as you can imagine, thought no more about it. As I was trotting along over the freshly-ploughed land, nothing more alarming in sight than a scared covey of quail and, in the distance, the great sun sinking over the undulating fields, there suddenly loomed up before me the vision of that cellar, resounding with the death-struggle of a mob of rats. I felt everything within me: the cool, musty air of the cellar filled with the sweet and pungent reek of poison, and the yelling of the death cries breaking against the mouldering walls; the vain convulsions of those convoluted bodies as they tear about in confusion and despair; their frenzied search for escape, and the grimace of icy rage when a couple collide with one another at a blocked-up crevice. But why seek again for words which I have foresworn! You remember, my friend, the wonderful description in Livy of the hours preceding the destruction of Alba Longa: when the crowds stray aimlessly through the streets which they are to see no more … when they bid farewell to the stones beneath their feet. I assure you, my friend, I carried this vision within me, and the vision of burning Carthage, too; but there was more, something more divine, more bestial; and it was the Present, the fullest, most exalted Present. There was a mother, surrounded by her young in their agony of death; but her gaze was cast neither toward the dying nor upon the merciless walls of stone, but into the void, or through the void into Infinity, accompanying this gaze with a gnashing of teeth! — A slave struck with helpless terror standing near the petrifying Niobe must have experienced what I experienced when, within me, the soul of this animal bared its teeth to its monstrous fate. 
Theodor Adorno: The fact that the power of facts has grown so horrifyingly, and that all theory, even true theory, seems like a mockery of this — this has engraved itself on the organ of theory, namely, language, scarring it permanently. Practice, which emasculates theory, reappears at its heart as a destructive force, without even a glance at any possible practice. Actually, it is no longer possible to say anything. Action is the only form left to theory. 
Samuel Beckett: … I agree that the Matisse in question, as well as the Franciscan orgies of Tal Coat, have prodigious value, but a value cognate with those already accumulated. What we have to consider in the case of Italian painters is not that they surveyed the world with the eyes of building-contractors, a mere means like any other, but that they never stirred from the field of the possible, however much they may have enlarged it. The only thing disturbed by the revolutionaries Matisse and Tal Coat is a certain order on the plane of the feasible.
Georges Duthuit: What other plane can there be for the maker?
Beckett: Logically none. Yet I speak of an art turning from it in disgust, weary of puny exploits, weary of pretending to be able, of being able, of doing a little better the same old thing, of going a little further along a dreary road.
Duthuit: And preferring what?
Beckett: The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.
Duthuit: But that is a violently extreme and personal point of view, of no help to us in the matter of Tal Coat.
Adorno: Yet one must ask a further question, and this is a metaphysical question, although it has its basis in the total suspension of metaphysics. … It is the question whether one can live after Auschwitz. This question has appeared to me, for example, in the recurring dreams that plague me, in which I have the feeling that I am no longer really alive, but am just the emanation of a wish of some victim of Auschwitz. Well, the bleaters of connivance soon turned this into the argument that it was high time for anyone who thought as I did to do away with himself as well — to which I can only respond that I am sure those gentlemen would like nothing better. But as long as I can express what I am trying to express, and as long as I believe I am finding words for what otherwise would find none, I shall not, unless under extreme compulsion, yield to that hope, that wish. 
Thomas Bernhard, via Gabriel Josipovici: [Bernhard's] prize speech on being awarded the Bremen Prize begins by alluding to the famous folk-tale about the musicians of Bremen, but only so as to point out that “fairy tales are over, the fairy tales about cities and states and all the scientific fairy tales, and all the philosophical ones. … Europe, the most beautiful, is dead; this is the truth and the reality. Reality, like truth, is no fairy tale and truth has never been a fairy tale.” How to live and how to make art in a world without fairy tales, without, that is, the animating myths that have kept us going for so long, that is the question. It is not one his audience wants to hear. 
Lord Chandos: You were kind enough to express your dissatisfaction that no book written by me reaches you any more, “to compensate for the loss of our relationship.” Reading that, I felt, with a certainty not entirely bereft of a feeling of sorrow, that neither in the coming year nor in the following nor in all the years of this my life shall I write a book, whether in English or in Latin: and this for an odd and embarrassing reason which I must leave to the boundless superiority of your mind to place in the realm of physical and spiritual values spread out harmoniously before your unprejudiced eye: to wit, because the language in which I might be able not only to write but to think is neither Latin nor English, neither Italian nor Spanish, but a language none of whose words is known to me, a language in which inanimate things speak to me and wherein I may one day have to justify myself before an unknown judge. 
- Hugo von Hofmannsthal, “A Letter to Lord Chandos,” 1902; the letter was “written” to Francis Bacon in 1603. [↩]
- Theodor W. Adorno, Can One Live after Auschwitz? A Philosophical Reader, edited by Rolf Tiedemann. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003, p. xi. [↩]
- Samuel Beckett, Proust and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit, London: John Calder, 1970, pp. 102-103. [↩]
- Adorno, op. cit., p. 435. [↩]
- Gabriel Josipovici, “Thomas Bernhard and his prizes,” 2011. [↩]
- Von Hofmannsthal, op. cit. [↩]