Friese Undine
An Answer to an Inquiry (2008 Ink and Enamel on Aluminum)

Answer to an Inquiry
By Robert Walser
Translated by Paul North

You ask me if I have an idea for you, sir, you ask me to draft a sketch, a play, a dance, a pantomime, or something else that you could use, that you could abide by. My idea is approximately the following: Ezekiel 2:1 And God said to me, "You, mortal, stand up and I will speak to you." 2 As he spoke to me a spirit entered into me and lifted me up on my feet. 3 "Mortal, I am sending you down to speak to a nation of rebels. They and their fathers have defied me and continue to today. 4 I will send you to them and you shall say to them, 'Thus said the Lord God' whether or not they listen, for they are a rebellious breed 6 And, you, mortal, do not fear them and do not fear their words though you sit on briars and thorns and scorpions. 7 But speak my words to them whether or not they listen for they are rebellious. 8 You, mortal, open your mouth and eat what I am giving you", and when I looked, there was a hand extended towards me holding a scroll of writing. He unrolled it for me and upon its front and upon its back were written lamentations, dirges and songs of morning.

get yourself masks, half a dozen foreheads, tufts of hair and eyebrows noses, and twenty voices. 3:1 And God said to me, "You, mortal, eat this scroll and then go speak to the people." 2 So I opened my mouth and he made me eat it 3 and the scroll tasted as sweet as honey to me. 4 Then He said to me, "Mortal, go to the people and repeat my words to them in their language 7 though they will refuse to listen to you. 8 I will make your face as unfeeling as theirs and your forehead as hard as theirs."

If possible find a painter, one who is also a tailor, and have him make up a series of costumes, and 3:14 Then I was lifted up by a spirit and I was carried away full of bitterness and rage and the hand of the Lord was upon me. 22 The Lord directed me to a valley where he would speak though me. 26 And the Lord said to me, "I will make your tongue cleave to your palate and you will be mute except when I speak through you. Then I will open your mouth and you will say to them, 'Thus said the Lord God'"

take care that a couple of good solid pieces of scenery are procured, so that, wrapped in a black coat, you can go down a stairway or look out a window and let out a roar, 4:1 "You, mortal, take a brick and put it in front of you and on it draw a map of their city. 2 And lay siege against it and build little towers against it and pitch little camps against it and set little battering rams against it. 3 Then take a plate and place it as a wall between yourself and the city and set your face against it and in this way it shall besieged. This shall be an omen for the people.

a short, lion-like, thick, heavy roar, such that people actually believe a soul is roaring, a human breast. I beg you to pay careful attention to this cry sir; put elegance into it, let it resonate purely and correctly, 4:4 Then lie in the dirt on your left side for three hundred and ninety days. 6 When that has been completed, lie another forty days on your right side. 9 Furthermore, take wheat, barley and beans and bake them into bread. 12 And you shall bake this bread over human excrement and eat the bread as the people watch. 17 They will then stare at each other, astonished."

and then you are permitted, if you must, to reach your hand for one of your tufts of hair, in order to lay it doucement on the earth. The effect of such a thing, when it is gracefully done, is gruesome. They will think you have become speechless from the pain. 5:1 And God said to me, "Mortal, take a sharp knife and with it shave your head and your beard. Then take the hair and divide it into three parts. Burn one third of the hair in the city. Take another third and lay it on the ground and strike it with a sword. Throw a third into the wind and strike it with your sword in the air."

To achieve a tragic effect one must seize both the nearest and the most extremely remote means; 5: 13 And God said, "I will pour out my anger upon them and when I have poured out my anger upon them my rage will be somewhat relieved." 14 Moreover, I will ruin them and make them a mockery among the other nations." 6:1 The word of God came to me, "Mortal, address the people and prophesy to them saying, 5 'I will strew your bodies and scatter your bones 6 throughout all of your wasted cities. When all of your work is erased, then you will know that I am the Lord."

I say this so you understand that now it will be good to stick your finger in your nose and dig around with it intently. Upon seeing this, many spectators will cry, upon seeing such a noble, melancholy figure behave in so ill mannered and pitiful a way. 6:11 Then God said to me, "Clap your hands together and stamp your feet and yell out, 12 'He who is far off will die of disease and he who is near will fall by the sword and those who hide will starve. This is how I will express my anger. 13 And then you will know who I am, when your dead lie on every hill and under every tree. 14 When I stretch out my hand your cities will be flattened and your towns turned to dust and you will know that I am the Lord.'"

It only really matters what face you make while doing this and from which side it is lit. Poke Mr. Lighting Engineer in the ribs so that he regularly makes the effort; gather your facial features, your hand movements, your arms and legs and mouth together. 7:1 The word of the Lord came to me, 2 "You, mortal, say to them, 'Thus said the Lord God, "Doom is coming to every land 3 and doom is coming to you. I will let loose my anger upon you and judge all of your actions. 4 I will spare no one and show no pity, and all of you crimes will be requited. I will overlook no one."

Remember what I told you once before, namely, that it is possible to perform fearsomeness, beauty, mourning, or love, or whatever else you want merely by opening or closing one eye in one way or another. 7:5 "A unique disaster is coming; 6 doom is watching you and stirring against you. 7 That is not thunder you hear from the mountains. 8 Soon I will pour out my wrath upon you and act out my anger. 11 No one will remain to mourn the dead. 12 The day has arrived. 14 You have blown their trumpets and though you are prepared, no one goes to battle because my wrath is against you all. 7:16 Those who try to hide in the mountains will moan together like doves. 17 Your hands and knees will become weak. 18 Your faces will be full of shame and your heads will be bald."

It does not take much to act out love, but sometime in your godforsaken, tattered life you must have honestly and simply felt what love is and how love likes to behave. 8:1 On a certain day I was sitting at home when the hand of the lord came down on me. 2 And as I looked, there was a figure that had the appearance of fire. From his loins down and from his loins up he glowed the color of amber.

Naturally it is the same with anger, with the feeling of anonymous mourning, in short, with every human sentiment. 8:3 He stretched out the form of a hand and lifted me up by my hair into the sky to show me the city and its infuriating sights. 7 Then He brought me to the outside of a court where I found a hole in a wall. 8 He said to me, "Mortal, break through the wall." So I broke through the wall. 10 I entered and saw every form of creeping thing and abominable animal and every offensive act.

By the way, I advise you to practice gymnastics often in your room, to go to the woods and strengthen the lobes of your lungs, to do sports, unusual and practical ones, to go to the circus and note the manner of Dumb August, 21:1 The word of the Lord came to me, 8 "Say to the people, 'Thus said the Lord, "My sword is sharpened and polished. I will draw it out of its sheath and I will wipe out both the righteous and the wicked. 9 My sword will be against all flesh 10 and will not be sheathed again."

and then to ponder seriously with which quick movement of your body, sir, you are able to best symbolize a convulsion of the soul. The stage is the open, perceptible mouth of poetry; 21:12 "And you, mortal, cry and howl with weak limbs and convey your grief to them."

in your legs, dear sir, very specific states of the soul can come to shuddering expression, to say nothing of the face and the thousand mimicking duties it has. open, perceptible mouth of poetry; 21:31 And God said through me, "I will pour out my indignation upon you and blow the fire of my wrath upon you and deliver you to brutes and barbarians.

Your hair must obey you when, in order to symbolize fright, it is supposed to climb up into a mountain, so that the spectators, the bankers and spice traders, are frightened of you. 21:32 You will be fuel for fire and your blood shall sink into the earth and you will be forgotten because I have spoken."

Now then, you have been speechless, lost in thought you dug around in your nose like a naughty and reckless child, and now you start to speak. 23:24 "I will entrust your punishment to your enemies. 25 Through them I will direct my passion against you and they shall deal with you in a fury."23:25 "They will cut off your noses and your ears."

But just when you want to do it, a fiery-green snake creeps and licks out of your pain-contorted mouth, so that you yourself appear to tremble in all your limbs from horror. The snake falls to the ground and winds itself around the peaceful tuft of hair; 23:28 "I will give you to the people you hate and from whom you are alienated. 29 They will take the profits of your labor and leave you naked."

a cry of anguish goes through the entire audience as if from one mouth. Indeed yes, now you are offering something new.

You stick a long, bent knife in one eye, so that the point of the knife comes out on the neck below near the throat, spurting out blood; 23:33 You shall be filled with drunkenness and sorrow from the cup of desolation and horror. 34 You shall drain it and then gnaw its shards and tear at your breasts. I have spoken."

afterwards you light yourself a cigarette and do so especially cozily, as if you were secretly amused about something. The blood that befouls your body turns into stars, the stars dance beckoning, burning, and fierce around the whole stage area, you in contrast catch them all with your open mouth, to make them disappear one by one. In this way your acting should have reached a high degree of perfection. 30:12 "I will dry up your rivers and with the hands of you enemies I will lay waste to the land and everything in it." 32:7 "And when you are dead I will cover the sky and the stars will darken; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will yield no light.

Then, the houses in the painted scenery topple down like terrible drunkards and bury you. 33:23 The word of the Lord came to me, 30 "Pay attention, you, mortal. The people talk about you standing in the doorways of their houses saying to each other, 'Come and hear what the man who speaks for god is saying.' 31 They will come and sit around you to hear you speak 32 but to them you are just an entertainer who sings bawdy songs. 33 But the day will come when they will know you were a prophet."

Only your hand can be seen jutting out from under the steaming debris. The hand still moves a little, then the curtain falls. 37:1 The hand of the Lord came upon me and lifted me up and set me down in a valley full of bones. 2 He led me through them and they were scattered thought the valley and the bones were very dry. 3 He said to me, "You mortal, can these bones live again?" I replied, "Oh, God. Only you know."

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