THE LAST DAYS OF MANKIND IN ENGLISH PREFACE
The performance of this play, which according to terrestrial measurement of time would encompass about ten evenings, is intended for a theatre on Mars. Theatre-goers of this world would not be able to bear it. For it is blood of their blood; the content is the narrative of those years, unreal, unthinkable, accessible to no waking sense or memory, only preserved in bloody dreams, when operetta characters played out the tragedy of mankind. The action, leading to a hundred scenes and hells, is impossible, fractured, hero-less. The humour is merely the self-reproach of a witness who has not gone mad at the thought of surviving these times with his mind intact. But except for those who reveal their share in this shame to posterity, nobody has any right to that humour. The rest of the world, which allowed the things recorded here to happen, should put the obligation to weep before the right to laugh. The most improbable deeds reported here actually took place; I only painted what was done. The most implausible conversations in this play were spoken verbatim; the shrillest inventions are quotations. Propositions, whose folly is indelibly registered on the ear, swell into the music of life. A document is a character; reports rise up as living forms while the living die as editorials; the feuilleton gains a mouth and delivers its own monologue; clichés stand on two legs – some men are left with only one. Cadences rattle and rage through these times, crescendoing into a hymn to the unholiest acts. Those who have lived among humankind and survived are actors and narrators in a present which has no flesh, only blood, no blood, only printer’s ink; in puppetry and shadow-play they are reduced to a formula that represents the insubstantial frenzy of their being; larvae and lemurs, masks from tragic carnivals. But even in this time-space, brought about by chance, nothing is fortuitous. Don’t think you can consider it a local matter. Even scenes on Vienna’s Ringstrasse conceal a cosmic point of view. Don’t expect the era in which these things could happen to take this word-begotten horror for anything other than a joke. Everything lived through and outlived will become nothing more than fiction, fiction with a proscribed subject matter. Worse than the ignominy of war is the ignominy of those who endured it and no longer want to remember. For old-guard survivors war has become old-fashioned; though the masks will march in the Mardi Gras parade, they don’t want to be reminded of one another. How profoundly comprehensible is the disillusionment of an era incapable of experiencing (or even imagining) what it lived to see, unshaken by its own breakdown, caring as little for its expiation as it did for its deeds, yet having enough sense of self-preservation to make recordings of its heroic melodies (should occasion ever arise for them to be intoned once more). The idea that there will be war again seems least inconceivable to those whose rallying-cry ‘There is a war on!’ facilitated and covered up every infamy, while any reminder that ‘There was a war’ only disturbs the well-earned rest of the survivors. They imagined themselves in shining armour, conquering global markets; it was what they were born for. Now, with a downturn in business, they have to be satisfied selling off their armour in flea markets. We may rightly fear that a new future sprung from the loins of this present wasteland will, despite greater distance, lack any greater understanding. But surely a complete confession of guilt (just for being part of mankind) must be welcome somewhere, someday? So ‘even while men’s moods are wild’ let Horatio’s message to Fortinbras be given in evidence, to the high court atop the ruins.
‘And let me speak to the yet unknowing world
How these things came about: so shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgment, casual slaughters,
Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause,
And in this upshot, purposes mistook
Fall’n on the inventors’ heads. All this can I
 This preface does not form part of the text of ‘The Last Days of Mankind’, but in reading the play it leads us into the first scene with a force and energy that makes that scene a far less powerful experience in its absence. A performance of the play could well begin with the preface. The words belong on the lips of the character Kraus calls the Begrudger, Der Nörgler. I have translated this German term with a word, 'Begrudger', that comes naturally enough here in Ireland. It contains the right aspects of carping criticism, along with accusations of envious, nitpicking resentment (begrudgery) that we see at times in how the Otimistist views the Begrudger; it is certainly how Kraus was often viewed. It is not right simply to identify the Begrudger with Kraus himself, though there is no question the identification is accurate. The Begrudger is cantankerous, pedantic, bloody-minded, prolix, contradictory, curmudgeonly - all characteristics of Kraus, but his role in the play is flexibly persona-like; Kraus may not have him always and entirely under control.
 The term ‘feuilleton’ covers more or less everything in a newspaper that isn’t hard news or editorial comment; it includes features and ‘human interest’ stories, celebrity interviews, humour, criticism, fiction, even verse. Feuilleton articles were often characterised by light-heartedness but were an important and popular part of a newspaper’s content. Often a feuilleton appeared on the front page, taking a sideways look at major news stories. Kraus regarded the obsession with the feuilleton as a symptom of Viennese triviality.
 Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet’, V.2