Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Translation of "Das Werk von Josef Weinheber" by Thomas Bernhard

The Works of Josef Weinheber [1]

Josef Weinheber: COLLECTED WORKS: Vols, 1, 2, and 3.  Edited by Josef Nadler and Hedwig Weinheber.  Salzburg 1954.  Published by Otto Müller. Currently priced at 2,900 S[chillings] on onionskin [i.e., in one volume], D[eutsch]M[arks] 17.50  per volume, D[eutscsh]M[arks] 18.20 for individual volumes.

Josef Nadler and Hedwig Weinheber, Josef Weinheber's widow, have collected and edited the lyric poet's works.  Their edition is planned as a five-volume set, of which so far four volumes have appeared; these contain his juvenilia in verse, his mature poems, and his short prose writings.  The first volume contains the fruits of the years 1913 to 1931, among these are the collections I and Thou, The Dark Path, A Man who Used to Drink with Me, Amores, The Solitary, Anna Fröhlich, From Both Shores, and Boat in the Bight.  Here, a truly inexhaustible profusion of themes and passions is being brought to light for the first time. 
The second volume contains the poet’s chief works, the well-known book-length collections Nobility and Decline, O Humanity, Beware, Between Gods and Demons, Chamber Music, Vienna Verbatim, and Here Is the Word.  [In these] the pinnacle of our language is attained.  Many people laud the last book, Here Is the Word, as the purest.  It is indeed that in terms of diction, but his poetic idiom takes its deepest breath in Gods and Demons.  In this book inheres Weinheber’s life and Weinheber’s death.  Nothing packs in more soul and more combined Austrianness and Germanness than this work.  The language is not refined, but it is superbly handled.
[The] third [sic (DR)] volume is the essence of a “life” that was “crazy, profound, and ultimately self-exhausting.”  Weinheber was a success; here, in this third volume this is perfectly clear.  And so let a great sheet of forgiveness be spread over humanity, over the blazing fire of neediness, for each of us perforce has forgotten to claim at least a portion of his rightful share.
The third volume brings [together] Weinheber’s three novels, The OrphanageUncoined Gold, and Procreation.  Our poet was never a man who could write truly solid prose.  These three books are suffused with a great love of poverty of the sort that for centuries has been eking out its homely, deadly existence in the Ottakring-Heiligenstadt corridor.  These “novels” are pure autobiography and nostalgia, lovely in the eyes of the citizen of Vienna, who is at home in them, but awfully weird-seeming to anybody who is unfamiliar with that town.  Even in nearby St. Pölten they would never be understood.  Moreover, they are grammatically defective, and most fatally of all, they lack even a minimally necessary degree of cohesion.
The fourth volume comprises some short prose pieces, speeches, articles, critical essays, and a large number of poems that failed to find a home in any of the book-length collections published during the poet’s lifetime.  Weinhaber had plenty of worthwhile things to say about language.  Time and again he alighted on new sources of linguistic richness, on “new landscapes of current German usage.”  In his sketches and descriptions of his homeland a blissful whiff of Austrianness is palpable; one scents it in, for example, “Vienna, my Heart,” one of his loveliest offerings.  The city, the suburbs, and the lower-Austrian wine-country are lovingly summoned up in the truest sense of the word.  In the hitherto unpublished poems, which hail from all manner of sources, his bow is bent by folksong and by everything from broadside ballads to hymns and odes.  The glimpse into the workshop of eloquence that is afforded here is deeply distressing and at the same time deeply exhilarating.  Occasional verses are juxtaposed with attestations of a poetic gift of pure, unalloyed gold.  In the critical essays one comes across the passage in which he says of Hans Leifheln, a genuine talent who died at an early age, “His is art of the highest merit.  For only where the individual human being is visible, as in the work of this singular, canonically marginal figure, can any spell truly work its magic.”
It would appear that this edition is expected to be completed sometime next year.  The onionskin version is a joy to read, even if one rather wishes the editors had not prepared it with such nitpicking solicitousness.  Copious annotations, whether penciled in by the reader or inked in by the printer, are of scant value at any time of day.  Nonetheless the edition is a meritorious achievement.  This colossally chancy undertaking, the publication of Weinheber’s work in its entirety now, nine full years after his death, has been brought off with aplomb and deserves high praise.  We may look forward to the final volume (the letters) with trepidation and delight—quiescently conspicuous delight.


[1] Editors’ note:  First published in the Müncher Merkur, 16 February 1955, above Thomas Bernhard’s signature.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2013 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011).

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