Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Translation of "Ein destruktiver, schrecklicher Kerl" by Thomas Bernhard

“A Destructive, Horrible Guy” [1]

Now that I have returned from Portugal, where at the invitation of the Goethe Institute I delivered some lectures on my own work at the Universities of Lisbon and Coimbra and had some discussions with some students, it is beyond my personal power and more precisely the power of my brain, a brain that is ever mindful of the accountability of Austrians living abroad, to withhold from our chancellor and the broader [Austrian] public that portion of my traveling experiences involving the Austrian embassy and in particular the Austrian ambassador to Lisbon, Weinbeger, and I am quite simply duty-bound to share with you the following facts and circumstances:

At the end of my first lecture, the director of the German Goethe Institute in Lisbon, the distinguished and quite rightly world-famous translator of Latin-American and hence Portuguese and Spanish literature Curt Meyer-Clason, was invited along with me to a supper-party at the house of an Austrian family living in Lisbon, a supper-party that the Austrian ambassador was also supposed to attend.  Shortly before my lecture Mayr-Clason suddenly shared with me the news that Weinberger the Austrian ambassador would not fulfill his function as a guest at this party if I, and in this matter the ambassador had quite clearly been heard to say, “if this destructive, horrible guy,” was going to be present, and it was very politely suggested to me, probably for fear that the ambassador might [resort to more] coercive [methods], that because the hosts were an Austrian family living in Lisbon I would do better not to appear at this supper-party, and so as a matter of course I did not appear at that supper-party.

At this moment it dawned on me within the precincts of the university that the German Goethe Institute’s and the German embassy in Lisbon’s solicitude to inform the Austrian embassy of my residence in Lisbon and of my lectures in Lisbon through a number of very polite printed and unprinted invitations and leaflets had been exploited quite definitely by the Austrian embassy and unmistakably by the Austrian ambassador towards the end of ridding themselves of my personal presence by brusquely rebuffing me, by bringing me in contempt within the Austrian colony in Lisbon and throughout Portugal and snubbing me; meanwhile, the Austrian ambassador had publicly let it be known that I was “a destructive, horrible guy,” even though I have never met the Austrian ambassador to Lisbon and even though I am certain this ambassador has to this day not read a single line written by me.  Weinberger the ambassador has also spoken of me in terms akin to “this destructive, horrible guy” in communications to the representatives of the German Goethe Institute and of the German embassy, and hence to my hosts, who had been under the impression that the Austrian embassy in Lisbon was in some fashion interested in Thomas Bernhard, communications that at the very least must be described as indiscretions.

The day after my exclusion from the aforementioned supper-party and after the Austrian ambassador had made full and abundant use of the opportunity to bring me in contempt among the Austrians and Germans in Lisbon, I was invited by the German ambassador Caspari to a panel discussion at his private residence outside Lisbon with Cunhal, Soares, and the former king [of Italy] Umberto; hence [I received this invitation] at the very moment at which, by the most remarkable coincidence imaginable, suddenly and not unwittily in the eyes of Meyer-Clason who had been apprised of it, the Austrian ambassador in the course of bringing my personal presence into contempt had for his own purposes consistently and unremittingly replaced my actual name Bernhard with the admittedly not unattractive name Bernfeld.  Here, as they so often do, the Germans enjoyed a good laugh at our expense.  My experiences with representatives [of the] Austrian [government] in foreign countries have for many years now been exceedingly grotesque, and hence hardly ideal, but I ask myself today, at the end of this otherwise so highly and uncommonly fruitful trip, why these experiences must invariably be so exceedingly awful.  The snubbing of my person in this case when, to say nothing of invitations from other German sources, I had been very cordially addressed in invitations from the German ambassador not as a “destructive, horrible guy” but quite simply as Thomas Bernhard, is naturally tantamount to a snubbing of the people at the German Goethe Institute and at the German embassy at Lisbon.
In all humility and naturally also in all perplexity, I ask myself whether the remit of an Austrian ambassador in a foreign country, let us say Lisbon, vis-à-vis Austrians living in that foreign country, can really be not to render himself useful to them or quite simply to leave them in peace, but rather to bring them into contempt, and what is worse into public contempt, and to make Austria abroad   into a source of inexhaustible [and] endless but [ultimately] depressing sport.

Thomas Bernhard

[1] Editors’ note: First published in Die Presse, Vienna, June 2, 1976.

The editors appended the following note to the letter: “The author has sent an identical letter to the chancellor of the republic, Dr. Kreisky.  The Eds.”

This letter provoked a letter to the editors of Die Presse (June 5, 1976) by Trudy Lenz, a letter that inter alia states “As both the ambassador, Dr. Weinberger, and the director of the German Cultural Institute were guests at our house the evening after Th. Bernhard’s lecture at the University of Lisbon, I presume that the supper-party Mr. Bernhard was ostensibly both invited to and uninvited from was ours.  I was most astonished to learn that Mr. Bernhard felt uninvited, as no actual invitation of any kind was ever sent [to him] by us.  […] Until the very moment he entered our house, Dr. Weinberger knew nothing of the identity of the other guests, and therefore could not possibly have exerted any influence on the choice of those guests […] I shall continue to take an interest in the work of Thomas Bernard as a representative of contemporary Austrian literature, but I [must] add that I find his behavior [both] disappointing and disconcerting in a grown man and a writer worth taking seriously […]”

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). 

No comments: