Monday, December 02, 2013

A Translation of a Letter about Bernhard Minetti by Thomas Bernhard

Bernhard Minetti [1], [2]

My dear Henning Rischbieter, it would be an act of madness and hence a blow to my own head, to send you a piece [Stück] of the play [Stück] that I am writing exclusively for Minetti and that is entitled Minetti and that is quite simply nowhere near being finished, and that we, Minetti, Peymann, and I, intend to see performed on New Year’s Eve in Stuttgart, provided we are all still alive then.  I must exploit this great actor, probably the greatest one still acting and hence still living, this actor who bewitches his profession and hence bewitches his and our own dramaturgical madness, this thoroughly spiritual theatrical mind, before he can no longer be exploited.  Over the course of a century we do not see many artists who are capable of literally getting on our nerves!  And as you know or don’t know, and as I shall confide to you now, I never write so much as a word (nor hence a physical or spiritual gesture!) for a public in which I take not the slightest interest, for the public has nothing capable of arousing my slightest interest; [I] only ever [write], rather, for the actors; I have only ever written for actors, never for a public, for I have of course never written for the feebleminded, [but] only ever for actors, and naturally only for actors like Minetti who are spiritual minds, even though feebleminded actors have often appeared in performances of my plays.  The public is the enemy of spirit; this is why I have nothing to spare for the public; it loathes spirit and it loathes art and it craves nothing but entertainment of the most moronic sort; everything else is nothing but lies; I, however, have always loathed entertainment of the most moronic sort, and so I have no choice but to loathe the public; it is and must remain [my] enemy; if I am of any other opinion, I belong on the dunghill of that public that I am execrating today, because it walks all over what is most important to me.  In my capacity as a former and probably lifelong so-called drama student, I have only ever been interested in writing for actors [and] against the public, as I have of course always done everything against the public, against my readers or my audience, for the sake of saving myself, of being able to discipline myself to the utmost extent of my capabilities.

I thank you very warmly for your request.
Thomas Bernhard

[1] Editors' note: First published in Theater 1975.  Bilanz und Chronik der Saison 1974/75 [Record and Chronicle of the 1974-1975 Season], a special issue of the periodical Theater heute, p. 38.  Bernhard Minetti had been elected “Actor of the 1974-1975 Season” by the critics of Theater heute.  In response to this the editor Henning Rischbieter asked for an advance copy of Minetti, whose New Year’s Eve 1975 premiere in Stuttgart was announced by the periodical (in conformity with the author’s original plans).   The first performance of Minetti featuring Minetti took place on September 1, 1976 at the Württemberg State Theater of Stuttgart [in a production] directed by Claus Peymann.  Thomas Bernhard commented on his Offending the Audience on the ZDF [i.e., second network of German state television] show Aspekte.

[2] Translator's note (January 28, 2014): In the comment below pom3granade kindly referred me to an earlier translation of this letter by one Claudia Wilsch, and my review of this translation has suggested the following changes that I have made to my own:

1. The substitution of “bewitches his profession” for “jinxes his own career” (I used to think that Bernhard meant that Minetti was hurting his chances of landing remunerative roles by appearing in difficult plays.  Now I think along with Ms. Wilsch that he meant that M. was enchanting his fellow actors, although I prefer “bewitches” to “enchants” because it preserves the witchy element in the original’s verhexenden.)

2.  The substitution of “Over the course of a century we do not see” for “In the past century we have not had.”  While I cannot agree with Ms. Wilsch that Bernhard is referring to “this century,” it now seems equally apparent to me that he is not referring to “the past” century either.

3.  The reassignment of “in their capacity as former and probably lifelong so-called drama students” to Bernhard himself, mutatis mutandis.  This is a straightforward correction.

I should add that I think it possible, though not particularly likely, that Ms. Wilsch translated from a different version of the letter than the one I used—this, first, because her original is supposed to have appeared in Theater Jahrbuch not Theater 1975 (admittedly divergent style guides could be to blame for this discrepancy); second, because her text is broken into paragraphs and my original is not; and third, because there are meaning-bearing phrases in my original that have no counterpart in Ms. Wilsch’s translation—for example, ein Schlag auf den Kopf gegen mich (“a blow to my own head”) and “also unseren” (“hence our”).   I would be especially delighted to learn that the letter I translated was but a rough draft of a letter in which the original German seemed to provide sufficient warrant for certain locutions in her text that sound much better than their counterparts in mine--for example, “If I thought differently, I would deserve to be thrown onto the dung heap of the audience.”  On its own terms this is obviously preferable to my “I am of a dissenting opinion; I belong on the dung heap of the public,”* which is a fuzzy and clunky way of saying, “because I think differently from the public, the public thinks of me as dung.”  But what of more grace or clarity can I wrest from the original German--i.e., bin ich anderer Ansicht, gehöre ich auf den Misthaufen des Publikums--given that it is entirely in the indicative mood and lacks a “wenndann”?

3a (May 7, 2014).  On "bin ich anderer Ansicht, gehöre ich auf den Misthaufen des Publikums": a syntactically parallel passage in E. T. A. Hoffmann's Die Serapionsbrüder has convinced me of the plausibility of rendering it in an "if...(implied) then" construction., but I still balk at flipping it into the conditional mood.  

*The choice between “public” and “audience” here, like the one between “spirit” and “intellect” vis-à-vis Geist elsewhere, is nearly akin to the choice between oranges and tangerines.  Just as it seems slightly more fitting to me for an actor who “bewitches” to be “spiritual” than “intellectual,” so it seems slightly more fitting to me for a writer who writes novels as well as plays to refer to “the public” than to “the audience.”  But I certainly don’t fault Ms. Wilsch for opting for “intellect” and “audience."

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).

1 comment:

pom3granade said...

a litmus for the transparent voice of the translator:

warmest thanks to the translator. Enchantée. (ou plutôt, enjinxée!)