Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Translation of "Thomas Bernhard spricht" (Thomas Bernhard anonymously interviewed in November 1975)

Thomas Bernhard Speaks [1]

QUESTION: Mr. Bernhard, you write that you are not interested in the public.  That it has nothing capable of arousing your interest.  I, though, am of the opinion that you cannot help taking an interest in the public, because you need an audience for your work?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Nobody can say I’m not interested in it.  One cannot help and could [never] have helped finding everything in the world interesting as a matter of course.  But I write for actors first and foremost and really for actors exclusively.  The public as far as I’m concerned is [hidden] behind the actors.  I [can] see only the actors.

QUESTION: But haven’t you also said that you write against the public?

THOMAS BERNHARD: [Yes,] against the public as a matter of course, because the public is like a wall that I have no choice but to pit myself against.  I have to be against the public in order to produce my work.

QUESTION: Do you loathe the public?

THOMAS BERNHARD: In a certain sense I do.  Only by loathing the public can I [manage to] write anything that even has a chance of interesting the public ten or twenty years from now.  Because nowadays what I do doesn’t interest the public.  The masses, the people who go to the theater, don’t want to have anything to do with what I do; they want to see their actors.  They don’t want to hear what I write either.  [They don’t want to hear] my sentences, my words; they don’t want to have anything to do with them.  They want to see their actors.  But [as for] the author, or the person who writes this [stuff:] they have absolutely no interest in him.  But you can sense this.  When I walk into a theater, I notice how genuinely worked up against what they’re hearing everybody is.

QUESTION: What can be done to change this, this “Being worked up against-ness?”

THOMAS BERNHARD: No, I for one am very glad that I’m worked up against something.  Because [my] being against something is the only thing that enables me to do what I do.

QUESTION: But surely you’re not just using your plays to provoke the public?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Yes, it’s quite naturally a provocation.  A provocation because I’m pitting myself against the public, this wall, and it simply refuses to pull back. By a single inch.  It won’t yield; it just won’t.

QUESTION: Could you envisage the possibility of educating the public?

THOMAS BERNHARD: No, I couldn’t.  But just as you’ve got to educate actors in order finally to get them to the point where they’re ready to go on stage, speak, walk, understand a play, which of course is a process that takes years—in the same way you’ve got to send the public off to school before it goes to see the plays that are coming out nowadays.  But not to see stale plays that everybody gets or that are just, you know, business as usual.

QUESTION: Henry Müller said one ought to find a way of producing what the public needs.

THOMAS BERNHARD: That is utter nonsense.  Because the public basically needs nothing but to eat and to have some clothes to put on and beyond eating and putting their clothes on basically wants absolutely nothing but the cheapest and least demanding entertainment possible.  And [all] this flirting with the public is the grossest [sort of] hypocrisy that I have ever heard of.  You’ve got to educate the public or you give up art completely or [give up all] this palaver about art, [about] culture in general.  The public takes no interest in it.

QUESTION: And yet you did after all say that 20 years from now your plays might be understood.

THOMAS BERNHARD: By that point the person who wrote them is dead.  He’s reduced to a nullity, to a foundling lying in a grave.  And then people can gaze at him calmly; he’s harmless, [because] he’s no longer present; he can no longer defend himself. 


[1] Editors' note: First broadcast on September 12, 1975 on ZDF [i.e., the second network of German state television].

First published in Theater heute, No. 11, p. 79.

The transcript is prefaced by the following editorial note: “On the ZDF television show Aspekte Thomas Bernhard was interviewed regarding his and Heiner Müller’s remarks about the public in our special issue Theater 1975.”

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...

another brick in the wall--exactly how Nietzsche has envisioned the public, although he, as usual, displayed more stonemasonry in crafting the metaphor and said rather the Chorus is the wall that daMs public response, or presponse, public reaction, or preaction, preemptively before it can poison off the actors. Which is to say, actors qua Chorus become their own deaf wall, like the shell of a crustacean, to preserve art from exposition to public even as they publish it.

I find these your translations from the Spur book very stimulating. Is it nearing the printing machine?