Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Translation of "Thomas Bernhards Lissaboner Erlebnisse" (A letter from Thomas Bernhard to the editorial offices of Die Presse)

Thomas Bernhard’s Adventures in Lisbon [1]

In today’s (June 2’s) issue of the Press a thoroughly mutilated and legally actionable version of my "Open Letter to the Chancellor of the Republic" is presented in a format and fashion against which I must protest in the severest possible terms.  I did not write a “Letter to the Editor,” under which heading the mutilation of my “Open Letter to the Chancellor of the Republic” has been printed today, but rather an “open letter,” and the concept of an “open letter” is clear.  Furthermore, your editorial staff have taken certain liberties with my writing style (I know why I write “rightly” and not “rightfully,” for example!), liberties by which I am appalled.  Contrary to your editorial distortion of the truth, I did not say a single word about my having also sent this “Open Letter to the Chancellor of the Republic” to the chancellor personally.

In all courtesy and in all sincerity, and out of the highest possible fanaticism for clarity, I must call on you to republish forthwith, [and] completely verbatim and absent any liberties from your editorial staff, my first letter of May 30, as well as the “Open Letter to the Chancellor of the Republic” that was sent to you in the same envelope, as well as the present letter, and naturally [to publish them] in the [proper] chronological order that will render the state of affairs [in question] intelligible once again.

If for any reason whatsoever you found it impossible to undertake the publication of my “Open Letter to the Chancellor of the Republic,” in the form that is specified with such crystal clarity in my request, you [were] obliged to inform me of this.  I cannot be satisfied with a solution of the fact-inverting, truth-effacing and distorting type that unfortunately reminds me all too vividly of my recently concluded Portuguese experience.  I hope it is possible in an Austrian newspaper ([but] which one?) to make public this state of affairs—one that involves [this country] and that is not without [a certain] piquancy—in a manner corresponding to the truth.   

Yours with exceedingly deep respect,
Thomas Bernhard

[1] Editors’ note: First published in the “Letters to the Editor” section of Die Presse on June 5, 1976.
To the letter as printed is appended the following remark: “The ‘mutilation’ consisted of the omission of the salutation, ‘Dear Most Highly Honored Chancellor of the Republic’ and of a half-sentence containing actionable verbal insults pertaining to Ambassador Weinberger.  That the author also sent a letter to the chancellor personally was but an entirely reasonable presumption.  The option of publishing an item in Die Presse under the heading ‘An Open Letter’ is available only to advertisers—that Mr. Bernhard wished to be so treated was by no means inferable from his letter to our editorial offices.  Regarding ‘rightly’ versus ‘rightfully’: this is not the business of the editors but rather of the proofreaders at our printer’s shop; when in such cases a certain spelling is expressly desired by the author it is customary to underline the relevant characters with a row of dots, which Thomas Bernhard did not do.  It was unfortunately impossible to call Thomas Bernhard as he does not have a telephone [at his house] in Ohlsdorf; consequently we communicated to him by mail.  (The Eds.)”

The editorial postscript fails to tally with the facts: the suppressed half-sentence referred not to the Austrian ambassador, but rather to all Austrians.  The entire sentence (with the suppressed passage underlined) reads: “Here, as they so often do, the Germans enjoyed a good laugh at the expense of the unmanageability, which is a kinder way of saying the stupidity and vulgarity, of us Austrians.”  (Quoted from Bernhard’s copy of the letter at the Thomas Bernhard Archive in Gmunden.)

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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