Monday, May 05, 2014

A Translation of "Ich hab' praktisch ehh alle gegen mich" (Thomas Bernhard interviewed by Brigitte Hofer in 1984).

I Can Count Practically Every Single One of Them as an Enemy [1]

BRIGITTE HOFFER: We reached Thomas Bernhard by telephone in the afternoon.  He spoke in a relaxed tone.

THOMAS BERNHARD: At the moment it’s no concern of mine.  It’s first and foremost a financial matter, isn’t it?—something Suhrkamp has got to contend with.  And of course one has got to know who initiated it; as of now, I don’t know nothin’.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: You don’t know who initiated it?

THOMAS BERNHARD: No, and if I had to guess who it was … a whole gang of writers are secretly behind it, writers who of course are known to me.  I can count practically every single one of them as an enemy, and of course they’re always ringing one another up.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: Is what’s happening now a confirmation of your book?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Yes, but of course these people are much more horrible than anything that can be put in writing.  That’s the truth.  They ring one another up even in connection with the “Best-of List,” as in the past year’s best [i.e., books? (DR)]: “We can’t allow so-and-so to score one more point”’; there are about fifteen people who get together and fix the whole thing; but the whole thing’s a stupid joke anyway, isn’t it?

BRIGITTE HOFFER: But perhaps they, too, feel they’ve been horribly dealt with in some way.


BRIGITTE HOFFER: Why, by you, of course, via your book!

THOMAS BERNHARD: But what’s in the book isn’t of my making; it’s just the plain and simple truth!  These people commit acts of the most wanton savagery and think they can go on committing them for decades, behind everybody’s back, but they simply can’t.  At some point somebody really has said such things.  Except that in the book the names, the places, are different, which means it’s legally unassailable, to my mind.  But now it is a legal matter, isn’t it?— in Austria if you can be sued for something, somebody will sue you for it.  I obviously can’t do a thing about that—except inasmuch as I have plenty experiences with such cases, like for instance the time, ten years ago, when I said that a certain priest had a rosy peasant’s face, and I was prosecuted for it.  That kind of thing is always possible in Austria.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: Sure, but when you use names like, for instance, Jeannie...

THOMAS BERNHARD: You can check for yourself if she’s called “Jeannie Bilroth,” since nobody should ever write a book again, because everybody’s going to recognize herself in some part of it.  The book is half made up and half true; it’s a mixture, so what’s all the fuss about?  Basically the horribleness of people beggars any possible description; that’s the gist of what I think.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: Are you angry right now?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Well, I mean, what am I supposed to do?  I’ve always been alone, and that’s always going to be a done deal.  There’s nothin’ to say: if somebody wants to sue me, if somebody does sue me, there’s nothin’ I can do. When and only when they do I’ll have somethin’ to say.  When you’re taken to court, you have to say somethin’, to testify—that I know, because after all I have already been through three trials.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: Were you ever convicted at the end of any of these trials?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Each of them ended in an out-of-court settlement.

[1] Editors' note: Transcript of an interview first aired on the ORF program Abendjournal on August 29, 1984.  First published in Von einer Katastrophe in die andere, edited by Sepp Dreissinger, Weitra, 1992, pp. 114-118.

The interviewer, Brigitte Hoffer, provided a spoken introduction: “Austria’s cultural life is one scandal richer.  At the request of a plaintiff whose identity is not known, the author Thomas Bernhard’s latest book, entitled Woodcutters, was confiscated under the auspices of an interlocutory injunction.  The plaintiff believed himself libeled by Bernhard’s novel, which deals very roughly with Austria’s creative artists. Bernhard attacks the Austrian cultural scene in general and the Burgtheater in particular.  The publication of the German firm of Suhrkamp was delivered to the bookstores only a few days ago and has now disappeared from them.

“A soiree in the Gentzgasse in Vienna.  Everyone is awaiting the dinnertime arrival of a prominent Burgtheater actor who wishes to mingle with the illustrious guests after a premiere of The Wild Duck—this is the setting and starting-point of Thomas Bernhard’s latest book Woodcutters, a book that like many other works of the great literary lone wolf unceremoniously settles his score with Austria, with its culture and its cultural scene.

“A sample passage: ‘The career of the majority of artists in Austria consists in currying favor with and sponging off the government, no matter who is in power, throughout one’s life.  The career of an Austrian artist is a vulgar and mendacious path of governmental opportunism that is paved with stipends and prizes and wallpapered with medals and merit badges and ends in a grave of honor in the Central Cemetery.’

“Bernhard’s chief targets this time round are artists and cultural functionaries—men and women of letters, Burgtheater actors, composers with fictitious names.  A certain person detected a portrait of himself in Bernhard’s text and filed a lawsuit.  His lawyer, Dr. Edwin Morent, says, ‘I am in no position to divulge my client’s name.  I can only say that Thomas Bernhard’s work is a roman à clef that personally attacks my client’s right of publicity.   In the light of the danger that would be occasioned by any delay, the Vienna Regional court has issued an interlocutory injunction.  On the authority of this injunction our security services, meaning the police departments and constabularies throughout Austria, have already been ordered to prohibit any further sale of the novel and to confiscate all copies of the novel from the booksellers.’”

The background: On August 21, 1984, the composer Gerhard Lampersberg, whom Bernhard had befriended in the nineteen-fifties, had at the Vienna Regional Court filed a complaint against Thomas Bernhard and Siegfried Unseld for defamation of character and libel in the novel Woodcutters, and had immediately requested an interlocutory injunction.  The request was granted on August 27, 1984, and the book was removed from all Austrian bookstores on August 29.  The book critic of the Viennese daily newspaper Die Presse, Hans Haider, being in possession of an advance copy of the novel, had informed Lampersberg of the contents of Woodcutters (See also “"Interdiction" and “Bernhard’s Plea” [yet to be translated (DR)]).  The complaint was withdrawn by Lampersberg at the beginning of 1985. 


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 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), pp. 223-224.

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