Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with his Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part IV: 1966.

Letter No. 20
Dear Dr. Unseld,
There are periods in life when you all of a sudden find yourself suspended in midair over a terrifying abyss, and you have an infinite number of spectators, who keep up an unrelenting roar of applause and look on as you shine and almost completely deafen you with their (perfidious) admiration, but not a single one of whom ever thinks to stretch out a resilient net on to which you might at the last minute safely allow yourself to fall so as not to end up as a comical, albeit lamentable, and hence ultimately laughable corpse among living human beings.

With the 3,000 that I requested of you, and that you remitted to me overnight, you have stretched out a net underneath me.1  For this new (because not the first) down-payment on a truly mighty trial of strength I thank you!  Now I am sure I won’t rush the work as it draws to its conclusion; and yet I will certainly have it finished on time, meaning in time for it to be included in the fall schedule, as it must be.  I have pushed all distractions into the now-insignificant background.
Apropos of things other than the novel (even at night I can’t seem to come up with a title for it): I have sent Ms. Botond two proposals regarding some short prose pieces.2 Lately I have received several bids for “publications” in various newspapers; if I reply to these people at all I shall direct them to apply to my publisher.  I really have no desire whatsoever to offer anything to the newspapers; I can’t see any good coming out of it; I obviously know what a pigsty looks like and what a pig among other stinking pigs amounts to.  I also have a horror of anthologies, and I have noticed that upon being included in one I was angered, and that upon being excluded from one I was pleased.  I really do think that the less I get involved in the literary lottery the better off I shall be.3
My plan is to surrender to my own pleasure and to my own selfishness, my perversity, as others do to a particularly grueling type of sport; I shall write, and you’ll receive everything as I finish it, and you can do whatever you like with it, provided you don’t put it to some blatantly repugnant use.  But I don’t think you will do that.  As I have no other interests than writing, I can’t imagine this not leading to something useful.  In connection with all this, I would like to say once again how important Ms. Anneliese Botond is to me.
I don’t think it would be a good idea to go all the way with the play—i.e., to have it performed this year even after a thorough revision, not even if it were to be made into a truly “masterly” piece of work beforehand.  I shall be writing something to this same effect to Mr. Braun, as all critical energies (auxiliary energies) really ought to be focused on the novel.  Because when several ships all suddenly sail out of the harbor at the same time—“incidentally, incidentally, incidentally,” etc.—none of them ever reaches its destination.

St. E(a)rnest (like St. Ludwig) is only to be found in comedies, if anywhere.
I am thinking of you now that I have abandoned my work and just got myself ready for a longish getaway; this is the most beautiful time of the year.  
Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard
  1. Regarding the payment, which had been remitted to Bernhard in 1965, Annaliese Botond wrote to Bernhard in a letter dated January 11, 1966: “Do write to Unseld if you haven’t already done so.  He hardly grumbled about the 3,000.  He was very generous, and you owe it to him to tell him so.”

  1. Analiese Botond replied to Bernhard regarding this proposal on January 25, 1966: “So you want to have a volume of novellas in Edition Suhrkamp?  Nobody is appalled; everybody is content; Unseld, Busch, me.  The volume could appear in the fall, perhaps at the same time as the novel.  Can you send me the manuscript? […] And you also want to put out a book in the Insel-Bücherei?  When? and what is going to go into it?  The IB is not half as advantageous to you as Edition Suhrkamp.  We will consider what is best to do here when we know the complete contents of your pantry.”    

  1. Nevertheless, in 1966 several texts by Bernhard appeared in anthologies and journals: “Politische Morgenandacht” ["Matutinal Meditation on Politics"] (in Wort in der Zeit [Word in Time]), “Viktor Halbnarr: Ein Wintermärchen” [“Victor Halfwit: A Winter’s Tale”] (in Dichter erzählen Kindern [Writers Tell Stories to Children]), and three advance publications from the 1967 collection Prosa: “Jauregg” (in Literatur und Kritik [Literature and Criticism], “Die neuen Erzieher” [“The New Tutors”] (in Akzente) and “Die Mütze” [“The Cap”] (in Protokolle).
Letter No. 21
[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
January 25, 1966
Dear Mr. Bernhard,
I enjoyed your letter of January 22.  The only thing left for me to do is to wish you everything you’ll need in order to bring your manuscript to a definitive conclusion.  You seem to have arrived at a favorable situation.  In the fall we will have to hand only two novels by important authors: Böll and Walser1, so that there is room enough for a third important book, and you may rest assured that we regard yours as such a book.  I say this only by way of cheering you on.  I wish you all the best.
Siegfried Unseld
  1. 1966 saw the publication of Martin Walser’s novel Das Einhorn [The Unicorn] and Heinrich Böll’s novella Ende einer Dienstfahrt [End of a Mission].
Letter No. 22 (handwritten)
Dear Dr. Unseld,
As I now have the choice of handing in a rushed—but for all that a good and (to me) amusing—book in two to three months, I shall have to forgo the fall deadline.  As I am entitled to call the best publisher in Germany my own, I know that in spite of my failure to keep my word I shall be able to hope for the degree of understanding I desire.
I could never—either now or later—have forgiven myself for finishing the novel so hastily–and my publisher couldn’t have either.  I know this is a piece of bad news for those involved in the technical side of bookmaking.  But even on pain of death I wouldn’t be able to act otherwise.  I am a victim of my reason.  I abhor the sort of emotion that, in being divorced from reason, is only ever pure emotion or emotion alloyed with taste.
I am working with my eyes fixed firmly on the fairest constellation shared by the two of us.
Vis-à-vis the deadline, I myself have hitherto been quite a gung-ho speed fiend—but possibly after a brief burst of anger at me—which I admit you have every right to—you will instantly realize that the best expedient is to plan on bringing out the book no earlier than at the beginning of the New Year (my own preferred deadline, as it happens).  In order not to leave you hanging in the air in the long [(?)] term on my account, I shall at some point be sending you a play—let us say a third of the book.  In other matters I ask you to judge me according to what you are obliged to regard as the strictest letter of the law.
I know it won’t do you much good for me to tell you that I would very much like to give you a warm handshake right now.
This fall I must ask you to publish nine novellas—it would be best for them to appear on their own—in the edition series; if you don’t I shall plunge through the gap between books into the shark tank of book reviewers.
One more thing:  as far as your excellent money goes, I have been budgeting it so wisely that no mishaps can possibly occur.
And yet one more thing:
Apart from my undergirding reason-based reservations, I really do have a very good feeling about my work.  I remain in good health; hence I do not doubt that everything is in perfect working order.  I am making things difficult for you, just as I am forever making everything difficult and ever more difficult for myself.  But it is in this making-things-difficult that the only real pleasure in life consists.
I detest lousy books, but for the sake of a single good one I would shove half my fatherland into the abyss.
now twice as strongly as before,
Thomas Bernhard
  1. Bernhard shared lodgings with Hedwig Stavianicek in Lovran from April 12 to 20, 1966.

Letter No. 23
[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
May 9, 1966
Dear Mr. Bernhard,
I read your letter after my trip to America, during which I asked myself—especially during certain of the weaker Gruppe 47 readings—why you of all people were never in attendance at such conferences, but perhaps the truth is you find them too trivial.  Peter Handke put on quite a splendid show and also made quite a name for himself.
What am I to say about our shared problem at this point?  Your argument is of course quite convincing, and I would rather wait for a good manuscript than publish a bad one.  So I am glad that I will be able to count on receiving the manuscript by the end of August or at the latest by September.  We will then diligently set about producing the book and no less diligently set about launching it with sample copies, etc., in the New Year.
There is no need for you to fret; I understand your situation, I sympathize with you, and the author’s calendar is always more important than my own.
I would like to make mention of a certain remark in your letter: you write that you “have been budgeting” my money very “wisely.”  Now at one point, in view of your inability to repay your loan on the scheduled dates, you had offered to sign over a mortgage on the house to the publishing firm.  I attached no great importance to this matter then, and I don’t attach any more to it now, but I am a bit surprised that you have not brought it up again since.
What have you so far got planned for the summer? –well, of course you will keep working.  But if at any point you expect to be in the Munich area, please let me know; perhaps we could see each other then.
with warm regards
Siegfried Unseld
  1. Between April 20 and May 4, 1966, Unseld was in the United States, where he attended the Gruppe 47 conference at Princeton University and then met with American publishers and agents in New York.

Letter No. 24
Dear Dr. Unseld,
A man given to silence is well advised every now and then to let the people close to him know that he is not being in the least bit secretive.  As to how this applies to me: I am now giving to the world and to myself a demonstration of a man putting himself through the commonplace paces of the daily grind, which alone enables me to make progress, setting aside the fact that there is no such thing as making progress, that the foundation of our perceiving, of our seeing, etc., itself does not exist, that if anything exists at all it is only an absurdity to top all absurdities that exists.  What is charming about the whole thing is that people say that I discern my own features in the utter absurdity to top all absurdities.  For the majority of creatures this signifies the nadir of desolation.  But my life is not desolate.  And neither is yours.  A man who thinks is a rarity; people who think are rarities.  Because uninterrupted thinking impedes movement, the rarities are nothing but antiquities.  This is why the present is completely invisible; naturally everything, all of history, is visible from the star pupil’s seat.  What we are discerning is already history.  The present is what is really not yet; the future is what is not…I’ll let you go!
Now I no longer have any excuse to keep dragging out the novel, because if my book is to come out in the New Year, the race to get it out by the fall is over.  Knackered horses, knackered riders, not a single correctly tabulated inn bill, etc…anyway, so in August I will be in Frankfurt in person.  I quite like the hullabaloo there; it excites my nerves in a most salutary fashion.
To answer your questions: 1. The book is almost finished.  In August I shall be  
traveling with it to and down into the hole (hell?) that is the lion’s den.

2. I have been wanting to have Attaché at the French Embassy, nine novellas or rather prose pieces, published as a volume in the edition series; by when must I send to you, if
it is not too late, as I have so far met with no takers for it.  I personally set great store by it.

3. After the novel I would like to have a go at rewriting the play; in its present form it still isn’t my own, and I am thoroughly dissatisfied with it.  Is Mr. Braun interested in my doing this?
4. The mills of the district court grind so slowly that I still haven’t been entered into the land-register, and so I couldn’t fork over the mortgage to my house now even if I wanted to.  For the time being last year’s letter bearing my signature in acknowledgment of the receipt of DM 25,000, or DM 15,000, should suffice.  In a worst-case situation, the present lines, in which I am acknowledging that I am in debt to the publishing firm, should also suffice.  (All the same, I hope that no out-of-the-blue but mysterious legal argument occasions the imposition of a lien on the mortgage; I certainly deserve some kind of punishment.)

5.  That I would be nothing but a wretched dog without you I am conscious of every day of my life, albeit only in my extra-authorial subconsciousness.  For you I have already kept my left hand in the fire (the right one I write with) long enough to burn it to ashes.  I have no intention of withdrawing it from the fire in the foreseeable future.

In the past fourteen days a kind of regression to infancy has taken place.  In Vienna a ten-year-old opera featuring a libretto by me is being produced at the Theater an der Wien as part of the Festival Week.  There has been a lot of resentment, and a lot of fuss made about the composer.  A worthy poetic gem cast before swine.  I shan’t be going to Vienna for the premiere on June 18, because I am hardly in the market for a hot head, etc., etc.

Next week, on the 23rd, I shall be in Munich to comment on two dozen seminar papers on Amras.  I have suddenly taken a shine to the idea of throwing myself to the young people as to so many wolves.  Nowadays unfortunately they don’t gobble you up--quite the contrary, etc.  I have a predilection for “etc.”...

On the 6th of July, I shall be in Berlin; on the 7th I’ll be back here.  I, along with Mr. Bichsel from Switzerland, will be reading an excerpt from the novel at the Academy of (Fine?) Arts.4  I am doing it because it will afford me one of those cost-free changes of scene that I find necessary from time to time.  Of course what I’d like best, if I didn’t have to write, would be just to travel around while doing pretty much nothing at all.  That would be my sole predilection.  But the world isn’t kind enough to let me be...because it would be kind enough to do so.

I just remembered something: I’ll be leaving for Munich as early as the morning of the 22nd, because I plan to attend the birthday dinner for Wolfgang Koeppen that Mr. Breitbach has arranged to take place in the Maximilian Rooms; I believe it starts at 8 PM.5

And will it not be possible to see you?

At the rock bottom of both the individual’s and the collective’s Weltanschauung, etc., all the letters ever written are nothing but ghastly sallies of flirtation.

And here is yet another one: the greatest mistake a person can make is to believe he doesn’t exist when he isn’t writing.

It has now been a week, I think, since I received your lines--and better lines than those I could not have expected.

Yet again I am finding it extremely difficult to say thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

P.S. Wieland Schmied was here, and he read to me an excellent, clever, and entertaining excerpt from a book called A Flight with Ben Nicholson and Other Impressions.  Would that be of any use as part of the edition series?
  1. Both while revising Frost in December 1962 and during the 1963 book fair, Bernhard stayed at the Reschke boarding house at 29 Oederweg in Frankfurt.

  1. Bernhard was first entered into the land register as the owner of his farmhouse-cum-courtyard in 1968.

  1. At 11 p.m. on June 18, 1966 at the Theater an der Wien as part of the series “Music Theater in the Night Studio” of the Vienna Festival Week there took place a (according to the printed program) “premiere”: “desperato.  Words: Thomas Bernhard (Second Part of “the roses of the wasteland”).  Music: Gerhard Lampersberg.”  The performance featured Hilde Zadek, Herbert Prikopa, the Viennese Radio Chamber Orchestra, Chorus Coach: Gottfried Preinfalk.  The program quotes Gerhard Lampersberg as describing the score of “the roses of the wasteland, five pieces for dancers, singers, and orchestra” as his “masterpiece.” The text and histories of genesis and publication of the roses of the wasteland comprise Volume 15, pp. 10-51 and 428-434 of Bernhard’s Works.
  1. The function, which was held at the West Berlin Academy of Arts on July 7, 1966, was entitled “Young Generation.”  The other readers were Rudolf Dederer and Bernward Vesper.

  1. At 8:00 p.m. on On June 22, 1966, Joseph Breitbach hosted a 60th birthday dinner for Wolfgang Koeppen at the Maximilian Rooms in Munich.  Present in addition to Bernhard et al. were Tankred Dorst, Christian Enzensberger, and Werner Vordtriede.  On June 23 Bernhard participated in Vordtriede’s seminar Critical Appreciation of Modern Lyric Poetry and Prose (which met on Thursdays from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. during the summer semester of 1966).  He shared his impression of the seminar with Joseph Breitbach in a letter dated June 28, 1966: “Unfortunately my appearance at the university degenerated into a hardly amusing experience, and my distaste, or rather contempt, for dissection in the operating theaters of literature, immediately spread to the people sitting across from me [...] The generation after me, these university students ten years my junior, strike me as being intellectually wretched and mangled by the global mania for specialization; every single one of them is nothing but a tiny segment of a pair of pliers (pliers that cannot grip), of a hammer (a hammer that cannot strike), etc...I seriously doubt that a people (such as the Germans), a world like the one that is emerging now, can live on catchphrases alone.  German youth (Germany) is exhausting itself in a revolting, blood-curdling welter of journalism about the Berlin Wall, Nazism, and geopolitical footnotes like Vietnam.  The Germans have never understood how to live, and the most foreign of all foreign words for them is noblesse.”  (For background information on both the dinner and the seminar, see Fellinger, Vorbereitungen zu einem Gerburtstagessen [Preparations for a Birthday Dinner].)           

Letter No. 25
Frankfurt am Main
June 28, 1966
Dear Mr. Bernhard,
Thank you very much for your amiable letter of June 14.  It arrived in the middle of two very busy weeks: I had to brief the sales representatives for both houses, and so I was obliged to “sell” them my books for the second half of 1966.   That all ended happily.  So for me it now feels a bit like Christmas, and I can turn my attention to things to come with more equanimity.
I am glad that you are getting on well with the novel.  If I correctly understood your letter, you will be here in August.  It would naturally be very nice to be able to read the novel before then—or will you once again be needing those August days in Frankfurt as a last-minute stimulus?
It was certainly very remiss of me not to inform you that edition suhrkamp has been planned quite far in advance—i.e., the schedule is definitively set through April 1967.  But we still have a few catalogue numbers free in May and June of  ’67.  I would be very happy to put out a volume of novellas by you.  Would it be possible to see the novellas?  We are of course already familiar with the title story from its publication in »Wort in der Zeit« [Word in Time].1
Naturally we are also interested in your new play, as we are in pretty much everything that comes from Thomas Bernhard.
This remark is intended in both a specific and a general sense.
All the best—I hope to see you soon.
with warm regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. In the left margin next to this paragraph are three typed asterisks that are repeated below Unseld’s signature; the text that follows this second set of asterisks reads: “Regarding this: today Dr. U. immediately telephoned Herr Busch [the editor in charge of edition suhrkamp] and scheduled the title Attaché at the French Embassy for May of ’67.”  Bernhard’s novella Ein junger Schriftsteller [A Young Writer], which was not included in the collection entitled Prosa, appeared in the journal Word in Time 10 (1965), Vol. 1-2.

Letter No. 26

Dear Dr. Unseld,


The transcribed excerpt is, I believe, suitable for being read aloud at my publisher’s house inasmuch as it is a good--by which I mean a thoroughly characteristic--sample of the novel.

I am pretty sure I won’t be violating any laws of hospitality by reading it.

My jitteriness is uncontainable and so is my wanderlust, but after staying only ever so briefly in Frankfurt I intend to trace a mighty, meandering, roughly two-week-long arc through and around Hesse via Brussels, stopping only when I finally allow myself to be detained by the authorities.1  The novel is called Repose, and I no longer have any desire to change its title.

your loyal
Thomas Bernhard

P.S. I would like to know whether you accept or reject the excerpt, and I ask that you communicate this news as concisely as possible in a letter directed to Ohlsdorf.

  1. At the residence of his friends Mr. and Mrs. von Uexküll, at 60 rue de la Croix in Brussels, Bernhard committed Verstörung [Gargoyles] to paper between September 23 and November 1, 1966 (cf. Bernhard, Works, Vol. 2, pp. 213f.).

  1. “Express” has been handwritten on the letter by a third party.

Letter No. 27

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
September 9, 1966

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

I have read “Moser Gives It a Third Try” and find it quite satisfactory.  Accordingly, I would like to invite you to read it at the reviewers’ reception.  You still have time before then to make a few slight revisions in the course of conversing with Dr. Botond.1  The reception will begin at 5 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, at 35 Klettenbergstraße.  Please arrive punctually.  In the meantime we will try to work out everything having to do with the nettlesome question of accommodations.

with friendly regards till our next meeting!
Siegfried Unseld

  1. During every book fair beginning in 1959, Unseld held a reception for book reviewers at his house in Frankfurt.  At each of these receptions an author would read from the manuscript of a book scheduled to be published the following year.  In a handwritten letter dated September 9, 1966, Anneliese Botond wrote to Bernhard: “The play you sent me is good.  But at the same time I notice--this is something I can merely register--that it does not exert the same fascination on me as, for example, Amras.”  In the Thomas Bernhard Archive there survives a twelve-page manuscript that Bernhard paginated and superscribed with the handwritten title “Moser Gives It a Third Try” (SL 10.17).  The manuscript is an excerpt from a draft of Verstörung [Gargoyles]. A transcription is included in Bernhard’s Works (Vol. 2, pp. 127-140).

Letter No. 28   


Dear Mr. Unseld,

I would be happy to meet with you if, as I informed you earlier, you are willing to make a trip to the mountains.

I am glad that the new book has already been typeset and that the galley proofs will be coming in the next few days.  The longer I think about it, the better Verstörung looks to me as a title.

In January, Musulin and I will be having a conversation about the new book for West German television; it will be broadcast in March.1

I will lend my support to everything of a propagandistic nature when and however I can; besides, that sort of thing is obviously not without its charms.  These days I am sloughing off the best part of my time by remaining cloistered, shrouded, in Nathal, and engaged in a major new work, and I shall stay here until the writing necessitates a change of scene--to Brussels or London.

Here I have an ideal prison qua workhouse in the best environs imaginable.

In the second half of January I shall probably be spending a couple of days in Frankfurt.2

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. West German Television broadcast Janko’s barely three minute-long conversation with Bernhard on March 6, 1967, on the show Selbstanzeige [Voluntary Self-Disclosure].

  1. “Express” and “Ohlsdorf, Upper Austria” have been handwritten on the letter by a third party.   


Letter No. 29

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
December 13, 1966

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

I thank you for your letter of December 9.  Hopefully Ms. Botond has communicated to you with the utmost clarity how abundantly unhappy I am with Verstörung1a as a title, and I am even unhappier with your intransigence towards the other titles we have proposed.1  Don’t you dare blame your publisher if the book fails to enjoy the success its contents deserve.  It is a first-rate text, and I am very glad that we are able to publish it, but it is extremely deplorable that your book bears a title that is bound to scare off potential buyers.

From the evening of December 22 through January 3, I shall be at the Hotel Bellevue in St. Christoph am Arlberg.  It would be lovely if we could meet then.

After that I shall be going to see Günter Eich in Bayerisch Gmain for a day or two.2

with best regards
Siegfried Unseld

1a. Meaning “derangement,” “disturbedness,” or “perturbation.”  One jocularly wonders if Unseld, Botond, or Bernhard ever considered Wasserspeier (Gargoyles) as a title (DR).

1. Anneliese Botond initially proposed the alternative title Der Fürst [The Prince], but after her colleagues Braun and Busch pronounced Verstörung “first-rate” and typical for Bernhard, she advised him to stick to that title.

2. Günter Eich lived in Bayerisch Gmain, Bavaria.


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Thomas Bernhard.  Siegfried Unseld.  Der Briefwechsel, Herausgegeben von Raimund Fellinger, Martin Huber und Julia Ketterer.  [Thomas Bernhard.  Siegfried Unseld.  The Correspondence, edited by ….] (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2011), pp. 36-51.

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