Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with His Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part V: 1967.

Letter No. 30


[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]


Frankfurt am Main
February 21, 1967


Dear Mr. Bernhard,


Perhaps you have already learned about this from Ms. Botond, but I would still like to inform you of it myself: we have brought the technical departments of Insel and Suhrkamp somewhat closer together.  I have relocated my Insel administrative office to the Suhrkamp building at 69 Grüneburgweg, where the readers of both Suhrkamp and Insel, including Dr. Botond, are now also lodged.  Otherwise nothing will change, apart from the fact that I am hoping to function somewhat more effectively, especially in the affected departments.  You may now reach the readers, the Insel production office, and me at 69 Grüneburgweg, P. O. Box 2446, Telephone: 72 08 01.


Yours
with warm regards,
Siegfried Unseld


Letter No. 31
   
[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]


Frankfurt am Main
March 22, 1967


Dear Mr. Bernhard,


From a well-informed source I hear that you have already received your first copy of your novel, and I have also learned that you are pleased with its exterior.1  Well, we did do what we could to neutralize the negative effect of the title with an attractive cover.  The day before yesterday I spoke to two intelligent female bookstore proprietors who had already read the book.  Their first reaction: a very fine, literarily meritorious text, but why this title?!  At that moment I regretted yet again that I had been obliged to give in to you.  Well, I am getting older, and as my age increases so will my stubbornness!  We have printed 4,000 copies, hence Nos. 1 through 4,000, retail price: DM 16.80.  Your royalty share is 10%, your complimentary copies are 40 in number.  These are available to you on demand.


The first highly favorable notice, a radio review by Günter Blökker, has appeared.  If more critics’ voices like his are heard, it should do the book a world of good.2  


Yours
with friendly regards,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. In a handwritten letter dated March 10, 1967, Anneliese Botond informed Bernhard that he would be receiving his first copy of Verstörung the following week.  The book was published by Insel Publications on March 15, 1967.


  1. Günter Blöcker [(sic) on the divergence from Unseld’s spelling (DR)] commented on Verstörung between 3:45 and 4:00 p.m. on the Sunday, March 12, 1967 installment of the German Radio show Books in Conversation.  The spoken text is a slightly abridged version of a review that appeared in the March 25, 1967 number of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung under the title Geometry of Afflictions, and in which Blöcker writes: “But over and above all these merits, the author is to be praised for his possession of that rarest and most precious of qualities: seriousness.  Here by literary means is effected the practice demanded by the narrator’s father, namely ‘etiological research.’  Neither sociological optimism, which couldn’t care less about anything, and for that very reason regards itself as realistic, nor a retreat into aestheticism, which changes fundamental human truths into ‘black humor’ as a way of cheaply disposing of them, but rather an impassive sounding of the depths of what has been sown in us by nature, and a sense of awe in its presence.”


Letter No. 32       


[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]


Frankfurt am Main
April 27, 1967


Dear Mr. Bernhard,


I have a request to make of you today.  We must do something for the insel collection and had the idea of developing a prospectus on the collection to be inserted in Authors of Distinction.  Would it be possible for you to write a couple of lines about one book or two books or about the entire undertaking or its general drift?  I would be very grateful to you.


Yours
with warmest regards,
Siegfried Unseld


Letter No. 33


[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]


Frankfurt am Main
May 8, 1967


Dear Mr. Bernhard,


Just a brief note: don’t let yourself be any more discouraged by the reviews than I am letting myself be discouraged by them.  It was of course clear to both of us that there would be objections to Verstörung, even if I am somewhat nonplussed by the vehemence of Reich-Ranicki and Eisenrich’s disapproval.  But let the critics have their high jinks.  The main thing is for you not to be affected by them. |My faith in you as an author is unshaken.|1


Yours
with warmest regards,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s review of Verstörung (“Confessions of an Obsessive” in Die Zeit, April 28, 1967) includes such passages as “Whether he wants to be or not, Bernhard is an Austrian national bard, one who is admittedly impelled to write not so much by love or introspective musings over life in the Tyrol or the Styrian valleys as by rage and disgust, if not outright loathing. [...] His one-sidedness strikes one as audacious one moment and simplistic the next.  It facilitates the severity and the idiosyncrasy of this epic, but unfortunately also sets narrow limits to it and often occasions monotony [...] His new book, the novel Verstörung, evinces this with almost appalling clarity.”  Herbert Eisenreich’s review of Verstörung (“Irrsinn im Alpenland” [“Lunacy in Alpine Country”] in Der Spiegel, May 1, 1967, pp. 164f.) contains, for example, the follwing sentences: “With the arrival of Thomas Bernhard the primeval forest has once again irrupted into the decidedly urban precincts of literature [...] In short: an absence of plot, an absence of distance, an absence of counterpoint--these are three aspects of a single state of affairs: an absence of truth.  A state of affairs that is plainly legible throughout the entire corpus of non-representational (and hence  supposedly--but merely supposedly--modern) literature, but which becomes genuinely credible only when a literary master embarks on the wrong path--as Thomas Bernhard does in his novel Verstörung.”   




Letter No. 34


Vienna
5.18.67


Dear Dr. Unseld,


Of all the objects in my safe--which is by no means a figment of my imagination--the one I value most is the trust of my publisher, an inestimable self-evident treasure.


I am discovering that the reviewers, the moronic ones and the non-moronic ones alike, have allowed themselves to get flustered by my book, which is the entire point of such a book.  As you are doubtless--nay, certainly--aware, all book reviewers are morons, but even among these moronic reviewers there are some who are especially, cataclysmically moronic.  I know this and the dietary regimen is not upsetting my stomach; the only thing that matters to me is how and in what context this reviewerly moronism--this literary-critical bill of fare--is being served up.


Within the next fortnight I shall be sending Mr. Braun my play, which is entitled A Party for Boris, and next year, in the fall, I shall be putting out my new novel; my publisher will publish it and [I] shall work, do nothing but work and in so doing enjoy my lifelong pleasure.


In me you have an author who is no moron and who will not allow himself to be irritated.


Yours very sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard        




Letter No. 35


[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]


Frankfurt am Main
May 22, 1967


Dear Mr. Bernhard,


I enjoyed your letter of May 18 very much.  I now feel reassured that you are working without distraction.


Years ago I was in correspondence with Hermann Hesse. Eventually I confessed to him that I was contemplating a dissertation on him, and asked him ever so timidly if he would even allow me to write it.  He wrote back to me, “I don’t allow myself to be concerned about things that are written about me.”


That is a worthy sentence that we should take to heart.


I am looking forward to A Party for Boris.  I shall read it straight-away and I am especially pleased that we will be allowed to publish another book by you next fall.


If your travel plans ever involve any northerly regions, please let me know.  It would be lovely if we could meet.  I have the laudable intention of spending the summer in Frankfurt.


Yours
with warmest regards,
Siegfried Unseld       


Letter No. 36

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); on Suhrkamp Publications letterhead]


Frankfurt am Main
May 29, 1967


Dear Mr. Bernhard,


Your novellas have been issued as Volume 213 of the edition suhrkamp series.  A contract relating to this has been sent to you.  You have, however, not yet sent it back.  Please promptly give it your overdue attention.  The conditions of publication are specified in it.


I cannot refrain from mentioning that I find Prose a rather infelicitous title.  Unfortunately, Mr. Busch did not inform me of this change; if he had I would have gotten in touch with you immediately.  This title is suitable only for purposes of classification or for posthumous editions, in other words for things that are conclusively finished, and I hope that you are still very much in the full flower of your development!  But what is done is done.1


And here comes another critical comment.  Please do not react publicly to any criticism that is leveled at you.  Your letter in Der Spiegel could rebound against you like a boomerang.  It is impermissible to react as you did, and you must somehow manage to curb your high spirits.  It’s no different for me, of course.2


Yours
with warmest regards,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. The 1967 collection Prose contained only seven novellas instead of nine as originally planned.  Shortly before the printing there commenced a discussion about the title.  On this topic Günther Busch wrote to Bernhard on March 6, 1967, “What is bothering me is the book’s title.  I don’t exactly find the story about the attaché the strongest in the collection, and it would be much better if we didn’t stake the book’s fortunes so calculatedly and overtly on what strikes me as a not very well-turned novella.  On April 3, 1967 Bernhard replied to Busch, “Dear Mr. Busch, I have heavily corrected the two hazardous stories “Yesterday Evening” and “Attaché.”  “Yesterday Evening” has been retitled; it is now called “Is It a Comedy?  Is It a Tragedy?” [...]  We can resolve the question about the title, I think, if we stick to Prose.  Anything else I find indigestible, and it will only make me angry in the long run.” Bernhard reacted to Unseld’s critical comment on the title in a June 2, 1967 letter to Busch: “Even if my publisher is not enthusiastic about Prose as a title, I am.”  In the same letter Bernhard proposed to Busch the publication of his first volume of poetry, On Earth and in Hell, in edition suhrkamp.  His rationale: “It now saddens me that these poems, my most accomplished ones, are totally forgotten and unknown.”


  1. Unseld refers here to Bernhard’s one-sentence letter to the editors of Der Spiegel (May 29, 1967, p. 23) on Herbert Eisenrich’s review of Verstörung: “Please have my next book reviewed collaterally by a chimpanzee or toadflax who naturally should also be of Austrian birth or residency.”     
   


Letter No. 37


[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]


Frankfurt am Main
August 4, 1967


Dear Mr. Bernhard,


I very much hope your convalescence is progressing.  Incidentally, you really are not neglecting much of anything in this excessively hot summer that isn’t exactly conducive to work.1


The reviews of your book are growing in number, and it is just as certain that a copy of the book is finding a buyer every now and then.


But what is more some victorious tidings have just come in: the New York firm of Alfred A. Knopf has decided to publish Verstörung.  This is a second important sealed deal after the Gallimard one, and I would very much like to congratulate both you and myself on it.2


All the best and warmest regards
from
Siegfried Unseld  


  1. Between June 21 and September 20, 1967, Thomas Bernhard was obliged to submit to treatment at the Baumgartner Höhe Clinic in Vienna.  Shortly before a morbus boeck had been diagnosed and a tumor operatively removed from Bernhard’s chest.  Anneliese Botond briefed Unseld on Bernhard’s stay in the clinic and informed Bernhard of the briefing in a letter of June 24, 1967.  This stay assumes a literary form in the 1982 novella Wittgenstein’s Nephew (see Vol. 13, pp. 209-229 of Bernhard’s Works).


  1. Gargoyles, Richard and Clara Winston’s translation of Verstörung, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1971.  Perturbation, Guy Fritsch-Estrangin’s French translation of the book, was published in 1971 by Gallimard in the “Du monde entier” series.  




Letter No. 38


[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]


Frankfurt am Main
November 7, 1967


Dear Mr. Bernhard,


Ms. Botond has given me a note consisting of three pieces of information.1  Firstly I have learned to my delight that you have finished a new novella but would like to unveil it to the public in the fall of 1968.  I can well understand that, but the question arises of whether its publication might not be actually be more successful in the context of edition suhrkamp.  We would certainly print as many as 10,000 to 12,000 copies of a new novella.  The only difficulty is owing to the fact that we must make a decision in the next fortnight, because that is when we will firm up the schedule for next year.  What do you think of that idea?  If you like it perhaps you could send us the text of the novella?


You are quite keen on going to America and quite keen on being invited there.  That would be a bit difficult to manage because the Americans have started getting very tightfisted with their invitations.  Invitation via German cultural channels has its own difficulties arising from your Austrian passport.  This coming week I shall be going to Bonn and there I’ll talk to a few cultural luminaries in the government.  Perhaps I can work something out.  And the third thing:


I have learned that you have not yet signed the contract pertaining to Verstörung, and that you are particularly irked by the option clause.  I sympathize with you completely, and I do not harbor the faintest suspicion that you will be unprepared to offer your next manuscript to Insel Publications.  And I know from my own extensive experience in such matters that a constraint of this kind does not as a rule have a salutary effect.  But I have always told my authors that there is such a thing as mutual loyalty, and that it is manifested both in my commitment to the publication of their prospective books and, complementarily, by their voluntary cession of their next manuscript to the publisher.  You know that an option that is not undergirded by a specific sum of money is legally unenforceable.  To this extent you are completely free, and I can at least assure you of the following fact: that no author who has ever wanted to break free of me has been motivated by such an option clause.  That has never happened, and I hope it never will happen in the future.  And my dear Mr. Bernhard, let me remind you that Insel Verlag has already issued you numerous prodigious advances.  I would be a poor upholder of the interests of the firm indeed if I were to make a special exception in your case by cavalierly overlooking this fact.  Please do try to appreciate this.  Otherwise, I can only say yet again how very delighted I am to be able to publish you, and you may rest assured that the entire firm has also been taking and will continue to take the greatest pains in disseminating your work.


Yours
with warmest regards,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. In a memorandum of November 6, 1967, Anneliese Botond noted: “The novel is finished, but Bernhard would prefer to unveil it to the public in the fall of 1968  (publications not so close together) followed by the novel in the fall of 1969.  He thinks he can finish the novel this summer.  Bernhard is very keen on going to America for a couple of months in the first half of next year.  He is asking us if we can help him to get an invitation (through the Goethe House, Victor Lange, or other Germanists in America, the Ford Foundation?).  He plans to sign the contract pertaining to Verstörung straight-away--but without the option clause.  He plans to give his future books to Insel Publications anyway and in any case but of his own acc[ord].  He says he is horrified by coercion.”  In its eleventh paragraph, the draft of the contract for Verstörung states: “The author concedes an option on his work to the publishing firm.”  Thomas Bernhard accepted the option clause by signing the existing contract on November 22, 1967.


Letter No. 39


Ohlsdorf
November 14, 1967


Dear Dr. Unseld,


I am sincerely hoping and aiming for an early fall completion date for the novella that is to be published in the edition series.  Then, the following year, I would like to have my novel published.  It is in the nature of things for you to be supplied with my manuscripts for the future--obviously.  From time to time I have recently found myself despairingly wondering if I even have a publisher at all, because at such moments it has seemed to me as if nobody anywhere gave a damn about me.  But afterwards I have ended up wondering what a proper, genuine publisher actually is, and more especially what he is nowadays, what sort of figure he cuts in the present, and then invariably, and possibly against my will, I think of you.  You are the only one left; aside from you there is no one.


An author is a thoroughly and utterly pitiful and laughable thing and all things considered so is a publisher.  But in the final analysis the publisher is even more materially an anonymous party who has entered into a pact with the Devil and thereby transformed himself into a thing that is by no means as vulnerable and laughable as an author, who is thoroughly and utterly vulnerable.  There really is no great mystery to be made about anything whatsoever--including any author or any publisher.


In all honesty, I must acknowledge that my productions are best served by appearing under your imprint.


I have my pride and you have yours, and both of us are dependents of a certain poetic quality in nature, a quality within which we live and exist, and of which neither of us can say what it is.


I am feeling thoroughly happy and working well.


Yours very sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard


Letter No. 40


[Address: Ohlsdorf]


Frankfurt am Main
November 17, 1967


Dear Mr. Bernhard,


To put it quite simply, I very much enjoyed your letter |!| It will stand for me as a milestone in our relationship; I hope we now know what we are to think of each other, and not only know it today but will also know it tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.


So we will be putting out your novella in edition suhrkamp and of course at the best release date: in September 1968.  Then in the fall of 1969 we will issue your novel with genuine intensity.


As we must now prepare the announcement of the schedule of the edition through October 1968, I have been thinking about
  1. the title of the novella and
  2. we will have to produce a synopsis of the novella.  Do you care to compose a trifle of that sort?  We would publish that anonymously, or could you let me borrow the novella in its current state for a short time?


So much for your amiable letter.  Once again: I thank you very much.


Yours
with warm regards,
Siegfried Unseld


Letter No. 41


[Telegram Memorandum]


Frankfurt am Main
November 28, 1967
Dear Mr. Bernhard,


For the announcement in edition suhrkamp we urgently need title, manuscript, or a synopsis of the novella.1


Warm regards--Siegfried Unseld


  1. Presumably this memorandum relates to the synopsis of "Ungenach" for the announcement.  Bernhard’s reply has not survived; Suhrkamp Publications’ Preview for the first half of 1968 includes the following synopsis, which must be traceable to Bernhard, because the novella it describes differs substantially from the one that was eventually published:
“279 Thomas Bernhard, Ungenach, A Novella
First Edition
Thomas Bernhard’s new novella centers on a man who arrives at an Upper-Austrian
village, Ungenach, for a gruesome funeral.  He arrives too late and stays in the house
until he hears the village-dwellers returning from the funeral; these are people whom
he cannot see, whom he does not care to see, because he cannot abide their company.
The novella describes Ungenach during the absence of its inhabitants, who are all
attending the funeral; during an interval when Ungenach is completely empty and 
devoid of all the human beings who constitute Ungenach.”


[END OF PART V]

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. 52-64.

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