Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Translation of "Als ich »Verstörung« von Thomas Bernhard las" by Peter Handke

When I Read Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard

Upon my arrival at the central railway station in Hanover, I rang up the acquaintance whom I intended to go see.  There was no answer.  But because I intended to stay overnight in Hanover no matter what, I decided to wait and ring the same number again later.  Then I bought a newspaper and went upstairs with my light cargo of luggage into the Hanover station’s café.  I was very tired, but the book refused to let me rest.

The doctor’s round of house calls, on which he had been accompanied by his son, was already behind me; only the visit to the Prince of Saurau at the Hochgobernitz castle still lay ahead.  Father and son were now making the perilous ascent to the fortress from the gorge down below, where they had just visited the mill.  It was not advisable to look around.  What they had seen before had been foretokens: a killer, still unapprehended, was roaming around the countryside; in all the houses the two of them had visited so far, the wretchedly moribund were lying or running rampant; in a building next door to the mill dead birds were strung up in rows; the miller’s dog, hazardous in its derangement [Verstörung], dashed to and fro amongst the putrescent mill-workers; every living creature seemed abjectly subject to its own nervous system.  In the eyes of the narrator, a young man studying mining in Leoben, Leoben was gradually coming to seem like a world apart as he accompanied his father; everything was growing further and further apart from everything else; an invalid, shortly before expiring, drew a sketch entitled “Death by Asphyxiation while Walking.”  All the characters were confessing something: the father as good as admitted it.

Shortly before the two of them reached the prince’s castle, they paid one more house call, to a one-story house[1] that was the dwelling of the insane young Krainer, who had been born with a head that was too narrow and who owing to the subsequent physical changes had completely lost the ability to speak.  In earlier life he composed harmonious music; now, according to his sister, his music was excruciating.

When the two of them arrived at the castle, they were afforded a view extending for literally hundreds of kilometers.

They sighted the prince on the outer wall of the castle; they caught up with him on the inner one.  He greeted them without halting.  They tagged along with him.  In their company he immediately resumed the monologue that he had been delivering all day long.  At every instant the prince found it natural to believe that the world was falling apart.  He always talked about himself as if he was talking about the entire world and about the entire world as if he was talking about himself.  The father had already told the student that the prince was totally mad; even the miller’s apprentices down below said that the prince said the most incredible things.

The prince talked as if his life depended on it.  He repeated many of the same phrases over and over again, varying nothing but their word-order.  To his interminable generalizations he suddenly appended the phrase: these colossal walls!  The prince did not say that he was in despair; he said: these colossal walls!  For the prince, all names, even place names, were names of despair.  By midday he had received visits from three applicants for the steward’s position; he had managed to torture one of the applicants repeatedly with words.  In conversing with the applicant he ascertained which words the man could not bear to hear and repeatedly used these words; for instance, mole, linen, miner, reformatory.  The applicant reacted to these words as if he were being tortured.

No matter which words the prince addressed to his listeners, they were words of sensitivity, words of torture.  I read on as the prince talked for hours to his visitors about the applicants, in the course of doing which he was incessantly vaulting from the picturesque, concrete particulars of these people—one of them lived in a landscape that was so gloomy that it actually precluded suicide, and his clothes were so neat that they must have hung on a nail and not in a closet—to certain incessantly iterated unpicturable abstractions that complementarily imparted picturesqueness to the prince.   The prince was possessed by speech; he spoke, he said, out of a fear of suffocation.

He often spoke in commonplaces, but this very accumulation of commonplaces highlighted his sharp-eared faculty of occultation.  He did not trouble himself about any sort of logic of grammatical structures; he could say that monologues were just as pointless as conversations, albeit far less pointless; he could say: he is completely rational but bereft of the slightest trace of rationality; he could utter a sentence like “Moser said, but he did not dare to say…”—I read on as the prince incessantly inverted his own sentence structures, as while speaking he made possible the dissolution of all concepts. 

Whatever he referred to in the external world was merely a sign of his inner world.  The prince spoke in signs rather than in metaphors.  He did not liken the flood of which he spoke to his inner self; rather the flood, which had actually taken place several weeks earlier, was his inner self, and the summer house in which his dead father had once been laid out and that used to be used for theatrical performances was what was happening inside his head, and even when the prince spoke of the catastrophic postal service in the Bundau countryside, he really meant that his own inner life was catastrophic.   The names of things and processes, I recognized, were merely signs for his conditions.  The place names Köflach and Stiwoll stood for derangedness and despair.  Agriculture, the prince said for example, is an error: he spoke as if agriculture were a way of life.

Every human being has his Ache, said the prince with all the banality of the deranged, the insane, and by now the Ache, which actually flows through the gorge, has simply become another word for lunacy.  As I continued reading I recalled that earlier on another invalid had told the doctor that only his visit had hindered him from drawing the “Hauenstein consequences”: the invalid resided in the village of Hauenstein; he used the word Hauenstein in place of the word suicide.  The prince spoke with a grammatical lunacy; he coined new words as schizophrenics are wont to do, and he interpolated mannered foreign words into his discourse: his use of these words, like his use of constantly shifting phrases referring to human beings, was a sign of his derangement.  The prince thought in in terms of opportunities for suicide.  He was not interested in who would be the first person on the moon but in who would be the first to travel through the earth.  At the castle the natural laws of Saurauean thought reigned supreme.

It is always your own story that is being told to you, said the prince.  He found nothing in the world bearable.  If he happened to find something nearly bearable, he said it was the least unbearable thing, or he said, reading is still the most bearable of all horrors.  Whenever he reported on a normal condition, he had to presuppose worseness, which was the normal condition for him.  When his mind was at peace for a change, the prince said he had not a trace of debility.  His discourse was a hospital report.

Having begun by walking on the inner wall of the castle, the three of them continued their circular stroll on the outer wall.  They walked ever faster, and it grew darker.  The prince continued talking in order to drown out the noises in his head.  He underlined, as it were, every word; he employed every word, not only adjectives, in the superlative degree: his son, who was slated to acquire the castle after his death, was going to let EVERYTHING ROT AWAY COMPLETELY.  Like many madmen the prince often likened events to the events in a stage play.  He veered from one idiom to another, from a philosophical idiom to, for example, a legalistic one: all deeds are prosecutable deeds, he said.  Then this man who now read nothing but newspapers, admittedly only old ones, suddenly began employing journalistic expressions: he said that his dead father had been an “unfortunate man” who had been found with a bullet in his head.  The prince spoke in foreign idioms that at the same time, when taken as a whole, were his own idiom: even foreign speaking conditions were signs of derangement.
On the walls of the castle he was still best able to bear his solitude.
Now and then he would very hurriedly and absently ask the doctor: have you brought my pills with you?  Is it very taxing for you to come up here?  What does your son do?  And then, without waiting for an answer, he would launch back into his conversation with himself.
The son listened.
The prince wanted to lead everybody through his brain until “it makes him ill.”
Afterwards he talked about a conversation that he had had with the doctor not long before: the prince had wanted to talk about the flood, but the doctor had wanted to talk about the recently performed play: “‘The more intensively I talked about the flood the further your father was distracted.  Namely,’ said Prince Saurau, ‘by the play […] the moment I began to talk about the flood, your father began to talk about the play.  Your father was more and more preoccupied with the play the more I was preoccupied with the flood.  I talked about the flood and he talked about the play.’  My father said, ‘the whole time I thought you had to talk about the flood, but I talked about the play.’  The prince said: ‘I talked about the flood and not about the play, because what else was I supposed to talk about if not the flood! […] And your father had thought about nothing other than the play.  Just as I was more and more preoccupied with the flood, your father was more and more preoccupied with the play, and the degree to which I, as I spoke of the flood, was irritated by your father, who was speaking about the play, was the same degree to which your father was irritated by me, who was speaking only about the flood. […] Over and over again I heard your father breaking into my endless floody ramblings with his commentary on the play.  That was what was so incredibly conspicuous about it,’ said the prince, ‘namely, the fact that as time passed I talked about nothing other than the flood, and your father about nothing other than the play.  And your father spoke ever more loudly about the play and I spoke ever more loudly about the flood.  Loudly, equally loudly, simultaneously loudly, did the two of us speak; your father about a monstrous play, I about a monstrous flood.  And then,’ said the prince, ‘there ensued a period when we both talked exclusively about the flood, and thereafter one in which the play was the exclusive topic.  But all the while we were talking about the play, I thought about nothing but the flood, and all the while we were talking about the flood, your father thought about nothing but the play […] When we were talking about the flood, I thought that your father wanted to talk about the play; when we were talking about the play, I wanted to talk about nothing but the flood […] When we were talking about the play, said my father, you were constantly exclaiming high costs!; whereas I, while we were talking about the flood, incessantly said words like the word gridiron, mimicry, exaltation, marionettism.  But basically,’ said the prince, ‘on that day no matter what we spoke about we were speaking about the flood.’

Meanwhile I had left the café and rung the number once again.  Again there was no answer.  When he spoke, said the prince, he could at least be misunderstood.  It had gotten completely dark.  I went to a park near the Hanover Opera and continued reading by the light of the street lamps.  The prince could not take them into the house because everything was in disarray.  By then I had gotten up and had continued reading in a pub, to the strains of a strolling violinist.  I had rung the number in vain a few more times.  I had had something to drink and had continued reading.   The prince had been constructed in complete defiance of reality.  He was freezing to death from within.  I read and read and read...


[1]  Although I have carried over a few words and phrases (like this "one-story house") from Richard and Clara Winston's English version, most of the translations of Handke's quotations from the novel, including the lengthy one in the penultimate paragraph, are my own.  I am afraid I have yet to work out anything like a consistent policy regarding passages from texts with well-established translations. 

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2015 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Über Thomas Bernhard.  Herausgegeben von Anneliese Botond [On Thomas Bernhard.  Edited by Anneliese Botond] (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970), pp. 100-106.  According to the bibliography in this book, Handke’s essay was originally published in Zürcher Woche  on December 7, 1967.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with His Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part X: 1972.

Letter No. 180

Frankfurt am Main
January 24, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I was with Hohl in Geneva.  It would please him a great deal if you were to write an afterword for his Suhrkamp-Bibliothek volume On the Attainable and the Unattainable.  Admittedly he asks that you consent to his seeing your text before it is printed.  But to me that seems obvious; surely you wouldn’t want it any other way, as this will of course be quite an important edition.1

How are things with you?

  1. Ludwig Hohl and Unseld had a meeting in Geneva on January 20, 1972.  In his  Paris-Geneva-Fribourg Travel Journal, January 18-22, 1972, he wrote, “He is now mainly worried about the preparation of his BS volume On the Attainable and the Unattainable.  Here he has very precise ideas about the typography that he discussed with me in great detail [...] The edition notice is to contain the following passage: “The text of this book originated between 1934 and 1936.  First published in The Notes or On Unhasty Reconciliation, Vol. 1, Zurich, 1947.”  He has agreed to an afterword by Thomas Bernhard.  But he is asking for Bernhard to allow him to see it before it is printed.”    

Letter No. 181


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

Two months ago I wrote you a letter to which I never received a reply.

In answer to your most recent lines: I am not going to write about Hohl.1

Here and especially in my brain a great deal of animosity towards the hair-raising brainlessness of your employees’ correspondences pertaining to me has been accumulating; more on this preferably or exclusively viva voce.

When Frost is being prepared for reprinting, please see that the original Insel edition is reviewed with both great care and absolute precision and that the task is entrusted to a person capable of great concentration (if there is any such person still left in your vicinity), lest the house should be inundated by a deluge of typographical errors.  Nobody will have done me any favors if that happens; the whole thing will have been pointless, and so if it can’t be done with extreme precision, it would be quite better if it weren’t done at all.2

I myself haven’t the merest scintilla of time to devote to comparing variant readings.

I am in very fine fettle.

Thomas Bernhard

P.S. Four times over the past few days I have received an unvarying specimen of printed matter; to be punctiliously specific, a three-line announcement that the new play is going to be performed in Salzburg (there have been hundreds of such announcements)3, and in the accompanying “Press Kit No. 1” it is stated that I received the Grimm Prize for The Italian (the screenplay) based on the novel of the same name.4

  1. On the Attainable and the Unattainable was published without an afterword on October 9, 1972 as Volume 323 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.

  1. Frost was issued as Volume 47 of the suhrkamp taschenbücher on April 26, 1972 (see Letter No. 191).

  1. The premiere of The Ignoramus and the Madman, which was directed by Claus Peymann, took place at the Salzburg Festival on July 29, 1972.

  1. The Press Kit commented on by Bernhard was issued by the Suhrkamp Theatrical Publications Division on January 28, 1974 and survives in Bernhard’s papers (cf. NLTB, TBA, B 584/2/3b); on the relevant page Bernhard flagged the word “novel” with a wavy underline and a question mark and wrote “too stupid!” in the margin because “The Italian” was a novella [actually a fragment of a novella (DR)].  For more on the film version of The Italian, see Note 1 to Letter No. 151.

Letter No. 182


Dear Dr. Unseld,

In the January 31 issue of the Nouvel Observateur I just read a review |of Verstörung| that I recommend to you for your perusal.1

A half an hour ago I wrote to Mr. Rach about every imaginable thing having to do with the play; please have a talk with him.2
The Salzburg performance was excellent, and when you are working out the agreement with the television network, please don’t forget our agreement that the honorarium must be large enough to clear my total outstanding debt to the firm.
Frost is going to be filmed next winter with state-of-the-art equipment, a year of pre-production planning; I pushed for that.3

The Grimme Prize really smoothed the way for the filming,

I believe that the Italian, however, has already, a short time ago, been licensed to be printed by the German Paperback Book Company [dtv].  What can I say about this?

I find it preposterous and, even more than that, myopic in you to have let several months pass without getting in touch with me.

On the other hand I am best off alone.

More and more I am coming to think of the firm as an anonymous, adversarial force.  Do something to enfeeble this impression.

Most of the time just thinking about Suhrkamp is enough to make me lose my temper.

Perhaps we should get together sometime.

Or perhaps not.

Indifference helps me across all the mountains of rubbish.

One cannot be enough of an adversary.

The water level of dimwittedness is rising.

The firm is moronic if it thinks it can ignore the Grillparzer Prize, which it has received from the Academy of Sciences in Vienna in recognition of one of its own products (Boris).  Arrogance or etcetera.4

Respond to this sentence when you happen to be going through a phase when you have a sense of humor.

The idiotic Grimme Prize is all I can say.5

But finally a serious sentence: I must ask you forthwith to remit to my account in Gmunden the payment of ten thousand that will be due to me as of March.

I would be saying a lot if I were further to remark that it would be pointless to make a single further remark.

We are all standing on an ice sheet of misunderstanding.  And so we would do best not to make any sudden moves, lest we tumble into the water.

It would be fine by me if you replied immediately.

Take it all as you will.

Thomas Bernhard

|P.S.: Perhaps in Frankfurt the harvest of HOPS & MALT  has been a poor one?!|

  1. See Michael Cournot,”Le mal du Prince. ‘Perturbation’  par Thomas Bernhard” in Le Nouvel Observateur, 31 January 1972.
  2. In a February 11, 1972 letter to Rudolf Rach, Bernhard describes “the fact that Ganz is playing the doctor and that Herrmann and Bickel are involved in the production at Salzburg [...] as enormously fortunate.” “I think it will be in the best interests of the play if it after Salzburg the people in Hamburg take it on and if it is then performed simultaneously in Zurich and Berlin.  After that everything may take whatever course it will, but Zurich and Berlin immediately after the Hamburg run strikes me as a logical sequence.  Obviously you should allow only a man whom you can trust to keep a secret to read The Ignoramus and the Madman, but in general I am quite keen on not allowing the whole abominable theatrical world in on the secret of our play, lest we should have only ourselves to blame if over the course of the summer all and sundry come to know about my drama and have already formed an opinion of it before the curtain rises.  This most well-beaten of paths is also the most gruesome.  Why shouldn’t it be presented in Nuremberg?  Why shouldn’t it be performed in an infirmary or a preschool someday?  I have nothing against this, but it’s important to make sure nobody makes a total hash of it at the outset.  Incidentally, the Boris in Hamburg was a really huge success and I have just read that this Saturday, tomorrow, it will be performed one more time [see Letter No. 178].  [...] In conclusion: should we not meet up at some point in the near future and draw up a precise last-minute battle plan that we will insist on being subsequently carried through????  So that we don’t make any mistakes, commit any oversights that will garner us the loss of our temper a year from now, and otherwise nothing?  Let us think of Germany as a bowling alley, the theaters as the pins--right now we have the ball in our hands.    What are we going to do with the ball?”  Such a meeting did end up taking place-- on February 19 and 20 in Ohlsdorf and Gmunden.  From a March 3, 1972 letter from Rach to Bernhard one learns that the two men jointly compiled a “10-item catalogue.”  This catalogue was the starting point for the attempt to cancel the contractually scheduled performance of A Party for Boris with Judith Holzmeister at Vienna’s Burgtheater.  See also Karl Ignaz Hennetmair: A Year with Thomas Bernhard, pp. 133 ff.  The Academy Theater (the second house of the Burgtheater) gave the Austrian premiere of A Party for Boris on February 2, 1973.  The director was Erwin Axer; Judith Holzmeister played the good woman.     

  1. On December 4, 1971 Bernhard wrote to Helene Ritzerfeld asking her to draw up a contract for the film adaptation of Frost.  Ferry Radax was to be the director, and filming was to take place in the Winter of 1971-1972.

  1. Bernhard was awarded the 30,000 schilling-endowed Grillparzer Prize on January 21, 1972 during the Vienna Academy of Sciences’ commemoration of the centenary of the death of the prize’s eponym.  The prize was presented to him by the vice-president of the academy, Herbert Hunger.  The laudation reads: “The prize jury has awarded you this prize, which is awarded only every three years, in recognition of your play A Party for Boris [...]. [...] The prize jury has based their decision on the fact that your play A Party for Boris has an exemplary significance for our age.  It is said that in linguistic terms your drama, which many critics have compared to Büchner, to Beckett or Ionesco, possesses an urgent, pulsating force in virtue of its ever-crescent or ironizing repetitions.”  (Archive of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, No. 3079/1972).  Bernhard gave his version of the events of the award ceremony in Meine Preise, pp. 7-19 [My Prizes, pp. 3-16], as well as in Wittgenstein’s Nephew (see Bernhard, Works, Vol. 13, pp. 270-276).

  1. See Note No. 1 to Letter No. 115.   

Letter No. 183

Frankfurt am Main
February 15, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I was out of town for eight days--hence it was only today that I received your letter of February 3, which arrived here at the same time as your second letter of February 11.1  Thank you very much for writing.

First and foremost an answer to your accusation that I had not replied to your letter of 12.2.  Allow me to point out to you that Ms. Zeeh acknowledged receipt of this letter on December 8.  In her acknowledgment she wrote to you that I was out of town, and she also informed you that your request for a remittance of payment had been granted.  Therefore your letter was indeed effectively replied to.2

But now to your new letters.  Dr. Rach came to me and showed me your letter to him.  We conferred about who would be the better person to talk to you in the first instance, and I think that in this case it is more appropriate for Dr. Rach to come see you.  He can do this very soon.  As far as my personal presence goes, you know that I am always at your disposal in the event of an emergency; on the other hand I am within my rights to remind you that we already have plans: in my calendar entry for July 29 I have written “Salzburg” followed by “Hiking Outings with Thomas Bernhard.”  Don’t you think we can address all extra-, super-, and sub-terrestrial problems on that date as we hike?  I am convinced that after that you will no longer see the firm as an anonymous, adversarial force, but rather as a power that is championing you and your works, and indeed championing them more intensively than any other publishing firm would be capable of doing.  And please remember that The Ignoramus and the Madman is going to be published in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  You gave your all, and I gave mine.

Dr. Rach will be able to clarify the most pressing questions on his own.  But this much you will learn directly from me: I am sorry that The Italian has already been licensed to dtv [the German Paperback Book Company].   In connection with this you will of course be receiving a share of the licensing honorarium, whereas we remit our paperback honoraria in full to our authors.  But when as in this case a contract has already been finalized, there is nothing more you can do.  But in the future I would refrain from awarding any further paperback rights to third-party publishers.

We are typesetting Frost using the old Insel edition.  I have ordered a copy-editor to review the text again thoroughly.

Dr. Rach will also speak with you about the Salzburg remittances.  Before we issue any further payments we really must receive the money from Salzburg, but Rach intends to make a serious effort to obtain it.

The “hops and malt” harvest in Frankfurt has by no means been a poor one--quite to the contrary, we are enjoying something of a bumper crop in both of them.

Can you write me a word or two about the Paper Factory?  I presume the manuscript was finished long ago and is now lying in your desk drawer, and that you are simply waiting for the moment when (after you have been enfeebled by the enjoyment of Hungarian wine) I snatch the manuscript away from you.  If that is the case, I shall be coming over first thing this evening!3

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

P.S.: I shall be quite happy to forward your “sincere regards” to Paul Nizon.

  1. Unseld spent a “holiday week” (February 7-11)  in St. Moritz.

  1. See Note No. 1 to Letter No. 179.

  1. Paper Factory is the title of a planned but unrealized novel that was referred to for the first time in Unseld’s June 1970 travel journal (see Letter No. 131 as well as the commentary on p. 322 on Volume 4 of Bernhard’s Works).

Letter No. 184


Dear (Dr.) Siegfried Unseld,

Since your last letter you will have received Mr. Rach’s report; I hope that it is exhaustive and that it has been presented to you by Rach, with whom I have been getting along excellently, in a manner that conforms to my wishes.

Now, an addendum doing duty as a confirmation: please do not under any circumstances allow a performance of my Boris at the Burgtheater in Vienna to take place; I am dreading the worst and the worst is something I refuse to get involved with.  Retract all offers if they have not been put in writing, and even if they have been put in writing, to the extent that such retraction is still possible.

I attach precious little value to having anything performed at this theater under current circumstances.  The time for putting on my play at the Burgtheater (or anywhere else in Vienna) has not yet come.  Who knows whether it will ever come.  Nothing but the thought that I am not being staged in Vienna can put my mind at ease.

Tomorrow, after a seizure and a spell of the flu, I shall be getting back to work.1

As you can see, I am back in my element.

If only you would concretely respond just once to one of the points raised in one of my letters!

Your letters are charming and exasperating.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. On January 7, 1972, while engaged in forestry work near the “Krucka,” a house in Grasberg (a village in the township of Altmünster) that he had acquired in March of 1971, Bernhard had a seizure during which he cut himself above his left knee with a chainsaw.  See Karl Ignaz Hennetmair: A Year with Thomas Bernhard, pp. 28ff.

Letter No. 185

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
February 24, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I like you very much, you know!  This sentence will be stricken from the firm’s copies; it ultimately concerns nobody but the two of us.

Dr. Rach has briefed me.  I am very glad that you can write dialogues for a play again, and you see that I am full of curiosity and anxiousness, and I also think that the title All the Happiness in the World is an especially happy one in view of the play’s authorship by Thomas Bernhard.

But I would still like to be allowed to speak with you about the publication date of the novel.  All past experience suggests to me that it is more fitting to begin publicizing an important book by the beginning of the year.

I am now about to have a balance statement of receipts and payments prepared.  No matter how this turns out, I am going to fulfill your wish and raise your monthly remittances to DM 1,000 beginning on April 1.

On matters of ongoing concern Dr. Rach will certainly write further to you.1  I shall then tentatively gear myself up for my hiking outings with you in the Salzburg area.

with sincere regards,

  1. See Note No. 2 to Letter No. 182

Letter No. 186

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
February 29, 1972
Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Something has arisen that means I must be in Vienna from the 25th through the 27th of May.  Should you also be there on those dates, I would naturally be delighted to meet with you.  So, I am dutifully giving you advance notice of my presence in Vienna.



Letter No. 187
[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
March 6, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Dr. Rach informs me that your friend Hufnagl the architect doesn’t think all that badly of me.  Could I have Hufnagl’s address?  I should ask him something pertaining to a Viennese architectural matter.

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

Letter No. 188

Frankfurt am Main
March 28, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Merely for form’s sake I thank you for your letter of 2.24.  In substance you have of course sorted things out with Dr. Rach.

What kind of seizure did you have to suffer?  I am very happy to write to you and also happy to read when you write me friendly letters.  Incidentally, shouldn’t we really see each other in May?  Either in Vienna, where I shall be from the 22nd through the 24th, or on the morning of Friday, May 26th in Salzburg, from which I intend to fly back to Frankfurt at 3 p.m.  You see how I am constantly making affectionate overtures.  Brace yourself.

Siegfried Unseld     

Letter No. 189

Dear Dr. Unseld,

I shall be awaiting you with open arms in May in Salzburg.  My news for you is confined to the following points:

  1. submission of the novel (Title: Correction)
end of November / beginning of December
prospective publication date beginning of 73
  1. a new play at the end of the year

Logically speaking, the request of I made of Rach, namely, to send me the complete TS1 series, remains unfulfilled as of now.  I am in possession of everything through Volume 10; nothing beyond that, but just beyond that may be where things start to get really interesting.  So please remit them to me at once!

Have you read the Le Monde of 14 AVRIL?  and, way back when, the Observateur?3

I am constantly dreaming about a voyage around the world, but such voyages no longer happen, as you know.

Thomas Bernhard

  1. Bernhard is referring here to the suhrkamp taschenbücher (paperbacks).

  1. In Le Monde on April 14, 1972 appeared two articles on the French translation of Verstörung: Christoph Schwerin’s “Une oeuvre avec laquelle il faudra désormais compter [A work to be reckoned with from now on],” and René Wintzen’s “Perturbation ou le jeu de la folie et de la mort [“Verstörung or the game of madness and death”].”  

  1. See Note No. 1 to Letter No. 182

  1. In the upper-right corner of the letter is a handwritten note, “through 1 p.m.,” which refers to the timeframe of the Salzburg meeting.   

Letter No. 190

[Address: Ohlsdorf]    

Frankfurt am Main
April 27, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Warm thanks for your letter of April 24.  This is a wonderful feeling, to be awaited by you “with open arms.”  How and where shall we met?  Can you pick a place in Salzburg where we could meet at your convenience at 10, 11, or 12 o’clock?  My flight from Salzburg will then take off at 3 p.m., if the fates allow.

If your news is actually confined to the two points you specified, you will be something of a silent partner.  I of course know how much you like to talk about your future opuses, but perhaps then I can update you on the latest one from Vienna and Alpbach.

Ms. Zeeh will note your taschenbuch continuation; we had not learned of it.  So: you will receive everything beginning with volume 11 and from now on regularly.1

I have not read the Le Monde of April 14, but I did read the Observateur way back when.

How come voyages around the world no longer happen?

Siegfried U.

  1. On May 8 Burgel Zeeh ordered the firm’s shipping department to send volumes 11 through 49 of the suhrkamp taschenbücher to Bernhard in Ohlsdorf.

Letter No. 191

Frankfurt am Main
April 28, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Frost has been published in the Taschenbuch series.1   I am very happy about this, and I can only hope that you are also pleased with the lovely blue cover.  We printed a run of 15,000.  This is merely a brief notice.  The book will be sent to you along with it.  20 complimentary copies will follow.

Siegfried U.   

  1. See Letter No. 181

Letter No. 192

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
May 12, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Entirely in a spirit of eager anticipation of our May 26 meeting in Salzburg, I should like to propose our seeing each other as early as 10:00 a.m.  Is that possible?  And could we stipulate 7 Porchestraße, Salzburg as our point of rendezvous?

Towards 10:00 I shall be returning to the Hertz car rental office the vehicle I am planning to rent for the round trip from Salzburg to Alpbach and back; after that I shall be at your disposal.1  In May the daily flight from Salzburg to Frankfurt leaves as early as 12:55 p.m., so that we would have from 10:00 to the departure of the plane for our conversation.

As I said, I am very much looking forward to seeing you.

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. In May 26, 1972, in Alpbach,  at a conference of book dealers hosted by the publisher Fritz Molden, Unseld gave a lecture on the subject of the duties of a literary publisher.  

Letter No. 193



friday 10 am porschestrasse

Letter No. 194

Frankfurt am Main
June 5, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Ah!  How enjoyable Salzburg was!1  Why don’t we meet there more often?  Today I am sending you Gerhard Roth’s Autobiography of Albert Einstein; we had spoken about it.  But I am also sending it to you on account of the color of its cover.  It turns out that in a darker shade of blue it is difficult to obtain the metallic sheen we are aiming for.  Please take a look at the back cover, specifically at the place where the printed text is black.  Does that work for you?  Please tell me your answer very soon.

with sincere regards,

  1. Regarding the Salzburg meeting, Unseld wrote in his Vienna--Salzburg--Alpbach Travel Journal, May 22-27, 1972, “It was certainly the most enjoyable of meetings.  Bernhard was in his best anecdote-telling mood and--quite obviously at the prompting of the Salzburgian atmosphere--he told me about his youth and childhood.

We discussed the following concrete matters:
Publication schedule:
July--BS: The Ignoramus and the Madman
1. November: Delivery of a new novel Correction (no article).  Prospective
publication date. 1st half 1973.
At the end of December 1972 we will receive the manuscript of his new drama.  
But for now nobody from our side may talk to him about it because we first have to bring The Ignoramus and the Madman into effect.  The play will play a role in the ’73-’74 season.
He is also working once again on es Volume 50, Atzbach. Prescriptions.  He said he very much wanted to see a combined edition of his novellas Watten and Ungenach appear in the BS, but I demurred very strongly at this suggestion.  I think it would be much more worthwhile to issue further copies of these as separate books in the es.

We then talked for quite a long time about a Bernhard reader on the model of the Artmann [The Best of H.C. Artmann, 1972] Handke [Prose Works, Poems, Theater Plays, Radio Plays, 1969], and Hildesheimer compilations.

The following publication schedule emerged from our discussion:

July 1972 The Ignoramus and the Madman in the BS
1st half of 1973     Correction
2nd half of 1973 es Volume 500: Atzbach
st 131: Lime Works
1st half of 1974 Bernhard reader
1st precaution taken: that the Salzburgian book dealers, and perhaps other important Austrian book dealers, should have the Ignoramus BS volume delivered to them ahead of time?  The premiere is at the end of July 1972.  The second performance will of course take place on September 1 in Berlin.  Should we encircle the book in a paper band with information on the two important performances?  Perhaps we could also think up a poster on the model of Handke’s Goalie poster.  An appropriate design will of course occur to us.

In an additional note, Conversation with Thomas Bernhard on Friday, May 26 in Salzburg, Unseld states, “‘Bernhard was in plain high spirits.  He was pleased that I had come to Salzburg from Alpbach ‘especially on his account.’
We strolled along the streets of Salzburg, then discussed a few concrete matters and publication plans; chiefly, though, at my provocation and in an ever-renewing flow of anecdotage, he talked of his childhood and youth in Salzburg.  He believed that in his Henndorf Pastoral Carl Zuckmayer had written about his unhappy youth [Zuckmayer’s memoir of his years in Henndorf was published by Residenz Publications in 1972; the passage in question is on p. 43 of the book], but the actual wording in the text of the book is ‘a youth somewhat overcast with shadows.’  ‘It certainly was a horrible 30-year stretch.’  It certainly was highly chaotic, but Bernhard never suffered outright deprivation.  He never met his father but got to know his stepfather quite well.  The early death of his mother.  He was then raised by his grandfather, the (in Zuckmayer’s words) “still-unknown epic poet Johannes Freumbichler” [ibid., p. 42].  His family wanted to force him to study towards a bourgeois profession.  The law was their first choice.  But Bernhard insistently refused; because he had always sung in the church choir he wanted to become a singer, and thanks to the intervention of Mrs. Zuckmayer he once auditioned before the bigwigs in the Salzburg opera scene.  But in the truest sense of the idiom the notes got stuck in his throat during the audition.  The whole thing was a disaster [see also Note No. 1 Letter No. 441].  He had always written for himself, since he was fifteen years old, and occasionally pestered his family by reading aloud to them.  But his association with Mr. Kaut, the current president of the Salzburg Festival, was decisive.  Kaut was then the editor of the Demokratisches Volksblatt, which is now defunct.  He encouraged Bernhard to write reports of courtroom proceedings, and these were subsequently published in the Demokratisches Volksblatt.  More than any other person, Kaut encouraged and convinced him to become a writer.

He sidestepped all questions about his relations with women by uttering some meaningless phrases, but he readily told me about his grandmother’s experiences.  He said she had been married to a very handsome man at the age of eighteen; the couple left for their honeymoon in Hamburg.  But on the wedding night his grandmother ran away from her husband because he had expected her to do things she had never even heard of.

Now it is clear to me why Bernhard required the Salzburg Festival committee to accept The Ignoramus and the Madman before reading a line of it, and to advance him the DM 30,000.  Kaut had rejected Boris, which Bernhard had actually been planning to dedicate to him, and sent the manuscript back and described the play as completely unperformable [see note 2 to Letter 18].

Understandably enough, he did not wish to talk about the new novel, Correction.  When I pressed him to do so he would only say: it is a story about a forty-year-old man who can see that he has done something incorrectly in his life, something  that must be corrected.  He must come to see the features of his environment more exactly.”

From the above oral account emerged a plan for some autobiographical notes, which were initially discussed by Bernhard and Unseld under the auspices of the provisional title Remembering.

Letter No. 195



einstein blue very good1
very sincerely bernhard

  1. The color of the cover of Gerhard Roth’s novel, which appeared in the spring of 1972, is metallic.  The first edition of The Ignoramus and the Madman also has a metallic color scheme instead of the non-metallic one chosen for it by Suhrkamp’s cover designer, Willy Fleckhaus.

Letter No. 196


Dear Dr. Unseld,

The highest form of good fortune is happiness in misfortune; a thoroughly philosophical condition is left behind.

The topic of our reflections is our astonishment at our own good fortune in misfortune.

An accident, a mis-chance, with all its attendant possibilities, is invaluable if we have been favored by fortune.

No meditations!

Please give my regards to Ms. Zeeh, who didn’t frighten me at all, but rather actually cheered me up, because of course everything had already turned out all right by then.1 To our subject: Mr. Ganz is rehearsing in Salzburg; I met with him for the first time yesterday, and our meeting was an enormously fascinating event for me.  If this man’s extraordinary artistry does not let him down between now and then, we are going to witness a splendid performance of the play.  At the moment there is nobody who does better justice to my sentences.  One must see him speaking and moving and philosophizing about both activities.

Probably the intensity with which the rehearsals must now be conducted, the terrifyingly brief interval between now and the date of the performance, is ideal.  We never achieve anything thanks to anything but hyperconcentration.  Hyperconcentration compels us to do our utmost in our passion and fear for what we are capable of.  Because we must do everything in our power to thwart society!

If the book hasn’t already been printed and bound, I would like two complete paginated rough copies of it right away.

The tension between Correction, which has completely cut me off from the rest of the world, and the work in Salzburg, is extremely advantageous.

When will you come?  For how many days?  Here we have an invigorating ice-cold lake, as you know.
To drive from Gmunden to the theater in Salzburg and then back to Gmunden would be most ideal.  What do you think?

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. Bernhard alludes to a car accident that Unseld was involved in and that Burgel Zeeh informed him of in a letter dated June 22.  In this letter she states, “[...] now that the biggest scare is behind us, I would very much like to to tell you that Dr. Unseld was involved in an accident on the Autobahn last week and is now recovering in the hospital at Heilbron.  All signs now point to his returning to Frankfurt on Monday with a fractured clavicle (and no other injuries).  He was very lucky, and we are all glad that this ended so happily.”       

Letter No. 197



bs ignoramus full of unwarrantable embarrassing typos most especially medical terms appalling

  1. The Ignoramus and the Madman was published in July as Volume 317 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.

Letter No. 198

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram-memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
July 25.72

Arriving Friday, July 28 11:30 airport.  Hotel Hohenstauffen Salzburg
18 Stauffenstrasse.  Can we meet up?

Sincerely Siegfried Unseld

Letter No. 199

Frankfurt am Main
August 2, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Our encounter was once again very enjoyable, and it was so in a double sense thanks to the thoroughly favorable reaction to the play.  The Salzburg performance was unquestionably a triumph and I too think it was good, even if I cannot be quite as enthusiastic and still see some weaknesses.  My opinion aside, this can only be a good thing, because theaters always shy away from competing with a perfect performance.

One more thing to consider in connection with this: I don’t think it is a good idea to dedicate the second printing to Bruno Ganz.  Just imagine: every actor who studies this beautiful but undoubtedly difficult role would then have to pit himself against the man whom you consider the ideal interpreter of it, namely Bruno Ganz.  But by all means do what you deem appropriate.  

It is also important for us to receive the corrections of the compositor’s errors soon.  And please give a thought to Mrs. Vargo’s entrance as well.

You may rest assured that we are very energetically entrusting the play to the theaters, television networks, and also the book-dealers.

I am glad that we have concrete deadlines for submission of your new works.  At the beginning of November we are planning to meet here in Frankfurt and you will hand over the manuscript of Correction to me, and at the end of the year we will receive the manuscript of the new play.  It is important that there should be no discussion of this new play.  I won’t even tell Dr. Rach about it yet.

So, everything is on a steady footing.1

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. On the upper-right corner of the carbon copy there is a handwritten note: “cc Dr. Rach” (![DR]).

Letter No. 200

Frankfurt am Main
August 2, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I am giving you the financial rundown in a separate letter.  I have one request to make of you up front: please read through the loan stipulations and the calculations only when you are in a calm frame of mind.  The upshot of them is that everything is on a steady footing; in other words, that despite the substantial debit yielded by the tabulation of sums, I am of good cheer.
We are faced with the question of what to do about the fact that--even after accounting for the two remittances of DM 20,000 each for your play The Ignoramus and the Madman--hence a total of DM 40,000--the following debit-postings remain uncleared:

The loan you received on February 9, 1971, which is
in the amount of DM 15,000.00
An open posting from the running accounts (through
August 1972) DM 15,000.00
Monthly remittances through April 1973 DM 12,000.00
Now you wish for a further advance of DM 20,000.00
This adds up to a grand total of      DM 60,000.00

So we must see how to reckon up this grand total of DM 60,000.00.  To this end I am tendering you a proposal and requesting your assessment of it.

  1. Our famous gentlemen’s agreement regarding the “old works” has been complied with in full.  The account has been cleared by credit entries and by the advance for the suhrkamp taschenbuch 47 edition of Frost.
Now you yourself have suggested that we should perhaps strike a new bargain of that ilk.  I am tendering you the following proposal:
That we should now amortize the the February 9, 1971 DM 15,000 loan (whose terms of repayment we should try to work out in August 1972) by means of the “old works” account and include Lime Works and Midland in this account.  So “old works” would now mean all your publications apart from The Ignoramus and the Madman.  Had this stipulation been in place earlier you would certainly have eliminated the balance of the loan on your own by now.

II. You received two remittances for your play The Ignoramus and the Madman:
  1. DM 20,000.00 on 9.1.1971
  2. Two DM 10,000.00 advances on the Salzburg honoraria, in other words, DM 20,000.00
The second remittance of DM 20,000.00 we can forget about, because it has been offset by the revenues from Salzburg.  Any eventual surpluses from Salzburg will, in accordance with our gentlemen’s agreement, go directly to you.
To the amortization of the first remittance of DM 20,000 we would apply the proceeds from Austrian television and from the prospective German television deal and--if need be--royalties from German theaters.  All this should suffice to “polish off” the remittance of DM 40,000.

III. That the DM 20,000 remittance requested by you should be drawn from advances on the following new works that you have mentioned by name:

  1. Bibliothek Suhrkamp: The Ignoramus and the Madman    
  2. Bibliothek Suhrkamp: Remembering
  3. The novel Correction
  4. edition suhrkamp Volume 500: Atzbach

The sum of DM 20,000.00 should tally approximately with the advances from these works, so that you can certainly clear your mind of any worries about this remittance.  Proceeds in excess of DM 20,000.00 are to be credited to the “new works” account (see IV.).

IV. The “new works” account
This account is now encumbered with the following remittances:
  1. the invoices and remittances through 8.31.1972 in the
amount of ca. DM 15,000.00
  1. the future monthly remittances through 8.31.1972 with
which this account will be encumbered DM 12,000.00
Total DM 27,000.00
We could offset these DM 27,000.00 as follows:
  1. All surplus proceeds from Provisions II and III.
  2. An advance on the new play
  3. Other proceeds from our contracts   

I deem this solution fair and acceptable both for you and for us.  If you accept it you won’t need to grapple with any weighty considerations; we have found a slot for the old DM 15,000 loan as well as for the new remittance of DM 20,000, and the monthly remittances that we will be issuing through August 31, 1973 can likewise be offset by prospective proceeds.  

So the upshot is that everything is on a steady footing.  For you there will admittedly still be one problem to contend with: namely, that of your taxes, which I must ask you not to lose sight of.

Are you content with these proposals?  In the event that you wish to make any changes, please let me know of them.  Hopefully you will see that in thinking over these financial matters I have taken pains to anticipate your objections.  Please write to me soon, so that I can initiate the desired transfer of DM 20,000.00.  
with friendly regards
[Siegfried Unseld]

Letter No. 201


Dear Dr. Unseld,

You should repeat your visit to Ohlsdorf sometime soon, especially now that the atmosphere has calmed down and is devoid of drama and people who can’t keep up when it comes to walking and running and swimming.

Our Salzburgian undertaking was a success.  The fact that, as you know, all the subsequent performances have been cancelled is regrettable but ultimately logical and by no means injurious.  The fact of the matter is that Peymann is completely in the right and if a court ends up having to pass sentence on someone in connection with the Salzburg affair, Peymann and his people can look forward to this sentence with equanimity; to me the facts of the case are clear; the guilt lies entirely on the side of the festival’s board of directors.  But everything must be explained with a clear head; I have given strict advice to Peymann, who is not always prudent; my practical court experience is proving useful again for a change, and so is my instinct, by which I mean my incorruptibility in legal matters.1

That the unrepeatability of the performance has a special charm for me is something that I need not go out of my way to emphasize to you.

Probably the whole ensemble can act the play again in Hamburg or at the Schaubühne in Berlin.  But these questions must first be elucidated.

Our contract subsists and cannot be altered.

At least the video recording will materialize, if not via the abominable Austrians then via the Germans.

The soil for the play has been well prepared, I think.

I must regard your suggestion not to print Bruno Ganz’s name under the title as a wise one, and I shall accept it at least provisionally, while our play is finding other performances.  After that the dedication can of course be made. [2]

Regarding the new play mum is the absolute word that everybody on all sides will have to keep.

Once again on Peymann: he has been incredibly lucky.  Enough said about that, thanks to which we too have been lucky.  The goings-on in Salzburg fit into my new work, Correction, as seamlessly as if I had needed them in order to put the finishing touches on it.  The book has me inescapably in its clutches, and vice-versa.

I must ask you to keep me informed about everything even halfway interesting that is going on or may yet go on in connection with our play, and not to leave me wanting for news; better too much than none at all.

My current run is an excellent one; the fact that I have good nerves is an enormous asset.  Other people don’t have them.

Remember that there are splendid walks here and that behind every tree there is a telephone via which Ms. Zeeh can get hold of you.  Perhaps a fall visit, a late summer visit?, if, about four or five weeks from now, I can again completely leave off working on Correction.

On the financial letter: it is not all clear to me, but if it was clear to you, I naturally will accept the whole thing.  I must ask you to remit the new 20 thousand to my Gmunden account as soon as possible; a TON of bills, et cetera, have piled up.  Then, after the handing over of Correction, we should once again be able to have a clear and binding conversation.  Please give my regards to Rach and Busch and the others.

Thomas Bernhard

My corrected copy of the play with Mrs. Vargo’s entrance in the near future.3

P.P.S. In Salzburg we descended into hell, but we have emerged from it unsinged and indeed tougher and more clear-eyed than before.

  1. The “facts of the case” under discussion here, the so-called “Emergency Lighting Scandal,” have gone down in theater history.  (See Bernhard, Works, Vol. 15, pp. 470ff.)  During the final scene of the premiere of The Ignoramus and the Madman at the Salzburg Regional Theater, the administration broke its promise to turn the emergency lights off in conformity with a certain stage direction in the text: “the stage is completely dark.”  Thereafter there were no further performances of the play apart from the contractually obligatory videotaping for television.  Hilde Spiel summarized the scandal: “The author and director demands two minutes of complete darkness for the conclusion of the play, during which in a kind of allegory of total cataclysm a tablecloth is lifted and divested of its plates, glasses, and bottles [...] If the emergency lighting is left on, this event will be not only heard but also seen, because the eyes adjust very quickly to mere semi-darkness.  The fire department, acting on the authority of an ordinance dating from 1884, when the Ringtheater in Vienna burned down, insists that the emergency lighting should not be switched off.  The president of the festival is sent for.  According to a statement by Peymann’s team he promises to have the emergency lights turned off.  The promise is noted in the log book.  [...]  At the rehearsals a four-person relay team is employed to communicate the lights-out signal downstairs to the switchbox.  Nearly a hundred spectators enjoy a final scene darkened at the appropriate moment during the dress rehearsal--but it is not a public performance.  On the evening of the premiere, contrary to all expectations and quite without warning, the emergency lights remain on; Peymann dashes downstairs, where he finds the switchbox jammed.  Angela Schmid loses her nerve; she fails to execute the prescribed movement but rather pitches forward on to the table, thereby producing a muffled clinking instead of the grand effect intended.  Hereupon Peymann declares, ‘There will be no further performances of the play unless the emergency lighting is switched off as previously promised to us’ [...].  Then on the evening of the second performance there is an uproar. [...] At the last minute a compromise is offered.  The emergency lights are to be “manually concealed.”  Peymann quite rightly regards this as impracticable.  No other solution is offered.  A proposal by the author to omit the conclusion altogether comes too late.  The audience has already been sent home.  (Hilde Spiel: “Schatten auf Salzburg.  Fazit der Festspiele und das Ende einer Affäre”  [“Shadow on Salzburg.  Epitome of the Festival and the End of an Affair”] in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 4, 1972.)  Thereupon, on August 2, Bernhard sent to Josef Kaut, the president of the Salzburg Festival a telegram that read: “AN ORGANIZATION THAT CANNOT BEAR TWO MINUTES DARKNESS STOP CAN GET BY WITHOUT MY PLAY STOP MY COMMITMENT TO DIRECTOR AND ACTORS ONE HUNDRED PERCENT STOP THEY MAKE SELFEVIDENTLY UNCOMPROMISING DECISION RE FUTURE PERFORMANCES.”  (See the facsimile of this telegram in Thomas Bernhard und Salzburg , p. 221.)

  1. Bernhard dedicated his next play, The Hunting Party, to the actor Bruno Ganz.

  1. This comment is Bernhard’s reaction to a suggestion Rudolf Rach made in an April, 21 1972 letter to him (the page numbers are those of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp edition): “On page 22 Mrs. Vargo enters and exits.  On page 32 she says ‘the overture,’ and reenters only on page 33.  Does this mean that she shouts the ‘the overture’ into the room--in other words, that she is speaking from offstage?  Or should she come in one more time before speaking in order to bring in a piece of clothing or some other object?”  Bernhard did not correct this inconsistency in the stage directions.

Letter No. 202

Frankfurt am Main
August 9, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Your lack of a telephone is now making itself most unpleasantly  felt!

We must communicate about this matter.  As you can see, we too are now getting involved in this affair.  Please consult the enclosed copy for a sense of the nature of our position.  It was significant that you gave moral and public-relational  “support,” to Peymann, without lodging what the jurists would call an expressis verbis suit against the prohibition as an exercise of your personal rights.  You see, if you had done that we would have been doomed--i.e., Salzburg would have had the right to withhold the royalties from you.

Siegfried Unseld

2 Enclosures

[Enclosure 1: letter from Josef Kaut to Suhrkamp Publications]1    

[Enclosure 2: letter from S.U. to Josef Kaut]

Frankfurt am Main
August 9, 1972


Dear most honored President Kaut,

I acknowledge the receipt of your letter of August 7.  I must unequivocally tell you that I cannot follow the line of your argument.  The situation may be summarized thus:

You finalized a performance contract with Suhrkamp Publications and only with Suhrkamp Publications, not with the author in any sense.  This performance contract earmarks a lump sum of DM 30,000 for royalities, a provision that is quite independent of the number of performances.  Consequently it is quite clear that this amount is now due, inasmuch as this provision is equally independent of your decision not to undertake additional performances.

We are astonished in the highest degree that you have made this decision without informing your contractual partner, Suhrkamp Publications, and without discussing the situation with Suhrkamp beforehand at all.  You knew that I personally was staying in Salzburg during the premiere and the days immediately after it.  We could have discussed the situation then and there.

According to the terms of our contract, the balance of DM 20,000.00 is due on August 15, 1972.  I would like to ask you to declare to us that you will remit to us this remaining sum of DM 20,000.00 by August 15, 1972.  If the explanation or the sum has not reached us by August 20, 1972, we shall find ourselves compelled to demand the sum on a legal basis.  In this matter it is of decisive significance that the director and the actors are contractually tied exclusively to the Salzburg Festival and that no such ties exist between them and Suhrkamp Publications (let alone between them and the author).  The actions of the director and actors fall within the contractual competence of the Salzburg Festival, because the latter hired the director and actors.  As a consequence of this the present legal situation would not have been different even if, as you write, Thomas Bernhard had given “support” to the director.  The performance rights were granted to the Salzburg Festival by Suhrkamp Publications--and only by Suhrkamp Publications.  The publishing firm alone is your partner in this contract.  At most a writer might be entitled exercise his personal rights by lodging a verbal complaint of negligence; Thomas Bernhard has not formally done this.  Accordingly we are repeating our demand for the immediate remission of the DM 20,000.00 and asking you not to break off negotiations regarding future performances.

We further reserve the right to sue the Salzburg Festival for damages in the event that the scheduled videotaping for television cannot be undertaken.  This taping was agreed upon, and negotiations regarding additional broadcasts are already underway with certain German television networks.  The magnitude of the aforementioned indemnity suit you can work out for yourself.

I regret this course of events to an extraordinary degree, and not only on account of the great material damage all the participating parties, including the Salzburg Festival, must suffer.  The immaterial damage seems even greater to me, in that this decision is preventing the publicization of a highly significant play in the context of a highly significant performance.  I am also personally of the opinion that a solution could have been worked out in conversations with the participating parties.  Unfortunately you have given Suhrkamp Publications no opportunity to mediate in this affair.  I am in future as before and at any time prepared to engage in such mediation.

With friendly regards,
Dr. Siegfried Unseld

  1. On August 7, 1972 Josef Kaut wrote a “registered” letter to Suhrkamp Publications on the stationery of the president of the Salzburg Festival:

“Most honored Sirs!

As you will have already learned from the press coverage, Mr. Peymann, with the support of Thomas Bernhard, has blocked the second performance of The Ignoramus and the Madman.  To this news I may add that Mr. Peymann was already occasioning a number of severe difficulties during the rehearsal period and that our technical stage crew even went on strike after they were referred to as “blue-collar riffraff” by Mr. Peymann.  Consequently we cannot but regret that we complied with the desire of Mr Bernhard and of your firm and engaged Mr. Peymann as a director.

As of now we have only ascertained via our legal representatives that
Mr. Peymann and four members of the cast are in breach of contract, such that their contracts have been terminated and no further objections on their part will be possible.  The role of Thomas Bernhard in the prevention of further performances by means of Mr Bernhard’s telegrams and public remarks is being evaluated by our legal representatives.  You will therefore appreciate that we cannot remit any further honoraria until the facts of the case of have been clarified.

We especially regret that our heartfelt efforts on behalf of the work of Thomas Bernhard have been so faintly acknowledged by the author himself and his friends, and I believe that these gentlemen have done a grave disservice to contemporary theater in Salzburg.”    

Letter No. 203

Frankfurt am Main
August 10, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I sincerely thank you for your letter of August 8.  I felt exactly as you did about this and also relish the exceptionality of the circumstance of a single performance.  But our age is not cut out for publicly celebrating such triumphs.  We should keep them to ourselves, knowing as we do that they will then enjoy their proper after-effects.

By now you will have received the copy of my letter to Mr. Kaut.  I am certain that in our basic stance we are of one mind.  In point of fact the contract could have been jeopardized if you had made your intervention into an expressis verbis suit under the auspices of your “personal rights.”  But this you did not do.  Consequently the contract subsists, and Salzburg must pay up.  But there will be a judicial contest, and here, with regard to this point, I am of a different opinion than you: I think Peymann will lose.  But be that as it may, we must occasionally manoeuvre separately, even while very much thinking in unison.

I thank you for your assent to my letter of August 2, 1972.  You may rest assured that those figures will also tally.  On the security of this letter I am now sending the stipulated DM 20,000 to your account in Gmunden.

Please send off your corrected copy of the play in as soon as possible; we must now advertise the book version intensively.  It of course stands to reason that the demand for the text will now be greater than before.

You are quite right; we should meet soon, and I too am quite cheerfully prepared for that meeting.  I indeed sensed during my last visit that you did not wish to see my stay prolonged, given that you were understandably preoccupied with other people.  So now we shall make up for this with some walking and running and swimming.

with very sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

P.S.: We have compiled here everything about the Salzburg affair that has been published in the papers.  It will all be sent to you today in a separate post.  

Letter No. 204


Dear Dr. Unseld,

Your letter to Mr. Kaut is a masterpiece of resoluteness and clarity.  It corresponds exactly to my own standpoint vis-à-vis Salzburg.  Regarding Kaut’s letter: I personally never offered Peymann any encouragement in this matter; to the contrary, I did everything in my power to allow the performance to take place, but in this endeavor I completely miscarried, as you know.  In full public view, and hence in the presence of hundreds of witnesses, I attempted in person at the theater to allow the performance to take place.  The factuality of this attempt has been corroborated by an array of newspapers.

Kaut’s remark is therefore a completely false allegation.

On the other hand, seeing as clearly as I did the facts of the case, and obviously with all due regard for morality and truth, I was compelled to side with Peymann and his actors, ultimately at the instigation of the scandalously mendacious conduct of Kaut and the board of directors of the Salzburg Festival, and in terms of uncommon asperity, via my telegram1, which has been reprinted everywhere, including (for your information) the FAZ.  For the sake of Peymann and the actors, who have been genuinely defrauded, I have been compelled to place myself in the direct line of fire.  The opinions expressed in my most recent and quite lengthy telegram correspond exactly and entirely to my present sentiments.

And so I have offered Peymann nothing but “moral and public-relational support,” insofar as it has lain in my power to do so.

The idea of trying to forestall the performance never crossed my mind; quite the contrary.  But it is quite clear that I have the greatest and most respectful admiration for the consistency of the director and his actors.

And so as near as I can tell, Salzburg is obligated to pay all royalties and to cover all losses incurred as a result of the conduct of the festival’s board of directors.  Naturally these include a videotaping for television, which in the circumstances is impossible.  

I personally am aggrieved in the extreme owing to the fact that I have been unable to see my play at all since, and that my memory of it must be confined to my impressions from the first dress rehearsal.

There is really no need to go into any further detail on the merits of your letter, especially with regard to such matters, because on every point everything is so excellent that all one can really do is repeatedly acknowledge that you have formulated everything exceedingly well.   

Kaut’s letter contains false allegations, and there is not one sentence in it that has got a reliable leg to stand on.

Peymann’s remark on the “blue-collar riffraff” was ironic in intent and was uttered, amid the general laughter of everyone who overheard it, quite off the cuff, as should be obvious to anyone who knows what Peymann is like.

As to me, I have taken an unequivocal position in my latest telegram, and I shall not publicly express myself any further regardless of what eventually happens.  At no point, including in this telegram, in which I in fact expressly insist that the performances must take place, have I opposed a performance of my play.  That would never have crossed my mind.

But please do make sure you keep me abreast of any further developments having to do with the Salzburgers.

Naturally I thought that the board of directors of the festival were in touch with you from the very beginning of the conflict; the fact that they were not is incomprehensible to me.  As for Peymann and his actors, they ought to shelter themselves by immediately filing a lawsuit against the festival, against Salzburg.  But at the moment I am completely out of touch with Peymann and I have no idea what he is up to and all I can do is wish him clear-headedness, shrewdness, and prudence.

Otherwise, nothing bad can happen to us, even if some unpleasantries ensue. The case is closed.

We can still set our hopes on the Berlin performance on September 5, which I shall probably will be unable to attend, because I must work on Correction, correct Correction.  And what about other performances!?

I can hardly imagine that the production won’t be taped even if it isn’t acted live again, which I also don’t believe will happen; that is a miserable eventuality that I am unprepared for.  

I have just now once again read through your letter to Kaut with the greatest respect and, not to put too fine a point on it, with much admiration.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

P.S.  Perhaps a conversation here between Rach and me a week or maybe ten days from now would be worthwhile, a conversation regarding the very near future of the play and everything having to do with it?!!!

P.P.S. At the moment I am in a little patch of woods in the mountains.2

  1. On August 9, under the headline “Bernhard Protests.  Breach of Contract Alleged,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung printed  Bernhard’s long telegram to Kaut, which had been circulated by the Austrian Press Agency.  The telegram reads in full, “With a cool head I must describe today’s Festival administration-penned public diatribe against Claus Peymann and his ensemble as an infamy and its circumstances as revolting on every level.  You, the Festival administration, accuse Claus Peymann and his ensemble of breach of contract and you yourself broke your contract with Claus Peymann when you first of all broke your promise at the dress rehearsal—same reality in the première as in the dress rehearsal—at the last minute and with great deviousness and thereby imperiled the entire première and falsified the conclusion of the play through your scandalous intervention.  You yourself admitted in a conference with me after the première that you had deceived Peymann in order to safeguard the première.  Via your ambush of an intervention—and quite apart from the fact that the set designer Karl-Ernst Hermann was beaten up by unknown parties behind the scenes, a criminal act from which you have so far not distanced yourself—you have categorically inculpated yourselves of breach of confidence and also, via your arrogant cancellation of future performances, of breach of contract.

The breach of contract is entirely on your part and not on the part of the ensemble, whom I advise to insist on undertaking all future performances at the regional theater.  We are dealing here with the austerity and the incorruptibility of a nerve-racking art and its principles and not with the common subject-matter of some unsavory human-interest daily.  If you should actually cancel the performances, you, and hence the Festival administration, will be guilty of breach of contract, and with respect to everything—even the damages previously incurred.  It is not the ensemble, but rather you who are responsible for the hoaxing of the public.  In these horrible circumstances it is only fitting for the director and the cozened performers to lodge a legal complaint against the Festival administration, because Peymann and his actors, whom I stand by a hundred percent, are categorically in the right, a fact that you personally through your false and, I must say it yet again, infamous braggadocio, are slyly endeavoring to conceal.”

2. Presumably Bernhard means that he is writing from the “Krucka,” his house
   in Gmunden.

Letter No. 205

Frankfurt am Main
August 17, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Your letter of August 11 pleased me a great deal.  I am especially glad that we are of one mind in our basic stance.  Thus shall we be henceforth.

Now for two pieces of good news: quite patently under the influence of my letter, President Kaut wrote on August 14: “We have received your letter of 8.9 and after reviewing our legal position via our attorney, we have ordered the DM 20,000.00 balance of the lump-sum royalty to be remitted to your firm.”

This point is now settled.

Despite this, he grumbles a bit about how “according to Austrian law, the author of a work is required to refrain from making any public statements that run counter to the interests of the theatrical organization that has undertaken to perform it,” but on this remark he cannot possibly build an admissible case against either you or the firm.

And here is the second piece of news: I have just received from UE the news that the videotaping for television will take place on August 23 and 24 in Salzburg.1  Mr. Kaut has affirmed to me that the terms of his contract with ORF will be fulfilled, and we are now also hearing from ORF that the recording must take place.  This news also jibes with what Peymann said to Dr. Rach on the evening of the premiere, namely that no matter what the recording would have to take place; here various interests are naturally impinged upon.

And thus the case is, as you write, closed.

At the moment we have yet to receive any news about Peymann and the actors.  But
Mr. [sic (DR)] Rach will notify you as soon as we have any information.  A conversation between you and Dr. Rach will hardly be possible in the next few weeks, this quite simply because what with this being the start of the theatrical season and a time when so many premieres are warming up, he is thoroughly preoccupied with various current and urgent projects, not to mention that the book fair is casting some rather long shadows.  I am hoping, though, that by the beginning of November it will be a sensible time for a conversation.

I have apprised Max Frisch of our conversations about the Austrian Library because I have of course been discussing with him the parallel plan for a Swiss Library.  I believe these two undertakings would very nicely complement each other.  More on this at some time or other.

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

P. S. You haven’t said a word about the poster that we produced for Salzburg, for the Austrian book trade, and naturally also for the German book dealers, in two versions (one for Austria and another for our book dealers).  I don’t know whether the posters have reached you; in any case, I shall send them to you again (in a separate post).3

  1. During this period, the Vienna-based music and play-publishing firm Universal Edition acted as Suhrkamp Publications’ proxy in the matter of rights to plays in Austria.  The video recording of The Ignoramus and the Madman was broadcast by ORF on November 8, 1972.

  1. The idea for a New Austrian Library at Insel had been mooted back in 1969.  (See Note No. 1 to Letter No. 86.)   The plans for a Swiss Library led to the foundation of a Zurich branch of Suhrkamp at the end of 1973.

  1. Unseld is referring to a poster advertising the publication of The Ignoramus and the Madman in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.   

Letter No. 206


Dear Dr. Unseld,

Here, fourteen days after the contretemps in Salzburg, not a day goes by in which some of the leading articles on the front pages of this nightmarish provincial press do not empty their tub full of vulgarity and perfidy, hypocrisy and wretchedness on to me and my actors and Peymann; I gather up everything that passes before my eyes and into my ears, and out of these materials a monstrous intellectual history of Austrian national Catholically Nazistic stupidity is slowly emerging.  The plain and simple truth is that the animus against movement in nature has all of a sudden found, in blunt terms, an orifice to vent through.  In point of fact this whole affair is a paradigm for others, which are kept under wraps; it is an outrage, and it shouldn’t simply be taken on the chin.

I would like you to do me the favor of commissioning some young man to compile a well-annotated documentary record of all these curiosities in the press, and of having it published in one of your paperback series.

This week the video recording is being made in Salzburg.  I have hooked Peymann and his actors up with the best lawyer in this country, a man who really goes to work for you and is very shrewd: Dr. Michael Stern in Vienna.1

If it proves necessary, I shall naturally once again immediately take a stand on the whole business; but at the moment I have said everything of any importance that I have to say and the affair is not irritating me enough to distract me from my work.  

In the midst of our mendacious age, I am finding Hesse’s Eigensinn2 a thoroughly salutary read.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. On August 17, Karl Ignaz Hennetmair sent Unseld a letter from Hennetmair to the lawyer Michael Stern “for your information and convenience”; from this letter one may learn among other things that Hennetmair and Bernhard had asked Peymann to consult Stern “regarding this case.”

  1. Hermann Hesse’s Eigensinn. Autobiographische Schriften [Obstinacy.  Autobiographical Writings], selected and with an afterword by Siegfried Unseld was published on August 19, 1972 as Volume 353 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.   

Letter No. 207

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); card]

[No location specified]
August 1972


I sincerely would like to thank you for the expressions of sympathy that I received in hospital.

My accident easily could have taken a different turn...and so I know that this time I have overtaxed my guardian angel.  I have had some learning experiences: there is nothing like the social world of a hospital to make one realize what valuable commodities good health and the pleasure of being able to work are.

During my hospital stay I wrote a preface, and afterword, and a speech, all of which I am going to send to you as a token of my gratitude to all of you, who have lavished me with your greetings, best wishes, and presents.  This too has been a learning experience: it is a really fine thing to have friends.

As Nestroy said, “You’re best off if you’re healthy and have got a lot of money, ’cause what good does the poor man’s sickness do him?”1

With sincerest regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. This card has not survived in the firm’s files or in the Thomas Bernhard Archive, but Unseld kept a folder containing all the letters sent to him on the subject of his accident, and Bernhard’s letter (No. 197 above) is in this folder, so he must have been sent the card.   

Letter No. 208

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram]
Frankfurt am Main
September 7, 1972

Berlin performance completed with great success1
sincere regards siegfried unseld

  1. On September 6, 1972 the German premiere of The Ignoramus and the Madman took place at the Schloßpark Theater.  The director was Dieter Dorn and the set designer was Bernd Kister.  Stefan Wigger played the doctor and Lieselotte Rau played the queen of the night.  The emergency lights over the exits remained switched on throughout the performance.

Letter No. 209

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
October 9, 1972

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

The book fair is now behind me, and I am leaving for eight days’ swimming in a southerly body of water.1  

You wish to come to Frankfurt at the beginning of November to give me the manuscript of Correction.  I shall be in Frankfurt on November 1 and 2, then again on the 4th and 5th, hence not November 3, 6, or 8.  And now one more request: we agreed that in September 1973 we were going to announce the publication of a volume entitled Remembering in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  Now admittedly you did not wish to give me the manuscript until the spring, but I must have a few explanatory lines for our announcement.  I know that writing such lines is a pain for you, but we still need some point of reference.  Perhaps you could write me a letter in which you give some thought to this entire undertaking, to Remembering 1, 2, and 3.  Then we will make a text out of it.  I hope you are doing well.

Yours sincerely,
Siegfried Unseld

Typed from dictation by Renate Stensiek after Dr. Unseld’s departure.
  1. Unseld was in Capri between September 8 and 17.

Letter No. 210


Dear Dr. Unseld,

If I were asked to quantify the degree of neglect to which my authorial labor has been exposed for quite some time at Suhrkamp Publications, I would have to describe it as phenomenally large; in the most understated terms, it amounts to an all too conspicuous disregard (I refuse to call it disrespect, for the concept of respect is a taboo one in my mind), a disregard that I find very painful, given that regard is the very least that I can expect.

I would now like to highlight a couple of points to which your reply, or at least your reaction, is essential.

The first one, which at the moment appears to me to be the most important one, is this: that Correction, a manuscript in which I have managed to combine the greatest effort with the greatest of all possible windfalls that is a state of uninterrupted nervous tension, is a text that I wish to see published not in the spring, but rather in the fall of 1973.  There are various reasons for this, all of them serious, but the main reason is that this book, which strikes me |as| the most important thing ever to come out of my head, is one that I simply have no intention of simply lovelessly allowing as per usual to among other things expire (such has been the conclusive fate of my writings at Suhrkamp) within a normal spring schedule.  I wish to see this book prepared for the press with great forethought, and as it is a book that is of paramount importance to me in many respects, I wish to see it “appear” in the fall schedule, at the very top of the list.  And just for once I would like to see all of the custodial energies and all of the characteristic weight of the firm concentrated on my book, a concentration I have yet to witness, for the application of any truly outstandingly weighty exertions to the launching of any of my “more important” books into the abhorrent outside world that is forever yapping at my brain-- a world that is forever getting on my nerves, but never getting into them--is indeed something I have hitherto not witnessed.  In point of fact, as of today not a single one of my so-called novels has been graced by a single advertisement on its behalf in any of the principal newspapers, for example; I find it distasteful to talk about it, but it is essential that I should say something.  You must not forget that however far away I may be I am still extremely knowledgeable about the firm, about its business affairs and its history of successes and failures; that I no longer think of myself as a helpless victim of the purely loveable cavalierness of the routine operations of an apparatus like that of the firm in Frankfurt.  Either my book will receive the greatest possible degree of concentrated attention next fall, or it quite simply will not see the light of day.  I am at a loss for gentler words.

This resolution necessitates the postponement of Remembering to the spring of 1974.2

Just now it occurs to me that last spring during one of our walks you came up with your own (loveable) idea of compiling a volume in which a broad swathe through my entire literary corpus would be cut.  The idea received my interest, my resounding approval.  Since then I have heard nothing about it.  The book was projected for the spring of 1973.

At the same time it occurs to me that about three months ago I proposed the publication of a documentary record of the incidents in Salzburg--my proposal was formulated clearly and in detail, albeit somewhat tersely--for it cannot be disputed that what happened in Salzburg was a genuine outrage.  But if you don’t wish to issue a book like that, then say no explicitly; but don’t just ignore what I have proposed to you.  Being ignored is something I cannot help reviling, no matter whom I being ignored by.  I can well imagine that when you think about issuing a book like that the concept of the undiplomatic immediately pops into your head.  Fine, but after that you must actually say, “That is (would be) undiplomatic.”  Silence about things like this really wears away at me, at my thoughts.  Gratuitously.

The subject of Salzburg has not yet run its course: how can the firm issue a new edition of the Ignoramus that contains all the first one’s typographical errors, errors that are decidedly repellent and distortive of the text’s meaning and that call the very worthwhileness of the book’s existence into question?  Somebody really should have had the time to remind me, perhaps via an express letter or a riskily brusque telegraphic threat, that I needed to send in my corrections.  I find the whole business as hair-raising as I find the edition repellent.  No part of any of this is excusable.

This brings me to a further point: it is impossible, absolutely impossible, for me to rest content with the reprinting of one of my plays in Spectaculum, regardless of the fact that it is an in-house publication, a reprinting that was undertaken entirely behind my back, which is not given to bowing unquestioningly to everything, a reprinting that was  conceived without so much as a by your leave by a big and brawny and therefore rather powerful organizational apparatus.  And this new Boris in Spectaculum is teeming with fresh typographical errors and is once again simply repellent.3

But I most certainly must mention that Rach has disappointed me in a way that defies formulation.  A complete absence of news is something I cannot allow myself to put up with, especially when it comes to news about the theater.  From Rach’s office I have received nothing, apart from a couple of vacuous press releases, moronic cuttings from newspaper reviews.  For example: some moronic bilge about the Berlin performance from some of the minor newspapers, but nothing from the FAZ etcetera.  The coffeehouse is my salvation.  If I had nothing to go on but what the firm tells me, I would think that I must be one of its most unsuccessful authors, who was only very grudgingly being kept on; that is an absurdly distorted view of things.

What is the point of the existence of an office like Rach’s if I never learn about anything having to do with me; nothing about rehearsals, about the casts in Zurich, Vienna, Berlin, Munich?  In cases like this, the apparatuses of big organizations are pointless  apparatuses.  And yet it would be the most natural thing in the world to keep me up to date about everything having to do with my works for the stage.   I am learning a hundred times more, and more important things, on my own than from the firm, from which I learn as good as nothing.  As far as my plays go I am receiving zero support from the firm.  The fact that the theaters are putting on my plays is actually nothing more than my “just desert,” as I unfortunately must say in so many words.  For this much has become clear to me: at Suhrkamp Publications I have no power acting on my behalf, nobody sticking up for me; the word collaboration is a joke.  Anonymous secretaries mail out moronic press releases.  For me, Rach is uninterestedness personified, nothing more.

From Hilde Spiel I heard that you had been urging me to accept the so-called Csokor Prize.4  But I have never received the most passing mention of this prize from you.  And you have never received any mention it from me.  So what is going on?

As far as my new play, or, rather, drama, goes, I shall obviously have to see to everything all on my lonesome once again.  I have no intention of delivering myself up to contingency and indifference any longer.

These reflections could be continued, but I see no necessity of continuing them today.  If we could talk things over in person, that would be much better.  I don’t know of anybody who is more bearish on the so-called literary market than you are.  But the firm really should be required to do its bit.

In conclusion I must ask you to send me a completely precise, detailed statement of my financial transactions with the firm, of all the particulars of all movements of money involving me, apart from the loan and the “usual” ones, beginning with the Salzburg Festival and the videotaping of the Ignoramus, and to do so within the next week, in other words, with pressing speed.  I basically need these documents immediately.5

Yours with sincere regards,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. Bernhard’s letter is inaccurately dated “11.18.72”; on the original in the firm’s archive the “11” has been corrected to a “10.”

  1. As a consequence of this postponement the first volume of Bernhard’s autobiographical narratives, Die Ursache.  Eine Andeutung  [The Cause.  An Indication] was published in 1975 by the Salzburg-based Residenz Publications.  For the history of this text’s origins and publication, see the commentary in Vol. 10, pp. 516ff. of Bernhard’s Works.

  1.  A Party for Boris was published in Spectaculum 17 (pp. 7-64).

  1. The Csokor prize, founded by Richard Weininger, is awarded by the Austrian PEN club and named after the Austrian writer Franz Theodor Csokor, who served as the club’s president between 1947 and 1969.  Bernhard received the prize, which came with a sum of 15,000 schillings, for The Ignoramus and the Madman.  The prize was awarded by Piero Rismondo during a meeting of the PEN club at 8 Bankgasse in Vienna.  Bernhard donated the prize money to the inmates’ welfare fund at Stein prison (see Bernhard’s account of the awarding of the prize in pp. 93-101 of Meine Preise [pp. 91-99 in My Prizes]).    

  1. Bernhard’s papers contain an earlier version of this letter.  It is also inaccurately dated “11.18.72” and reads:

“Dear Dr. Unseld,

I must ask you to answer the questions posed in this letter as soon as possible, to take a stand as quickly as possible on the assertions made in it.  In the first place I must ask you to send me a completely precise, detailed statement of my financial transactions since the Salzburg Festival and the videotaping of my play, and to do so within the next week, in other words, with pressing speed.  This means a comprehensive statement of the particulars of all movements of money involving me, apart from the loan and the “usual” ones.

And to stick to the subject of the theater: I am experiencing the reckless reprinting of the Ignoramus with all those determinative, meaning-distorting, distressing typographical errors as a none-too-seemly personal snub.  How can what has happened happen?  How can one prepare a new edition that simply transfers all the horrible typographical errors from the first edition?  I must ask you to comment on this yourself.  But on the theatrical front, as near as I can tell from here, I have received zero support from the firm, and everything is taking a highly questionable course with no input from me.  For example, from the firm I pretty much never learn anything about the various preparations underway on the stages of Zurich, Munich, or Vienna, and it would be the most natural and in fact the most desirable thing in the world for me to be kept up to date about the various goings on in every case, about the casting decisions, etcetera.  I cannot refrain from drawing Mr. Rach’s attention to his uninterestedness in my work and in me as a person.  I am learning a hundred times more, and more important things, on my own than from the firm, from which I learn as good as nothing.  Whenever I receive a piece of news it is something insignificant and ridiculous that I have known about for ages and that it is incredibly tatty.  Of reviews I am sent only the most moronic press releases (see Berlin performances) and not a single one from a major paper, for example the FAZ, which I can find in any coffeehouse.  If I had nothing to go on but what the firm sends me in the way of reviews, news items, etcetera, I would think myself an extremely unsuccessful writer.  With the best will in the world I cannot in good faith say that anything is actually being done on my behalf, for the fact that a handful of theaters--exceptional ones, to be sure--are putting on my plays is actually nothing more than my pure and just desert, as you unfortunately compel me to say in so many words, and not the desert of the firm.  For this much has become clear to me: at Suhrkamp Publications I have no power who is there for me and can or will ever stick up for me and that I will also have to make my next play on my lonesome.  What is the point of my having a publishing firm in the “background”?  part from anonymous secretaries, who mail me ridiculous newspaper cuttings that I could easily do without, I hear and see nothing.

Rach’s uninterestedness in what I write is easy to discern even without consulting his letters, which contain not a single clear, spirited, or even factually accurate word.

And you yourself let me go for months without hearing anything from you and have yet to answer my crucial questions, which I posed to you nearly three months ago: my questions about the possibility of putting together a documentary record of the incidents in Salzburg.  I you don’t want there to be such a book, then write to me telling me so, but don’t ignore my question.
From Hilde Spiel I heard yesterday that you had told her you had persuaded me to accept the so-called Csokor Prize, but the truth is that we have not let slip a single word about this prize I have certainly not written to you about the prize either.  I don’t know if you read something about it somewhere, but I assume you did.  So did you say anything to Hilde Spiel?  And what was it?

For example, my Boris has been reprinted in Spectaculum with a ton of new typographical errors; I knew nothing about this.  I don’t think any of this will do; in any case it won’t do if I have any say in it.  And there is a whole lot more to be said about the brainlessness of the firm’s organizational apparatus.

I would like to say that on the evidence of its slovenliness and its brainlessness and its indifference I am disinclined to carry on with the firm.  My business is not the business of flightiness and absolute imprecision and brainlessness.

It would be natural to talk about these not exactly very cheerfully submitted findings someday, but I am not about to name a date myself, and it is entirely up to you whether we ever meet again.”

Letter No. 211

Frankfurt am Main
October 20, 1972

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]

Dear Mr. Bernhard--Didn’t you want to come to Frankfurt at the beginning of November?  I have made arrangements for this.  Could you give me a ring between 10 and 12 Monday morning?

sincerely Siegfried Unseld

Letter No. 212

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram]

Frankfurt am Main
October 25, 1972

requesting news by telegram whether visit on saturday in ohlsdorf is possible
regards rach and unseld suhrkamp

Letter No. 213


saturday yes

Letter No. 214

Frankfurt am Main
October 27, 1972

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I couldn’t come to Ohlsdorf on that date, because I have an urgent conference to attend in Zurich.  Nevertheless, I shall be available by phone there (Hotel Atlantis, Zurich: 35.00.00).

I shall try hard to give you an objective account of the events mentioned in your letter of 10.18.1972.

There can be no serious talk about any sort of “conspicuous disregard.”  We have turned your manuscripts into books and have stuck up for your books.  I personally have done so from the very beginning, and so have the firm’s employees, who value you as a significant author.  We have worked especially hard at championing your most recent works, and your most recent play, for which, as you know, we manufactured a special poster.

It is deplorable that the second edition contained so many misprints; nevertheless, the first time round I asked you to send me a corrected copy of the printed edition; you have yet to do this.  Please do it now, so that we can rectify the misprints in a third edition.

My first official business trip after my hospital stay took me to you and to Salzburg.  There we discussed the establishment of clear deadlines for your prospective works.  We talked in particular about how you were planning to spend part of October in Brussels and to come to Frankfurt to give me the manuscript in November.  Clear deadlines were likewise established for the delivery of Remembering 1 and, at the end of the year, for the new play.  For these works I have granted you an options advance1 of DM 20,000, as is stated in my letter of August 2, 1972.  You have acknowledged both the receipt of my letter and the fact that our conversation and our time together in Salzburg was very enjoyable.

After my rather lengthy period as an invalid, I found mountains of acutely important responsibilities waiting for me.  Then came the book fair.  I knew that you were unreachable; I had no Brussels address; I simply awaited your arrival and wrote to you at Ohlsdorf about it once again on October 9.

But instead of you came your letter, which is full of untenable accusations.

Some time ago in Salzburg and Ohlsdorf, we had some genuinely thoughtful arguments that led to a resolution that Correction would be published in the spring and Remembering 1 in September.  For 1973 we envisaged the publication of the new play and, once again in September, Remembering 2.  Then, in the first or second half of 1974, we were supposed to compile a selection of your work, edited by me.  If you could take a look at my calendar of planned projects you would see that this Bernhard Reader is a firm entry in it.  I regard these plans as reasonable, proper, and, above all, optimal from the point of view of efficiency.  With your new decision not to allow Correction to be published in the spring of 1973, you are not only throwing all these well thought-out plans into chaos but also diminishing the impact of your work.

My experience has taught me that it is better for a new Bernhard novel, a work whose significance I take for granted as a matter of course, to appear in the spring rather than in the fall.  In the fall all the book-dealers, and unfortunately all the critics as well, are too strongly oriented to the purely commercial objectives of the book market.  An important literary book will be noticed much more intensely by both the book-dealers and the critics in the first half of the year than in the second, when the glut of newly published titles basically precludes such attention.  For important and fast-selling titles we have in place a full-fledged strategy of releasing them in the spring and then in the fall allowing them to claim their due as books that are already well-known and much-talked about.  Let me remind you of the examples of Bachmann’s Malina, and, in  the present year, Max Frisch’s Diary, Handke’s Short Letter / Long Farewell and Martin Walser’s Gallistial Illness.  All of these books appeared in the spring and for that very reason enjoyed their greatest sales in the fall, and if you study the firm’s advertisements, you will see that in, for example, the current number of Die Zeit we are promoting the books from the first half rather than the fall of 1972.  For me it is quite clear: your book will achieve a greater impact if we issue it in the spring.  If you decide differently, that is your affair.  I must say this to you quite bluntly.

I need comment only briefly on your other points.  I would not care to publish a documentary record of the incidents at the Salzburg regional theater; the subjective characteristics of this incident do not lend themselves to clearly objective treatment.

You wished to speak with Dr. Rach and me about the new play during your visit to Frankfurt at the beginning of November. I assume that this conversation can now take place with Dr. Rach.

I spoke briefly with Hilde Spiel at the award ceremony for Canetti at the book fair.  She communicated to me the idea of your receiving the Austrian prize, and I told her I would speak with you about it when I next saw you, at the beginning of November.

I am sorry that we did not inform you of the inclusion of Boris in Spectaculum; that was an error, although I had to assume you could only be highly pleased at such an inclusion (obviously with an accurate text).  And so we will incorporate the Ignoramus into the issue after next of Spectaculum, that is to say in No. 19, the fall 1973 issue.

I have already written to you about the compilation volume.  I would propose our issuing it either in the first or the second half of 1974, as we agreed we would way back when.  I would be happy to give you an overview of the state of your accounts, especially as from it you will be able to get a sense of the firm’s commitment to the author Thomas Bernhard.  The statement corresponds point by point with my letter of August 2, 1972.

I would be pleased if we could stick to the deadlines we agreed upon for the delivery of your manuscripts.  Once again: for Correction spring is the best deadline.  But in order to make this possible, Dr. Rach must bring the manuscript back with him.  If he does not do this, then it will no longer be possible or permissible to to prepare the manuscript for publication in the first half of 1973, because we must now finalize the announcement and establish the main points of the schedule.  If you hand the manuscript of Correction over to Dr. Rach, you may be certain that we will champion this book both passionately and vehemently.  What is more, I am obsessed with the idea of introducing this book to a larger circle of buyers and readers.  But I need the optimal conditions for doing this, which means a launch in the spring and the manuscript now and directly.

I am counting on your personal good sense and remain with sincere regards
your old friend,
Siegfried Unseld                                 

Enclosure: statement of accounts from 10.24.72


Remittances Credits Total
  1. OLD WORKS Account

Amras, Frost, Verstörung,
Boris, Watten, Prose,
Ungenach, Lime Works,

Balance after credit
note from 11,000 copies
of st edition of Frost 195.44

Loan 9.2.1971 15,000.00____________                                 
Balance 14,804.56 14,804.56

a) Salzburg
our remittances
on account 20,000.00
Royalty billing 6/72 7,500.00
Royalty billing 9/72 15,000.00
Balance 2,500.00 remitted on

b) TV and theater
Loan 1.9.1971 20,000.00
Royalty billing 9/72 3,936.26
Balance 16,063.74 16,063.74

Remittance 8.16.1972 for
BS Ignoramus, BS Remem-
bering, the novel Correction,
es Atzbach, New Play ______________20,000.00 20,000.00

IV. NEW WORKS account
Balance 15,919.67
(plus ongoing monthly
remittances through
8.31.73/11 x 1,000.00) (11,000.00)________________15,919.67
     DM 66,787.97
dr. u. / ze.--
  1. Bernhard underlined “an options advance” and wrote a question mark in the margin of the letter.

Letter No. 215

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
November 3, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

You have not replied to my letter of October 27, which I sent to you via Dr. Rach.  I must therefore assume that the written account of his encounter with you given to me by Dr. Rach is to serve as this reply.1  The two of us would have had much to discuss, but in this letter I am going to restrict myself to presenting you with a summary of the financial situation.  There is one issue that I must deal with at the outset: you declared to Dr. Rach that you while you had indeed read my letter of August 2, you had not completely understood it.  Despite this, I am going to refresh your memory:

  1. During my most recent visit to Salzburg on July 29-30, you requested an additional remittance of DM 20,000.00.  I assured you that I would think about it and give you my answer promptly.  This I did in my letter of August 2; in that letter I gave you a summary of your financial situation and tendered you a proposal on whose acceptance I made contingent the issuing of the
DM 20,000.00.

  1. You explicitly acknowledged the receipt of my letter of August 2, conceived of my visit as a pleasant event, and regarding the treatment of the DM 20,0000 as advances and options for future publications, you wrote that you “naturally would accept the whole thing.”  On the basis of this acceptance I then remitted to you the sum of DM 20,000.    

I have done this by way of clarifying the current course of events.

You just now argued to Dr. Rach that the proceeds from your play The Ignoramus and the Madman had not changed your financial situation.  And indeed the basic situation could not have changed in so short a time, because we had already issued you two payments of DM 20,000 each, in other words DM 40,000, at your urgent desire, with a view to proceeds from this play.  I am convinced that this play will bring in more than DM 40,000, but that will take time.  But so far the situation cannot have changed, owing to those two advances.

If Dr. Rach understood you correctly, you were interested in having all remittances apart from the monthly ones offset by your television account for The Ignoramus and the Madman.  In concrete terms what that means is that you are interested in having
DM 50,000 offset by the television proceeds of that one play.  This is not a possibility for the firm.

I have given some thought to your situation; as you of course know I am hardly indifferent to it.  Accordingly I am going to tender you two proposals that I have come up with myself, and I must ask you to consider them coolly.

1st Proposal:  Please read through the financial overview of October 24 once  again.  I am  enclosing it again now.  My first proposal amounts to a proposal to consolidate Accounts I and II, i.e., I am prepared to transfer the 2.9.1971 loan of DM 15,000.00 to the Ignoramus and the Madman account.  We would then pay off the loan exclusively by means of this play.  Should the revenues not attain DM 55,000.00 we would be liable for the shortfall.  Should the revenues exceed DM 55,000.00, they would again be applicable as credits, and specifically to Account IV.
This solution entails no changes to Accounts III or IV.

2nd Proposal: I know your predilection for generous, quote-secured, long-term  solutions.  Whence this proposal: that we should set up a five-year contract effective beginning on January 1, 1973 and consisting of the following terms:
  1. As stated in the 10.24 overview, your account is now encumbered with a debt of ca. DM 66,000.00.
  2. Beginning on January 1, 1973, we shall remit to you DM 1,400.00 (fourteen-hundred) per month.  By 12.31.1977 these remittances will amount to DM 84,000.00.  By then the firm will have remitted DM 150,000.00 to you.  
  3. At some point in 1973 or ’74 that is convenient for you you will augment our hitherto established publication and performance rights by giving us three new manuscripts:
The novel Correction.
Your new stage play.
The volume Remembering 2 [sic (DR)1a] for the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.
You will be transferring to us all rights pertaining to these manuscripts, meaning not only publication but also performance, radio, film, and television rights.
The sum of DM 150,000.00 is to be offset by all revenues we receive  from your previously published works and from the three new manuscripts.
4) During the five-year contractual period we will not be billing each other; the billing statements will be compiled only internally by the firm’s accounting department in conformity with the paragraphs pertaining to honoraria in the contracts.  On December 31, 1977 we will draw a line under this collection of accounts and begin anew on January 1, 1978, regardless of what the internally generated statements look like.
5) You are to pledge to request no additional remittances from the firm during this period, with the following exceptions: during this five-year period you will--as I hope, and as this is the point of this agreement--write additional works.  You are to offer the manuscripts and rights that emerge during this period to Suhrkamp Publications.  We will then jointly agree upon sensible advances for these works (advances that will also subsequently be applied to the monthly remittances).  If you fail to fulfill your pledge, this will constitute an abrogation of the contract on your part.  Then the monthly remittances will immediately cease.  You will subsequently receive honoraria only once the total balance has been paid off with the proceeds from honoraria or royalties.

I sincerely would like you to think through this offer precisely.  The offer notably releases you from the fear of any further accumulation of debt.  The remittances that we will issue you will not be advances but guarantees.  It will now be our affair whether by means of the works that already belong to us we manage to amortize the DM 150,000.00 in honoraria by 12.31.1977; in any case we must (and will) make an especially strenuous effort to do so.  On the other hand, you now know your total income in advance, so you can ponder the adequacy of this guarantee to your needs.  My proposal is centered on the five years’ proceeds from your already-extant works, a class within which I have judiciously included the novel, the new play, and Remembering 1 on the understanding that you have effectively already finished them.  The point of this agreement is to provide you with a material basis for your continuing activity as a writer by means of  augmented (and I am sure you noticed the augmentation) monthly remittances, to disburden us of these decidedly disagreeable questions, and to safeguard the productivity of our conversation.

This is a one-time offer that I am tendering you.  You will understand this.  You will also understand the motives of this offer: the considerable regard that the firm owes you as its significant author, and my personal esteem for you.

I am ready to make this commitment.  Are you?  I await your reply.2

with warm regards,
Siegfried Unseld            
  1. In his Travel Journal Ohlsdorf, October 28 and 29, 1972, which is an account of his meeting with Bernhard in Ohlsdorf, Rudlf Rach wrote: “Thomas Bernhard’s reception of me was thoroughly cordial.  He made tea, and we began our discussion.
The first thing I did was deliver Mr. [sic (DR)] Unseld’s letter (Letter No. 214) to him.  He indignantly declared that the letter was not a reply to his own letter.  He reacted completely emotionally, and was some time before it was possible to address the individual points of the letter directly.  Even then we did not manage to have a discussion along rational lines.  His huffiness overshadowed everything and made it possible to address only two of the points really concretely.

Correction will not be able to be published next spring.  He believes that either next fall or the spring of the following year is the best place for the manuscript.  But all this was something of a side issue for him.  He devoted especially emphatic attention to the finance report.  He was genuinely flustered by the figures.  Only with great difficulty was it possible to explain the individual items to him.  But even this did not ultimately prevent him from concluding that the figures were inaccurate; they could not add up, he said, because before Salzburg [the contract for the premiere of The Ignoramus and the Madman] his debt level was approximately the same as now.  So something fishy was going on.  He had, he said, unequivocally declared to Dr. Unseld and Ms. Ritzerfeld that the videotaping of the Salzburg production was to take place only on condition that the debt from all advances to date, with the exception of the monthly remittances, would be paid off by the revenues from the recording.  I tried to make it unequivocally clear to him what an impossible scheme that would have been.  It was not only, I said, that the recording would have been left hanging by a silken thread.  The ORF, I said, would have found the approximately DM 50,000.00 completely unacceptable, and they certainly would have dropped the project had Bernhard or the firm pressured them to accept it.  To this argument Bernhard had nothing to say but that it would have made no difference to him if they had dropped it; he said he was not in the habit of selling himself short, and in any case he could have always embarked on some other money-making project.  In saying this he forgot that in such a case the debt from advances would rise to to an even higher sum.

But every attempt at a sensible discussion ended in evasive shuffling on his side.  Even my report on the plans for performances of his plays was met with anything but joy, although he had every reason to be pleased with it.  In the upcoming season no fewer than nine theaters would be putting on his two plays.  That was of no interest to him, he said, because the only thing he cared about was getting a single good performance.  Of what interest were Essen and Krefeld to him; he said that this was all basically superfluous.  I asked him if he really only wrote for himself.  And astonishingly enough he answered yes.  Coolly, but in apparent oblivion of the inconsistencies in his conduct.  Residenz Publications also came into play.  Why, he wanted to know, was it possible to sell 5,000 copies of The Italian [see Note 1 to Letter No. 157] there, while our sales figures lagged far behind that?  He said that the firm looked to him like a kind of co-op, and that he had no interest in joining its membership rolls.  In plain terms: he is expecting special treatment.

Eventually we broke off the discussion and spent the evening with friends.

We had another appointment for the next morning.  There were three points that he brought up once again.  Correction will not under any circumstances be published next spring.  Secondly, he is asking us to pay off the debt from all advances paid to him to date--apart from the monthly remittances--with income from videotaping of The Ignoramus and the Madman for television.  If we do not grant him this request, Suhrkamp will cease to receive manuscripts from him.

In the third place we agreed that he would undertake nothing on his own on behalf of the new play.  It is firmly settled that he will send us the manuscript as soon as he is finished with it.  He thinks that will be around the beginning of January.  He has already made the initial approaches towards securing Peymann for another production.  Karl-Ernst Herrmann and Moidele Bickel are also evidently willing to work for him again.

Before my departure I once again asked him about the manuscript for Atzbach. He does not believe it can be brought to completion.  We must therefore now accept the abortiveness of this text as a permanent certainty.

At around midday we parted.  As he had observed that his requests had not been ineffectual, he tried to lighten the atmosphere.  So something like optimism made an appearance.

We must make him an offer.”
1a. The 2 should be a 1, as it is when Unseld mentions the memoir-volume later, after the conclusion of the proposals.  (DR)

2. Evidently as part of the preparations for a reply, Bernhard made a number of notes on the first two pages of this three-page letter:

At the top of Page 1:

“Documentary record --
--Touch on and cap off
TV screw-up--

I must say I would have kept out of it more (this has to be left open to me; hence no 5-year obligation)
now I was banking on a balanced account
Theater negotiations only with me.  Ancillary rights too skimpy, dissipation that I cannot accept
Man traps lurking in blather about options in letters
There must be no haggling!

At the bottom of Page 1:
“Account covered, therefore new debt justifiable.”

On Page 2:

All accounts together in 1. Old works--from now on
new: Correction / Play / Remembering & encumbered with 40,000,00
but to me to a high degree
Old works account covered, as you yourself say!  So new works open.
Film Frost free then with 20,000.00
the 1,000.00 (I could make do with it.
don’t obligate for so long a time, which hamstrings, so only 2 years.
within which

Remembering 1 --

--for these 40,000 in compensation
obviously Suhrkamp is to provide everything!

Unseld's November 3, 1972 letter to Bernhard with Bernhard's handwritten comments

Letter No. 216


Dear Dr. Unseld,

I acknowledge receipt of your letter of November 3.

As I have already told Dr. Rach, I need a “fully detailed” account statement of honoraria for the year 1971; I cannot accept those communicated to me first by Rach and then by you.

Please send me such a statement in all its detail, a statement that includes everything, the complete collection of “items,” such as theatrical performance options, reprintings, radio broadcasts, the translation rights for Gallimard, Sweden, etcetera.  Your “statement” contains none of these details.

Without such a meticulous account statement I cannot make any decision whatsoever regarding our further collaboration.  Only after receiving such a meticulous breakdown of everything, even down to the most insignificant points, can I accept your proposals.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

Letter No. 217


Dear Dr. Unseld,

In yesterday’s letter I was obviously asking for a meticulous statement of my accounts not only for 1971, but also for the entirety of 19711, all the way through to the present.

In addition I am requesting the precise contractual conditions under which you finalized your agreement with ORF Television regarding The Ignoramus and the Madman, as well as copies of the complete correspondence between the firm and ORF on this point.

Thomas Bernhard

  1. Bernhard doubtlessly means 1972.

Letter No. 218

Frankfurt am Main
November 16, 1972

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 11.7.  Ms. Roser will give you the account statements; the terms of the contract with ORF were defined by Universal Edition; you of course know in what a hurry the latter had to happen.  Incidentally, next year we will end our partnership with Universal Edition and thenceforth look after our rights in Austria ourselves.  

It is too bad that I couldn’t meet with you in Salzburg on Tuesday.  That of course would have been a great opportunity for discussing a few things.

with warm regards
(Typed from dictation by Renate Steinsiek after Dr. Unseld’s departure for the PEN conference.)

Letter No. 219



Dear Dr. Unseld,

Last Tuesday it was impossible for me to go to Salzburg and to meet with you; such an encounter is long overdue for all sorts of reasons, and I desire nothing more at the moment than to pace to and fro with you and to clarify unclear thoughts, to disentangle entanglements, and frankly, honestly, and thoughtfully to reestablish for the long term the self-evidence and necessity of our collaborative joint future.

Unease and doubt and the startlingly sudden apparent deterioration of a relationship can do no harm, provided that they facilitate the germination of more seasonable thoughts and the laying of new tracks.  And I do indeed think that we have reached a point at which a radical cut must be made between the past and the present.  It is time for a multitude of trifling details that blur the integrity of the basic concept to be cleared away; pettiness, ridiculousness, deserves no respect from anyone.

The basic route is as plain as day, consisting as it must in my ceasing to allow past vexations, and perhaps also past disappointments (on both sides),  to irritate me, and I think you think the same and I believe that the stops at the minor and minuscule stations should be stricken from the timetable, so that our train, even if it doesn’t chug along towards its destination at a mindlessly breakneck speed, still reaches it with the appropriate and greatest possible degree of safety.  I write this in full consciousness of the fact that there is absolutely no such thing as a reachable destination.

In this letter I am not going to go into the single noteworthy problem that exists between us, the financial problem; the financial problem is the contents of the second letter, which is attached to this first letter; these lines must, I insist, have no connection to the financial problem.  And yet it is necessary for the subject of finances to be decisively settled for another two-year term, and I hope this can be done before the end of this year.

Vis-à-vis all the issues, we must not forget that they are in the final analysis absolutely no cause for any fundamental shake-ups.

In the second letter, after what I believe to be mature deliberation, and no longer under the burdensome auspices of the legalistic formula “to the best of my knowledge and belief,” I tender to you my Proposal No. 3, which should be acceptable to both of us; this after having failed to reconcile myself to the your first and second proposals of November 3, for these proposals have in point of fact been tendered if not out of malicious motives--as they obviously have not been--then out of a lack of knowledge of my person.  It should be clear that I am a staunch opponent of rentierism and serfdom.  You know me all too well as a pugnacious individualist.  My personal freedom must remain sacrosanct, and any agreement I am subject to can only be one that furthers my existence and hence my work and not one that constrains my existence and indeed hamstrings it.  This is clear.

I am reading a lot of Voltaire these days.

Allow me--because the event, unlike most others, meaning ninety-nine percent of them, is too significant to ignore--to congratulate you on the results of this past weekend’s election in Germany.  It feels to me as though this country that is so important for all of us--but that, as we know, is in the end unfortunately catastrophically pernicious to the entire European order centered on it--has been reborn over the weekend.  The nativity of this new country of yours cheers me up; it makes me happy!1

Please now direct the whole of your attention to the second letter and comment on my proposal as soon as you possibly can.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. The November 19, 1972 parliamentary election ended with a victory for the Social Democratic Party under Chancellor Willy Brandt; this was the first time the SDP became the largest faction in the Bundestag.

Letter No. 220



My dear esteemed Dr. Unseld,

As is attested by the excerpts from your accounting ledger that I received yesterday from Ms. Roser, there can be absolutely no doubt that I have been a far better advocate for my works vis-à-vis the so-called cultural concerns, meaning above all the broadcasting institutions and the theater, than the firm, which, in virtue of its great size is less capable of showing consideration for individual authors in its dealings with these colossal cultural organizations, and, as instanced by my case, as must be frankly expressed, has been doing these authors more harm than good--at least since a certain moment in time.  I personally cannot tolerate such a state of affairs, and I also quite fail to see why out of mere self-neglect, given that I naturally cannot be indifferent to such transactions, I should blithely renounce the considerable sums of money due to me from them.  You yourself can understand this better than anyone else.  The excerpts from the ledger prove that the considerable sums of money received are an expression of my personal initiative; this proof is established by two pieces of evidence: the first centers on my play Boris, for which without the slightest difficulty I determined and attained the honorarium that the ORF was obliged to pay and that the firm then regarded as a utopian sum; the second on The Ignoramus and the Madman (a title not unpregnant with meaning in the context of this letter), for which in Salzburg I single-handedly conducted the negotiations and brokered my honorarium.  I must say I did so without the slightest resistance and attained a sum that the firm had again regarded as doubly utopian.  Quite apart from the great success and the high quality of the performance, which were in the final analysis largely attributable to my judicious casting recommendations, if I had been dealing with the ORF in person, I would certainly have received at least an additional thirty thousand marks--indeed, probably, as I know for a fact, forty-thousand for the videotaping rights, had I been apprised by the firm of the difficulties it was having with the ORF negotiators.  I would have had an entirely different set of them, the top-ranking ones (or one).  And so I would have managed to receive a forfeiture fee of at least thirty thousand.  This fact is all the more dolorous for me in that, as I expressly told the firm, as you will recall, I was working with that very sum in the calculation of my personal finances.  And thanks to this lapse of attention on the firm’s part I have been brought as of this moment--after having been and continued to be marooned amid a series of financial hassles here--to a desperate pass.  Among other things my neighbor has been blackmailing me with the threat of building (on legally defensible grounds) a pig-fattening plant on my doorstep; the costs associated with resisting this threat amount to as much as 200,000 schillings; the ever-so-hypocritical environmental protection laws afford me no protection against it; repayment on a bond I took out long ago has fallen due, etcetera...I will spare you the details.  But all these things, unpleasant though they are, would have been cleared out of the way long ago if my conception of everything, which would have taken no skin off anybody’s nose, had been the governing one.  

Your yourself know full well that via my corpus of prose works, which now as ever I regard as the most important of my works, and with which I have been busying myself year-in, year-out, I have never once attained a level of income as high as that of my neighbor, who works as a laborer in the gravel pit, a circumstance that I have resigned myself to; but the fact that vis-à-vis these colossal enterprises, these governmental institutions for stultification, which in their very structure are nothing but monumental exploitative enterprises of imbecility, gigantic bulwarks of tastelessness that throw billions out the window every year for the sole purpose of hoodwinking the people of Europe and of the rest of the world, the fact that in relation to these mendacious cultural breast tumor-like enterprises, in other words the broadcasters and the theaters, I am immured in a kind of deplorable, perverse authorial impotence that cannot by any means be either justified or excused, is a fact that I cannot tolerate any longer; I find this unbearable and I am naturally not about to resign myself to it.  Before I give so much as a single schilling to a single theater or to a single broadcasting network, to any of these mondiale and monumental cultural lawbreakers between Stavanger and Brindisi, I will give a hundred free readings as the most abominable sort of face-pulling clown, in other words as a so-called freelance writer, in every possible house of correction, insane asylum, nursing home, and kindergarten, and find my bliss that way.  That would reset the whole thing onto an even footing.  I am revolted by the fact that the Hamburg playhouse reportedly has netted a total of DM 1,341.01 (note the point-zero one) from the premiere of my Boris; this fact is a piece of baseness behind which perfidy lurks with dagger drawn.  This list of perfidy and of the abhorrence called forth by it may be extended at will: the Zurich playhouse, Boris DM 605.97, the Graz playhouse DM 570.34 etcetera.  Not to mention the ancillary rights in prose, which seamlessly fit into this character sketch of the cultural world.  Not that I have anything to do with this cultural world.  I couldn’t care less that at a hundred theaters my work is being made a hash of for a song and my ideas are being trivialized, travestied, and dragged through every last actorial and general-managerial square inch of mud in the German-speaking world; all of this simply makes me lose my temper; I am concentrating all my energies on a few outstanding ensembles, with whom I can achieve something roughly conforming to my conception, and this only when I can expect to receive an appropriate amount of money.  So much for my plays.  As for my prose works, the only thing I care about is that they should appear in accurate, typographical error-free Suhrkamp Publications editions that make me happy; it makes no difference to me if some unbearable squawking is squeezed out of them and the broadcasters for DM 22.87 or if the newspapers reprint them for their asinine readers for DM 13.74.  As far as I am concerned, my name cannot appear in the newspapers or on radio and television seldom enough.  When I hear my name emanating from a radio, I picture myself lying in a pile of mud; when I read my name in a newspaper, I feel as though I am in a cesspit.

Back to the extracts from the accounting ledger, for which I am sincerely grateful to Ms. Roser.  They have been correctly adduced, to my great admiration.  But I would never dare to show these accounting figures to any of the people in my neighborhood, who are all completely “normal,” all endowed with so-called natural sensibilities and with commendable competencies in their vocations; all these people would think I was insane.  And I myself am burying my face in my hands and with this this manual face burial I am rounding out this preface to Proposal No. 3, which I am about to submit to you here and which I shall attempt to indite with the greatest possible brevity, without digressing; this proposal regarding all past and future collaboration reads as follows:

  1. That all the various hitherto-existing accounts should be consolidated into a single account named OLD WORKS, so that it will be clear that I, for whatever reasons (and from now on these reasons will never be spoken of again) have accumulated an effective debt level of DM 66, 787.97 to the firm.  This debt level will be reduced via payments from the newly established self-contained OLD WORKS account.  This provision would be secured above all by all future revenues from The Ignoramus and the Madman.

  1. That all existing contracts associated with all works hitherto published by the firm, including The Ignoramus and the Madman, should be in full effect until the cutoff date of 1.1.1973.

  1. That effective 1.1.1973 a new account named NEW WORKS should be established.  The first three texts to be included in this account, and to be included in it by the end of the first half of 1973, are the following ones, which I will have already completed:

Correction (a novel)
Remembering, Vol. 1
The third play

Regarding the two prose works, the firm is to have the right to issue them in unlimited print runs.  All ancillary rights are to remain in my possession.  Notwithstanding this, in the event that any revenue is generated by these ancillary rights, the firm is to receive a 25-percent share of it.

Regarding the play, I intend, in concert with the firm, to choose the site of the first performance and to fix my honorarium at whatever figure I deem adequate.  Here, too, all ancillary rights are to remain in my possession; and notwithstanding this, in the event that any revenue is generated by these ancillary rights, the firm is to receive a 25-percent share of it.  The prospective venues of all performances of my play subsequent to its premiere are to be selected by me in concert with the firm.  The firm is to be allowed to issue the play as a book in unlimited print runs.

4. That from 1.1.73 onwards the payments of DM 1,000 remitted to me each month by the firm should be restricted to a period of two years and offset by sums drawn from the NEW WORKS account.

5. That by January 15, 1973 the firm should issue a one-time advance payment of DM 40,000, to be posted to the debit column of the NEW WORKS account.

6. That the honorarium of DM 20,000 that I have negotiated with ORF for the film adaptation of Frost should be remitted to me in consequence of my signing a contract directly with the ORF.  (I gave my consent to the adaptation yesterday.)

I very much hope you accept my proposal; it is both fairer and more quantitatively lucrative to both parties than any arrangement we have worked with so far.

with every confidence in you
Thomas Bernhard
Letter No. 221

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram]

Frankfurt am Main
December 5, 1972

reply to 11.22 letter being posted today
regards siegfried unseld

Letter No. 222

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
December 5, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I thank you for your two letters dated November 22.  As was fitting, I let them sit for a few days so as to allow myself time to think through my reply exhaustively.  We both know what is now at stake.

I shan’t now dwell any further on the background of our deliberations; as you write, we should not devote any great amount of attention to “pettiness and ridiculousness.”  Let us quickly come to the financial problem.

But I have two remarks to make before that:

  1. It has never been my design to subject you to a condition of “rentierism and serfdom.”  If you consider my proposal precisely, you will see that it frees you of all concrete bookkeeping calculations; the firm would bear the greater share of the risk, but on the whole this proposal apportions that risk on a scale of sympathy and fairness.  I am of the opinion that it is still the best of all possible proposals, and you yourself may come to see that it is someday.
  1. You execute your work; you do so this to the extent that you have the means to do so.  Nothing else that comes from the firm matters; nothing that comes from my own personal work or from the work of my associates.  In an extreme case, an Austrian media institution may concede more to an Austrian author than to a publishing firm.  In the long run it is the effectiveness of the publishing firm’s work that makes the overall difference.  But we must be free to showcase you; that is our very raison d’être.  There are thus certain “essentials” that we cannot forgo,  regardless of the consequences.

But now to my response to your proposals.  To the sum of 66,787.97 you wish to add three monthly (October / November / December) remittances; in that case we are dealing with a sum of ca. DM 70,000.00.  We should use this figure as our starting point.
  1. I am content with the idea of our consolidating Accounts I, II, and III into an “Old Works” account.  This account would retain a sum of DM 50,000.00, which would be the sum of DM 70,000.00 minus the option advance of DM 70,000.00, which we listed under Point III.
The amortization will take place in the usual way; i.e., all revenues from all works up to and including The Ignoramus and the Madman and Walking will be subtracted from this sum.
  1. On the cutoff date of 1.1.1973 we will set up a new account called “New Works.”  The options payment of DM 20,000.00 will be drawn from this account.
  2. We will continue to issue you monthly remittances of DM 1,000 for a period of approximately two years.
  3. After the delivery of the novel the firm will issue you a one-time advance of
DM 20,000, which will be posted to the “New Works” account.
On 12.31.1974 this “New Works” account will (if we initially disregard the honoraria revenues for concision’s sake) be encumbered with the following sums:
  1. Options payment DM 20,000.00 20,000.00
  2. Payment upon delivery of Correction
DM 20,000.00 20,000.00
c.  Running remittances for 2 years
DM 24,000.00 24,000.00
Total 64,000.00
This still has yet to be augmented by the payment that we have promised you  according to Point 6 (on the Salzburg model that would mean that you would have to be paid 75% of DM 30,000.00, hence DM 20,0000.00.  In this case the account balance would rise to a total of DM 86,500.00)

My dear Thomas Bernhard, this is a rather incomparable total.  But you will understand that on account of it the firm must have the revenues from the ancillary rights so that the figure can be reduced in reality, even if the sums in question are quite small.
  1. Immediately after receipt of the ORF honorarium for the filming of Frost we will remit you your share in the amount of DM 20,000.00.
  2. In the event that you--or the firm--manage to negotiate a higher-than-average honorarium for the new play, the firm is prepared immediately to pay you your share directly and not to post the sum to the “New Works” account.
  3. At some point in 1973 you will deliver to us the manuscripts of Correction, Remembering, and the third play.
We will assume central and  ancillary rights to the two prose works, but we are prepared to take heed of your directives regarding ancillary rights; i.e., we could e.g. block all pre-printings and re-printings, but we would have to come to a clear solution to this.  If for no other reason than that if we didn’t you would be deluged with letters of inquiry and the whole thing would take on ludicrous dimensions.
  1. Regarding the new play, being mindful of your remonstrations, we shall accept the following conditions:
  1. You--in concert with the firm--will determine the respective locations of premieres and first performances, casts, and honoraria, in the Federal Republic, Switzerland, and Austria.  The contract in each case will be finalized by us.  All further negotiations must be conducted by the theatrical publications division; the division’s overall work structure does not permit any alternative.
  2. It is self-evident that deals for film and television can be concluded only with your consent.

Please think these proposals over on your end; their material implications are apparent enough.  My obligation to post the options advance of DM 20,000 to the “New Works” account accords with the gentlemen’s agreement to which we have unstintingly adhered so far; the same is true of this options payment’s conferral on us of de jure publication rights to the new novel, Remembering, and the third play, and I am of the opinion that this fact should also be noted in our internal accounting records.

And please also bear in mind that it is essential to the entirety of your work for there to be a place that is maintaining this oeuvre; anything else would ultimately prove detrimental to your work.  And I am also of the opinion that it is your business to write your works and to worry about their initial because essential placement, but that their subsequent maintenance as well as the maintenance of your security and reputation should be our business.  And please also bear in mind that beyond the material revenues it may be important if a reader, a person in Graz, Zurich, or Hamburg, is affected by a word written by you, and that out of such moments is formed the layer of humus from which the effect of Thomas Bernhard’s work will grow over the long run.

with warm regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

Letter No. 223


Dear Dr. Unseld,

Your letter of December 5 is a very good foundation for the path ahead that your firm and I intend to pursue together; this intention is something that I wish to emphasize with the utmost distinctness, and I really do think of this letter as a veritable compact that we have already sealed and that will be effective from 1.1.73 onwards; in all future matters of doubt, this letter will be called to mind, and once it has been I believe there will be no difficulties.  And so from now on all fine points are to be formulated in a way that gibes with the substance of this letter.  There is literally not a single line that needs to be stricken through on my end.

Now the only thing left for me to do is offload the goods, disburden myself of the manuscripts.  This is how that is looking to me as of now: in the middle of January you will be receiving the play; in mid-March the novel, as well as Remembering at some point in the spring.  As you know, I have always found it a good idea, a necessity, to hold on to a manuscript until I can relinquish it without feeling any unbearable pangs of anxiety or panic (you read aright!).  I have long since firmly settled on the title of the play; it is going to be called The Hunting Party; our (and not only our) age, our epoch, etcetera, is nothing but a single hunting party.  But you will learn all about its subject-matter in detail from the manuscript.  Right now I have yet another request: that the play should again be issued in the BS; you know I love this series of books, for all sorts of understandable, glorious reasons.  And as I imagine the play will be performed in the winter of ’73-’74 (exactly where is something I now intend to investigate), it should be issued at around that time.  This because you must of course keep your famous and ever up-to-date paperback schedule topped off in a sufficiently timely manner.  Please unfold your most important sheet of paper and in the most auspicious spot thereof write The Hunting Party, to which, not without a certain degree of revulsion (in the aftermath of that financial discourse), you may append my name.

The play features a writer who already, at the very outset, is destined to be played by Bruno Ganz; this idea is my starting point and all my future effort will be vectored from it.

I shall be meeting Ganz in Vienna in mid-January.

I really don’t want to write a letter of any great length because I really do believe we will be meeting and talking things over soon enough.  The question of when, which I have already posed, you have yet to answer.  Perhaps you could fly to Salzburg and back for a couple of hours at some point.

I am now becalmed and feeling not unfortunate to be yours
Thomas B.

Letter No. 224

Frankfurt am Main
December 21, 1972

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Your letter of 12.15 is a thing of enormous importance.  We agree in a way that reciprocally reinforces our positions.  Mrs. Ninon Hess once told me that in money matters friends should behave towards each other as if they were enemies.  We will abide by my letter of December 5 and by your reply of 12.15.  I am of the opinion that if we do this there will be no further misunderstandings, and if there are any we will argue them out like grown men.

I have taken note of your deadlines for the new manuscripts.  The Hunting Party (a splendid title!) will be issued in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, and specifically on the date of its first performance.  Presumably we will learn this date in the first quarter of 1973, and then we can schedule the publication.  For Remembering, which is of course a Remembering 1, there is already a firm place in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.

I have a proposal to make to you when we see each other.  I, too, attach much importance to our speaking with each other soon.

For now I heartily wish successful completion to your works.  In addition please accept my best wishes to you!

with sincere
and season’s greetings,
Siegfried Unseld   


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2015 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. 257-339. 

Apart from interpolations postfixed by the translator's initials (DR), the notes are in substance entirely the work of the editors, but the translator has not scrupled to bring these notes into line with what he believes to be mainstream editorial practice in the Anglosphere, most signally by moving most instances of the historical present into the simple past.