Monday, May 11, 2015

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with His Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part XII: 1974.

Letter No. 279

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram]

Frankfurt am Main
January 3, 1974

thanks for your final letter of december stop we urgently must meet stop proposal
jan. 11.12 in zurich or at latest jan. 20 in munich or anytime in frankfurt
regards siegfried unseld

Letter No. 280

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]
Frankfurt am Main
January 7, 1974

urgently requesting phone call1
Regards Siegfried Unseld

  1. A telephone conversation between Unseld and Bernhard materialized at some point on January 7.  Unseld wrote about the conversation in two notes dated January 10, 1974.  The first makes reference to Unseld’s survey on capitalization and non-capitalization [see Letter No. 260]:
“He asserted to me that he was decisively opposed to non-capitalization and that he basically thought the whole thing was a load of hogwash.”
The second reads:
“He told me on the telephone that he had no further corrections to make to The Hunting Party, that we could go ahead and typeset it, as the corrections recorded in his copy were the only ones.  He is anxiously awaiting the rough collated copy; I would prefer to take it with me to Salzburg on January 16.”  

Letter No. 281

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
January 17, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I am writing only briefly to inform you of my happy return to Frankfurt.  Both Salzburg hours were matter-of-fact-cum-intensive and pleasant, harmonious.  I am setting everything in motion.

Klingenberg was no longer reachable today; I shall ring him up tomorrow morning.  Mainz is holding its peace for now.

Regarding the January transfer: we effected it back on December 27, 1973.  Attached you will find a copy of our payment order; this will enable you to remonstrate at the bank if need be.  The money must have been there!  What is more, this transfer was made through a standing order payment.

I am overjoyed about everything we discussed: about the drama-related things and especially about the prospect of being able to read Correction soon; so, there are only eight weeks left now.          

|and with presidential wishes|,1
Siegfried Unseld


  1. See n. 1 to Letter No. 283
  2. The attachment--the copy of the payment order--has not survived.

Letter No. 282


good encounter mondays payment and rough collated copy “hunting party” arrived
very sincerely bernhard

Letter No. 283

Frankfurt am Main
January 24, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Warm thanks for your telegram.  You of course will know by now that I also found our encounter quite pleasant.1  

Enclosed is the contract with the old date.  I now do pressingly need the signature.  We have spoken about the details, and your assent is certified my by note of January 17, 1974, which is available for your inspection--dr. u./ze.--2  

Keep the enclosed letter for your records.  You know why it was written.

I have spoken with Klingenberg by telephone; I sent a contractual letter to him at his home address.  He has firmly promised me to keep mum.

So much just for today--


2 Enclosures3
[Enclosure; letter from Unseld to Bernhard; address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
January 24, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I am back from our conversation in Salzburg.  In the course of it we agreed that we were going to use the Salzburg revenues to pay off your previously accrued debt.  Once this has been done your debt balance from previous years will stand at zero.  I trust you find this quite satisfactory.

with friendly regards,
Siegfried Unseld      

  1. Unseld wrote about the encounter in his Chronicle:
“Salzburg, January 17, 1974
I urgently needed to speak with Thomas Bernhard.  The subject was his comedy The Force of Habit and problems with the contract and also with his demands in connection with the tour and the planned videotaping for television.  Both of us had cold feet before this discussion.  It was clear to me that he would make some demands (not for nothing did he write ‘Even genius / turns megalomaniacal every time / money is at stake’ [see Bernhard, Works, v. 16, p. 47]), and it could not but be clear to me at what point or what sum I had to say my ‘no.’

The discussion proceeded in quite a different fashion than we had both feared.  Bernhard made a very remarkable impression on me; he was fairly calm, quiet, friendly, and heard out my arguments, as is not his wont during tough negotiations.  His hair was closely cropped; he made an ascetic impression on me, but his eyes sparkled radiantly and flickered erratically; I almost thought that he had taken drugs of some kind.

We had only two hours to meet at the Salzburg airport and so immediately started out in medias res.  We discussed his investment in the Suhrkamp Theatrical Productions-Organization tour.  I explained to him that profit-sharing could only be disadvantageous to him because this first tour cannot be expected to finish up even slightly in the black.  Its initial costs are too high for that. I also made clear to him our wish to try to get the tour into some large theaters; but these large theaters do not pay guarantees up front, rather, one gets a share of their evening revenues.  In the end he was satisfied with our paying him a guarantee of DM 20,000.00; this sum will cover 40 performances; beginning with the 41st performance he will receive DM 500.00 per performance.  The firm’s share is 10%; i.e., it is guaranteed to receive DM 18,000.00.   

He stuck to his view that this play had been written for Salzburg and ought not to be performed outside of Salzburg and the tour.   To this extent there were no further resolutions to adopt here.  [...]  Regarding the conditions of a television contract, Bernhard desired a live broadcast at least in Austria; but the most important thing is for ZDF as well as ORF to pay DM 35,000.00.  I have stipulated this condition for The Hunting Party, and it is meant to be applicable to The Force of Habit as well.  He is well aware that this is a crapshoot and may not lead to a broadcast; in any event, I am going to take it upon myself to have a personal conference with Mr. Holzammer.

We then determined the publication dates: on March 15 he will hand over to me the manuscript of Correction.  For the first time he told me something about this book.  He said he conceived of the main character as a Wittgenstein-like figure.  A man who while living in a kind of exile--in any case in a place other than his own country--has written a book that has already been typeset and who is now returning home with the galley proofs of the book in hand, and the text of the book has changed in his eyes and he is rewriting the galley proofs and rewriting reality.  The book is then scheduled to be issued at the end of August.

In January or February of 1975 the book Remembering will be published in the BS.  The other prospective publication dates remain in place: Hunting Party--April; The Force of Habit--June.

Gradually Bernhard came out with a surprising revelation from the nature of which I realized that it was this that was keeping him in such a cheerful mood.  He has agreed with the artistic director of the Burg, Klingenberg, to try and write a play for the May festival of 1975.  Klingenberg, he said, had blindly reserved a place in the schedule.  The manuscript would be ready in November.  I am supposed to draw up a contract, preferably right away.  And again ask for
DM 40,000.00.  I asked him about the subject of the play.  He didn’t wish to tell me anything about it.  Then I asked him what the title was, and he replied, The President--and I suddenly got a hunch; I turned to the left, pointed at Salzburg, in the direction of the Festspielhaus--and Bernhard laughed and said, “Yes, your hunch is right.”  It is a satire on the theater business.  But Bernhard plans to write it in such a way that it doesn’t put anybody’s and everybody’s nose out of joint; so Bernhard has got yet another play.  He is working on it like a man possessed, and all of this is putting him into a mood that is certainly beneficial to his work.  In the light of the rapid succession of plays in the BS and the publication of the play The President in May of 1975, we intend to postpone the prospective Bernhard Reader to the second half of 1975.  But by May of 1975 we will be able to let the other plays in the BS go out of print, and then we can put out an st volume called Salzburg Plays that will comprise the dramatic works apart from The President.  

The existence of the new play must be kept top secret, because if it came to light, the impact of the other two plays would certainly be diminished.

In the light of this productivity and the prospects of revenues raised by it, his request for a sum of DM 30,000.00 was not very surprising, and perhaps he was not any more surprised that I immediately granted it.

After that our discussion became not merely pleasant but almost euphoric by comparison with earlier ones; we proved that only through concerted collaboration, concerted cooperation, would we achieve productivity, not to mention revenues.  Perhaps it’s all wrong, he said, still skeptical as we exchanged goodbyes, but when I got back to Frankfurt there was already a telegram [see Letter No. 282] waiting for me; it affirmed that the ‘encounter’ had been ‘good.’”

2. The Travel Journal, Salzburg, January 17, 1974 records:
“Conversation with Thomas Bernhard in Salzburg.

Thomas Bernhard gave the rights to his new comedy The Force of Habit to Suhrkamp Publications Zurich last year.  He gave this firm the right to print, which is to confer certain as-yet-to-be-evaluated rights for the FRG to Suhrkamp Publications Frankfurt, in case the latter is prepared to accept the offers of other firms.

Hence throughout all the negotiations that we will be conducting here in connection with this play, we must keep this legal transaction very precisely in view.  For the television rights Bernhard is demanding DM 35,000.00.

For the publications the following timetable is in place:

April 1974--Hunting Party, BS     
June 1974--The Force of Habit, BS
We will receive the manuscript of Correction on March 15; publication date: August 1974.
In the summer we will receive the manuscript of Remembering; publication date: January / February 1975.  
A new Bernhard volume is to be planned for the BS for May of 1975.

For the suhrkamp taschenbücher:
For the schedule for May-October 1975, preferably no later than May, a volume called Salzburg Plays can be planned.  It will contain all of Thomas Bernhard’s existing dramatic works.

The Bernhard Reader planned for the first half of 1975 will be postponed to the second half of 1975.”  
3. Enclosure 1 has not survived; presumably it had something to do with the contract for The Force of Habit.

Letter No. 284

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram-memorandum]
Frankfurt am Main
January 25, 1974

Politely requesting prompt return of corrected rough collated copy of “Hunting Party.”    We must print next week.

Yours S.U.
with friendly regards  

Letter No. 285

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
February 8, 1974

Firstly--sincere congratulations1
Secondly--best wishes for success of plans
Thirdly--urgently requesting return of contracts
Sincerely--Yours Siegfried Unseld

  1. Bernhard celebrated his 43rd birthday on February 9, 1974.

Letter No. 286

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
March 18, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

March 15 has come and gone; I am anxiously awaiting the manuscript of Correction.  Have you already sent it off?  Please, by all means send me a reassuring telegram.

In case you have reservations about committing it to the mail, there is a possibility of having it conveyed by Mr. Schaffler; on March 29 he is flying from Salzburg to Frankfurt,1 and I shall be meeting up with him here.  But please let me know which way you plan to use.

with warm regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. During a sojourn in St. Moritz, Wolfgang Schaffler, Gudrun Schaffler, and Unseld resolved to negotiate a cooperative agreement between Residenz and Suhrkamp (including the establishment of a Suhrkamp-Residenz publishing firm in Austria) on March 29 in Frankfurt.

 Letter No. 287


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

The Hunting Party has been made into a book; I am glad about this and thank you for it today1 and if everything at the Burgtheater develops along the hazardous lines of a fever with all its spasms, shivers, and painful symptoms, with all the ghastly mimetic antics that are especially necessary at such a large theater, we shall perhaps--because within the colossal O of the Burg we have a young, vigorous, reckless, and in many respects and contingencies brilliant doctor from Bremen--still end up with a good performance.  It should of course be a comedy of death.  We shall see.2

Now to the point that for you is probably the most important one: as I have already told Rach during his visit to Attnang-Puchheim (hence at the famous railway station),3 I have been working for months on the fourth dimension of Correction.  And as I now see it, I shan’t be finished with it before the end of April.  This is completely clear.  Hence there can be no talk of your receiving the manuscript now.  Not even by means of so perverse an act as Wolfgang’s Schaffler’s conveyance of the MS to Frankfurt, a scheme suggested to you by your wildly overactive publisher’s imagination.  To put it quite level-headedly: for some months Correction has been undergoing a repeated act of correction.  What must be brought into being  is an organizational momentum that conforms as closely as possible to the nature of the organism.  An irrevocable experience has compelled me to subject what I had believed to be the perfect body of a manuscript to a second dissection.  I am fortunate to have the time to do this, and I am asking you to realize that you, too, have a stake in this good fortune.  It is an eight-cornered piece of good fortune stretched across a hundred mountains, to the most distant distance.  You understand.

The fact of the matter is that I am not going to be finished with the MS until the end of April, and I envisage myself handing you the book at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, to which you will of course, I hope, have come for the performance of The Hunting Party.  I remark this in the very teeth of the fact that the handing over of a manuscript constitutes an act of superlative ridiculousness.  But we shall manage to endure it with a clear head and during a fine meal (perhaps sour boiled rump of beef!?).  At this juncture it occurs to me that we should see each other soon, and for such a meeting Vienna offers the best opportunity this side of the Austro-German border.

An Easter walk could do you some good in affording you a break from your incessant trips to cemeteries.  It’s too bad about your ears, that they have to be constantly listening to funeral eulogies.  But as get older you will see an increase in the number of funeral eulogies--along with your apathy at the side of open graves.4

One more thing: Correction is a mathematical problem, and when and only when it has been perfectly solved will it become high literature.  On the other hand none of this has anything to do with astrology.

So: end of April (the 30th) Hotel Sacher, Correction.

In Vienna everything can be addressed.

Thomas B.

  1. The Hunting Party was published as Volume 376 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp on April 8, 1974.

  1. The director of the premiere of The Hunting Party at the Burgtheater, Claus Peymann, was born in Bremen.

  1. Rudolf Rach visited Bernhard in Upper Austria on February 25, 1974.

  1. The Suhrkamp authors Marieluise Fleißer and Erhart Kästner died on
February 1 and 3, 1974.

Letter No. 288

Frankfurt am Main
March 27, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

In all kindness, your letter of March 25 has left me at a loss.  I fully understood that now that you have embarked on a new course of correction, you cannot part with the manuscript, but my preparations for the book cannot but be just as important to me as yours of its final draft are for you.  Your end-of-April submission date certainly will give us enough time to print and bind the book, but not to prepare the edition in the house.  On April 23 the sales representatives will be in the house, and I must have something to tell them about the book.  After that they will of course be hitting the road and will be expected to sell the book.  At the same time our announcement of the schedule for the second half of 1974 will be going to the typesetter and the printer.  The failure to announce your book would be a lapse with repercussions.  So if you insist on a submission date of April 30, I must insist on your imposing on yourself the tedious chore of writing a couple of sentences about Correction.  I must have them.  It would spell a genuine loss for all of us if we failed to release this book this year.  It will be appearing at an extraordinarily auspicious moment, because virtually nothing comparable will be around to eclipse it.

So please, impose on yourself this chore that I know you will find torturous; write something in a superficial vein about things, names, circumstances; perhaps such a passage is already close enough to being ready that you can hand it in as it is, so that I can read at least a short excerpt to the salespeople.  Please: this has to be.  Don’t leave me in the lurch!1  

I firmly intend to come to Vienna on April 30.  In the meantime I shall keep cherishing the hope of getting acquainted with the text or a goodly excerpt from it before then.

with warm regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. On March 31 Rudolf Rach went to Berlin at the request of Bernhard, who was there to attend the German premiere of The Hunting Party at the Schiller Theater.  Rach described the conversation in a note for Unseld: “In Berlin Bernhard talked to me a little bit about Correction.  I took notes, and he and I agreed that I would write an announcement text, which I would once again submit to him for his inspection.  What he tells me sounds exciting.  It’s ca. 200 pages long, about as long as The Lime Works or Verstörung.  Naturally he wants his book to be given special emphasis in our publicity, but if the contents of the text live up to its concept, I think that would be worth considering.”   
In an April 8 letter to Rach, Bernhard wrote, “Dear Dr. Rach, I have reworked the so-called announcement text and tried to be as precise as possible without saying too much.  The whole thing strikes me as as genuinely criminal.  On the other hand everything must be clear.  I am sending my text with this post.”  Suhrkamp Publications’ file  copy of this text bears the handwritten comment “Bernhard’s own text.”  The synopsis supplied by Bernhard diverges from the published version of the novel mainly in the matters of narrative perspective and setting.  In the synopsis one reads, “Now in the London-Paris sleeping car en route to the funeral of his sister, thinking about whether it had been wrong to build the cone for her, and, as he himself says, while still in Britain ‘amid the gigantic din of Dover Harbor,’ Roithamer sets about correcting the galley proofs of his book, which he has been writing for the past six months, since his return to Cambridge and under the influence of his sister’s horrifying reaction upon first seeing the cone, a book about Altensam and about everything connected with Altensam [...].”  The narrative of the book is anchored in the perspective of a friend of Roithamer’s who is examining and putting in order Roithamer’s posthumous papers in the setting of “Höller’s attic” in the bottleneck of the Aurach river in Upper Austria.  

Letter No. 289      

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
April 18, 1974

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

You will already have learned of the postponement of the date; my wife and I will be coming on to Vienna on the afternoon of Saturday, May 6.  Could we meet Sunday morning, maybe beginning at about 10:00?  We will be staying in the Hotel Sacher, so that is an obvious choice for a meeting-site, but I shall gladly accept any alternative you propose.  I am envisaging an extensive tête-á-tête conversation followed by lunch with my wife.

Please do drop me a line soon.

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]    

Letter No. 290

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]
Frankfurt am Main
April 25, 1974

I congratulate you on the Prix Séguier.  They would like you to come to Paris for the award ceremony on April 28.  In the event that you plan to make the trip, please call Mr. Christoph Schwerin in Paris (Telephone: Paris 222-9388); he will be happy to give you further information.1
Yours very sincerely -- Siegfried Unseld      

  1. Helene Ritzerfeld informed Unseld of the award in an April 25 memorandum marked “urgent”:
“Phone call from Christof Schwerin in Paris.
Thomas Bernhard has received the Prix Séguier, which will be awarded for the first time on April 28.  They would like Thomas Bernhard to come to the ceremony.  Schwerin requested Mr. Bernhard’s telephone number and address, but I did not give them to him.  Schwerin requests your coordination with him on the matter.  His telephone number in Paris is 2229388.    
(Incidentally, had Erval already notified you about the likelihood of this award?  The decision was made by five literary critics and five writers and indeed in favor of a non-French body of work that still has not received any real attention.)      

Letter No. 291

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram]

Frankfurt am Main
May 8, 1974

are the proofread galleys of “force of habit”  we sent you ready to print?  urgently awaiting reply.  it was good to meet with you.1

regards siegfried unseld  

  1. In his Travel Journal, May 4-7, 1974, Unseld wrote of this meeting:
“Premiere Thomas Bernhard, The Hunting Party at the Burg, directed by Claus Peymann [May 4; set design: Karl Ernst-Hermann; the writer: Joachim Bißmeier, the general’s wife: Judith Holzmeister; the general: Werner Hinz] a full house, 1400 people, it was quite an event; Thomas Bernhard, regarded by many as the most significant but also the most controversial author in Austria, now witnessing the premiere of a play at this tradition-laden site.  He himself was quite visibly excited.  He said that the dress rehearsal had gone outstandingly well, but in his opinion the performance itself fell flat.  He left the theater after the second act, and as he was collecting his coat, the cloakroom attendant said to him, ‘So you didn’t like the play either?’

I found the direction impeccable; it conformed to the text with choreographic strictness.  It was too bad that owing to obvious acoustic difficulties the second act palpably fell flat; it  hung fire, and the nagging monotony sometimes became downright boring.  The audience grew restless, the first heckler was heard, but then came the climax in the third act and the genuinely magnificent conclusion.  Opinion was starkly divided over this play; half the audience left as soon as the curtain fell; the other half broke into a swelling round of applause.

Afterwards, conversations with Klingenberg, Peymann, Hilde Spiel; later that night a little party at the residence of the wife of the president of the Austrian parliament Maleta, who is indeed the original of the general’s wife (and her husband, who was briefly the interim chief of the Austrian state, has certainly lent a few traits to the general).  Sunday was to be devoted to conversation with Thomas Bernhard and with Austrian publishers.  

Thomas Bernhard: he was the same as he always is.  Naturally the reaction to the performance assuaged and relieved him, but at bottom he was already treating the premiere as if he had forgotten all about it, and he was once again his familiar self--completely and obsessively focused on the present and the future, on work and money.  Money was broached as a subject within the first minute; he said that he again  wanted larger sum for himself, and he seemed extremely relieved when I managed to assent to it.  Thanks to this assent he refrained from indulging in any of the jibes he had forewarned me of the night before (when I had admittedly made the mistake of beating him 2 to 1 in a one-minute game of twenty-one, a card game that of course played a role in The Hunting Party).  He said that a book wholesaler’s catalog that he admittedly could no longer remember the name of had gotten his name and some of the titles of his books wrong.  How long, he asked, had it had been since the theatrical publications division had remitted him his honorarium for Spectaculum?  The Wiesbaden concession, he said, had been made for the sake of our colleague Jürgen Becker and obviously was not to be regarded as a general release.  [In an April 21 letter to Becker, Bernhard assented to a performance of The Hunting Party at the Staatstheater Wiesbaden.  The performance took place on September 8, 1974.]  At this point I vehemently gainsaid him.  After Wiesbaden, performances at other theaters were hardly to be expected.  Then he changed the subject to Dr. Rach’s shilly-shallying letter about the Paris performances: if nothing was good, he said, then nothing should be authorized.  As matters stand, I think we should take Voisin’s advice, because he obviously has plenty of experience on French territory.  [In an April 25 letter to Bernhard, Rudolf Rach pondered the possibilities for a French performance of The Ignoramus and the Madman: “A third possibility would naturally be not to authorize any performance at all, because both Voisin and I are of the opinion that neither possibility can be regarded as ideal.  On the other hand the plans [...] cannot in any event be implemented before the ’75-’76 season.”]

Bernhard will finish the manuscript of Correction by the end of May at the latest; we can certainly count on that.  He also mentioned that Amras had been out of sight for a long time, but I hinted to him that we had plans with the SLZ (plans that seemed to make a good deal of sense to him). [The first issue of the mainly school-oriented Suhrkamp-Literatur-Zeitung appeared in January 1975.  Its April 1976 issue featured publicity for Verstörung, but not for Amras.]
Letter No. 292


Dear Dr. Unseld,

Until I have completely reviewed the galley proofs of The Force of Habit, the book cannot be produced; I shall send the corrected sheaf to Frankfurt tomorrow.

On my return I see that I unconditionally must have the sum I quoted deposited in my Freilassing account within fourteen days if I don’t wish to be charged a horrendous and unnecessary interest fee by my bank.  I believe you understand that I need this money very urgently and must ask that you [comply with]1 my wish to have the entirety of this sum remitted to my account in Freilassing as speedily as possible.

Vienna blew over well; now we have got to concentrate all our energies on Salzburg.

Correction is being typed and will be on its way to you when I am finished.  Perhaps I could stop over with the manuscript with the airplane at Frankfurt Station, and we could briefly have some genuinely frank talk there.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. “Comply with” is my rendition of the editors’ two suggestions (zu entsprechen and nachzukommen) for an alternative to Bernhard’s inadvertent repetition of bitten muss (“must ask”), a repetition that I have omitted for the sake of syntactical plausibility.  [DR]

Letter No. 293


Dear Dr. Unseld,

Earlier today I sent the signed contract to Mr. Zbinden in Zurich; there was no reason not to.1

Our telephone conversation was more or less the most disagreeable one I have ever had, but probably such telephone conversations have to be.

We thoroughly misunderstand each other.

I have so far made no decision regarding Correction.  It is proper that I have so to speak decreed that the book will be published, but right now I do not feel that it will be proper for it to be published.

For now I will wait for the remittance of the money from Switzerland and then another fourteen days for the conversion of the foreign into domestic currency and in the meantime what is going on will become clear.

I am at home in the new play and a long way from the old one, but whenever I next talk to you by phone, please make me head back to that long-forsaken place.

My independence is unsurpassed, which explains my indifference to everyday provisions.

I could definitely go my own way completely on my own.2

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. This was the performance contract between Bernhard and Suhrkamp Publications Zurich, Inc. for The Force of Habit.

  1. In the upper-right corner of the letter there is a comment in Unseld’s handwriting: “done via tel[elegram].”  See Letter No. 295.

Letter No. 294

Frankfurt am Main
May 31, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I would like to write to you again about the submission date for Correction.  To be sure, the two premieres of the new plays came in rapid succession and spell a backlog, but what will we gain by a postponement to ’75?  In May of that year we will have another new premiere at the Burg and so the publication dates would again coincide.  And please do also consider your plan to have Remembering published in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, which we ought to implement by 1975 at the latest.

But let me once again address the situation of the Bernhard Year, 1974.  Please put your trust in my experience.  The reception of a novel takes place under the auspices of an entirely different set of perspectives than those that attend the reception of a play.  The critics are different, and the book dealers react to a novel differently, more amply, with greater interest, than they do to editions of plays, even when the latter are published in the best possible setting, namely the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  These are really two entirely different affairs.

And I have yet another and entirely different argument: malevolent souls could accuse you of confining your principal theme to the stage.  The novel Correction points up your great epic counterplan.  I can easily imagine that if you end this year, 1974, with the two plays and Correction, you will be regarded as the foremost significant writer in the German-speaking world.  So that is the one argument.

And here’s the other one: we now enjoy the possibility of a making a commercial success out of this book and of selling a great many copies.  And so we must take advantage of this.  This is obviously less in your interest than in mine, but our interests are of course not completely divergent on this point.

I am sending you as an enclosure the catalogue of new books for the second half of ’74.  I am sending it to you with reluctance and hesitation because I am well aware that you react allergically to many of the firm’s publications.  But my dear Thomas Bernhard, you are the center and focus of attention here.  If the book is not published in the second half of this year, it will be a genuine setback for you as an author (people will think you have run out of the steam needed to finish it) and for us as a publishing firm, who will have showcased a book--and showcased it in a prominent setting as our most significant book--only to fail to issue it.1

I would also like yet again to remind you of our financial agreements. These agreements stipulate that in the final reckoning the firm must have the revenues from Correction at its disposal.  If Correction is not published in 1974, our entire financial agreement will be in limbo.  And we will come short of that finish line we have very much jointly resolved to reach.  

My dear Thomas Bernhard, all commercial and tactical considerations aside, please put your trust in my judgment in this matter.  It will be absolutely fitting for Correction to be published in the second half of the year and to be in print this fall.  I am urgently requesting you to take this into consideration once again.

with sincere regards
--as always--
Siegfried Unseld      

  1. The publication of Correction is announced on p. 2 of Suhrkamp’s preview of its schedule for the second half of 1974.

Letter No. 295

[Handwritten telegram-memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
June 5, 1974

Payment transfer underway stop urgently requesting “Correction” manuscript once again.  I am supposed to come to Salzburg on June 16 for a meeting at the airport.
Sincerely SU   

Letter No. 296

June 7, 1974

am content with fall publication date will bring ms personally via frankfurt last week of june
sincerely thomas bernhard

Letter No. 297

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
June 10, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I thank you very sincerely for the telegram, which comes as a great relief to me and was the only right decision for our shared endeavor.  So I shall be very glad to see you here in the last week of June.  I would propose Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, meaning the 26th, 27th, and 28th of June.  On the evening of the 26th I am admittedly already scheduled to attend the opera.  Anja Silja will be singing Schoenberg’s Erwartung [Expectation].  The title clinches my situation to a turn.  Won’t you go the opera with me?

Siegfried Unseld     

Letter No. 298


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

The following lines are an adumbration of my present mode of life.

Three weeks ago in an access of extremely high spirits I scalded myself with kettle water so badly (third-degree burns, my lady doctor commented) that any continuation of my work became unthinkable; I exploited the opportunity and rode and flew into the countryside.  On my way back home I popped into the Schiller Theater with my spectral open hand for a look at the goings-on there.  I saw nothing terrible.1  The air there is most conducive to the healing of wounds, and I am now so much better that I can resume typing up Correction.  This whole scalding incident with all its ramifications, ramifications that were hardly injurious and indeed indispensable to me--the cool clime of the North, the new people, the turbulence, my being left absolutely alone in good hotels--has done my mind so much good that I can even call it a stroke of good fortune.  When I tell you that on the day, indeed within the very hour, of my scalding myself I received a telegram from Vienna asking me to make a so-called statement on Ingeborg Bachmann, you will well believe that we are dealing here with the tentative plot-sketch of a comedy.  The world has been fitted out as a curiosity and populated by utterly baneful objects.2

Having mentioned these objects I shall change the subject.  Because the upshot now is that I can continue working on the text, and it will be finished when it is finished; more than this I cannot say, but the general timeline is easy to forecast.  I don’t feel anything weighing on my back.

3 further points: after the attacks that Klingenberg has had to parry in Vienna and the not exactly flattering reviews of the darling Viennese,3 I proposed to Klingenberg that we should liquidate the contract for the next play; thus I effectively opened the door for him and told him he was under no obligation to put on any further performances and could escape from me (and us) unscathed.  He is in fact doing nothing of the kind; to the contrary, he has written to me a not-insignificant letter in which he assures me that there can be no ifs, ands, or buts about it; that the premiere will be given at the Burgtheater at the beginning of next year.  So he will be receiving my next play (for safekeeping).  He assured me that I could communicate all my desiderata and that all these desiderata would be met by him (i.e., by the Burgtheater).  The majority of the people at the Burgtheater are against me and against everything I produce; this is a simple, important, and very basic fact.  My thinking to let Klingenberg go (although he is not letting us go) via a sentence (i.e., “The firm will comply with my decision!”) taken from our secret contract was a good move--indeed, a move that can’t be bettered; one hardly need be a genius to relish it.

2nd point: yesterday in Salzburg I saw the actors in costume for the first time and in the caravan for the first time.4  My impression, to the extent that one could have one before the play had actually begun, was that these instruments were capable of generating something quite splendid.  We will of course see if they are at the end of July, which I am very much looking forward to; and as you can well imagine, I am also looking forward to seeing my publisher again.

Point 3 concerns a letter from Peter Hall that arrived the day before yesterday and in which Hall (imploringly) asks to be allowed personally to put on a production of The Force of Habit next year at the newly opened National Theatre; the firm has not granted him the rights to the play, as he writes, as it was quite correct of him to do.  Hall wants to have the play performed in the National Theatre’s new third house, which seats four hundred, and this idea is really quite an excellent one because Hall could produce a real English pièce de résistance.  An English performance such as this will be no skin off the nose of our touring ensemble and will probably be a stroke of good fortune for us.  I didn’t plan on making any decision independently of you.  But I am asking that we give Hall the rights to the play and that you wire Hall (personally) informing him that I have no objections.5

There are still several more points, but it is better for me to write that summer more than any other season affords opportunities to set aside one’s work for many, many hours and to go swimming (your favorite preoccupation!) and to walk or lie in the shadows without giving a thought to art etcetera, to the mutilation of nature by human refuse.  As things lie they must remain lying.  And please don’t write me any kind of serious letter, lest I rain down curses on all the Germans!

P.S. It’s too bad I wasn’t able to go with you to hear Anja Silja, but I have already heard Erwartung once, in Darmstadt.  Eighteen or nineteen years ago, who knows!6   

  1. Bernhard probably attended a performance of The Hunting Party, whose German premiere took place on May 15, 1974, at the Schiller Theater in Berlin.  The performance was directed by Dieter Dorn; set designs were by Wilfried Minks; The general’s wife was played by Marianne Hoppe, the writer by Rolf Boysen, and the General by Bernhard Minetti.

  1. Ingeborg Bachmann died a year earlier as a consequence of injuries sustained in a fire.

  1. The Viennese Wochenpresse of May 29, 1974 reported, “The shocked ushers described ‘those’ people who walked out during the intermission as by no means isolated individuals and estimated that there were ‘a few hundred’ of them, meaning that they amounted to ‘a full third’ of the audience. [...]  The bark beetles [...] certainly took a big bite out of the Burgtheater’s regular crowd; by no means, however, will even the Burg’s chief Gerhard Klingenberg’s bitterest adversaries in his own house deny that the new Bernhard is a play that ought to be brought up for discussion by the Burgtheater.” (D[uglore]. P[izzini]): “Bitten by Bark Beetles.  Exodus of Audience during The Force of Habit by Thomas Bernhard”)      

  1. The Force of Habit takes place in a caravan.

  1. Rudolf Rach wrote to Bernhard about this in a letter of July 4, 1974: “In the meantime you will have received Peter Hall’s letter, in which he declares his interest in The Force of Habit.  His proposed procedure of selecting a director at the outset is naturally the only appropriate one in the event that you plan to consent to any sort of performance.  Naturally I am always also thinking about the possibility of a guest performance, but the two need not preclude each other as I hear from London that a production of The Force of Habit is being planned for the spring of 1976.”

  1. Below the postscript is a comment in Bernhard’s handwriting, “everything with the right hand!,” followed by a repetition of “right” in capital letters.
In the upper-right corner of the first page of the letter Unseld has written, “disc[uss] during my visit.”  

Letter No. 299

Frankfurt am Main
July 17, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Each day I await the arrival of a messenger on horseback!  But I assume you still plan to deliver the manuscript to me personally.  With this in mind, I would like to tender you the following proposal: my wife and I will be coming to Salzburg on Thursday, July 25 and staying in the Hotel Seehof.  Should we not meet there at eight that evening?  
Dr. Rach will also propose a date to you that dovetails with the one I mentioned.1

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. Rudolf Rach wrote to Bernhard about the proposed Salzburg visit in a letter of July 17, 1974:

“[...] will now arrive first on the morning of July 24.  I shall be accompanied by the photographer Digne Meller Marcowicz, who will be taking photographs of the final rehearsals, as we would like to give especial prominence to photographs in the layout of the program [for the tour of The Force of Habit].  In addition to the photographs for the program, though, we would like to take some pictures of you, as Johannes Schütz [the production’s set designer], Minks’s assistant, who is supposed to design the poster, would like to work with a photo of you.  As I see it, there are two possibilities for this photoshoot.  Either Ms. Meller Marcowicz and I could come to Ohlsdorf on the afternoon of July 25, or you could come to Salzburg for the rehearsal so that we could take the pictures in Salzburg itself.  Please let me know which arrangement is agreeable to you.”  Opposite the title page of the twelve-page program there are seven black-and-white photographs taken by Digne Meller Marcowicz.      

Unseld met Bernhard during the premiere of The Force of Habit at the Salzburg Festival on July 27, 1974.  The director was Dieter Dorn; the set designs were by Wilfried Minks; Caribaldi was played by Bernhard Minetti, the granddaughter by Anna Lochner, the juggler by Fritz Lichtenhahn, the animal tamer by Hanz Peter Hallwachs, and the jester by Bruno Dalansky.  In his Travel Journal; Salzburg-Ohlsdorf-Großgmain; July 25-29, 1974, Unseld wrote: “Otherwise, despite Karajan and Strehler’s abortive Magic Flute, on these days everything revolved around Thomas Bernhard.  The premiere of his new play The Force of Habit was again fraught with difficulties, and it was certainly just like one critic wrote: ‘This evening everything was staked on a single card, and the card turned out to be a trump.’  An outstanding ensemble, well directed by Dorn; a play with some long, difficult passages, even longueurs.  But it hit home, albeit in the form of a tightrope walk; indeed, it was a success.  Bernhard was present at the dress rehearsal but not at the performance itself.  The applause was loud, but there were also a few catcalls that mistook the director Dorn for Bernhard.  [...]

Bernhard and I had two extensive conferences.  A big disappointment!  He doesn’t intend to cough up his manuscript at the present time.  It is finished but not perfect; it still lacks the final degree of precision that he is looking for.  He said it would be ready ‘in perhaps three weeks,’ and on top of this there is a slight chance that he will unconditionally choose to devote the months of September and October to the transcription of his new play.  It will come down to whether he succeeds in imparting to it the last degree of perfection or whether the work will remain incomplete even longer.  There is virtually nothing that can be done to change his attitude; he is strong and obdurate, does what he wants to do--only money, only by means of money can he budged, but of course this time there was no need to talk about it.  

He has made additions to his house in Ohlsdorf and more recently he has purchased another piece of property with a house on an out-of-the-way pocket of land near Gmunden; this house can only be reached on foot or by tractor.

He was naturally relieved at the effect and success of the play.  Mistrustful as he is of everyone and everything, he declared himself satisfied with the performance and was also exceedingly keen on our plan for a tour.  He will not authorize another production!  And I understand this completely; if the actors can only deliver a poorer class of performance, the play is not worth staging.

In any case, this premiere was the most important one for us in a long time.  It is a signal and a starting point for the actuation of our productions organization.  It will not always be able to to count on such unusual plays and productions, but perhaps what is normal for the normal theatergoer can be presented in an unusual way.”

In an addendum to this travel journal, drafted as a note for his Chronicle, Unseld wrote:

“Something I did not mention in the travel journal: naturally he is the same old self, Mr. Mistrustful.  We met along with Rach at my hotel, the Seehof, in Gmunden.  We went to dinner; everything was good, harmonious, but we steered clear of the sensitive points.  Then came the performance, which of course was not unsuccessful.  The next day I visited him in Gmunden; we discussed the situation for three hours, then we drove to Maleta's for dinner; then he took us to his new property, the so-called ‘Grasberg’ near Gmunden, a 50,000 square-meter piece of property bordered by a stream on its left and right sides; one stream bears the name of ‘Frauengraben’ [‘Women’s Ditch’], the other has no name; the property  is a large arch in the terrain at whose peak stands a house of substantial dimensions that Bernhard must now have rebuilt, a house that can really only be reached via a footpath or by means of the tractor that Bernhard has acquired and that is parked at Ohlsdorf.  I had two very detailed conversations with him regarding Correction.  He said the text was finished.  But that it wasn’t perfect, that it fell shy of the last degree of perfection.  Sure, he said, the imperfections were trifles, but trifles were what made all the difference.  He said he might send me the manuscript in three weeks, three months, or three years.  Bernhard is uncannily intransigent; he does what he wants and is impervious to persuasion, except by money.  This is something we are going to have to get used to.  His play The Force of Habit does after all contain the lines ‘Even genius / turns megalomaniacal every time / money is at stake’ [see (again! [DR]) Bernhard, Works, v. 16, p. 47]).  Bernhard really must be dealt with on two levels; on the one hand one must overlook his powerful drive for perfection--in other words, understand it.  On the other hand we can expect to receive dates and assurances from him only when we coordinate them with inflows of money.  He is tough; he is also autarchic in his work; he is self-sufficient.  He has acquired this new estate which is enormously complicated and which I personally would never wish to own, because it is a challenge for him and something to work on.  And he needs something to work on, something that is productive and positive.  ‘You can’t write all the time, after all; that would obviously drive you crazy.’ In this new estate Bernhard the lone wolf has procured himself a genuine task that demands his attention and that also happens to be tailor-made for him.  The piece of property is completely unusual because it is out of the way, isolated.  As we were leaving three solitary hikers descended into the property.  Bernhard flew into an incredible rage; if he had had a gun with him he would have shot them.  We had to fend off the mosquitos, which gave us some nasty bites.  But it is well known that mosquitos are to be found only in places where nature is pristine.”      

Letter No. 300

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram-memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
August 1, 1974

Will phone you 9 a.m. Saturday at Ohlsdorf post office.  If this is impossible, phone me here in Frankfurt at: 53 28 67.1
Good news.
Regards Siegfried Unseld

  1. According to his Chronicle, Unseld asked Bernhard if he would agree to a performance of The Force of Habit with Curd Jürgens as Caribaldi at the Cardin Theater in Paris.  Bernhard said yes.

Letter No. 301


arriving at the firm at around three friday1
sincerely bernhard

  1. On Bernhard’s visit Unseld’s Chronicle entry for August 16, 1974 reports:
“A remarkable encounter with Thomas Bernhard.  He had informed me in a telegram that he had a layover in Frankfurt during his flight from Lisbon to Linz.  I took a peek into the package he had brought with him, but it contained nothing but sweets for my wife and Ms. Zeeh.  No Correction manuscript.  That put a damper on my mood, and so the hours he spent at the firm were rather crampy.  We spoke on the subject of finances: I had given him the bottom-line figures in my own handwriting on two sheets of paper.  That made an impression on him.  ‘When the publisher writes it out himself, it’s got to be right.’  The figures were indeed imposing.  [On the first sheet, Unseld noted revenues for performances of The Force of Habit amounting to DM 76,000.00, which exceeded the payments remitted to Bernhard, as well as the advance payment; see Letter No. 283 for The President; on the second sheet, honorarium credits for Bernhard amounting to ca. DM 100,000.] [...]

Then we went to the Klettenbergstraße, drank tea; he talked about Lisbon, then asked for some wine; we drank one, then two bottles, and the mood became palpably more relaxed.  He briefed me on his new play, The President, which he said would trigger a scandal at the Burg and throughout Austria.  The subject has shifted a bit: it is no longer about the president of the Salzburg Festival but the president of the Austrian Republic, and Bernhard gave me some concrete details that he had heard about Dr. Maleta when the latter, the second vice president of the Austrian parliament, was standing in as chief of state for the invalided President Jonas.  This play is expected to have four acts.  Act I: The maturation of the presidential couple in a shabby, petit-bourgeois environment.  A courier barges into this atmosphere; the president signs a petition for a pardon in his underwear.  Act II is to show the president in a vacuous governmental position and attending to his representational duties.  Act III: The president has traveled to Lisbon incognito with a floozy, and at the Casino Estoril indulges in such violent frolics that he dies of them.  Act IV: Pompous lying in state: the common people file past, clutch at the coffin; the procession is headed up by his wife, his children, the cabinet ministers, etc.  If Bernhard successfully finishes this play, it will be the first play in which he breaks out of his monological structure.

One cannot help feeling genuinely anxious.

He plans to come on September 28 and then, perhaps, he will bring the manuscript with him.”

On September 28, 1974, Unseld celebrated his fiftieth birthday in Kronberg near Frankfurt am Main.  Bernhard attended the celebration.

Letter No. 302

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
August 13, ’74

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

I am enclosing for you my correspondence with the mayor of Augsburg.  Do you want to take a trip to Augsburg?  After all, lynch law obviously isn’t in effect any longer there.  One more question in case the journalists’ interest in this increases: have you ever been to Augsburg?  What attracts you to Augsburg as a name-metaphor--perchance its favorite son?

with warm regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]


[Enclosure; letter from Unseld to Hans Breuer]

Frankfurt am Main
August 9, 1974

Dear Mayor Breuer,

Many thanks for your letter of August 7, 1974.  I wholeheartedly respect your championing of the reputation, interests, and concerns of your citizenry, but none of these is by any means being called into question by the author Thomas Bernhard and his play The Force of Habit.  This play is a comedy, which means that anything in it that is said about Augsburg or any other city is the utterance of some theatrical character or other.  Thomas Bernhard has not in either an interview or an article made public his opinion of the city of Augsburg; rather, a character in his play, the circus director Caribaldi, has at certain dramatic moments of great excitement and irritation remarked on a city that by pure chance happens to be the next stop on his tour.  It could just as easily be some other city; the name Augsburg in this setting actually has nothing to do with the reality of your city.

Please do not allow yourself fall prey to this misunderstanding from which dramatic literature has so often had to suffer--a misunderstanding that always arises when one tries to call an author to account for the utterances of his characters.  A play for the theater consists of conflicts and controversies, contradictions and dialogues, and in the production of these nexuses the author is compelled to grant his characters enough self-sufficiency and individuality to allow them to bear full responsibility for their actions and lapses even onstage.  In this manner arise those events and utterances that do not necessarily correspond to any intention in the author’s mind, but merely bear witness to the autonomy of his characters.  Or do  you really believe that Bertolt Brecht, whom you referenced, approved of the machinations of his Mack the Knife and should therefore be held responsible for them?

And please do also consider the examples presented to us by literary history; examples of a much more vehement and nasty sort, of authors going to war against their hometowns.  When one contemplates these from an historical perspective, one sees that such utterances have never done the slightest amount of real damage to the cities in question.  Did Göttingen ever suffer because Heine described it as a city that looked loveliest when viewed with one’s backside?  Do you believe James Joyce’s song of hatred  directed at Dublin has ever tarnished that city’s amiable image?  In the final analysis is Lübeck not ennobled by the polemical strictures of Thomas Mann?  Or consider a case in your neighborhood: all her life Marieluise Fleißer suffered among the people of Ingolstadt.  Now she is honored by them, and with good reason: she led the city out of its provinciality.

Mayor Breuer, I take your misgivings exceedingly seriously, but I also hope that I have managed to convince you.  I shall happily forward your generous invitation to Thomas Bernhard; at present he is abroad.  I for my part can send you a copy of the printed edition of the play so that you will have the opportunity to get to know these utterances in the setting of the whole thing.  I believe you will then get quite a different impression than you did from the decontextualized quotations published by the press.  The final performance of The Force of Habit will take place in Salzburg on August 21.  I would be glad to reserve two tickets for you so that you can convince yourself of the cogency of my arguments.

After your letter I am especially sorry that the Augsburg Theater did not accept the offer of a guest production of Bernhard’s play.  I can readily imagine the citizens of this city appreciating Bernhard’s play as a comedy; I believe they see the Lech for what it is and that they do not feel themselves defamed.

I am yours
with friendly regards,
Dr. Siegfried Unseld

  1. In The Force of Habit, the circus director Caribaldi, who is suffering from rheumatism, asks (see Bernhard’s Works, v. 16, p. 102): “Isn’t there a doctor / anywhere in Augsburg / a specialist in rheumatism / anywhere in this musty, pestiferous nest /this cloaca of the Lech[?]”  Hans Breuer, the mayor of Augsburg, reacted to this passage among others in an August 7, 1974 letter to Unseld:

‘Dear Mr. Unseld!  How abstract or concrete is this municipal commonwealth?  Does a city as a living community of its citizens possess its own form of honor that can be impugned?  Are the reputation and commercial livelihood of a city damaged when it is defamed and slandered in the spotlight of public exposure?  These are certainly very interesting questions for journalists and lawyers and currently also for our municipal legal department.  But first and foremost I would like to protect the interests of the city of Augsburg and the concerns of its citizens by addressing myself to you.

This is the reason for my letter: your publishing firm, Mr. Unseld, has issued Thomas Bernhard’s play The Force of Habit, which very recently had its premiere in Salzburg.  In this play--if the newspaper articles and radio broadcasts reporting on the premiere quoted accurately--the city of Augsburg is defamed as a musty, pestiferous nest and the citizens of Augsburg are reviled as the worst and most repellently smelly of all circus spectators.  These strike me personally as quite excessively vituperative words for a comedy, and words that Mr. Bernhard would scarcely be able to justify in terms of any liberty granted to an author.

Not once did the poet Bert Brecht ever maintain that Augsburg was a cloaca of the Lech, and Brecht was censorious and familiar with Augsburg at first hand.  He was born on the embankment of a canal feeding into the Lech and grew up near the city moat.  I must assume that Mr. Bernhard is utterly unfamiliar with our Augsburg.

On this account I would like to invite Mr. Bernhard to come to Augsburg sometime very soon and to spend three days here as our guest.  The city of Augsburg will cover the costs of his stay, and we will gladly show him everything he wishes to see and even take him to the Lech and introduce him to people from every demographic stratum of our citizenry.  And then Mr. Bernhard will surely see and feel and smell not only that Augsburg has been richly shaped by a 200-year history, but also that it is a well-swept, blithesome major city with spring-pure drinking water and squeaky-clean citizens.  And that this place does not really smell all that bad.

By the way: we do have specialists in rheumatism.

So I am taking the liberty, Mr. Unseld, of most cordially asking you to forward my invitation to Mr. Bernhard.  I look forward to your and his reply with eager expectancy.”  

Probably in reaction to newspaper reports (for example, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of August 10, 1974) stating that Hans Breuer had instructed the Augsburg legal department to look into the possibility of initiating court proceedings, Bernhard wrote by telegram from Lisbon: “From here in Lisbon Augsburg strikes me as even more fundamentally execrable than in my new play.  My compassion for the Augsburgers and for all the people in Europe who consider themselves Augsburgers is colossally boundless and absolute” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 12, 1974).

Letter No. 303

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
August 19, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Your Frankfurt visit was very pleasant indeed.  You see: even in Frankfurt people can spend time together amicably and pleasantly.

I am enclosing for you the photos that you have of course already seen and that my wife has had duplicated for you once more.

I am very hopeful!

with warm regards,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. The enclosure cannot be identified.

Letter No. 304

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
September 2, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Mr. Rischbieter has tried to pull a fast one on me, but it has rebounded against him:

I told you during your Frankfurt visit that I had sent Rischbieter a telegram.  It concerned his fatuous review in the Frankfurter Rundschau in which he criticized the play very aggressively indeed and also described it as extremely reactionary.1  My telegram reads verbatim: “Why are you reprinting such a reactionary play in Theater heute?”  Now Rischbieter has wrought his revenge and at the same time treated himself to a piece of journalistic infamy.  He has in other words reprinted my telegram without any indication of its context--without a word of commentary, without a hint.  He has also published a second review in which the word “reactionary” is nowhere to be found.  In short, he tried to pull a fast one on me, but he won’t bring it off.  Any halfway rational person will realize that something fishy is going on, because of course in the end I did give him permission to reprint the play.  On the other hand I naturally am not going to let the matter rest.  In the next issue he will have to print a rebuttal, and I have already urged the relevant newspapers to publish an exposé.2  It may cause something of a fuss, but nothing that I expect to last very long.  I watched the television version of the play once again.  I thought it was done exquisitely well.3  Minetti was really quite inimitable in the close-ups.  To be sure, he fluffed a few lines, but on the whole the thing was very good.  The ensuing panel discussion did not make half as ghastly an impression as I had been forewarned of.  The gentlemen did their best, and of course Hilde Spiel is always good.  

In the past few days there has been a bit more brouhaha with Augsburg.  The mayor (SPD) had gone on vacation.  A CSU MP took advantage of his absence to represent himself as more protective of the Ausburgers’ interests than the SPD man.  He put forward a motion in the Bavarian legislative assembly, and Minister-President Goppel tried to block the broadcast.  But of course his attempt didn’t succeed--and so everything went as planned with “tomorrow in Augsburg.”

In Salzburg I was perhaps a bit too involved and hence too nervous to be able to take in every nuance.  But now I was very much in awe of your powers of language and your mastery of the dramatic in the truest sense of the word.  From now on “make precision a habit” will be one of my guiding principles.4

[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. Henning Rischbieter: “Bankrott auf hohem Niveau” [“Bankrupt on a High Level”] in the Frankfurter Rundschau of August 1, 1974.  In this article Rischbieter wrote, “Thomas Bernhard is a reactionary writer; this play, The Force of Habit, could just as easily be called--and why isn’t it?--The Habit of Power.”

  1. In the September 9, 1974 issue of Theater heute, Henning Rischbieter again busied himself about The Force of Habit in article entitled “Salzburg/Strehler/Bernhard” (pp. 31-36).  On p. 34 there is a facsimile of Unseld’s telegram, on which there is a handwritten remark: “Counterquestion: why do you publish both Beckett and Brecht?  With warm regards, Henning Rischbieter.”  The reprint of the play follows on pp. 37-52.  Page 2 of the Theater heute of October 10, 1974 includes a rebuttal by Unseld:

“In our September issue Mr. Rischbieter published the verbatim entirety of my telegram to him.  The wording of this telegram was intelligible to its recipient, but it will not be intelligible to the reader of this periodical.

Here are the facts:

  1. On June 24, 1974 the editorial office of Theater heute requested permission to print The Force of Habit in Theater heute.  Suhrkamp Publications wavered for a time, because the play had been published in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, but in the end it acquiesced in the editorial office’s request.

  1. On July 31, 1974 Mr. Rischbieter reviewed Thomas Bernhard’s play in the Frankfurter Rundschau.  In this review he wrote of the play’s ‘reactionary aporia,’ of its ‘retrogressive mental landscape’ and wrote of the author, ‘Thomas Bernhard is a reactionary writer.’      

  1. I thereupon sent a telegram that read as follows: ‘why are you reprinting such a reactionary play in “theater heute”? regards siegfried unseld.’

  1. Mr. Rischbieter’s reaction was then published in the September issue of Theater heute, the issue in which the play was reprinted.  But my telegram was published without any commentary informing the reader that its description of the play as ‘reactionary’ was a quotation.  In this same issue Mr. Rischbieter published another review of the play, a review from which the label ‘reactionary’ was entirely absent.

The commentary-less publication of the telegram could not but have given the reader the impression that Thomas Bernhard’s publisher and friend agreed with Mr. Rischbieter’s verdict.  Siegfried Unseld.”  

3. The ZDF broadcasted a recording of the premiere of The Force of Habit at 8:30 p.m. on August 30, 1974.  Afterwards the play was discussed by Hilde Spiel, Ernst Haeussermann, Curd Jürgens, and Oscar Fritz Schuh.

4. “Make precision a habit” is the motto of the animal tamer in The Force of Habit (see Bernhard, Works, v. 16, p. 52).   

Letter No. 305


September 6, 1974

en route to strasbourg today in augsburg more in two days1
sincerely bernhard

  1. Bernhard visited Augsburg on September 6, 1974.  According to the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung of September 7, 1974, “suddenly he was here; the bad-mouther of Augsburg, Thomas Bernhard, materialized in Augsburg without warning yesterday.  He paid an unannounced lightning visit to the editorial office of the AZ.  He marveled  incredulously and smilingly at the upswell of affronted civic pride against his play The Force of Habit.  On our asking him why Augsburg played such an important role in his play, he explained, ‘I could also have said Nuremburg, but Augsburg just sounds better.  But you know how it is when you’re writing.  The rhythm, the cadence--it’s got to be just right.’   
"Yesterday in Augsburg: Bernhard Visits AZ," announced the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung on September 7, 1974.  The caption under the photograph of Bernhard reads: "IT REALLY WAS JUST A JOKE: Thomas Bernhard in the AZ's compositor's room."; the one under Bernhard's handwritten note, "TODAY IN AUGSBURG: Here the author personally corroborates this."   

Letter No. 306

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram-memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
December 20, 1974

Dear Thomas Bernhard--will call you on Monday morning, December 23, 9 a.m. Ohlsdorf post office.  New play outstanding.1

Yours sincerely, Siegfried Unseld

  1. Unseld is referring to The President, the manuscript of which Bernhard gave to Rudolf Rach in Hanover on December 8.  In that city and on that date, Bernhard, Botho Strauß, Franz Xavier Kroetz were awarded the Hannoverschen Dramatikerpreis [Hanoverian Dramatists’ Prize], which had been instituted by the Hannoverschen Kunstverein and the periodical Theater heute and was associated with a sum of DM 20,000; Bernhard’s award was for The Force of Habit.  “All German-language plays that had not yet received a premiere as of the entry deadline (January 1, 1975) were eligible to compete for the prize” (Theater heute, Vol. I, January 1975, p. 1).  The jury was comprised by Rudolf Lange, Bernhard Minetti, Günther Ries, Henning Rischbieter, and Ernst Wendt.  On his way back from Hanover, in Stuttgart, Bernhard met with Unseld, who was returning from a lecture in Ulm.  In his Chronicle, Unseld wrote of this meeting thus:
“We discussed the possibility of a meeting bridging the old and new years.  But the principal topic of our conversation was something entirely different: he told me in confidence that he had been invited to take over the Burgtheater as its director.  He had already said something to this effect over the phone and laughed it off.  Now he asked me in all seriousness what I thought of the offer.  I spontaneously replied that I could not advise him to accept it.  I said that he was an author and that in his writings he was devoted to unconditionality.  But running a theater means compromises--compromises with art, with artistic quality, with public taste, with commerce, with the authorities, etc.  But he had already made up his mind.  He found the prospect of taking up this position quite attractive; if he was going to run a theater anywhere in Europe it would have to be the Burgtheater.  He would take over in two years and then serve in the position for four years, from 1977 to 1981; by that point he would be 50 and then move on to pastures new.  I couldn’t do anything but accede to him in  this decision.

After our meeting he went to see Peymann to discuss the performance of The President with him.  He also made Peymann privy to this Burgtheater offer.       
The meeting “bridging the old and new years” took place in Ohlsdorf on December 29 , 1974.  Unseld wrote about the meeting in his Travel Journal, Salzburg-Ohlsdorf--Oberweis, December 28-30, 1974:

A day with Thomas Bernhard.  I was punctual to the minute in my arrival at the farmhouse-cum-courtyard in Obernathal in Ohlsdorf in Gmunden am Traunsee.  Bernhard was unusually cheerful and gave me an ancient Chinese vase or jug that blends in well with our blue Chinese carpet.  It is quite a valuable present and certainly the first of such magnitude that Bernhard has ever given me.  Then we were on the move the entire day.  He led me to his ‘estates’; we took a walk along the Traunsee, then we headed southeast and hiked on the hills of the Salzkammergut; there we also visited Professor Wieland Schmied. [...]  In the evening we were together at Maletas in Oberweis, where I also spent the night.

Bernhard intends to finish writing Atzbach for the edition suhrkamp.  We will receive the text at the end of February.  [See n. 1 to Letter No. 194.]  He will also contribute to the First Reading Experiences book and to the selection of Brecht poems.  [Volume 250 of the suhrkamp taschenbücher was published in 1975 and was edited by Unseld.  Bernhard’s contribution, entitled In frühester und in rücksichtsloser Beobachtung… [In earliest and in most ruthless observation...], appeared on p. 96.  Volume 256 of the suhrkamp taschenbücher is Bertolt Brecht. Poems, selected by authors.  Bernhard did not contribute to this volume.]  His selection will center on the late, short Buckow poems.  He will not surrender the manuscript of Correction; the grounds for this refusal are either irrational or materialistic.  Additionally, he is working on a new play that will be finished in September 0f 1975 and that he expects to be premiered in June of 1976 at the Salzburg Festival.

A conversation about the edition suhrkamp.  Bernhard suggested we might want to go back to printing originals, meaning first editions of literary texts.  He thought that would give the edition suhrkamp a new lease on life.

Next day, Bernhard was ill: bronchitis.  Two days later he checked into the hospital, because he was worried about strain on his lungs.  I came down with the same chest cold exactly four days later.”

In his Chronicle Unseld added:

Thomas Bernhard, December 29, 1974
The whole time I was in a sceptical frame of mind towards whatever schemes Bernhard might have dreamt up lately.  So for example the manuscript of Correction is certainly finished, but probably he isn’t handing it over because Correction is covered by our current financial arrangement.  But he would probably like to ‘fetch’ an even bigger fee for it.  This is pure speculation.

Then there is yet another scheme the sly fox has dreamt up: Bernhard now has three houses attached to some fairly large lots and sections of woodland.  He has just bought yet another residence in Gmunden [11 Lerchenfeldgasse] that he wants to fit out as his ‘archive’ for tax purposes.  He thinks it will be possible to deduct the entire cost of this house, DM 140,000.00, from his 1974 tax debt.  I voiced my very grave doubts about this, but he said he would be able to manage it.  He has now taken out a loan of DM 100,000.00 from the Oberbank Gmunden, and he would be very pleased if we could take on this loan.  I was pretty much speechless, and I certainly didn’t make him any promises; I was familiar with his tax situation thanks to a conversation with Mr. Schaffler.  We must carefully think over what we are going to do in this matter.”   



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. 414-455. 

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. 

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