Monday, July 06, 2015

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with His Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part XIV: 1976 and 1977.

Letter No.  332

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
February 3, 1976

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I am writing to inform you of the publication of the film-scenario Kulterer in the suhrkamp taschenbücher.  We are printing a run of 10,000 copies; the retail price is
DM 4.00.  Distribution will be handled by Residenz Publications.1

A copy is already on its way to you.  You will receive the remaining copies from Residenz Publications.

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]2

  1. Bernhard reworked the short story “Kulterer” into a screenplay (see n. 1 to Letter No. 271 as well as Vol. 11, pp. 366-371 of Bernhard’s Works).

  1. Less than two weeks earlier, on January 22, Bernhard and Unseld met in Frankfurt.  The Chronicle reads:
“Thomas Bernhard at the firm; to my surprise he announced that he had been in Brussels and had allowed himself to be ‘spoiled’ there.  He was in an excellent mood, and he gave me the manuscripts of no fewer than two plays: The Celebrities and Minetti: A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man.  
He is in dazzlingly rare form; he is delighted with the BS-prospectus, which is already finished, and he made a special comment about each author, and he praised Burgel Zeeh: ‘If your authors worked as perfectly as Ms. Zeeh, you would have nothing but good authors.’  But at bottom he obviously still wants to be alone.  Our financial agreement expired on 12.31.1975.  By then all remittances to him apart from the new loan of DM 100,000.00 [see n. 1 to Letter No. 312] had effectively been offset by sales and royalties.  If he receives more honoraria and royalties, he will be remitted the surplus; if there is a shortfall, we will have to write it off.
He is quite excited about the library for young readers and would like to be a part of it.  Everything else is amicable.  We have lunch together, and then he flies on to Vienna.
In the evening I read The Celebrities.  I am quite pleasantly surprised.  Once again, Bernhard has managed to improve on his earlier plays.  His dialogues have become livelier.  His theme is the old problem of artists and other creative people versus society.  This time the gang even includes a publisher.  Next morning I talk with Bernhard by phone and tell him I like the play very much.  And he was very pleased to hear this.
In a note Unseld wrote of some additional consequences of this visit: “Peter Hamm is editing an About Thomas Bernhard volume.  This volume will mark a continuation of the first volume, but it won’t recycle any of its contributions.  It is slated to begin with a long interview of Bernhard by Peter Hamm.
[…] The second play is dedicated to the actor Minetti […].  Premiere in the 2nd half of March.  We are planning to print this in a limited run.  Large, slim format, a bit like Bloch’s Experimentum Mundi, perhaps an extra centimeter in length, black cloth, a black jacket that is divided in half.  On the left side the title, on the right side a photo of the actor Minetti.  Large typeface, 6 photos of Minetti on one of the versos of each copy; 1,000 numbered copies, copies 1-10 in leather.”
Letter No. 333
Frankfurt am Main
February 20, 1976
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
Sincere congratulations on the magnificent Correction review in the Times Literary Supplement by no less a personage than George Steiner, the coiner of the phrase “Suhrkamp culture.”
As soon as I learn anything new from Vienna, I will get in touch.1
with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. Unseld is referring to difficulties associated with the performance of The Celebrities (see n. 1 to Letter No. 331).

  1. The enclosure has not survived.  Presumably it was a copy of “Conic Sections,” George Steiner’s review of Correction in the February 13, 1976 number of the Times Literary Supplement.  The review concludes, “The feeling grows that Thomas Bernhard is now the most original, concentrated novelist writing in German.  His connections, at once developmental and contrastive, with the great ‘Austrian’ constellation of Hofmannsthal, Kafka, Musil and Broch become ever clearer.”  Steiner formulated the concept of “Suhrkamp culture” two years earlier in a TLS review of Theodor W. Adorno’s Collected Works.

Letter No. 334

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
March 10, 1976

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Our get-together in Vienna was a melancholy one.  Unfortunately there were unavoidable reasons for that.  But we will get past those.1

On my return I came upon the first copy of Amras in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  I am highly pleased with it, and I hope you are too.  That is us to a turn: working silently for your benefit.2

We ought to enter into another agreement soon.  There also may yet be another constellation for The Celebrities.  I will be returning on March 21, 1976 and will get in touch with you afterwards.

I hope in the meantime you take pleasure in Amras.

with sincere regards,
[Dr. Siegfried Unseld]
(dictating during a travel absence)
Helma Marinoff

  1. In the Travel Journal Vienna, March 6-8, 1976, Unseld wrote of the jeopardization of the premiere of The Celebrities in the context of the Vienna Festival Week:
“On arriving at the hotel in Vienna I received a telegram: ‘Situation very grave.  Regards Baumgartner Viennafestival.’  Everywhere in Austria the situation is very grave at the moment.  Television: drastic cutbacks and reneging on commitments.  It is exactly the same in the art scene as described to me by Schmögner.

Things are especially catastrophic at the Burgtheater: three plays, along with their rehearsal dates, have had to be postponed.  Thanks to these postponements the actors who were expected to be cast for the Bernhard play will no longer be able to take part in the rehearsals.[...]

Mr. Baumgartner would like to try some other solutions, but the whole thing is hopeless and also basically no longer his responsibility.  The festival has fixed dates, and not even the costumes can be gotten ready by then.     
I had a very extensive conversation with Thomas Bernhard on this subject.  He of course wanted the Vienna performance to take place at all costs; naturally he is dejected at the fact that it is coming to nothing and that he is now going to have to wait.  Claus Peymann had told me over the phone that he would be willing to direct The Celebrities under any circumstances--admittedly not before May 0f 1977.  Bernhard is in principle content with our giving Peymann this chance, but in his view the play is ‘history,’ and his enthusiasm has faded.  He is working on a new prose text and also on yet another play.”   

2. The Bibliothek Suhrkamp edition of Amras, Volume 489 in the series, was published on March 9, 1976.

3. From March 17-21, Unseld was in the United States, where among other things he opened the Deutsche Buchausstellung [German Book Exhibition] in Los Angeles and delivered two lectures at the University of Southern California--one in German on Hesse and another bearing the English title “Literary Publishing in Germany.”  

Letter No. 335

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); telegram-memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
April 6, 1976

Urgently requesting phone call.  Regards S.U.

Letter No. 336

Frankfurt am Main
April 8, 1976

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

On my way back from Zurich I could be arriving at Salzburg Airport at 3:35 p.m. on May 10, 1976.1  Will we see each other then?  I would be flying on to Munich at 6:43 p.m.  I hope that is convenient for you.

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

|Today the contract, text, and a letter were sent by me to Vienna (Festival Week office).|2

  1. On May 9, Unseld visited Max Frisch, to whom he presented copies of his Collected Works, which were going to be published on Frisch’s 65th birthday, May 15.  After the stopover in Salzburg on the 10th he flew to Munich where he met with Ernst Augustin, Herbert Achternbusch, and others.

  1. The postscript is in Burgel Zeeh’s handwriting and appears only on the carbon copy.
On April 8, 1976, Unseld wrote to Ulrich Baumgartner, the general administrator of the Vienna Festival Week in the matter of The Celebrities: “[...] We urgently need to sort out the performance contract together.  After our last communication in Vienna I was of the opinion that the play could no longer be realized, and I also informed the author of this.  But thanks to your intensity it now looks as though it will be possible to have the premiere in the setting of the Vienna Festival Week.  Admittedly, owing to the brevity of the time remaining we must with the utmost urgency ask you to move forward with the utmost artistic concentration on all preparations that are still possible.”  In the remainder of the letter Unseld discusses the contract attached to it and certain already extant agreements regarding the directing and casting of the play.  For additional performance history see the commentary on The Celebrities in Vol. 16, pp. 390-405 of Bernhard’s Works.   

Letter No. 337


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

I had a very good conversation with Lotschak the director in Vienna and am glad that The Celebrities will be brought into the world there on May 23; the amount of rehearsal time is copious, because the Theater an der Wien has placed almost three days and nights at the ensemble’s disposal and the union isn’t putting any pressure on them.  I don’t think there is any better place for the play at this, the best possible time for it.

We shall meet if we must on the 10th, hence also in Salzburg and in point of fact a parley about all our basic questions is indispensable; we must once again inspect the foundation and address the cracks in the pedestal.  We will then once again have a new starting point for a new epoch qua future.  Moreover our finances need to be clarified once again.

I myself am enjoying excellent periods of activity and am sticking to my work: the utmost discipline qua refresher of existence.

Thomas B.

Tomorrow I shall send you the corrected Celebrities galley proofs; I am looking forward to the book.1

  1. The Celebrities was published in June of 1976 as Volume 495 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.

Letter No. 338

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
May 3, 1976

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Warm thanks for your letter of April 27, 1976.  I am very glad that you had a good conversation with Lotschak in Vienna.  We are hoping for May 23.  I obviously will be there.1

So we will be meeting on the 10th.  I am flying from Zurich to Salzburg and arriving at the airport at 1:35 p.m.  Can you meet me there?  If not, then I’ll hang out at the Österreichischer Hof and will expect you there an hour after my arrival.  Late that afternoon I shall be flying back to Frankfurt via Munich.

Yours with sincere regards
and hoping for a good reunion,2
[Siegfried Unseld]

---dictated during a travel absence--

The corrected galley proofs have punctually arrived.  MANY THANKS!  

  1. The Celebrities was ultimately premiered on June 8, 1976 during the Vienna Festival in a performance directed by Peter Lotschak at the Theater an der Wien.  The cast included Johanna Matz, Bibiana Zeller, Horst Christian Beckmann, Wolfgang Gasser, and Rudolf Wessely.  In his Travel Journal Vienna, June 7-9, 1976: Unseld noted:
“It is difficult not to write a novel.
By chance at midnight I met Thomas Bernhard, the director Peter Lotschak, Claus Peymann, Mrs. Maleta, a few friends of Bernhard’s.  Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves; Bernhard had seen the rehearsals, and was satisfied; the director was optimistic, which is always a very bad omen for a premiere.  
Our problem was that despite all our complaints, telegrams, and threats, the general administrator of the Vienna Festival Weeks had declared himself unprepared to sign the contract.  It must be admitted that the contract was fairly severe: the premiere, a few additional performance-dates, and nothing else, and firm assent to our choices of director and performers of the principal roles.  In the morning I tried telephoning the general administrator of the Vienna Festival Weeks; I ended up hearing only from his secretary’s office; it was not known there when Mr. Baumgartner would be reachable.  I tried ringing again at 10 a.m., again with no clear result.  The dress rehearsal began at 10:30; I called the administrator’s office one more time just before then; he was out.  So I gave them a choice: either the administrator could call me out of the rehearsal for a conference, or I could show up at the administrator’s office at 3:00 p.m. to sign the contract; if the administrator wasn’t there then and the contract remained unsigned, then most likely an hour later Suhrkamp Publications would issue an order to cancel the evening’s performance.

I was at the dress rehearsal, for which the audience had been very, very carefully selected; everybody who had sneaked in was shooed back outside, and the play began with a major failure of the lighting; the beginning had to be repeated several times; then the first prologue and the first scene were performed straight through; then there was another major breakdown of the lighting and communication, finally things resumed after interruptions, and the conclusion was an absolute fiasco.

I have gotten ahead of myself: right in the middle of the rehearsal a messenger found me and asked me to come to the general administrator’s room. [...] I was able to inform Bernhard of the finalization and signing of the contract before the end of the rehearsal.

For me this dress rehearsal was a signal.  There was a foul-up at the very beginning, in the middle there was a major obstacle, the performance had to be interrupted, and at the end the whole thing really fell to pieces.  The reaction was quite remarkable: Peymann thought the performance was still workable; Bernhard was very happy.  I had lunch with him.  He described our meeting in Salzburg and at Maria Plain as magnificent, one-of-a-kind; during a recent stop in Frankfurt he had preferred not to get in touch so as not to spoil this one-of-a-kindness.  After we parted he met with Minetti for an hour and then drove back to Ohlsdorf while the premiere was taking place in Vienna.

This evening of June 8 in Vienna is destined to be remembered as some kind of landmark.  Bernhard’s play is basically pretty cut-and-dried in its first third; everybody knows there aren’t any disturbing plot twists. In point of fact, this first third seemed quite successful, and one would have hoped the dramaturgical team had a sufficient grasp of things.  And yet the dramaturgy was missing from the play.  To whom were they opposed; who were their adversaries; who were their abettors?  And during the performance itself the conclusion was completely incomprehensible: in the text the ‘celebrities’ are wearing animal masks; their high-society palaver increases ad absurdum, which means after a certain point they are supposed to speak only in animal language, and then for an interval of a few seconds the cock crows out his traitorous cock-a-doodle-do--none of this was included in the performance; you couldn’t make sense of it.  The director, Lotschak, basically had no understanding of the poetry of the text, of its poetic dimensions, and the whole thing was banal, a cabaret act, and a bad one at that.  Fine, there will be mixed reviews; my prognosis is that the German critics will find the play interesting but the performance offputting.

I myself am of the opinion that the play was sold short.  Somebody really could do something worthwhile with it!

I had various other problems: to be sure, I had pressed for the signature of the contract with the Vienna Festival Weeks, but we ourselves still lacked a contract with Bernhard; so then Bernhard also signed an author’s contract for The Celebrities between Suhrkamp Zurich and him within a matter of seconds!”

The premiere of The Celebrities was more than reluctantly received by the critics; the reactions are typified by a declaration by Paul Blahas in Weltwoche: “The Celebrities, Thomas Bernhard’s diatribe against the art industry, is most certainly not a betrayal of art.  The Celebrities is merely an exceptionally bad play.  The Celebrities is the worst work by Bernhard that has ever been presented to us.”  See also the commentary on The Celebrities in Volume 16, pp. 390-405 of Bernhard’s Works.

2. Under the title “Encounter with Thomas Bernhard in Salzburg on May 10, 1976,” Unseld devoted a three-page chronicle entry to his stay in Salzburg:
“The flight from Zurich arrived punctually at Salzburg Airport.  Bernhard was waiting for me.  We then went into the airport restaurant for lunch.  The usual civilities.  Questions about his aunt, questions about Ms. Zeeh.  I read him an excerpt from a discussion Bruno Kreisky had had with some schoolchildren.  ‘What kind of international standing does Austria have?’ asked one of the pupils.  And Kreisky ‘lets rip.’  First mention: the UN general-secretary [Kurt Waldheim] and a commandant on the Golan Heights [Major-General Hannes Philipp].  Then in second place comes ‘Many of the greatest writers of the younger generation are Austrians.’  Here Kreisky lets slip something quite interesting.
I can clearly see that he is nervous and is going to press for what he wrote to me about [i.e., in Letter No. 337] […].
He said: ‘Shall we begin with the negatives or with the positives?’  I opted for the negative, but when he began with what I had feared, namely the fact that he had promised Schaffler another short book, I interrupted and asked him to save it for later.  Then he said, ‘Fine, let’s talk about money.’  I was then quite prepared to do that.  Of course, many years earlier we had struck up an agreement, according to the terms of which various remittances to him, sums running at least into the high six figures, were not to be paid off individually; rather, we were planning to make up a ‘balance sheet’ on 12.31.1975.  If we had paid him more than the total of the balance, the shortfall would be written off; if we had paid him less, he would be our creditor by a certain sum, a sum which he would subsequently receive.  I asked him to assess how the situation stood.  He had no idea.  He was then surprised that I had drawn up a well-arranged, easy-to-read one-page statement.  Nevertheless, he immediately turned around and said that regardless of how the accounts now stood, he still wanted me to issue him another DM 40,000.00.  I calmly heard out this request of his and asked him just to take a careful look at the statement.  He was greatly surprised by the favorable bottom line: a credit of DM 50,000.00 in Frankfurt, a credit of DM 50,000.00 in Zurich—he was elated, he found this ‘ideal’ and was ‘very happy.’  Then came the masterstroke of surprise: I proposed to him that we should apply half of this credit to paying off his loan.  ‘And the other half?’ he asked.  Then I opened my suitcase and handed him 50,000 Swiss francs in cash.  He definitely hadn’t been expecting that to happen!

He was certainly in high spirits, and in this pleasant atmosphere I really didn’t want to speak with him again about his intention to give another book to Schaffler.  He explained it to me thus:

In Vienna, he said, I had not only failed to support him in a difficult situation but had left him in the lurch.  I had criticized him on account of his open letter to Canetti.  I had repeatedly told him that this letter was doing him harm and had never said a word about the harm Canetti had done him with his speech.  [On February 6, 1976 Die Zeit printed published Elias Canetti’s speech on the occasion of his acceptance of an honorary doctorate from the University of Munich, a speech in which with pointed reference to Bernhard as “somebody who writes,” (as Bernhard had styled himself in the film Three Days; see n. 1 to Letter No. 115),  he stated “[…] but there were also others […] who composed bitter and very promising books, rose very quickly to fame as ‘somebody who writes,’ and then did what earlier writers [Dichter] had been wont to do: instead of falling silent, writing the same book over and over again.  However unimprovable and capitally criminal humanity seemed to them, it retained one function: applauding them.”  On February 27 Die Zeit published a letter from Thomas Bernhard in which he characterized Canetti as a “huckster of aphorisms,” a “poor-man’s Kant,” and a  “mini-Schopenhauer.”] He had been stung by my failure to come to his defense.  The next morning he had rung up Schaffler and told him he could have the book [The Cellar].  Naturally with no advance and the ordinary 10%, just like with The Cause.  He said it was very much a side-project, a sequel to The Cause, a Salzburg story, mainly of local interest, and so forth.  I dwelt on this subject and dwelt on it tenaciously, but he said he had already given Schaffler his word and that was that.  Then on the other hand he rather sheepishly asked: “do you plan on letting me go like Barbara Frischmuth?”  A long silence.  In this connection he could not refrain from saying that one must protest against one’s father in order survive. [...] Bernhard kept taking up the volume of Max Frisch; he liked both the outside and the inside of the edition, and was quite impressed by Frisch’s dedication to me in this book. [The dedication in the first volume of Max Frisch’s Collected Works reads: “In friendship I thank Siegfried Unseld, the great publisher.”  Max Frisch, May 10, 1976.”]  He kept murmuring: ‘It’s right: the simple and clear is true...’

Then we left the airport restaurant and went to a second locale: a restaurant near the church of Maria Plain.  We drove there in his new car--lo and behold, a new Mercedes.  He got lost a bit, but soon we were standing high above Salzburg in the garden of this restaurant.  It was exceptionally beautiful.  The föhn raged,  Hohensalzburg castle and the city drew ever nearer, a strong warm wind whipped through the garden and repeatedly lifted the tablecloths, imparting a peculiar dynamism to the garden in which we eventually found ourselves sitting quite alone.  It was like swimming in an ocean of wind.  We started again from scratch.  The balance sheet; he said it really was enormously gratifying.  The cash; uncommonly agreeable.  As far as Schaffler went, he said it was the last book he was giving him, that he wouldn’t enter into any further agreements of the kind with him.  In any case, he said, the catalogue of Schaffler’s firm was basically a joke.

He will also revise his contracts with Schaffler so that he will have the right to issue the texts in another setting anytime he likes.

He urged me to come up with a proposal for the settlement of his literary estate.

Then he spoke euphorically about his work plans.  He said he was hatching a play dealing with the subject of ‘judges and art.’  Six characters.

He said the prose volume Remembering was almost finished.

The two books could then be issued in the spring of 1977 followed in the the fall of 1977 by the new novel and--this is his wish--the Reader [see Letter No. 214].

He said that these were his major works and that they were intended for Suhrkamp and that he was fanatically preoccupied with them. [...]

He said that I shouldn’t look so much into the future, that only the present state of the firm was of any interest to him.

He said that he had achieved what he had set out to achieve: the material security of his work.  That he was now independent, that he could write whatever he wished.”
Letter No. 339

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram-memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
July 7, 1976

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

My wife, my son, and I would be delighted if you were to join us for dinner at the Hotel Bachmaier am See in Rottach-Egern at 6:00 p.m. on Friday.

Perhaps with Mrs. Maleta--yours sincerely Siegfried Unseld.

ze.--8:40 a.m. [1a.]

1a. I suppose this note signifies that Burgel Zeeh sent the telegram-memorandum at the indicated time. [DR]

  1. Unseld stayed with his family on the Tegernsee from the 8th through the 10th of July; during this stay he visited Ernst Bloch, who was observing his 91st birthday at the Alpine Sanatorium in Bad Wiesee, and others, and made a side trip to Starnberg to visit Jurgen Habermas.  Unseld wrote about his meeting with Bernhard and Gerda Maleta in his Travel Journal Bad Wiessee--Rottach--Egern--Starnberg, July 8-10, 1976:

Thomas Bernhard came to visit and brought Mrs. Gerda Maleta with him.  The two of them had gone to the trouble of traveling at least two hours by car.  Bernhard was in stunning form; only at one brief point was mention made of the play he is working on and that he plans to finish by October.  Otherwise there was not a word of ‘shop talk.’

In the July 10 FAZ I had read a remark by Heinz Politzer: ‘During a recent visit to Vienna, a resident of Frankfurt from Magdeburg, namely Horst Krüger, asked himself in bewilderment, “What is Austria?” and provided his own answer to the question: “Austria is a neverending Thomas Bernhard play.  A gruesome, beautiful theatrical scene filled with utterly terminal states of affairs.”  But this aperçu sums up Austria less tidily than it does a rather considerable portion of Austrian literature.  A Hermann Bahr, a Josef Nadler, the baroque, and especially the grotesque, cannot be expelled from this literary tradition, and Thomas Bernhard, that etcher of absurd frost flowers of isolation and despair on windowpanes, has a secure place at its very heart.’

The ‘etcher of isolation and despair’ was cheerful, gregarious, full of jokes and jests; he drank champagne, then wine at dinner, and tucked into his onion soup and Tegernsee whitefish with great gusto.  Mrs. Maleta had brought along some photos; she had of course been with him in Portugal.  One of them resembled Caspar David Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea, the other shows an elegant poet in light-colored trousers and shoes and a dark jacket; he is gazing meditatively out at the sea or into his own depths; he is content with himself and is neither isolated nor despair-ridden.  The mystery of his wanderings elicits endless speculation.”
Bernhard in Portugal.jpg
Bernhard “gazing meditatively out at the sea or into his own depths” in Portugal
in May of 1976

Letter No. 340

Frankfurt am Main
October 1, 1976

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

An interim notice regarding Minetti.  The book is looking very nice!  But we don’t plan to ship it out before the end of the year; rather, we will wait until February.  But you and Minetti should be receiving a copy before Christmas.1

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. In his Travel Journal, Stuttgart, September 1, 1976, Siegfried Unseld commented on the premiere of Minetti under the direction of Claus Peymann at the Württembergische Staatstheater:

“In Stuttgart a conversation with Bernhard.  It was another of our usual conversations.  His affability took a money-hungry turn.  He had seen the rehearsal, was enthusiastic, found it ‘magnificent.’  He refused to sign the special edition of Minetti; he didn’t even want to sign the first 100 copies, which we might bind in leather.  I firmly insisted on his doing the second.  He wanted to have another DM 30,000.00 even though he still had a credit from the Vienna honorarium; I deferred this question to December.

He intends to stick to his plan.  Through the end of October he will be working on his play Denken im Lärchenwald [Thinking in the Larch Wood].1a  A family history with seven characters.  The premiere is supposed to take place in June in Stuttgart.  Then this play will also pass through us.  Over the winter he will be writing the novel Unrest.  He plans to finish it by March so that the book can be published in the fall.  After that will come the Reader, which I shall edit myself at Bernhard’s pressing request.

The performance of the play Minetti.  A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man, with Bernhard Minetti in the completely monological title role, was a great success.  Minetti surpassed himself, and his fits of despair, his assertions, and his prognoses took on a palpable form.  Claus Peymann had put an enormous amount of work into the production; a magnificent set design, which successfully imparted the distinctive atmosphere of the lobby of a grand hotel in Ostend.  Almost everybody in the company had a part, and the silent roles were played by outstanding actors.  The elderly married couple were played by Edith Heerdegen and Hans Mahnke, the drunkard by Traugott Buhre.  The epilogue, Minetti on a bench at edge of the raging sea, donning Ensor’s Lear mask, engulfed by the snowstorm.  Two heckles during the play, ‘Hi there, Bernhard!’ which was aimed at the incessant repetitions of death art, and ‘Tomorrow in Augsburg,’ when Minetti was unleashing his tirades against the noisomeness of Lübeck and his banishment to Dinkelsbühl.  Resounding applause.  Minetti had to keep bowing over and over again.”           

1a. In their index of works the editors report that this play was never
completed (DR).

Letter No. 341


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

Your lines from Austin have put me into a very lovely, slightly melancholy, or rather philosophical-cum-melancholy, mood vis-à-vis our mutual relationship and I do not wish to let slip the opportunity of reporting to you on this mood before you are back in Europe.1

I am reporting on a condition subsisting between two people who stick together over the course of a fairly long lifetime for their own most exclusive purpose and for their own pleasure.

An absence of the sort that you are practicing right now makes much that was unclear clear and probably imparts distinctness to important connections.  For you Austin will be a place of this elemental sort, a place in which the foundation of (your) existence will become distinct.   

A human being comes closer and is suddenly quite nearby and can be regarded from every possible side of his nature and from within and without and vice-versa,  with the highest degree of understanding and feeling, when he is far away, has distanced himself, is unreachable.

When I regard it dispassionately from all sides, I have to say that together we have produced something quite important and also very beautiful (in the deepest sense, but also in the ordinary one), and I think we still have great lashings of good fortune in store for us.

So, being in possession of this thought as I am, I am finding it easy enough to salute you.  Everything will be very simple, so long as we remember to service our complicated, our enormously complicated (mental) apparatus.

Nature is the path, we have only to walk along it.
Yours very sincerely,
Thomas B.2

1. From October 24 through December 2, 1976 Unseld had a guest professorship at the University of Texas at Austin, from which he wrote picture postcards to the firm’s authors.  His “lines from Austin” to Bernhard have not survived.  But perhaps they referred to a certain incident that he had learned about from Burgel Zeeh and that he described as “the Bernhard miracle” in his November 1 Chronicle entry.  In Vienna on October 21, Gerda Maleta and Bernhard boarded a plane bound for London, where among other things they were to attend a rehearsal of The Force of Habit, the English version of Die Macht der Gewohnheit, at the National Theatre; the premiere of the play under the direction of Elija Moshinsky was on November 9.  The circumstances of the flight were reported in a Kurier article headlined “Several Good Moods Spoiled on London Flight”: “Ashen-faced and trembling, 45 passengers and six crew members alighted from an English commercial airliner at Vienna International Airport on Thursday.  An explosion in the right engine put the fear of death in them--fortunately everything held together during the shock: within a few minutes of the incident the pilot succeeded in descending from an altitude of 10,000 meters and making a smooth landing on the very same VIA runway he had taken off from shortly before.”  On
October 27 Bernhard sent Burgel Zeeh the newspaper cutting with these accompanying words: “[...] for the near future instead of flying I shall be working.  This ‘contretemps’ is an episode in my ‘history.’  Totally sunny days all over the earth now.  Please give my regards to our publisher and accept my thanks for all transactions.”

2. On the envelope Bernhard gave his return address as “Thomas Bernhard A 4694, Ohlsdorf, Europe,” which suggests that he mailed the letter directly to Austin.  In the November 23 entry in his Travel Journal, USA--Mexico, October 20 -December 15, 1976 Unseld commented on the letter as follows: “(the master has written me what is by his standards a very gracious letter).”

Letter No. 342

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); handwritten]

Frankfurt am Main
December 1976

My dear and esteemed friend,

I am certain this Minetti will please you as much as it does me!  A lovely book made into a habit…1

In quoting this I am
your old [xxx]2 [Unseld]

  1. In The Force of Habit one reads: “Precise / As my uncle always says / Precise / make precision a habit” (Bernhard, Works, p. 52).  Minetti was published in a form fairly close to that specified in the note on Bernhard’s March 1977 visit to Frankfurt (see n. 2 to Letter No. 332).  The white clothbound book includes 16 photographs taken by Digne Meller Marcovicz; two of these also grace the slipcase in which it is enclosed.

  1. A single word is illegible.
Bernhard at the Maletas'.jpg
Thomas Bernhard at the Maleta family’s house in Oberweis,
not far from his own house in Ohlsdorf, in 1977

Letter No. 343

Frankfurt am Main
January 11, 1977

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

So, Trieste: I am arriving on Wednesday, January 26, at 1:45 p.m.  Where shall I lay down my weary head in the evening?  And on that Wednesday we shall be meeting alone; at least I hope so.  

At 7:00 a.m. on Friday, January 28, I shall have to leave Trieste in order attend to my duties here.

I hope this is all agreeable to you.  I shall bring the agreed-upon amount with me.1

I thank you warmly for your presence in Frankfurt.  I now know what friendliness feels like.

[Siegfried Unseld]  

  1. Bernhard and Unseld stayed in Trieste between January 26 and 28 in connection with a Bernhard symposium being held there.  Regarding his conversation with Bernhard on the evening of the symposium Unseld wrote in his Travel Journal, Trieste, January 26-28, 1977:

“We spent the evening chatting, telling anecdotes, reflecting on our day trip [to Castle Duino the previous morning]; on a business envelope from the Zürcher Schauspielhaus I outlined the state of his accounts for him, and I gave him the sum he desired [DM 60,000.00].

He is elated about Minetti.

He wants to record his old radio play Misses Nightflowers Monolog [(sic) on all anomalies in the title, which seems pointless to translate (DR)] someday.  It dates from 25 years ago and is his only radio play.  It is centered on a character character called Joana the actress, a bibulous type.  [Joana is one of the principal characters in the novel Woodcutters.]  Tomorrow he will read from Watten; he asked if the book was still in the e.s.?  I said that it was, but even as I did I was silently asking myself whether this book was still in print in the e.s.

He is writing the play The Thinker.  And then he will write the novel Unrest; both of these can be slated for publication in the fall of 1978.

[…] In the evening the beginning of the Thomas Bernhard symposium at the University of Trieste.  Organized by the Austrian Culture Institute. […] That night a reception at the Austrian general consul’s; I arrive a bit too early, and so the consul doesn’t know to whom he is talking; he cannot contain his disappointment in Thomas Bernhard, or his disconsolation on discovering that the Austrian State spends its tax revenues on such muddleheaded prose texts!”
Hilde Spiel chose to conclude her report on the symposium in the February 3 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung with a description of the author’s role: “And Bernhard himself?  He had at least shown up, given a reading, and listened to his intellectual work being clinically dissected for entire evening […].  Afterwards he refrained from adding his voice to any of the statements or taking part in any of the discussions.  But despite his taciturn public demeanor, in an informal small-group setting he proved not at all averse to conversation and was indeed delighted at having found friends and readers in this forlorn and forgotten corner of Europe.  The idea of bringing an author face-to-face with his interpreters and putting them both in front of an audience had in Thomas Bernhard’s specific case turned out to be an unqualified—and, one is tempted to add, surprising—success.”
2. In celebration of a personal milestone—the 25th anniversary of January 7, 1952, his first day working at Suhrkamp—Unseld threw a party, of which the January 14, 1977 number of Die Zeit reported: “at a Frankfurt ‘office party’ to which Suhrkamp’s and Insel’s personnel and authors (Jürgen Becker, Thomas Bernhard, Jürgen Habermas, Peter Handke, Uwe Johson, Wolfgang Koeppen, Hans Mayer, Alexander Mitscherlich, Martin Walser, Peter Wapnewski, and Peter Weiss, among many others) had been invited to fete Suhrkamp’s boss Siegfried Unseld, […] one of Max Frisch’s official speeches was delivered.”
In his Chronicle Unseld described the party, which took place on January 8, as follows: “[…] it was planned as an evening in Siesmayerstraße to be attended by all the authors and employees and no members of their families […] no other configuration suggested itself, for nothing is more difficult than picking and choosing among one’s authors and employees.  And yet I got the impression there, hopefully for the last time, that such a large assembly of intellectual substances and powers—roughly 120 authors, translators, editors, illustrators, heirs, and executors were present—is almost a contradiction in terms.  An author wants above all else to be seen as an individual, and at this gathering there was a very great danger that each author would believe he was simply disappearing into the ‘mass’ and indeed being extinguished by it.  Nevertheless, the beauty of such an evening ought to consist in a sense of commonality between authors and employees, but such feelings were not evidence.”         

Letter No. 344

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
January 18, 1977

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

You had spoken to Ms. Doufexis about the reprinting of Minetti in Theater heute.  I had no knowledge of this event.  It now transpires that Rudolf Rach authorized the reprint.  The honorarium that Mr. Rach agreed to comes to DM 1,000.00.  The sum has just arrived here.

I am not very happy about this event and would have preferred to see our publication rights to the text kept exclusive.  But perhaps in hindsight it isn’t all that big of a screw-up.

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. During his visit in Frankfurt on January 8, Bernhard pointed out to Renate Doufexis and Helene Ritzerfeld that Minetti had been reprinted without his permission in the October issue of Theater heute.

Letter No. 345

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram-memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
January 19, 1977

Urgently requesting phone call from you--regards Unseld

Letter No. 346

Frankfurt am Main
January 24, 1977

Requesting phone call from you--regards Unseld1

  1. According to notes taken by Burgel Zeeh,the telephone conversation that followed the two telegrams dealt first with organizational matters relating to Unseld and Bernhard’s meeting in Trieste and then with the question of whether Bernhard cared to speak at a memorial service for Carl Zuckmayer, who had died on January 18, a service that was to be held at the Corso, the interim home of the Zurich Schauspielhaus.

Under the date-heading of January 30 Unseld wrote about the function in Zurich in his Chronicle: “Thomas Bernhard gives his memorial speech.  It is a Bernhardian text; he loved Zuckmayer, and Zuckmayer loved him.  Nobody had a greater understanding of his prose than Zuckmayer had, Bernhard said.  But the discrepancy (the inner discrepancy) between him and Zuckmayer is glaring.”

Bernhard wrote his speech by hand on the stationery of the Hotel Europe in Zurich the day before the service; after the function he gave the manuscript of the speech to Unseld.          

Bernhard--Zuckmayer speech.jpg
The second page of the manuscript of Bernhard’s speech
for the memorial service for Carl Zuckmayer

Letter No. 347

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
February 4, 1977

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

You inquired about the sales figures for Watten.  The book was published in the edition suhrkamp in 1969.  We printed a run of 14,000 copies.  So far we have shipped 13,293 copies.  Even if one assumes that we handed out about 300 copies as complimentary copies, this figure of 13,000 may still be regarded as quite a handsome outcome.  We have 707 copies left.  I would propose our keeping the book in the edition suhrkamp through the end of the year, then pulping the remaining stock and reissuing the book at the end of 1978 as a suhrkamp taschenbuch.  Is this acceptable to you?1

Our recent time in Trieste, in Zurich, was really very nice.

[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. Watten went through five printings in the edition suhrkamp through 1986; in 1987 it was published in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, and the following year it appeared as a suhrkamp taschenbuch in the context of an edition of Bernhard’s works [see n. 1 to Letter No. 514].   

Letter No. 348

[Address: Tehran ; handwritten on note-paper bearing the address “Aryan Sheraton Hotel / Tehran, Iran”]

May 8, 1977]

Dear S. U.,

We shall see each other in Shiraz.  Good luck in TEH.--You’ll see what I mean!

Th. B.

  1. From April 30 through May 19 Bernhard traveled in the Middle East; at the invitation of the German Publishers and Booksellers’ Association he gave two talks, one on May 4 in Shiraz, the other on May 7 in Teheran in the context of the German Book Exposition and in association with the local Goethe Institute.  On May 5 he met Unseld--who from April 29 through May 12 toured Israel, Iran, and Egypt with his wife Hildegard--in Shiraz.  The day before, Unseld gave a talk on Hermann Hesse in Teheran.  From Iran the Unselds and Bernhard went to Egypt, where they traveled together, and between May 12 and 19 Bernhard was on his own in Jerusalem.  In his Travel Journal, Israel--Iran--Egypt, April 29-May 12, 1977, Unseld wrote about his experiences in Iran:

“The chaotic structure of the country even impinged on the structure of the Goethe Institute.  Dr. Becker [...] informed neither the institute in Kabul that I wouldn’t be coming nor the institute in Shiraz that I would be coming.  So the talk in Shiraz was canceled.  At his talk in Shiraz Bernhard had an audience of five whole people! [...]

Dr. Friedrich Niewöhner, the Goethe Institute at Shiraz.  Admittedly Dr. Niewöhner neglected to come fetch Bernhard, which provoked much severe remonstration from Bernhard, but then Bernhard made his peace with Niewöhner, and not even the meager turnout of five listeners proved any threat to their reconciliation.  We rode with Dr. Niewöhner to Persepolis [...]

At the airport [in Cairo] we were greeted by the cultural attaché from the [German] embassy, Dr. Schellert, and by the amiable representative of the Goethe Institute, Dr. Stephan Nobbe, and on that same day we went to see the pyramids and that stone monument known as the sphinx, which in Egyptian mythology is not feminine but masculine, a prince’s son.  Two walks through the desert, which we had to undertake in heat that probably reached 50 degrees.

[...] Our time together with Thomas Bernhard was uncommonly pleasant.  He was even game for joining us on excursions, although at bottom his tolerance for other people’s company tended not to be very long-lasting.  He was given to withdrawing into himself under the pretext that his occupation (on his passport his stated occupation is “farmer”) made him unfit for lengthy cultural excursions. [...]     

We had plenty of time to take a tour d’horizon of the firm as well as of his own problems.  I believe he has finished writing his new novel.  We will receive it at the end of June, and his next play seems to be nearly finished.  In any case he is already busily at work on the one after it.”

Seven years later, in Unseld, a text written in honor of Unseld’s sixtieth birthday, Bernhard reminisced about--among other things--his time spent with his publisher during this trip as follows:

“In the company of Unseld, the epitome of punctuality and reliability, I have taken walks in many cities and along many banks and shores, and also climbed many hills and mountains.  [...]  At the ruins of Persepolis he constructed a new paperback series, in the Egyptian desert he devised a Hesse contract.  One evening, a small, smelly oil stove in a hotel in Shiraz inspired him to deliver with great vehemence a thoroughly philosophical disquisition on life and the world that lasted until three in the morning.  At the desert necropolis of Saccara I have marvelled alongside him at the famous bull sarcophagus in thirteen-degrees-below zero cold, under the earth, and then, back in the light of day, and in forty-two-degrees-above zero heat, I have succumbed alongside him to a single shared paroxysm of laughter.  On the thirteenth floor of the Sheraton Hotel in Tehran, I gazed down along with him at the swimming pool, which contained not a drop of water and was serving as the hotel’s garbage dump.  Never, either before or since, have I beheld a more mournful Siegfried Unseld.  After a banquet hosted for a diplomatic delegation in Cairo, the cable of an elevator was severed a meter-and-a-half shy of the elevator’s destination.  Had the cable been severed a mere half-second earlier, both Unseld and Bernhard would have ceased to exist a full seven years ago.  We shook the dust and bits of cement out of our hair and off our clothes and burst into laughter.”  (Thomas Bernhard, Unseld, p. 52f.; see Photo No. 12)

Bernhard _ Unselds at Persepolis.jpg
Bernhard (left), Hildegard Unseld (center; identification tentative),
and Siegfried Unseld (right) at the ruins of Persepolis

Letter No. 349

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
May 25, 1977

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I hope you have returned safely from your journey.  How were things in Israel?  You once jocularly mentioned you wanted to give a reading in a church, and at some later point I flippantly mentioned this in Switzerland.  Now the gentlemen of the “Boswil Old Church” foundation have taken up the idea and invited you to come and give a reading.  Please see the attached documents.  Of course we could perhaps postpone this to the fall and meet up in Switzerland at some point then.  That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. The attachments have not survived.

Letter No. 350

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
May 31, 1977

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

In Zurich I recently met a bright young man, Jens Dittmar, who has written a licentiate thesis entitled “Thomas Bernhard--Life as Art against the Backdrop of Death” and who with the help of Werner Weber is preparing to write a dissertation on your work.  Mr. Dittmar had proposed to me the idea of a Bernhard reader that doesn’t precisely tally with the one we have discussed.  But Mr. Dittmar has been collecting your earlier texts for six years, and in the course of this conversation we came up with the idea of someday gathering up all your early works and compiling them in a single edition, perhaps with a limited print run.  Mr. Dittmar would be eminently qualified to do this.  There is no rush to get this done, but the edition would perhaps be suitable for publication on 2.9.1981.  What do you think of this?

[Siegfried Unseld]     

Letter No. 351


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

On waking up today I thought I must write to Unseld to tell him what a good effect the Persian trip has had and that I accept his invitation to discover a new continent with him--in the future.

For weeks I have been working and uninterested in anything else.

Soon there will be nothing left but the labor of writing and some ever-so-brief breaks that will still have something to do with this labor.

This is the path of a happy human being.

Work doing duty for life, the never-ending orchestral score doing duty for life.

I think I shall be sending The Persian Woman in two weeks.

Someday I will take off for Vienna on the fly, wander about there and come back and cover the entire thing on foot.

I think back on Cairo more than on anything else; it was the high point, and I plan to go back there in November/December; it was too brief.

In Israel I was always more or less depressed by that experiment that is doomed to failure; it isn’t a country that you can look in the eye and announce to it that it has an incurable illness and is going to die soon; it is not an organism of that genus.  It is a beloved incurable in whose presence one must endlessly dissemble.

I think back wistfully on the Grand Hotel in Shiraz, but not so on that Hiltonesque American monstrosity, with its abominable infernal roomettes.  We advance further into the wasteland.

with fondest thoughts of you and your wife,
Thomas B.

Letter No. 352

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
August 8, 1977

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

This is how things are going for me today: as I woke up today I was thinking about you.  Even though today’s agenda really couldn’t have less to do with you--I have to go to Tübingen, where tomorrow we are laying to rest Ernst Bloch.

After that I plan to go into a kind of retreat for mind and body, whatever that is.  At the end of August I shall emerge from my seclusion and get back in touch with you.1

By the way: we really should see each other again some time!

[Siegfried Unseld ]

  1. On returning from Ernst Bloch’s interment in the Bergfriedhof in Tübingen, Unseld began a “bio-norm-cure with abstinence from alcohol”; as he recorded under the date heading of August 10-20 in his Chronicle: “Throughout this period I have been spending an hour or two at the office each morning; otherwise I have been working at home until about four in the afternoon, then a walk in the woods, some swimming in a thermal pool [...].”  

Letter No. 353

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
August 25, 1977

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

M. Voisin of L’Arche, our theater representative in Paris, has written to me today as follows:1a

I would be able to negotiate for the dramatic realization in French of Thomas Bernhard’s play The Ignoramus and the Madman, translated by Michel Demet, according to the following terms:

  1. The play would be directed by Henri Ronse and performed in the small auditorium of the Compagnie du Rideau de Bruxelles, 23 rue Ravenstein, Brussels, Belgium, between January 7 and February 7, 1978.  A minimum of 24 performances would be guaranteed.  On a foundation of 10% author’s fees, a minimum of 2,000 Belgian francs in fees per performance would be guaranteed, plus a forfeit of 2,500 FB to be paid for each non-occurring performance less than the 24 guaranteed, or of 75,000 FB to be paid in the event that no performances occur.

  1. Afterwards the spectacle, meaning the same production, would be transported to Paris, to the Théâtre Oblique, 76 rue de la Roquette, 11th arrondissement, Paris, where, beginning on March 15 1978, a minimum of 25 performances would be given; for these performances I am expecting to ask, on a foundation of 12% author’s fees, for a minimum of 200 French francs in fees per performances, plus a forfeit of 250 FF for each non-occurring performance less than the 25 guaranteed, or of 7,000 FF in the event that no performances occur.

We here at the house were in favor of accepting this offer.  Are you also in favor of that?

[Siegfried Unseld]1

1a. Unseld quoted Voisin’s letter in its original French.  Out of pure selfishness, specifically the selfishness of one who can think of more pleasurable ways of spending four or five hours than cutting and pasting Google Docs special characters, I have translated the excerpt rather than transcribed it.  This choice has rendered the editors’ condensed German paraphrase of the excerpt in n. 1 below redundant if not otiose; I have accordingly refrained from providing an English version of this paraphrase, whose place is taken by the phrase “about Voisin’s proposal.” (DR)

  1. Bernhard answered Unseld’s question about Voisin’s proposal in the affirmative; Burgel Zeeh wrote “okay” on the letter.  The performances of L’ignorant et le fou (set designs: Franz Salieri; cast: Colette Emmanuelle, Philippe Lehembre, François Michaux, Henri Pillsbury, and Marie Pomarat) took place in 1978 as planned.  The director reported that many spectators had walked out on the Brussels premiere.  (See Henri Ronse: “Un archipel de la cruauté” in Pierre Chabert/Barbara Hutt (eds.): Thomas Bernhard, p. 363.)

Letter No. 354

[Frankfurt: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
October 3, 1977

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

My time at the Kobenzl was lovely, stimulating, enjoyable.  I got myself a prestigiously deep suntan just in time for the book fair!

I have committed everything precisely to the tables of my head and heart; the financial situation is being taken care of.  Please send me the manuscript for the prose volume The Year soon.  I do of course have to write a synopsis text for it soon.1  

I have drafted the synopsis text for Immanuel Kant; it is attached.  Are you satisfied with it?

I enjoyed reading part of your grandfather’s book; it shortened my trip from Salzburg to Frankfurt very agreeably.  In the next few days I shall be talking to some people about Mr. Maleta’s request.2

with sincere regards,3
Siegfried Unseld

P. S. Why in Immanuel Kant do you write “Columbia-Universität” and not “Columbia University”?4

  1. It is not unequivocally clear whether by The Year Unseld meant Yes--in his
June 27 letter Bernhard still refers to this text, which was written mainly in the first half of 1977, as The Persian Woman, but Bernhard may have temporarily changed its title to The Year in the meantime--or Unseld was referring to Der Stimmenimitator [The Voice Imitator] which is composed of short prose texts and was published in 1978, or a collection of other prose texts [or indeed another freestanding prose text (DR)] that never came to fruition.

  1. In his Travel Journal, Salzburg, September 30, 1977, Unseld wrote about, among other things, his meeting with Bernhard at the Hotel Kobenzl (on the Gaisberg):

“During the flight I read the comedy Immanuel Kant.  At the very least one must say that it is authentic Bernhard.  And next, that it is certainly an actable play that will be easy to produce. [...]

Thomas Bernhard himself was in fine form--indeed, friendly, acquiescent, not provocative, not aggressive.

He is full of plans, work-projects; that is all.

We discussed the following:

Immanuel Kant.  Premiere Peymann, Stuttgart.  (Peymann will be visiting him next week.)  The rehearsals will begin in October.  I have brought the text back with me; it has been slightly modified by Bernhard.  [The original motto, a quotation from Diderot, was replaced by one from Artaud.]  He doesn’t intend to make any further changes to the text either for the performance or for the book.  We wish to arrange things so that we can issue the book unannounced and ship it during the height of the run.  We are going to undertake a very small print run.

He himself is writing a second play, The Voice-Boxes.  It will be finished by the spring of 1978 and therefore ready for performance in the ’78-’79 season.

He is still working on the novel Unrest (a working title that may change), but he plans to finish up work on it by May 1, so the book can be slated for publication in the second half of 1978.

He would like to have a new volume of prose, The Year, in the BS very soon, preferably in March or April of 1978.  We will receive the manuscript in three weeks.  So for this we must leave open a space in the BS schedule.

He is also working on Remembering, which he plans to finish in the winter of ’78.
Atzbach will also be completed in the winter of ’78.
He is very eager to see Ereignisse [Occurrences], which was published in 1969 by the Berlin-based firm of Colloquium, in the Insel Bücherei (not in the suhrkamp taschenbücher).  His collection of poems In hora mortis cd. conceivably be admitted into the Insel Bücherei as well, but I demurred quite emphatically at the idea.
At the same time, he has no objections to the inclusion of his play Minetti in Spectaculum 1978.
Then he spoke at great length about his grandfather, Johannes Freumbichler.  In 1942 the firm of Rainer Wunderlich published his book Auszug und Heimkehr des Jodok Fink.  Ein Buch vom Abenteuer des Lebens [Departure and Homecoming of Jodok Fink.  A Book about the Adventure of Life]; it received exactly one reprinting some years later.  The rights reverted to the author’s family; they are now held by Bernhard.  He implored me to reissue this book through Insel Publications; he said that the book was tailor-made for Insel and for our time.  I would like to ask Mr. Berthel to read this novel.  I read about 40 pages of it on the flight from Salzburg to Frankfurt; naturally it’s a bit smugly plain-folksy, but it also conveys a great deal of immediacy.
Bernhard would be very pleased to have the rights of Freumbichler’s novel Philomena Ellenhub back from Zsolnay Publications, but they refuse to give them up. […]
He wishes to have DM 30,000.00 of his credit; the amount of the monthly remittances is to be raised to DM 1,700 on January 1, 1978. […]
He then gave me a letter from Mr. Andreas Maleta, the son of the editor of the Oberösterreichischen Nachrichten [Upper-Austrian News].  I am supposed to obtain for him an internship or paying position at a newspaper.  I will make enquiries about this at the FNP [Frankfurter Neue Presse] and also talk to Joachim Kaiser about it.
3. The notation “cc Frau Duofexis” appears at the bottom of the firm’s file copy of the letter.  
4. The announcement text for Immanuel Kant subsequently printed on p. 21 of Suhrkamp Publications’ schedule preview for the first half of 1978 is identical to Unseld’s enclosed draft save for the absence of a hyphen from “Columbia-University.”  In abbreviated form it served as the blurb of the book version of the play, which was published on March 7, 1978 as Volume 556 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.

Letter No. 355

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
November 4, 1977

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

During the typesetting of Kant the following things have caught our eye:

  1. After the dramatis personae and in the first act one reads, “auf hoher See [on the high seas]”;
in the second and third acts, “auf Hoher See.”

  1. On p. 14, the newspapers are 6 weeks old;
on p. 24, 4 weeks old.

  1. On p. 28, “Kant...gazes into [‘ins...hinaus’] the ocean”; everywhere else one reads, “out at [‘aufs...hinaus’] the ocean.”

  1. On p. 29, Kant says, “Haven’t I learned [‘gelernt’] you all those ways of gripping the head.”
“Haven’t I taught [‘gelehrt’] you all those ways of gripping the head.”

  1. Twice on p. 35 one reads, “Seeehe.” [“sea marriage”].  I am all for retaining these three e’s, but this will put us at odds with Duden, which allows only two e’s.

The page numbers are those of the manuscript.  Please be mindful of these comments as you are correcting the galley proofs, which are expected to arrive at the beginning of December.1  

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. In the published version of Immanuel Kant  the “Hoher” in the frequently occurring phrase “auf Hoher See” is consistently capitalized; “out at the ocean” is also employed uniformly.  No changes were made to any of the other passages flagged by Unseld.  [Not true: in the passage flagged in point 4, “gelehrt” was substituted for “gelernt.” (DR)]

Letter No. 356

Hotel Astarea
Mlini / Dubrovnik

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

I have finally managed to make a photocopy of Yes, which will be departing for Frankfurt along with this letter.  I am finally rid of the MS and can now dedicate myself to the “novel.”  I think it has become a prose text that will make me “happy”...

Regarding Kant, please do not under any circumstances [put in] University, in other words  Yewniversity, but rather always Universität!  University just sounds thoroughly awful in the context of Kant.

I am once again immersed in Unrest; I think the title will stick.

Yes would look best as a white book inscribed in black.  I am looking forward to the stripe under the word “Yes.”

Here I am enjoying excellent conditions for work at the moment, and I intend to hold on to them past December.

I am reachable here at any time.

At the Kobenzl we had an enjoyable few hours  whose effect has even now not yet worn off.  We are steering a sturdy ship--on the high seas, like the ones overlooked by my window, which are more riled-up than I have ever seen them.

The unrest of the sea all day and all night; what more do I need.  The fruits of this will be either significant or nonexistent.

Thomas B.

P.S. The terrorism hysteria1 has even taken its toll on the general manager of the theater in Stuttgart, who will come here in a couple of days and then begin his rehearsals in January.  So Kant will go ashore in February.

  1. Claus Peymann was swept up into press coverage of the events of the “German Autumn” as a consequence of his support for a fundraising campaign initiated in May of 1977 by Ilse Ensslin, Gudrun Ensslin’s mother, towards paying for a dental operation for Jan Carl Raspe, a Red Army Faction member who was then an inmate of Stammheim prison.  The story was picked up by the tabloid newspaper Bild, which pilloried Peymann for his involvement in the campaign    
in its number of August 29, 1977--a month after the murder of Jürgen Ponto, the head of Dresdner Bank by members of the Red Army Faction, and a week before Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the president of the German Employers’ Association, was abducted and four members of his escort were shot dead.  In the light of the tense political situation, the possibility of summarily firing Peymann from his post as general manager of the Württemburg State Theater was discussed in the Baden-Württemburg state parliament.  Eventually it was agreed that Peymann would be allowed to stay at the State Theater until his contract expired in August of 1979.  On August 23, 1977, under the headline, “Witch-Hunting, Swabian Style,” Benjamin Heinrichs wrote in Der Zeit, “The manhunt for the kidnappers of Hanns-Martin Schleyer had so far turned up nothing.  Another chase proved much more successful: this was the search for the intellectual accomplices of the terror, the search for the so-called sympathizers. [...] Even in Stuttgart they have discovered a sympathizer: the general manager of the state theater, Claus Peymann.”  In its readers’ letters section of October 7, Die Zeit printed a telegram from Bernhard commenting on Heinrichs’s article: “witch-hunting swabian style logically conceived perfectly written.”
Peymann’s period at Stuttgart was rounded out by his production of Vor dem Ruhestand [Eve of Retirement], a play that Bernhard had written in response to the Filbinger affair, which had ended in the governor’s forced resignation (cf. n. 1 to Letter No. 377).  On July 6, 1979, under the headline “Mr. Bernhard and the Germans,” Benjamin Heinrichs commented on the premiere of Vor dem Ruhestand: “Governor Filbinger found Mr. Peymann unacceptable as general manager of the State Theater.  A lovely irony: the governor was obliged to retire before the general manager.  But it had [...] come to light that he himself had once been a sympathizer, and not only that--that he had done a nicely lethal job as Hitler’s naval judge.”  Cf. the commentary on Vor dem Ruhestand in Bernhard, Works, Vol. 18, pp. 377-382.

Letter No. 357  
[Address: Hotel Astarea, Mlini/Dubrovnik and Ohlsdorf; telegram-memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
December 21, 1977

I am saying a hearty YES to Yes--Stop--All the best and the usual season’s greetings and best wishes for 1978 as well yours 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. 492-529. 

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.

1 comment:

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