Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with His Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part XIX: 1986-1988.

Letter No. 486

[On stationery of the Hotel Madeira Palácio, Funchal, Madeira]

[Funchal]
January 19, 1986

Dear Dr. Unseld,

Before my departure from Austria I had time to cast a glance at your publishing catastrophe; what you have allowed to be printed and published in those more than 3,000 pages is the biggest publishing embarrassment yet known to me.1  To print and bind more than 3,000 pages of such addlebrained proletarian rubbish is an act worthy of inclusion in the book of records--as the world record in stupidity.

I am not talking here about the woman who has given birth to this 3,000 plus-page piece of drivel, but rather about the fact that in personally issuing this load of imbecilic trash my publisher has made it clear that he is literally non compos mentis.  The editor of the whole thing is of course a petit-bourgeois Swiss blockhead and the house reader who “supervised” the whole thing is in a manner of speaking a blessed idiot.  How has this person come, as it seems to me he has done, to stick to you so firmly and indelibly; how have you come to be so smitten with this patch of glue that you have trodden on?  That is not the only question.  The most important question now is how is it going to be possible in future to commit a manuscript into the hands of this publisher, who before this incident obviously always appeared to be a publisher of substance?  If the whole episode weren’t so embarrassing, one could send this rubbishy Viennese slattern to the Devil and your editorial office quite simply straight to hell, and be done with it.  But humor has its limits when it is entangled with anything fundamentally serious.  In questions of so-called high art I am not someone you want to joke around with.

The cuff to my ears that you have administered via the publication of these dubious 3,000 pages is having a profound effect.

You could just as easily have made it into the book of records if instead of publishing Ms. Fritz’s drivel you had simply printed a 3,000-square roll of toilet paper and issued it under the Suhrkamp label.

Yours,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. Marianne Fritz’s novel, Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst, [He Whose Language You Don’t Understand], was published on November 11, 1985 in three volumes totaling 3,389 pages.  Concurrently, Suhrkamp issued a book entitled Marianne Fritz, “Was soll man da machen.”  Eine Einführung zu dem Roman [“What Is One Supposed to Do.” An Introduction to the Novel] “Dessen Sprache du nicht versteht.”  It contained an introduction by Heinz F. Schafroth and letters from the author to the publisher’s reader Otto F. Böhmer.

Letter No. 487

Frankfurt am Main
February 3, 1986

[Address: Ohlsdorf |sent to Madeira|]
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
From 1963 onwards I defended the works of a certain Thomas Bernhard against attacks from his fellow-writers.  This is no longer necessary; nothing procures the respect of one’s colleagues so effectively as success.  I listen to writers, and in many ways I take my cues from their experiences; but when they talk about their colleagues, I hear them out and keep my thoughts to myself, or I call up certain historical anecdotes.  Shortly after the publication of Ulysses, T. S. Eliot visited Virginia Woolf at Hogarth House at teatime.  Woolf didn’t care for the book at all; she said it was “underbred,” “the book of a self-taught working man,” of a “queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.”  Eliot initially defended the book, but in the course of their conversation, he conceded that it gave “no new insight into human nature…Bloom tells us nothing; indeed, this new method proves to my mind that it doesn’t work.”  Later Eliot described Ulysses as the chef d’oeuvre of European literature.
Yours
with warm regards,
Siegfried Unseld

Letter No. 488

[On stationery of the Hotel Madeira Palácio, Funchal, Madeira]

[Funchal]
February 9, 1986

Dear Dr. Unseld,

I am not expecting a reply to my last letter from Funchal.  But as I am continuing to work and am thinking of having my works published in the future and I neither wish nor am able to forego without great regret your personal charm or your unsurpassable qualities in dealing with me, of which you are aware, or your indisputably world-renowned one-of-a-kind dedication as a publisher, I must ask you to inform me how we are supposed to move forward.  As far back as eight, nine years ago, I indicated to you that I planned to write and publish seven books under the title Remembering.  Book one is slated to be printed this fall.  After an epoch of experience lasting many decades, I have been immersed in a period of remembering for quite some time.

As always, both in relation to you and to everybody else, it is under the auspices of mutual ambivalence that I would wish to resume living with you, to begin afresh with you.

Probably for this purpose a face-to-face meeting is absolutely essential.

I hear that you are ill and that you caught this illness in Vienna.1  It serves you right!  But illnesses, once they have been ridden out, make people—including and most especially you!--even stronger.

On account of the climate I obviously should spend the rest of my life here, but the beauty of the south and the world as one big park are nothing to an idiot as smitten with work as I am.  So in the event that you can write again or at least dictate, I am touting for business as a recipient of an epistle from Frankfurt.2

Yours,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. On January 27, 1986, Unseld gave an introductory talk on Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst in Vienna.  On February 3, he noted in his chronicle, “Since I left Vienna I have been struggling with a case of the flu, and now it’s getting worse.”

  1. In the February 22-23 entry of his Chronicle, Unseld recorded his receipt of this letter and added, “I am not going to write back, especially given that he is still on his way home.”  On February 28 Unseld and Bernhard spoke by telephone; the conversation was occasioned by the premiere of Simply Complicated at the Schiller Theater in Berlin that same day (Director-- Klaus André; Cast--Old Actor: Bernhard Minetti; Young Girl: Vera Milde-Karkos).  Unseld noted in his Travel Journal, Berlin, February 28-March 1, 1986: “The whole thing was bound to stand or fall with Minetti, and it stood; the play was rather weak, but Minetti was great, and so there were standing ovations at the end.  I spoke in person with Minetti, and with Bernhard by telephone later that night; he chalked it up as a ‘success,’ but we can expect the critics to react very irately.  Under the headline Mit Gefühl [“With Feeling”/“Condolences”] in the March 3, 1986 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Georg Hensel wrote, “The self-imitations may even be termed self-quotations; this sounds much better: Thomas Bernhard Minetti’s Greatest Hits.  But Bernhard should perturb.  Nowadays he risks nothing but private lawsuits.  He has long since ceased playing for high stakes with his art.”

Letter No. 489
[Address: Vienna]
Frankfurt am Main
March 10, 1986
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
I would like to send you last Friday’s Le Monde.  Pauvre Thomas Bernhard!  But here are “La célebrité de l’Autrichien” and “Irritation et fascination.”1
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
   
  1. Unseld refers here to Jean-Louis Rambures’s March 7, 1986 Le Monde article La célebrité de l’Autrichien Thomas Bernhard.  Son dernier livre ›Alte Meister‹.  [“The Celebrity of the Austrian Thomas Bernhard.  His Latest Book, Old Masters.”
Letter No. 490

[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
April 2, 1986
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
Burgel Zeeh is playing Russian; hopefully not roulette, but for now we are restricted to written communication.1  From her you have learned that I will be in Vienna on April 14.  Would it be possible for us to meet at about 9:00 p.m. on April 15 at the café at the Hotel Sacher?  By then I hope to have discharged all my duties to you and to be debt-free as far as you are concerned.2
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. Burgel Zeeh was in Moscow throughout the first half of April.  Before her departure, she wrote in a telephone memorandum, “Telephone conversation with Thomas Bernhard.  He is going to be in Vienna on or about April 14; so a meeting is possible and also desirable as far as he is concerned—otherwise, he says, he might as well stay in Ohlsdorf.  So the two of you still have to settle on a meeting time, for example, the evening of the 13th or April 15.

  1. The meeting at the Sacher took place on April 14.  Before the meeting Unseld attended the award ceremony for the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, which was presented to Stanislaw Lem by the minister for education, art, and sports, Herbert Moritz.  In a September 20, 1985 ORF interview regarding Old Masters, Moritz—the editor assigned to Bernhard at the Demokratisches Volksblatt in the 1950s (see Moritz’s Lehrjahre [Apprenticeship]) stated that Bernhard was “becoming  increasingly interesting as an object of scientific study, and by science I don’t merely mean the science of literary criticism.”  Bernhard addressed this remark in Die Presse on September 25, 1985: “The monstrous things that Mr. Moritz has said about me and my work merely offer further confirmation of the squalidness and mendaciousness of the current Austrian State and its representatives. […] a slur and a psychiatric referral by an incumbent culture minister before a television audience numbering in the hundreds of thousands; […] the Austria-agitator and moralist of my book Old Masters would even say that not only is it eminently prosecutable by criminal proceedings that I naturally have no inclination to initiate, but that is also a national disgrace.”  See n. 1 to Letter No. 485.
Upon reading Bernhard’s reply, Moritz sought out and obtained a conference with Unseld, who wrote of their meeting in his Travel Journal, Vienna, April 14-15, 1985:
“The topic: Thomas Bernhard.  He says that he holds him in high regard. […] That Bernhard naturally seizes every opportunity to foul his own nest.  He asks me if I know what Bernhard had seen fit to tell him.  I was obliged to tell him that Bernhard regarded himself as a master of exaggeration and that I had come to realize that he was a man who loved Austria and Vienna despite all his criticism.  To be sure, Bernhard is making things very difficult for the minister.  At the suggestion of the Graz association of authors, Moritz had offered him the honorary title of professor.  Bernhard issued the following communiqué to the press:
Professor
My contribution to the containment of the inflation of the professoriate in Austria.  There are to be sure many more professors than waiters and busboys put together.  The source of this nauseating epidemic of professors is above all the so-called ministry of art and education and sports, which every year doles out thousands and thousands upon thousands of ridiculous professors and other titles and drenches all of poor Austria in its malodorous education-cum-art-cum-sports sauce. […]
At 6:00 p.m. at the Austrian Regional Bank: the board of directors as represented by its chairman, Gernhard Wagner, awarded the Austrian Regional Bank Prize to Marianne Fritz.  I accepted the prize and above all the 70,000-schilling check, and made a short speech. […]
I had agreed to meet Thomas Bernhard at 9:00 p.m. at the Sacher.  I arrived ten minutes early, and so I set out on a little walk around the outside of the Sacher, and who should be doing the same thing but Thomas Bernhard?  We ran into each other on Kärtner Straße and then went into the Sacher.  I had to endure some abuse on account of my ‘Day of Culture’ earlier that day.  He said he found it ‘inconceivable’ that I had shaken hands with a ‘swine’ like Moritz, ‘inconceivable’ that Lem had said what he had said in his acceptance speech at the official ceremony (in point of fact the speech wasn’t very good), that Lem could not have crawled any farther up the esteemed minister’s ass.  That was his assessment.  He naturally knew that I had also spoken at the Marianne Fritz ceremony.  When he yet again came to speak about the multitude of the firm’s advertisements for Martin Walser, I told him that the way he was behaving was very small-minded in the light of all we had done for him here in Austria.  But he was of the opinion that we had left him standing in the rain [see Letter No. 485].
It was an arduous conversation.  I pointed to his little rucksack, which was bulging with something A4-sized, and asked him if he had brought the manuscript with him.  Yes, he said, and added that on the one hand he shouldn’t publish anything else through this firm, while on the other—the other publishing firms obviously weren’t any better, and Suhrkamp was still the best one available for the time being, and so he was giving me the manuscript of his Extinction.  He wants to have the typography of Woodcutters and Old Masters, and he says that that will yield 700 to 800 pages, that he couldn’t care less what the retail price is.  The jacket in the style of Woodcutters, thin lettering, dark almond-brown, with the layout like that of the jacket of Woodcutters.
He would rather not see anything further and just have the rough paginated copy; he says there is really hardly anything that needs to be changed anyway.
Then he handed over the manuscript to me.  I told him that I was going straight back to the hotel to read it.  He checked up on it one more time [via a telephone call to the hotel], and that night I did in fact read the first 40 pages, so that I could brief the sales representatives on Extinction, about its first-person narrator, who expatiates on the fate of his family to his pupil Gambetti; this family was wealthy and propertied, but it also had a Nazi past, which recently induced the narrator, when his parents and brother died and consequently brought about an extinction of the family line, to extinguish the material possessions of the family as well and to bequeath them to the Israeli cultural center in Vienna.”
In his Chronicle, Unseld additionally remarked on this meeting: “He is still trying to come up with a subtitle.  ‘A Decline.’  This was rejected; then later came ‘A Legacy’—which it has already had once before.”
Bernhard came to Frankfurt on April 29, 1986 to make a decision on some proposed amendments to Extinction.  Unseld wrote about this visit in his Chronicle entry for April 28.  “Otherwise preparing for Thomas Bernhard’s visit tomorrow.  Read Extinction for three hours.  We lengthened the manuscript.  Now it reads more smoothly and its perfidious subtleties and the undertow of its language stand out more sharply.”
And in the entry for April 29, he noted:
“Thomas Bernhard at the firm.  He declined to have lunch and insisted on getting to work right away.  It is astonishing how open-minded he is towards everything I and especially Raimund Fellinger have to say to him.  I am no writer, it says in the manuscript, I have absolutely no talent for writing.  Isn’t this coquettish? asked Bernhard.  I said, yes, too coquettish.  It was changed.  Our work on the manuscript lasts until 7 p.m.  Then Rudolf Rach drives us to the airport.  We eat asparagus in the restaurant called Five Continents; Bernhard is relaxed, relieved, nay, grateful.  He flies back to Vienna.  In a message dated May 2, Burgel Zeeh reported to Unseld on a telephone conversation with Bernhard: “He asked both Mr. Fellinger […] and me to leave in the original subtitle: Extinction.  A Disintegration.  And he asks you to do the same.”
Letter No. 491
[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]

Frankfurt am Main          
May 15, 1986
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
Mr. Staudt has had two test typesettings done.
Test typesetting No. 1: a yield of 820 pages, so quite unreasonable.
Test typesetting No. 2: a yield of about 600 pages.
Test typesetting No. 3: a yield of 480 pages.
None of this can be precisely calculated, because there are of course quite a number of handwritten changes to the manuscript that are causing difficulties to the employees in the production department who are making the calculations.  But I think the situation is clear: 800 pages would really be an absurdity; we should go with that second option.
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Enclosures mentioned1
  1. The enclosures are test-typesettings for Extinction in 12/14 type size (800 pages), 11/13 (600 pages), and 10/12 (480 pages).  On May 20, Rudolf Rach summarized a telephone conversation with Bernhard for Rolf Staudt, the director of the production department: “[…] he would prefer the section option, which yields about 600 pages and is suitable for a 12 x 20 paper size.  Additionally, he is asking us to typeset the manuscript immediately.”
In a May 15 letter to Bernhard, Burgel Zeeh asked him to pick one of the proposed test-typesettings soon, then wrote: “On his way to today’s birthday celebrations for Max Frisch, Dr. Unseld asked me to send you in advance the attached announcement, which will be going to the press in the next few weeks and will also be published in Theater heute, for your information, so to speak.  Volume 6 of Theater heute contains the “announcement” from Suhrkamp Publications: “Rudolf Rach, who with one interruption has been the director of Suhrkamp’s Theatrical Publications Division since 1971, will be leaving Suhrkamp Publications at the end of 1986.  We thank him for the magnificent work he has done.  Rudof Rach is going to Paris, where he will be an executive and managing director of the French publishing firm of L’Arche, Paris, which among other things represents Suhrkamp Publications’ catalogue in the French-speaking countries.  Siegfried Unseld.”
Letter No. 492
[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
May 21, 1986
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
The manuscript of Extinction. A Decline is being typeset according to your instructions via telephone to Dr. Rach.  So we are going with the second option with 11/13.  The precise page-length is still uncertain, because the total length of the handwritten additions is difficult to quantify.  In any case it will end up being a bulky and attractive book.
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Letter No. 493
[Address: Vienna]
Frankfurt am Main
June 4, 1986
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
This is the jacket.  Is it to your liking?
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Letter No. 494
Frankfurt am Main
June 11, 1986
Dear Thomas,
Here is yet another test-printing of the jacket in the colors you wanted.  A green background and yellow lettering.
Do you like it like this?
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Enclosure1
  1. On June 18, after receiving the test-printing of the jacket, Bernhard got in touch with Burgel Zeeh by telephone; in her message for Unseld, she wrote: “He has received the jacket for Extinction.  Unfortunately it is not the way he wanted it.
The green should be very dark; so dark, indeed, as to make it difficult to decide if it is green or black.
And he would like the ‘yellow’ lettering to be even more muted.
He would like to know if we could try to redo it.  Apart from that, he is quite enthusiastic about the paginated rough copy, which is punctilious and very fine.
The firm fulfilled Bernhard’s wishes regarding the jacket, and in an additional telephone message dated June 26, Burgel Zeeh was able to report:
“Call from Thomas Bernhard.
1. The jacket is marvelous, genuinely perfect.  He thanks you very warmly.
2. Today he sent in the paginated rough copy addressed to me.  I shall promptly give it to Mr. Fellinger.  His chief wish is—and Dr. Unseld has not only told him this but has even ‘promised’ it to him: it would be ‘ideal’ if the book could be available ‘by’ Salzburg, meaning by August 18, the date of the premiere of his play [Ritter, Dene, Voss] there.
How is that looking?”
Unseld presented Bernhard with an advance copy of Extinction during their meeting on the occasion of the premiere of Ritter, Dene, Voss in Salzburg (see n. 2 to Letter No. 497).  The delivery of the book to the shops followed on August 25, 1986.
Letter No. 495
[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
June 12, 1986
Dear Thomas,
We have something in common: namely our common American publisher, Chicago University [sic] Press.  It has published my little book The Author and His Publisher; admittedly—and such now are the subtle differences—it has not received as lovely a poster as the one that has been done for you.  As a minor author one is of course often slighted in favor of major ones; the minor author becomes a major megalomaniac when dealing with major authors!
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
The poster is being sent in a separate mailing.
Letter No. 496
[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
July 28, 1986  
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
In memory of July 22, a couple of snapshots.
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Enclosure1
1On the eve of Wolfgang Koeppen’s 80th birthday, Unseld, Bernhard, and other authors and critics selected by Koeppen attended a dinner hosted by the president of West Germany, Richard von Weiszsäcker.  In a passage devoted to the dinner in his Chronicle, Unseld wrote: “Drove back with a cheerful Thomas Bernhard, who told me stories about his Lebensmensch for a half an hour.”
Letter No. 497

[Address: Vienna]
Frankfurt am Main
August 28, 1986
Dear Thomas,
At the time of its original publication, we agreed that Woodcutters would be issued in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp; delivery to the bookstores is scheduled for October.  At the beginning of next January we would like to republish Der Untergeher as one of the suhrkamp taschenbücher.  I am aware of your reservations about paperbacks, but here we really ought to prove the rule via reservations and an exception.  Are you amenable?
I am very sorry that my ear is making a cancellation slash through the Vienna trip.  I very much hope that everything goes well despite this.2
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. A Bibliothek Suhrkamp edition (Vol. 927) of Woodcutters was published in September 1986.  As of the writing of this letter, Der Untergeher had already been issued as a Bibliothek Suhrkamp volume (Vol. 899) on January 28, 1986.

  1. An acute attack of deafness for which Unseld had to receive in-patient treatment at the University of Frankfurt’s clinic between August 20 and 28 prevented him from realizing his plan to travel to Vienna to attend the two Bernhard performances with which Claus Peymann was inaugurating his tenure as general manager of the Burgtheater.  The Scene-Maker had its Burg premiere on the main stage on September 1, 1986; in the end, Ritter, Dene, Voss had its Burg premiere at the Akademietheater on September 4, 1986.  Bernhard briefed Burgel Zeeh on the September 4 performance in a September 8 telephone conversation; in her message reporting on the conversation, she wrote: “He says Vienna was a huge success, the likes of which there hadn’t been at the Akademie-Theater in decades.”
Shortly before, Unseld attended the world premiere of Ritter, Dene, Voss in Salzburg and met with Bernhard several times between August 14 and 18.  In his Chronicle, Unseld wrote the following about these meetings: “Conversations with Thomas Bernhard.  It is admirable the way this writer manages to develop inwardly, to become ever freer and more sovereign.  We met in Salzburg at the Hotel Bristol next door to the state theater, where Bernhard had seen a beginning-to-end rehearsal of the play.  He was fully satisfied, indeed, even quasi-enthusiastic.  Admittedly, even without intermissions the performance lasted 3 1/2 hours.  Can the play hold together over such a stretch? […]”
On Sunday Burgel Zeeh had brought an advance-copy of Extinction with her.  I ordered champagne [at the Hotel Furschl] and handed this book over to Bernhard: ‘It is your best prose work.’  He: ‘Yes, perhaps, like Amras way back when.’  He glided contentedly over the jacket, which really does have something self-evidently right about it, and he skimmed almost tenderly through the pages.  When we visited him in Ohlsdorf, the book was lying on the sole piece of furniture in the room apart from the chairs, a kind of bureau.  Here the book with the dark green jacket and citron-yellow jacket looked quite Bernhardian.  Everything in the room was one of these two colors, and the book was lying in a prominent place like the book of books, the Bible.  Thus is this author celebrating his book. […]
In the evening the first performance of Ritter, Dene, Voss, performed by Ritter, Dene, Voss.  For me it was again a fascinating experience: for the first time in a long time a work for the theater that was authentically theatrical; a brilliant text wittily and brilliantly […] acted.  Not for a second did I ever get any sort of feeling that things were dragging, and including the intermission it lasted four hours.  And it is simple and complicated; it is by no means a play about the actors Ritter, Dene, Voss, but rather one about Wittgenstein; the genius Bernhard is simply possessed by this genius, in the sense of being attracted and repelled by him.  But because he saw these three actors in Bochum and was impressed by them, he wrote a play for these three people, but it isn’t a play about Ludwig Wittgenstein as seen by Bernhard either; rather, it is a play about Bernhard by Bernhard.  Simply complicated.         
After the performance I telephoned him in Ohlsdorf.  To be sure, he had told me that would be in bed and wouldn’t answer the telephone, but he answered right away, and he was happy that I was able to tell him about the extremely successful performance and the resounding applause from the audience.”
Letter No. 498

[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
September 8, 1986
Dear Thomas,
I am sending you page 3 of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.  As you can see, we are beginning our advertising campaign, and we will wage it with renewed intensity.  You will also notice this in the Austrian newspapers.
Page 3 is the page whose advertisements readers pay the closest attention to, and so “naturally” it is also the most expensive one.1
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Enclosure2
   
  1. In a September 8 telephone message, Burgel Zeeh wrote of the  advertisement for Extinction: “He saw the FAZ ad, and purely by chance, during the same browsing-session, he also noticed that there was no ad in The Press.  He hasn’t yet seen the poster; he asked for a ‘sample’ poster; I made him three of them.  
Naturally, he says, he would like to know how you are doing.  Regards.”

  1. The first advertisement for Extinction appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on September 8.
Letter No. 499
[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
September 11, 1986
Dear Thomas,
I have just received Residenz Publications’ new catalogue in the mail; the five volumes of your Salzburg prose work and The Italian are listed on p. 5.

From the newspapers I gather that Mr. Schaffler has now definitively severed all ties with Residenz Publications.  Wouldn’t this be a good time to make your own separation definitive?  Perhaps the briefest approach is the best approach: you can reference your earlier separation announcements and inform Residenz Publications that you have transferred the rights to us.  We will of course have to see how they react, but I really am of the opinion that this is feasible now.
We just keep living off the magnificent impression Ohlsdorf made on us yet again.1
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
1. On September 27 and 28, Bernhard returned to Frankfurt for the celebration of Unseld’s 62nd birthday.  In the Chronicle entry devoted to this event, Unseld wrote: “Then, beginning at 11 a.m., the guests arrive.  Authors: Jürgen and Rango Becker, Jurek and Christine Becker, Thomas Bernhard, Ulla Berkéwicz, Wolfgang Koeppen, Martin and Käthe Walser […].  By around noon we are all gathered together, and Edith Clever comes in.  She reads what I want to hear today--namely, the last few pages of Ulysses.  I introduce and read Joyce’s August 16, 1921, letter to Frank Budgen, Latinizing the obscene passages as I go. […] Edith Clever reads the admittedly audacious passages so superbly that only a handful of prudes are shocked.  A community comes into being; there is a feeling of mutual harmony.  Even Thomas Bernhard, who really wanted to leave town, because he would have to pay his hotel bill and so didn’t visit Suhrkamp Publications, seemed quite content then: admittedly I also had to slip 80,000 Deutschmarks into his hand then.”  Shortly thereafter, on October 9, Unseld and Burgel Zeeh traveled to Ohlsdorf.  “The television crew [for a film portrait of Unseld] is here and records footage of Bernhard and me in his farmhouse.  An affable Bernhard.”  (Chronicle, October 10).

Letter No. 500

[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
October 16, 1986
Dear Thomas,
The new director of the theatrical publications division is named Rainer Weiss.  He has my trust.  He is intelligent, witty, imaginative.  He will not take long to familiarize himself with this material, which is not entirely new to him.  He values your works, and you may rest assured that he will safeguard your interests in the way you desire.
A request or a question: shouldn’t Rainer Weiss and I fly to Vienna and sit down at a table with you and Peymann?
I think this would be a good idea.
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Enclosure1     
1.   The enclosure has not survived in Bernhard’s papers.  It was presumably an October 16 Suhrkamp Publications “press release” to “authors, employees, editors of the theatrical publications division / To the theaters, agencies, and publishing firms working in collaboration with the theatrical publications division”: “In June of this year Suhrkamp Publications announced that on October 31 Rudolf Rach would be handing over the leadership of the Suhrkamp theatrical publications division in order to work in France as a publisher at the firm of L’Arche, Paris. [...]

On November 1, Rainer Weiss will take over the leadership of the theatrical publications division.  Weiss, born in 1949, a student of Ernesto Grassi, has a PhD; he worked for a year as a press agent and then for five years as an editor at Piper Publications, Munich.  Since April 1985 he has been in charge of the German-language editorial office at Suhrkamp.  Rainer Weiss’s assumption of the leadership of the theatrical publications division will coincide with Suhrkamp Publications’ development of new authors’ initiatives in German-language and foreign-language drama.”

Letter No. 501

[Address: Hotel Equador, Cascais]
Frankfurt am Main
November 25, 1986
Dear Thomas,
The “monk on the mountain”’s remarks, if he really phrased them that way, are foolish, moronic, unpardonable, tasteless.1

We are reacting to them with a salvo on behalf of Thomas Bernhard; e.g., on p. 3 of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of the weekend of November 22-23, which you have certainly seen--even in Madeira.

I wish you a pleasant stay.  From what I hear, the conditions there are naturally ideal.

Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried U.

1.Unseld is referring to Siegfried Löffler’s multipage cover story on Peter Handke, Der Mönch auf dem Berge [“The Monk on the Mountain”], in the November 17, 1986 issue of the Austrian news magazine profil.   A copy of the story survives in Bernhard’s papers; Bernhard flagged a passage in it with exclamation marks and large question marks.  The passage [or possibly the story; the pronoun “sie” with which this sentence begins may refer to either (DR)] begins by quoting Handke directly:
“I cherish what Thomas Bernhard does, but in my view it isn’t literature.”
Ah yes, Thomas Bernhard, the room-clearer of Austrian literature.  “His suggestive power consists in his ability to exploit and assemble prejudices.  It affects me like an article from Der Spiegel.  I often think he is our best Spiegel correspondent in Austria.  Because the things he writes don’t tackle problems of narrative or form at all, they seem to me to be having an almost detrimental effect on art.  I found his last few books to be almost criminal in their shoddiness.  Apart from his suggestive power, which of course is unique to him and always extremely effective, there was nothing there.  But in his new book, Extinction, I am suddenly seeing the rudiments of description, of enthusiastic description of locales and spaces, which for me is of course the most important thing in literature.  Otherwise it is of course difficult not think of this drama about the lord of a castle as [Ludwig Ganghofer’s 1895 novel] Castle Hubertus, only with a negative spin.  But I was cheered and relieved by those descriptions of the orangery or of the kitchen, because I was able to enjoy a feeling of parity.  Of course I wish I could approve of him; I have indeed revered him for 25 years as a kind of secular Austrian saint.”

On December 30 Unseld wrote a letter to Peter Handke: “At Samuel Fischer’s publishing house the never-ending conflict between Thomas Mann and Döblin rumbled on.  Fischer couldn’t settle it, and friendships shattered.  Thomas Bernhard has enough trouble dealing with himself and the world around him.  I would prefer not to see any friendships shattered.”     


1987


Letter No. 502


[Address: Hotel Tivoli, Sintra]
Frankfurt am Main
January 29, 1987
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
There is a piece of news that I wish to share with you before you discover it in the newspapers, which I am sure you are studying even in Portugal.
I am delighted that I shall be seeing you soon.  I shall arrive on the afternoon of Saturday, February 7, and I shall be staying at the place you recommended, the Avenida Palace in Lisbon.  Shall we leave it at my calling you and our working out the particulars of a meeting then?1  On Monday I shall fly back.
Yours
wishing you all the best until then and with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Enclosure2
1.    At the beginning of 1987, Bernhard and Burgel Zeeh agreed that they would speak by telephone at fortnightly intervals from then on.  This accounts for the decreased frequency of letters in the last two years of the correspondence, and there is no reason to suppose that any letters are missing.
2.   The enclosure has not survived in Bernhard’s papers.  Presumably it was a news release issued by Suhrkamp Publications on February 3, 1987: “Effective April 1, 1987, Dr. Urs Bugmann will be working as a reader at Suhrkamp Publications.  He will be looking after the firm’s German editorial office and younger and newer German-language authors in particular.  He is succeeding Dr. Rainer Weiss, who has hitherto occupied this position and has taken over the leadership of the Suhrkamp theatrical publications division.  Dr. Urs Bugmann was born in Cham, Switzerland in 1951; he received his doctorate in 1981 at the University of Zurich with a dissertation on Thomas Bernhard’s autobiographical writings supervised by Professor Peter von Matt.  Urs Bugmann has garnered experience as a reader at Walter Publications, Olten; he has published pieces of literary criticism in, inter alia, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the Schweizer Monatshefte.


Letter No. 503


[Address: Hotel Tivoli, Sintra]
Frankfurt am Main
February 10, 1987
Dear Thomas Bernhard,


Everything was magnificent; the said and the unsaid, the bread and the wine, the park and the sea, the sun and the rain.  This Portuguese weekend is one that I shan’t very easily forget.


We have agreed: we will see each other again somewhere on April 15, 1987 at the latest.  On that date you intended to hand over to me the manuscripts of Newfoundland and The Hard of Hearing and to move your account.1.


I was unable to answer your question about In hora mortis; I thought the manuscript had already been typeset, but as the enclosed letter from Elisabeth Borchers makes clear, she is still waiting for a reply from you.  Unfortunately this letter didn’t reach your house while you were still there.  I am also enclosing a copy of the January 14 letter from Otto Müller Publications.


Regarding the complex and the problem of Doubt.  Naturally my own proposal is gnawing away at me, but in hindsight it is also being corroborated by common sense.  And yet I would sincerely like to ask you to be fortiter not only in re but also in modo.  Three clear conditions are attached to the transfer:
  1. A non-exclusive right to publish for three years;
  2. No ancillary rights whatsoever, in particular no translation rights;
  3. The firm definitively confirms your unwaveringly desired return of the rights to the five autobiographical prose pieces.2
We are thinking about the poems.  The paperbacks for 1988 and the following years are unhurriedly in preparation.


I think back with pleasure on the TIVOLI as well as on the STETEAIS and know that you are being productively edified in this setting.3
Yours
with sincere regards and best wishes,
Siegfried Unseld
Enclosures4     


  1. Bernhard made no further progress towards completing the prospective novel Newfoundland and the play Die Schwerhörigen [The Hard of Hearing], not least because of the precarious state of his health.  Typescripts and fragments of typescripts of both prospective works have survived in Bernhard’s papers; while what is left of the draft of the novel amounts to only a few pages, the surviving draft of the play extends to a considerable length.


  1. Under contractually stipulated conditions, Residenz Publications was ceded the right to publish Der Zweifel [Doubt] as the sixth and last volume of Bernhard’s autobiography; after its initial publication, all the rights to the entire work were to belong to Suhrkamp Publications; this project was never realized; see Vol. 20, pp. 524f. of Bernhard’s Works.


  1. In the February 7-9 entry of his Chronicle Unseld wrote:


“Visit with Thomas Bernhard in Lisbon and Sintra.


A changed Thomas Bernhard.  On the one hand he had become alarmingly thin, on the other he was in a stunningly great mood.


Upon arriving at the hotel he stays put there, and even after midnight he is still virtually inseparable from his coffee at the hotel bar.  On Sunday, I visit him in Sintra, a town whose unusually mild climate, majestic gardens, and lush vegetation lure kings and aristocrats to summer there.  At the center of Sintra the Paseo Real de Sintra with its beautiful swans’ and magpies’ room.  The kitchen’s two towering cone-shaped chimneys have become landmarks in Sintra.  Bernhard is staying in the Hotel Tivoli, seventh floor, a lovely room.  Quite tidy.  On a small table there are photos of his Lebensmensch.


We sit on a huge terrace that adjoins his room; here it is certainly easy to work.
We take a ten-hour drive into the countryside, to the Sintra Mountains including the Castle of the Moors.


Bernhard had still never been to the national park of Monserrate, in which plants from almost all climatic zones of the earth can be seen.  One can live there at the Quinta de Penha Verde and at the Seteais Palace, in a five-star hotel with the peculiar name of The Seven Sighs.


We drive to Cabo da Rocca.  It is the westernmost point on the European mainland.  A 150-meter tall crag of the Sintra mountains that steeply slopes down to the sea.  Then along the coast: Praia do Guincho and to the Boca do Inferno, on the Costa dol Sol.  In the fishing town of Cascais, Bernhard greets an old woman selling odds and ends in the middle of the crowd.  Finally we drink tea in Estoril, which certainly used to be the most elegant and sophisticated sea resort in Portugal.  There can’t be anywhere else in Europe that has a milder climate than here.  The flowers bloom twice a year.  


Evening traffic congestion, because everybody is trying to get back to Lisbon.  Once more Bernhard proposes a dinner, and yet again it gets late.  Monday, February 9: Bernhard’s 56th birthday.  He accepts my gift, a silk scarf, with pleasure and wears it all morning.


We talk over the concrete points, the manuscript of the prose work Newfoundland, the play The Hard of Hearing, the autobiographical narrative Doubt.  I have written about this in my travel journal.


Lunch at the Seteais Palace, a real Bernhardian drama: in the ancient, beautifully furnished hotel a colossal dining room; the tables are adorned with towering napkins, everything is beautiful and noble.  We are the only guests; only later were we joined by a gentleman who looked like Friedrich Dürrenmatt.   The waiter, who has nothing to do, stands around; every movement at our table is observed; so sooner does one of us take a sip of wine or water than his glass is topped up.  Bernhard seems to relish it.  He is sorry when the hour of my departure strikes.”


In the Travel Journal referred to in the Chronicle, Lisbon, February 7-9, 1987, Unseld concentrates on the publication plans he discussed with Bernhard:   


“The farther I travel in order to meet him, the more closely he associates his publisher with his publishing firm.  Everything, absolutely everything, proceeds according to the desiderata of common sense.


The manuscript of the prose work Newfoundland, about the same length as Woodcutters, is finished; it will be read through one more time after his return home; I shall receive it on April 15, hence still very much in time for me to be able to present it at my meeting with the sales representatives on April 22.


I shall receive the play The Hard of Hearing on the same date.  Prospective publication in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp October/November 1987, in time for the performance of the play at the Burg.  [But on February 20, Bernhard informed Burgel Zeeh by telephone that the play Claus Peymann would next stage in Vienna was not The Hard of Hearing but rather Elizabeth II, which was also slated to be published in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.]


The shorter ‘autobiographical narrative,’ Doubt.  Two years ago, when Mr. Schaffler was ill, and Mrs. Schaffler averred to Bernhard that one final book for Residenz would be a lifesaver for Schaffler, Bernhard agreed to give Residenz Publications one more book.  But since then, Schaffler has severed all ties with Residenz, and Residenz has become a state publishing house owned by the Austrian government.  Bernhard no longer feels any obligation to keep his promise, but on the other hand there are still some delicate connections there.


I proposed the following plan of my own devising:   


That he, Bernhard, should call in Schaffler as a ‘mediator.’  Residenz Publications will receive this new manuscript once again, one final time, but under the following conditions:
  1. Residenz will receive a non-exclusive right for three years; thereafter it will totally revert to Thomas Bernhard and will never again be included in Residenz’s catalogue;
  2. No ancillary rights, and no translation rights;
  3. If this transfer is to occur, the rights to the five autobiographical volumes must revert to Thomas Bernhard.  
If Residenz Publications does not yield to these conditions, it will not receive the autobiographical narrative Doubt.


In hora mortis: Bernhard is eagerly awaiting its publication in the Insel-Bücherei.


He is now also willing for there to be a collection of his Poems.”


And then the project of the year of Bernhard in paperback format.  Must I be published in paperbacks? he asked me when I presented the idea of the undertaking to him the day before.  I told him that it only made sense, and he acquiesced.  We can proceed as we like, along the lines of the proposal that has been drafted.  [The first volumes of the 24-volume paperback edition of the works of Thomas Bernhard appeared in November; see n. 1 to Letter No. 514.]


The festive mood was undoubtedly heightened by the state of his finances, and perhaps also by a newly acquired relationship with his family, with his brother, with his sister, and above all with his sister’s daughter, all of whom he invited to visit him in Sintra.


Regards to everyone.  Cheese was ready to be rolled to Burgel Zeeh.”       
  
4. The enclosures were a letter from Elisabeth Borchers to Bernhard and a letter from Otto Müller Publications, Salzburg.  The letter from the Austrian publishing firm, in which the firm consented to the publication of a Bernhard-edited Bibliothek Suhrkamp edition of a selection of poems by Christine Lavant, has not survived in Bernhard’s papers.


In a letter dated January 21, 1987, Borchers wrote to Bernhard at his Ohlsdorf address as follows:


“Dear Thomas Bernhard,


There are two excuses for me to write to you; I am delighted by this.


Please read the letter from Salzburg.  So we’re seeing people eat humble pie...Is your  Lavant pledge still in effect?


Please say yes.


And: so as had we agreed in Bonn, In hora mortis will be published in the autumn as a volume of the Insel-Bücherei.


In order to reach 38 pages (the length of Cornet!), we should make each of the roman numerals into an intertitle on a recto and leave the following page blank.


In Bonn we had also stipulated that the book should have a dedication.  Later, after a conversation between you and the publisher, I read in a memo that this volume was to be published without the dedication from the first edition.  I have the text of the volume in front of me: not a trace of a dedication; just a Leonardo epigraph.  Can you say something to me about this?


I send you my very warm regards.


Yours,
Elisabeth Borchers”


Bernhard replied to Borchers on the stationery of the Hotel Tivoli, Sintra, on March 3, 1987:


“Dear Elisabeth Borchers,


I would like nothing more than in three hours to walk with you from here down to and through the avenues and into my favorite tavern for a dinner of my equally favorite espada, the Madeiran swordfish, to talk about poetry; I believe the eucalyptus trees foster such desires, intentions, and lyrical transgressions in the highest measure.  But merely in thinking of you as I walk, I am already afforded the necessary boost to the charm of absolute solitude.  


Perhaps we can play our game in Frankfurt, in some secluded corner with an absolutely clear view of all and sundry?  I intend to get hold of the Lavant poems, and I am in utter and total secrecy looking forward to the slender volume for merry days of mourning in the autumn.  With no dedication, just with Leonardo!   


Naturally Müller’s letterhead has sent me many more than thirty years back in time, but of course there’s no harm in that; indeed, it may even help me attain a productive melancholy.


Here I have written a play, Elizabeth II, to which at midday yesterday, as I sat outdoors in 25 degree weather in front of the old Hotel Central, I devoted exactly half my attention, the other half being devoted to Peymann’s flights of fancy.  We were in exceedingly high spirits.  Your lines make clear how often equally worthy and valuable relationships cannot but suffer neglect when those who live off them as I do fail to write.


With the warmest thoughts
Thomas B.”


On April 13, Bernhard sent [whom? presumably Borchers (DR)] his selection of poems by Christine Lavant and remarked in his cover letter: “Our poetess [Christine Lavant] is one of the most important of all poets, and she deserves to be introduced to the entire world.  The melancholy-inducing, mindless and other- and unworldly Carinthians exerted a deplorable Andalusian effect on the lyrical sisters, Bachmann and Lavant; the mind-murdering, stultifying region of Andalusia with its homicidal nature has had exactly the same effect on Spanish literature as the one that the no-less mind-murdering, stultifying, homicidal region of Carinthia has had on German literature.


Out of this horrible mindless Carinthia our two female lyricists’ poems of longing emerged.


Regarding Lavant specifically: between the pinnacles of her experiences and hence pinnacles of the German lyric tradition, there is an incredible amount of kitschy rubbish; God on autopilot and poppies for the masses inundate the pages of the books published by Müller.  The poems in Art like Mine… are almost nauseating.


Her Catholically mendacious knitwork is scarcely endurable.  After I forgot her abominable letters, her gruesomely infantile sentimental prose works, which are more hypocrisy than necessity, her folksiness and her childish-cum-religious mendacity, there eventually emerged, amid the driving snow and rain of recent days, a book by a poet who, as I said earlier, is fully and truly significant, a book by a great poet.


May the good Lord forgive me for having chased him out of the four books [Der Bettlerschale {The Beggar’s Bowl}, Spindel im Mond {Spindle in the Moon}, Der Pfauenschrei {The Cry of the Peacock}, and Kunst wie meine ist nur verstümmeltes Leben {Art Like Mine Is Only Mutilated Life} as much as possible.  Despite this, he gets up to a fair amount of his usual mischief in my selection.
Ms. Lavant was an utterly impish, highly gifted, sly vixen.  She lived on the concrete ceiling [Perhaps he means “roof” (DR)] of a supermarket at an intersection in Wolfsberg with a giant filling station and typed her poems directly into her typewriter.  In my view this is more awe-inspiring than the valley Romanticism-garnished, mendacious fairy tale about the starry-eyed innocent, the God-bespoken fairy tale, that has been circulated about her ad nauseam until now.
Above all Ludwig von Ficker, who doled out his horrendous allotment of Wittgenstein to Trakl, Rilke, and the gang, circulated this lyrical horror story with enormous sentimentally Catholic vehemence until the day of his death […].”


Letter No. 504


[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
May 13, 1987
Dear Thomas,
That certainly wasn’t good news that you shared with Burgel Zeeh today.1  I can well understand that there are periods in which a writer discountenances or even disowns his own earlier works, but I am certain that there are again going to be periods when you will again wish to have what you have written presented to the public.  You may rest assured: these poems can subsist.  They may no longer express what you believe, but that ultimately makes no difference whatsoever. The only thing that matters is that these verses were written at some point.  So I am asking you to think this over one more time.  The volume number for In hora mortis in the Insel-Bücherei is a firm one; the title has been announced; the book trade knows about it.  And so the world is waiting.
Regarding Christine Lavant it’s a different story.  At your request we acquired the rights; the publishing firm initially refused to grant them to us.  Then we applied to an heir, whose publisher agreed to grant us the rights in the light of the fact that you were going to be the one making the selection.  Then we finalized a contract committing us to publication.  I know for a fact that you have already made the selection.  We could print this selection without including any mention of the selector.  Can you apprise me of the sequence of your selection?
I request that you show some understanding for my requests.
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried U.
 
1. Unseld is referring to a May 13 telephone conversation whose particulars Zeeh recorded in a telephone message:
“Entirely without warning he informed me of his newest and latest and definitive decision: he would rather not produce ‘either’ book, the two books being:
  1. In hora mortis, second half of 1987
and
  1. Christine Lavant. Poems, BS 970 (December)
He is respectfully asking us to understand; he is working on a letter to Ms. Borchers; he apologizes copiously.  So this year only Elizabeth II would be coming out; then next year there would be a thunderclap.”
The letter to Elisabeth Borchers is likewise dated May 13 and reads:
“Dear Elisabeth Borchers,
I cannot edit the Lavant poems; after weeks of intensive preoccupation with the collection, everything within me gainsays it, and I must give over the idea.  So this is just another variation on a theme that has been taken up again after many years, a variation from which I have learned something, and hopefully you aren’t too angry at me about it.
In hora mortis won’t be published either.  So this project has also come to a permanent standstill in two separately typeset rough paginated copies.
I earnestly implore you to be lenient to me for what probably seems to you an all-too abrupt abandonment of these two onerous but not globally significant projects.
If I were in Frankfurt, my predicament would not be any easier; during a lunch with you I would probably, in addition to its intrinsic pleasures, enjoy better chances of elegantly explaining this predicament to you than on paper.
Yours
with head hung low,
Thomas Bernhard”    


Letter No. 505
Ohlsdorf
May 18, ’87
Dear Siegfried Unseld,
Your letter of the 13th compels me to release not only In hora mortis but also the Lavant poems.   In hora mortis as planned and the Lavant poems as “poems edited by Thomas Bernhard.”  I have nothing to withhold and nothing to whitewash.  I am not going to write any sort of after- or foreword, because in this case there obviously is nothing to explain or to prove.
In the same post I am sending the 79 Lavant poems, which I have selected and numbered in chronological order.  Like In hora mortis, they ought to be typeset; it will do them good.
Your letter caught me in a good mood, as you can see, and it also reminded me that I had not yet explicitly thanked you at all for your Portugal visit, which has a first-place position in my memories and immediately catalyzes a feeling of happiness.  Nor do I wish to hold my peace on the very powerful access of emotion I experienced in Frankfurt amid the mighty wallops of ministration I received from the publisher and his faithful followers.1  On that day I really did believe that I had arrived in a version of Paradise itself.  You may gather from these lines how far I have advanced into a Christian-Catholic verbal framework thanks to my preoccupation with the Lavant verses.  What a good thing it is that I have always been an expert at breaking out of any jail.  I don’t think there will be any further correspondence whatsoever about the two “volumes” in question; please just send me the paginated rough copy of the Lavant poems when it is ready.
It would give me the greatest pleasure to come to Frankfurt sometime for an overnight stay via Vienna, to which I will be going in the next few days if I start finding the countryside too beautiful and therefore insufferable.2
Sincerely your obedient servant,
Thomas B.


  1. Bernhard alludes here to an impromptu March 26 stopover in Frankfurt on his return trip from Portugal, a trip made difficult by health problems.  Unseld wrote about the stopover in his March 26 Chronicle entry:


“Much commotion over Thomas Bernhard: today he was supposed to fly back from Lisbon to Vienna, but in Lisbon misfortune struck him: his bladder was full, but he was unable to urinate.  A stone or adhesions?  He didn’t know.  His brother strongly advised him to go to a clinic.  This he did, and he had to have a catheter inserted.  He arrived in Frankfurt in the afternoon and couldn’t stop saying one thing: I am happy; I have escaped from hell.  For four hours Bugel Zeeh, Raimund Fellinger, and I ‘treated’ the man, who really was seriously ill.  On the one hand he was charming, but on the other he was terribly debilitated and really did not look healthy.  I still took him to his plane.  In Salzburg his brother picked him up and checked him into a clinic, where he would have to spend a few days.”                      


2. On the letter a third party has written “6/25” and “6/1,” proposed dates for Bernhard’s visit to Frankfurt.  The brief visit was ultimately scheduled for June 1.  In a Chronicle entry for this date, Unseld wrote: “Late in the afternoon Bernhard is at the firm.  We chat, I walk with him to Neu-Isenburg for dinner, then spend some more time with him at the Frankfurter Hof.  Very good conversation.  He expatiates on his idea for a Suhrkamp literary prize to be funded by the Peter Suhrkamp Foundation.”  On June 2 Bernhard and Unseld  breakfasted with Krista Fleischmann, whose film about Bernhard, Die Ursache bin ich selbst [I Am My Own Cause], Unseld saw on television two weeks later; in a Chronicle entry dated June 15, 1986, Unseld commented as follows on this film: “It is a fascinating experience: this author’s monologue is a grand dialogue with time, with the world, with us.”    
  
Letter No. 506


[Address: Ohlsdorf]


Frankfurt am Main
July 2, 1987


Dear Thomas Bernhard,


The acrobatic feat entitled Watten has now also been incorporated into the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  I am delighted about this.  The shade of green on the jacket is not the one we were aiming for, but it is still quite striking and not unattractive.1      


Two forsaken men are exchanging greetings.2


Yours
sincerely,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. Watten was republished on June 24 as Volume 955 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.


  1. Bernhard and Unseld had been “forsaken” by Burgel Zeeh, who could not have her fortnightly telephone conversation with Bernhard between the end of June and the beginning of August because she was traveling in China then.


Letter No. 507


[Address (Ohlsdorf)]
Frankfurt am Main
July 28, 1987


Dear Thomas Bernhard,


I have received a remarkable piece of news from Salzburg.  Mr. Jung of Residenz Publications writes that you and he have discussed a special edition of your autobiographical writings.1  I hope that this is not true.  It was our old plan to make this a one-time thing.  And in Lisbon we talked about it, and agreed that you would give Residenz Publications the new work only if it finally actually agreed to comply with your dictum and not to issue any new editions.  Now this special edition is supposed to be coming out.  That really would be very painful.


Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. Unseld refers here to a July 24, 1987 letter from Jochen Jung to Unseld.  In this letter, Jung described Bernhard’s autobiography as the most important and most magnificent thing that Residenz Publications had ever published.  If Residenz were to renounce the rights to such a work, Jung wrote, it would effectively be shooting itself in the foot.  He added that he intended to retain the rights to the autobiographical books and to issue a one-volume special edition of them in the following year, that he had discussed this edition with Bernhard, and that Bernhard had asked him to notify Unseld of it.   


Letter No. 508
Ohlsdorf
August 8, ’87
Dear Siegfried Unseld,
Several months after my interview with Mr. Schaffler regarding my memoirs of my childhood and adolescence, Dr. Jung requested an interview with me, an interview that took place in Salzburg three weeks ago and in which Dr. Jung called attention to the fact that he alone made all the decisions having to do with Residenz Publications and that Mr. Schaffler no longer had any power whatsoever to make any decisions regarding that selfsame Residenz Publications.  Mr. Jung declared to me that henceforth Residenz Publications would not under any circumstances renounce its rights to the Bernhard-penned work in question and that my negotiations with Wolfgang Schaffler were null and void.  In response to this I made my own standpoint, which I had previously discussed with you, quite clear—and this in an entirely amicable tone.  I left Mr. Jung  (along with the lovely gardens of the Schlosswirt in Anim!) with my firm declaration that as far as I was concerned my agreement with Wolfgang Schaffler was still in force.
Not long afterwards Mr. Jung wrote you a letter in which he speaks of my assent to the publication of a prospective volume or several volumes of my autobiography; in any event, in this letter he leads you to believe that I have assented to this.  I have in fact assented to nothing whatsoever.  As I have already told you, I have wished and continue to wish for all future installments of my autobiography to be issued by Suhrkamp Publications.
I have no idea of how this is going to be possible now that I obviously no longer have any means of enforcing such a wish apart from a lawsuit, which I am not about to initiate in a million years, because that obviously would be the most absurd thing imaginable.
My work on its own is more important to me than all the quarrels about this or that put together, and from now on it really should be the business of my publisher and his publishing firm to come to an understanding on this (to my eyes) quite laughable matter—or not.  I myself am no longer going to initiate anything whatsoever towards that end.   If you wish to acquire the rights to the autobiography for Suhrkamp publications, only your own efforts can have an effect in that direction.
Otherwise everything is going excellently for me and I am working, with my routine being spiced every now and then by some ridiculous caper in one of the dailies, which is fine by me.1  A couple of days ago I turned down the Feltrinelli Prize of the Roman Academy of Sciences, just as I have all the other prizes and honors that have been assigned to me.  An honor-laden Th. B. is something you will not see in your lifetime.2
Yours,
Thomas B.
  1. On August 6, 1987, Die Presse published an open letter from Bernhard to Claus Peymann in which he objected to a guest production of The Scene-Maker in Brussels on the grounds that the production was subsidized by the Austrian state.


  1. A September 7, 1987 telephone message from Burgel Zeeh reveals that Bernhard did not manage to decline the prize so simply:


“He requests your help!  In June the Italian Academy of Sciences informed him in writing that its jury had awarded him the Antonio Feltrinelli Prize.  Subsequently, on July 9, he wrote a letter declining the prize.  He dictated to me the entire text of the letter:      


‘Most highly honored Academy,
As for many years I have not accepted either prizes or distinctions or titles of any kind, I must to my immeasurable regret also decline your Antonio Feltrinelli Prize.
I am very well aware of the extraordinariness of your prize, and I must ask you to convey my admiration and my very especial gratitude to the jury of your prize for its high estimation of my work.
As a scholar and friend of Italy, I salute you with the very highest degree of respect.
Yours,
Thomas Bernhard’
Subsequently letters and telegrams arrived; they asked him to furnish the particulars of his Vita, etc., and made no mention of his letter.  Now he has just received a telegram: the prize has been awarded; where is the money to be sent?”
Letter No. 509


[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]


Frankfurt am Main
August 13, 1987


Dear Thomas Bernhard,


Thank you for your letter of August 8.  By now I have discussed the vexatious question yet another time with Mr. Jung directly, and I am enclosing a copy of my letter.  I am really of the opinion that this is a fair proposal.  If we both stand firm, e.g., if you don’t give your assent to Doubt and I hold out for our option, we can probably get our way in this business and Residenz Publications can still save face.  And if after five years it still wishes to keep including the titles in its catalogue, we can of course talk about the whole thing again then.  The most important thing for me now is simply to clear up the legal situation definitively.   


I am following the “ridiculous capers in the dailies.”  You’ve got to stick to your guns.


Yours
with best wishes and sincere regards,
Siegfried U.


Enclosure


[Enclosure; letter from Unseld to Jochen Jung]


Frankfurt am Main
August 13, 1987


Dear Mr. Jung,


I acknowledge receipt of your letter of July 24.  Because I was traveling I am only now able to get in touch with Thomas Bernhard.  It is good that we are finally talking about the five autobiographical volumes.  It is understandable that the author wishes the collection of his works to be published by Suhrkamp Publications; it is understandable that I am happy to comply with his wish, and no less understandable that you are fighting to hold on to your rights.  Nevertheless, the wishes and desires of the author should take precedence over the danger of your firm’s “shooting itself in the foot.”  Accordingly, as publishers we should come to a solution to this problem.


I shall start out by summarizing the facts:


In the beginning there was one book; I agreed to allow it be published by Mr. Schaffler and Residenz Publications.  Then came the other four books.  Thomas Bernhard required my consent because in our author’s contract with him we have a clear option on his next work, an option attached to the payment of a five-figure sum.  In other words: without my approval he never would have been able to publish a book through Residenz.  That is the first point.


Secondly:


In the “aftermath” of the volumes, Thomas Bernhard and I came to a clear, unwavering mutual understanding that a one-volume compilation of these memoirs of his youth was subsequently to be published by Suhrkamp Publication.  Never and at no point has Residenz Publications had a legal right to issue these five books in a single volume.


Thirdly:


Here I am touching a sore point: Residenz Publications has changed owners.  The new owner, via the state publishing house, is the Austrian government.  In juridical terms, it is at minimum debatable whether rights can be transferred so straightforwardly in the course of such a fundamental change of ownership.  And I have not yet even broached the issue of Thomas Bernhard’s peculiar attitude to the Austrian government.  Residenz Publications might not find it pleasant to have to explain this issue to the public either.


Fourthly:


During our conversation in Sintra I told Thomas Bernhard that I was yet again prepared to waive my option, and would agree to allow the new, sixth autobiographical work, Doubt, to be published by your firm, but I also made it quite clear that this transfer could take place only if you definitively respected the author’s wish for the rights to go to us.  If this condition is not met, I shall avail myself of my “right,” insist on my paid-for option, and then it will be impossible for you to issue the text entitled Doubt.


These, Mr. Jung, are the facts.  How shall we solve the problem?  My proposal:


  1. In the spring of 1988 you will publish the sixth volume, Doubt.
  2. Concurrently the one-volume collection of all six texts will be published by us.
  3. For the next five years you will be entitled to continue including those individual editions in your catalogue and selling them at the current retail price.
  4. You will declare yourself prepared immediately to cease granting licenses; this will apply to paperback licenses as well as translation licenses.
  5. For the next five years we are likewise prepared to enter into all paperback contracts, i.e. additionally to award you the licenses for the paperback editions of all six of these titles.  


My dear Mr. Jung, to me this seems a reasonable proposal that protects your interests as well as those of Thomas Bernhard and Suhrkamp.  Any agreement along the lines of this proposal will be a friendly and orderly one, and we won’t have to grapple with any unpleasant business.


I would like to mention once again that we attach great importance to our association with you, and there are an array of relationships between our two houses that we really do wish to foster.  I would much appreciate your replying promptly to me and to Thomas Bernhard, to whom I am sending a copy of this letter.1


Yours
with best regards,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. In an August 31 telephone message, Burgel Zeeh wrote: “He finds Dr. Unseld’s letter to Residenz Publications ‘unfortunate,’ but he says that it makes no difference to him, that it is a matter between the two publishers, that his ‘biography’ is no longer of any interest to him.”     


Letter No. 510


[Address: Ohlsdorf]


Frankfurt am Main
September 9, 1987


Dear Thomas Bernhard,


Elisabeth Borchers has forwarded me your letter of September 1 and communicated to me your desire for a different type-size for the Christine Lavant poems.  We have been conferring about this here at the firm; it is by no means a simple matter.


In the first place I have to say that Ms. Lavant’s poems have nothing to do with your texts, neither with In hora mortis nor with Simply Complicated and I would much prefer if they weren’t exactly identical to them.  But that is not the decisive reason, which lies elsewhere: if we use an especially large typeface like that of Simply Complicated, we will have to introduce numerous additional breaks in some of the longer lines of Lavant’s poems.  Not to mention that several poems would then run to more than two pages.  But obviously we are complying with your wish; we are making a new typesetting and adjusting the size of the typeface enough to obviate an excessive number of line breaks.  I am sending you a sample that will surely convince you.  I am sure that you will not only understand this but even endorse it.2


Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Enclosure3


  1. Bernhard’s September 1 letter reads as follows:


“Dear Elisabeth Borchers,


My delight with the rough paginated copy of the Lavant evaporated the moment I turned over its first page, because it hasn’t been typeset as I wanted it to be: namely, like the BS edition of Simply Complicated.    


The poems are not half as effective in a small type-size, and if we want our poetess to have the best possible debut in the ‘great wide’ world, we must have the book reset in type that is exactly the same size as that of Simply Complicated.


With poems the size of the typeface is decisive for their effect on the reader.
Of course I had also wanted the same Simply/Complicated type-size for my In hora mortis, and now I don’t know whether my wish has been granted.
I implore you for a new typesetting (of both books if possible) and send you my regards along with every token of reverence.
Yours,
Thomas Bernhard”


2. In a September 18 telephone message Burgel Zeeh wrote: “Sincere regards to his publisher and thanks for the letter.  But: he insistently requests a new typesetting of the Lavant poems; he finds the compromise utterly and totally unsatisfactory.”
3. The enclosure has not survived in Bernhard’s papers.


Letter No. 511


[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
September 18, 1987
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
I am not in the habit of encumbering you with our scientific books, but you just might take an interest in the Polish scientist Jacek Wozniakowski’s “Die Wildnis.  Zur Deutungsgeschichte des Berges in der europäischen Neuzeit.” [The Wilderness.  On the History of the Interpretation of the Mountain in Modern Europe]  I am sending it to you in the same post.
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
Letter No. 512
[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
October 13, 1987
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
For the second time we have tried to write a history of Suhrkamp Publications.  That history naturally includes the stages of our relationship with you.  This relationship began in 1965 with the publication of the novella entitled Amras in the edition suhrkamp.  And I hope that in the next years and decades we can incorporate many another opus into the history.
I am sending you a copy.  In the event that you desire further copies, please let Ms. Zeeh know.1
Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
  1. Next to the inside address the letter bears a handwritten note from a third party: “deliver personally.”  Bernhard came to Frankfurt on March 15, 1987. In his Chronicle Unseld wrote of the visit: “In the afternoon Thomas Bernhard comes in.  To be sure, he hasn’t brought the manuscript of Newfoundland with him, but we had an outstanding conversation; together we wrote a letter to Residenz Publications (10.16) towards the end of codifying Bernhard’s relations and dealings with Residenz Publications and getting back hold of the autobiographical books.  Mr. Jung will have to chew on this letter.
Bernhard’s credit balance: DM 319,000.00.  Quite a dramatic change, when you consider that our relationship with him began with a loan of DM 40,000.00.”
Bernhard and Unseld’s jointly signed October 16, 1987 letter to Jochen Jung reads as follows:
“Dear Mr. Jung,
Thomas Bernhard is in Frankfurt, and we have had yet another discussion about what is most important to him: he wishes to have his entire oeuvre in the hands of a single party and for all the transactions involving it to be centrally coordinated over the long term.  In the light of this consideration we, Thomas Bernhard and I, are tendering the following proposal to you: The volume entitled Doubt may be published by Residenz Publications in the spring of 1988 under the following conditions:
1.       Effective January 1, 1991 all rights to the Thomas Bernhard-authored books that you have published will revert to him; he will then transfer those rights to us.  This is to happen in view of the following points:
2.      For an unlimited time, Residenz Publications may continue to issue in separate editions all Thomas Bernhard-authored works that it has hitherto published; Suhrkamp Publications for its part pledges not to issue any separate editions of these titles after 1991.  Hence, these Thomas Bernhard titles can continue to be included in the catalogue of Residenz Publications as long as they remain available for purchase.
3.      Residenz Publications will not extend any currently active contracts for paperback editions and effective immediately will not finalize any further contracts for paperback editions.  Here Suhrkamp Publications is receiving an option: beginning on January 1, 1991, Suhrkamp Publications will enter into all pertinent contracts.
My dear Mr. Jung, Thomas Bernhard and I have calmly and carefully deliberated this proposal.  On the surface, from the perspective of the book market and the public, these specific titles will remain in the custody of Residenz Publications; fundamentally, the oeuvre as a whole will be concentrated in a single place.  We hope that you can agree to the terms of this proposal.
Yours
with friendly regards,
Siegfried Unseld
|Yours with sincere regards,
Thomas Bernhard|


Letter No. 513
[Handwritten on stationery of the Hotel Frankfurter Hof, Frankfurt]
Frankfurt am Main
October 16, ’87
Dear S.U.,
Belatedly, but not too belatedly, the Germans, in also applying the highest standards, will recognize that there has never yet been a more important publisher, nor hence one more significant to intellectual history, than you—you who to their benefit have exerted your genius entirely out of the love of literature and out of the delight of those who create it.         
I thank you for the evening that has just ended and not only for that one.
Your simply/complicated
Thomas Bernhard
Letter No. 514
Ohlsdorf
November 4, ’87
Dear Siegfried Unseld,
My delight in the first two volumes of the paperback edition-in-progress, so to speak, of my works has already been blasted to pieces with my first inspective glance:  apart from the fact that in each volume it is stated that he lives in Ohlsdorf…which I have interdicted so many times already as so much perverse, asinine blurbese, it places The Utopian and At the Goal under the heading of “Prose”!  I don’t think anything more is needed to make one turn away in disgust from this exercise in publicational sloppiness.
Apart from that, I hope everything is well with you.
Yours,
Thomas Bernhard
P. S.  Most stunningly of all, according to this blurb I haven’t written or published a single thing since Retirement!!!  An edition like this one should at least be worth re-typesetting a single page for!  Or shouldn’t it?1
  1. In November 1987 the first two volumes (Frost and Wittgenstein’s Nephew) of the 24-volume paperback edition of Bernhard’s works were published.  Their covers differed from those of other volumes in the suhrkamp taschenbücher series in virtue of their distinctive color and starkly separated lettering.  Two volumes of the edition per month were issued through August 1988.  Bernhard had agreed to allow his books to be published in paperback format during his meeting with Unseld in Lisbon; see n. 3 to Letter No. 503.  


Letter No. 515


Frankfurt am Main
November 16, 1987


Dear Thomas Bernhard,


Enclosed you will find the copy of Jochen Jung’s October 29 letter. [...]1


What do we plan to do?  There are three possibilities:


  1. I could write to him that his 10.29 letter is in no sense a reply to our jointly penned letter of 10.16.1987.
  2. We could agree to a three-way conversation in Vienna.
  3. You could write him a letter to the following effect:
  1. Given that his reply to our jointly penned 10.16 letter is completely unsatisfactory, Doubt will be published in the spring of 1988 by Suhrkamp Publications.
  2. You will not allow Residenz Publications to issue any further reprints of the five autobiographical books.  The firm may continue to sell its existing stock.  None of the currently active contracts with third parties will be renewed.
  3. You are transferring to Suhrkamp Publications the right to supervise the expiration of the contracts.


All of this--unless he gives some serious attention to our jointly penned letter of 10.16.1987.


Yours
with sincere regards
[Siegfried Unseld]


Enclosure2


  1. Here two sentences have been omitted for the protection of the privacy of certain third parties.


  1. In his October 29, 1987 letter, Jochen Jung declared that he was not going to agree to the offer tendered in the letter of October 16, and that Bernhard had accepted this in a conversation with him in Ohlsdorf.


Letter No. 516


[Address: Ohlsdorf]


Frankfurt am Main
November 17, 1987


Dear Thomas Bernhard,


I have just received the first copies of the second series of the paperbacks: The Voice Imitator and The Lime Works.  You will observe that Ohlsdorf has been eliminated, and it will not resurface in subsequent volumes; and at the end you will find listed all the Thomas Bernhard titles that have been published by Suhrkamp Publications so far.  Addenda and corrections are possible in every new print run of the paperbacks!


I send you my regards and hope that this paperback edition that is now growing month by month at least pleases you a little bit!


Yours
very sincerely,
Siegfried Unseld   


2 Enclosures1


  1. The enclosures were probably copies of the paperback editions of The Voice Imitator and The Lime Works referred to in the letter.


Letter No. 517
Ohlsdorf
11.29.87
Dear Siegfried Unseld,
The attached letter is being sent by the same post to Dr. Jung.
Sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard
[Attachment: Letter from Bernhard to Jochen Jung]
Ohlsdorf
November 23, 1987
Dear Dr. Jung,
Allow me to procure myself some clarity and order before the end of the year and return to the starting point of the since-fatalized case of Bernhard / Residenz Publications by way of absolutely severing all ties between my works and the firm of Residenz Publications, lately purchased by the Austrian government.
As you know, I came to an arrangement with Mr. Schaffler as a publisher and a man of honor that in compliance with my wish and in acknowledgment of the peculiar character of my relations with the Austrian government, upon the passage of ownership of ownership of Residenz Publications from Mr. Schaffler into the hands of the Austrian government, all my rights to my works in Residenz Publications’ catalogue were to revert to me with all due self-evidence, as the Austrian government tries to thwart me in all things and is in all things and in every respect supremely abhorrent to me; there was one single condition: that as a personal gesture to Mr. Schaffler, one more of my books should be published by Residenz Publications.  The book in question was Doubt.
My reasons for severing my ties to Residenz Publications at the moment of its acquisition by the Austrian state, and hence for severing my ties to the firm’s new proprietary and intellectual dispensation, are well known to you.  In the meantime these reasons have been substantiated in an appalling fashion and an insufferable respect, and this is not the time or place to recite the whole litany yet again.  Acting on my own behalf, I materially and self-evidently effected the severance of my ties to Residenz Publications at the moment of Mr. Schaffler’s sale of the firm to the government, and I notified both you and the firm of this severance without delay.  Upon receiving this notification, Mr. Schaffler made an appearance at Ohlsdorf, and we ultimately came to the abovementioned settlement.  Some time later, you came to Ohlsdorf and said that you would not abide by this SETTLEMENT.  I adamantly stood by it, albeit in the most friendly and amiable terms.
This letter, amid all the decidedly ignoble to-ing and fro-ing that has gone on so far, is intended to make clear my absolute desire for a complete severance of my works from Residenz Publications, and I am asking you in all amiability to restore to me all my rights that are now held by Residenz Publications.  A juridical path is one that I really believe we obviously ought to avoid pursuing.  If you accept Unseld’s offer, which I have of course signed myself, I shall be satisfied.  Residenz Publications has always and repeatedly affirmed, both orally and in writing, how much it owes to me and how colossally important I have always been for it.  Now would be a good opportunity for it to show its gratitude.  My publications in Residenz Publications’ catalogue were always personal attributes.
My main aim, in view of the dwindling amount of time I have left—and as you know, that is very little time indeed—is to bring my works together in one main building, under one roof, and that roof can only be Suhrkamp Publications.
As far as I am concerned it will be completely out of the question in future, and hence from today onwards, for any publication of mine to appear under the imprint of Residenz Publications.
My personal relations with you are unclouded by this; remember that and give me the self-evident green light that I am awaiting.
I am also sending this letter to Siegfried Unseld!
Yours with very sincere regards,
Th. B.
Letter No. 518


[Address (Ohlsdorf); handwritten on personal stationery]


Überlingen
December 5, 1987


Dear Thomas Bernhard,


Today I received the copy of your Nov. 29 letter to Dr. Jung.  I am very moved and I thank you for your trust; it will further oblige me, and I am very happy about this commonality of ours.


Now we must wait and see what Mr. Jung decides to do; in any case all that ignoble to-ing and fro-ing has been decisively put paid to by you.1


I am fasting and exercising and hence feeling well.


I hope we see each other and speak with each other soon.


Yours gratefully,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. In his December 3, 1987 letter of reply to Bernhard, Jung began by averring that so far mere proposals rather than any legal justification or binding settlement had been adduced in support of the idea of severing Thomas Bernhard’s work from Residenz Publications.  Now, he continued, for the first time Bernhard himself was demanding this severance; that in this fiat he was seconding the terms of the proposal of October 16, 1987, admittedly with the difference that now Residenz Publications would have to be reimbursed by Suhrkamp Publications in the amount of the value of the global rights.  Jung concluded by announcing that a copy of the letter was being sent to Unseld. Bernhard and Unseld’s efforts to acquire the rights from Residenz ultimately came to nothing because a financial agreement never materialized.

1988


Letter No. 519

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); circular letter]

Frankfurt am Main
January 1988

To our authors and the friends of the firm

Beginning in January 1988, my son, Dr. Joachim Unseld, who has been a partner of the firm for ten years, and part of the firm’s management for five, will be a full-fledged co-publisher at Suhrkamp, Insel, and Nomo Publications.  For him it is another definitive step towards becoming my successor.

Having two publishers in this publishing house, which has always been centered on a single publisher, first Peter Suhrkamp and then me, will not always be easy, and it will be a learning process for both of us.  In any case, it is a challenge that we are genuinely happy to face, as the two of us have a specific goal in view, in mind, and in our hearts.

Joachim Unseld has chosen three difficult projects for his field of operations: the scheduling of the suhrkamp taschenbücher, the publishing conception of the edition suhrkamp, and the integral maintenance of recent German literature and new German-language authors; experience suggests to me that by engaging in such work he will make the most substantial progress towards the next phase of his career.

I am sure that you will welcome this step, which is beneficial to the continuity of our work at the firm, and I firmly hope that you will be happy to collaborate with him and with the two of us jointly.

Dr. Siegfried Unseld  


Letter No. 520

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
August 26, 1988

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

We had an extremely enjoyable day; I thank you very warmly both on my own behalf and on that of Ulla Berkéwicz.1

I shall have to curb my curiosity until March of 1989, and I wish you all the best in the completion of the second prose work.  

On the Residenz affair:

Residenz Publications wants us to pay them a transfer fee to be determined by the honorarium statements from the past year.  We have asked Jochen Jung for copies of the statements; he is refusing to give them to us and indicates that he sent you itemized lists “on the dates in question as at all other times,” and that you could surely send me these lists.2  Perhaps you can do some digging yet again?

I hope we can see each other in Zurich from September 10 through 12.

Yours
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld  

  1. The thanks are for an August 23 meeting with Bernhard, which Unseld reported on in his Travel Journal, Bayreuth--Brannenburg--Poschiavo--St. Moritz--Salzburg, August 12-24, 1988:
“Tuesday, August 23, was devoted to Thomas Bernhard.  I had agreed to meet him in Ohlsdorf at 10 a.m.; we were then supposed to drive to Fuschl to have lunch with Ulla at noon.

I was running so far ahead of schedule that morning that before the meeting I had a half an hour to spend reading the short story ‘At the Ortler,’ which had been included in one of the two paperbacks that I was able to hand over to him as specimens of the concluding volumes of the paperback edition of his works [see n. 1 to Letter No. 514].  He was delighted by my punctual arrival.  Upon my presenting him the two books in lieu of flowers, he immediately criticized their comical shared title, Novellas [Erzählungen; suhrkamp taschenbuch Vol. 1564], and their unusual style of manufacture.  I told him that I assumed that he had spoken with Fellinger (as the latter subsequently confirmed), but one thing in particular struck him: the short story “At the Timberline”  had been published in the Residenz Publications book of the same name.  Had we obtained the rights to it?

In the ground-floor living room we then sat in two chairs facing each other; in the main he talked about the party at the Maletas’ [the night before]; he said he had pretty much commandeered the aristocrats, because he had an extraordinarily high opinion of, for example, Countess Clam.  She sat next to me at dinner, and she didn’t smoke because she knew that it would disturb Bernhard.  She is the proprietress of Clam Castle in Upper Austria; Strindberg visited Klam [sic (DR)] where he wrote parts of Inferno, which takes place in Klam.  She had asked me about the book version of Elisabeth II, because she said that the balcony that is featured in it was her balcony, and Bernhard confirmed this: he said it was a terrifying balcony, because it jutted out over a nearly 200 meter-deep gorge. [...]

Bernhard had also brought Marianne Hoppe to the Maletas’ party; he had paid a visit to her the day before because in the final scene of Heldenplatz she is supposed to play the role of Hedwig Schuster, the wife of the dead professor, and her appearance is intended to insure that this play concludes on yet another grand histrionic high note. [...]

Then on to Peymann.  He spoke for almost an hour about him.  Bernhard said that while that Peymann had not been very diplomatic in that ominous interview, which indeed could not be appraised using the standards of good taste, after he had given it he really should have stood by him.  But, said Bernhard, he had done no such thing and had indeed let him down several times.  Incidentally, said Bernhard, he had strongly encouraged Peymann to give a public interview; he had even had Die Zeit send him the interview, probably unintentionally.  He said that he doubted Peymann had even read it beforehand, and that if he hadn’t this certainly had not been very responsible.  That Peymann could now do nothing but prove himself by putting on good productions, and that his next job would in fact be Heldenplatz.  [Ich bin ein Sonntagskind.  André Müller spricht mit Burgtheaterdirektor Claus Peymann, in: Die Zeit, May 27, 1988]  He seemed to have put together his cast; Bernhard didn’t know for sure, because Peymann hadn’t been in touch with him in two months, which he didn’t understand, because rehearsals were supposed to begin this week.   
A few actors were going to have to be replaced, because they didn’t want to work under Peymann’s direction anymore.
The business-related points of our meeting were quickly taken care of: I informed him of the state of his accounts; he was delighted by the 282,000 deutschmarks and the 63,000 Swiss francs in Zurich (which was to prove erroneous; these are also deutschmarks); he said he wanted to receive these francs from an employee of Suhrkamp Publications Zurich dressed in a black suit and white gloves.  So he said he would drive to Zurich sometime soon, and we vaguely mulled over a date of September 10 or 11, when of course I am going to be in Zurich anyway.
Then: he said he had given Newfoundland another look-through, that it was finished, but that he was hesitant to hand it over, because now he was working on a second prose work that would be finished before the end of the year, and he didn’t know which of them should come out first.  He said that in March of 1989 we would receive this prose work, together with a play, which he has probably also already written.
Two-and-a-half hours had passed; he said we had solved every puzzle in sight, and then the question of what to do about lunch and Ulla Berkéwicz was broached by both of us at the same time.  He said that he really had to go to Gmunden to deliver to his brother a medicine-bag that he had forgotten.  From this I concluded that now—as always so far—after a very long conversation he wished to be alone again, and I offered to leave or have a quick bite with just him, and he said, Will that do? Will that do?  I assured him that it would do and phoned Ulla in Fuschl to tell her about this and to let her know that I would be returning at 4 p.m.  He had listened in on my conversation, and after I had hung up the receiver, he said that perhaps we could do something else instead: Ulla could just take a taxi to the Häupl in Seewalchen, and the three of us could dine together there.  You don’t need to be Freud to see what this maneuver was all about.  Even if it wasn’t a conscious act, his unconscious had to tried to figure out what was more important to me, and once I had shown him what this more important thing was, he came straight back to the original plan of all three of us having dinner together.
Then we drove to Seewalchen; Bernhard’s idea was really pretty crazy, because at first Ulla couldn’t get hold of a taxi; it had to come from Salzburg, and the cab driver, a woman, couldn’t find Seewalchen!  So she arrived a full hour late, and the taxi fare came to DM 170.00.  Over the course of that hour, though, once we were seated in the Häupl and had drunk a couple of drops of wine, Bernhard thawed out.  He talked and talked and asked me about my personal situation, about my relationship with my wife and with Ulla, about certain of the firm’s employees, about Joachim--it was pretty much the most personal conversation I had ever had with Bernhard.  Then Ulla arrived, and Bernhard was quite gentlemanly, zealously polite.  We ate; then he asked to go out on to the terrace for a cup of coffee and dessert; at the end of two hours we started getting ready to leave; he insisted on our staying ten more minutes, then five more minutes; finally he suggested that we should just accompany him on his visit to his brother in Gmunden.  So we did that, and as we were about to take leave of him at the end of this trip to Gmunden, he asked us if we wouldn’t like to drive with him to Wolfsegg right then; he wanted to show me his house there, which I had indeed never seen.  It was sited a full 30 km away from Gmunden, literally in the boondocks.  An uncanny silence, a house from which you can see nothing but trees, fields, and meadows.  When we were about to take leave of him again after that, he insisted on our having supper with him and his brother in Gmunden, and here again it was the same routine: we wanted to be on our way, but he insisted on our staying longer.

Ours had been a highly genial conversation.  We settled the particulars of the Zurich trip, agreed to appoint Mrs. Maleta as the representative for the sale of the ‘gospels’ in Austria; he asked me to give his very sincere regards to Burgel Zeeh; apologized once again for not having answered the telephone that morning, but, he said, he was expecting some truly horrendous calls.  In short, this was an animated, approachable, amiable Thomas Bernhard.”        

2. Unseld is quoting a December 29, 1987 letter from Jochen Jung to him.
  
    
Letter No. 521

[Address: Vienna]

Frankfurt am Main
October 14, 1988

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Enclosed is the contract for Heldenplatz.1  The preceding contracts were briefer, because they always contained a clause reading “otherwise we shall be adhering to the terms of the §§ of the contracts for, e.g., Midland in Stilfs.”  I have now explicitly cited those terms from Midland in Stilfs once again, because we must clearly demonstrate to our legal counsel that in a sense we have the pre-publication rights for every edition.  Whence the more extensive contract.  The wording corresponds exactly to that of the preceding contracts; not a single new word has been interpolated.  But I really wanted to have everything in a single contract for the sake of persuading our legal counsel and also of being able to go to court with this contract if need be.

I have committed the single solecism of putting the date down as January 28, 1988, because that was the date on which the play came, so to speak, here to Frankfurt, and I believe that it is good to know that the text has been ready to hand, so to speak, for a very long time.  All that is left for me to do is to wish you all the best; ideally this would mean your opting for a sojourn in the country in preference to all that urban hustle and bustle!  I am thinking about you, and I send you my sincere regards--

Yours,
Siegfried Unseld
Please sign the contract...   

  1. In his Chronicle entry for January 21, 1988, Unseld wrote: “In the afternoon, I read Thomas Bernhard’s new play, Heldenplatz.  On March 15, 1938, the Anschluss of Germany and Austria took place.  In Heldenplatz, the masses cheered Adolf Hitler.  Bernhard’s starting point is this: a Jewish family lives on Heldenplatz; the husband, a professor of philosophy, has thrown himself out the window; his wife incessantly still hears the masses shouting.  There really isn’t anything more in the way of ‘action.’  Bernhard uses the drama as a way of saying: today there are as many anti-Semites and Nazis as back then, that they are creeping out of every nook and cranny.  And there’s also his tirade against politicians, the clergy, businesspeople; he says they’re all swine.  I must speak with Bernhard.  If we make any of this public before the performance that Peymann is scheduled to stage in September, Peymann won’t be able to do it anymore.”

In April of 1988, Bernhard came to Frankfurt, partly in order to discuss proposed corrections to Heldenplatz with Unseld and Raimund Fellinger.  In the Chronicle entry for April 21, 1988, one reads:

“In the afternoon Thomas Bernhard.  Burgel Zeeh had picked him up at the airport and brought him to Klettenbergstrasse.  We converse for a half an hour in a very one-sided manner.  He takes DM 100,000.00 and orders a remittance of this amount for May (his account balance does after all total DM 374,000.00).  He reluctantly signs contracts for B[ibliothek] S[uhrkamp] and I[nsel]B[ücherei], and then I wanted to talk to him in detail about his play Heldenplatz.  I was obliged to tell him that on many occasions he made assertions that he could not prove.  Wherever he confines himself to generalities, the text may pass muster as it is (Graz, the nest of Nazis; Austria, the ‘the most homicidal of all European countries...where swinishness is the cardinal rule’ (35); labor leaders involved in unscrupulous financial dealings (102)).  All this may pass muster, but these things emphatically do not: the director of the national library, ‘that nightmarish idiot’ (66).  ‘The president of the republic is a liar’ (102); ‘a chancellor who is perpetually struggling with his own illiteracy’ (124).  Bernhard didn’t even want to get started on any discussion; he said wasn’t going to change a single word.  Whereupon I told him that he was going to have to deal with lawsuits.  He said that made no difference to him.  When I hinted that at one point it had made quite a big difference to him, he reacted by saying that he was of a different frame of mind now, that nothing could hurt him anymore.  He said that Peymann was going to stage it, and specifically at the Burg on October 14 on the occasion of the centenary of the opening of the of the Burg and in the presence of official ceremonial guests--I doubted that that would be possible, but Bernhard was impervious to persuasion, broke off the discussion, which had been a non-discussion--and then the remarkable thing--after our lunch, he met with Fellinger at a neutral spot in the Frankfurter Hof.  Without further ado he struck out the lines that I had objected to!  In my presence he pretended to be Mr. Implacable-and- Unaccommodating; when he was with Fellinger he revised if not quite gamely then at least with understanding.  We would have to make the corrections quickly, print the paginated rough copy, and then send that copy to Vienna for the actors.

At about 1:30 p.m. Joachim arrived.  We had dinner in Klettenbergstrasse, and Bernhard was convivial, as he can be every now and then.  Admittedly, he impressed me as being a much diminished version of himself.  His skin lesion is growing; his body keeps getting thinner and probably less and less capable of putting up a fight.  To Fellinger, who had just asked him if he would do an interview, he remarked that it would have to be done quickly because he might be dead soon.  Regarding Newfoundland, he told me that the manuscript had been sitting for three years now, that at the moment he was in no rush to read it again.  But he said that he was planning to write something new in May/June and that it might be ready in time for the fall of 1989.  No matter what, he said, he had no intention of producing at an assembly line.

[...] Now, he said, he was going to withdraw back into his cloister, lie low, try to work.  Of course, he said, everything was pointless, but even pointlessness had a point.  He found fault with a proposition from Adorno that I had quoted, ‘There is no wrong life in the right one’ [“Es gibt kein falsches Leben im richtigen,” whose established English translation,”Wrong life cannot be lived rightly,” is unusable in this context (DR)].  Somewhat surprisingly, he demurred, ‘Life is everywhere.’  This would void both propositions.

Thomas Bernhard is playing his clownish game with Peymann, with me, with the theater, with the firm, with the public.  As Peter von Becker noted in Theater 1987: ‘Ideally, says the great writer (Bernhard), he would have just one copy of each book printed. For himself. But not by a vanity press.  Because of course that wouldn’t be any fun.’

And in the Chronicle entry for the following day, April 22, 1988, one reads:

“In the morning, before I left for my swim, Burgel Zeeh got in touch with me.  She had phoned Bernhard: she said he had been like a completely different person.  He had thanked us for how beautifully we had organized everything--the dinner in Klettenbergstrasse, the atmosphere in Klettenbergstrasse, the conversation with Fellinger and me.  He had said he had only one wish: to have me all to himself again for an evening.  This is the other side of Thomas Bernhard.”

The furore that broke out in Austria even before the publication and premiere of Heldenzplatz also found its way into the Chronicle; for example, into the entry for October 13, 1988: “It seemed exigent to take a spontaneous trip to Vienna. [...] A play has never caused so much brouhaha; by comparison even [Rudolf Hochhuth’s] Stellvertreter received only mild protests.

President Waldheim thought that the Austrian people had been libeled; others wanted to throw Bernhard out of Austria.  The premiere received bomb threats.  One can only say that the reality represented in this play has long since been overtaken by reality itself.  Bernhard was extremely angry about an interview I had given [on the ORF] that afternoon: my presence seemed to be having a mollifying influence on him.  I was, however, obliged to expurgate the justifiable if insulting remark that the president of Austria was a ‘liar,’ as it didn’t occur in our book.  At his request I appeared on television a second time; conversations with Peymann, Beil, Sonja Kaplan, and the industrious Ms. Maleta.”

In the Chronicle entry for October 28, Unseld noted:

“And finally we had the interview with Bernhard [in Basta, October 26]: ‘I haven’t a clue how Unseld, that jackass, got it into his head to maintain something like that on TV yesterday!  He really was too idiotic by half.  The guy is a creep!  [...] The man cares about nothing but his tiny and lowly little shop, to the exclusion of everything else!  Naturally I could say I’m never going to say another word to him and change publishing firms.  But it would be just as awful at the next one.”  Here Bernhard has blurted out something he actually thinks. [...] But the bit about my caring about nothing but my tiny and lowly little shop to the exclusion of everything else naturally already has the makings of a good play.”


Letter No. 522

Vienna
11.20.88

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

Two days ago I met with Mr. Jung of Residenz Publications, and I very strongly regretted on this occasion that my two publishers had not come to terms regarding my autobiographical books.  As I have said, I am not going to meddle any further in this business myself.  I submitted to Mr. Jung a manuscript for publication, a manuscript having directly to do with the city of Salzburg, and I did so with a view to the fact that I am already planning to have another book issued by Suhrkamp Publications next fall.  It is entitled On High; a Rescue Attempt; Nonsense; the contract has been concluded in such a fashion that it grants Residenz Publications the right to a single print run, nothing more, and so a clear path is open to the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, within the confines of which I would like the book to be issued two years later.1  Perhaps this book will induce you to try one more time to come to terms with Residenz Publications regarding my autobiographical books.  Jung said you had still not replied to a letter he had sent you more than a year ago.  As far as Heldenplatz goes, all the performances sold out, and every night it went off as calmly as can be with the utmost attention being paid by the audience, who after the final curtain showered the stage with the most voluminous applause possible.  Unfortunately all the reviews were pure drivel because people never take the trouble to read the book; they really never even take a single peek at it; but by now I am used to this.  Posterity will single out this play as quite a special one indeed and bear me out on every single point.  Already its truthfulness is being unveiled under cover of evening in the loveliest manner.  Not to mention the fact that as an addition to my “artistic” oeuvre it also makes its progenitor very happy.  

A Suhrkamp banner advertisement in the newspapers certainly wouldn’t have done any harm either.

On the 27th there will be a departure for Spain.  After the Sacher a seaside meeting would hardly be unreasonable.3

Yours,
Thomas B.

  1. On High; a Rescue Attempt; Nonsense was published by Residenz Publications in February of 1989.  The manuscript had been previously published in the late 1950s and was substantially reworked for publication by Bernhard.  It was added to the Bibliothek Suhrkamp in 1990 as Volume 1085.  See Bernhard, Works, Vol. 11, pp. 336ff.

  1. The world premiere of Heldenplatz took place on November 4, 1988 at the Burgtheater in Vienna in a production directed by Claus Peymann.  In his Chronicle entry for this date, Unseld noted:

“What a day!  In the morning I was with Marianne Fritz.  She reprimanded me simply because I had described Bernhard as a ‘specialist in exaggeration,’ which of course is Bernhard’s own description of himself.  Bernhard was understating, she thought.  She said that the situation in Vienna was much worse than Bernhard’s depiction of it.  This in a sense was the morning’s word on the evening’s performance. [...]

Then in the evening the performance of Bernhard’s Heldenplatz at the Burg.  Difficile est satiram non scribere.  Two months of tumult enveloped in scandal.  Was the play going to be banned, was Peymann going to have to leave Austria?  Mudslinging and threats directed at Bernhard.  With the exception of Die Presse, all of the most important organs of journalism pounce without permission on this text that nobody has seen; they quote excerpts from earlier versions of it.  

We are taking legal action against Basta and Die Kronenzeitung.  Our lawyer, Dr. Guido Kucsko, is lodging a legal claim against the newspapers, who are being required to issue apologies but are taking a snide tone again even while apologizing.
On the day of the performance there are demonstrations, then counterdemonstrations, and finally counter-counterdemonstrations.  When Ulla and I arrive at the Burg, there is a huge crowd of people, including some right-wingers who are in the mood to dish out dirt.  The box-office is crammed with people still trying to get tickets.  The performance takes place under police protection.  But I must say: the police behaved very reasonably, and the only uniformed officers in sight were actually there purely as honorary guests of the house.
In the afternoon our distributor punctually delivered the BS volume to the Viennese book dealers.  Thus, it was only then that friends and foes of the text could become directly acquainted with it.  The theater was obliged to fend off an insinuation in the Austrian parliament that it had issued complimentary tickets exclusively to people sympathetic to the play.  This was not the case.  Admittedly Peymann had described certain politicians, for example the Austrian foreign minister, as ‘free admission-seeking moochers whom we don’t need in our theater.’
The beginning of the performance at 7:00 p.m.  The mood is strikingly calm, apparently relaxed.  But when in the dramatically weak first scene Anneliese Römer as Zittel the landlady entered and made the first critical remark about Vienna and Austria, there ensued an orgy of hisses such as had probably never been heard at the Burg.  Then the orgy of hisses provoked applause, and the more the orgy of hisses crescendoed, the more the applause also crescendoed until it was as loud as a hurricane, and amid the duel of protestation and approbation, and thanks especially to a well-written and beautifully designed second scene with sets by Karl-Ernst Herrmann, the whole thing secured Bernhard and Peymann a genuine triumph.  Instead of lasting only two-and-a-half hours the whole thing lasted almost five hours.  Loud arguments during the intermission, arguments after the final curtain, but all told everybody was relieved.  After the final curtain, there were ovations for the actors, for Peymann, and for Thomas Bernhard, who came on to the stage for the first time ever and completely unexpectedly.  Even for him it was a very moving moment.  A writer was being transformed into a representative of his entire country.
The play may have certain flaws; the production may not have been perfect down to the last detail, but what was offered was still magnificent drama on a grand scale.  As I put it on Austrian television after the final curtain: a triumph for the play and its author, a triumph for Peymann, but also a triumph for this Viennese audience.

Sunday’s and Monday’s newspapers had just one topic: Peymann and Bernhard’s Viennese global theater.  Rolf Hochhuth in Die Welt am Sonntag: “The spectators delivered a standing ovation to this author, to whom by means of this homage they have affirmed that he is the greatest Austrian writer since the death of [Alexander] Lernet-Holenia.”

It was also a triumph for the actor Wolfgang Gasser, who embodied Professor Schuster’s brother.  Razumovsky will write in the FAZ: ‘This Professor Robert has certain lines that schoolchildren here will someday have to learn by heart, alongside a handful of those of Grillparzer, whether their author likes it or not: ‘The Austrians are obsessed with unhappiness; the Austrian is inherently unhappy--and if he is ever happy for a change, he feels ashamed and hides his happiness in his despair.’ The whole thing, writes Razumovsky, is ‘a kind of elevated act of art-husbandry, a kind of virtuoso temper tantrum.  Here Bernhard is clearly continuing the Austrian literary tradition from Nestroy to Doderer.’”   

3. This trip to Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol was Bernhard’s last one abroad.  He stayed in Spain through the end of 1988.  


Bernhard viewing the dress rehearsal of Heldenplatz from a box at the Burgtheater in November 1988



Letter No. 523

[Address: Vienna; telegram]

Frankfurt am Main
November 24, 1988

dear mr bernhard
yesterday i received your letter of november 20.  for me a threshold of pain has been not only attained but exceeded.  after all we had in common for decades and especially in the past two years, you are disavowing me along with my employees who are devoted to and working for you, and you are disavowing the firm.  i can’t go on any longer.
yours siegfried unseld

Letter No. 524

Vienna
November 25, ’88

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

If, as your telegram proclaims, you “can’t go on any longer,” then just erase me from your firm’s catalogue and from your memory.

I was surely one of the most uncomplicated authors you ever had.1

Yours very respectfully,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. The end of the correspondence does not mark the last verbal exchange between Bernhard and Unseld.  In Salzburg on January 28, hence almost exactly two weeks before Bernhard’s death, the two of them met one last time.  Unseld reported on the meeting in his Travel Journal, Salzburg, Saturday, January 28, 1989: “It was very foggy in the morning when the plane took off, but afterwards the plane flew continuously over a blanket of clouds that fiercely reflected the sun and literally doubled me from both above and below; it was blinding.  A blind descent to Salzburg; suddenly the airport was there, radiant and dark.  Beauty and danger commingled.

I had agreed to meet Bernhard at the Sheraton at 11:00 a.m.  At the moment of my arrival at the hotel by taxi, Austrian radio announced that it was ‘11 o’clock on the dot.’

He was sitting in the lobby, dressed in elegant English clothes, a stylish red-striped shirt.  He affected the air of a charming and witty smoothie; I brought him a plastic bag with calcium tablets from Spain.  Of course in Austria there are such tablets that are just as effective, but they don’t taste the same; he said he would use these tablets to alleviate his cramps.  I was reserved in the truest sense of the the word; I waited for explanations, but he held on to his nervous-cum-anxious demeanor.  So he said that he had reckoned that I would be there punctually despite AUA, that he had told his brother that I was most punctual person in the world.  That his brother was going to stop by again to pick him up at 2:00 p.m., so that whatever we couldn’t discuss in three hours would just have to go undiscussed.  He asked me if I had read Dalí’s obituary [Nachruf] in the FAZ.  Sure, he said, Dalí had been an eccentric, that people catcalled [nachgerufen] him and whatnot, but that at the same time he was the most normal person ever.  He said that people were accusing him of contriving scandals.  Bernhard had already read what I, on the plane, had also read: in that day’s SZ Tadeusz Rozewicz said: ‘Unlike Thomas Bernhard, for example, I don’t concoct scandals.  I don’t approve of that.’ He said that people accused him of contriving scandals when all the while he was laid up in his house in Gmunden and unable to go out anymore.  Naturally, he said, he himself had been doing everything wrong and thereby damaged his health.  For example, when he ran into Max Frisch at the airport in Málaga: at the time, the end of December 1988, all the flights had been canceled on account of a strike; only Swiss Air was taking passengers.  He said that Frisch had looked very droll, dressed as he had been like a hybrid of a tramp and a stranded fisherman; that he had been carrying a heavy basket, probably full of wine bottles, and Bernhard had tried to help him carry this basket, but had had no idea how heavy it would be.  He said that it had certainly done him no good, but that Frisch had looked simply horrible, not like a man who had just come out of a sanatorium but rather like somebody who needed to check into one.  Incidentally, he said, Frisch had asked him, because he had read the first few pages of Heldenplatz during his layover, when the premiere of the play was?  Who was pulling whose leg here?

After the first ten minutes, we went to a different part of the hotel and he came ‘to the point.’  He gave me the contract that he had finalized with Residenz Publications in Torremolinos on December 13, 1988.  (One presumes that Dr. Jochen Jung came to Torremolinos because Torremolinos is explicitly mentioned at the beginning, in the middle, and at the conclusion of the contract.)  He committed to Residenz Publications his work On High; a Rescue Attempt; Nonsense for ‘a one-time edition in a a format to be determined entirely by the author, and in an unlimited print-run.’  Residenz is permitted to negotiate rights to foreign-language editions.  Apart from these two rights it has no other rights.  ‘The author expressly waives financial proceeds from these two one-time rights and decrees that from these proceeds no donations or bequests of any sort may be remitted to any persons or institutions.’

On June 13, 1990 the rights are to revert to the author.

I explained to Bernhard that while the contract was certainly unambiguous on one level, it was also construable in a number of senses, because at least in theory Residenz Publications can print this one-time unlimited edition in a run of 100,000 copies and ‘sell it off’ until doomsday.  But that wasn’t the main problem: why, I asked him, hadn’t he also included the stipulation that the rights to the five other Residenz titles were to revert to him?  He didn’t want to talk about that, and so an awkward mood immediately set in.  He said that he couldn’t understand my reaction, that no matter what happened, I would find myself in the position of having to buy the rights from Residenz Publications.  I told him that this new contract had now made that practically impossible.

But I could easily see that in the light of his personal situation this issue no longer interested him, at least not urgently.  He said it was my affair, and that it would work itself out in the long run.  And then he described his new situation to me: In hora mortis.

He says that he doesn’t think that he will survive the year.  That the weakness of his heart, combined with an ever-increasingly noticeable dilation of the organ, is becoming more and more burdensome.  That operations are now out of the question; that he would have to have a heart transplant, but he doesn’t want one.  That he doesn’t want to check into a hospital ever again and most certainly doesn’t want to go into an intensive care unit and hang on tubes again. ‘[...] I’m leaving as I arrived, unnoticed.  Nobody is going to be allowed to hear about my death; my funeral is to be attended only by my brother and my sister, if they want to attend it.  Burgel Zeeh will be notified a week later.’

He says that he is having to acclimatize himself to the situation and that  he is managing to do so quite well.  That all told everything in his life has gone outstandingly well.  That everything he had touched he had turned into money; that in this respect he was just like Siegfried Unseld.  On Siegfried Unseld: sure, he said, 90% of the time Unseld was sympathetically and amicably disposed to him; the other 10% he and his firm spent being abominable to him in all sorts of ways, and after Unseld came Burgel Zeeh of course.  Basically the only people who mattered.  Of course, he said, he couldn’t complain; he had gotten everything he’d wanted; a person could hardly ask for anything more.  ‘Life is wonderful, the world is magnificent, we live in a grand age.’

He incidentally said that he was planning to annihilate everything, that there would be no posthumous papers.

I asked him about Newfoundland.  Yes, he said, the manuscript existed, but he would have to go over it again, and probably he wouldn’t be thrilled with it; he said that he couldn’t type anymore with his gouty fingers, that he would probably still jot down a note here and there with a pencil while sitting in bed. [...]

When I pressed him to try depicting his own situation in writing as Proust had done: Sure, he said, he still had the urge to write, ‘I could write another hundred books, but I don’t have the strength anymore.’

How did I envisage my administration of his literary estate?  I expounded to him my old idea of a three-headed committee–an heir, myself, and a critic or some other person who was ‘receptive’ to Bernhard’s work.  But he just laughed at all this.  He said that there were no critics or any other people who were ‘receptive’ to his work.  That in any case he didn’t want anything like that; rather, he wanted his brother and me to be joint executors of the estate, and in connection with this plan he had told his brother, had warned him, that I was an extremely crafty businessman whom he should never trust very much; but on the other hand, he said, his brother really didn’t need to get involved at all, because he, Bernhard, was of the opinion that in the end I really would arrange things in the best way, and that time had proved that what was best for Bernhard was also best for Unseld and/or vice-versa. […]

Then he got around to talking about Nathal (Ohlsdorf), his farmhouse with a courtyard, his main domicile, his work-site, probably his one true home.  Now, he said, he could never go back there; he found it too taxing to be there.  He could never leave the house; he even had to be led to dinner, or his dinner had to be brought to him.  I could hardly believe this.  Today, he said, was the exception; he was nervous, agitated, and this agitation was keeping him on his feet.

Nathal--I could sense where he was headed on this point--Nathal: he said that he wanted to place it in my hands; what did I say to that?  I said No, so he said he would just give it to his relatives as well.

So he wanted to bequeath Nathal to Siegfried Unseld.  He said that Nathal--the building, the property and the meadows, fields, and a patch of woodlands that were attached to it--was altogether worth two million deutschmarks, and oh miracle of miracles--I was supposed to convert it into a Bernhard museum!  Ideally a little ‘hut’ would be built a short distance from the house, and a caretaker could live in it along with everybody else who wanted to work at the museum.  What would be in it for the people who lived and worked there? I asked.  Well, he said, there would just be a caretaker who would keep an eye on things and then people who perhaps would have to be interested in his work, but they wouldn’t have to be scholars who were studying the work of Thomas Bernhard; other subjects could be studied there too.  Perhaps the only important thing would be to have people there who had spent some time living in the country.  I asked him why a new house would have to be built there given that the farmhouse itself was certainly big enough.  Yes, he said, that was true, but he said that he wanted to leave it untouched, that it should stay just the way it is now.  I opined that even so, there would still be plenty of room, that the two or three people involved could still be housed there.  In the end he came around to conceding this.  He said that it was just important to leave the ‘house part,’ his personal living space, undisturbed.  That all the rest really wasn’t all that important, but that this should be preserved.  And that I could rest assured that this would command an enormous amount of respect.  That there weren’t many writers whose dwellings and places of work had been handed down!  That he was now in this position and could play this role.  That in the end he was sure that after his death his work would enjoy a new renaissance.  A renaissance and an influence: he said his work had not been given enough exposure to the public, that Suhrkamp Publications had done too little, that it hadn’t campaigned for him at all, and that for example in the case of Heldenplatz it had not exploited the colossal publicity resources available and hadn’t placed any advertisements (he said: ‘any of the famous banner advertisements’)!  Why, he asked, had Suhrkamp Publications not made special mention of him in its jubilee schedule, for after all, he was an author in the edition suhrkamp!  There was no holding Bernhard back.  And he said that he could already envisage people coming there by bus.  And that I only needed to charge admission to make the museum economically viable.

In such a situation what can one say to an author?  That the idea is tempting but difficult to put into practice. [...]  

At this point in the conversation we shifted our meeting place to the hotel’s large restaurant and had a bite to eat at midday.  He kept emphasizing how physically demanding he found all this, that now he could only drink a small sip of beer, no tea, no coffee.  That his heart couldn’t take it anymore.  That he was forbidden to consume any stimulants or rich foods and that they were all lethal to him.  He kept mentioning Nathal.  No, he said, I shouldn’t let authors stay there.  That authors were incapable of putting themselves in other people’s shoes, and that every one of them thought he was the greatest.  In the same way, of course, that Dalí thought he was greater than Picasso.  But doesn’t Thomas Bernhard also see himself as the greatest?  He kept coming back to Max Frisch and his question about the date of the premiere of Heldenplatz.  Authors will be authors.

He inquired after my own state of health, after the duo in Klettenbergstrasse, after Burgel Zeeh, after Fellinger, who, he said, was of course probably still reading Handke’s manuscripts nonstop.  He said that  ultimately Beckett was the only one who mattered.  I showed him the title page of the December 1988 Theater heute with the gigantic signature: Beckett. Bernhard. Koltès.  Paris. London. Vienna: ‘You see, you see.  You only have to die to become famous.’

It was almost 2:00 p.m.; my plane was scheduled to take off at 3:00.  We rose, asked the waiter for our coats, which he had taken from us at the entrance.  Mine was still there, but Bernhard’s, a green loden coat-- ‘hand-sewn,’ he peevishly remarked--had vanished.  As I was about to get into my taxi, I noticed his brother arriving.  I asked him if Bernhard’s illness was as he had described it to me.  Yes, he said, it was very serious.  I brought the two brothers together and rode off.”    

In his Chronicle entry on Bernhard’s death, Unseld again wrote about this meeting in Salzburg; under the date heading of February 16, one reads: “In the morning there is news from Vienna that Thomas Bernhard is gravely ill. […]
At the firm, during a press conference, the news:
Thomas Bernhard is dead.  Dr. Peyer the attorney, writing to me on behalf of Bernhard’s sister, confirms the news (see note).  Thomas Bernhard is dead.  He died on Sunday, February 12, 1989.  The news arrived just as he was being laid to rest.  It was Bernhard’s wish that nobody should take any notice of this; he has gotten his wish--essentially if not in every respect.
Thomas Bernhard is dead.  This was not unexpected, and yet it is very difficult to take in.  I am writing, amid incessant interruptions, the obituary for the Börsenblatt, and perhaps also an obituary for the Austrian newspapers:
‘Thomas Bernhard is dead.  He died on Sunday, February 12, in Gmunden and was laid to rest on February 16, 1989 in Vienna, at the side of his Lebensmensch, about whom he wrote: ‘All of a sudden we are separated from the person to whom we basically owe everything and who has literally given us their all…’  Thomas Bernhard gave his all.  His first novel, Frost, was published by Insel Publications in 1963.  In this book, the great writer outlined his poetics: ‘To explore the unexplorable.  To uncover it to the extent of disclosing a certain astonishing stratum of possibilities.’  Thomas Bernhard managed to do just this, one book at a time, one play at a time.  No other writer of the present has exerted such an influence, no other writer has shaped the landscape of the theater in the way that he has.  This amiable human being’s life was a tightrope walk; it aimed for wholeness and perfection, all the while knowing that wholeness combined with perfection is unendurable.  ‘If you enjoy being alive as I do, you simply can’t help living with a kind of constant feeling of love-hate towards everything.’  This was even true of his stance towards the country of Austria, in which he lived: a stance of proximity and distance, more love than hate.  An Austrian attitude: simple, complicated.  ‘I am thoroughly happy, from head to toe, from my left hand to my right, and this is like a cross.  And that’s what’s so beautiful about it.’  Suhrkamp Publications mourns its great author.  His work will live.”

I can sense how this news is really moving me in being expected and yet unexpected.  How relieved I am that we got to speak with each other one more time. [...]

In the morning a long telephone conversation with Thomas Bernhard’s brother, Dr. Peter Johannes Fabjan.  He tells me that he was with Bernhard and his lawyer in Salzburg on Friday, that the will was signed and hence is legally valid.  He says that on Saturday they were still in Nathal [...] He, Bernhard’s brother, says that he kept track of the trajectory of Bernhard’s illness, an illness that a patient normally manages to live with for only two to four years.  That thanks to his iron will and his brother’s help Bernhard lived with it for ten years.  But that towards the end he realized that he no longer had the strength to write, that he was exhausted, but that on that last night he talked and talked, including about his relationship with me; he said that he had been very happy that this relationship had been so productive, and that he would die a happy man.


I drive to the firm, and then at midday I fly to Vienna. [...] The drive to Grinzig Cemetery.  I found the grave; it was strewn with red roses; a man who had just strewn some roses of his own took a snapshot: so now Thomas Bernhard is lying beside, or properly speaking above, his Lebensmensch.  I think back on him with affection.  With a profound sense of satisfaction in knowing that I have said as much to the Austrians with my eye-catching notice in the newspaper [a half-page advertisement in Die Presse, February 18, 1989].”



         


Thomas Bernhard and Siegfried Unseld "walking and thinking" (so the editors) on the lawn of the "Krucka," one of Bernhard's houses in the Gmunden area.


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2016 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. 743-813. 

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.


END OF PART XIX

END OF THE BERNHARD-UNSELD CORRESPONDENCE

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