Friday, February 01, 2019

A Translation of Ein Jahr mit Thomas Bernhard by Karl Ignaz Hennetmair. Part I: January.

A Year with Thomas Bernhard: The Sealed 1972 Diary


Preface

At a certain point in his long friendship with Thomas Bernhard, the real estate agent Karl Ignaz Hennetmair dared to do something about which, as he remarks in his own notes, “Thomas” must have had some inkling.  Over the course of an entire year—from January 1, 1972 to January 1, 1973—Hennetmair recorded a series of diary entries on his conversations, joint ramblings, and general experiences with Bernhard.  These entries tended to center on topics that Bernhard could not discuss as unceremoniously with anybody but him. 
As a sales clerk, commercial traveler, pig-dealer, and, finally, real estate agent, Karl Ignaz Hennetmair accumulated experiences involving interactions with other people.  The fact that he had a good memory, that he was always openly receptive of the “real world,” that he was capable of transmitting a faithful rendition what he had learned, together with his inexhaustible energy, set him apart from the undifferentiated mass of other neighbors in Thomas Bernhard’s eyes.  Anyone who has ever accompanied Karl Ignaz Hennetmair in his stalking of Thomas Bernhard through that patch of countryside that serves as the setting of the diary and also, prevailingly, of so many of Bernhard’s works, acquires a lasting impression from the sheer energy of this human prehistoric rock—as the headlines have already dubbed him.  Hennetmair is none too squeamish in pursuing his goals, but Thomas Bernhard is more than a match for him in this respect, as we may learn from a perusal of the diary.

Karl Karl Ignaz Hennetmair brokered the purchase of all three of the houses that Bernhard owned in Upper Austria.  First came the large square courtyard-enclosing farmhouse in the township of Ohlsdorf in Traunviertel, then the so-called Krucka, his workhouse, as he calls it in the diary, and finally a house in Ottnang, the so-called Hansbäun or Haunspäun, or, in standard German, Hans-Paul.  The inspection, brokering, and sale of the Haunspäun, together with the initial phase of its interior redecoration, all fall within the temporal scope of the diary and are described therein in meticulous detail.  The significance of the houses, of their renovation, which Bernhard undertook personally, subsequently manifests itself in Bernhard’s work.

The most conspicuous feature of this diary is its scrupulously precise reportage, along with its stylistic self-confidence and its unprecedentedly consistent and copious form of expression.  Here nothing is embellished or pared away; rather, “reality” [Realität] is allowed to say its piece.  Karl Ignaz Hennetmair was also a past master of the linguistic version of “real-estate agency” [Realitätsvermittlung].       We learn—as Bernhard “bashes out” a typewritten letter on financial matters to his publisher Unseld—why the author exclusively uses certain older models of typewriter. We follow along as after the removal of his play The Ignoramus and the Madman from the schedule of the Salzburg Festival, Bernhard writes a telegram in which he evinces solidarity with Claus Peymann and the actors and takes potshots at Josef Kaut. The telegram has already been published in newspapers, at least in abridged form.  But in his Bernhard archive, Hennetmair has preserved Bernhard’s handwritten draft as well as well as the post office-ready final text.  Bernhard sat down with Hennetmaier in a beer garden, asked for paper and a ballpoint pen, and gave free rein to his resentment.  Ever “prepared to make a deal,” Hennetmair always had such writing utensils ready to hand so that he could obtain signatures on preliminary contracts for the sale and purchase of lots and houses whenever he needed to.  Even the difficulties the two men encountered in handing the telegram over at the Eugendorf post office are recorded in precise detail.  Along the way, we learn how long, or rather how short, a telegram must be, especially when it is intended for immediate transmission.  Hennetmair’s advice to go to the main post office in Salzburg is finally accepted by Bernhard.  Even their conversation with the counter clerk there is included in the notes.  These are seemingly trivial irrelevancies—but even here, Hennetmair is never boring.
A typical day in Bernhard’s life includes not only having dinner with Claus Peymann but also conversing with Hennetmair about Bernhard’s grandfather’s wife, who let him go an entire week without saying a word to her and didn’t even ask him what the reason was.  Hennetmair was even at his service during the installation of a television at the “Krucka” and also recorded this in his diary.

Somebody is writing about a writer.  But this “somebody” is not himself a writer.  What will we initially expect from such a diary?  Bits of information, private dirt; we may expect any number of things, but we are surprised when the author of this diary—amid all imperfections that are not also occasioned by lack of time—gives expression to his own literary talent.  Incidentally, in Hennetmair’s diary we read that Bernhard claims to be somebody who writes rather than a writer.  In this diary we also get to know Karl Ignaz Hennetmair as somebody who writes.  To be sure, it was the master who (unwittingly?) inspired him to take up the pen.  The enthusiasm that Hennetmair musters for many of Bernhard’s formulations and letters betrays his sensuous engagement with linguistic performance.  At the beginning of the diary he is vexed by the headaches attending the delivery of a faithful rendition: “In the course of the walk, Thomas only made a few good remarks ‘aloud.’  They were so nicely and neatly formulated that afterwards I said to my wife: I didn’t manage to make a mental note of them, and so everything he said has gone down the drain.  Because when I can’t recall it word for word, the effect of the original statement isn’t there” (January 29, 1972).  So Hennetmair “knows” that the form of the statements does not leave their content untouched.  That he is a true master of form is shown by an “arboreal blueprint.”  Thomas Bernhard showed his friend Hennetmair the spot uphill from the “Krucka” at which he had accidentally injured himself with a chainsaw.  The tree that had caused the accident, which stood on a slope as steep as a church roof, had been snapped in two by a storm so that its top half was lying athwart our path and pointing downhill, so that from root to top the trunk of the beech, which was over twenty meters tall but slender, described a semicircle” (January 15, 1972).  This depiction betrays a talent for description.  And a delight in it.  The fact that Bernhard felt no pain immediately after the accident because he was in shock gives Hennetmair an excuse to “tack on” a few anecdotes about his war experiences.  Bernhard valued these narratives, as is evident in Hennetmair’s reference to Bernhard’s formidable memory in the following passage: “When we’re on the road in the car, traveling between Linz, Steyr, and Kirchdorf, Thomas reminds me at many places along the way that I told him this or that story about my wartime experiences years or months earlier at this precise stretch of the drive.  Because as a little schoolboy he was attacked by airplanes with bombs and aircraft cannon and lived through the bombing of Traunstein and Salzburg, it’s worthwhile talking about wartime experiences with him.  Because if a person hasn’t lived through all that himself, how is can he possibly come even close to forming a picture of it?” (January 29, 1972)  Here Karl Ignaz Hennetmair is essentially putting forward an authorial creed to the effect that one must tell a story in such a way that the listener or reader can form a picture of what is happening and thereby be kept in the picture.  But it would be quite wrong to term Hennetmair an autodidact; he felt no calling to become a writer; he took up writing only once, when an occasion for doing so presented itself, and afterwards he was done with it for good.

But already at the very beginning of the diary, the first sentence is well-turned and displays Hennetmair’s stylistic flair.  The fact that somebody has found it worth mentioning, and even printing in a newspaper, that Thomas Bernhard has large pores in his nose is a good enough reason for recording those of Karl Ignaz Hennetmair’s conversations and encounters with Thomas Bernhard that have had a fundamental influence on the life of both men. 
Hennetmair is aware of the danger of being caught in the act by Bernhard—often enough “Thomas” paid him unexpected visits at his house.  He would either be fleeing from an unwelcome forthcoming visit or, quite often, hoping to set out on a lengthy walk.  Karl Ignaz Hennetmair captured all of this.

A truly glorious moment in Hennetmair’s remarks best illustrates what he may have found particularly fascinating about Bernhard. It is also one of those rare moments in which Hennetmair, in speaking about the world of literature, managed to wrest some form of acknowledgment from Bernhard.  Hennetmair’s strength and significance as a “real-estate agent” is never more eloquently expressed than in his criticism of those “speechless artists” who lack material to engage with: “Just then it occurs to me that in Vienna, writers are always bellyaching to Thomas that they have no material to write about.  That strikes me as utterly pathetic.  We were then walking directly along the barbed wire fence of a field, and I said to Thomas: When I look at a wire, that wire on its own would surely give me enough material for a book.  Pages and pages could be written starting from its being taken from the ore to when it’s being made into barbed wire, in connection with the factory and the people who work there, to the point when it’s being used as a pasture fence here.  Because everything’s contained in that, everything from agriculture to the livestock dealer to the sausage factory that receives this livestock from the field.  If somebody says he hasn’t got any material, then he can never be a writer, because the first bit of material he senses is the very air he breathes, and surely somebody could spend a lifetime writing about that.  Because the air we breathe has already passed through the lungs of so many people and farm animals; all the nations before us have already inhaled and exhaled it.  Somebody could tell a story about the air we’re breathing here.  You yourself take walks for the air and need the air in order to come up with good ideas.  A writer has simply got to make things up out of thin air, and everybody’s got air and it doesn’t cost anything.  Thomas heard me out without saying anything, which in his case is much closer to an expression of assent than when he actually says something in reply” (January 30, 1972).

This simple and clear de-scription of the most subtle of all elements—which was traditionally employed as a basic constructive ingredient and also as a metaphor for the mind—as a primary source of material and a universal element immediately accessible to everyone, as a vital principle that animates individuals and at the same time has a decisive influence on all of history thanks to its exchange between “breathers,” is an achievement that must be regarded as one of the diary’s high points.

Hennetmair was an expert at maintaining contact with the material world and with people who take in, assimilate, material.  The first-person narrator of Bernhard’s novella Yes, a researcher of “antibodies” suffering from lack of contact with other people, has expressly sought out and come to marvel at the contact he has established with the real-estate agent [Realitätenvermittler] Moritz.  In this character, Moritz, Bernhard fashioned a tribute to Hennetmair.

Hennetmair’s fraternization with Bernhard took place over an entire decade and lasted so long not least because the two of them moved in very different circles and therefore never trod on each other’s “turf.”  Hennetmair was Bernhard’s man Friday, who over time came more and more to pursue his own goals within the context of his friendship with Bernhard, something that also finds expression in the diary in its present state.  He collected every newspaper article, photographs, the original or a copy of every telegraph to or from Bernhard—everything having to do with Bernhard, provided he could get hold of it.  Indeed, he even had his mother mend the trousers cut up by Bernhard’s chainsaw—an accurate reconstruction of the accident can be gleaned from the diary—so that he could take possession of the discarded scraps of fabric.  In his eyes, the name Bernhard transformed everything material.  He knew that someday his collection would be interesting, valuable, lucrative.

To be sure, Hennetmair’s diary consists of far more than this auction house-appraiser’s version of appreciation.  By and large, Hennetmair’s accounts and anecdotes have a title to literary merit that makes this “diary” a delight to read.  In retrospect, Bernhard’s search for and discovery of a “reality agent” [Realitätenvermittler], a link to reality, in Hennetmair, becomes intelligible via diary entries in which Bernhard and Hennetmeir’s worldviews come to light. 

In Yes, the scientist-narrator swears that despite his lack of education, Moritz the real estate agent is possessed of an exceptionally high degree of intelligence and an extraordinarily keen sense of hearing.  In the course of the diary it transpires that Bernhard would often accompany Hennetmeir on his business excursions—this among other reasons in order to listen to Hennetmair from a certain distance during the negotiation of deals.  In Yes Bernhard describes the same kind of situation involving the real estate agent and the scientist as follows: “Such excursions, in which he always became acquainted with new examples of human baseness and viciousness and in which I had quite often participated, mainly in order to get away from my work and away from my house, from my imprisonment in work and existence, but also, like him, to meet new people and new characters and abominations, had always simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated him.”
In his notes Hennetmair betrays how exhausted he finds himself after strenuous discussions with Thomas Bernhard.  And Bernhard has not failed to notice that Hennetmair has accepted the challenge.

Hennetmair, alias Moritz, has immortalized not only Bernhard but also himself in his daily notebook entries.  Bernhard must have known this and encouraged it.  In these notes Hennetmair writes that at this time Bernhard constantly discussed his mail with him.  But eventually Thomas and Karl’s friendship came to an end.  Bernhard broke off his friendship with Hennetmair via erroneous accusations.  As a sanctuary and refuge, Hennetmair’s house was exposed to the risk of betrayal.  For all that, in hindsight it must be said that in the end Bernhard betrayed Hennetmair.  Hennetmair sums up the end of a friendship lasting more than ten years in his own unique way: “Just as Mozart’s letters to his girl cousin can’t tarnish Mozart’s music, Bernhard’s execrableness and baseness can’t detract a jot from his world-famous body of work.”

Hennetmair’s reference to Mozart’s letters to his cousin was not made by chance.  However farfetched the comparison may be, at the following moment, the diarist’s sense of humor comes very close to Mozart’s in those letters.  When the August 4, 1972 performance of Bernhard’s play The Ignoramus and the Madman at the Salzburg Festival was canceled, a certain lady asked Hennetmair who had spoken directly to the expectant audience.  Whereupon Hennetmair replied: “The guy heading up the stairs was Thomas Bernhard, and the guy with the chalkboard was the director, Peymann, and the banana tree was standing there too, and you can guess what happened next.  She gaped at me in horror.  Then I said: You’ve got no sense of humor.  The only person who’s got a sense of humor is the author, who deserves to have his job-description started with an S today.  What do you mean by that? asked the lady.  “Well, you see, when you put an S in front of author it becomes sauthor [as a prefix, Sau, literally meaning sow, has roughly the same negatively intensifying overtones as sodding or fucking in present-day English (DR)].  Then she looked even more horrified, and I stepped outside via the actors’ entrance.”

There is a back-story to Hennetmair’s assertion that “only” the author had a sense of humor.  The diary is full of episodes in which Thomas Bernhard has the entire Hennetmair family literally in stitches, from which the individual “participants” manage to “rescue themselves” only by leaving the room.  Anyone seeking an acquaintance with Thomas Bernhard’s sense of humor will find no better book to introduce it to him than this one.
But Bernhard was only too willing to exploit the Hennetmairs’ hospitality.  He got used to being treated to his favorite dishes by Mrs. Hennetmair, a privilege that was otherwise exclusively extended to family members.  In the entry for April 13, 1972, we read that on noticing that Hennetmair was about to head back home, Thomas Bernhard asked him if he could tag along with him, because “he just couldn’t stand to be alone tonight.”  In Yes, the narrator describes Moritz the real-estate agent as a lifesaver who has often liberated him from a nightmare, from his imprisonment in work and existence.  An already-famous sentence in Yes reads: “We have to be able to go see someone like Moritz and to get what we need to say off our chest.”   But in this novel the narrator also talks about what the real-estate agent was apparently unable to offer him: “I told Moritz that what interested me most about the Persian woman, and more than any such quality had interested me recently, I pointedly did not say in recent years but rather recently, was her sensibility, her undoubtedly high degree of cultural attainment.”  By this point, the narrator has conversed with this Persian woman about, for example, Schumann and Schopenhauer.  In the diary we are also briefly introduced to the woman on whom the character of the Persian woman was modeled.

What is missing from the diary—and this missing something is indeed a complete Whole—is hinted at by the narrator in Yes.  It is “what I had concealed throughout my entire decade-old acquaintanceship with Moritz, what I had indeed been taking ever greater pains to hide from him over the course of that entire period, to hide from him with mathematical subtlety and conceal from his gaze with pitiless disregard for myself, in order to make sure that he, Moritz, did not obtain a scintilla of insight into my existence…” Thus does the narrator speak about “the person I was probably closest to in quite a literal sense at that time,” about his “lifesaver,” whose house was a refuge for him.  The narrator suffering from lack of human contact owes his very existence to the real-estate agent Moritz, as he himself admits; this debt “…cannot be overstated and must be mentioned here.”
Hennetmair made sure that Bernhard never lost a firm footing on terra firma.  Hennetmair’s “groundedness” was less keenly appreciated by Bernhard’s other acquaintances.  To be sure, jealousy is also in play in this friendship, as “Thomas” himself makes clear in the last entries.  On June 27, 1972, Hennetmair parenthetically writes: “Basically I’m glad…that I’ve never been present at gatherings of these circles, because nothing good would come of that and Thomas would lose his sanctuary…at my place…”

Apart from the fact that Hennetmair was “only” basically glad to be excluded from certain circles, he hits the bullseye in mentioning the danger of the loss of the sanctuary.  Bernhard once said to Hennetmair: “You’re the only person who I can talk to in a normal way” (August 8, 1972).  In generally, talking to Bernhard about his literary work must have been a touchy matter.  When Hennetmair asked Thomas Bernhard if his current writing project was gaining momentum, the latter replied: “I don’t talk about such things” (May 31, 1972).  Hennetmair noticed his “blunder” immediately, and apropos of it writes: “With such a direct question to Thomas I managed to top off my well.”  Otherwise Hennetmair was evidently quite aware of the fact that it was impossible to fetch water directly from this “well.”  Our natural scientist in Yes shows that he knows his way around Moritz the real-estate agent’s modus operandi when in a decisive situation he avers: “…by dexterously steering our conversation, Moritz had succeeded in doing what he had intended to do, namely, in getting me away from myself, in other words, maneuvering me out of my lack of all means of escape…”

Getting away from oneself and getting back to oneself via an indirect path, via one’s alter ego, which is to say via another person, is a version of salvation that owes nothing to the identity principle of formal logic.  Lack of human contact, illness, was the formal-logical identity (a=a) that had taken possession of our natural scientist (perhaps in conformity with his method?) in Yes.  In his diary, Hennetmair says to Bernhard, “Of course, the last thing you want to be is a ‘member’ of any society.”  But a real-estate agent’s very livelihood depends on his making contact with people.  The fact that a (commercial) exchange must never be built up to in a crude, excessively straightforward manner was a lesson he taught Bernhard fairly often.  This can be gleaned from the diary and from Yes: “And I have never in my life learned more about people than during these reconnaissance excursions with Mortiz…”

Hennetmair himself talks about changing the subject of conversations with Hede Stavianicek (Bernhard’s “Lebensmensch”) in order to reduce the tension between Hede and Thomas (December 27, 1972).  When Hennetmair once again committed the “blunder” of asking him how his writing was progressing, Bernhard very earnestly declared: “That’s none of your business.”  And after a brief pause, he said: “I need a change of subject.”  So we also indirectly learn a fair amount about Bernhard’s creative process; not to mention the fact that his conversations with Hennetmair offer copious material to anyone trying to understand Thomas Bernhard and his work.

Hennetmair writes that he could write down only about thirty percent of his conversations with Thomas Bernhard, that he almost completely stopped reading newspapers and listening to the news so that he could devote more energy to this task; that either the conversations were too rich in content to allow him to take everything in or there was not enough time to write so much down.  Hennetmair did most of his business work at weekends, so that it was on weekdays that he had the most time for doing things in Thomas Bernhard’s company.

In our conversations with him, Hennetmair has admitted that towards the end of the diary he was totally exhausted.  That it had become impossible for him to continue working on this project.  Just as it had become impossible to retie the knot of his friendship with Thomas Bernhard a short while after he fell out with him.  Hennetmair has told us that Bernhard himself would have been disappointed in him if he had accepted Bernhard’s offer to bury the hatchet with him.  There was no turning back.  But one thing remains: a virtually inexhaustible Thomas Bernhard archive compiled by Karl Ignaz Hennetmair, an archive whose centerpiece is constituted by his diary entries.  Only a very small portion of his notes and materials has been made public so far.  Once we have attained a certain greater degree of historical distance, it will obviously be even easier to name names.  The reader will then not only get closer to “Thomas” with the help of the real-estate agent Karl Ignaz Hennetmair, but also get to know a highly gifted agent of both real estate and reality.
Johannes Berchtold



Thomas Bernhard and Karl Ignaz Hennetmair, united in friendship for a decade



The Sealed 1972 Diary

January 1, 1972
Today, after discussing Andreas Müller’s article in the Münchner Abendzeitung [Mein Körper, mein Kopf und sonst nichts” (“My Body, My Mind, and Nothing Else”)] with Thomas and noting that Müller even found it worth mentioning that Thomas had large pores in his nose, I resolved from here on out to take notes on all my meetings with Thomas Bernhard and to write up our conversations as accurately as possible.  Yesterday, the last day of the year, Thomas visited me three times, and I invited him to have lunch with me.  At 10 a.m. we set out on the walk from his house in Nathal to Weinberg via Ohlsorf, the forester’s lodge, the grotto, and Hildprechting, with the intention of arriving for lunch at my house in Weinberg at 11:30.  As we’d hoofed it as far as Eybl’s house in no time flat, we arrived at my house by 11:15 and from my place went to Nathal, because my car was parked there and Thomas and I wanted to have our cars with us after lunch.

Even though Thomas got home from the New Year’s Eve party at Pabst’s in Laakirchen at 4 a.m., he was much spryer than usual.  Thomas had spent New Year’s Eve with Mr. and Mrs. O’Donell and Hufnagl the architect.  I went to bed at 3:15 and knew that Thomas wasn’t at home yet because if he had been I would have seen him pulling in from my window facing Nathal.  He certainly would have honked his horn and would still have popped up to see me or I would have popped down to see him.  Because it made me mad that he’d be getting home so late on account of our scheduled 10 a.m. walk, when I went to bed I left the light on in my room, so that he’d think I was still up, which was meant to make him mad.  In actual fact, afterwards Thomas told me he’d still been up at four, that he’d honked but I hadn’t responded.  When I told him I’d been fooling him, he said reproachfully:  you’re such a stinking imbecile.

Thomas on the sight of Ohlsdorf deserted at 10:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day: all the doors are locked, the windows shut; they’re still “wallowing”; the streets are deserted, and just as they’re beginning the New Year by wallowing they’ll go on wallowing the rest of the year.  Here and there this year another execrable house is being built; the people who live here are completely lacking in taste and repulsive.

MY BODY, MY MIND, AND NOTHING ELSE
…It’s impossible to have a normal sort of interview with Bernhard.  He has no telephone, hardly answers any letters, resents being photographed, rarely speaks around other people…Agi, Baroness Marie Agnes von Handl, says to me on the telephone: “Fine; I’ll do it.”

We arrive unannounced.  Agi: “First he’ll probably just talk bilge.  He’s always talking bilge.”  Bernhard’s bright yellow VW sticks out like a sore thumb, a foreign body.  The farmhouse, which is quadrangular like a fortress, looks newly renovated: clean, from the outside almost sterile.  The cowshed is empty.  Agi pounds on the door with her fist.  Absolute silence within.  “Thomas, open up!” Finally we hear shuffling feet.  She: “I’ve got somebody with me.” He: “But you know I never want to deal with that.”  Via a dark, austere vestibule, followed by the sparsely furnished living room, in which a misplaced ironing board is standing, we enter the “reception chamber.”  Three hard, high-backed armchairs, a fireplace without a fire, on the wall a colorful primitivist oil painting, wood shavings, a couple of books.  It’s freezing cold, the house hasn’t been heated.  Smoking is prohibited.  Dusk sets in.  Bernhard lets the room stay dark.  He looks ill.  Thin hair.  His nose is full of visible pores.  Narrow, mistrustful eyes.  He starts talking out of the blue, makes fun of Agi, yammers away, ridicules her, pours scorn on her ironically.  Aggression (what Agi called “bilge”) is his form of self-protection.  Agi mentions her son.  Bernhard: “Drastic measures should be taken to keep so many children from coming into the world.  Because everyone’s always complaining there are too many of them, and yet it still keeps being encouraged.  First people have children, and then they can’t stop talking about what a headache they are.  People who have children should all have their ears lopped off.”
(Andreas Müller, Münchner Abendzeitung, 12.28.1971)

We talked about an article in the Münchner Abendzeitung of 12.28.  He has already received a letter from Agi since then.  She didn’t comprehend a thing, didn’t want to understand anything, didn’t have a clue, etc.  But he was through with her.  Yesterday at the Café Brandl she hesitantly stopped by his table and very sheepishly and dopily asked: May I? Then she kept standing there biding her time like a total dope and I said: well, make up your mind.  Then she sat down and said I had to forget that.  But you can’t make somebody forget something; there’s no such thing as forgetting.  What’s happened has happened, but of course you can’t forget anything whatsoever even if somebody tells you to; it just simply isn’t possible to forget something.  There’s just no such thing as forgetting.  As we were walking Agi said: when will we see each other again?  I said: perhaps when the wheat’s billowing.  Agi was born Baroness Maria Agnes von Handl of Castle Almegg.  Thomas can’t recall having said anything about people “having their ears lopped off.”  He said he had perhaps said something similar.   We both thought it was possible that the reporter Andreas Müller had made “ears” out of it just as he had made Agi into a widow.

As we’re eating our turkey lunch—my wife, my son Karl with his wife and their six-month-old baby, my daughter, her fiancé “Stutz,” my daughter Reinhild and son Wolfi are all there—I threaten to “lop off the ears” of my offspring.  We’re in a good mood and our appetite is good and hearty too after our walk.  At 12:15 we sit down upstairs to watch some television: the New Year’s concert.  The dancers are annoying, Thomas says; they only distract you from the nice concert; only the orchestra should be shown; the dances are pure kitsch, crap.  But I’m still going to write the ballet.  The man who’s going to do that, Aurel von Milloss, is marvelous; he has a high regard for my books; he likes people like me.  Because I know who I’m writing for, I can adapt myself to him and he can adapt himself to me.  You know that’s the only way anything good comes about.  He, Aurel von Milloss, has been begging me to write the ballet for his opera.

Thomas sings the praises of coffee and Linzer torte.  He feels fantastic; if he didn’t he wouldn’t still be watching the New Year’s jumping competition with me.  In the second heat Thomas wishes a crosswind or a gust of wind on the rider in the lead, Kasaya, so that Mörk can win.  At 3:00 Thomas gets up and says now I’ve got to leave, I’m already going to get there too late.  I agreed to meet O’Donell and Hufnagl at the Brandl at 3:00. We also talked about the premiere at the Salzburg Festival, but hardly anything new was said, and I’ll give an account of previous conversations about this later on.

Oh, and here’s the most important thing: on Sunday, 1/2, meaning tomorrow, he’s expecting Ilse Aichinger with her husband [Clemens] Eich and their son.  To [Harry] Buckwitz’s displeasure he brought the son to dinner with them after the premiere of his Boris so such a young person could see how horrible something like that is.  Most of the time they imagine it differently.  Besides, I always like joining in that sort of thing to spite people, and because the lad was so nice, I invited his mother Ilse Aichinger and him to visit me.  They sent me a telegram: “Should we come at 2 or 3 in the afternoon?”  I wired back: “At 2.”  Because of course at 3 Schmied is coming (Dr. Wieland Schmied).  Yes, etc., but I’ve had enough now; I keep remembering more things to write about, but I’m done for today.

January 2, 1972

Thomas comes at 8:15 in the evening.  We sit and watch television; Stars in der Manege [Circus of the Stars] is on.  He says it isn’t interesting, because if anything goes wrong, you don’t see it, because they edit it out.  I couldn’t come any earlier because Aichinger was still visiting with me.  I’m a bit tipsy; we drank at least ten liters of cider.  It was splendid, very nice, marvelous, ha ha ha ha, he sang and kept making fun of the TV show.  I waited for the Aichingers starting at 2; they didn’t show up until 4.  Unfortunately the Aichengers themselves had visitors before they left to see me.  Then they decided that Eich, the husband, would stay at home to entertain the visitors, and that Ilse would make the trip.  Because Ilse can’t drive, they had to call for a cab.  Her mother, her son, and three girls came with her.  The driver of the cab was a girl, a Turk, a woman.  It was marvelously merry; I had to fetch cider from the cellar three times.  Three liters go down nicely; we must have drunk ten liters.  It was obviously starting to have an effect on them long before they left.  It was marvelous.

Me: at some point you lot must have talked about either their work or yours (by work I naturally meant their activity as writers, which isn’t always the case when we discuss work).  But they didn’t at all, not a jot.   I’ll stay till the news at 10:30; maybe somebody’s died, Thomas said.  Just then Thomas gave me a meaningful look.  He often says this, and he knows we’re often thinking the same thing at the same time.

Years ago we were sitting in front of the tube when the news came that [Heimito von] Doderer had died.  As if he’d just been given an electric shock, Thomas leapt up from his chair, clapped his hands, and delightedly exclaimed: Heimito von Doderer is dead.  When I asked him why he was so glad, he said: well, you see, in Austria, Doderer was the top-ranked horse, and as long as he was still alive, nobody else could become somebody, nobody could make any headway.  Now racecourse is wide open; now I’m coming.  But they won’t get me the way they got Doderer.  So I’m not going to pretend to be a Doderer for them, because if you let yourself be seen at every official function, you get worn out, distracted, irritated.  It goes to your head; you rest on your laurels and can’t achieve anything anymore or at least not anything that’s great, that’s any good.  Nobody criticizes you very much anymore either; everybody just celebrates you and makes a phony show of worshiping you for every little piece of rubbish.  Of course that’s the ruin of people.  They exploit it and don’t produce anything good anymore.

And a few weeks later Thomas and I visited Wieland Schmied, whom I regard as Thomas’s Bernhard’s true, genuine, and only friend; I deliberately told him about how Thomas had jumped for joy that night.  Despite the closeness of his friendship with Schmied, Thomas turned red in the face; he was weakened and felt embarrassed.

Incidentally, Wieland Schmied has said that he’ll be arriving from Hannover tomorrow.  Several times Thomas says: Wieland is already sitting in the train.  I say: he’s already sleeping.  Yes, with a snorer in his compartment, he says.

We agree that Thomas will come by my house at 7:30 tomorrow morning and that the two of us will pick up Schmied at 8:00 at the train station in Wels.

I’ve gotten started on something really fine here.  Thomas Bernhard left my house at 11:30 at night; now it’s 1:00 a.m., and I didn’t manage to write all that much about those two-and-a-half hours.  But if I don’t jot anything down, future Bernhard research will come to nothing.  What’s more, I’m sure people will believe me, because a couple of my children are bound to survive Bernhard and me and corroborate every word I’ve written.  What’s more, Bernhard is such a rewarding “object” that you don’t need to make anything up. It’s more likely that I won’t be able to get anywhere close to describing everything, because when you talk with Bernhard for five hours at a stretch as I did on January 1, you can’t even do justice to the most interesting bits.  On the first we talked about the fact that the eighth year of our acquaintanceship was beginning.  We traded old stories about everything that had happened in those eight years, and noted that apart from times when he was away, hardly a day of those eight years had passed without our seeing each other.  Indeed, there were days when he came to see me in the morning, afternoon, and evening.  Today I’m sorry that I didn’t at least jot down some catchy expressions.  Even though as far back as about four or five years ago he said to me: you have no idea of how famous I am.  And then I said: I’ve got a very good idea of that.  But he said: no, in Austria they don’t write anything about me, but in Germany, I’m really somebody.  But I said: I know that in the German newspapers they write about you as though you’re the greatest living German-language writer.  But does that mean I’ve got to address you as “Sie” now?  At most I’d manage to do that by using it as a plural, because you’re a whole mob even on your own.

So I’m going to try, whenever I have the time and it happens to occur to me, to write about the past seven years as well.

January 3, 1972
Thomas comes by at 7:30 in the morning.  I ride with him in his yellow VW to Wels to pick up Dr. Wieland Schmied.  The train is punctual, his welcome cordial.  We drive to my house in Weinberg and unload his luggage.  Dr. Schmied will be staying with me.  He wanted to spend three days at Bernhard’s, but the latter can’t stand to have him around the house for very long.  Schmied is planning to stay up late, until at least 11 p.m. in company, usually by then he’s been “talked into a lather,” and then writes letters until four in the morning.  Talked into a lather by analogy with a horse that’s been ridden into a lather and then runs fastest.  And this is just what it was like from the 3rd to the 4th.

January 4, 1972
When Thomas and I leave him at 10 p.m., he writes until four a.m. and gets up at 10.  He walks to Thomas’s house in Nathal.  When I get there at two in the afternoon, Thomas is still driving away a load of gravel in his tractor, and then they finally head out for lunch together.
At six in the evening we meet up again at my house to complain to Steinmaurer the upholsterer in Vorchdorf about fading black suede seat-covers on his chairs.  Then we have dinner at my house.

As Dr. Schmied plans to write late at night again, Thomas goes home by 9:00.  At 9:30 I also try to leave Schmied, but I can’t manage to get away.  At 10:00 I have an energetic go at it, but Dr. Schmied asks me for a few more minutes.  At 11:00 I can see he’s in top form, and it’s just turning midnight when I finally leave him.  Schmied works till 4:30 a.m. 

January 5, 1972
Thomas comes by at 10:00 a.m.  As Schmied is sleeping, he drives to Gmunden by himself.  Schmied and Thomas and I are scheduled to have lunch together at my house at 12:00.  At 11:30 Schmied comes from bed.  Naturally he has no appetite for lunch in a half an hour.  We drive to my son’s house in Pinsdorf to look at a heater and leave a message: if Thomas comes at 12:00, give him our regards, and tell him not to bother waiting up for us to join him for lunch.  He would have gotten very angry otherwise, because he loathes unpunctuality.  But if he can eat something in the meantime, he’ll have an easier time forgiving us.  After lunch we chat about Germany, about its art and literature, until 2:00. The Germans live off nothing but the Jews and the Austrians, Thomas says.  Afterwards to Lederau etc. with Schmied.

At 6:00 Thomas is waiting for us in Nathal.  In Gmunden we saw Glöckler [traditional illuminated Austrian New Year’s decorations (DR)] and lots of people.  Despite this Thomas believes it won’t take long to get a table for dinner in Gmunden.  As every place is packed, Dr. Schmied and Thomas drive to the guesthouse in Reindlmühl.  A Glöckler dance is taking place there; they get some food right away; the two of them have such a good time talking with the natives that they reach Attnang only just before the departure of the train at 11:05.
Dr. Schmied is going to Venice to see Hundertwasser.  Hundertwasser has been mad at Bernhard for over ten years.  Back then Bernhard was annoyed at the fact that Hundertwasser was wearing a kaftan in the middle of winter when he showed up in Sankt Veit to visit Schimed, who in turn was visiting Bernhard.  The three of them spent a few days together, and over the course of them the book that Dr. Schmied and Hundertwasser published and that practically ushered in Hundertwasser’s success materialized.  As they were leaving a coffeehouse in Bischofshofen, Thomas held up Hundertwasser’s kaftan for him, but the latter instead of quickly slipping into the coat that was being proffered to him just kept chatting nonchalantly with Dr. Schmied.  Thomas remained frozen in his stance, and when Hundertwasser was just about to take the kaftan from him Thomas dropped it onto the floor and walked away without saying a word.  They haven’t seen each other since.

January 6, 1972

At exactly 2:00 p.m. seven years ago today, Thomas Bernhard, accompanied by his aunt (Mrs. Stavianicek), signed the deed of sale of his farmhouse in Nathal.  Every year since I have invited Bernhard to lunch in celebration of this anniversary.  As we have already preempted this feast by having roast venison with Dr. Schmied yesterday, I wait for Thomas in the evening.  He comes at 6:00 and stays until 10:00.  He came without his car and declines my offer of a ride back to his house.  He says he hasn’t been getting nearly enough exercise over the past few days.  Because of this he’s going to do some work at the Krucka—this is the name of the house on the plot of land at Grasberg 98 he bought on March 29, 1971—tomorrow.  I am enclosing a photocopy of the “Notice of Information” that I initiated with Thomas.  The original is in my possession, because as soon as I realized that my lawyer would have had a field day with this original, I gave him the carbon copy as a basis for drawing up the main contract.


The “Notice of Information” regarding the preliminary contract for the sale of Grasberg 98, the so-called “Krucka,” concluded by Josef Schmid, horse-cart driver, and Thomas Bernhard, farmer and literary classic

January 7, 1972
At 4:00 p.m. Thomas enters my house: now I’ve received a new foot as a present, he says.  I’ve come straight from the hospital.  I was quite lucky in that my knee wasn’t caught, and it could have taken my entire foot off.  Please be so kind as to call Peter (his brother Dr. Peter Fabjan, a physician in Wels) and ask him to come see me; he’ll have to give me my third tetanus shot right away.  It’s been a year or more since I stepped on that rusty nail.  Back then he gave me two injections; he’ll have to bring the third one with him.
In order to “test” him on how bad the injury is, I ask him if he mightn’t like to have a small snack, as I know that at the Krucka he’s eaten some pea soup at most.  He gratefully declined and asked for some tea.  It was served to him immediately, but before he could even finish the cup he started getting pains, which kept getting stronger, so that he suddenly stood up and said: it’s high time I left; now I can still drive over; a little later on I won’t be able to anymore.  In the meantime he told me about how he’d been stitched up and how the accident had come to happen.

I drive to the post office right away, phone Peter, and drive to Thomas’s house.  When he came to the door he said: just a few minutes ago I thought it was you, but it was a police patrol car.  They wanted to take me to hospital immediately; they said I’d have to be given the tetanus shot immediately.  Is Peter coming?  Yes, at 8:00, I say.  Well, I told the police that and didn’t go with them.  Peter knows what I’ve already gotten, from a horse, a cow, or a sheep.  I don’t know; that’s why Peter has got to give me the “third one.”
At 8:00 Peter comes; the injection is given.  In the meantime Thomas has stopped being able to bend his left leg.  Peter drives to Gmunden to speak in person with the chief resident who stitched up the wound.  He said that Thomas had watched the stitching operation very closely and that he had been very brave.
At 10:00 p.m. Peter and I leave Thomas.  He still instructs me to bring a bottle of milk, Die Zeit, the Suddeutsche, the Salzburger Nachrichten, and Die Presse with me tomorrow.

January 8, 1972
At 9:00 a.m. I come with milk and newspapers to Thomas’s house.  He can walk only with great effort and lies back down immediately.  He gives me a think little book about Grillparzer and the letter from Residenz Publications that Schaffler had sent him with the book.  The letter is dated 1/5/1972, and I say: did you get this in the mail before your accident?  Yes, but that’s not it.  Of course I’m not a good match for Grillparzer, and he’s got nothing in common with me either.  Actually I shouldn’t be given this prize at all, because I’m obviously the exact opposite of what Grillparzer was.  But take a look at the letter from the Burgtheater that Klingenberg’s written to me.  I look at the date, 1/5/1972, inspect the envelope, and on it the return address is that of the Burgtheater, and underneath it THE GENERAL MANAGER is printed very large. I say: Aha, they’re already banking on a quick change of general managers.  These envelopes can be used by any general manager.  He says: never mind that; read it and see what he wants from me again already.  I tried just to skim the letter as I do most of the time, as Thomas sums up the gist of the contents of his letters much better himself.  So I read exactly this: Klingenberg is writing that in honor of the 100th anniversary of Grillparzer’s death he was organizing “a quite small celebration” at the Burgtheater.  He’s expecting a small three-to-five-minute speech from Bernhard.  He pictures it centering less on Grillparzer as a great writer than on his suffering on behalf of Austria. I also notice that the letter isn’t signed by Klingenberg but by a secretary and that there’s a postscript on the second page.  I say right away that something like this is really out of the question.  He’s never spoken about a writer before, not even at an award ceremony.  For example when he received the Büchner Prize he didn’t speak about Büchner, even though they sent him a book about all the Büchner Prize recipients’ speeches and each of them spoke about Büchner.  But to speak about Büchner would be just to give one perspective out of lots of them and wouldn’t signify anything because of course everybody sees everybody differently.  What’s more, from the very beginning, when Hans Rochelt warily asked Bernhard if he would accept the Grillparzer Prize, we resolved not to give a speech this time.  (Afterwards, he keeps promising me to give one.)  But in the light of this he wrote to Rochelt: “I’ve survived 15 years disregarding things, and the Grillparzer Prize isn’t going to faze me either.”

Since the minister of education [Theodor Piffl-Percevic] left the auditorium during the awarding of the State Prize, of that “misunderstanding,” as Thomas calls it, Thomas has had a real horror of award ceremonies.  Incidentally, he hastily committed that speech to paper between breakfast at 9:00 a.m. and the tribute at 11:00 and then still read it to his aunt, Hede Stavianicek.  She advised him against using it, but he kept the text as it was. He came to me the next day with this rumpled draft in order to transcribe this speech onto better paper so that he could send it off for publication in its entirety.  Otherwise, he said, people would quote isolated sentences that would give a different picture.  He also wanted to know what I had to say about it.  After whinging for months that it was entirely up to the guy being listened to to point out weak spots, etc., I was enraptured by the speech.  I commented in detail on the assertions contained in the speech and declared to him that the education minister hadn’t been clever enough to take it in.  If he had understood the speech, he certainly wouldn’t have walked out on it.  But of course his reaction in itself only reaffirmed that speech.

I recall the weeks leading up to the award ceremony for the Büchner Prize.  Thomas would visit me every day at the building site of Steindl’s house, where I was helping out the bricklayers.  His hour and a half-to-two hour daily walk went right past it.  Even though I was constantly busy hauling mortar or bricks, he would linger for hours on end to talk and to vent about his problems.  Something or other was stuck inside him; something or other was weighing him down and preoccupying him.  And one fine day it was ready.  I was back at the building site; from quite a ways off Thomas tossed a brick.  I walked over to him.  I’ve got it now, he said; you’ve got to read it to me right away.  This is the speech that I’m going to give after the laudation at the Büchner Prize ceremony.  Of course I know it’s good; I also don’t want to make any more changes to it, but when I read it aloud myself, I can’t make the necessary impression.  I can’t hear what kind of effect it’s having then.  In the past Hede has always read my speeches to me; sometimes Peter has as well, but he’s so…he doesn’t understand me.  He’ll probably still come today, but I’d like you to read it to me; please read it.  It consisted of ten to twelve typewritten lines.

We had discussed the idea of the speech being short some time earlier.  I told him that I was familiar with the long speeches of his predecessors—of course he gave them to me to read—and that everybody in the audience would be glad if his speech was short.  Also, a lot can be said in a few sentences, and if a speech is going to be good and powerful, it mustn’t be too long, because if it is the listeners won’t keep their minds on it through to the end.  His speeches demanded the strongest, the most unwavering attention; without that there was bound to be another “misunderstanding.”  I silently skimmed the lines so that I wouldn’t stumble over any of the punctuation right away, and then I read them out.  Thomas almost danced for joy and said: that’s how I wanted the speech to sound.  It’s good.  You know, without a speech the whole thing’s a no-go, but this one is short and it’s good enough; please read it again.  After I had finished, he said that as the day of the ceremony got closer, he was less and less able to concentrate.  Yesterday it suddenly popped into his head as he was taking his walk.  This was why yesterday as he was passing by my house he dashed in and went straight to my wife so that he could jot down some notes, because by the time he’d gotten home he already would have forgotten it again.
Returning to the subject of Klingenberg’s letter, Thomas finally says: of course now I’d have a perfectly good excuse for not doing it, on account of my foot-injury.  But naturally no matter what I’m not going to make a speech.
Towards midday Thomas will cook himself a bit of milk soup; I leave him and visit him again at 4:00.  I stay with him until 10:00.  I had brought four of his large kitchen knives freshly sharpened by his neighbor Strasser, and during supper we used the knives extensively.

January 9, 1972
I had promised to visit Thomas sometime in the morning.  Since I’ve been working on this journal here since 8:00 a.m. and see that I’ll need to spend even more time on it, at 10:00 I drive to Thomas’s house.  At first I was planning to tell Thomas not to cook anything, that I would bring him some soup at 12:00.  But since he won’t mind my taking him to my house for lunch either, he assents, and we agree that I’ll pick him up at 12:00.  In the meantime I plan to write some more.  As I’m leaving I also tell him that my daughter my daughter Elfriede and Stiegler will also be there at lunch.  Then he says he’s sorry but that he won’t be coming; that I’ll have to excuse him.  He’s got nothing against my daughter, but he absolutely refuses to be seen in this state.  He actually has got a very heavy limp.  I say, “Fine, I’ll bring you some soup at 12:30.”

I punctually bring him the soup, a cutlet, and salad.  I hand it to him at the front door so that I won’t stick around, because I’ve still got too much to write.  Still I quickly say: “I’ll visit you sometime again today; I don’t want to commit to an exact time.  I don’t know when I’ll be finished with the work.”  Now I am, and after a short afternoon nap I’ll drive back over to Thomas.

At 4:30 I’m at Thomas’s house.  He’s in a bad mood.  I ask him if he’s had visitors.  He says, who’s going to come here now?  Well, on Saturdays or Sundays you at least see O’Donell; he might stop by just to see what’s up.  He won’t come, says Thomas; he doesn’t dare come unless I explicitly invite him.  Nobody at all will come; nobody would dare to.  I’m glad; it’s fine with me.  He continues to be in a very bad mood.

Finally at 5:00 he switches on the radio for the news.  Nothing like a proper conversation gets started afterwards.  I keep thinking of how I can get out of there as soon as possible without his noticing that I’m leaving on account of his bad mood.  He complains that I haven’t brought him the Kronen Zeitung.  Towards 6:30 I tell him that at 9:30 tomorrow morning, Monday morning, I’ll take him to the hospital for his re-bandaging in my son’s car, as I’ll be leaving mine at the garage for an inspection at 7:00.  Then I stand up, say: so, I’m going to clean the fish now; bye.  Then he says: leave the gate open; I’ll close it myself so that I can get a bit of fresh air, and he limps after me to the gate.

January 10, 1972
At Thomas’s at 9:30 a.m. As he knows I arrive punctually, I knock in a normal way.  I hear him walking; he doesn’t open the door.  When I keep hearing him off and on, it occurs to me that he isn’t going to react.  I knock at our agreed rhythm; he opens the door immediately and is friendly.  I hand him a letter.  I received this letter from the postman at 8:00.  For several years I’ve been authorized to take delivery of all his mail at the post office or from the postman.  This is either because he’s often away or just because I get my mail at 8:30, and so he can have his mail in his hands much earlier, because otherwise the postman would deliver the mail to his house at 11:00, long after he’s left the house.

Thomas opens the letter, and when he sees he’s got rather a lot to read, he asks me to take a seat.  Then he tells me the letter is from a journalist, the actress [Elfriede] Kuzmany’s sister.  In it she asks him whether he still remembers when he was invited to her house fifteen [sic] years ago, in 1955, and consumed a huge pile of dinner rolls.  Of course I remember it, he says.  You see back then I was already pigging out just as much as I always do at your house.  She also writes that I’m quite a celebrity now and that she’s very proud that I graced her with a half an hour or so of chat on a patio ten years ago in Salzburg.  I haven’t seen her since then, but whenever I hear anything about her sister, the actress, I also think of her.  Well, and now here she is writing to me. Let’s go!

After dropping off Thomas at the hospital in Gmunden, I pick up seven newspapers for him.  Die Zeit, the Süddeutsche, the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, Salzburger Nachrichten, Kurier, Frankfurter Allgemeine, and Die Presse.  His wound is healing well.  The stitches can be removed next Monday, January 17.  He wants to go to Vienna by the 15th.  I ask: why, is there also an event on January 15, Grillparzer’s birthday?  He says: no, I didn’t even know that Grillparzer was born on January 15.  He asks me if I know when Stifter was born.  I say I could only guess within a few decades, because I know when Stifter had the Kefermarkt Altarpiece restored, and he must have been alive for quite some time by then.  He says: if Stifter corresponded with Grillparzer, we can’t have a situation where that can only be estimated in terms of decades.  You see, for many years Bernhard has been hoping to win the Stifter Prize.  This is the one he’d be happiest to get, as he’s a good match for Stifter.  At 10:30 a.m. I drop Thomas back off at his house.  Then I go to Kastner, the editor of the Salzkammergutzeitung, with an article about Thomas’s accident:

Ohlsdorf—THOMAS BERNHARD has an accident while working in the woods.
Early on the morning of 1/7/1972, Thomas Bernhard, “a farmer at Nathal,” betook himself to Hill 98, a plot of land he owns, in order to “clean out” the woods there.  At 2:30 p.m. a tree fell and hit Thomas Bernhard in the back.  At the same time his running chainsaw was knocked out of his hand and inflicted a gaping wound above his left knee.  He also suffered an injury to his face.  As Bernhard was as usual doing this work by himself, he had to drag himself to his car.  He drove to the hospital in Gmunden, where his wounds were stitched and treated.  Administration of his course of treatment has since been taken over by his brother, a physician in Wels.

On Saturday I had given this report to a worker who was spending his Saturday off repairing his violin in the machine room and asked him to give it to Mr. Kastner.  But nothing was to be added to it, and it was just to be printed in the “Community News” section under Ohlsdorf. 

When I went to see Kastner he said to me right away: we’ve already changed it a bit.  We owe this to our readers.  We can’t print it the way you expect us to.  He phoned for the proof sheet; one glance at it was enough to make me lose my temper.  The article began, Thomas Bernhard, a State Prize laureate and successful author etc.  I indignantly dismissed the article and said I wouldn’t read another word of it.  This is exactly the kind of thing Bernhard won’t put up with, and that’s why I left out the word author etc.  There’s obviously nothing to this; he’s actually already won seven prizes, so you could keep going in that vein, and with that plus the accident you could fill seven whole pages.  On the 21st, when he receives the Grillparzer Prize, you can report whatever you like at length.  So, at what time is it?  11 a.m.  Where?  At the old university.  So then, we obviously should have a man there then. 

Finally I say: if the article can’t come out as it was, I’m withdrawing it.  I’m completely disowning it, because I’ll risk screwing up my dealings with Bernhard for at least two years if I’m responsible for an article that makes him mad. I also ask Kastner whether he’s familiar with the article in the Münchner Abendzeitung of 12.28.1971.  I point out the window at the OKA [Oberösterreichische Kraftwereke AG {Upper Austrian Energy Corporation}] and say: sitting in that building is Agi’s brother, Handl the baron, who can tell you how a reporter managed to sneak into his house with his sister.  You can write as much as you like about that.  Sometime soon I’ll bring you details and the reporter’s article.  Then you can write about that for weeks on end; nobody can keep you from doing that.  Then you can cater to your readers’ wishes, but please don’t tear into me with this article; don’t print it, or print it just as it is.

Kastner promises me to do as I say and asks me to give his regards to Bernhard.  He knows that I’ve been on friendly terms with Bernhard for years, and a few years ago, when Thomas fell out with him on account of an article, he said to me: if you ever have something about Bernhard that you want to have printed, I’ll print it right away in my paper.
But then he also tells me that he’ll write a note to the effect that I insisted on having the article printed in this form so that the readers will understand how the article came about.  I say: you can do that and bid him a warm goodbye.

At six in the evening I come to Thomas’s house and tell him about my fight with Kastner the editor.  I justify my move on the grounds that since the police and the hospital were called in, an unacceptable article about his accident could easily appear in the paper, and that I had just preferred to take advantage of Mr. Kastner’s longstanding offer myself.

In the meantime the television, which was on, began to stink, and Thomas said: any second now that machine’s going to explode and cut me to bits.  Then you can go straight to Kastner; he’s still got to finish the article.  He’ll be able write whatever he likes; he (Thomas) will never be able to read it, because he’ll be dead.  Or I could have a fat embolism; that would be very nice, if in the newspaper it says: Thomas Bernhard, dead of a fat embolism; then you can all write whatever you like.  The wound, you see, is healing quite nicely; a wound starts healing after just four to six hours. The healing is moving along without any complications, everything’s fine, but a fat embolism could still happen.  It’ll look like this.  He sticks out his tongue, lets his head slump to one side, and rolls his eyes upward.  He does this for me once again and says with a smile, look, it’ll happen that fast.  I said, I know that’s not in your future; Mrs. Jakob the palm reader in Linz told me that you can do whatever you like; everything will turn out all right for you.

I had asked Mrs. Jakob it would be good if, say, he kept offending people, especially the people he owed his livelihood to.  Then she said to me, the man’s got a sixth sense; he can do whatever he likes.  He can’t be all that bad; everything will turn out just fine for him.
I stayed with Thomas until the end of the television broadcast with Böll, the president of the PEN Club, who was interviewed about the Soviet writer Bokovsky [Vladimir Bukovsky, author of the book Dissent.  A New Mental Illness in the Soviet Union ( Munich, 1971)].  He didn’t like Böll; at certain times he found him execrable.

Thomas used to use the word execrable much more frequently, often several times an hour.  My mother had told me that she’d been highly displeased by his using this term so often.  So one day I asked him if he’d ever really thought about where the term “execrable” actually came from, since he used it so very often.  When he didn’t answer, I said: well, obviously it’s got to come from “excrement.”  In the weeks that followed he employed the word less and less often or only uttered half of it, and finally months would pass without my hearing it.  Nowadays he employs it only rarely, but always aptly.

January 11, 1972
Today on my back from Vienna, I visited Thomas at 6:00 p.m. with my spouse.  I had brought him seven newspapers.  Thomas immediately showed me a letter and Ferry Radax’s screenplay for an adaptation of his novel Frost.  In the letter Radax wrote that he was going to screen The Italian at Wolfsegg on Tuesday, in other words that very evening.  The countess has no problem with it, etc.  But then in the afternoon came a telegram announcing that everything had been postponed to next Tuesday, that further information would follow.  Thomas also said that the screenplay was very good.  Radax made quite a good effort in it; he knows it too.

Thomas attaches no particular importance to being in Wolfsegg at the time; it makes no difference to him whether he can speak with Radax, etc.  Mainly because the screenplay is good; he doesn’t care about anything else.  But I know Radax and want to spare him a disappointment.  And so I ask Thomas if he would mind my thanking Radax for his regards and writing to him that Monday would be more convenient.  Thomas has no problem with this.

At 6:30 my spouse and I leave Thomas on his own again.  I tell him: today I’m already tired, and now he has newspapers.  I also leave him a ¼ [of a kilogram? (DR)] of butter then.  He invites me to have lunch with him at Pabst’s tomorrow; I’m to be at his place at 11:30 a.m.
Thomas also shows me a postcard from Wieland Schmied, who sent it to him from Chioggia.  It’s got a blue stamp with a boat on it; it’s supposedly Hundertwasser’s yacht. Above the boat somebody has drawn large raindrops, and underneath it they’ve written the phrase “rainy day,” along with what’s probably “rainy day” in two other languages.  Hundertwasser has signed in cursive.

When I get home I also find a postcard from Chioggia and Dr. Wieland Schmied in my mail; it’s also been signed by Hundertwasser, but unlike on Thomas’s postcard, on mine there’s an oval-shaped 5 x 7-cm spot of color, and above this spot of color from a blue inkpad are written Schmied’s greetings.  Naturally the stamp with Hundertwasser’s yacht is also on it.

January 12, 1972
At 11:30 a.m. I’m at Thomas’s house in Nathal; we drive to Pabst’s guesthouse in Laakirchen for lunch.  We have soup with liver dumplings, roast pork with sauerkraut.  As we were leaving Nathal, I invited Thomas to coffee at my house.  At Pabst’s Thomas wants to order pancakes after the roast pork; I’m not interested.  He says he’d like to have two or three of them, but he’ll eat them only if I have two as well.  I say, I can’t possibly do it; eat on your own.  No, then I won’t, he says; eating on my own is out of the question.  Then I say: fine, I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment; I’ll join you.  I protest that I only want one; he insists on two; he says I’ve got to overeat properly as he’s often done at my house.  In the end even he has got to leave half a pancake on his plate.  Because he’s been lying around for so long, he can’t put away as much as usual.  He says: this kind of thing has never happened to me before; suddenly I can’t eat anymore.

Otherwise our conversation focuses on nothing but unimportant stuff, and there’s always a lot of humor and wit in it.  It was really quite amusing; the two of us weren’t different in any way from the other customers.  The people having lunch alongside us were laborers and office workers.

When I stopped at my place on the way back, Thomas said: I can’t do it; I can’t have coffee with you anymore; my foot’s already hurting; I’ll be happy when I can lie back down.  Once he was back at his farmhouse, he’d just pour himself a shot of schnapps and go straight to bed.  Since I was going to be driving to Gmunden afterwards, I promised to bring him newspapers at 5:00 that afternoon.  I punctually brought him seven newspapers again and left for my gym lessons at 6:00.  I invited Thomas over for lunch the next day.  I said I’d pick him up at 11:30 and bring him all the available newspapers then.

January 13, 1972
Events involving Thomas are following in rapid succession.  I’ve been pressed for time to write and finding it impossible to watch out for typos.  As I’m thinking about the incident I’m writing about, I’m so absorbed by it that I make the stupidest mistakes and sometimes even type Thomes instead of Thomas.

At 11:30 a.m. I’m at Thomas’s house in Nathal as scheduled.  I bring him all the newspapers, including the Salzkammerzeitung with my article about the accident.  I inform Thomas that I have just been to see the editor of the Salzkammerzeitung, Kastner, and thanked him for printing the article without any changes.  I tell Thomas that Kastner declared to me that he had never before printed an article so much against his better judgment.  By this he meant that in addition to the name Thomas Bernhard the article should have included a mention of his address and occupation.  I give Kastner the article about Thomas in the Münchner Abendzeitung of December 28, 1971.  I advise Kastner to read the article beforehand; then he’ll understand why I could only risk that dry, matter-of-fact article.  I say that he can certainly write a postscript to it; that he should even print the article from the Abendzeitung in full or cannibalize it; that should he need any further information I’d be happy to help him. 

On the margin of the newspaper I also jotted down some notes about Thomas’s decades-old acquaintance with the aristocratic family of Handl-Pachta from Almegg.
Kastner wants a picture of Bernhard.  I say to him: pictures are rare; he doesn’t allow himself to be photographed.  I’ve taken some snapshots of him at my house and while he’s working.

Finally Kastner says he wants to dedicate something to Bernhard in connection with the Grillparzer Prize.  I say that in the future he can write whatever he likes about Bernhard; that he needn’t have any reservations about it or show him any special consideration.  Thanks to other newspapers Thomas has long since gotten used to it; he doesn’t react to that kind of thing anymore.

I tell Thomas all of this.  When I’ve finished, it occurs to me that I was at Dr. Meingast’s office in connection with his properties and that he was waiting on an exemption from the real estate tax on one property.  I told him that the maps of another property would be on display at the town hall on January 17, 1972.  That he had to make sure that the dimensions had been accurately drafted.  That he mustn’t neglect to do this because the 17th would mark the beginning of a fourteen-day appeal period.  Afterwards even a drafting mistake can’t be corrected anymore.

This briefing of mine lasted 30 minutes; at was 12 noon.  Thomas said: so is that it?  Is there anything else?  I: No.  He: too bad, it would have been so much fun if you’d kept talking for another half-hour, till half-past twelve.  I say: it’s already time for us to leave for lunch at my house.  He says: you absolutely must read this letter from Peymann. I read:

Dear Mr. Bernhard:
Just so you can be glad too: Bruno Ganz is playing along in Salzburg.  Perhaps we’ll see each other at the beginning of February at the first rehearsal.
Sincere regards,
Claus Peymann

I hand the letter back to Thomas.  He says: when I look at the letter, I think, the twit just writes two lines.  Probably people also think the same thing about me, since most of the time I only write two lines as well.  That’s certainly true.  To this I reply: Peymann has received these kinds of two-line letters from you several times already, and he reasonably thinks that you want and expect the same thing.  He’s falling right in line with you.  When you’re terse, he is too.  I’d do exactly the same thing, and I actually do the same thing in similar situations.  Peymann is obviously of the opinion that he can only please you with such a short letter.  In any case it’s not a bad idea to write so tersely; I have been writing tersely for years, like in telegrams; that’s the most effective way.  You yourself are obviously only writing so tersely because it’s having a good effect on a rational person.


At about 12:30 we sit down to lunch at my house.  We have grammelknödel with sauerkraut, preceded by soup with sour cream—because Bernhard likes it—with baked canapés.  Over mocha Thomas raves about Bruno Ganz.  He says: if anything further goes awry, the play can’t be performed.  (He’s referring to The Ignoramus and the Madman, which is scheduled to be have its premiere at the Salzburg Festival on July 29, 1972 and in which Bruno Ganz will now be playing the principal role.)  Thomas says that the fact that Ganz will now be playing the part means more to him than the Grillparzer Prize.  Because thanks to Ganz it will be clear that the young are on his side, and that’s important, because then all the old (writers) will be as well, because they’re afraid of the young.  That’s another proper box to the oldsters’ ears (by oldsters he always means writers).  They’re getting one box to the ears after another now.  First the Grillparzer Prize and now Ganz.  Apart from this, I’m glad about this news, because just imagine, until now if somebody had asked who was acting in Salzburg, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to say.  If I tell them now that it’s Ganz, of course they’ll hardly believe me because he’s so good—can you still remember?  A few years ago we watched that television play The Battle of Lobositz together.  In that play Bruno Ganz played a soldier; he was magnificent in it.  I say: how can I possibly not remember a television movie that was so good when hardly any plays that good are broadcast in a year? But can’t you remember that at the time I told you I’d seen that film a few months earlier on the German channel and was watching it for the second time with you?  Thomas: yes, right, now I can remember; yes, yes, that’s true.  



Thomas Bernhard, witness at the confirmation of Hennetmair’s son, Wolfgang, with
Reinhild Hennetmair in the left foreground. May 1, 1967.



The family of Karl Ignaz Hennetmair (not pictured): his oldest son Walter, “Granny” Christine, his wife Zäzilia, younger son Wolfgang, and the witness at Wolfgang’s confirmation, Thomas Bernhard


At about 2:00 p.m. I drive Thomas to Nathal, and he tells me further that Ganz will have difficulties with his community when he plays that role in Salzburg etc.  Thomas also tells me that shortly after I left for my gym lessons yesterday, Wednesday, Lord O’Donell came to see him with Die Presse, as he had been informed about his accident by Mrs. Hufnagl over the phone.  His jaw dropped when he saw Die Presse already lying on the coffee table.  He assumed I’d have nothing to read.  We further agree to my taking him back to my house at 7:00 p.m. to watch the men’s figure-skating competition.  Peter is supposed to show up at the same time to take off his bandages; he wants to see for himself how the wound is looking.

So at 7:00 I show up at Thomas’s house at Nathal.  Peter isn’t there yet; he’s supposed to arrive at any minute; then we can leave.  At 7:30 we turn on the television to watch the news.  Regarding the program called Culture, which has followed the news since 1/1/1972, Thomas utters increasingly withering pronouncements.  He expects this ridiculous Culture program to be canceled in no time flat.  He says that it isn’t possible to say something each and every day about real culture, as is demanded by the very title of the show; that the whole program is simply ludicrous.

Because after a half an hour his television starts stinking and the picture is breaking up, we turn it off at 8:00.  As Peter still hasn’t shown up, Thomas starts badmouthing Peter and Peter’s father in particular.  Thomas tells me that when he was eighteen his guardian only ever called him “the old man” and told him he’d never even hack it as a bricklayer.  Nobody ever talked about anything but the fact that “the old man” would never amount to anything.  His guardian allocated 80 schillings of his 110-shilling-a-month welfare allowance to heating and only ever gave him 30 schillings.  Whenever Thomas opened the refrigerator, his guardian would say: you’re eating me out of house and home.  What was more, when his birth mother was dying he completely forgot about him and didn’t notify him, so that he read about his mother’s death in the newspaper two days afterwards.  Thomas showed me this newspaper cutting some time ago.  I can recall that the cutting also mentioned that his mother was the daughter of Freumbichler the writer.

Thomas also tells me that to this day his stepfather and former guardian doesn’t give a thought to his own ninety-two-year-old mother in Vienna.  He wants to describe the house to me, but I already know it, as several years ago I drove Peter there in my car so that he could pay it a brief visit.

Then we end up talking about his publisher.  Thomas says that for him his publisher is nothing but a laundry deliveryman; if a laundry deliveryman writes him two letters, he doesn’t need to write back to him at all, but the deliveryman has got to keep bringing him his laundry anyway, because after all that’s his job.   He’s failed to answer two letters in a row from the publishing firm [Suhrkamp].  They’re simply not worth answering because they’re so…written in such a way that he can’t answer them.  But still, his publisher should have congratulated him on the Grillparzer Prize a long time ago.  If someday his posthumous papers are examined and put in order, people will notice that they don’t include any letters of congratulation, even from his own publishing firm.  What’s more today he received the third printing of his Prose from the firm.  He couldn’t help noticing that they’d redone the page where the third printing is mentioned but that they hadn’t simultaneously changed the list of his previously published works, that only Frost was mentioned as having been previously published, just like back in the first printing.  He said that stuff like that shouldn’t be happening at a publishing firm.  That he’d be giving the lot of them the boot, etc.

Today Thomas received a third letter from the Academy of Sciences, who will be awarding him the Grillparzer Prize on the 21st—he tells me he won’t be answering it.  He’s only answered the first one, the one asking him if he would accept the prize, with a yes.  Since then three more letters have come, but I don’t think it’s necessary to answer them, Thomas adds.  Other writers would savor that and reply with page after page about how crazy they were about Grillparzer.  They’d look for similarities and assert every conceivable thing; they’d dissemble and melt with rapture, etc.  Because after all the academy’s also written how happy they are; I loathe all that reciprocal adulation.  I’ll accept the prize the way I take my polished shoes into my room from the hallway when I’m staying at a hotel, and then of course I’ll jubilantly walk along the streets of Vienna in my “freshly polished shoes,” but that’ll be all.  Not that I don’t cherish the prize, but I’m not going to go nuts about it; I’m not going to receive the prize any differently than I’d receive a pair of freshly polished shoes.

By way of explaining this I must mention that Thomas has an improbable predilection for shoes and is constantly polishing and maintaining his circa 30 pairs of new shoes as punctiliously as the ones he wears.  Most of the time, when he comes home with dirty boots or shoes, these are cleaned immediately, or at least he takes advantage of the very first opportunity to clean them.  Everybody who knows him will confirm that he attaches great importance to genuinely bespoke footwear.  I’d almost go so far as to maintain that when it comes to shoes, Thomas has got a fimmel [i.e., an addiction or obsession (DR)], as they say here, and I think that this word fimmel could be a corruption of the word phobia.  Therefore in Thomas’s eyes there’s nothing derogatory in his comparison of the prize to shoes.  It means a great deal indeed if he cherishes the prize as much as shoes.


Two things cherished in equal measure at the farmhouse at Obernathal: shoes and hand tools

Then Thomas Bernhard tells me that he won’t be attending the premiere of the play at the Salzburg Festival.  He says the theater at Salzburg is much too small to allow him to remain incognito.  If he doesn’t clap, the people will stare at him, if he were to clap it would seem to him as if he were applauding himself.  What’s more, after the performance he’d have to celebrate with the actors: then everybody will ask, How good was I; then I’ll be expected to answer; that’s so horrible.  What are you supposed to say then?  I know that everybody will think they’re the best, but in a setting like that you obviously can’t say to everybody that they were better, etc.  I’ll watch the dress rehearsal, and during the premiere I’ll sit somewhere and drink a glass of wine.  Of course I won’t tell anybody that I won’t be going.  I won’t mention it until just before the premiere, so that the actors know and won’t be irritated by the author’s absence.  For me it’s better when I’m not present.  I tell him that after the performance I’ll find him and brief him.

I can easily imagine that in Thomas’s mind a different conjecture is also playing a role: the audience won’t know anything about his absence, will call out for him, will keep calling out for him until he finally comes, and so maybe the applause and the calls will last a really long time if the author doesn’t appear.  Much longer than if he were there.

I also had to add the following regarding my visit with Kastner the editor today: Kastner asked me why Bernhard wasn’t married and if he had any women at all.  I answered by saying that I hadn’t noticed a trace of anything of that kind in years.  I can therefore only suppose, I said, that Bernhard has adopted a rule that quite a lot of priests have also abided by, namely only ever to get involved with a very decently married woman so that he won’t run any risks whatsoever during the affair.  But I said that this was only a supposition on my part because, as I’d already mentioned, I hadn’t noticed anything.  I also told this to Thomas.  As I was doing so he smiled in a way that suggested that my guess hadn’t been too far from the truth.  Then I said to Thomas that I hadn’t been prepared for this question, and that right after my visit with Kastner it occurred to me that I should have said that at any rate Bernhard was certainly not a homosexual, since otherwise he wouldn’t let all those students who worship him languish outside his closed gates.  A few of them have even stayed overnight with his neighbors in the hope of just running into Bernhard the next day.  But he hasn’t received any of them as guests.  If he were a homosexual, he’d let them in.  Then I said to Thomas: hopefully somebody will ask me the same sort of question again soon; I’m sure it’ll occur to me to say that then.  To which Thomas replied: it’s entirely natural that since I’m not married people immediately assume I’m a homosexual.  That’s the most obvious explanation.

By 9:00 we knew that Peter wouldn’t be coming.  I reflected that once again I’d written down some very interesting stuff and that inevitably after I’d finished my entry for a given day I’d remember something else that was interesting and that I really should have also written down.  Accordingly I jot down the list of things he wants me pick up for him the next day and drive home.  Before I leave he gives me two letters to mail, one to Dr. Hilde Spiel-Flesch and the other to Mrs. Ilse Leitenberger.


January 14, 1972

At 10:00 a.m. I’m at Thomas’s house in Nathal with seven newspapers, his mail, two knackwursts, and a bottle of milk.  I leave him on his own again soon and say: so now at least you’ve got newspapers to read; I’ll come back this afternoon.  Before I go we talk about Peter, about whether he’s going to come and about the fact that it’d be really important to hear his advice as a doctor as to whether walking around could still be harmful.  Thomas said that such fruits didn’t grow on his family tree, that only crab apples grew there.

At 4:00 in the afternoon I’m back at Thomas’s.  His entire face his consumed with laughter, and he hands me the invitation to the Austrian Academy of Sciences’ Grillparzer Commemoration.  I had already received it yesterday, says Thomas, but I was so angry about it that I couldn’t even show it to you then.  I read the invitation through and say it’s a colossal outrage to let the vice president of the academy hand over the prize in the presence of the president and to specify in the program who was playing first violin and second violin, to list all the members of the Vienna String Quartet by name, but to omit his name, the name of the awardee.  Naturally, says Thomas, of course that’s the issue, and then he launches into a stream of abuse.  I howl with laughter when he finally lets me get a word in, and I say that the academy really couldn’t have done him a bigger favor than by corroborating his opinion in such a documentary way.  That he can’t possibly be surprised by this outrage, that to the contrary he’s got to count on this kind of thing happening every time because otherwise his views on such institutions would be false.  But here once again it’s being clearly shown how right he is.  I’m downright happy, I say, that this has happened, since some of my acquaintances still refuse to accept your views.  I can convince them with this.

I entreat Thomas to lend me the invitation overnight because I’d like to have a photocopy of it made at the Ohlsdorf Cooperative Bank, which opens at 7:00 a.m. on Saturdays.  To make sure I don’t forget the invitation later, I take it to my car in the courtyard right away.

Thomas reads me a newspaper article (from the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten of January 14, 1972) about Rauris.  Handke and [Uwe] Johnson are involved; 10,000 schillings are being awarded as an advancement prize to somebody whose name I don’t recall [Bodo Hell].  Thomas fills me in on the background and says: do you still remember the time I was at your house with [Erwin] Gimmelsberger, when Gimmelsberger showed me a list with names on it and invited me to Rauris?  I had him cross out almost all the names on his list and told him which names on it were worth considering.  They really have me to thank if anything good came out of that.  Just imagine: he’d written down the names of some really god-awful jingoistic writers like [Karl] Springenschmid.  This year they couldn’t talk about “global” and “international” literature even if they’d wanted to tart it up in that kind of language.  Of course they’ve invited me back to Rauris this year.  They’d like to exhibit me as a living body from last year.  They’ll certainly have written all over the place that Thomas Bernhard’s going to be involved again.  Johnson’s so arrogant anyway.  He’ll stare at the locals when they go around in lederhosen.  He’s got no ability to appreciate that kind of thing; he’ll be sorely disappointed.  Besides, it’s ridiculous, to award 10,000 schillings as an advance.  Because what can anybody do with ten thousand schillings; that’s basically nothing.  They want to give young authors a leg up, but the writers have to spend all the days of the event in Rauris.  No writer gets anything out of being tied down to a place; it’s just absurd.  It’s obviously not the case that exactly when he’s privileged to be in Rauris he can also write something, etc.

Eventually 7:30 comes around, and we turn on the television to watch the news.  Thomas thinks that Culture is appalling, that it can’t possibly run much longer, that they’ll have to cancel it.  Since the television only gives a good picture for 30 minutes and then the picture breaks up if he doesn’t switch if off for a few minutes, at five to eight Thomas turns off the television.  If Peter were planning to come today, he really should have been here by now, Thomas says, and we take off the bandages and inspect the wound.  We try to finish in five minutes, in time to watch the news on the first German channel.  Thomas wants to know if he’ll hurt the leg if he moves around more.  He can’t put up with any more lying around.  The stitches are unevenly knotted, the wound is healed up and free of pus, slightly swollen around the edges.  I roll up the two plasters, and Thomas puts the bandage back on.  When he’s finished and we’re about to turn the television back on, there’s a knock at the door.  We think it’s Peter; I open the door, but his neighbor Schabinger comes in with an invitation to the Red, White, and Red Ball: because you’re ill now I’ll collect the money from you some other time.  I’ve never come in here before; today is the first time, but I knew I’d catch you today.  He gets 20 schillings and a signature on the collection list.  No sooner has he left than there’s another knock; it’s Peter.  Now the bandage is taken off again.  Very beautifully stitched, he says.  In my opinion it wasn’t beautifully stitched, but I don’t say that.  By “beautifully” Peter possibly meant “serviceably,” but perhaps to a doctor it is actually beautiful.  Peter has no reservations about Thomas’s walking a bit more provided of course that he doesn’t overstrain the leg or turn it too violently.  Thomas immediately takes advantage of this and asks me to ride with him to the Krucka tomorrow.  Since I promised him earlier to bring him the invitation from the Academy of Sciences with his mail at 8:30 a.m., I say: We can do that afterwards.  He asks Peter to make sure he comes punctually at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday and not a minute later so that he can leave Wels for Vienna at 12:00.  Peter is supposed to take the stitches out before the trip.

Before Schabinger showed up and after we switched off the television, I started to feel hungry.  Since 4:00 Thomas hasn’t even offered me a shot of schnapps.  I pondered whether to ask Thomas for a single crust of bread and thereby appropriate one of his own tricks—whether to do exactly as he had done years ago at my house, when he used those exact words, can I have a single crust of bread, as a trick for getting himself invited over for tea.  But after the bandage was opened I lost my appetite, and I stayed till 9:00.

Thomas also told me that he had written to Klingenberg, the general manager of the Burgtheater, that he wouldn’t be giving a speech at the Grillparzer commemoration at the Burgtheater on 1.21.  He said he had written a person can’t say what can’t be said in three minutes in three minutes.  I have recorded this sentence verbatim.  He said this meant he would be a passive participant in the celebrations.  Since Thomas would like to call Hans Rochelt tomorrow to draw his attention to the academy’s peculiar invitation, he searches a drawer of the “Josephine” cabinet in the living room for letters from Rochelt’s girlfriend.  Because his telephone number is under her name, and the telephone number should be printed on a letter from her. He rummages through the letters from 1971—they’re all higgledy- piggledy—for over a half an hour.  Some letters he pores over at length, some only briefly.  The whole time I’m standing two meters away, by the tiled stove.  Every minute I’m thinking he’s going to give over the search, but he keeps searching and makes remarks on individual letters; for example: Look, I didn’t even answer this invitation.  But now I know I should have gone to that thing.  Look, here I didn’t answer either, and here, and here, but it was good that I didn’t, and here.  For God’s sake, if I’d agreed to go to all these things, where would I be; it’s impossible.  But here and there, in one or two cases, a certain do would have been good for me.  But that only becomes clear afterwards—the fact that one or two of these dos would have been good.  And because I didn’t know beforehand which one or two of the dos would have been good, it’s better for me to say no to all of them.  Then I can even do without the couple of good dos.  And things are already getting better; I hardly receive any invitations anymore.  I’ve announced everywhere that I won’t accept any of them.

Thomas doesn’t find what he’s looking for—the telephone number isn’t on any of the letters he’s found—and eventually he gives up.  Afterwards he explains, Hansi (Rochelt) used to have an unlisted number, but when the charge for unlisted numbers went up, Hansi changed his number to his girlfriend (his life-companion) Miss Haring’s, and he should have this number somewhere, since: She’s absolutely bombarded me with letters.


January 15, 1972

This was an eventful day with Thomas. From 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., in other words eleven [sic]-and-a-half hours, I was uninterruptedly in Thomas’s company.  When he climbed out of my car a half an hour before midnight, I told him I wouldn’t come by again until shortly before 11:00 the next morning when Peter would be taking out the stitches and he would ride with him to Wels afterwards.  You see, he wanted me to come even earlier to pick up the television to have it repaired during his absence.  But because I’d like to write about the eleven-and-a-half hours with Thomas starting at 7:00 a.m., I insist on 11:00 a.m.

At 8:30 a.m. I show up at Thomas’s with his mail.  From my own mail I give him the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten.  He asks me how much time I’ve got for him today.  The whole day, I say, because from just one look at him I can tell that he’s in a very good mood.  Good, then we don’t need to hurry; then I can take a look at the paper before we leave. He reads aloud some stuff about Rauris and comments on it very jollily.  As he’s reading the article (from the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten of January 15, 1972) he keeps interrupting himself and tells me that this man Hoflehner, whose works he happens to value very highly, has already tried to visit him from Vöcklabruck three times.  One time Hoflehner was accompanied by a very fat man.  He had hidden upstairs and watched them walking around the house.  Hoflehner is from Linz, Thomas says; he paints as well as the Englishman Bredon [Francis Bacon?].  He was supposed to write a preface for an exhibit catalog; Hoflehner was going to dedicate a painting to him.  But he hadn’t replied to this letter of Hoflehner’s; this was why he tried it with visits.  Despite this Hoflehner dedicated a big painting to me.  It’s hanging in the exhibit.  By then I had already been expected to write a preface for Dr. Wieland’s Hundertwasser’s catalogue and had declined.  Then Wieland quoted me in his preface.

Then we discuss our departure, and Thomas asks me to stop by the post office.  He wants to call Hede at St. Veit im Pongau and to take a certain train to Vienna on Sunday morning.  He plans to catch the train in Wels.  He reads me the card from Hede, his 78-year-old “aunt,” in which she informs him that she will be traveling to Vienna on Wednesday of the forthcoming week to attend the Grillparzer Prize award ceremony.  As I was collecting his mail I couldn’t help noticing that there was postcard from Hede in it.  But I scrupulously avoided looking closely at it so that I wouldn’t learn what it was about at all.  You see, Thomas is a very sharp-eyed observer and would be able to tell from the look on my face whether I already knew what the card was about when he reads it to me.  Of course I could have read the card, but then as soon as I’d handed the mail over to him I would have had to say I’d taken the liberty of reading the card.  He wouldn’t have been mad at me about it then.  But when I learned straight from him that Hede wouldn’t be setting off until Wednesday, I told him that he shouldn’t call and ask her to come to Vienna tomorrow.  That he had a lot of plans that Hede wouldn’t approve of.  That there were quite a few steps that she’d try to keep him from taking.  What was more, I said, both of them would find it unbearable enough to be together from Wednesday to Saturday.  I could take this liberty on account of his good mood.  Thomas said that I was right and that he’d wait till Tuesday to call her from Vienna, so that he’d already be there.  By then their neighbors in the Oberkirchergasse will have already told Hede if he’s brought any guests into the apartment.  She’s already heard lots of stories like that, including some with girls in them—each time from neighbors.

Since no letter from Radax had come, I ask Thomas whether I shouldn’t phone Radax from Ohlsdorf.  He asks: Have you got his number?  Yes, I brought it along just in case.  Good, he says, let’s go.  He stays in the car as I talk over the phone with Radax at ca. 9:30.  Radax just wanted to send a telegram stating that on Monday at Wolfsegg he would be shooting the film (The Italian).  As I informed him that by early Sunday morning Bernhard would be headed for Vienna, he’s going to postpone everything a fortnight.  He plans to call Thomas at the Obkirchergase between 9:00 and 10:00 Monday morning.  Since Thomas is usually already out of the house by then, which is as early as Radax ever gets up, I say to Radax: Thomas is sitting outside in the car, but even without asking him I can tell you that he won’t be able to guarantee his being able to wait for this call at that time.  I say that he’ll have to try at other times of day.  Bernhard has lots of things to take care of; he can’t be kept homebound for the sake of his phone call.  Finally I ask Radax whether he’s read the 12.28.1971 article in the Münchner Abendzeitung.  He says he has.  Then I say: Now you surely understand if you didn’t before why when we first met in Bernhard’s bedroom I said you’re one lucky rascal to be sitting here at all.

Thomas asked me to stop by the Gmunden train station on the way to Reindlmühl so that he could buy “all the available newspapers.” On the I way gave him a complete account of my conversation with Radax.  We park the car downhill from Lot No. 98, from the house named Krucka.  It takes us ten minutes instead of six to reach the house because Thomas can only walk slowly.  In the house, Thomas shows me the chainsaw, the shredded knitted trousers, and the blue locksmith’s trousers he was wearing on top of them.  On our way up to the house we were already joking about how close he came to never being able to visit the Krucka again, or having to visit it with a prosthesis, with a missing leg.  I describe to Thomas how he wouldn’t be able to write anymore, because of course he wouldn’t be able to walk anymore, so that he wouldn’t be able to think anymore, etc., and he would have expired on a branch of one of these trees.  Then one of those oh-so-frequent writer’s deaths would have been in the offing for him as well.  We’ve often spoken about his death before.  He’s changed his mind three times about where he wants to be buried.  First it was Vienna, then Ohlsdorf, and now it’s Neukirchen bei Altmünster.  During such conversations Thomas has repeatedly stressed that suicide, which is certainly the way that other people think he’s most likely to die, is something he’ll never commit no matter what.  He isn’t about to do the world such a favor.  Now he didn’t contradict me.  He said that in the event of such a serious accident resulting in the loss of a leg, it would all be over for him, literally and completely over, because walking for hours on end is something he’s quite simply got to do.  Thomas rolls up the two pairs of trousers so that he can take them with him to use in washing up and DIY work later on.

Since I know how miserly Thomas is—he’s the biggest skinflint who’s so far come my way (and yet this very fact cheers me up—the fact that I’ve gotten along so well with such a difficult person from the get-go)—I don’t tell him that he should hold onto the trousers just as they are as a memento.  Since I often have a hunch and a feeling about when he’s going to do the opposite of what I advise him to do, I see in this a certain slight chance of his perhaps leaving the trousers as they are.  But I’ll have to make a point of not asking about the trousers in future, unless he happens to be wearing them again.

Then we started climbing uphill from the house to the site of the accident.  On our way Thomas shows me where he’s cut off branches, where he’s piled them up, etc.  The site of the accident is strewn with several fallen trees; a few of them have rolled into the little creek.   The tree that had caused the accident, which stood on a slope as steep as a church roof, had been snapped in two by a storm so that its top half was lying athwart our path and pointing downhill, so that from root to top the trunk of the beech, which was over twenty meters tall but slender, described a semicircle.  I said to Thomas: Something was bound to happen to anybody who tried to tackle a tree like this in such a spot.  Of course, I added, it would have been impossible to tell in which direction the tree was going to fall, given that its trunk was stretched like a bow.  I stationed myself at the spot where Thomas had been standing when the saw had been knocked out of his hand, and he told me the whole story for the fifth or tenth time.  When it happened to him, he didn’t know how severe his injuries were.  He feared the worst on account of the tattered condition of his trousers.  He attributed the fact that he felt no pain to shock, and his first thought was to take advantage of this state of shock to get to his car.

I have told him about my wartime experiences with such states of shock several times before.  For example about one soldier who was carrying his own entrails at the casualty clearing post, and another whose cap fell off his head when he was struck by a stray bullet at the front line.  The soldier ran laughing with his head wound to the dressing station and rebuffed every offer of support from his two escorts.  After a half an hour he collapsed dead onto the ground.  Indeed, I even remember that for an hour during a charge through wide fields a non-commissioned officer thought he was sweating so heavily that the sweat from his face was soaking him all the way down to his trousers.  When he reached into his trousers, his hand came back covered in blood.  He hadn’t noticed that he’d been shot in the stomach.

Fortunately for Thomas it wasn’t shock that enabled him to get away on his own but rather the favorable spot where he had sustained the injury, as he could tell when he reached the house.  He told me he he’d changed his trousers so that at the hospital they couldn’t just say have a seat right there, pal, as they do straight off the bat to woodcutters.  This was also why at the hospital he’d talked to the doctor like a posh German right away, so that he wouldn’t be treated rudely as a matter of course.  From the site of the accident we went back to the house and took clothes and stocks of food to the car.  We drive straight to lunch at my house in Weinberg.  We have salted and smoked meat with cabbage and dumplings.  Thomas got more and more cheerful and told me about his barber, who told him that some people he knew had recently gotten central heating and were greatly content with their “gladiators” (by which he had meant radiators).  We talked about the fact that O’Donell’s wife would lose either her child or her ears at the gynecological clinic.  I said that if it were up to Thomas, inside the gynecological clinic would look like something I’d gotten to see in a pigsty when I was working as a pig-dealer.  A few hundred pigs, small and large ones, all had a split ear.  I couldn’t figure out what that was supposed to mean and went through the whole sty, but all of them without exception had a split ear.  It looked silly.  Of course, I knew that in dealing with fever or a certain illness, people sometimes punch holes the size of fly-buttons in pigs’ ears, to help them recover.  But there was no way that that was the case of all the pigs in this sty.  Finally I ventured to ask about it.  The farmer said that all the pigs had had to be vaccinated against some disease, and that to avoid mistakenly having a pig vaccinated a second time, he had cut each pig’s ear after it had been successfully vaccinated.  My wife doubted the truth of my story, but Thomas said it was surely true, because of course I had to get everything from somewhere or other.  What I write is almost always something I’ve experienced, sometimes in a kind of fantasy, but even so I’ve actually experienced it.  It’s quite true that everything’s got to come from somewhere.

We drink our mocha in front of the television on the second floor, so that we could watch the downhill ski race on the Streif.  Thomas admits that Brundage, the president of the IOC, is right: these skiers are no amateurs.  He’s naturally impressed by the skiers’ achievements, but they shouldn’t participate in the Olympics because they simply aren’t amateurs.
Thomas stays till the end of the broadcast at 2:30.  I take him to Nathal, and we agree on my coming back to take him to my place at 7:30.  We plan to watch the news, Hans-Joachim Kulenkampff’s show, Good Evening, Neighbor, and the women’s free skating.
Thomas was really nice and jolly, but I’m still glad that I can be alone for a few hours now, as of course I’ve got to jot everything down.  So many splendid, striking remarks escape me.  In Thomas’s presence it’s impossible for me to write anything concerning him.  Because whenever I’m busily jotting something down, he asks me right away, what’s the matter, what in the world are you thinking about, what’s bothering you, and I have to show him everything and answer him, since he never hides anything from me either.  A couple of times I have actually fooled him and said, I just remembered something about Dr. Ortner, so I’ve got to jot something down, and by doing this I’ve managed to cheat with a tag from my actual note.  At home I often go into the kitchen so that I can at least quickly scribble down some names somewhere.  If Thomas hadn’t gone to Vienna, 1/15/1972 would have been pretty short despite the 11-1/2 hours with Thomas.

I pick up Thomas at 7:30.  He’s still in an excellent, jocular mood.  He sits through Kuli’s entire show.  When it comes to entertainment shows, after the first few minutes Thomas usually tries to persuade me to switch the set off so that we can entertain each other with our own conversation.  When at one point during the show somebody has to guess the name of a certain classic English ballroom dance, I start tap-dancing; I myself don’t know what dance it is, and I ask Thomas if perchance he recognizes this dance that I’m performing for him.  He says: I sure would have to be awfully stupid to recognize that dance.  Thomas peppers the entire broadcast with witty remarks.  My wife and all our children who are in the room enthusiastically join in the laughter.  Thomas even stays past the second evening news program to watch the women’s free skating.  When one of the younger skaters, a girl who’s between 15th and 20th place in the queue, makes a poor showing, Thomas says it reminds him of a stag beetle that squares off against some stags and then thinks he’s also a stag.  Throughout the program he makes high-spirited remarks.  But the best bit comes afterwards, as I’m driving Thomas home to Nathal.  It’s what he says to me during the drive at 11:30 at night.  But to fill you in on the background:

For weeks the picture on Thomas’s television set has given out after ca. 30 minutes.  Thomas is reluctant to give the set to a repairman because he’s afraid that once the set is turned on at the shop the picture will of course be there as usual.  That they’ll say the writer’s a dumbass, that the set’s working, and then bill him, and that he’ll end up with the same nuisance as before.  You see, Thomas isn’t taken at all seriously by tradespeople or people working in shops, especially if they’ve taken so much as a single peek at a book by Thomas Bernhard.  They think he hasn’t got a clue about anything, and they try to exploit him and bamboozle him whenever they can.  Many of them assume he’s got plenty of money and hasn’t got a clue about anything, and this is often reflected in the bills they present him with.  In general Thomas buys or orders things only in my company and in shops that I recommend to him.  But if Thomas tries to keep a business relationship going on his own, then most often after just the second or third sale he gets into a fight with the vendors because after offering him decent and fair service one time they try to rip him off yet again, or Thomas interprets a rise in their rates as an attempt to get more out of him.  Then things reach a point where he’s raking me over the coals, berating me for having recommended this guy to him back whenever, telling me it’s all my fault.  Because of this I’m wary of making recommendations now, and when I do recommend someone, it’s just for a one-time purchase, since then I’ll be there at the time.  I always say that what happens later on is his affair.  And now in connection with Thomas’s television set I recommended his writing a “report” on a slip of paper.  You see, Thomas had gotten the set back from a shop in Gmunden with the same problem that was supposed to have been fixed.  This was a few day ago, and the report was going to read:

Bernhard, Nathal
After a few seconds a slowly growing black stripe on the left side of the screen,
a bit later on the outer right side a “gray fog” almost a third of the width of the screen,
at the same time an increase of a smell like ammonium nitrate,
breakup of the picture after about ½ to ¾ hour,
by adjusting the knob (turning it up and down) or
[…] turning set off and immediately back on picture reappears (poor quality)
in short all tricks useless.  The end.

Thomas wrote this “report” himself.  Thomas was to give this slip of paper and the television to Lahner in Laakirchen.  He was to hold on to a carbon copy.  When he picked up the set he was to use the paper as a checklist in asking how and by what means this problem had been fixed.  Then he was to ask them to switch on the set for an hour-and-a-half, and in the meantime he was to sit in the guesthouse and read his newspapers.  But after ¾ hour he was to barge into the shop and see whether it had really been turned on, because otherwise they might not have turned it on until an hour before he came back.  That was only the way I could see a chance of his not being taken it by the repairman.  So that was my advice.

And now on our drive to his house at 11:30 Thomas asks me to pick up his television tomorrow and take it to Lahner before Peter comes.  When the repair is finished I’m to do as I advised him to do and have a meal with Pabst at the guesthouse.  For a moment I’m flabbergasted.  One of these days, I say, I’m going to give you a piece of advice so that you can pinch my hair with my own advice.  We both had to laugh heartily.  Finally I agreed to take the set to Lahner but I tell him that there’s no way I’m going to pick up the set, that he’s going to have to do that himself when he gets back from Vienna.  I wrote out a copy of Thomas’s note for Lahner; I kept the original.

I’m just now remembering that at some point in the day I asked Thomas what he’d be taking in hand when he got back from Vienna, after the Grillparzer Prize, what he’d be writing then. He said: I want to start on a play right away; I absolutely need a third play; I’ve already got an idea.  Perhaps it’ll be what you’d always prefer to have.  So it’ll be a kind of comedy.  So I’ve already got it in my mind; I already know what the plot’s going to be.  This conversation took place at the Krucka, as we were also talking about wooden legs and hanging.

January 16, 1972

At ten minutes to 11 in the morning I’m at Thomas’s house in Nathal.  I can’t load the television yet, because the slalom from Kitzbühel is on.  But we’re looking less at the set than out the window, where Peter is supposed to turn up at any moment.  Sparrows are bustling about on the bare rosebush.  I tell Thomas that these sparrows have been constantly visible for days.  They’re a sort of substitute for the absence of flowers in the room, because they give it a bit of “life.”  For years I’ve been complaining about the fact that something always seems to be missing from the room because Thomas won’t even put some strawflowers in there.  Thomas says, I’ve got enough “life” in myself; I don’t need any flowers on top of it.  When you live in the middle of nature you don’t need it in your room as well.  What do you actually take me for?  I’m obviously not some old granny who needs flowers.  I got plenty o’ blossoms: the pimples on my face.  He’s here now, Thomas adds.  He was referring to Peter.  We step out to meet him in the courtyard.  I say: I’m going to your neighbor Stadlmayr’s, because I can’t watch the stitches being taken out.  Thomas was in an irritable mood, so I preferred to be somewhere else and to follow the slalom on the neighbor’s television.

Towards 11:30 I step back into Thomas’s living room.  Thomas said that it was all done, that we should leave at noon.  Then he says that he nearly suffered some burns yesterday.  That he could have been blown sky high; there was an explosion in the fireplace.  He bawled Peter out for having thrown the swab and the plastic syringe into the wastepaper basket.  He said that it was a wastepaper basket, which was only for paper.  That there was a bucket in the kitchen for other kinds of rubbish.  That there was no telling what such thoughtlessness could lead to etc. He really laid into Peter.  He was in a very foul mood.  Despite this I tried to change the subject and show Peter the article from the Salzkammergutzeitung.  He knew that I had been planning to do this today, and so he had taken away the article, which had been lying on his chest of drawers since the day it came out.  But I still thought I’d be able to get hold of it now.  So I asked Thomas if he had the article ready to hand.  No!  Whereupon I said: Now I’d like to load up the TV and get going.  The three of us carried the set to my car.  Then Thomas asked me to mail a few letters for him tomorrow, Monday.  He wants them to be mailed from Steyrermühl or Ohlsdorf.  He gives me money for stamps and five letters.  The letters are addressed to Claus Peymann, 44 Landhausstrasse, West Berlin; Ernst Wendt, 72 Fasanenstrasse, West Berlin; Mrs. Gertrud Frank, Residenz Publications, 9 Imbergstrasse, Salzburg; Mr. Seitz, Carl Hanser Publications, 22 Kolbergstrasse, Munich, and Prof. Mayrhofer, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2 Dr. Ignaz Seipel Platz, Vienna.  Regarding the letter to Dr. Mayrhofer, Thomas tells me that it contains only a single line “to the effect that I’d like to receive the money in person on Friday morning.  Otherwise it’s a no-go.  You see, the academy wrote to me asking me in which of my bank accounts the prize money should be deposited.  But I learned my lesson about this a long time ago.  These things always drag on and on; you never know what might happen; I want the money right away.  And of course on top of that it’s a ridiculously piffling sum.  It should have been increased ages ago.  It may have been a lot of money when the prize was established, but now a retired Viennese city official gets twice as much a month in his pension check.”

I say goodbye to Thomas and Peter and tell Thomas that I hope everything in Vienna goes according to his plan.  It’s bound to go according to some plan, Thomas says.  No, it’s got to go according to your plan, I say when I’m already in the car, and then I drive off.  As I was saying my goodbyes, I hadn’t neglected to invite Peter to stop by in the afternoon.

At 3:00 p.m. Peter steps through my front door and sighs, “It’s good that he’s gone.”  I tell Peter that I’ve already taken my revenge on Thomas for his lousy manners, and show him the letters that I’m supposed to take to the post office tomorrow.  I had put the two-schilling stamp with Dürer’s Christ child on the letters.  This isn’t like Thomas at all, I say; he certainly wouldn’t put those stamps on them, even if he had been given them.  I say: Peymann lives in a commune, and Prof. Mayerhofer might find it quite amusing to see Thomas using such stamps.  But probably they won’t think anything at all about them, and they won’t even notice them.

Then Peter tells me old family anecdotes, but I’ve already heard them all from Thomas.  Peter is sorry that Thomas can’t understand why he sticks by his father as his biological son.  Of course he’s aware of his father’s weaknesses and knows that he was a poor foster-father to Thomas.  But he’s still got to stick by his father.  As I’m listening to Peter I realize that in telling me these family anecdotes Thomas wasn’t exaggerating but rather understating the events in them.  A lot of them are so horrifying that I can’t hear Peter out in the presence of my wife and children.  I stop him with a wave of my hand and say: Yes, yes; I know all about it; he’s already told me everything.  But Peter has hardly seen any recent articles about Thomas and has almost no idea of what’s going on in his life.  He’s astonished that I’m so well-informed about everything.  Like a secretary, he says.  When I tell him that Thomas was very funny yesterday, he doesn’t believe me and obstinately maintains that Thomas has never had a sense of humor and will never have a sense of humor in the future either.  That he’d never noticed any such thing in Thomas.  I try to convince him of the contrary and I also tell him that for some time I’ve been trying to talk Thomas into writing a comedy; for he actually has a genuine classical sense of humor.  Only a serious writer like him can pull off humor well.  Clowns can’t; they only think they’re funny.  Thomas rebuffs this request every time.  Then I always say it’s only a matter of time before he gets a bee in his bonnet, a bee that will force him to write one someday.  Peter sticks to his opinion that Thomas has got no sense of humor, and so I give up trying to convince him of the contrary.

Then I tell Peter that Thomas once came to me in a very irritated mood and said he had go to Wels right away to see Peter or at least call Wels to talk to him.  He said that he had offended Peter very badly again.  That Peter had driven off in very low spirits.  But that now he was sorry about it.  But on the other hand he really wasn’t up to calling him: Because what I told him was actually true; I just shouldn’t have put it so bluntly; anyway, dear old Peter will come back soon enough.  He obviously knows I’m actually quite fond of him.  In point of fact Thomas is very fond of Peter, when he needs him, but he never shows it to him.


January 17, 1972

Picked up television from Lahner’s shop in Laakirchen.

Today Thomas was supposed to inspect the surveyor’s maps of the enclosure at Ohlsdorf town hall personally.  He left me no instructions regarding this before his departure.  I was supposed to have driven him to the town hall if he hadn’t gone away yesterday.  As a precautionary measure, I call his lawyer Dr. Meingast.  He says he’ll arrange to make sure that Thomas can still do the inspection if he comes back after the fourteen-day appeal period.  As I presume Thomas will recollect his omission in Vienna and it’ll make him worried, I’m going to inform him of my intervention.


January 18, 1972

I send a telegraph to Thomas at 3 Obkirchergasse, Vienna:

HAVE ARRANGED FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO INSPECT MAPS AFTER FOURTEEN-DAY APPEAL PERIOD.  SINCERE REGARDS, KARL.


January 23, 1972                                                                                               

Thomas arrives from Vienna in Peter’s car at 3:00 p.m.  Right afterwards he rides with Peter to the Krucka to make sure everything is in order there.  At 7:30 Thomas comes to see me in Weinberg.  He informs me that at the Krucka all the water buckets and the toilet are frozen solid.  He’s poured all the salt he had in the house into the toilet.  He thanks me for my telegram.

At the prize award ceremony on Friday, Hansi (Rochelt) agreed with the production team that in revenge for the invitation to the Academy of Sciences’ fête, everything would be edited out and only the handing over of the award itself and an interview with Thomas would be broadcast.  And that was indeed what was actually shown on Culture Today on Friday evening.

Thomas also spent some time with Hilde Spiel.  Regarding Rauris, she said that Uwe Johnson had gotten into a spat with Hans Lebert right after he arrived and then refused to do any readings.  It took Gimmelsberger half the night to talk Johnson round to reading something.  Bernhard was delighted that he had turned out to be right in his prediction of the way things would go with Johnson.  Johnson called Rauris a “Nazi village.”

We watch Libussa on television with my wife.  Thomas approves of many of the short scenes.  From this line of sight he likes Grillparzer very much.  We also end up talking about his interview on Friday, in which he said he knew only as much Grillparzer as he’d read in school.

I brief Thomas on Rochelt’s radio broadcast, in which Rochelt quoted the beginning of the speech for the State Prize award ceremony, up to the passage on “basic necessity,” by way of smoothly segueing into a few relevant passages from Walking.  Thomas knew that Rochelt had spoken about him, but he didn’t know what he had said.  Yesterday he met with Radax.  In the next few days it will be decided whether Frost is going to be filmed this year.  If it turns out it is, Radax will come to Nathal between February 5 and 12 to take a look around Weng and its surroundings, where the shoot is supposed to take place.  Also during this period The Italian is supposed to be screened at Castle Wolfsegg, where all of us will go to see it, Thomas says.  He says that all of us includes my entire family.  Thomas repeatedly says he’ll be glad to be there again.  At 10:30 p.m. he drives home to Nathal.

Thomas also tells me that at the Academy of Sciences’ opening ceremony, Mrs. Firnberg the minister greeted several Excellencies, etc. by name—but not him, the recipient of the prize.  Since nobody knew him, he sat down in the second row.  But eventually he was discovered and invited into the first row by a gentleman he wasn’t particularly well acquainted with.  But even this man said that the president himself would have to come over, that otherwise he’d have to stay sitting next to his aunt in the second row.  In fact the president did then come up to him and escort him to the first row.  At least six times somebody whispered to him that it wasn’t usual to give a speech, just because they were scared stiff that he’d give another speech like the one he gave back when he received the State Prize.

When I tell him that he’s gotten three prizes from Vienna now, that there’s nothing more to get there, he says: Yes, now my poky little home region is all that’s left.  I haven’t gotten anything from Upper Austria or Salzburg yet.  I know it pains him that he still hasn’t received the Stifter Prize, and I’m going to try to figure out if there’s anything I can do towards making that happen.

Thomas also tells me that the three students [Erik Adam, Ingram Hartinger, and Walter Pilar] who tried to disrupt his reading in Salzburg on 12.10.1971 by constant walking were also in Rauris and walking about.

The program of the Grillparzer Prize award ceremony looks like a menu, Thomas says.  The text and my name have been typed in.  But if the program were really pompous-looking, people would also hold that against the academy and say it was too extravagant.  They might as well do whatever they like; it’ll always be criticized.  But the text of the program is very fine and reverential.  I haven’t received a line from my publisher in two months.  But even if they know that I don’t give a damn about congratulations, they obviously should still send them to me.  The publisher of a play that I’ve received a prize for really should take an active interest in something like that.  They should snatch up something like that purely out of commercial self-interest.  This prompts me to say: If the text of the program for the award ceremony is so fine, they should quote that text in every program, etc., for example, in everything having to do with the new play.  I add that I would have liked to see the program.  Thomas says: I left the program in Vienna with my aunt.  Then I recall that owing to his anger at the cancellation of the award ceremony for the Wildgans Prize of Austrian Industry he promised me: You can have that program.  I said: it’ll be beautifully framed and hung in the bathroom.  When I subsequently started to ask for the program in his aunt’s presence, he wouldn’t let me finish and tapped his lips with his finger.  Later he told me that he had given the program to his aunt, because she got a big kick out of those kinds of programs.  He’s also given the programs for all his other prizes to his aunt. 

I’m going to try to get hold of a photocopy of the program, because I’m curious about the “menu.”


January 24, 1972

At 6:00 p.m. I drive fast to Thomas’s house in Nathal to see how well his television’s working.  The electrician has still got to come tomorrow to set up the antennas.  Thomas tells me that in the Salzburger Nachrichten etc. there are stories about a telegram from a group in Graz protesting his reception of the Grillparzer Prize.  After 15 minutes I leave him.  Thirty minutes later he comes to my house to join us for a dinner of radishes.

Next we give a hearty welcome to my mother, who has just spent six weeks with my sister in St. Nikolai im Sausal.  This is followed by an evening of all dozen of us sitting in front of the television until 9:15.  I accompany Thomas to his car, and as he’s driving away we agree on my coming by to give him his mail at 8:30 tomorrow morning and then the two of us discussing how to spend the rest of the day.

Today I wrote a letter to Governor Wenzl, naturally without Bernhard’s knowledge.

Dear Governor Wenzel!

On 1/6/1965 the author Thomas Bernhard acquired his farmhouse in Obernathal in the township of Ohlsdorf, and he has since resided in Upper Austria for over seven years.  He has acquired an additional property in the municipal territory of Altmünster and likewise saved the house there from ruin and preserved it in its original state.  Thomas Bernhard is an Austrian who grew up in Henndorf, attended high school at the Gymnasium in Salzburg, and studied music in Vienna.  In 1957 Bernhard graduated from the Mozarteum Academy in Salzburg with a degree in dramaturgy and directing and a thesis on Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud.  Over the past nine years Thomas Bernhard has been repeatedly described by the most notable German and Austrian literary critics as the greatest living writer in the entire German-speaking world.

His works have also received appropriate recognition via the awarding of the following prizes:

1963 Julius Campe Prize, Hamburg
1964 Bremen Literary Prize
1965 Regensburg—Literary Prize of Germany Industry
1967 Austrian State Prize for Literature
1968 Anton Wildgans Prize of German Industry
1970 Georg Büchner Prize of the German Academy for Language and Literature
1972 Grillparzer Prize of the Austrian Academy of Sciences
After the awarding of the Georg Büchner Prize, the most significant token of recognition that Germany can bestow, Thomas Bernhard’s creative work has now also received due recognition from the Austrian Academy of Sciences.


But what Thomas Bernhard still lacks is recognition in his own home state.  As a matter of principle, Thomas Bernhard declines all invitations to give readings within and outside Austria, regardless of the size of the fee associated with them; he will be even less receptive to invitations to the Jägermayrhof from Dr. Lassl.  The true greatness of Dr. Lassl became plainly evident when he mentioned the award of the Grillparzer Prize only very briefly and in passing in the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten.
Since Thomas Bernhard became a resident of Ohlsdorf, many names of local places and people have appeared in his works.  His film THE ITALIAN takes place in Wolfsegg.  One of his books is called UNGENACH, and the abandoned lime works in Gmunden inspired him to entitle another book THE LIME WORKS.  Thomas Bernhard has a high regard for Adalbert Stifter, and there are many parallels between Stifter and him. 
As a native of Linz and Upper Austria, I would like you to take up Thomas Bernhard’s cause in the interest of Upper Austria’s reputation as well, and to try to see that he receives some very long-overdue respect in the form of the Adalbert Stifter Prize.
Yours with amiable regards,
Karl Hennetmair

January 25, 1972
At 8:30 a.m. I’m at Thomas’s house with the mail I’ve picked up for him from the Ohlsdorf post office.  He draws my attention to two letters without return addresses and says, look, these are abominations.  They leave off the return address so that I’ll open their letters.  Because they know that as soon as I read the return address I’ll throw the letter away without opening it.  He opens the letters.  One of them is from Salzburg and the Baroness von Levetzov, a daughter of Countess Saint Julien von Wolfsegg, whom we’ve run into several times during the filming of The Italian, and it contains an invitation to have a drink with her, a Valentine’s Day drink on February 14.  Thomas opens the second letter without comment and says: Agi’s husband (Dr. Teufl) congratulates me on the Grillparzer Prize. 
We decide to start out by going to the Dorotheum in Linz and to go to Wolfern in Steyr-Land afterwards.  We plan to go shopping for furniture, Biedermeier furniture for Peter.  When Thomas asks which car we’re going to take, I say: Yours; it’s your turn.  Of course he can drive again, and his leg injury isn’t causing him the slightest discomfort anymore.  As we’re riding past my wife I tell her I’m leaving with Thomas. 

In Linz, at the Dorotheum, there isn’t much going on.  Thomas places an order for a twelve-piece set of massive silverware.  Modern silverware is much too small; people are forgetting how to eat properly, Thomas says.  Because a parking lot right in front of the bakery is “for customers only,” we buy eight jelly doughnuts so that we’ll be “customers.”
On our way to Wolfern, Thomas revels in Rohrbach, Hohenbrunn, etc.  Just past Niederneukirchen, near Jagabauer, he’s particularly glowing in his praise of the landscape, which he terms magnificent.  As we’re passing by Losensteinleiten, Thomas remembers that I once told him that after the war two livestock dealers had bought the castle there from the Auerspergs for a ridiculously low sum, so low that the dealers managed to raise almost the entire sum by selling their stock.  In Judendorf we find Peter an inexpensive Biedermeier table, so inexpensive that we make a down-payment on the spot and phone Peter from Steyer to inform him that he needs to pick the table up.  Thomas also picks up two lampshades for himself.  For seven years we’ve been looking for suitable lighting fixtures for his farmhouse.  In most of the rooms the sockets have bare lightbulbs in them.  This time two lampshades were adequate.

From the post office in the Grünmarkt we walked to the Gosser in the “Enge” for lunch so that we could take a look at the old houses on our way there and back.  I proposed our stopping on our way hom for mochas at the guesthouse just past the Hametwald in Sierning, at the fork in the road just past Waldneukirchen, so that we could eat our own jelly doughnuts.  We’ve partaken of its hospitality several times already, and Thomas always delights in my chats with the landlady, because I know the whole neighborhood really well from those days back in 1939 when I used to ride along with Dr. Büchel, the municipal physician of Sierning, during his house calls.  The chats always include talk about Forsthof, “Forsthof Franz,” about his suicide, a suicide in Eder the mayor’s family, among many other topics.

We drive home via Bad Hall.  Because I couldn’t take any notes, I’m finding it difficult to write down any part of our conversations.  It was simply too much, and I found it so taxing that I was utterly exhausted when Thomas and I reached Nathal at 2:00.  Thomas was in a very good mood.  Whenever we’re on the road, I’m his guest.  He told me about Eisenrach, about his debts, about the fact that he’s expected to receive the Wildgans Prize.  But his wife wants to distrain the prize money.  You don’t see what publishers are like until you’re dependent on them.  Schaffler [Wolfgang Schaffler at Residenz Publications] used to love Eisenrach; now he certainly won’t give him a thing.  I say: Eisenreich could end up with his head in a noose, because how can he be expected to knuckle down and write something decent when he knows that the money he’s going to get for it won’t belong to him at all anymore?  Incidentally, Eisenrach was one of the first people who came out against Thomas in a big way, in Der Spiegel in 1965.  That was back when you compared him to an ape.  I’m not sorry for him, I tell Thomas.

We end up talking about the unhappy experiences of Thomas’s grandfather Freumbichler as we so often do, and Thomas says that he himself has been spared a lot of hardship thanks to his grandfather’s experiences, which he lived through with him.  His grandfather drove ahead of him with the “snow plough.”  I say to Thomas that he seems to be getting more approachable and accommodating with each new prize he receives.  Then he loses his temper and says: How could you have any idea?  It’s just the opposite—now I’m even more arrogant and standoffish, and whenever somebody starts thinking, “He’s been spending all this time with me; he’s friendly now,” I’m already saying goodbye, I’m already sending them on their way; whereas when I’m really grouchy to start out with, I suddenly turn friendly as I’m sending them off.  You have no idea how I behave in other places.  Well, then, I say, I was only right about the way you behave towards me specifically.  (He had previously confided further “family secrets” to me, secrets that he said nobody was allowed to know, and so I don’t dare to record them here.)

When I left Nathal at 2:00, I promised to come back at 4:00 to install the lamps.  So at 4:00 I showed back up at Nathal, and Thomas had already cleaned six picture-frames, which we had also bought, and he said: Look, they’re so beautiful; people never see what’s hidden beneath the surface.  How fine they look now.  A Party for Boris could have ended up just like them.  Whenever anybody just reads that play, they chuck it aside and say it’s nothing.  But when it’s performed well, you see can see what’s hidden inside it.  When I wrote that play in a fortnight, I never would have believed that it would be performed, because people really can’t see what’s hidden inside it.  I would have believed even less that I’d even receive a prize for it.

Together we install a lamp on the ceiling.  At 6:30 I drive home.  Thomas follows me a half an hour later. We watch “Bookworld” on television. As Thea Leitner is discussing a book, Thomas tells me about how right after the war he tried to sell two short stories to this woman, Thea Leitner.  At the time she ran a literary bureau in Vienna and was at Die Weltpresse when it was still owned by the Americans.  When Thomas doesn’t say anything further, I ask: So what happened with the two stories?  Then Thomas says, when I said wanted some money for them, she told me that in ----Strasse she had a large basement that hadn’t been cleaned in two years.  I was supposed to go there and tidy it up and in exchange I was allowed to go the bakery next door and buy something for such-and-such an amount on her line of credit.  I did just that.  Then I say: how times change.  She’s still dealing with her short stories and right now she’s discussing some foreign book, and you’re sitting there with the Büchner prize.

When later in the program Hugo Portisch is discussing two books about Russia and Siberia, thanks to my mother, who’s also present—we’re actually sitting in her living room—we start talking about Wiesenthal, because Paulinka, Wiesenthal’s daughter, is reportedly married to Portisch.  Wiesenthal used to live in my parents’ house in Kleinmünchen, in my old apartment.  Janko Musulin’s also got Jewish blood; I don’t know how much, says Thomas.  Then I say: so have I, and tell my mother that she’s got to tell Thomas about it.  My mother says that before her marriage to my father, he had himself adopted by his Aunt Hennetmair.  The reason was that my father was surnamed Grünzweig, and my mother didn’t want to assume a Jewish surname.  My father had been a Roman Catholic ever since he was born.  It was really amusing, the way we all started laughing then.  Because I was very glad to admit to Thomas that I had Jewish roots, and Thomas has a higher regard for the Jews than for any other sort of people.  This comes to the fore on numerous occasions in his novels.

January 26, 1972
At 3:00 p.m. on the dot my wife and I are at Nathal.  Thomas is just then receiving a visit from a woman.  I say we’ll come back later and won’t disturb him.  He presses us to come in.  In his living room a female reporter is sitting with a camera primed for a snapshot.  As we’re stepping in, she’s still finishing off a glass of spirits, and Thomas shows her out the front door.  When Thomas comes back, he apologizes and says he was worried we might leave.  It was very lucky for him that we had come.  This woman was the wife of the postmaster at Laakirchen; he didn’t know the man’s name.  He had promised her husband to let his wife come to Nathal sometime.  But he didn’t know she wrote for a newspaper in Wels.  As soon as he found out, he declined to do anything, wouldn’t let her take any pictures, and just drank a “hush shot” of schnapps with her.  He doesn’t want to have any more trouble here in the neighborhood; that was why he was friendly.  Because if he makes another blunder here, he won’t be able to go anywhere anymore.  He tried to make her understand why he didn’t want her to write anything about him.  Then I said: Thomas, that’s Mrs. Heli Sammer, who has been trying via a girlfriend to get me to introduce her to you for years.  I reminded him that this was the woman I had told him about years ago, about how much she had wanted to meet him.  But I didn’t tell him about every time she tried to get me to make such an “intervention.”  To the contrary, because I try to keep people at arm’s length from him, I often didn’t tell him anything at all about it.  (I’d obviously only make him angry by mentioning something like that, and I plan to keep avoiding doing it out of self-interest.)
Thomas reads to my wife and me the letter from Claus Peymann that arrived today.  Peymann writes that at the Berlin Anatomical Institute he has examined the textbook quoted in The Ignoramus and the Madman and that it doesn’t say, for example, vonsilitis but rather tonsillitis, etc.  That moreover the wooden wedge isn’t placed under the cadaver’s head but rather shoved under its shoulders.  At the Anatomical Institute Ganz the actor will get an opportunity to use the dissector’s scalpel himself and also learn the technical terminology in detail.  The doctors are enthusiastic about the play.  Ganz plans to come to Salzburg soon, and Peymann thinks it would be a good idea for him to meet the author as well.  Then Thomas interjects: Well, I don’t know; that’s really not such a good idea; it’ll be better if we don’t meet.  In conclusion, Peymann writes that Thomas should work with a coping saw instead of with a chainsaw.  Then Thomas says he plans to go over the medical terminology in the play (The Ignoramus and the Madman) with Peter once again.  He says that he relied solely on his memory for the technical terms and that he’s glad there aren’t even more mistakes in the play.  That vonsilitis is naturally a typo, because everybody knows it’s supposed to be tonsillitis.

We drink schnapps, install the lamps in the little living room together.  We talk again about how difficult it is to find suitable lighting fixtures for his farmhouse, and just as I’m saying that in the period in which he’s received seven prizes we haven’t managed to get hold of seven lighting fixtures, somebody in the courtyard knocks at the door.  Thomas answers the door.  I recognized the person’s voice as our postman’s.  I know right away that it’s a telegram.  After a loud “Bye-bye!” from the postman there’s silence in the hallway for a bit, then Thomas bursts into a loud ha-ha-ha and rushes into the room.  Yet another prize, he says excitedly.  I ask: Really, what sort of prize?  Then he says: Let me see, I haven’t even read the telegram all the way through. He reads it aloud.  The telegram is from Falkenburg (cultural editor at the third channel of West German Television).  He informs me that the television film The Italian has received the distinction of being awarded the Grimme Prize.  It’s inconceivable, says Thomas.  I’ve just come back with a prize from Vienna, and today it’s only the 26th, so only four days later, and there’s yet another prize.  From the telegram it’s impossible to tell if the award applies to the author, the director, or everybody involved in the production.  We start speculating about the whole business, and now we’re tensely waiting for tomorrow’s newspapers.  Waiting to receive clarity.  In celebration of the event, Thomas fills our glasses of schnapps to the brim.  It’s good that Schaffler will be coming tomorrow.   Now he can slip a paper band around the book version of The Italian.  Schaffler will likewise be very glad.  I say: For Radax this mark of distinction will mean a fresh impetus to his new work on Frost.  I’ve been keenly wishing him all the best with this project, because   he really gave it his all during the filming at Wolfsegg, through storms and cold-snaps.

When my wife and I leave Thomas at 6:00, we invite him to continue celebrating with us over crepes and mulled red wine at 6:45.  As we’re eating those crepes Thomas says to me that like the others this prize will cost him many a sleepless night.  That it was improbable, his first play (A Party for Boris) and now his first film being singled out like this.  The count and the countess (i.e., of St. Julien at Wolfsegg) will certainly be surprised, but everybody will be happy to have me back there again anyway.  I’m writing my new play now, as I’ve already told you.  I’ve already got the title.  It’s called More Luck than Brains.  This title popped into my head immediately after the accident.  I’ve often said to myself that I had more luck than brains, so now the play is going to be called that.  It’ll be a proper comedy.  I’ve already got the plot worked out.  When I say, it’s going to be a uniquely classic play, because you’ve definitely got a sense of humor that will outdo all the good comedies that have been written so far, he says, I’ve put lots of comedy in my books already.  He reels off passages in Gargoyles and The Lime Works that are humorous and ironic, but says that apparently nobody’s noticed this yet.  I certainly have, I say, because I’ve often had to laugh out loud as I’m reading, especially where you have those birds’ necks wrung one after another and celebrate it so unambiguously.  Especially The Lime Works, I say; I’ve found lots of passages in it that are interwoven with comedy.  But when I veer back to the topic of More Luck than Brains, Thomas gruffly says: Cut that out right now!  That’s enough!  Fine, I say, it’s important not to talk something to death before it’s been written.

By now it’s 7:30, and we move up to the second floor to watch TV.  We watch the German news in case they mention the award of the prize even this early on.  The Germans are always really on the ball with these things.  We’re also hoping there’ll be something, an announcement, in “A Special Case.”  But there ends up being nothing.  But there ends up being nothing. Thomas says that now if someone congratulates him on the prize, he’ll have to ask: For which one?  Because now of course two of them have come at the same time.  Moreover he says that he learned from Radax that after the preview of The Italian the head of the WDR, Dr. Höfer, had said that the film was crap.  He didn’t want to hear or see any more of Thomas Bernhard.  Immediately after that, Falkenberg, who used to be such a staunch supporter of Bernhard and of this screenplay, fell into line behind his boss, Höfer, and he hasn’t heard anything more from him since.  Now I can write to him again, because of course he’s sent me this telegram.  Now he’s sitting pretty again, and Höfer looks like a fool.  Then I say: After you came back so enthusiastic from Germany after the preview and found the film so good, I immediately thought that the film must be something special.  Because when you’re so enthusiastic about your own stuff it’s always spot-on, because nobody else can criticize your work as severely as you do.  Now even your weakest piece, The Italian, has been singled out for praise.  It’ s unbelievable; one can only laugh.  Then Thomas, my mother, my wife, and I burst into raucous laughter, and everybody said, yes, one really can only laugh.

Then I started talking about his enviers.  Lassl (Dr. Lassl from the Oberösterreichischen Nachrichten) will inevitably be alarmed by the whole thing, and not want to break the news at all.  But that wouldn’t be in his business interest.  After all, breaking news it what he’s there for.  Now he’ll start working out how small and inconspicuous he can make it look.  That’s the way it is with lots of things in Austria.  Recognition always has to come from Germany.  Thomas stayed till 10:30.

January 27, 1972

Today we received clarification.  Because Thomas knew that I had gone to Linz early in the morning and might possibly be there by midday, he came to my house, Weinberg, at 1:00 p.m.  So then as soon as I got home I learned that Thomas had given the letter from the Adolf Grimme Prize to my wife to read.
The Adolf Grimme Prize Society informed Thomas that his film The Italian had been awarded the Adolf Grimme Prize.
The enclosure read:
1.       Scriptwriter, Thomas Bernhard
2.      Director, Ferry Radax
3.      Cameraman, Gerard Vandenberg
They also asked him to keep the news a secret, because the announcement wasn’t going to be made to the press until 1/31/1972.  An invitation to a preliminary celebration on March 9.  The award ceremony will take place on March 10 at 11:00 a.m. in Cologne.
As I didn’t get home from Linz until 2:00, I just stopped by the house for a few minutes and then went straight to Thomas’s house at Nathal.  At the door to the courtyard he told me that Schafller and his editor, a woman, were paying him a visit.  He said that he was right in the middle of talking over what he had discussed with me yesterday.  That as soon as the visit was over he would come to see me—in an hour, he hoped.  He also told me that he had received the letter from the Grimme Prize.  I say: Bring it with you.  

Thomas doesn’t come by with the letter until 9:00 in the evening.  I read with my own eyes what I’ve already learned from my wife.  As I’m handing the letter and the enclosures back to him, I say: that dog Radax will also be thrilled; this will fortify him for Frost.  Yes, says Thomas, the dog (he employs my word “dog,” which he’s never used before.  He had been instantaneously animated by this expression of mine.  At other times he says beast, brute, certin, repulsive fellow, etc.  But these expressions are genuinely negative in tone, whereas this word that we’re using together for the first time, “dog,” was positive in tone) could also write and have something heard.  Then I said: He’ll be thinking the same thing about you—the dog won’t write.  (Here our starting point was the assumption that Radax had received such a letter as well.) 

Then Thomas tells me about a second letter that he’s received today. From his publisher, Siegfried Unseld!  Two lines.  Unseld’s asking me to write the afterword that he’s promised Ludwig Holl (or a similar name) [Ludwig Hohl, author of the book Bergfahrt {Ascent}, which was published by Suhrkamp].  Just a really brief one.  I say: Are you crazy; of course he won’t be getting his afterword!  You’re obviously not going to compromise your principles; you’ve certainly never done that.  Well, what am I supposed to do?  I say, when what’s his name…Ehrenreich wrote some negative things about you—who?—Thomas interrupts me; Eisenreich, I say, who’s such a forgotten figure by now that I can’t get even his name right anymore; so you can also just say that you don’t care for this Holl person’s work.  In the meantime you’ve gotten to know it well and so you’re not going to write an afterword.  Naturally, says Thomas, I don’t care for Holl’s works, so I’ve got an alibi.  I’ll notify Unseld of this, but just in two lines as well, but right away, so that he has the letter before the announcement of the award of Grimme Prize.  Because just writing two lines and not mentioning anything about the Grillparzer Prize is pretty lousy behavior.  Surely Grillparzer can’t be as unknown and insignificant as all that even in Germany.  Kaut (the president of the Salzburg Festival) did that really well; he wrote to me: “I know that you don’t like prizes, but I still heartily congratulate you on the Grillparzer Prize; that will give a real boost to our project (the premiere of The Ignoramus and the Madman on July 29).”  I ask Thomas how Schaffler has reacted to the news of the Grimme Prize.  Favorably, of course.  So far he’s sold 3,000 copies of The Italian; he’s had 5,000 printed; he hopes to offload another thousand thanks to the Grimme Prize.

I calculate that so far 420,000 schillings’ worth of books have been sold.  Thomas says he’s only supposed to receive 10 percent, which would amount to just 42,000 schillings.  How nice it is, I say, that you’ve agreed upon a fixed royalty-ceiling of 100,000 schillings.  Because Thomas says that if he exceeds that 100,000-schilling royalty ceiling, he will be entitled to collect everything in excess of it.  But of course a print run of 5,000 books can only bring in 700,000 schillings in revenues.   So the most you’d ever get would be 70,000 schillings.  So someday the publisher’s going have to recalculate this rate with you.  Then Thomas says: Schaffler has also sold the rights to a paperback edition for 30,000 schillings; he’s already got that money in his pocket.  On top of that, one can always figure that 20 percent will be left over for the publisher.  We go on to talk about the fact that the number of his detractors keeps growing.  Pretty soon he won’t be able to accept prizes anymore.  The prizes arouse too much envy.  He’s also bound to lose the few friends he still has.  The Hufnagels also made remarks to that effect when they heard about the Grimme Prize just now—he throws up his hands.  I say: your aunt and Wieland Schmied will be the only ones left.  How are things with O’Donell? I ask.  He wouldn’t understand any of this; I don’t talk about stuff like this with him.  But why are you suddenly so worried about not having friends? I say.  So far you’ve never taken that into consideration.  You know, you get older; and then I won’t have anyone, says Thomas.  Sooner or later, your friendships are going to fall by the wayside for one reason or another; but you don’t want to change at all.  If you still yearn to have friends in your old age, you’ll have to open your door at least a crack, and then either friends or flatterers will surely come flooding in.  Hopefully I won’t open it too wide a crack, says Thomas.

Then Thomas says that at the award ceremony for the Grimme Prize he’ll say that he’s really no film expert, that he had gone about making it in the same way he had gone about taking the test for his truck-driver’s license.  All those “clever people” would fail a truck-driver’s license test even if they studied air brakes and so forth for six months. They have trouble enough just passing the test for the regular driver’s license.  I’ve made the film as I took the test for my truck-driver’s license.  And I’ve also passed this test with flying colors.
It’s really true, Thomas says, that all good things happen at the same time.  You know of course that I’ve said I’d accept an invitation to go to Poland.  Today it came.  Naturally I won’t be getting a fee; you know of course that the Poles don’t pay anything, but I’ll have all my expenses reimbursed, and because I already want to go there, I’ll accept the invitation.  I want to give readings in Warsaw, Krakow, and Wroclaw.  We’ve spoken often spoken about Warsaw and Krakow, because we’ve both been there.  I was there during the war and he was there after it.  So I ask him, are you familiar with Wroclaw?  No, says Thomas.  You’ll have to see the town hall, the cathedral island, and Centennial Hall, if all that’s still there.  My mother chimes in that she once went to the theater in Wroclaw.  So Thomas is going to Poland.  A bit before the prize award ceremony on March 10 he’ll go to Brussels for a few weeks and from Brussels to the ceremony in Cologne.  In March or April he’ll go to Poland.

January 28, 1972
Today I had a chat with Theo Kihs about the article about the awarding of the Grillparzer Prize.  I brought a carbon copy of my note for Kastner the editor.  Mr. Kihs asked me if I would do him the favor of asking Bernhard if he wouldn’t mind signing his paperback copy of Frost.  As I was planning to visit Bernhard afterwards, I took the book with me and wrote Mr. Kihs’s first and last names down neatly, because he was hoping Thomas wouldn’t just sign his name.  As soon as I stepped into Thomas’s house at 7:00 p.m., I took advantage of his good mood and set the book and Kihs’s name in front of him, so that Thomas wrote: “For Thomas Kihs very sincerely Thomas Bernhard 1.28.1972.”

Books with Bernhard’s autograph will be an incredible rarity someday, because he’s forever refusing to sign books.  Of course, he’s always written something in his books for my wife, my children, and me.  But a few months ago, when he gave me a copy of Walking right after it was published and I immediately checked to see what he had written in it and saw that he hadn’t written anything, I say, at least sign your name for me.  Then he drily said: No, I’m not going to do that now.  But afterwards he still stuck around cheerfully for a couple of hours as usual.  In the event that he’d said no I would have handed the book without Bernhard’s autograph back to Kihs just as drily; perhaps he would have been less surprised than me.

Thomas said: Another telegram of congratulations has arrived; look:
GREETINGS AND CONGRATULATIONS ON ADOLF-GRIMME-PRIZE FROM ME AND ALL YOUR DEVOTED COLLEAGUES, YOURS HÖFER, 2 WDR
Thomas explains that this is the director of the second channel, who had said that The Italian was so bad that he didn’t ever want to hear another word about Bernhard.  You see once again what monsters these people are; now he’s sending me a telegram.  I say: The mere fact that he was against you before obliges him to congratulate you now.  If he was wrong about you, why shouldn’t he admit it?  Unfortunately, because he was wrong about you, ten nullities and know-nothings who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance will slip into his schedule.

Thomas also tells me that he’s received a letter from the Grimme Prize Foundation asking him to send them a photo of himself.   But he’s not going to reply, and naturally he’s not going to send a photo either.  They’re expecting some gushing letter from me now, “the happiest day of my life,” “for years I’ve longed for this prize,” etc., but they’re on the wrong track about me.  I’m not going to reply at all.  I’ll just inform them when I’m arriving, and I’ve already filled out the card with my hotel and room preferences; I’ll send that back. People always expect gratitude when they give you something.  But what can that possibly lead to?  Of course it would end in everybody being literally asphyxiated by forced gratitude.  When I’ve been offered something I accept it, but nobody has any right to expect gratitude from me.  Schaffler’s also been trying to gouge me, of course.  Because he helped me save about 40,000 to 50,000 schillings, he wanted me to write something for his publishing firm.  How shameless can a person get?  And what’s more, he proposed this to me in the presence of the firm’s editor.  That’s really just bald-faced extortion.  Now he won’t be getting a damn thing from me.  Naturally I’m not going to burn all my bridges with him, but I’ve come to recognize his true colors.

It’s typical of Thomas that he’s now denouncing Schaffler, who helped him save about 50,000 schillings, as shameless, just because Schaffler would like to offset the high royalty rate by publishing the fruits of Thomas’s intellectual labors.  Thomas probably interpreted my laughter as agreement.  But I was glad that he was once again splendidly confirming my opinion that he’s the biggest egoist I’ve ever encountered.

Then I add that today during my visit with Kihs I drew his attention to my first article in the Salzkammergutzeitung, in which I wrote at the end that Thomas Bernhard was very modest.  I highlighted this assertion today, and Kihs said I’d left out a word.  He said it would have been more accurate to say that Thomas Bernhard was shamelessly modest, because his modesty is really quite shameless.  Well, yes, you’re quite right about that, said Thomas.  As we’re saying our goodbyes at 10:00, we agree to meet for a walk at 2:30 the following afternoon.  Unbeknownst to Thomas I sent Radax a telegram.

January 29, 1972
Thomas arrives punctually at 2:30.  We walk to the forester’s lodge on the Traun and through Aupointen and Sandhäuslberg back to my house at Weinberg.  We’re on foot for an hour and three-quarters.  We don’t talk much, and the little we do say is small talk.  I know that Thomas’s brain is working.  I can simply sense this, and this always makes the walk a bit slower.  Often we go for ten or twenty minutes at a stretch without exchanging a word, and then only a brief bit of small talk.  I know that he needs breaks like this in order to get his train of thought moving along more smoothly again.  I’m just surprised that he doesn’t take any notes and that he holds onto the ideas from the walk until he gets a chance to write them down.  In the course of the walk, Thomas only made a few good remarks “aloud.”  They were so nicely and neatly formulated that afterwards I said to my wife: I didn’t manage to make a mental note of them, and so everything he said has gone down the drain.  Because when I can’t recall it word for word, the effect of the original statement isn’t there.  Among other things he witheringly criticized Dr. Lassl and Kihs, paraded their weaknesses and execrable traits before my eyes, uncovered and dissected everything execrable beneath their exteriors, etc.  These were spot-on, sagacious remarks.  I silently acknowledged that he was right.

Over coffee Thomas also tells me that he isn’t going to reply to his publisher’s two-line letter at all now.  Next week the publisher will hear about the Grimme Prize; then he’ll have two prizes to “keep secret.”  Then he laughed cynically.  The Grimme Prize people won’t be getting a photo or a letter either.  I’m going to be even more execrable now.  I’ll be nice and friendly at the award ceremony, but if they think they’re going to get another film script or film out of me, they’re sadly mistaken.  If they want they can make film adaptations of my books, but other people will have to write the scripts.  I say: then the past and future recipients of the Grimme Prize will refer to him as their “colleague,” as will other people in the film industry.  They’ll expect him to be present at future award ceremonies and shake people’s hands, etc.  They’ll be sorely disappointed, because until now you haven’t accepted an invitation to the following year’s ceremony after receiving a prize.  But on the other hand at each of the ceremonies your living predecessors have personally congratulated you.  At the Grillparzer prize they were even all there.  Yes, of course, but I obviously can’t congratulate the execrable Uwe Johnson, who I dislike, on his being awarded the Büchner.  Because you’re supposed to go to them every year.  I’m supposed to be in attendance at all those prize award ceremonies, but something like that is out of the question for me.  I’ve got to forget all the prizes immediately and act as though nothing has ever happened.  If you let prizes go to your head you obviously can’t work anymore.

Actually I really shouldn’t be surprised to notice that Thomas keeps all his good ideas in his head while we’re walking and until he writes them down.  When we’re on the road in the car, travelling between Linz, Steyr, and Kirchdorf, Thomas reminds me at many places along the way that I told him this or that story about my wartime experiences years or months earlier at this precise stretch of the drive.  Because as a little schoolboy he was attacked by airplanes with bombs and aircraft cannon and lived through the bombing of Traunstein and Salzburg, it’s worthwhile talking about wartime experiences with him.  Because if a person hasn’t lived through all that himself, how is can he possibly come even close to forming a picture of it? All the movies and books are lousy and don’t even come close to reproducing the reality.  Because how can anybody even vaguely imagine what it was like to fetch barley soup with a growling stomach in a hailstorm of gunfire?  The best one is and remains All Quiet on the Western Front.  But I can’t say whether I would have been able to imagine everything in it so precisely if I had read it before I was a soldier.

At 6:00 I drive Thomas to Nathal.  He had come on foot, you see.  Pinned to the gate was a note from O’Donnell asking him to pay him a visit.  We agree to take another walk tomorrow, Sunday, at the same time as today, 2:30 in the afternoon.

January 30, 1972
Since the fall of 1971 I have been under orders from Thomas Bernhard to facilitate his purchase of an acre of woodland that directly borders his property on its northern edge.  Back in the fall I spoke with the owner of this scrap of woods, Mr. Rudolf Asamer, a restaurateur and proprietor of more than 120 hectares.  He is in principle already willing to sell the woods.  He has even proposed a price of 120,000 to 150,000 schillings.  Thomas says when the woods are worth that much he’ll pay that much.  But he’s counting on me to try to negotiate a better deal.  So as with every lawyer or workman I recommend to him, he’s loading me with all the responsibility.  He knows that in many cases I can represent his own interests better than he himself would be capable of doing.  So then I said: Good, then I won’t finalize the sale contract with Asamer until April.  He’s a hard-bargaining magnate with whom I’ve already haggled over several farmhouses valued at two million schillings apiece.  He’s always been a very well-armed haggler.  I’ve got to make sure to choose the best time for this purchase.  The fall, when the agriculturalists are raking in all their cash, is not such a time.  The best time to approach Asamer will be in April or May, because then every farmer who hasn’t got a forest to chop down is in really bad shape.  Because the purchase of artificial fertilizer eats up all their reserves, or these farmers don’t even pay for this fertilizer until the following harvest.  But at the end of May the financial situation of the farmers starts improving, because the price of pigs rises and the bulls are being sold off.   What’s more I’ve still got to measure the woods trunk by trunk at chest height, calculate the cubic volume using my chart, and deduct twenty percent so that I’ll know how much money in timber the woods contain.  Then I’ll be able to say how high a price would still be worth paying for them.

At 9:00 this morning I suddenly got the urge to measure the trunks in the woods.  A good forester would be able to be able to come up with an estimate accurate with ten-percent in less than ten minutes.  But on account of the small size of the plot, it wouldn’t pay to hire one; besides, Thomas would doubt the accuracy of such an estimate anyway. So I prepared some lists and some chalk.  On the north side of each trunk I’ve measured I’m going to make a small chalk-mark at shoulder height to make sure I don’t miss a trunk or measure one twice.  The seven-degree centigrade temperature will also be just right for my purposes in forcing me to hurry as fast as I can.  My 15-year-old son Wolfgang has been charged with writing the measurements down.  But just as we’re about to leave the house, my 25-year-old son Karl Hubert turns up and says he’s about to go skiing in Grünau with Wolfi.  I say that we’ll be back in just over an hour at the latest, and that they can leave then.  Neither of them objects outright, but Karl Hubert says he’s willing to wait, so I ponder the whole thing—I don’t want to screw up the survey of the woods—and say, just go.  

At the same time it’s also occurred to me that now at 9:30 in the morning Radax will still be in bed, and since Thomas will want to know what’s going on with him, I go to the neighbors’ house and give Radax a call.  As I expected, he’s half-asleep when he answers.  But when he hears my name, he wakes up and immediately thanks me for my telegram.  I ask him if he was also notified of the Grimme Prize in writing.  No, he only heard about it by phone.  He also doesn’t know whether the award includes the director and the cameraman or is just for the author.  He asks whether Bernhard will be coming to the ceremony.  Yes, I say, and I tell him that Bernhard feels the way he did back when he passed the exam for a truck-driver’s license at the same time two mechanics failed it.  Radax howls with laughter.  I say that Thomas is waiting for a report from him.  Radax says he’ll write something today and send me a carbon copy.  I say: I don’t need a carbon copy; I’ll learn as much for Bernhard as he deems appropriate.  We must debunk mysteries as much as possible; otherwise we’d get muddleheaded, which would be unpleasant.  I say he should feel free to mention my telephone conversation, that I’ll fill Bernhard in on it.  Radax also says that the negotiations about the filming of Frost are dragging on in Vienna, etc.  Then I say to him that thanks to the prize they almost couldn’t say no.

Thomas comes punctually at 2:30 p.m.  I tell him about my telephone  call with Radax as I’m putting on warm clothes and we’re leaving.  Out on the road Thomas says:  tell me everything again, but in exact detail, don’t forget a single thing; I want to know everything in exact detail.   Start all over again from the beginning.  Then I say: Fine, it all really started on Friday.  After you received the letter about the award ceremony, it struck me that Radax might not be included and might not have received any notification.  And so I sent him a telegram so that on the one hand he could stall the negotiations with the ORF until the official announcement of the prize.  Whence my wording: “Exploit this triumph as a trump,” etc.  And on the other hand, as soon as he learns about the prize, he’s bound immediately to get the impression that from now on he’s going to get due credit for the film.  But if he is included in the prize, the congratulations are also warranted.  Thomas was very glad that I had done that and called him.  He didn’t want to know any more about it and I should have asked him more.  Whether any money is associated with the prize, who else is going to the ceremony, who else is going to receive the prize?  He thinks he can recall that a whole list of Grimme prize awardees was published the previous year.  He might also be mistaken.  Then I say that I had of course asked Radax afterwards and he said we’ll know more on Monday or Tuesday; he can’t say anything at all right now.  My conversation with Radax went the same way.  Of course I also wanted to know.    

By then we’ve reached Feldweg in Ohlsdorf, and we take the route that leads to Weinberg via the Puchheim manor’s forester’s lodge, Aupointen, and Sandhäuslberg.  In the course of our walk we make an arc-shaped detour, because otherwise the walk would be too short, as two hours slip by in a trice.  Thomas said to me that yesterday, 1/29, marked exactly a year since he had gone to Brussels to write The Italian.  A year ago he sold the script to Residenz Publications’ owner Schaffler for 100,000 schillings.  By 2/9, in other words within ten days, he had finished The Italian; because Unseld from Suhrkamp Publications had congratulated him on it on February 9 when he was there for his birthday.   The Italian was already finished then.  On that day Unseld gave him two silver candlesticks, four-sided candlesticks.  I can naturally now recall everything in exact detail, because immediately after his return from Brussels he showed me the candlesticks and we had talked about the fact that he had been born on 2/10/1931 and not on 2/9/1931.  Thomas heaps abuse on Unseld, because they haven’t sent him the galleys for the new edition of Frost.  All the typos in the first edition are being carried over into this one.  Lots of writers are just exploited by their publishers, nailed down by options and then two years later they’re hung out to dry or not even published at all anymore.  Schaffler is also mentioned; he lays into him as well, saying that he’s no better than any of the others.  That Schaffler won’t be getting anything more from him either.  But Thomas isn’t serious and embittered; to the contrary, he’s in a jolly mood and heaping all this abuse on publishers in a sportive tone.  I say: Publishers are used to having every author on a string, like a puppeteer and his puppets.  Every publisher has got a handful of strings, and whenever he pulls a string, an author appears.  But when he pulls your string, it snags, and nothing moves.  They just can’t grasp that.  Thomas says he’ll stop in Frankfurt on his way to the award ceremony.  When he’s there he’ll breeze through their offices and say: Lookee heeyah, looka me, da great wridah.  You know most of the time I talk in dialect there; I’m really quite brutal.  If the secretary says I’ve got to wait, I snap back: c’mowan, it ain’t like I got wall da time in da woild.  Then the door opens, a little scribbler is shoved aside, and I can step into Unseld’s office.  They’ll let the next guy wait so long that when he finally gets in he’ll have forgotten what he’s been planning to say.  That’s how they make mincemeat of their authors beforehand—by making them wait.  I’ve ordered the publishing firm to forward all correspondence from theaters etc. to me, because of course ever since that time that they described me as a “scatterbrained author” in a letter to Salzburg, I haven’t received anything at all.  My play Boris was performed scads of times in Zurich; of course I should have received a share of the takings, but nothing of the kind happened.  Because they’re obviously…they’re obviously not going to give me what ought to be coming my way.  Even If I have them show me everything at the firm, I’ll never be able to figure out whether what they’re presenting as my share of the takings is what’s actually due to me.
Then we return to the topic of the Grimme Prize, and Thomas says that now Hansi (Rochelt) is also going to pull a wry face.  Actually I can imagine quite a number of faces they’ll be pulling when they react to the news of my new prize.  During those ten days I didn’t know a thing or have an inkling of what would come out of it.  An ordinary cold could have put a stop to the whole thing.  Of course I already had it all in my head, but if I hadn’t written all night and all day throughout those ten days, nothing would have come of The Italian.  Because of course they were waiting on me to give them that script.  One tiny glitch would have been enough to make the whole thing come to naught.  Then I asked if O’Donell had visited in the meantime and how they had reacted to the news of the prize. He says: This morning.  But I came right out with it like that and said that I had enviers on all sides, so that they couldn’t do otherwise and didn’t envy me.  I’ve made myself out to be a kind of victim of prizes.  Perhaps I ought to take out a large ad in a German newspaper, ideally in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, an ad announcing that I won’t be accepting any more prizes at all.   Violators will be prosecuted for disrupting production.  Then I said he should put off taking out that ad until he had the Nobel Prize.  He doesn’t believe he’s going to get it.  I say: I’m not giving up hope.  Austria still hasn’t got any Nobel laureates in literature.  They’re bound to give Central Europe a turn someday.

Then our talk turns to Rauris.  Thomas says Rauris is already falling apart.  The negative reviews are piling up.  Schaffler from Residenz Publications, who was such a booster of it at first, is now coming off his high horse.  He’s wavering now, saying maybe it’s really nothing, etc.  You know, that’s something that really bothers me about Schaffler, the fact that he always starts out raving about the material and then immediately changes his mind.  That’s when the beast shows his true colors.  Then I ask him the name of the regional writer Erwin Gimmelsberger wanted to invite to Rauris and Thomas talked him out of inviting.  I say: It was some writer I didn’t know was still alive, because I hadn’t heard anything about him in such a long time.  Springenschmid, says Thomas.  Just imagine: he’s the one who was always talking big during the Nazi period.  Gimmelsberger wanted to invite somebody like that to Rauris.  I struck him off the list right away.  I wouldn’t have gone to Rauris if he’d been invited.  Besides, he marched into Norway with my uncle, and by the time the first shells were hurtling in, Springenschmid had already been gushing every sort of thing on both sides.  In back he was shitting himself, and tears were rolling down his whole front.  My uncle had to box his ears to get him to overcome his panic.  (I’ve witnessed many cases of panic and cowardice, but I just can’t believe in this business of gushing from front and back at the same time.  His uncle was surely exaggerating, or else there isn’t a grain of truth in the whole story.)  But I don’t say this to Thomas, because what’d be the point of getting into an argument with him about Springenschmid’s muck?  Because Thomas believes this story, since he explicitly asserted to me that in such cases you can only drive away panic with a box to the ears.  The cowards I’ve seen didn’t have sopping wet trousers, and they weren’t crying either.  But a box to the ears couldn’t have drawn them out of the foxhole, or out from under the car during a tactical advance.  Besides, such cases shouldn’t be described as attacks of cowardice but rather as nervous breakdowns.  Those poor devils were detailed to cooking duties, and every time we stopped they would take cover under the food truck even when there wasn’t the faintest sound of a siren.  One of these guys was Hickersberger, who now works at the dairy in Machland.  When I visited him once after the war I expected he’d turn out to be a nervous wreck.  The manager of the dairy knew that Hickersberger had been totally frazzled during the war, but in the meantime he had made a complete recovery.  I myself got panicked a dozen times.  But each of those times I was so petrified that my sphincter couldn’t have opened if it’d wanted to.  Whenever soldiers did happen to crap their pants it certainly wasn’t because they were afraid but because it often would have been suicide just to show their heads, let alone to leave their hiding spot for the sake of taking a shit.  

Just then it occurs to me that in Vienna, writers are always bellyaching to Thomas that they have no material to write about.  That strikes me as utterly pathetic.  We were then walking directly along the barbed wire fence of a field, and I said to Thomas: When I look at a wire, that wire on its own would surely give me enough material for a book.  Pages and pages could be written starting from its being taken from the ore to when it’s being made into barbed wire, in connection with the factory and the people who work there, to the point when it’s being used as a pasture fence here.  Because everything’s contained in that, everything from agriculture to the livestock dealer to the sausage factory that receives this livestock from the field.  If somebody says he hasn’t got any material, then he can never be a writer, because the first bit of material he senses is the very air he breathes, and surely somebody could spend a lifetime writing about that.  Because the air we breathe has already passed through the lungs of so many people and farm animals; all the nations before us have already inhaled and exhaled it.  Somebody could tell a story about the air we’re breathing here.  You yourself take walks for the air and need the air in order to come up with good ideas.  A writer has simply got to make things up out of thin air, and everybody’s got air and it doesn’t cost anything.  Thomas heard me out without saying anything, which in his case is much closer to an expression of assent than when he actually says something in reply.
At this point it would probably be apropos of me to insert a photocopy of a letter from Thomas dated 10.12.1965.  The letter is typewritten, as I had “forbidden” him to write by hand, because by then I already possessed a ton of handwritten letters that I could hardly read.  Thomas writes verbatim as follows:

Vienna 19th District
3 Okirchergasse

10.12.65

Dear Karl,

I have just received the letter you sent to Lovran; in the meantime you have perceived [received] my letter from Vienna, right?

First of all: I’m sitting in my apartment in Vienna and finishing my play, which is going to be performed next summer at the festival in Salzburg; I’m almost finished, and I’m telling myself I’ve been lucky once again.

This coming Thursday I’ll be taking the train to Salzburg for a conference and then back to Vienna to work further on the novel, which of course I’d also like to finish by the end of the year; on the 9th I’ll be in Hamburg and Bremen; on the 10th I’ll be back in Salzburg; whether I go from there to Nathal depends on how easy I find it to work in Vienna; if it’s going as it is now, without any irritations, I’ll stay; but even if I do I’ll at least make a side-trip to the Ohlsdorf area. 

But to cut to the chase: I’d rather you didn’t undertake anything on your own, and for the moment I’m quite happy to hold onto Nathal; everything will become clear in time; I don’t want to rush anything.  I’m sorry about my work, about everything having to do with the house.  As long as it doesn’t run off, it can stay locked up on its lonesome, can’t it? It’s reassuring enough for me if Mrs. Stockhammer looks it over, airs it out, etc., once a week.  I’m also writing to her today.

So I really can’t divest myself of my house and home “on the spur of the moment”; I’ve really gotten into a groove and intend to make the most of this groove.  As of now, I’ve reached a point where I’m not just unpleasantly obsessed with Nathal as soon as I wake up and as I’m falling asleep.  Rest assured, “as of now,” I’m nobody’s fool.  The telegram was from a friend with whom I got drunk with in town and to whom I told all sorts of rubbish.

Perhaps you could write to me and let me know if the house is still standing!

In conclusion, regarding your letter: I haven’t received another as rational in recent years, but I find it impossible to bestow a compliment of any sort, in any direction, on any person.  I was astonished by what you wrote; it astonishes me and it shouldn’t astonish me—it’s not just that I’m biased in your favor; I know you’re right.

Possibly the snow will be even deeper by the time I try to drive my car up to Unternathal; in that case everything will be new and yet familiar.

I’m especially looking forward to the Bavarian curling. Of course it’s possible that I’ll start writing all of a sudden even in Nathal.  But as you know, I have come to find it unbearable to be unable to do any sort of work there, because I’m certainly not cut out to be a house painter or bricklayer over the long haul, even though these are genuinely pleasant and rational and concrete vocations, as I now know.

Yours and your wife’s sincerely,
Thomas

P.S. The pictures you’ve taken put me into a very melancholy mood; how do you manage to take such good pictures?  The property comes across as quite a beautiful spot!

The sale of Plot No. 2 at Obernathal also had literary repercussions.  As Bernhard wrote in his 1978 novella, “Yes”: “Nobody can have the faintest clue what it means to make these ruins into an inhabitable house.”  The picture was taken in 1993.

This was 1965, when I contributed to a decisive change in the direction of Thomas Bernhard’s life.  Since then he’s told his brother Peter and Dr. Wieland Schmied a few times that he owes everything that he is and has to me.  That’s surely an exaggeration, but there’s definitely a bit of truth in it.  I am incredibly proud of this letter, because there surely does not exist any person who has received a letter like it from Thomas Bernhard.  The fact that it’s shameless to expect thanks from Thomas Bernhard for a  favor is definitely a bonus for me!  Therefore, I’ve got to step in with a bit of rationality from time to time in order to keep our friendship warm.  This rationality cuts a wide arc and extends so far that I often tell him he’s right when he’s quite wrongly kicking up a fuss about something with somebody.  Because my backtalk would reinforce his anger and only provoke him further, to the point where we get into situations in which I’m acting towards him as a “subordinate” so that he doesn’t lose face in a certain way and can’t describe me as soft.   Because softies are anathema to him.  So he doesn’t care for the softies, and he can’t get along with the hard types, so nobody’s left who can have an amicable relationship with him.  Except one based on rationality.

By 6:00 p.m., Thomas has gone home, and since I’m not expecting anything more from him today, I’ve found it possible to write a bit longer.  I’ve still got to make reservations for tea at Thomas’s local in Salzburg; I’m also enclosing a bill for Thomas. THom

January 31, 1972
At 1:15 p.m. Thomas comes.  He wants to set off on a walk with me right away, because at 3:00 p.m., Lord O’Donell will be visiting him with his heavily pregnant wife.  But he’d prefer not to omit the walk.  We take the road leading from the grotto via the forester’s lodge.  From the grotto (a forest chapel in Hildprechting) the only thing that’s visible in the snow on the road is our own footprints from yesterday.  Thomas says he almost wanted to take the walk on his own because he’s so angry.  I say: I’ve long been able to tell that from your tempo.  You stamp out your rage with your feet.
Thomas says that in today’s mail he received a printed announcement in which Thomas Bernhard is named as the latest recipient of the Grimme Prize “for the novel of the same name.”  Can you imagine that my publisher doesn’t even know that The Italian isn’t based on a novel of the same name, that such blunders can happen?  If I had a hand long enough to reach Frankfurt now, I’d slap them all in the face.  He was planning to write his publisher a sharply worded letter in which he was once again going to say what needed to be said.  Now he once again has good enough reasons.  I told him that in dealing with my business affairs two lawyers had once kept making such serious blunders, had been so impossible, that they simply weren’t to show their faces ever again.  I tell Thomas that I’ve long since given up raising a fuss about those very sorts of blunders, given up making a big brouhaha in my lawyers’ offices, because they’re far too jaded to care, and hardly a day ever passes in which some outraged client doesn’t complain to them about something.  Now I do this really subtly.  I call them or write them a letter and tell that a blunder has slipped in.  I tell them that these blunders are easy to notice, and that as I know them well, I’m sure they’ll fix everything right away. People aren’t used to this kind of complaint, and so they pay better attention to it, and it’s more effective.  This isn’t me being deferential; it’s just plain common sense.

After a good hour, during which we’ve spoken about some other things, Thomas says: I’m just going to write a short note to the firm to let them know that I’m not writing anything for Holl.  Just two lines.  Perhaps I’ll still write that it was quite a good thing that the firm didn’t announce anything about the Grillparzer Prize, because blunders as big as the one in the announcement about the Grimme Prize would have slipped into that announcement as well.  But meanwhile Thomas has once again been properly badmouthing everybody and everything, actually the entire world.  You see, I had reminded him that in 1965, in the letter dated 10.12.1965, he had written: “First of all: I’m sitting in my apartment in Vienna and finishing my play, which is going to be performed next summer at the festival in Salzburg; I’m almost finished, and I’m telling myself I’ve been lucky once again.”  (I remembered this as I was making a photocopy of the letter to attach to my entry for yesterday.)   I said: “You definitely confided this to me, so I must assume you received firm promises back then.”  Thomas blushes!  That’s why for me Kaut is always just Kaut and will keep on being Kaut.  Naturally he promised me that.  Afterwards I also submitted the play to the Burgtheater; they didn’t accept it either.  I got the play back from the firm with an unsigned “form.” On the form somebody had written that they were being inundated with plays at the time.  That’s why nobody likes me now.  Fine, nobody’s ever really liked me; of course, I’ve always given a prompt and proper answer to anything stupid anybody’s spouted.  Not even Haidenthaler from the Salzburg chamber of commerce ever liked me.  Perhaps they’ll award me an honorary merchant’s assistant’s letter in Salzburg someday.   During an examination I was asked by Haidenthaler whether I was allowed to fill a bottle labeled Maggi Sauce with Graf-brand sauce.  Whereupon I said, I’m not about to answer to such a stupid question, which every first-year apprentice has already got to know the answer to.  Haidenthaler has since died; now I’d be bound to receive a merchant’s assistant’s letter.  And it went even further than that.  These prizes that I’m now receiving are very much slaps in the faces of all those people who have rejected my plays and other works.   What do you think it means that even Boris has been awarded a Grillparzer Prize?  I say: yes, but of course not counting Salzburg it’s been seven years since a play by you has actually appeared.  Obviously no writer can put up with that, with being put off for seven years.  A writer’s simply got to put up with that, says Thomas, otherwise he’s absolutely nothing, otherwise he’s a nonentity.  He’s got to be able to get over that, otherwise he’ll never amount to anything.  That’s why he obviously can’t come up in the world too easily, because then he’s promised everything under the sun.  Do you think I was promised everything under the sun?  I interject: Peter has said you’ve even worked as a gravedigger.  Yes, that’s right, says Thomas; I’ve done every sort of thing to get by.  That’s why nobody can get away with coming along and saying, Thomas Bernhard’s always had it super-easy; he receives prize after prize; he can do whatever he likes.  (I recall his resounding laughter at the news of Doderer’s death and can even understand that now.)  But it goes further; I’d like to have just one good newspaper, says Thomas; then I’d write lots of articles, articles about how, for example, Communism is already rotten to the core, about how all systems are abominable and mendacious; I’d really tell it like it is about every abomination under the sun, etc.  I say: you could certainly find a good newspaper, but I’d still keep perfectly mum now and wait for the Nobel Prize.  Thomas says, what a load of rubbish, there no such thing, no such thing as a good newspaper.  Naturally I’m calm now, but there’s so much stuff dammed up inside me that’s got to break out at some point.  Sure, I say, that’ll also be good, but now isn’t the time for it.   Once you’ve got the Nobel Prize, you’ll only need to get all the fires started, tiny little fires all over the place, and your critics will just blow on them and turn them into proper blazes.  As Thomas doesn’t say anything over the next few paces, I continue talking.  Then you’ll really be in quite a different position, you’ll be standing there like a block of stone and not so easy to attack.  Thomas says: You’re completely wrong about that.  I’ll never be standing anywhere like a block of stone, and I’ll always be easy to attack.  But it’s got to be known that that’s the case.  I say: but because you’re in the right, it won’t be very easy to attack you.  Wrong, wrong, even when you’re in the right, it’s always easy to attack you.  But someday I’m going to write all about my prizes and about those institutions, about how all that works.  When I’ve got all the prizes, I’ll make them all look so ridiculous that everybody will be ashamed at the very thought of accepting such a prize.  I’ll show everything that went on behind the scenes when Johnson and others received prizes, or when I did, because everything that goes on back there is pure commercialism.  In the case of the Grillparzer Prize, everybody on the jury was against me, but Klingenburg said I had to get the prize because he was going to stage the play at the Burgtheater.  You know, that’s what things look like behind the scenes; I’m ruthlessly going to expose that.  I won’t give any special treatment to my family either; I’m going to write everything.  I say: Sure, why not, if it’s all true, it can be written.  If they find it unpleasant, they just should have behaved differently.  It deserves to be described as it is, says Thomas.  (I’ll keep this in readiness for Thomas, in case of an emergency, in case it should ever be needed.  In Aupointen we walked straight past its four houses.  Thomas will never forget what the two of us said there.  Little does he know he’s giving me grist for my mill.)

At 2:45 we’re in Weinberg, and he drives to Nathal so that he’ll be there when O’Donell comes.  But he also says he’ll most certainly come in the evening.

At 6:45 Thomas is back again.  He eats French onion soup.  At 7:30 we sit down with Granny to watch the evening news.  When Mr. Sinowitz the minister of education’s three telegrams regarding Schranz’s exclusion are read out, Thomas says: In this telegram the language comes across as hypocritical and sanctimonious; a cabinet minister shouldn’t express himself in such terms. [Karl Schranz was not allowed to compete in the Olympic Games at Sapporo because he was stripped of his amateur status owing to his participation in advertising.]  In talking of Schranz’s case Sinowitz makes himself sound like some pub-landlord from Puttenbrunn who’s been screwed out of what he’s owed for a half a liter of wine. 

Thomas was here until after the last evening news broadcast on German television, until midnight.  We still thought that there would be an announcement about the Grimme Prize.  We talked a great deal, said a great deal of unimportant stuff, and I couldn’t pick up on any of it that might have been any good because I was drinking some of my home-fermented elderberry wine.

Oh yes: I remember that Thomas was especially pleased that Bernadette Devlin gave a slap in the face to the British home secretary. 

END OF PART I


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2019 by Douglas Robertson .  Source: Karl Ignaz Hennetmair, Ein Jahr mit Thomas Bernhard.  Das versiegelte Tagebuch 1972.  Sankt Pölten: Residenz Verlag, 2014.

4 comments:

trencer spacey said...

Thank you for this.

jouissance said...

"If somebody says he hasn’t got any material, then he can never be a writer, because the first bit of material he senses is the very air he breathes, and surely somebody could spend a lifetime writing about that. Because the air we breathe has already passed through the lungs of so many people and farm animals; all the nations before us have already inhaled and exhaled it. Somebody could tell a story about the air we’re breathing here. You yourself take walks for the air and need the air in order to come up with good ideas. A writer has simply got to make things up out of thin air, and everybody’s got air and it doesn’t cost anything. Thomas heard me out without saying anything, which in his case is much closer to an expression of assent than when he actually says something in reply." (January 30, 1972)


"Often, I went on, studying the quality of the air and tramping for miles northeastward, in the direction of the Semmering, gave me the greatest pleasure. It was almost a sense of rapture and probably stemmed from the feeling of being altogether free."

Thomas Bernhard Gargoyles,
translated by Richard and Clara Winston


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