Thomas Bernhard: “I Don’t Need the Festival”
His Rejection Letter to the President
20 August 1975
Dear Mr. Kaut,
After my conversation with you in July at Mr. Schaffler’s house, a conversation that left an ambivalent impression on me, and likewise after reading various silly press releases, like the one in today’s issue of the “Münchner Merkur” [Munich Mercury], in which “we” (meaning the Festival) “beg leave to point out that an unfinished novelty cannot be accepted in advance and that a Bernhard play can hardly be performed in Salzburg every other summer”—note the bombastic tone of the latest newspaper item on the subject of The Celebrities—I am releasing you with a clear conscience from our agreement, and I shall from now on not attach so much as a jot of importance to the production of any of my plays at any Salzburg Festival.
A collaboration with me for the stage is possible only as a hundred-percent [commitment] and on the basis of complete [and] transparent trust; this can no longer be taken for granted at Salzburg Festivals.
As you know, it was your desire, not mine, to make sure that a play of mine was performed in Salzburg in 1976; indeed, you already wanted another play from me in 1975, [a demand] that at the time, immediately after the admittedly sensational success of The Force of Habit, I described as “insane.” But I readily accepted your proposal to write a play for 1976 for the state theater, [and] I [wrote the play] with [great] enthusiasm, and I even—this was also your desire—got in touch with Dieter Dorn, because you wanted Dieter Dorn to be the director of my 1976 play. I hope that you recall the exact particulars of the affair; if not, I can verify them at any time you like.
The fact of the matter is that I finished writing my play on time, contrary to all the moronic pronouncements of the newspapers, and that I really would have submitted to being dragged once again through the mud by the idiotic local press in 1976, because I am accustomed to keeping my word.
But you have withdrawn the foundation of a collaboration through your weakness and your literal incorrectness, as I now know, and from now on nothing of mine will be performed in
history long ago decided who was more important to whom, Bernhard to the
Festival or the Festival to Bernhard.
Basically your dismissal of me comes as a genuine relief, even if it
might have been occasioned by entirely different and hence more agreeable
I have escaped the gravitational tug of your human weakness—I refuse to say [“]weakness of character[”] directly—and this is assuredly to my advantage.
Please take care that no additional false reports about me leak to the press corps through the walls of the Festpielhaus—for it is your fault that the firm addition of The Ignoramus and The Force of Habit to the seasonal programs became publicly known before a single person at the Festspielhaus had read a word of their texts—lest I should be forced to issue an explanation.
I don’t need the Festival.
Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2013 by Douglas Robertson
Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur. Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons. Herausgegeben von Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth. Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles. Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](
Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011).