Sunday, November 03, 2013

A Translation of "In Österreich hat sich nichts geändert" by Thomas Bernhard

In Austria Nothing Has Changed [1]

Twenty years ago, when I was a mere eighteen years old, [2] a lawsuit was filed against me in the Salzburg District Court because in my august capacity as theater critic for the then-preeminent Austrian cultural and political weekly “Die Furche,” which admittedly nowadays functions as nothing but a public digest of perverse Catholic-Nazistic vacuity, I described my impressions of the Salzburg [State] theater.  [My impression] that its actors [were] non-actors, its singers non-singers, its dancers non-dancers, its directors non-directors, its general administrator a non-general administrator, etc…That it called itself a theater but was in fact nothing but and a crock and a disgrace, nothing but a brainless, pantomimic garbage heap etc…that compared with the theater of our rural inns and taverns the theater in all our towns and cities was a nightly exhibition of a prehistoric corpse… that on every single stage (even on that of the Burgtheater, the quintessence of provincialism!) the monarchy of dilettantism reigned supreme.  [That] when stupidity and arrogance join[ed] forces to raise the curtain, the theater was dead and the stage a tasteless joke.  [That] from the orifice of the stage nothing came but the nauseating halitosis of bureaucracy…For these and similar sentences I was fined four thousand schillings by an Austrian judge (who knew plenty about run-over pedestrians’ legs, but had not the faintest clue about the theater) twenty years ago.  Back then, and for me in particular, four thousand schillings was an enormous sum of money.   Throughout the four-hour trial the judge, assisted by two clerks, had thumbed through a massive stack of three-ring binders piled up on his desk and crammed with reviews—binders that Stanchina the general administrator had brought to the courtroom along with two of his customized dramaturges—and kept saying over and over again: “…and erupted into thunderous applause… and erupted into thunderous applause… and erupted into thunderous applause...”  All the while he thumbed and thumbed and said “…and erupted into thunderous applause.”  And over and over again he said: “So what do you want?…and erupted into thunderous applause…”  And throughout the entire four hours he made me stand at attention and kept me guarded by a prison officer.  And before he delivered the sentence he said that the theater was a good theater and after he had delivered the sentence he said once again that the theater was a good theater.
Today, twenty years later—during which period, and actually a full fifteen years ago already, I myself studied acting and dramaturgy at the Academy and graduated [from it] (at my final examination I gave a speech on the great Artaud, but the seventeen “organs of academic examination” at the long green table had never before heard the name Artaud), in any case, [it was] a completely superfluous course of study—twenty years later, I have to say that Austrian theater has not changed the slightest bit; indeed, I have to say that today everything is actually much more dilettantish and depressing than back then.  But as I have no wish to be again sentenced to pay a large fine (or serve a prison term), because it is silly to shove money down the throat of the useless State or to sit in prison, I shall not delineate my impressions of our theater.

[1] Editors’ note: First published on p. 144 of Theater 1969. Balance Sheet and Chronicle of the 1968-1969 Season, a special edition of the magazine Theater heute.  In the first sentence of the article Thomas Bernhard refers to his essay "Salzburg Is Waiting for a Play", which appeared in the 3 December 1955 issue of the weekly newspaper Die Furche [The Groove].  The author’s description of that newspaper as “a public digest of perverse Catholic-Nazistic vacuity” led to his being sued a second time for “defamation of the character of the press.”  The suit was filed by the then editor-in-chief of the Furche, Willy Lorenz, on 22 January 1970 in Wels.  The pretrial took place on 11 March 1970 in Vienna and ended in a settlement.          

[2] “Fifteen years ago when I was a mere twenty-four years old” would be more accurate.

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).

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