Monday, December 09, 2013

A Translation of "Schriftstellerberuf heute" (A letter about Elias Canetti by Thomas Bernhard)

The Literary Vocation Today
The Comedy of Vanity [1]

The new honorary doctor Canetti, our age’s greatest huckster of aphorisms—hence a born recipient of an honorary doctorate—who some forty years ago gave a promising display of talent in the form of a fantastic Auto-da-fé, has, in the form of a so-to-speak Comedy of Vanity, in an attack of acute and yet galloping senility, proclaimed himself to be a poet (our only poet) to boot!  Senility is touching; the arrogance of an old man—of an autumnal father and ludicrous last-minute philosopher, who, as I said before, gave a promising display of talent forty years ago and has in the meantime, in the capacity of a kind of poor-man’s Kant and mini-Schopenhauer, as a consequence of an inconsequential inconsistency, forfeited his eminence, and at the University of Munich has even shamelessly pruned his brain down to nothing in [a series of] clinically moronic propositions—is embarrassing.  Or even merely grotesque.  For years on end in every corner of the German-speaking world he has—in the capacity of an itinerant prophet-for-hire on the literary circuit, on as it were academic soil—been diligently letting off the steam of his guilty conscience.

Thomas Bernhard, Ohlsdorf  

[1] Editors' note: First published in Die Zeit, Hamburg, February 26, 1976.

On February 6, 1976, under the title “The Vocation of the Poet [Dichter],” Die Zeit had published Elias Canetti’s speech on the occasion of his acceptance of an honorary doctorate from the University of Munich.  In this speech Canetti took direct aim at Bernhard with the appellation “somebody who writes,” which Bernhard had employed in characterizing himself in the film Three Days.  Canetti stated “[…] but there were also others […] who composed bitter and very promising books, rose very quickly to fame as ‘somebody who writes,’ and then did what earlier writers [Dichter] had been wont to do: instead of falling silent, writing the same book over and over again.  However unimprovable and capitally criminal humanity seemed to them, it retained one function: applauding them.”    

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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