Monday, March 10, 2014

A Translation of "Der Wald ist groß, die Finsternis auch" (Thomas Bernhard interviewed by André Müller on June 29, 1979).

The Forest is Large, and So Is the Darkness [1]

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Have you so far ever attempted to take your own life?

THOMAS BERNHARD: When I was a child I tried to hang myself, but the cord broke.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: How old were you then?

THOMAS BERNHARD: I was seven, eight years old then.  And later I was out taking a walk with my grandfather, we were living in Traunstein at the time, and the whole time we were walking, I was swallowing sleeping tablets, and all of a sudden I didn’t feel so well, I said I had to go home, this was about thirty kilometers from the city, and I ran away and actually all the way home, and I was bedridden for the next four days, vomiting nonstop, because there was nothing left in my stomach.  I must have been about ten years old then.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: And what happened afterwards?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Afterwar ds I was cussed at for being a prima donna-ish [little] brat, who [always] had to be making a scene and was bringing [nothing but] bad luck upon the family.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Are you still always thinking about killing yourself?

THOMAS BERNHARD: The thought is always there.  But I don’t have the intent, not now in any case.


THOMAS BERNHARD: I think it’s because of curiosity, sheer curiosity.  I think it’s nothing but curiosity that keeps me clinging to life.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Why “nothing but”?  [Certain] other people aren’t in the slightest bit curious and keep on living anyway.

THOMAS BERNHARD: I certainly have nothing against life.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Nonetheless, there are people who construe your books as an incitement to suicide.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Yes. but of course they haven’t actually led to any suicides.  Just the other day, a fortnight ago, a woman was standing outside my window and saying she had to talk to me.  I said, “All right: why do you want to talk to me anyway?”  I was just then laid up in bed with a murderous case of the flu.  She said, “Before it’s too late.”  I said, “Do you want to kill yourself?”  She said, “No, but you [do].”  I said, “I’m not sure you’re quite right in the head; go home.”  She said no, and that had to come in.  I said, “That isn’t going to happen because I can’t manage to keep standing and I’m about to lie back down.”  She said, “You’ve no need to worry; I’ve already got a husband; I’m not trying to get into bed with you.”…This all took place at my open [bedroom] window, and when I tried to close the window she interposed her finger.  I said, “I’m going to crush your finger.  Then she withdrew [her finger], and I closed the window and went back to bed.  A little while later I took a look outside and [saw that] she’d been standing in the courtyard the whole time.  But she did eventually go away after all, and then she wrote me a letter; she [said that] on such-and-such a date—it was a Monday—at eight in the evening she’d be at the cemetery, at the right gate; it was her favorite spot; she’d be there waiting for me.  But I wasn’t even at home on the [appointed] day.  And then she wrote me another letter, sixteen pages long, in which she told her entire life story, about her husband, whom she’d married [when she was] too young, and things like that.  Probably she wanted the two of us to kill ourselves together at the cemetery.  You certainly never know all the [sorts of things] you can trigger in [other] people.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: It’s amazing how productive you are, given that you’re always conscious of the pointlessness of writing.  You live off of writing about the pointlessness of life.  One might almost think it [was] a hoax.

THOMAS BERNHARD: What can a person be sure of?  Even if it [were] a hoax, it certainly wouldn’t change the basic gist of the thing in the least.  It obviously makes absolutely no difference what you call something.  You obviously never know how something really comes into existence.  You just sit down, and your effort almost literally exceeds your powers, and then the whole thing is over once again.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Sure, but what’s the motivation for the effort?  After all, on your way from your bed to your writing desk you’re bound to be ambushed by the thought that the whole thing is totally pointless anyhow.

THOMAS BERNHARD: I simply have an ungovernable appetite for writing.  A few weeks ago I was in Stuttgart and I saw there a Chekhov play—Three Sisters, and I thought [to myself], this could be one of my [plays], only I’d do it much better, make it much tighter, and I immediately got my appetite for writing back.  Of course I’m not someone anyone has any reason to feel sorry for, because of course I’m strong.  A person who’s weak obviously can’t write such things at all.  You need a good solid robustness about you to bring about a sequence like that.  The weaker the people and situations you depict [are], the stronger you have to be yourself, otherwise it’s completely impossible, and the weaker you yourself are, the stronger and more affirmative and vital [are the] things you put on paper.  When I think of [someone like] Zuckmayer, who always had the jitters so bad he was almost falling over with them, who was always looking for his salvation among Indians and redskins and robber chieftains, but he himself was [as jittery] as a leaf…although on the other hand the things I write are in synch with my own [physical] condition.  That’s just cyclical.  When I’m in especially good shape and in a good mood and strong and full of vitality, I don’t write at all, because I pretty much have no appetite for writing.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: What do you do then?


ANDRÉ MÜLLER: When you’re full of vitality.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Then I have no desire to write.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: [What] I mean [is] how does this vitality manifest itself?  Do you fall in love or something like that?

THOMAS BERNHARD: [I have]n’t in a very long time.  I burned myself out completely twenty years ago.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: You mean you burned yourself out sexually?

THOMAS BERNHARD: No, I’ve never been interested in sex.  It was of course in any case not even possible for me, owing to illness of course, because of course during the periods when all that would have [happened] naturally, and couldn’t have helped getting started, I was in nowhere near a fit enough state to make it [happen].  When you’re happy just to be alive still, and muddling your way from one sanatorium to the next, you obviously never give a thought to things like that.  Then you obviously have just the one thought: I don’t want to die.  But even that [thought] can do a complete about-face on you the very next day.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Why do you say that?  When a person has struggled for something as much as you must have done for your life, surely he doesn’t just chuck it into the trash?

THOMAS BERNHARD: But as everybody knows, you can get into [certain] states where in the blink of an eye you [suddenly] couldn’t care less about life.  You can fall into a certain mood.  And then the very next moment you can [suddenly] feel more alive again than ever before.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Can you imagine yourself getting into an emotional state in which you lose your self-control?

THOMAS BERNHARD: No: that I never lose.  But of course there’s nothing of any predictive [value] in that…Good Lord, what am I supposed to say anyway?  What do you want to hear?

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: You’re supposed to say that you’re not going to kill yourself.

THOMAS BERNHARD: That I can’t do.  I don’t know [one way or the other], because I’ve seen too often how in a single hour people and things and situations can change completely.  Basically nothing and nobody is invulnerable to that.  There are [certain] fantastic systems, where you believe you’ve got a sure, an incredibly sure thing all sewn up, and the next minute it’s gone.  Even a concrete building is nothing but a house of cards.  It’s just waiting for the right gust of wind.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Fine, perhaps my thesis is rubbish, but I simply can’t imagine anyone in an introspective frame of mind killing himself—provided, of course, that he doesn’t believe in an afterlife.  Has anyone who was a genuine atheist ever taken his life while facing a mirror?

THOMAS BERNHARD: I don’t know, but I could easily imagine somebody killing himself in full [clarity of] conscious[ness], somebody sitting down to breakfast and saying, “Right: now I’m going to slash my wrists.”  That’s exactly what my grandfather’s brother did; he wrote a brief note in which he stated quite clearly and rationally why he was doing it.  There’s pretty much nothing that can’t be imagined because of course every person is completely different.  There are no two people in the world [who are] identical.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: I can clearly see that we can’t keep talking about suicide.

THOMAS BERNHARD: There’s really absolutely no need [to]; when you’ve killed yourself write me [a letter].

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: I’m definitely not going to kill myself.  That’s something I’ve been trying to make clear to you all along.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Come on, you can’t say that.  I had a friend who I’d drunk an eighth of a liter of wine with; he was a completely petit-bourgeois type; he[’d] written [some] nice little poems and some horrible prose pieces and was a moron, as these petit-bourgeois [types] always are, and had three wives, and two children by each of them, and felt quite comfortable with his huge paunch and in his department store suit; he went home, put on his wife’s dirndl outfit, stuffed the bosom [part of it], and hanged himself from the door in this costume; a man who [was] about forty-five years old and [had] never evinced a trace of the tedium vitae.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Well, of course you[’ve just] demonstrate[d] the accuracy of my thesis, because if he had seen himself in the dirndl and with the cord around his neck in the mirror, he naturally would have had to laugh and stop being able to kill himself.  [What] I mean [is that] this moment of comedy would naturally have kept [him] from [doing] it.

THOMAS BERNHARD: [That’s] actually true…whenever I’m writing that kind of thing, I mean situations that are headed centrifugally towards suicide, there are certainly descriptions of certain conditions that I genuinely feel that I’m in as I’m writing, precisely because I haven’t killed myself, because I personally have eluded it.  Then you can of course write wonderfully about it.  A different [sort of] person wouldn’t be able to, or [if he did] it would turn out all wooden…What are you thinking?  Your face [just] completely changed all of a sudden.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: I’m just considering whether you actually did seriously try to kill yourself [that] one time.  In your autobiography [you] state point-blank that when you were mortally ill and the doctors had already given you up for dead you decided in favor of life.  That is of course completely different than when someone arranges something completely on his own.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Who knows whether what I wrote there is altogether accurate[?]  I myself am always being taken aback [by it]; [it’s] like lots of lives you regard as your own, that naturally have many similarities with one another, but are really just figures that have exactly as much and as little to do with you as any[body] else[’s] lives [do].  Obviously it’s all always accurate and inaccurate at the same time, just as everything is after all at the same time [both] beautiful and ugly, dead and alive, tasteful and tasteless.  The only thing that [really] matters is what you’re most receptive to.  Practically everything exerts a powerful attraction.  My standpoint is [that of] the equivalence of all things.  For me even death is nothing out of the ordinary.  I really do talk about death the way someone else [might talk] about a [dinner] roll.
ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Would you like a different topic?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Sure, what[‘ll it be]?

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: You’ve said you always wanted to be different from other people.

THOMAS BERNHARD: But everybody wants to.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Not me.  Because before you can drop out of the normal [world] like that you have to want to disappear.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Well, lest there be any misunderstanding…You have to analyze it carefully.  There are obviously two sides to it.  When push comes to shove, anybody who has any sort of dropout-ish tendencies will try to go into hiding.  He[‘ll] try to talk and eat and be a simpleton like other people.  I, too, tried to do that when I moved here.  I thought, “I’m going to keep two cows and go into the stable and milk [them], and don rubber boots and metalworker’s trousers, the filthiest, the smelliest and greasiest [ones] possible, and I’ll go eight weeks without bathing, so I’ll look as much as possible like the people here.”  But that won’t fly, it can’t be pulled off, because it’s not something you can consciously manufacture.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Have you tried to?

THOMAS BERNHARD: I tried to do all of that, until I realized I [could] only lose time [by carrying on] in [that] direction.  You’ve got to walk along the untrodden path with all the eccentric, brutal, execrable, uptight, outlandish things that are inside you, [you as in me and as in you], inside everyone.  You can’t go into hiding among a hundred Hubertus coats and laugh along with the rest of the gang at their usual table at the bar and think of a well-made noodle soup on Sunday morning or an Easter flan as the height of contentment; that won’t fly.  You’re different; you’re not [just] trying to be, irrespective of the fact that each and every one of those people who from our perspective look all the same is actually different [from all the others], but despite this [they all] allow themselves be run over by the rolling pin.  Apart from these there are of course still a few swamp plants that shoot [up] a bit too high into the air and are for that reason quite vulnerable and exposed.  It is of course absurd for a fire lily or a giant aster to try to hide out among liverworts because it would be more pleasant to be down below there [with them], when at the same time it’s still proud to be this fire lily.  On the one hand it would like to be grander and better than the others, but at the same time it [would like] to be totally sheltered like the liverworts.  That’s the gruesome and horrifying thing about such a situation, [that] it’s absolutely unworkable.  You’ve got to put up with the way you are and make the best of it.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Are there any people whose company you enjoy?

THOMAS BERNHARD: I don’t know anybody I could and would really like to be around for any length of time.  So [anything] permanent would be impossible.  I can’t imagine, for example, having anybody living in the house with me for two days and nights [in a row], apart from my aunt, who is 85, but even that’s possible only in certain circumstances, [and] so [it’s] also difficult, but [it’s also] getting [ever] closer to [being] grotesque, and that’s what makes it bearable.  But even that doesn’t work for longer than a week.  But then naturally you sometimes [feel] the need all the same, and then there are people you could [be with], in Brussels or Vienna or Zurich or wherever; that’s difficult, you know.  I would have to move to a city, but I can’t afford to do that for health reasons, because in the city I’d simply shut down.  I am of course hardly a born country dweller.  I have pretty much zero interest in nature, in either plants or in little birds, because I can’t tell them apart from one another, and to this day I don’t [even] know what an ordinary blackbird looks like.  But I do know one thing for sure: that with my bronchial tubes I can’t live in the city over the long term.  [It’s gotten to the point] that during the winter I don’t leave the farm at all anymore, because I practically kill myself if I [go to] the city.  So there are really only these two possibilities: either you’re in the city, where things are interesting, but where I [am bound to] perish, or you have one person [around], but they eventually get on your nerves.  This [is a problem] that obviously [can’t] ever be solved.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: In your book The Voice Imitator, there is a passage [2] in which you more or less invite the reader to assassinate all the presidents of the central European countries.  If this [passage] had appeared not in a book issued by a literary publisher under the protective label of art, but in a political[ly partisan] newspaper, you would now be lumbered with a lawsuit for being a sympathizer…

THOMAS BERNHARD: Of course I am a sympathizer, but I don’t know what I’m [sympathetic] to.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: [What] I mean [is that] nowadays you can say what you want, it’ll be printed, and nobody will be shocked by it.

THOMAS BERNHARD: I don’t know [about] that.  I wrote for example a letter to Die Zeit, it was about three months ago now, a kind of spontaneous thing [directed] against Kreisky.  They let it sit on their desks for five weeks, and then they wrote to me that they’d forwarded it to someplace or other, and that it had vanished without a trace there.  You don’t even want to try to involve Ms. Hintermüller in this sort of thing.  I’m just trying to say that I’m every bit as subject as everybody else is to machinations and contingencies.  If these people don’t want Kreisky to suffer a [single] scratch from anything, because he’s popular there and they think of him as a crazy [little] boy, then even I might as well not bother formulating anything in my [usual] ironic vein, because it’s simply not going to be printed.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Did you put up any sort of fight to get it printed?  Did you struggle on behalf of it?

THOMAS BERNHARD: It obviously would have been idiotic to struggle against the editorial office of Die Zeit, which is staffed entirely by affable, unregenerate opportunists.  It really wouldn’t have made any sense whatsoever.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: So who else is left there [at the paper]?  Who’s there whom you don’t regard as an idiot?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Why, nobody; that’s my whole point.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: But then it’s just as I say: you rail against everybody indiscriminately, such that eventually nobody [will] take you seriously anymore, and your attacks [will] never reach their mark.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Why shouldn’t they reach it?  They either have their [intended] effect or they don’t.  In any case, the attacker can’t give any consideration to that.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Who are you thinking of as you’re writing?

THOMAS BERNHARD: That is of course a completely stupid question.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Oh, [it’s] not all that stupid.  Do you think about somebody you’re angry at, or sometimes even about somebody who understands you? 

THOMAS BERNHARD: I don’t think about anybody who might end up reading it, because I’m absolutely uninterested in who reads it.  I have my fun in writing, which is enough for me.  You just want to keep doing it better and with more concentration, the way a dancer is always trying to dance better, but of course that just happens on its own, because everybody, no matter what he does, through repetition gets clos[er] to perfection, it’s exactly the same in the case of a table-tennis player as in the case of a show-jumper and a writer and a swimmer and a chambermaid or charwoman.  After five years she’ll also clean better than on her first day, when she broke everything and ruined more things than she cleaned.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Isn’t writing always also an attempt to get in touch with people?

THOMAS BERNHARD: I certainly have no desire whatsoever to get in touch with anybody.  When have I ever tried to get in touch with anybody?  To the contrary: I’ve always rebuffed every attempt to get in touch with me.  [All the] letters [I get] I chuck straightaway into the trash, because it’s just technically impossible to deal with them; to do that I’d have to act like these sodding writers who maintain two secretaries and reply to everybody and suck up to every asshole at their heels by [sending them] a nice little note.  I want my work to be printed so that a book comes [out] and then I’m through with it.  Then I stick it in my cabinet so I don’t lose it and also because it looks very nice there.  I write my things on really cheap, poor-quality absorbent paper, and I very much relish the changeover to [a proper] typeface, and then my publisher sends me some money once a month, and at that point the whole story is over.  I simply have no desire as of yet to give this up, [to give up] writing and the states it puts me into, because I find it an enormous amount of fun and because I actually don’t need anything else and because I also get the feeling that I’m doing something that nobody [else can] replicate, not only here [in Austria], but [also] anywhere [else] in the world.  Between forty and sixty is the ideal age for a writer of prose pieces; for some people it’s younger, but I’m a late developer, and it would be crazy to kill this off when [I’m] only just reaching [my] peak.  [I] really would have to be insane to do that.  But of course nobody’s immune to going insane…

ANDRÉ MÜLLER:  Of course I have absolutely no desire for you to stop writing.  It’s just that I was thinking that being in touch with somebody who understands you and likes you might actually be beneficial to your work.

THOMAS BERNHARD: I thrive only when I’m alone as much as possible, no matter what that entails, and of course [what it entails] is basically nothing but inconveniences, but I don’t mind that at all; I positively love things that other people would [never] want to have anything to do with.  I dare you to try to make Handke live here for three days; he’d run away to his daughter screaming.  He’s just a feeble, tender little family boy, [and] yet [he] keeps banging on about loneliness.  These are precisely the [kind of] people who absolutely can’t bear to be alone, because being alone actually takes quite a fair amount of effort.  Whoever can’t [make that effort will] never be able to write the way I write either; whether that’s significant or not these days is of course a moot point.  Handke has his darling little daughter.  That is something that totally rubs me the wrong way, because I have always been against families and all that stuff, because I simply can’t stand people who have a family and have a child and lavish ski suits and junk like that on the child at Christmas and take the child with them [when they visit] their tony publisher at St. Moritz; I am repelled to the point of horror by it, [by] these people who one minute are off to this place and the next to that place and get themselves invited to America and lecture there and immediately after writing something run to an editorial office so the whole thing [can] appear in the newspaper two days later, I find that simply horrifying.  I don’t care for it, and I don’t do it either.  Other people are naturally irritated and put off by this.  But I couldn’t care less.  It is [one of my] strength[s] that I [can] keep the lid on my cookie jar.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Can you clarify why you’re so put off by families with children?  You have said that mothers everywhere should have their ears cut off.

THOMAS BERNHARD: I said that because I think people are mistaken in believing that they’re bringing children into the world.  The whole thing is incredibly trashy.  Obviously they end up with adults, not children.  They give birth to a sweaty, plug-ugly, potbellied pub landlord or mass murderer—that’s what they they’re delivered of, not children.  People say they’re having a baby, but in reality they’re having an eighty-year-old who pees all over himself and stinks and is blind and has a limp and can’t move anymore because of gout—that’s what they’re bringing into the world.  But they don’t see this, and so nature keeps coming out on top and the whole shitty business keeps perpetuating itself.  But of course I don’t give a damn.  My situation can only ever be that of a ludicrous…I really don’t want to say “parrot” because that would sound much too grandiose…so let’s make it an “obstreperous little bird.”  This little bird just makes a bit of noise, and then it vanishes and it’s gone.  The forest is large, and so is the darkness.  Sometimes in the forest there’s a screech owl that won’t leave [the other animals] in peace.  That’s all I am.  And I also have absolutely no desire to be anything more.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: You write in your autobiography that your signature characteristic is indifference.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Here again is something that can’t just be taken in as is.  I’m not indifferent to anything, but I have to be indifferent to everything, because [I] couldn’t keep going otherwise.  That’s the only thing that could possibly be said on the subject.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: How important is your aunt to your life and your work?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Since I was nineteen she has been absolutely the most important person in my life.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Are you frightened by the thought of her death?

THOMAS BERNHARD: I find that thought almost unbearable, but we’ll see; it’s obviously going to happen pretty soon now.  It could completely bowl me over, if I’m to be totally honest, yes, it could do that.  Then I’ll certainly be done for…but you can really say that only once the thing has taken place, because it is of course impossible to anticipate anything.  When she dies she’ll be dead.  Then I’ll ring you up…so you can be my uncle.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: So you’re saying there’s such a thing as a person who’s indispensable, somebody one belongs to?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Some milkmaid will always turn up somewhere and sometime or other [to fill the gap].  No, of course there’s no such thing.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: So you pretty much stand by the statement: “I want to be alone”?

THOMAS BERNHARD: I have no choice, do you understand?  In order to enjoy life the way I want to, I have no choice but to be alone.  The fact is that being near other people is lethal to me.  But that’s no reason to feel sorry for me.  Everybody has only himself to blame for all [his troubles].

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: Is there anything that could serve as a substitute for writing in your life?

THOMAS BERNHARD:  There’s no such thing as a substitute for anything.  I could [always] take up cycling, but do you [really] think that would work as a substitute for something?

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: What will you do if one fine day you stop getting new ideas?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Questions like that get you nowhere.  It’s like asking a singer what she would do without her voice.  What is she supposed to say in reply?  That she’d sing silently?  Come what may, every time you’ve written something you think that it’s over, that you really can’t do it again and really don’t want to do it again.  But nothing else interests me.

ANDRÉ MÜLLER: And what if tomorrow you meet the love of your life?

THOMAS BERNHARD: I couldn’t do a thing to stop it.    


[1] Editors' note: First printed in Die Zeit, Hamburg, June 29, 1979.
The interview was pitched [thus] by the editors: “This week [{specifically} on July 6, 1979] Thomas Bernhard’s new play The Eve of Retirement will receive its premiere in Stuttgart in a production by Claus Peymann.  In our interview, Bernhard, the Great Unapproachable One, for the first time outside of his books provides information about himself —about suicide and sexuality, writing and being alone.”  The letter to Die Zeit referred to in the conversation was printed in a box in the text of the interview; see p. 173 f. in this volume.*

*Translator's sub-note: My translation of this letter follows:

For many years now the chancellor of our republic. Mr. Kreisky, has maintained on every occasion he deems suitable that he probably understands Musil better than any of his contemporaries, because he believes that this proves him to be a person of intellectual stature, but in fact it merely proves that he is a petit-bourgeois.  Even in the pages of your magazine supplement, he flogs away at Musil, who is incapable of putting up a fight against this jumped-up reader’s unflagging, trendy, prima donna-ish adulation.  In the nature of things, this Musil complex of our resident solo entertainer, as which our chancellor has been privileged to regard himself for nearly a decade in this country, is detrimental not to Musil, for Musil remains Musil, but, as bad luck would have it, to Kreisky, who has long since ceased to be Kreisky.  Our prime minister’s appearances no longer provoke laughter, because everybody is aware of the cost that they exact.  This god-awful con artist, a full-blooded politician in the most punctiliously true sense of the term, appears more often now in the role of the aging, self-satisfied governmental clown, a sort of more soul-stirring albeit more expensive Charlie Rivel, who now has eyes only for his own once-infectious but now long-since played-out high jinks—as such a figure he now appears on the political stage, which, thank God, is reserved for him only here in this sweet-tempered and insidiously liberal country [known as] Austria.  For years he has been the habitually beloved subscription-holding chancellor with the best shtick, the chancellor who helps no one and harms no one, a sort of sweet-and-sour Tito of the Salzkammergut and the Vienna ballrooms, a figure whose disappearance everyone dreads.  As if the sun would set for ever if Kreisky’s star were to set!  In his Ballhausplatz arts section, which is not half as calculatedly outrageous as he himself is, the chancellery subscriber hawks the wares of this personal general store of his that is Austria with a knowing wink and in the argot and through the philosophical lenses of the favorite clerk who, circumstances being what they are, because the boss is gone, runs the shop like a dedicated embassy of good news.  Being the clever national-political stock boy that he is, he conceals the fact that everything is quite different from what it appears.  Kreisky the shop clerk, a veritable Nestroy, hence an important figure in world literature, albeit probably and unfortunately not in world history, maintains that he is running a fantastically successful business, even though he knows full well that it is bankrupt and that the shelves are bare.  Not a single sachet of genuine, unadulterated socialism is any longer to be found in the lowest bottom drawer.  For a full decade now he has been piggybacking on his customers just like the spoiled-rotten goods of Heinz Conrads [nestled] under Hundertwasser on his shelf-warmers.  

[2] Müller presumably refers to “Staatsgeschichte” (“Political Science”), on pp. 158-9 (p. 92 in Northcott’s translation).

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 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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