Friday, March 07, 2014

A Translation of "Zu meinem Austritt" by Thomas Bernhard

On My Exit [1]

The election of Scheel, the former president of the Federal Republic, to an honorary membership of the Academy for Language and Literature was of course for me only the last and definitive reason for breaking with this Academy for Language and Literature, [an organization] that in my opinion has not the slightest thing to do with either language or literature and whose right to exist every rational thinking person obviously must deny.  For years I have speculated about the potential significance of this so-called Darmstadt-based academy, and I have always been compelled to conclude that any sort of significance cannot be derived from an association that in the final analysis was chartered merely for the dubious purpose of promoting the preening self-regard of its self-conceited membership, an association that convenes twice a year for an orgy of self-adulation, where at great cost to the State it devours and imbibes sumptuous victuals and beverages served up with high-bourgeois pomp in first-class Darmstadt hotels, for the sake of shooting the breeze about its stale, boring literary pap for a bare week.  A writer or poet is a ridiculous enough figure to begin with, a figure whose presence is at best barely tolerable in any ordinary social setting, and how much more ridiculous and unconscionable is an entire horde of writers and poets and characters who fancy themselves writers or poets, all assembled in a heap!  Basically all these state-funded, traveling title-bearers come together after a year of mutual collegial acrimony for the sake of boring each other to tears for yet another week in Darmstadt.  The literary chit-chat in the lobbies of the hotels of little old Germany is of course the most repellent such chit-chat imaginable.  It stinks but it is of course all the stinkier for being state-subsidized.  Indeed, how pungently the collective steam of today’s state-subsidization of all sectors stinks to high heaven!  It is not fitting for writers and poets to be subsidized, least of all by a subsidized academy; they should instead be looking to subsidize themselves.

Now, the Academy for Language and Literature (the most absurd designation in the world!) annually publishes a yearbook; perchance there is some significance to this publication at least?  But every time and time and again in this yearbook nothing is published but so-called essays that have gathered a layer of dust even before they’re set in type, essays that, as I said, have nothing to do with either language or literature, and indeed have pretty much nothing to with intellectual matters of any sort, because they issue from the jammed-up typewriters of mindless gossips, of brainless busybodies, as we would say in Austria.  And what apart from these wearisome concoctions is [to be found] in this academic yearbook?  A long list of every possible and impossible honor these intellectual earthworms have “experienced” in the year that has just elapsed.  Mention should also be made, lest we forget, of a hypocritical “death roll” [filled] with abashed obituaries playing out a hand of deceased-members poker, with each notice being more embarrassing and moronic than its predecessor.  It is too bad that this yearbook is printed on an expensive kind of paper that is extremely unsuitable for use as tinder in my furnace at Ohlsdorf.  For this reason I have always had enormous difficulties every time the postman dumps his load of rubbish on to my doorstep.

But somebody will say that the Academy of Language and Literature (to whose founders ownership of the Büchner Prize has been retroactively ceded!) is after all responsible for awarding the Büchner Prize, supposedly the most prestigious literary distinction in all of Germany.  I don’t see why this obscure academy has to be responsible for awarding the Büchner Prize, when this prize can easily be awarded without the services of an academy—and least of all an Academy for Language and Literature, which is merely a conceptual and linguistic unique example of its own title, otherwise nothing.  I personally stopped taking the academy’s election seriously way back when, as they say, seven years ago to be precise.  Little by little I first became conscious of the dubiousness of this academy, and I came to take this dubiousness seriously literally in the blink of an eye, at the moment when I read that Mr Walter Scheel had been elected to this academy, and without further ado I made my exit.  If Mr Walter Scheel is entering, I can just as easily exit, I said to myself.

To the Academy for Language and Literature—which I deem the most dispensable thing in Germany and in the entire rest of the world, and which is certainly more detrimental than useful to poets (if there are any!) and writers (if there are any!)as well as to Mr. Scheel, I wish nothing but the best.  Upon the death of one of its members, the Darmstadt-based academy (for language and literature!) always automatically dispatches a black-bordered death notice with an always unvarying obituary text (a text whose linguistic and literary value is debatable).  Perhaps I too will someday be subjected to such treatment, and the academy will send out a notice in which it pays tribute not to one of its honorable members but rather to itself.

Th. B.

[1] Editors’ note: First published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December, 7, 1979.

The newspaper prefaced the text with the following leader: “The ostentatious exit of the author Thomas Bernhard from the German Academy for Language and Literature (in Darmstadt) has caused quite a sensation even outside literary circles.  The academy has responded here at length to Bernhard’s explanation (see the F.A.Z. of November 28).  Yesterday Bernhard, writing from Crete, sent our editorial office the following counter-reply.  In it he substantiates his exit more substantially, lending credence to the supposition that […] the election of Ex-president Walter Scheel as an honorary member was merely a pretext for [that] exit.”


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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