Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Translation of "Bernhards Plädoyer," a 1984 letter from Thomas Bernhard to the editors of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Bernhard’s Plea
On the lawsuit in Vienna
Occasioned by Woodcutters [1]

I know that in central Europe it is unprecedented for a literary critic and editor of the literary supplement of a so-called reputable newspaper to haul an author and fellow-countryman into court on account of a work of art produced by this author.  Mr. Haider can be motivated by nothing but animosity towards me.  I have seen him in person exactly three times in my life: first six years ago in Trieste, where a so-called symposium on my work was held.  He spoke to me, but he did not interest me. Next, at a dinner-table at the hotel Regina a year ago, when he nodded at me.  Then, at the airport at Frankfurt am Main a couple of weeks ago, when he nodded at me.  Mr. Haider nodded and waved and immediately looked down at the floor.

Mr. Haider urged Mr. Lampersberg to file this complaint that Mr. Lampersberg has filed against me.  Mr. Haider maintains that my character Auersberger in Woodcutters is Mr. Lampersberg.  Mr. Lampersberg has nothing to do with my Auersberger.  Mr. Auersberger in my book is called Auersberger and not Lampersberg, and all the places in my book are different from the places inhabited by Mr. Lampersberg.  That Mr. Lampersberg glimpses resemblances to himself in my Mr. Auersberger is possible, because every reader glimpses resemblances to himself in the text he is reading.

And so from now on all the people who discover some sort of resemblance to themselves in every book are going to run to the law courts and have these books in which they have detected some resemblance confiscated.  And all these readers who have detected some resemblance can rest assured that the book that they have run to the courts to lodge a complaint against and in which they could not help detecting some resemblance will be confiscated.

Even before the author of one of these books has been questioned, armed policemen are being sent into all the Austrian bookstores, and the books supposedly containing something that the instigator of confiscation supposedly construes as a resemblance are being confiscated.  All at the behest of the instigator of confiscation, absent any say from the author.  The instigator of confiscation can look on with delight at the confiscation of the book in which he has detected some sort of resemblance to himself; the author too can look on at this confiscation, albeit with the greatest concern, nay, with outright horror!

The court is confiscating a book that nobody can have known the slightest thing about at the moment of the confiscation order, and doing so solely at the behest of the instigator of confiscation and on the additional evidence of the instigator of confiscation’s gross misquotation from an advance copy.

The court is confiscating on the additional evidence of an expert opinion delivered by Haider the literary critic, an opinion that is not merely bristling with errors but also catastrophically misconceived at its very core.

The court is also making this catastrophically error-ridden, false, and mendacious expert opinion its own, in the text of its confiscation order, and is having the book confiscated and does not even know who the author of this book is, because it has yet to hear a word of testimony from him, as is evident, and it is confiscating the book in a coup de main; it is summarily slamming the book shut.  Justice has in this case flagrantly disregarded its duty of care. 

The author has seen how his books have been cleared out of the bookstores by police brutality, and is completely helpless.  The author awaits a written statement from the court.  No such statement arrives.  A full six weeks (mark my words: six weeks!) after the confiscation the author receives from the court a summons in which it is mentioned that a hearing against him is scheduled for November 9.  For six long weeks the court deemed the author unworthy of the most trifling communication.  The author has been treated as a minor by the Austrian judicial system.  The court, which has carried out the confiscation and thereby inflicted irreparable injury on the author, has violated the author’s rights in the crassest fashion.  I am certain that in any other country in Europe, apart from the eastern dictatorships, such a procedure would be impossible.

The author has written a book entitled Woodcutters, in which a dinner party hosted by a Mr. and Mrs. Auersberger serves as the setting of the happenstances and circumstances of this book.  This Mr. and Mrs. Auersberger have nothing to do with the plaintiff, Mr. Auersberger.  Mr. Lampersberg, who used to be called Lampersberger and who in recent decades has been repeatedly and in any case at least partially declared a legal minor, sees resemblances to himself in my book.  That is his problem.  To drag me into court with the assistance of Mr. Haider and to inflict irreparable injury not only on me but in the final analysis on every writer of fictional literature in this country with the assistance of a frivolously finagled judicial confiscation order ought not to be his privilege.

In a radio interview Mr. Haider has proclaimed that he trusts the court implicitly!  What a fine future writers and literature have to look forward to in the house of Austria, a future when literary critics will automatically place their implicit trust in the courts!  I suggest to Mr. Haider that he look through all my previously published books to see if he comes across many more characters who bear plausible comparison to certain people.  He will track down hundreds of such apparent dead ringers in my books, and then, I presume, successfully incite each of their supposed counterparts to file a lawsuit against me.

Perhaps in the future it will be the remit of this country’s literary critics to alert semblable depictees to their depicted semblables and to bring the originators of these depictions to court.  And perhaps in the future it will be the remit of our judicial system to pass judgment on written works of art and in one case after another frivolously, nay, blindly to hound authors with a radical confiscation order, as it has done in the case of my Woodcutters.

In this trial there are only two guilty parties: Mr. Haider and the judicial system, which has evinced neither the slightest regard for its obligations nor the faintest consciousness of its responsibilities.  That this judicial system will be chastened as a result of having behaved so uncouthly and negligently I do not believe.  I am standing before the bench of an Austrian court for the fourth and not the first time under the auspices of a complaint that never would have been brought to trial in any other central European country and certainly not in any so-called civilized nation, and therefore I must submit myself for the fourth time to a judicial procedure that is nothing but depressing and degrading and in the long run incapacitating to my artistic work, which is my sole mission in life; and it really would seem as though the government of this country had no other interest in me beyond dragging me into court from time to time.

What is coming to light here is intolerable to an accused party in any reputable Austrian courtroom.  Literally abrading and degrading and intolerable.  And it ought not to be happening.  Any paragraphs in our judicial code that allow such intolerable conditions to be imposed on defendants and accused parties ought to be summarily abolished.  Such paragraphs hardly redound to the credit of a country’s system of government and render that system not merely ridiculous but also ominous.  My book has been dragged through the dirt thanks to the plaintiff and his abettor, their lawsuit, and its consequences.  It is high time for the book to be pulled back out of that dirt.

Thomas Bernhard 

[1] Editors’ note.  First published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 15, 1984.  Below the article the editors remarked, “Dr. Hans Haider is the cultural editor of the Viennese daily newspaper Die Presse.”

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), pp. 226-230.


Monday, May 05, 2014

A Translation of "Verbot," a 1984 letter from Thomas Bernhard to the editors of Die Presse

Interdiction [1]

I have given my German publisher Unseld immediately effective instructions not to issue my books in Austria for the duration of the legal copyright, in other words from today onwards until 75 years after my death.   This interdiction of publication applies in every single jurisdiction of Austria and to every single one of my books.

As the Austrian government’s interest in me and my work has for decades consisted exclusively in dragging me and my work into court from time to time, my decision is merely logical.

For the fourth and not the first time, I am now being subjected in my capacity as an author to one of these ridiculous multi-year trials for which the government of this country is responsible.

Regard for the state of my health alone precludes me from indulging in degrading and humiliating trials of this sort, which could never possibly take place in any other central European country.

Thomas Bernhard

[1] Editors' note: First published in Die Presse, Vienna, November 9, 1984.  The letter was printed below the headline Bernhard Prohibits Publication of His Books in Austria and the following prefatory remark: “In a statement sent to Die Presse on Thursday, the Austrian author Thomas Bernhard announced that he had instructed his publisher Siegfried Unseld of the Frankfurt-based firm Suhrkamp to cease issuing his books in Austria.  The statement, entitled ‘Interdiction,’ is connected with the confiscation of Bernhard’s latest book Woodcutters and reads as follows:”


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), p. 225.

A Translation of "Ich hab' praktisch ehh alle gegen mich" (Thomas Bernhard interviewed by Brigitte Hofer in 1984).

I Can Count Practically Every Single One of Them as an Enemy [1]

BRIGITTE HOFFER: We reached Thomas Bernhard by telephone in the afternoon.  He spoke in a relaxed tone.

THOMAS BERNHARD: At the moment it’s no concern of mine.  It’s first and foremost a financial matter, isn’t it?—something Suhrkamp has got to contend with.  And of course one has got to know who initiated it; as of now, I don’t know nothin’.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: You don’t know who initiated it?

THOMAS BERNHARD: No, and if I had to guess who it was … a whole gang of writers are secretly behind it, writers who of course are known to me.  I can count practically every single one of them as an enemy, and of course they’re always ringing one another up.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: Is what’s happening now a confirmation of your book?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Yes, but of course these people are much more horrible than anything that can be put in writing.  That’s the truth.  They ring one another up even in connection with the “Best-of List,” as in the past year’s best [i.e., books? (DR)]: “We can’t allow so-and-so to score one more point”’; there are about fifteen people who get together and fix the whole thing; but the whole thing’s a stupid joke anyway, isn’t it?

BRIGITTE HOFFER: But perhaps they, too, feel they’ve been horribly dealt with in some way.


BRIGITTE HOFFER: Why, by you, of course, via your book!

THOMAS BERNHARD: But what’s in the book isn’t of my making; it’s just the plain and simple truth!  These people commit acts of the most wanton savagery and think they can go on committing them for decades, behind everybody’s back, but they simply can’t.  At some point somebody really has said such things.  Except that in the book the names, the places, are different, which means it’s legally unassailable, to my mind.  But now it is a legal matter, isn’t it?— in Austria if you can be sued for something, somebody will sue you for it.  I obviously can’t do a thing about that—except inasmuch as I have plenty experiences with such cases, like for instance the time, ten years ago, when I said that a certain priest had a rosy peasant’s face, and I was prosecuted for it.  That kind of thing is always possible in Austria.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: Sure, but when you use names like, for instance, Jeannie...

THOMAS BERNHARD: You can check for yourself if she’s called “Jeannie Bilroth,” since nobody should ever write a book again, because everybody’s going to recognize herself in some part of it.  The book is half made up and half true; it’s a mixture, so what’s all the fuss about?  Basically the horribleness of people beggars any possible description; that’s the gist of what I think.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: Are you angry right now?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Well, I mean, what am I supposed to do?  I’ve always been alone, and that’s always going to be a done deal.  There’s nothin’ to say: if somebody wants to sue me, if somebody does sue me, there’s nothin’ I can do. When and only when they do I’ll have somethin’ to say.  When you’re taken to court, you have to say somethin’, to testify—that I know, because after all I have already been through three trials.

BRIGITTE HOFFER: Were you ever convicted at the end of any of these trials?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Each of them ended in an out-of-court settlement.

[1] Editors' note: Transcript of an interview first aired on the ORF program Abendjournal on August 29, 1984.  First published in Von einer Katastrophe in die andere, edited by Sepp Dreissinger, Weitra, 1992, pp. 114-118.

The interviewer, Brigitte Hoffer, provided a spoken introduction: “Austria’s cultural life is one scandal richer.  At the request of a plaintiff whose identity is not known, the author Thomas Bernhard’s latest book, entitled Woodcutters, was confiscated under the auspices of an interlocutory injunction.  The plaintiff believed himself libeled by Bernhard’s novel, which deals very roughly with Austria’s creative artists. Bernhard attacks the Austrian cultural scene in general and the Burgtheater in particular.  The publication of the German firm of Suhrkamp was delivered to the bookstores only a few days ago and has now disappeared from them.

“A soiree in the Gentzgasse in Vienna.  Everyone is awaiting the dinnertime arrival of a prominent Burgtheater actor who wishes to mingle with the illustrious guests after a premiere of The Wild Duck—this is the setting and starting-point of Thomas Bernhard’s latest book Woodcutters, a book that like many other works of the great literary lone wolf unceremoniously settles his score with Austria, with its culture and its cultural scene.

“A sample passage: ‘The career of the majority of artists in Austria consists in currying favor with and sponging off the government, no matter who is in power, throughout one’s life.  The career of an Austrian artist is a vulgar and mendacious path of governmental opportunism that is paved with stipends and prizes and wallpapered with medals and merit badges and ends in a grave of honor in the Central Cemetery.’

“Bernhard’s chief targets this time round are artists and cultural functionaries—men and women of letters, Burgtheater actors, composers with fictitious names.  A certain person detected a portrait of himself in Bernhard’s text and filed a lawsuit.  His lawyer, Dr. Edwin Morent, says, ‘I am in no position to divulge my client’s name.  I can only say that Thomas Bernhard’s work is a roman à clef that personally attacks my client’s right of publicity.   In the light of the danger that would be occasioned by any delay, the Vienna Regional court has issued an interlocutory injunction.  On the authority of this injunction our security services, meaning the police departments and constabularies throughout Austria, have already been ordered to prohibit any further sale of the novel and to confiscate all copies of the novel from the booksellers.’”

The background: On August 21, 1984, the composer Gerhard Lampersberg, whom Bernhard had befriended in the nineteen-fifties, had at the Vienna Regional Court filed a complaint against Thomas Bernhard and Siegfried Unseld for defamation of character and libel in the novel Woodcutters, and had immediately requested an interlocutory injunction.  The request was granted on August 27, 1984, and the book was removed from all Austrian bookstores on August 29.  The book critic of the Viennese daily newspaper Die Presse, Hans Haider, being in possession of an advance copy of the novel, had informed Lampersberg of the contents of Woodcutters (See also “"Interdiction" and “Bernhard’s Plea” [yet to be translated (DR)]).  The complaint was withdrawn by Lampersberg at the beginning of 1985. 


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), pp. 223-224.

A Translation of "Alle Menschen sind Monster, sobald sie ihren Panzer lüften" (Thomas Bernhard interviewed by Jean-Louis Rambures in Le Monde)

All Human Beings Are Monsters As Soon As They Show Their Armor [1]

THOMAS BERNHARD: Certain people are of the opinion that I live in an ivory tower.  But these days the very idea of an ivory tower is moronic.  With a simple transistor radio you can get lost simultaneously in eternal snow and in the social world.  You can’t find anonymity in the country anymore; you find it, rather, in the larger cities.  The fields have made way for urban districts, the sunflowers for city streets.  What’s more, today the cities are what the country used to be—places in which nothing ever happens and in which life, to the extent that it still exists and you aren’t an actual professional pollster, has become completely invisible.  It was on my doctor’s advice that I settled in the country after my years of wandering.  “If you don’t change your life,” he threatened, “you’ll go kaput.”  For all my fascination with the word “kaput,” I opted for serenity.  But the serenity didn’t last long, and I soon realized what a mistake I had made.  In the country everybody knows everybody, and every day, whether you like it or not, you are confronted by fate in the form of births and deaths.  There’s a lot of industry around here, and you can’t take one step without running into victims, people who have been made into cripples by machines.  It’s certainly a very stimulating region for a writer.

JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES: Why are you so allergic to interviews?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Try to picture yourself being shackled hand and foot to a tree, and someone firing a machine gun at you.  Don’t you think that would make you a bit tense?

My starting-point is the principle that a conversation between people who don’t know each other is impossible.  I’m happy to concede that people who see each other constantly are capable of parrying each other’s opinions.  Like, for instance, a married couple bickering over a recipe in the kitchen.  But I find that every other form of conversation has something overblown, constrained, about it.  And that’s especially strong when the parties are seeing each other for the first time.  It’s a bit like an orchestra when it starts rehearsing.  It takes months for it to find the right sound.  And when people finally understand each other, conversation once again becomes pointless—not because you no longer have anything to say, because you always have something to say, but simply because talking has become superfluous.  To put it another way, conversation is meant for people who haven’t yet reached this point [i.e., of mutual understanding].

JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES: In any case one has to admit you’re right.  Your argument is quite alarmingly logical.

THOMAS BERNHARD: In any case everybody is right.  That’s the drama of the whole thing.  I really don’t care for the expression “in any case,” though; it has an air of tragic security about it.  When you use this little phrase, you climb into a crevasse and fancy you’re going to come out from the other end as you would from the emergency exit of a cinema, whereas in fact crevasses have something about them that keeps you from coming out from their other end.

JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES: Let’s move on to the subject of your books.  Why since 1975 have you set aside novel-writing in favor of autobiography?

THOMAS BERNHARD: I have never written a novel, but merely prose texts of greater or lesser length, and I’m going to take care not to describe them as novels; I don’t know what the word means.  I haven’t ever wanted to write an autobiographical work either; I have a genuine aversion to all things autobiographical.  The fact is that at a certain moment in my life I got curious about my childhood.  I said to myself, “I haven’t much longer to live.  Why not try to record my life up to the age of nineteen?  Not as it was in reality—there’s no such thing as objectivity—but as I see it today.” 

When I was planning the book I envisaged it as a single slim volume.  A second one emerged.  Then yet another one…until the point when I started to get bored.  In the end childhood is always just childhood.  After the fifth volume I decided to call it a day.  [2]  In the case of each my books I’m always torn this way and that between a passion and a loathing for my chosen subject.

Every time my second thoughts get the upper hand, I resolve to give up intellectual pursuits for good and dedicate myself instead to purely material tasks, for example to chopping wood or plastering a wall, in the hope of recovering my good cheer.  My dream is of a never-ending wall and never-ending good cheer.  But after a stretch of time of greater or lesser length, I once again start to loathe myself for being unproductive, and despair about this drives me to seek refuge in my brain.  Sometimes I tell myself my instability is something I’ve inherited from my ancestors, who were a very heterogeneous bunch.  This bunch included farmers, philosophers, laborers, writers, geniuses, and morons, mediocre petit-bourgeois types, and even criminals.  All these people exist within me, and they never leave off fighting each other.  Sometimes I feel like committing myself into the custody of the goose-keeper, at other times into the custody of the thief or the murderer.  Because you’ve got to make choices, and every choice means precluding other choices; this round-dance ultimately drives me to the brink of madness.  Such that if I make it to the end of my matutinal shaving routine without killing myself in front of the mirror, I have only my cowardice to thank for it.

Cowardice, vanity, and curiosity are the three basic and essential impetuses to life, the things that keep it moving along, even though every conceivable rational argument gainsays this movement.  At any rate, that’s the way it seems to me today.  Because it may very well happen that tomorrow I’ll think something completely different. 

JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES: In each of your books, you iterate that every human action is pointless, because it’s ultimately doomed to perish.  And yet you go on writing.

THOMAS BERNHARD: The thing that impels me to write is quite simply my appetite for play.  You get an enjoyable feeling from staking everything on a single card and consequently knowing that every time you can either win the whole jackpot or lose it.  The risk of failure seems to me an essential stimulus.  There’s also a different kind of enjoyment in figuring out how to cope with words and sentences.  The actual subject-matter I think of as being quite secondary; all you have to do with it is scoop out of it the stuff that surrounds us.  I am convinced that in a very strict sense every human creature carries the weight of humanity as a whole.  The only thing that distinguishes individual people from one another is their way of coping with the world.

To get back to how I go about writing my books: I’d say that it’s a question of rhythm and has a lot to do with music.  Indeed, you can understand what I write only if you realize that the musical component is of uppermost importance, and that what I’m writing about only comes in secondarily.  Once that musical component is in place, I can begin to describe things and occurrences.  The problem lies in the How.  Unfortunately, critics in Germany have no ear for music, which is so essential to a writer.  I derive as much satisfaction from the musical element as from anything else; indeed, my enjoyment of the music is equal to my enjoyment of whatever idea it is I’m trying to express.

JEAN-LOUIS RAMBURES: The writer who can’t write—and I’m thinking in particular of all your heroes from The Lime Works onwards—is a recurring figure in your work.  Is this a problem for you personally?

THOMAS BERNHARD: Once I’ve reached my tempo of work, nothing can distract me.  When I was in Brussels working on the manuscript of my novel Gargoyles, a fire broke out in a large coffeehouse, the Café Innovation, quite close to the open window of the room I was sitting in.  I saw the sky darken and then metamorphose into a ball of flame.  As I sat there engrossed in the writing, I wondered why I wasn’t hearing any fire sirens.  By the time they sounded, the fire had already devoured everything. 

But before this period of studious industry there’s a period when the most trivial incident, even a visit by the postman, can call into question the whole project.  At such moments, the best system for combating your anxiety is to have no system or to take a plane trip and get lost somewhere—never mind where, as long as the landscape isn’t too pretty.  If I haven’t even started to write yet, the beauty of a place can actually have an enriching effect, in that it infuriates me.  But for the actual work I prefer some random place, or even a downright ugly one.  The beauty of cities like Rome, Florence, Taormina, or Salzburg is lethal to me.

JEAN-LOUIS RAMBURES: In An Indication of the Cause, you describe Salzburg as “a fatal illness that its inhabitants fall prey to at the moment of their birth.”  Isn’t that a bit of an exaggeration?

THOMAS BERNHARD: The more beautiful a city is on the outside, the more bewildering is its actual face, which it hides beneath the façade.  Walk into any restaurant in Salzburg.  At first glance you’ll get the impression that these are just nice, decent people.  But if you eavesdrop on your tablemates, you’ll notice that they’re dreaming of nothing but extermination and the gas chambers.  I’ve got a splendid anecdote for you.  Not long after An Indication of the Cause came out, the German critic [3] Jean Améry took me aside and said to me, “You can’t talk like that about Salzburg.  You’re forgetting it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.”  A few days later, after I’d read his review of my book in the Merkur, which I was still fuming over, because he’d understood absolutely nothing, I heard a piece of news over the television: the previous day Améry had killed himself, and in Salzburg of all places.  That’s no coincidence.  Just yesterday three people threw themselves into the Salzach.  Everybody blamed it on the föhn.  But I’m certain that there’s something about that town that physically weighs down on people and ultimately destroys them.

JEAN-LOUIS RAMBURES: Still, it seems that you have an extraordinary gift for detecting monsters everywhere.

THOMAS BERNHARD: All human beings are monsters as soon as they show their armor.  Incidentally, I know myself well enough to notice when I’m projecting my feelings onto other people.  To be sure, I am fascinated by monstrousness, but believe me:  I never make it up.  If reality strikes you as less outrageous than my contrivances, that’s just because in the real world the facts come to light in a piecemeal fashion.  In a book you’re unconditionally bound to avoid empty stretches.  The secret consists in inexorably piling up sheaves of reality more or less as one would in the initial abortive drafts of a manuscript.  Perhaps this is what commonly goes by the name of imagination.

JEAN-LOUIS RAMBURES: In West Germany the existence of a specifically Austrian literature is often denied.  Where do you stand on that question?

THOMAS BERNHARD: There’s no question about it.  Just take for instance pronunciation, the melody of speech.  There’s an absolutely essential difference.  My way of writing would be unthinkable in a German author, and what’s more I have a genuine antipathy to the Germans.

You also mustn’t forget the weight of history.  We bear the stamp of our imperial Hapsburg past.  Perhaps in my work it’s more visible than in other people’s.  It manifests itself in a genuine ambivalence to Austria that is ultimately the key to everything I write.

But that doesn’t stop me from setting myself apart from people who maintain that the state of the world is always worsening and that it’s always getting more absurd and unbearable.  Even if from your own vantage point you can discern nothing but ubiquitous ugliness and malodorousness, every minute that passes constitutes an augmentation of your experience.  You and I at this very moment have a decisive edge over everybody who died yesterday, in that we know what has happened since then.

JEAN-LOUS DE RAMBURES: You have a decisive talent for making every affirmative answer into a negative one.

THOMAS BERNHARD: There’s never been any such thing as a definitive answer.  And that’s fortunate, because if people ever ran out of questions to pose, their telos would have to be relocated to some point beyond the universe itself.
One thing alone is certain: death, that grill on which we all end up as sausages.  But nobody knows exactly what it consists of.

[1] Editors' note.  First published in French translation: Le Monde, Paris, January 7, 1983.
First published in German in a retranslation by Andres Müry in Von einer Katastrophe in die andere [From One Catastrophe to the Next], edited by Sepp Dressinger, (Weitra, 1992), pp. 104-113.  [The reader will have gathered by now that the present translation (like that of Nicole Casanova's interview with Bernhard) is a re-retranslation.  Presumably de Rambures kept no record of the interview in its original German or it would have appeared in Dressinger’s collection.  I would have preferred to translate from the less remotely derivative French version, but I could not even find a reference to the interview at the Le Monde website. (DR)]

The German version is prefaced by the following comment by the interviewer, Jean-Louis de Rambures: “It took me a year of negotiations to secure an initial rendezvous with Thomas Bernhard.  His German publisher repeatedly told me that this was a practically infeasible undertaking and, moreover, that he had never granted an interview to a French journalist [True only if Nicole Casanova was not a journalist (DR)].

Then one fine day my telephone rang: “Thomas Bernhard is waiting for you.  Don’t lose any time because he can change his mind on the spur of the moment.”

My heart was palpitating when I arrived at his house, a large square-shaped farmhouse, half monastery, half prison, in the Salzburg Prealps.  Had he not once kept his publisher waiting an entire morning with a set of galley proofs under his arm?  Thomas Bernhard was standing on his front doorstep and laughing: “You must admit I’ve given you a good scare.”

The interview was very stimulating.  Thomas Bernhard talked the way he wrote.  When the article appeared in Le Monde, I expected no reaction from his end.  I had written that he never replied to letters.  Hence, I was all the more surprised to discover some affectionate lines from him in my mailbox: “I can’t believe I said everything you wrote,” wrote Bernhard, “but I also can’t swear these sentences didn’t come from my mouth…”

[2] I haven’t ever wanted to write an autobiographical work...I decided to call it a day.  This passage is evidently the source of the remarks attributed to Bernhard by David McLintock in the introduction to Gathering Evidence, his translation of the five autobiographical texts.

[3] Améry was actually an Austrian.  I cannot but wonder if here, as in Bernhard's earlier reference to “critics in Germany” (albeit obviously not in his unfavorable comparison of German writing with Austrian writing towards the end) some elision of the distinction between Germans and German-speakers has taken place, though at which stage, at whose hands (Bernhard’s, De Rambures’s, or Müry’s), or whether deliberately or inadvertently, I would not dare to guess.  


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), pp. 216-222.