Monday, June 02, 2014

A Translation of "Ich bin kein Skandalautor" (Thomas Bernhard interviewed [again] by Jean-Louis Rambures in Le Monde)

I’m No Scandalmonger

JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES: What are you complaining about?  For six months you’ve been the only thing anybody talks about.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Yes, but only as if I were a fit subject for tabloid sensationalism.  Coming from the Austrians it’s a normal reaction, but coming from the Germans it’s something that really puzzles me, because of course, as everybody knows, they’re the ones who brought efficiency and seriousness into the world.  I personally quite enjoy sensational news stories.  But when a literary critic sues an author and drags him into court—that in my opinion is no longer a laughing matter.  The interdiction was issued by a judge who had had only an hour to read the book.  The police went into each and every bookstore to confiscate each and every copy.  In the last two weeks I have received fourteen summonses.  But not once in the first six weeks did the judge deem it necessary to summon me.  What was that all about?  They’ve said it’s a private matter.  But if you’re wise to the thousand ways in which a sentence can be interpreted, in my opinion it was the government that initiated this suit against me.

JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES: Despite this your novel is on the bestseller list for the first time.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Yes, but for a totally unwholesome reason.  People have been buying my book because they’ve expected it to contain scandalous revelations, whereas it’s actually just about a handful of harmless nobodies that those sorts of readers have probably never even heard of.  I can just picture them yawning with boredom by the third page.  And at that point I’ve lost those readers for ever.  I’m no scandalmonger.  My expectations of my readers are of an entirely different order.  At most three or four thousand people are genuinely interested in my work; at best seventeen thousand people are capable of following me.

JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES: Did you think as you were writing the book that the originals of your characters might recognize themselves?

THOMAS BERNHARD: The whole point of a book is to make the people in it recognizable to themselves.  I write in order to provoke.  Where else would the joy in writing come from?  Of course, if you’re trying to avoid all contact with the judicial system and the masses, it’s better to write poems, which nobody will understand, not even their author himself, and then you can content yourself with attaining the highest degree of musicality in your writing.  That also allows you to keep winning literary prizes.  But I have no interest in that; I’m a writer who calls a spade a spade.

JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES: You have apparently declared war on the entirety of creation.

THOMAS BERNHARD: Not at all.  To the contrary, I never cease to marvel at the world just as it is.  The other day as I was about to go to sleep, I found on my bed a butterfly that was half frozen to death from the cold.  Throughout the night I tried not to move so I wouldn’t injure it.  Even my childhood was wonderful.  But even the most beautiful thing in the world becomes hideous as soon as you start reflecting on it.  Compare all the promises that are hidden in a ten-year-old child with what that child turns into twenty-five years later.  The world consists of and subsists on nothing but defeats.

JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES:  Do you hope to contribute to changing the world through your work?

THOMAS BERNHARD: For God’s sake, if the world changed I’d obviously be condemned to silence!  Rage and despair are the only things that keep me going, and I’m lucky enough to have found the ideal spot for both of them in Austria.  Are you aware of many countries in which a cabinet minister can take extra-special pains to salute the “homecoming” of an SS officer responsible for the deaths of thousands of people?  It all makes sense if you know that this minister hails from Salzburg and that his entire family—with whom, by the way, I’m very well acquainted—has been made up of musicians for generations.  On the first floor somebody’s playing the violin.  In the basement somebody’s turning on the gas-taps.  A typically Austrian mélange of music and Nazism.  Yes, indeed: if this country should ever change, there would be nothing left for me to do but emigrate.


[1] Editors' note.  First published in French translation: Le Monde, Paris, February 2, 1985.  First published in German in a retranslation by Monika Natter (prefatory note [inexplicably omitted from my source text (DR)]) and  Isabelle Pignal, in Von einer Katastrophe in die andere [From One Catastrophe to the Next], edited by Sepp Dressinger, (Weitra, 1992), pp. 119-123.  (The present translation, like that of the earlier Le Monde interview, is a re-retranslation from the German. [DR].)

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. 231-233.

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