Monday, June 09, 2014

A Translation of "Vranitzky. Eine Erwiderung" by Thomas Bernhard.

Vranitzky.  A Rejoinder [1]

After a third-class cabaret artist, one who many years ago flopped at the Salzburg State Theater via some equally third-class plays, during a so-called television panel discussion threw a temper tantrum over the performance of my play The Scene-Maker at the Salzburg Festival, and indeed at that selfsame State Theater, before an audience of hundreds of thousands [2], the current finance minister, Mr. Vranitzky, appropriated the opportunistic stupidity of this cabaret artist and at the opening of the Vienna autumn trade fair denounced The Scene-Maker in an equally unappetizing fashion as having been financed with the taxpayers’ money, and in a downright repellent fashion dragged the play through the ephemeral political dirt in front of an audience of thousands and an array of so-called leading governmental figures, among them the president of the national assembly and the socialist trade union president, Mr. Benja.

The post of Austrian finance minister—in other words, moneybag-holder of our microstate—a microstate that basically for years has been deliriously auto-intoxicated under the auspices of a pseudosocialist prepotency—is not exactly a job that you’d leap out of your chair to get, as they say, and the current finance minister, Mr. Vranitzky, is the finance minister of a microstate that has long since become the butt of jokes about provincial yokels, a microstate with which thinking human beings have long since ceased to be able to identify.  The fact that such a provincial yokel of a finance minister has presumed to proscribe a form of theater because it isn’t his cup of tea and because it doesn’t slather his ears and the ears of his friends with the usual complement of opportunistic Austrian arty schmaltz is an enormity and affords ample food for thought.

Mr. Vranitzky, it would seem, hasn’t a clue about art and culture, and, like most of his colleagues, he cannot comprehend the signs of the times.  Mr. Vranitsky has a curious, but for all that thoroughly demonic, concept of culture, as is becoming apparent.  Like most of his colleagues, Mr. Vranitsky is not very clever, and he is very much one of those dubious Kreiskyesque pin-striped salon socialists who have carried our Austrian state, the state of the Second Republic, to where it is today, namely the cesspit of ridiculousness [2] (Old Masters!)—to the very bottom of that cesspit.

Mr. Vranitzky says that it is scandalous that the Salzburg Festival has presented a performance of a play by Thomas Bernhard, and he says it publicly and in front of a general audience and in his capacity as finance minister, which is unprecedented and cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged.  It would be merely unoriginally stupid of Mr. Vranitzky to say what he has said in private, but he has said it in his capacity as finance minister, and has therefore actually broken the law according to my lights.  Mr. Vranitzky has as it were called for the wholesale condemnation of the work of Thomas Bernhard and recommended applying the infernal brakes of censorship on art and culture in the manner of Metternich, Stalin, and Hitler.  Mr. Vranitzky has made this unmistakably clear.

Whether or not the Salzburg Festival puts on one of my plays is the Festival’s own business, not Mr. Vranitzky’s.

Mr. Vranitzky can express his personal views just like anybody else, but he is not permitted in his capacity as finance minister to incite prohibition and censorship in the most brutal and ham-fisted terms just because he thinks this will go over well before a keyed-up business-oriented audience on a sunny morning at the trade hall.  Mr. Vranitzky is availing himself of a tried and tested method of disparagement: he is maintaining that I am against Austria and against the Austrians, but I am of course neither against Austria nor against the Austrians; rather, like millions of others, because I care about this country I am against the current Austrian government and against the current Austrian state apparatus that is operated by this government.  But cabinet ministers like Finance Minister Vranitzky have from time immemorial lost all capacity to draw distinctions whenever their thoroughly opportunistic careerist’s brains have found such a loss expedient.

Mr. Vranitzky believes that only a moribund and completely insignificant minority who don’t count are against the currently prevailing conditions in this country.  Mr. Vranitzky may, as they say, be able to trick his grandmother, wherever she may be, into sharing his belief, but he can’t do the same to the Austrian people.

A country in which the cabaret artists team up with the powers that be and the powers that be team up with the cabaret artists is a European perversion of the first rank.  Mr. Vranitzky is a conceited fop who, as I have ascertained, cannot go two days without mistaking the Stallburggasse for a catwalk and the Ministry of Finance for a board of cultural and artistic censorship and prohibition.  This is something that ought to be said.


[1] Editors’ note.  First published in Die Presse, Vienna; September 13, 1985.
Under the title Bernhard.  A Problem, the editors appended a postscript: “There are people who stand up and bow to Salzburg—or to Freilassing—when they hear the name of a man whom they regard as the only Austrian playwright of distinction.  There are others who describe this man as an immeasurably overrated fouler of his own nest.  In any case, Thomas Bernhard is a problem.  How far should criticism of Austria be allowed to go; where are the limits of toleration (or taste)?  Sit venia verbo, one might say: the rules are different for artists, especially for those who make up their own rules.  But in the eyes of the Die Presse Bernhard’s verbalized temper tantrum against the finance minister, Mr. Vranitzky, is a topical piece—admittedly not a good-humored one.  Although its author intends it as a provocation, we regard it as a worthy starting point for discussion.  Interpretations may be downright self-revelatory; as documentary proof that a literary writer is capable of hating, and of how much he is capable of hating even his native country, Thomas Bernhard’s rejoinder is highly interesting.
t.c. [=Thomas Chorherr]”

Thomas Bernhard begins the piece with a reference to the Austrian cabaret artist Werner Schneyder, who in a television broadcast made mention of the public subsidization of performances of Thomas Bernhard’s plays.  The day after the broadcast, on September 11, 1985, at the opening of the Vienna autumn trade fair, the finance minister, Franz Vranitzky, spoke about the events surrounding the Salzburg premiere of The Scene-Maker[=Der Theatermacher,  entitled Histrionics in the authorized translation by Peter Jansen and Kenneth Northcott] and deplored the fact that in Austria it was possible “to scribble away one’s frustrations while raking in valuable tax-payers’ schillings under the auspices of a renowned Austrian cultural institution.”  

[2] i.e., presumably, of television viewers, not playgoers.

[3] =“Senkgrube der Lächerlichkeit,” a rare instance of explicit self-quotation in Bernhard.  On page 59 of Ewald Osers’s translation of Alte Meister, the phrase is rendered as “sump of ridiculousness.”

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. 235-237.

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