Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with His Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part XV: 1978 and 1979.

Letter No. 358


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

I have been in Ohlsdorf for two days and am having a rough time acclimatizing myself to the abominableness of the Alps, but this will pass.

I am happy to accept your invitation to Zurich; I have been fond of Robert Walser ever since I got to know him and that was three decades ago.  I can fly to Zurich on 4.13 from Vienna, where I shall have something to do as late as the 12th.  Make whatever arrangements you want to with Biel; perhaps I shall be in the mood for it in April.1 I didn’t find anything from you here apart from the Yes telegram.  I had compelling reasons for wishing Yes to come out in March in the Bibliothek S.  The spring prospectus leaves out Yes entirely, which makes it a totally negative, us-less prospect for me.  Why did I bother sending in the manuscript in November?  I am now basically asking myself, “Why did we even bother meeting at the Kobenzl in Salzburg at the beginning of October?”  We discussed numerous and sundry matters there, but it seems as though everything has fallen by the wayside since.  My salary hasn’t been raised by the agreed-upon amount of DM 500 either; January saw the posting of the old unrevised version to my account.

I wish to have Yes behind me by the end of spring, because I wish to bring an entirely new project to fruition in the autumn, and Yes is standing in the way of my getting started on it.  I literally have to say Yea in order to be able to say B etcetera.

Once everything between us has been clarified, I plan to bring my autumn2 with me to Zurich.

Ah yes, my ever-unreliable publisher, to whom I am abjectly subservient.  What a fool I am.

Here I wish to do nothing but take a vacation.

At my hotel by the sea I was working better than I had done in years, and I had to go and expel myself from my own paradise, idiot that I am.  But I am on a roll now.  I abhor stagnation.  I am reviewing Kant; I shall send it in in the next few days; please have Minetti meticulously proofread and all its mis-typesettings corrected; I refuse to take on such a stultifying job myself.3

The premiere in Stuttgart is in mid-March (the 17th).  If it is then.  If it is isn’t, then it’ll be at some other time.  Who cares when.

All in all: the best of times, the best of moods.

I will have finished my new play by the time I leave here next, in three weeks.

Yours, and also, I hasten to add, Ms. Zeeh’s
Thomas Bernhard

We really should talk to each other again soon.  Between two “downhill runs,” perhaps.4

  1. Under the date heading of January 4, Unseld wrote in his Chronicle:  “At the firm letters and telephone conversations regarding the April undertakings for Robert Walser.”  Perhaps in connection with these undertakings Unseld invited Thomas Bernhard to come to Zurich [see n. 2 to Letter No. 362], where on April 15, 1978 in celebration of the centenary of Robert Walser’s birth and the publication of a new edition of his work by Suhrkamp, a critical symposium--organized by the city  of Zurich, the Carl Seelig Foundation, and Suhrkamp Publications--entitled In Honor of Robert Walser and a reading by 18 authors took place at the Zurich Congress House.  A day later in Biel there was another occasion involving a reading by several authors--Marianne Fritz’s reception of the Robert Walser literary prize for her first novel, Die Schwerkraft der Verhältnisse [The Gravity of Relationships].

  1. Thomas Bernhard underlined and circled the phrase “my autumn.”

  1. On January 17, Burgel Zee sent Bernhard a complete set of galley proofs for Minetti with the following comment: “The text will be appearing in the next Spectaculum (No. 28).  You had told Dr. Unseld you had no objections to this during your most recent meeting with him in Salzburg.  Here in the house, the text has been quite scrupulously proofread; having said that, I would like to say that if we haven’t heard anything from you within the next 10 days, we will assume you are satisfied with the text.”

  1. From January 29 to February 5, the World Alpine Ski Championships took place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria.

Letter No. 359

Frankfurt am Main
January 30, 1978

Dear Thomas Bernhard,
So, from the hospital (I’m here more for monitoring and as a precaution than for treatment) I thank you for your letter of January 23.1  Burgel Zeeh has already spoken to you by telephone at my request, so I don’t need to go over all that with you again.2

As far as I am concerned this is all that matters right now: if you send back the galley proofs of Kant soon, the book will be able to come out just in time for the premiere.

But please do give a look-through to the transcription of Yes at some point; the typesetter found the photocopy you sent us impossible to read; the transcriber managed to read it only with great difficulty, and on many pages the margins were cut off.  I hope she didn’t have to rely too heavily on her imagination.

So Kant on March 17 in Stuttgart, or rather in Königsberg, because of course wherever Kant is is Königsberg.

One of these days it will of course become clear which of us is the more reliable, the publisher or the author.

Speaking of reliability: please urge Schaffler not to hawk the third chunk of pages to dtv, and tell him that you would instead prefer to see all three volumes published together in a suhrkamp taschenbuch.3
Hospitals make healthy people ill.
[Siegfried Unseld]
  1. Between January 24 and February 2, 1978, as an inpatient at the Frankfurt University medical clinic, Unseld was monitored for a suspected case of acute hearing loss.  In a journal of his stay at the clinic he quoted a January 29, 1978 letter from Bernhard to Burgel Zeeh: “My undivided attention is concentrated on the health of my publisher and on the successful future of his work.  All this while I am enjoying the best thoughts.”
  1. In a telephone message dated January 26, Burgel Zeeh wrote:

“Telephone conversation with Thomas Bernhard
I talked through his letter of January 23 with him.  Zurich, Robert Walser: okay.  He will also bring something ‘with’ him for the fall.  Today I am sending him the transcription of the manuscript and the copy he sent in.  He will read the manuscript and send it back to us with his corrections, so that we can immediately give it to the typesetter.  A May publication date would be good for him, or even an April one, however we can manage it.  I explained to him that we had not announced the text as a BS title because the MS did not reach the house until the end of November, and all the announcements had already been prepared by then.

Color: white with black lettering.

Typeface: very large.  The manuscript is only 80 pages long!

Announcement on January 28 at the sales representatives’ conference.

Kant: he sent off the galley proofs on Monday; this weekend he is expecting a visit from Claus Peymann, with whom he plans to have a thorough discussion of the final corrections.  The premiere is on March 17 (prospectively) in Stuttgart, so advance copies must be available by then.
Color: we should choose one that will blend in with the volumes that are already in print.
On February 12 he is going to Rome for a week.  After that he might go to Australia for two months.
Contract with Stuttgart: we should finalize the usual contract with Stuttgart;
he has—and this has nothing to do with the contract—received a commission fee for Kant.  When he said ‘usual’ I pointed out to him that we have so far never finalized any contract with Stuttgart; he had negotiated the deal for Minetti himself.  Ms. Doufexis will ask for DM 8,000.00.
He was, amid all ‘the abominations of my surroundings here, amid the fog, in uncomfortably’ good spirits.
Best regards and wishes to Mr. Unseld.”

3. Just like its predecessors, Die Ursache [An Indication of the Cause] and Der Keller [The Cellar], the third part of Bernhard’s autobiography, Der Atem [Breath], was first published by Residenz and then reissued as a paperback by dtv in 1981.  In 1979, Residenz granted the Deutsche Buchgemeinschaft [German Book Club] a book-club license to issue a one-volume edition of Die Ursache, Der Keller, and Der Atem.

Letter No. 360
[Address: Ohlsdorf, telegram]
Frankfurt am Main
February 9, 1978
yes to the present day1 and yes yet again to “yes” in the bibliothek suhrkamp in may yours siegfried unseld and yours burgel z. who says yes to everything.
1. Bernhard’s 47th birthday (DR).

Letter No. 361


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

I have always valued illnesses more highly than anything else, because emerging from them in a healthy state has always been an enormous and incredibly significant intellectual boon.  A single illness that hurls you into your sickbed is worth a lifetime of fat tomes.

We have come down with three severe illnesses in one lifetime, and if we have the head and the guts for it, we’ll be able to get so far ahead of all the other ones that in looking back on them we’ll have a hard time even recognizing them.

Every illness makes us stronger; with every illness we acquire deeper insight; each of them is incomparably priceless.  Provided we ride them out, because we wish to, with our heads.

Heads know what they know on the sly; this is why they fall ill every now and then.

I am looking forward to April 15 in Zurich.

I shall be at home for another week; then I plan to be in Spain for the whole of March.

Peymann has been rehearsing for a week.  The premiere will be between the beginning and the middle of April.

I am writing a play for Minetti and a young girl that he |Peymann| plans to stage next winter.  For now it is called The Milk Jug.1

Kaut wrote me a letter and who knows: perhaps I actually will feel like coming up with a play for Salzburg in the summer of seventy-nine.

After Kaut the so-called festival president in Salzburg will be a good man for us in any case.2

I have renounced Australia.  And everywhere else.

When I am working, I am happy.

Thomas B.

  1. In June of this year Bernhard informed Burgel Zeeh that the title of The Milk Jug had been changed to Der Weltverbesserer [The World-Fixer or The Utopian].  But the constellation of characters obviously reminds one more of the play published in 1986 under the title Einfach kompliziert [Simply Complicated] than of Der Weltverbesserer.  Also reminiscent of Einfach kompliziert is a summary of the planned play that Bernhard sketched during his April 26, 1978 visit to Frankfurt and that Unseld reported in his Chronicle: “The situation is that of an old writer who sits in a forest.  A 17-year-old girl comes and visits him.  She brings milk.  The tension arises from the fact that this 17-year-old girl with this sexually symbolic milk jug is walking through the forest.”

  1. In a letter dated February 9, 1978 and typed on the official stationery of the president of the Salzburg Festival, Kaut congratulated Bernhard on his birthday and asked him about his “theater plans”; he hinted at the possibility—one contingent, he said, on much careful long-term planning–of his admitting a Bernhard play into the festival’s program.  But it was in fact only three years later that the hiatus in the festival’s collaboration with Bernhard ended: Am Ziel [At the Goal] was premiered in Salzburg on August 18, 1981, in a Claus Peymann-directed co-production with the Schauspielhaus Bochum.
At a meeting with Unseld, Bernhard again raised the question of who Kaut’s successor would be; regarding this, Unseld noted in his Travel Journal, Hamburg-Salzburg-Munich, August 21-23, 1978, “Kaut’s successor as director of the Salzburg Festival will be Gerd Bacher in 1980.”  As it happened, Kaut stayed on as president of the festival until his death on June 8, 1983, and he was succeeded not by Gerd Bacher but by Albert Moser.   

Letter No. 362

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
February 17, 1978

Dear Thomas Bernhard,
I am about to embark on a weeklong journey into the snow, into a district you are well acquainted with, a place still haunted by the spirit of Nietzsche and where a certain Thomas Bernhard went on many a meditative hike.1  I am hoping for a new concentration of my energies there.  Naturally I know that in the final analysis we can find fulfilment only in work.

I was very pleased to hear your news and to learn of how productive you now are.

We shall see each other at the premiere in Stuttgart and then in Zurich, where we will absent ourselves for a bit in order to speak with each other face to face.2

I am delighted that you are able to work and that you are working happily.

[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. From February 17 through February 28 Unseld was in Switzerland, where in addition to spending six days on a ski holiday in St. Moritz, he met with Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Max Frisch, Adolf Muschg, and others.  Unseld and Bernhard jointly sojourned in St. Moritz in 1975 (see Letter No. 308).  

  1. Unseld and Bernhard did not see each other either at the Robert Walser conference in Zurich or at the premiere of Immanuel Kant in Stuttgart: the two events took place on the same date, April 15.  In his Travel Journal, Zurich-Biel, April 14-16, 1978, Unseld commented on the opening of the celebrations in Zurich: “The authors all showed up, with two exceptions: Handke and Bernhard; Burgel Zeeh tried to reach him, and the city wanted to make a helicopter available to him” [I suppose the idea was for somebody in a helicopter to pick Bernhard up in Ohlsdorf and fly him to Zurich and not for Bernhard to fly himself there (DR)].  In lieu of the Zurich and Stuttgart rendezvous, the two of them met in Frankfurt on April 26; Unseld wrote about this encounter in his Chronicle:
“Burgel Zeeh [...] accompanies me to the airport; where we await the arrival of Thomas Bernhard, who is coming from Salzburg expressly for this conversation.  A very detailed conversation lasting into the small hours of the morning.  We slowly grope our way to unanimity.  He gives me the manuscript of Der Stimmenimitator [The Voice Imitator].  He asked me to read three [sic (DR)] texts: ‘Hamsun,’ and then particularly, ‘In Rome,’ a story about Ingeborg Bachmann.  I insist on a revision; I remind him that after sustaining her burn injuries Bachmann neither lost consciousness nor failed to regain it.  Initially he refuses to strike the passage, but in the end he strikes it.

The he tells me about his plans: another novella to be published as a separate book [Die Billigesser (The Cheap-Eaters)], another play [The Milk Jug] and then, next fall, the novel Unrest.  And then we sneak up on the decisive point: I tell him that I can’t put up with any further Residenz editions.  I can’t for purely psychological reasons.  He promises nothing apart from a two-year break, but the relationship is very warm-hearted; when I subsequently find myself pressed for time, he gives me a hug.  He has never done that before.  We agree to meet again in July.”  

Letter No. 363

[Address: Ohlsdorf; picture postcard: “San Francisco, The Golden Gate Bridge”]

San Francisco
May 8 [1978]

Dear Thomas

I liked our meeting in Frankfurt.1a

It is really gorgeous here, and so many people would like to have you here.  Why don’t we meet some time in S.F.

Yours sincerely S.U.1

1a. This sentence is in English in the original (DR)

  1. From April 28 through May 18, Unseld was in the United States.  Between May 6 and 10 he was in San Francisco, a city he much admired and about whose landmarks he noted in his Travel Journal USA, April 28-May 18, 1978: “[Drive] across the Golden Gate Bridge, always a grand experience; it fittingly puts me in mind of Thomas Bernhard, who once said that big bridges, power stations, and the opening moments of airplane flights are the secular descendants of the holy sanctuaries of yore.”  

Letter No. 364


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

We had planned to see each other in July.  Tomorrow is the first of August, and so my query whether we are going to meet at my house in August is an urgent one.  It is something I was keen on happening.

The day before yesterday I came out of the hospital after a necessary operation.  Everything is back in working order.  Today the stitches are coming out.  My brother has done this very well once before.

I am in excellent fettle!
Thomas Bernhard

P.S. Between the 11th and the 19th I shall be in Vienna!1

  1. A note in Unseld’s handwriting in the upper-right corner of the letter reads, “21st/22nd by tel[ephone]. U.”

Letter No. 365

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
August 15, 1978

Must come later on Tuesday, August 22nd.  Arrival Salzburg 10:15 a.m.  Expect you at airport.  Very sincerely Siegfried Unseld.1

  1. Unseld wrote about this meeting in his Travel Journal, Hamburg--Salzburg--Munich, August 21st-23rd, 1978:

“Five-hour-long conversation with Thomas Bernhard, once again [see n. 2 to Letter No. 338] on the lofty terrace of the Maria Plain restaurant.

The BS edition of Yes is teeming with transcription errors and compositor’s mistakes.  It serves Bernhard right; he didn’t feel like rereading the text after we sent him the transcript we had prepared here.

He is sending us a corrected copy.  If we reprint it, he wants us to change the color as well; he would prefer the usual black-and-white scheme.

He gave me the manuscript of Der Weltverbesserer.  It is going to be prepublished in Theater heute [Theater 1979.  Special Issue of the Journal Theater heute,” pp. 88-102].  The rehearsals in Stuttgart will begin in three weeks.  Principal roles: Minetti and [Edith] Heerdegen.  Bernhard is thinking that he won’t license it any further afterwards and so we must keep in touch with him about this.

We discussed the manuscript of The Voice Imitator.  I was still brimming over with enthusiasm from my reading of the rough paginated copy; a delightful book; it’s almost as if there’s a Bernhard novel on every page or in every vignette!

The stories are now sequenced in the exact order in which they were written.  The book was originally entitled “The Probable/Improbable,” but he now plans to save this title for a more important work.

The Voice Imitator: the writer himself is also this kind of imitator, an impressionist; after all, he cannot write exactly what he is thinking.  Thus, everything that is written is an impression.  Only the thoughts are original.  And in some sense every vignette is an act, a circus act. [...]

In November, Bernhard plans to go to Mallorca for three months to work on the novel Unrest.”


Letter No. 366

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
September 11, 1978

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Ernst Wendt of the Munich Kammerspiele is very keen on restaging Der Weltverbesserer.  You told me earlier that you didn’t want any restagings, but I am of the opinion that we should reverse this decision.  After all, Ernst Wendt isn’t just some nobody.1

with warm regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]
(dictated during a travel absence)
typed by Burgel Zeeh

  1. In her notes on a telephone conversation she had with Bernhard on September 15, 1978, Burgel Zeeh wrote: “He thanks you for his letter about Wendt / Munich Kammerspiele / Weltverbesserer.  He would really like additionally to know: who is directing, who is playing the principal roles; he would prefer not to make any decision before he knows these things.  He says Wendt is a good man, but he--Bernhard--has some misgivings.

He said he was feeling better again, at any rate better than on the day when you were in Salzburg.  He said he had not discussed everything with you, and for this reason he would very much like to come to Frankfurt in October.”

Der Weltverbesserer was premiered on September 6, 1980 in Bochum in a production directed by Claus Peymann.  See n. 1 to Letter No. 411.       

Letter No. 367

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
October 13, 1978

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

So, Friday, October 13: I was really geared up for your visit, and I wasn’t the only one; so we were all disappointed.  On the other hand, you shouldn’t and mustn’t expose yourself to any risk.1

But I am glad we will be able to see each other in Vienna later on.  My proposal: on the evening of the 25th, at a meeting of the literary society, I will be giving a talk on that Goethe poem that you are of course familiar with from Volume 1,000 of the Insel Bücherei.2  I had geared myself up to pay visits to book dealers throughout the next day, but I hear that it is a national holiday and that businesses will be closed.  Could you arrange for us to meet on the morning of Tuesday, October 26, at the Hilton Hotel--perhaps quite early, at 9:00, for breakfast, or anything else?  We would then have all the morning to ourselves, right up to lunchtime.  I am engaged for lunch, but the young lady would unquestionably be thrilled if you were to join us for this meal.2a

Now to the subject of your books and the printings of them:

We haven’t officially recorded any sales figures for The Voice Imitator, but we have been keeping track of them: first printing 1978.  A run of 9,000 copies was printed, and we have already sold 4,751 of them; that is really quite a tidy success.3

We have now printed a second run of Yes, meaning that we have also printed copies nos. 4,000 through 6,000; we will have a copy sent to you; the text on the sash around the book will certainly please you.4  Have patience regarding the advertisements.  As I told you, they have already been purchased and will be appearing in Die Zeit, the FAZ, and Die Presse in Vienna.

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. Under the date-heading of October 13, Unseld recorded in his Chronicle: “Early today, starting at six in the morning, I read Thomas Bernhard for two hours, mainly The Voice Imitator, in preparation for his visit.  Another stimulating session of reading. [...] by comparison my ensuing daily read-through of the FAZ was like an encounter with sheer nothing.

But Bernhard ended up not coming.  In Vienna fog was forecast for Frankfurt.  He phoned; we agreed to meet on November 25 [a slip for October 25].”

  1. Volume 1,000 of the Insel Bücherei, »Das Tagebuche« Goethes und Rilkes »Sieben Gedichte« [Goethe’s “The Diary” and Rilke’s “Seven Poems”], edited by Unseld, was published in June of 1978.

2a.  For reasons doubtless best known to themselves, the editors make no comment
on the identity of the “young lady.” (DR)

  1. The Voice Imitator was delivered to the bookstores on September 21, 1978.

  1. The first printing of Yes was published as Volume 600 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp on June 6, 1978.  The cover: white writing on a blue background.  The cover of the second printing had a black background in conformity with the author’s wishes (see n. 1 to Letter No. 365).  The text of the sash reads: “For YES is a masterpiece, and everybody who would rather not miss out on the literature of his time must read it.”  The sentence was taken from Andreas Müller’s review of Yes, “One Must Be Able to Fail if One Wishes to Survive,” in Abendzeitung München, August 16, 1978.   

Letter No. 368


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

I would like to thank you quite unsentimentally for your letter from Friday and also most decisively and affectionately highlight more than anything else the three points that I was planning to propose in Frankfurt.  These are the three desires whose granting seems necessary to me in the light of the immediate future; I wish to press ahead with my work both calmly and unflaggingly:

first I  am requesting two thousand marks per month, beginning in January of ’79;
second the complete expungement of my loan debt;
third, that you should bring forty-thousand marks to me in Vienna.

We ought to have the monthly remittances issued over a period of six years with a cutoff date at the end of ’85.

The expungement of the loan debt dates back to your own proposal in July; I was quite keen on it.  

The forty thousand are necessary for an instantaneous general cleansing of my finances.

The future is going to yield what we agreed it would yield; above all, within the next year, the novel, which nevertheless  should be placed in the dead center of the schedule and benefit from every last thrust the firm and its passion can call upon.  The World-Fixer will be coming out in January or February with Minetti and in the Bibliothek Unseld, which should not fail to make my happiness complete, in black and white.1

And now, by way of distributing all the weights evenly: I shall not continue the so-called autobiography in our unmannerly Salzburg house, if that is your wish.

I intend to ring  you to discuss all these points at ten in the morning this coming Friday.  This above all because when I rang you last Friday I completely forgot that all next week I am going to be in Malta and so most certainly cannot be in Vienna, a fact that I let slip from my mind in my enthusiasm about meeting up with you.  From Sunday to Sunday, if I make it through the whole week, I shall be in Malta, at the Hotel Cavalieri, where Ingeborg B. lived many years ago.2

I will be glad to make an appearance at the Kammerspiele in November; the people should let me know when by letter.

I am very unhappy that next week I shall be in Malta and not in Vienna.  But the trip to Malta has been on my calendar for months and is unpostponable.

I shall send the letter to Klettenbergstrasse, because I think that’s better.

With best wishes for the fair
and naturally also to your wife
very sincerely,
Thomas B.

  1. Der Weltverbesserer, which in the schedule preview was announced as a separate edition in the main schedule, was published in March of 1979--with a black cover with white lettering--in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.

  1. Ingeborg Bachmann and Bernhard were friends with Alfred Griesel, who managed a hotel in Malta.

Letter No. 369

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
October 16, 1978

Reminding you of your agreement to Munich evening reading--Munich’s cultural adviser Kolbe will wire you tomorrow1--sincere regards and see you no later than October 26 in Vienna--Yours Siegfried Unseld2

  1. On November 9, Burgel Zeeh wrote to Bernhard: “Dear Thomas Bernhard, the organizers of the event in Munich are getting slightly nervous because they have still not received any notification of agreement from you.  I initially informed the gentlemen that you had already given your agreement to Dr. Unseld; but in the end I urgently asked them to write you not a telegram but a letter stating all the particulars.  I hope this has been done in the meantime.”

  1. The meeting took place and was described in Unseld’s Travel Journal, Vienna, October 25-26, 1978:
“After the obligatory courtesies, the bandying to and fro of salutations, the presentation of signed copies of The Voice Imitator for Burgel Zeeh and me.  [... we] then [discussed] the details of our [arrangement] precisely and extensively.  The starting point was Bernhard’s letter of 10.15.1978.  The sum of money.  The augmented monthly remittance.  The expungement of the loan debt.  Signing of new contracts; I had read them over several times in the morning, and I myself now found the tone of a certain passage rather off-putting.  In this very passage Bernhard characteristically changed a “pledges not to” into a “will not.”  [In its original version the agreement stipulated both that the loan of March 15, 1975 (see n. 1 to Letter No. 312) would be treated as a one-time special remittance and that Bernhard “pledge[d] not to” continue his autobiography under the imprint of Residenz.  The corrected sentence reads: “Thomas Bernhard is not going to continue his autobiography under the imprint of Residenz and will not allow any more of his books to be published by that firm without prior consultation with Dr. Unseld.”]  This was literally the work of minutes; then we discussed his productive business.  Time and again I marvel at his precision, his intensity, his self-will whenever his own texts are the central topic.”

Regarding The World-Fixer: I wanted a second volume of Collected Plays after the Salzburg Plays; he wanted a dedicated edition in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  But probably he sensed that I had reservations about any edition, and so the “Bibliothek Suhrkamp question” never even came up, although I did finally decide to allow him his dedicated edition in the spring of 1979.  […] I criticized the dedication of the play, ‘To Minetti—who else?’  Every actor aside from Minetti was bound to feel snubbed by this, but that made no difference to him, because, he said, they were all second-rate.  [As eventually printed, the play bears the dedication “To Minetti.”]  But this gave him occasion to say that nobody but Minetti should ever perform this play—at least not as long as Minetti was still alive; that once he was dead and no longer able to act, the play would be open to other actors.
Bernhard is working on two new things: on the novel Gegenruhe [Antirest] (an outstanding title) and on a new play to launch Peymann’s tenure at Bochum.  For the launch of his novel Antirest he would like a good point of embarkation in our schedule—if possible an exclusive one.  This was something I could guarantee him, because after all, Walser, Frisch, and Krolow’s books are all going to be issued in the spring.  On the one hand he wants his publisher to give the book a mighty shove into the world, on the other hand he loathes overblown publicity; on the one hand he recently complained that we were bound to do too little for The Voice Imitator and Yes, but then again when he later saw the ads in Die Presse and the FAZ, he thought they were almost excessive, and the only thing about them that got him at all excited was the fact that we had made a grammatical error in them! [The advertisement in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung whose tag is a quotation from Munich’s Abendzeitung—“If there is any contemporary German-language literature that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Musil and Kafka, this is it!”—contains a grammatical error in its description of The Voice Imitator: “Each these stories [diese (“this” or “these”) appears in place of dieser (“of these”) (DR)] is a Thomas Bernhard novel.”] […]
A conversation about The Voice Imitator.  In his opinion this book is a work of slight importance.  He said he had written it in five days, which I find almost incredible.  On two or three occasions he had taken phrases directly from newspaper stories.  I vehemently disagreed with him and told him over and over again that in every single one of these prose pieces I could discern a Thomas Bernhard novel in nuce, and that this book struck me as a case in proof of his mastery of hypotaxis, and that it contained a conspicuous prevalence of the adjectives ‘natural,’ ‘actual,’ and ‘complete.’

[...] He is coming to the reading in Munich on November 23.  Before that he will read at Peymann’s theater in Stuttgart.  The date has not yet been fixed, but we should get them to settle on one and then inform the book dealers in Stuttgart of it.  Between Stuttgart and Munich a couple of days in the Black Forest and then Ohlsdorf through Christmas and New Year’s; after that he plans to disappear for a couple of months.  I personally assume he will have finished the text entitled Antirest by then.

[...] A punctual departure.  I continue reading The Voice Imitator, and give especially close attention to the stories to which Bernhard refers in his dedication to me, to ‘A Headstrong Author’ and ‘Giants.’”  The dedication reads: “From the ‘headstrong author’ to the GIANT (among publishers) / at break-fast / in Vienna / Hilton 10.26.78 / Thomas B. / X page 119 / t page 105”--the pages are those containing the stories of the same titles in the first printing of The Voice Imitator.

Letter No. 370      

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
November 30, 1978

Dear Thomas,

Hopefully you made it back in one piece.  I am very sorry about the whole thing; there really was no need for such a thoroughly German experience.  But I am of course certain that you did not see the disruption as being directed at you personally; the very next day Lars Gustafson read without encountering any interference whatsoever.  On that day of the canceled Kroetz reading and the forbidden shah demonstration the watches of those gentlemen were simply synchronized for protest.  What is more, the newspapers condemned the incident so harshly that in hindsight even the protesters clearly saw how ridiculous and outrageous it had been.  Moreover, you did of course get to make your point that they were doing to you exactly what they were protesting against the president of the university for doing.1

The Voice Imitator keeps on imitating with great vigor.  In Holland and Italy the rights have been officially acquired by the publishing firms of de Arbeiderspers and Adelphi; their acquisition in the USA by Knopf and in France by Gallimard is in the offing.  The sales figures are also picking up nicely.

So things are going nicely; they are developing as we meant them to develop.

I wish you a happy spell of writing and living.  And if you go to some other place, please send us your address.2

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. Under the date-heading of November 22-24, Unseld reported on the foiling of Bernhard’s reading in the context of a series of functions called Writers Read in Munich, Part I, organized by the city of Munich:
“Thomas Bernhard.  He arrived accompanied by his aunt, Mrs. Stavianicek.  He was indignant because he had been promised a reading at the theater and not at the university.  I prepped him in nonchalant anticipation of possible protests.  But then came something that we really weren’t expecting: Bernhard’s reading was the evening of the day a reading by Kroetz had originally been scheduled to take place.  [The president of the university, Nikolaus Lobkowicz, prohibited the reading because its sponsor, the Marxist student organization Spartakus, had been banned from the university by the Bavarian ministry of culture.]  And then came another surprise: the communist groups were planning to hold a demonstration in protest against the shah.  The president of the university forbade this as well.  The would-be rioters and troublemakers were already at the university, and they now resolved not to allow Bernhard to give his reading.  Again the same old situation: an auditorium filled to capacity, even more people than the evening before [at a reading given by Max Frisch].  It was downright claustrophobia-inducing.  A single spark of any kind could have touched off a general panic.  Then the protesters started making speeches, and they never stopped.  Again a classic case: a small, brutal, truncheon-armed minority was terrorizing the majority.  I succeeded in snatching the microphone away from the guys.  Bernhard managed to make the point that they were doing to him precisely what they were protesting against the president of the university for doing, that they were keeping a writer from giving a reading.  Then the microphone was snatched back out of his hands.  I succeeded once again in giving him the microphone; he read a story from The Voice Imitator having to do with Persia, but he was once again shouted down, and so we left the hall.  I had to spend a good part of the night calming him down.    

2. On December 31, Bernhard wrote to Burgel Zeeh informing her that he was leaving that evening for the Hotel Amfora on the island of Havar: “I shall be exclusively occupied with working on the novel there and have packed all my work papers for the trip.  I am setting off from Vienna tonight.  On New Year’s Day I shall be on the train; certainly a fantastic situation.”

Bernhard in Munich--11.23.78.jpg
The University of Munich, November 23, 1978.  Bernhard (sitting in the front row between Unseld and Hedwig Stavianicek) looks on as a student protester occupies the podium from which he was to have read.  

Letter No. 371


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

The 23rd of November, last Thursday, is a date that I shall never forget.  It was (and is!) disgraceful.  As far as I am concerned, the very thought of Germany is depressing.  If you yourself had not been present as a witness, I would have to recapitulate the events at that lecture hall in Munich; I have had yet another appalling experience that I cannot allow to be minimized if I am to take myself and my existence seriously and to take seriously the society in which I am forced to exist.

At the very least some rights, which are talked so much about in Germany nowadays, were bludgeoned, and I am referring here not only to my specific personal rights but also the rights of the hundreds of other people, in whom, thanks to a vulgar and dastardly minority--let them call themselves whatever they like--was inculcated a better, meaning a more repellent, understanding of democracy.    

Not to mention the fact that I was ultimately present at the University as a foreigner and as an invited guest of the city of Munich.

I believe that from the forceful preemptive silencing of a person (in this case me) while slapping him in the face with a violation of his rights of hospitality--and the suppression was indeed more or less an act of brute physical force, as you saw--it is a short step to the utter annihilation of that person and his work.  By comparison even book-burning is a harmlessly symbolic act.

The more I think back on those events, the more sinister they seem to me; even though they really are nothing more than a confirmation of my writings.

As horrifying as those events in house of the Scholl Siblings were for me, I am much more horrified by the fact that I seem to have been left to endure the horror on my lonesome.  The reality of present-day Germany is much more brutal and vulgar than even the most attentive person, so long as he observes it merely as a writer, will ever believe.

According to the Abendzeitung [a Munich tabloid newspaper (DR)], Mr. Kroetz, to whom in the final analysis these events of the 23rd must be ascribed, made an appearance on the stage of a Munich cabaret a few days after the 23rd.  At this cabaret, the Munich “Laughing and Firing Squad,” he is said to have said that he “did not authorize his people to crash the Bernhard reading.”  And yet his people did not obey his orders.  According to the Abendzeitung, Mr. Kroetz garnered tempests of enthusiastic laughter.  Mr. Kroetz and his people remind me of Munich’s Nazis.1

Germany’s schizophrenia is a once-in-a-century spiritual disorder.  I used to tell myself, come on, lighten up, pal; you mustn’t take it seriously.  But now I have had no choice but to take it seriously and hard.

I was very glad that you were present at the time.
Yours very sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard    

  1. Under the headline No Red Monster in the Abendzeitung Andreas Müller reported on Franz Xaver Kroetz’s appearance at “Laughing and Firing-Talk” on November 26, 1978: “Playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz, who had recently been chased out of the university as a threat to State security, sent the audience of the Munich Laughing and Firing Squad’s Sunday talk show into paroxysms of laughter.  At no point was the dangerousness of this man apparent [...] His [Kroetz’s] followers stampeded a reading of the Austrian writer Bernhard that by chance had been scheduled for the same time block in the auditorium.  What they had done there, Kroetz declared during the talk show, had never been authorized by him.  ‘I expressly forbade my people to sabotage the Bernhard reading.’  Unfortunately Kroetz’s fiat proved ineffectual.  This charming overgrown boy evidently had had no influence on the events he had triggered.”    

Letter No. 372

Frankfurt am Main
December 1, 1978

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I have received your letter of November 29; many thanks.  I understand your reaction, and also why you discern a confirmation of your writings in these events.  What you experienced is in point of fact a German reality, and it is--as you say--brutal and vulgar.  And yet, my dear Thomas Bernhard, this isn’t the entire German reality; it is is a minuscule piece of it, a pebble that admittedly forms part of this mosaic.  But there are other pebbles, and one should also keep these in view.

Regarding Kroetz specifically, he has a sort of Bavarian sense of humor that basically makes no sense to anyone.  It may be completely true that he said hadn’t authorized “his people” to sabotage your reading.   You will recall that the first lady who read there was a member of Kroetz’s Spartakus group.  But the other “speakers” were rival left-wing groups, notably the Communist Association of West Germany, who are firm enemies of the Spartakus organization.  So on this point we really ought to make some distinctions.

And another thing: you know how strongly I condemned the incident and regarded it as disgraceful, and I made my attitude perfectly clear to the responsible parties, as you also heard, but the attack was not directed at you personally; it would have alighted on anybody who was supposed to read that night--be it Koeppen--Struck--Frisch, or Lars Gustafsson.  Those people were hell-bent on destruction.  Admittedly that doesn’t make the whole thing any better.  For me it was obvious to be on your side, and you should know that I shall continue to be on your side in times to come.

with sincere regards,
[Dr. Siegfried Unseld]


Letter No. 373

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
February 8, 1979

Requesting phone call from you--regards Unseld1

  1. Under the date-heading of February 9, Unseld commented: “Telephone conversation with Thomas Bernhard, whose birthday is today.”

Letter No. 374

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
March 5, 1979

Requesting phone call.  Regards Unseld

Letter No. 375

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
March 5, 1979

Dear Thomas,

Behold The World-Fixer in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  Your plays now form a long series there.  But with every addition its importance grows, I think.1

In a separate post six more documents will be sent to you  (in two packages); please let me know if you would like to have more copies.  And please also tell me when I can give you a ring--but perhaps that will have already happened by the time this letter reaches you.
[signed Siegfried Unseld]
Burgel Zeeh


  1. Der Weltverbesserer was issued as Volume 646 of the BS on March 1, 1979.

  1. Burgel Zeeh spoke with Bernhard by telephone on March 6 and prepared the following notes of the conversation for Unseld:

“He had in any case already been expecting your call and your question about whether and when we would be receiving the prose manuscript.

First of all: he was handicapped by the flu for an entire week; now he is finishing up the play, which Peymann will bring to the stage before the end of spring.

He says the new book is ready, but he would like to let it sit for a while.  He says he has considered this carefully; he really doesn’t want to publish any prose texts this year; three books by him have already come out in the past year, which is quite enough for now.

Then his question: has Handke been here, and has he finished his new book?  If so it would come out in the fall, and that, he thought, would be quite fitting; hence it would be also be fitting for his book to come out no earlier than the spring of next year.  He said he was quite content with this decision.”   

Letter No. 376

Frankfurt am Main
April 3, 1979

Dear Thomas,

I read the entire play last night.1  I most heartily congratulate you on it!  You have successfully prepared another payload, and this time one with a theme that will naturally be quite explosive here in the Federal Republic.  The people will sit up and take notice!
I would urgently like to propose a change to p. 91; one reads there: “On the other hand, of course we now have a president who used to be a National Socialist.”
Either the current president, Mr. Scheel, or the next one, Mr. Carstens, could regard such a turn of phrase as an aspersion of the head of state.  In this country people have a harder time understanding jokes than in Austria.  I could propose to you a minimal revision that will get the point across just as precisely: “…a president who used to be in the Nazi party.”  Or: “…a ‘party member.’”  These are turns of phrase that nobody can take any exception to; they are factually accurate; but here “National Socialist” can and will be regarded as flagrantly libelous, and it can be opposed with a ban on performances or a ban on the dissemination of the text.  Please do think this over.2

So we will be speaking with each other on Good Friday morning.  I shall expect your call between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. at Klettenbergstraße (55 28 67).

It was nice having you here.  The various stops at the firm, Königstein, and Frankfurter Hof were exceedingly pleasant, and I am very happy about “our” schedule.

with sincere regards,
[signed Siegfried Unseld]
on his behalf p.p.: Yours, Burgel Zeeh3
1. On April 2, Unseld met with Bernhard in Frankfurt and Königstein; he wrote some notes about the encounter:
He came via Salzburg, where Schaffler begged him for another book; he declined to offer him one; then a conversation with the head of the Festival, Kaut, in the course of which Bernhard had reviled him in abusive language, and via Stuttgart, where he spoke and negotiated with Claus Peymann.
Bernhard wrote his new play, The Eve of Retirement.  A Comedy about the German Soul, within the span of a fortnight.  Peymann read it and was immediately prepared to change his season schedule, to stop working on Tasso and to have this play performed instead on June 1.  Set design Hermann; main role Traugott Buhre.  This naturally caused a furore in Stuttgart, but Peymann got his way.  From there he has again compelled Bernhard to issue the rights for the Stuttgart performances directly to him; there will be about two or three of them; then Peymann will put it on in Bochum, and after that Suhrkamp Publications will take over.   And Bernhard should also allow the play to be printed in the playbill [I suppose by the ‘playbill’ Unseld means Spectaculum (DR)] .

The play is very much like a Strindberg play, a dream play in a certain sense; it is, according to Bernhard, a melange of Strindberg and Henry James.

[...] Preparations for the premiere must take place in the greatest secrecy.  Towards this end I think we should completely refrain from showcasing the author, because Bernhard has promised to give Peymann a head start.  We will first announce the book in our ‘financial newsletter,’ after the theater in Stuttgart has made its own announcement [...]

His upcoming publication plans:

so on June 1, 1979: Eve of Retirement.

In the fall of 1979 The World-Fixer with Minetti will be staged in Bochum.

We will speak by telephone on Good Friday, and I will then learn whether Bernhard has any objection to our compiling a kind of omnibus comprising his complete novellas.

In April/May of 1980 the prose text Remembering will be published in the BS.  There will be a few volumes of this.

The new edition suhrkamp may be a good spot for The Cheap-Eaters, a prose text about 70 pages long, which in book form would be about 120-130 pages, hence an ideal length.  The manuscript can be gotten from Bernhard at any time.

After that the novel Antirest in the fall of 1980.  

He also has a finished fairy tale, ‘The Fairy Tale about the Salzburgers or the Idiot from the North.”  I shall try to get in touch with Horst Jannsen and see if he is interested in illustrating something like that.  Even though Bernhard is none too keen on having it illustrated.  There are no contemporary artists that he thinks of as significant.
2. The phrase was not altered.

3. On April 3, Unseld traveled for ten days to the United States, where the first German Book Week took place at New York University’s Deutsches Haus.  In his Travel Journal, USA, April 3-12, 1979, he described a panel discussion in which he had been compelled by default to play the role of “the man who complains that American publishers publish so few German-language books, that they ignore books that would be important additions to their catalogues, and that the German language was an ever-diminishing presence in the editors’ offices of American publishing firms.”  Nevertheless in his journal he observed: “It is remarkable, but it is true: Thomas Bernhard deserves a special mention.  His Corrections [sic on the incorrect proto-Franzenian English title!! {DR}] will be coming out soon; it would already have been published by now, had the publishing firm, Alfred Knopf, not had to reprint it; somebody had chosen for it a piece of modern art that already adorned the cover of another book! [...] In all the discussions during the book week Bernhard’s name blazed up as a counterexample adduced by the American publishers, who fairly bedizened themselves in their publication of Bernhard.”      

Letter No. 377

Frankfurt am Main
April 27, 1979

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

We are receiving some pressing telephone calls.  In the gazettes, for example in the Frankfurter Rundschau, it is being reported that Peymann is working on a production of The Eve of Retirement in Stuttgart and will bring it to the stage in June.1   There are theaters that are strongly interested in the text and that are asking about the possibility of staging performances of it.  The Burgtheater in Vienna is interested in having Erwin Axer direct the play there.  The Zurich Schauspielhaus is requesting an option for a Swiss performance.  Could we talk about this by phone sometime?  This is an urgent and importunate matter.  

with warm regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. Ten days later, under a dateline of May 7, Der Spiegel commented on the course of events as follows: “Under conditions of strictest secrecy involving daily confiscation of the six texts in use at the theater, Claus Peymann is working on a production of Thomas Bernhard’s latest play, Eve of Retirement, subtitled A Comedy about the German Soul.  And Suhrkamp Publications is preparing the no less jealously shielded book version of the play for the premiere at the end of June.  Is it possible that all the while everybody was waiting spellbound for something from Hochhuth, Bernhard was secretly bringing a play-à-clef about Filbinger into the world?”
In the February 17, 1978 number of Die Zeit, Rolf Hochhuth had published a excerpt from his novella Eine Liebe in Deutschland [A Love in Germany], with which he drew the public’s attention to the fact that the then-present governor of Baden-Württemberg, Hans Filbinger, had as a naval judge sentenced people to death shortly before Germany’s surrender in World War II.  Filbinger, who denied the accusations and took legal proceedings against Hochhuth and Die Zeit, was compelled to tender his resignation on August 7, 1978.  Hochhuth’s play Juristen [Jurists], which takes the Filbinger affair as its subject, was originally scheduled to be premiered during Peymann’s last season at the Staatstheather Stuttgart, but it was not finished in time.  Peymann replaced it on the schedule with Eve of Retirement (see n. 1 to Letter No. 384 and the commentary on Eve of Retirement in V. 18, pp. 377-397 of Bernhard’s Works).  

Letter No. 378

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
May 4, 1979

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

After our telephone conversation I rang Mr. Peymann, but I didn’t manage to reach him, though I did reach Mr. Beil.1  He told me that the premiere of the play is now firmly scheduled for June 29.  I am passing on this news.  Incidentally Beil said that everything was going well and according to plan during the rehearsals.

June 29 isn’t so good for me, because in Frankfurt that evening there is going to be a grand fête for Mircea Eliade, a function which several of the firm’s authors will be also be coming to Frankfurt to attend.2 Well, we shall see; after all, in the theater dates are never very firm.
with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. In a May 4 telephone memo that he forwarded to the theatrical publications division, Unseld wrote:
“Telephone conversation with Thomas Bernhard
on May 4, Vienna.

He didn’t receive my letter of April 27.  On the phone today I discussed the Eve of Retirement situation.  He has no objection to our offering the play for sale in the regular way.  He is not opposed to subsequent performances, but he naturally wants to be sure that these are good performances and hopes that we will ask for guarantees  for them from the theaters.”
On a note addressed to Renate Doufexis, Claus Carlé, and Rolf Staudt on the same day, Unseld wrote:

“Thomas Bernhard, Claus Peymann, and I have agreed on the following strategy for the presentation of the play Eve of Retirement:

Neither the author nor the theater will give the text of the play to a third party before the run of performances.  There is to be no other theater than Stuttgart, and no critics are to receive the text of the play before the run.  After the run we will be offering the play for sale in the regular way, and at some appreciable time after the premiere, meaning roughly in mid-July, we will also be issuing the book.  It is our collective intention to try to enable a Bernhard play to have an effect of complete immediacy onstage for a change.  It is clear to me that the unusual circumstances of the performance’s gestation will occasion a fair amount of discontent, particularly among the critics, but we will weather the consequences.

I am urgently requesting all parties involved, the theatrical publications division and press office, to maintain absolute silence regarding this play.  Mr. Peymann for his part has pledged his dramaturgs to do the same.       

2. The fête did not take place on this date.  [So did it take place on any other date?  Was Unseld making the whole thing up? (DR)]

Letter No. 379

May 7, 79

Dear Dr. Unseld,

Regarding the play that is being rehearsed in Stuttgart at the moment, I must ask you to keep everything absolutely and in all circumstances under wraps and not to drop any hints to a single human individual; only if this is done will there be any chance of the thing’s being successfully executed.  We must keep the text from getting into the hands of gossipers and intriguers before the premiere; we must keep it away from those well-known names, who for all their well-knownness have nothing in their heads but gossip and intrigues.  We absolutely destroyed our own concept.

The play must exert an immediate effect in a performance, and not allow itself to be annihilated from the get-go by all those unprecedentedly moronic and unscrupulous Kaisers and Jennys and Heinrichses.  Not one of those people has a scintilla of insight into the theater, and it is precisely thanks to their incompetence that they are so unpalatable and ubiquitous and repellent.  

I very much hope that the manuscript of Retirement has not already fallen into enemy hands, and in keeping with your promise, it ought not to be seen by anybody apart from you and the compositor.  Out of a regard not only for my interest but also for your own, you ought to put Retirement into a safe and not take it out until after the performance in Stuttgart.

I would very much like you to publish the play exactly one week after the premiere in Stuttgart.

It has always been a huge mistake to throw the manuscript to every last pair of gaping jaws along the Munich-Hamburg corridor even before the premiere.

I am being quite serious in requesting you to keep Retirement completely under wraps.

Thomas Bernhard

Letter No. 380

[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
May 9, 1979
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
Today you will receive Dr. Guth’s invitation; I am delighted that you will be coming.
We will reserve you a room at the Frankfurter Hof Hotel.
Ms. Zeeh would be happy to send you your ticket or have it held for you at the airport; where will you be embarking from?
If you will be coming from Salzburg, you would have to leave by Saturday evening (because the only Frankfurt-bound flight from Salzburg is an evening one); that wouldn’t be so bad except that many weeks ago I committed myself to being in Memmingen all that day and the following night; I won’t be returning to Frankfurt until Sunday morning.
From Vienna on the other hand you would have two possibilities:
LH 253 leaving Vienna at 10:30 a.m. / arriving at Frankfurt at 11:55 a.m.
OS 403 leaving Vienna at 2:25 p.m. / arriving at Frankfurt at 3:45 p.m.
The first possibility would give us the opportunity to meet at midday, but we’ll also be pleased to greet you at 3:45 in the afternoon!
Please let us know what your decision is so that we can get everything necessary moving.1
Has anybody from Vienna gotten in touch with you to ask you about the text of the play?  We gave the Burgtheater permission to do that because we haven’t got a text version here.  I think this is our usual procedure.2
with sincere regards—and till soon,
[Siegfried Unseld]
  1. On July 6 Unseld traveled to Ulm, where he had received an emergency secondary school diploma in 1943 and a regular secondary school diploma in 1946 [Presumably this distinction between emergency and regular diplomas was an irregularity in scholastic accreditation occasioned by the war (DR)].  In nearby Memmingen a school class reunion took place on July 7.

  1. The first performance of Eve of Retirement at the Burgtheater did not take place until 20 years later.  Peter von Becker commented on this performance in the Tagesspiegel on January 15, 2000: “Claus Peymann had directed the premiere in the summer of 1979 in Stuttgart […] with virtually identical sets, which had also been designed by Karl-Ernst Hermann, and with the same three actors.  This was during Peymann’s farewell season at Stuttgart, before his move to Bochum.  […] Twenty years later Peymann directed the remake with Dene (Clara), Traugott Buhre (Höller), and Eleonore Zetzsche (Vera) in Vienna, once again as one of his farewell productions, this time his farewell to the Burgtheater.

Letter No. 381

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
May 9, 1979
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
Warm thanks for your letter of May 7.  Materially speaking it was superfluous; I have already told you over the phone recently that everything is in order; nobody is going to see it, and the shipment will take place eight days after the performance.
We always work well when we work in concert.
with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

|Could you send me the novella The Cheap-Eaters?|1

  1. The handwritten postscript was jotted on the carbon copy by Burgel Zeeh.  [I suppose this means she rewrote (or darkened) a note already on the original, because if the postscript had been only on the copy, Bernhard never could have seen it (DR).]

Letter No. 382


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

If the nature of the thing and nature full stop permits, we shall see each other on the 29th, the Friday after next, in Stuttgart.

I am in good form and so not a single one of my vital signs can get away with making the slightest excuse between now and that date.

Regarding our friends in the Taunus: I intend to keep all my options open through July.

A person who is working ought to give his all to his work; that or nothing.

very sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

Letter No. 383

Frankfurt am Main
June 20, 1979

Dear Thomas,

So here is the prospective list of contents for The Novellas.  Do you have any objections to it?  Do you still remember the text called “The Crazy Magdalena”?  I would be in favor of including this text.  What do you think of that?

I would be grateful to you if you could respond to the legal situation that we noted.

We intend to put into the volume an extensive bibliography by Mr. Dittmar and an afterword by Ulrich Greiner.  I hope you have no objections to this either.

Will we see each other on June 28 in Stuttgart?  In any case, I am looking forward to midday on July 8.

with sincere regards,
[Dr. Siegfried Unseld]

[Enclosure 1; memorandum1]

Thomas Bernhard, The Novellas

“The Crazy Magdalena”
“The Swine-Hunter” (1956)
“In the Poorhouse” (1963)
“The Postman” (1963)
“The Italian” (1963)
Amras (1976)2
“An Eyewitness Report” (1964)
“The Carpenter”
“The Malefaction of an Innsbruck Tradesman’s Son”
“A Young Writer” (1965)
Viktor Halfwit (1966)
“The Prince”
“Henzig, Huber, Zehetmeyer”
“Two Tutors”
“The Cap”
“Is It a Comedy?  Is it a Tragedy?” (1967)
“Timberline” (1967/68)
Ungenach (1968)
“Midland at Stilfs” (1971)
“The Weatherproof Cape” (1967)
“Watten.  A Legacy” (1969)
“A Smiling Confidence Trickster”
“As an Administrator at the Asylum.  A Fragment”
“Yes” (1978)
“At the Ortler”

(Complete narrative prose, including the autobiographical writings, the novels, and The Voice Imitator)

The legal situation must be clarified in the following cases:

“The Italian”--written in 1963, first published in the Insel Almanac in 1965, then included in the collection entitled At the Timberline, which was published by Residenz and later reprinted as a dtv.

“At the Timberline”--(first published in Growth Rings, 1967/68)

“Victor Halfwit”--it first appeared in the collection Voices of the Present, edited by Hans Weigel, Vienna and Munich, 1956


  1. The list of contents is based on a proposal by Jens Dittmar.
  2. In 1976 Amras (first published in 1964) was added to the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.

Letter No. 384

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
June 27, 1979

Propose meeting 6 p.m. lobby Hotel Zeppelin--stop--please bring manuscript “Cheap-Eaters” with you.
Regards Unseld1

  1. Unseld met Bernhard at the premiere of Eve of Retirement on June 29.  In his Travel Journal, Stuttgart, June 29-30, Unseld wrote the following, inter alia:
“The premiere--directed by Claus Peymann; Höller: Traugott Buhre; Clara: Kirsten Dene; Vera: Eleonore Zetzsche.
Every appraisal of the premiere must begin with the sentence: three-and-a-quarter hours--that is too long.  Otherwise much about the production was compelling.  Peymann had the play performed in such a way that no misunderstanding could arise at any point, and the audience noticed this.  Resounding applause, a few boos, which only provoked more vigorous applause. [...]
Time did not permit us to have an extensive discussion about the collection of novellas; we postponed this to Sunday, July 8, in Frankfurt.
On the July 8 conversation Unseld wrote in his Chronicle: “I am reading the early novellas of Thomas Bernhard.  I am supposed to meet with him now, and we also rendezvous at the Frankfurter Hof.  He is cheerful, serene, he once again gives me a new version of an early novella [“The Crazy Magdalena”], which appeared in the Linzer Tagblatt.

Then we go to Königstein [im Taunus].  Wilfried Guth, spokesman of the executive board of Deutsche Bank, turned 60 today.  He very much wanted Thomas Bernhard to read aloud at his house.  A select gathering, a concert, Bernhard read ten texts from The Voice Imitator.”  A separate note on the July 8 conversation in Frankfurt is devoted to the topic of Novellas:

“He has no objection to the idea of the collection entitled The Novellas.  Please if at all possible go back to the first versions; don’t bring in any excerpts from the novels, so no ‘In the Poorhouse’ and no ‘Henzig, Huber, Zehetmayer.’  For ‘Kulterer’ use the version called ‘The Postman.’

For ‘The Crazy Magdalena’ use the text from the Linzer Tagblatt (enclosed).  Please make sure that the text of ‘The Swineherd’ receives an addition of four new lines, which Bernhard has given me.  He also attaches the utmost importance to the reprinting of the motto from Pascal.”

On the two versions of “Kulterer” see n. 1 to Letter No. 332 as well as the commentary in Vol. 11, pp. 366-371 of Bernhard’s Works.  The version of “The Crazy Magdalena” [“Die verrückte Magdalena”] from the Linzer Tagblatt of January 17, 1953 is identical to the one printed on the same day in the Demokratische Volksblatt (see the commentary in Vol. 14, p. 587f. in Bernhard’s Works; on the various final versions of “The Swineherd” [“Der Schweinehüter”] see the commentary in Vol. 14, pp. 581-583 of Bernhard’s Works).     

Letter No. 385

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
July 16, 1979

Dear Thomas,

I have announced your decision here in the house, and it caused a great deal of genuine wailing!1  The sales representatives are doing an outstanding job selling the book.  Our advertising people have already committed themselves to a major sales campaign.  The production plant has already spent DM 10,000.00 on typesetting costs.  Our sales manager is on the verge of killing himself because 1,200 book dealers know about the edition, and now it’s not supposed to be coming!

The following solution could work: we’ll drop the title The Novellas.  We’ll leave out the early novellas that you find so offensive and begin with the texts that you yourself have included in book-length editions.  It would then be a book of Thomas Bernhard novellas and to my mind, it would not be a comprehensive collection and would be a concentrated set of the most important texts.

Please do drop me another line, or send me a telegram, lest there should be an outbreak of mass despair and a series of suicides here in the house.

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. Under the date-heading of August [a slip for July] 6, noted in his Chronicle:
“Commotion over Thomas Bernhard.  Suddenly he isn’t satisfied with the plan for The Novellas; he doesn’t want The Novellas, i.e., the early novellas, in it anymore, but he wants to keep the title for the book anyway.   

Letter No. 386

July 18, 79

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

The suicide rate in Germany, in contrast to that in Austria, is so piddling that in this age that is overpopulated to the bursting point we could kill off a full third of the Germans without batting an eyelid, but these brave souls must not by any means be culled from the ranks of Suhrkamp Publications, of which centuries hence it will be said that it was one of the very few genuinely meritorious institutions in Europe; an institution1a that will be spoken of with veneration.  If in the year 3,000 the archeologists unearth every last thing bearing the seal of Suhrkamp Publications they will have unearthed the entire genius of our century.  They will be astonished at the treasures that will have been left behind by what to our eyes seems an appallingly brainless age.

Since, then, I wish to prevent a mass suicide at the poetic precincts of Lindenstrasse, being as I am a reasonable human being in all circumstances, we will put together the compilation volume after all, even though I don’t want there to be one.  But since there has to be one, it absolutely must be called The Novellas and not merely Novellas, which I find revolting; but I will allow it to contain only the novellas from Amras through Yes, in other words nothing before Amras and nothing after Yes.  Moreover, it must be confined to the so-called long novellas, and I will not allow it to include so much as a hint of anything from the novels.  In short: nothing but Amras through Yes and nothing but the so-called proper novellas.  And it must naturally be entitled The Novellas.

To close on this subject: please send me all your spare lengths of rope (regardless of the quality) and pistol bullets so that we can make sure that they won’t be used, at least not in the near future.  

I have put up with so much already that I can also put up with The Novellas.  I take it as a given that it will be manufactured in such a way as not to elicit my horror, preferably with a white title against a black background, or else not at all.

It is with just such a layout, once we have settled this whole business amicably, that I would like to have Minetti, the play, published in the BS.  In the spring.

If you are cursing me now yet again, I am obviously so far away that it cannot upset me.

Please give my regards to Burgel Zeeh, who arranged my last flight to Frankfurt so perfectly.  I have had no regrets on its score.

Thomas B.

P.S. I also will not allow the The Novellas to contain  any commentary, or, as always, any abominable so-called bibliography.   

1a.  This “an institution” is an interpolation via which I have not-quite silently patched up an anacoluthon [sic]ed by the editors. (DR)

Letter No. 387

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
July 24, 1979

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Thank you for your letter of July 18.  I am very glad that you were able to reconcile yourself to our considerations.  We of course both wish to do what is right and what is rational and perhaps sometimes even what is hyper-rational.

The book will bear the title The Novellas, and it will contain the novellas from Amras through Yes and omit everything before Amras and after Yes.  Moreover, we will submit to you in advance the editorial note that we wish to include.

And we will also forgo a bibliography.  

As far as the jacket goes, we will be happy to accommodate your choice of its color: namely, white.  On the other hand, we would prefer to retain our layout for it; Fleckhaus’s jacket design is really quite lovely.

Please don’t worry about the announcement “With a preface by Ulrich Greiner”--by now that is out of the question.

In principle I am quite prepared to add Minetti to the BS, but first please let’s sell all the copies of the oversized edition.1                 

I will most likely be not far from Salzburg on August 20 or 21.  Perhaps you can be seen then?  I would be delighted.

Ms. Zeeh was happy to “arrange” your trip to Frankfurt, and we all were glad to have you here.  And your reading at Mr. Guth’s house is having more than good aftereffects.

with sincere regards,
[signed Siegfried Unseld]
(dictating during a travel absence)
Yours, Burgel Zeeh


  1. Minetti was never admitted into the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.

  1. The enclosure has not survived.  It was presumably Suhrkamp Publications’ schedule preview for the second half of 1979; on page 8 of that preview the announcement for The Novellas [Die Erzählungen] includes the phrase “With a preface by Ulrich Greiner.”  The book was published as The Novellas in October of 1979 without a bibliography or editorial note or any other extra material but a list of sources; its jacket, designed by Willy Fleckhaus, featured black lettering on a white background and a photograph of Bernhard by Andrej Reiser.  The blurb essentially consisted of a quotation from a review of The Voice Imitator and Yes that Ulrich Greiner had published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on November 22, 1978.

Letter No. 388
[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
September 3, 1979

Dear Thomas,

Once again my compliments on The Cheap-Eaters; I have now read the novella twice in order to get my head around the Viennese circular high jinks.  We will receive a substantial echo from this novella.1

I had a few pages of the manuscript retyped, because our increasingly inept typesetter never would have found his way among the corrections.  But there are still a few passages that are unclear even to me.

I think the best thing for me to do is to point out these passages on a separate sheet of paper.  As I don’t know if you have a corrected manuscript ready to hand, I am going to write out each of the passages in full.

It was really nice that we got to see each other recently, even if the conversation perhaps wasn’t quite up to par.

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld   

[Enclosure; remarks on The Cheap-Eaters]

Page 9, four lines from the bottom:
...he was worried, “that people in the VPK would immediately notice that he was a cripple and subsequently never take their...eyes off of him.”  You have equipped these eyes with a handwritten adjective that unfortunately is undecipherable.  Are they perverse eyes?

Now that I am dictating VPK: I would propose not capitalizing the whole thing and leaving the p lowercase, like this: VpK.  What do you think?    

Page 2
“would have gotten on to a different, possibly even antithetical, subject, than he had gotten on to,...”
Shouldn’t that read: “than the one he had gotten on to”?

Page 10, line 16
“...and would have allowed him to seat at the best place at their table as if as a matter of course.”  Shouldn’t a “himself” be appended to “seat”?

Page 10, line 26
“as he had attempted with both hands to lean his crutches against the wall behind him…” Must this not read, “behind himself”?  
Page 12, line 30
“It was, said Koller, legible on all four cheap-eaters’ faces that they could use someone like he at their table…”  Shouldn’t that read, “someone like him”?

Page 27a, line 11
“...but I naturally could not allow myself to believe that he had forgotten about it…”--“about it” is of course logically possible, but rather vague.  Shouldn’t something more precise be in its place?

Page 43, line 30
“Nor on this day had he forgotten his so-called window inspection, which had become a habit to him over the course of decades.”
This is naturally admissible as it is, but wouldn’t it perhaps be worthwhile to substitute the verb “forgo” for “forget”?  In that case the sentence would naturally have to be recast.

Page 47, line 5
“Several times Weninger quite abruptly asked the remaining cheap-eaters for the time...”  Shouldn’t one say, “asked the remaining cheap-eaters the time”?

Page 49, line 23
“About language he is said to have said that it consisted mainly of words like weights, by which thoughts were constantly being weighed down and pressed to the ground, and that for that reason they can never, on any occasion, become manifest in its entire significance and literal infinitude.”
Shouldn’t we make it “their entire significance,” and shouldn’t “can” be “could”?

Page 20, line 31
Probably a typing error: “...in order to furnish me and himself the proof from time…”  Must it not read, “from time to time”?

dr. u./gl[aser]

  1. The Travel Journal, Salzburg, August 20-22 reports: “Conversation with Thomas Bernhard.  Handing over of the manuscript of The Cheap-Eaters.  He didn’t want it in the esNF [edition suhrkamp Neue Folge {New Series}], because he thought that in a series it would sink without a trace.  I begged to differ with him.  The problem hasn’t yet been thrashed out.  I read the manuscript during the trip; it is a typical Bernhard text, once again he is varying his theme, the triumph of the mind over humanity’s crippledness.

The manuscript is textually in good shape, to be sure, but a few pages need to be re-transcribed and two passages must be deciphered.

The novella is the story of four “cheap-eaters” who dine at the Vienna public kitchen (VPK--hence the vpk, humanity1a) and whose physiognomy is described typologically.  In contrast to them, the healthy and spiritually impoverished dine at a restaurant, The Eye of God.  One of the cheap-eaters is a book-dealer, and the book trade doesn’t seem to come out looking very good.  

Bernhard once again confirmed the table of contents for The Novellas:
“The Malefaction of an Innsbruck Tradesman’s Son”
“The Carpenter”
“Two Tutors”
“The Cap”
“Is It a Comedy?  Is it a Tragedy?”
“Viktor Halfwit.  A Winter’s Tale”
“Attaché at the French Embassy”
“At the Timberline”
“Watten.  A Legacy”
“Midland at Stilfs”
“The Weatherproof Cape”
“On the Ortler”
Conversation with Claus Peymann and Thomas Bernhard.  Peymann will direct performances of Eve of Retirement at other theaters, and then in the spring of next year he will premiere a new Bernhard play.”

1a. Presumably (or at least conjecturably) the German original of VPK, WÖK, reminded Unseld of Volk, meaning “people.”

Letter No. 389

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
September 20, 1979

Dear Thomas,

Once again I have been contacted by the cultural adviser of the capital of Bavaria, Dr. Kolbe.  He would like to invite you to give a reading on November 19, 20, 24, 26, 27, or 28.  Honorarium: DM 2,000.00 plus coverage of travel and accommodation expenses.  Please do consider it.1  Unfortunately I cannot arrange for us to see each other on any of these dates; on the first of the days specified I shall be in Spain and after that in the U.S.A.2

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. On October 23, 1979, Jürgen Kolbe, the cultural adviser of Munich, wrote to Bernhard: “Dear Mr. Bernhard, we are highly delighted that you have agreed to participate in the cultural bureau of the Bavarian capital’s series Literature in Munich II, which this year is entitled In a Nascent Condition and will be taking place in the context of the traditional Munich book exhibition.  We are especially grateful to you for having arranged your schedule to allow for your participation.  We have set aside 9:00 p.m. on November 20 for you.”  (See also Letters Nos. 370 and 371.)

  1. From November 19 through 22, Unseld was in Barcelona, where he gave a lecture at the opening of the city’s German Book exhibition.  From November 23 through December 2 he was in the United States; one of the purposes of his trip was to engage in preliminary talks regarding the establishment of an American subsidiary of Suhrkamp Publications.

Letter No. 390


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

In eight out of ten points the creator thanks his sagacious proofreader; the relevant passages are checkmarked.1

I am in my element and working.  Still.  This coming week I shall be in America.2

You are quite right; our conversation was subpar, but our eyes were vigilant.

In the future reside all possibilities.

Yours very, very sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. The letter was accompanied by Unseld’s page of notes on The Cheap-Eaters (see the enclosure accompanying Letter No. 388).  Bernhard indicated his assent to the proposed changes with checkmarks next to the proposing questions; next to each of the checkmarks he wrote out the revised version of its associated passage by hand.  He inserted “perfidious” as a correction of “perverse” into the note on page 9, four lines from the bottom, and next to “leaving the p lowercase” in the same note he commented, “must remain capitalized!”; he also put a wavy line under the “rather” in the note Page 27a, line 11, on which he otherwise did not comment.  In the published book both passages are unchanged.

  1. In an October 2 memorandum to Unseld, Burgel Zeeh wrote: “Telephone conversation with Thomas Bernhard [...].  In October he will be going to New York for two weeks; he has notified Ms. Wilson, who will surely apprise Ms. Honegger in turn.  I quickly told him that we had received a favorable report on her translation of The Hunting Party.”  During his stay in New York--the only trip to the United States Bernhard ever took--he met Gita Honegger, who translated several of his plays into English and described her first encounter with the author as follows: “He traveled with his brother and his close friends Viktor and Grete Hufnagl.  As I had translated his plays, he wanted to meet me.  He told me that Suhrkamp’s evaluators were impressed by my most recent translation,The Hunting Party.  Then he asked me whether I could help him find a store in New York that sold Arrow shirts.  I did” (Gitta Honegger, Thomas Bernhard, The Making of an Austrian [New Haven: Yale UP, 2001, pp. xvi-xvii] The editors quote in German from a 2003 text, Thomas Bernhard.  Was ist das für ein Naar?  [What Kind of Fool Is This?], presumably Honegger’s own translation of The Making of an Austrian.)

Letter No. 391

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
October 23, 1979

Requesting telephone call1--Very sincerely Siegfried Unseld Suhrkamp Publications

  1. As Unseld wrote in his Chronicle for October 23, “Only one topic: esNF,” it may be assumed that in a telephone conversation on this date he overcame Bernhard’s resistance to the inclusion of The Cheap-Eaters in the new series of the edition suhrkamp.   

Letter No. 392

Frankfurt am Main
October 31, 1979

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

The Novellas have been published; you will have received a few copies; the book is intended as a one-time thing, hence the low retail price: DM 28.00 for 608 clothbound pages.  We printed a run of 10,000 copies.  Apart from the novellas for which we have obtained republication rights, all the texts have been previously issued by Suhrkamp or Insel and are already associated with contracts.  We will calculate your share of sales from this book using our usual formula for our hardcover publications (even though there will be a shortfall in revenues because of its length), i.e., 10% for the first 10,000, and 12% after that.    

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. In a Chronicle entry also dated October 31, Unseld wrote: “At night I read the Thomas Bernhard novellas that I have not previously read.  What a great writer!”   

Letter No. 393

Crete, Creta maris

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

I am here, contrary to expectation, after a horrifying nosedive, in the happiest shape imaginable, and I am writing to you because I have visited Minos Beach; but here everything is much nicer, because from my window I can see the actual open sea, rather than the lame old Bay of the dull and sluggish Agios Nikolaos.1  I wish to take this opportunity to thank you for your visit to Ohlsdorf, although I got the impression that your thoughts were elsewhere rather than with me.  But this kind of thing happens to the best minds.2

Regarding Madame Maleta: she is an extraordinarily good friend, but she is also so inescapably stuck in the diplomatic-cum-industrial quagmire that I often find it difficult to keep my composure around her.  By way of clearing up all misunderstandings: the business milieu she inhabits is anathema to me, but as a person she has some merit.

I didn’t get the impression that you were especially interested in my work.  You reacted to my news that I had just finished a new play as if I had just said I found the Last Supper quite tasty.  But that naturally also fits in with the “moral of your visit.”

It is certainly not a good idea to take two “poets” in one flight; even though you know everything, you don’t know that!!!

The genius has shown his weak side and that makes him easy to sympathize with.  Are you satisfied with the wording of the previous sentence?  Naturally you shouldn’t get angry but rather rejoice on behalf of your happy author.

You  surely will have read by now that I have left the stupid academy.  |with an  upset stomach, as I know for a fact!| I had been searching for years for an excuse to vanish from that superfluous institution.  Academies are anathema to me.  I had not cast a vote in that one in over ten years.  Now I have escaped from it and I shall soon be sailing completely alone with my passion.

Yours and also Burgel Zeeh’s very sincerely,
Thomas B.

The collection of novellas looks very nice, as I said, but because for whatever reason it slipped out of control, it is not quite an occasion for pure joy on my part.  But books fly just like time; we leave them behind us.  Thank God for that!!!

|P.S. Please make sure that The Cheap-Eaters is printed in a very large typeface; it must be at least 160 pages in length; otherwise the whole spirit of the thing will be contravened.|

  1. On September 27 Unseld was obliged to cancel a weeklong holiday he had planned to take in Crete in October.  Under the date heading of October 1 in his Chronicle he ruefully noted, “No Minos Beach [which is not far from the capital of Lasithi, Agios Nikolaos, on the east side of Crete’s northern coast].”

  1. In his Travel Journal, Salzburg, November 5-6, 1979, Unseld wrote first about a meeting with Peter Handke, and then about an encounter with Bernhard in Ohlsdorf and Gmunden: “He had concocted a precise strategy for the conversation: The Cheap Eaters in the spring of 1980, and now in the esNF, and Unrest no earlier than the second half of 1980.

He tells me about his new play, which is about a writer who is a latecomer.  We chat about it.  I had of course just seen Hermann Lenz during my meeting with Handke earlier, and the next day Bernhard told me had found a title for the play: Später Ruhm [Late Renown].  I should speak with Peymann; he would be sending him the new play soon; moreover, he was expecting a visit from Peymann sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Bernhard will be in Crete from November 16 through December 16, and then at  the beginning of January he will be in Yugoslavia.

Then his wish, on which he says everything depends: he wants to live at the Plaza Hotel in New York from October 1, 1980 through April 30, 1981.  Top floor, small room, a view of Central Park.  I am supposed to organize and finance this; he would write a book during this stretch of time.  It is just that simple.

We spoke at length about the reactions to Günther Busch in the press. [At the beginning of October Busch resigned from his position as a reader at Suhrkamp; on October 1, 1980 he assumed directorship of the Europäische Verlagsanstalt {European Publishing House}.]  Bernhard doesn’t think it is a good thing that we are turning the old edition into a ‘New Series’; why not an ‘edition unseld,’ he asked?  In any case, something new would be better.

He is anxiously looking forward to the arrival of the galley proofs for The Cheap- Eaters on December 17.

The customs duty is a big problem.  In order to pick up his complimentary copies of The Novellas he would have had to drive to Linz.  Bernhard was not about to do that.  So he went to the bookstore in Gmunden and took a look at the book; he was pleased with its appearance.  I would be happy to take steps to ensure that Bernhard is exempted from paying customs duty on such occasions.”

During his stay in the United States from November 23 through December 2, 1979, Unseld gathered some intelligence on the Plaza Hotel; his travel journal  reads: “Thomas Bernhard’s insane desire to live at the Plaza Hotel: I spoke with the Managing Director J. Phillip Hughes, to whom we had been referred by Mrs. [Elisabeth] Waldheim [Yes: Kurt Waldheim’s wife {DR}].  The hotel is not interested in such guests because except in January it is always fully booked.  What is more, the rates will go up twice during that period.  We could count on paying $95 dollars a day for a simple room, plus 8% city tax, and then the rates would probably go up 10% each of the two times.  So we could count on this venture costing $3,000 a month, hence $24,000 over eight months.        

Mr. Hughes directed me to the St. Moritz Hotel and to the Manager of the Essex Hotel (John Herold), but the prices were not substantially different there.
3. Bernhard resigned from the German Academy for Language and Literature [Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung].  On December 8 the Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung printed his argument in substantiation of this move under the title "On My Exit.”

Letter No. 394

[Address (Chersonissos, Crete); telegram]
Frankfurt am Main
December 6, 1979
can you confirm that mr. thomas bernhard stays in your hotel??  please forward this telex to him.1
dear mr. bernhard, dieter dorn accepts the guarantee for a production of  “eve of retirement” at the munich kammerspielen.  can you give us your consent?
sincere regards to you
siegfried unseld
suhrkamp publications
if mr. bernhard doesn’t stay in your hotel please inform us.  thank you very much.1
1. These sentences are in English in the original (DR).

Letter No. 395



dorn yes1 sincerely
1. Eve of Retirement was performed in February 1980 at the Munich Kammerspielen by Irmgard Först, Christiane Hammacher, and Helmut Stange under the direction of Wolfgang Gropper.  In a February 25, 1980 review, somebody at the Schwäbische Zeitung wrote, “In contrast to the premiere, with which Peymann bade goodbye to Stuttgart, the play was truncated to a performance length of exactly three hours, without any diminution of impact […] thanks to the diction—and very much in turn to the director’s restraint–it proved to be a penetrating and profoundly significant study of right-wing psychology.”


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2015 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Thomas Bernhard.  Siegfried Unseld.  Der Briefwechsel, Herausgegeben von Raimund Fellinger, Martin Huber und Julia Ketterer.  [Thomas Bernhard.  Siegfried Unseld.  The Correspondence, edited by ….] (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2011), pp. 530-583. 

Apart from interpolations postfixed by the translator's initials (DR), the notes are in substance entirely the work of the editors, but the translator has not scrupled to bring these notes into line with what he believes to be mainstream editorial practice in the Anglosphere, most signally by moving most instances of the historical present into the simple past.

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