Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with His Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part XVI: 1980 and 1981.


Letter No. 396

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
January 23, 1980
Dear Thomas,
We have received your January 20 letter and your corrections to The Cheap-Eaters.1  As you can see, we have granted [erfüllt2] you your wish and set the type at such an imposing point-size that the book will in fact be exactly as voluminous as you wished it to be.  And that was your wish, and mine was nothing but to have the book in the edition suhrkamp.  Now of course we have absolutely no choice but to grant ourselves these two wishes because this is how the announcements already read.  And you will see that your book is in good company, so that it will be rolling along excellently in a reliable vehicle.
If we were accurately informed, you are now promenading around Mallorca.  Let me know when you get back so that we can see each other in Ohlsdorf or somewhere else.
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
  1. On January 20, 1980, Bernhard wrote to Burgel Zeeh:
“Dear Ms. Zeeh,

After my return I came down with a so-called virus infection and spent two weeks out of commission in a montane village where I was hoping to get some work done.

Now everything is back in order.

It would be better to publish the book as a dedicated edition, and not in the series, for a number of reasons; by the book I mean The Cheap-Eaters.

Yours very sincerely,
Thomas B.”

  1. In the original this word is desired [erwünscht].

  1. The Cheap-Eaters was published as a 150-page book and as Volume No. 1006 of the edition suhrkamp New Series in May 1980.  The first installment of the New Series included nineteen other volumes, among them Gertrud Leutenegger’s dramatic poem Lebewohl, Gute Reise [Farewell, Bon Voyage], Octavio Paz’s bilingual poetry collection Suche nach einer Mitte [Search for a Mean], and Uwe Johnson’s Frankfurt poetic lectures Begleitumstände [Attendant Circumstances].  

Letter No. 397

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram]

Frankfurt am Main
February 9, 1980

sincere congratulations on today’s occasion1 and am announcing a letter and expressing the wish to see you soon.

yours with sincere regards
siegfried unseld

  1. Bernhard turned 49 on February 9.

Letter No. 398

[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
February 13, 1980
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
I hope the express parcel reached you speedily, and that you will have the whole thing sent back to me, also by express mail.  In the galley proofs the passages that may require some minor emendations from you have been marked; these should now only be questions of sentence structure or punctuation.  Please get in touch soon.
with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

Letter No. 399

Feb. 20, ’80

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

The corrections to The Cheap-Eaters are an absolute boon and I accept them and we shall see in which direction the madmen float.  I have canceled all travel plans and am working.1

Here I enjoy ideal conditions and don’t bother myself about anything but my sentences.

My house is tailor-made for me.

What I am doing here has a great deal in common with both downhill and cross-country skiing; I am conducting my own private olympics; here, too, everything is measured in hundredths of a second, which is nothing new for my brain.2

I do not envisage any change of abode in the near or even imaginable future.

Exactly fifteen years ago I visited you in Klettenbergstrasse (a street name rich in associative overtones in your case!2a) and begged you for forty-thousand marks, and with that sum I laid my most important cornerstone.3

I am requesting precisely the same sum from you now.  Perhaps it will be possible in the course of the next week to deposit the amount in the so-called HYPO-bank in Freilassing.  From there I can pick it up myself.

I very much wish to see you soon.  But I don’t know where or in what sort of setting.

Thomas B.

  1. The galley proofs of The Cheap-Eaters have not survived.  On the genesis of The Cheap-Eaters see Vol. 13, pp. 328-337 of Bernhard’s Works.

  1. The 1980 Winter Olympics were then taking place in Lake Placid, New York.

2a.  The “Klette” in “Klettenbergstrasse” is a word for a number of things that cling--e.g., a burr, a louse, and a leech; so Bernhard seems here to be saying that the street name should remind Unseld of what an unshakeable pest he picked up while living in that street [DR].

3.  See n. 5 to Letter No. 3.  

Letter No. 400   

Frankfurt am Main
February 22, 1980

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram]

in order to put my mind at ease re freilassing, i am very urgently requesting the manuscript of “unrest.”
yours with sincere regards
siegfried unseld

Letter No. 401

Feb. 23, ‘80

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

For Freilassing I am immeasurably appreciative.

Regarding the manuscript of the novel: The Cheap-Eaters must be published with the greatest possible degree of custodial solicitude before I part with it.  

In future there must be no rushing of either events or books.

Moreover, the novel must not be published this year; I wantonly conjured up a massacre in which my children are killing each other off.

Late spring will see the arrival of The World-Fixer, and in the fall, if the actors haven’t died by then, the new play entitled On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace [Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh] will be performed in Bochum.  And late May or earlier, I can’t be sure which, will see the arrival of The Cheap-Eaters.

We should let this book unfold in peace and not cut the ground from under its feet by bringing out another one.  I reckon that with its rights to my works this firm should still be raking in immense sums decades after my death.

I am wholeheartedly concentrated on my work and oriented toward Freilassing with comparable intensity.

Very sincerely,
Thomas B.

Letter No. 402

[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
March 4, 1980

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Warm thanks for your letter of Feb. 23.  The payment is on its way to Freilassing.

I presume we will be acquiring The World-Fixer and the play On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace on the same terms of those of earlier agreements and also with our usual share.  Could I read  On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace sometime soon?  I am very curious!

I am glad to hear that you are perching so concentratedly before your work projects; I am doing the same.  The new series of the edition suhrkamp has been announced; the dogs are baying, but the caravan keeps moving along.1  

In case we plan to meet on Piz Corvatsch at 1:00 p.m. one of these days, I shall be there from the 23rd through the 29th.2

sincerely, as ever,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. In Frankfurt on February 28, Unseld held a press conference in which he unveiled the first year’s schedule of the edition suhrkamp New Series (48 volumes).  The new conception of the series had been greeted with scepticism by the public well in advance, beginning in July of 1979.  Günther Busch, the editor of the series since 1963, resigned from the firm effective March 31, 1980.  In an April 2, 1979 letter to Jürgen Habermas, Unseld summed up the planned shift in the series’s emphasis: “We want to have less sociology, and to put in more literature in its place, in conformity with the principle on which edition suhrkamp was originally founded.”  The arts sections of the newspapers reacted ambivalently: while the new schedule was certainly much acclaimed, some doubted whether it could survive in such altered conditions.

  1. Under the date heading of March 22-30, Unseld wrote in his chronicle: “St. Moritz.  Ski trip.  Visited Wolfgang Hildesheimer in Poschiavo, spoke by telephone with Muschg, Pedretti [...].”

Letter No. 403

Frankfurt am Main
March 11, 1980

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Mr. Jürgen Tomm from the broadcaster Freies Berlin would like to obtain you for its series Author Scooter; it is a program which is broadcast live at 8:15 p.m. and in which authors can say whatever they like.  The moderators of the broadcast are Wapnewski and Raddatz in alternation.  Dieter Kühn and Thomas Brasch have been on the show, and Mr. Tomm assures us that they were very enthusiastic.

I am passing this on to you.  If I were in your place, I wouldn’t do it, but you may have your own thoughts on it.1

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld    

  1. Bernhard never appeared on this show.

Letter No. 404

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); handwritten; picture postcard: “Hotel Inter Continental Vienna”]

March 18 [1980]

We celebrate both the author of The Cheap-Eaters and the New Series of the es
Siegfried Unseld1

  1. Unseld’s signature is followed by those of certain of the firm’s employees, of certain employees of the firm’s distributor, Mohr, and of certain Viennese book-dealers.  In his Travel Journal, Vienna, March 18-19, 1980, Unseld wrote, “Picked up at Vienna International Airport by Dorli Berger; rode to the Intercontinental, where the first book-dealers were already arriving.  Presentation on the edition suhrkamp New Series, then the conversations over lunch. [...] the book-dealers promised that May 20 [the date of the series’s first delivery] would be focused on edition suhrkamp.

Letter No. 405

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
March 31, 1980

Urgently requesting call for return call--regards S.U. and B.Z.

Letter No. 406

[Address: (Ohlsdorf)]

Dear Thomas,

Frankfurt am Main
April 8, 1980

I certainly had the best will in the world, but as I was setting out in the morning in a VW equipped with only near-bald summer tires,  I skidded before I even reached the end of the on-ramp, and then I tuned into the traffic report, and what I learned from that was the final straw for me.  I think it would have been foolish to drive to and back from your house in those conditions.  And I had to be back in Frankfurt by Sunday evening in order to wrap up some projects that simply had to be completed before my trip to the U.S.A.  So we didn’t see each other, but I somehow have the feeling that we spoke with each other anyway!

I have to get Suhrkamp Publishers Boston running; on May 5 I shall be back in Germany.2   But even after that I shall still have some obligatory trips to make.  But from June 1 onwards my calendar is radiant with pristine white space.  What do you say to our seeing each other someplace in the middle of June or at the beginning of July?  I would very much like that.

with sincere regards and another request for pardon for not coming,
Siegfried Unseld
|Ms. Zeeh is following me to New York on April 24.  She can bring along a letter from you or your corporeal self|3

  1. On April 5-6, Unseld stayed overnight in Salzburg.  On the fifth, he had a meeting with Peter Handke.  On the sixth, Easter Sunday, he was scheduled to visit Bernhard in Ohlsdorf.  In a Supplemental Addendum to his Travel Journal, Salzburg, April 5-6, 1980, Unseld wrote: “At six in the morning [...] a deafening noise that tore me out of bed.  The Austrian army was testing the engineering of the bridge spanning the Salzach!  But you couldn’t see it because it was hidden by a thick curtain of snow.  I checked out the traffic report: the roads were in very bad shape, and I could easily imagine what the drive to Ohlsdorf would have been like.  So I decided not to drive to Ohlsdorf and to cancel my visit at Thomas Bernhard’s.  Fortunately I managed to get in touch with Mrs. Maleta, who was able to pass on the news to him.”  On April 9, Unseld flew to Mexico, and from there he traveled to the United States.

  1. A press release from April 1980 reads: “On May 1, 1980, Suhrkamp Publications Frankfurt and Zurich will launch a new firm in Boston, Massachusetts, USA:
Suhrkamp Publications will endeavor to establish a new platform for publishing in the U.S.A.  Initially the firm will work in conjunction with the American subsidiary of the Swiss publishing firm of Birkhäuser as a distribution point for the German-language books issued by the firms of Suhrkamp and Insel in Frankfurt.  At a later point of time Suhrkamp Publishers Boston Inc. will develop a dedicated production line consisting partly of translations of our German-language titles and partly of English-language books that will subsequently be added in German translation to the schedules of Suhrkamp Publications Frankfurt and Zurich. [...] Suhrkamp Publishers Boston Inc.’s launching ceremony, at which Professor Egon Schwarz of Washington University St. Louis will speak, will be held on May 1, 1980 on the premises of the Goethe Institut Boston.  The ceremony will coincide with the opening of a first-time exhibition of original watercolors by Hermann Hesse at the Goethe Institut Boston.  Viewers of this exhibition will also be able to see Suhrkamp Boston Publishers’ Inc.’s first publication.  Hesse as Painter.  Painting for Pleasure. Translated by Ralph Manheim.  With 20 Watercolours by Hermann Hesse will be published on May 1, in a limited edition of 1,000 copies. [...]
The president of Suhrkamp Publishers Boston Inc. is Dr. Klaus Peters; its chairman is Dr. Siegfried Unseld.”           

3. The bottom margin of the letter bears a handwritten postscript from Burgel Zeeh: “The plane takes off at 1:30 p.m. from Frankfurt Airport (LH404).  Will you get in touch?”   

Letter No. 407

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
June 16, 1980

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I had firmly hoped to meet up with you on June 21 in Bochum at the premiere, but now of course that just isn’t going to happen.1

But I do think we should still see each other again sometime.  What do you say to my coming to visit you on July 24?  Where do you expect to be then?  If you are going to be in Ohlsdorf, I would spend the night of July 24-25 in Gmunden; in the event that you were in Vienna or Salzburg, I would do my best to find a place to stay myself.2   

Please let yourself be heard from.

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. In a February 25 letter, Claus Peymann announced to Bernhard that the premiere of The World-Fixer at the Schauspielhaus Bochum was scheduled for June 21.  But because the rehearsals were getting off to a difficult start, the premiere was postponed to the fall (see n. 1 to Letter No. 411).

  1. In his Travel Journal, Salzburg, July 24-26, 1980, Unseld wrote about his meeting with Thomas Bernhard in Ohlsdorf: “I arrived at the appointed time, 11:30 a.m., “My publisher is punctual.” Arduous conversation about everything under the sun; i.e., via a discussion of general topics we gradually make the transition to talking about Olympia, the Salzburg Festival, his criticism of the edition suhrkamp old and new and of the theatrical publications division.  He is sorry that The Cheap-Eaters was published in the New Series; he has a high opinion of all the German titles but of none of the rest; they are all wastepaper, all purely derivative.  Apart from Octavio Paz; he, according to Bernhard, is the only one worth drawing anyone’s attention to.
[…] He talks off his anger; he says he really is just an employee of the firm, which pays him DM 2,000.00 a month; and that he certainly delivers his goods, but that the firm values him as nothing more than its Hard-Working Hired-Writer No. 27.  He says he sent in his manuscripts to the firm and then heard nothing; afterwards he saw the book nicely turned out according to Suhrkamp regulations, but the rest was silence.  Finally, he says, he got a letter from Ms. Ritzerfeld informing him of the publication of a Polish translation.  We drive to a tavern in the woods.  He slowly eats his lunch, a heartily portioned one; I of course am fasting, which makes things even more uncomfortable.  Afterwards we take an hour-long walk; then we go back to his farmhouse in Ohlsdorf.  Again the question: what do I mean to you, what do I mean to the firm?  I show him the account balance sheet, because I know that only monetary figures can convince him.  The account balance sheet for 6.30.1980 shows net honoraria revenues totaling DM 88,000.00.  I was quite taken aback by this total when I came across it as I was looking over the statement during the flight.  Where did this sum come from?  Even if this should turn out to have been an error, we will have to cut our losses, because he was elated by this figure of DM 88,000.00, meaning a virtual credit and a tie with the balance in Zurich.  He had not been expecting that; he thought he owed us money; now he was a like a completely different person.  “So could I have DM 15,000.00?”  I said he could, because the account balance sheet showed a credit of at least DM 32,000.00.  Next morning DM 20,000.00 was deducted from this sum, and by the time we said our goodbyes that afternoon, DM 25,000.00 had been deducted from it.

Then the conversation was a bit more hassle-free.  He told me about his plans.  Peymann would now be premiering The World-Fixer in September.  Naturally, he said, this was contingent on the principal actors’, Minetti and Heerdegen’s, being in good health.

In May 1981 Peymann would be putting on the new comedy, On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace.  Bernhard wants us to typeset the text now as it will appear in the BS edition later on so that the actors can learn their parts using the text in that format.  I told him we would do this, and we will try to make it our first order of business.

Then the longer-term strategy.  He does not want to put out the novel in the spring of 1981; he would like to go over it one more time.  The book is no longer entitled Unrest but Obituary.  We will receive the manuscript of it in the second half of 1981.

I kept thinking about Dittmar’s ‘history of a literary corpus’ and repeatedly made mention of his earlier works; no, he said, he wouldn’t have it; ‘You can publish them after I’m dead.’  Then I came to speak of his collection of poetry, In hora mortis, published in 1958 by Otto Müller Publications in Salzburg; he owns the rights.  We had agreed that Suhrkamp would publish it as far back as three years ago in Trieste [i.e., in January 1977, when they were both in Trieste for the Bernhard symposium (see Letter No. 343 and its first note)], he thought.  He would welcome its publication now, but only as part of the BS.  He admits there is one difficulty: the lines of verse are quite short.  He admits that he is effectively asking us to typeset a prayer book: a large typeface, if possible only on the recto.  The dedication is to be omitted.

Next he confessed that he had finished a prose text approximately 60 pages in length: In den Hohen Tauern [In the Upper Tauern].  He said he had earmarked this text for the BS, and that it would also look good alongside Todesstunde [Hora mortis in German (DR)] (the poems).  We could have the manuscript.

I was of course mindful of the fact that in February of 1981 he would turn 50; initially he didn’t want to talk about this birthday at all.  But then he was cheered by the idea of having two BS volumes--In hora mortis and In the Upper Tauern--published on that date.  I took the book of poems with me back to Frankfurt; he is willing to send me the prose manuscript if I write to him telling him that we plan to publish it in the BS.

Do we want this, this massive accumulation of Thomas Bernhard texts in the BS, with On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace coming out in May?

Then he said he had just finished transcribing a new play: Am Ziel [The Goal Attained].  The play is set in the antechamber of a set of boxes at an opera house!  It is the intermission.  A man has been ruined by his adopted children.  Instead of calling for champagne they call for a lawyer and force him to give up his estate and sign over their legacies to them.  So they have reached their ‘goal.’  Bernhard would like to have this play performed at the 1982 Salzburg Festival.  The director of the festival, Mr. Kaut, is oblivious of his own good fortune because the two of them have of course been enemies since the scandal of 1976-’77 [see n. 1 to Letter No. 325].

After three hours of conversation, we drive to Gmunden, where I am to spend the night.  Dinner at a restaurant on the Traunsee.  Immense scenic landscapes.  On the one side lowering cliffs, on the other a lovely red evening sky over the lake.  Everything was going so well, he tried to tempt me, the faster, to drink, but without success.  He said had reserved me the finest room in the hotel and also prepaid the bill.  I scented some sort of mischief was imminent.  And mischief did indeed follow.

He said he had completed a fourth segment of his autobiography, The Cold, and that it would have to be published by Residenz Publications.  Silence.  An excessively long silence.  Then: he said that he would write three more segments over the course of three years.  That the whole thing was a unity.  I proposed our making it into one big book entitled Childhood and Youth.  That brightened his mood right away, but he said he had already promised Mr. Schaffler this continuation.  Another silence.  Then he started jesting: ‘We’ve been together for 16 years, we have had a good run together, our accounts are square, won’t it be better if we separate?  You will head back home, there will be no more monthly remittances, no more trouble with your employee, Th. B.’  Another silence.  I don’t think I had ever before just sat somewhere in silence and consternation for such a long time; behind me were the cliffs, in front of me was the lake rippling in the red light of the setting sun.  I can’t describe how he kept clownishly retorting to me that he could earn DM 2,000.00 some other way.  That he didn’t need to write.  That a distant cousin of his sat in a quarry and counted the trucks entering and leaving and also got DM 2,000.00.  My orgy of mineral water, a cheerless antithesis to cheerlessness.  We were effectively acting out a scene from a Thomas Bernhard comedy.  Every single move available to us was comical.  We could just as easily go one way as the other.  From my attitude he could not help inferring that I agreed with him, that I was saying, ‘Sure, we might as well call it quits with each other.’  He was prepared for anything; I wasn’t, so the stakes were higher for him.  I don’t know if I shall ever have the nerve to get through another conversation like that one.

We left the restaurant and drove to my hotel, 11 at night; everybody had already gone to bed, you couldn’t even get a bottle of mineral water.  Again a cheerless situation straight out of a play by Th. B.  Then in the space of a minute we made the following resolution: I proposed that if this text, The Cold, had to be issued by Residenz, then it should be published not in the spring of 1981 as scheduled but rather this coming fall without an announcement.  That brightened his mood, perhaps, he said, that would do the least ‘damage,’ to publish it quickly and forget it on December 31--that was how he imagined it.  He said that this would irrevocably be the last text published by Residenz; he had already promised me this once before, in Vienna [see n. 2 to Letter No. 369].  That he would write the next three segments, Part V, The Court Reporter, Part VI, The Beginning of a Writer’s Career, and Part VII, Early Childhood.  That afterwards we would publish a collection, Childhood and Youth; it would consist of the four segments published by Residenz and the three unpublished segments; Part VII would serve as its first chapter.  A hardcover book.  A year earlier, meaning in 1982, we could put out the Collected Plays.  In 1984 the Collected Novellas, probably in two volumes.  Then the novels.  A collection called The Early Bernhard should be published only after his death.

At midnight we decide that the next morning he will ride with me to Salzburg, where he will speak with Schaffler immediately and put this decision into immediate effect. [...]

At 11:30 a.m. we meet at the Café Bazar [in Salzburg].  By then he had spoken with Schaffler; their conversation lasted 20 minutes; Schaffler intends to ‘give priority’ to the book, so The Cold will be on display at the book fair.  Then, because their interview was so short, he had immediately gone to the lion’s den, to see Mr. Kaut, the director of the festival, and offered him the play The Goal Attained for 1982; Mr. Kaut was delighted and promised him that it would be accepted.  [...]   He kept a jealous eye on how I spent my hours in Salzburg; Handke’s name was never mentioned and was off-limits for mentioning.  So we drove to this really unusual estate, a possession of Mrs. Schubert, the consul’s wife, in Berchtesgaden [in Bavaria], an estate where Bernhard in his grandiosity admittedly fitted right in.  I somehow couldn’t get over the feeling that Adolf Hitler was saluting us from the Obersalzberg…

Late in the afternoon we said our goodbyes at my hotel in Salzburg.   As he was seeing me off he raised the sum disbursed to him by DM 5,000.00, then he said, ‘come again soon.’ [...]

The flight from Salzburg to Frankfurt.  I read Bernhard’s comedy On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace.  A successful writer, an author of bestsellers, has written a tetralogy; a female graduate student and a critic from the FAZ, both admirers of his, are discussing his work with him.  Enter the author’s publisher, ‘punctually, like a publisher.’  He wants to have the manuscript, but the author knows that one has to play this manuscript game.  At the conclusion a passage is read out in honor of the publisher.  The next day I send Bernhard a telegram asking him to think seriously about changing the conclusion.”    

Letter No. 408

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram]

Frankfurt am Main
July 28, 1980

the summit comedy is splendid but i would reconsider the conclusion and the remark about proust-translation1
bank transfer underway
yours sincerely siegfried unseld

  1. Beyond Every Summit Lies Peace contains the following passage of dialogue between the author Moritz Meister and his publisher: “PUBLISHER [...] Of course the French will all have to be retranslated from scratch / but by whom that is the question / for years I have been searching for good translators / but I haven’t found any acceptable ones
MR MEISTER Proust for example has already been translated two or three times / and every time they say it’s a brilliant translation / but after ten years at the latest it turns out / that this brilliant translation is pure dilettantism / And it’s the same with Joyce” (Bernhard, Works, Vol. 18, p. 238).
“And it’s the same with Joyce” is an insertion that Bernhard added in a later draft of the play that is now the oldest surviving one.  On the other hand Bernhard made no alteration to the conclusion referred to by Unseld; after the author has finally read from his manuscript, the play ends with the publisher saying, “That is simply mag / [stage direction] shaking his head, which is held high /nificent” as the other listeners applaud.  Additionally, in an August 7 letter Burgel Zeeh asked Bernhard: “On the Far Side of Every Summit lies Peace: the text is now being prepared for typesetting.  Dr. Unseld asked me to ask you if you had a subtitle or motto in mind--will you please give me some information about this?”   

Letter No. 409

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); circular letter]
Frankfurt am Main
August 21, 1980

To the
authors of the Suhrkamp Theatrical Publications Division

I would like to inform you that on July 1, 1981, RUDOLF RACH will resume leadership of the Suhrkamp Theatrical Publications Division.  Dr. Rudolf Rach was formerly active in this capacity at our firm from 1971 through 1976, at which point it became his desire to undertake the practical work of bringing plays to the stage at a theater.  I am delighted that Rudolf Rach is returning to us after his years of successful practical theater experience; his active involvement in the Theatrical Publications Division will intensify its work.

Ms. Renate Doufexis retired from her position as head of the administrative subdivision on June 30 of this year.  Now as before the dramaturgical subdivision is staffed by Wend Kässens and Burkhard Schlichting and the administrative subdivision by Ms. Claudia Ständer; these employees of the firm are always available to help you.

I personally will be devoting more attention to the firm’s theatrical division pending Mr. Rudolf Rach’s arrival; should you have any questions or desires, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me at any time.

Dr. Siegfried Unseld1  

  1. There is a note in Unseld’s handwriting on this letter; it reads, “as previously announced sincerely S.U.”

Letter No. 410

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
August 22, 1980

Kölner Schauspiel wants to stage Retirement stop director Walter Adler young not untalented stop cast from ensemble on average good stop low risk stop would be in favor of giving permission sincere regards S.U.1
In a memorandum dated August 26, 1980, Burgel Zeeh wrote:
“Phone call from Thomas Bernhard at 9:45 a.m. on 8.26.80.
On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace: the play has a subtitle: ‘A Day in the Life of a German Writer in 1980.’
[...] He says yes to Retirement in Cologne.
From September 2 onwards he will be in Bochum for rehearsals of The World-Fixer.  As he must speak with Dr. Unseld, I am scheduling a Saturday-afternoon meeting in Bochum.
President Kaut finds the bait of The Goal Attained so enticing that he would like to stage the play in Salzburg as early as 1981.  Now Bernhard plans to buckle down and get to work and make sure he has finished the play by October.  So The Goal Attained will be performed in 1981 in Salzburg.  Naturally this pleases him very much.”   

Letter No. 411

[Address: Ohlsdorf; telegram]

Frankfurt am Main
September 7, 1980

outstanding performance minetti and heerdegen compelling stop thomas bernhards definitive breakthrough on the german stage “there is no past, but only the future,” best wishes and hope to see you again soon yours
siegfried unseld

  1. The World-Fixer received its premiere on September 8, 1980 at the Schauspielhaus Bochum in a production directed by Claus Peymann; Bernhard Minetti, to whom the play is dedicated, played the title role; Edith Heerdegen played the woman next to him.  In his Travel Journal, Bochum-Berlin, September 6-8, 1980, Unseld wrote: The premiere of The World-Fixer was absolutely magnificent.  Ultimately yet another evening at the theater in which you felt completely enraptured.  I believe that the date of this performance will be an historic one for Bernhard.  With this play Bernhard has definitely made his breakthrough on the stage.  The play was of course written for Minetti, but I am of the opinion that another great actor will be capable of starring in it.  I regard the play itself as a continuation and supersession of the spirit of Beckett.  

Letter No. 412

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
September 9, 1980

Dear Thomas,

By now you will have received my telegram, and knowing you as I do, I am sure that over the past couple of days you have been sitting in cafés in Gmunden and diligently studying your triumph.  For a triumph it was, in every single respect.1

By now I have been accosted by various theater people who are thinking about putting on a production of The World-Fixer.  I have had a remarkable revelation: probably you wrote this play and this character with Minetti in mind, and he has presented it perfectly.  But I believe that Minetti is not the only person who can play this role, and I am even of the opinion that an attempt must be made to entrust the role to another great actor.  I hope that you are of one mind with me on this.  It is out of the question for just anybody to star in this play, but I would find it uncommonly interesting to see how another actor managed to fill out the role.

I have now learned that I am not even worth a telegram to you.  I was sitting in my hotel in Bochum at 5:00 p.m. sharp, and by 5:05 I could already sense that you weren’t in town.  I don’t mind telling you that I left Frankfurt four hours early for the sake of that meeting; in consequence I took a fruitless walk around Bochum; compared with Bochum, Augsburg and Trier are oases of amenity.2

As promised, in February of 1981 we will be bringing out the poetry collection In hora mortis in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, along with In the Upper Tauern, if you send us the text now.  But as I have said before, without a manuscript we cannot produce the book.  

Minetti, Heergarden, and Peymann said they would be “sincerely glad” to come to Frankfurt on February 8, 1981.  Minetti plans to arrange his Berlin acting schedule so that he is free on that evening, but none of the parties mentioned would ever come to Frankfurt on my account.   

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. Under the date-heading of September 6-8 in his Chronicle, Unseld mentions a “hymn” to the production of The World-Fixer from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of two days after the premiere; in it, Georg Hensel observes: “[...] never before has Thomas Bernhard negated the world so gleefully.  It is the darkest and at the same time the funniest Bernhard work there has yet been. [...] a grand evening--for Thomas Bernhard, for Minetti, for Peymann, for German theater.”  And in the Süddeutsche Zeitung Heinrich Vormweg observed of the same occasion: “Even if the combination of Minetti, Bernhard, and Peymann no longer has any surprises in store, it continues to be good at delivering climaxes.”

  1. In The Force of Habit, the circus director Caribaldi describes Augsburg as a “musty, pestiferous nest,” and as the “cloaca of the Lech” (see Vol. 16, p. 102 of Bernhard’s Works).  In The World Fixer the title character declares, “In Trier intelligence / feels ill at ease,” in preparation for formulating a maxim: “Never again Trier / never again on the Mosel” (Bernhard: Plays, Vol. 3, pp. 144 and 154).

Letter No. 413

September 15, ’80

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

Our meeting in Bochum fell victim to a misunderstanding; I no longer have any recollection of where and when we were supposed to see each other, although most likely I did establish a quite precise where and when over the phone with the ever- unflaggingly magnificent Ms. Zeeh.1  My multi-day infection with its forty-degree fever flung me to the floor and smashed my head to pieces.

You write that you have now learned that you “are not even worth a telegram” to me;  this jest is very wounding to a man who is obviously completely convinced of your worth to me; if I had to enumerate your worth in telegrams, the figure would exceed that of the total number of them that have been sent in the entire history of the German postal service.  And if I included all the express letters and news items in the tally it would still be insignificant by comparison with this worth of yours to me.  Based on what I had heard from the playhouse in Bochum I was of the opinion that you had been precisely informed of everything and hence, among other things, of where I was.  I assume, though, that a clever man like you did not find the four hours intellectually unprofitable.  And even if I subtract your anger at me from the tally, you still will have netted a hefty margin.  And an even heftier one in such a ghastly dump of a town.  The most hideous places are at the same time always the most lucrative ones.

Regarding The World-Fixer: I don’t intend to allow any further performances of it to take place during Minetti’s lifetime.  We will let this evening in Bochum rest on its laurels.  About performances in languages other than German and outside the three German-speaking provinces I couldn’t care less either way.

Regarding In the Upper Tauern: of course it needn’t appear within the next year.  There cannot be too few books.

Regarding my birthday: I intend to let it slip by like all the other forty-nine so far, and it is immeasurably valuable to me when nobody and nothing takes any notice of them.  I must ask you to forget this birthday completely.  I myself of course can hardly avoid this lamentable circumstance; one cannot undo a birth, although it is true that I much more often think to myself “If only I had never been born!” than “I’m alive.”

The world is without a doubt the greatest of all experiences, but for the most part it is simply knackering itself in an appalling orgy of exertion.  The world is becoming more and more of a pokey dungeon in which the untried prisoner one is spends his entire wretched life breathing in the stalest imaginable air and has absolutely no hope of being acquitted.

Regarding Salzburg: as focused as I am on it, it really must be put on no earlier than in ’82, because ’81 is too soon and will inevitably lead to an all-too neck-breakingly paced compromise.  What is more I insist on Peymann, whom Kaut for his part refuses to have, so he has got to make up his mind whether it is going to be with Peymann or not at all.  The fair city on the Salzach remains for me the darkest of hellholes into which I am loath to throw myself until I have been guaranteed every possible safeguard.  This whole region positively stinks if not quite to high heaven then at least as high as every single window of my house.2

I take pleasure in the successful realization of one of my works, and that is all.

From Friday through Monday I shall be in Bochum to take a look at the old loon.  But I know full well what torture it is to hear one’s own sentences--sentences one can no longer hear--spoken once again, and spoken in each and every case in a different way than one had imagined them; it is to submit to a most unsavory ordeal.  But naturally I am smitten with the art of acting; that is true.

This winter I plan not to be here; where I shall be I don’t know yet.

I would certainly be glad to drive with you once again through forests and fields--and let our goal once again be a beer princess in a brewer’s castle, from which the cracking of Chilean whips resounds and submissive senior forestry officials come running to wish us a good day and, as I also fancy, a good night.  

I am thinking of the pond in which the Watzmann is mirrored and from which happiness can never be so easily obtained as the beer from the barrels there.3

Yours sincerely,
Thomas B.  

  1. In an August 26 letter to Bernhard, Burgel Zeeh did indeed propose a meeting at 5:00 p.m. at the Bundesbahn Hotel on September 6.  

  1. The Goal Attained was premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 1981 (see n. 1 to Letter No. 435).  On November 21,  via Burgel Zeeh, Bernhard communicated the following instructions to his publisher regarding negotiations with the Salzburg Festival: “Telephone call from Thomas Bernhard from Mallorca.  When we draw up the contract with Kaut for The Goal Attained: he would like the same share as he got in 1974 for The Force of Habit: DM 40,000.00.  He says that everything above that can go to the firm.  He says that this is certainly not exorbitant, that everything else has gotten more expensive in the past six years, and that it also happens to be the share that Peymann is getting. [...] P.S. He will be in Mallorca for another week and will then be in Ohlsdorf.”  

  1. In July Bernhard and Unseld visited Inge and Bruno H. Schubert’s estate, the Bogensberglehen (see n. 1 to Letter No. 407).  Mr. Schubert owned the Henninger brewery in Frankfurt and had been Consul General of Chile since the early 1950s.   

Letter No. 414

      Frankfurt am Main
September 23, 1980

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Thanks for your letter of 9.15.  I am sorry that the infection has played such havoc with you.

I have taken note of your desire to have your birthday go unmentioned.  I am sorry about this, because my memories of Brussels are both lovely and vivid.  And one really ought to make at least a bare confession of one’s existence every now and then.1

I am rather concerned at your attitude to future performances of The World-Fixer.  I fully understand your admiration of Minetti, but not this fixation.  I am of the opinion that it would be fine and proper to intend Minetti exclusively for Minetti, but to prohibit other actors from attempting The World-Fixer strikes me as unfair to the art of acting that you admire so much.  Couldn’t you give another thought to this?

Nobody moves mountains, but you are moving the Upper Tauern.  We would have had it otherwise.

Next week I am finally going to take a five-day vacation of my own on your beloved Portuguese beaches; I am thinking here of a specific photographic image.2

Burgel Zeeh, who sends her regards, will be leaving town for a vacation on October 18.  On Sunday the 19th I am going to be solitary and free.  Mightn’t I invite you to a plane trip and a dinner in Frankfurt?

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. Unseld and Bernhard celebrated Bernhard’s fortieth birthday together in Brussels in 1971.  See n. 1 to Letter No. 147.

  1. Unseld vacationed in the Algarve from September 29 through October 4.  The picture Unseld had in mind was the one taken by Gerda Maleta and reproduced after Letter No. 339 in Part XIV of this translation.  This picture hung in Unseld’s study in his house in Klettenbergstraße in Frankfurt.
Letter No. 415

[Address: Ohlsdorf; handwritten; picture postcards: “Albufeira/Algarve”]

October 2, 1980

A certain person is missing from the beach here!  (here where, according to Alberti, “the land ends and the sea begins”)1

Who is he?

Take a guess


  1. The first stanza of Rafael Alberti’s poem “Si mi voz muriera en tierra” (“If My Voice Dies Onshore” (from the collection Marinero en tierra) reads: Si mi voz muriera en tierra, llevadla al nivel del mar y dejadla en la ribera” (“If my voice dies onshore, / bring it down to the beach / and leave it on the beach for me.”)  [The translators quote from a German translation in which Land and Strande (“beach”) both appear. (DR)]

Unseld’s October 2, 1980 postcard to Bernhard

Letter No. 416

Frankfurt am Main
October 10, 1980

Dear Thomas,

So--you can’t come on the 18th-19th; that is too bad, and you will be away in November.  Where will you be traveling to?1

My wife and I will be on a weeklong ski holiday in Arosa from December 6 through 13.  We could meet between the 1st and the 3rd, but perhaps December 14-15 would be better.  Which would you prefer?  I would be very grateful to you if you could let me know which days you prefer before your departure in November.  And actually it would be good if you came to Frankfurt, because there are a lot of people here who would like to talk to you.  If you will be coming here, I shall ask Rudolf Rach to come to Frankfurt as well so that we can finally have an extensive conversation about the theater situation.

Otherwise things are going well.  The World-Fixer is enjoying a significant amount of acclaim, and we are having a hard time turning everybody down.2

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. In an October 9, 1980 telephone memorandum Burgel Zeeh wrote:

“Regards from Thomas Bernhard.  He cannot come on the 18th-19th, because that is his aunt’s birthday, perhaps her last one.

He said he had written you an extremely serious letter, and then you had replied to it in a way that was not at all serious.  So that’s the way things stand now, he says.

He is doing fine; at the end of November he will be going away to some place or other.  [Bernhard traveled to Mallorca, where Krista Fleischmann’s interview film Thomas Bernhard.  Eine Herausforderung.  Monologe auf Mallorca [Thomas Bernhard. A Provocation.  Monologues at Mallorca] was shot in the first few days of November.  The film was broadcasted on the ORF in February of 1981 in honor of Bernhard’s fiftieth birthday.]  After that, he said, he would be happy to see you at some point in December; “we should all see one another,” at which point I told him that would be possible only in Frankfurt.  All right, fine: so he’ll go to the paradise that is Frankfurt.

World-Fixer (I asked about him about it again on the basis of a memo from the theatrical publications division as well as your own repeated inquiries): no, he doesn’t want any further performances of it.  He says that he has got a new play and that it will be better to have the new one performed.  We must let The World-Fixer sit.  

2.   In the lower-right corner of the letter Bernhard  wrote the then-current Frankfurt area code, 0611, and Suhrkamp’s telephone number, 740231; the left edge of the letterhead is adorned by a hand-drawn prolate rectangle.


Letter No. 417

[Stationery of the Hotel Palas Atenea]

Palma de Mallorca
November 1, ’80

Dear Dr. Unseld,

I must ask you not to allow my Hora mortis to be published under any circumstances.  I could not but have rejected such a plan from the outset; the book gives me no pleasure.  My decision is unequivocal.1

Has On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace been typeset yet?2

It is possible that next summer The Goal Attained will be performed in Salzburg with Marianne Hoppe; it all depends upon the Salzburgers and Peymann, to both of whom I have given carte blanche.

They say you have said that Peymann shouldn’t always be directing productions of Bernhard, that your firm has plenty of other authors in its catalogue.

What am I supposed to say to this?

Best regards,
Thomas B.

  1. This cancellation of the publication of In hora mortis was preceded by a correspondence between Bernhard and Maria Dessauer, who had written to him as follows on October 17:
“Dear Mr. Bernhard, In February 0f 1981 your cycle of poems In hora mortis is scheduled to be published in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.
We must try to make the printed book ‘ample’ enough; to this end we could have every poem begin on a recto page and leave the verso blank whenever a poem begins and ends on the same page.  It is clear that this is not the case on pages 9-10.    

It strikes us as ambiguous on pages 7-8 (one poem or two?), 21 and 22, and on pages 27-28.

Please also let us know whether the dedication should be included and whether it should be at the end of the book, where it is in the Salzburg edition.

In a letter dated October 24, 1980, Bernhard replied: “[...] I wrote this poem twenty-five years ago as the libretto of an oratorio composed in collaboration with the composer Lampersberg.  It turned out to be a piece whose execution occasions incredibly enormous difficulties, and for this reason it has, as far as I know, received only a single performance [See n. 1 to Letter No. 24].  Lampersburg was a student of Hauer, of Schoenberg, and he especially revered Webern, whose technique he had used as the basis of the oratorio.

Nowadays I myself recoil in horror from the phrase ‘lord and God,’even if I do regard In hora mortis as a successful work, even at the level of the structure of the text.  The subject has not jibed with my intellectual constitution for well over twenty years.

Pages 7 and 8 are two ‘poems,’ naturally, so it is only natural that your questions have alighted on those two pages.

It must be explicitly stated both that this “poem” originated more than a quarter of a century ago and for what purpose it originated, and the dedication must be discarded as well.

Perhaps I should have died back then with nothing but this ‘poem’ to my name.
Who knows?

Thomas Bernhard

P.S. From Saturday morning onwards I shall be reachable at the Hotel Palas Atenea in Palma, Mallorca; please do me the favor of making this known to Dr. Unseld, to whom I shall write from Palma.”

And on November 6 he reported to Maria Dessauer: “[...] in the meantime I have canceled the Hour of Death and informed Dr. Unseld of this decision about a week ago.

Nothing could make me happier now than the non-publication of the composition.

Stupidity mustn’t be carried to extremes.

Yours sincerely, Thomas Bernhard

P.S. These lines are being sent off immediately.
With my thanks for your services as a gravedigger!”
In hora mortis was published in the Insel Bücherei in 1987.

2.     On December 15, Hans-Burkhard Schlichting wrote to Bernhard: “By the same post I am sending you a copy of the corrected galley proofs of the printed version of On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace.  In the event that you wish to forgo a detailed perusal of the proofs, I would appreciate your making a brief note to that effect.”

3. On November 18, Unseld spoke by telephone with Bernhard, who was in Mallorca, and described the substance of their conversation in a note: “He informed me that in a telephone conversation he had given the Burgtheater permission to stage The President for a fee of 100,000.00 schillings.  (A year earlier the Burg had offered 60,00.00, and he had turned them down.)  The sum is to be regarded as a downpayment on royalties, but of course it is already so high that additional payments are probably not forthcoming.

Once this has been carried through, Bernhard is also prepared to give the Burg performance rights for The World-Fixer.  The terms of these have yet to be settled.

Nothing about television rights has so far been settled.  Originally Austrian Television planned to record the German performances, but Austrian Television does not know that performances at the Burg are now in the offing.  Ms. Ritzerfeld would like initially to send word of them to Austrian Television and find out whether they would rather record the German performances or wait and record the Austrian ones.  After that I will run everything by Bernhard once again.”
On the same date, Unseld ordered Suhrkamp’s accounting office to remit the sum of DM 20,000.00 to Bernhard’s account in Freilassing.


Letter No. 418

January 5, 1981

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

Today I am sending you the Summit comedy, and my only wish is for you to send me the finished book as soon as possible.

I would like The Goal Attained to have the same layout as The Ignoramus had in its day, and perhaps this book can be finished by June.1

I am working on the novel; its title is The Son.

From January 7 through about the 28th I shall be reachable at the spa hotel in Bad Ischl.

Over the past few days I have been repeatedly thinking about how far apart we have grown over the past two years; have you slipped away from me or I from you at a greater velocity than that of time itself?  I don’t know.

For two days I have been going around with the following sentence in my head: I have a publishing firm but no publisher.

Right now, though, instead of brooding I shall work.

Otherwise I love my life at least exactly as often as I execrate it.

When things are serious, I fail to receive any lines from Siegfried Unseld.  It’s too bad my publisher isn’t also my friend.

But probably everything is best just as it is.

Only a madman perpetually expects to have his ideal picture of things made into a reality.  Probably I am mad.  But I am also the opposite.

I am thinking |*|about your antechamber blithely and with the utmost delight!2.

Very sincerely yours,
Thomas Bernhard


  1. On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace, whose corrected galley-proofs Bernhard sent back to the firm [presumably also on January 5 but in a separate envelope (DR)], was published as Volume 728 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp on April 29, 1981.  This letter was accompanied by the manuscript of the play The Goal Attained.  

  1. On January 7, Burgel Zeeh sent Bernhard, then in Bad Ischl, a telex that read: “The antechamber of which you are so blithely thinking would like to ask you to keep yourself in readiness for a telephone call from the chamber itself at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, January 9.”  From Bernhard’s list of questions to be asked, which is also dated January 9, one infers that during this telephone conversation Unseld and Bernhard agreed to meet in Bad Ischl on January 12, 1981.  Unseld wrote about his trip for the meeting in his Travel Journal, Munich--Salzburg--Bad Ischl, January 10-12, 1981:

“The length of the journey [from Salzburg] to Bad Ischl (1-and-a-half hours by bus, almost two by train) was offset by a beautiful winter panorama: Kaiser Franz Joseph knew what he was doing when he had his summer palace built in Bad Ischl, which is now hibernating.

Thomas Bernhard had already spent ten days in Bad Ischl, where his aunt is taking the cure.  He was planning to stay there eight more days; on the one hand he found the town climatically beneficial, ‘salubrious’; on the other hand he was finding the town and the people there more and more nauseating, a fact which, on yet another hand, he said, was quite beneficial to his work.  Yes, he said, he was working well; he expected the manuscript of The Son to be finished in March.

As soon as we were alone, we began conferring, with the aid of the manuscript, about his new play The Goal Attained.

He had expected my first question: wasn’t this an entirely different play from the one he had briefed me on during my last visit [see n. 2 to Letter No. 407] and that he had subsequently ‘sold’ to the president of the Salzburg Festival?  He laughingly said, yes, you’re right; but as the Salzburgers don’t read and Peymann hadn’t yet read the play, he was going to entitle the new play The Goal Attained.  This retitling struck me as a bad move, especially given that the title The Goal Attained was hardly appropriate for the new play and was in fact downright nonsensical in a way, inasmuch as it was of course quite evident that these three characters did not attain their goal.  He will give some thought to this.

Then came my second objection: in this three-character play a ‘dramatist’ [‘dramatischer Schriftsteller’] makes an appearance.  The principal character, the mother, terms him a dramatist, and so does the dramatis personae.  Although one could in a pinch accept the old woman’s calling him a dramatist because there was a dash of utopia in the designation, it really had no place in the dramatis personae.  He said he would give some thought to this as well.  

Then there were a few details that to my great surprise he received in a very interested and amicable spirit.  One or two lines were missing from two passages; I asked him for a new manuscript for us to typeset, because the photocopy made by Peymann is of such poor quality that at least the top two lines are scarcely legible anymore.

After the examination of the manuscript came the agenda-items: [...]

Bernhard doesn’t want any further performances in Austria, at any rate any normal ones.  Should anything extraordinary (in terms of the cast or the honorarium) be offered, it is to be discussed with Bernhard.

Bernhard and Peymann were of the opinion that the Salzburg Festival had definitely decided to host the premiere of the play The Goal Attained.  I have not seen an announcement; do we know of one?  If so, as established in my most recent letter to President Kaut, we must send him the contract.

Performances in Germany.  Only Minetti can star in Minetti, and The World-Fixer is temporarily reserved for Minetti.  Despite this we can still grant performance rights: to be sure, the author will on no account tolerate ‘the proliferation of lousy performances,’ and he is right not to tolerate it.  And so: now as ever we will proceed selectively.

After the agenda-items we took a long walk through the city’s garden-cum-park.  During this walk he was markedly cheerful and in the mood for jokes.  So, for example, he joked that he was planning to team up with the Germanists.  He said that he had set the manuscript of Unrest [later retitled Auslöschung {Extinction}] aside, that he would publish it later, after he had run out of ideas.  Yes, and then on February 9 would come his 50th birthday.  He didn’t want a dinner; he said that the dinner I had arranged for his 40th birthday in Brussels had been really lovely and that there was no need to repeat it.  He asked me to give his regards to Minetti and Peymann [see Letter No. 412], and then he added: I would like nothing better than to have dinner just with you on that day.  I promised him to arrange that, but he would have to choose a place that was as close as possible to an airport.  Then we talked about everything under the sun.  He knew that Peter Handke had written a play [Over the Villages in Wim Wenders’s production] and that this play was going to be performed in Salzburg in 1982.  Firm appraisals of colleagues, the general managers of theaters, directors, critics.  He had no desire to read the very fine, lengthy review of The Cheap-Eaters in the Frankfurter Rundschau that I had brought him [Werner Irro: “Einer gegen den Massenwahnsinn,” [“One Man against the Madness of the Masses”] in the Frankfurter Rundschau, January 8, 1981].

Dinner with his aunt, Mrs. Stavianicek, and my wife.  Bernhard had invited us and was an attentive host.  During my stay Mr. Schaffler from Residenz Publications had called twice; Bernhard did not answer the phone.  Probably Schaffler wanted to inform him of the publication of the book [The Cold], which now was supposed to come out at the very beginning of January rather than at the end of December.  To my question whether Schaffler knew that this was the last book he would be receiving from him, and that we were going to be bringing together the four Residenz-issued books with new texts and publishing it all as a book called Childhood and Youth, he answered: no, Schaffler didn’t know anything about any of this.  But he said there was plenty of time left in which to tell him.   Now the otherwise so sunny and clear-skied town of Bad Ischl was being darkened by a few clouds.  Then came the rogue’s riposte: it’s only clouds that make the sky beautiful.

P.S.: Regarding his contribution to the Frisch festschrift: He said he couldn’t write anything about Frisch.  When I asked him about his first encounter with Frisch, he launched into a story: he had seen Homo Faber in two separate private libraries and read it.  Now he is going to attempt to describe this encounter. [Bernhard did not write anything for Begegnungen {Encounters}, the festschrift commemorating the seventieth birthday of Max Frisch].”  

Letter No. 419

Bad Ischl
10 Voglhuberstraße

[Letterhead of the Spa Hotel at Bad Ischl1]

I am so irritated by our last telephone conversation that I would like to reinstate my original plan, namely that of spending my birthday alone.

I must ask you not to come on February 9; I shan’t be at home on that day.

From the beginning it was always my intention to be not at home and completely alone on that dubious 9th, and I must ask you to show me some understanding.

Of course we had a very fine and lovely get-together here in Ischl!  I have always abhorred birthdays--my own most especially--and I have also never--apart from my fortieth way back when in Brussels--taken any notice of them.  I must ask you not to take any notice of this birthday.

Very sincerely
yours, Thomas B.

  1. Bernhard crossed out “Spa Hotel Bad Ischl” in the letterhead.

Letter No. 420
Frankfurt am Main
January 29, 1981

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

During my last telephone call I forgot yet again to remind you of something: In Bad Ischl we agreed that you were going to resend me the manuscript of the play The Goal Attained because the copy I have here is unsatisfactory.  The first lines are illegible, and so it is unusable by the typesetter.  We of course spoke about one or two passages containing transcription errors.  Please send this manuscript to me soon, because of course we are supposed to have the Bibliothek Suhrkamp book in print in time for the performance.   

When and where may I get the manuscript of the The Son from you?  And can you please send me the dedication, along with your written assurance that that book The Cold was the last one?

I recently spoke with Klingenberg of the Züricher Schauspielhaus.  He had heard about your play The Goal Attained from Kaut and would be very interested in having a performance at the Schauspielhaus in Zurich.  But of course to start with we will need to have your final version.      

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

P.S.: The first French performance of The President, in a production by Roger Blin, is scheduled to take place on March 3.  Would that be a possible occasion for a meeting?1

  1. The performance of Claude Porcell’s translation of the play took place at the Théâtre de Michodière.  The cast included Eléonore Hirt and Guy Tréja.  The meeting in Paris did not materialize.

Letter No. 421

February 3, ’81

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

Here you have the complete, unmutilated manuscript of the Salzburg play.  The sentence from Dostoyevsky still has to be inserted and all of page 48 eliminated.1  I think the title can’t be improved.

It will be fitting to have the book published in June.  Regarding my Summit comedy, I would be immeasurably pleased if, irrespective of the performance, which we are postponing for Salzburg’s sake, it were to come into my hands as soon as possible.  And it would be nice if that turned out to be in the next few weeks, irrespective of the announcement in May.  It is after all a book to be read!  And apart from this I would get a kick out of a physical object for a change.

We have already talked a great deal about my birthday; in a couple of days it will have come and gone--which is a good thing--and been forgotten.  Aren’t you glad about not having to travel to this perverse Danubean republic once again?  I shall gather up the fallen branches in the orchard and read Dostoyevsky in a corner behind locked doors and consequently never break character with the quotidian role assigned to me.  And if work comes my way, I’ll even work.  What a slacker I am!

For the first time in thirty years I have published a book review, a review that was self-commissioned and that has promptly flushed out a ton of letters.  It is a review of an execrable book about Kreisky.  You were of course sitting alongside that monument at the Academy Theater this past Sunday, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to stand it.

The chancellor of Austria and the “triptych” from Switzerland!2

During this premiere my brother and I discussed a cortisone treatment for the swollen glands under my breastbone.  A stupid thing that in the past half-year, after thirty years’ respite, has flared up again.  You see how it’s not only in the theater that there are problems.  Since I’ll be running out of air pretty soon, something must be done about it.  But I am quite confident and have resolved to continue working during the treatment.  And naturally to stay at home.  From there, in good time, I will tell you when my Son has grown up  so that I can throw him out of the house.

Very sincerely, in especial consideration of your antechamber,3 yours,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. As he was correcting the galley proofs, Bernhard struck out the motto from Dostoyevsky (“In thanks for this naive and harmless candor you have compared me to a clown, which has genuinely amused me”) and replaced it with a motto from Pascal.  See Bernhard, Works, Vol. 18, p. 419.  

  1. On January 26, 1981, profil published "The Pensioned Salon Socialist,"  Bernhard’s review of Gerhard Roth and Peter Turrini’s Bruno Kreisky (Berlin, 1981), a book commemorating the Austrian Chancellor Kreisky’s seventieth birthday.  On February 1, 1981, Max Frisch, Bruno Kreisky, and Unseld were all present at the premiere of Frisch’s play Triptychon [Triptych].  Unseld described the aftermath of the “commotion over Bernhard” in his Travel Journal, Vienna 1-3, 1981: “At the ORF it has caused such great offense that they don’t want to sign the television contract for The President and The World-Fixer anymore [see n. 1 to Letter No. 416].   A pitched battle over it has broken out between the [general] administrator, Bacher, and the chief television director [Wolf In der Mauer, chief administrator of television programming at ORF].”  (For more on the scandal and its context, see Raimund Fellinger, “Antworter sind immer falsch” [“Answers Are Always Wrong”], pp. 20-26.

  1. The word “Express” is written on the letter in the hand of an unknown third party.

Letter No. 422

[Address: (Ohlsdorf); handwritten on Suhrkamp Publications’ stationery]

Frankfurt am Main
in February 1981
[before February 9]

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Now we won’t be seeing each other on the day of your fiftieth birthday.  Despite this, on that very day my thoughts will still be devoted to you with sincerely undiminished intensity.  For you, my dear Thomas Bernhard, as for me, ultimately nothing matters but work; that is the idea.  I wish you an undisturbed continuation of your exceedingly significant works, nothing more, nothing less.

As a gift to my wishes an allegory of the [xxx]1 of your protean creative power will be coming to you.

Sincerely, as always,
Yours, Siegfried Unseld

  1. Here a word is illegible.

Letter No. 423

Frankfurt am Main
February 10, 1981

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I sincerely thank you for your letter of February 3 and for your submission of the unmutilated manuscript of The Goal Attained.  We are having it typeset; it will be released at the end of July so that it can be in all the bookstores on time, on August 18.

The rough paginated copy of the Summit comedy has arrived; you have of course corrected a version.  We are printing the text and will have the book issued in March.

Your little book review has made enormous waves, not to mention billows.  The contracts are now sitting at the ORF; we must wait to see whether they will be signed.

On March 3 The President will be performed in Paris.  Wouldn’t that be a good date and place on and in which to commit your now fully grown Son into my hands?  Or would you prefer a little ristorante in Trastavere as a site for the handover and the after-celebration?

I hope The Cold with a dedication is on its way to me!

Sincere regards, as always,
[Siegfried Unseld]

Letter No. 424

February 22, ’81

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

We have got the illness under precise control and will banish it completely; we have already put it to flight.

I have, as I can now see, got these past few weeks behind me as deftly as can be, and all the spells of turbulence have paid off.

In this phase, to be busy and not unbusy was the best way of proceeding, and all the dust that was stirred up eventually settled down and left me sitting unscathed at my desk.

I am working and making better progress in my work than ever before.

In the midst of my birthday travails I opened a mysterious package from Vienna, and within I discovered what seemed to me to be a challenge addressed by you to a new Goethe.  The inkwell with its magical play of light is something that I naturally shall fill not with ink but with my ideas, and I shall process these ideas and send them to Frankfurt; in the future let there be a constant flood of ideas, a veritable Danube and a Main flowing upstream into my head.

When I now write that I am in finest fettle, this is tantamount to a quite natural statement to the contrary that is the truth.

My Son is looking ever more dapper; at the same time I am having to go to a lot of bother over some pantaloon who is supposed to make his entrance on to the stage in the next year.

In two weeks I shall take a brief round trip to Vienna, and perhaps take just as brief  a trip to Bochum at the end of March, but then I shall keep calm inside my house, which at the moment makes me very happy.  Everything is now ideal here, and I have the perfect physician.

The Cold is an unpleasant book that is nonetheless necessary if I wish to make any progress, and the bare simple fact is that I am afflicted with stepfatherly inhibitions on the score of this book and won’t send it in by post but rather bring it to you in person someday.  And perhaps someday I shall be welcome at the Lindenstrasse and settle down there in an Austrian hour.
A short sentence for my (and the best!) publisher: we will write all the books and abide by all the contracts!
Very sincerely,
Thomas B.
P. S. I wish to publish in the |*|fall schedule a book that is very important to me and that is entitled War and subtitled Injuries, a book that I shall deliver on April 31, if this is all right with you!!!
|*in the normal schedule

  1. On the same day Bernhard wrote to Burgel Zeeh, “It was extremely careless of me to mention my illness, but the frail human mind obviously can’t reign supreme over everything, and so the news that I was ill slipped out.  As a matter of fact authorities of all sorts had been trying to get to the root of the problem for over a year and naturally those authorities of all sorts had not managed to find it--and then my brother hit upon that very root.  Then on February 9 to the day we started the so-called targeted treatment and achieved the hoped-for result--in other words, confirmation that we hit the exact thing that we were hoping to hit.  I believe that the race is run and that aside from the precision of the treatment, we have driven out the nasty thing; the illness is in full flight and Thomas Bernhard feels like a newborn babe, meaning that it is as if for years on end he had had no clue as to how pleasant being alive is, how beneficial it is; now he is all of a sudden breathing freely again, and once again taking in deep draughts of air, and he wants this free-breathing to continue for at least the next ten years.

The nice thing, of course, is knowing that I underwent this same treatment thirteen years ago, and that it was followed by much more than ten years of peace, so now things should be and go the same way.”             
Letter No. 425
Feb. 28, ’81

Dear Doctor Unseld,
Two visitors I have hosted here in the house in the past few days are making it impossible for me not to write the following letter and I have literally been conquered into writing it.

Mr. Rach, who you announced would be taking over the directorship of your theatrical publications division in July,1 has, as you know, done me nothing but harm as long as he has been active in the Suhrkamp theatrical publications division, and whenever I think of this man’s approach to the theater, my hair stands on end.  In theatrical matters Mr. Rach is an absolute moron, and on top of this Mr. Rach’s character is downright depressing, as I have learned from my own experience.  But I have already told you all these things, and they have, as I now see, had no effect whatsoever on you, because otherwise you would not have once again chosen Mr. Rach to head your theatrical publications division.

Now, as I can prove, Rach is roaming all over the place as my full-fledged enemy, vilifying my work and therefore me wherever he shows his face.  He goes into the theaters and quite characteristically broadcasts his disfavor and enmity in a vulgar, backstabbing manner, doubtlessly without suspecting that news of his agitation is not being confined to him and his ilk and that with every instance of it he is merely adding another series of brush-strokes to his dubious corpus of paintings.  Rach cannot get his fill in Germany; he also treads the boards in America in the role of my adversary, as I know for a fact, and broadcasts his anti-Bernhardian sentiment in New York.  And this at the very moment when, as I know for a fact, in America a significant boost to my work and to my entire development is beginning to build.  Mr. Rach roams all over New York and deals out helpings of wounded vanity, because I have never made any bones about what I think of him either, and of kicks at me.  Again, characteristically, in a back-stabbing manner.  His primitivist’s  motto reads: I am all for light-entertainment literature and loathe and despise everything highfalutin!  I very much hope you yourself haven’t made this your personal slogan!  After all that I now know of Rach’s activities and in view of what I picture when I picture this man, namely a man who travels widely in the theatrical world stepping into the theater lobbies and dealing out his clandestine and therefore all the more vulgar cuffs to my ears, I am unable to bear the thought that this man of all people is supposed to be representing my interests in the theatrical publications division.  You must admit that this is absurd!  And yet you have actually hired Rach a second time even though you are precisely familiar with the true state of affairs and even though it has after all been discussed by us on more than one occasion.  You have installed an enemy of my work in your house; that is the truth, and it really can be as depressing as I just now depicted it.  My question now is, what are you going to do?  I refuse to have anything whatsoever to do with Mr. Rach, and if this gentleman has made his entrance at the firm, then I am going to have to make my exit from the Suhrkamp theatrical publications division.  I cannot envisage any other solution.  We now find ourselves in a difficult position.  If I was not formerly aware of your doubts as to the merit of my plays, I am unfortunately aware of them now, and aware that throughout the full decade during which my plays were being performed, you were full of doubt and uncertainty about them and must only ever have been brought around to the contrary opinion, namely that they had some merit to them after all, at the very last minute.  And all the while I suffered as a result; this is something that must be said.  But you can hardly expect me to accept a man who is sawing down the wild and prodigiously huge tree that has shot up to a genuinely imposing height in the midst of the vast, mindless theatrical wasteland, with that public menace of a saw of his!

I quite simply cannot come to terms with the stupidity of this appointment from any point of view whatsoever!2

Only once this matter—which to the best of my present knowledge seems one of great urgency—has been cleared up will it be possible for us to move forward.  With the plays or with the prose works.

A few days ago, brimful of hope and exuberance, I wrote to you and said—yet again, in defiance of all inward reservations—that you were the best publisher!  As far as I am concerned, today I must put a great big fat question mark behind this the best.

Yours very sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. See Letter No. 409.

  1. The firm’s archive contains the originals of two letters from Rudolf Rach to Unseld and Bernhard, respectively.  The one to Bernhard is dated March 8, 1981 and reads: “Dear Mr. Bernhard, I have heard of your accusations.  There is no point in going into the particulars here.  Chitchat and gossip, which are the permanent order of the day and night in the theatrical world, are of no interest to me.  If I am writing to you it is because I detect a certain anxiety in your letter, an anxiety that gives me concern, and because I understand this anxiety all too well.  To be brief: they say that I am a friend of lowbrow light entertainment, an enemy of everything complicated and difficult and therefore your enemy as well.  What a misunderstanding.  What ignorance on the part of those who fancy they can bring something like that into the world.  The only reason I left my theater--a government-subsidized German municipal theater full of party-political and bureaucratic cliquishness--was to escape from that degenerate form of theater.  I think I know Suhrkamp Publications well enough to know the sorts of projects and possibilities that are in store for me there.  Moreover, I think it is advisable, in the event that there really is such an enemy, to look that enemy in the eye.  By doing that one can see more precisely with whom one is dealing.  Yours with friendly regards, Rudolf Rach.  The letter addressed to Unseld is dated March 7 and reads: “Dear Mr. Unseld, That is all. That and nothing more. It has to do with more things than with you and with loyalty to the firm.  I say this only by way of apprising you of the stance that gave rise to the letter.  Because I would prefer my daily endeavors to walk tall rather than collapse at the outset.  Moreover, I really do believe that firmness is the only proper policy in such situations.  That attempted blackmail and guilty feelings maximize honoraria is a lesson that I have to keep relearning every single day.  Yours sincerely, Rudolf Rach.”           

Letter No. 426                   

Frankfurt am Main
March 2, 1981

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Warm thanks for your letter of February 22.  I am delighted that you have put your illness to flight.  So the well has reached you in one piece, and I am also delighted about that.  It was indeed conceived of as a well of ideas.

You write that you will be going to Bochum at the end of March.  Could you not arrange your itinerary so that you would be passing through Frankfurt on March 27?  That would be very nice!  After quite a long stint at my desk, I am planning to leave on March 30 for a fortnight-long trip to the U.S.A.  The March 27 meeting-date would of course also be convenient because we could talk about the book War then.  You of course know that this coming May we will be printing our schedule for the second half of the year.  It would of course probably be best for the book to be announced in the regular way.  Or would you prefer a surprise attack?  

Ms. Helene Ritzerfeld has briefed me on your telephone conversation with her.  Kaut has the contract for The Goal Attained, but he has not yet sent it back with his signature.  We are now sending him a reminder to do that, because without the signed contract the festival could not have announced the performance of the play.

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. Bernhard got directly in touch with Helene Ritzerfeld regarding the broadcasts of The President and The World-Fixer.  On February 24, 1981, he wrote to her: “The general administrator of the ORF, with whom I am personally acquainted, proposed the following to me: that Suhrkamp Publications should accept the ORF’s maximum rate for The President and The World-Fixer and make its acceptance official by signature.  The difference between this maximum rate and the amount demanded by me and hence by us would then be paid directly and personally to me by the ORF under the auspices of a separate paragraph. [...] But this proposal of the director general’s is to be kept strictly entre nous; I am certain that it will be.  But unlike the director general, meaning the Almighty, who is a friend of my work and is forcing it through, the director of the first channel is my enemy in this matter.  The whole thing is quite gamey, like the world itself, but that is of course a good thing.”  On February 27, 1981 he telephoned Ritzerfeld to discuss the same subject.  In her notes on their conversation she wrote: “Thomas Bernhard is asking us not to undertake anything in this matter in advance and not to send any new contracts to the ORF either.  He wants to be quite clear beforehand on how the difference will be remitted to him by the ORF.  Until he has worked on an agreement with the ORF regarding this, the firm is not authorized to send any new contracts to the ORF.  If we cannot give him this assurance he would rather let the whole thing go bust.  Bernhard called again and briefly spoke the following effect: I must calculate for him precisely how much per minute will be left over after after taxes so that he subsequently ask for the additional amount.  He was extremely polite, but also quite jittery.
Regarding Salzburg: he would like to know if the contract for the performance [of The Goal Attained] has been finalized.” On March 6, he informed Helene Ritzerfeld, “I have managed to clarify everything and I am requesting that you sign and have signed the contract with the ORF for The President and The World-Fixer.”        

Letter No. 427

[Address: (Ohsldorf); telegram memorandum]

March 4, 1981

Can one change from best to worst in a few days--stop--Because I am on the road I cannot answer your letter before Monday1--stop--Proposing meeting March 24 or March 25 in Salzburg or Ohlsdorf or March 27 in Frankfurt.  Sincerely your old SU

  1. On March 4, 1981, Unseld was in Geneva for conferences with Alice Miller and Madeleine Hohl, and later that same day he stopped in Zurich.

Latter No. 428

March 6, ’81

Dear Dr. Unseld,

I plan to be in Bochum from the 24th through the 18th, and perhaps at some point during that stretch we can engage for an entire day in an extensive and radical discussion of our future, a discussion undisrupted by any third party and aided by all the relevant thoughts and documents.  The Bochum Playhouse knows where I shall be staying.

Thomas Bernhard

Letter No. 429

Frankfurt am Main
March 9, 1981

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I thank you for your letter of March 6.  It would really be entirely reasonable for us to find ourselves conversing in peace with the aid of “all thoughts, documents, and figures.”  If it is all right with you, I will come to Bochum on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 25; we could meet from 5 p.m. onwards.  I can place myself at your disposal for the entire afternoon, the evening, the night, and, if you wish, the next day as well.

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]    

Letter No. 430

[Address: Ohlsdorf, telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
March 10, 1981

Signed “The Goal Attained” contract from arrived from Salzburg.  Yours sincerely Siegfried Unseld.

Letter No. 431

[Handwritten; picture postcard: “Istanbul, Blue Mosque”]


I propose the 26th in Bochum.

Thomas Bernhard

Letter No. 432


Bad Ischl
[Before March 24]

25th bochum hotel above playhouse1
sincerely bernhard

  1. The meeting between Bernhard and Unseld took place on March 25, 1981.  Among the documents that Unseld brought with him to the encounter was a breakdown of the sales figures of all of Bernhard’s books published through the end of 1980.  This breakdown showed that by that point 312,855 copies of his books had been sold in the German-speaking countries. Unseld wrote about the meeting in his Travel Journal, Bochum/Bonn, March 25-27, 1981:

“The conversation lasted five-and-a-half hours.

The general situation: he said several times that it made no difference to him whether his books were promoted or not, that he was literally smarting under the flood of Suhrkamp advertisements for those works and authors whom he ultimately could not but regard as epigonal imitators of himself.  That his books were brought into the world by the firm, that they were reviewed a bit, read and sold a bit, and then it was all over and ‘basta’ [...]     

The second complaint: he never receives anything from us, which naturally is a horrendous exaggeration when you consider that he has never wanted any reviews of any sort sent to him.  But he would like to hear something extraordinary.  For example, it would mean a lot to him to observe the effect of his work in foreign countries.  For him the most important resource is the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  He calls it his series.  He says that that is where he belongs, that that is what he writes for.  In a letter I had informed him that On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace would be published in March, and now, he says, he read through our March BS announcement at a bookstore in Bochum and noticed that the title of his play wasn’t listed in it.  (The book will be published in April, disp[atched] by telex.)

Then Rudolf Rach.  Bernhard says that Rudolf Rach, like Karlheinz Braun earlier on, doesn’t care for his plays; he says he has plenty of evidence of this.  He says Rudolf Rach’s behavior in the U.S.A. was really quite scandalous, and irresponsible for someone entrusted to represent a business.  It was a difficult conversation whose details I most certainly cannot repeat.       

Then the financial side.  His accounts are of course more or less balanced despite the high remittances he has been receiving from us.  And he was quite pleased about this.  He had added up the combined prospective sums for the television rights to The World-Fixer and The President on the one hand and The Goal Attained on the other (ca. DA 90,000 in total) and then rounded this sum up to DM 100,000, which he wanted us to pay him.  He was delighted at the fact that I had a check for this amount with me, and then we discussed the individual points again.  At Easter he will give us the manuscript of his new text, War, subtitled Damages.  Three chapters, no longer than 60 pages; we should take our cues for the typography and layout from the Residenz volumes.  And he wants advertisements and a special commitment from the publisher.

We then discussed the theater situation once again.  Rudolf Rach is to be given another chance to prove that he is not an ‘enemy’ and can stick up for Bernhard’s plays.  So Rach will also be responsible for Bernhard’s affairs in the theatrical publications division.  Nevertheless I was obliged to promise that I would be in communication with Rach during important decisions regarding Bernhard’s affairs.


Yet again we argued about the four autobiographical volumes published by Residenz.  Yet again we confirmed that he would write a fifth and sixth autobiographical volume and that we would then put out a collection called Childhood and Youth.  This would be in the form of a complete edition, which of course we initiated with the collection The Novellas.

In the first half of 1982 a short collection called For Actors can be published.  These are practice plays.  [See n. 1 to Letter No. 9.]  The novel The Son would be published in the fall of 1982; he said he had earmarked the novel Unrest [Bernhard entertained both titles for the novel that ultimately bore the title Extinction.] for the fall of 1983.

[...] He handed over to me his corrections and imprimatur for the BS volume The Goal Attained.   

As we said our goodbyes we agreed that the letter of February 28 was null and void and that only the one before it counted.”

Letter No. 433


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

For today’s return trip to Frankfurt you have chosen a day of jubilation for a new France, and I hope you savor this fact well into the night and privately direct your best wishes to Mr. Mitterrand.1

Whereas in the human imagination a new world is coming into being every day and every hour, in politics this happens in such a radiant fashion only a couple of times per century.  Here we distinctly behold the inertness of the earth’s surface.

A fortnight ago in Vienna I discovered a poem that in 1960 marked a decisive end to my composition of poetry.  In ’59 and ’60 I was in London and in Italy, and it was in these countries that this poem, Ave Virgil, came into being.  I am sending it to you as my autumn wish for the BS.  It compendiously encapsulates my frame of mind in those days.  It is a single poem and is meant to be read straight through.

War will follow in the next few days.    

We should think in French when we (perforce) speak in German and speak French when we (perforce) think in German.

With Ms. Zeeh I had the very best contact.

Very much to your advantage.

Yet again megalomaniacally yours,
Thomas B.

  1. On the evening of June 20, 1981, Unseld returned from an intensive French course in Grimaud.  On May 21, President François Mitterrand, who had been elected on May 10, dissolved the national assembly by decree.  In a second ballot on June 21, Mitterand’s socialist party got 49.28% of the popular vote and thereby secured an absolute majority in the assembly.

Letter No. 434

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
July 3, 1981

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I think that we too should meet again soon, no later than August.  Where will you be staying?

I would be happy to speak with you about the poems once again.  Wouldn’t it be better to think about planning a collection?

I am also expectantly awaiting the manuscript of War. Damages.  And I also recall that we had considered Childhood and Youth for 1982.  Please let me hear from you.1

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld  

P.S.: A first copy of The Goal Attained is being sent to you in a separate post!2

  1. A meeting took place on August 7, 1981.  Unseld recounted the encounter in a Chronicle entry entitled “Salzburg, August 7, 1981”:

“Never before had I geared myself up for a visit with Thomas Bernhard as thoroughly as I did for this one.  The night before I read the poem-cycle Ave Vergil, and also my most recent travel journals in order to refresh my memory of things he had said and of the atmosphere of earlier encounters, although of course all of my encounters with Bernhard are somehow inexpungeable from my memory.  The problem of this visit, of which Bernhard presumably had not an inkling:

Bernhard and Rach had ‘patched things up’ in Vienna (in Salzburg he told me he had again made his peace with his ‘mortal enemy’), and during this Viennese conversation emerged the idea of collecting and releasing in a suhrkamp taschenbuch the little mini-plays that Bernhard has written and dispersively published.  One of these mini-plays is called “All or Nothing”; I cannot imagine that Rach read it before this conversation, nor did he inform me of the questionable nature of the play; that task was left to Ms. Laux.  And when I read the text in Theater heute [Vol. 5, May 1981, pp. 5-9], I was truly appalled.  The scene: a television talk show host and the “three pinnacles of the State”: President Carstens, Chancellor Schmidt, and Genscher, the foreign minister.  They are represented as doing everything possible or impossible to pick up votes, and at the end they are posed the morally charged question: “Are you a Nazi at heart?”  And all the politicians answer “like a shot”: “Yes.”  It was immediately clear to me that I was not going to print this and immortalize it in a book.  But the consequences of this rejection were also clear to me: to refrain from publishing a play by a highly significant author, a play that had already been pre-printed and was expected to be performed in Bochum, would be seen by the public as an act of censorship, and that would have consequences for my relations with authors.  In a short time, the motive for my censorship would be forgotten, but the fact of it would remain on the record for all eternity.

I sent the text to Jürgen Becker, Martin Walser, and Max Frisch.  All these authors were of the opinion that it should not be printed.  Moreover, they were all surprised that nobody had reacted to the printing in Theater heute.  Martin Walser wanted to write a polemical piece against the play right away; I discouraged him in the light of my forthcoming conversation with Bernhard.  But now at least I had a certain amount of moral support for my firm decision.

I got up early in order to read these mini-plays.  Since then Bernhard has written two more of them; there are seven of them in all: “A Doda,” [Die Zeit, December 12, 1980] ‘Match,’ ‘The German Lunch Table,’ ‘May Devotions,’ ‘All or Nothing,’ ‘Ice,’ and ‘Acquittal.’

All of them are essentially cabaret sketches.  For the most part they just go for cheap laughs.  ‘The German Lunch Table’ was published in Der Zeit [December 19, 1979]; in this play there is another sentence--‘The new president of West Germany is a Nazi,’ which is confirmed by the great-grandson: ‘And the former president was a Nazi,’ which prompts the grandson to say: ‘The Germans are all Nazis.’  I would not have published that either.  Certainly the theme of Nazism must be discussed, and in the course of this discussion we Germans, not on account of a collective guilt, but on account of a collective shame, must endure much, but it must be mediated and cannot be allowed to come across as nothing but a cheap gag.
Incidentally, the mini-play called ‘Ice’ is the only one of them that has any real literary merit.  But even here Bernhard uses two unnamed prime ministers as characters; can he really not get by without this veneer of scandal?  Then during the flight I read The Goal Attained.  This struck me as really quite good even after two or three readings.  At bottom it is of course a play about the creativity of a writer.  ‘What is all this mystery surrounding artists?  What is so special about them?  They are different.  That is true.’  On the writer: ‘he calls his play Save Yourself if You Can, because it is clear that nobody can save himself.’  And then again another insight: ‘Either one is a classic writer at the outset, or one is not.’
The flight arrived punctually to the minute, and Bernhard was there.  I passed on to him regards from Hilde, Burgel Zeeh, and Dr. Guth; Dr. Guth he had in fact heard something about; he had tried to invite him to the premiere [of The Goal Attained on August 18, 1981], but he had most certainly been away, and he would most certainly not be coming to the premiere.  A day earlier he had left for a ten-day trip to Styria.  Without leaving an address.
Our first stop was a café on the Salzach.  We found a table in the shade and directly next to the river; despite the 25-degree heat it was pleasant thanks to a gentle breeze. […]
Once again I learned that the better you are acquainted with an author’s texts and the more accurate your recollection of his account balance is, the better you will be able to speak with him and negotiate with him.  I shall never forget those two hours in that café.  We were sitting there in a world of tourists; over and over again somebody or other would come up to Bernhard or me to greet one of us.  We were on the Salzach surrounded by the sorts of tourists who only ever think other people are tourists. […]
He was, as usual, very well informed.  The videotaping for television [of the Salzburg production of ] The Goal Attained fell through.  It did so not because of any remissness of conduct towards him on the part of the Festival administration or the ORF or the political authorities, or the size of the admittedly fairly hefty honorarium he had demanded, but because the demands of one of the unions could not be met.  The ORF would have been required to work out a contract with every single technician, and in each of these contracts everything would have had to be spelled out: the overtime rate, insurance, etc.  In Bernhard’s case that might still have been feasible, but in the case of an opera taping they would have to generate hundreds of technicians’ contracts.    

He was also aware of the performance of Eve of Retirement [an English translation of Vor dem Ruhestand] in a production directed by Liviu Ciulei at the Guthrie Theater, currently the best American theater, in Minneapolis.  He was also delighted about this because it casts an unfavorable light on the judgment of Rach, who hadn’t thought it would be possible.  But of course now he had made peace with his mortal ‘enemy.’  But there are still vestiges of the enmity left.  He didn’t know whether he wanted to go over there [i.e., I believe, to the States, to see Eve of Retirement (DR)].  He would certainly find it interesting.
Why, I asked him, had he not sent me the manuscript of War. Damages?  He said the thing was finished, as good as finished, but that the text shouldn’t come out so soon after The Cold.  Somehow, he said, you make yourself look ridiculous if you are too productive.
This was naturally my cue to mention All or Nothing.  I was braced for anything; I was after all about to try to convince him not to put out the book All or Nothing with the seven mini-plays, and I was prepared at a pinch to go so far as flatly to refuse to publish it, and also prepared to weather all the consequences—personal, professional, and public.  The ensuing events played out in the course of a few minutes, and I really do think Bernhard put me to shame.  S.U.: You are right, one shouldn’t be so productive.  Th. B.: Yes, you make yourself look ridiculous.  S.U.: We have three major titles in the BS this year, On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace, The Goal Attained, and then we are unconditionally committed to publishing the poem Ave Vergil.  Th. B.:  You’re committed to that?  S.U. Yes I am.  But I would like to propose to you our forgoing the publication of the book with the mini-plays.  A pause.  Th. B.: What did you say?  I repeated what I had said.  A pause. Th.B.: Why? S.U.: The artistic gap between them and your major plays is too wide.  Th.B.: Yes, so then we won’t do it.  A pause.  Th.B.: Of course we shouldn’t do what we are bound to regret a half a year later.     

I misunderstood him.  S.U.: In a half a year we can always think everything over once again.  Th.B.: No, we shouldn’t ever put out a book that we are going to regret. Pause. Th.B.: No, it’s good that we can say ‘No.’ A pause. Th.B.: A person has got to have character, to be insistent, but he needn’t be inflexible; he must be prepared to see things a different way, to change.  A pause.  Th.B.: Of course Peymann is already rehearsing.  He won’t be directing the things himself, because that would make them seem far too important.  And they can be done in a light, cabaret-ish style.  And of course Peymann can have a few or all of the mini-plays printed in the program.  That way the text can exist and yet not exist.  The texts must be regarded as “ephemera.”  Their ephemerality is essential.  We did not return to this subject at any later point that day.  I felt no less ashamed than relieved.  All or Nothing.  That trophy slipped past me and the firm at that moment.  [In 1988, all seven mini-plays were published together as The German Lunch Table, Volume 1480 in the edition suhrkamp.]  We were both fully conscious of this precisely because we did not speak about it again that day.  Naturally the prevailing amicability of this day mustn’t be allowed to delude one into harboring false hopes.  Every line that Bernhard has ever written means more to him than his relationship with me does.  He really is for all or nothing.  ‘Probably our dramatist also has a guilty conscience.’ (The Goal Attained, p. 70) [Bernhard, Works, Vol. 18, p. 306.]

After all that had been said in that vein, there was naturally some residual tension about what might happen over the course of the rest of the day.  We changed venues, took a walk through the tourist-filled streets of Salzburg and sought out the nearest garden café.  Again the situation of people greeting me, the author greeting Dr. Pohl from Nomos Publications.  

Now we could settle the other things; he has finished two prose works, War. Damages and The Son.  In February of 1982 we will decide what should be brought out in the fall.  On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace would be directed not by Peymann but by Luc Bondy in Bochum.  One shouldn’t gear everything to one director, to one actor or actress, even though the best one is only ever barely good enough. [...] Bernhard and I spoke about authors; Handke’s name never came up.  Another thing we didn’t discuss: will we be putting together the compilation volume Childhood and Youth, and is there any truth in the rumor that a text of his is slated to be published by Residenz in 1982?  We didn’t touch on either of these questions.  A difficult enough problem to solve, to be sure.  I invited him to come to Boston on the weekend of September 19-20, when I also would be in Boston.  And then we would visit Niagara Falls together.  He was delighted and moved by this.  For me this was a trifle that I found worth spending to secure such gladness.  ‘Is it not unusual to pay the travel expenses of someone [...] whom one barely knows? [Daughter:] But he is quite well-known: he is a celebrity.’ (The Goal Attained, p. 71 [Bernhard, Works, Vol. 18, pp. 308 f.). [...]

Late in the afternoon, as we were saying our goodbyes, Bernhard asked to be allowed to speak for a quarter of an hour alone with Peymann.  We agreed to meet up a half an hour later at the space where Bernhard’s car was parked.  Was Bernhard planning to discuss the All or Nothing question with Peymann and what would Peymann say?  When Bernhard arrived, punctually to the minute, he was still relaxed and cheerful.  I was planning to ask him to ride with me in a taxi to the airport, but he insisted on driving me to the airport himself ‘as a capstone and final flourish.’  We were driving in the direction of the airport, and then he asked me if we mightn’t take a detour to the cemetery?  He wanted to see if the grave was being well tended.  I didn’t know what grave he was talking about, but then it turned out to be the grave of his grandfather: Johannes Freumblichler, born in Henndorf in 1881, and it was also the grave of his grandfather’s son and of his mother’s mother.  The grave had been well tended. (Bernhard had once offered me a book by his grandfather--Auszug und Heimkehr des Jodok Fink.  Ein Buch vom Abenteuer des Lebens [Departure and Homecoming of Jodok Fink.  A Book about the Adventure of Life], published in 1942 by the firm of Rainer Wunderlich--for republication, but that was out of the question.)

As we were getting into the car to resume our drive to the airport, he took advantage of this last opportunity and asked me about finances.  The DM 100,000.00 that he had received in Bochum were naturally founded on the roughly DM 40,000 in television moneys that were not going to materialize now, but, oh wonder of wonders, thanks to the account statements of 3.30 and 6.30.1981, DM 78,000.00 of the DM 100,000.00 had already been paid off.

Then the drive to the airport.  Meanwhile it had grown quite unbearably hot.  he wanted to walk around with me until the flight, but I asked him if I could spend the interval alone.  Sure, he said; abrupt farewells are best.  Give my regards to the people who gave me their regards, and tell Dr. Guth he should visit me in Nathal.  Sincere thanks for your visit.  Once again expressions of gratitude, friendly feelings, until soon.  Until Boston?

I felt almost paralyzed as the tension of this day abated.  I couldn’t get Bernhard’s expressions out of my head, and I was also haunted by something he had said regarding our present age: Save yourself if you can.  He doesn’t think of this as all that cynical.  In particular he regards the age in which we live as a magnificent one, as an age of transition; indeed, it’s marvelous.”

2. The Goal Attained, Volume 767 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, was published in July 1981.                        

Letter No. 435

Frankfurt am Main
August 24, 1981

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I thoroughly enjoyed the performance in Salzburg, it turned out too long, with a few forgotten lines along the way, but the evening was a great success for you and a success for Marianne Hoppe as well.  My sincere congratulations.  The reviews have been mixed, a little of this, a little of that--but of course during your travels you will have long since read them along with the unfamiliar locale and by now you have probably already forgotten them.  Several theaters have already gotten in touch with us, but we have granted them only tentative permission; initially of course this performance must be given a head start.1

Now to our Niagara venture: when Burgel Zeeh takes charge of something like this, she takes charge of it and of us.  Enclosed you will find an itinerary that makes perfect sense to me.  Please tell me whether it is convenient for you or if you have other wishes and ideas.  I am looking forward to our trip!

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]


  1. In his Travel Journal, Munich-Salzburg, August 18-19, 1981, Unseld gave an account of the premiere of The Goal Attained on August 19, 1981 at the Salzburg Festival in a production directed by Claus Peymann: “On the one hand, the performance was quite successful in terms of the audience’s reception, and perhaps it will continue to be so; on the other hand the length of the play was a decided drawback: three-and-a-half hours is simply too long for this text; it hangs fire, and so a good portion of it comes across as banal in performance.  In the end the production was not tight enough conceptually; Marianne Hoppe [the mother] got better and better once she saw that she was up to the job.  Kirsten Dene [the daughter], an outstanding actress; nevertheless, her grandiosely melodious and intelligent voice was inappropriate for the simpleton-cum-downtrodden victim that she was required to portray.  Branko Samarovski had been a bad casting choice for the role of the playwright.  But there was resounding applause.  I am anxious to see how literary criticism, described in the play as ‘unpredictable,’ will react.”  Unseld pasted two reviews into the Chronicle; the one by Urs Jenny in Der Spiegel (August 24, 1981) ends with the words, “The Goal Attained, to the extent that it must be seen as his goal, Thomas Bernhard presents himself as an author who now merely flirts to dazzling effect with everything, literally everything, that he used to regard as a wound and an affliction.”  Paul Kruntorad concluded his review (Frankfurter Rundschau, August 22, 1981) as follows: “So once again we have received a gift from Thomas Bernhard’s exclusive studio, a play tailor-made for the performing team, disconcerting in virtue of its veracity and irritating in virtue of the hermetic form in which this truth is straitjacketed.”                      

  1. The “VIENNA-BOSTON-Niagara Falls / BUFFALO-MINNEAPOLIS Itinerary” devised by Burgel Zeeh scheduled the flight from Boston for September 19, 1981, the flight from Boston to Buffalo with an excursion to Niagara Falls for the 20th, and the continuation of the journey to Minneapolis for the 21st.  The journey did not take place.  Zeeh noted of an August 27, 1981 telephone conversation: “The trip to America is a total non-starter: he is working on a new text, and this is more important to him.  The people in Minneapolis can do whatever the hell they like.  He was sorry about the trip to Niagara Falls, but because of his work on the text he can’t go anywhere.”   

Letter No. 436

Frankfurt am Main
September 30, 1981

Dear Thomas,

Both the U.S.A. and France are adorning themselves with front covers featuring Thomas Bernhard.1

I was in Boston.  It’s too bad that we didn’t go on our excursion to Niagara Falls.  Now I am working on trying out a new vacation home for you: in Madeira.  Then the book fair, and I hope we shall see each other soon after that.

The policy of high interest rates has not left even us unscarred.  It is economically senseless at present to be obliged to borrow money at an interest rate of 15%.  I am sure you appreciate this.  Incidentally, we have made plenty of pre-payments.  Hopefully things will be looking better in the near future.

I am writing to you on my birthday.

as ever with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. The front cover of La Quinzaine littéraire, No. 354, September 1-15, 1981 features a photograph of Bernhard alongside a reference to a reader’s guide contained within the magazine.

Letter No. 437

December 17, ’81

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

The fact that I have cut myself off for solitude’s sake and have not yielded to your seductive advances from Frankfurt has been greatly beneficial to my work, which, propped up as I am by snow masses and the glum December faces in the neighborhood of  my house,  I am managing to propel forward as I have not been able to in a very long time.  The sea cleared my head and calmed my nerves and got my genius going again.  When I do the sums, I realize that for the best part of my life I have existed in a place that I have repudiated.1

This letter has only a couple of points to justify its existence:

Ave Vergil has brought me great joy.2

Mr. Tismar’s so-called History of a Literary Corpus is a completely superfluous abomination; it is bristling with typographical errors and deserves to be withdrawn from circulation immediately.  Capricious, clueless, moronic--that is my impression.  At bottom it is a piece of trash that injures me and is of no use to anybody.3

As regards my work: I have written my new play to a finish in the truest sense of the word.  It has a splendid title and is expecting to be completely misunderstood like all the others.  I have come to terms with the critics.  I believe my play can be performed next season.

Concurrently this coming fall I plan to publish my “novel.”

Meanwhile I have concluded my Biography with a fifth segment that I shall be issuing next February and that, like the whole thing, is entitled A Child.  With this segment, along with me at nineteen at the opposite end, my childhood has been nailed firmly in place.  To the cross of human frailty.

I think it was a misjudgment on my part to ask Dr. Rach for twenty thousand marks three times and thereby, as you yourself never responded to my requests, to put Dr. Rach into an awkward position.  I am absolutely reliant upon this sum.  On the one hand, I am happy to keep living; on the other hand, I am finding that fifty years are plenty.  Everything after fifty is a da capo on crutches.

Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard

  1. Bernhard spent November at the Hotel Ambassador in Opatja, Croatia.

  1. Ave Vergil was published as Volume 769 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp on October 29, 1981.

  1. Thomas Bernhard. Werkgeschichte [A History of a Literary Corpus], edited by Jens Dittmar, was published as Volume 2 of the suhrkamp taschenbuch materialien.

Letter No. 438

Frankfurt am Main
December 29, 1981

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

To put it as kindly as possible, you are stabbing me in the heart and breaking agreements that we had finalized man to man, firmly and succinctly: there were to be no further texts issued by Residenz, and all the parts were to be published as a whole by us.  And now once again a piece of what many people describe as the most important facet of your output has been published by another house.  This makes me sad, as you can well imagine.

Have you finalized a contract with Residenz, or, what would be just as bad, because then it will be business as usual, is there no contract?  Could we publish the five-part autobiography in one volume on April 1, 1983?  I would plan on producing a 20 DM book and envisage an initial print run of at least 25,000.

When can I read the play, when can I read the novel?  Please give me some news about them.  As soon as that happens, the sum of 20,000.00 DM will be at your disposal.

your sorrowful
Siegfried U.




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. 584-646. 

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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