Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Translation of Thomas Bernhard's Correspondence with His Publisher, Siegfried Unseld. Part XVII: 1982 and 1983.


Letter No. 439

January 7, 1982
Dear Dr. Unseld,
Effective immediately I am prohibiting the preparation of any further editions or printings of my books hitherto published by the firms of Suhrkamp and Insel.  This prohibition applies to all books hitherto published by these two firms--they must be discontinued and then officially designated as out of print.  Regarding the plays, my desire is that effective immediately no further contracts should be concluded with any theater or any person without my express consent.
I am requesting the immediate transmission to me of a complete list of all theaters and promoters with whom contracts have been concluded for all planned and currently running performances of my plays.
I am expressly requesting to be communicated with only in writing and never by telephone.
Yours sincerely,
Thomas Bernhard
Letter No. 440
[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
January 18, 1982

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Your letter of January 7 has arrived here.

Dr. Rach will immediately see that you receive the desired lists of planned and contracted performances.  We have noted that no subsequent contract is to be finalized unless you have agreed to it.  This has admittedly always been our policy in the past as well, as Dr. Rach informs me.

Regarding your other instructions, they would have such far-reaching consequences that they surely cannot be taken care of in four lines of a letter.  Moreover, we have already finalized a contract that applies to all your works published to date and that is legally binding.

I am reiterating my proposal that we should see and speak to each other at a place that is agreeable to you.

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

P.S. I am enclosing a check for DM 20,000.00 with this letter.

Letter No. 441
Palma de Mallorca
[before January 28]
come on february 91 damn it all
thomas bernhard
  1. The meeting between Bernhard and Unseld materialized on March 13 and 14 in Palma de Mallorca, where Bernhard stayed between January 25 and March 14.  In the pertinent Travel Journal one reads:
“On the flight to Palma read Jens Dittmar’s history of Bernhard’s literary corpus.
In spite of Bernhard’s verdict I find it a very useful undertaking.  Informative and thoroughly gripping.  
Thomas Bernhard met me at the airport; we drove into the city, then took a two-hour walk through the old quarter, had lunch, all the while engaging in forced conversations about everything under the sun.
After a brief pause we climbed into the ring and our exchange lasted three hours.
He, Bernhard, says that he plays no role at Suhrkamp Publications.  That his books are published, to be sure, that he takes pleasure in that, but that then nothing further happens, that the firm effects nothing more than what the books themselves have effected.  That other authors, Walser and Handke, are “fast-tracked.”  That there is no trace of any effort on his behalf.  That the collection entitled Novellas, while nice in itself (with the exception of those individual texts that do not belong in it), had not enjoyed the success that I had predicted, that even in its case there was no commitment from the firm, nothing noteworthy.  He had no interest whatsoever in hearing the sales figures, but he said that of the 50,000 or 20,000 that I had spoken to him of some point, there was pretty much nothing left.  He refused to allow any weight to my objection that he had excluded all the unpublished novellas that would have made the collection especially attractive.  In sum, he said that Suhrkamp Publications, just like the other publishing firms, was an assembly line factory, which was inhuman; one shouldn’t handle intellectual products in that way.  That every day two books fell off the line and they were gone.  That he detested paperbacks and found it unnecessary for his books to be published in paperback format.  And that the History of a Literary Corpus was a joke; it had nothing to do with the history of his literary corpus, that at most it dealt with texts associated with the emergence of the corpus.  That his corpus began at the earliest with the poetry collections and Ereignisse [Occurrences].  And that the texts that are presented there as his earliest ones were not by any means the earliest.  That he had written about a refugee camp in Mr. Kaut’s newspaper, the Demokratische Zeitung [“Menschen ohne Heimat” {“People without a Homeland”} in the Demokratisches Volksblatt]; that was his first text, but Mr. Dittmar had failed to discover it.  That he had written quite a bit for Der Morgen, the Viennese newspaper co-edited by Wieland Schmied.  A speech to a youth congress about writers in Innsbruck, etc.--none of that was in Dittmar’s book.  And that every page was teeming with typographical errors, that instead of Walzer-Tito [waltzing Tito] it had Walser Trio and so forth.  He said he didn’t want to go into the particulars, but he kept saying: on every page there are dozens of typos.  He said he had no intention of demanding to have its publication revoked, that the best thing would be for it be forgotten as quickly as possible. But this was something I could not promise him; to the contrary, I am quite sure that this book will experience a print run the size of which many of Bernhard’s books themselves have not enjoyed.

Yes, he acknowledged, his books were available, but what did available mean?  Weren’t Ungenach and Watten now effectively entombed in the edition suhrkamp, even if there had once been something there?

And then the ‘refusal’ of the DM 20,000.00, after he had asked Rudolf Rach for it three times.  Why hadn’t he called me, I asked him.  I naturally knew why he hadn’t called me: because he had broken our Bochum agreement, which stipulated that no additional segment [of the autobiography] would be published by Residenz, but that the whole thing, expanded by the addition of a new segment, would be published by us.

This publisher-bashing session lasted three hours; it was much more concrete and less dramatic and demonic than the one during that evening on the Traunsee [see n. 2 to Letter No. 407].  At bottom he probably also wanted to vent his resentment, his rage, his ‘love-hate’ attitude to his publisher, whom he said he ‘sometimes [wanted] to kill for his well-being’s sake.’

Then we studied the finances for 1981.  Just credits of 170,000.00 versus remittances of DM 150,000.00.  He was pleased when he saw a credit of
DM 45,000.00, and he wanted to see this rounded up to DM 100,000.00 for reasons that I am not going to mention here.               
He also justifiably wants to see his monthly remittance from the firm raised to DM 2,560.00.

Once all this had been sorted out, he presented his plan for new texts and publications.  In the main schedule for the fall of 1982 the novella Beton [Concrete].  Same construction as Correction, clothbound, graphical solution of the cover.  A fairly large typeface so that 78 pages can be turned into 200.  He asked to be sent the paginated rough copy (so no galleys) at Ohlsdorf by the middle of March.  He gave me the manuscript.

In December of 1982 or January 1983, in the BS, his new prose work, Wittgenstein’s Nephew.

His magnum opus, a novel, A Family [one of the working titles of Extinction], is slated for publication in the fall of 1983.  His next play, Der Schein trügt [Appearances Are Deceptive] will be staged by Peymann in Bochum in February of 1983.  Then On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace by Kirchner in June of 1982.

What a plan!

Then we should give some thought to the following: Ereignisse--he says the rights have reverted to him, because the Literary Colloquium has not reprinted it in many years.  I am to write to Höllerer; he would prefer to see this in the Insel Büchern.  Another possibility would be the two texts, rosen der einöde [roses of the wasteland], published by Samuel Fischer in 1957, and the manuscript of Der Berg [The Mountain], which was slated to be published by Fischer but never issued by them.

And finally we should give some thought to Ungenach and Watten.  He said these were texts that had involved a great deal of work, that his autobiographical texts issued by Residenz had ‘just been jotted down.’  That he had derived no artistic pleasure from writing them, but had simply felt compelled to write them.  But that Watten and Ungenach were genuine autobiographies.

After this four-hour conversation we went to dinner at a restaurant at the harbor.  He was in an extremely relaxed mood; I told him about our Goethe undertakings and our Goethe competition, which he thought was fabulous [see n. 1 to Letter No. 446].  On his part he summarized a 10-page contribution that he had written for Die Zeit: Goethe visits Wittgenstein, but when he got [sic on the change of tense (DR)] to England, Goethe was out of luck, because Wittgenstein was dead [“Goethe schtirbt” (“Goethe Dighs”) in Die Zeit, March 19, 1982].  He spontaneously declared himself willing to come to Frankfurt for the matinee on March 21, and, just as spontaneously, for Hans Mayer’s 75th birthday on March 19.  He wanted to set aside Saturday evening for dinner with Elisabeth Borchers and Burgel Zeeh. [...]

Then he told some unbeatable anecdotes drawn from his own life.  He said that one time he had received the Mozarteum’s prize; Councilor Paumgartner had invited him and 14 other scholarship holders to come see him to receive their prizes; the other 14 had all got the prize and prize money, but nothing had been written out for him, and Councilor Paumgartner shoved him off brusquely with the remark that his nomination had been a mistake by the bursary.  And what was more his name had been publicly displayed among those of the awardees for 14 days straight; he could hardly believe it and went home completely distraught, and to this day, he said, he pondered why that sensitive authority on Mozart had left him out in the cold like that.

Then the other story, which involved the famous Mozart conductor Josef Krips: on page 15 of Dittmar’s book there is a quotation from Zuckmayer’s autobiography Aufruf zum Leben [Summons to Life]: ‘My wife procured him (the young Thomas Bernhard) an audition with one of the great Salzburg conductors, whose undoubtedly very famous name now escapes her, but he was certainly one ballsily rude fellow.  No sooner did he remark that Bernhard’s voice was completely ‘untrained’ than he threw him out without further ado--and threw my wife out as well!’  In connection with this, too, Bernhard remarked that it was incredible that such a sensitive person could be so rude.  Once again, he said, he had been cast into a landscape of ice.

Thirty years later, when driving from Salzburg to Vienna, he was passed by an American-model hearse with a Geneva license plate.  Josef Krips had died in Geneva and was being transported to Vienna.  So that was it for him.

One way or another, messing with Bernhard is always fatal.”

Letter No. 442

[Address: Ohlsdorf; forwarded to the Hotel Meliá, Palma de Mallorca]

Frankfurt am Main
February 15, 1982

Dear Mr. Bernhard,

The cost of living index went up again in 1981; accordingly we would like to propose to you an increase of your monthly remittances to DM 2,560.00 per month beginning on March 1, 1982.  I presume you are content with this arrangement.

with best regards,
Siegfried Unseld

Letter No. 443
[Address: Hotel Meliá, Palma de Mallorca]

Frankfurt am Main
February 15, 1982

Dear Thomas,

I am back in one piece; I think we had quite a good conversation and have once again laid a solid foundation.  In a text by a certain writer I read the following words on the great cities of the world: “Not one of them has ever been as ideal for me as Palma.”1--and I can now say the same of the site of our meeting.

So: best wishes for the remainder of your stay!

I have noted everything; everything has been prepared.  We will see each other from March 19 through March 21, and I very much hope you read an excerpt of your story on the Goethe-Wittgenstein relationship at the matinee.

You will be bring me your Residenz book, and at the end of March, Joachim will send you his Kafka.2

At the airport I bought some Carta Blanca Agustín Blazquez3, and during the flight I was fascinated by Rudolf’s text.  More on this soon.

And at home I was greeted by something I had hoped to bring with me, namely the matrix of our advertisement for The Novellas; it is enclosed.  What Ulrich Greiner writes in it is equally true of Concrete.

with sincere regards and, once again, best wishes for the remainder of your stay,
Siegfried Unseld


  1. This is a pronouncement by Rudolf, the narrator of Concrete; see Bernhard, Works, Vol. 5, p. 53.

  1. Joachim Unseld’s dissertation, Franz Kafka.  Ein Schriftstellerleben [A Writer’s Life], was published in 1982 by Hanser Publications.

  1. A Spanish cognac. [Actually it is a sherry.  In Concrete, the narrator Rudolf’s sister drinks “a whole glass of Agustín Blazquez sherry.” (DR)]  

  1. The enclosure is an advertisement from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for The Novellas.  It quotes a passage from Ulrich Greiner’s review of the book in the FAZ: “In its first sentence the novella Yes is already wrenching the reader into the undertow of this prose idiom.  There is no [other (DR)] living storyteller who would be capable of expressing in such colossal sentences a linguistic movement that is also simultaneously a movement of the text’s subject matter.”

Letter No. 444

[Address: Hotel Meliá Mallorca, Palma de Mallorca]

Frankfurt am Main
February 16, 1982

Dear Thomas,

A magnificent piece of prose!  I am sure the critics will see this as well.  And perhaps even the book dealers will for a change.  In any case, I am going to do everything I can to communicate my fascination and enthusiasm to others.

After a more careful read-through of the manuscript (although I am having 12 pages of it transcribed for the compositor) the whole thing is now going to be typeset and paginated.  I presume that on returning to Ohlsdorf you will find the paginated rough copy waiting for you.  There are still a couple of stylistic trivialities to be addressed.

Page 10: Here there is a clause reading, “obwohl es sie abstoßen hätte müssen.” [“though they ought to have been disgusted.”]  This postpositive helping verb [hätte] crops up frequently in your writings; the correct and established construction is “obwohl es sie hätte abstoßen müssen.”1  It crops up in other places, p. 36, e.g., five lines from the bottom: “Auch wenn ich das niemals wahrhaben hatte wollen.” [“Even if I had never been willing to believe this.”]  Here, too, it should probably read: “niemals hatte wahrhaben wollen.”2  Is the narrator supposed to summon his sister by telegram on p. 12, by telephone on p. 13, and again by telegram on p. 16?3  

Page 31a, second third, there is talk of “Mistübeln” [“garbage evils”].  But shouldn’t it be “Mistkübel” [“garbage can”]?

Page 36: At the top you have inserted the word “farce.”  I can’t make sense of the sentence into which you have inserted it.  Could you please write out this sentence again?

Page 55: Here there is a quotation from Zadig, the one about the most ravishing of all bosoms.  Then comes this clause: “About something that needn’t make me feel ashamed.”   I don’t understand what this something is supposed to be.  Couldn’t you elucidate this for me?4

Now two serious things:

On page 54 there is a mention of a certain senile moron, a chancellor turned lout.  This could provoke a ban on publication, because it is obvious who is meant.  I strongly advise you to remove the passage; at minimum the title of chancellor of the republic should not appear.  |And don’t forget you once felt sorry for him.|     

Page 75: Here the Sony corporation is referenced.  This corporation actually exists, and it most certainly could get an injunction issued.  Shouldn’t we substitute a slightly different name, e.g., the Soby corporation?  Everybody would be able to guess which corporation was meant, but it wouldn’t be stated outright and therefore wouldn’t constitute a breach of the law.  And what is more, it really isn’t anything very crucial.

I hope you will forgive me for these queries.  The whole thing is, as I said, absolutely fascinating.

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. Bernhard accepted Unseld’s proposed change; see Vol. 5, p. 21 of Bernhard’s Works.

  1. Bernhard accepted Unseld’s proposed change; see Vol. 5, p. 65 of Bernhard’s Works.

  1. In the published book, she is consistently summoned by telegram.

  1. The clause is unchanged in the published book.

  1. In the published version the passage reads: “A refractory, perfidious blockhead of an old chancellor--megalomaniacal, capricious, a public menace” [or, in the words of David McLintock’s version, which outside this note I have imported from without comment, “An obstinate old idiot who, having become chancellor, is now quite unpredictable, a megalomaniac and a public menace.”  From the pagination one can see that Unseld is in fact referring to an earlier passage that reads, “a public menace of a chancellor is issuing equally public-menacing orders to his ministers” (cf. David McLintock’s version: “...a half-crazed Chancellor is at large, issuing half-crazed orders to his idiotic ministers”). (DR)]

Letter No. 445
[Stationery of the Hotel Meliá Mallorca, Palma de Mallorca]

[Palma de Mallorca]
February 25, ’82
Dear Siegfried Unseld,
The yacht from Monrovia is still here, and the sheik hasn’t left Palma yet either; to the contrary, he was visited today by King Hassan, as I noticed; unfortunately the silent spectator from Frankfurt has been gone for some time.
So now—after the visit of the people from Vienna!—I am back walking along my lonely path and preoccupying myself with more sentences and with the lethal mantraps hidden within them.  This is of course the way it will be right up until the end, and I hereby declare this preoccupation to be my one and only true passion.
I don’t think the requested corrections to Concrete will be difficult to make once I have the rough paginated copy at Ohlsdorf.
Your letter was an agreeable companion during my walk today.  In three weeks we will see each other and I find the thought of that equally agreeable.
Thomas B.
Letter No. 446
April 7, ’82
Dear Siegfried Unseld,
Out of all the people at your two organizations I have always liked the Jews the best, and now I love them more than ever by comparison with the simpleminded remainder of all German heads--and you were the victor!  All right then!
Goethe’s right leg in the Tischbein portrait ended up being at least fifteen centimeters too long; if Goethe were to stand up he would inevitably scare the life out of the entire German nation and concurrently put them in stitches.1
But seriously: I am already working in my luscious room above the sound of the sea and observing nature as a soundless explosion.  I have literally reined in one of the most beautiful balconies in the world and absolutely reined in my ideas.
There are a few improvements that need to be made to Wittgenstein, but none of them is grave enough to forestall the printing of a rough paginated copy.  By way of remedying the cosmetic appearance of my manuscript, I shall undergo an actual course of treatment next time.   And for just this time I shall bow my head a couple of apologetic degrees to the proof-reader.

The Voice Imitator arrived yesterday and I am completely and utterly pleased with it.  What a majestic shade of blue!!!2

The novel ends with Rabbi Eisenberg, which can’t mean anything to you as of yet, but to me it is the most important thing.

A day before my departure I telephoned Schaffler and became acquainted with the German Booksellers’ Association’s proposal to print the five books in “an enormous run” in ’84.  What do you think of that!  Whereupon I replied to Schaffler in writing (as I already had done viva voce!) that I was declining the German Booksellers’ Association’s offer and proposing that such a five-for-one volume should be “issued” as a “special edition under the auspices of” Suhrkamp and with all rights “to be retained” by Schaffler “upon the Child’s expiration”--to employ the insufferable argot of the publishing industry.  And that he should meet with you and me as well.  What do you think of that!!!

I take this to be yet another proof of the charmedness of my existence.  I am now going to sup on on some scampi in white wine sauce--and I am not feeling ashamed in the least.

Yours with complete and utter regards,
Thomas B.

  1. Bernhard was in Frankfurt am Main between March 19 and March 21.  On March 19, there was a gathering in celebration of the 75th birthday of Hans Mayer.  In addition to Bernhard the authors Ilse Aichinger, Peter Bichsel, Max Frisch, Stephan Hermlin, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Rolf Hochhuth, Karen Kiwus, Karl Krolow, Adolf Muschg, Hans Werner Richter, and Martin Walser were in attendance.  Unseld delivered the welcome speech.  At 11 a.m. on March 21 a matinee commemorating the 150th anniversary of Goethe’s death commenced at the Frankfurt Playhouse; part of this matinee involved the presentation of the fruits (i.e., five best submitted poems) of a competition called My Goethe, sponsored by the city of Frankfurt, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, and Insel Publications.  The stage decor consisted of Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s painting Goethe in the Roman Campagna and Andy Warhol’s version of the painting.  After some introductory remarks by Unseld, Adolf Muschg gave a speech and Martin Walser read from his play In Goethes Hand.  On March 21, Bernhard signed a contract for a DM 55,000 loan from Suhrkamp Publications.  On the same day he handed over the typescript of Wittgensteins Neffe [Wittgenstein’s Nephew].

  1. The Bibliothek Suhrkamp edition of Der Stimmenimitator [The Voice-Imitator], Volume 770 of the series, was published on March 31, 1982.  

Letter No. 447

[Address: Hotel Beograd, Lovran/Opatija/Yugoslavia]

Frankfurt am Main
April 19, 1982

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Warm thanks for your letter of April 7, which gives me such a vivid picture of this perennially charmed Thomas Bernhard!  It was very nice to have you here with us for a change, and nice that you did not feel so ill at ease after all in this social setting, or, as you would put it, in this “horde of people of my stripe.”

Your observation on the Tischbein portrait of Goethe is quite accurate: the leg turned out a bit too long, but even more shockingly: he switched the left shoe with the right one!

I am dictating this letter on Saturday, April 17, and today I read Wittgenstein’s Nephew for the second time, and I liked it very much: it is a new form of your autobiography, and what a fascinating and colorful figure is cut by this nephew, who, as you quite rightly say, is as revolutionary in his idiosyncrasy as his uncle was in his philosophy.  Whereof one cannot be silent, thereof one must speak!1a  

I also find it quite astonishing how this story of a death is woven into the story of your life and how this dying man has imparted as much strength to you as your “Lebensmensch”1b.  It is all quite Goethean, a grand confession.  I am very glad that you have now reacted to Schaffler; we must now wait a bit for his reply, and if he doesn’t answer I shall write to him once again.1  It would be nice if we could bring out the five narratives in April of next year.  We would issue them in a large print run, and if Schaffler does not request (or cannot request) any share of the honorarium, then we will receive the entire honorarium, and it will be several times as large as the one the German Book Club can offer.  

with sincere regards as ever,
Siegfried Unseld

P.S. Regarding Concrete: we have changed Sony=Cony to “a Japanese firm.”2

1a. Cf. the final proposition of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” (DR)

1b. Lebensmensch (literally life-person)--Bernhard’s term for his “aunt,” Hedwig Stavianicek, in Wittgensteins Neffe.  In the authorized English translation by David McLintock the term is rendered as life support.

  1. On May 3, 1982, Unseld wrote to Wolfgang Schaffler: “[...] I am getting in touch with you at Thomas Bernhard’s request. It would please him very much to see the five autobiographical books in your catalogue reissued by Suhrkamp Publications in the spring of of next year, in a collected edition entitled Nineteen Years.  He and I conceived of this collected edition as a single volume issued in a large print run and reasonably priced; but he has just informed me that he would also like to issue five individual volumes as a boxed set. [...] Mr. Bernhard is of the opinion that he can authorize us to issue this five-volume set, but we have received only the rights for this boxed set, and no others [...].  This author-desired  arrangement is certainly unusual, but as we know, this author has a penchant for the unusual, and he is urging us very strongly to accommodate him in this.”  In a letter dated June 20, 1982, Bernhard himself contacted Schaffler regarding this subject: “That I am only too desirous for there to be a complete, first-rate edition of Nineteen Years goes without saying, as does the fact that it makes a difference whether this edition is published by the slatternly book club or by Suhrkamp.  In my letter from Lovran at the beginning of April [see Letter No. 446] I wrote that this could only ever be a one-time licensed edition.  Please work out some sort of agreement with Unseld that will allow him to be of service to my ‘autobiography’ and to me.”    

  1. In the published book the “Japanese firm” has been turned into an “American” one.

Letter No. 448

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
August 10, 1982
Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Appearances are not deceptive: it was one of the most pleasant dinners whose enjoyment I have ever been afforded.  I would very much like to apologize for my unpunctuality, which marked my falling out of character as a publisher, but the circumstances were simply different.  I had a lot to tell you about and I did it gladly, and we dredged up a lot of things and didn’t say a lot of things.

For example--that Piper has absolutely no wish to give us permission to put out a selection of the poems of Ingeborg Bachmann edited by you.1

Also that I am very pleased that we will be receiving the manuscript of Appearances Are Deceptive in October.

And Sunday, September 5 is looking like a good date for Ludwigsburg.  It would be a nice reunion, and you would have have your every wish fulfilled by three people.

I have removed the collection of Bernhard’s Plays in One Volume from Suhrkamp Publications’ “white schedule”; it was a rather painful operation for me, but I perceive your idiosyncratic opposition to such a collection, and I attach more importance to making you happy than to making you angry.  Should you remain adamant in your refusal even after thinking it over, we can include Frost in the schedule instead of the Plays.  In any case, I would like to add something of yours to this schedule.3

Incidentally, September 5 is also the date of the ZDF broadcast of the videotaped performance of On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace.  We could actually watch half of the play live and the other half on television!

If this September 5 meeting materializes, we should arrange it so that you fly to Frankfurt and we then have an opportunity for a conversation and then drive together to Ludwigsburg.  It would be nice if you could come to a decision soon, so that the ladies who flock to see you can gear themselves up for your arrival.  

The corrections to Wittgenstein’s Nephew arrived safely in Frankfurt; they are being solicitously effectuated.

with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld

  1. On May 22, Bernhard wrote to Burgel Zeeh: “Regarding the spirited Lavant poems, I would much rather first ‘assemble’ whichever poems of Ingeborg Bachmann have not as yet been published in the BS.  That would be more in keeping with the respective ranks of the two Carinthian geniuses.”  Bernhard prepared a selection of the poems of Christine Lavant for the Bibliothek Suhrkamp in 1987 (see n. 1 to Letter No. 503).
  1. After the premiere of On the Far Side of Every Summit Lies Peace on July 25, 1982 the Bochum Playhouse allowed a guest performance to take place in Ludwigsburg in the context of the Ludwigsburg Festival.  The director was Alfred Kirchner; Moritz Meister was played by Traugott Buhre, Mrs. Meister by Anneliese Römer, and the publisher by Wolfgang Höper.

  1. In his Chronicle entry for August 9, Unseld wrote of his visit with Bernhard in Ohlsdorf: “Thomas Bernhard was very amiable, as always.  He declined my offer to publish his Collected Plays; he had already not been very enthusiastic about the Novellas [see Letters Nos. 385 and 386].  But after I had gotten back to Frankfurt, he called and said that he regretted turning down my offer and that he thought the Collected Plays was an interesting project.”  The Plays 1969-1981 was published in the spring of 1983 in the context of the “white schedule,” Suhrkamp’s biannual schedule featuring previously published titles.

Letter No. 449

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
October 1, 1982

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

I know that Ms. Zeeh is keeping you up to date, but of course the publisher should also make sure he gets a word in edgewise at some point.

Venice was relaxing, pretty expensive; too bad that we couldn’t dine there in Torcello.1

Now we are getting ready for the book fair, it will be my 30th one, so nothing new.

But the lively interest in Concrete is nice.  As you will have learned from Ms. Zeeh, we have focused our book-fair advertisements on Concrete, as we were always planning to do, but now fortified by Blökker’s endorsement.  I hope that after the second printing, which has now been shipped, we will be able to print a third run.

With the above in mind I wish you an enjoyable and productive time2 and send you my sincere regards.
Siegfried Unseld  

  1. Unseld and his wife Hildegard stayed in Venice between September 22 and 27; on September 23, Hildegard celebrated her sixtieth birthday there.

  1. From October 25 through the end of November, Bernhard stayed in Dubrovnik.  He returned to Ohlsdorf via Frankfurt.  Of his encounter with Bernhard there, Unseld wrote, “Thomas Bernhard was on his way back from Dubrovnik, where he had ‘tarried’ for five and a half weeks in order to annoy himself with the ‘popular-democratic’ institutions and thereby acquire the necessary background [or perhaps Folie here is a Gallicism for madness (DR)] for his works.  He has finished the play Appearances Are Deceptive and gave me Duplicate No. 1.  But we shouldn’t make this public yet, because he wants to give a copy to Peymann first, within the next week.  It is a play with only two characters: Karl, an old artist, and Robert, his brother, and Bernhard has written it for the two actors Minetti and Buhre.  Peymann plans to stage it in Bochum in June.  Bernhard would be pleased to see us issue it in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, and specifically with the same design as the one for The Force of Habit.  He has a 350-page manuscript in reserve.  Formerly entitled Unruhe [Unrest], it is now called Auslöschung [Extinction].  But he would like to let it sit.  He is mentally planning a new prose work that he will have finished by April of 1983 and that will be published in the following fall.”

Letter No. 450

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
October 4, 1982

Dear Thomas Bernhard,

In case Saturday’s FAZ has given you the slip, here once again is the arts page with the advertisement for Concrete.

As you can see, we are touting.

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

1 Enclosure1

  1. On p. 25 of the October 2, 1982 number of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the firm promoted Concrete with two sentences from Günter Blökker’s review entitled “A Couple of Death’s Heads” (from the FAZ of September 25): “The volcanic quality of the early climaxes, the restrained abundance of the autobiographical phase, the self-parodic comedianism of the scenic studies--in this narrative they do not stand in juxtaposition or opposition to one another; rather they are perfectly equilibrated in the figure of the narrator...We have--amid pain and laughter--been present at an anthropogenesis.”

Letter  No. 451

[Address: Hotel Argentina, 20, Fran Suplia, Dubrovnik]

Frankfurt am Main
November 11, 1982
Dear Thomas Bernhard,

Today we sold Concrete to Knopf in N.Y., and that marks the fifth finalization of a foreign-language edition after England, France, Sweden, and Italy!  I hope this brings you even more sunshine than the abundance of it that I am sure you have already gotten there in Yugoslavia.

And then for some time I have been meaning to send you the enclosed page: the Heidelberg Cement Corporation has ordered a copy of Concrete from our firm.  That is quite a noteworthy event of a most peculiar kind!

And how are you doing?  Are you feeling well--workwise?  Here everything is fine; things are steadily developing, and in my work I am feeling very much in my element!

wishing you all the best and with sincere regards from me and those closest to me--
Siegfried Unseld  


Letter No. 452

[On stationery of the Hotel Panhans, Semmering]


Dear Siegfried Unseld,

The greatness of the publisher of the same name could never again be in doubt even after the literal end of the world, but the man who has gone down in history as such a paragon will still be obliged despite his grandeur to fight a running battle with the abstruse absurdities of the literature-manufacturing industry as long as, so to speak, his gigantic heart continues to beat and naturally also obliged to get together in the near future with the author Thomas Bernhard in order to discuss finances, to which both of them, the author and the publisher, obviously must attach the greatest importance if they don’t wish to fall through the cracks of this gruesome age.

In Vienna1 we did nothing of the kind--as the scene at Bochum two years ago (in March)2 cannot be repeated, perhaps on my way back from Bochum on January 17 there will be a sandwich filler-esque stopover in Frankfurt, a stopover that will differ from the one in Bochum by a hair in the truest sense of the word.

My wishes and regards are the epitome of obviousness and any embellishment of them would transform them into an epitome of tastelessness that I shun assiduously at the end of the year.

Your accidental resident of a more or less execrable hotel,
Thomas B.

  1. Bernhard and Unseld met in Vienna on December 18 and on the morning of December 19.  In his Chronicle, Unseld reported, “That afternoon Bernhard was friendly and amiable; he said not a word about money.  He smilingly acknowledged the validity of my riposte that the unavailability of Wittgenstein’s Nephew was a sign of the book’s success. [...]  Next morning I was supposed to have breakfast with Ms. Mayröcker at 10 o’clock.  But Bernhard would have things otherwise: he insisted that we should meet at the abode of Mrs. Maleta, the wife of the former president of the republic.  I managed to talk this over with Ms. Mayröcker, and so punctually at 10:00 a.m. Bernhard and I, along with Mrs. Maleta’s son, turned up at the house of this lady who did not so much hold court as play at being a housewife in her spacious abode.  [...] And then came his prognosis, in this conservative’s house, that the conservatives didn’t have a prayer.  But he said that the Socialists didn’t have a prayer either, and that neither did the Greens--that nobody had a prayer; so here Bernhard was again being his old familiar self.”

  1. Unseld and Bernhard’s Bochum conference took place on March 25, 1981.


Letter No. 453

[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
January 3, 1983
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
Warm thanks for your letter of December 27, which reached me today, the firm’s first workday of the year.  I am delighted that we will be meeting on January 17; I am sure you will soon have a more precise idea of your time of arrival, and I shall be thoroughly prepared.  I am looking forward to our reencounter.
with sincere regards,
Siegfried Unseld
P.S. written since our telephone conversation: I can either meet you at the gate at 11:55 a.m. or we can meet up at the so-called “meeting-point”1a  (arrivals level--a floor below the gate), Lobby B.
Ms. Zeeh will book the Vienna-bound flight for 4:4o p.m. (LH 254).1
1a. Meeting-point: in English in the original.
1.   Bernhard alighted at Frankfurt Airport on January 17.  In his Chronicle Unseld remarked, “We drive to the firm.  He is furious about sloppiness in general, about the ‘muck’-production at the theaters, about the kitsch he said Koeppen has written in Die Mauer schwankt [The Wall Is Tottering]; he pours scorn on everything. […] By the time we got to the firm he was calmer; he greeted Joachim, dedicated his books to him ‘In passing and for a start.’  In 30 seconds flat he looked over the statement of his honoraria accounts, said he was happy to be able to receive a hundred thousand marks, and signed the receipt, but then he said he wanted to have those hundred thousand marks in schillings. […] Then he said he had finished his new 200-page novella, Chur [eventually entitled Der Untergeher {and, in English, The Loser (DR)}].  We should be receiving it March.  For the edition of Appearances Are Deceptive in the BS he gives me a precise color scheme: dark olive and black.
And then yet another twist.  He is very glad about the Collected Plays in the white schedule, but he would have been equally pleased to pull Frost out of the cupboard in the fall.  He said that there had been twenty years of Frost—and that a generation of writers had profited from it.  We should put out a new edition in the main schedule and perhaps quickly assemble a collection of secondary materials.
Letter No. 454
[Circular letter to authors and friends of the firm]
Frankfurt am Main
January 7, 1983
A piece of news for the New Year: my son Joachim began actively working at our firm on January 3, 1983.  After graduating from secondary school, he served his apprenticeship as a book dealer with us, interned at our Frankurt book shop and at Osiander1, studied at Munich, and received his doctorate in Berlin with a dissertation on Franz Kafka’s relationship with his writings and his publications and published by Hanser last year under the title Franz Kafka: A Writer’s Life.  Over the past few years he has worked at publishing and booksellers’ firms in France, the U.S.A, and Spain.  Since 1978 Joachim Unseld has been an associate of the publishing firms of Suhrkamp, Insel, and Nomos and along with Dr. Heribert Marré and Dr. Gottfried Honnefelder has assisted Volker Schwarz in the management of Nomos Publications in Baden-Baden.
Now Joachim has taken on a full-time position at our firm.  He is heading our sales and distribution division, just as I did when I started here under the direction of Peter Suhrkamp in 1952.  For a publisher the “making” of fine books is indeed one thing and the selling of them quite another and equally important one, and this is something that must be learned through experience.  Joachim Unseld will be seeking to engage in a personal conversation with you; please accept his approaches in a friendly spirit.
Gottfried Honnefelder is staying on as director of Suhrkamp’s paperback books division and maintaining his existing ties with you, and vis-à-vis the German classics division he will soon be establishing new ties with you.  And so, secured as it now is by a belt and two pairs of braces–with me functioning not merely in the background–our relationship will grow ever stronger.
With friendly regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]
1. The book dealership of Osiander has been in continuous existence since its founding in Tübingen in 1596.
Letter No. 455
Frankfurt am Main
January 11, 1983
Dear Thomas,
So that you can see how much we Germans value you, I am sending you an article from Le Monde.
very sincerely,
Siegfried Unseld
1.  The Thomas Bernhard archive contains a copy of “Aveux et paradoxes de Thomas Bernhard,” an article from p. 1 of the January 7, 1983 of Le Monde that refers the reader to an interview, also entitled “Aveux et paradoxes….,” of Bernhard by Jean-Louis de Rambures.  In the German version of the interview, “Alle Menschen sind Monster, sobald sie ihren Panzer lüften” [“All Human Beings Are Monsters As Soon As They Show Their Armor”], Bernhard says, “My way of writing would be unthinkable in a German author, and what’s more I have a genuine antipathy to the Germans.”
Letter No. 456
Frankfurt am Main
February 8, 1983  
Dear Thomas,
Mr. Reich-Ranicki’s review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung will surely not have escaped your notice.  Are you also acquainted with the review in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of February 4?1  I am sending you these along with the last page of Die Zeit, in which we do some touting of our own.  Still to come are two more advertisements in which we incorporate the voice of Mr. Reich-Ranicki.

You see: we are doing something.

with friendly regards
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. Wittgenstein’s Nephew was published on November 30, 1982 as Volume 788 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp.  In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of February 5, 1983, Marcel Reich-Ranicki reviewed the book under the headline “Der Sieg vor dem Abgrund” [“Victory at the Edge of the Abyss”]: “But what was already in evidence in the novella Concrete is confirmed here: he is writing more easily, relaxedly, transparently.  His style has become more equanimous and more masterly.  Perhaps one can even get away with calling it more mature.”  In the review in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (“Aeusserster Schwierigkeit einer Freundschaft” [“The Extreme Arduousness of a Friendship”) one reads: “Bernhard sketches such a nuanced portrait of his friend that the reader believes he has encountered him in the streets of Vienna, and the characterization of his intellectual qualities is so intensive that one fancies one has engaged in face-to-face conversations with Paul Wittgenstein.”  The advertisement in the February 4 number of Die Zeit centers on a quotation from a review on North German Radio.

Letter No. 457  

[Telegram memorandum]

Frankfurt am Main
March 3, 1983

Dear Thomas--I congratulate you on the 15 tsd. Wittgenstein’s Nephews--we are going to print that many copies again.  All corrections have been made.  Copy on its way.

Yours with sincere regards Siegfried Unseld

Letter No. 458

[Handwritten; postcard: “Sevilla, Patio Banderas”]

[March 25, 1983]
Dear S.U.

the author is traveling & writing!1--I am very much in the mood to see you* soon,
Yours Thomas B.
*fit as a fiddle!2

  1. Between March 18 and 28, Bernhard traveled around Spain.

  1. When Unseld called Bernhard to congratulate him on his fifty-second birthday, the publisher had just gotten over a case of influenza.  He and Bernhard met on April 21 in Vienna.  In his Travel Journal, Paris-Vienna, April 19-21, 1983, Unseld wrote:
“This is Bernhard-related.  I land punctually, take a taxi to the Hilton Hotel.  As I step into the lobby, I find Bernhard already there; he arrived a minute earlier.  Of course he has a penchant for punctuality.  A walk in a park, then lunch at the International.  He is convivial, relaxed, cheerful.  He gives me the corrections to his play Appearances Are Deceptive.  Pages 58 and 59 are missing.  We will have to collate them with the manuscript ourselves.  He mustn’t see it ever again. [...]

He had no objection to Peymann’s staging the play Appearances Are Deceptive in Bochum next season, meaning probably in October.

Peymann is now busy with the premiere of The Winter’s Tale, which will take place at end of April or beginning of May.  So after The Winter’s Tale he will put on the premiere of Appearances Are Deceptive in October.  Accordingly, Bernhard says he must meet with Peymann in the middle of May in Barcelona, Madrid, or some other place.  He says it is indeed very important for him to have finished reading the galleys of his new novel by then so that he will be able to concentrate fully on the play.  So we should really try hard to get the galleys delivered to Bernhard by May 12 or 13.

Then he gave me the manuscript of the text, which used to be called Chur, then Der Asphaltgeher [The Asphalt-Walker], and is now called Der Untergeher [The Undergoer or (more contentiously but by now quasi-officially) The Loser (DR)].  He is envisaging a design like that of Concrete, but with a cover with typography like that of Verstörung, and the most important thing: the colors must be yellow and black.  The manuscript is over 90 pages long, so he guesses it will be 240 pages when typeset.

And then the really remarkable thing happens: without any prompting at all, he tells me the plot of this text.  He said that when outstanding talents came into contact with a genius, the outstanding talents always sank without a trace while the genius lived on.  That in this book he was presenting three people who were bound together in a kind of friendship.

The preeminent of the three is Glenn Gould, the most significant pianist of this century; the other two are a Mr. Wertheim [sic] and the narrator.  Bernhard tries hard to give me a sense of the entire narrative trajectory.  These three are together at the Mozarteum, and subsequently together in Horowitz’s piano class.  Everybody knows that Glenn Gould is The Great One.  The narrator could perhaps also make it as a piano virtuoso, but Wertheim knows he could never make it.  So the narrator finds it fairly easy to give up the piano, but Wertheim finds it very difficult to renounce his vocation.  While Glenn Gould is a madman, plays the piano publicly and gives 34 concerts in two years, but then stops, withdraws to a house in the woods in the U.S.A. and does nothing but make records in his studio, and then meets his predestined end, Wertheim is completely devastated by Glenn Gould’s fate.  He lived with his sister for almost 20 years.  His sister was everyone and everything to him.  He says he sacrificed his career for his sister’s sake, i.e. gave up playing the piano for his sister’s sake.  But at the age of 46 he learns that his sister has met a Swiss man, the head of a chemical company in Chur, and although he has bound his sister to himself by every possible means and never gives her a chance to escape, she takes advantage of this opportunity.  ‘Go away and marry this man’ and Wertheim is alone.  He is devastated by Glenn Gould’s death and by the departure of his sister, which leaves him feeling let down by her.  Wertheim follows her to Chur and hangs himself a hundred meters away from her house there.  The narrator, having been invited to Wertheim’s funeral by the sister, attends it and then travels to Traich, to Wertheim’s last residence, where his papers are said to be preserved.  On the way, he visits an inn, the Wankham, and when he enters the inn his reflections and the entire story are played through once again.  I think it is a good Thomas Bernhard text, a successful Thomas Bernhard text, but that it lacks the significance and brilliance of Concrete and Wittgenstein’s Nephew.

Once again he recalls, quite justifiably, because on May 24 it will have been 20 years since we purchased Insel Publications, that Frost played an important role back then.  He recoils from the idea of a book about Frost, but he says he would have been highly gratified if we had reissued Frost in a clothbound edition.  And incidentally, he says he would like to have DM 30,000.00 posted to his Freilassing account.
He is delighted with the cover that Fleckhaus designed for Chur.  We must send him a photocopy posthaste.”
Letter No. 459   
[Address: Ohlsdorf]
Frankfurt am Main
April 26, 1983
Dear Thomas,
I was very glad that you liked the text of Der Untergeher.  So this week we will announce the book, and we hope it will find many readers.1
The manuscript has already been typeset.  The production division has promised us to have the galleys ready by March 10.  If we hear nothing further from you, Ms. Zeeh will arrange to have the galleys sent directly to you in Ohlsdorf from the printers in Nördlingen.
You see, we are working with great promptness.
I have had a photographic copy of Fleckhaus’s cover design for Chur made for you.
with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]
  1. In his Chronicle entry for April 23, Unseld wrote: “My principal task for Saturday morning between 9:00 and 11:30, after my second reading of the manuscript of Thomas Bernhard’s Der Untergeher, is to write an announcement text for the book [for the sales representatives and the firm’s schedule preview].  I have read the manuscript very carefully and twice through, but the structure of a piece becomes clearer during the second reading, but basically you really understand a text best of all when you have to write something about it.”  The Chronicle entry for April 24 contains the following remark: “Phone call to Thomas Bernhard.  I read him the announcement text.  He was quite ‘enthusiastic.’”

  1. The enclosure has not survived.  It was presumably the copy of the preliminary cover design for Der Untergeher referred to in the letter.  The designer, Willy Fleckhaus, was working under the assumption that the novella was going to be entitled Chur.  Fleckhaus’s draft is reproduced on p. 159 of Vol. 6 of Bernhard’s Works.         

Letter No. 460

May 20, ’83

Dear Siegfried Unseld,

The galleys made me very happy.1

Thomas B.

  1. Burgel Zeeh’s handwritten note suggests that the corrected galleys for Der Untergeher were delivered “to Ms. Borchers.”

Letter No. 461

[telegram; wolfseggamhausruck]

requesting different cover very sincerely bernhard1

  1. The telegram bears a typewritten note by Burgel Zeeh: “Mr. Staudt will call Mr. Bernhard to ask him what it is he has a problem with.  Bernhard and Rach have both agreed to this.  The cover printed on p. 6 of the Program Schedule 1983, Part 2 (and reproduced on Volume 6, p. 177 of Bernhard’s Works) was altered.  Between June 5 and 26, Unseld was taking his yearly fasting cure in Überlingen and consequently not at the firm.  In his Travel Journal, Salzburg, July 26-29, 1983, he wrote as follows of a face-to-face meeting with Bernhard: “During the flight and my layover in Fuchsl I once again read through his new play, Der Theatermacher [The Scene-Maker or Histrionics].  This play has much more to offer than I thought as I was reading it the first time.  “The wheel of history more or less cast like pearls before swine”--this phrase, Bernhard’s motto for the play, very precisely hits the mark.  The process of history is adumbrated time and again here.  We see how inexorable it is, and how closely we would have to study it, more or less, and this ‘history’ also includes the personal history of the author, who in this play not only articulates his views on the theater and the world but also draws upon his own biography and his personal experiences in forming his arguments.  And this notion of ‘pearls before swine’ is of course also more or less on-target .  The public is not a community of connoisseurs.  
He was relaxed and in good spirits.  He cheerfully endorsed his account balance [DM 100,000 in the black] and asked for a remittance.  He was very pleased with the new version of the cover: he said that he thought he never would have been able forgive Fleckhaus for the original version.  That that diagonal Untergeher had really been too much.  I refrained from revealing to him that Fleckhaus was not the originator of that cover.  He quite liked the new one, because those lines on the cover looked to him like lines on a music staff, and of course Der Untergeher has an enormous amount to do with music.  He is in favor of the new yellow-and-black solution.  Then our announcement of the ‘limited-run edition of Frost with each copy signed by the author.’  He knew that he had agreed to this on the telephone with me, but he said he couldn’t handle it.  He said that after signing ten times his hand would seize up.  So we simply gave up on the idea of this edition.  At some time or other we could always make an edition out of the thousand sheets we had printed.

He amusedly put up with the reviews; he spent about ten minutes looking through them, and then he said that that was quite enough of that.  He said that the positive ones were boring and had nothing new to say and that the negative ones didn’t bother him because they were wrong.  But one point made in one of them must have bothered him after all, because he kept coming back to it: he said he wasn’t going to write anything else for a while, because he had been accused of writing too much.  So now he was just going to withdraw back into himself.  Sure, he said, he was participating in the literature industry; the next day he was going to meet with no less than Peter Handke.  Peter Handke did not inform me of this.  Bernhard tried to rope me into staying longer and being present at this encounter.  It was of course not an unimportant event, he said, or was it?  For security’s sake they were each going to be accompanied by a female escort whose job would be to fill out all the pauses, because of course they were both famous for their eloquent silence.

We then spoke about a possible leading man for The Scene-Maker.

He said that Minetti should be given a break, that Oskar Werner was on the verge of institutionalization, that Hans Christian Blech was “too spent [abgeblecht],”

that Horst Bollmann was a great actor, but physically too small for the role,

that Will Quadflieg was a dimwit,

that Heinz Reincke could be a possibility but was lackluster; Bernhard was ill-disposed to him,

that Ernst Schröder really wouldn’t do either,

Peter Lühr, no, because he wasn’t theatrical enough,

that Klaus Maria Brandauer, who is playing the title role in Haeusserman’s production of Everyman with Marthe Keller as the mistress, was out of the question [...].

But on further reflection he kept coming back to Heinz Reincke, who he said could perhaps be quite good.

He wanted to let me take care of negotiating the honorarium rate with President Moser.

He worked himself up into an ecstasy of good cheer and ended up asking himself why he should refuse to sign the copies for the special edition.  I was supposed to figure out how this could be taken care of, and thus it was resolved that there would be a trip to Alsace during which he would sign the thousand sheets.

My visit with the new president of the Salzburg Festivals, Mr. Moser, was almost a farce.

I had to wait in the antechamber, which was like a sauna on account of the heating, for a quarter of an hour before he let me see him.  He knew for a certainty, thanks to the old office secretary, that I had had a good relationship with his predecessor and had often acted as the captain of the fire department during Peymann’s campaigns.

I gave him the manuscript of The Scene-Maker and summarized it for him. He said that he would consider himself lucky to host such a premiere.  That it was ideal for the festival and its audience.  And that the role was seemingly predestined for a great actor and that it was genuine drama with touches of history, of autobiography, of criticism (but not criticism of the harsh political sort), and that the whole thing was quite light-hearted, a joke with  touches of great profundity.   I am not about to record here everything this man said to me; the gist is: he simply had only the vaguest of clues, and so I proposed DM 70,000.00 to DM 75,000.00 to him as a base sum, and also once again mentioned the possibility of a telecast, which he had never given a single thought of his own to.  He took notes and was planning to read the play soon.  We are supposed to send him a performance contract soon.”

Letter No. 462

[Handwritten on stationery headed “Dr. Siegfried Unseld, 35 Klettenbergstraße, Frankfurt am Main 6”]

[Frankfurt am Main]
Sunday, August 7 [1983]

Dear Thomas Bernhard

Everything was magnificent!1
Your assiduous, self-unsparing “writing” achievement—
My conversations with you--
Your amicable commentary--
the dinner with Guth--
“our ladies”--
the ambience--
the excursion--
One must try to force out greatness each and every time!
Please keep in mind my request regarding the “suhrkamp taschenbuch schedule for No. 1,000.”  I and we would very much like you to take part in it (I know that you have other shores and goals to reach).  For us the ideal and perfect thing would be if we could issue a new text (30, 40 pages) by you.2

In the event that the attested set of drawers in Vienna did not contain the embarrassment of riches that I took completely for granted, I am proposing the following:

The Scene-Maker (June-July premiere) in the suhrkamp taschenbuch: a new book by Thomas Bernhard very inexpensively priced for the first time.  First printing: 20,000 copies.  Bargain sale during the festival.  We can accompany the Salzburg performance with showcasing in the windows of bookstores throughout Austria.

Then Concrete, which I love very much, would stand alone in the Bibliothek.

The collection Plays in the white schedule will be available by December 31.  Then it will vanish so that it can be eventually republished (perhaps alongside a second Plays collection) in hardcover.  That would be alongside a Novellas and hopefully also alongside the autobiography...this way your corpus as a whole would emerge organically, logically, self-evidently.  We would then have a good, rich, but not cluttered itinerary for 1984:

March: BS: Eigernordwand [The North Face of the Eiger]
July: st: Scene-Maker
Sept: hdcvr book: Extinction3
Nov: BS: Concrete    
Yes, just make a plan...4

Sincere regards
Tomorrow in Basel5
Siegfried Unseld

  1. Unseld’s Travel Journal Baden-Baden / Strasbourg, August 4-5, 1983 contains this passage:
“The impetus of this trip originated 20 years ago.  Thomas Bernhard had the desire to have his first novel, Frost, issued by Insel in 1963, republished in hardcover.  Now this is not a text previously unpublished by us; in 1972 it was added to the suhrkamp taschenbuch series, and our records show that 29,000 were printed.  So I came up with an idea of a facsimile of that first edition, a thousand numbered copies signed by the author.  Over the telephone Bernhard agreed to this, but then when the time came to sign the books, he wanted to pull out.  So in Salzburg we agreed to a trip to Alsace during which he would do all the signing.  I can well understand why Bernhard is so attached to this first novel; you have only to read the first page to see that all of Bernhard’s work is already discernible in this first-born: ‘To explore something unexplorable.  Until one has uncovered a certain astonishing degree of possibilities.  As one uncovers a conspiracy.’

Bernhard came to Frankfurt on August 3.  We had dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Guth; it dragged on until midnight.

Next morning Bernhard and Burgel Zeeh took the Intercity to Baden-Baden.  The inescapability of a train compartment facilitated the signing, which then proceeded more smoothly than we had feared.  At the Baden-Baden station they were met by Mr. Schwarz and invited to dinner at Schloß Neuweier.

In the afternoon Bernhard checked into Brenners Park-Hotel; as he cherishes this setting, this hotel, and was in a very good mood, by the evening, when I arrived, he had already signed 750 sheets.  Burgel Zeeh can give an account of the pranks he indulged in as he signed: sometimes the signatures read ‘Thomas Mann,’ ‘Thomas Aquinas,’ ‘Thomas Bernhold,’ ‘Heimito von Doderer,’ ‘Thomas Unseld,’ and one of them took the form of a caricaturistic sketch.

In the evening he was in good form.  Why should one always be refusing to do things; one can always get to work on something and then get it done.
He was disturbed by the news that according to Mr. Jung, Residenz Publications had repunctuated his prose works to bring them into line with Duden’s rules.  It caused him to launch into a tirade against the asininity of that firm [...].  Under no circumstances, he said, would he have wanted that to be done; he never would have sanctioned it; admittedly, he said, he hadn’t read those books at all since finishing them.

On the morning of August 5, he returned to this subject.  He said that he had gotten so worked up about it that it had given him insomnia.  That under no circumstances did he desire this kind of standardization; that it went without saying that he wanted there to be no punctuation at all in his plays, but that he also wanted the prose texts to be typeset with the punctuation he had given them in his manuscripts.  That it was so relentless for the sake of the rhythm, of the structure of his prose, which, he said, was governed by musical laws.  But that he also wasn’t going to break off contact with us if out of our regard for these rules we caught him out in an error.

Then with Burgel Zeeh’s assistance he signed the last sheets.

[...] We met up in Strasbourg, where Bernhard good-humoredly took a tour of Strasbourg cathedral along with a bit of the old quarter and put up with my Strasbourgian expectorations: that further construction of the cathedral would not have been possible without the architects from Ulm; the story of the kettle of millet that the Swiss brought still warm to Strasbourg by boat in 17 hours via the Limmat, Aare, and Rhine (Fischarts, The Lucky Ship of Zurich).  Luther; the Bundschuh movement and the revolutionizing Alsatian peasants; the house in which Joseph Rouget de Lisle composed the ‘Chant de guerre pour l’armée du Rhin,’ which later became La Marseillaise and the French national anthem.

The return trip via the Sheraton Hotel in Baden-Baden, where we arrived, as previously scheduled, at 8:30 p.m. to the minute.  “Everything was just right;everything was magnificent,” was Thomas Bernhard’s verdict.’

2.  Volume 1,000 of the suhrkamp taschenbücher was scheduled to be published in May of 1984.

3. In her typewritten journal Trip with Thomas Bernhard, August 4-5, Baden-Baden/Strasbourg, Burgel Zeeh recorded Bernhard’s oral statement about this book: “His next book is called Eigernordwand (written as one word), ca. 60 pages.  Exactly two days earlier he had read in a newspaper that the hundredth anniversary of the first scaling of the north face of the Eiger had just been commemorated.  The book is the story of a man who wishes to conquer the north face of Eigner, and this causes his family difficulties and catastrophes.

After this book, Extinction is supposed to be published, in the fall; he says that’s an autumnal sort of title, extinction.  But here he has a few difficulties.  In this book Mrs. Maleta is basically made into a character in some manner or other, and the locale of Wolfsegg is depicted especially extensively.  He says that it’s too conspicuous but that he can’t substitute any other name for Wolfsegg, that he has already tried to do that.  So he plans to let it sit for a bit longer.”      

4.  Here Unseld is quoting Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera.  Burgel Zeeh noted Bernhard’s reaction to these plans in a telephone memorandum dated August 11: “He said today he had received your letter, for which he thanks, whether I know him?  He says the plan is magnificent, but that he wants to look it over again and then make his reply.”   

5. Here Unseld is playing on the circus director Caribaldi’s recurring interjection “Tomorrow [in] Augsburg” in The Force of Habit, as well as on a wish Bernhard had expressed to Burgel Zeeh during the trip to Baden-Baden, namely to travel to Basel because his grandparents had once lived there.

Letter No. 463

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
August 31, 1983

Dear Thomas,

Just briefly informing you that Der Untergeher has been delivered to the book-dealers.  The retail price is DM 26.00.  We have printed 10,000 copies for the first run.  I am sure we will soon be reaching a second printing.

We are having twenty complimentary copies sent to you.  Further copies are available to you on demand.

I am glad this book can now run its race in public.

with sincere regards,

Letter No. 464

[Address: Ohlsdorf]

Frankfurt am Main
September 8, 1983

Dear Thomas,

You expressed no objections to Friedrich Cerha’s setting an excerpt from Walking to music under the title Requiem for Hollensteiner.  So we drew up a contract with Universal Edition Vienna.  We have heard today from Universal Edition that the premiere will take place in Graz, and specifically in the inaugural concert of the 1984 Styrian Fall Festival.  This is for your information.

I hope to hear from you soon.1

with sincere regards,
[Siegfried Unseld]

  1. Bernhard reacted to this letter via a September 11 telephone conversation with Burgel Zeeh.  She took notes on his remarks:

“He sends his very sincere regards.  He has a big problem: he still hadn’t written to you and thanked you for that lovely undertaking; now five weeks had already gone down the drain.  You had written to him, and written him a magnificent letter to boot, a letter that was literally unanswerable.  But he had spent half a day writing to you; he wanted to do this specifically by hand and with his new fountain pen.  But after half a page he could no longer stand the sight of his own handwriting, so the 15 attempts had ended up in the furnace and the letter had still not been written.  Now this pen [the same one he had used in signing the jubilee edition of Frost] was taking its revenge: he couldn’t write to his publisher with it!!  I advised him to use just half a sheet--but now he seriously refuses to try to do it again!  But he pressed me to report to you immediately on this ghastly exercise in futility and to give you his sincere regards.”

Bernhard never did write this letter or any others to Unseld before the end of 1983, but the two men did meet between October 2 and 4 in Venice.  Unseld composed some notes about the meeting:

“He signed the publication contract for Untergeher and Scene-Maker.  At the same time, he agreed to allow The Scene-Maker to be published in the context of the schedule of No. 1,000 of the suhrkamp taschenbücher.

The publication date of The Scene-Maker: the performance will be in July/August at the Salzburg Festival.  Bernhard is leaving the publication date up to us; indeed, he would almost be glad if it came early, but Peymann is anxiously requesting the coordination of the publication date with the performance.  He would on the whole prefer to have the book published only much later.  I think we should arrange it so that the book can actually be delivered eight days before the premiere; at Salzburg we can urge the book-dealerships not to begin selling the book until after the date of the premiere itself.

In November 1984, Peymann will stage the West-German premiere of The Scene-Maker in Bochum.

Subsequently the play will go on a tour to be organized by the Berlin tour-firm of Greve.

The play Appearances Are Deceptive: prospective date of the premiere with Minetti/Buhre as the cast is the beginning of December 1983.  But it is possible that the first performance will have to take place even later owing to the state of Minetti’s health.

The second performance will eventually take place in Berlin.  Boy Gobert would like to direct the play with Schellow/Bollmann.

The Yale Theater Magazine will print Appearances Are Deceiving, Gitta Honegger’s translation of Der Schein trügt.  The journal is offering 100 dollars to the author and translator.  Bernhard has no objections to Gitta Honegger’s receiving the 100 dollars.

Bernhard plans to travel to Palermo to receive the Mondello Prize.  It is the most important literary prize in Italy.  Thanks to this prize associated with 10 million lire (about DM 16,500), Bernhard will become a millionaire for the first time.  If he fails to show up, the prize money will be given to the second-place author, Yves Bonnefoy.

Bernhard was quite taken with the facsimile edition of Frost.  In the copy dedicated to me he listed the stops on the dedication journey--Baden-Baden, Strasbourg, Venice.”


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. 647-684. 

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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