Letter No. 465
Frankfurt am Main
February 3, 1984
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
I am delighted that we will be seeing each other on February 10. It simply has been too long since we last spoke to each other; whence the irritations, doubts, sulks.1
There is something we must discuss once again: The Scene-Maker. You will recall that you have fulfilled this one personal wish of mine: in the context of the schedule for the 1,000th number of the suhrkamp taschenbücher we have been planning to showcase our most important authors’ books in paperback format. Volume 1,000 will be Ludwig Hohl’s Notes, followed by books by Brecht, Hesse, Joyce, Proust, Beckett, Hildesheimer, and new publications by Muschg, Walser, Kühn, Johnson; we have included The Scene-Maker in this No. 1,000 schedule; we have advertised this 15,000-fold, and so the book-dealers are aware of it. I am of course aware of your predilection for the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, and you know that I have always taken into consideration your wish to have the play published in that series. We can see to that as well in the future, but in all deference to you we are keeping the play in the suhrkamp taschenbücher. Obviously the play can be published at any time; we have now scheduled it for July of 1984 in disregard of whether the performance makes it to the stage in 1984 or 1985. Incidentally, we shouldn’t yet give up on a performance before the end of the year!2
And if we have further plans: on March 1 and 2 I shall be in Vienna again; if you expect to be there at that time, we could arrange to meet on the the evening of March 2.3
with sincere regards,
- On January 20, 1984, Burgel Zeeh wrote as follows in a telephone memorandum for Unseld:
“Regards from Thomas Bernhard
He is in Vienna through Sunday and on Saturday evening he is going to do nothing but wait for Peymann’s phone call!
He didn’t want to talk to you now; he said that of course it wasn’t about anything anyway, but he will write to you what he wants to say...He sounded a bit tired, although he assured me he was doing well.”
Bernhard waited for Peymann’s telephone call after the premiere of Appearances Are Deceptive, which took place on January 21, 1984 at the Schauspielhaus Bochum (Director: Claus Peymann, Karl: Bernhard Minetti, Robert: Traugott Buhre). Unseld attended the performance and wrote of it as follows in his Chronicle:
“In Bochum the premiere of Thomas Bernhard’s Appearances Are Deceptive. A very interesting performance. The text was a very sophisticated Bernhard text. Bernhard keeps getting freer and freer. He is now able to deal with himself ironically, and so the entire thing becomes a lovely game played by the deceptions, self-deceptions, and misunderstandings, that tend to play a role in people’s lives precisely when they are most intimately involved with one another. It is a genuine endgame, a worthy successor of Samuel Beckett’s play. The performance was absolutely guaranteed to stay on track in any case, because the two roles were played by Bernhard Minetti and Traugott Buhre. And it certainly did stay on track. Magnificent; Minetti in particular was in peak form. [...] Telephone conversation with Bernhard in Vienna; he was happy.”
And in his Travel Journal, Bochum-Celle, January 21-22, 1984, Unseld wrote of this telephone conversation: “He seemed glad, relaxed, and cheerful, but he was really less interested in hearing about the success of the play than in wishing a pleasant evening to all parties involved. I promised to get in touch with him soon.” During the party in celebration of the premiere, Unseld also chatted with Claus Peymann and noted: “Peymann can’t find an actor for Salzburg and The Scene-Maker [meaning an actor to play the principal role of Bruscon], a fairly incredible predicament.”
2. In some notes on his conversations with Bernhard in Frankfurt on February 10, Unseld wrote:
“We had agreed to meet at 9:00 a.m. at the Frankfurter Hof Hotel and then to drive to Klettenbergstraße and have breakfast there. But he asked me to stay a little while longer at the Frankfurter Hof and then decisively declared to me:
1) That he now wished to make a definitive ‘break’ with Minetti, that he had paid him all due obeisance, but that on the other hand he had exploited him as much as could ever be useful for his purposes. That this was the end, that he would now employ a completely different type of actor.
2) That he found Peymann’s behavior ridiculous. That the only reason Peymann did not want to stage The Scene-Maker was that he didn’t want any ‘cat in his bed’ after Salzburg and that that was why he had been pretending he couldn’t find an actor after Minetti’s cancellation. Bernhard also stressed that he had never had Minetti in mind for this role. [...] He plans to ask Peymann to ensure that the performance takes place, and if Peymann does not find an actor the theatrical publications division will have to deal with it. I have fully and completely guaranteed this to him. We have agreed that I will call him on Saturday evening in Vienna. He will then tell me what the upshot of his conversation with Peyman is.
After that we drove to Klettenbergstraße. Small talk. I also pushed for the firm. Here too we seemed initially to have discussed nothing. He wanted to see his statement of accounts. And when he saw a credit balance of DM 83,000.00, he asked for DM 50,000.00.
I introduced him to Fellinger and Ms. Strausfield, who invited him to Spain; he would be quite glad to accept such an invitation for a March or April visit.
Then suddenly he snapped into action. He said I should write to Schaffler about the reversion of the rights for the autobiographical novellas. It would have to be a lengthy letter that also made mention of Bernhard’s high regard for Schaffler. He would be very pleased if it would be possible to issue this in 1985. It would be in our marbeled gift-edition format.
Then, what are we doing with Correction? No, he says, it can’t be published as a paperback; he says he doesn’t want any paperbacks. And so although a paperback edition of Correction has been announced, it won’t be coming out. I told him that we would put together an especially attractive special edition of Correction in the fall.
The Scene-Maker: he was emphatic: no edition in the suhrkamp taschenbücher. We must change that. He adamantly wishes to see his play published in the BS. This incidentally regardless of the premiere; e.g., we should get it done in the way we think is right and not to suit Peymann’s plans.
Yes, and what was going on with Watten? He said he got the impression that this text was completely forgotten.
Suddenly the subject switched to the text version of The Scene-Maker. He said that he had worked through the play again, that this time there were no errors in the manuscript. Mr. Fellinger will oversee the production of the book. This time it really should be our ambition to produce a typo-free copy. We stayed long enough to photocopy his text, and then we hurried to the airport. On the way he told me that we probably didn’t need to talk any more about his new book for the fall. I insisted that this book would be the centerpiece of our March 2 conversation.
3. Unseld’s meeting with Bernhard took place in Vienna on March 2. Unseld gave an account of it in his Travel Journal, Vienna, February 29-March 3, 1984:
“I arrived at the hotel not a moment too soon to get in touch with Thomas Bernhard [...] I reached Bernhard at 7:00 p.m., and we agreed to meet up that evening at the Rauchfangkehrer.
The agenda of the conversation: Scene-Maker in Salzburg. Ultimately, he said, it was no longer possible, because by that point he could have brought it about only by force, and he was not about to do that, so he gave Peymann the option of making an ‘artistic decision.’ Peymann took advantage of Bernhard’s concession and cancelled for 1984, remarking that Minetti was in no position to learn this part. And that Buhre wasn’t either, because both of them were so preoccupied by performances of Appearances Are Deceptive that one couldn’t ask Buhre to take on the part either.
I find this deeply unconvincing. The truth is that from now on Peymann wants to concentrate more on his career as a general manager of theaters than on isolated productions. And as far as Peymann’s career goes, Bernhard has firmly made up his mind: he must be stopped from going to the Burg, because he would inevitably suffer a shipwreck there. So let’s get Peymann in Frankfurt!
Regarding the book version [of The Scene-Maker], he asked us if we could send him the rough paginated copy now (done--ze. [i.e., done by Burgel Zeeh]); he thanks us for Raimund Fellinger’s perusal of the manuscript; so the BS edition should be published no earlier than 1985. [The Scene-Maker was actually published as Volume 870 of the Bibliothek Suhrkamp on August 28, 1984.]
Bernhard and Peymann have agreed that Peymann will be premiering a new play in December 1984. It is called Ritter, Dene, Voss and gears itself to the names of the actors Ilse Ritter, Kirsten Dene, and Gert Voss--[the next phrase is in English in the original (DR)]whatever this means.
Then without any prompting at all he held forth about his new prose work and about the fact that he would be happy to see a new book appear in the fall; to be sure, he said, he had already finished a complete draft, but he had to go through it once again, and he would be ready to submit it no earlier than April. I was not satisfied with this, because of course we have the meeting with the sales representatives coming up, and I most certainly ought to be familiar with the text. It is entitled Holzfällen [Wood-Cutting; this is the book known in English as Woodcutters and Cutting Timber (DR)]. The book takes place during a dinner party attended by a decadent circle of friends which despite its decadence somehow wishes to develop a longing for something different. It is about as long as Der Untergeher. I wrested from him a promise to get the manuscript into our hands by April 14.
And then regarding Mr. Schaffler’s letter: he said he had done what he could do, namely tell Mr. Schaffler in no uncertain terms that he desired no continuation of the autobiographical series at Residenz Publications, and hence no licensing of any sort of new edition. Naturally Mr. Schaffler refused to take cognizance of this. Bernhard thought I should apply to Mr. Schaffler myself and propose hiring a legal adviser to deal with this question. Admittedly this will be a difficult business, because the legal situation is really unclear.
The conversation was carried on at a very concentrated pace, because he had a meeting with his brother at 11:00 p.m. He repeatedly assured me that he would be working concentratedly on the prose text Woodcutters and had no intention of occupying himself with anything else from now on. After that, he said, he would like to take a trip somewhere, e.g., to Rome. I invited him to meet me in Rome to hand over the manuscript of Woodcutters on the weekend of April 7-9. [...] The prospect of being in Rome delighted him inordinately. Then we walked to the place where he was to meet his brother, a doctor, a very nice person. We then sat there in the Luger Eck for a good full hour and drank some red wine and talked about everything under the sun.
Next morning I called him at 9:00. [...] He thanked me for the evening, expressed his delight at the prospective trip to Rome, and related the following anecdote to me: earlier that morning he had told his aunt and his brother about his new prose work; he did not mention a title. But then his aunt said that the night before she had been reading a book entitled Woodcutters.
Letter No. 466
Frankfurt am Main
April 11, 1984
My phone call will have proved to you that I arrived in Frankfurt safe and sound with the manuscript, and it was a magnificent flight because I could begin my reading-session, which I kept going well into the night. This time I am especially awestruck by the musical structure of the entire work; moreover, it is classic Bernhard!1
In tandem with me Raimund Fellinger is reading a copy; we plan to have the whole manuscript transcribed; the transcription will be supervised by Mr. Fellinger, so I hope we will have an error-free typesetting. You see: all signs are pointing to Thomas Bernhard here.
I must thank you very heartily for that encounter in Vienna. It was certainly one of the finest and most pleasant ones in the history of our relationship.
For the days and weeks to come, which will make more than the usual demands on you, I wish you all the imaginable best.
I am delighted that we have already made an appointment for Venice. As you said: a quattro.2
wishing you everything good and with sincere regards,
- Bernhard canceled the planned encounter with Unseld in Rome; Unseld wrote about the circumstances of the cancellation in his Chronicle: “He had pulled his ‘Lebensmensch,’ Hede Stavianicek, out of the hospital, because the conditions there were too degrading, and he said he couldn’t leave her and so he couldn’t come to Rome.” In lieu of this Unseld traveled to Vienna on April 6. His Travel Journal, Vienna, April 6-7, 1984 contains the following remarks on the trip:
“On the one hand, Thomas Bernhard was in a magnificent mood; on the other hand, he was depressed about the fact that his ‘Lebensmensch,’ Hede Stavianicek, was dying. She was at home, then in the hospital, but it was so terrible there that he pulled her out. He said he wanted to let her die at home, but that this was quite hard to do owing to this woman’s peculiar temperament. For she is physically weak but mentally present; she knows that she must die and now indulges in acts of charity and prodigality in an almost brutally regal fashion. Bernhard is at her side; he keeps talking to her about dying, death, the afterlife, in which of course he does not believe, but the woman would like to believe; she has lost seven kilos, which in itself doesn’t bother him, but it occasions him a few headaches. Two nurses look after her in alternating shifts; he is there for her at night.
Bernhard spends the evening and the ensuing night at her house, but each morning at nine, when the first nurse arrives, he goes out and does not return until the evening. So he is reachable only before 9 a.m., and today he waited for Peymann’s call but it did not come. Anyhow, if Peymann came he would also fail. The problem, he said, was larger than life-sized, but he would almost bet that even after Peymann signed the contract his planned arrival at the Burg would still be another two years off. Time enough to change everything once again, or, for example, to fall ill. Even now, when his assent was still forthcoming, some poison pills were already being prepared. Bernhard spoke quite openly about his manuscript, which he held on to the entire time and handed over to me only at the end of our encounter. Woodcutters naturally had nothing to with felling trees, and yet he could picture it in a dark brown cover with white lettering. This time his favorite hue, dark green, was not even mooted. Incidentally, he said, this manuscript was autobiographical through and through. He said that the principal characters, the Auersbergers, were an actual married couple (their actual surname is Lampersberg), and their friend Joanna, who killed herself, is the writer and actor Jeannie Ebner. To be sure, Bernhard has changed one thing: Ebner’s boyfriend had found an apartment for her in Vienna, and the very evening before she was to move in he had had a magnificent chandelier installed; the next morning she had hanged herself from this chandelier. Bernhard said that that was too much for him, that it was kitschy. In his manuscript he has her hang herself from a rafter. Yes, and then, he said, something happened that would displease me. He said that I must be mindful of the fact that the book depicts a period twenty years in the past, in other words the end of the 1950s. That back then he had worshiped Jeannie Ebner and a poet who figures in the book under the name of ‘Juniröcker.’ And that now he had to say he found the work of this writer quite deeply underwhelming. Additionally, he said, Woodcutters was the story of an ‘artistic’ dinner party. That it exposed the hollowness of high society, which tarts itself up with big-name actors, and the hollowness of big-name actors, who allow themselves to be corrupted by high society, and the worthlessness of the Burg, which is nothing but an institution for the annihilation of writers etc. etc. [...]
He, Bernhard, said that in three letters to Schaffler he had forbidden him to issue a new edition in one volume and new editions of the individual books. He said that he wanted to get them out of that firm’s catalogue. He said that Schaffler had cheated him in that he did not inform him that he was selling his firm to the Austrian state’s press, and that at a news conference when the director of this state press was asked what he would do if Thomas Bernhard started leveling his curses, complaints, and calumnies at the chancellor of the Austrian republic under the auspices of Residenz, he replied that that sort of thing would have to be nipped in the bud. And so, he said, a policy of censorship, however veiled it might be, would be in effect, and that he didn’t want to be published by this press. I advised him against engaging in this dispute in public and suggested his writing Schaffler one more letter mustering all the arguments, a letter starting from the assumption that the legal basis has changed owing to the sale of the firm and that he did not care to be subject to censorship of any sort imposed by a governmental undertaking. He said that he had already written to Schaffler three times; that Schaffler had always replied evasively and invited him over for dinner or a serving of his wife’s famous apple strudel [...]
He was holding on to the corrections for The Scene-Maker for the time being. He said that now on the one hand he was busy with the manuscript of Woodcutters and that on the other he was writing a new play for Peymann, a play whose very title makes it quite obvious that it is dedicated to the three actors Ritter, Dene, Voss. His account of his life now: sick-bed duty in the evening, at night. At nine in the morning he goes out; he writes in a café, jots down notes, meditates. Then in the evening he would incorporate significant additions, notes jotted down on little slips of paper, into the manuscript of Woodcutters. So sick-bed duty, writing, and, during the free intervals, walking; he never reads for more than a moment at a stretch. When I asked him what he was reading, he replied: Pascal, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov.
He hopes to have finished his play by the end of May. But he can’t bring it to completion until he has read the galleys for Woodcutters. Would it be possible, he asked, for him to receive them by May 10? Layout and typography the same as Der Untergeher. [...]
At all our encounters, it was he who decided when they were over. This time I was obliged to go away early on the day of our last meeting. He thanked me effusively. He also insisted on paying all my expenses apart for the bill for “my hotel,” the Hilton. This is Vienna, after all, he said. He gave his warm regards to Frankfurt, said that it had been quite lovely and that we must meet again soon. I said that because I had an original manuscript and he did not have a copy of it I trusted that this time he certainly didn’t want my plane to crash. No, he said, he never would have wished for that.
It really was my finest encounter with Thomas Bernhard. Not because there was no talk about money, because in a sense that subject was spoken of on both sides, but because it testified to a certain trustfulness that he felt towards me and that simply made me very happy.
I needed a half an hour to meditate on this encounter, so I sat in the Café Demel drinking a large espresso and looking through the manuscript of Woodcutters. Once again I was afforded a glimpse into the mode of existence, the labor of a great writer. And here there is of course only a single life preserver.”
2. On April 9, 1984, Unseld composed a memorandum that reads as follows: “I told him that I was going to be in Venice on September 28 and that I was going to invite him, Frisch, Handke, and Walser to join me there. ‘A quattro,’ he then said and agreed to come. Bernhard did not attend Unseld’s sixtieth birthday celebration in Venice (see n. 1 to Letter No. 468), but he did contribute a text entitled “Unseld” to pp. 52-54 of the book Der Verleger und seine Autoren (The Publisher and His Authors) published in commemoration of this birthday.
The first two pages of the corrected galleys of Bernhard’s birthday tribute, “Unseld”
Letter No. 467
Frankfurt am Main
June 8, 1984
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
The Suhrkamp preview of the second half of the year has been published. I am sending a copy of it to you by the same post. We announced Woodcutters on p. 3. You are already acquainted with the announcement text.1 I am hoping it has a good effect.
I am sure you are at least pleased with the photographic element of the item facing the announcement on page 2. And then please notice the announcement of the special edition of Correction on page 25, the announcement of Concrete in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp and of Appearances Are Deceptive in Spectaculum on page 28.2
with sincere regards,
- On May 10, Unseld and Bernhard met again in Vienna; in his Travel Journal, Vienna-Zurich, May 9-11, one reads:
Earlier that day he had laid to rest his Lebensmensch, Mrs. Hede Stavianicek. He brushed off my condolences, but in the course of our three-hour meeting he kept coming back to the subjects of her life, her death, and what this all now means for him.
The handing over of the honorarium. I read him the announcement text for Woodcutters. Perusal of the corrected galleys.
He has the following wishes:
No advertisements at the end of the book.
On the title page make the so-called genre-specification ‘An Irritation’ bigger.
Voltaire in roman typeface, but the motto in italics.
He had a precise idea of what the jacket should look like and described it to me: black background, white lettering; in the upper-left corner, close to the margin, Thomas Bernhard; in the center very small, if possible in italics, Woodcutters.
Suhrkamp at the bottom.
He evinced great satisfaction with the standardizing of the transcription and with the checklisted questions. He said it saved him a great deal of work.
Then the delicate subject of legally actionable passages. In addressing this he really behaved splendidly. He said that if the passage I had incriminated was detrimental to his book, it certainly mustn’t continue to be so, and that he was prepared to alter it. He maintained that he had written these three pages [about Friederike Mayröcker and Ernst Jandl: in the novel (Works, Vol. 7, pp. 156-162) the passage is centered on Anna Schrecker and her male companion] as a late addition and that in them he had perhaps gotten a bit carried away with his rage. He understands my attitude to it, my sense that the whole thing is not up to the level of his usual fairness. We shall now wait and see what he does.” Bernhard made substantial changes to the galleys before sending them back to the firm on July 8.
2. On p. 2 of the Schedule Preview of the second half of 1984 Michel, sag ich [Michel, I Say] is announced alongside a photograph of its author, Ulla Berkéwicz. The special edition of Correction was published in September 1984, Concrete (BS 857) on January 29, 1985, and Vol. 39 of Spectaculum on October 16, 1984.
In a July 27 memorandum, Burgel Zeeh reported on a telephone conversation with Bernhard: “Then he told me that he needed to meet with Mr. Unseld very soon, that he was even prepared to come to Frankfurt. This because Ritter, Dene, Voss was finished; probably the play will be performed in in December/January in Bochum; he said he had been wondering whether to set aside The Scene-Maker and put out this play instead or to put out both or whatever. In any case he would very much like to get rid of the thing and very soon, but he would much prefer to hand it over to Dr. Unseld himself.” The desired encounter materialized on August 20-21 in Frankfurt. In a memorandum by Unseld one reads:
“He was in good form; he wanted to have dinner. We stayed at the Frankfurter Hof until 11:00 p.m.
He was delighted with Woodcutters, he was positively enchanted by the jacket, and he also alleviated my concern regarding The Scene-Maker: he had of course telephoned and requested a postponement of its publication, but that was no longer possible. Now he was actually completely happy about it.
He handed over to me his new play, Ritter, Dene, Voss. That very evening I took it to Mr. Fellinger, who read it; I read it the next morning, and I must say that I am quite smitten with this play, which in a certain sense is an analogue of Dürer’s Knight [Ritter], Death, and the Devil. He wants it to be published soon and in the BS, if possible at the same time as the premiere, which will take place in December of ’84 or January of ’85.
Then in commemoration of Minetti’s 80th birthday at the end of January 1985 he has written yet another manuscript: Simply Complicated. Three Entrances for Minetti. He will bring the manuscript to me in Venice. We will have a copy ready by Minetti’s birthday, but the book itself will be delivered later, in March.
He has three further projects finished or in progress:
- A prose text, Quarry, 60 pages. A novella.
- Goethe schtirbt [Goethe Dighs]. Five novellas. ca. 60 pages.
- The major project Extinction. He said that this was his longest book to date, that it comprised at least 300 pages, but that he did not know whether he could still stand by the text. He said that back when he had written it he had used a typewriter with one letter missing, and that in typing it he had ruined the whole machine.
When he heard he had a credit balance of DM 88,000.00, he asked for DM 40,000.00.
Earlier in Vienna we of course discussed the possibility of a reading from Wittgenstein’s Nephew by Minetti. In connection with this he suggested we might use the day leading up to the guest performance of Appearances Are Deceptive in Vienna and arrange such a reading: probably this guest performance will take place between November 11 and 14 at the Akadamie Theater.
Letter No. 468
Frankfurt am Main
September 7, 1984
Dear Thomas Bernhard:
I am sending you a letter about actual concerns as an attachment. Make a decision, please, in the light of the circumstances immediately in play.1 For understandable reasons, a reading now would draw a huge crowd.
And I am also sending you the ORF’s letter of inquiry regarding Appearances Are Deceptive. What do you think of it?
with sincere regards,
1. By “the circumstances immediately in play” Unseld means the confiscation of Woodcutters, which went on sale on August 24, from the distributor Mohr and all bookstores (see the detailed description in Bernhard, Works, Vol. 7, pp. 203 ff.). Unseld made no reply to a written request (dated August 20 and received at Suhrkamp on August 22) from the law firm of Morent (who enclosed Hans Haider’s “expert opinion,” a document in which Haider described himself as the cultural editor of the daily newspaper The Press, editor of Literaricum, The Press’s literary supplement, and visiting lecturer on the sociology of literature at the University of Innsbruck) to postpone the delivery of Woodcutters to the bookstores. By August 21 in Vienna, Morent, who represented Gerhard Lampersberg, was requesting a writ of injunction forbidding the firm of Mohr to distribute Woodcutters. This request was granted on August 27. On the same day, at the Vienna regional court, Morent filed a complaint for libel and defamation of character against Bernhard as the author and Unseld as the publisher of the novel and requested the issuing of a writ of injunction ordering the confiscation of all existing copies in Austria. This request was granted on August 29.
Unseld summarized the events in his Chronicle:
“August 27: […] Then a bomb went off. In Vienna our exclusive distributor, Mohr—Dr. Berger—asked us to comment on a possible writ of injunction against Bernhard’s Woodcutters. It struck me as almost absurd that such an injunction could even be possible. […]
August 29: Now it is clear: Berger received the writ of injunction at 10:35 a.m. I am very glad that as soon as soon as the [courtroom] hearing was announced, I arranged to have the delivery of the books to Vienna expedited, and that by Friday [August 24] they had already been delivered. On Monday the delivery of the book to the German states follow[ed]. I learned of the issuing of the writ at 11:55 a.m. and then decided to take the 12:50 p.m. flight to Vienna. I was greeted at the airport by Mr. Zakravsky; the writ was followed by a second court’s initiation of criminal proceedings against us, and the books were ordered to be confiscated. Within three hours the books had been confiscated from Vienna’s and Austria’s book dealers. Hectic hours. A conference with Dr. Berger’s lawyer; then a conversation with the president of the Austrian bar association, Dr. Schuppich, on ORF television; a meeting with Thomas Bernhard and Krista Fleischmann.
August 30: Two lawyers refuse to take on Bernhard’s case; they don’t want to have anything to do with this man who befouls his own nest.
I go see Dr. Perner, who accepts the job. [...] My conversations with jurists in Vienna have convinced me that we will lose the trial in Vienna. I can hardly believe that it will be possible to republish Woodcutters in its present form in Austria.
On arriving back in Frankfurt, I immediately go see the lawyer Rudiger Volhard. We must take preventative measures to ensure that we are not caught off guard by a writ of injunction in Germany. But this writ need not by any means be issued in Frankfurt; it could happen in any place in the FRG, e.g., in Bad Reichenhall, where Austrians purchase the book.
In all the newspapers and journals, on radio, and television, the confiscation is being talked about. A huge scandal, a huge furore is inexorably building. On the one hand this is very good for the book’s public profile, but our legal situation is deteriorating. As long as more people can be ‘positively identified,’ we will be less and less able to maintain that this novel is not a roman à clef.
Telephoning to and fro. Hilde Spiel plans to provide an opinion if she can speak with Bernhard, who will have to explain a number of things to her. [On October 11, 1984, Hilde Spiel gave Hans Perner a six-page opinion on Woodcutters. The last sentence of the opinion reads: “The complaint drafted by the journalist and critic Hans Haider (who is not an author of creative literary works) and subsequently signed by Gerhard Lampersberg is perforce doomed to defeat, because the charges brought forward in it are untenable, because artistic categories are incommensurable with literary categories, and legislation aimed at punishing crimes and misdemeanors loses much of its legal force in the aesthetic domain.”] Dr. Perner must also speak with Bernhard, but Bernhard himself is very upset, more than I thought, and when I spoke with him I also told him that I was expecting a writ of injunction, not in connection with this case, but in connection with the president of the Austrian cultural senate [In Woodcutters Rudolf Heinz is characterized as “a dimwitted, low-bred, arch-Catholic art-molester,” as “this country’s biggest befouler of the cultural environment”; see Bernhard, Works, Vol. 7, p. 160.]
I draft a letter to the Austrian book-dealers. We intend to fight; we intend to champion this book, but are the Austrian book-dealers sympathetic to our intention? […]
August 31. In the morning a discussion of a protective brief that Volhard is working on and is going to present to the Frankfurt regional court. Telephone conversation with the book-dealer in Reichenhall; ‘Austrians are storming’ his shop, and he has no more copies left. Tonight he will get some from Klotz, our bookbinder in Augsburg. […]
What a remarkable series of days, what a remarkable amount of strain, what remarkable concentration. I am only now gradually realizing that for the first time in my life I am involved in a criminal lawsuit. Dr. Sieger, who came back early from his vacation, gives me no hope of winning the trial in Austria, but some of winning it in Germany. If I lose the trial, I shall have a ‘criminal record.’
2. The enclosures have not survived. In one of the margins of the carbon copy of the letter, there is a handwritten sign denoting a negative reply next to the first paragraph, and the word “done” is written next to the second paragraph.
In a September 4 letter from ORF to Suhrkamp, Georgia Hölzel queried Helene Ritzerfeld regarding the apportionment of honoraria and licenses and asked her whether rights were obtainable for a broadcast of Appearances Are Deceptive in Austria including South Tyrol. Helene Ritzerfeld wrote a note in the upper-right corner of the letter: “Could Mr. Unseld ask about this during his next telephone conversation with Thomas Bernhard?”
On September 7, Burgel Zeeh spoke with Bernhard by telephone, and in a memorandum of their conversation, she wrote: “Either he will come to Venice, or he will come to Frankfurt. He says that he is after all suffering from a heart condition and cannot undertake both trips. That he must take care of himself!
And Venice: he said that he wouldn’t be all that keen on going there, on account of the air; that in any case you would have everybody you wanted with you there anyway, so that he would rather come to Frankfurt, as you would have him there also and that in any case that would be much more sensible, because of course he could do something.”
Unseld’s birthday celebration on September 28 and 29 in Venice was attended by the authors Max Frisch, Peter Handke, Wolfgang Koeppen, and Martin Walser.
Letter No. 469
Dear Dr. Unseld,
After receiving a letter from Dr. Perner which I have just read, I think it is appropriate for me to send you the attached letter addressed from me to you. You now have in your hands the document that was requested on one occasion, the document stating that the Auersbergs are not the Lampersbergs. This statement of the facts is of course the only accurate one.
On Tuesday I am flying to Bochum, where I stayed overnight once upon a time. I have a layover at the Frankfurt airport between 11:45 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Perhaps you will have a half an hour to spare.1
Possibly Dr. Perner, being already “familiar” with the case, is our best choice to represent us jointly in court. But I won’t be making my decision until the last minute.2
[Enclosure; letter from Bernhard to Unseld]
Dear Dr. Unseld,
I can only describe the confiscation of my Woodcutters as an enormity that is literally unprecedented in the postwar history of this country and that is in the highest degree injurious to me. So far the newspapers have been my sole source of information on the judicial proceedings and decisions pertaining to this confiscation, and I have yet to receive a single communication from any Austrian court. It was in a Vienna daily that I was obliged to read for the first time that Mr. Lampersberg had filed a lawsuit against me and that my trial had been scheduled to begin on October 23. More than two full weeks after the lawsuit against me became a topic of discussion, as I again learned only from the Viennese newspapers, I had still not alighted upon a single judicial communication, at least none addressed to me at my principal residence at Ohlsdorf. But as I said, even as of now I have yet to receive a single judicial communication. Dr. Perner wrote to me today that a summons to the court had not been issued to me because the court “does not have your exact addresses at its disposal.” In a governmental complex where every date in history is known and kept on file, it is more than remarkable that the address of a well-known author should be untraceable for weeks on end.
In response to any possible legal complaint from Mr. Lampersberg, I am obliged to say decisively and with crystal clarity that the married couple known as the Auersbergs in my Woodcutters are by no means and hence in no case identical to the married couple known as the Lampersbergs (whom I have only ever known as the Lampersbergs!). My book is a work of art, a so-called allegory if you will, and in it I have not written about a married couple called the Lampersbergs but about a married couple called the Auersbergs. A book about the married couple called the Lampersbergs would be a completely different kind of book, and I had and have no intention of writing such a book. Just as I recognize myself in books by Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy, other people may recognize themselves in my books, but that is not and never can be the subject of a lawsuit. In the course of my life I have not often been as horribly depressed as I am now at this moment when I am being forced to see copies of my book Woodcutters being removed from the window displays of the Viennese bookshops before my very eyes. To be removed by the armed force of the police is a genuinely horrifying experience; when the police clear books from the shop-windows and terrorize bookshop-owners and readers with their intrusive presence, one expects nothing good to ensue. Naturally I can no longer place any trust in the government of this country. Quite apart from the material damage that has been inflicted on me by the judicial measures, I am, thanks to these brutal measures, richer to the tune of an appalling experience centered on the government of this country of mine. The initiators of these actions, who do not figure by name either directly or indirectly in my book, and for whom there never even could have been a place in my book, have acted utterly irresponsibly and therefore as if they were actually looking for a scandal.
Woodcutters is my attempt to make progress in my art, nothing more. The judicial measures and the consequent scandal, have only hindered this attempt.
Your with sincere regards,
- The rendezvous did not materialize.
- In a September 10, 1984 letter accompanied by copies of Hans Haider’s “opinion” on Woodcutters and the writ of injunction, among other documents, Hans Perner brought Bernhard up to date on the legal dispute over Woodcutters. He wrote that he had received power of attorney from Unseld and asked if Bernhard would likewise grant it to him: “I shall in any case file a remonstrance at the high court of appeal in Vienna, but I cannot do this until I know how you plan to react to the legal measures taken by Mr. Lampersberg.”
Letter No. 470
Frankfurt am Main
September 19, 1984
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
The special edition of Correction has been published. We will be delivering the book to the book-dealers on September 20. I am sending you an advance copy. Please get in touch with me if you desire additional complimentary copies.
In the matter of the “excitation” there have been no new twists or turns. I still haven’t received the list of charges. But it is effectively in order to acquire this document that we have laid out our sixty thousand!1
- Under the date heading of September 5, Unseld remarked in his Chronicle: “Throughout this period the affair of the confiscation of Thomas Bernhard has been making great waves. But the fact is that the majority of the confiscations have not gone down well. A steady stream of articles. There will be a Bernhard reader’s guide charting the developments. I am writing a letter to the Austrian book trade; the letter will be printed not only in the Financial Newspaper of the German Book Trade [Nr. 73, September 11, 1984, p. 212f.] but also in the Austrian Financial Newspaper.
We are making 50 free copies of Woodcutters available to the Austrian libraries, because, after all, the book is not prohibited from being borrowed, but just from being sold.
During the 1984 Frankfurt Book Fair, Bernhard, Unseld, and the lawyer Ferdinand Sieger sounded off on the confiscation at a press conference; in his chronicle, Unseld noted:
“October 4, 9:00 a.m., the Bernhard press conference. It providentially occurred to me that this confiscation was the only thing dealt with at the fair that bore any relation to its theme: ‘Orwell 2000.’ The press conference went off stunningly. In the FAZ there was something about the ‘humorous proceedings’ at the fair.”
In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of October 5, 1984, under the headline “The Man with Right on His Side,” Ulrich Weinzierl wrote:
“The great writer himself simply took questions and said some nicely formulated nasty things—some charmingly turned uncharming phrases—about his homeland. […] As a consequence, in the auditorium, as elsewhere, and most notably in the courtroom, buoyant lightheartedness carried the day.”
1. In the original letter the date provided is October 7. That the letter was actually written in November may be inferred not only from a date stamp recording its arrival at Suhrkamp on November 9 but also from Burgel Zeeh’s memorandum of a November 7, 1984 telephone conversation:
“After he had told me at 4:45 p.m. what he wanted to say to Dr. Unseld, namely:
that there were to be no further deliveries to Austria of any book authored by him
I rang him again. He had just returned from the post office: he had already mailed a letter to Dr. Unseld.”
Unseld (center) and Bernhard (right) at their press conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 4, 1984
Letter No. 471
[handwritten; postcard: “Sintra—Portugal Hotel Palácio de Seteais”]
The human being of my life & my publisher—these were the two most important of all. Now that the “human being of my life” is dead, I want my publisher to live as long as possible—I would like to have a speedy peaceful meeting in November.
Letter No. 472
November 7, ’84
Dear Dr. Unseld,
I hereby request that you immediately discontinue the delivery to Austria of all my books published by your firm. This prohibition of delivery on my part, a prohibition [applying to] all Thomas Bernhard books ever published by Suhrkamp Publications, is to remain in effect until the end of the legal term of copyright and hence until after my death. I am requesting that you comply with my wish forthwith.
With sincere regards,
Letter No. 473
Frankfurt am Main
November 9, 1984
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
In the wake of a successful exhibition in New York, the German Publishers and Booksellers Association is now also organizing a German book fair in Madrid. Suhrkamp Publications will be participating in this fair with a large booth, partly on account of the significance the firm attaches to Spanish-language authors.
I do realize, however, that in Madrid Suhrkamp Publications will be presenting itself first and foremost as a publisher of German-language literature. In recognition of this, on this occasion we will be issuing an almanac featuring a few of our authors whose works have already been or are going to be translated into Spanish. It would mean a great deal to me if you were represented in this almanac by a text that you also deemed especially well-suited to this purpose, in other words a text that had something to do with Spain or that Spaniards in particular would find interesting. I would be very grateful if you could propose something to me. I am certainly not expecting anybody to write a text specifically for this; on the other hand, it would naturally be a bonus if we could say that the almanac had a few previously unpublished works to offer.
Certainly none of the texts should exceed two or three typewritten pages. Any of the texts that have not yet been translated will be translated into Spanish. For this reason we really should have them before Christmas if at all possible. And one more question: are there any photos of you in a Spanish setting? Photos with female flamenco dancers [!(DR)] would be preferred.
- On p. 24 of the Almanaque de las Editoriales Insel y Suhrkamp con ocasión de la Semana de Libro Aléman en Madrid (Frankfurt am Main, 1985), there is a portrait of Bernhard. Four texts from Miguel Sáenz’s translation of the The Voice Imitator--“Der Fürst,” [“The Prince”] “Fruchtbarkeit,” [“Fruitfulness”] “Abgefunden,” [“Coming to Terms”] and “Expedition” (see Vol. 14, pp. 321, 323, 324, and 330 of Bernhard’s Works)--were reprinted in the almanac.
Letter No. 474
[Address: Vienna; telegram-memorandum]
Frankfurt am Main
November 9, 1984
Owing to flight scheduling meeting at Café Sacher possible no earlier than 1 p.m. Regards Unseld.1
- November 9 witnessed not only the arrival of Bernhard’s letter of prohibition at Suhrkamp but also Die Presse’s publication of a press statement from Bernhard under the headline “Bernhard forbids the delivery of his books to Austria”:
“I have given my German publisher Unseld immediately effective instructions not to issue my books in Austria for the duration of the legal copyright, in other words from today onwards until 75 years after my death. This interdiction of publication applies in every single jurisdiction of Austria and to every single one of my books.
As the Austrian government’s interest in me and my work has for decades consisted exclusively in dragging me and my work into court from time to time, my decision is merely logical.
For the fourth and not the first time, I am now being subjected in my capacity as an author to one of these ridiculous multi-year trials for which the government of this country is responsible.
Regard for the state of my health alone precludes me from indulging in degrading and humiliating trials of this sort, which could never possibly take place in any other central European country.”
The prohibition order occasioned a conference between Bernhard and Unseld at “1:00 p.m. sharp” on November 10, 1984 at the red salon of the Café Sacher in Vienna. In his Chronicle Unseld wrote of this conference:
“November 10-11, 1984: Vienna. The trip to Vienna had been necessitated by Bernhard’s escalation of the affair. Incensed, inflamed, and injured by the scandal of the Austrian judiciary, he had desired the ‘prohibition of publication of all his books in Austria.’
I talked with him over the phone all day, and we agreed to meet.
In the morning, because it was foggy, I checked up on whether the plane would be able to take off and to land in Vienna. At the Lufthansa VIP lounge I was informed that there was no ‘fog’ in Vienna, but the computer indicated ‘mist’ [the English word (DR)] in Vienna and ‘Mist’ [“dung” or “rubbish”] was also a topic of our conversation. Shortly after we exchanged greetings, Bernhard asked me if I had heard what the judge had said: that it made no difference to her whether it was a work of art or dung. [...] [On November 9, 1984, Judge Brigitte Klatt presided at the first hearing of the case against Bernhard; it must be mentioned that neither the plaintiff nor the defendant was present at the hearing.]
My conversation with Bernhard proceeded in a very pleasant atmosphere of frankness. I made it very clear to him that while I found his desire for the cessation of delivery of his books to Austria quite understandable, I would be unable to countenance it. I also explained to him that he most certainly could not impose a ‘prohibition’ of any kind, let alone one for the duration of the copyright. That he had unfortunately made a fool of himself with that thing [the press release], and that he really should have run it by me beforehand. But he repeated to me his explanation of why he felt so aggrieved by the scandal. He said that if I couldn’t agree to a cessation of delivery he would stop writing. This threat was certainly over-the-top, and I can hardly imagine that an author as prolific as Bernhard would stop writing, but on the other hand I have gotten to know him very well by now, and I know that he is capable of sticking to even the most bizarre resolutions. And so in the end I went over to his side, although I explained to him that my refraining from distribution could not impede the free flow of books [“FFOB”--in English in the original (DR)], and that therefore any Austrian book-dealer would be able to obtain these books from wholesalers in Frankfurt, Hamburg, Olten, or Luxembourg.
Afterwards the almost four-hour conversation-cum-statement on ORF television, then an interview on ORF radio and in the evening the guest performance from Bochum of Appearances Are Deceptive with Minetti and Traugott Buhre. A tremendous success.”
In his Travel Journal, Vienna, November 10-11, 1984 Unseld summed up the trip and reported on Bernhard’s next project:
“He was relieved, because he had come to the Sacher in order to arrive at some common ground or to part ways with me, whatever the latter would have meant by now. Apart from this, he said that he was full of plans. That he had a story brewing in him, and that the only thing he wanted to do now was to get out of Vienna as quickly as possible and go to some place where he could get to work with his typewriter and plenty of paper. That that place would be Madrid (Hotel Imperator, Gran Via), to which he would fly next Friday.”
For the story of the genesis of Bernhard’s last finished novel, Alte Meister [Old Masters], see Vol. 8, pp. 198f. of Bernhard’s Works.
Letter No. 475
[Address: Hotel Emperador Madrid]
Frankfurt am Main
November 15, 1984
This is an inaugural greeting to you in Madrid. I am enclosing a copy of my letter--the one we sent to Dr. Berger by registered post. It is my wish for you to attain a great measure of distance from the Viennese “dung.” I am convinced that at least in the end things will take a good turn.
Mrs. Strausfeld will get in touch with you on Wednesday or Thursday. But in case you need any kind of assistance, I am giving you her address and telephone number:
Dr. Michi Strausfeld
Jiloc 8,5 izq.
Telephone: 259 72 36
with sincere regards,
[Enclosure; registered letter from Unseld to Dr. Gottfried Berger; address: Law Firm of Robert Mohr, 12 Singerstrasse, Vienna 1010]
Frankfurt am Main
November 14, 1984
Dear Mr. Berger,
I must inform you today that Suhrkamp Publications will be delivering no books by Thomas Bernhard to you or any Austrian book-dealers for an indefinite period. I am adhering to this arrangement at the desire of the author. I have explained to him that I do not countenance his line of thinking but that I can understand his desire to protect himself.
The Austrian judiciary has behaved towards Thomas Bernhard in a scandalous fashion, not only procedurally, in its unflagging sluggishness to respond to our objections and grievances, in the postponement of the trial to an indefinite date, but also via the mere fact of the case itself. Hitherto the Austrian judiciary has refused to consider the affair under the auspices of a work of art and thereby of the artistic freedom guaranteed by the Austrian constitution. What the judge stated on the case’s only day in court: “it makes no difference to me whether it is a work of art or dung,” is simply outrageous. As Thomas Bernhard himself has emphasized, if he is to be subjected to trials that drag on for years on end, he will no longer be in any position to produce new works. In this matter I cannot but feel in complete solidarity with him. Accordingly I am asking you to accept my stipulation in a sympathetic spirit. I shall try to modify it at the earliest possible date at which I can do so in concert with the author.
Obviously you will deliver in the usual fashion all of Thomas Bernhard’s books that have already been purchased from you. In accordance with this stipulation we will henceforth be unable to fulfill any further orders from Austria from our end. Earlier today Thomas Bernhard reaffirmed to me by telephone that his books in the catalog of Residenz Publications must not be republished--they will be sold out in a short time. The limited-term license agreement with dtv will not be renewed either.
We will now wait for a little while to see what happens. Perhaps yet another miracle will take place in the Austrian courts. As soon as everything is clear, I shall get in touch with you again in a letter regarding the Austrian segment of our catalog.
Once again: I am asking you to accept my conduct in a sympathetic spirit, and I am--with friendly regards--
Letter No. 476
[Stationery of the Hotel Plaza Madrid]
November 19, ’84
Dear Siegfried Unseld,
My brother, who is a magnificent internist, and to whom I have said this just as rarely as he has told me that I am an equally great writer, proposed a new treatment for my old complaint and recommended my receiving this treatment as an inpatient at a clinic in Vienna. I thought that instead of checking into a Viennese clinic I could go to Madrid and administer this course of treatment to myself. I began the treatment yesterday after a breakfast at the Ritz and after a lunch there in what is probably the best hotel in the world, I continued the treatment and after an “artistic dinner” in the same marvelous Ritz in the company of an “artistic” female friend, a classmate of mine from thirty years ago,1 I could already perceive the first so-called side effect: I became rather dizzy upon stepping into this abominable Plaza before midnight. My brother had already foretold me of this side effect, and so it upset me only to the extent of compelling me to write these lines to you.
Probably the Ritz is the absolute pinnacle of today’s hotel industry; but if I were to live at the Ritz, my entire life’s work would be destroyed. I would be unable to write any lines there; at most I would be in the position of writing to you with a demand for an honorarium as big as the Ritz. I thought I could exist and write here at the Plaza as I had done before at the Emperador. But that was an erroneous assumption. So once again at the Ritz I had a flight booked for Palma, where I shall be tomorrow. I love Madrid as much as I do Palma, but in my present condition Madrid isn’t possible; perhaps Palma is. I shall see. When I arrived here on Friday I thought I had escaped from a literary limbo, from the Viennese judicial thunderstorm and especially from all those tabloid journalistic devils on the Danube. If I manage to live any length of time without suffering a complete mental collapse, I shall be subsisting in full consciousness of the fact that not a single one of my books is being delivered to the Austrian bookstores. And also that the books that were engendered and published there are no longer being sold in Austria. And that no play written by me will ever again be performed in Vienna. At this very moment Minetti has just had his greatest triumph in which I myself experienced the bitterest sense of defeat.2 So as far as I am concerned, it can all be summed up in a single sentence--“it” being my Austrian literary situation, naturally. My books and my plays shall be heard throughout the world--but not in Austria. Till the end of time! Books are children; authors are fathers. If one of a literary father’s children is abused and moreover in the most brutal manner, this literary father must protect his remaining children from such brutal abuse; he must quite simply withdraw them from the realm of commerce in which brutal abusers and the most brutal abusers reign supreme.
Spanish is doing my ears good.
I love Vienna, as you know; Madrid pacifies me. I shall round the detour of pacification in Madrid, as I have done so often before; then in December I shall come back to Vienna. But tomorrow* I am traveling to Palma simply in order to give the treatment the serious attention it requires in the climate best suited to it. I shall exchange the roar of Madrid’s four million citizens for the roar of the sea.
At least I can travel to wherever I wish. This really gives my mind the highest degree of freedom. The principal drug in my course of treatment over the next few weeks will be work.
I hereby give my very sincere regards to my ingenious publisher, my editor who is no confectioner, unlike most of them, almost all of them.3
- Ingrid Bühlau.
- See n. 8 to Letter No. 484. On November 10, 1984, Bernhard Minetti and Traugott Buhre gave a guest performance of Appearances Are Deceptive at the Burgtheater in Vienna; see n. 1 to Letter No. 473.
- Unseld mentioned this letter in his Chronicle entry for November 22: “Thomas Bernhard left Vienna for Madrid; on the 19th he wrote me an enthusiastic letter about a dinner at the Ritz. ‘I love Madrid as much as I do Palma, but in my present condition Madrid isn’t possible; perhaps Palma is.’ On the 20th he went to Palma, from which he was to go right back to Vienna on the 22nd. I am getting worried about his health.”
Frankfurt am Main
January 7, 1985
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
I could come to Vienna on Sunday, January, 27—you would have me from early evening onwards; on Monday the 28th I shall have to travel from Vienna to Hamburg.1
Is that Sunday a day on which we can see and speak to each other?2
with sincere regards,
- In Hamburg there was an exhibition showcasing the first volumes of the Deutscher Klassiker Verlag [A subsidiary of Suhrkamp and Insel dedicated to the German classics (DR)]; Albrecht Schöne gave a talk about Goethe’s Faust there.
- As of the beginning of 1985, the state of Lampersberg’s lawsuits against Bernhard was as follows (for a detailed account see Vol. 7, pp. 209-240 of Bernhard’s Works): on December 21, 1984, the high court of appeal in Vienna rescinded the writ of injunction ordering the confiscation of Woodcutters; consequently the book became legally obtainable again in Austria. Meanwhile three defamation of character and libel suits in which Lampersberg was the plaintiff were still pending. The first dated back to August 27, 1984 and pertained to certain passages in the novel (see n. 1 to Letter No. 468); the second to a statement on the main hearing against him (on November 9, 1984) that Bernhard made on November 15, 1984 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung under the headline “Bernhard’s Plea” and in which he maintained that Gerhard Lampersberg “in recent decades has been repeatedly, as I know for a fact, and in any case at least partially declared a legal minor”; the third complaint was directed at the reprinting of this article in the December 1984 issue of the magazine Wiener under the title Die Abrechnung: Thomas Bernhard, dessen ›Holzfällen‹ Anfang September beschlagnahmt wurde, schreibt über seinen Prozeß “The Reckoning: Thomas Bernhard, Whose Woodcutters Was Confiscated at the Beginning of September, Speaks about His Trial.”
The original of an unsent letter from Bernhard to Unseld headed “Vienna 1.8.85” is on file at the Thomas Bernhard archive; the letter reads as follows:
“Dear Siegfried Unseld,
After the rescission of the confiscation injunction against Woodcutters, I have had the enormous displeasure of seeing copies of Woodcutters in the Viennese bookstores.
The rescission of the confiscation injunction against my book is of course something to be taken for granted and has nothing to do with my resolution to prohibit any further sales of any of my books in Austrian bookstores. I hope you respect the seriousness of my refusal to allow any of any of my books to be offered for sale in Austria ever again and hence for as long as I live. I likewise refuse to allow any of my plays to be performed in Austria in the future. Once the terms of the Salzburg contract [regarding the premiere of The Scene-Maker at the 1985 Salzburg Festival] have been fulfilled, there will be no further performances in Austria of any play by me.
I know that regarding the books I am completely and utterly dependent upon your will. There must not be any so-called ‘loopholes’ either.
I will publish a book again only once I have received a guarantee that Austria has been completely cut off. It is my country, but it is no nation for me.
Otherwise I am working against all the odds as always, with the greatest intensity and joy.
Bernhard accepted Unseld’s proposal; they met in Vienna on January 27, 1985; in his Travel Journal, Vienna-Hamburg, January 27-29, 1985, he wrote of the meeting:
“Thomas Bernhard. A radiant mood on the one hand; he said that he was able to work, that Vienna was productive for him. I would like to come again at the end of March; he would then give me the manuscript of his next novel, Old Masters.
I gave him a portion of his honorarium in cash.
He said he wanted to see Minetti in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp, and specifically in an edition including the three new scenes he had written—“Competent.” “Incompetent.” “Disastrous.”
Then he said he attached a great deal of importance to a collection called Goethe Dighs. It contains the texts “Goethe Dighs,” “Wiedersehen” [“Reunion”], and “Montaigne.” And two plays that are still untitled. He did not mention the BS, but naturally this is what he wants, but I am hesitant to admit these texts into the BS. [Goethe Dighs was never included in the BS; for the genesis and publication history of “Goethe Dighs,” “Reunion,” and “Montaigne,” see Bernhard, Works, Vol. 14, pp. 571f. and 591.] He was pleased with the BS edition of Concrete, which I had brought him.
And then he came out with another request. In a plastic bag he had brought along The Departure and Homecoming of Jodok Fink. A Book about the Adventure of Life by Johannes Freumbichler. Freumbichler was Bernhard’s grandfather, who served as a father figure to him until he was 16 years old. We have already discussed the book once, ten years ago, and I also have the book in my personal library. Back then I could not make up my mind to publish it. Since then another book by Freumbichler, Philomena Ellenhub, has been published by dtv. But of course we must now reconsider the question in the light of the even greater fame of his grandson. When I asked him if he could write a literary portrait of his grandfather, he said he could. He cherishes the book even though it is understandably not his idea of great literature. [...]
So much for the one hand. As for the other hand: he was just as upset as before about the lawsuits. He said that he had received 12 summonses to two trials, first at Ohlsdorf and then at Vienna (whereupon Dr. Perner queried Judge Klatt; she said that she had wanted to be quite sure that Bernhard received the summons!), and that these had made him feel ‘criminalized.’ [...]
We then spoke of a book with the working title The Trial. In this book all the documents would be brought together; admittedly the whole thing would have to be edited by a real whiz kid, so that the book would have some pizazz and amount to something more than a collection of documents. Thomas Bernhard is quite in demand as a kind of court reporter. [...]
Towards the end of dinner we were joined by Claus Peymann. Elegant in his double-breasted suit, Peymann was a different man in Vienna. [...] He aims to turn the Burg into the best theater in the German-speaking world and perhaps in Europe. A modest aspiration. And to achieve it he needs Thomas Bernhard. And accordingly he took up Thomas Bernhard’s other hand and opined that it must be possible for a man of my authority to buy off Mr. Lampersberg with a large sum, perhaps 100,000 deutschmarks. Upon hearing this, I told the two of them that there was a feasible way of getting the plaintiff to withdraw his lawsuit: an Austrian woman living in Germany has offered to reimburse our expenses. Bernhard was delighted and asked me to expedite this, if possible before I left Vienna. I called the lawyer Dr. Volhard later that very night.
Nevertheless, Bernhard intends to keep his ‘prohibition of delivery’ to Austria in force, and the prohibition is going to have to apply to performances of plays as well. But he has proposed to Peymann an expedient by which he would be able to save face despite this prohibition: The Scene-Maker will be premiered at the 1985 Salzburg Festival. In 1986, Peymann is supposed to direct the premiere of Ritter, Dene, Voss in Salzburg, and he will be allowed to transfer this production to the Burg! Behold: Thomas Bernhard, the most brilliant director of himself.”
Instead of handing over the manuscript of Old Masters to Unseld at another meeting in Vienna as originally planned, Bernhard brought it to Frankfurt at the end of March; Unseld wrote of Bernhard’s visit in his Chronicle as follows:
“March 30 […] In the evening I pick up Thomas Bernhard at the airport. He is in good shape and in a very good mood. We sit in the little bar-cum-restaurant at the Frankfurter Hof; the waitress breaks my glass and spills champagne all over my trousers and jacket. Our conversation gets off to a rather slow start, but he is quite talkative, and it is nearly midnight when he lets me go. He kept muttering to himself a certain sentence that he had used as a witticism in earlier conversations: Death doesn’t need to be lucky.
Then he hands over to me the manuscript of his new prose work: Old Masters. A Comedy. The motto is from Kierkegaard [; its English wording here is taken from Ewald Oser’s translation of Alte Meister (DR)]: “The punishment matches the guilt: to be deprived of all appetite for life, to be brought to the highest degree of weariness of life.”
March 31: Sunday. I get up at 6:30 a.m. and begin reading Bernhard’s Old Masters. A difficult beginning; the famous Bernhardian undertow is not always exactly in evidence; every other morning the music critic Reger goes to the picture gallery of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. He stations himself on a settee in the Bordonne Room and gazes at Tintoretto’s White-Bearded Man. Today Reger has surprisingly asked his ‘friend Atzbacher,’ a writer who observes Reger, to come to the picture gallery. Surprisingly because Reger was there as recently as yesterday. Atzbacher comes an hour early in order to observe Reger, his ‘intellectual father.’ And so Atzbacher can look at his childhood through Reger and through the White-Bearded Man. Reger talks, and Atzbacher takes notes. Everything is talked about, and everything is ridiculous, trashy, and rotten. But then Reger speaks about the death of his wife, and there are some moving sentences: “But when we love a person as unreservedly as I loved my wife, we actually believe they will live for ever and for an infinite amount of time.”
Another two-hour session of reading the manuscript, then went with Joachim to get Bernhard; we drove to the Altes Zollhaus [the Old Customs House, a Frankfurt restaurant (DR)]. In the course of our conversation I wrung a few corrections out of him; the pope is described as rotten and vulgar; politicians are assassins of the State, and not only Stifter himself but also his prophet from Mönchsberg [Peter Handke] is criticized. But he plans to cut all this out now.
When I get back home at 11 p.m., I read some more of the manuscript. I come across yet another attack on Austria and the trashy Austrian people; Reger says that the most prominent cabinet ministers are Nazis, but that the people don’t deserve anything different.
Bernhard’s book makes me sleep badly. A book about life and death, about art and literature, about love, and most of all, about hate. I find this kind of indiscriminate havoc-wreaking almost unbearable, but Bernhard wreaks it with genuinely great artistry.
April 1, 1985
In the morning Thomas Bernhard comes to the firm’s offices. We again discuss passages in the manuscript of Old Masters that could provoke the courts to ban the book. The most inflammatory statements are on p. 96 of the manuscript. The most important Austrian cabinet ministers are Nazis, and the remaining Austrian cabinet ministers are morons, and then these ministers are actually listed by title. And he also eliminates this sentence: ‘But the populace of every nation deserves the government that it has, and as our populace is vulgar and petty and dimwitted and rapacious and totally stultified it has a vulgar and petty and dimwitted and rapacious and totally stultified government.’
It was easier this time to convince Bernhard to revise or eliminate these passages.
Then Bernhard speaks with Fellinger; kills several hours with Burgel Zeeh while eating and drinking coffee and talking and talking; in the evening yet another meeting with Rudolf Rach.’
In the published text there is no longer any talk of “the prophet from Mönchsberg,” and the passage that formerly mentioned him reads: “[…] I really wonder why this provincial dilettante, who was after all never anything but a school inspector in Upper Austria, is so highly regarded by, of all people, writers, and especially by young writers and not even only the most obscure or inconspicuous young writers” (Bernhard, Works, Vol. 8, p. 47). Unseld preserved a copy of p. 96 of the manuscript in his Chronicle; the following passages on that page have been crossed out with a pencil: ‘The people in power are either National Socialists or morons; the most important cabinet ministers in the present government are Nazis; this is the truth; the justice minister is a Nazi, the minister of defense is a Nazi, the minister of commerce is a Nazi, and two more Nazis are serving as permanent secretaries, and the vice-chancellor is also a Nazi. The most important Austrian cabinet ministers are Nazis and the rest of the Austrian cabinet ministers are morons, and even one of the speakers of the parliament is a Nazi, so Reger. In many Austrian towns today there are National-Socialist mayors or chiefs of police, so Reger. Forty years after the absolute nadir of Austrian history we have re-attained this nadir, that is the truth; say what you will, that is the irrevocable and depressing truth. At the moment this country is being ruled solely by National Socialists and morons, because at the moment this country is being ruled by National Socialists and by Socialists, and the Socialists are morons, so Reger. And these socialist morons also happen to be the most unprincipled ones there have ever been in Austria, so Reger. We make believe to the world that we are a democracy, said Reger, and yet we are ruled entirely by rapacious traitors to the people and public menaces who are driven by nothing but a perfidious governmental shamelessness. This country and this nation are to be sure small and insignificant, but that is the everyday truth for all those concerned, who are immersed abysmally deep in the moral morass. National Socialists and morons reign unchallenged on the Ballhausplatz and in the parliament, that is the truth, my dear Atzbacher, said Reger, and all the while he was intently contemplating The White-Bearded Man; that is the truth, Atzbacher; for ages National Socialists and pseudo-socialist morons have been defrauding us of everything that is of any value to us. Morally speaking, not dim-wittedly economically speaking, in the last forty years the people of this country have become enmired in the moral morass to a frightening, indeed, an appalling degree; such that there is scarcely any longer hope of escaping from it; that is what is so depressing.”
The sentence immediately after this passage (“Such a beautiful country, said Reger, and such an abysmal moral morass, he said, and such a thoroughly brutal and vulgar and self-destructive society.”) was not crossed out, but the next sentence but one (“But the populace of every nation deserves the government that it has, and as our populace is vulgar and petty and dimwitted and rapacious and totally stultified it has a vulgar and petty and dimwitted and rapacious and totally stultified government, so Reger.”) was. In the published book (see Works, Vol. 8) this sentence appears six lines from the top on p. 164, after “is what is so depressing.” In Bernhard’s revision of the manuscript, specific individuals can no longer be identified, and the passages that originally applied to them have been turned into generalizations. For an account of the history of the genesis and development of Old Masters (including the question of which changes Bernhard actually carried out) see the commentary in Bernhard’s Works, Vol. 8, pp. 197 ff.
At the end of April, Bernhard returned to Frankfurt; this time the occasion of his visit was the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Unseld by Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. On the morning after the ceremony Unseld and Bernhard met at the Frankfurter Hof; under the date heading of April 30, 1985, Unseld wrote of this meeting as follows:
“[...], then a conversation with Thomas Bernhard. I wring clearance for his books for Austria out of him! He confidentially explains to me how I can straighten the whole thing out. Once again we have to speak about a few points of his text. The chancellor of Austria is dimwitted and idiotic; surely the chancellor wouldn’t simply swallow this without protest.”
[Address: (Ohlsdorf); letter with a photograph of Burgel Zeeh, Unseld, and Joachim Unseld in Venice]
[Frankfurt am Main]
February 6, 1985
Dear Mr. Bernhard,
here are three people who always believed1 in our victory, and already believed in it on September 29, 1984, and who between February 6 and 9, 1985 wish you everything good imaginable!
sincerely yours Joachim Unseld
and just as sincerely Burgel Zeeh
- On February 6, 1985, Hans Perner telephoned Unseld to inform him that Gerhard Lampersberg had agreed to withdraw his three lawsuits against Thomas Bernhard. On the same date, Perner wrote to Bernhard: “I have received written notification that for order’s sake Mr. Lampersburg has also decided to withdraw the other two complaints against you. This has prompted me to confirm to the mediating attorney in this matter, Dr. Victor Cerha, with reference to my letter of 1.31.1985, that as of now all conditions for the effectuation of an agreement to a cessation of the trial are now in place. I am enclosing a photocopy of this letter for your information. In this connection I again emphasized that the cessation of the legal disputes must ensue without any fuss and that you in particular are not required to tender any explanatory statements about your book Woodcutters or its contents.”
In Perner’s letter one reads, inter alia: “Thomas Bernhard and Suhrkamp Publications, who are both represented by me, have agreed to the cessation of the trials now pending in the regional criminal court of Vienna [...] on condition that Mr. Lampersberg withdraws the complaints, and that I in my capacity as representative of my clients furnish an irrevocable declaration that no claims against Mr. Lampersberg or any third parties in connection with the complaint will be made provided that the withdrawal of the complaint ensues by the beginning of the main trial on 2.8.1985 and that my clients’ aggregated costs are reimbursed according to the attached fee note. In this connection I must expressly emphasize that it is of no concern to my clients whether their costs are reimbursed by Mr. Lampersberg himself or by a third party [...], in particular my clients are in no position to make any changes to the book Woodcutters.” For a detailed account of the settlement of the legal dispute about Woodcutters, see Bernhard, Works, Vol. 7, p. 240.
Frankfurt am Main
May 17, 1985
Attached is a letter from the attorney Dr. Viktor Cerha. I hope that it is all over and done with now. By the way, we paid the lawyers DM 55,000.00 for the burial.1
I shall vanish for three weeks in June for my fast, but from July 1 onwards I shall be back here. I hope that we can see each other at some point before August 17.3
with sincere regards,
- In the attached letter, dated May 6, the Vienna attorney Viktor Cerha informed his Frankfurt colleague Rüdiger Volhard that according to Gerhard Lampersberg’s attorney, Edwin Morent, Lampersberg’s last lawsuit, the one against Wiener magazine for reprinting Bernhard’s opinion piece on the main trial in November 1984 (see n. 2 to Letter No. 477), had been withdrawn and that therefore Bernhard was not going to be summoned to court as a witness.
- Unseld fasted from June 9 to 29 at the Buchinger clinic in Überlingen on Lake Constance.
- August 17, 1985 was the date of the premiere of The Scene-Maker at the Salzburg Festival (see n. 8 to Letter No. 484). Bernhard and Unseld did not meet at any point in July.
July 14, ’85
Dear Siegfried Unseld,
Too bad that you won’t be able to hand over to me this Simply Complicated, black, white type, when we meet on that week that is not yet the next one in Salzburg.
Till we see each other in the infernal city,
- This is a cover letter to Bernhard’s submission of the manuscript of the play Simply Complicated. On the original of the letter, the title of the play has been underlined by an unidentified third party, and a line trails off into a question mark on the bottom half of the page. The entry in Unseld’s Chronicle for July 15 reads:
“Bernhard calls me, asks me if we have noticed that Old Masters is his ‘best book.’
In the afternoon his new play Simply Complicated arrives. I read it immediately, and for the first time I am deeply disappointed. It is a tired rehash. How am I going to tell my child this?”
Letter No. 481
Frankfurt am Main
July 17, 1985
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
You have heard of the Uwe Johnson Archive. The curator of the archive, Dr. Eberhard Fahlke, has now written a report that I would merely like to bring to your attention.1
with warm regards
- The attachment has not survived. In Forschung Frankfurt [Frankfurt Research], Vol. 1, 1985, pp. 2-8, there is an article by Eberhald Fahlke entitled “Das Handwerk des Schreibens [The Craft of Writing]. Das Uwe Johnson-Archiv an der Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universtät.”
Letter No. 482
August 1, 1985
Dear Siegfried Unseld,
Before the Old Masters are delivered in the truest sense of the word, I must say as explicitly as possible that I wish there to be no delivery to Austria under any circumstances. This applies not to Old Masters exclusively but to all my published books. I am therefore reaffirming my resolution of last year by means of the total seriousness of my position.
I do of course live here in Austria, but I want nothing further to do with this country; I absolutely never wish to see my works in Austrian bookshops ever again.
As I have already told Ms. Zeeh, I also want there to be not a single review copy sent to the editorial office of any newspaper in Austria.1
Regarding my work for the theater: it is obviously linked to Peymann by ties of artistic collaboration and friendship, and in the light of this I have come up with the Salzburg expedient.
I am not going to make any more trips to Salzburg and will take my one look at The Scene-Maker in Bochum, so it would be ideal if you could decide on a Vienna-departing flight as soon as possible—you with your deep pockets.
This wisecrack also gives me an excuse to say that present-day literary production has attained a nadir and a level of tastelessness not seen in centuries. I hope you also realize this. Nothing but kitschy and mindless pap is printed; over so many years it gets quite depressing. The writers are artless morons, and the critics are sentimental gossips. I myself cling to life in an atmosphere of envy and hatred by means of uninterrupted work. This life, the life of work, is for me the greatest pleasure imaginable.2
Your fool in both prose and drama,
- After a telephone conversation with Thomas Bernhard on July 29, Burgel Zeeh noted: “And we also must not send any press copies to Austria.”
- A complete and signed but unsent alternative version of this letter, dated July 29, 1985, has survived in Bernhard’s papers at Ohlsdorf:
“Dear Siegfried Unseld,
Before the Old Masters are finished and have been delivered, I wish to say quite explicitly one more time that I do not want any of these books—or any of the others that have so far been published!--to be delivered to Austria; hence, my wish in this matter remains in effect now as before, and with even greater vehemence than perhaps will have been ascribed to it.
I am also opposed to the sending of so much as a single review copy to the editorial office of any Austrian newspaper.
I am serious about this.
Should my wish not be met, I shall be unable to do anything about it.
As I am being harassed here as never before, starting tomorrow I shall be in Vienna, where I know how to protect myself.
It is obvious that I shall be very glad to meet with you in the very near future.
As far as the “literary life” goes, it—and I hope you, too, are not failing to notice this!—has lately reached such a disastrous nadir that I basically wish to have nothing further to do with it. The books that are now printed are every bit as wretchedly mindless as the age that puts them up for sale.
Letter No. 483
August 5, ’85
Dear Dr. Unseld,
There are two reasons for the fact that I no longer wish for a single one of my Suhrkamp Publications-issued books to be delivered to Austria:
- In consequence of the governmentally ordered confiscation of my book Woodcutters and
- The blanket degeneracy and ignobility of the Austrian government, with which, as regards my literary output, I wish to have nothing further to do.
It stands to reason that I also do not wish for a single one of my books to be sent to the editorial office of any Austrian newspaper.
I assume that you will grant me my wish for the complete absence of my literary publications from Austria, and I would also like you to take pains to ensure that my writings in your catalogue that appear under the name of Thomas Bernhard do not make it into Austria under the auspices of any loopholes.
I very much hope we see each other within the next two weeks.
Letter No. 484
Frankfurt am Main
August 7, 1985
Dear Thomas Bernhard,
Ms. Zeeh has been unable to reach you by telephone, and in any case, perhaps it is good that I am expressing myself in writing regarding your letter of August 1.
At our last meeting but one, at the Frankfurter Hof, we agreed that when it came time for your new book, Old Masters, to be distributed, the delivery block would be lifted. There were good reasons for this: in your new book you attack your fellow-countrymen more harshly and pitilessly than in any of your earlier texts. It struck us both as “unfair” to write such a critique and yet theoretically withhold or even conceal it from those at whom it was directed. My own view has not since changed in the slightest. You know how very closely and publicly I stood by you in connection with your first wish, and how I not only sympathized with your attitude but pleaded your cause quite openly and aggressively in public.1 I did this this despite the incongruity of my delivery block with the fact that the bookstores can procure your books from German wholesalers, because there is a certain important principle that applies to us, namely the free flow of books, a principle to which we all must adhere; wherever it is impeded, dictatorships are at work, and it is our aim to prevent this. In the past few weeks I have spoken several times with some Austrian book dealers, and on the basis of our conversation at the Frankfurter Hof I have informed them that the firm is going to lift the block. You yourself indeed spoke to similar effect with Mr. Heidrich, who immediately after his conversation with you got in touch with Dr. Berger, who for his part has also approached me, again since that conversation with Mr. Heidrich. During a visit to them by Suhrkamp’s sales representative, a visit that was paid after our conversation at the Frankfurter Hof, the Austrian book-dealers ordered the new book, Old Masters; our representative accepted these orders, and we are therefore now obligated to deliver the books. Moreover, the newspapers have already received orders for advertisements, orders that it is already too late to cancel.
You know how hard I campaigned, at your request, to avoid a trial. I have disbursed more than DM 50,000 in legal expenses for that campaign, and invoices from those remarkable lawyers just keep rolling in.
We have gotten what we wanted for the public; the Austrian government has seen the error of its ways and withdrawn the confiscation decree; our adversaries have withdrawn their suit against us. In the eyes of the public we now cut quite a convincing figure, but that same public would desert us if Old Masters had been published but was only indirectly available in Austria. That would be a material injury that would impinge upon not only your own books but also the overall demeanor of Suhrkamp Publications. But that would just be on the one hand. On the other would be the lack of sympathy with this demeanor which would be expressed and which would have consequences in the media that you most certainly would not find desirable.
Your own demeanor vis-à-vis the theatrical side of things, which consists in standing by and joining forces with Peymann the German, is of course quite reasonable in your eyes but not the eyes of the public. The public sees the Salzburg performance as a sign not of your loyalty to Peymann but of your dependence on a festival that is of course funded exclusively by the Austrian State and whose moral reputation is not exactly spotless in cultural circles.
My dear Thomas Bernhard, you write to me that you don’t “wish to have anything further whatsoever to do with this State.” I understand your not wishing to have anything to do with that State, but denying your books to your readers, a circle of readers that has expanded dramatically in the past decade, is another matter. Your weapon is the pen, and you wield it brilliantly and influentially, and that is really what your life is all about. A block on distribution would counteract this: your readers would be offended; your enemies would merely gloat. People would cease to be able to understand this; in hindsight they would even regard our demeanor leading to the block as a gimmick. In short, we would both expose ourselves to globally resounding ridicule.
My job is “to amplify and disseminate.” You need not expose yourself to reactions if you do not wish to. Perhaps in point of fact the best thing for you to do would be to take a trip around the world lasting a few weeks after the books are delivered in August. We could meet, e.g., in New York, or at the end of October in Tokyo, or I could rearrange my return trip so that I can see you in Hawaii on my way back.
with sincere regards,
P. S. We shall certainly see each other somewhere or other on August 18, when my wallet will be full--and I would also like to speak with you about the play Simply Complicated then.
- Unseld is referring to Bernhard’s prohibition of delivery of his books to Austria in 1984 (see n. 5 to Letter No. 472). On the original of the letter, preserved in his personal papers, Bernhard has underlined “aggressively in public” and appended a question mark to it.
- Bernhard underlined this sentence and beneath it remarked “extortionate.”
- Bernhard flagged the entire paragraph with a wavy line and a question mark; in the left margin he wrote, “moronic.”
- Next to this paragraph Bernhard wrote, “vile.”
- Bernhard circled this paragraph and below it remarked, “quite the reverse”; in the left margin he wrote “moronic” again.
- Unseld visited Tokyo and Kyoto from October 20 through November 3.
- In the left margin next to this paragraph, Bernhard remarked, “hypocritical.”
- In his Chronicle, under the date heading of August 7, 1985, Unseld remarked, “Thomas Bernhard’s second letter has now also arrived; it it he says ‘as explicitly as possible that I wish there to be no delivery to Austria under any circumstances. This applies not to Old Masters exclusively but to all my published books. I am therefore reaffirming my resolution of last year by means of the total seriousness of my position.’ The second letter, he says, makes his prohibition even more restrictive. I replied to him in a letter dated August 7 and explained to him why I could not side with him this time. Is a dramatic conflict in the offing? We must wait and see.
And in the entry for August 9, one reads: “How will Bernhard react to my letter?”
Bernhard’s reaction is recorded in a telephone message by Burgel Zeeh dated August 12, 1985: “8:50 a.m. I called Bernhard, who immediately said that HE had just been about to call! He said that he had written three letters, every single one of which was just as inane and pathetic as your letter. But that now he was over the hump, and that everything should stay just as it was! In answer to my question: how do things stand?, he said: yeah, sure, just as the doctor wrote; I’m fine with everything, the book can be delivered.
But he doesn’t want to speak with you by telephone; he would prefer to see you:
This is what I arranged with him:
the morning of Sunday, August 18, in Ohlsdorf. [...]”
All three of the letters referred to by Bernhard have survived in his papers (NLTB, B 614/1/2); all are dated August 9, 1985. The first one, longer than the other two, comprises two heavily corrected pages not in fair copy; it is unsigned and is therefore probably the first draft of a reply:
“Dear Dr. Unseld,
Your letter of August 7 has been dictated by such a depressing lack of comprehension of my situation that I cannot believe it is addressed to me, and, not to mince words, you wrote this letter, which in tone and contents is grievously detrimental to our relationship, to a Thomas Bernhard who doesn’t even exist. To your letter, which is aimed at an author who I never have been and never shall be, I must nevertheless reply as the Thomas Bernhard who I actually am.
To put it as briefly as possible: in two consecutive letters I have clearly informed you of my wish not to have any more of my books in the catalogue of your firm distributed in Austria and also to have no further review copies sent to Austria, and I shall no longer deviate from this wish, especially inasmuch as your letter from August has quite fundamentally strengthened my conviction in the justness of my decision.
In every line your letter privileges and emphasizes nothing but the business interests of your firm and fails to evince the most niggling regard for my position, with which, as I am potentially and regrettably obliged to realize, you have yet to come to grips in any respect whatsoever.
Do you seriously believe that merely because Suhrkamp Publications is worried about the attrition of its sales revenues from Austria I am about to surrender my next book to the mercies of a State that confiscated my last book and literally dragged it through the mud?
Do you seriously believe that I am about to surrender my next book to the mercies of a country that tormented me for months on end with dozens of summonses to every conceivable kind of court?
Do you seriously believe that I am about to allow my new book to be sent to the very editorial offices that ultimately brought me up before the courts, the very editorial offices that instigated this lawsuit and libeled and vilified me for months on end and sullied my good name with their lies?
Do you seriously believe that I am about to toss my moral potency overboard for sake of safeguarding the ease and comfort of a publishing firm?
And do you seriously believe that now that Old Masters has been published I am about to act as though nothing has happened merely because you have incurred DM 50,000 in legal costs, an incurrence arising from your own voluntary decision and without my knowledge?
Your hectoring me for the god-awful umpteenth time about these DM 50,000.00 strikes me as the epicenter of your letter’s gaucherie and tastelessness.
You write that “in the eyes of the public we are striking a convincing stance.” I absolutely couldn’t care less about the sort of stance I strike in the eyes of the public, but I care very much about the sort of stance I strike in my own eyes. And in order to strike a proper stance in my own eyes, I must react to the confiscation of Woodcutters, which has had the most profound and personal effect imaginable on me, but which is regarded by the public as some jokey bagatelle or vulgar Bernhardian hoax, and it is the most natural reaction imaginable on my part to keep my books at arm’s length from this vulgar and addlebrained country.
It was appropriate for me to go along with you at the Frankfurter Hof and to consent to the distribution of Old Masters in Austria. But in the meantime I have come to believe that on grounds of self esteem alone I cannot consent to the distribution of this book in Austria. And I also refuse to consent to the distribution in Austria of any of my other books in the Suhrkamp catalogue. If Suhrkamp Publications continues to distribute the books, it will still be within its legal rights, but it will be acting in contravention of my express will. Anybody in Austria who wishes to read my books can somehow manage to get hold of them. Anybody who wishes to read them with no strings attached is somebody I can easily do without.
In your letter you are constantly going on about public opinion, and I must tell you that I naturally and obviously could care less about public opinion, but that it obviously yields pride of place to my own opinion.
At the climax of your outrageous faux pas of a letter you unwarrantably and more than subliminally accuse me of opportunism vis-à-vis the Austrian government by mentioning the “festivals that are in fact funded exclusively by this Austrian State.”
This accusation is so petty both in form and in content that I cannot comment any further on it.
You write, “My job is to amplify and disseminate.” My job is to keep living a bit longer. Nothing more.
Yours, Thomas Bernhard”
“Dear Dr. Unseld,
Your letter of August 7 contains so many falsehoods, so many unprecedented instances of gaucherie and tastelessness, and so many worse things than these, that I am absolutely incapable of commenting on it in detail, and it has only fundamentally strengthened my adherence to my decision not to allow any of my books to be distributed in Austria in future.
It was appropriate for me to go along with you at the Frankfurter Hof and to consent to the distribution of Old Masters in Austria. But in the meantime I have come to believe that on grounds of self esteem alone I cannot consent to the distribution of this book in Austria. And I also refuse to consent to the distribution in Austria of any of my other books in the Suhrkamp catalogue. If Suhrkamp Publications continues to distribute the books, it will still be within its legal rights, but it will be acting in contravention of my express will.
As you won’t understand anyway, do as you wish.
Unseld attended the premiere of The Scene-Maker at the Salzburg Festival on August 17, 1985 and drove to Ohlsdorf to visit Bernhard the following day. In Unseld’s Travel Journal, Zurich-Salzburg, August 14-19 August one reads:
“Salzburg. The town is choking on the hustle-and-bustle of the festival and the tourists. [...]
Then the premiere of Bernhard’s Scene-Maker at the state theater. Minetti, who was of course originally supposed to play the lead role last year, and for whose sake the premiere had been postponed, was once again sitting in the audience instead of acting onstage. Traugott Buhre was perhaps not a completely adequate substitute, but he made it brilliantly through the three long hours. He gradually found his feet in the part, and the play had a real shining moment when, along with his son Ferruccio, played brilliantly by Martin Schwab, he repeatedly rehearsed the sentence ‘It is what has been, what is ongoing, what has been’ scenically and verbally. Karl-Ernst Herrmann’s set design was completely appropriate; it highlighted the desolation of this dance hall at the Black Stag in Utzbach, so that ‘Utzbach like Butzbach’ became optically distinct. Claus Peymann has developed a new directing style, flatly realistic, and at the end water flowed in streams onstage. [...] Visit to Thomas Bernhard in Ohlsdorf. He greeted me with a half hour-long cannonade of accusations: my letter regarding the stoppage of delivery. He said that it was a good thing that I would never see his marginalia to the letter. That he had already drafted two replies effectively breaking off our relationship. That he didn’t want a publisher like me. That my entire letter was too pathetic by half, that only two words of it were true, the ones stating that a publisher was supposed to ‘amplify and disseminate.’ He said that he did that too. But that he was a shopkeeper like any other shopkeeper. That he was going to try to pass off spoiled goods as new. That apprentices would be hired to get the mildew off the grain and then sell the goods as fresh goods. What was left of the entire history of Suhrkamp Publications now anyway? What had become of the heroic intellectual figures of the fifties and sixties? He said that he had calculated that we put out roughly 300 titles per year. That that was truly horrifying, that we were by no means a boutique purveying intellectual goods, but rather a factory turning out miscellaneous commodities. That no author could put up with it [...].
This lasted for about a half an hour. Then I had an opportunity to hand his honorarium over to him; without counting it beforehand, he stuck it in a drawer that was in plain view; he even let it sit there when we left for lunch.
He was cheered by the news of the successful denouement of the premiere, but he rebuked Peymann’s imprecision and was surprised by Buhre’s lack of staying power, by his making such dilettantish blunders in the midst of all his professionalism. [...]
At a previously appointed time, Minetti came with his daughter. He was delighted with Simply Complicated, which was dedicated to him, as he told everybody he met. [...] Then lunch with Bernhard at the Park Hotel on the shore of the Traunsee. He was amiable and signed the 162 sheets I had brought along.
His projects were going well. He said that Peymann would produce Ritter, Dene, Voss at the next Salzburg Festival and then take the play with him to Berlin, and that he was now working on the great play of his career, which Peymann was supposed to premiere at the Burg. Thus are the times changing and is Bernhard changing with them. Let’s live as long as we are alive.
Simply Complicated. He was already aware that I had reservations about the quality of the play. But despite this didn’t want a Minetti Book [Minetti. A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man. With Sixteen Photos by Digne Melle Marcovicz was published in 1977 in a one-time edition of a thousand copies], but rather a volume in the Bibliothek Suhrkamp. Large typeface, lightly and finely typeset, black-and-white cover.
Otherwise, it was all the same to him; we could do what we wanted. To be sure, he said, we kept using the old photos, and we hadn’t updated his bibliography in ten years. Even though he had written a few things since. Indeed, he asked, who had written as much as him?
Otherwise, it was all the same to him, and he kept saying ‘let’s live as long as we are alive.’ Next morning at 11 he would go the café, study all the newspapers and read his reviews; afterwards he would eat a hearty meal, and by three in the afternoon he would have forgotten everything. Let’s live as long as we are alive.
At the end of September, Bernhard came to Frankfurt to attend a performance of The Scene-Maker and help Unseld celebrate his 61st birthday; Unseld wrote of Bernhard’s visit in a Chronicle entry dated September 29 and 30, 1985:
“Bernhard is in a cheerful mood. We see each other in the evening. The city of Frankfurt is in turmoil. At a protest a protester was run over and killed by one of the police’s water cannons. A shocking accident. Granted, when a person puts himself in harm’s way...From now on there is going to be more unrest. As there was on Sunday evening when the people flocked to the [Bochum guest] performance of Bernhard’s Scene-Maker.
I pick up Bernhard at 1o p.m.; we wait for guests to arrive for our midnight reception. And they do arrive, literally at midnight. They are enthusiastic about the premiere. The actors clearly felt quite at home in our house. Martin Schwab stayed till seven in the morning!
Claus Peymann sends his thanks in a lengthy telegram. [...]
30 September 1985
Next Thomas Bernhard is at the firm; once again he shovels up his 60,000 Deutschmarks. But otherwise he is of good cheer. He pays a visit to what he calls the Suhrkamp House of Culture, dines with Burgel Zeeh, Rach, and Joachim at the Café Laumer and then vanishes back into his Austrian home pastures to see how things stand there. Probably Moritz the cultural minister’s chair is teetering [For the context of this reference to the then Austrian minister of education, art, and sport, see n. 1 to Letter No. 485]; Peymann has already protested and said that he is now going to make a point of staging Bernhard. This is naturally a gambit intended to secure Bernhard’s definitive consent to a performance, which Bernhard naturally finds very tempting.”
Letter No. 485
November 26, 1985
Dear Doctor Unseld,
When I think of what a gigantic advertising budget you assiduously lavished on Mr. Walser’s book over a period of three months, when you did virtually nothing for my Old Masters despite the fact that you know that advertising is almost all that matters nowadays, it really is enough to eradicate every trace of my pleasure in collaborating with the firm.
But of course I write for myself and not for my publisher and money obviously really has nothing to do with it.
And even in other respects you have, as I have said, literally left my work to crumble in the rain.
Life is too short to make it even shorter with nagging and ragging, but you must be made aware that I remain a keen observer of what is going on.
P. S.: The shamelessness with which you launched this ghastly book of Walser’s into the skies is absolutely tasteless and as an augury of the future of publishing quite depressing!1
- This is another letter with a lengthy back-story and with several unsent earlier versions surviving in Bernhard’s papers. In the same August 7 Chronicle entry in which Unseld noted his receipt of Thomas Bernhard’s letter requesting the non-distribution of Old Masters in Austria (see n. 8 to Letter No. 485), Unseld remarked, “At the firm making plans: Martin Walser’s Brandung [Breakers] as a bestseller. We have already committed to making it one. The author expects it, but so does everybody else.” Although Bernhard could have known nothing of these in-house machinations, the advertising campaign for Walser’s novel launched in November 1985 occasioned him considerable disgruntlement. Even before Bernhard’s letter reached the firm, this disgruntlement was heralded in a telephone conversation with Burgel Zeeh; in her telephone message of November 19, 1985, one reads:
“He was in a really foul mood, almost silent, unaccommodating. He is brooding over something. He says that he has written to you again only to refrain from sending the letter—‘What’s the use?’
So are there any problems? Yes, plenty of them. He says that perhaps you and he should talk sometime.”
Bernhard’s papers contain three unsent letters to Unseld—letters dated November 3, 10, and 18—that may be regarded as drafts of the letter of November 26; the first, written in Vienna, is also the most detailed:
“Dear Dr. Unseld,
From Ms. Zeeh I have learned that Old Masters has so far sold more than thirty-thousand copies, which in itself is highly gratifying.
But in Spain, where I was last week for the sake of having a language other than the uncouth German one in my ears, I reflected that it could have been far more than thirty thousand copies if you had given my Old Masters precisely as forceful an advertising boost as the one you gave to Martin Walser’s unregenerate petit-bourgeois rubbish.
You have fueled my Rolls Royce with a single liter of regular unleaded gasoline and let it idle, whereas you have augmented your friend’s Opal Kadett with four or five supplemental tanks and had them filled up with super unleaded fuel.
With Old Masters I could in point of fact have enjoyed every chance of an enormous commercial success, which you wrested from me even while investing your full advertising vigor in Mr. Walser’s book and more or less leaving me lying in the dirt.
I understand your strategy, but both as an experienced businessman and an associate of yours in absolute possession of his senses, and as a person quite wantonly injured by your decision, I am naturally pained by this strategy.
This is not about money, which of course I don’t need at all--and I have given away at least half my earnings, for some idiotic reason!-- , but rather about saying my piece on certain operations that have not escaped my attention. As far as Austria goes, owing to a concatenation of a number of misunderstandings, an enormous commercial success has quite spontaneously erupted there, and I think that fate would have been treating me very brutally indeed if I had not enjoyed this unlooked-for ‘success’ in Austria and been forced to rely solely on the firm’s assistance.
At minimum I expected some moral support from your end, after several hysterically partisan so-called red cabinet ministers and subsequently their entire mendacious red government had more or less threatened me with, if not quite commitment to a madhouse, as originally intended, then total damnation. [Bernhard is referring here to the then Austrian finance minister Franz Vranitzky’s statement to the effect that attacks on Austria such as those contained in The Scene-Maker should cease to be funded by taxpayers, and the minister of education, Herbert Moritz’s expression of the opinion that the author of Old Masters was becoming more and more of an object of interest for science, by which he said he did not merely mean the science of literary criticism; Bernhard for his part retorted with an article called Vranitzky. Eine Erwiderung (“Vranitzky. A Rejoinder”) in Die Presse on September 13, 1985, and Antwort. Neue Attacke des Dichters (“Reply. A New Attack from the Writer”); see Bernhard, Works, Vol. 8, pp. 231ff.] At minimum I could have imagined a poster for the book-dealers on which the publisher in chief of Suhrkamp Publications poses the question of whether it is permissible for a cabinet minister to pronounce an ex officio damnation and death sentence against one of his authors. The outrageousness of the accusations to which I have been and continue to be exposed obviously cannot have remained a secret to you. But you have kept absolutely mum about the entire affair. You are and remain the great publisher, the publisher whom I am singling out for special treatment in apostrophizing as great, but perhaps for reasons of vital self-protection it will quite simply be better for me to publish no further books through Suhrkamp Publications from now on, if Mr. Walser or Mr. Handke is going to publish any of his own through Suhrkamp Publications. Against these two gentlemen, I haven’t got a chance as far as the advertising coffer of my great publisher is concerned.
Your relationship with my work is an ideal one: ambivalent, aloof.
I don’t want any arguments!
Bernhard next spoke with Unseld on December 18, 1985 at the Hotel Sacher; Unseld wrote about their meeting in his Travel Journal, Vienna-Paris, December 16-19, 1985:
“then Thomas Bernhard arrived; he took a seat in the hotel lobby and immediately launched into an incomparable Bernhardian tirade that served as a prelude to an indiscriminate, no-holds-barred assault. The last bit of local news he had heard before his departure was about two bricklayers who had built a wall, which a storm had blown down; one of the bricklayers was now dead, and the other had a broken leg. He said that of course our fate was now ours to choose. I gave him the homemade marmelade from Ms. Zeeh. He thought it was completely uncalled-for; of course, he said, he never ate sweets, and you couldn’t keep eating the same marmelade, and anyway, after nine days it would be all mouldy and no longer edible.
Yes, and then the firm. He said that Fellinger had found three errors and otherwise did nothing but smile. But that perhaps he smiled at everybody. That Joachim arguably had no connection to his work. That he heard nothing from Elisabeth Borchers either, that the last time he had was when Anneliese Botond was still his editor. But then he came to the actual subject of the evening. He said that the whole of German literature published by German publishing firms was pretty much worthless rubbish, trash, out and out literary abominations, and that now his publisher of all people was just touting and touting and touting for the most abominable work of all. That all the newspapers were full of advertisements for a good-for-nothing novel, which he found incredible. Sure, he said, it was all the same to him, but he couldn’t help feeling almost ashamed to be writing for such a publishing firm.
When I tried to reason with him and told him that after all it was the authors and not the publisher who wrote the texts, he gave way to another outburst. ‘Texts,’ he said, was one of the most abominable words of modern times, because what did it even mean? He said that it was a really awful, cheap, hollow bit of terminology that had nothing to do with literature; that indeed, perhaps it was true that German publishing firms (he kept talking about German publishing firms while naturally meaning Suhrkamp) put out nothing but ‘texts.’ The second outburst came when I told him that we had advertised so intensively for Breakers because Walser had traveled for six weeks straight, had given readings, devoted hours to signing books, and the ‘market’ demanded that these activities should be accompanied by advertisements. The ‘market’--this was what touched off the outburst. He said that he certainly didn’t care at all about the market, that he so to speak didn’t give a shit about it, but that it was truly laughable to try to find a market for such an inferior work, and so on and so forth. Finally, the publisher himself came into the direct line of fire; he said he felt abandoned, without any ‘backup,’ in the midst of his struggle in Austria. When at this point I grew heated and yet again reminded him of our financial commitment in connection with the recent lawsuits, he got angry again. He said that he didn’t want to hear any such talk, that even at the time he had not been satisfied with the way I had wrapped the whole thing up. Upon my hinting that he himself had wanted the whole thing wrapped up and that I hadn’t exactly had very many means of wrapping it up at my disposal, he once again started heaping abuse on the Austrian judiciary and on the state of affairs in Austria [...] All this lasted about an hour, by the beginning of the second half of which I had stopped talking, and all the while I was struggling to figure out if I shouldn’t just leave and take the honorarium I had brought for him back to Frankfurt. At the end of it, he seemed to feel that he had gone far enough or too far, and he immediately made a subtle sort of wisecrack to the effect that I would dislocate my neck unless I stopped looking everywhere but at him. At any rate, he said, he wouldn’t be living much longer despite the fact that things were really going quite well for him at the moment and that Ms. Zeeh was a thoroughly wonderful woman. He said that the title of his next work, a novel, was Newfoundland. That the title of the prose book after that was going to be Blind Hatred, and that the play he had promised Peymann would be entitled Credit Where Credit Is Due. Well now.”
Thomas Bernhard at his house in Ohlsdorf, circa 1985
END OF PART XVIII.
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. 685-742.
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.
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.