Of Course a Publisher Misplaces Everything
When you’ve written a book, you give it to your publisher, and he’s got a business. Of course a publisher really hasn’t got a clue about art or literature, about anything having to do with the mind at all, and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it either. He plies his trade under the pretext that he wants to do something for the mind. But if he can’t make five schillings off of the mind, he won’t do anything for it.
A publisher is always just a single person who has business on his mind whenever he shows up. He comes in here with his briefcase, opens it, and skulks until you give him the manuscript. He’s got to promise himself something; otherwise he wouldn’t do it, because he’s certainly no benefactor. And once the manuscript has vanished into the briefcase, he’s quite keen on vanishing himself, because of course he’s got what he wanted, and in the final analysis he really couldn’t care less about the person who made it.
What is this thing, a publisher [Verleger]? I could of course by the same token ask, “What is a publisher?” It’s unequivocally clear what a bedside rug [Bettvorleger] is. But “a bedside rug without bed next to it” makes for a very problematic answer. Or when somebody misplaces [verlegt] something; of course he’s scatterbrained if he misplaces something and then can’t find it ever again. That’s obviously the real definition of a publisher.
So then, a publisher: he misplaces things and manuscripts that he’s accepted, and then he can’t find them ever again. Either because he doesn’t want to anymore or because he’s scatterbrained, they’re no longer anywhere to be found. He misplaces things. For ever. I only know publishers who are misplacers. However high and mighty they are they’ve certainly never been high and mighty enough not to be the kinds of publishers who misplace things. And after these things are misplaced they’re either in tatters or irretrievable.
I’ve never had any difficulties getting anything published. Way back when I met Moissl, who was a reader for Müller, and of course at the time Müller was the best publisher, and I said, all right, sure, Trakl is all fine and well, but forty years have passed since then; I mean, I’m living in the here and now, and this simply has got to see the light of day. So he took a look at it and said, well now, we’ll see, and we sat down and picked out some poems, and then, about three months later, they were simply published. It never presented any difficulties.
As far as publishing enough to live on goes, it’s been maybe fifteen years since that sorted itself out for good. Of course that came at the end of a hard slog of debts and work, and then, you know, my aunt, whenever it got to the point of things being repossessed, would pay whatever the bill happened to be. Actually it wasn’t quite that simple. And now I’m successful, even financially speaking. Now I don’t have any financial difficulties; after all, I’m not particularly pernickety and I live on my own, so it works. But of course for a long time it was a hammer-and-tongs existence for me, because of course people are asinine; of course, for the past twenty-two years practically all my books have been published in America.
In Spain practically everything has, in Italy almost everything, in France, I really couldn’t ask for anything more; I’ve really never gotten any negative press—sure, it’s totally asinine, just like it is here, but in a completely different kind of pretentious vein. Here I can read about Extinction; over the review there’s this headline: “Poor Wretch,” and then twenty lines of that; it’s really stupid, it puts paid to itself, and in the Salzburger Nachrichten, as I’ve seen, “A Wannabe,” there’s something to that effect in there; these are just things that you really can’t say anything about. I mean, because their whole way of thinking is pure irony and stupidity. Of course, the people who understand a thing or two see things completely differently. And I know that I’m grossly downplaying it when I say that it doesn’t hurt me, but of course if you lay it on any thicker then nobody will ever believe you again. But it’ll all be put to rights later on, someday, because of course by then it’ll all have been ploughed into the ground; then people will be able to look it all up. What was going on back then will all be described in a relatively temperate prose style. I’m obviously not an author just for Austria or three Podunk towns. That obviously doesn’t interest me at all.
In other countries, in the so-called Romance and Slavic world, people are altogether more interested in literature; it has a completely different status than it has for us. Literature here isn’t valued at all. Here music is valued, acting is valued; really nothing else is valued at all. It’s always been that way. A translation is a different book. It no longer has anything whatsoever to do with the original. It’s a book by the person who translated it. Of course I write in German. They’re mailed, the books are mailed, to my house, and they either get a laugh or they don’t. If they’ve got hideous covers then you just get cross and you leaf through them once and then you’re done with them. Quite apart from the weird and completely different title, they’ve got nothing in common with your own books. No, it’s obviously impossible to translate anything. A piece of music you can play anywhere in the world if you follow the notes. But a book should be read, or in my case, played, in German everywhere. On an orchestra.
It’s certainly a real corker, like fifty toilets, but on the other hand I couldn’t care less about it, because I’m surrounded by very pleasant people, because, for example, my siblings aren’t interested in the slightest. They really have no idea whatsoever of what one of my plays or novels is like. It’s all the same to them. Ideal people to be around. I mean, I obviously refuse to present myself as anything, either as a great man or as a hack.
Of course I’ve said more when people have read the books, but of course people don’t read the books. Everything I’ve written about over the past twenty-five years in all my books has come to pass. Every book I’ve written is chock-full of resolutions.
Source: Kurt Hofmann, Aus Gesprächen mit Thomas Bernhard. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1991, pp. 74-78.
Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2016 by Douglas Robertson