Friday, February 28, 2020

An Uncharacteristically Topical Post on the Metropolitan Opera's Latest Production of Alban Berg's Wozzeck


Despite its title this post is in many and perhaps even in most respects essentially a sequel to one penned nearly six years ago, Lululations,” inasmuch as it is likewise a polemic directed against the production of a Berg opera, in this case the Metropolitan Opera’s current one of Wozzeck, as seen and heard by the present writer on Saturday, January 12, 2020 at the Charles Theater here in Baltimore via live transmission; but inasmuch as Wozzeck is in many (and perhaps even most) respects a very different sort of opera than Lulu, the Metropolitan Opera in some (although undoubtedly not most) respects a very different sort of institution than the Salzburg Festival, and 2020 in some (although undoubtedly not enough) respects a very different sort of year than 2014, the title really must stand.  Last and penultimate present post-differentiating things first: what this new Met presentation of Wozzeck most eye-burstingly suggests is that in its treatment of productions the Met has recently adopted (or more than likely merely slid into) an ethos that is in some (albeit not all) respects stridently at odds with the classic Met’s meta-productional ethos.—viz., an ethos alternating with Eveready bunny-esque reliability between an attitude of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” and one of  “If it ain’t going to be reused at least every other year, don’t bovver over-building it.”  Certainly as recently as 2010, and very probably as recently as 2017, one could count on the Met to deliver an opera under the auspices of one of exactly two styles of production—an opulently old-school neo-verist style and a middle-school minimalist style.  In either case, the production could be counted on neither to contribute to nor to detract from the quality of the performance very materially.  In this respect the Met differed at least intermittently from the Salzburg Festival, which despite its ever-close affiliation with the local Mozartkugeln-propagating heritage industry has always been obliged to give at least an occasional dramaturgical nod to its at least aspirantly transgressive modernist roots; such that an objectionably licentious Salzburg Lulu production such as the one I decried nearly ten years ago was for all its objectionability hardly an out-of-left-field dramaturgical curve-ball.  Accordingly, the present Met presentation of Wozzeck, in being at least twice as objectionable as the Salzburg one of Lulu, hit the present writer in the goolies like a googly bowled from the return crease.  Indeed, now that I have seen this Met presentation of Wozzeck, my objections to that older Salzburg presentation of Lulu have come to seem downright nitpicking.  For at bottom, all these objections were directed at mere tactical misplacements of dramaturgical emphasis eventuating at worst in a misapprehension of the opera’s tone, of its attitude towards its theme, misplacements that could not even ever-so-slightly occlude or distort the spectator-cum-listener’s comprehension the theme itself—viz., that human sexuality is a fundamentally destructive force impervious to moralization of any kind in any register.  For example, my chastisement of Lulu’s throwing of her knickers to a manservant and this servant’s immediately subsequent sniffing thereof, an episode of throwing-cum-sniffing nowhere indicated in the libretto’s stage-directions, was occasioned by the entirely farcical tone of the episode, by its distinctly anti-Bergian Carry On film-esque intimation that the ineluctability of sexual obsession was fundamentally ridiculous rather than fundamentally horrifying.  But this episode for all its risibility did nothing to undermine the centrality of the theme, to undermine the implied assertion that whether under the dramaturgical auspices of tragedy, farce, comedy of manners or grand guignol, sexuality must be regarded as a might(il)y devastating nachon; indeed, the episode fairly underscored that centrality, which is why I am almost inclined retrospectively to tip my hat to it (as well as, incidentally, to the Carry On franchise, for all its reliable unwatchability on account of its consistently ultra-lazy treatment of its source material, an ultra-laziness that makes Mel Brooks’s History of the World Part One look like a Ken Burns documentary).  The faults to which I objected in the Salzburg production’s treatment of the final scene likewise performed no fatally deleterious theme-decentralizing work.  To be sure, in libretto-defyingly leaving Jack the Ripper onstage at the conclusion it did rather give the decidedly wrong impression that one was to be more interested in him than in his principal victim, but it did not leave anyone in doubt about the motive of his crime; it did not lead one to believe that he had killed Lulu for any other reason than that she was a beautiful woman.  To be sure, in that Salzburg production there was exactly one potentially fatally theme-decentralizing episode, the Act II-concluding episode dramatizing the foreplay to Alwa’s presumptive inaugural act of coition with Lulu, an episode whereby it was erroneously intimated, via a libretto-unheeding bit of stage business (i.e., a bit of stage business that in contrast to the retention of Jack was simply unindicated by the libretto rather than proscribed altogether thereby) that Alwa’s obsession with Lulu was but a stalking horse for his obsession with writing the perfect opera.  But this episode mercifully never came into its fatally theme-decentralizing own because its upshot went mercifully unechoed by any of the production’s treatment of Alwa vis-à-vis Lulu in earlier or subsequent scenes, wherein he was faithfully portrayed as a man utterly in thrall to an exclusively erotic obsession with the opera’s eponym.  And to be sure, the dopey interruption of the toast scene at the beginning of the third act by bits of fourth wall-breaking horseplay with the audience was inexcusably gratuitous.  But meta-dramaturgically speaking, it could not be described as fatal, inasmuch as it was probably accurately regarded as a genuine interruption (as opposed to a written-in interruption) even by those members of the audience unfamiliar with the opera, who in any case presumably could be counted on to reabsorb themselves into the diagesis after the conclusion of this interruption.  And to be surest if in hindsight least significantly, the misrepresentation of the painter’s portrait of Lulu as a gigantic semi-abstract mural did indeed make semantic mincemeat of every remark made apropos of it by the dramatis personae.  But ultimately not even the most egregious of these licentious meta-dramaturgical interventions detracted from the audience’s sense of what Lulu was about—viz., the rise and fall of an erotically irresistible woman.  The Met’s latest production of Wozzeck in horrifying contrast consists of almost nothing but episodes intended to deprive the audience of any sense whatsoever of what it, Wozzeck, is about and to drown it, the audience, in a welter of semiotic bilge (yes, yes, yes—and thus to drown it, the audience, even more effectively than the protagonist is literally drowned in the penultimate scene).  The principal conduit of this bilge-welter is the transposal of the opera’s setting from its de facto one of just about any garrison town in any part of pre-unified Germany to the trenches of the Western Front in World War I.  To the transposition itself one is reflexively inclined to exclaim à la the opera’s captain, Schon gut, schon gut!, for after all, Wozzeck was composed during the Great War war and moreover while Berg was in military service and moreover being bossed about in a manner that made him feel a more-than-brotherly sense of solidarity with Wozzeck (although it should be mentioned that this about-bossing was taking place in the relative comfort and safety of an office sited hundreds of miles from the Front, such that the original de facto-peacetime setting more effectively captures the gratuitousness of Wozzeck’s about-bossing, the sense that his about-bossing is not being occasioned by any imminent threat to life or limb, that it is, rather, a manifestation of the Authoritarian Personality fostered by the military modus vivendi tout court).  But any conscientious effectuation of such a transposition must reconcile the new setting with the libretto-cum-score in such a way that none of the anachronisms detract from the basic gist or import of any of that libretto-cum-score’s significant gestures; it must somehow convey the sense that whatever is happening could have happened either in the original setting or in the new one but not necessarily anywhere or anywhen else.  Such a reconciliation is admittedly deucedly difficult to pull off, and at the moment only one such successful off-pulling occurs to me, this off-pulling being Michael Haneke’s 1997 cinematic adaptation of Kafka’s Castle, in which, for example, each member of the cast is attired in a manner that would not have been seen as old-fashioned or excessively formal during the microepoch of the making of the film and yet the only visible piece of technology not available in Kafka’s lifetime is a single transistor radio allowed to relay its historically unspecifiable bit of broadcastage for a mere handful of seconds.  This Met production of Wozzeck by unsalutary contrast seems from start to finish to wish to give the impression that the events of the opera could have taken place between 1914 and 1918 and not a year earlier or later.  And I do really mean from start to finish in a pedantically exact sense because the striking-up of the orchestra in performance of the opera’s Falstaff-esque ultra-brief overture is perfectly synchronized with the title character’s switching-on of a silent film projector whose projected images then bathe the erect and about-strutting form of the Captain as he delivers his opening mule driver-esque adjuration Langsam, Wozzeck, langsam!  I shall address the content of the images projected by this projector anon, but first I must mention that the very inaugural appointment and positioning of Wozzeck as a film-projectionist opposite an erect and about-strutting captain necessitates the complete disregard of a stage-direction that governs the entire dramaturgical essence of the first scene and consequently establishes the central dramaturgical power dynamic of the entire opera—namely the direction that as the curtain rises Wozzeck is to be seen shaving the captain, a direction that of course most obviously requires Wozzeck to perform a task that is by its very nature servile but even more signally places the captain in a position in which his very life is more than figuratively in Wozzeck’s hands: Wozzeck could slash the captain’s throat at any moment; the captain cannot seem to open his mouth without ridiculing or abusing Wozzeck; after a very few minutes of such treatment, a certain sort of manservant, perhaps, indeed, the most usual sort, would leave off shaving the captain long enough to remind him in no uncertain terms of his life-and-death power over him; Wozzeck, in contrast, simply keeps shaving and rejoins Jawohl, Herr Hauptmann, to each of the captain’s utterances, as if he were seconding them—until, that is, the captain takes it upon himself to impugn Wozzeck’s siring of a child out of wedlock, whereupon Wozzeck leaves off shaving to deliver an impassioned defense, not of himself, but of his child qua entirely worthy receiver of eternal salvation despite his bastardy.  Here the captain palpably registers alarm at his corporeal vulnerability to Wozzeck.  There is clearly something very wrong, something very badly out of balance, here, something that will eventually need to be put to rights.  And of course it eventually is in a perverse and horrifying fashion—which is to say via Wozzeck’s murdering of his common-law wife Marie, of the only other adult whose life is so literally in his hands, and not so much because she has cuckolded him as because in the military hierarchy the agent of the cuckoldry, the drum-major, is both superior to him and subordinate to the captain.  So, I say, the opening scene of the opera as properly presented with the captain being shaved by Wozzeck implies with more-than-figuratively trenchant eloquence.  As for the opening scene as presented in this latest Met production, on the other hand—well, sure, it’s still evident enough that the captain is a domineering bully, that Wozzeck is an armer Kerl, a poor wretched fellow, but the bullying is of a purely verbal character, and all sense of impending so-called pushback from this armer Kerl is absent.  Now to the content of the projected film segments (which, incidentally, are not confined to the screen aimed at by Wozzeck the projectionist, as there are also two much larger screens situated at upstage left and right; needless to say, these two larger screens would seem to be completely otiose in diagetical terms, which is to say that they would seem to have no presence of any kind even in the misrepresentation of the opera’s world imagined by the production, which is to say a version thereof in which Wozzeck’s principal duty is to project movies for his captain rather than to shave him): they consist prevailingly of still images of WWI soldiers grotesquely disfigured by their war wounds, the sorts of images made world-famous by the paintings of Georg Grosz and Otto Dix, and presumably a goodly chunk of the segments was taken from the works of those very artists.  The substantial remainder of this content would seem to consist of moving footage especially shot for the production—a seeming fact that at first blush gives the lie to the pan-bienpensant-Anglospheric idée reçue that Kulturkraftwerke like the Met have been getting inexorably poorer year by year over the past half-century, inasmuch as, as I mentioned in “Lululations,” the Met of 1980 couldn’t even manage to produce a proper movie for the cinematic interlude of Lulu.  This footage consists prevailingly or perhaps overwhelmingly of sequences incorporating black people—or at least people presented as black (for there is one particularly disturbing sequence centering on some sort of platoon of black soldiers conspicuously pale immediately about the eyes [presumably this was an implicitly condemnatory allusion to some supposedly white supremacist visual tract like Birth of a Nation {which the present writer has never seen and plans never to see}, in which case I would strongly caution the producers against including this footage in future presentations of their production, inasmuch as in the current pseudo-political climate one simply cannot win with any sort of presentation of blackface]) in sub-diagetic juxtaposition with presumably white people whose faces are concealed by gas masks.  Presumably (this really is my favorite adverb, isn’t it?) the juxtaposition is meant to underscore some supposed connection of the prosecution of the Great War with the prosecution of Africa-oppressing European colonialism and North American Jim Crow-ism, a connection that is presumably worth drawing in a certain sense or context but whose applicability to Wozzeck eo ipso is much more and worse than questionable, inasmuch as the connection of the opera’s diagesis to the Great War is entirely of the producers’ making, and from the applicability of certain sub-states of affairs of one historical period to another historical period it eye-burstingly obviously does not follow that every other sub-state of affairs of that historical period is ascribable to the other.  For farthest-fetched and therefore most eloquent example: in dramaturgically presenting the fifteenth-century discovery of the so-called New World as a reenactment of the Apollo moon landing(s), one would be well within one’s rights to require Columbus and his crew to quaff tankards of Tang, because Tang was after all what the Apollo astronauts quaffed throughout their trip to the moon, but one would be well without those selfsame rights to back-project a television advertisement for Tang  behind the quaffage inasmuch as such a projection would give the highly misleading impression that Columbus, &co. gave a twentieth century-style toss about the brand name of whatever they happened to be drinking en route to the so-called New World.  Now if some would-be producer of Wozzeck wished to situate the opera in a meta-oppressive context that could actually be extrapolated from the opera itself, he or she might profitably turn to the institution of serfdom, which was abolished throughout central Europe only as late as the 1840s—in other words, about a decade after Büchner’s writing of the play on which the libretto of Wozzeck is based.  Presumably (!) a non-duplicitous allusion to this institution could be made even in a production primarily diagetically set in the First World War; as to how it could thereby be included, why, that for the present beats the carp out of the present writer, although the present writer flatters himself that despite his CVs’ utter bareness of reference to the dramaturgical preparation of operas he could contrive a serviceable enough answer to this question if he were afforded the hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars that were presumably vouchsafed to the Met’s production team this time round.   But to get back to the inclusion of all the cinematic screenage qua cinematic screenage: it presumably (!) is there to highlight the more or less exact coincidence of the outbreak of the First World War with the explosion of the popularity of movies and to intimate that this coincidence was much more than a mere coincidence, that there is some causal link between the one event and the other, an intimation that is presumably (!) worth intimating (although as to how etc.).  But any such intimation by all rights must take into account the fact that Berg himself was a witness to-cum-participant in the coincidence, and that indeed he developed quite a well-thought-out dramaturgical modus operandi for registering the recent sudden Lebenswelt-transforming supervention of cinema in the presentation of his operas.  The abovementioned silent movie desiderated by Lulu is the most obvious manifestation of this MO; a more obscure manifestation thereof is his hope, imparted to his pupil Theodor W. Adorno, of having Wozzeck adapted for the screen in a manner whose-fine grained sensitivity to stage action in real time was never even approximated vis-à-vis any opera by any composer until the advent of the multi-camera video-recording of performances for television broadcast in the late 1960s. But ultimately the most salient manifestation of Berg’s awareness of the new power of cinema is his apportionment of Wozzeck into a succession of fairly-to-extremely brief scenes, the longest of which, the tavern scene in Act II, is still just short enough at ten minutes to occupy a single reel of film.  (Admittedly the fragmentary structure of Büchner’s play invites such an apportionment, but it required a cinematically orientated mind such as Berg’s to realize that this structure could be accommodated in dramaturgically intelligible and compelling terms, that it did not have to be digested into the usual five-to-seven scene presentation that makes even such masterly adaptations as Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff seem so un-Shakespearean in their sluggardly pacing.)  And that Berg conceived of these scenes as scenes in the fullest dramaturgical sense—i.e., as requiring some sort of stage-setup that distinguished them from their immediate predecessors and successors--can readily be gleaned from his scrupulous inclusion of an instrumental interlude between each pair of scenes, an interlude that was and is in each and every case just long enough to accommodate the lifting of two or three side-flats and the depositing of one or two backdrops.  Accordingly any presentation of Wozzeck that even aspires to be worth its salt must obscure the stage during these interludes and at their conclusions re-enlighten the stage to reveal a mise-en-scène at least minimally visually distinct from the preceding scene.  The Met’s latest presentation of Wozzeck by disastrous contrast refuses to obscure the stage at any point, and indeed, it seems positively and cheekily to revel in its repudiation of such dramaturgical enlightenment by leaving the entire set, one extending to multistory heights, exposed to view from beginning to end.  And not only is this set agoraphobically overexposed, it is also entirely unintelligible, consisting of a snakes and ladders-like network of poorly illuminated gangways that just might be intended to represent the parapets of trenches on the front line but that actually evokes nothing so vividly as the boardwalk of a so-called nature trail in a swampy national park.  At scarcely any point is there any sense that the action is moving from one sort of place to another as indicated in the libretto—from an officer’s apartment to a field to an enlisted soldier’s apartment to doctor’s surgery, etc.  To be sure (in the interest of full disclosure), perhaps the present writer’s favorite production of a Berg opera, Graham Vick’s of Lulu for the 1996 Glyndebourne Festival, was even more minimalist, with no scenery whatsoever and hardly any props.  But Lulu’s libretto, being based as it is on a pair of finished plays written by a professional playwright for a version of live theater at its technical apex, rather than by a quasi-amateur poet for a German stage still in its infancy, is a dramaturgically much more finely wrought affair than Wozzeck’s; its dialogue is chockful of descriptive cues evidently designed to compensate for productional shortcomings—such cues as Schigolch’s praising of the wall-hangings and plush carpet of the painter’s house, and Lulu’s exhortation to tidy up the studio rather than a mere room in the opening scene.  Vick’s was the first production of Lulu I ever saw in its entirety, and yet thanks to these cues, at few if any points during my initial spectation of it did I have any trouble figuring out in what sort or genre of space the current scene was being enacted.  Thankfully, I was not obliged to spectate on this new Met Wozzeck in a state of comparable innocence, as I was already casually to intimately familiar with several fully staged productions; if I had been so obliged, I cannot imagine how I would have been able to make head or tail of where anything was supposed to be taking place; by default I suppose I would have assumed everything to be taking place in so-called no-man’s land, in one of the stretches of open ground between the trenches, although I assume I would have been hard-pressed to account for the presence of a civilian woman (i.e., Marie) and her infant child in such an environment, let alone for the un-machine gunned survival of a half-dozen noisy soldiers therein during the scene that the libretto directs to be set in a tavern.  But by far the most perniciously licentious of the production-team’s liberties is one not of staging but rather of casting, or rather non-casting, namely their complete omission of Wozzeck and Marie’s child from the embodied dramatis personae.  By this I do not mean the excision of all parts of the libretto and score pertaining to the child—a move that for all its prima facie greater drasticity could conceivably have led to a less reprehensible outcome than the one actually achieved—but rather the exclusion from the stage of an actor portraying the child as a self-contained flesh-and-blood human being on par with Marie and Wozzeck in this regard.  To be sure-stroke-don’t get me wrong, casting this role appropriately cannot but be a whale of a Hündin. Wozzeck’s and Marie’s handful of references to the child as a Bub, i.e., a boy, specify the sex of the child; his age is unspecified by no one including Berg-Büchner, but because in the final scene he is seen to be both old enough to ride a hobby-horse and young enough not yet to understand what it means for his mother to be dead, one may infer that he is between the ages of about three and five and hence at that life-stage at which a child is both too old to be confined to a crib and too young to be bribed into doing an adult’s bidding via even a more-than-figurative mountain of sweets or so-called action figures—in short when he or she is a stage-director’s worst nightmare not even barring a horse with an irritable bowel.  Granted, the kid’s is an entirely mute role until the concluding scene, when he has only to sing the pseudo-word Hopp-hopp exactly six times, but for all that the temptation to fill this three-to-five-year-old-child-shaped space with someone or something other than an actual three-to-five-year-old child cannot but be a very strong one; and the tradition-sanctified tendency to hand those six Hopp-hopps over to an offstage soprano (as in the otherwise punctiliously score-cum-libretto-respecting Vienna State Opera production of 1987) cannot but make the temptation all but ineluctable.  Howbeit, I must strenuously insist that this temptation must be strenuously resisted inasmuch as the opera’s meta-thematic upshot, its so-called communication of its so-called message, hinges on the recurring presence of the child, and that it is impossible to cast an even very slightly older person as a three-to-five-year old without generating an instance of travesty or pantomime as outrageously un-Wozzeckian as that of the cigar-chomping cartoon baby of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.  Now that I have thus perforce strenuously insisted, the reader naturally expects me to go on to reveal that in this Met presentation the child was played by a hookah-huffing nonagenarian dude with a ground-skirting white beard, but what I am actually going to reveal is something quite different and yet far more horrifying, and something that I can reveal only by way of an account of my own assimilation of the presentation’s presentation of the first appearance of the child, wherein the addressee of Marie’s first words thereunto is shown (at least by the camera; obviously viewers-cum-listeners at Lincoln Center did not have their line of sight so guided) to be a lad aged at least twenty and possibly as old as twenty-nine.  And so, after an initial frisson of horror, I gloomily resigned myself to having the child presented to me as a teenager as played by a post-teen actor à la Michael J. Fox’s characters in Family Ties and the Back to the Future movies.  But no sooner did I or had I tendered this gloomy resignation, than the camera pulled back to show that the younker was moving about a pair or trio of sticks connected to some sort of vaguely baby-shaped-and-sized mannequin with a head completely enclosed in (guess what?) a gas mask.  Whereupon I naturally experienced a second and more intense frisson of horror, but to my credit qua meta-polemical non-ambulance chaser, I also tried to recuperate the presentation in a manner that would not make utter mincemeat tartar of the abovementioned meta-thematic upshot: OK, I said to meself whilst breathing as slowly and deeply as I could manage, let’s say the kid is supposed to be a teen traumatized by the horrors of the war and regressively acting out his traumatization via a baby-sized puppet.  I can deal with that, at least between now and the final scene, wherein the child’s incomprehension-cum-hobbyhorsicality will be utterly unconvincing because utterly unverisimilitudinous.  But alas!  Even this wretched meta-diagetic pis aller was made mincemeat tartar of long before the final scene, and indeed in the immediately subsequent child-including scene, wherein the baby- puppet was manipulated by a manifestly different person, a young woman.  When I happened to notice that this young woman had a red cross on one of her sleeves, I could not forbear concluding that she was a nurse and consequently immediately revising my sense of the diagetic function of the puppet: presumably, I reflected, in this diagesis there is no biologically current child; presumably in this diagesis Marie is in a hospital (a hospital at which the young fellow in the previous child-including scene is also a nurse whose red cross I failed to notice), and is mentally disturbed in such a way and thanks to such a cause (perchance a shellshock-induced miscarriage) that interacting with an artificial baby is understood to be therapeutic for her.  But I immediately thereupon reflected that such a meta-diagetic exegesis was pretty much untenable in the light of the first scene of the opera, wherein, as mentioned before, both Wozzeck and the Captain refer to the perduring biological existence of the child, such that if the child must be regarded as merely an hallucination it must perforce be highly improbably further regarded as a collective or Gestalt hallucination (the highly is to be ascribed to the ineluctable participation in the hallucination of the Captain, who is at no point remotely imaginable, even in this presentation, as a reformed Scrooge to the miscarried child’s Tiny Tim).  Howbeit, I managed to cast one last saving throw in favor of this presentation’s diagesis: what if, I conjectured, the child, although very much extra-uterally alive at some earlier point in the diagesis was dead by the opening scene of the opera—dead, that is, to the obvious knowledge of Wozzeck and Marie yet quite plausibly unbeknownst to the captain.  In the context of such a diagesis, Wozzeck and Marie might quite plausibly for various motives go on continuing as though the child were still alive, and indeed, at times they might even be persuaded that he actually was still alive.  To be sure, this last saving throw of a meta-exagetic diagesis left the child-centered final scene diagetically un-accounted for, but perhaps, I reflected at numerous times throughout roughly the second three-fifths of the presentation, the show-runners had somehow managed to account for it.  But no suchluck: in the final scene yet another puppeteer was seen solitarily manipulating the baby-puppet to the accompaniment of a succession of disembodied voices comprising not only the boy-child’s Hopp-hopp! but also all the other children’s registrations of the death of his mother.  Try as I might then, while spectating on the scene, and try as I have mighted in the three weeks since, I have been unable to produce a single even vaguely meta-diagetically compelling interpretation of this presentation of the final scene.  If, after all, the point of the puppet’s existence was to console Marie for the death of her child, what point could there be in continuing to operate the puppet after Marie’s death?  Moreover, if the child was either deceased or ever-non-existent, what function could the voices of the other children possibly be serving? In the highly improbable event that they have ever been queried about this meta-diagetic conundrum, I suppose the show-runners have mealy-mouthedly yet brazenly stated something to the utterly bullshittic effect that in the concluding scene the baby-puppet, the puppeteer, and the disembodied children’s voices collectively symbolize both the instigators and the survivors of the First World War, or better yet both the instigators and the survivors of every war that has ever occurred in human history-cum-prehistory.  Whatever it is meant to symbolize, this symbolization is manifestly irreconcilable with the dramaturgical structure of Wozzeck as it presents itself on the page quite irrespective of the composer-cum-librettist’s intentions.  Wozzeck is manifestly and ineluctably an opera about a real soldier with a real common law wife and a real very young son; each and every presentation of the opera must take this manifest and ineluctable philological fact as its starting point, and each and every presentation that refuses to do so as the latest Met’s refuses to do so is doomed to present not Wozzeck but a kind of live-action music video with the score of Wozzeck as its utterly contingent soundtrack.  Not that this soundtrack need in consequence suffer a jot as a purely aural presentation of Wozzeck, and indeed to the extent that I could avoid being distracted by the visuals, I found the soundtrack of the Met’s new ostensible Wozzeck to be among the most beautifully sung and played Wozzecks that I had ever heard.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that to the limited extent to which the cast were able to circumvent or sidestep the irrelevancies of the mise en scène, they put on quite a visually compelling performance and that hence I found their contribution to the presentation to be among the most beautifully acted Wozzecks that I had ever seen.  Peter Matei’s interpretation of the title character was certainly an improvement on that of the reigning Wozzeck of a generation ago, Franz Grundheber, who tended to look merely sluggishly bemused rather than kinetically harried (verhetzt, as the Captain describes him in the opening scene) as Matei does with appropriately slowly rising intensity; here, in a portrayal evidently meant to underscore his resemblance to the Drum Major qua destroyer of Wozzeck, the Captain as played and sung by Gerhard Siegel uncharacteristically yet persuasively cut a fairly commanding figure despite his character-defining cowardice; here Marie, as played and sung by Elza van den Heever, was adequately plebbish without being gratuitously whorish (although I’m not sure her voice has quite enough bottom for the part’s tessitura, as in the higher registers she did tend rather to slip into the cartoon mouse-like timbre that I have decried in Evelyn Lear’s Lulu); here the Doctor despite his character-defining lugubriousness had a winning almost- Groucho Marx-at-a-Day at the Races-esque animated zaniness about him.  Even vis-à-vis such a minor character as Margret (I own that Andrew Staples’s portrayal of the slightly less minor character of Andres made no impression on me whatsoever) some pains had evidently been taken by somebody to present her in a new but not completely perverse light: in both the tavern scenes she was seen holding a broom, which of course suggested that she occupied the ultra-menial position of a cleaning-woman; i.e., a position even lowlier than Wozzeck’s, which in turn helped to explain, as perhaps no earlier presentation of the opera has attempted to do, why Wozzeck was conjugally paired with Marie rather than with Margret to begin with and why he finds it entirely natural to turn to Margret for conjugal succor after Marie’s death—and also, persuasively enough, why in this presentation Margret rebuffed his advances outright, apparently regarding them as an assertion of a plebeian analogue to droit de signeur (shades of Figaro, natch), rather than at least provisionally yielding to them by deigning to dance with him in conformity with the established performance history.  All the immediately preceding plainly indicates that I am not opposed to innovative mises en scène eis ipsis, that indeed I welcome any presentation of an opera that shews it in a new light provided that this new light does not work at refractive cross-purposes with the letter of the score-cum-libretto, that I believe that anything that is not expressly forbidden by the score-cum-libretto and that does not preclude the conveyance of the just-mentioned letter should be permitted.  And in a score-cum-libretto as schematically stage-directed as that of Wozzeck the scope for such innovation is quite latitudinous—and not only latitudinous but also perhaps dramaturgically exigent, for as Dr. Johnson averred vis-à-vis the presentation of the works of a playwright whose authenticated stage directions (directions not to be confused with the interpolated ones of his earliest editors, most of which were silently assimilated to later editions and thence into the dramaturgical tradition) were to say the least extremely spotty, namely Shakespeare, so-called stage business, for all its manifest peripherality to the conveyance of the gist of a drama on paper, is apparently indispensable to the conveyance of that selfsame gist in a theater. So in the BBC’s early-1960s presentation of Richard III, Lord Hastings is seen shaving his own beard with a straight razor at the exact moment at which he is being asked to entertain the notion of elevating Richard Duke of Gloucester to the throne, and he still has the cutting edge of the knife poised against his own throat (such that, yes, yes, yes he is both his own Captain and his own Wozzeck) when he eventually declares that he would rather have his head separated from the rest of his body rather than accept Richard as the legitimate king.  Naturally here the shaving-centered stage business has been interpolated into the mise en scène by way of anticipating Hastings’s beheading a few scenes later.  It can of course be compellingly argued that such stark foreshadowing is more than a bit heavy-handed, but under our post-Johnsonian dramaturgical dispensation the submitter of such an argument cannot get away with simply leaving Hastings to twiddle his thumbs at most during this scene; he must come up with something else for Hastings to do while he is rebutting the proposal of Richard’s coronation; something as diagetically plausible as, yet less semiotically loaded than, shaving.  The Met’s present presentation of Wozzeck contains a paragon of such unobtrusive stage business in the penultimate scene, wherein the Captain and the Doctor are walking along the river (not, to be doubly sure, that it looks anything like a river in this presentation) just after Wozzeck has disappeared beneath its surface, and they are both trying to ascertain if they have been hearing somebody drowning, towards which end the doctor, still clad in his surgery-attire, quite naturally raises the funnel of his stethoscope as a hearing aid. (Incidentally, the fact that the Doctor is equipped with such a crude, Beethoven ear trumpet-esque, auscultational apparatus when by the First World War doctors had long since been using stethoscopes more or less exactly identical to the ones they are using now suggests that the show-runners themselves felt at least slightly straitjacketed by the WWI setting.)  If only all this presentation’s interpolations had been so singularly felicitous, this might have been the best presentation of Wozzeck ever.  But doubtless if the show-runners of this presentation had confined themselves to such interpolations, they would have found their work unrecognized, and consequently themselves out of a job.  Whence the entire bullshittic apparatus of the trenches, the film projector, the woke-orientated films, etc.  And whence further the non-gratuitousness of the present post vis-à-vis “Lulullations,” which still naively treated the fully staged live presentation of operas as though it could be reformed en bloc, as though the shit-together-getting of all parties concerned could lead to a coherent and faithful fully staged presentation of a given opera.  For in the course of reflecting on his spectation-cum-audition of the Met’s latest presentation of Wozzeck, the present writer cannot have helped concluding that such reformation is utterly impracticable, because such shit-together-getting is also utterly impracticable, because the shit-getting-together attending any enterprise, very much including the literal collection of animal waste, necessitates a sense of more or less equally apportioned intentional involvement among all materially substantial parties concerned in that enterprise, and the adequate presentation of operas does not necessitate the eventuation of such a sense; this because the material contribution of the show-runners can no longer ever be—if it ever was—equal in magnitude to such contribution by the singers or even by the instrumentalists.  To expatiate: nowadays, in this most-Whiggish of all microepochs of the Whiggish era, one constantly hears talk about how we (i.e., effectively universally, all of us apart from the present writer) are living through a golden age of this or that phenomenon or practice, and vis-à-vis 99.99…% percent of these phenomena the present writer would reach for it (or them) rather than the nearest loo-roll in the event of a second-species loo-emergency.  When people say, for instance, that we are living through a golden age of television, I cannot but conclude that they are simply registering the unprecedented abundance of nudity and profanity in first-screenings accessible in a domestic setting, for nothing could be more patently devoid of any other engaging—let alone redeemable—dramaturgical feature than this microepoch’s most fulsomely lionized televisual franchises—The Crown, Ta-Tas & Dragons (a.k.a, G*** of T****s), etc.  But when it comes to performers and performances of serious music, I really do believe that there is something to this Whiggish talk.  It strikes me as entirely plausible that, for example, Simone Dinnerstein and Paul Lewis are among the most sensitive and accomplished interpreters of the keyboard repertoire, and Alicia Weilerstein and Hilary Hahn, of the cello and violin repertoire, respectively, ever to have lived; and these last two must be singled out in particular for their outstanding recordings of two extraordinarily difficult modern works—Carter’s cello concerto and Schoenberg’s violin concerto.  When badgered about the apparent unperformability of his then-new concerto some eighty years ago, Schoenberg is said to have frostily rejoined that he was willing to wait for the little finger to evolve to the point at which it was capable of playing the work.  Well now in Ms. Hahn we have a violinist whose little finger has evolved to that stage of competence.  And Ms. Hahn is by no means known as a specialist in especially recondite corners of the repertoire—to the contrary, she is about as mainstream and successful as one can get with a bowed instrument, a veritable fiddling superstar.  Essentially, in the present generation of musicians the entire corpus of serious modernist music, a corpus that was widely regarded as unperformable only a generation ago, has found a pool of interpreters entirely adequate to its realization.  And not the least striking proofs of this discovery is a Met orchestra to whom two of the three operatic masterpieces hailing from that corpus, Wozzeck and Lulu (the third being Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, whose infrequency of appearance at Lincoln Center is probably more up-chalkable to dramaturgical causes than to musical-performative ones [for let’s face it, Schoenbergophiles: M&A does not have a libretto that is overall as remotely captivating as that of W or L, even if the notorious-cum-celebrated episode of its dance around the golden calf does call for some guaranteed lorgnette-attracting full-frontal nudity]), have apparently become as familiar as Die Meistersinger or Falstaff,  an orchestra that can comfortably present Wozzeck every third or fourth season and Lulu every fifth or sixth—not to mention that this orchestra is able to interact with a cast of singers who, as mentioned before in specific connection with Wozzeck, are also entirely adequate to the technical-cum-expressive demands of these works.  And yet although we would seem to be living through a golden age of instrumental and vocal performance, to judge by the likes of the current production on which the Met’s latest presentation of Wozzeck is centered, we would seem to be simultaneously living through a tin age of opera shew-running.  Whence emanates the discrepancy in quality?  This discrepancy, at least so it presently seems to the present writer, seems at least in the main to emanate from a deflatingly prosaic discrepancy in the degree of amenability to improvement between the two lines of cultural production.  In instrumental musical performance, there has always been room for technical improvement as composers reliably continue to write works—e.g., the just-mentioned violin concerto—that are too technically demanding for the best instrumentalists of their day; and to a lesser but still pronounced extent as instrumentalists absorb the insights of their predecessors, an absorption that has presumably become more and more thorough and exacting over the past century with the ever-increasing expansion of the archive of recorded performances.  Vis-à-vis the performance of vocal music the prevalence and perdurability is at least slightly more disputable; how, after all, is one to explain that Schoenberg deliberately composed his most technically challenging piece of vocal music, the soprano concert aria “Herzgewächse,” for a vocal range exactly as extensive as that of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, for if he was willing to wait for the human pinkie to evolve to play his violin concerto, why should he not have been willing to wait for the human larynx to evolve to sing a song with an even broader range than that of the Queen of the Night—why not, indeed, if he did not presume that the human larynx, unlike the human pinkie, was destined to undergo no further exploitable evolution?  For all that, it is aurally observable that there has been at least a modest improvement in the overall quality of singing in the past half-century, such that the listener is generally benefited from hearing live or in new recordings the most celebrated vocalists of today alongside recordings of the most celebrated vocalists of yesteryear.  That such improvements on the performative end of musical production will continue into the indefinite or even the near-term future seems unreasonable to assume not only and most obviously on account of presumably insurmountable limitations to the human organism qua vehicle of performance—to the presumptive fact that both the pinkie and the larynx, how ever well nourished or exercised, will eventually be incapable of becoming suppler or more articulate (except, perhaps, through cybernetic means [but by all means let us not go thither of all places])—but also, and probably even more materially definitively, because composers have ceased to produce works that mutatis mutandis present technical challenges equal to those of the likes of Wozzeck, works that require performers to play them badly before they play them well.  This is not to say that there are not new compositions that present such technical challenges, but that none of these new technically challenging compositions enjoy the pride of place among musicians that the likes of Wozzeck enjoyed nine-tenths of a century ago.  In 1930 the American premiere of Wozzeck was conducted by Leopold Stokowski, then the most famous conductor in the world barring Toscanini and soon to be a collaborator with the most notoriously successful peddler of cinematically animated kitsch in the world, Walt Disney; in 1999 the world premiere of Elliott Carter’s What Next?, the most conspicuous heir apparent to Wozzeck in technical terms, was conducted by Daniel Barenboim, then at most the tenth-most-famous conductor in the world and a musician whose biggest pop-cultural splash had been his portrayal by an obscure character actor in a moderately financially successful biopic of his deceased wife, the cellist Jacqueline du Pré.  In general to the limited extent that today’s most celebrated serious musicians—and I am thinking here in particular of the abovementioned Mss. Hahn and Dinnerstei—have been interested in commissioning new works, they have sought out composers working in a technically-cum-expressively regressive idiom; most often an idiom consisting of a combination of unwaveringly diatonic minimalism and pseudo-folk-derived chromaticism; this perhaps because however ardently they may yearn for more demanding works they yearn even more ardently to be more accessible to some phantom bobo audience who unaccountably actually care about hearing the sort of kitschy aural pabulum available on tap from their local pub’s open mic night’s shittiest strummer or fiddler played by an artist who can and should know and do quasi-infinitely better.  Of course, if these artists had any sense—note that I write sense and not integrity, inasmuch as I believe that the aggrandizement of their own reputations is ultimately as much in point here as any duty to the music itself, whatever that music may be—they would give over trying to compete with their pop-cum-pseudo-folk-orientated counterparts and commission works from composers generally guaranteed to come up with something that is too difficult to sight-read and that therefore impels them to improve their technique.  But of course I am being more than a bit too hard on these most celebrated serious musicians for the purpose of the present digression, which purpose was after all to shew that they were far superior to their official counterparts in the domain of opera show-running, who in contrast to them (this was, by the way, the point to be highlighted by the digression) have long since lost all wiggle-room for technical-cum-expressive improvement.  They have lost this wiggle-room, in the first and perhaps foremost place, because opera show-running has never been an art in the restrictive sense in which violin-playing or piano-playing or singing or composing or even conducting is an art.  Nobody has ever discovered, or had imposed on him or her at his or her earliest infancy, a calling to become an opera show-runner as many a body has discovered or had imposed on him or her at his or her earliest infancy a calling to become a violinist aut al. (aut etc.), and thereby been compelled from earliest infancy onwards to work night and day at becoming as good an opera show-runner as possible in the manner that would-be violinists aut al.’s (aut etc.’s) have always been compelled to work night and day at becoming etc.; rather, one starts out pursuing some other sort of art or no art whatsoever and gets roped, or deliberately ropes oneself into, the practice of show-running operas.  A plurality, or perhaps even a slight majority, of opera show-runners have started out as actors and directors for the non-operatic stage, but a goodly proportion of them have hailed from such wildly unstageworthy lines of work as medicine (Jonathan Miller) and filmmaking (W***y A***n).  Hardly any of them have started out as aspiring professional musicians.  In describing opera show-running and opera show-runners in these admittedly implicitly unflattering terms, I by no means wish it to be understood that I take a dim view of opera-show-running as an ignoble pursuit eo ipso; for to the contrary, in the absence of opera show-runners no operas ever could have been simultaneously seen and heard by anyone anywhere, which would have been a sad loss in ca. 1790, ca., 1890, and even ca. 1990 if not necessarily now (more on this anon).  At the same time, from this description it must be clear that opera show-running does not require anything in the way of dedicated expertise in the way that the three activities in whose absence opera would not exist at all—namely, composing,  singing, and playing a musical instrument—do.  The opera show-runner can bring to bear on the presentation of his assigned or appropriated opera ideas drawn from his own bailiwick or indeed any other bailiwick under the sun provided that he can prevail upon the other material human forces involved in the presentation to accept these ideas.  At the same time2, it cannot be denied that the archive of opera show-running constitutes a body of work just as surely as the operatic repertoire itself does, an archive that is as open to consultation as that repertoire (is).  And such being the case, the latest show-runner of a given opera cannot but be tempted to one-up each and every one of his predecessors to whatever extent he is able within the scope of the bailiwick he brings to bear on the presentation of that opera, to overload the particular opera-show that he is running with every trick up his sleeve that has not been exploited by preceding presenters of that particular opera.  To be sure, there was a moment almost exactly a century ago—a  moment therefore coinciding almost exactly with the world premiere of Wozzeck—when developments in operatic show-running seemed to be moving in lock-step with developments in the abovementioned truly existentially indispensable components of opera.  Thus when Wozzeck was new, it, like most other works theretofore produced by the Schoenberg school, was regarded as an expressionistic composition and by chance or design received a premiere with expressionistic Edward Munch-esque painted backdrops.  Whether musical expressionism ever had much in common with painterly expressionism is debatable; certainly Schoenberg’s own bewilderingly beguiling paintings put the viewer in mind of the sound-world of his musical corpus, but they are hardly typical expressionistic canvases.  At any rate, by all admittedly spotty accounts, the initial expressionistic staging worked well for Wozzeck, and while not all subsequent successful presentations of the work could be described as expressionistic, all of them have inherited from the first one a certain salutary austerity and simplicity, a tendency to pare away everything that might impair the viewer-cum-listener’s ability to follow the work’s dramaturgical arc.  My favorite production, the late-80s Vienna State Opera one, might most aptly be described as one of minimalistic naturalism, inasmuch as while its costumes are all quite verisimilitudinously detailed, its sets are all quite unverisimilitudinously schematic, self-evidently designed with the aim of merely conveying where the scene immediately to eye and ear is taking place.  The Met’s present singularly unfortunate production I would describe in the phraseology of a certain Radio 4 panel show guest, an art critic whose name has regrettably long since escaped me, as an essay in academic postmodernism.   Academic postmodernism is the kind of art that over the past thirty years we have come to expect by default in museums thanks to the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin—a kind of art characterized by the laziest sort of semiotic laissez-faire-ism, essentially by the ad-nauseam visual quotation of the iconography of earlier artistic traditions, pseudo-traditions, and sub-traditions without any regard for their mutual semiotic interrelation.  It is postmodernist in virtue of its semiotic heterogeneity, which heterogeneity in itself is not objectionable provided that is subservient to some sense of purposive form (my norm here is the better portion of the musical corpus of Alfred Schnittke, in which the styles of earlier periods are evoked only at strategically significant points), and it is specifically academic postmodernism because of its laziness and because it is now the long-established museal status quo despite its willful unintelligibility.  One is never bemused or bewildered by exhibits of academic postmodernist art because bemusement and bewilderment are contingent on curiosity, on the will to understand, and one knows from the start that there is nothing to understand in connection with these works, that they have been conceived from the start with an eye merely to fulfilling the criterion for exhibition-worthiness—viz., semiotic heterogeneity.  And in the light of the specifically academic character of this postmodernism, my shock on seeing it applied to Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera last month seems more than a bit gormless in hindsight.  To be sure, the Metropolitan Opera, the Other Old Gray Lady of New York, was almost duty-bound to be slow to embrace a postmodernist opera show-running ethos.  But once, ca. five years ago, the postmodernist ethos had become a definitively academic ethos, once it had become the uncontested museal status quo with no rival in its remotest offing, once it had become as definitively functionally dead as the outermost skin cells of a centenarian’s big toe-calluses, why, then the Metropolitan Opera qua Other Old Gray Lady of New York was almost duty-bound to throw itself into the arms of that ethos like—well, I don’t know; perhaps like Whistler’s newly transitioned trans-father alacritously anally engaging with C*****n J****r in a MOMA-enshrined double portrait; from that moment onwards the dearth of postmodern productions from the Met’s stage must have seemed to Met general manager Peter Gelb at al. as embarrassingly retardataire as the counterfactual absence of touchtone telephones from the company’s administrative offices.  And as far as the present writer is concerned, the Met can put on academic postmodernist productions of its core repertoire until the gender-queer cattle come home in wellies, inasmuch as he regards that repertoire as aesthetically nugatory piffle that is impervious to either elevation or degradation by any means apart from the quality of the playing and singing involved.  As far as the present writer is concerned, the entire canon of bel canto, all those operas by the likes of Bellini and Donizetti, might as well never have been composed had they not attracted the vocal attention of Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti, whose best versions of their arias he can in any case listen to at his pleasure without even having to wade through a complete three-CD set of Norma, I Puritani, autc., let alone sit through a complete kinescope or videotape performance thereof.  But Wozzeck is an opera he cares deeply about, and it pains him to see it made dramaturgical mincemeat of merely for the sake gratifying not even so comparatively noble a creature as the whim of a misguided but enthusiastic show- runner—say, the Peter Sellars of ca. 1985—but rather the sub-ignoble zombie of artistic conformism.  And he is pained not only or even principally on his own behalf but also and principally on behalf of the tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people who in going to see Wozzeck at the Met are approaching this masterpiece-cum-significant contribution to Occidental intellectual history as an entirely new or at most highly unfamiliar work and who are all-but-ineluctably bound to come away from the Met’s present presentation with the impression that Wozzeck in its essence is as chaotic, as incoherent, as the semiotic landscape of this presentation, that the landscape of the presentation is indeed tantamount to a perfect rendition of that chaotic, incoherent essence.  Such an impression is well-nigh ineluctably to be come away with by the newcomer because while the musical language of Wozzeck has long since become second nature to the work’s principal empirical producers, to singers and instrumentalists, this language has yet to become even tertiary nature to the work’s principal empirical consumers, to opera-goers and listeners and viewers of recordings of operas.  A case in what will ineluctably be thought of as all-too-convenient point (but so be it-stroke-f**k it) is the reaction of the friend with whom I took in last month’s Met HD presentation.  This friend is both an anciently ardent fan of Mahler and Dick Strauss and an anciently ardent anti-fan of the entire so-called Second Viennese School.  He has never been able to sit through anything by Schoenberg himself, let alone by Webern, and has always found Lulu thoroughly off-putting.  But by this or that same token he has always maintained a tentatively sympathetic placelet in his heart for Wozzeck, has always at least grudgingly acknowledged that he can at least understand why somebody might be moved by that work to the same extent that he himself is moved by the works of Mahler and Dick Strauss.  Howbeit, after watching that Met HD presentation he remarked to me that that presentation, the first visual presentation of Wozzeck he had yet encountered, led him to believe that he had always overestimated Wozzeck, that while the several audio recordings of Wozzeck he had heard had led him to conjecture that it was a work imbued with great meaning and pathos, the presentation we had just seen led him to the contrary to conjecture that it amounted to nothing but a lot of affectively neutral meaningless noise.  So whereas before spectating on this bisensory presentation of Wozzeck he had been on the royal road to appreciating Wozzeck in all its actual glory thanks to a purely aural presentation of it, now he was on the plebian road to consigning Wozzeck to the same fictitious rubbish heap to which he had (wrongly to be sure) preemptively consigned all the other works of the SVS.  Obviously any manner of presentation of an opera (or indeed of any other so-called work of art) that impedes its appreciation and understanding by someone as favorably disposed to appreciate and understand it as my friend has been to appreciate and understand Wozzeck is pernicious from the point of view of anyone but that opera’s would-be effective utter destroyers, its would-be buriers in utter oblivion.  But such would-be destroyers-cum-buriers in oblivion is what the Met’s current crop of show-runners undeniably are, however much at their insu.  In this connexion I am reminded of the third of Robert Conquest’s laws of politics: “The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies,” not so much in connection with the Met considered in isolation—if it even can be considered in isolation in any so-called meaningful sense—or even with the opera show-running industry considered in isolation, as with the entire high-cultural show-running industry, which is undeniably tantamount to a mighty bureaucratic organization comparable in personnel size if not in budget to one of the larger U.S. federal governmental agencies.  The present writer admits to having always found Conquest’s Third Law a bit shy if not quite wide of the mark in the light of his own experience of bureaucratic organizations, an experience that tends rather to confirm Max Weber’s assertion that such organizations are self-perpetuating and self-ramifying—i.e., inter alia, that they are controlled by their friends rather than by their enemies, and that, in the words of a judicious corrector of Conquest, in the case of each such organization the controllers direct their enmity towards the stated purpose of the organization rather than towards the organization itself.  Thus the stated purpose of the high-cultural show-running industry is the transmittal to the present of the best that has been thought, said, and wrought in dramaturgical terms in the past, and yet as instanced by the present Met presentation of Wozzeck, it seems to be controlled by people who wish to do everything in their power to impede this transmittal.  These controllers diabolically cloak their willful impedance in the language of altruism by purporting to be making the works in their care fresher and more relevant to today’s audience—all the while knowing that it is it they themselves rather than today’s audience who have grown tired of and out of touch with these works, which they have in general never appreciated in the first place, as they have in turn in general never been placed in a position requiring them to confront the works on the works’ own terms, as artifacts in the fullest, richest sense, as repositories of objectified historically conditioned experience—or in plainer terms, as crafted but fundamentally inert things that can only be brought to life via the excavation of what was actually put into them at the moment of their fabrication.  If the destiny of the great dramaturgically conceived works of the past were entirely and permanently in the hands of the high-cultural show-running industry, we who love these works would indeed have cause to vomit our own hands in despair.  Happily, as suggested by the very recent moribundity or even outright demise of too many bureaucratic quasi-organizations to be named, there is at least unbad reason to suppose that in contravention of the present writer’s previous experience Conquest’s Third Law holds true in a strong sense and that it will soon be borne out in the fortunes of the high-cultural show-running industry, that this industry will simply disintegrate in face of the manifest general awareness that it has no desire to fulfill its stated purpose or even to perpetuate itself, that it continues to exist simply in order to line the pockets of a passel of short term-minded pirates who have no interest (either financial or affective) in sticking around long enough to inculcate the cadges of their mystery into a succeeding generation of show-runners.  To be sure, as long as these pirates remain alive and in business, intelligent but naïve seekers after the best that has been thought, said, and wrought in dramaturgical terms in the past will continue to seek out such abominations as the Met’s latest Wozzeck and the RSC’s latest travesty of a Shakespeare play in the delusory belief that they are thereby getting as close as possible to that selfsame best; and a goodly proportion of these intelligent naifs will subsequently erroneously conclude that the bilge served up to them by the pirates is that selfsame best and will consequently give over taking any interest whatsoever (affective or otherwise) in that selfsame best for the respective durations of their respective naturals.  But once these pirates are safely slumbering forever after in Davy Jones’s bosom, such intelligent naifs will be compelled to acquaint themselves with this selfsame best via the audiovisual dramaturgical archive thereof, and they will in every respect be all the better off for the supervention of this compulsion.  In the case of Shakespeare they will be algorithmically directed to such yeomanly serviceable realizations as the BBC’s 1980s survey of the complete plays and Trevor Nunn’s quasi-contemporaneous TV adaptations of three of the four great tragedies; in the case of Wozzeck etc. (the c. naturally comprising the at-most butchers double-dozen other operas actually worth paying any attention to) to the cream of the studio recordings and video-tapings made between the late 1960s and, say, the late 20-oughties.  Of course even under the auspices of this  post-piratic dispensation, the Met’s latest presentation of Wozzeck will figure among the audiovisual choices offered, and if in point of viewerly-cum-listenerly hits it happens to come out on top of the to-my-mind immeasurably superior likes of the aforementioned 1987 Vienna State Opera presentation and Pierre Boulez’s 1966 double LP starring Walter Berry (to my mind still the ultimate Wozzeck, at least in exclusively vocal terms), why, then, this will just go to show either that the people really do imponderably regard this as the most faithful realization of Wozzeck, or even more discouragingly that they have a higher regard for academic postmodernism than for anything that pre-academic modernism ever had to offer.

THE END

Friday, January 10, 2020

A Translation of Ein Jahr mit Thomas Bernhard by Karl Ignaz Hennetmair. Part IV: May and June


A Year with Thomas Bernhard: The Sealed 1972 Diary


May 1, 1972

Thomas came by at 7:00 p.m.  I asked him right away if he was running away from Janko Musulin, because he wrote that he was going to be visiting him on May 1.  But Thomas didn’t want to meet up with him.  When somebody pays you a visit as early as 10:30 in the morning and you’re in the middle of polishing your shoes, you can’t run away anymore, said Thomas.  I didn’t think that Musulin would be coming so early; I wanted to get away right away.  Naturally I later gave him my opinion about Zuckmayer’s book, because Musulin didn’t believe that I was actually ill.  Lernet-Holenia will now write the review of the Henndorfer Pastorale.  I told Musulin that I couldn’t write the review because he insults my grandparents when he writes that he sweetened my lugubrious childhood with chocolate.  I by no means had a lugubrious childhood; to the contrary, I was downright spoiled by my grandparents and so I grew up like any other boy there.  Everything else that didn’t sit right with me and wasn’t accurate, which of course I have already told you about, I also told Musulin about.

Then Thomas said that he had taken down his red curtains because those colors were detrimental to his well-being in each room.  One should have completely monotone, inconspicuous curtains in one’s rooms, said Thomas.  Yours are also really irritating; those patterns are noxious.  I said: they’re not noxious; on top of that we’ve actually grown quite accustomed to them.  What you just said is wrong, said Thomas.  A person can also get used to a narcotic drug, and yet it’ll still be noxious; the fact that he’s accustomed to it is absolutely irrelevant.  These curtains cost several thousand schillings; I can’t change them now.  But when I do need new curtains, I’ll take your advice and buy calm curtains with no patterns, I said.  So from now on shopping for curtains won’t be so difficult, because the simplest are the best.  Then Thomas said he’d read through the note from Mrs. Schmied again and that he’d now found out that her sister had come to visit her and the six men in her bed were probably guests of her sister Ilse, because she had often stayed with guests in the Schmieds’ house in the Lederau, etc.

Then Thomas started talking about Peymann again, and among other things he said that Peymann had laughed very scornfully when Kaut said to him that it would be a real feather in Peymann’s cap if he became director of the Salzburg Festival.  Karajan’s been aching for that position for 15 years.  Whereupon Peymann said, Ha, ha, ha.  You know, Kaut isn’t used to being around a person like that, a person who treats him like that.

We also agreed that I’d try to be at Thomas’s house in Nathal when the head of the mining society came at about 10:00 a.m.  Thomas stayed till 10:30 p.m.


May 2, 1972

At 8:00 in the morning I went with Thomas to the Ohlsdorf post office.  He said that at the town hall he’d said that he’d be at home at 9:00.  That now he unconditionally had to go to Gmunden.  I told Thomas that I’d come to his house at that time.  That I’d have taken care of my bits of business in Gmunden by about 9:00.

Then I was at Thomas’s house in Nathal at 9:15 a.m.  He said that he was already having some inferior trees chopped down in his newly purchased woods and that he was going to set up enough pasture fence to enclose about an acre at the Krucka.  His female neighbor is allowed to have two heads of cattle there and in exchange must help him look after a head of young cattle.  There’s enough feed and room in the stall there for three head of cattle.  Then, he says, the Krucka will also be exploited and he won’t have to do any work there.

Because after 10:00 the head of the mining society still hadn’t arrived and I had a fair amount of work to do around the house, I drove back home after an hour.  Thomas asked me to come to him immediately if I saw a car from Salzburg that the head of the mining society might be in.  I agreed to do so.

Thomas also let me read a letter from the minister of education that he had just received.  The letter was two pages long, dated 4/28, and Sinowatz wrote that he had successfully made some inquiries.  That the drilling site is 380 meters from the house, and that negotiations about the drilling site would be taking place first.  That Thomas would have an opportunity to make his objections.  That the extent to which these objections could be sustained would be carefully considered, and that no matter what he’d able to avail himself of all the appeals courts.  That he, Sinowatz, had sent a copy to Staribacher, the foreign minister, and the head of the mining society in Salzburg.  That no matter what he wasn’t going to be rolled over by an automatic mechanism.  I made a mental note of this last sentence right away; the rest I voided from my memory.  At the conclusion Sinowatz wrote that in the event of further difficulties he should turn to him again immediately.  He signed under “Warm regards.”

As I was handing the letter back to Thomas, I drew his attention to a spelling error on the second page.  Rohöhlgewinnung A. G. [crude oil company, inc.] appears there.  Because Roh is spelled with an h, it’s easy to be misled into spelling Öl with an h as well.  I write; if I honed my skills, I’d probably also make this error.  I’d even be inclined to say that I’m constantly writing it with an h, because that’s actually constantly been happening in my uncorrected notes.  Thomas said, that’s a mistake, when I drew his attention to this error in the minister of education’s letter.  Naturally, I said; every mistake is an error.  Then we also discussed that happy turn of phrase “not be rolled over by an automatic mechanism.” He obviously can’t write that you’ll be rolled over by the law, but one could also say the law instead of automatic mechanism.

At 12:30 p.m. Thomas came to my house and said that he had just had lunch at Pabst’s.  There’s nobody but blacks there.  The landlady’s sister and her mother are now also working at the guesthouse and are also as black as the young landlady whom Pabst has brought back with him from Hawaii.  But it occurs to him that there are fewer guests there now.   The slip of paper from Mitterbauer doesn’t come during lunch either anymore.

What’s the news about the head of the mining society, I asked.  Right after you left, said Thomas, Mrs. Maxwald came and informed me that the town government had called, that the head of the mining society had told Ohlsdorf town hall by phone that he would be coming this coming Thursday at two in the afternoon.  So I’d like to ask you to make sure you’re there too.  I told Thomas that I would be, and at 3:15 Thomas left me again.

At 7:00 Thomas came back.  He told me that he had written a letter to Kaut.  Quite short and matter-of-fact.  Then Thomas recited its text to me, and as he did so he gave special emphasis to the period of each sentence.  For example: “Have obtained the house for Peymann, which is maintained by a single woman, a full six weeks ago in Pfaffstätt, 35 km from Salzburg, period.  I’d like to take this opportunity to say that for me Peymann, Ganz, Hermann, Bickel, et al., all of them listed by name, constitute the optimal team, period.  Please reserve me three tickets for the premiere, period.  I will show up a few times during the rehearsal; otherwise I don’t intend to let myself be seen, period.”  In the closing, said Thomas, I haven’t written “very warmly,” but rather “with friendly regards,” so that it’ll come across as a bit cooler.

Then Thomas went on to talk about his comedy More Luck than Brains; he said that that was a very good title that would someday be as familiar as What You Will.  Then Thomas told me that he had also received a letter from Unseld and that the new edition of Frost had been sent off in the same mailing.  I’ll be receiving that book tomorrow.  It looks very nice in blue, said Thomas.

We also discussed my work scheduled for tomorrow morning, so that Thomas knew that I wouldn’t have any time for him tomorrow and that in the evening I’ll be going to my gym class.  At 10:15 p.m. Thomas drove home.


May 3, 1972

At 10:00 a.m. I ran into Thomas in my patch of woods next to the street.  He had waylaid the postman and was furious that they’d sent him another book instead of Frost, namely a book by Bert Brecht from Suhrkamp Publications.  I told him: Of course you’re constantly heaping abuse on people and on your publishing firm, saying that they’re stupid and do everything the wrong way.  Now you’ve just proved yourself right once again.  Thomas nodded, waved the book in the air, and silently concurred with me.

We kept talking for a little while longer.  Thomas told me that the Hufnagls had gotten married again a few weeks ago and were now on their honeymoon in Italy.  When they came here last Thursday they had gotten married again the day before, Wednesday, without telling anybody.  Of course you know, said Thomas, that they only agreed to get divorced way back when because she thought I was going to marry her.  I don’t know how in the world she ever could have thought something like that.  But I didn’t learn about it directly from her but rather from Mrs. Pauser.

So we’ll see each other at 2:00 tomorrow afternoon at the latest.  I’ll come to your house then, on account of the mounty-head [i.e., the Berghauptmann, the abovementioned head of the mining society (DR)], I said to Thomas as we were going our separate ways.  (Around here the natives say mounty [Beri] instead of mountain [Berg], as in a mounty meadow, etc., and so Thomas and I like to use these dialectal expressions in a broader context, which the natives wouldn’t do.)


May 4, 1972

At 2:00 p.m. I was at Thomas’s house.  It wasn’t until 3:00 that a few people associated with Prezelj’s, the head of the mining society’s, inspection, which was scheduled for 2:00, came into view.  Until then we were in the courtyard in the sun, and Thomas said to me that he hadn’t ever received an invitation to the ceremony for the awarding of the Wildgans prize to Ingeborg Bachmann.  Of course last time they had canceled the ceremony for Thomas completely and had just sent the prize money.  And now they’re not inviting me to the ceremony for the next prizewinner either. 

Because Thomas is planning to leave for Vienna immediately after meeting with the commission, after 3:00, when we saw the commission in the distance, he said that he’d really like to take off.  Because when somebody says they’re coming at 2:00, it’s enough to wait for an hour.  Then Thomas asked me to drive up to the commission; he said that he couldn’t do that, I had to see what was going on.  As I was driving by them I could tell just from their gestures that Secretary Möser and the head of the mining society had won over Baldinger, and I also concluded this because I had previously said hello to the crude-oil gentlemen, who were holding themselves aloof, and exchanged a few words with them.

After that I drove to Thomas’s house and told him that it would be better if I weren’t present when they came into his house.  Because if I were then he could put them blame on me if there were any allegations against the steps he had taken.  I got the feeling that it wasn’t going to be possible to stop the drilling, because I’d heard that they were only going to drill for ten days.  Then Thomas himself had no problem with the drilling, because everything will be over after ten days and nights.  Immediately after that Thomas left for Vienna, because Thomas’s aunt had made him an appointment to have a checkup at the Baumgartner Höhe Clinic tomorrow, Friday.  This coming Sunday or Monday Thomas will return with his aunt.  Thomas also asked me if during his absence I’d randomly check in on the decortication of the felled trees in the woods and if I’d take care of the courtyard as well.  Perhaps he’s worried that students could do him some mischief.  He wants to make sure that no matter what I keep an eye on the courtyard and drive over a few times.

I had drawn off four liters of cider as we were waiting for the commission.  It’s already running very thin out of the barrel, and when he’s back from Vienna he’ll tap a new one.


May 10, 1972

Today Thomas came back from Vienna with his aunt.  He came over towards 4:00 in the afternoon.  My spouse told him that at 9:00 in the morning I’d met with Moidele Bickel and Herrmann from Berlin in order to inspect the accommodations for during the festival.  That nevertheless I still hadn’t gotten back yet.  Whereupon Thomas said he’d come again later.  But because I got back from Salzburg only a half an hour later, I drove to Thomas’s house at Nathal right away.  The gate was open and the car was there, but nobody was home.  So Thomas must have gone for a walk with his aunt.  I walked around the house and ran into Thomas his aunt at the fire station.  Thomas asked me to join them for one or two hours.

First I had to tell him how things had gone in Salzburg.  Mrs. Bickel and Hermann were crazy about the accommodations.  They had already known about his letter to Peymann.  Thomas was glad that I had also shown them Mattighofen, so that they’d also know right away where the nearest market to the house was.  Because if you come from Salzburg, you have no idea that there’s such a fine market town three kilometers away.  Then I had to brief him on the work with the timber that had since taken place.  Ferdl didn’t show up for work, but his neighbor Ennsberger had brought along a work colleague who worked so diligently that even in the well-shaded woods, in the cool wind, sweat was dripping from his forehead.  I could even report to Thomas on the exact working hours, because I’d stopped by for a look several times.  Then I said to Thomas that I hadn’t spoken with Bickel Hermann at all about the theater or their own work in the theater, or about his play either, because I noticed right away that both of them had had enough of their own trade and preferred to relax.  I told Thomas that I had only told him that he had written a letter to Kaut and in that letter had described all the collaborators by name as the optimal team.  But otherwise they won’t see Bernhard much in Salzburg.  The author will only stop by twice for a look; he’ll view the general rehearsal and won’t be attending the premiere.

So after an hour we had already reached Aichlham; it was Thomas’s turn to do some reporting.  I had long since noticed that Thomas was waiting to report on how his checkup had turned out.  But because I wanted to learn exactly what the results were, I didn’t ask him about them, because in the event that everything wasn’t in order, he might answer that question curtly and vaguely.  On the other hand, if Thomas reports on it himself, of his own volition, he’ll talk about it quite precisely.  For the sake of not actually beginning with his checkup at the clinic in Vienna, Thomas told me that he had received a letter in which the German Academy for Language and Literature had informed him that he had been inducted as a corresponding member.  The new president, Böll, proposed him back at the time of the Büchner Prize, and now he’s probably made this happen.

But right afterwards Thomas started talking about his checkup and said that he had been examined more thoroughly than ever before and that not a trace of a growth at the site of his old operation had been found.  The doctors themselves were very interested in the follow-up checkup because they had succeeded in getting rid of this rare “Böck,” a benign tumor for which there’s no method of completely curing in the professional literature.  The only important thing for me was to be sure that a very painstaking checkup that certified that he was in good health had taken place.  The doctors said that he was completely healthy, that he couldn’t be healthier.   At the time of the operation things really reached a crisis point, because even a specialist hadn’t recognized the “Böck.”  I can still hear Thomas’s dry cough to this day.  He didn’t have it when he left for the checkup.  So the cough he had could only have been the symptom of an early stage of a “bock”; accordingly I found a painstaking checkup a great source of relief.  But then we got right back round to talking about his appointment as a corresponding member of the German Academy for Language and Literature, and Thomas declared that he wouldn’t reply to this letter for a very long time, because he had to consider carefully whether or not to accept this appointment.  It could be that this membership came with expensive membership dues, in which case accepting it would be completely out of the question for him.  I regarded this as unthinkable, and said that if anything an honorarium would be paid to the members.  Here Aunt Hede also intervened in the conversation quite a bit, because according to her lights it was impossible for Thomas to plan to put off replying to this letter any longer.  I stuck by Thomas and said that he was right.  He can even answer a few months from now.  Thomas doesn’t want to spoil anything for himself by declining, but he also doesn’t want to incur any obligations by accepting.  Thomas’s aunt insisted on his coming to a quick decision and accepting the membership.

At this point Thomas slackened his pace so that Aunt Hede could walk ahead of us by herself.  By then it was 6:30 p.m., and the evening coolness forced Aunt Hede to walk quickly, because she was pretty sensitive to cold.  Thomas took advantage of this, and once Aunt Hede was out of earshot, Thomas told me that the basic outline of his new novel Correction had come to him in Vienna.  The novel’s plot will take place over the course of just three days.  An Austrian man returns from living abroad with the intention of staying in Austria and never leaving this country again, because he has such fond memories of his homeland.  But after three days he realizes that so much has changed, that everything is so execrable, that it’s impossible to put up with living in Austria, and so he leaves Austria with the intention of never returning to it.  You know, said Thomas, in these three days I can find a place for everything I want, everything.  I won’t shrink from mentioning people like the mayor of Vienna, Slavik, by name.  Also all the rest, like the minister of education, I’ll mention all of them by name.  But everything that happens in it will make all my earlier things pale by comparison. I’ll describe the whole horrifying state of affairs that we’ve got here, this whole perversity, and the title Correction will be apt for two reasons.  Because on the one hand my main character will correct his view of Austria in three days and I myself will vigorously correct my earlier assertions.  They’ll see what’s coming from me there and also be surprised by it.

Then we caught back up with his aunt.  Thomas stayed behind at his neighbor Ennsberger’s house in order to discuss additional work in the woods, and from there I went to his farmhouse with just Aunt Hede.  Mrs. Stavianicek didn’t have a key to the front door, and she was shivering a lot.  She said: Thomas has obviously got to come right away, because he obviously knows that I’ve got no key and that I’m very cold.  But you know how Thomas is, I said, Thomas “hasn’t got” to do anything at all.  Take a seat in my car, and we’ll get the key from Thomas.

We drove towards Thomas, and when we were halfway to Ennsberger’s, we crossed paths with him. He gave us the key, and once Aunt Hede was in the kitchen she started making semolina porridge, because on account of her stomach trouble she’s not allowed to eat anything else.  Thomas said that she should make a double portion, that he was also very happy to eat semolina porridge, by which he meant semolina pudding.

By then it was 7:25.  And so I said my goodbyes very quickly, so that I could still watch the news at home.  I also told Thomas that my daughter Elfriede would be getting married on the 12th and that I would be in St. Nikolai im Sausal from the 13th to the 16th, so that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for a while.


May 17, 1972

Towards two in the afternoon Dr. Wieland Schmied came to see me with Wolf Jobst Siedler of 76 Lindenstrasse, Berlin, the president of Ullstein Publications (at the Propylaea).  Schmied was looking for his wife and for Thomas.  Neither was at home.  He was hoping to run into his wife at Thomas’s.  Because Siedler has to drive back to Munich, he won’t have a car, and if Thomas isn’t there, I’m supposed to take him to Lederau towards evening.  The later the better, he says, because by then his wife is sure to be at home.

Because Siederl was interested in purchasing a farmhouse, we inspect a few objects with him until evening.  Because by seven Thomas still wasn’t home, I took Dr. Wieland Schmied to Lederau, where we find his wife with her mother.  Schmied left a message on Thomas’s gate before we left.


May 18, 1972

At eight in the morning I ran into Thomas in front of the Ohlsdorf post office.  He told me that he was just about to come see me to ask me about Schmied.  Schmied had written his message on the gate on the back of my business card, and so Thomas knew that I had been at his house with Schmied.  I told Thomas that I had shown Siedler the inside of his courtyard, and that to do this I had used the stowed key.  I know Siedler already, said Thomas.  Wolf Jobst Siedler’s his complete name.  Naturally I couldn’t show him the residential part other than the old farmer’s nook, because Thomas himself never lets anybody into it.  But three sides of the four-sided house aren’t taboo.

Thomas showed me a book that he had just received in the mail, a book entitled Somebody Who Writes.  Thomas proudly showed me the second page, where underneath a quotation from Goethe there’s a quotation from him:

I am not a writer, but rather somebody who writes

(Thomas Bernhard)

The designation of “writer” has always disgusted Thomas.  “Author” he can just barely stomach.  Before he had “farmer” stamped on his passport, I advised him to call himself an “odd-jobber.” In the light of his history of doing odd jobs he’d be entitled to do that.

Thomas also told me that he had been in Vienna and hadn’t got back till after midnight.  That at one in the morning he had seen that my car was still parked at Asamer’s tavern.  That was another tarot game that went on into the small hours, said Thomas.

I advised Thomas to drive to Schmied’s right away, before noon.  Then he’ll surely find Schmied, who’s a late sleeper; otherwise they’ll miss each other again.  You see, Thomas was planning to drive to the Krucka, because the pasture fence was finished and he had to take a look at it.  Yes, you’re right, said Thomas, I’ll drive over to Schmied’s right away; then I’ll have gotten it out of the way.  He drove to Schmied’s.



Obernathal 2 in 1968: an estate and the vehicle of its owner: Thomas Bernhard, farmer.

May 19, 1972

At nine in the morning Thomas came to see me in order to wait for the postman with me.  But I told Thomas that I had already picked up my mail at the post office and that therefore the postman wouldn’t be coming into the house.  When he sees my car he’ll surely come in, said Thomas.

Then he told me that last Friday and Saturday he had been visited by actors from Berlin who would be performing his play The Ignoramus and the Madman as soon as September 1 in Berlin.  On Friday evening he played “blackjack” with them at Pabst’s tavern in Laakirchen and relieved the theater people of almost all their money until it was three in the morning.  Then at three o’clock they no accommodations.  Then a master painter took them with him to Eisengattern where they could sleep in no-frills makeshift beds.  But they’d left their baggage at Thomas’s house in Nathal, and so they had to ride along without their things.  But at 3:00 a.m. Thomas naturally wasn’t prepared to take them home with him or to fetch their baggage, because then he’d never get rid of them.  As a matter of principle he doesn’t let people stay overnight at his house.  So far, apart from his Aunt Stavianicek nobody has ever spent the night at his house.  Thomas said that these big winnings were very awkward for him, because now he was going to be forced to pay for these people’s accommodations.  That he had booked them rooms for the next day at the Hotel Schwan in Gmunden.  But it’s over now; I’d rather not see anybody else this year.  The actors’ entire visit led to nothing.  Such visits are completely superfluous.  Why do actors need to meet the author?

By then it was 10a.m., and I showed Thomas a postcard from his Aunt Stavianicek that was in my mail.  The card came from Wolfsegg.  Because the postman must have left some time before, Thomas drove after him in his Rayon.  At 10p.m. Wieland Schmied came with his spouse.  Thomas is nowhere to be found, he said.  They’d been supposed to meet at Pabst’s at 7p.m., but Thomas hadn’t shown up.  He wasn’t at home either.  So then, he said, I thought I’d stop by your house.  At 11p.m. I’m leaving Attnang for Venice to see Hundertwasser; my wife is driving me to the train station.  But it’s still too early.  At 10:30p.m. the Schmieds set out for Attnang and left behind their regards for Thomas.

It also occurred to me that Thomas told me that today he was expecting a visit from Schaffler from Salzburg in the evening and that he had to “wash” the latter’s “hair.”  Dr. Schmied had also learned about this from Thomas, but he said: But Schaffler was supposed to come by midday; he made a date with us for the evening.


May 22, 1972

At 11:45a.m. the film director Ferry Radax came.  He wanted to pay Thomas Bernhard a short visit on his way from Germany to his farmhouse at No. 35 Schönbach in the Waldviertel.  As Thomas Bernhard wasn’t at home, he came to me to see if I knew where Thomas Bernhard was.  Radax told me that he’d prefer to shoot the footage for Frost in the Waldviertel near Schönbach, because the original location had since become so heavily built up that the area in the Waldviertel was better suited to the novel.  As were the houses, background actors, etc.  Only a few shots will have to be filmed in the area around Weng. We also talked about the fact that the area around Rappottenstein and Ritterkamp would be perfect for a film adaptation of Verstörung [Gargoyles].  Because I know that area well, I agree with Radax.  After about three-quarters of an hour, at 12:30p.m., Thomas Bernhard suddenly walked in through the front door.  Thomas had no idea that Radax was with me; he just wanted to tell me that he’d be coming to see me in the evening.  He said hello to Radax and told him that he didn’t have a minute to spare now because his aunt was expecting him for lunch at Wolfsegg.  That he was going to be accompanied by Mrs. Schmied, her daughter, and her mother.  That they were with the child at the Kirtag (the fair) in Ohlsdorf.  Mrs. Schmied had fallen onto the gravel and had bleeding abrasions on her knees and hands, and because of this he was already running late for the date at Wolfsegg, Thomas said.  He asked Radax to catch up with him at the Brandlhof in Wolfsegg later on.

At 12:45p.m. Radax left for Wolfsegg.  Before that he told me how the Grimme Prize award ceremony had gone and that he had heard from television that Thomas Bernhard had become a corresponding member of the German Academy for Language and Literature in Darmstadt.  I was surprised because Thomas hadn’t told me that he had accepted the offer.

At 8p.m. Thomas walked in while saying, “Thank God I’ve got this day behind me.”  I told Thomas right away that I had heard from Radax that he had become a corresponding member.  I said that if that was true he was one of those people like Hilde Spiel who accept every “postlet.”  I can’t believe that that’s true.  You’ll laugh, said Thomas; I accepted, and Hilde Spiel and Canetti are also corresponding members.  Why do you need this, what’s it good for? I asked.  I can’t waste my chances with the new president, said Thomas, and that’s why I wrote back right away that I was accepting.   Right after that came the public announcement.  As I keep making my way in the world I’ll need that.  In order to make your way in the world you’ve got to be able to walk on corpses, including even the corpse of a corresponding member.  You’ve simply got to be able to do that, to climb over such corpses.  Canetti and Spiel are obviously corpses; they’re all corpses, but in this case I’m even prepared to climb over my own corpse.  I’ve got to do that, because as I said, I’d rather not spoil my chances with the new president.  Because eventually you’ve just got to do something you really don’t want to do, but I won’t be taking on any obligations at all by doing this.  Besides, said Thomas, I’ve already turned down completely different things that you’d never have any idea of why I turned them down.

I settled for this explanation and told Thomas that the Schmieds had been here on Friday and asked him if he had washed Schaffler’s hair on Friday.  Yes, said Thomas, on Friday I was at Pabst’s in Laakirchen at 7p.m.  I left a note that I was there on the gate.  The Schmieds didn’t come; Schaffler found the note and came to Pabst’s at about 9p.m.  But anyway, as for what you may have imagined by my washing his hair, I’m not going to do that, because if I do I may need to find another tax adviser and make Schaffler into an enemy.  Dr. Schmied and Schaffler have already fallen out with each other.  That’s why Schmied didn’t come to Pabst’s, because he didn’t want to run into Schaffler.  Aha, I said, he told me that he was having his book about Arik Brauer published in Vienna by another publisher.  That’s why Schaffler is angry at him.  Yes, of course, Schaffler didn’t pay him what he wanted for the book, and so Schmied had the book published in Vienna by another publisher.  No, no, I didn’t wash Schaffler’s hair, but I did tell him that that stuff about me in that book by Zuckmayer, Henndorfer Pastorale would simply have to be taken out.  Schaffler said that that would be just fine, that he would publish a second edition right away, that he’d write to Zuckmayer immediately to tell him that that stuff would have to be taken out, that I demanded that.  Or at least my “sad” or “unhappy” boyhood will have to be described as “happy” instead.  Because I did have a happy boyhood.  On top of that I’ve drawn Schaffler’s attention to the typos in the book.  Stelzhamer with two ems and so forth; there’s really no excuse for stuff like that.

Then I said: You know, you really should have been invited to the snack reception in Henndorf; it’s naturally obvious that you wouldn’t have gone, but you should have gotten yourself invited.  Zuckmayer’s daughter would have blocked that, said Thomas; of course you know what I told you about the dog-whip way back when.  Someday that will make a fine biography of you, I said.  Then it will also be written that when you played “blackjack” with your visitors you took all their money away from them.  Nobody will believe that anyway, said Thomas, even if it’s in writing, because all biographies get the facts wrong and aren’t true.  On top of that, I couldn’t care less, because by then I won’t know anything about it.

Thomas went on to tell me that he had lunch at the Brandlhof in Wolfsegg and that Radax had still come there to have lunch with him.  On that Whitsunday he was sitting across and one table over from Governor Wenzl who was there with his wife and daughters and whom he was very angry at because this man hadn’t written a single line in reply to his letter about the oil-drilling.  Because Radax was sitting across from Thomas, the whole time Thomas was speaking with Radax, he saw the governor’s face in the background at the other table.  Thomas said that he’d told Radax pretty explicitly what mistakes had been made in the film version of The Italian, and because he also kept seeing the governor’s face, Radax had to suffer for that, because it spurred him on to criticize Radax even more harshly.  Among other things Thomas asked Radax to see to it that the contract for the film adaptation was signed by the ORF as soon as possible, because now that he’d come to think about it differently it seemed that Radax had written his screenplay for nothing.  He made it clear to Radax that nobody could write a screenplay based on his novel Frost in the absence of contractual protection and authorization.  Moreover, he said, when Radax had asked him how he’d like the screenplay, he’d answered that he’d only read a small part of it and was satisfied that the rest was exactly the same.  Besides, he’d continued, a screenplay on its own is still nothing; you can never say whether it’s good or bad because you can make a good film out of a bad screenplay and a bad film out of a good one.  But, he’d added, if the film is supposed to be shot this coming winter, it’s more than high time to start worrying about casting and begin our preparations.  Governor Wenzl looked intently over at Thomas several times, and Thomas got the impression that his daughter had told him who he was very early on.  As Governor Wenzl was on his way out of the restaurant, he begged Thomas for a greeting, as Thomas put it in his novella.  But as the governor was passing by Thomas, Thomas pointedly gazed at his plate and acted as if he didn’t notice.  Right after the governor had left the restaurant, the owner came up and said: Didn’t you recognize him?  That was the governor.  Of course I recognized him, said Thomas.  When the owner then spent a good bit of time talking with the governor in front of the building, Thomas said that he was probably being told about that as well.  But he really could have written a line or two in reply to my letter.  After all, that’s the least he, Wenzl, has got to do if some old lady with a pension writes to him.  And this whole business with the ORF is totally unacceptable as well, Thomas added.  I’m supposed to let a screenplay based on my novel be written in the absence of a contract or anything in the way of payment.  I tell you, they’re treating me worse than at a whorehouse.  At a whorehouse you can’t just walk in, consume everything on offer, and walk out the back door without paying.  But I told Radax that that would have to be taken care of as soon as possible; otherwise I’ll keep mulling things over and won’t agree to anything else.

A “Henndorf Snack Reception” in the traditional style. Those present at the launch party for Carl Zuckmayer’s Henndorf Pastorale included Gretrud Frank, Carl Zuckmayer, Clemens Holzmeister, Rudolf Bayr, Ingrid Oberascher, Wolfgang Schaffler, and some musicians.

I asked Thomas if he had been at the castle.  Yes, said Thomas, for coffee.  But the count wasn’t at home.  Of course the old countess and her two daughters were there.  It was just like it always is when only ladies are present, all the usual twittering.  Radax was there too.  Then he left for Schönbach in the Waldviertel at 6p.m.  Now that I’ve had a chance to observe him again for a few hours, I’m finding once again that I don’t like him at all.  Radax is an unacceptable director.  Of course I’ve already told him that I’d like to take a look at his house in the Waldviertel.  But just think about it, if he’s got to drive two-and-a-half hours from Vienna, he might as well just have something here.  On top of that, the man doesn’t belong in a hundred forty thousand-schilling car.  Why does he need a family car like that, such a ridiculously expensive car, just for himself?  There are certain high-class people who can own three Rolls Royces without attracting any attention.  At 7:30 I left Wolfsegg in turn and came directly to you.

It was 10:30 by the time Thomas left for his house, and he said he’d visit me again tomorrow evening.



May 23, 1972

At 6p.m. Thomas dropped by my house unexpectedly.  He usually comes at seven, and for a moment I was really annoyed.  Because although I really wanted to continue writing my long account of his Whitsun Monday, I instinctively cleared everything away barely five minutes earlier.  If he surprises me while I’m writing, it would be very easy for him to walk up to the typewriter and say: Let’s see, who are you writing to?  This time I had taken quite a lot of notes, and just shortly before then they were lying strewn all over the table.  This time I wouldn’t have cleared everything away as quickly.  In the winter it was easier; back then the doors to the house were shut, and he would have to stop in the vestibule to take off his coat or use the doormat.  A few times when he was doing that I disappeared with my papers just in the nick of time.  But now that the weather’s nice, he’s suddenly standing there in the doorway of the living room.

As he was walking in, Thomas said that he’d finished all his essential letters and that he had taken everything to the post office just before 6p.m.  He’d like to walk with me for an hour-and-a-half, up to the starting time of The Age in Images.  I was willing to do that, but first I showed him my 5/17/1972 letter from Ulrich and Vera Wildgruber of 98 Blumenfeldstrasse, Bochum 463, which I received today.

So we walked to Traun, Aupointen, Sandhäuslberg and back.  Thomas told me he’d finally sent the corrected script of The Ignoramus and the Madman to the publishing firm.  At the same time, he said, he had informed the firm that he didn’t want to hear or see anything else having to do with this thing.  Because the firm is going be getting incessant inquiries about this play.  He’s also frankly informed the firm that he won’t be attending the premiere in Salzburg.  He said that he’d have to shut himself off from the rest of the world until the end of the year in order to tackle his new prose work seriously.  I wrote something to that effect to Unseld.  This coming Friday I’ll go to Salzburg, because Unseld will be coming there.  I’ll still meet him there, but then things have got to stop; I’m determined to do some work now.   But then you’ll be writing into the dog days.  I plan to do just that, said Thomas.  I also wrote Frost in my swimming trunks.  I’d take a cold shower every two hours, and so I’ll do that again now with Correction

We get back from this walk just in time for The Age in Images.  Today I’d like to hear the news again, said Thomas.  (On Whitsun Monday he wasn’t in the mood to watch the news program that was just starting on German television.)  The Age in Images began with President Jonas’s reception of Chancellor Brandt at the Hofburg in Vienna.  Look, here are two conmen on display.  One of them is a typesetter.

The Thomas started talking about the letter from Mrs. Wildgruber, whose husband is acting in The Ignoramus in Salzburg.  He said that the letter was written in a totally unacceptable style.  It includes words and expressions like “encouraged” and “sorry to bother you,” and “may I hope for a tiny postcard reply from you?”  I had to show Thomas the letter once again.  He advised me to write back in the same style.  Come on, I’ll do it for you.  Thomas took the letter and read out an amusing reply in the same style.  I said to Thomas: Tomorrow I’ll write a very matter-of-fact, correct, clear letter of reply.  I’ll let you read it. 

Thomas wanted to see The Conversation with Günther Nenning and Elisabeth Mann Borghese at 9:05p.m. on Channel 2.  Until then we watch That’s Your Call!  During the interview with André Heller, Thomas said: It’s terrible, the way he’s dressed and the way he’s sitting in his chair.  Later, during the program with Günther Nenning, the latter was so bad and awkward and really unacceptable from the beginning that I expected a critical remark from Thomas at any moment.  Thomas followed the program intently.  In particular Elisabeth Mann Borgese’s mother [Katia Mann, Thomas Mann’s widow] spoke well, and it was only towards the end, when the interview with Mann Borgese had been airing for a while, that Thomas stirred.  I can’t keep watching Nenning; it’s insufferable.  But he’s the president of the journalists’ union.  They want to fire him as president; they’ve been wanting another one for the longest time.  He really deserves to be fired; I can’t watch him anymore.  Please switch it off.  Perhaps Thomas held his peace for so long because at the beginning of the broadcast the female announcer said that this was the first episode of a new series.  Thomas gave me a disconcerted look and said he agreed with me.  But perhaps he was secretly disturbed by the realization that he himself didn’t notice that right away, and that was why he held his peace for so long, until he couldn’t keep watching Nenning. 

Then towards 10:15 Thomas drove home.  We had already agreed during our walk that I’d pick up his mail at the post office at eight in the morning and meet him at the Café Brandl in Gmunden at 8:30.  At 7:00 tomorrow morning he’s got to take his VW in for inspection, and since he won’t be getting his car back from the garage until just before noon, in the interval the two of us will drive to the Krucka, walk around a bit, and at noon I’ll take him back to the garage.  I told my wife she should wake me up at 4:30 a.m. so that I could catch up on my writing.  Because if I’m going to spend another three-and-a-half hours with Thomas tomorrow, I’d like to have the old stuff written down before then; otherwise I’ll get everything mixed up, or I won’t remember anything at all anymore.  To Thomas, who heard this, I said: I’ve got some important letters to write.  As we were saying our goodbyes, Thomas once again reminded me of where we were supposed to meet tomorrow.

  
May 24, 1972

On my way to meet Thomas in Gmunden I stopped by the garage to check on Thomas’s car.  It was still parked in front of the washing carport and wasn’t being worked on yet.  I went straight to the boss, and he promised me that Bernhard’s car would be ready for pickup at 11:30.  When I drove up to the Café Brandl in Gmunden, I could see from the car that Thomas was settling up with the waitress.  He saw me and beckoned me over.  The previous day we agreed that on our way to the Krucka we’d stop by the garage to goad them on.  But when I told Thomas that I’d already been to the garage he said: Then we don’t need to go there; we can go straight to the Grasberg and the Krucka.  We parked the car on the bank of the Aurach River and set out on the ten-minute walk to the house.  Because it hasn’t got a driveway, you can only get to the house on foot or by four wheel-drive tractor.  On our way there Thomas was once again brimming over with praise for this property.  Every time I come here, he said, I can’t help thinking of you, because I owe this “gift” entirely to you.  Because it really is a gift as far as I’m concerned.  Today I’d pay 500,000 schillings for it: I like it that much.  

Near the house we came across two heifers in the enclosed pasture.  I saw that Thomas had had the pasture fence built to extend so far to the west towards the woods that the spot where we picked some fine arnica flowers last year was half fenced in.  So this year we won’t be able to pick enough arnica.  Last year on there were some really lovely flowers on the spot where cows are grazing, I said to Thomas.  Thomas barely paid attention to what I was saying; he was so enthusiastic about the cows; he petted them and praised the pleasant odor of cattle.  And look, they take such lovely shits, he said as one of the cows lifted her tail and dropped a proper cowpat.  We inspected the trough and saw that higher uphill the second fence hadn’t yet been completed because there wasn’t enough barbed wire to hand.  We walked around the second enclosure, where only the stakes had been hammered in and ascertained that he would need almost twice as much wire as he’s already used it in order to finish it.  Only the steepest part of the meadow had been fenced in as pasture because getting the feed there takes a lot of work.  The rest of the meadow is very easy to cultivate and so getting feed there is also much easier.  After we had finished inspecting the whole lot we went into the house.  In the pantry there was a kilo of butter from the woman next door.   Thomas has been buying the butter from this 82-year-old “peeping Thomasina,” because he thinks that she’ll be more likely to sell the house to him as a result.  But regarding this house next door, No. 99, things are going to turn out as I’ve already described earlier.  Because Thomas commissioned me to negotiate the additional purchase a long time ago, and I’ve investigated the situation a long time ago.  When he sees the butter Thomas said: I’ve already got so much butter at home; can I give you the butter?  There’s already butter here again; I picked up some butter just a few days ago.  I don’t know how I’m supposed to stop this now.  I can’t use so much butter, even though I eat quite a lot of it every day.  The house itself was being kept spick-and-span by the neighbor; only the stable hadn’t been cleaned out, I noticed.

At 10:00 we climb down from the Krucka and at 10:30 at the garage we asked how things stood with the car.  They said it would be ready in an hour.  We drove to Pinsdorf-Kufhaus, to the Dichtmühl Pub, a proper country pub for locals.  Naturally at that time of day we were the only customers and had a splendid hour-long chat.  By the end of it the car was ready, and when I left Thomas’s house at 11:30, he shouted after me: Don’t forget to take the butter out of the car, or it’ll turn rancid.  It already is a bit rancid, I said, and drove away.  Before I left I reminded Thomas that on Wednesday I had my tarot evening so that we wouldn’t be able to see each other again until tomorrow, Thursday.  Come to my house, said Thomas.  I’d rather not, because if you’re not working, you’ll come see me anyhow, and you’re if busy writing you can’t have any use for me.  It’ll definitely be better if you come.

Today I also wrote to Mrs. Vera Wildgruber.  I haven’t been able to show Thomas the carbon copy yet, because I wrote this letter at five in the morning and Thomas hasn’t been to my house since.  But I filled Thomas in on the essential contents of my letter as we were walking around the Krucka.  This got Thomas talking again about the actor Ulrich Wildgruber’s spouse’s terrible letter.  He said he couldn’t ever possibly get married.  When he thinks to himself that his wife might write such a letter or could meddle in his business!  So it’s quite simply impossible for me to have a wife.  Only if I’m lying in bed with a 40-degree fever will I think of getting a wife, said Thomas.  In a case like that you’ll just have to hire yourself your own personal nurse, I said.  Then it’ll be her job to be there, and she’ll have to take care of you.  But it would be even better and cheaper if you asked the president of the Society for Literature, Kraus, either directly or via Hilde Spiel, to send you a talented young female writer to be your nurse.  Then which women report for duty would be decided immediately; they’ll believe they can practice their trade at the same time.  Or they’ll be of the opinion that if they’re nursing a successful writer they’ll be able to write better.  It’s like assuming Mann’s daughter writes better articles because her father was a famous writer.  For ten or twenty paces in a row Thomas didn’t say anything.  Then he said that nothing was more terrible than what could happened to a person who was the son or daughter of a famous father.  Such children will never achieve anything because they know that they’ll never touch the greatness and the fame of their father.  That robs them of their courage from the outset.  In reply to this I said: It’s also possible that they’ll see that their father often got so famous just thanks to a stroke of good fortune or luck.  If in such cases they go on to learn about the deeper causes and interconnections, that’ll also discourage them from accomplishing anything special.  Yes of course, said Thomas.

It was really quite odd, the kind of conversation and the trains of thought in Thomas’s mind and mine that got started by Mrs. Wildgruber’s stupid letter.  But there must be writers who can’t write anything because they haven’t got any material.  I’m understanding better and better why Thomas so strongly resists being labeled a “writer.”


May 27, 1972

Because Thomas didn’t come to see me Thursday evening, I visited him at Nathal at 10 o’clock this morning.  He was just about to leave for Gmunden in order to browse the newspapers.  I arrived in rubber boots because it was raining cats and dogs.  When I asked him at the courtyard gate if I was disturbing him, he gave me new leather slippers.  Because Thomas was in Salzburg yesterday, he naturally had a lot of things to report on.

Schaffler from Residenz Publications wants to have Treeline filmed for the same honorarium as the one for Frost.  This TV movie is supposed to be filmed at the same places as The Italian was.  But there are no plans to have Radax be the director, because if there were he would have had to know something when he was here on Whitsun Monday, said Thomas.  And so first thing Monday he’s going to send off a letter withdrawing his consent to have Frost adapted for film by the ORF.  If he can bag the same sum for Treeline, he’d rather have Treeline filmed.  Nothing can go wrong with that, like with Kulterer, because of course Treeline is nothing special.  Whereas it would be a shame if Frost were filmed badly and maybe later on a better director for Frost will turn up anyway.  But if Frost is made into a bad film, no good director will angle for any of this stuff anymore.

Schaffler told Thomas that he was going to accept a play by Canetti.  Canetti has asked for an honorarium of 100,000 schillings, and Schaffler thinks that Thomas told Canetti that he had gotten 100,000 schillings for The Italian and that that was why he was asking for that sum.  Schaffler hasn’t yet answered Canetti regarding this request and he told Thomas that honoraria as high as the ones Thomas gets aren’t common, even for good writers.  And so he was going to offer Canetti 30,000 schillings.  I would have let him have the 100,000, said Thomas.  But this way at least he’ll see, what he’s worth, I said during the pause when Thomas was considering saying something else.  He was surely thinking about making a similar remark.

Then Thomas said that he had “dismembered” several of Schaffler’s blurbs.  In Schaffler’s presence he excoriated several authors published by Schaffler.  He fished out some sentences and read them aloud, read them correctly, so that Schaffler could see what nonsense those sentences expressed.  But he said that Schaffler should go ahead and publish them, because nobody reads a text the way he does, and the great mass of readers never realize what nonsense they’ve been given to read, because they’re absentminded.  Everybody in general is absentminded.  I went on to tell Schaffler that he was publishing copies of copies, because first Handke copied him (Bernhard), and now everybody was copying Handke.  But you know I told him all this in a friendly, good-humored way, because that’s the only way you can tell people the truth; if I hadn’t I’d have fallen out with Schaffler and I’d even have had to look for a new tax adviser.

But of course Unseld was much more important to me; I met up with him in Salzburg.  Thomas said nothing about the particulars of his conversation with Unseld, but he did mention that he’d met with the president of the Salzburg Festival, Kaut.  Kaut told him that no premiering play had brought in as many ticket sales for all performances as this one had.  On top of that, he was going to have to put the brakes on Peymann, the director, because he wanted a co-director’s honorarium of 10,000 schillings for a certain female medical student of his acquaintance.  Kaut declined to give him this.  Thomas said that Kaut was doing the right thing, because the actors in Berlin have learned the movements they’ve got to make, the movements that are made when cadavers are operated on, at the anatomical institute.  So a mere medical student can’t override their say on what the proper movements are.  Anyone who could would obviously have to be somebody other than a mere student.  Then, said Thomas, he was almost literally dumbstruck when Kaut told him the videotaping of the play by the ORF was a sure thing again.  Thomas didn’t know that the ORF’s original consent had been withdrawn with all sorts of explanations, etc., and that only a bit earlier Kaut received a letter from the ORF explaining that the situation was different now and that the taping for telecast was going to take place after all.  Once again you see how shaky these things always are in Austria, said Thomas.

Then Thomas asked me when I was last at Mrs. Menzel the antiques dealer’s shop at 13 Getreidegasse.  I replied: I was most recently there a few minutes before I met with Moidele Bickel and Hermann.  Mrs. Menzel reproached me for not having brought her the Renaissance room I had promised her.  I told her that it wasn’t to my taste to give her goods on commission.  She doubles my costs.  If she sells it she’ll get as much as me for the goods; if not, she doesn’t run any risk, because of course she hasn’t staked any money on the goods.  I’d like to have a business like that, where everybody gives me goods on commission, I said.  Mrs. Menzel said I should start an antique shop myself.  Whereupon I said to her that I couldn’t do that, because I didn’t understand it and because you probably need decades of experience in this trade.  You see, she said, I’ve been active in this business for forty years.  Yes, and surely you can still learn a thing or two more about it even today, I said.

You see, I was at Mrs. Menzel’s shop, said Thomas, and when I said that I was from Ohlsdorf, she started talking about you right away and knew you were from Ohlsdorf.  But she’s got nothing but execrable things there.  I only went there because of a painting that was in the front window, but I wouldn’t want to have a single piece of hers.  I didn’t see your picture of the Virgin Mary there.  Which picture of the Virgin Mary?  I’ve got two, I said.  You know, the old one, said Thomas; you were planning to bring it to her.  Yes, I said, but it’s hanging on the wall in my house.  Because you like it so much, I like it even better now.  It was the other one, which you also know, that I took to Mrs. Menzel’s.  Yes, that one’s right for her; she deals in things like that, said Thomas.  I’d never like such a picture. Then I asked Thomas if I might take a look at his portrait of Joseph II, which he’d brought from Vienna the previous week.  Sure, go up there, but don’t fall down the stairs.  The slippers are slippery because they’re new.  In the room at the top of the stairs I contemplated the portrait between two windows above the inlaid table.  I liked it very much, and it looked good there.  I also told Thomas this.

By then it was 11am; I had learned enough again, and I prepared to leave.  As I was putting my rubber boots back on and Thomas was accompanying me to the gate, he also told me that he was still going to visit his aunt at Wolfsegg today.  He was planning to read the newspapers in Gmunden before then.  In this rainy weather your aunt will be especially glad if you come to see her, I said, and then I drove off.  Before I left Thomas said: Perhaps I’ll come see you this evening.

Thomas actually did come to see me at 7:00pm.  That’s rare on a Saturday, because then he usually meets up with the Hufnagels or the O’Donells.  The reason why he came was destined to come to light later on.  Preliminarily we spoke some more about Mrs. Schmied, who was planning to leave Lederau today.  Thomas said he’d been over there; the house was unlocked; the expensive cameras were lying all over the place; Mrs. Schmied was nowhere to be seen, not even elsewhere in the neighborhood.  She simply drives off without locking up the house.  I’d like for something to be stolen from her sometime so that she’ll learn that it’s a good idea to lock up the house when you’re leaving it.

Then, at 8:15pm, when Thomas wanted to see Jean-Luc Godard’s film Weekend on Channel 2, I knew why he’d come by on Saturday this week.  Thomas was unusually enthusiastic from the very beginning of the film and said that Radax could learn something by watching it.  Thomas stayed till 10:30.  Before he left I told him that my brother from Schwarzenau would be visiting on Monday.  Thomas said he could still remember him.


May 30, 1972

At 7pm Thomas walked into my living room.  We had a particularly large feast laid out, because we were celebrating my daughter Reinhild’s name day.  Apart from my wife, Granny, Reinhild, and Wolfi my daughter Elfriede was at the table with her husband Franz Stiegler.  I invited Thomas to join us right away, and he was very merry.  His good mood lasted so long that he even stayed to watch the show “What Am I” with us.  Before that Bishop Zak could be seen on “The World in Images.”  He spoke about environmental pollution.  Thomas said: They should stop polluting the intellectual environment themselves.  When he recalls Dean Kern of Ohlsdorf’s funeral eulogy, it’s enough to tear his ass-cheeks to pieces.  When we then switched over to the “Daily Show” on the German channel, Thomas said he had spoken with Unseld about German politics last Friday.  The arch-socialist Unseld himself didn’t believe that the socialists would emerge as victors from the new elections.  Thomas went on to say: Everything that weakens Germany strengthens Europe, he told Unseld, because he believes a strong Germany strengthens Europe.

How do things otherwise stand between you and Unseld right now? I asked.  I could get anything I wanted from him.  If I asked for a gold cover for my new book, he’d even have that done.  Perhaps because your appointment as a corresponding member of the academy in Darmstadt impressed him so much? I asked.  No, he didn’t even know a thing about that yet, I told him about it.  But on account of the membership, I subsequently received a letter addressed to “The Member of the Germany Academy for Languages and Literature.”  That’ll soon come to an end.  In the letter the academy informs me that all new members will introduce themselves with a speech.  You see, they’ve got you, I said.  You said there were no obligations attached to it.  They’ll never get a speech from you, because you won’t fake it, and you won’t say the truth there; you simply can’t give a speech.  Of course not, said Thomas; I simply won’t go there.  Who can force me to go there?  You must also write that you don’t want to be mentioned as a member.  That’s exactly what you don’t want, to be a “member.”  Yes, that’ll simply come to an end entirely on its own.  If I don’t join in, then it’ll simply fall asleep.

Thomas then said that he would visit his aunt at Wolfsegg tomorrow, Wednesday.  I asked him to ask his aunt if it would be all right for us to pay her a visit on Thursday, Corpus Christi Day, so that we didn’t disturb her during her afternoon nap if we visited.  Thomas said that after his visit tomorrow he would come see me and let me know.  Thomas went home with our regards for his aunt at 10:30 pm.


May 31, 1972

At 6:15pm Thomas came to my house directly from Wolfsegg.  He knew that I’d have to leave again for my card game at 7:00, and he said right away that he’d only detain me till seven.  At Wolfsegg he was with his aunt in the rear courtyard of the house; despite the rain they had a good view of the mountains.  What’s more, he and his aunt happened to hear a circa-30-minute-long program about Verstörung on the radio.  I reminded Thomas how back then telegrams were flying to and from his publishing firm for a fortnight and how in the end even his editor sided with Unseld and proposed a different title.  His editor, a woman who otherwise always stood by Thomas.  Eventually it got to the point where the firm proposed three titles to Thomas, and he had to choose one of them, or else the book wouldn’t be published.  They said that his time was up, that if he didn’t choose, it wouldn’t be ready to be shown at the book fair.  I reminded Thomas that I received a telegram almost every day and that I kept telling him he had to stick to his guns.  But then when the three proposals arrived I said he should wire back that they would have to print the title as it stood.  Today every other title would be perceived as a foreign body, I said, and what’s more, since the publication of Verstörung that word has been used more and more often as a catchword by journalists. 


June 1, 1972

At 3:30pm my mother, my wife, and I visited Aunt Hede at Wolfsegg.  We stopped by the rear courtyard and then went walking till 6:30.  Along the way Mrs. Stavianicek kept asking us whether we didn’t find the walk too long and perhaps far too taxing, and she showed us the grand tour she had walked with Thomas the day before.  When I started talking to her about the fact that the day before she and Thomas had gotten to hear an excerpt from Verstörung, she didn’t agree with me when I said: The title must originate with the author.  Aunt Hede told us that she could still clearly recall when she had been walking with Dr. Wieland Schmied and Thomas in St. Veit in Pongau before the midnight mass on Christmas Eve and looking for a title for a volume of poetry by Thomas.  A ton of proposed titles were discussed.  She couldn’t say anymore what title was then selected.  But she hadn’t forgotten that among other titles Dr. Wieland Schmied had proposed “Stray Dogs.”  I also told Mrs. Stavianicek that she could come with me and my family to the premiere in Salzburg if she liked.  Thomas isn’t going to attend the premiere.  He’s giving his ticket to my mother so that they can be together at the theater.  Aunt Hede was enthusiastic about this proposal, and our three hours with her went by in a trice.  She also said that at the age of 78 she was gradually having to get used to talking to old people as well.  So far she’s only ever rubbed shoulders with younger people, but at the boarding house, in the evening, it’s gradually becoming necessary for her to concern herself with old people.  Until now she’s only ever oriented herself towards the young. 


June 3, 1972

At 7pm Thomas walked into my house.  Even though he often goes for months without coming by on a Saturday, I immediately said: I was expecting you.  How come, he asked.  Because you recently said you wanted to watch Peer Gynt, and because you certainly wouldn’t want to be glued to your set by yourself for so long, I knew you’d come.  Thomas said that he’d just come from visiting Aunt Hede at Wolfsegg.  He asked me how our visit had gone, what was new.  I said it that was very nice, that his aunt had told anecdotes and talked constantly, so that the time had really flown by.  But Aunt Hede actually said the same thing about you.  You talked and told anecdotes constantly, she told me.  I was a world away then.  I nodded my head and meditated.  Then I said: That really isn’t possible; I was listening the whole time; otherwise how could I know all the stuff she was talking about.  Then I recited to Thomas a list of all the topics that his aunt had spoken about.  Naturally I spoke as well, but really for the most part I just listened.  Well, because I know you both, I can get a pretty good idea of what it was like, said Thomas.  But my aunt said exactly the same thing as you; you talked, and she mostly listened.  Probably each of us got the same impression because we were almost always thinking along the same lines.

Thomas was very enthusiastic about the new arrangement that will allow his aunt to ride with us to the festival and back.  Because the original plan had been for his aunt to ride to Salzburg with the Hufnagls and stay there overnight with them after the premiere.  That would all be much too complicated and troublesome.  On top of that Thomas has also abandoned his plan to host a small celebration in a café after that performance, a celebration that a few actors also would have attended.  I was also opposed to such a celebration, because there’s really nothing to celebrate.  And how is that supposed to work when you still have to drive almost an hour to get home afterwards?

By then it was late enough for us to watch Peer Gynt on television.  Thomas was interested in it because Hermann had designed the sets and Bruno Ganz was a member of the cast.  Of course both of them are involved in the premiere of The Ignoramus and the Madman in Salzburg.  At 11:00 Thomas left me and said he’d come back to watch the second part tomorrow.


June 8, 1972

At noon Thomas came by.  I invited him to join us for lunch.  Thomas had a ton of things to tell me about.  On Sunday when he was planning to come by for the second part of Peer Gynt, he was with O’Donell in Hochkreuth and was too tired to watch television afterwards.  He asked me how it was.  I told him: I watched till 10:30.  When I realized then that you weren’t going to come, I thought if you don’t want to see it, then I don’t need to see it either, and I switched it off.

Thomas also told me that the speaker of parliament’s wife was in Hochkreuth and had brought Mrs. O’Donell a big bouquet of flowers with her.  As she was handing it over Mrs. Maleta said that she had received this bouquet from the chancellor who was a guest of her husband’s that day and that she actually didn’t care for those flowers.  As Thomas was saying this he wagged his head and pursed his lips at me.  That was another treat for you, savoring something so impossible.  Yes of course, said Thomas, and how can she talk about the chancellor anyway?  That could only have been Schleinzer, who she’s already calling the chancellor.  That’s all totally impossible; I could never get away with writing something like that; nobody would buy it; people would say that I was exaggerating immeasurably.  Mrs. Maleta had to leave early, because the chancellor was there, she said.  But the whole hubbub got me so tired that I didn’t want to watch Peer Gynt anymore.

On Monday, Thomas went on to tell me, he went with Hufnagl the architect and O’Donell to the Weissen Rössl in St. Wolfgang, to Altötting in Bavaria, and to Burghausen.  Because O’Donell wants to build an eatery in Hochkreuth, they went on an inspection tour of modern hotels.  Then in the evening they had a very good and very cheap dinner in Mattighofen.  I’m supposed to share this with the theater people who are staying in Pfaffstätt.    Because it got every late when they were in Mattighofen, he couldn’t visit me on Monday, Thomas said.

On Tuesday he was also too tired to come because he ran into Mrs. Maleta at Lampl the butcher’s shop in Gmunden, and she insisted on seeing the Krucka.  He was with her at the Krucka, and Mrs. Maleta was so enthusiastic that she really didn’t want to go back downhill.  The Maletas have been close to Lampl the butcher since 1945.  Because when Mr. Maleta was being driven through Gmunden on an American truck back then, he jumped off on am Graben and ran straight through Lampl’s front door.  Then he hid out there for a while until he could go to his villa in Oberweis.  Finally Thomas told Mrs. Maleta that they’d have to go back down into the valley, and afterwards Mrs. Maleta invited him to Oberweis for tea.  And just imagine, said Thomas, when she showed me the visitors’ book, Gorbach’s name was written there right under my nose.  So by the chancellor she’d meant Gorbach (he was already retired at the time).

Yesterday, Wednesday, said Thomas, I was planning to come see you despite your gym class. But I saw that your car was already parked in Ohlsdorf by 7pm, and so here I am with you at noon today.  There’s still lots of other news to tell you, you see.

So I’m now going to resign my membership of the academy in Darmstadt after all.  Just imagine it, yesterday I received another letter; the envelope was addressed to “The Academy Member.” I can’t put up with receiving any more letters like that.  I can’t be a “member”; I’ve got to annul that.  I’m going to write that to that fine fellow Krolow.  Naturally I’m not going to write “Mr. President”; I can’t do that; I don’t address Kaut as Mr. President either.  After further consideration I’ve concluded that I simply can’t accept the membership.  I simply can’t do something that I find oppressive.  Whereupon I said: maybe Unseld won’t be okay with this.  I’ve got a fool’s license with Unseld; I can do whatever I like with him.  I’m going to write to him that he’s got to remit 10,000 schillings to my account at the Oberbank branch in Gmunden, because I’m pretty much already overdrawn.  Thomas then itemized his expenditures: the fence around the pasture, the chimney-tops, then part of the roof will have to be redone, etc.

Then Thomas said that early today he’d received an official notice that he along with Günther Nenning was being sued by The Groove and that the hearing was going to take place in the Hernalser Gürtel in Vienna on 6/22.  In its May issue the New Forum printed his old letter about the theater.  Several years ago, Thomas was supposed to write about the theater for a theater journal.  At the time he wrote the editor a letter stating that he wasn’t going to write about the theater, because the theater, and especially the Burgtheater, was so bad that he couldn’t write any articles at all.  Because he’d been criticizing the theater for more than ten years, and then he’d have to appear in court and be sentenced to pay a fine.  Because he didn’t want to have any dealings with the courts, he wasn’t going to write about the theater.

This letter naturally contained some devastating criticism of the Burgtheater.  The editor then printed this letter, which naturally wasn’t intended for publication, in lieu of an article about the theater by Thomas Bernhard.  Because of this, Thomas was sued by The Groove in 1970.  At the time Thomas asked Günther Nenning, the president of the journalists’ union, to provide him with a good lawyer for cases involving the press. On top of that he asked Hilde Spiel to attend the hearing so that no distorted accounts of the hearing would emerge.  At the time Thomas was really agitated; for weeks before the hearing he was at my house every day and couldn’t be calmed down.  And so I went with my wife to this hearing.  In the court’s subpoena, Thomas was described as a journalist.  That was enough to make him go around blushing with rage for weeks.  But at the hearing itself a compromise agreement was worked out.  The two gentlemen from The Groove weren’t personally opposed to Thomas Bernhard, and after it was explained that the letter was a private one that hadn’t been intended for publication, as was obvious from its text, they were fine with a compromise agreement in which Thomas was symbolically obligated to pay a schilling in damages and both parties bore the court costs themselves.  The Groove was evidently interested in keeping the monstrous attacks on the theater from receiving too much publicity and didn’t make use of the right to a public reply contained in the settlement in the hope that the whole business would blow over.

Now Günther Nenning has reprinted this letter with its insulting criticism in the New Forum.  Thomas immediately wrote to Nenning that he was going to protest against this unauthorized publication and that the Forum would have to bear sole responsibility for it.  In the meantime Thomas received from The Groove a letter bristling with insulting remarks.  You see, in the New Forum the text was presented in such a way as to suggest that Thomas had only recently make these assertions.  It was therefore unsurprising that The Groove reacted so irately.  Now Thomas asked me about finding a lawyer who could represent him on 6/22 in Vienna.  Ideally, Thomas said, he won’t go there at all, because he’ll be so agitated that he’ll lose his composure, that what he said about the theater was accurate and that he’d possibly even start hurling abuse at the judge, so that he could even end up being arrested.

I said: This just won’t fly; if you spewed some venom years ago, people can’t just keep stirring that venom up over and over again.  This obviously could be repeated every year; editors could just keep publishing this text, and you’d be sued every year.  There’s only one lawyer, I said, Dr. Michael Stern.  The only important thing is for you to have the reference number from the hearing with the compromise agreement in 1970.  I’ve got it, said Thomas, because I’ve still got the summons from back then.  And can you believe it, he continued, “journalist” is on the summons again this time.  So I really can’t go there, because who knows what’ll end up happening.  So, if you’ve still got the summons from 1970, because the reference number’s on it, it won’t be necessary for you to appear at the hearing in person.  Dr. Stern will just have to ask for the act from back then to be brought in.  Everything is evident from this act, and you’ll be out of the woods.  Because a compromise agreement is something that’s been agreed to, something that’s still in effect today.  If Dr. Günther Nenning can’t prove that he had your consent to the letter’s publication, he’ll simply be condemned.  But if you should still be subpoenaed anyway, I’d say that you can’t remember anything anymore and that you’re sticking to your testimony from 1970.  Then the hearing will quickly come to an end.

Thomas was enthusiastic about my proposal.  Because Thomas knew that I was in close contact with Dr. Michael Stern, he asked me to speak with him and urge him to take the case.  By then it was 2:30pm, and I immediately proposed my trying to reach Dr. Stern via his unlisted number.  We drove together to the post office in Steyrermühl, from which Thomas was planning to drive on to Wolfsegg to see his aunt.  I was lucky enough to get hold of Dr. Stern on the phone, and after I gave him a brief summary of the case, Dr. Stern told me that Bernhard should come see him between 2 and 8pm on Monday and mention me as a reference.  I told Thomas that he’d have to bring everything with him because Dr. Stern was very curt and matter-of-fact, and that he should be especially sure to bring along a 50,000-schilling advance.  That if possible he should mention the payment of the advance at the beginning of the conversation, because Dr. Stern insists on having money upfront before he does anything.  Monday was very congenial to Thomas, because he was planning to drive Aunt Hede to Vienna, so he would be in Vienna on Monday anyway.  He said he’d tell Aunt Hede about this right away and left for Wolfsegg.  I’ll come see you again in the evening, he said.

Thomas was back at 7pm.  He and Aunt Hede agreed that he would bring her to Nathal after dinner on Saturday.  I said he should stop by with her for tea on Saturday afternoon.  Thomas stayed still 9:30pm.   We kept going over what we had already talked about at noon.  But in conclusion Thomas said that this time he wasn’t going to feel as depressed in the days leading up to the hearing, that he was even going to try to stay in Vienna until Friday and work some more on his novel.


June 9, 1972

At 7pm Thomas visited me.  He said that the oil-drilling was already underway.  He also mentioned that three days earlier, June 9, 1972, he had received a reply to his letter to Governor Wenzl from a while back.  The reply was more or less to the same effect as the one from Sinowatz the education minister, but the letter was dated 5/30.  So it takes six days for a letter like this to make it out of the office when it’s already been written.  You’d really end up a goner if you had to depend on something like this, said Thomas.  He said that Aunt Hede must be packing already because he was going to pick her up tomorrow.  He’ll stop by here with her on his way to Nathal.

Thomas had also been to the Krucka and said that the arnica was already blooming.  Because there’s only one spot on his property where arnica blooms and we had still had a small bottle from last year, my mother said: We’ll fetch it first thing tomorrow morning.  Thomas got tired quickly and only stayed till 10pm.


June 10, 1972

At 3pm Thomas came to our house with Aunt Hede.  He had left Wolfsegg with Aunt Hede immediately after lunch and visited the Krucka with her.  From the Krucka he came directly to my house.  He naturally had already seen that the arnica had been picked, and we could show him a basketful of it.  It was very pleasant. After two hours, at about 5pm, the symptoms of Mrs. Stavianicek and Thomas’s having missed their midday naps became noticeable.  But I noticed this just in the nick of time and changed the subject to something stimulating.  After that all of us, including my wife and my mother, who were there, were in such rare form that Aunt Hede even blurted out that she had spent five years at the Grafenhof Lung Clinic.  These clinics and illnesses, like all such topics, are always painstakingly steered clear of, even though we all naturally know all about them.  But Aunt Hede said this in connection with a round-the-world voyage taken by one of her female friends, and so we went on to talk more about this friend of hers.  But we were all quite surprised to learn that Aunt Hede had had to spend five years there.  Until then we’d had no idea how long she’d been there.  We continued cheerfully chatting for so long that it wasn’t until 6:30 that Aunt Hede and Thomas left us.

Thomas is planning to leave for Vienna with his aunt just before ten tomorrow morning and to stop somewhere for lunch along the way, so that he’ll be in Vienna by 3pm.  Thomas asked me to check on his house every day.  The key is stowed, he says.  Probably he won’t come back before Friday.  I walked Thomas and his aunt to his car.  Then Thomas insisted on my coming along to take a quick look at his new fireplace, to see what a nice job Ferdl had made of it.  I did that and drove straight back home.


June 16, 1972

Yesterday, Thursday, I had checked on the key to the gate, and since it was stowed differently than usual, somebody must have been using the key.  Since only Ferdl knew about the key, I stuck my head into the courtyard to see if he had done any work or brought anything over.  It turned out that Ferdl, the bricklayer who does jobs at Thomas’s house, still had some work to do.

Because by nearly five o’clock in the afternoon Thomas still hadn’t stopped by my house, I wanted to find out if he’d even gotten back from Vienna yet.  I drove to Nathal and immediately saw from the position of the key that it was stowed the way Thomas stows it.  Whenever he’s away, it’s always in a different position, so I can easily tell whether it’s been used.  To make sure Thomas was there, I also checked to see if the mail, which had been deposited in the former pigsty in the meantime, was gone.  Yes, the mail was gone, so I could expect Thomas in the evening.  About an hour later a car with Belgian plates parked in my little patch of woods, on the Ohlsdorf-bound side of the street.  I immediately thought that this car was bound for Thomas’s house at Nathal, and I stopped by so that I could give the driver directions.  But as I approached the car, I thought: As often as I’ve been here, I overlook the turn-off to Nathal every time.  Ah, you’re trying to get to Thomas Bernhard’s place, I said.  He’s only just gotten back from Vienna today.  I was over there an hour ago, but he wasn’t at home.  Well, we wrote that we’d come at 6pm, said the man, so he’ll surely be there now.  Then I thought to myself that this could only be Count Uexküll with his spouse, because Thomas never receives any other visitors from Belgium.


June 17, 1972

At 3pm Thomas walked in through the front door and said: So they’ve left now.  Were they the Uexkülls, I asked.  Yes, they told me they’d spoken with you.  I knew right away that it could only have been you.  The Uexkülls spent the night at my house.  They’re on their way to Geneva and took a detour to see me.  Uexküll is a native of Vienna, and in Brussels he’s got to look after the refugees from the Eastern Bloc for the UN.  But he’s sympathetic to the Baader-Meinhof Group.  Uexküll is a committed Leftist and against every from of private property.  I’ve been so badly corrupted by him that now I suddenly wouldn’t like to have any property at all either.  But in order to get horrified by private property, you’ve got to have some in the first place; otherwise you can’t get properly horrified by it, I said.  So that must also be why you first started hating it.  Yes, you’re right, said Thomas.

I was naturally very curious about how Thomas had fared at Dr. Stern’s law office, and Thomas told me: Dr. Stern didn’t know a damn thing about anything, but all his people at his office made a good impression.  Everything seemed to be very well organized.  Dr. Stern was also very nice, but he didn’t know a thing about cases having to do with the press.  He has therefore simply entrusted all these cases to a certain woman, Dr. Schönborn.  She says that Dr. Stern is her uncle and that he, Thomas Bernhard, shouldn’t make anything of this, that Dr. Stern has no idea who he is.  This Dr. Schönborn then accepted the case as a matter of course, and by the next day the transcript of the hearing from 1970 was at the law office.  The transcript precisely specifies Thomas’s degree of liability, and it will be exhibited at the court.  Thomas himself does not need to be present at the hearing.  Thomas said that it was a great weight off his shoulders not to have to be there.  Thomas went on to say that in Vienna he had run into Schaffler the publisher and his wife.  Suddenly it occurred to him that he was supposed to visit Schaffler in Salzburg the next day.  He had completely forgotten about that.  But he just started hemming and hawing about how he’d been just on the point of wiring him to let him know that he wouldn’t be able to go to Salzburg tomorrow, and about how glad he was that he’d run into Schlaffler because it would spare him the trouble of sending a telegram.  Thomas invited them both to come to the Sacher with him.  They sat there for over two hours, and Mrs. Schaffler and her husband were quite surprised that anyone could sit anywhere for two hours and not have to rush about.  These two hours did the Schafflers a great deal of good.  As they were sitting in front of the Sacher, Haeussermann walked by and said as he was walking by: “All the contracts have been signed—the schillings are rolling in.”  It’s very good that Haeussermann told me that, because now I know that the contracts have been signed.  Because I asked Unseld to ask for so much for the videotaping that my debts to him have been paid off; now I’ll write to him that we’re even, that he should send me another advance right away.  If Unseld hasn’t asked for that much, that’s his problem, because he should have notified me.  I believe he couldn’t do that without my consent; what do you think?  You’re a sly dog, I said; something’s new is always occurring to you.  The way you describe it, you’re debt-free no matter what, regardless of the size of the sums in the contracts when they were finalized.  Yes, he said, whatever extra he might get belongs to the firm, said Thomas.  I only wanted enough to make me debt-free.  Thanks to this I also know that the taping in Salzburg will definitely be taking place.

By the way, said Thomas, Peymann and his actors should be here as of yesterday.  You know, this rainy weather would be good for paying them a visit in Pfaffstätt.  They were definitely supposed to get there on 6/16.  I said: just to be safe, I’ll ring up the shop in Pfaffstätt beforehand; they’ll surely know whether the Berliners have arrived.  When I rang, Mrs. Neuhauser in Pfaffstätt couldn’t recall anything that had attracted her attention.  But she was very nice and said that she would go see Mrs. Bamberger herself, that I should call back in 30 minutes.

By then Thomas and I had gotten the impression that they Peymanns weren’t there yet, because they would have attracted people’s attention right away in Pfaffstätt and obviously had to pass by Mrs. Bamberger’s shop when they turned onto the street. A half an hour later, when I rang again, Mrs. Baumberger herself was on the phone and said that the Peymanns were scheduled to arrive on 6/26.  She asked me how many beds she should fix.  She had already made up six beds.  I told her that I didn’t remember anymore, that that was why when we were setting up the accommodations I had said that she should put the number of guests and their names on the doorframes, so that when the people came they’d all know how they’d been divvied up.  Now it turns out that she herself doesn’t remember anymore.  Then I asked Mrs. Bamberger to notify Mrs. Neuhauser immediately if anybody from Berlin came in, so that the latter could tell me by phone whether he was there already.

Thomas was very angry that his condition that his play should be rehearsed for at least six weeks wasn’t being met.  Surely, I said, during the rehearsals it will become evident that that the play contains certain difficulties and that it can’t be rehearsed like some popular favorite.  Yes, said Thomas, the director, Dorn, from Hamburg, has already realized that.  There the performance will take place much later, but they’re already rehearsing.  Really such a play should be rehearsed for three months straight.  I can imagine that with such short rehearsals leading right up to the premiere, they’ll be totally exhausted, and then they’re bound to achieve something.  Yes, it’s incredible, said Thomas, now we’ve got to take a walk, even if it’s raining.  I just can’t stand it any longer.  The walk in the rain did us so much good that right after Culture Special we went for another walk to pass the time until The Age in Images.  Later Thomas was also planning to watch on television the Russian film Stolen Life adapted from The Overcoat by Gogol.


June 18, 1972

Somewhat unexpectedly, because it was Sunday, Thomas came by at 8pm.  I’ll only stay with you for an hour; you see, I’ve been invited with O’Donell to come to Mrs. Maleta’s at 9:00.  Thomas said that he’d stopped by to take a look at the gas drilling and that he’d be glad for them if they found something.  They have insulated all the pipelines and exhaust pipes so heavily that even with the windows open Uexküll and his wife couldn’t hear anything but a faint, steady hum and were able to sleep very well.  He said it was very interesting to watch what was happening there.  I told him that when he had been in Vienna I had already stopped by there several times and that they were working incredibly quickly.  Every grip and every movement has its place just like in the circus.  They’ve already reached a depth of 950 meters.

We had almost lost track of the time while chatting; suddenly Thomas looked at his watch; it was 9:00, and he raced off to Oberweis.


June 19, 1972

On my way back from Gmunden I saw a flame as high as a house blazing at the drilling sight at Nathal.  I drove in, and amid much loud noise water and gas hissed out of the pipe for burning off fires.  Shortly after I got there, the flame was extinguished, and with a rag on a long pole the workers got the effluent mixture of gas and water burning again.

After that I went to see Thomas.  It was exactly 11am; the key was in the inner side of the keyhole, so he was there.  As the window was open; I called out to him through the window.  Thomas came directly from bed in his bathrobe.  Just imagine: it got to be 4am at the Maletas’.  Was he there too, I asked.  No, I think I wouldn’t have turned up at all then.  When the cat’s away, the mice will play, said Thomas.  He said that the park at their villa was spectacularly beautiful.  For the mowing of the lawn they’ve got two riding mowers at 60,000 schillings apiece, so that the park is always taken care of, and the park also includes 360 meters of the bank of the Traun.  These people are stinking rich.  In Vienna they also have a few factories; his salary as president of Parliament is probably just “pocket money.”  Thomas also asked me to take a walk with him in the afternoon, if I’d have the time.  The whole afternoon, at any time, I said.  Come whenever it suits you; I’ll be at home.

At 2:00 I started getting bored, and as I was hoping that Thomas wouldn’t come very soon on account of the frantic night, I drove to Steindl’s building site at Ohlsdorf to do some work.  I told my wife: If Thomas comes, he’s to go meet me at the site, and we’ll set out on our walk from Ohlsdorf.

Thomas came to Weinberg at 4:00 and spoke with my wife, but he left his car at Weinberg and walked through the woods via the forester’s lodge and met me at the building site in Ohlsdorf.  When he arrived, I declared that I was ready to continue marching immediately.  Thomas said that it had gotten very cool in the forest, that he’d prefer to take field paths.  We headed south, but after ten minutes we turned around because a thunderstorm was gathering.  We had barely reached my car when it started sprinkling.  When we got to the house, we noticed that the storm was heading in another direction, and Thomas said: I won’t put up with being stuck in this room for the next two hours until the news.  He wrapped himself up in a blanket and lay down in the garden.  I sat down next to him in a chair.  Thomas told me that today he’d already mailed off his letter to Unseld informing him that he’d learned about the contracts from Heussermann, etc.  At the same time he’d almost suffered a blow today, because in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he read of a car accident that Unseld had been involved in; a clavicle fracture, etc., said Thomas.  So now Unseld won’t be able to swim for a long time.  That’s his hobby; he swims every day.  But a disaster like this could happen at any time, and who knows how a successor of his would treat me.  Unseld does a great deal on my behalf.

Then Thomas told me that he’d already prepared for his trip to Salzburg to see Schaffler tomorrow.  That tomorrow was the final deadline for submitting tax returns.  Apart from a few old train tickets and plane tickets as well as some electric bills and petrol receipts he’s got nothing to present that he could write off.  In addition to this he’ll tell Schaffler that he won’t be having the town or the state pay for his roof, because roofing the residential part only costs 25,000 schillings, and he doesn’t want to sacrifice his independence for that amount of money.  He said that in any case he’d prefer to have somebody think that on account of 25,000 schillings he’d done something for him.  That this sum was far too trifling, that he’d rather pay for the roof himself.  That in addition to this he wasn’t going to let Radax film his Frost because he was too weak for it and because on account of the money he was in no need of that now.

When it had gotten late enough that we were headed for the television to watch The Age in Images, Thomas fetched the Kurier from his car and showed me an article about him with a headline reading “Versus Thomas Bernhard.” Once again we discussed his visit to Dr. Stern regarding this case.  After 9:00 Thomas showed signs of fatigue.  He was feeling the aftermath of the preceding day, when he didn’t get to bed till 4am, and drove home.


June 21, 1972

At 8am I ran into Thomas at the Ohlsdorf post office.  Because he had been in Salzburg the day before, he wanted to tell me about a few things.  But I had no time, because I had things to do in Gmunden, and we agreed to meet for a walk at 1:30pm.

Thomas arrived punctually, and we walked to the forester’s lodge via Aupointen.  We inspected the abandoned forester’s lodge, and Thomas said that I should ask if it mightn’t be for sale.  He might possibly buy it, because it would be too bad if it fell into ruin.  On our way to the forester’s lodge Thomas said that now that he had been to Salzburg he wasn’t as worried about the rehearsals with Peymann, because he had run into Tinguely the stage designer.  He’s running all over town; he’s supposed to be doing the stage design for the Felsenreitschule and still has no idea of how he’s going to do it.  He’s got no idea and no ideas.  Thomas then told him he should put down rails, etc.  In order to give him further suggestions, he agreed that they should meet at the Tomaselli at 3pm.  Thomas waited till 4:00; then he went to his hotel and left him a note. In it he wrote: “Where were you?  I waited for you for an hour!  I’m in Ohlsdorf, at Nathal, at my house.”  I underlined “an hour” twice.  Nobody can be enough of a big shot to make somebody sit for an hour; it’s totally unacceptable.

Thomas managed to settle everything nicely with Schaffler in Salzburg.  Kaut was on holiday, and so he didn’t get to see him.  Then Thomas told me with a shameless smile that he had also picked up his three complimentary tickets for the premiere and that as the secretary was giving them to him she said that they were very conveniently placed seats from which he’d be able to walk directly to the stage.  They’re still thinking I might walk onto the stage at the premiere, he said with a sadistic smile.  They’ll be surprised when two old ladies are sitting in your seat, I said and laughed along with him.  Then we circled back to talking about Tinguely the stage designer, and I said: He’s sure to turn up at your house, because he’ll want to get some pointers from you.  You know the ropes; you were an assistant director there.   He’ll cling to you; he’ll realize that you could do the stage design there.  Thomas eased up a bit and said: Well sure, everything will turn out fine.  Then I was sure that he was taking a firm hand behind the scenes, because he hardly ever invites anybody to his house.   

Then Thomas said that tomorrow he was going to be visited by a former girlfriend and her husband.  She was another one of those women: When things were at their height with her, she suddenly married somebody else.  That happened a few times.  Or my girlfriends have suddenly gone away on a trip abroad; then everything was always suddenly over as well.  Ask Aunt Hede; she knows everything; she can tell you about everything.  So far I haven’t dared do anything like that; I haven’t dared broach such a topic with her behind your back.  Whatever you’ve wanted to tell me you’ve told me yourself.  Yes, of course, said Thomas, but I don’t want to say anything else about it myself, but Hede will have to tell you about it.

Then Thomas said that he’d bought an annual pass for the beach with a changing room in Altmünster and that now he was going to go swimming every day.  He said that at the moment he found it impossible to write.  That in September or October he’d visit the Uexkülls in Brussels and finish writing everything there.  That at the moment he wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it.  He intended to be writing now.  But when he gets up in the morning, he looks for little changes to make here and there in the house; he looks for them until he’s got some trivial task to take care of in the house and doesn’t have to write.  I said: It would have surprised me if you could write well now, because of course nothing’s forcing you to.  If you’re not supposed to have finished the book until November, you’ll probably have to knock off a few weeks without interruption in October, because then you won’t even taste a bite of food; then you’ll be thinking of nothing but writing.  You need the time-pressure; otherwise it doesn’t go properly.

By about 4:00 we’d finished our walk, and Thomas said that he’d rather drive straight home; that a break wouldn’t be good, because then he’d prefer just to sit around longer, but he doesn’t want to do that.


June 25, 1972

Today, Sunday, Thomas came to see me at 9pm.  We hadn’t seen each other in three days.  We had just switched on the mystery show Flotsam and Jetsam right away; Thomas sat down for an hour to watch that.  He wanted to say something, but the show’s trivial scenes didn’t quite suffice for comment, and so Thomas said that he’d just come from the Krucka, that the arnica was in full bloom again, and that we should be sure to pick the arnica in the next few days, that otherwise it would be too late.  Naturally as soon as Thomas entered I turned the set down so that I could speak with Thomas, but my wife was glued to the set, so we restrained ourselves.  After the end of the show Thomas stood up and left immediately.  This was at about 10:00.  I walked him to his car and said that we should visit Peymann right away, that he should already have arrived in Pfaffstätt.  Certainly not, said Thomas; it’ll be better if we wait a few days.


June 27, 1972

At 4pm I ran into Thomas in Gmunden, on am Graben.  I told him that I had been expecting him on Monday, meaning yesterday, because Monday has always been one of our surest days.  Yes, said Thomas, so I’ve got to tell you something good.  Yesterday I was at Pfaffstätt at nine in the evening.  Not a trace of Peymann or Ganz.  Mrs. Bamberger has already holed herself up in a room and prepared all the rooms for the guests.  But no postcards; there hasn’t been a word from them, and they simply haven’t come.  All the while she’s being such a nice lady.  I said to Thomas: Peymann just can’t do that, pocket 20,000 DM and promise six weeks of rehearsals.  Then he deserves to have a few hundred marks taken back from him for every day.  In the next contract you’ll put all your demands in writing and stipulate a penalty for each rehearsal day; then something like this won’t happen anymore.  I won’t accept Peymann anymore anyhow, said Thomas.  Next time everything’s going to be completely different again.  If I know Ganz, he’s surely studied his role well, and we’ll have to wait and see; perhaps they’ve already finished rehearsing in Berlin.  In Hamburg the rehearsals are going fine; they’re practicing the handholds on cadavers there, and the actor is performing operations on cadavers to practice for the play.

I still haven’t told you everything that had already happened by the time I saw you on Sunday, said Thomas.  Tinguely the stage designer had already stopped by to see me twice, and on Sunday, before I came to see you, a friend of my mother’s from Holland visited me at the Krucka.  Because she didn’t find me at Nathal, she followed me to the Krucka in the company of two Dutchwomen.  But then she lost her way; she came up to the Grasberg and then came down from there to me just when I was about to leave; of course by then it was already very late.  And so I promised the old lady—she’s 64 and hasn’t seen me since I was 12—that I’d visited her in Holland on my way to Brussels.  You see, she’s my mother’s friend from Henndorf, Anna [recte Aloisia] Ferstl, who was in Holland back then and on account of whom my mother went to Holland when I was coming into the world.  She was her best friend, and I was really delighted that she visited me.  She talked as if she had never left Henndorf, exactly the way they talk in Henndorf.  Her Dutch friends couldn’t understand a word.  But it was all very brief; she had to leave that same evening, and right afterwards I came to see you.

You know, we’ve been standing a full half-hour in the street, here in front of the Three Hoes.  I was in Linz today; I’ve got a lot to tell you about as well.  I went shopping in Wels, and on Friday I’ll be going to Salzburg.  I’ll stop by Pfafstätt then to see whether anybody is there yet.  Thomas consented and said: I got a letter from Dr. Stern.  He writes that the hearing has been adjourned.  Thomas said that he himself, Dr. Michael Stern, had represented him at the hearing.  That Dr. Stern had written that he had something to share with him that he couldn’t write about in the letter.  What do you make of that?  He’ll want to tell you what you should say at the hearing and what you shouldn’t say.  He doesn’t want to write that in the letter.  But of course I don’t plan on being at the hearing, said Thomas.  You won’t be able to avoid it, I said.  You’ll be subpoenaed; as the defendant you’ve got to appear in person if the judge insists on it.  Anyway, we’ll talk further in the evening, I said, because I’ve still got a few things to take care of.

Immediately afterwards I couldn’t help wondering why Thomas was telling me about everything in such detail.  He mentioned the name of the stage designer, an Italian name, several times; I couldn’t manage not to forget it [the sculptor Jean Tinguely was Swiss].  Specifically it occurred to me that when I’d left the living room a few days ago, when I came back in, Thomas was standing next to my planning calendar and gazing very unconvincingly at the old newspaper.  When he saw the subject headings St. Wolfgang, Altöting, Burghausen, Mattighofen, and Fool’s License, Thomas figured out that I’d been taking notes.  Now it occurs to me that he must secretly be taking an interest in that, and I’m also reminded that he said: Ask Aunt Hede what happened with my girlfriends; she knows everything.  But on the other hand, as long as we’ve known each other Thomas has told me about everything.  Like about how on New Year’s Eve in Grundlsee, Dahlke the film actor wanted to shoot him dead over a German princess, or about the whippings of Zuckmayer’s daughter, etc., so I may be very much mistaken here.  I’m more inclined to think there will be a “news blackout” if Thomas has figured out that I’m writing everything down.

At ten minutes to seven, Thomas comes with Agi.  Agi and Thomas met up with each other in front of the courtyard gate at Nathal.  Pinned to the gate was a note from President Maleta informing Thomas that he was on his way to the Krucka with his wife because he hadn’t found him here at Nathal.  Because Thomas was in no mood to get together with the Maletas today, he immediately asked Agi to come to my house with him.  Agi’s got her mother, Baroness Handl, in the hospital in Wels, and there she ran into Peter, Thomas’s half-brother.  He told her that in February Thomas had shown him out of his house very, very rudely.  Then Agi plucked up the courage to visit Thomas again, and so they met up in front of the gate.  I wasn’t surprised that Thomas was on good terms with Agi again, because after the scandal with the Münchner Abendblatt he said to me: I’m going to let Agi “air out” until the summer.  So Agi picked the right time, because the first day of summer was six days ago. 

Thomas was in a very good mood.  After he’d left my house to go to the coffeehouse in the afternoon, he ran into Mrs. Hufnagl there.  He told me that he’d been trying to go to the Brandl at a time of day when he’d be least likely to run into Mrs. Hufnagl, because she keeps talking about getting a divorce again, even though the Hufnagls got married for the second time only a couple of weeks ago.  But as it turned out, said Thomas, Mrs. Hufnagl came into the Brandl, and he tried to slip away, but she buttonholed him and said that that afternoon she had been in Salzburg and stopped by the theater to ask if Peymann was already there.  They told her that Peymann and Ganz and the others would be rehearsing the whole day.  But after everything that had happened so far she was suspicious; she asked where the rehearsals were taking place and went there.  And Peymann was actually rehearsing.  She saw him with her own eyes.  So now we’re at least sure that he’s there, said Thomas.  Because if she hadn’t seen him with her own eyes…I wouldn’t have just relied on the word of somebody at some information desk either.

After supper we moved upstairs to watch the news on television.  But as we didn’t glean anything interesting from the news, a conversation got started.  Agi said she was planning to invite Thomas with Hede and Peter to her house so that another reconciliation between Thomas and Peter could take place.  Thomas said: Sure, invite everybody.  And turning to my wife he added softly: I won’t come and such and such.  Then my wife and Thomas laughed downright maliciously, but they didn’t tell Agi and me why they were laughing like that. Only after our guests had left did my wife tell me why they’d laughed like that.  I was reminded of what Wieland Schmied had said at one point, and I said to Agi: Surely Thomas isn’t mad at Peter about this, because he’s insulted Peter.

The conversation with Agi was very rough, but friendly.  When Thomas again let slip a few negative remarks about Mrs. Hufnagl, Agi asked: Does he talk about me like this too when you’re alone?  Then I said to Agi: You’ve got a really thick skin; you can take a joke; we talk with you so bluntly and critically that there’s nothing more to say behind your back.  Shortly before that I had called Agi an informer several times in allusion to the article in the Münchner Abendblatt and said that I didn’t know that she couldn’t be trusted to keep a secret, that otherwise I wouldn’t have told her that Thomas had only sold Kaut the title The Ignoramus and the Madman and still had to write the play. Thomas had already upbraided me back then, because he learned right away from her that I had told her that.  Mrs. Hufnagl could never be attacked as harshly as you are; she wouldn’t be able to take it; that’s why we talk about her behind her back like this.  (Basically I’m glad that his relationship with the Hufnagls has cooled a great deal and that I’m still not personally acquainted with O’Donnel and that I’m never present at gatherings of these circles, because surely nothing good could come of that and Thomas would lose my house as a place of refuge, a refuge he’d needed once again today to protect himself from the Maletas, because if they knew me they’d also come to my house.)

Then when the show called What I Am began and Marianne Koch was on the screen, Thomas said: This week she was with a friend of mine who lost his wife, in Nathal.  But he wasn’t at home; she left a note.  Thomas said that his friend was very unhappy and that Marianne Koch consoled him. But then I switched off the set, because Agi was telling some very good Jewish jokes, and we’d stopped paying attention to the TV some time earlier.  Agi went on to ask me how many channels I received here; then Thomas loudly chimed in “five.” Agi gaped and asked: Really, that many; what are the channels? Then I said: “Austrian Channels 1 and 2, German Channel 1, and Thomas in an Austrian accent and in a Bavarian one.”  You see, Thomas had once again said something in a super-broad Bavarian accent.  Everything was very jolly from then on, until the two of them drove home at 10:30.


June 29, 1972

Thomas comes at 9:00 pm.  He says he’ll be leaving right away.  He was in Salzburg today.  He had had lunch at Moser’s wine bar at noon and was then planning to go to see Peymann, to see the rehearsals.  But at 2:00, as he was just about to leave Moser’s wine bar, Peymann and Ganz came in.  Then Thomas drove with Peymann and Ganz to Pfaffstätt and Mattighofen.  Mrs. Peymann hadn’t come from Germany with them.  She has a six-week-old child and is ill.  Peymann and Ganz don’t want to take lodgings in Pfaffstätt because it’s too far from Salzburg for them.  They rehearse until 2pm; then they’d have to go to Pfaffstätt in order to rest and go back to the rehearsals at 6pm.  Thomas was of the opinion that only a single round trip per day would be necessary.  Mrs. Bickel and Hermann with his spouse are expected to arrive tomorrow.  Driving that stretch four times each day is too much for Peymann.  Thomas came to appreciate this.  Because he saw that both of them were rehearsing to the point of exhaustion and that it would be impossible afterwards to drive so far twice during the breaks.  Thomas also says that Ganz is taking his role very seriously and has already dissected several brains so that he can play his role like a true professional.  Because that’s something his role involves.

Because Granny got back from her vacation in Yugoslavia today, another subject of the conversation was Yugoslavian vacation spots and towns. Granny and Thomas know everything.  They sound as if they’d both seen the same movie.  Then the subject inevitably became souvenirs brought back from there, and even though I instructed Granny not to buy any souvenirs, she still brought a few knickknacks back.  Thomas said: Yes of course, you can’t help bringing a few things back.  But you can get these things at significantly cheaper prices in the Wollzeile in Vienna.  Whenever Aunt Hede has gotten back from Yugoslavia, I’ve gone to the Wollzeile and bought the presents from Yugoslavia for her girlfriends.

It had gotten as late as 10:30pm by the time Thomas drove home.  Before that we debated whether or not I should visit Peymann when I’m in Salzburg this coming Friday.



END OF PART IV

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2020 by Douglas Robertson.  Source: Karl Ignaz Hennetmair,Ein Jahr mit Thomas Bernhard.  Das versiegelte Tagebuch 1972.  Sankt Pölten: Residenz Verlag, 2014.