DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Thomas Bernhard Day *

* (restored)

“We had no luck with the weather and the guests at our table were repellent in every respect. They even spoiled Nietzsche for us. Even after they had had a fatal car accident and had been laid out in the church in Sils, we still hated them.” (from ‘Hotel Waldhaus’)

“The thousands and hundreds of thousands of words that we keep trotting out, recognizable by their revolting truth which is revolting falsehood, and inversely by their revolting falsehood which is revolting truth, in all languages, in all situations, the words that we don’t hesitate to speak, to write and to remain silent about, that which speaks, words which are made of nothing and which are worth nothing, as we know and as we ignore, the words that we hang on to because we become crazed by impotence and are made desperate by madness, words only infect and don’t know, efface and deteriorate, cause shame, falsify, cripple, darken and obscure; in one’s mouth and on paper they do violence through those who do violence to them; both words and those who do them violence are shameless; the state of mind of words and of those who do them violence is impotent, happy, catastrophic.” (from a speech, 1970)

“Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Proust, I can’t do that. They are all great. A firmament. But one still has a lot of energy: something is still simmering. That’s a soup, which will never be done. One stirs and stirs and stirs. I have the feeling that what I’m doing is worth doing, otherwise I couldn’t do it.” (from an interview, 1986)
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A visit to Thomas Bernhard’s house

“This city of my fathers is in reality a terminal disease which its inhabitants acquire through heredity or contagion. If they fail to leave at the right moment, they sooner or later either commit suicide, directly or indirectly, or perish slowly and wretchedly on this lethal soil with its archiepiscopal architecture and its mindless blend of National Socialism and Catholicism. Anyone who is familiar with the city knows it to be a cemetery of fantasy and desire, beautiful on the surface but horrifying underneath.” (‘Gathering Evidence’)
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Thomas Bernhard’s Novels

On the Mountain (1959)

“…if that handsome fellow were a cripple he wouldn’t repel me, but he isn’t a cripple, he is that handsome fellow, so he repels me…” (“On the Mountain”)

 

Frost (1963)

“Newspapers were the greatest wonders of the world, they knew everything, and only through them did the universe become animated for their readers, the ability to picture everything was only preserved by newspapers. [. . .] “Of course, you have to know how to go about reading them,” said the painter, “you mustn’t just gobble them up, and you mustn’t take them too seriously either, but remember they are miraculous.” [. . .] “The dirt which people hold against newspapers is just the dirt of the people themselves, and not the dirt of the newspapers, you understand! The newspapers do well to hold up a mirror to people that shows them as they are–which is to say, revolting.” (‘Frost’)

 

Gargoyles (1967)

“What I said and what he said, everything I did and everything I thought and what he did, pretended to do, what I pretended to do and what he thought, it was all this stereotype, this stereotyped idea of the inadequacy, poverty, frailty, inferiority, deathly weariness of human existence, and I instantly had the impression that a sick man had entered my house, that I was dealing with a sick man, with someone in need of help. Whatever I said was spoken to a sick man, Doctor, and what I heard, Doctor, came from the lips of a sick man, from an extremely submissive, morbid brain which is filled with the most fantastic but embarrassingly derailed notions that in themselves reveal him for what he is. . . . The man had no idea of what he wanted, and I made him aware of this in the most forceful way; I said that what he was doing was morbid, that his whole life was a morbid life, his existence a morbid existence, and consequently everything he was doing was irrational, if not utterly senseless.” (‘Gargoyles’)

 

The Lime Works (1970)

“All that was left was the recollection of having had a good idea, a recurrent experience of having had a good, an excellent, a most important idea, a truly fundamental idea, but one never remembered itself the idea from one moment to the next, memory was something you simply couldn’t depend on, a man’s memory set him traps he’d walk into and find himself hopelessly lost in, Konrad said, a man’s memory lured him into a trap and then deserted him; it happened over and over again that a man’s memory lured him into a trap, or several traps, thousands of traps, and then deserted him, left him all alone, alone in limitless despair because he felt drain of all thought; Konrad had come to observe this geriatric phenomenon and had begun to be more and more terrified of it, he was in fact prepared to state that a man’s youthful memory was capable of turning into an old man’s memory from one moment to the next, with no warning whatsoever, suddenly you found yourself with an old man’s memory, unprepared by such warning signals as a failure , from time to time, in trifling matters, brief lapses of omissions, the way a mental footbridge or gangplank might give a bit as one passed over it; no, old age set in from one moment to the next, many a man made this abrupt passage from youth to age quite early in life, a sudden shift from being the youngest to the oldest of men, a characteristic of so-called brain workers, who tended, basically, not to have a so-called extended youth, no gradual transitions from youth to age, with them the change occurred momentarily, without warning, suddenly, mortally, you found yourself in old age. (…) An old man needs a crutch, he needs crutches, every old man carries invisible crutches, Konrad said, all those millions and billions of old people on crutches, millions, billions, trillions of invisible crutches, my friend, no one else may see them but I see them, I am one of those who cannot help seeing those invisible billions, trillions of crutches, there’s not a moment, Konrad said, in which I do not see those billions, those trillions of crutches. Those millions of ideas, he said, that I had and lost, that I forgot from one moment to the next. Why I could populate a vast metropolis of thought with all those lost ideas of mine, I could keep it afloat, a whole world, a whole history of mankind could have lived on all the ideas that I lost. How untrustworthy my memory has become!” (“The Lime Works”)

 

Correction (1975)

“We mustn’t let ourselves go so far as to suspect something remarkable, something mysterious or significant in everything and behind everything. Everything is what it is, that’s all.” (‘Correction’)

 

Yes (1978)

“We brood about what we should have done differently or better or what we should not have done, because we are doomed to do so, but it does not lead anywhere. The disaster was inevitable, is what we then say and for a while, if only a short while, we are quiet. Then we start all over again asking questions and probing and probing until we have gone half crazy. We constantly look for someone responsible, or for several persons responsible, in order to make things bearable for ourselves at least for a moment, and naturally, if we are honest, we invariably end up with ourselves. We have reconciled ourselves to the fact that we have to exist, even though most of the time against our will, because we have no other choice, and only because we have again and again reconciled ourselves to this fact, every day and every moment anew, can we progress at all. And where we are progressing to, we have, if we are honest, known all our lives, to death, except that most of the time we are careful not to admit it.” (“Yes”)

 

The Cheap-Eaters (1980)

“Right from the start, he said, he had never made things too easy for himself, seeing that everyone was of course ceaselessly being seduced into making things too easy for himself, and in effect was time and again and continually making things too easy for himself. He had, even as a child, possibly at first still quite unconsciously, resolved to live at the highest possible degree of difficulty, which to this day he has never failed to do.” (“The Cheap Eaters”)

 


Concrete (1982)

“The only friends I have are the dead who have bequeathed their writings to me – I have no others. And I’d always found it hard to have any relationship with another person – I wouldn’t think of using such an unappetizing word as friendship, a word which is misused by everybody. And even early in my life there were times when I had no one – I at least knew that I had no one, though others were always asserting that I did have someone. They said, You do have someone, whereas I knew for certain that I not only had no one, but – what was perhaps the crucial and most annihilating thought – needed no one. I imagined I needed no one, and this is what I still imagine to this day. I needed no one, and so I had no one. But naturally we do need someone, otherwise we inevitably become what I have become: tiresome, unbearable, sick – impossible, in the profoundest sense of the word.” (“Concrete”)

 

Wittgenstein’s Nephew (1982)

“A prize is invariably only awarded by incompetent people who want to piss on your head and who do copiously piss on your head if you accept their prize.” (‘Wittgenstein’s Nephew’)

 

The Loser (1983)

“Suicide calculated well in advance, I thought, no spontaneous act of desperation.
“Even Glenn Gould, our friend and the most im– portant piano virtuoso of the century, only made it to the age of fifty-one, I thought to myself as I entered the inn.
“Now of course he didn’t kill himself like Wertheimer, but died, as they say, a natural death.
“Four and a half months in New York and always the Goldberg Variations and the Art of the Fugue, four and a half months of Klavierexerzitien, as Glenn Gould always said only in German, I thought.” (‘The Loser”)

 

The Woodcutters (1984)

“While Jeannie always had her Virginia Woolf madness and hence suffered from a kind of Viennese Virginia Woolf disease, Schreker always had the Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein madness and suffered from the Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein disease. At the beginning of the sixties both of them quite suddenly turned their literary madnesses and their literary diseases, which in the fifties had no doubt been quite genuine madnesses and quite genuine diseases, into a pose, a purpose-built literary pose, a multipurpose literary pose, in order to make themselves attractive to openhanded politicians, thus unscrupulously killing off whatever literature they had inside them for the sake of a venal existence as recipients of state patronage.” (‘The Woodcutters’)

Old Masters (1985)

“…what depresses me so excessively is the fact that such a receptive person as my wife was should die with all that enormous knowledge which I conveyed to her, that she should have taken that enormous knowledge into death with her, that is the worst enormity, an enormity far worse than the fact that she is dead, he said. We force and we stuff every- thing within us into such a person and then that person leaves us, dies on us, forever, he said. Added to it is the suddenness of it, the fact that we did not foresee the death of that person, not for one moment did I foresee the death of my wife, I looked upon her just as if she had eternal life, never thought of her death, he said, just as if she really lived with my knowledge right into infinity as an infinity, he said. Really a precipitate death, he said. We take such a person for eternity, that is the mistake. Had I known she was going to die on me I should have acted entirely differently, as it was I did not know she was going to die on me and before me, so I acted utterly senselessly, just as though she existed infinitely unto infinity, whereas she was not made for infinity at all but for finiteness, like all of us. Only if we love a person with such unbridled love as I loved my wife do we in fact believe that person will live forever and into infinity.” (‘Old Masters’)

 

Extinction (1986)

“German is essentially an ugly language, which not only grinds all thought into the ground, as I’ve already said, but actually falsifies everything with its ponderousness. It’s quite incapable of expressing a simple truth as such. By its very nature it falsifies everything. It’s a crude language, devoid of musicality, and if it weren’t my mother tongue I wouldn’t speak it, I told Gambetti. How precisely French expresses everything! And even Russian, even English, to say nothing of Italian and Spanish, which are so easy on the ear, while German, in spite of being my mother tongue, always sounds alien and ghastly! To a musical and mathematical person like you or me, Gambetti, the German language is excruciating. It grates on us whenever we hear it, it’s never beautiful, only awkward and lumpy, even when used as a vehicle of high art. The German language is completely antimusical, I told Gambetti, thoroughly common and vulgar, and that’s why our literature seems common and vulgar. German writers have always had only the most primitive instrument to play on, I told Gambetti, and this has made everything a hundred times harder for them.” (‘Extinction’)

 

The Voice Imitator (1997)

“The mayors of Pisa and Venice had agreed to scandalize visitors to their cities, who had for centuries been equally charmed by Venice and Pisa, by secretly and overnight having the tower of Pisa moved to Venice and the campanile of Venice moved to Pisa and set up there. They could not, however, keep their plan a secret, and on the very night on which they were going to have the tower of Pisa moved to Venice and the campanile of Venice moved to Pisa they were committed to the lunatic asylum, the mayor of Pisa in the nature of things to the lunatic asylum in Venice and the mayor of Venice to the lunatic asylum in Pisa. The Italian authorities were able handle the affair in complete confidentiality.” (‘The Voice Imitator’

 

Three Novellas (2003)

“Whereas, before Karrer went mad, I used to go walking with Oehler only on Wednesdays, now I go walking–now that Karrer has gone mad–with Oehler on Monday as well. Because Karrer used to go walking with me on Monday, you go walking on Monday with me as well, now that Karrer no longer goes walking with me on Monday, says Oehler, after Karrer had gone mad and had immediately gone into Steinhof. And without hesitation I said to Oehler, good, let’s go walking on Monday as well. Whereas on Wednesday we always walk in one direction (in the eastern one), on Mondays we go walking in the western direction, strikingly enough we walk far more quickly on Monday than on Wednesday, probably, I think, Oehler always walked more quickly with Karrer than he did with me, because on Wednesday he walks much more slowly and on Monday much more quickly. You see, says Oehler, it’s a habit of mine to walk more quickly on Monday and more slowly on Wednesday because I always walked more quickly with Karrer (that is on Monday) than I did with you (on Wednesday). Because, after Karrer went mad, you now go walking with me not only on Wednesday but also on Monday, there is no need for me to alter my habit of going walking on Monday and on Wednesday, says Oehler, of course, because you go walking with me on Wednesday and Monday you have probably had to alter your habit and, actually, in what is probably for you an incredible fashion, says Oehler.” (from’Walking’ in ‘Three Novellas’)

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‘Das War Thomas Bernhard (German documentary on Bernhard’s life and work)


Thomas Bernhard: Three Days (1970) A Portrait by Ferry Radax (1970)


Rare documentaire Alsacien sur Thomas Bernhard

“I never in my life freed myself by writing. If I had done that nothing would be left. And what would I do with the freedom I gained? I’m not in favour of liberation, of relief. The cemetery, maybe that’s it. But, no, I don’t believe in that either, because there would be nothing then.” (from an interview, 1986)

 

P. 310 of Thomas Bernhard’s Extinction

in manuscript

in print

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Thomas Bernhard on Martin Heidegger
from ‘Old Masters’

‘Stifter in fact always reminds me of Heidegger, of that ridiculous Nazi philistine in plus-fours. Just as Stifter has totally and in the most shameless manner kitschified great literature, so Heidegger, the Black Forest philosopher Heidegger, has kitschified philosophy, Heidegger and Stifter, each one for himself and in his own way, have hopelessly kitschified philosophy and literature. Heidegger, after whom the wartime and postwar generations have been chasing, showering him with revolting and stupid doctoral theses even in his lifetime.

‘I always visualize him sitting on his wooden bench outside his Black Forest house, alongside his wife who, with her perverse knitting enthusiasm, ceaselessly knits winter socks for him from the wool she has shorn from their own Heidegger sheep.

‘I cannot visualize Heidegger other than sitting on the bench outside his Black Forest house, alongside his wife, who all her life totally dominated him and who knitted all his socks and crocheted all his caps and baked all his bread and wove all his bedlinen and who even cobbled up his sandals for him. Heidegger was a kitschy brain….. a feeble thinker from the Alpine foothills, as I believe, and just about right for the German philosophical hot-pot. For decades they ravenously spooned up that man Heidegger, more than anybody else, and overloaded their stomachs with his stuff. Heidegger had a common face, not a spiritual one, Reger said, he was through and through an unspiritual person, devoid of all fantasy, devoid of all sensibility, a genuine German philosophical ruminant, a ceaselessly gravid German philosophical cow, Reger said, which grazed upon German philosophy and thereupon for decades let its smart little cow-pats drop on it….

‘Heidegger is the petit-bourgeois of German philosophy, the man who has placed on German philosophy his kitschy nightcaps, that kitschy black night-cap which Heidegger always wore, on all occasions. Heidegger is the carpet-slipper and night-cap philosopher of the Germans, nothing else.’


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Liam Gillick 25/5 2013 WWTBD — What Would Thomas Bernhard Do


Sigrun Höllrigl Thomas Bernhard Remixed II

 

Interviewed (1986)

Asta Scheib: Who is Thomas Bernhard?

Thomas Bernhard: One never knows who one is. The others tell you who you are, don’t they? And as you’re told so a million times if you live a long life, in the end you don’t know at all who you are. Everyone says something different. You yourself also say something different each new moment.

AS: Are there people on whom you depend, who influence your life in a decisive way?

TB: One always depends on people. There is no one who doesn’t depend on somebody. Someone, who is always alone with himself, will go under in no time, will be dead. I believe there are decisive people for everyone. I had had two in my life. My grandfather on my mother’s side and another person, someone, whom I got acquainted to one year before my mother’s death. That was a relation that lasted over thirty five years. It was the person everything concerning me related to, of whom I learnt everything. With the death of that person everything was gone. You are alone then. First you also want to die. Then you search. You had turned all people you also had in life into something less important during your life. Then you’re alone. You have to cope.

When I was alone, no matter where, I always knew, this person protects me, gives me support, but also dominates. Then everything is gone. You stand there in the cemetery. The grave is covered with earth. All that meant something to you is gone. Then each day in the morning you wake up with a nightmare. It’s not like you really want to live on. But you don’t want to hang or shoot yourself either. You think that’s not nice and unappetizing. Then you only have books. They swoop down on you with all the terrible things you can write into them. But you act your life to the outside world as if nothing had happened, because otherwise you would be devoured by the world. They are just waiting to see you show weakness. If you show weakness it will be exploited shamelessly and will be drenched in hypocrisy. Hypocrisy means pity. That’s the best term for hypocrisy.

But it is, as I said, difficult; after thirty-five years together with someone else you are suddenly alone. Only people who have gone through something similar will understand that. Suddenly you are one hundred percent more distrustful then before. Behind each so-called human utterance you suspect some meanness. You become even colder than people thought you had always been before anyway. The only thing that saves you is that you cannot starve to death. Such a life surely isn’t pleasant. Then there is your own frailty. A total decline. One only enters houses with a lift. One drinks a quarter of a liter at noon, and a quarter in the evening. Then you get somehow through the day. But if you drink half a liter at noon that night will be terrible. Those are the problems life shrinks to. Take pills, don’t take them, when to take them, what to take them for . Each month you are driven a little nearer to craziness, because you are confused.

AS: When did you last feel happy?

TB: One feels happiness each day, you’re happy to be alive and not dead already. That’s a great capital.
From the person who died, I know that you love life to the very last moment. Basically, everyone loves to live. Life cannot be so terrible that you don’t keep on with it after all. The motivation is curiosity. You want to know: what will come next? It is more interesting to know what will come tomorrow then what is here today. When the body is ill the brain develops astonishingly well.

I prefer to know everything. And I always try to rob people and get everything that is in them out of them. As long as you can do so without the others recognizing it. When people discover that you want to rob them they shut their doors. Like the doors are shut when someone suspect comes near. But if nothing else is possible you can also break in. Everyone has some cellar window open. That also can be quite appealing.

AS: Did you ever want to have a family?

TB: I was always happy to survive. I couldn’t think of founding a family. I wasn’t healthy, therefore I didn’t feel like doing these things. There was nothing left for me but to flee into my mind and to start something on that basis, the body didn’t have any potential. It was empty. It stayed like that through decades. Whether that is good or bad one doesn’t know. It’s one way to live. Life knows billions of different existences.

My mother died when she was forty-six years old. That was in 1950. A year before I had got acquainted with my life partner. First it was a friendship and a very close relationship to a person who was much older than I was. Wherever I was on earth, she was the central point from which I took everything. I always knew: this person is there for me one hundred percent if things get difficult. I only had to think of her, I didn’t even have to visit her, and everything was already in order. Now too I live with that person. If I have problems I ask: what would you do? By that I’m held back from disgusting things which one might still commit at an older age, because everything is possible. She is the one keeping me from doing certain things, teaching me discipline, but also the one opening the world to me.

AS: Have you been content with your life at some moment in that life?

TB: I have never been content with my life. But I always felt a great need to be protected. I found that protection with my friend. She always got me working. She was happy when she saw that I was doing something. That was great. We traveled together. I carried her heavy bags, but I got to know a lot. As far as one is able to say so of oneself, it’s always not very much, almost nothing. For me it was everything.

When I was nineteen she showed Sicily to me, the place where Pirandello lived. She wasn’t eager to stuff a lot of learning into me. It just happened. We stayed in Rome, in Split — but then the journeys more and more often changed into inner journeys. We were somewhere in the country where one lives very simply. Where at night it snowed in onto the bed. There was the tendency to simplicity. The cows lived right beside us, we ate our soup and had a lot of books with us.

AS: Have you accepted your existence as a writer?

TB: Well, one wants to get better at writing, because otherwise you become crazy. That happens when you get older. The composition should always get more concise. I always tried to do something better when going on. To take the next step depend on the one before. Of course one always has the same theme. Everyone has his theme. He should move around in that theme. Then he does it well. There were many ideas. Maybe one wants to become monk, or work on the railroad, or cut wood. One wants to belong to the very simple people. That’s of course a mistake, because you do not belong. If one is like I am something like that is of course impossible, one cannot be a monk or work on the railroad. I was always a loner. Despite that one strong relationship I was always alone. At the beginning of course I thought I had to go somewhere and join in the conversation.

But since almost a quarter of a century ago I haven’t hadcontact with any other writers.

AS: One of your central themes is music. What does music mean to you?

TB: When I was young I studied music. It had pursued me since my childhood. Although I loved music it was like being hunted, chased. I only studied to be together with people of my age. And the reason was this older person. With my colleagues at the Mozarteum I played music, sang, performed. Then music was no longer possible because it wasn’t possible physically. You can only make music if you are together with people all the time. As I didn’t want that, that was that.

AS: Your invectives, attacks against the government, the church, are very harsh at times. Catholicism is described as “destroyer, frightener, character destroyer of a child’s soul” in Extinction.Your country Austria has become to you “an unscrupulous business where all that is done is bargaining and swindling.” Do you write this out of some kind of universal hatred?

TB: I love Austria. I cannot deny that. The construction of government and church — that’s the terrible thing, you can only hate that. I think all countries and religions you know well are similarly disgusting. After some time you see that the constructions are all the same, dictatorship or democracy — for the individual all is disgusting to the same degree. At least when you look close.

AS: Isn’t it important to you to be accepted as a writer in your home country?

TB: The human being naturally longs for love, from the beginning. Love the world has to give. If one does not get it the others can say a hundred times that you are cold and don’t see and hear that. It’s very hard for you. But it’s also part of life, you cannot escape from it. If you call into a forest the echo comes back. Basically one loves hatred after all.

AS: Is it correct that first of all you begin with a blank slate in your books? You seem to settle up with certain people. Do you have to pay for it?

TB: Yes. Sometimes it’s almost unbearable. Yesterday a woman almost jumped at me when I was in town. She screamed: “If you go on like this you are going to end up in a slow and horrible death!” You cannot do anything against such things. Or you are sitting on a park bench and all of a sudden you are hit from behind, you give a start and hear someone shout: “Just go on like that!” One causes all that oneself. But one didn’t expect it. In Ohlsdorf, my real residence, I can hardly live any more. The attacks from all sides are unbearable. But praise is equally terrible, hypocritical, untruthful, and egoistic. People get nasty when I don’t open at once, they break the windows. First they knock, then they shout, then they scream, then they break the window. Then the engines of their cars roar, then they are gone. Twenty-two years ago I was so stupid and made my address known, now I can no longer live in Ohlsdorf. People are sitting on the walls there; already in the morning when I go out the door they are sitting there. They want to talk to me, they say. Or at weekends people instead of going to the zoo go out to look at a poet. And it’s cheaper. They drive to Ohlsdorf and position themselves around the house. I look out like a prisoner or a lunatic. Unbearable.

Since twelve years agp I haven’t given readings. I can no longer sit down and read my own stuff. I also cannot bear people applauding. Applause – actors are paid in such a way. They earn their money in such a way. I like it when the money from my publisher arrives on my account. But marching music, hosts of applauding people in the theater or in the concert — I can’t bear that. Nothing but disaster follows from applause.

AS: In Extinction you said that at the age of 40 one should be proclaimed a wise old fool [Altersnarr]. Why?

TB: That method is the only one that makes things bearable. You have asked me how I see myself. I can only say: as a fool, a jester. Then it’s bearable. Only when seeing oneself as a fool, an aged fool. A young fool is not interesting. He isn’t accepted as a fool anyhow.

AS: Was what you were writing earlier in you life, say ‘The Breath” or ‘The Cold,” also a means to come to terms with your illness?

TB: My grandfather was a writer. Only after his death I really dared to write myself. When I was eighteen a commemorative tablet was unveiled in my grandfather’s home town. After the ceremony everbody went to a restsurant that belonged to my aunt. I was also there and my aunt told the journalists that were present : “This is his grandson, he won’t achieve anything in life. But maybe he can write.” One said: “You can send him in on Monday.” And I got an order to write something about a refugee camp. The next day my text was in the newspaper. Never again in my life did I experience such exaltation. A really great feeling that you write something and after one night it is printed even if abridged. But it was in the newspaper. By Thomas Bernhard. I had tasted blood. I wrote court reports for two years. They were in my head when later I wrote my own prose, that’s where the origins lie.

AS: How do you feel today when critics like Reich-Ranicki or Benjamin Heinrichs write admiringly about you? Do you feel exaltation?

TB: When reading criticism I now never feel exaltation. At the beginning, yes, because you believe all these things. But experiencing the ups and downs for thirty years, then you look through the mechanisms. One sends a servant saying: “Go write a negative critique.” That’s how it works

AS: Are you annoyed at negative criticism?

TB: Yes. Even today I fall into every trap. I have always been fascinated by newspapers, that was starting very early. I can hardly bear a day without a newspaper. After some time you know the editors of the various newspapers. Maybe I haven’t seen them, but I know about the situation at a theater, the background in an editorial office, I know publishers, their manuscript readers, their business. The intellect always comes to grief. Taste comes to grief. Poetry comes to grief. Columns of editors ride over it. They stop at nothing creative. That’s also in a way fascinating. It hurts me but it no longer disturbs me in my work.

AS: In one of your speeches you once said: “We have to report about nothing but the fact that we are wretched.” Do you write in order to testify to your failures?

TB: No, I do everything for myself. All people do so. Whether they are rope-dancing or baking bread or conducting a train or whether they are stunt pilots. Though stunt pilots have performances where people look up. While he flies beautifully they wait for his fall. It’s the same with writers. But other then the stunt pilot, who is dead when that happens, the writer will also be dead but will always start again. There is always a new performance. The older he gets the higher he flies. Until one day you can’t see him any longer and ask: “Strange, why doesn’t he fall down?”

Writing delights me. That’s nothing new. That’s the only thing that still supports me, that will also come to an end. That’s how it is. One does not live forever. But as long as I live I live writing. That’s how I exist. There are months or years when I cannot write. Then it comes back. Such rhythm is both brutal and at the same time a great thing, something others don’t experience.

AS: Women in your books are, apart from a few exceptions, not drawn in a very friendly way. Is that your experience?

TB: I can only say that for a quarter of a century I have dealt with women only. I can hardly bear men. I can’t bear conversations with men. They drive me crazy. Men always talk about the same things. About their job and about women. You cannot expect anything from men. A lot of men in one place are terrible. I even prefer gossiping women. Relating to women had always been useful to me. I learnt everything from women — and my grandfather. I don’t believe I learnt anything from men. Men have always gotten on my nerves. Strange. After the death of my grandfather there was just nobody there any longer. I always sought protection with women, who in many things were also superior to me. Above all women let me work in peace. I was always able to work near women. I could never produce anything near men.

AS: After the death of your friend is there anybody you wouldn’t want to miss?

TB: No. I mean, there are hundreds of people, I could dance at a thousand marriages, but there is nothing I would despise more. Recently I dreamt that the lost person is back. I said, all the time you weren’t here was terrible. As if that time had been some interim time and the dead person would now live on. That was very intense. You can’t get that back. It’s no longer possible. Now I take the position of an observer of only a narrow territory from where I look at the world. That’s all.

AS: Do you believe that there is an existence after death?

TB: No. Thanks God. Life is wonderful. But the best thought is that when it ends it ends forever. That’s the greatest consolation to me. But I really enjoy living. It was always like that, except those times when I thought of suicide. That was when I was nineteen, at twenty-six quite strongly, again at the age of forty. But now I love life. If you see someone who has to leave, but still is in this life, then you start to understand that.

One of the most marvelous things I experienced was that you hold another one’s hand in your hand, you feel the pulse, then it becomes slower and slower, then that’s it. It’s something enormous. Then you still hold that hand, then the nurse comes in, bringing with her the number for the corpse. The nurse wheels her out once more and says: “Come back later.” Then you are immediately confronted with life again. You calmly get up and put things in order; in the meantime the nurse comes back and attaches the number to the corpse, you empty the bedside cabinet, the nurse says: ” Don’t forget the yogurt, you have to take it too.” Outside you hear the crows — it’s like a theatrical play.

Then the bad conscience comes. A dead person leaves you with an immense guilt.

All the places I had stayed with her, places I wrote about in my books, I can no longer visit. Each of my books was created at a different place. Vienna, Brussels, somewhere in Yugoslavia, in Poland. I never had a desk in mind. When writing was going well it didn’t matter where I did it. I also wrote with the greatest noise around me. I’m not disturbed by a crane or a noisy crowd or a screaming tram, or a laundry or a butcher’s. I always liked to work in a country where I didn’t understand the language. That was stimulating. A strangeness where you are one hundred percent at home. For me it was ideal to live together in a hotel, my friend took walks for hours and I was able to work. We often met for meals only. She was happy when she recognized that I was working. We stayed up to four or five months in a country. Those were highlights. While writing you very often have a very good feeling. If in addition to that there is someone who appreciates that and who leaves you in peace — that’s ideal. I never had a better critic. You cannot compare that to a dumb public critique that never looks deep into the text. This woman always provided a very strong positive criticism that was very useful to me. She knew me with all my weaknesses. I miss that.

I still like to be in our apartment in Vienna. I feel protected there. Maybe because we had been living there together for years. Now it’s the only nest of our togetherness. The cemetery is also not very far away.

In life it’s a great advantage if you have already experienced something like it. Things don’t affect you as much after that. You’re neither interested in failure nor success, neither the theater nor the directors, nor the editors or critics. You aren’t interested in anything. The only interesting thing is that there is money on your account so that you can live. My ambitions were no longer as great as they had been earlier. After her death that ceased entirely. I’m not impressed by anything any more. One still likes some old philosophers, some aphorisms. It’s almost like fleeing into music. For hours you enter into a wonderful mood. I still have plans. I once had four or five, now I have two or three. But it’s not necessary. I don’t need it and the world doesn’t need it either. When I feel like writing I write, when I don’t feel like it I don’t. Whatever you write it’s always a catastrophe. That’s the depressing thing about the fate of a writer. One can never put on paper what one thought of or imagined. That gets lost when it is put onto paper. All you deliver is a bad, ridiculous copy of what you had imagined. Basically, one cannot communicate all that. No one ever managed to do so. It’s especially hard in the German language because that language is wooden and clumsy, disgusting. A terrible language that kills everything light and wonderful. The only thing one can do is sublimate that language with a rhythm to give it musicality. When I write it’s in the end never what I had thought it would be like. That’s less frustrating with books because you think the reader has her own imagination. Maybe the flower will blossom after all, will unfold its leaves. In the theater only the curtain unfolds. Those are human actors who suffered for month before the first performance. Those people were meant to be the persons one had made up. But they are not. The persons in your head, that had been able to do everything, are of blood and flesh all of a sudden, water and bones. They are clumsy. In your head the play was poetic, great, but the actors are business-like translators. A translation doesn’t have a lot to do with the original. So the play that is performed in a theater does not have a lot to do with what the author had created. The stage, the boards were to me boards that always destroyed everything. All is trampled down. Each time it’s a catastrophe.

AS: But you continue writing. Books and plays. From one catastrophe to the next.

TB: Yes.


Resources

“You won’t find books here. I don’t know anybody who reads less than I do. And I only deal with people who hardly read anything. Books are spooky, strangling.”

 

The Thomas Bernhard Resource (in English)
Thomas Bernhard Official Website (in German)
The Thomas Bernhard Archive (in German)
Thomas Bernhard Interviewed in 1986

 

Thomas Bernhard was born in 1931 in Heerlen, Netherlands. He died in 1989 at home in Ohlsdorf near Gmunden, Upper Austria, where he had moved in 1965. In his last will, Bernhard prohibited any new stagings of his plays and publication of his unpublished work in Austria. His death was announced only after his funeral.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Ha ha, that video. A lot more lively, that bunch. 90s comedy, gotcha. Oh, man, don’t go as far as ‘Friends’, though, or, oh wtf, do if it hits the mark. Excellent that your story’s launch date is soon enough. Do pass along the coordinates when they exist. I like the title of your little text. It portends. ** David Ehrenstein, Ah, ‘Dillinger is Dead’, that’s a good one. I just put a Ferreri film in a future post I made about Anna Wiazemsky. ** Bill, Hi, B. I didn’t know that Matt Heckert work. Terrific! Wait, you wrote the the controller software? Holy shit. Hats way off, sir. I honestly don’t remember why the Grubbs thing didn’t happen. I think it might have been for ‘Kindertotenlieder.’ I remember it was Stephen’s idea and he was pushing for it, but I assume Gisele nixed it. Why, no idea. It’s good ultimately because that piece birthed Stephen’s and Peter’s KTL project, which is pretty great. Bon-nest day! ** Jeff J, Thanks, pal. I like the pony too. I had a special fondness for Limee Young’s ‘Bird’. It’s so pathetic or something in a way that tickled me. I’ve never seen a Sarah Kane production lion in the flesh, no. There was one here a few years ago that everyone was raving about, but I declined because her work is so language-y, and I knew my pathetic French wouldn’t get me there. I really liked ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ too. I was surprised by how good it was. Things are stable here and basically the same old. We can’t really do much schmoozing for film money amongst possible investors until the quarantine(s) are over, but we’re strategising and getting suggestions and looking for ‘in’s. We have two grant submissions out at the moment, the CNC ‘writing’ one, which we’ll hear about next week, and a big Creative Capital grant, and we’ll hear if we made it to the second round of that in June, I think. Got your email, as you know. Thanks again! That’s incredible! ** politekid, Hey, Oscar! I love when timing accidentally trumps randomness. Oh, very cool about the monologue. Hm, try not to sweat the context too much if you can. Don’t let it intimidate you. Basically, a vocal only thing, disembodied, a mere ‘piece of the whole’ type thing is what you want, right? It’ll probably mostly be heard as a tone and texture, assuming the kinetics are distracting/absorbing. I wouldn’t worry about the intermixing of forms while you’re writing it. I would imagine there’ll be time to finesse the marriage before everything’s locked down. Anyway, all encouragement! Oh, those kinetic adds are really nice. That 1920s one is amazing. Everyone, politekid has a couple of really terrific adds to the kinetic post that you should go check out. (1) a fantastic 1920s execution automaton, and (2) a very cool newer thing called The Riot by P. Spooner. What a curious, circuitous Sarah Kane story. Kind of rich and mysterious. All is normal/abnormal-style well here. Our supermarkets are very calm inside. It’s like being in a church almost. Maybe you guys will ace the return to work-meets-social distancing thing a lot earlier. France thinks they’ve figured that out, and we’ll find out if they’re right on May 11. Wow, Alan Burns. I haven’t thought about him in a long time. I did read a novel by him called … ‘Babel’ maybe? Huh. Great, I’ll do post about one of his books. That’s a capitol idea. Your brain is a capitol! Exciting. Take excellent care. No idea when the Tate will reopen and when you’ll be re-ensconced there? Our museums will be on hold until at least June, they say. ** Steve Erickson, Ah, now that it’s an actual trainwreck I’m a bit more interested, ha ha. Curious and excited to hear your remix. Everyone, Multi-talented Mr. Erickson has used his forced home time to work in music, and he has most recently done a remix of the Black Dresses track ‘Maybe This World’ that you, I, everyone, can and should check the hell out. Do. Here. So, you can’t just simply explain how Netflix works to your parents and get them up to speed promptly? Are they seriously new technology-impaired? ** Sypha, Hi, James. Keeping positive is … well, is there even a choice if you have a choice? Sucks about the extended toothache. And yet it didn’t slow down at all, did it? A new story collection almost finished? Something that would take me a year or two? Great! How is collaborating with Justin working and feeling? ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, Corey. Glad you dug the lot! That was my first experience with Roomba art, and what a welcome it gave me. Everyone, Corey has his ‘favorite piece of Roomba robot vacuum art’ to add to yesterday’s array of kineticism. And it’s a sly bit of something else. Here. Wow, that is quite an early film trove, and, yeah, that won’t be alive for too, too long. Thanks, man! Kick Friday in the gonads! ** Right. I restored an old, dead WG Sebald Day at the start of the week, and I thought, oh heck, why not go ahead and restore my old, dead Thomas Bernhard Day while I was at it. And I obviously did. And it seeks your attention and even approval. See you tomorrow.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Dennis. We could all do with a dose of Bernhard. I included Hotel Waldhaus here… https://apersonalanthology.com/category/steve-finbow/ Perfect.

  2. Thomas Bernhard is a marvelous writer. Love his Glenn Gould book, “The Loser.” His dissing of Heidegger is hilarious — right up there with his namesake Sandra Bernhard.

    “The Seed of Man” is a rare and wonderful Ferrari.

  3. Hi!!

    I’m here. I gave myself a day off from letters and stuff yesterday because I’m in a particularly antisocial mood these days – and that means something considering I haven’t actually met anyone in a month, haha. Anyway.
    It sounds really reassuring if galleries indeed start reopening again on the 11th over there! And I’m glad Zac managed to leave for Nice without any problems though a plane full of masked people, terrified of each other, I assume, sounds kind of like a nightmare or a scene from a shitty catastrophe movie.
    I… uhm… I don’t even know what I’ve been doing. I watched a documentary about Lil Peep but I don’t think I’m gonna be a fan, I did some SCAB work, tried and failed to find some new music that gives me the AH, THAT’S WHAT I NEED RIGHT NOW feeling… I’ll have a “messenger beer” with Anita and another friend later today so maybe that’ll push me out of this bitchy ditch.
    How are you holding up?
    Love with a face tattoo that says Black Hole Baby!

  4. I’m new to Thomas Bernhard but am a fan of Glenn Gould, so maybe The Loser is a good starting place for me?

    In lockdown family film viewing news, last night I showed the 2007 Joy Division documentary and my dad enjoyed it so a decent result!

  5. Haven’t read a super-lot of Bernhard, aside from Wittgenstein’s Nephew, which I believe I picked up because it was on your old Top 50 novels list I think? Forget if I enjoyed it or not, that was like 13 years ago, ha ha.

    Dennis, well, the Pleasant collection will be very short by my standards, not even 150 pages long, so… and of the 8 stories 2 were preexisting already, so that explains the speediness… of course there’s still a lot of editing to do and what have you. As for the collaboration, I did the first scene (and will do the last scene as well) whereas Justin will do the more in the middle stuff, and once that’s done we’ll take it from there and see what happens.

  6. Hey Dennis, super, Thomas Bernhard!
    A very nice coincidance, today I bought Gargoyles (Verstörung) in a second hand book store. Smaller shops can open now in Germany.
    There are some differences from region to region and where we live the rules were mostly okay.
    We were always allowed to go for a walk. Even to meet with someone (but just one person). How is your mood and situation quarantine-wise?

    I had some issues was comments I left the other days. Perhaps a mixture of the blog comment problems and some own browser stuff.
    Or some greater conspiracy!

    Re: Bernhard: I have read many of the shorter books Wittgensteins Nephew, Yes, Walking, the Voice Imitator, The Lime Works, and alle the parts of Gathering Evidence but not
    yet the longer ones like Extinction and Woodcutters. And yes today the nice surprise with the new/old book.

    Last week I (re-) discovered and remembered some work by an old companion from my times in Hamburg 15 years ago. We made music together
    and he has made some very strange and unique videos in the last years. Kind of field recordings, abandoned places, uncanny atmoshere, a world without human beings.
    The clips seem to have no intentions at all, no real direction, some are very static, clips from one to five minutes. Even this Vimeo channel is a lonely and abandoned place. Nobody knows or plays those videos. He just uploaded them. Most were unplayed when I found them. Not inappropriate to imagine a world emptied by a virus or something like that.
    Carsten was very into sound recording technique and he was excelent at that stuff but he always used the tech to create something never for its own sake.
    I like the combination of the very clear sound and the pictures.

    Some of my favorites:

    the machine: https://vimeo.com/86749421

    the visit: https://vimeo.com/87207034

    the rain: https://vimeo.com/86748469

    the blackroom2: https://vimeo.com/86729593

    the mattress: https://vimeo.com/86104031

    the doll2: https://vimeo.com/83595259

    the greenwindow: https://vimeo.com/86730280

    and the main page:

    https://vimeo.com/user22005395

    All the best, Uli

  7. thanks for the support re: the monologue! yeah, it’s nothing super-soon stressful. i guess the challenge is, without a linear narrative or “character” to fix on (who wants to listen to the second half of a story and stick around for the first half?) to write in a way which is 1) non-linear but compelling 2) super into the sound of language without totally ripping off Gertrude Stein or Christopher Knowles (or Wake-era Joyce and really disappearing up my own arse).
    structure structure structure. i guess. one that works in words and not just as a scribble on a receipt.
    oh, an Alan Burns post! very exciting to hear, i look forward to it, thank you! glad i could facilitate that. means i can sidestep a lot of work haha.
    Tate *claims* it will reopen on June 30th, but i dunno if anyone really believes it, if they’re closing pubs &c. til the end of the year. it’s the biggest tourist attraction in the world, i think? so unless they ticketed entering the building… i’m just glad i’m not sorting out the logistics of that.
    hope you’re taking care too! & getting necessary connections done & sidestepping police. gosh if french supermarkets are like churches i’m almost jealous

  8. I changed my Netflix account so that my parents could sign in with my password and E-mail address, but they repeatedly failed and the service’s help line is swamped. My dad then suggested he might sign up for a 30-day free trial (at the very least) but they’ve never done this, as far as I know, despite watching TV constantly right now and complaining about how bored they are.

    Pink Floyd streamed LIVE AT POMPEII for free in HD on YouTube today. The music’s great (the last PF moment when you can hear any trace of the band that made PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN), but the direction and editing were hacky and too literal (like the NASA footage used for “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.”) But I bet this was mind-blowing if you saw it with a head full of THC circa 1973. I also watched a documentary about Scientology featuring Louis Theroux that felt really lazy and exploitative. The frustrating thing is that it had the potential to be a meta exploration of the Co$’s ties to Hollywood and the difficulty of representing an organization this secretive with conventional form if a filmmaker like Robert Greene had made it.

    I had a difficult day today – all these little things, like washing your hands after opening food packages and wondering where the face masks I’m buying were stored, are building up to something really neurotic and nasty. One of my relatives thought he might have COVID, had the opportunity to get tested and passed it up because he was feeling much better, and I really resent that. I’d love to be able to casually get tested and know whether I might be asymptomatic and carry it. Such are the differences between small town America and NYC.

  9. Thank you for stealing several gifs from my “La Main de Singe” blog and not mentioning a link to my site. It is a great honor! On the other hand, I have not found in your books the slightest sign that you have read the great Thomas Bernhard so well. What a wonderful Bernhardian you are! Oh yes that‘s an honor and a real pleasure to be fucked by a genius fucker like you !!!! Thank’s a lot ! It’s really a grat honor.
    Louis Watt-Owen

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