1986 interview with Thomas Bernhard

It is wonderful throughout, here is one good part of many:

What, in your view, is a conversation?

I don’t usually have them. To me people who want to have a conversation are suspect, because that raises particular expectations they’re unable to satisfy. Simple people are very good to talk with. When talking is supposed to become conversation, that’s when things get gruesome! That fine expression “everything under the sun.” It all gets thrown in together and then one person stirs this way, the other stirs that, and an unbearable stinking turd comes out the bottom. No matter who it is. There are collected conversations, hundreds of them, books full. Entire publishing houses live off them. Like something coming out of an anus, and then it gets squashed in between book covers. This wasn’t a conversation either.

Do read the whole thing.


"Doesn't interest me at all, because a translation is a different book. It has nothing to do with the original at all. It's a book by the person who translated it. I write in the German language. You get sent a copy of these books and either you like them or you don't. If they have awful covers then they're just annoying. And you flip through and that's it. It has nothing in common with your own work, apart from the weirdly different title. Right? Because translation is impossible."

There is something to his view. Most Brazilian experts agree that Shakespeare should be read in the Brazilian original. The Portuguese translation of famous book King Solomon's Mines's is much better than the original. However, was Mr. Bernhard paid intellectual rights for his works' translations?

The things you try to get people to believe; everyone knows Shakespeare was originally written in Klingon, and brought to England by a time traveler from the future Federation. That whole “written in Portuguese” thing came about when some Portuguese students who were supposed to have gone to Brazil got drunk, boarded the wrong ship, and went to England instead. They picked it up there, and claimed it as their own, thinking no one would be the wiser back home. Really, this is all common knowledge among the true experts in the Shakespeare community.

Yet, Shakespeare's imagery resembles Prophet Bandarra's too much. Yet, the twist is Bandarra died years before Shakespere had been born. Bandarra was a Catholic prophet, who may or my not have been from Jewish stock, and some experts suspect Shakespeare was actually a crypto-Catholic. Which is the country with more Carholics in the world and was Portugal's (Bandrra's country) colony when Shakespeare wrote his plays? Exactly, Brazil.

What of Bernhard's is actually worth reading?

"The Loser" ("der Untergeher") is a short novel (ostensibly about virtuose pianists) and is absolutely great.

The Loser is fantastic, about a pseudo Glenn Gould. Funny and short. Can recommend as a starting place.
Correction is a bit longer than The Loser, and deals with perfection. Possibly the deepest/philosophical of this works. A good start of this side of TB interests you more.
Extinction is Bernhard's longest work, and also contends for deepest/most philosophical. Deals most readily with TB's hate of Austria, a theme touched on in all his works, but perfected here.
Woodcutters is where I started with Bernhard. More in the vein of The Loser. Short, angry, and, above all - funny. A great introduction to TBs run on style.

Concrete, Old Master's and Wittgenstein's Nephew are all good works, but I wouldn't recommend if you are only looking to read "the best," whatever that means. Gather Evidence is enjoyable as memoir. I did not enjoy Gargoyles and The Lime Works, and never got around to The Voice Imitator.

Gathering Evidence is better in the original German, but note that the actual autobiography starts at the second chapter of the English translation and ends at its first chapter. The second chapter ("Die Ursache : Eine Andeutung" - its translated title is terrible) is brutal. It starts with a quote from the Salzburg newspaper 30 years later, that Austria, Hungary and Sweden have the highest suicide rates in the world, and Salzburg has the highest rate in Austria. Its first two sentences in the original German cover almost a page and are alas not well translated in the English version, for example, "Geschaeftemachern und ihren Opfern" is translated as "those who do business and those upon whom they prey", when just "profiteers and their victims" is direct and gets the pejorative. I'd be kinder to the translator if these sentences weren't the first of the whole autobio, like a hot iron stamping a brand.

A pretty good collection of quotes from a number of his works at goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/7745.Thomas_Bernhard

Whichever nuanced shade of sardonic grabs your fancy might be worth reading.

One of those quotes is in German: "Ausgerechnet der Mensch is unmenschlich." A unfaithful translation of that might be: "Bottom line, people are inhuman."

But the thing is, you probably really have to read it in German.

What does even mean there by "conversation?" What is the sense(s) of that sentence? I have no idea why Tyler of "Conversations with Tyler" picked it out.

If it was a humorous attempt at self-deprecation, it worked.
I'm not yet convinced he should change the name of his podcast to reflect the bolded text in the excerpt, but maybe if I read a little more Bernhard, I will be.

German humor is actually just as funny as any other form of humor, when you understand it.

In my long lost youth I would not really notice the thousands of different moths one saw under the streetlights and in all sorts of other places in those poor sad little parts of town I lived in ( well not that sad, obviously at least one person who lived there lived for decades and decades afterwards) and I barely noticed the different sunshine butterflies.

All that being said, it is truly sad when someone blessed to be a human being deprecates one of the most important activities that human beings engage in, even in jest - heart speaks to heart in conversations, and I have friends who have done good deeds for others in a way that has made, now and again, the very angels delight, and every once in a while such good deeds are nothing more than engaging in conversation - in gifted conversation, where you and the person you speak with laugh and almost shed tears at the beautiful memories invoked - is it hot outside it is raining is it yes it is it rains on who it rains on who? it rains on the just and the unjust - yes I have heard that - what do we need - rain for justice. That sort of thing.

"almost" shed tears?

People are gullible, there is not one line in the Bible that indicates that Peter was not brave - did Nathan Hale say he was of Washington's party the first and second and third time he was asked ? No. Nobody likes to try to do the right thing at great risk and fail. Now I am a big fan of your basic animal groups and I have nothing against the basic Morning Rooster with its morning "cock a doodle doo", as we used to say in the English of the long-gone 20th century, but do me a favor. Reread those passages in the Bible about Peter, starting with the Transfiguration and ending with his speeches, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, that can answer, read in their entirety, the question at least someone should care about: wherein did he ever once say he felt fear? He did not, my friends. He was with Jesus and Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration and he never felt a moment of fear or cowardice after that. Of course he didn't, wake up, you do not live at the bottom of the sea, wake up, wake up, wake up. He thought he could not save Jesus if the anti-Galileans caught him. And billions of gossipers have called him a repentant coward, over the last 60 generations, ever since, because they were too lazy to read with empathy the source material. Well, reread the relevant passages. There is not a single word in all those passages that supports a claim that he was afraid. And he was, after all, on that mountain, on that day, with Moses and Elijah. Think about that fact, with some empathy in your heart. Those facts are just as solid as the recorded facts of any historical event.

Goethe was a very good writer by the way: if you want to read a random German novel, you should spend a few minutes reading the best translation you can find from the better works of Goethe before spending time reading whatever German-langauge novel you choose. Trust me on that.

LIterature is actually very difficult to understand but - unlike the life of the least of God's creatures - even at its best it is finite: hence, sometimes you will hear good finite advice about how to read the best of literature.

Lots of Pushkin sounds like Goethe, and lots of Coleridge, and so on. But the chord changes in Mendelssohn and Brahms leave all that behind, at their best.

Not to mention that sunset over that quiet river and its riverbanks, with the trees on the other side, that sunset you remember that weekend evening of a day when you thought you had never been so much in love before. No, that was not 1805, and no, that was not 1974. Well, probably not, anyway.

1977 - sunset over not a river, but, technically, a lagoon: "The Great South Bay"
2008 - sunset over not a river, but a creek. Sweetgums, a small crowd of maples, and a few random pine trees, silhouetted on the ridge above the creek, outined in indigo by a golden sunset.

Yes that it is quite a gap (1977, 2008) but I am not complaining. No poet ever has described how nice those sunsets were: and never will. Even my brutally difficult life has had moments of pure joy, shared with others who remember those moments too. And God loves you relatively more than he loves me, trust me on that, whoever you are.

As I wind down my 300,000 word commenting career on various noble websites, I want to be as clear as possible.
when someone says God loves you more than me, maybe it is because they have suffered, alone and without knowledge that God was their friend, for a long time. And when they realized, as we all eventually do, that God wanted our friendship, and was always ready to help, every minute, cor ad cor loquitur, sometimes we say to God, who likes the sound of your voice, trust me, out of the honesty of our heart: Thank you, but you created me truthful, and I cannot truthfully say that someone who has suffered so much, alone, is not less loved by You than others, who may have suffered even more but never so much alone. And yes I would do it again, out of friendship, and laugh about it...
Well, that is how friends talk to friends. I have tried to make you laugh here and there over the last 300,000 words, you two or three people who think there is something worth reading in my internet comments, someone might think this is the sort of thing Aristotle wondered might be one day said as an attempt at comedy that reconciled suffering with joy. bist du bei mir geh ich mit freuden remember a friend saying things to a friend 1974 1977 2008 2030

"There is no need to strive for anything in the world, because you get pushed towards it in any case. Striving has always been nonsense. The German word "Streber" (striver – meaning swot or brown-noser) means something awful. And striving is just as awful. The world has a pull that drags you whether you like it or not, there's no need to strive. When you strive, you become a "Streber""

"The misfortune of human beings is that they don't want to take the path, their own, they always want to take a different one. Striving and struggling towards something other than what they themselves are. Everyone is a great personality, whether they paint or sweep streets or write or... people always want something different. That's the misfortune of the world."

So if he hates strivers, does that mean he likes matchers?

Except that's not the origin of the word "strive". Look it up.

Yes, yet this is a good example of translation leading one astray. Especially as both German speakers know this, as that paragraph ends with a less than crystalline English text - 'It's hard to translate into another region.'

Streber really is a quite insulting term to call someone in German, but to strive/work for something is generally fine, as seen from Duden - https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/streben

1. sich energisch, zielbewusst, unbeirrt, zügig irgendwohin, zu einem bestimmten Ziel bewegen

2. sich sehr, mit aller Kraft, unbeirrt um etwas bemühen; danach trachten, etwas Bestimmtes zu erreichen

Not that one can not mock such things, of course, but the text in () is likely not in the original interview either, thus underlining Bernhard's point about how translation changes something.

I choose to take your word, redefine it to snobbishly mean something that it is not commonly understood as, and then distract you with an equally snobbish non-sequitur.

In fact, if you take any meaning away from what I said, I may choose to redefine what I said to mean something other than its explicit meaning if I feel that doing so will make me even less intelligible. I feel this gives the impression of intelligence.

Yes. I know this for all my life. Exploiting this could make you rich beond believe, if you play your cards well. Trying to convince the world of this simle fact, won't work.

1. Hire ultra competent managers, who are aware of this fact and don't feel treathend by intelligent pondlife.(very rare).

2. Find an activity like consulting, which requires uber brains, like oranizational consultents.

3 find the type of work which trains brains but not egos, like IT people at big firms.

4 let them solve the big problems by using their minds instead of models (information model scheisoviz and Johnson, 1988. Etc)

5 let the mega egos with bulshit titles present it to the outside world.

6. Profit beyond believe.

7. Keef telling the 'freethinker department' that they underperformed, sorry no bonus,because your KPI was 2 sofskill trainings this year :-)

I love basterds and love you Malin

Well if I had to pick one post that deserved its "Do read it all" this would be it. A marvelous inspiration for us dour, cranky old men.

There's so much Bernhard self-promoting controversy in German, it wraps the writing in humor. Two cites: "Kurt Hofmann: Aus Gespraechen mit Thomas Bernhard" (from conversations with ...), and "Sehr Gescherte Reaktion: Leserbrief-Schlachten um Thomas Bernhard" (very divisive reaction: reader letter battles around ...). Then there are the two TV interviews of Bernhard by Krista Fleischmann which were brought together into a book, "Thomas Bernhard: Eine Begegnung". They were so cute, some thought he and Fleischmann had had an affair. Some excerpts: 1. (said to a journalist, a classic "bless your heart" putdown) "There are no silly questions, only silly answers." 2. (not funny, but poignant) "If you grow up, fully normal? no, with all childhood joys and toys, and then it's said of you for your whole life that you're a charlatan and that it just cannot be, that the little boy that only makes jokes erupts over a badly made meal his grandmother cooked - it follows you to the grave."

I notice, reading the interview Tyler linked to, that some of the answers are virtually word for word the same as in parts of the Kurt Hofmann book I referenced above. Examples are the descriptions of singers and breathing, and the dismissal of Heidegger as having no rhythm. Who's plagiarizing whom, I don't know.

The really amusing thing is that in Bernhard's own seeming view, this entire interview is not relevant, because a translation is a different interview.

And to add to the amusement, the original publication of this interview was apparently first in French, then translated back into German. Or not, as the author of the interview seems to be Austrian also, and it is reasonable to assume that the title '"Leute, die ein Gespräch führen wollen, sind mir sowieso schon verdächtig."' was translated into French, and not the other way round. http://literaturkritik.de/id/10318

Nonetheless, Nicholas Grindell.seems to have done a good job of translation - but then, he is probably not the sort of person likely to be blessed with a Conversation. And clearly, the translation 'To me people who want to have a conversation are suspect' was not intended to be a title.

I don't think any excerpt has ever made me less likely to read the whole thing.

Well, that was about 'conversation.' Prof. Cowen has Conversations, and he would undoubtedly appreciate everyone paying attention to them.

"Do read the whole thing."

No, I'm good, thanks.

A pretty good collection of quotes.

“Do read the whole thing.”

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