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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Against Striving

Found a most bracing interview with Thomas Bernhard linked from Counago and Spaves. Here’s an extract.

Thomas Bernhard: So, I’ll just keep reading the paper, you don’t mind, do you?

Werner Wögerbauer: Well, no, by all means.

You’ll have to ask something and then you’ll get an answer.

Does the fate of your books interest you?

No, not really.

What about translations for example?

I’m hardly interested in my own fate, and certainly not in that of my books. Translations? What do you mean?

What happens to your books in other countries.

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. A piece of music is played the same the world over, using the written notes, but a book would always have to be played in German, in my case. With my orchestra!

But when you ban future productions of your play ‘Der Weltverbesserer,’ (The World- Fixer) then that’s something similar, you are concerned about the fate of your texts.

No, because ‘Der Weltverbesserer’ was written for a specific actor because I knew he was the only one who could perform it, at that time, because there was no older actor like him, so it came about quite naturally. There’s no point having it performed by some asshole in Hanover, nothing would come of it. If there’s going to be nothing but trouble, you shouldn’t do it.

How do you explain the fact that you’re taken far more seriously abroad than you are in Austria, that you are actually “read” abroad whereas in Austria you’re considered primarily as someone who causes scandals?

That’s because outside Austria, in the so-called Romance and Slavonic worlds, there’s a greater interest in literature in general. It has an entirely different status which it lacks here. Here, literature has no value at all. Music is valued here, theatre is valued, everything else essentially has no value whatsoever. It’s always been that way.

As soon as you even act friendly to someone on the street, people don’t take you seriously, that’s enough to make them take you for a clown. What someone like that does can’t be of any value. It’s like in family life. If you grow up in a family, perfectly normal, with all the usual childish fun and what have you, then for the rest of your life people tell you you’re a charlatan, that it’s no good, that the boy who does nothing but make jokes should complain about his grandmother’s awful cooking, and that can’t be any good. And that follows you to the grave. And it’s the same with the state and the country as a whole. If you go about as a friendly person, you’re through. People treat you like a cabaret artist and that’s that. And in Austria, anything serious gets turned into cabaret, which takes the sting out of it. Any trace of earnest always ends up on the funny side – Austrians can only tolerate seriousness as a joke. In other countries, there’s still a sense of seriousness. I’m serious person, too, but not all the time, that would drive anyone mad, and it would be stupid. That’s the way it is.

Your characters and you yourself often say they don’t care about anything, which sounds like total entropy, universal indifference of everyone towards everything.

Not at all, you want to do something good, you take pleasure in what you do, like a pianist, he has to start somewhere too, he tries three notes, then he masters twenty, and eventually he knows them all, and then he spends the rest of his life perfecting them. And that’s his great pleasure, that’s what he lives for. And what some do with notes, I do with words. Simple as that. I’m not really interested in anything else. Because getting to know the world happens anyway, by living in it, as soon as you walk out the door you’re confronted with the world directly. With the whole world. With up and down, back and front, ugliness and beauty, perfectly normal. There’s no need to want this. It happens of its own accord. And if you never leave the house, the process is the same.

There is nothing but striving for perfection. You want to get better and better.

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”. You know what that means. It’s hard to translate into another region.

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