Wednesday, 27 November 2013

FOCUS> Interview with T. Bernhard by K. Fleischmann

Thomas Bernhard Interviewed by Krista Fleischmann

(Wien 1984)


FLEISCHMANN: You were trained as an actor.  Has this had any influence on the way you write?

BERNHARD: Probably.  Everything you learn has a huge influence on everything you do.  Of course I was also trained as a businessman; that’s also always played an important role.  I was also trained as a gardener and as a truck-driver, and in both cases I also learned a lot about human beings.  So you come the proverbial full circle and subsequently write a few relatively decent books.  I’m basically not a writer and have never thought of myself as one.

FLEISCHMANN: But rather as…?

BERNHARD: I have always been a real human being at bottom.  The sort of literary writing that [writers] envisage, compose, or whatever, has precious little to do with reality and is actually totally worthless.  You can plainly see that when you open any of their books.  They consist almost completely of worthless rubbish written by people who are sitting in some government-subsidized apartment, collecting a pension, and there their little domestic problems arise, and then they have filing-cabinets, and then they you know make their books, they sew them together like seamstresses.

FLEISCHMANN: How do you make your books?

BERNHARD: I have always been a free man; I have no pension and I write my books in a completely natural manner, in accordance with the way I live, which is guaranteed to be different from that of all these people.  Only a person who is actually independent can actually write well.  If you’re dependent on anybody or anything whatsoever, people will smell it in every sentence.  Your dependency will hobble every sentence you write.  And so there are whole sentences that are hobbled, whole pages that are hobbled, whole books that are hobbled, because people are simple dependents: [dependents on] a wife, a family, three children, ex-spouses, a government, a company, an insurance policy, the boss.  No matter what they write, it always reeks of dependency, and for that reason it’s [always] lousy, hobbled, hamstrung.

FLEISCHMANN: But of course many writers are living below the poverty level; shouldn’t you at least cut them a bit of…?

BERNHARD: […]That’s their own damn fault; I tell you I have always shifted for myself; I’ve never received a subsidy; nobody has ever gone out of their way on my account, from the beginning to the present.  I am against all subsidies, against all pensions, and artists should never receive a penny for free from anybody.  That would be the ideal scenario; then maybe something worthwhile would be produced.  All the doors that artists are trying to pass through should be shut and bolted.  Instead of being given even the smallest handout, they should be kicked out on to the street.  That is never going to happen [here], and that’s why our art is lousy and our literature is lousy.  [These artists] only have to worm their way into any old nook or cranny of some newspaper or governmental department; they start out as geniuses and wind up in Room 463 with its shelf-fuls of paperwork, because they’re cosseted from cradle to grave.  Well, it goes without saying that you can’t write a decent book once you’re in a place like that.

FLEISCHMANN: In other words, there should essentially be no support?

BERNHARD: None whatsoever, as far as the arts go!  The arts must support themselves.  Not even great institutions ought to be subsidized.  They ought to operate at the behest of a commercial principle: “Devour or starve.”  The reason our cultural life is so kaput is that it’s all being propped up.  Such a huge garbage dump can hardly be produced by anybody who’s not being supported from behind by a subsidy, and thereby ruined.

FLEISCHMANN: What about the official state theaters, the Burgtheater for example?

BERNHARD: At bottom they should all be simply gotten rid of.  What we need is a commercial theater scene, then we’ll get, you know, small, self-supporting opera productions, and things will get back to being natural.  You can sum the rule up in one sentence: If it’s subsidized or government-funded, get rid of it.  I would never give a young artist ten schillings, or even one schilling.  He’s got to get out there on his own, and either he will make it or he won’t.  That’s what I did, after all.  But Austria is a subsidizing state, and so of course everything is subsidized, every moron is glutted and bandaged with subsidies, and has his eyes and ears stuffed with government money, so that people cease to see, cease to hear, and finally cease to exist.

FLEISCHMANN: Isn’t it exactly the same in other countries?

BERNHARD: I don’t think so.  Here it’s immeasurably excessive.  And if it exists in other countries, then it’s only a tiny fraction of what it is here.  A writer who can depend only upon himself for support, who has to work, is also a writer who will actually accomplish something.  But if he knows in advance, “Well, I really don’t have to do anything, because my pension from the Ministry, or some other kind of allowance, is already on its way,” then the whole situation is simply hopeless.  Then they all just sit there at their spinning-wheels and wait for their allocation from the ministry, and weave.
FLEISCHMANN: But a large portion of the expenditures [on the arts] are basically expenses on personnel.  It would at present be a great hardship if people in that sector were, for example, fired.

BERNHARD: Well, some people will have to be fired; some people will also have to come [back] to life; the stages of our major theaters are frequented by actual corpses, there are literally thousands of people [there] who at bottom are chickenfeed and who are simply tolerated.  The theaters must support themselves, [especially] the state theaters.  The very word [“state theater”] is nonsensical.  A theater belongs in a specific building, whose rent and everything else has to be collected on the spot.  As it happens, I’ve got one of those buzzwords [for it]—all buzzwords are, of course, abominable—but, anyway, the word in question, “downsizing,” would in this case actually be appropriate.  Every single one of them deserves to be downsized, right down to the point where they’re invisible.  And if the actors put on good theater, then people will go into the theaters, and then they will manage to support themselves.

FLEISCHMANN: And what if one of these theaters then says, “Thomas Bernhard is demanding too high a percentage of the takings; we’ve got to cut his share back”?

BERNHARD: I am a businessman and I’ll demand, you know, what my product is worth.  It’s like my great-grandfather used to say: “I’m selling butter for this price; if you don’t want my butter and think it’s too expensive, then get the hell out of here.”  And because I hardly ever allow my plays to be performed and even then just once, I’m a relatively low-cost investment.  But for that one time I intend to get as much as Ithink I deserve for the time I’ve spent working on the play.  I’ve never made a fuss as a matter of principle or been a chiseller over what’s due to me [“as an artist”], because that’s all official [claptrap], and I’ve always detested the herd instinct, even [when it comes to getting paid].  Anybody who produces something has a sense of what it’s worth, and you can have it for that price, which I intend to have.  If the price isn’t right, too bad!  That’s the best system there is.  It’s the only one I’ve ever known.  


Source: Thomas Bernhard--Eine Begegnung.  Gespr√§che mit Krista Fleischmann (Vienna: Edition S, 1991).

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