Friday, July 26, 2019

Bernhard Quotes

Q: Why are you so allergic to interviews?

A: Try to picture yourself being shackled hand and foot to a tree, and someone firing a machine gun at you. Don’t you think that would make you a bit tense?

Q: You're always presented as a kind of loner in the mountains, the man from the farm...

A: What can you do. You get a name, you're called "Thomas Bernhard", and it stays that way for the rest of your life. And if at some point you go for a walk in the woods, and someone takes a photo of you, then for the next eighty years you're always walking in the woods. There's nothing you can do about it.


"His description of Salzburg well exemplifies Bernhard's notoriously hyperbolic prose style: "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".

JEAN-LOUIS RAMBURES: In An Indication of the Cause, you describe Salzburg as “a fatal illness that its inhabitants fall prey to at the moment of their birth.”  Isn’t that a bit of an exaggeration?

THOMAS BERNHARD:. Walk into any restaurant in Salzburg.  At first glance you’ll get the impression that these are just nice, decent people.  But if you eavesdrop on your tablemates, you’ll notice that they’re dreaming of nothing but extermination and the gas chambers.  I’ve got a splendid anecdote for you.  Not long after An Indication of the Cause came out, the German critic Jean Améry took me aside and said to me, “You can’t talk like that about Salzburg.  You’re forgetting it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.”  A few days later, after I’d read his review of my book in the Merkur, which I was still fuming over, because he’d understood absolutely nothing, I heard a piece of news over the television: the previous day Améry had killed himself, and in Salzburg of all places.  That’s no coincidence.  Just yesterday three people threw themselves into the Salzach.  Everybody blamed it on the föhn.  But I’m certain that there’s something about that town that physically weighs down on people and ultimately destroys them.

JEAN-LOUIS RAMBURES: Still, it seems that you have an extraordinary gift for detecting monsters everywhere.

THOMAS BERNHARD: All human beings are monsters as soon as they show their armor.  Incidentally, I know myself well enough to notice when I’m projecting my feelings onto other people.  To be sure, I am fascinated by monstrousness, but believe me:  I never make it up.  If reality strikes you as less outrageous than my contrivances, that’s just because in the real world the facts come to light in a piecemeal fashion.  In a book you’re unconditionally bound to avoid empty stretches.  The secret consists in inexorably piling up sheaves of reality more or less as one would in the initial abortive drafts of a manuscript.  Perhaps this is what commonly goes by the name of imagination.

“One is called upon to approach and realize and complete the monstrousness, and everyone has some such enormity in his life, or else to be destroyed by this monstrousness even before one has entered into it. In this way people always tend to waver at a certain point in their lives, and always at the particular crucial point in their lives when they must decide whether to tackle the monstrousness of their life or let themselves be destroyed by it before they have tackled it. Most people prefer to let themselves be destroyed by this monstrousness rather than to tackle it, because they aren't equipped by nature to tackle and realize and fulfil their monstrousness, they're rather inclined, by nature, to let themselves be destroyed by their monstrousness before they have tackled it.
― Thomas Bernhard, Correction

“We always wonder, when we see two people together, particularly when they're actually married, how these two people could have arrived at such a decision, such an act, so we tell ourselves that it's a matter of human nature, that it's very often a case of two people going together, getting together, only in order to kill themselves in time, sooner or later to kill themselves, after mutually tormenting each other for years for for decades, only to end up killing themselves anyway, people who get together even though they probably clearly perceive their future of shared torment, who join together, get married, in the teeth of all reason, who against all reason commit the natural crime of bringing children into the world who then proceed to be the unhappiest imaginable people, we have evidence of this situation wherever we look... People who get together and marry even though they can foresee their future together only as a lifelong shared martyrdom, suddenly all these people qua human beings, human beings qua ordinary people... enter into a union, into a marriage, into their annihilation, step by step down they go into the most horrible situation imaginable, annihilation by marriage, meaning annihilation mental, emotional, and physical, as we can see all around us, the whole world is full of instances confirming this... why, I may well ask myself, this senseless sealing of the bargain, we wonder about it because we have an instance of it before us, how did this instance come to be?” 
― Thomas Bernhard, Correction

Or you go to see people with lots of children, because you sometimes want that yourself too. I’ve quite enjoyed that, for an hour, but for me an hour-and-a-half is already too long. The children draw pictures there and show them off. Then they put on a play, and their parents are fascinated. But it’s all actually ghastly. And their lives are completely empty; these people have really got completely empty lives; they’ve really got nothing but their children and a job and otherwise nothing, otherwise absolutely nothing. Not a speck of imagination, and no interests of any kind either, nothing of any kind at all. They spout such utterly inane blather, and their children, who of course are charming and wonderful, become exactly like them: insignificant, abhorrent adults, fat or thin, but stupid. 

–Thomas Bernhard, from “Ratten, Mäuse und Tagelöhner” [Rats, Mice and Day Laborers] (Thomas Bernhard silently interviewed by Kurt Hofmann) in Aus Gesprächen mit Thomas Bernhard. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1991

“I took a few steps toward the kitchen window although I'd already realized I couldn't look through the kitchen window because, as already mentioned, it's covered with filth from top to bottom. Austrian kitchen windows are all totally filthy and we can't look through them and naturally it's to our greatest advantage, I thought, not to be able to look through them because then we find ourselves staring into the mouth of catastrophe, into the chaos of Austrian kitchen filth.” 
― Thomas Bernhard, The Loser

 We were up above, in the company of our parents, locked up in our walls and in our rooms and in our books and papers and everything around us and in us was nothing but lethal and we are down below, without our parents, again locked up in these walls and in our rooms and in our books and papers and everything around us and in us is nothing but lethal.” 
― Thomas Bernhard

We approach philosophy with extreme caution, I said, and we fail. Then with resolution, and we fail. Even if we approach it head-on and lay ourselves open, we fail. It’s as though we had no right to any share in philosophy, I said. Philosophy is like the air we breathe: we breathe it in but we can’t retain it for long before breathing it out. All our lives we constantly inhale it and exhale it, but we can never retain it for that vital extra moment that would make all the difference.
–Thomas Bernhard, Extinction

Everyone, he went on, speaks a language he does not understand, but which now and then is understood by others. That is enough to permit one to exist and at least to be misunderstood.
Thomas Bernhard, Gargoyles

All our lives we put off the big questions until they form a huge mountain which darkens our lives. But by then it is too late. We ought to have enough courage not to be afraid of other people or of ourselves; we ought not to spare them, to deceive them by sparing them.
–Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence

We enter a world which precedes us but is not made for us, and we have to cope with this world…but if we survive…we must take care to turn this world, which was a given world but not made for us or ready for us, a world which is all set in any case, because it was made by our predecessors, to attack us and ruin us and finally destroy us, nothing else, we must turn it into a world to suit our own ideas, acting first behind the scenes, inconspicuously, but then with all our might and quite openly, so that we can say after a while that we’re living in our own world, not in some previous world, one that is always bound to be of no concern to us and intent upon ruining and destroying us…

–Thomas Bernhard, Correction

My parents believed that they were bringing me up, but they actually destroyed me, just as they destroyed my brother and my sisters. Instead of talking about bringing me up, they should have talked about bringing me down. Thanks to their upbringing, which was purely and simply a process of destruction, as I have said, everything in my mind was mutilated beyond recognition, to borrow a phrase that is normally used in a different context.
–Thomas Bernhard, Extinction

All you see when you look back is this gaping void. Not only your childhood, but the whole of your past, is a gaping void. This is why it’s best not to look back. You have to understand that you mustn’t look back, if only for reasons of self-protection, I thought. Whenever you look back into the past, you’re looking into a gaping void. Even yesterday is a gaping void, even the moment that’s just passed. 
-- Thomas Bernhard,  Extinction

We’re often led to exaggerate, I said later, to such an extent that we take our exaggerations to be the only logical fact, with the result that we don’t perceive the real facts at all, only the monstrous exaggeration. I’ve always found gratification in my fanatical faith in exaggeration, I told Gambetti. On occasion I transform this fanatical faith in exaggeration into an art, when it offers the only way out of my mental misery, my spiritual malaise. I’ve cultivated the art of exaggeration to such a pitch that I can call myself the greatest exponent of the art that I know of. I know of none greater. No one has carried the art of exaggeration to such extremes, I told Gambetti, and if I were suddenly asked to say what I really was, secretly, I’d have to say that I was the greatest artist I knew in the field of exaggeration.
–Thomas Bernhard, Extinction  

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Lost Princess

There once was a king, who had six sons and one daughter. This daughter was very precious to him. He loved her exceptionally, and took great delight in her. Once, he met with her on a certain day and he lost his temper at her, and an utterance escaped his mouth: "May the no-good-one take you!" In the evening she went to her room, and in the morning, no one knew where she was. Her father became very distraught, and he went everywhere looking for her.
The viceroy stood up, for he saw that the king was very troubled, and asked that he [the king] provide him [the viceroy] - with a servant, a horse, and money for the journey, and set out to ask for her. He asked exhaustingly for a very long time, until he found her. (And following is the account of how he asked for her, until he found her). He went from place to place, for a very long time, in deserts, fields and forests. And he asked for her a very long time. As he was crossing a desert, he saw a path to the side, and he was composing himself: "Seeing that I've been going such a long time in the desert and I cannot find her, I'll try this path - maybe I'll come to a settled area." And he went a very long time on that path.
Afterwards, he saw a castle, with several soldiers standing guard around it. The castle was very attractive, well-built, and extremely orderly with the guards posted, and he was worried that the guards would not let him in. But he composed himself and said, "I will go and try." So he left the horse behind, and approached the castle. And the guards ignored him and did not hinder him. He went from room to room without disturbance, and came to one reception hall, where the king sat, wearing his crown. And there were a number of guards, and musicians with their instruments standing before him. It was all very pleasant and beautiful, and neither the king nor any of the others asked him anything at all.
And he saw there delicacies and fine foods, and he stood and ate and went to lie down in a corner, to see what would transpire there. He saw that the king summoned for the queen. They went to bring her, and there ensued a great commotion and joy. The musicians played and sang a great deal, in that they were bringing the queen. They placed a chair for her and sat her next to the king. And she was the above-mentioned princess, and he (the viceroy) saw and recognized her.
After that, the queen gazed about and saw a man lying in a corner, and recognized him. She stood up from her chair and went over to him, nudging him, and asked him, "Do you recognize me?" He answered, "Yes, I do. You're the lost princess." And he asked her, "How did you get here?" She answered, "Because my father blurted out the words `The no good one should take you', and here, this place, is no good."
So he told her that her father is very sorry, and has been searching for several years. And he asked, "How can I get you out of here?" And she answered, "It's impossible for you to get me out of here unless you choose a place, and dwell there a full year. And the whole year, you must yearn to take me out. Any free time that you have, you should only yearn and pray and hope to free me. And you should fast frequently, and on the last day of the year, you should fast and not sleep the entire day." So he went and did just that.
On the last day of the year, he fasted, and did not sleep, and rose and began the journey back [to the castle where the lost princess was held]. And on the way he saw a tree, and on it grew very appealing apples. And they were irresistibly tantalizing to his eyes, so he approached and ate one. Right after eating the apple, he dropped and fell asleep, and he slept a very long time. His servant would try to wake him, but to no avail. Afterwards, he awoke from his sleep, and asked the servant, "Where am I in the world?" And the servant told him the story: "You were sleeping a very long time, several years. And I survived on the fruit." And he [the viceroy] was very remorseful about hearing this.
So he returned there and found her. And she revealed her great distress to him. "If you had only come on the prescribed day, you would have taken me out of here. And because of one day, you lost. Nevertheless, it is very difficult not to eat, especially on the last day, when the Evil Inclination is very overpowering. (In other words, the princess told him that now she would make the conditions more lenient, that from now he would not be expected to fast, for that is a very hard condition to fulfill, etc.) So now, choose a place again, and dwell there also a year, as before. And on the last day you will be allowed to eat. Only you must not sleep, and must not drink wine, so you won't fall asleep. For the essential thing is not to sleep." So he went and did accordingly.
On the last day, he would go there, and saw a spring flowing, with a reddish hue and a wine-scented fragrance. He asked the servant, "Did you see that spring, which should have water in it, but its color is red, and its scent is of wine?" And he [the viceroy] went and sipped from the spring. And he immediately fell into a sleep that lasted several years - seventy, to be exact. And great numbers of soldiers passed by with their accompanying gear. The servant hid himself from the soldiers. Afterwards came a covered carriage, and in it sat the princess. She stopped next to him [the viceroy]. She descended and sat by him, recognizing who he was. She shook him strongly, but he failed to wake up. And she started to bemoan, "How many immense efforts and travails he has undergone, these many years, in order to free me, and because of one day that he could have freed me, and lost it...," and she cried a great deal about this, saying "There is great pity for him and for me, that I am here so very long, and cannot leave." After that, she took her scarf off of her head, and wrote upon it with her tears, and laid it by him. And she rose and boarded her carriage, and rode away.
Afterwards, he [the viceroy] awoke, and asked the servant, "Where am I in the world?" So he [the servant] told him the whole story - that many soldiers had passed there, and that there had been a carriage, and a woman who wept over him and cried out that there is great pity on him and on her. In the midst of this, he [the viceroy] looked around and saw that there was a scarf lying next to him. So he asked, "Where did this come from?" The servant explained that she had written upon it with her tears. So he took it and held it up against the sun, and began to see the letters, and he read all that was written there - all her mourning and crying as previously mentioned, and that she is no longer in the said castle, and that he should look for a mountain of gold and a castle of pearls, "There you shall find me!"
So he left the servant behind, and went to look for her alone. And he went for several years searching, and he composed himself, thinking that certainly a mountain of gold and a castle of pearls would not be found in a settled area, for he was an expert in the map of the world. So he went to the deserts. And he searched for her there many years.
Afterwards, he saw a giant man, far beyond the normal human proportions. He was carrying a massive tree, the size of which is not found in settled areas. The man asked him, "Who are you?" He answered, "I am a man." The giant was amazed, and exclaimed, "I have been in the desert such a long time, and I have never seen a man here." So he [the viceroy] told him the whole story, and that he was searching for a mountain of gold and a castle of pearls. The giant answered him, "Certainly, it does not exist at all." And he [the giant] discouraged him and said that they had muddled his mind with nonsense, for it surely does not exist. So he (the viceroy) started to cry bitterly, for he felt certain that it must exist somewhere. And this giant discouraged him, saying that certainly he had been told nonsense. Yet he (the viceroy) still said that it must exist.
So the giant said to him, "I think it is nonsense. But since you persist, I am in charge of the animals. I will do this for you: I will call them all. For they traverse the whole world, perhaps one of them will know where the mountain and the castle are." And he called them all, from the smallest to the largest, all the varieties of animals, and asked them. And all of them answered that they had not seen these things. So he said, "You see that they told you nonsense. If you want my advice, turn back, because you certainly will not find it, for it does not exist." And he [the viceroy] pleaded passionately with him, saying, "But it absolutely must exist!" So the giant said to him, "Behold, in this desert also lives my brother, and he is in charge of the birds. Perhaps they know, since they fly at great heights - perhaps they saw this mountain and castle. Go to him and tell him that I sent you to him."
So he [the viceroy] searched for him [the giant's brother] for several years. And again he found a very large man, as before. He was also carrying a massive tree, as before. And this giant also asked him as had the first. And he [the viceroy] told him the whole story, and that his brother had sent him to him. This giant also discouraged him, saying that it certainly did not exist. And he pleaded with him as with the first. Then the giant said to him, "Behold, I am in charge of the birds; I will call them, perhaps they know." So he called all the birds, and asked them all, from the smallest to the largest, and they answered that they did not know anything about this mountain and castle. So the giant said to him, "You see, it certainly does not exist. If you want my advice, turn back, for it simply does not exist." But he pleaded with him, saying "It certainly exists!"
The second giant said to him, "Further ahead in the desert lives my brother, who is in charge of the winds, and they run around the whole world. Perhaps they know." So he went several more years searching, and found also this giant, who was also carrying a giant tree. And the giant asked him, as the others had. And he told him the whole story, as before. And the giant discouraged him, as before. And he pleaded with him as well. So the third giant said to him, that for his sake he would call all the winds and ask them. He called them, and all the winds came, and he asked them all, and not one of them knew about the mountain and the castle. So the giant said to him, "You see, they told you nonsense." And the viceroy began to cry bitterly, and said, "I know that it certainly exists!"
As they were speaking, one more wind came. And the giant in charge of them was annoyed with him, saying, "Why did you not come with the rest?" He answered, "I was delayed, for I needed to carry a princess to a mountain of gold and a castle of pearls." And the viceroy was overjoyed. The one in charge asked the wind, "What is expensive there? (In other words, what things are considered valuable and important there?)" He [the wind] answered him, "Everything there is extremely expensive." So the one in charge of the winds said to the viceroy, "Seeing that you have been searching for her such a long time, and you went through many difficulties. Perhaps now you will be hindered by expenses. Therefore I am giving you this vessel. Every time you reach into it, you will receive money from it." And he [the third giant] commanded the aforementioned wind to take him [the viceroy] there. The storm wind came, and carried him there, and brought him to the gate. There were guards posted there, that would not let him enter the city. So he reached into the vessel, took out money and bribed them, and entered the city. And it was a beautiful city.
He approached a man, and rented lodgings, for he would need to stay there some time. For it would need much cunning and wisdom to free her. And how he freed her, he [Rebbe Nachman] did not tell, but in the end he freed her.