Thomas Bernhard interview

Thomas Bernhard in Cafe Bräunerhof in Vienna, 1988. Photo © Sepp Dreissinger)

signandsight has brought us another sweet piece: a previously unpublished interview with Thomas Bernhard. While you can read the full piece here, let me quote two excerpts, the first on his relation to translation and the second on what breath means to him in writing prose:

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!


Does breathing play a role in your texts, in the sense of breathing rhythm?

I happen to be a musical person, and writing prose always has to do with musicality.

Breathing like with a singer…

Well, breathing isn’t easy. Some people breathe from the stomach, some from the lungs. Singers breathe only with their stomachs because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to sing. You just have to transfer breathing from the stomach to the brain. It’s the same process. You have many little lungs in there, probably a few million. For the time being. Until they collapse. Because bubbles burst, and lungs collapse. There are those who still have lungs at 90. And there are those who have none left by the time they’re 12, who just stand around like idiots. Most people are like that, 98 percent, maybe even one percent more. Every time you speak to someone, you’re talking to an idiot, but charming. And because you’re not a spoilsport, you carry on talking to people, going out for meals with them, being kind and nice. And basically they’re stupid, because they don’t make an effort. What you don’t use wastes away and dies off. Since people use just their mouths but not their brains, they get very well-developed palates and jaws, but there’s nothing left in their brains. That’s the way it usually is.

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