I got to know Thomas Bernhard 35 years ago. I remember, it was a Sunday in may, mid may, in 1954. Back then I was living in the outskirts in Mödling and my doorbell rung and a to me unknown young man stand in front of the door - I myself was a really young man -- and said hello, I am Thomas Bernhard, can I come in? And I said yes please, come in. And I knew the name, because already then he had published some of his poetry. I myself had published a couple of poems, reviews of art (Kunstkritik) and some such. And we talked a little and then he had suggested to go for a walk. And then we did go for a walk for two hours or even longer. Later I found out that his aunt, whom he named with that beautiful word “Lebensmensch”, his Lebensmensch, and she had waited in a pub,but he didn't say anything to me about it. And this is how we got to know each other. And then he said goodbye and we have met often in all those years.
Friendship was incredibly important to him, but he was a very difficult and demanding friend. And he was easily dissatisfied with people. Indeed during the years he became more and more critical and strict and many of his old acquaintances dropped out, apostatised and didn't show up anymore in his surrounding. But he was a very loyal friend, and I think that in his youth and the way how he experienced it he hadn't got much love and affection, and that he was looking for that, but that he also was at the same time reserved. And therefore with the slightest feeling of getting hurt he withdrew. He didn't want to be in a situation in which he is the one that is courting or asked or requests and instead if it didn't come to him then he didn't want it.
We read Pablo Neruda, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Cesar Vallejo, major Latin American and north American writers especially. And possibly I was the more enthusiastic one who was easier inflammable. And even back then he smiled about my enthusiasm for this or that, but shared some of those preferences. And I remember that Cesar Vallejo was very important to him and he also mentions this name in the afterword to Ave Vergil which he published much later.
Literature was the most important thing to him and therefore he had spoken about it with very few people because he hated nothing so much than chatter or shallow talk. He wanted either the really serious conversation or banter, playing with words. Also with corny puns somehow passing over it. But in order to not to hurt the seriousness of a thing that was incredibly important to him, then rather using phrases that you use with quotation marks, expressions that you find in newspapers and that you quote in order to smilingly reject them. Such a game with words he preferred much more than a pseudo intellectual, pseudo deep but clueless talking about things about which you eventually cannot talk. Great art, whether it is Hölderlin or Neruda, you can read it, you can be affected by it, but basically there is nothing left to say about it except on a standard that is three steps lower. And that is actually senseless.
His life is his work, and his work is is his life. Sometimes masks are introduced into his prose, but they are almost transparent. One can easily, when one knows life, see through these masks and can recognise him. If it is places or people that appear it is sometimes the case that the experience of two or three places is summarised. Two or three persons are summarised in one person. But he was no visionary and no inventor. The tremendously own (thing) that comes from him is his tone, is the musicality of his language, is a tone the way like Kleist, like Hölderlin, like Trakl brought a tone into literature that hadn't been there before, but that, since it now exists, is not possible to unthink. So he has brought a tone into the german language that we always connect to him and his name.
The literary success was tremendously important to him, because literature was his life. Thus only through his success he became himself. He got there where he according his feeling always had been. I know no young person that was so severe and strict that so strongly rejected every chance that seemed too small for him, who withdraw a book, I think it was Ereignisse even though it was already ready to print, because he was not satisfied with it. Every body else would have been happy, to have, as a young person a book at the S Fischer publisher. To him it was at that moment too little. It was that moment where he meant, the really big - yes, breakthrough is another such worn word - to achieve by prose. And therefore he consciously rejected his early poetry which I find very beautiful and which he later on started to recognise again. But then he rejected it and only concentrated on prose. Ten years later the theatre was added. And therefore he withdraw a book like Ereignisse in order to not stay too close to poetry with short prose. I want to say that he knew for him it is only about the big success which - and he knew that -- would be adequate to what he could achieve as writer. Something else wasn't worth considering.
There are many memories and everything is still close, just especially also here, in this farmhouse which I found with his help, with the same estate agent that helped him find his farm in Nathal. The same craftsmen that worked for him came here and helped and worked in this place. I mean he is present here in every room. The strongest (impact) is probably that in him I encountered a person who lived according the highest demands, the highest demands towards himself. And even if oneself cannot fulfil those demands, when one is at crossroads in life, facing decisions, the thought of him helped me to decide for myself for the more difficult, the bigger or more meaningful, more important thing and to abstain from something that would have been easy or lead to easy successes. And this his example was probably the most important.
He was someone, or I don't know anyone else who so tremendously liked to live like him, who was so tremendously attached to life. And out of this love for life which at the same time was a love for Austria, upper Austria, the alpine foothills, grew everything, or to a large extent, what he uttered as criticism and often as hurtful criticism. He needed the opposition and he grew at the opposition that he encountered and that he had to surpass and he provoked this opposition. When one met him privately he was sometimes sorry to have hurt the one or other person, he said, actually this or that person --- I remember especially that in the last months before his death he once said I really didn't do justice to jandl at all and he was sorry, but he wasn't prepared to state this in a book. But he realised that the refusing was a part of his being, a part of him he couldn't give up, a part that did belong to him. He had, yes a certain shell, something rejecting and he actually opened himself only to those that knew him since early youth and to whom he could show himself the way he was. And that was a very simple plain person who could be delighted tremendously with the simplest things of life and who reflected about those simple things of life and about the deepest problems or thoughts that were created by the existence of persons in this world. In between there was nothing. In between the simple, the here and now, the being together, to have a glass of wine in a pub and maybe some vinegar sausage, in between this simple, real and the highest thoughts of Kant or Schopenhauer or Nietzsche or whomever, therein between was the connection and therein between existed nothing, What was in between, or what came in between he rejected radically. He didn't have any longing for death, but the consciousness for the closeness of death had always accompanied him. As you know he was since his youth, his early youth very ill and ill again and again and every day he could live, especially without pain, was an incredible gift to him. I believe that rather healthy people that get depressive are endangered to commit suicide. He tried to every day escape death and to live another day on this wonderful and terrible world. But it was a rather wonderful world to him and terrible only because of that what some fellow humans did to it.