My Prizes: An Accounting
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A gathering of brilliant and viciously funny recollections from one of the twentieth century’s most famous literary enfants terribles.
Written in 1980 but published here for the first time, these texts tell the story of the various farces that developed around the literary prizes Thomas Bernhard received in his lifetime. Whether it was the Bremen Literature Prize, the Grillparzer Prize, or the Austrian State Prize, his participation in the acceptance ceremony—always less than gracious, it must be said—resulted in scandal (only at the awarding of the prize from Austria’s Federal Chamber of Commerce did Bernhard feel at home: he received that one, he said, in recognition of the great example he set for shopkeeping apprentices). And the remuneration connected with the prizes presented him with opportunities for adventure—of the new-house and luxury-car variety.
Here is a portrait of the writer as a prizewinner: laconic, sardonic, and shaking his head with biting amusement at the world and at himself. A revelatory work of dazzling comedy, the pinnacle of Bernhardian art.
any of the other prize documents, they have gotten lost over the years. Now I had the document and the check in my hand and I went to the lectern and read out my notes on the clarity that increases in the cold. Just as the audience was beginning to prepare for my speech, it was already over. That was the shortest speech a Bremen prizewinner has ever given, I thought, and after the ceremony this was confirmed to me. So there I stood and had to shake hands with the mayor again for the
thousand marks. That’ll give me seven thousand marks again. This thought immediately made me happy again. The next day I visited another friend in Bremen who lived there in an attic room and with whom I had a terrific conversation about theater over good tea and a view over the pewter-colored river Weser, most of all we talked about Artaud. Right after this conversation I went back to Vienna. And of course I could no longer expect to move into my newly purchased walls in Nathal. How I eventually
stated in the report. The person who had kept screaming Idiota! as he ran away was his wife, who to her misfortune was a nurse at the hospital and, as I learned later, was instantly fired from her job in the nursing service because instead of helping me she had run away with her husband. I was sorry about this, but there was nothing I could do about it. My Herald was a lump of metal, I walked around it several times and I thought about how I’d only driven it for seven hundred and fifty miles. A
receive the Austrian State Prize, the president of the industrial association, Mayer-Gunthof, long since dead, informed me that the relevant jury had decided to give me this year’s prize, which is to say the prize for 1976. The president ended his letter with the customary formula that he was extremely pleased to be able to share this news with me. At the given moment, I receive the invitation to the ceremony. The prize is endowed with twenty-five thousand schillings. I didn’t give any thought to
I know I did not emerge from any fairy tale and I will not enter any fairy tale, this is already progress and thus already a difference between then and now. We are standing on the most frightening territory in all of history. We are in fear, in fear of this enormous material that is the new humanity, and of a new knowledge of our nature and the renewal of our nature; together we have been only a single mass of pain in the last half century; this pain today is us; this pain is now our spiritual