In Which Our Guest Contributor Addresses The Translation of Thomas Bernhard’s Korrektur


The Austrian playwright and novelist Thomas Bernhard is one of the finest writers of this last century. He died in 1989. In many ways he is the ultimate outsider. I was first interested in Bernhard’s work after someone gave me a copy of Frost. His work is complicated, but tremendously rewarding. I’m on a Bernhard message group so I can listen to people who actually know what they’re talking about discuss Bernhard, and this essay by Mick McGovern, I felt, deserved a wider audience.

What You Will Be Reading

by Mick McGovern

I don’t want to be a party pooper – no,no,no – and I don’t want to come into conflict with the Group Will in a way that could lead to unpleasant consequences for me, but I feel I should point out something that might contribute to the gradual negation of this group, and is therefore in this sense entirely in keeping with the spirit of Korrektur.

In reading Correction, you will not be reading anything that Thomas Bernhard wrote. You will be reading a work by a ludicrous bitch called Sophie Wilkins.

Correction (Phoenix Fiction Series)

If you want to read the book that Thomas Bernhard wrote, then read Korrektur. Translation is impossible, utterly, impossibly impossible – says Bernhard both in his work and in several of his interviews. He loathed and despised translations and translators. The only thing he appreciated about translations of his work was that he occasionally received cheques as a result – something terribly important for the bilious bourgeois bastard, who I am coming slowly to despise.

In a non-profession filled to overflowing with fabricators, distorters, outright liars, hacks, talentless would-be writers and some of the nastiest turds known to mankind, ‘translator’ Sophie Wilkins was a particularly loathsome specimen, concerned only with the accumulation of cultural capital, something especially important to someone working as an editor at Alfred A. Knopf and something which is best achieved by one’s professional association with so-called ‘great’ writers.

Her Afterword to the translation of In der Höhe concerns itself largely with her attempt to inflate her sparse personal encounters with Bernhard into some sort of tremendous friendship. In the process she gets several basic details about him laughably wrong, and even tries to give him a girlfriend, something that chronic masturbator and repressed homosexual Bernhard never–in the fucky-fucky sense –had (as he himself admitted obliquely in one of his interviews).


However, the main point of her unnecessary Afterword was her attempt to justify her use of the English word ‘cone’ for Bernhard’s word in Correction – something that had been perceptively criticised in one of the reviews (in The New York Review of Books). The reviewer also dismissed Wilkins (and others’) attempt to inflate Bernhard into a new Kafka by saying that a comparison with Woody Allen would be more in order (my own estimation entirely).

Thomas Bernhard himself laughs at Wilkins in a book that uses his own indiscreet words to laugh at him – Ein Jahr mit Thomas Bernhard: Das versiegelte Tagebuch 1972 (by Karl Ignaz Hennetmair, his onetime bag-carrier and general factotum. See too Gitta Honegger’s biography). While translating Das Kalkwerk in 1972, Wilkins wrote a pathetic and faintly mad letter to Bernhard asking for help. Bernhard, as reported by Hennetmair, shows the letter to him with a dismissive comment along the lines of, “This is the sort of crap sent to me by idiot translators.”

Mick McGovern is a writer born in London of Irish-Catholic parents. According to him, he “studied Politics, trained as journalist, worked for a few scummy papers, made a few shit documentaries, then published several books as ghostwriter, though all recent ideas rejected, lives in Berlin, works occasionally as translator of unimportant things.” He would like his comments on translators to be interpreted primarily as gentle self-criticism.

Buy Bernhard’s The Lime Works.

You can join the Thomas Bernhard discussion list here

Buy Bernhard’s Gathering Evidence.

“Many Thanks For Your Honest Opinion” — The Lodger

“Kicking Sand” — The Lodger

“The Story’s Over” — The Lodger

3 thoughts on “In Which Our Guest Contributor Addresses The Translation of Thomas Bernhard’s Korrektur

  1. Thank god! I’ve been looking around trying to find out about this shrill, transparent egoist named Sophie Wilkins who has leaped onto the last pages of a book I otherwise enjoyed. Glad to see my instinctual revulsion wasn’t baseless.

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