A different Thomas Bernhard translation

When I wrote about Ewald Osers’ translation of Thomas Bernhard, I found out that there had been at least one other translator of more than one Bernhard novel. That was David McLintock. Among other things he translated Wittgensteins Neffe, and there’s a block here.

Wittgensteins Neffe is one of the more autobiographical books, which I particularly like. The translation seems excellent. Here’s a bit from a section on Viennese coffee houses:

bq. At the Sacher I could get all the newspapers, which I have always had to have since the age of twenty-two or twenty-three, and could spend hours study[ing] them in one of the comfortable corners of the left-hand lounge without being disturbed. I can still see myself sitting there for whole mornings, scanning the pages of Le Monde or The Times and never having my enjoyment interrupted for a moment; as far as I recall I was never disturbed at the Sacher. At the literary coffeehouse I could never have devoted myself to the newspapers for a whole morning without interruption; before so much as half an hour had passed I would have been disturbed by some writer making his entrance, accompanied by his retinue. I always found such company distasteful because it deflected me from my real intentions, rudely impeding what I considered essential and never facilitating it, as I would have wished. The literary coffeehouses have a foul atmosphere, irritating to the nerves and deadening to the mind. I have never learned anything new there but only been annoyed and irritated and pointlessly depressed. At the Sacher I was never irritate[d] or depressed, or even annoyed, and very often I was actually able to work — in my own fashion, of course, not in the fashion of those who work in the literary coffeehouses. At the Brauenerhof [Braeunerhof], above which my friend had lived for years before we met, I am still put off by the foul aim [air] and the poor lighting, which is kept down to a minimum — doubtless from perverse considerations of economy — and in which I have never been able to read a single line without effort. I also disliked the seating, which is inevitably damaging to the spinal column, however briefly one sits there — to say nothing of the pungent smell that emanates from the kitchen and very soon get into one’s clothes.

But the name McLintock rang a bell – when I was a postgraduate student at London University, a McLintock taught at the same college as one of my friends, so I often heard his name as one of the cast in some story or other, but I never knew who he was.

A bit of Internet research revealed that David McLintock was a medievalist and scholar of linguistics and retired from university life at 51 to be a translator. and he died on October 16 2003, at the age of 72.

So I searched out an obituary – it was December by the time I did this – and found one in the Independent archives, dated November 3 2003 and costing something to buy. So presumably it’s still there.

And there it was: the story of a man who scaled the heights of Greek and Gothic under Leonard Palmer and C.L.Wrenn, and then plumbed the depths translating inter alia EU stuff, the latter only because he was lonely.

bq. He could have aspired to a professorial chair [what other kind, indeed?] – after all, he had even written on word formation in Gothic, an extinct language [who knew?], mastery of which was once deemed essential to academic preferment in London [perhaps not in all fields] – but instead, to the amazement and consternation of his colleagues, he chose to retire at the age of 51. …

bq. He now wrote perspicuously on the complexities and subtleties of modern German tense usage, sensitively analysing Thomas Bernhard’s linguistically complex prose, which he was already beginning to translate. …

bq. For a time he even worked in the Civil Service, in the Department of the Environment, translating EU documentation. Dull as this sounds, he enjoyed the companionship of working in an office, for the life of a translator can be very lonely.

I wish I had not recognized the name of the author of this obituary – a name which remained hidden till the second page of the printout – as one of my own former lecturers.

In case anyone else looks at the obituary, there is an error in the use of italics: ‘His translation of Beton appeared as Concrete with Dent‘ should read ‘His translation of Beton appeared as Concrete, published by Dent’.

5 thoughts on “A different Thomas Bernhard translation

  1. Margaret,
    David McLintock taught historical Germanic linguistics and Althochdeutsch at Royal Holloway College (UoL) when I was an undergraduate there. He must have left the college a few years after I graduated. He was the author of the “History of the German Language”, which – certainly when it was published in the mid-1970s – was the seminal work on the topic. I still have my copy knocking around on my bookshelves and refer to it from time to time.

    He was one of the most entertaining lecturers we had. Kind, thoughtful and generous to his students, and an excellent scholar (University Reader), he was always willing to help students when they got lost in the intricacies of the proto-Germanic languages. Pity there weren’t (and aren’t) more like him.


  2. I was thinking you must know him, Robin. I know he did the second edition of the Bostock Old High German Literature together with Kenneth King, who was our professor, or maybe finishing it after King’s death. The History of the German Language sounds interesting, but wasn’t around when I was an undergraduate – we had an excellent course and one of the books I remember is Eggers. I’m sorry I didn’t meet him. I should add that I have absolutely nothing against Gothic, I just think other things are interesting too!

  3. Hmmm… do you know whether anybody has translated Watten into English? (And if so, how did they portray the game, which must be pretty obscure north/west of Bavaria, let alone in l’Anglophonie?)

  4. Last year I reported on James Murray’s letter of application to the British Museum Library, which did not get the future editor of the OED a job despite his acquaintance with “the Romance tongues, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin &…

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