Thomas Bernhard…

I just this morning started reading Thomas Bernhard’s novel, Wittgenstein’s Nephew, and came across this passage, which made me laugh out loud:

Of all medical practitioners, psychiatrists are the most incompetent, having a closer affinity to the sex killer than to their science.  All my life I have dreaded nothing so much as falling into the hands of psychiatrists, beside whom all other doctors, disasrous though they may be, are far less dangerous, for in our present day society psychiatrists are a low unto themselves and enjoy total immunity…Psychiatrists are the real demons of our age, going about their business with impunity and constrained by niether law nor conscience (8).

If you haven’t read Bernhard, you should. Bernhard’s books are unlike books that are, I don’t know, separated into paragraphs, or even chapters, or have some sort of visual structure. Bernhard also tends to put certain phrases in italics,  and repeat them over and over again.  Although I know that others I’ve given Bernhard books to read can’t get into him at all, I generally find myself sucked in early on by the unyileding prose. At first it’s somewhat exhausting, if not disorienting, but well worth it.   I read Correction a few years back, followed by Extinction. I enjoyed both books quite a bit.

4 thoughts on “Thomas Bernhard…

  1. I still haven’t read Wittgenstein’s Nephew but have read Extinction and Correction, also his memoir Gathering Evidence. His stuff is wonderful, no? Like a mix of Karl Kraus and Sam Beckett, the relentlessly acidic prose becomes very humourous after a while. I also saw his play Old Masters a few years ago and little expected the invective (which is spot-on, by the way) about Heidegger.

  2. Yes, I really enjoy reading Bernhard. I find Bernhard’s writing, as well as the form, to be wonderfully astonishing as much as it is brutal. I want to call it anorexic, but I’m just not sure that’s appropriate. Wittgenstein’s Nephew, which is 100 pages, is essentially one long paragraph. When I first picked up Correction I remember being struck by 2 page sentences (more a function of translation, I suspect). There are more sentences in WN, but I’d be surprised if the average number of sentences per page was much higher than 4. There was a fun article in The Believer about Bernhard a few years ago:

    The greatness of Bernhard’s novels and memoirs is, after all, philosophical, and stylistic. A brutally simple and apparently universal idea—Everything is ridiculous when one thinks of death, he said upon receiving Austria’s Förderungspreis für Literature in 1968—is embroidered into a vivacious comedy of pure thought, through compulsive repetition, confident self-contradiction, and heady exaggeration. It is, I thought, art to be contended with on its own terms—in the echo chamber of the solitary mind, not on the guided tour.

    The rest is here

  3. I’ll have to read Old Masters, but doesn’t Bernhard ridicule Heidegger by calling him a ludicrous Nazi philistine, for one, and pokes fun at him for having his wife sew his socks, or something like that? I’ll see if I can dig up the book next time I’m at the library.

  4. Yes, “a ridiculous Nazi philistine in plus-fours”. Maybe it’s a little unfair. Heidegger wasn’t a philistine.

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