Wednesday, November 08, 2006

More Bernhard Reviews and Quotes from The Loser

Thomas Bernhard, the gloomy Austrian, famous for his novels and plays actually started as a poet. He published his first volume of poetry when he was in his late twenties. The English translation of two of his poetry volumes has just come out. Here is one review. Also you can read parts of the poem at the publisher's page.

Link to pdf from the book. I don't know how good the poems are, I am not qualified enough to judge, but they do look characteristically bleak. (The title means "at the hour of the death.") Here is how it starts:

The flower of my anger grows wild
and everyone sees its thorn
piercing the sky
so that blood drips from my sun
growing the flower of my bitterness
from this grass
that washes my feet
my bread
o Lord
the vain flower
that is choked in the wheel of night
the flower of my wheat Lord
the flower of my soul
God despise me
I am sick from this flower
that blooms red in my brain
over my sorrow.


The complete review page contains more links.

I am in the middle of reading his novel The Loser and well, I don't think words like bleak, gloomy, pessimistic will do any justice to what is there in the book. I think one book by Bernhard is enough to counter an entire library of positive thinking, self-improvement, you-can-be-happy-if-you-want-to volumes!

Though I must say, this is really not a book for me to read these days, when I am struggling so hard to resist the perverse pull of masochism and anhedonia and not succeeding at all (will I end up in a madhouse, that is the question I sleep thinking about each night)... I am not going to pick up another one by Bernhard till I feel better :)

Okay, here is something to test your sense of humour, I know this is just out of context and may not make sense but you will get a feel of what is there in the book:
It took me three days after Wertheimer hanged himself to figure out that, like Glenn, he had just turned fifty-one. When we cross the threshold of fiftieth year we see ourselves as base and spineless, I thought, the question is how long we can stand this condition. Lots of people kill themselves in their fifty-first year, I thought. Lots in their fifty-second, but more in their fifty-first. It doesn't matter whether they kill themselves in their fifty-first year or whether they die, as people say, a natural death, it doesn't matter whether they die like Glenn or whether they die like Wertheimer. The reason is that they are often ashamed of having reached the limit that a fifty-year-old crosses when he puts his fiftieth year behind him. For fifty years are absolutely enough, I thought. We become contemptible when go past fifty and are still living, continue our existence. We're border crossing weaklings, I thought, who have made ourselves twice as pitiful by putting fifty years behind us. Now I'm the shameless one, I thought. I envied the dead. For a moment I hated them for their superiority.


Or this:

No one ever cast a more damaging light on his relatives than Wertheimer, descibed them into the dirt. Hated his father, mother, sister, reproached them all with his unhappiness. That he had to continue existing, constantly reminding them that they had thrown him up into that awful existence machine so that he would be spewed out below, a mangled pulp. His mother threw her child into this existence machine, all his life his father kept this existence machine running, which accurately hacked his son to pieces. Parents know very well that they perpetuate their own unhappiness in their children, they go about cruelly having children and throwing them into the existence machine, he said, I thought, contemplating the restaurant.

I haven't selected specific passages, just two almost at random. It is one continuous rant like this. A great example of what Susan Sontag called, "literature of mental restlessness." It is actually an extreme example, though I am enjoying it so far.

Anyway, here is one more review of Bernhard's first novel Frost in LA Times which has just been translated into English. I had linked to the NYT review earlier.

9 comments:

Cheshire Cat said...

I don't find Bernhard depressing, but then I don't take what he says very seriously. I read him for the rhythms of his prose and the comic vigor of his rants.

The truly depressing novelists, in my experience, are American - Bellow, Updike et al. There is a certain musty odour of reality in their work, which I find enervating.

Alok said...

yup, "comic vigor of his rants" is just the right way to describe it, but these days I am going through an intense phase of self-criticism myself and his rants are cutting too close to the bone for either comfort or a sense of humour :(

jyothsnay said...

I like the cadence of his articulation and it is stable throughout...am going to read The Loser soon

Alok said...

best of luck, just don't jump off your balcony after reading it :)

jyothsnay said...

@best of luck, just don't jump off your balcony after reading it :)

I say first "HUH"
a)we read books, watch movies and consumer other infotainment substances to fine-tune our perspectoves n broaden our view of the world/our lives....not to get too much influenced by the intensity of the poet or the writer. If it comes to me, I tend to look at his "cadence of articulation", the way he navigated me through the labyrinthine streets of story, rather than getting affected by the darker clouds he splintered across

b)like most of us, I do "parallel reading" so I will consider a lethal combination...Tom Holt could be a better option n French Opera music could be one more ingredient...reading is a pleasure, one cant afford to make it a punishment

c)I pine.I wither.I long. but that does not mean that I am feeble hearted. I am a born optimist (move me boy, I can tell you 1000 tales of broken hearts and men threading away)....

let's see what's store in for us!

Alok said...

Hmm, looks like I underestimated you :)

jyothsnay said...

Sous estimer de gens sont une telle t√Ęche facile...huh!

When I open a new book crackling with never ever felt energies or that musty smelling dog-eared old book, I dnot see self surrendering to the writer/the book "HELPLESS", "TAKE ME AWAY FROM THIS PRIMORDIAL EXISTENCE"...but I am eager to sharpen my tongue,salivate over the words he arranged for me in a story n since am equipped with a few grey cells, nurture this tendency to challenge him...where is the space for suicidal thoughts to waft in n carry me forward...huh

Alok said...

WOW!!! And I thought all women were naive readers like Madame Bovary...

jyothsnay said...

It leaned back
with all its weight
and leapt forward
to
fix on
HIM
HIS PLUMMETING HEART

-oh HER gaze!