Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Thomas Bernhard in The New Yorker

Thomas Bernhard is getting a lot of attention in the English literary press these days or perhaps I have started paying attention. A long review-essay in the latest New Yorker has lot of details about his life and works and is a good introduction to both.


There is a deeper purpose to Bernhard’s apparent linguistic sadism. He seems to have taken Wittgenstein’s well-known dictum “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” as a personal challenge. Accordingly, he tried to expand the outer limit of his own language to the point where it could encompass even the most extreme forms of human experience.

Link via complete review.

Ruth Franklin is an editor at the new republic magazine and is a very good writer. I recently came across her article on Bernhard's compatriot and nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek. She is very harsh on her. She doesn't call her a commie and a pornographer like most of the conservative American press did when she won the nobel, but comes quite close...

15 comments:

steve said...

It's a good piece, except for the bit about Correction probably being his masterpiece.

-bashes head against a wall-

No!

Alok said...

I have read only three of his books so far, The Loser, Wittgenstein's Nephew and Frost. Wanted to read Gathering Evidence or Extinction (I read on your blog that this is your favourite novel) next but I have found only Gargoyles and Correction.

Antonia said...

"All the elements of his intensely pessimistic world view—remorseless fury at a callous universe, lack of faith in human relationships, manic pursuit of aesthetic perfection"

hmmmnnn

lack of faith in human relationships is wrong.....when one sees the role of Maria in Extinction - or the friendship in Wittgenstein's Nephew between Bernhard and Wittgenstein...there is also an interview somewhere that refutes that. There in all the novels is somesort of friend from whom the protagonist has learnt everything about books etc.
Find this essay a bit unbalanced...bit a too strong focus on all the Nazistuff which is surely right but only one side of the coin....she just only sees the extreme Bernhard
agree with Steve on the Correction

....and the Jelinek essay....very interesting how different things are being perceived in the US and in Europe....and I would assume Franklin has not understood Jelinek, according from what I read, far too superficial categorization of her writings, really quite shortsighted.... how annoying Jelinek got the Nobel prize, I can hear the indignation about this...

Antonia said...

I had a look again at the Jelinek essay and thought wat utter crap that Ruth Franklin wrote....

I was laughing tears as I read this Jelinke quote in the essay, no wonder she is not liked:

"Jesus is less than the father. He is not equal to the father, just like Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, and Richard Perle is gone, but he is still here, and he and a few others believe that Jesus is with them. ... At this point, Jesus W. Bush still refuses to be called equal to God, but we will convince him sooner or later. He is the son of God, but all others can equally become sons of God, or at least they can wish for that. The Jews are so odd."

Actually there are also mistakes in the essay, the reference to Christa Wolf is wrong, since Wolf just as much as Jelinek did not grew up and still focuses somewhat (not exclusively) on the mean patriarchy for they in their childish brains somehow think it has not yet dissappeared. Guenter grass actually was an SS member by the way - which Franklin could not know at that time, but he was not so innovent as he always is depicted...Also,Jelinek wrote an awfullot of diverse stuff, allsorts of things, from really big fat novels to these short plays, and this boradness is completely neglected, she for instance wrote also a play on Robert Walser. Anyway, it seems as if Franklin somehow lives in a world where everything is fine, no war exists and better no plays or books that indicate any of the evil in the world - shock and horror - apparently she only reads 19 th century novels and what is the main problem with her she does not understand irony. Not Jelinek has the simple worldview, but Franklin.

Alok said...

actually that article is one of the more temperate and comparatively more knowledgeable ones written on jelinek in the mainstream american media. there were some really vicious and ad-hominem attacks after she won the nobel. and when next year they gave the prize to pinter everybody lost all hope :)

I agree, she really doesn't discuss her career in any detail (the title itself is "who is elfriede jelinek?") in the article...

I don't know about the literary background much. Have read Lust and didn't like it much. Also I left piano teacher unfinished though I loved the movie version with isabelle huppert a lot.

even then i think she deserves a more serious engagement than this even though one may eventually disagree with or dislike her views...

Alok said...

Agree with you about Bernhard's views on friendship too. I think he is harsher on families and sexual relationships but always values companionships.
Perhaps you are talking of this interview, i really loved it... its a fantastic interview

AS: Are there people on whom you depend, who influence your life in a decisive way?

TB: One always depends on people. There is no one who doesn't depend on somebody. Someone, who is always alone with himself, will go under in no time, will be dead. I believe there are decisive people for everyone. I had had two in my life. My grandfather on my mother's side and another person, someone, whom I got acquainted to one year before my mother's death.

Antonia said...

yes I was talking of this interview, it is great.

and the other articles on Jelinek were even worse? Dear me.
Like you, I also don't always agree with her, but she definately deserves a better and fairer critique. She does just too much stuff and too much things that others don't do, so she can't be just simply ignored.

Alok said...

try this article. it is funny in a way :)

Antonia said...

yes it is in some sense funny, but sad tho that they all have a go on her...

Cheshire Cat said...

Let me say, I have never heard a single positive thing said about Jelinek's writing. Anyone?

Alok said...

there was an article in bookforum which praised her. I think from what i have read so far, people, whoever they are, admire her more for her politics, "courage" and things like that and less for purely aesthetic reasons, which to me isn't a problem. I like political writers, writers with a mission...

she is just too reader-unfriendly for me. may be she thinks sentences which make sense and are beautiful represent patriarchal violence and capitalist commodification too.

also dont agree with the article's contention that the novel is better than the movie. i think the movie has a humanity and a force which is completely missing from the book, which i felt was just a jumble of flat and toneless sentences.

Cheshire Cat said...

I have a lot of respect for Perloff's criticism, so perhaps there is something there... But I'm still not in a hurry to find out.

Odd how Austrians are so full of resentment, especially towards their country, it isn't just Bernhard. I've been reading Alexander Lernet-Holenia and he's milder, much more gentle, but of course there is a generation gap between him and the likes of Bernhard and Handke.

I'm not sure I agree that politics and courage and so on are sufficient grounds for looking up to a writer. By that token, revolutionaries are all admirable, being idealists. Certainly the writers most often featured on this blog - Sebald and Bernhard and now Krasznahorkai - do not seem to engage with politics in an explicit way.

Udge said...

I loved this article, and the comments here. I hadn't heard of Bernhard before (sorry!) but have noted the names & will be reading them next year. What a great blog, Alok. thank you.

And I agree about Jelinek: the reviewer is an idiot, or has ground her axe so fine that it cut off her own foot.

Alok said...

Thanks Udge. Bernhard is a great writer, and unlike here i think you will be able to get his books more easily in germany.

cat: it is difficult to write about concrete social and philosophical issues without losing the complexity, ambiguity and depth of style. not many writers can do that... Not sure about Jelinek. Her style didn't do anything to me, even though I was interested in what she was dealing with politically.

Antonia said...

about Lust, the novel and film - Jelinek, the book is quite good - maybe it is the translation...and one should not forget that people of her generation still lived this way, with the parents until they married or so.
This comment by cheshire car brought me to the idea that they all use the political opinions and ideas of Jelinek and Bernhard and so on only so that they dont have to look deeper and do the actual work of really reading the books and to develop an immanent critique...they are always a lot of stereotypes involved...I have a link for a good interview with Jelinek, but it is german http://www.aliceschwarzer.de/304.html
and by the way this interview then again caused a new scandal, for jelinke made a play of it and streeruwitz who is interviewed with her together in the interview from the link does not like the play....
austrians as such are an interesting species...