Thomas Bernhard’s Wittgenstein’s Nephew
Tried to write about it for a few hours—did write something, mostly complaining about how hard it is to write, etc. etc. etc. Deleted it. Slim Bernhard—not the best starting place for anyone interested in Tommy B, but not a particularly bad one either. (Correction, which also features a Wittgenstein (in disguise) is probably the best I’ve read by Bernhard so far).
Flannery O’Connor: The Habit of Being and Mystery and Manners
These books are essential.
Anyone who wants to write fiction must read Mystery and Manners, a collection of O’Connor’s lectures and essays on her craft. The Habit of Being, which collects her letters, is fascinating–of particular interest are her letters to A., a younger woman who liked O’Connor’s stories and wrote to her until the end of her life.
I sort of graze on these books.
Emmanuelle Guattari’s memoir I, Little Asylum
Did you know that Felix Guattari had a pet monkey? Boubou was her name. She died in a tree. Full review forthcoming.
Alain Badiou’s The Age of the Poets
Don’t know if I’ll ever work up the courage to write about this one, but what I’ve read so far—the first four essays in the collection—is really compelling. Badiou tackles Plato’s rejection of the poets from his ideal state—Badiou reckons that “no truth can ever deliver the meaning of meaning, or the sense of sense”:
Plato banned the poem because he suspected that poetic thought could not be the thought of thought. We once again welcome the poem in our midst, because it keeps us from supposing that the singularity of a thought can be replaced by the thought of this thought.
By which I take this to mean: The spirit of the spirit.
Dmitry Samarov’s Where To? A Hack Memoir
Been enjoying the vignettes here—Samarov has a direct and descriptive but wry style. His stories spill over into rants, comic asides, lovely ugly grotesque anecdotes, and tales of warmth and friendship. Love the illustrations too. Great stuff.
William T. Vollmann’s Last Stories and Other Stories
I like Vollmann, but this one is hard to get into. Wonderful dark moments, great little fragments of stories, but 150 pages in and I feel like I’m reading the scraps left out of some other, better, tighter novel.
I do not care for walks either, and have been a reluctant walker all my life. I have always disliked walking, but I am prepared to go for walks with friends, and this makes them think I am a keen walker, for there is an amazing theatricality about the way I walk. I am certainly not a keen walker, nor am I a nature lover or a nature expert. But when I am with friends I walk in such a way as to convince them I am a keen walker, a nature lover, and a nature expert. I know nothing about nature. I hate nature, because it is killing me. I live in the country only because the doctors have told me that I must live in the country if I want to survive—for no other reason. In fact I love everything except nature, which I find sinister; I have become familiar with the malignity and implacability of nature through the way it has dealt with my own body and soul, and being unable to contemplate the beauties of nature without at the same time contemplating its malignity and implacability, I fear it and avoid it whenever I can. The truth is that I am a city dweller who can at best tolerate nature. It is only with reluctance that I live in the country, which on the whole I find hostile.
From Thomas Bernhard’s novel Wittgenstein’s Nephew.
At last we found ourselves standing in front of one of the thousands of square marble plaques enclosed in concrete. On it was to be read, freshly incised, the name Isabella Fernandez. Anna Härdtl, with tears in her eyes, tried to fasten her husband’s photograph to the marble plaque, but was at first unable to do so. By chance I had in my pocket the end of a roll of adhesive tape and used this to stick the photograph to the marble. Anna had previous written the name of her husband, Hans Peter Härdtl, in pencil under that of Isabella Fernandez, and though partly obliterated by the rain, it could still be clearly read. Poor people, she said, or those who suddenly became victims of a misfortune such as she had suffered and could make themselves understood, were buried, when they died, the very same day in an above-ground concrete block like this, which is often meant not just for two, but for three bodies.
JEAN-LOUIS DE RAMBURES: Why since 1975 have you set aside novel-writing in favor of autobiography?
THOMAS BERNHARD: I have never written a novel, but merely prose texts of greater or lesser length, and I’m going to take care not to describe them as novels; I don’t know what the word means. I haven’t ever wanted to write an autobiographical work either; I have a genuine aversion to all things autobiographical. The fact is that at a certain moment in my life I got curious about my childhood. I said to myself, “I haven’t much longer to live. Why not try to record my life up to the age of nineteen? Not as it was in reality—there’s no such thing as objectivity—but as I see it today.”
When I was planning the book I envisaged it as a single slim volume. A second one emerged. Then yet another one…until the point when I started to get bored. In the end childhood is always just childhood. After the fifth volume I decided to call it a day. In the case of each my books I’m always torn this way and that between a passion and a loathing for my chosen subject.
Every time my second thoughts get the upper hand, I resolve to give up intellectual pursuits for good and dedicate myself instead to purely material tasks, for example to chopping wood or plastering a wall, in the hope of recovering my good cheer. My dream is of a never-ending wall and never-ending good cheer. But after a stretch of time of greater or lesser length, I once again start to loathe myself for being unproductive, and despair about this drives me to seek refuge in my brain. Sometimes I tell myself my instability is something I’ve inherited from my ancestors, who were a very heterogeneous bunch. This bunch included farmers, philosophers, laborers, writers, geniuses, and morons, mediocre petit-bourgeois types, and even criminals. All these people exist within me, and they never leave off fighting each other. Sometimes I feel like committing myself into the custody of the goose-keeper, at other times into the custody of the thief or the murderer. Because you’ve got to make choices, and every choice means precluding other choices; this round-dance ultimately drives me to the brink of madness. Such that if I make it to the end of my matutinal shaving routine without killing myself in front of the mirror, I have only my cowardice to thank for it.
Cowardice, vanity, and curiosity are the three basic and essential impetuses to life, the things that keep it moving along, even though every conceivable rational argument gainsays this movement. At any rate, that’s the way it seems to me today. Because it may very well happen that tomorrow I’ll think something completely different.
From an interview with Thomas Bernhard originally published in Le Monde. The English translation is by Douglas Robertson. You can read the entire translated interview at his blog.
If we hear something, says Oehler, on Wednesday we check what we have heard and we check what we have heard until we have to say that what we have heard is not true, what we have heard is a lie. If we see something, we check what we see until we are forced to say that what we are looking at is horrible. Thus throughout our lives we never escape from what is horrible and what is untrue, the lie, says Oehler. If we do something, we think about what we are doing until we are forced to say that it is something nasty, something low, something outrageous, what we are doing is something terribly hopeless and that what we are doing is in the nature of things obviously false. Thus every day becomes hell for us whether we like it or not, and what we think will, if we think about it, if we have the requisite coolness of intellect and acuity of intellect, always become something nasty, something low and superfluous which will depress us in the most shattering manner for the whole of our lives. For, everything that is thought is superfluous. Nature does not need thought, says Oehler, only human pride incessantly thinks into nature its thinking. What must thoroughly depress us is the fact that through this outrageous thinking into a nature which is, in the nature of things, fully immunized against this thinking, we enter into an even greater depression than that in which we already are. In the nature of things conditions become ever more unbearable through our thinking, says Oehler. If we think that we are turning unbearable conditions into bearable ones, we have to realize quickly that we have not made (have not been able to make) unbearable circumstances bearable or even less bearable but only still more unbearable. And circumstances are the same as conditions, says Oehler, and it’s the same with facts. The whole process of life is a process of deterioration in which everything–and this is the most cruel law–continually gets worse. If we look at a person, we are bound in a short space of time to say what a horrible, what an unbearable person. If we look at Nature, we are bound to say, what a horrible what an unbearable Nature. If we look at something artificial–it doesn’t matter what the artificiality is–we are bound to say in a short space of time what an unbearable artificiality. If we are out walking, we even say after the shortest space of time, what an unbearable walk, just as when we are running we say what an unbearable run, just as when we are standing still, what an unbearable standing still, just as when we are thinking what an unbearable process of thinking. If we meet someone, we think within the shortest space of time, what an unbearable meeting. If we go on a journey, we say to ourselves, after the shortest space of time, what an unbearable journey, what unbearable weather, we say, says Oehler, no matter what the weather is like, if we think about any sort of weather at all. If our intellect is keen, if our thinking is the most ruthless and the most lucid, says Oehler, we are bound after the shortest space of time to say ofeverything that it is unbearable and horrible. There is no doubt that the art lies in bearing what is unbearable and in not feeling that what is horrible is something horrible. Of course we have to label this art the most difficult of all. The art of existing against the facts, says Oehler, is the most difficult, the art that is the most difficult.
From Thomas Bernhard’s Walking. Translated by Kenneth Northcott and excerpted at length in Conjunctions 31.
So the other week, Turner wrote, at my favorite local bookstore—a labyrinthine maze you wouldn’t believe, formed from wooden frames filled with dusty paper stacks, obstacles of boxed books, unexplored (the boxed books, not the shelves), littering the pathways (the boxed books)—just under 2 million books (all the books, shelved, and boxed), if a certain clerk is to be believed (and I believe her)—and you wouldn’t believe, and I know you wouldn’t believe because I go there often enough, me, living just a mile away, sometimes walking, briskly, or at an even pace—and with this free time on my hands, and with all these unsolicited review copies, creating a little pool of credit, of trade of etc.—I know you wouldn’t believe because I so often hear the irregular clientele remarking on their own personal disbelief, or their own befuddlement, or, more often, I see them get lost, and even then I’m enjoying that, maybe offering (mis)direction, or, more likely, intercepting the high school seniors—What are you reading? Yes? Faulkner! No! Not that edition!—And so the other week at my favorite local bookstore, I happened upon, neatly stacked in a to-be-shelved shelf, a neatly stacked stack of Thomas Bernhard novels, or, more precisely, a compliment stack of Thomas Bernhard novels, a so-called stack of novels that I did not so-call “own,” a so-called stack of Thomas Bernhard novels that I had not read, not to mention have in my own personal possession, a little series of Vintage English translation editions that could be nestled next to my own meager collection, already, yes, Gargoyles and Correction and Concrete and Yes and The Loser and The Voice Imitator and Frost—but not Old Masters, and Old Masters not in this neatly-stacked bundle (it was never a bundle), no, not Old Masters, which, Turner wrote, Chang wrote about on this so-called website, no, no not Old Masters, not in the so-called bundle, but what to begrudge, begrudge that, no, Turner thought and wrote, and then, looking back over what he had written, thought, No, this is rubbish, I must delete all this, I must erase all this and not push publish.
“Amazon, the so-called bookseller Amazon” makes a grave mistake.