Suicide as a National Folk Art (Thomas Bernhard’s Correction)

Suicide, Luc Tymans

In this passage from Thomas Bernhard’s Correction we can see the strange, bleak, black humor that characterizes the novel:

It’s a folk art of sorts, I said to Hoeller, always longing to kill oneself but being kept by one’s watchful intelligence from killing oneself, so that the condition is stabilized in the form of lifelong controlled suffering, it’s an art possessed only by this people and those belonging to it. We’re a nation of suicides, I said, but only a small percentage actually kill themselves, even though ours is the highest percentage of suicides in the world, even though we in this country hold the world’s record for suicide, I said. What mainly goes on in this country and among these people is thinking about suicide, everywhere, in the big cities, in the towns, in the country, a basic trait of this country’s population is the constant thought of suicide, they might be said to take pleasure in thinking constantly, steadily, without allowing anything to distract them, about how to do away with themselves at any time. It is their way of keeping their balance, I said, to think constantly about killing themselves without actually killing themselves. But of course the rest of the world doesn’t understand, and so whatever they think about us and regardless of what they say about us and of how they always and invariably treat us, every single one of us, they are all wrong. It’s a simple fact, I said, that our country is misunderstood, no matter how well intentioned the rest of the world may appear, what it sees when it looks at Austria and its people is total madness as a stable state of mind, a constant.

(For those interested: Austria currently ranks 24th in the world in suicide per capita)