Monday, April 30, 2007

A Storm of Consciousness

In my most recent pre-California post, on Bernhard's Frost, I quoted a passage that I said "represents an unexpected nod from Bernhard--almost as if he is telling us what the point is (almost), not just of Frost and Strauch's despairing voice within, but all of his narratives." This has bothered me; I might have made my own point better if I'd taken more time. What I was trying to say was not that it was Bernhard telling us what the "point" of his fictions is, but, instead, that it seemed to me that the passage in question described some of the aesthetic effect of reading Bernhard. Which could be the point, yes, the point in reading fiction being to experience a certain aesthetic effect. But I was afraid I was not as clear as I'd intended.

Speaking of Bernhard, about a week after my post Ellis Sharp wrote an excellent piece about On the Mountain, which was actually written by Bernhard in 1959, before Frost (which appeared in German in 1963), but not published until after his death, in 1991 (so it says here). Ellis focuses on Bernhard's use of the comma--the whole novel is one long sentence:
A fiction of friction: the grinding together of a consciousness and everything that impinges upon it. [. . .]

Language like a river, flowing, unstoppable. A babble alert to its own condition (in a way that soporific comfort fiction never knows that it is drugged and easy-dreaming). Every letter matters. A storm of consciousness, of language. It drives the narrator into society – into an Austrian condition – from which he (the gender is not in doubt) recoils.

[. . .]

A kind of vertigo ensues. When the narrative rages against ‘a gigantic wave of price increases, a colossal wave of price increases’ is this the narrator’s anger or is he mocking the peevish complaints of the bourgeoisie? I don’t find it at all easy to decide.
This, too, describes well the aesthetic effect of reading Bernhard's narratives.

For more on Bernhard, if you haven't already read it, see Jonathan Taylor's amusing article in The Believer, "Admiration Journey" (link via This Space). Taylor embarks on a tour of Bernhard's house and country--the titular admiration journey he feels certain Bernhard would have scoffed at. He includes various quotes from Bernhard's writing, and comments some on that writing. Says Taylor on Bernhard's aesthetic:
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.
Taylor finds that, along with the exaggeration and contradiction in Bernhard's fiction, there is the contradiction of his life:
Bernhard, who mocked the visiting of places associated with writers as well as admiration journeys to museums and churches, had done nothing less than design a museum for admirers like us to visit, in the same way that he devoted his life singlemindedly to writing even though the writings we possess are only nonsense because they can only be nonsense. Bernhard’s house is part and parcel of his literary legacy: a seriously satirical stance that eludes the initial urge to peg him as a misanthrope, a pessimist, or a nihilist.
Whenever I travel to a major city with fine bookstores, I think I'm bound to happen upon certain authors I have a hard time finding generally. I keep thinking I'll find cache of used copies of Thomas Bernhard or Peter Handke or Gabriel Josipovici books, but no. None of the stores we entered in either San Francisco or Oakland had anything by these authors, other than the occasional copy of Frost, which hardly counts since it's a new publication and I already have it (ditto Josipovici's Goldberg: Variations). If I'd known I was going to be a Bernhard enthusiast when I bought Concrete several years ago at the Borders in Washington, DC, I would have snapped up all the several titles I saw there around that time, none of which ever appear there or anywhere else anymore. (Yes, I know I can probably find them online, and I probably will. But it's more of a thrill finding one in a physical store.)

1 comment:


you may not find any used handke book [why not write farrar straus to issue some in paperback??

but here are some links to handke material that is on line:

Please note the following links devoted to the work and person of Peter Handke.

and 12 sub-sites [the drama lecture]
[pertaining to scriptmania matters] [dem handke auf die schliche/ prosa, a book of mine about Handke] [the current American Scholar caused controversy about Handke, reviews] [some handke material, too, the Milosevic controversy summarized]


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Visisting Scholar Germanics 1996-2006