Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Read Thomas Bernhard

This might be considered handy for anyone interested in Thomas Bernhard, which is to say, anyone interested in top notch literature. Bernhard is in the running for my favorite writer ever, anywhere, any era. Okay, Faulkner, Cabrera Infante, Arenas, and Bulgakov are never going to be unseated, but after reading only The Loser, Yes, and Wittgenstein's Nephew I am convinced that Bernhard is the real fucking deal. His admittedly bleak subjects (there’s a suicide in many of his novels), prolonged rants (rarely, if ever is there a paragraph break), and non-linear “plots” constitute more than a unique voice, though his certainly was unique. His books transcend post-modern showing-off and other obvious trickery. His work— singular, intense, unrelenting—manages to subvert literary tradition while adhering to it closer than many of his peers. The work is dense and no, I’m not kidding, there really are no paragraph breaks. Still, the work moves quickly and the reader (or should I say, this reader) never feels overwhelmed by the breathless style. To the contrary: this reader has been energized by it. Seriously, after reading Yes I felt like I had been given a shot of B12 vitamins.

Anyone lucky/smart/savvy enough to have read Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya—who I have raved about in the past—will see Bernhard as a clear influence. Hell, Castellanos Moya name-checked Bernhard in the title of one of his novels. If one is going to borrow from anyone, Bernhard might just be the best, and most difficult, to borrow from. Consider The Loser. The plot is essentially revealed in the opening pages. Three students attended a music conservatory, one of them being Glenn Gould the famous pianist. Another of the three kills himself for various reasons largely tied to those long past school days. The third narrates the novel. And yeah, things do happen outside of this incredibly lame description, but not much. Somehow this spins into around a hundred pages. Never does the book feel like it is dragging or reaching into places where it does not belong. Bernhard’s skill allowed him to create a circular plot with constant shifts and moves that make the reader feel as though they have gone everywhere and nowhere. The book is simple and complex all at once. A goddamn miracle.

Like most great art, the reviewer (me) criminally fails in describing the work, and here I make no exception. Fuck what I say, go see for yourself. Now that Vintage is putting out a lot of Bernhard books, seeing for yourself is easier than ever.