Wittgenstein’s Nephew by Thomas Bernhard

 

 

 

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Wittgenstein’s nephew by Thomas Bernhard

Austrian fiction

Original title – Wittgensteins Neffe

Translator – David Mclintock

Source – Personal copy

Well if the last book was from a Nobel winning Austrian writer , this is from the Austrian writer that didn’t win the nobel . As many of you know I always have a soft spot for Bernhard having reviewed five of his books in the past. With new books being translated in recent years I need to catch up and review a few more from him so hopefully this is the first of two this month by him I will be reviewing. This is maybe the most personal book by him I have read.

A sick person who returns home always feels like an intruder in an area where he no longer has any business to be. It is a well-known pattern the world over : a sick person goes away, and once he is gone the healthy move in and take over the place he formerly occupied, yet instead of dying , as he was meant to do, he suddenly returns, wishing to resume and repossess his former place.The healthy are incensed, since the reappearance of this person whom they had already written off forces them back into their previous confines, and this is the last thing they want.

PAul tries to go back but isn’t want like Tomas himself when he returns sometimes .

The book is the story of a real life friendship between Thomas Bernhard and a relative (not a nephew as in the title but still a close relation to) Ludwig Wittgenstein Paul Wittgenstein. The two men meet at a musical concert through a mutual friend and find the share a taste in music that leads to them spend hours at a time listening to ,music in one another’s company. What they also share is illness Thomas has lung problems which means he often ends up in the hospital on the Hermann Pavilion and Paul has a deep mental illness , not fully mentioned but to me some form of Bi polar with associate personality disorder and he frequently spends time in the Ludwig Pavilion in the same hospital and the two spend time there . One such is maybe near the end of Paul’s life and the description from Tomas of his friend fading is touching and scary at the same time . He feels for Paul once rich but this generous soul had fallen on hard times and like many in his position those once all around him have known disappeared but Thomas remains and they still talk music and meet even at times when Paul jokes or for real I can’t tell says he will be a better writer one day than Thomas !

Where business was concerned the Wittgenstein’s always thought in millions, and it was quite natrual that Paul, their Black sheep, should think also in milions when it came to publishing his memoirs. I’ll write about three hundred pages , he said and there’ll be no problem about finding a publisher.

Paul dreams of being a writer and in his head it is easy , Thomas has other thoughts about this !

Well  this a book of chance and loss a chance meeting brought to men together who have lost a lot in there lives but see in one another maybe someone much worse of than themselves . As ever there is a sense that Thomas Bernhard isn’t the happiest soul but in Paul together this unhappy man finds happiness in the company of a mad man a very Bernhard thing to happen I feel this two lost souls sit in a room alone not talking for hour listening to music in a shared moment of calming what for both are stormy lives. I said at the start this is maybe his most personal book and also maybe cross the line between fiction and non fiction into what I was discussing the other day is called in Slovenia Beautiful Prose , just perfect writing.

 

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Carol Brown Janeway RIP

mrs sartoris

I was sad to read of the Passing of this well known German translator , I have reviewed a number of books by her over the years even this year her translation of F by Daniel Kehlman made the IFFP list .I share two of my favourite translations she did the first is Mrs Sartoris a lost gem  and also a little gem from Thomas Bernhard My prizes a translation of the speeches he gave to the prizes he won .The bookseller has a piece and a comment from Daniel Hahn about her .

What book in translation would I give away ? Thomas Bernhard welcome to second Thomas bernhard reading week in July

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Well I’ve been struggling finding time to blog or even get in a routine for my blogging of late .But I feel a project and a goal of trying to get my revie pile in order or less by then ,will help this and what better than on World book day to launch a second Thomas Bernhard reading week for the first week august this year it is two years since I did the first Thomas Bernhard reading week and with the books still available in paperback and Kindle both faber Finds and Vintage reissues . Of course there is the much lauded Bernhard letters with his publisher Siegfrieed Unseld to be published in English . I am tempt to improve my german just for the 22 voll collection of his works from his German publisher . I have a number of post here about him  including five books under review and a piece from Andrej Nikoladis about his love of Bernhard .I will sort a new badge for the reading week as I’m trying to do a similar one , but for today I will use the warhol inspired one of two years ago .Which book in translation would you hive away inspired to run a second Thomas Bernhard week for me it would be his Woodcutters .I feel this one would be the best introduction to his work .

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The Loser by Thomas Bernhard

Thoams Bernhard the loser Faber Finds

The Loser by Thomas Bernhard

Austrian fiction

Original title – Der Untergeher

Translator – Jack Dawson

Source – personnel copy on Kindle

Well I couldn’t take part in German Lit month and not review  a book by Thomas Bernhard could I ? I had read this for Thomas Bernhard week I did earlier this year but held it back for German lit month .I have mention quite a bit about Thomas  Bernhard and his life in my previous reviews and pieces all found here .This is the Fifth book by him I have read and review on the blog  .

The teacher’s child ruined my Steinway in the shortest period imaginable, I wasn’t pained by this fact, on the contrary, I observed this cretinous destruction of my piano with perverse pleasure. Wertheimer, as he always said, had gone into the human sciences, I had begun my deterioration process. Without my music, which from one day to the next I could no longer tolerate, I deteriorated, without practical music, theoretical music from the very first moment had only a catastrophic effect on me. From one moment to the next I hated my piano, my own, couldn’t bear to hear myself play again; I no longer wanted to paw at my instrument.

Bernhard, Thomas (2013-02-21). The Loser (Kindle Locations 65-70). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

Now The loser isn’t very different to the other books I have read by Thomas Bernhard .It is told in the form of a monologue a recollection of two mens life and the event before ,during and after a meeting with the world-famous pianist Glenn Gould .We never get told are Narrators Name as he recounts how he and his friend Wertheimer they are both studying Piano at Salzburg .They are invited to see Gould play the Goldberg variations and are to say the least blown away bu this mans talent ,more than any one they know or have seen play .This revelation brings the two men to the edge and we see how for a long time after they try to discover a new way as they now see the music they loved isn’t worth as much .The narrator left music to become a philosopher  .The other Wertheimer is drawn into a dark spin of suicide and a life falling apart .

If I hadn’t met Glenn Gould, I probably wouldn’t have given up the piano and I would have become a piano virtuoso and perhaps even one of the best piano virtuosos in the world, I thought in the inn. When we meet the very best, we have to give up, I thought. Strangely enough I met Glenn on Monk’s Mountain, my childhood mountain.

Bernhard, Thomas (2013-02-21). The Loser (Kindle Locations 97-99). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

Well as you see this has all of the traits you would expect from a Thomas Bernhard Novel a narrator ,art in this case classical music ,life’s falling apart .Now what makes this stand out a bit is the inclusion of Glenn Gould ,he is a real figure and his life could almost read like a Bernhard novel .I must admit I am not a huge Classical fan but among the few Albums I do have is Glenn Gould Goldberg Variations which I got after seeing the film thirty short films about Glenn Gould in the nineties .

I advise if you haven’t seen it try to next time it is on tv or on stream somewhere .This book is less bile filed than say the woodcutter is similar in style the monologue is very like the woodcutter in the way it recounts past events .But this book is more about loss ,loss of a dream ,loss of direction .The German title is actually a word that means more than loser meaning one that goes under ,almost like in the Stevie smith poem these character are in a sea of music and are drowning after seeing Gould  and this book is them waving at us .

Have you listened to Glenn Gould ?

Thomas Bernhard in Person

Well in the run up to Thomas Bernhard week I decide to watch a couple of things on You tube .I always love to place and see the writer as a person .So with my basic schoolboy German I watch these .First is a documentary with Bernhard talking about why he writes .

The next piece was a staging of Letter Bernhard had written over the years to his German Publisher Siegfried Unseld .I beleive these are in process of being translated into in english .

The German paper Die Zeit had this to say about this book

 

»Great cinema, a publisher and his pugnacious author write one another. And themselves. Correspondence as Fight Club.« Florian Illies, Die Zeit

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Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard

Old master by Thomas Bernhard Penguin

Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard

Austrian fiction

Original title – Alte Meister. Komödie

Translator – Ewald Osers

Source – Personnel copy

Well usually I start with a bit of a biography  about a writer .But I have already twice before mention Bernhard’s Life for those who want to know more  there is loads online to examine about him .Also in recent weeks I have watch a couple of pieces on You tube with Bernhard in .Well all this research has for me firmed Bernhards place in my mind as one of the most important post war writers in any language  ,as later in the week when I review his non fiction piece My prizes his memoir and a couple of speeches .Bernhard was a one-off and that what makes his fiction so unique ,but also as my earlier piece written by Andrej Nikoladis showed an influence on many present day writers .So to Kick off Thomas Bernhard week (I am a day late but maybe at some point I’ll tell you why I ve been away recently ).

Although I had arranged to meet Reger at the Kunsthistorches Museum at half past eleven ,I arrived at the agreed spot at half past ten in order ,as I had deided to observe him for once ,from the most ideal angle possible and undisturbed ,Atzbacher writes

The opening lines of the Old Master

So old master actually has a subtitle A comedy ,on the whole it is a little lighter and maybe more accessible than some of the other books I have read by Bernhard .We meet Reger ,his is a critic ,a music critic to be precise .He spends every day sitting in the Viennese art museum on the same bench opposite a painting of an old man by Tintoretto   (we get a whole spiel  on how he manages to get the same bench every day his friendship of sorts to the guard that has like Reger been in the same room for a number of years so makes sure this strange man gets his seat everyday ) Any Reger has summoned his friend to meet him Atzbacher ,he is a philosopher yet to be published .What follows is the usual Bernhard traits Reger of course hates the music on the whole he reviews ,we find out why he spends everyday watching the same picture .But we also have some humour great descriptions from Reger of the difference of nationalities as they visit the museum how each has a way of going round  and viewing the pictures .What we meet is two men slightly (well a hell of a lot really ) fed up with the status Quo .For Reger you could have the narrator of the woodcutters or the loser (a book  that was mentioned by Nikolaudis in his post and one I will be reviewing later this week as well )  .

My father was an unmusical person ,he said ,my mother was musical as I believe ,even highly musical ,but her husband over the years had riven her musicality out of her .My parents were a frightful couple ,he said they secretly hated one another but were unable to separate.

Reger on growing up ,maybe why he is a music critic now .

Michael Hofmann summed up Bernhard by saying his books had no moving parts .That is it these aren’t action books more books of thoughts and Bernhards favourite subject to Kick” the Art society” the pretensions folk  ,the hierarchy and of course top of the list to be kicked is Austrian art .Bernhard is like an old curmudgeon he blows and puffs ,but in his case what he writes is so engrossing and yet again this is the case with the Old Master its easy to see Bernhard in his characters both Reger and Atzbacher seem to have traits of Bernhard the man .He like music and Choose Glenn Gould as a character in one of his books ,in fact the loser .He also has had Philosophy as  subject in a couple of others .As for the writing it is his usual style of full on the book is really a 250 page paragraph ,he blurs at times it is hard to tell who is talking as I say I often feel Bernhard characters are just a mouthpiece for him so at times it gets blurred who is speaking but in this case it doesn’t matter its like coming back from a great night out you remember something brilliant was said but you struggle to remember who has said it .I was asked at the start of this project which to suggest and at that time I had said the woodcutter ,but now I think this book is a great entry point for new readers of Thomas Bernhard .

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Have you read The Old Masters ?

What’s going on in the world of translation !

Well it’s been a while since I round-up some Gems and news I’ve come across in the world of translation .So after a week away from the blog it seemed a nice way to ease myself back into the old routine .First of is one of two new publishers that have crossed my path in recent times A publishing house called Deep Vellum ,set in Texas ,they have three title coming soon I believe ,the first is a collection of short stories from Mikhail Shishkin ,I shall be reviewing The light and the dark by him soon and from that could see his short stories being quite tasty pieces ,Sergio Pitol the Mexican writer and translator is the second writer ,he has won the prestigious Cervantes prize in the past .Lastly they are publishing A member of the Oulipo group of writers Anne Garreta ,she was first member  to be  born and chosen to join the group after it was founded ,She has won the Prix Médicis in 2002 for her book not a day

the_missing_year

Next up is a remind I think but their first book is due very soon and it is the New York based New vessel Press the first book is The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal a man who was a mute spend six decades paint the history of his village on the shores facing Uruguay ,when his sons die they find these scrolls .This reminds me rather of the story of the outsider art of the American Henry Darger who spent year writing an epic saga called the Vivian girls .The book is due out as an Ebook on the 15th July one for the Dairy I think !!.

This week saws the winner of the Oxford Weidenfield Translation prize announced –

Tess Lewis for Lukas Bärfuss, One Hundred Days (Granta)
Louise B. Popkin for Mario Benedetti, Witness (White Pine Press)
Sam Taylor for Laurent Binet, HHhH (Harvill Secker)
Frank Wynne for Alonso Cueto, The Blue Hour (Heinemann)
Philip Boehm for Herta Müller, The Hunger Angel (Portobello)
Mike Mitchell for Jean-Pierre Ohl, The Lairds of Cromarty (Dedalus)

hunger angel

The winner  was The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller  here is my Review  .I may also draw your attention to another book from the shortlist  ,here is My review of The Blue Hour ,A book overlooked I feel as it is better than the more well-known Red April also set in Peru .

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Also a reminder for the forthcoming Thomas Bernhard week .I have a specially commissioned  piece this Thursday that I have been lucky to get from another writer about his love of Thomas Bernhard .

Thomas Bernhard Reading Week July 1-7

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Well I ve been in a lull post IFFP I love projects so the fact his books have recently been reissued Faber finds means they are readily available to us all .I’ve old masters on my tbr pile and will be adding a couple to my kindle .Thomas Bernhard is a writers writer ,his books are challenging full of ideas in arts people and society in general he has long been a favourite with me so I hope if you join in you too will grow to love his words .

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