“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Bernhard - attacked

The lovegermanbooks blog (yes, as in the niches for sexual tastes in Fourier’s utopia, in the world of blogging, every obsession and interest must eventually find its blogger) there was a reference to Maxim Biller’s review of Thomas Bernhard’s posthumously published book, My Prizes. In the U.S., from time to time, fights erupt about snark in reviews. The New Republic and the Atlantic both try to sneak a little gunpowder in their usual reviews of fiction – although in the Atlantic’s case, the hatchet man, B.R. Meyers, is so unbelievably tasteless that he is continually blowing himself up, and leaving his targets unscathed.

But Germany is undergoing something weird, lately. Call it the Lady Bitch Ray phenomena: insult, cacophony and obscenity have become a much larger part of the staid German scene.

This is the first paragraph of Biller’s review:

“The asshole Thomas Bernhard, and I say this, although I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, the asshole Bernhard has almost certainly only written one single good book. This book has just now appeared, although he wrote it already in 1980, and it shows, what kind of asshole he was, and perhaps he didn’t want that, for it appears, as long as he was still alive – and if I wanted to, I could go on in this sleep inducing, saying-everything-and-nothing Thomas Bernhard tone endlessly, because nothing is simpler than to write like this, I think, thoughtlessly adding one sentence to another, mere sentences, that are alike and yet always just a little bit different, then exactly like this is the way they appear in the head of the writer by writing, and if one is named, say, Isaac Babel or Junot Diaz, one finally seeks to chose out the best of these so very similar sentences, but that is naturally more work, as simply writing down all of these sentences, like Thomas Bernhard, buy which the reader can pick them out for himself.”

Who doesn’t revere Bernhard? But it is hard not to laugh at Biller’s parody. And of course Biller is here putting on the style of the gunslinger writer. He may be irritated, too, as he has had a hard time, himself, with the combination of asshole and literature, since a novel of his was banned by the court on behalf of a former lover and her mother, who, they charged, suffered from having their privacy invaded by Biller. Such a law would wipe out literature, but I believe it was a Southern German court, maybe Bavarian. And what can you expect?

Here’s the second paragraph. It makes sense, coming from a man who has been bruised by the court. Although there is something narrow about Biller’s idea that writing is a form of assault that should be judged on how severely it injures its target. But I do like a good rugby scramble:

And if one even like the great, dirty, provincial Austrian german Asshole Bernhard insults here a painter, politician, writer as a giant asshole and there a city as provincial and uncultured and Austrian or german, then one has so to speak the readers on one’s side, who believe that they themselves are not uncultured provincial Austrian or German assholes, thus all, thus even the Austrians, thus even the Germans and the most important thing is, not to underpin his hatred with arguments and to ground with grounds, as the blustery growly opportunistic coffee house loudmouth Thomas Bernhard cleverly also never did, then otherwise someone might have felt really hit by him and not simply literarily mentioned and flattered, and even correctly, and then the Superhypocrite Bernhard had never counted between Flensburg and Linz as a Superwriter, and as never happens to the editions of the German poets and thinkers, I guess, to fundamentally assemble their people and put their life-lies in question, etc. But I don’t care, and thus I will, a not so German poet and thinker, try to explain, why I can’t stand Thomas Bernhard, and do so on the occasion of what is certainly his only good book. And to succeed, I must first explain the reason that it is good.”

My prizes contain the story of the prizes that Bernhard received, and what he thought about the whole process – that it was shit. But, Biller says, the stories as Bernhard tells them are not high literary and Bernhardian, but resemble the stories of a schlemiel – he doesn’t say that last bit, but that is what it sounds like. And of course Bernhard is telling stories about himself – how, on a panel to award a prize, when he suggested Canetti, another judge said, well, he was a Jew – and Bernhard didn’t say anything. As Biller shows, he was a go-alonger, a mitlaufer, he never spoke up, he shook hands, he listened to idiot speeches, he gave idiot speeches. He needed the money. Biller is very scoriating about Bernhard’s sugar-momma – although Biller oversteps the persona he is building for himself by so doing, even though he compares Bernhard to Haider, who also had a sugarmomma, apparently. They also both had ten fingers and both had penises. The evidence couldn’t be more obvious! Let’s measure his neck for the rope. Etc.

Not convincing about Bernhard, but at least one is convinced that this is a man who knows what he hates in literature, and – unlike the dreary Meyer of the Atlantic, with his ninth grade English teacher style – knows how to create literature out of what he hates in literature. Sometimes, anarchist’s rule no. 1, you just gotta blow something the fuck up.

3 comments:

phoenixcomplex said...

May I provide a slightly more comprehensible version of that second paragraph? Not perfect, but a little bit easier to read.

"And if in the process one should even-- like the great, lazy, provincial German-Austrian asshole Bernhard-- here insult a painter, politician, writer as a giant asshole and there a city as provincial and uncultured and Austrian or German, then one has the readers on one’s side, as it were, who believe that they themselves are not uncultured provincial Austrian or German assholes; that is, all of them, even the Austrians, even the Germans; and the most important thing is not to underpin one's hatred with arguments and to base it on some basis, just as the blustery growly opportunistic coffeehouse loudmouth Thomas Bernhard cleverly never did, for otherwise someone might have felt really hit by him and not simply literarily mentioned and flattered, and even hit squarely; and then the archhypocrite Bernhard would never have qualified between Flensburg and Linz as an archwriter; and moreover such a thing was really never the task of German poets and thinkers, I mean, to fundamentally disturb their own people and put their lives' lies in question, etc. But it's all the same to me, and so I -- a not-so-German poet and thinker -- would like try to explain why I can’t stand Thomas Bernhard, and do so on the occasion of what is certainly his only good book. And to succeed, I must first explain the reason that it is good.”"

roger said...

Thanks! I was translating late last night, and notice that I even allowed some German sentence to stray into the graf! I'll take that out.

Anonymous said...

Apparently badditude really is the rage. Catching up from the holidays, I just finished a Frankfurter Rundschau review of the latest product from LaFee, hitherto unknown to me, apparently a bad girl who sings heavy metal for pubescent girls and acts angry, uses bad words and says mean things.
No, you listen it. I insist. I have, um, something else to do.

Chuckie K