Friday, March 28, 2008

Talking Thomas Bernhard

More joy for New Yorkers. In February last year, the KGB Bar in the city hosted an evening of readings from the work of Thomas Bernhard. Dale Peck was among the readers that night. He's also involved in The Art of Failure, a panel discussion about Bernhard to be held at the Austrian Cultural Forum during the 2008 PEN World Voices festival; the evening of Thursday, May 1st to be exact. Reservations are required, so best use the email address provided on the site.

Peck's co-panellists are Paul Holdengräber, Fatima Naqvi and Horacio Castellanos Moya. The latter is author of Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador and Senselessness, both of which, I'm told, borrow a Bernhardian style in confronting Salvadoran political violence. Senselessness is forthcoming from New Directions (something I'd usually expect to say of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize). In the meantime, Words Without Borders has an extract.

The discussion will be moderated by Jonathan Taylor, organiser the KGB event, which provides an opportunity to repost a link to Admiration Journey, his charming account of a trip to Bernhard's country home.

But that's not the last of Bernhard news: in June, the University of Delaware Press publishes Three-Part Inventions: The Novels of Thomas Bernhard by Thomas Cousineau.


  1. Anonymous4:46 pm


    I feel honoured - I'm reading from my debut 'Everyday' at the KGB Bar with Tao Lin and Tony O'Neill on May 2nd. Maybe my words might even scratch the surface of Bernhard's genius, eh?

    Lee Rourke.

  2. Or by continuing to write...

  3. Anonymous6:52 pm

    Lee, I don't see you and Bernhard as similar figures -- I'm not convinced you'd have any desire that such an association was made.

    FYI, I've just loaned my copy of "Everyday" to an Australian living in London with a girlfriend with whom he seems to share nothing in particular. As I did so, I said: "If you find yourself *anywhere* in this book, you've seriously got to re-evaluate your life." In fact he loves it so much, he told me he's reading it in place of the study texts he's supposed to be following ...

  4. Bernhard's attitudes (we can soften "hypocritical" into "self-contradicting") and his literary style (obsessive-compulsive/ relentless) may develop the caul of "genius" in translation, but, in his original language and surroundings, he's almost unremarkable, minus the sarcastic clarity of his obsessions. What's funny, reading Bernhard in German, is how often he veers towards *Henry Miller's* logorrheic essays on Proust or Lawrence, though I don't think I've ever seen the two compared in print.

    What Austrians respect (now) about Bernhard most is his feigned hatred of, and genuine disdain for, himself and Austria (similar to his feigned hatred of cafe life, as he sat in one, ritually, reading the paper).

    Calling Bernhard (or any writer) a "genius" frees us to misunderstand the work for the sake of our own pleasure, or to understand it only glancingly, with the level of understanding that skaters display for the pond they're skating on.

    Yes, and Paul Auster is considered, by many Germans, a genius, in translation, as well.

  5. Anonymous8:25 pm

    Ah, *Paul Auster*. His initials alone express my opinion of him, and then he quite redundantly expands them into a person and a body of p(r)ose.

    I'm sorry for being uncharitable -- it's perfectly clear I am being so. But I do find it hard to imagine how anyone could think him a *genius*. I'd sooner call "Joel on Software" a genius, and I've read his code.

    Better stop while I still have any friends left ... There is that word "cranky" ...

  6. Auster has always enjoyed the great advantages of looking, sounding and living like a "writer". And Fitzgerald wouldn't cast half his current shadow if he'd been bald, stocky, Slavic and happily married. And Bernhard...

    Anyway. So it goes.

  7. I just got a note from saying that Cousineau's book, Three-Part Inventions, is out now.

  8. Anonymous4:08 am

    I attended The Art of Failure panel last night---what a lively discussion! Dale Peck emphasized that this type of gathering is exactly what Bernhard looked down upon, while Holdengräber, when asked how he reconciled this position with his own role at the NYPL as director of events, said he both had to agree and disagree with Bernhard. Holdengräber also expounded on his mother's love for Bernhard, how the writer had written about an Austria that she truly recognized, one she'd loved and lost.

  9. Thanks for the news. Would like to hear more about the event. Of course, we get to hear about Rushdie and McEwan as if it had anything to do with the real thing.



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