DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Thomas Bernhard The Loser (1983)

 

‘Thomas Bernhard is dead. He had a terrible life, at least the early part. He was born in Holland where his Austrian mother had fled to escape the shame of her unwanted pregnancy. He never knew his father who died far away and in obscurity (and obscure circumstances). His mother mistreated him because of the shame he represented. Back in Austria he wanted to be an opera singer and studied music but caught a cold working at a menial job to make ends meet; the cold turned into tuberculosis. He was hospitalized repeatedly, his treatment was bungled, he was given up for dead, and survived just to prove how stupid his doctors were. Since opera-singing was out, he became a writer. He became a famous writer of deadpan, mordant, hilarious, difficult (modernist) novels and plays that often portray depressed characters with lung diseases.

‘Another common theme is Bernhard’s disgust with his native Austria which he continually berated for its Nazi past, its stupidity, sentimentality, and philistinism. In his will he stipulated that none of his works could ever be published in Austria. Paradoxically he rarely left Austria and lived quietly in a country retreat outside of Vienna (many of his characters live in country retreats outside of Vienna).

‘Despite the fact that he seemed to put himself in every one of his novels, little is known about his intimate life. He wrote a five-volume memoir, Gathering Evidence, which is quite beautiful but, as all memoirs are, unrevealing. His first biographer somehow managed to discover that he liked to masturbate while watching himself in the mirror. This is both comic and significant; over and over Bernhard presents his narrators as characters watching themselves think about themselves. In fact, his narrators seem more interested in watching themselves think about themselves than in telling the story which often seems, upon analysis, more of an occasion for baroque invention than an end in itself. Reading Bernhard one is often reminded of the American experimentalist John Hawkes who once famously said:

My novels are not highly plotted, but certainly they’re elaborately structured. I began to write fiction on the assumption that the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting, and theme…structure—verbal and psychological coherence—is still my largest concern as a writer. Related or corresponding event, recurring image and recurring action, these constitute the essential substance or meaningful density of my writing. (Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, 1965)

‘Bernhard’s narrators contradict themselves, digress, fall into hyperbolic rants that go on for pages, repeat themselves, and obsess, trapped, as it were, in a logorrheic paralysis. He writes whole books in one paragraph, eschews quotation marks, doesn’t mind run-on sentences, changes tense without reason, and italicizes words apparently at random. Above all he is ironic, and the reader can never be sure whether Bernhard means what he says or is joking around. And, paradoxically, when he is just joking around, he is also being deadly serious. This is very puzzling to the reader accustomed to contemporary market-based sentimental realism (make no mistake: we are in a Tea Party Lit trough these days, driven by politics, recession and the cultural terror inspired by the digital revolution), the kind of fiction that tells a story about real characters we can identify with and scenes we can recognize, the kind of novel North Americans have come to expect, and, when they write, to write. In contrast Bernhard’s characters are almost all clownishly self-obsessed, suicidal artists with lung diseases who cannot seem to tell a story straight. …

The Loser is very much a novel-as-performance, both image and allegory, more image than discursive thought yet very much a novel of ideas with the ideas implicit in the structure, action, and style. Besides the aesthetics of German Romanticism The Loser reflects a conception of art inherited from Schopenhauer—especially Schopenhauer’s notion that art itself is the intermediary between the supra-sensory and the merely human, that in creating or correctly appreciating great art we enter an eternal realm of Platonic Ideas (Beauty, God, or even Being in Heidegger’s sense) and leave the tawdry realm of existence behind (what the narrator calls “the existence machine”).

The Loser fictionalizes the European version of nostalgia for Being (the American version is a retreat to fundamentalist Christianity) and a sense of living in a fallen existential world. It presents three men whose goal is to become transcendent artists; one succeeds, the other two fail, and their psychomachia is rather a soul-unmaking or disintegration leading to paralysis and the one authentic act left, suicide. Glenn Gould is the virtuoso, the genius, the perfect instrument. Albeit, he is also unconsciously cruel and a buffoon. But there are passages in The Loser where the irony seems to lift and some deeper reality is revealed.

The second he [Gould] sat down at the piano he sank into himself, I thought, he looked like an animal then, on closer inspection like a cripple, on even closer inspection like the sharp-witted, beautiful man that he was.

‘Gould is only perfect, only beautiful (and nothing else in the novel is described as “beautiful”) when he is playing. This is the hierophantic moment, the ur-moment to which Bernhard returns throughout the novel, starting with the scene in Salzburg, when the narrator and Wertheimer overhear Gould playing the Goldberg Variations and are destroyed, and repeating (insisting) through to the novel’s close, the Goldberg Variations on the record player, the narrator alone in Wertheimer’s empty bedroom at Traich.

‘The way Bernhard distorts the facts of Gould’s death make thematic sense. Instead of dying during his sleep as was in fact the case, Gould in the novel succumbs to a stroke at “the perfect moment,” that is, while playing the Goldberg Variations. Gould achieves transcendence through his art, he goes “beyond the limit” and attains “the inhuman state”; the narrator and Wertheimer meanwhile fail, dazzled, paralyzed, crippled by fear, and caught in what the narrator calls the existential trap. The Loser is all aftermath, a narrative of disintegration, laced with transparent self-hatred, denial, and resentment, obsessively circling back on itself, always returning to the ur-moment, the fatal confrontation with genius. Having attempted to reach the heights, they fall back into the crippled world of the merely human, Kant’s phenomenal world, imperfect, ambiguous, clouded.

We look at people and see only cripples, Glenn once said to us, physical or mental or mental and physical, there are no others, I thought. The longer we look at someone the more crippled he appears to us… The word is full of cripples.

‘Every great novel possesses a mysterious flickering quality, the on/off light of irony, that conceals and reveals its moment of fidelity. The Loser presents the image of the fallen world (Kierkegaard’s “present age”) haunted by the idea of goodness, tormented by beauty, a losers’ world, a metaphoric Land of the Dead where only conditional motives and mediated relationships are possible, ruled by language and the Imaginary, where people are trapped in a relation of reflexive creation. Like Hegel’s master and slave the narrator and Wertheimer (Wertheimer and his sister) need each other in order to exist, and that relation can easily be reduced to the negative: I need to crush him in order to exist just as he needs to crush me in order to exist.’ — Douglas Glover, Brooklyn Rail

 

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Further

Thomas Bernhard Site
The Unrelenting Novels of Thomas Bernhard
The bleak laughter of Thomas Bernhard.
The Genius of Bad News
On a Park Bench with Thomas Bernhard
Between the Rare Oases of Thought: On Thomas Bernhard and the Mind
Thomas Bernhard by Ben Marcus
Approche psychanalytique de l’autobiographie de Thomas Bernhard
ADMIRATION JOURNEY
The scabrous lyricism of Thomas Bernhard
Thomas Bernhard: Failing To Go Under: An essay on the 10th anniverary of his death
THOMAS BERNHARD: “I AM A STORY DESTROYER”
NOTES TOWARD AN UNDERSTANDING OF THOMAS BERNHARD
Safety Net: On Thomas Bernhard
Thomas Bernhard on Arthur Rimbaud
Taming Thomas Bernhard
Wittgenstein’s awkward nephew
A Master Set Loose in a Small Space
Thomas Bernhard’s Existence Machine
Sore Winner
Setting a Rant to Music: On Adapting Thomas Bernhard’s ‘The Loser’ for the Opera
Buy ‘The Loser’

 

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Extras


Thomas Bernhard – 1988


Thomas Bernhard: Three Days (1970) – ‘You talk to people, you are alone.’


Das war Thomas Bernhard – ORF 1994 (English Subtitles)


Thomas Bernhard’s House – A Visit

 

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Interview

 

Thomas Bernhard: One never knows who one is. The others tell you who you are, don’t they? And as you’re told so a million times if you live a long life, in the end you don’t know at all who you are. Everyone says something different. You yourself also say something different each new moment.

Asta Scheib: Are there people on whom you depend, who influence your life in a decisive way?

TB: One always depends on people. There is no one who doesn’t depend on somebody. Someone, who is always alone with himself, will go under in no time, will be dead. I believe there are decisive people for everyone. I had had two in my life. My grandfather on my mother’s side and another person, someone, whom I got acquainted to one year before my mother’s death. That was a relation that lasted over thirty five years. It was the person everything concerning me related to, of whom I learnt everything. With the death of that person everything was gone. You are alone then. First you also want to die. Then you search. You had turned all people you also had in life into something less important during your life. Then you’re alone. You have to cope.

When I was alone, no matter where, I always knew, this person protects me, gives me support, but also dominates. Then everything is gone. You stand there in the cemetery. The grave is covered with earth. All that meant something to you is gone. Then each day in the morning you wake up with a nightmare. It’s not like you really want to live on. But you don’t want to hang or shoot yourself either. You think that’s not nice and unappetizing. Then you only have books. They swoop down on you with all the terrible things you can write into them. But you act your life to the outside world as if nothing had happened, because otherwise you would be devoured by the world. They are just waiting to see you show weakness. If you show weakness it will be exploited shamelessly and will be drenched in hypocrisy. Hypocrisy means pity. That’s the best term for hypocrisy.

But it is, as I said, difficult; after thirty-five years together with someone else you are suddenly alone. Only people who have gone through something similar will understand that. Suddenly you are one hundred percent more distrustful then before. Behind each so-called human utterance you suspect some meanness. You become even colder than people thought you had always been before anyway. The only thing that saves you is that you cannot starve to death. Such a life surely isn’t pleasant. Then there is your own frailty. A total decline. One only enters houses with a lift. One drinks a quarter of a liter at noon, and a quarter in the evening. Then you get somehow through the day. But if you drink half a liter at noon that night will be terrible. Those are the problems life shrinks to. Take pills, don’t take them, when to take them, what to take them for . Each month you are driven a little nearer to craziness, because you are confused.

AS: When did you last feel happy?

TB: One feels happiness each day, you’re happy to be alive and not dead already. That’s a great capital. From the person who died, I know that you love life to the very last moment. Basically, everyone loves to live. Life cannot be so terrible that you don’t keep on with it after all. The motivation is curiosity. You want to know: what will come next? It is more interesting to know what will come tomorrow then what is here today. When the body is ill the brain develops astonishingly well.

I prefer to know everything. And I always try to rob people and get everything that is in them out of them. As long as you can do so without the others recognizing it. When people discover that you want to rob them they shut their doors. Like the doors are shut when someone suspect comes near. But if nothing else is possible you can also break in. Everyone has some cellar window open. That also can be quite appealing.

AS: Did you ever want to have a family?

TB: I was always happy to survive. I couldn’t think of founding a family. I wasn’t healthy, therefore I didn’t feel like doing these things. There was nothing left for me but to flee into my mind and to start something on that basis, the body didn’t have any potential. It was empty. It stayed like that through decades. Whether that is good or bad one doesn’t know. It’s one way to live. Life knows billions of different existences.

My mother died when she was forty-six years old. That was in 1950. A year before I had got acquainted with my life partner. First it was a friendship and a very close relationship to a person who was much older than I was. Wherever I was on earth, she was the central point from which I took everything. I always knew: this person is there for me one hundred percent if things get difficult. I only had to think of her, I didn’t even have to visit her, and everything was already in order. Now too I live with that person. If I have problems I ask: what would you do? By that I’m held back from disgusting things which one might still commit at an older age, because everything is possible. She is the one keeping me from doing certain things, teaching me discipline, but also the one opening the world to me.

AS: Have you been content with your life at some moment in that life?

TB: I have never been content with my life. But I always felt a great need to be protected. I found that protection with my friend. She always got me working. She was happy when she saw that I was doing something. That was great. We traveled together. I carried her heavy bags, but I got to know a lot. As far as one is able to say so of oneself, it’s always not very much, almost nothing. For me it was everything.

When I was nineteen she showed Sicily to me, the place where Pirandello lived. She wasn’t eager to stuff a lot of learning into me. It just happened. We stayed in Rome, in Split — but then the journeys more and more often changed into inner journeys. We were somewhere in the country where one lives very simply. Where at night it snowed in onto the bed. There was the tendency to simplicity. The cows lived right beside us, we ate our soup and had a lot of books with us.

AS: Have you accepted your existence as a writer?

TB: Well, one wants to get better at writing, because otherwise you become crazy. That happens when you get older. The composition should always get more concise. I always tried to do something better when going on. To take the next step depend on the one before. Of course one always has the same theme. Everyone has his theme. He should move around in that theme. Then he does it well. There were many ideas. Maybe one wants to become monk, or work on the railroad, or cut wood. One wants to belong to the very simple people. That’s of course a mistake, because you do not belong. If one is like I am something like that is of course impossible, one cannot be a monk or work on the railroad. I was always a loner. Despite that one strong relationship I was always alone. At the beginning of course I thought I had to go somewhere and join in the conversation.

But since almost a quarter of a century ago I haven’t hadcontact with any other writers.

AS: Do you believe that there is an existence after death?

TB: No. Thanks God. Life is wonderful. But the best thought is that when it ends it ends forever. That’s the greatest consolation to me. But I really enjoy living. It was always like that, except those times when I thought of suicide. That was when I was nineteen, at twenty-six quite strongly, again at the age of forty. But now I love life. If you see someone who has to leave, but still is in this life, then you start to understand that.

One of the most marvelous things I experienced was that you hold another one’s hand in your hand, you feel the pulse, then it becomes slower and slower, then that’s it. It’s something enormous. Then you still hold that hand, then the nurse comes in, bringing with her the number for the corpse. The nurse wheels her out once more and says: “Come back later.” Then you are immediately confronted with life again. You calmly get up and put things in order; in the meantime the nurse comes back and attaches the number to the corpse, you empty the bedside cabinet, the nurse says: ” Don’t forget the yogurt, you have to take it too.” Outside you hear the crows — it’s like a theatrical play.

Then the bad conscience comes. A dead person leaves you with an immense guilt.

All the places I had stayed with her, places I wrote about in my books, I can no longer visit. Each of my books was created at a different place. Vienna, Brussels, somewhere in Yugoslavia, in Poland. I never had a desk in mind. When writing was going well it didn’t matter where I did it. I also wrote with the greatest noise around me. I’m not disturbed by a crane or a noisy crowd or a screaming tram, or a laundry or a butcher’s. I always liked to work in a country where I didn’t understand the language. That was stimulating. A strangeness where you are one hundred percent at home. For me it was ideal to live together in a hotel, my friend took walks for hours and I was able to work. We often met for meals only. She was happy when she recognized that I was working. We stayed up to four or five months in a country. Those were highlights. While writing you very often have a very good feeling. If in addition to that there is someone who appreciates that and who leaves you in peace — that’s ideal. I never had a better critic. You cannot compare that to a dumb public critique that never looks deep into the text. This woman always provided a very strong positive criticism that was very useful to me. She knew me with all my weaknesses. I miss that.

I still like to be in our apartment in Vienna. I feel protected there. Maybe because we had been living there together for years. Now it’s the only nest of our togetherness. The cemetery is also not very far away.

In life it’s a great advantage if you have already experienced something like it. Things don’t affect you as much after that. You’re neither interested in failure nor success, neither the theater nor the directors, nor the editors or critics. You aren’t interested in anything. The only interesting thing is that there is money on your account so that you can live. My ambitions were no longer as great as they had been earlier. After her death that ceased entirely. I’m not impressed by anything any more. One still likes some old philosophers, some aphorisms. It’s almost like fleeing into music. For hours you enter into a wonderful mood. I still have plans. I once had four or five, now I have two or three. But it’s not necessary. I don’t need it and the world doesn’t need it either. When I feel like writing I write, when I don’t feel like it I don’t. Whatever you write it’s always a catastrophe. That’s the depressing thing about the fate of a writer. One can never put on paper what one thought of or imagined. That gets lost when it is put onto paper. All you deliver is a bad, ridiculous copy of what you had imagined. Basically, one cannot communicate all that. No one ever managed to do so. It’s especially hard in the German language because that language is wooden and clumsy, disgusting. A terrible language that kills everything light and wonderful. The only thing one can do is sublimate that language with a rhythm to give it musicality. When I write it’s in the end never what I had thought it would be like. That’s less frustrating with books because you think the reader has her own imagination. Maybe the flower will blossom after all, will unfold its leaves. In the theater only the curtain unfolds. Those are human actors who suffered for month before the first performance. Those people were meant to be the persons one had made up. But they are not. The persons in your head, that had been able to do everything, are of blood and flesh all of a sudden, water and bones. They are clumsy. In your head the play was poetic, great, but the actors are business-like translators. A translation doesn’t have a lot to do with the original. So the play that is performed in a theater does not have a lot to do with what the author had created. The stage, the boards were to me boards that always destroyed everything. All is trampled down. Each time it’s a catastrophe.

AS: But you continue writing. Books and plays. From one catastrophe to the next.

TB: Yes.

 

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Book

Thomas Bernard The Loser
Vintage

‘Thomas Bernhard was one of the most original writers of the twentieth century. His formal innovation ranks with Beckett and Kafka, his outrageously cantankerous voice recalls Dostoevsky, but his gift for lacerating, lyrical, provocative prose is incomparably his own.One of Bernhard’s most acclaimed novels, The Loser centers on a fictional relationship between piano virtuoso Glenn Gould and two of his fellow students who feel compelled to renounce their musical ambitions in the face of Gould’s incomparable genius. One commits suicide, while the other– the obsessive, witty, and self-mocking narrator– has retreated into obscurity. Written as a monologue in one remarkable unbroken paragraph, The Loser is a brilliant meditation on success, failure, genius, and fame.’ — Vintage

 

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Excerpt

Suicide calculated well in advance, I thought, no spontaneous act of desperation.Even Glenn Gould, our friend and the most im– portant piano virtuoso of the century, only made it to the age of fifty-one, I thought to myself as I entered the inn.Now of course he didn’t kill himself like Wertheimer, but died, as they say, a natural death.Four and a half months in New York and always the Goldberg Variations and the Art of the Fugue, four and a half months of Klavierexerzitien, as Glenn Gould always said only in German, I thought.Exactly twenty-eight years ago we had lived in Leopoldskron and studied with Horowitz and we (at least Wertheimer and I, but of course not Glenn Gould) learned more from Horowitz during a completely rain-drenched summer than during eight previous years at the Mozarteum and the Vienna Academy. Horowitz rendered all our professors null and void. But these dreadful teachers had been necessary to understand Horowitz. For two and a half months it rained without stopping and we locked ourselves in our rooms in Leopoldskron and worked day and night, insomnia (Glenn Gould’s) had become a necessary state for us, during the night we worked through what Horowitz had taught us the day before. We ate almost nothing and the whole time never had the backaches we habitually suffered from with our former teachers; with Horowitz the backaches disappeared because we were studying so intensely they couldn’t appear. Once our course with Horowitz was over it was clear that Glenn was already a better piano player than Horowitz himself, and from that moment on Glenn was the most important piano virtuoso in the world for me, no matter how many piano players I heard from that moment on, none of them played like Glenn, even Rubinstein, whom I’ve always loved, wasn’t better. Wertheimer and I were equally good, even Wertheimer always said, Glenn is the best, even if we didn’t yet dare to say that he was the best player of the century. When Glenn went back to Canada we had actually lost our Canadian friend, we didn’t think we’d ever see him again, he was so possessed by his art that we had to assume he couldn’t continue in that state for very long and would soon die. But two years after we’d studied together under Horowitz Glenn came to the Salzburg Festival to play the Goldberg Variations, which two years previously he had practiced with us day and night at the Mozarteum and had rehearsed again and again. After the concert the papers wrote that no pianist had ever played the Goldberg Variations so artistically, that is, after his Salzburg concert they wrote what we had already claimed and known two years previously. We had agreed to meet with Glenn after his concert at the Ganshof in Maxglan, an old inn I particularly like. We drank water and didn’t say a thing. At this reunion I told Glenn straight off that Wertheimer (who had come to Salzburg from Vienna) and I hadn’t believed for a minute we would ever see him, Glenn, again, we were constantly plagued by the thought that Glenn would destroy himself after returning to Canada from Salzburg, destroy himself with his music obsession, with his piano radicalism. I actually said the words piano radicalism to him. My piano radicalism, Glenn always said afterward, and I know that he always used this expression, even in Canada and in America. Even then, almost thirty years before his death, Glenn never loved any composer more than Bach, Handel was his second favorite, he despised Beethoven, even Mozart was no longer the composer I loved above all others when he spoke about him, I thought, as I entered the inn. Glenn never played a single note without humming, I thought, no other piano player ever had that habit. He spoke of his lung disease as if it were his second art. That we had the same illness at the same time and then always came down with it again, I thought, and in the end even Wertheimer got our illness. But Glenn didn’t die from this lung disease, I thought. He was killed by the impasse he had played himself into for almost forty years, I thought. He never gave up the piano, I thought, of course not, whereas Wertheimer and I gave up the piano because we never attained the inhuman state that Glenn attained, who by the way never escaped this inhuman state, who didn’t even want to escape this inhuman state. Wertheimer had his B~isendorfer grand piano auctioned off in the Dorotheum, I gave away my Steinway one day to the nine-year-old daughter of a schoolteacher in Neukirchen near Altmunster so as not to be tortured by it any longer. 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. So one day I visited the teacher to announce my gift to him, my Steinway, I’d heard his daughter was musically gifted, I said to him and announced the delivery of my Steinway to his house. I’d convinced myself just in time that personally I wasn’t suited for a virtuoso career, I said to the teacher, since I always wanted only the highest in everything I had to separate myself from my instrument, for with it I would surely not reach the highest, as I had suddenly realized, and therefore it was only logical that I should put my piano at the disposal of his gifted daughter, I wouldn’t open the cover of my piano even once, I said to the astonished teacher, a rather primitive man who was married to an even more primitive woman, also from Neukirchen near Altmiinster. Naturally I’ll take care of the delivery costs! I said to the teacher, whom I’ve known well since I was a child, just as I’ve known his simplicity, not to say stupidity. The teacher accepted my gift immediately, I thought as I entered the inn. I hadn’t believed in his daughter’s talent for a minute; the children of country schoolteachers are always touted as having talent, above all musical talent, but in truth they’re not talented in anything, all these children are always completely without talent and even if one of them can blow into a flute or pluck a zither or bang on a piano, that’s no proof of talent. I knew I was giving up my expensive instrument to an absolutely worthless individual and precisely for that reason I had it delivered to the teacher. The teacher’s daughter took my instrument, one of the very best, one of the rarest and therefore most sought after and therefore also most expensive pianos in the world, and in the shortest period imaginable destroyed it, rendered it worthless. But of course it was precisely this destruction process of my beloved Steinway that I had wanted. Wertheimer went into the human sciences, as he always used to say, I entered my deterioration process, and in bringing my instrument to the teacher’s house I had initiated this deterioration process in the best possible manner. Wertheimer continued to play the piano years after I had given my Stein-way to the teacher’s daughter because for years he thought himself capable of becoming a piano virtuoso. By the way he played a thousand times better than the majority of our piano virtuosos with public careers, but in the end he wasn’t satisfied with being (in the best of cases!) another piano virtuoso like all the others in Europe, and he gave it all up, went into the human sciences. I myself played, I believe, better than Wertheimer, but I would never have been able to play as well as Glenn and for that reason (hence for the same reason as Wertheimer!) I gave up the piano from one moment to the next. I would have had to play better than Glenn, but that wasn’t possible, was out of the question, and therefore I gave up playing the piano. I woke up one day in April, I no longer know which one, and said to myself, no more piano. And I never touched the instrument again. I went immediately to the schoolteacher and announced the delivery of my piano. I will now devote myself to philosophical matters, I thought as I walked to the teacher’s house, even though of course I didn’t have the faintest idea what these philosophical matters might be. I am absolutely not a piano virtuoso, I said to myself, I am not an interpreter, I am not a reproducing artist. No artist at all. The depravity of my idea had appealed to me immediately. The whole time on my way to the teacher’s I kept on saying these three words: Absolutely no artist! Absolutely no artist! Absolutely no artist! 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. Of course I had seen him previously at the Mozarteum but hadn’t exchanged a word with him before our meeting on Monk’s Mountain, which is also called Suicide Mountain, since it is especially suited for suicide and every week at least three or four people throw themselves off it into the void. The prospective suicides ride the elevator inside the mountain to the top, take a few steps and hurl themselves down to the city below. Their smashed remains on the street have always fascinated me and I personally (like Wertheimer by the way!) have often climbed or ridden the elevator to the top of Monk’s Mountain with the intention of hurling myself into the void, but I didn’t throw myself off (nor did Wertheimer!). Several times I had already prepared myself to jump (like Wertheimer!) but didn’t jump, like Wertheimer. I turned back. Of course many more people have turned back than have actually jumped, I thought. I met Glenn on Monk’s Mountain at the so-called Judge’s Peak, where one has the best view of Germany. I spoke first, I said, both of us are studying with Horowitz. Yes, he answered. We looked down at the German plain and Glenn immediately began setting forth his ideas about the Art of the Fugue. I’ve encountered a highly intelligent man of science, I thought to myself. He had a Rockefeller scholarship, he said. Otherwise his father was a rich man. Hides, furs, he said, speaking German better than our fellow students from the Austrian provinces. Luckily Salzburg is here and not four kilometers farther down in Germany, he said, I wouldn’t have gone to Germany. From the first moment ours was a spiritual friendship. The majority of even the most famous piano players haven’t a clue about their art, he said. But it’s like that in all the arts, I said, just like that in painting, in literature, I said, even philosophers are ignorant of philosophy. Most artists are ignorant of their art. They have a dilettante’s notion of art, remain stuck all their lives in dilettantism, even the most famous artists in the world. We understood each other immediately, we were, I have to say it, attracted from the first moment by our differences, which actually were completely opposite in our of course identical conception of art. Just a few days after this encounter on Monk’s Mountain we ran into Wertheimer. Glenn, Wertheimer and I, after living separately for the first two weeks, all in completely unacceptable quarters in the Old Town, finally rented a house in Leopoldskron for the duration of our course with Horowitz where we could do what we pleased. In town everything had a debilitating effect on us, the air was unbreathable, the people were intolerable, the damp walls had contaminated us and our instruments. In fact we could only have continued Horowitz’s course by moving out of Salzburg, which at bottom is the sworn enemy of all art and culture, a Iicretinous provincial dump with stupid people and cold walls where everything without exception is eventually made cretinous. It was our salvation to pack our worldly goods and move out to Leopoldskron, which at that time was still a green meadow where cows grazed and hundreds of thousands of birds made their home. The town of Salzburg itself, which today is freshly painted even in the darkest corners and is even more disgusting than it was twenty-eight years ago, was and is antagonistic to everything of value in a human being, and in time destroys it; we figured that out at once and took off for Leopoldskron. The people in Salzburg have always been dreadful, like their climate, and when I enter the town today not only is my judgment confirmed, everything is even more dreadful. But to study with Horowitz precisely in this town, the sworn enemy of culture and art, was surely the greatest advantage. We study better in hostile surroundings than in hospitable ones, a student is always well advised to choose a hostile place of study rather than a hospitable one, for the hospitable place will rob him of the better part of his concentration for his studies, the hostile place on the other hand will allow him total concentration, since he must concentrate on his studies to avoid despairing, and to that extent one can absolutely recommend Salzburg, probably like all other so-called beautiful towns, as a place of study, of course only to someone with a strong character, a weak character will inevitably be destroyed in the briefest time. Glenn was charmed by the magic of this town for three days, then he suddenly saw that its magic, as they call it, was rotten, that basically its beauty is disgusting and that the people living in this disgusting beauty are vulgar. The climate in the lower Alps makes for emotionally disturbed people who fall victim to cretinism at a very early age and who in time become malevolent, I said. Whoever lives here knows this if he’s honest, and whoever comes here realizes it after a short while and must get away before it’s too late, before he becomes just like these cretinous inhabitants, these emotionally disturbed Salzburgers who kill off everything that isn’t yet like them with their cretinism.

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. It’s weird: a whole bunch of people have been sharing stuff about that movie on my Facebook feed lately. ** Steve Erickson, Interesting to discover that the post had a Rorschach test aspect. Ha ha. Sure, I’d like to read the text, if it’s easy for you. I’m obviously quite anxious to see ’24 Frames’. Quite. Nice ‘Film Comments’ line-up. So you’ll miss every single one of them? ** Jeff Coleman, #cavetwitter. Good one. Of course I’ll have a look. Thanks, man. ** Daniel, That is weird beauty incarnate. *bowing* ** Cal Graves, Hi. I thought ‘Pacific Rim’ was pretty nice, yeah. I’ve never heard of ‘Where the Dead Go to Die’. I’ll correct that. Sounds very odd, cool! Aww, that’s so nice that my Cycle is being generative for you. That’s the ultimate. Thank you, Cal. Parisian hugs. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. No one is going to believe me, but I honestly did not have a smutty thought or intent in my head when I was gathering those mouths. Now, of course, I wonder how that could have been. Calling Mr. Freud? That’s some quick and great healing right there. I can only think that if you hit your Tai Chi marks, the steering wheel/brakes combo should be a piece of cake. Unless the car is a stick shift, I guess. I couldn’t drive a stick shift car if it was coasting towards a cliff edge. ** Jeff J, Ha, yeah, as I told Ben, I must have been in some ether-ized state because I really was seeing cave mouths and nothing meta- at all, but of course you’re absolutely right about the sequencing, and I hereby declare my subconscious a minor genius, I guess. I restored the Collobert post. It’ll reappear here in the next couple of weeks. I am a giant fan of Kawabata’s ‘Snow Country’, yes. Among my long-list of favorite novels even. Yeah, the thrumming, exactly, and excellent word choice. He’s lovely. Even pronouncing his last name is lovely. ** Misanthrope, You’re not alone, man. Third bit captured, caged, and ready to be simultaneously taxi-dermied and released into the wild, awesome! The Woody Allen lynch mob scares me. ** Okay, I guess that’s that. I was in the mood to draw your attention to Thomas Bernhard, and to this novel of his in particular, it would seem. I hope it magnetises you to some degree. See you tomorrow.

17 Comments

  1. Hey Dennis!
    One of my favourite Bernhard novels. How are you? I’ve been away a lot but i’m hoping to be back soon. I saw the poster for your film! So exciting, I hope i get a chance to see it. Are you writing anything else at the moment? Also agreed on Kawabata, such a beautiful novel. Did you ever read the Mishima quatrology? The first, spring snow, i felt had a slight kawabata feeling though obviously filtered through Mishima’s particularities. I thought the quartet might be of interest to you because in it one character is tracing the reincarnation of his friend who is always doomed to die young. I think, it has been a long time since i read it.
    I’m 200 pages into a new novel and have a little interest in the first. The new one is kind of batshit. hope you’re well.

    tomk

  2. David Ehrenstein

    January 17, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    Regarding Glenn Gould (a personal favorite and the gayest straight man who ever lived.)

  3. No, I don’t have to miss the entire “Film Comment Selects” series, but I both have and need to be present for much of the Oskouei series, so I can’t see as much of “FCS” as I’d like to. It’s cramming something like a dozen films into a week.

    I will E-mail you the text to my Medium article.

    Off to the dentist for surgery to implant a permanent crown at 11 AM! I am so not looking forward to this.

  4. @Sypha,

    Congratulations on your book, man! I know I’d be walking on air if I was in your situation!… All the best wishes and all the best luck. Cheers!

    Armando.

    @Misanthrope and @Dennis,

    “The Woody Allen lynch mob scares me.” I *DESPISE* them. Fucking pieces of shit imbeciles. I was excited that in the first days of next month ‘Call Me By Your Name’ will finally be officially released across my country. Well, I now know I won’t be seeing it anymore. I won’t support the work of this chalamet nobody at all. I won’t support at all the work of *ANYONE* who dares try to or succeed at hurting The Great Mr. *WOODY ALLEN* and/or his more than illustrious career. He’s given me so so so much; it’s the least I can do. Except, of course, when ‘A Rainy Day In New York’ comes out. It’s so sad. Haven’t all these imbecilic cunts heard of *”Innocent Until Proven Guilty”*???!!! I’m so so so fucking upset and angry. It’s so hyperbolically sad and infuriating that all this is happening to an *INNOCENT* man who’s done *NOTHING* to deserve it thanks to the lies of a motherfucking worthless piece of shit deranged lying witch cunt and her coven. *SIGH*.

    Armando.

    @Dennis,

    Hey,

    Great!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE Bernhard!!! Thank you so so very much, man! *Hug*.

    Well, have fucktons of fun at Efteling! *Hug*.

    I saw ‘Leatherface’. The best movie in that franchise. Definitely. Possibly the most criminally and imbecilically underrated movie of 2017.

    Also saw ‘Blade Runner 2049’. Just GREAT. (And I really, really, really dislike the individual that directed it). A Masterpiece. Definitely better than the original. *DEFINITELY*. This movie really is the shit.

    I’ll admit I was sad and appalled not to see ‘Slowdive’ in your 2017 favorites post.

    I guess you haven’t had the chance to check my email, right?

    Take very good care,

    Good day; good luck,

    Hugs,

    A.

  5. I’m not saying Woody Allen is guilty, but I’m not sure how people donating their salary or not wanting to work with him counts as a “lynch mob”. People have the right to change their minds, charity donations are a positive thing, and no one has to work with someone they don’t want to, right? I’m not trying to antagonise you or anything, and I lean towards thinking Allen is innocent (but suspicious), I’m just trying to get more clarity on yr thoughts here.

    ALSO, you recently said that “Under The Skin” was a good film, yeah? We talkin’ the 2013 ScaJo film, or the 1997 Carine Adler film? I have an urge to watch somethin’, and your taste is impeccable.

    • @Have ANiceLife,

      “I’m not sure how people donating their salary or not wanting to work with him counts as a “lynch mob”. People have the right to change their minds, charity donations are a positive thing, and no one has to work with someone they don’t want to, right?”

      Except we’re talking about so-called “professionals” who work/have worked with Allen and about the industry he’s always worked in and all this idiocies of condemning him for a crime he didn’t commit and a case about which most of them know nothing; not to mention many, many, many people who aren’t “celebrities” or work in Hollywood at all are also condemning him and saying very, very violent and nasty things against him, including threats. And then we have twitter, that’s blocking or terminating accounts of people who are daring support Allen, Moses Farrow or question the farrows at all. So, yes, all this “counts as a “lynch mob””.

      • Lol, didn’t you also say that John Waters was some kind of amoral monster? You know Allen and Farrow as much as you know him, so I’m not sure why you’re so sure that you’re right that he’s innocent, when you were just as sure about Waters. Like, I totally think he’s innocent, but I don’t *know* for sure, and neither do you, and people are allowed to disagree with you (and me), which is something you don’t seem able to take without hyperbolic freak-outs.

        If people are trying to get his films banned, or get him arrested, or whatever, then that could be considered a “witch hunt”, but I’m just not sure how someone donating money to charity counts at all. I’m not here to defend the hysterical tumblr-style groupthink, or anything, dude.

        I do have an urge to watch Zelig again, though…

  6. hooo dennis, i yelped down the caves mouths there but you must have ran away whilst washing your hands, mmh, 40 works doesn’t read much, i gotta make 60, 70 80 + then edit them all down towards their TNT/UPS boxcoffin

    my deadline in friday 26th, woe upon my skull

    im really looking forward to just clicking into your site whilst relaxed once this baby is aborted stateside

    im listening to FELT, dennis, yeah, you, do you like FELT ? i can’t remember if you ever wrote about lawernce

    love you dennis, alex,x

  7. Hey,

    I opened a twitter account. We’ll see how that goes. Please follow me; I’ll follow back!: https://twitter.com/hermanndarrow

  8. Howdy Deputy Dennis,
    How’s it going? Sorry I missed saying hi yesterday but I was a wee bit under the weather. I got that cold that was slaying everyone I knew, but seem to already have come out the other end. I was a tad worried as everyone who got it seemed to be devastated and what with all the immune system suppressing meds I take I was expecting the worse, but it’s quickly calmed down into but a sniffle. Hooray!
    How is the once neglected project? Has it become cherished?
    I liked Caves’ Mouths btw, and laughed at the fact you hadn’t seen a single sexual thing in any of them. Many of the photos were downright vaginal. For some reason that title, with it’s overhanging apostrophe, pleases me greatly.
    Thomas Bernhard is a writer that I’ve not got yet, but feel I just need to read him the right way, a bit like I was with Iain Sinclair. I’ve attempted two of his novels, but not quite cracked it, but I will.
    Did your sources tell you any juicy tales about Kyros Christian irl? The idea of filming his last twink video made me feel sad, as if it’d be a really bleak shoot, until I realised that one would only realise it was the last time in retrospect.
    Oh yeah, the screenwriting course is just a bunch of videos and essays then little bits that say ‘over to you’ and give you a small assignment. It’s totally just okay and I’m kind of glad it’s only two weeks cos I’ll definitely stick it out. Formatting is part of next week’s syllabus and I want to learn about that.
    How was Wednesday? May Thursday feel like a day that’s just been promoted and is taking to its new post with aplomb.
    Anti-phlegmatic love,
    Jamie

  9. I’m a fan of Glenn Gould and I’ve just put The Loser on my wishlist. Thomas Bernhard has a great bio too.

  10. So twitter is blocking all accounts of people who are daring question that dylan farrow cunt at all… How very curious…

  11. Dennis,

    I tried reading Woodcutters but I just couldn’t get into it, perhaps I should give The Loser a go.

    I’ll be in Tokyo from Oct 29 — Nov 9, perhaps you could visit Tokyo in that time frame? You, me and Paul C could grab something to eat, hang out a bit.. have you ever been to Tokyo during Halloween? If not, you should rectify that! Tokyo is absolutely stunning during Halloween! The Japanese really go all out for Halloween! I was there for Halloween in 2016…. incredible!

    I’m about 56,000 words into my new novel, having some trouble with connective tissue, but I’m sure it will work out. That unsureness makes it interesting, right?

    Much love,
    James

  12. I just got back from seeing Yemen Blues, who actually reminded me a lot of fusion and funk from the early and mid ’70s, despite the Middle Eastern elements. (Their singer, who took off his shirt early on to reveal that he was wearing a dress underneath, was playing an instrument I can’t identify that looked like a box with 2 guitar strings stretched across it, and their line-up varied in. size during the set: a trumpet player, keyboardist and drummer remained onstage the whole time, as did a guy who looked like 1968 Jerry Garcia and switched between oud, guitar and bass.) All but 2 of the songs were in Hebrew, with one in French and one in English, but I was reminded of Sly & the Family Stone, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Donald Byrd. One of the keyboard player’s three instruments was a clavinet, hooked up to distortion and wah-wah pedals. I never thought I would see that live in 2018! They were not quite as adventurous-sounding as the mix of Middle Eastern music, jazz and funk might make them sound – they never evoked the electronic jazz-funk of Hancock’s SEXTANT or the alternately abrasive and spaced-out vibe of Miles Davis’ electric period – but they were a really good dance band. Their singer announced that he’s moving to NYC next month.

    I wrote a short story that mentioned Thomas Bernhard a few times, and a reader asked me if I invented him and he and his books were fictional! That really made me feel like most Americans are barely literate, especially with respect to culture made outside the U.S.

    The dental surgery was no big deal. It only lasted 30 minutes, and I only had to get one injection of novocaine. So far, the crown is staying on, and my dentist gave me no instructions beyond “Don’t eat hard bread tonight.”

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