Geist - - Geist - —Stephen Os­borne

When faced with the gnarly writ­ing of Thomas Bernhard (Frost, for in­stance, or The Wood­cut­ters, Con­crete, The Loser or Wittgen­stein’s Nephew), read­ers ex­pe­ri­ence again and again the dif­fi­culty of sum­ma­riz­ing what they are read­ing, of the­ma­tiz­ing what they have read. The work re­sists. In the sum­mer of 1970, over a three-day pe­riod, Thomas Bernhard de­liv­ered an in­for­mal mono­logue on his life and work for the film­maker Ferry Radax. The re­sult is the film Thomas Bernhard: Three Days, re­cently re­leased (with sub­ti­tles) in DVD. A tran­scrip­tion of Bernhard’s med­i­ta­tions, with the same ti­tle, trans­lated by Laura Lind­gren and ar­ranged with pho­to­graphs in a gen­er­ous and “non-flow­ing” lay­out by Blast Books, is de­signed to re­sist the reader while invit­ing the reader to re­sist not read­ing it. One re­sponse to Bernhard’s work is sim­ply to quote from it. Here is a glimpse into the soul of the writer, or the soul of writ­ing—where re­sis­tance re­sists it­self:

“To make one­self un­der­stood is im­pos­si­ble; it can­not be done. From lone­li­ness and soli­tude comes an even more in­tense iso­la­tion, dis­con­nec­tion... and you are al­ways alone with your in­creas­ingly dread­ful work. At the same time, the only joy—and the same time ever greater plea­sure—is the work.

“The sen­tences, words, you con­struct like a toy, es­sen­tially, you stack them atop one another; it is a mu­si­cal process.

“If a cer­tain level should be reached, some four, five sto­ries—you keep build­ing it up—you see through the en­tire thing...

[con­sid­er­ing his an­ces­tors, many of whom com­mit­ted sui­cide:] “...to think of th­ese peo­ple is as grue­some as it is pleas­ant. Just as when you’re sit­ting in the the­atre and the curtain rises, in­stantly you di­vide the peo­ple you see on­stage into the good and the bad—and not only into good and bad char­ac­ters or peo­ple and in­di­vid­u­als, but into good and bad ac­tors.

“From the start there is noth­ing but re­sis­tance. The brain needs re­sis­tance. Re­sis­tance when you look out a win­dow, re­sis­tance when you have to write a let­ter—you want none of it, you re­ceive a let­ter. Again a re­sis­tance. You throw it right out; nev­er­the­less at some point you an­swer. You go out on the street, you do some shop­ping, you drink a beer, ev­ery­thing is ir­ri­tat­ing; it’s all re­sis­tance... you read books— re­sis­tance... you must get up de­spite all re­sis­tance. You must leave the room, the pa­per ma­te­ri­al­izes, sen­tences emerge, in fact al­ways the same sen­tences.

“I am no writer, I am some­body who writes... I am a story de­stroyer, I am a typ­i­cal story de­stroyer. At the first sign of a story tak­ing form, ris­ing some­where in the dis­tance be­hind mound of prose, I shoot it down.

“On the other hand... [si­lence]... What? Ab­so­lutely noth­ing comes to mind...

“The very au­thors who are the most im­por­tant to me are my tough­est op­po­nents, or en­e­mies. It is an in­ces­sant fight against the very same to whom you are ad­dicted.

“It is the con­ver­sa­tion with my brother that does not ex­ist, the con­ver­sa­tion with my fa­ther, the con­ver­sa­tion with my mother. It is the con­ver­sa­tion with the past that does not ex­ist, and which no longer ex­ists, which will never ex­ist.

“This is daily life, from which you must dis­tance your­self. You have got to leave it all, not close the door be­hind you but slam it shut and walk away.

“And ev­ery­thing must of its own ac­cord re­cede and, with­out a sound, dis­ap­pear.”

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