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Out of Babel

Michael Hofmann: Thomas Bernhard Traduced, 14 December 2017

Collected Poems 
by Thomas Bernhard, translated by James Reidel.
Chicago, 459 pp., £25, June 2017, 978 0 85742 426 6
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... The​ posthumous progress in English of the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) is marked by deaths: those of his majoritarian and minoritarian translators David McLintock and Ewald Osers, in 2003 and 2011 respectively; and in 2015 that of Carol Brown Janeway, his publisher at Knopf, his unlikely champion over decades (because, for all his influence and cultishness, Bernhard in English never exactly sold), and the translator herself of the posthumous My Prizes, in an exquisitely bound volume from Notting Hill Editions, with a justly amused introduction by Frances Wilson: ‘Few writers have received more applause than Thomas Bernhard, Austrian novelist, playwright and enfant terrible, and few have bitten more sharply the hand that clapped ...

Reger said

Michael Hofmann: Thomas Bernhard, 4 November 2010

Old Masters: A Comedy 
by Thomas Bernhard, translated by Ewald Osers.
Penguin, 247 pp., £9.99, May 2010, 978 0 14 119271 0
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... The Austrian novelist and playwright Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) once said: ‘You have to understand that in my writing the musical component comes first, and the subject matter is secondary.’ It’s a strange thing for this professional controversialist and Austropathic ranter to have said – that we should attend to the form, balance and measure in his work, when everything in it would seem to lead to the giggle and gasp of hurt given or received, or the hush and squeal of scandal – but it is sound advice ...


Ian Hacking, 4 February 1988

The False Prison: A Study of the Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, Vol. I 
by David Pears.
Oxford, 202 pp., £19.50, September 1987, 0 19 824771 0
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Wittgenstein’s Nephew 
by Thomas Bernhard.
Quartet, 120 pp., £8.95, February 1987, 0 7043 2611 6
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... mad nephew Paul Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein’s Nephew: A Friendship is a brief memoir by Thomas Bernhard, the poet and novelist, naturalised Austrian. It reeks of a Central Europe some thought was extinct, but the narrative begins in 1967, when Paul was 60 – although it reminisces about many earlier events. It will be read at one ...

How to play the piano

Nicholas Spice, 26 March 1992

Music Sounded Out 
by Alfred Brendel.
Robson, 258 pp., £16.95, September 1990, 0 86051 666 0
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Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations 
by Otto Friedrich.
Lime Tree, 441 pp., £12.99, October 1990, 9780413452313
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... of his death, Glenn Gould had become the subject of a novel, Der Untergeher by the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. Der Untergeher (literally ‘the sinker’ or ‘the one who goes, or is destined to go, under’ – perhaps ‘the loser’) describes the impact of Gould’s playing and personality on two exceptionally talented young Austrian ...

Yeah, that was cool

Harry Strawson: ‘Rave’, 1 April 2021

by Rainald Goetz, translated by Adrian Nathan West.
Fitzcarraldo, 263 pp., £12.99, July 2020, 978 1 913097 19 6
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... around electronic music and rave culture produced by journalists and academics) is clearly Thomas Bernhard, whose books also sometimes begin with an ellipsis. The prospect of Bernhard in Berghain doesn’t quite arrive, sadly: Goetz’s acoustic effects, such as filtering sentences to the ‘etc etc’ of a drum ...

Surely, Shirley

J. Robert Lennon: Ottessa Moshfegh, 21 January 2021

Death in Her Hands 
by Ottessa Moshfegh.
Cape, 259 pp., £14.99, August 2020, 978 1 78733 220 1
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... of a needle trapped in the final groove of a record. Their dark outlook isn’t like that of Thomas Bernhard, whose cynicism is driven by a kind of grim joy, nor do they have the animated interiority of Lynne Tillman or Lydia Davis, whose currents of thought sweep up the reader and carry them along. Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation are ...

Long Live Aporia!

Hal Foster: William Gaddis, 24 July 2003

Agapē Agape 
by William Gaddis.
Atlantic, 113 pp., £9.99, January 2003, 1 903809 83 5
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The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings 
by William Gaddis, edited by Joseph Tabbi.
Penguin, 182 pp., $14, October 2002, 0 14 200238 0
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... add a little of the ‘I can’t go on, I go on’ of Beckett and a lot of the run-on ranting of Thomas Bernhard, a contemporary whom the Gaddis surrogate here accuses of plagiarism before the fact. (Agapē Agape does recall Concrete, a Bernhard novel about a writer unable to begin a biography of a composer.) In the ...

Dad’s Going to Sue

Christopher Tayler: ‘My Struggle’, 5 April 2012

A Death in the Family: My Struggle: Vol. I 
by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett.
Harvill Secker, 393 pp., £17.99, March 2012, 978 1 84655 467 4
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... a tuneless cover of ‘Smoke on the Water’ with the grown-up novelist who’s read Proust and Thomas Bernhard. As in the earlier book, he devotes many pages to his feeling that scientism, humanism and religion have conspired to enmesh the world in abstract thought, robbing it of an inexpressible ‘beyond’. His wish for ‘the world … to step ...

Taking Refuge in the Loo

Leland de la Durantaye: Peter Handke, 22 May 2014

Versuch über den Pilznarren: Eine Geschichte für sich 
by Peter Handke.
Suhrkamp, 217 pp., £14.70, September 2013, 978 3 518 42383 7
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Peter Handke im Gespräch, mit Hubert Patterer und Stefan Winkler 
Kleine Zeitung, 120 pp., £15.36, November 2012, 978 3 902819 14 7Show More
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... is confounding by design, as it was with his fellow countryman, contemporary and sometimes rival, Thomas Bernhard, and as it was with one of his finest critics, W.G. Sebald. In Essay on the Jukebox, the second volume in the series Handke has recently finished, he, or a narrator quite like him, tells of how, in writing, he moved a cypress he’d seen in ...

Where Forty-Eight Avenue joins Petőfi Square

Jennifer Szalai: László Krasznahorkai, 26 April 2012

by László Krasznahorkai, translated by George Szirtes.
Atlantic, 320 pp., £12.99, May 2012, 978 1 84887 764 1
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... summer, began by placing him in the capacious context of such postwar avant-garde novelists as Thomas Bernhard, José Saramago and David Foster Wallace, only to acknowledge that, despite a shared affinity for ‘very long, breathing, unstopped sentences’, Krasznahorkai was ‘perhaps the strangest’ of them. The writer is ‘peculiar’; his work ...

Dun and Gum

Nicholas Jose: Murray Bail, 16 July 1998

by Murray Bail.
Harvill, 264 pp., £12.99, July 1998, 1 86046 494 7
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... from Europe in 1948. White – the only antipodean to join Proust and Kafka, Michel Tournier and Thomas Bernhard on Bail’s shelf of severe masters – is the big daddy rabbit-killer; Bail and his minimalist contemporaries are something of a mopping-up operation. The anxiety here is that of being the last guest at the wake of Modernism, and so Bail is ...

How Dare He?

Jenny Turner: Geoff Dyer, 11 June 2009

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi 
by Geoff Dyer.
Canongate, 295 pp., £12.99, April 2009, 978 1 84767 270 4
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... Dyer, perhaps, is a bit like Nick Hornby, singing for his supper, a bit too eager to be liked: Thomas Bernhard For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It; virtually fat-free modernist romances designed to fit the side-pockets of rich students’ gap-year rucksacks, in need of reading matter neither too heavy nor too light. But then, I was reading the ...

Sent East

James Wood: Sebald’s ‘Austerlitz’, 6 October 2011

... in the early summer of 1933 …’ Sebald borrowed this habit of repetitive attribution from Thomas Bernhard, who also influenced Sebald’s diction of extremism. Almost every sentence in this book is a cunning combination of the quiet and the loud: ‘As usual when I go down to London on my own,’ the narrator tells us in a fairly typical ...

Che pasticcio!

Tim Parks: Carlo Emilio Gadda, 20 September 2007

That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana 
by Carlo Emilio Gadda, translated by William Weaver.
NYRB, 388 pp., £8.99, February 2007, 978 1 59017 222 3
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... meeting one of his five marriageable daughters looks forward to some of the best work of the early Thomas Bernhard and must be among the most powerful passages in 20th-century Italian fiction. As the narrative moves through one painful revelation after another towards a truly ugly dénouement, it is not difficult to understand why Gadda put this book ...

A Small, Sharp Stone

Ange Mlinko: Lydia Davis’s Lists, 2 December 2021

Essays One 
by Lydia Davis.
Hamish Hamilton, 512 pp., £20, November 2019, 978 0 241 37147 3
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Essays Two 
by Lydia Davis.
Hamish Hamilton, 571 pp., £20, December, 978 0 241 55465 4
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... Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights, Marguerite Duras’s The Lover and, above all, Thomas Bernhard – I thought of no one so much as Proust. As Davis says of his style, ‘to be exhaustive is, of course, an infinite task: more events can always be inserted, and more nuance in the narration, more commentary on the event, and more nuance ...

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