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Thomas Bernhard

Thomas Bernhard

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Thomas Bernhard was an Austrian
Austrians
Austrians are a nation and ethnic group, consisting of the population of the Republic of Austria and its historical predecessor states who share a common Austrian culture and Austrian descent....

 novelist, playwright
Playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

 and poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

. Bernhard, whose body of work has been called "the most significant literary achievement since World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

," is widely considered to be one of the most important German-speaking authors of the postwar era.

Life


Thomas Bernhard was born in 1931 in Heerlen
Heerlen
Heerlen is a city and a municipality in the southeastern Netherlands. The municipality is the second largest in the province of Limburg. It forms part of Parkstad Limburg, , an agglomeration of about 220,000 inhabitants.After its early Roman beginnings and a rather modest medieval period, Heerlen...

, Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 as an illegitimate child to Herta Fabjan (née Herta Bernhard, 1904–1950) and the carpenter Alois Zuckerstätter (1905–1940). The next year his mother returned to Austria, where Bernhard spent much of his early childhood with his maternal grandparents in Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 and Seekirchen am Wallersee
Seekirchen am Wallersee
Seekirchen am Wallersee is a town in the district of Salzburg-Umgebung in the state of Salzburg in Austria.-History:The territory was settled 5,000 years ago and is the oldest Austrian settlement that still exists today...

 north of Salzburg
Salzburg
-Population development:In 1935, the population significantly increased when Salzburg absorbed adjacent municipalities. After World War II, numerous refugees found a new home in the city. New residential space was created for American soldiers of the postwar Occupation, and could be used for...

. His mother's subsequent marriage in 1936 occasioned a move to Traunstein
Traunstein
Traunstein is a town in the south-eastern part of Bavaria, Germany, and is the administrative center of a district by the same name. It is situated at the heart of a region called Chiemgau, approximately 11 km east of Lake Chiemsee between Munich and Salzburg, 15 km north of the Alps, and...

 in Bavaria
Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

. Bernhard's natural father died in Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 from gas poisoning; Thomas had never met him.

Bernhard's grandfather, the author Johannes Freumbichler, pushed for an artistic education for the boy, including musical instruction. Bernhard went to elementary school in Seekirchen and later attended various schools in Salzburg including the Johanneum which he left in 1947 to start an apprenticeship
Apprenticeship
Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a skill. Apprentices or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships...

 with a grocer
Grocer
A grocer is a bulk seller of food. Beginning as early as the 14th century, a grocer was a dealer in comestible dry goods such as spices, pepper, sugar, and cocoa, tea and coffee...

.

Bernhard's Lebensmensch (companion for life), whom he cared for alone in her dying days, was Hedwig Stavianicek (1894–1984), a woman more than thirty-seven years his senior, whom he met in 1950, the year of his mother's death and one year after the death of his beloved grandfather. She was the major support in his life and greatly furthered his literary career. The extent or nature of his relationships with women is obscure. Thomas Bernhard's public persona was asexual.

Suffering throughout his youth from an intractable lung disease (tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

), Bernhard spent the years 1949 to 1951 at the sanatorium
Sanatorium
A sanatorium is a medical facility for long-term illness, most typically associated with treatment of tuberculosis before antibiotics...

 Grafenhof, in Sankt Veit im Pongau
Sankt Veit im Pongau
Sankt Veit im Pongau is a market town in the St. Johann im Pongau district in the state of Salzburg in Austria. St.Veit is the first healthy climate spa town in Salzburg. Submontane to the "Hochglocker" there is the 1912 founded sanatorium. Author Thomas Bernhard was treated in there and he also...

. He trained as an actor at the Mozarteum in Salzburg
Salzburg
-Population development:In 1935, the population significantly increased when Salzburg absorbed adjacent municipalities. After World War II, numerous refugees found a new home in the city. New residential space was created for American soldiers of the postwar Occupation, and could be used for...

 (1955–1957) and was always profoundly interested in music: his lung condition, however, made a career as a singer impossible. After that he began work briefly as a journalist, then as a full-time writer.

Bernhard died in 1989 in Gmunden, Upper Austria
Upper Austria
Upper Austria is one of the nine states or Bundesländer of Austria. Its capital is Linz. Upper Austria borders on Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as on the other Austrian states of Lower Austria, Styria, and Salzburg...

. His attractive house in Ohlsdorf-Obernathal 2 where he had moved in 1965 is now a museum and centre for the study and performance of Bernhard's work. In his will, which aroused great controversy on publication, Bernhard prohibited any new stagings of his plays and publication
Publication
To publish is to make content available to the public. While specific use of the term may vary among countries, it is usually applied to text, images, or other audio-visual content on any medium, including paper or electronic publishing forms such as websites, e-books, Compact Discs and MP3s...

 of his unpublished work in Austria. His death was announced only after his funeral.

Work


Often criticized in Austria as a Nestbeschmutzer (one who dirties his own nest) for his critical views, Bernhard was highly acclaimed abroad.

His work is most influenced by the feeling of being abandoned (in his childhood and youth) and by his incurable illness, which caused him to see death as the ultimate essence of existence. His work typically features loners' monologue
Monologue
In theatre, a monologue is a speech presented by a single character, most often to express their thoughts aloud, though sometimes also to directly address another character or the audience. Monologues are common across the range of dramatic media...

s explaining, to a rather silent listener, his views on the state of the world, often with reference to a concrete situation. This is true for his plays as well as for his prose, where the monologues are then reported second hand by the listener.

His main protagonists, often scholars or, as he calls them, Geistesmenschen, denounce everything that matters to the Austrian in tirades against the "stupid populace" that are full of contumely
Contumacy
Contumacy is a stubborn refusal to obey authority or, particularly in law, the wilful contempt of the order or summons of a court The term is derived from the Latin word contumacia, meaning firmness or stubbornness....

. He also attacks the state (often called "Catholic-National-Socialist"), generally respected institutions such as Vienna's Burgtheater
Burgtheater
The Burgtheater , originally known as K.K. Theater an der Burg, then until 1918 as the K.K. Hofburgtheater, is the Austrian National Theatre in Vienna and one of the most important German language theatres in the world.The Burgtheater was created in 1741 and has become known as "die Burg" by the...

, and much-loved artists. His work also continually deals with the isolation and self-destruction of people striving for an unreachable perfection, since this same perfection would mean stagnancy and therefore death. Anti-Catholic rhetoric is not uncommon.

"Es ist alles lächerlich, wenn man an den Tod denkt" (Everything is ridiculous, when one thinks of Death) was his comment when he received a minor Austrian national award in 1968, which resulted in one of the many public scandals he caused over the years and which became part of his fame. His novel Holzfällen (1984
1984 in literature
The year 1984 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*The book Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell is widely read....

), for instance, could not be published for years due to a defamation claim
Cause of action
In the law, a cause of action is a set of facts sufficient to justify a right to sue to obtain money, property, or the enforcement of a right against another party. The term also refers to the legal theory upon which a plaintiff brings suit...

 by a former friend. Many of his plays—above all Heldenplatz (1988
1988 in literature
The year 1988 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-New books:*Margaret Atwood - Cat's Eye*J.G. Ballard - Memories of the Space Age*Iain M...

)—were met with criticism from many Austrians, who claimed they sullied Austria's reputation. One of the more controversial lines called Austria "a brutal and stupid nation … a mindless, cultureless sewer which spreads its penetrating stench all over Europe." Heldenplatz, as well as the other plays Bernhard wrote in these years, were staged at Vienna's famous Burgtheater by the controversial director Claus Peymann.

Even in death Bernhard caused disturbance by his, as he supposedly called it, posthumous literary emigration
Emigration
Emigration is the act of leaving one's country or region to settle in another. It is the same as immigration but from the perspective of the country of origin. Human movement before the establishment of political boundaries or within one state is termed migration. There are many reasons why people...

, by disallowing all publication and stagings of his work within Austria's borders. The International Thomas Bernhard Foundation, established by his executor and half-brother Dr. Peter Fabjan, has subsequently made exceptions, although the German firm of Suhrkamp remains his principal publisher.

The correspondence between Bernhard and his publisher Siegfried Unseld from 1961 to 1989 – about 500 letters – was published in December 2009 at Suhrkamp Verlag
Suhrkamp Verlag
Suhrkamp Verlag is a German publishing house, established in 1950 and generally acknowledged as one of the leading European publishers of fine literature.In January 2010 the headquarters of the company moved from Frankfurt to Berlin.-Early history:...

, Germany.

Novels

  • Frost (1963), translated by Michael Hofmann
    Michael Hofmann
    Michael Hofmann is a German-born poet who writes in English and a translator of texts from German.-Biography:...

     (2006)
  • Gargoyles
    Gargoyles (novel)
    Gargoyles is one of Thomas Bernhard’s earliest novels, which made the author known both nationally and internationally. Originally published in German in 1967, it’s a kaleidoscopic work, considered by critics his most disquieting and nihilistic....

    (Verstörung, 1967), translated by Richard and Clara Winston (1970)
  • The Lime Works
    The Lime Works
    The Lime Works is a novel by Thomas Bernhard, first published in German in 1970. It’s a complex surrealist work, where the creativity and resourcefulness of a destructive personality is marshalled against itself in a nightmarish narration.-Synopsis:...

    (Das Kalkwerk, 1970), translated by Sophie Wilkins (1973)
  • Correction
    Correction (novel)
    Correction is a novel by Thomas Bernhard, originally published in German in 1975, and first published in English translation in 1979 by Alfred A...

    (Korrektur, 1975), translated by Sophie Wilkins (1979)
  • Yes (Ja, 1978), translated by Ewald Osers
    Ewald Osers
    Ewald Osers , was a Czech translator born in Austria-Hungary. He was one of the most outstanding translators of Central European literature into English.-Career:...

     (1991)
  • The Cheap-Eaters (Der Billigesser, 1980), translated by Ewald Osers
    Ewald Osers
    Ewald Osers , was a Czech translator born in Austria-Hungary. He was one of the most outstanding translators of Central European literature into English.-Career:...

     (1990)
  • Concrete (Beton, 1982), translated by David McLintock (1984)
  • Wittgenstein's Nephew
    Wittgenstein's Nephew
    Wittgenstein’s Nephew is an autobiographical work by Thomas Bernhard, originally published in 1982. It is a recollection of the author's friendship with Paul Wittgenstein, the nephew of Ludwig Wittgenstein and a member of the wealthy Viennese Wittgenstein family...

    (Wittgensteins Neffe, 1982), translated by David McLintock (1988)
  • The Loser (Der Untergeher, 1983), translated by Jack Dawson (1991)
  • Woodcutters (Holzfällen: Eine Erregung, 1984), translated by Ewald Osers (1985) and as Woodcutters, by David McLintock (1988)
  • Old Masters: A Comedy (Alte Meister. Komödie, 1985), translated by Ewald Osers (1989)
  • Extinction (Auslöschung, 1986), translated by David McLintock (1995)
  • On The Mountain
    On The Mountain
    On The Mountain was Thomas Bernhard’s first prose work, which he completed in 1959, yet the last of his works to be published, in 1989, the year of his death....

    (In Der Höhe, written 1959, published 1989), translated by Russell Stockman (1991)

Novellas

  • Amras (1964)
  • Playing Watten (Watten, 1964)
  • Walking (Gehen, 1971)
    • Collected as Three Novellas (2003), translated by Peter Jansen and Kenneth J. Northcott

Plays

  • The Force of Habit (1974)
  • The President and Eve of Retirement (1982): Originally published as Der Präsident (1975) and Vor dem Ruhestand. Eine Komödie von deutscher Seele (1979), translated by Gitta Honegger.
  • Histrionics: Three Plays (1990): Collects A Party for Boris (Ein Fest für Boris, 1968), Ritter, Dene, Voss (1984) and Histrionics (Der Theatermacher, 1984), translated by Peter Jansen and Kenneth Northcott.
  • Heldenplatz
    Heldenplatz
    The Heldenplatz is a historical plaza in Vienna. Many important actions took place here, most notably Adolf Hitler's announcement of the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich in 1938.-The Plaza:...

    (1988)
  • Over All the Mountain Tops (2004): Originally published as Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh (1981), translated by Michael Mitchell.
  • The World-fixer (2005)

Miscellaneous

  • Gathering Evidence (1985, memoir): Collects Die Ursache (1975), Der Keller (1976), Der Atem (1978), Die Kälte (1981) and Ein Kind (1982), translated by David McLintock.
  • The Voice Imitator (1997, stories): Originally published as Der Stimmenimitator (1978), translated by Kenneth J. Northcott.
  • In Hora Mortis / Under the Iron of the Moon (2006, poetry): Collects In Hora Mortis (1958) and Unter dem Eisen des Mondes (1958), translated by James Reidel.
  • My Prizes (2010, stories): Originally published as Meine Preise (2009), translated by Carol Brown Janeway.
  • Victor Halfwit: A Winter's Tale (2011, illustrated story)

Further reading

  • Theo Breuer
    Theo Breuer
    Theo Breuer is a German poet, essayist, editor, translator and publisher.-Life and work:...

    , Die Arbeit als Leidenschaft, die fortgesetzte Partitur als Leben. Hommage zum 80. Geburtstag.
  • Ruth Franklin, "The Art of Extinction," The New Yorker
    The New Yorker
    The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

    ,
    December 25, 2006 and Jan 1, 2007.
  • Gitta Honegger, Thomas Bernhard: The Making of an Austrian, Yale University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-300-08999-6.
  • Kay Link: Die Welt als Theater - Künstlichkeit und Künstlertum bei Thomas Bernhard. Akademischer Verlag Stuttgart, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-88099-387-4.
  • JJ Long, The Novels of Thomas Bernhard: Form and its Function, Camden House Inc.,U.S., 2001, ISBN 1-57113-224-4.

Films

  • Ferry Radax
    Ferry Radax
    Ferry Radax is an Austrian film maker born in Vienna. He has been active in many genres since 1949. He studied at Vienna's Film Institute in 1953-54, followed by Cinecittà, Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, in Rome in 1955-56. He has produced films all around Europe, and also in South...

    : Thomas Bernhard - Drei Tage (Thomas Bernhard - three days, 1970). Directed by Ferry Radax and based on a written self-portrait by Thomas Bernhard.
  • Ferry Radax: Der Italiener (The Italian, 1972), a feature film directed by Ferry Radax and based on a script by Thomas Bernhard.

External links