I had planned our excursion to Das Bernhard-Haus, the Thomas Bernhard house, near the village of Ohlsdorf in Upper Austria, with embarrassment. It was just the kind of admiration behavior, I thought, that Bernhard himself would have found shameless: traipsing from room to room around an author’s house that has been turned into a kitschy museum, looking at the author’s possessions inside the author’s house; worst of all, to perhaps stare at the author’s typewriter on the author’s desk. One would hope to be above supposing that it was anything but spying, to seek to learn anything about a writer by gawking at his kitchen or bedroom.
The greatness of Bernhard’s novels and memoirs is, after all, philosophical, and stylistic. A brutally simple and apparently universal idea—Everything is ridiculous when one thinks of death, he said upon receiving Austria’s Förderungspreis für Literature in 1968—is embroidered into a vivacious comedy of pure thought, through compulsive repetition, confident self-contradiction, and heady exaggeration. It is, I thought, art to be contended with on its own terms—in the echo chamber of the solitary mind, not on the guided tour.
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