My Prizes

Scott Esposito in The Quarterly Conversation:

Bernhard-mirror Writers are a notably sensitive lot, ever-susceptible to flattery, dying for recognition; it is a significant moment in any writer’s career when they are singled out for high praise.

Any writer except for Thomas Bernhard, that is, at least according to the accounting he gives in My Prizes. In this slim collection of nine essays, each essay detailing one prize he received, Bernhard raises his disdain for all literary prizes to an art. (I do note, with some pleasure, that the author’s note at the end of this book states, “the winner of the three most distinguished and coveted literary prizes awarded in Germany . . .”) Bernhard rarely forgets to remind us that anything to do with prize-giving is beneath him. Again and again, he declares that all those unfortunates who would honor him with a literary prize are blockheads worthy of only the most tightfisted gratitude. In fact, in most cases Bernhard claims that the only reason he bothers to pick up the award is so that he can grab the prize money, which is immediately plugged into some debt or other.

Despite the titanic displays of thanklessness in My Prizes, Bernhard makes no secret of the important roles many of these prizes play in his life; perhaps this is his way of acknowledging that, whether or not he takes them as an honor, they are meaningful to him. One prize, for instance, allows Bernhard to buy his first home. Another gives him the means to own his first car.

More here.