On a Park Bench with Thomas Bernhard

Bernhard-leadAndrew Katzenstein at The New York Review of Books:

In Thomas Bernhard: Three Days, a documentary filmed in Hamburg in 1970, the Austrian novelist and playwright says, “As far as I am concerned, I am no writer, I am somebody who writes.” For Bernhard—known for his rant-like novels, at once devastating and entertaining, that criticize seemingly everything in a torrent of piercing observations and mordant epigrams—this distinction was crucial. Many of his clever, caustic narrators are artists or writers, such as the failed concert pianist in The Loser, the misanthropic Austrian musicologist in Concrete, and the writer in Woodcutters who recalls his hatred of old artistic acquaintances in Vienna. These cantankerous, lonely men see vanity, hypocrisy, and idiocy everywhere, and believe that they can only escape condemnation by showing the world its own folly. Perhaps because of the almost redemptive value they place on art, their strongest rebukes are aimed at hacks—artists who seem more interested in fame and accolades than in the creation of meaningful work.

It’s surprising, then, that Bernhard would agree to star in a documentary about his own life and work. (A new book featuring a translated transcript as well as a number of stills has just been released.) Although films about writers may satisfy the curiosity of readers—who might wonder what their favorite authors look like, what they sound like, or whether their work is somehow apparent in their personality—the actual process of writing and revision can make for tedious viewing. By participating in Three Days, Bernhard risked turning himself into writer, not someone who writes.

more here.