lunes, 27 de febrero de 2012

The Loser

The Loser [Der Untergeher] (Vintage International, 1993)
by Thomas Bernhard [translated from the German by Jack Dawson]
Austria, 1983

The Loser, the opening salvo in Bernhard's arts trilogy in which our cantankerous hero would later take aim at the theater (1984's Woodcutters) and painting (1985's Old Masters) in a sustained three-year broadside directed at creativity and the arts, is a spluttering 170-page rant about the despondency and envy felt by two childhood friends who are left scarred for life after having studied piano alongside the virtuoso Glenn Gould some twenty-eight years previously.  Fortunately, it isn't necessary to know anything about "The Goldberg Variations" or "The Art of the Fugue" to appreciate the unnamed narrator's own insult virtuosity: "What lousy teachers we had to put up with, teachers who screwed up our heads.  Art destroyers all of them, art liquidators, culture assassins, murderers of students" (18]).  Nor is it necessary to be a musician to appreciate the obsessive drive that separates the Glenn Gould types from the losers who are merely technically proficient: "The ideal piano player (he never said pianist!) is the one who wants to be the piano, and I say to myself every day when I wake up, I want to be the Steinway, not the person playing the Steinway, I want to be the Steinway itself...  All my life I have dreaded being ground to bits between Bach and Steinway and it requires the greatest effort on my part to escape this dread, he said.  My ideal would be, I would be the Steinway, I wouldn't need Glenn Gould, he said, I could, by being the Steinway, make Glenn Gould totally superfluous" (82, ellipses added).  Not bad, not bad at all as a sort of unforgiving excursus on madness and the quest for perfection--but at a grand total of four paragraphs in length, nowhere near as impeccably well-crafted and tight as the single-paragraph Wittgenstein's Nephew!  (Vintage International)

Thomas Bernhard

11 comentarios:

  1. I read this about fifteen years ago and really liked it, yet I've never read a single thing by Bernhard since.

    Perhaps it's because after I've read it, I remember enthusing about it to a friend of mine, saying it was about how all of man's artistic and philosophical endeavour so far has been worthless (I forget the details exactly); and he just replied that it sounded rubbish. - I'm very influenced by other people's opinions.

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    1. I didn't feel that The Loser was quite as dark as you remembered it, Obooki, but I might have missed something given how much it made me laugh in between all the uncomfortable stuff. In any event, a little Bernhard probably goes a long way. By the way, I'm very influenced by other people's opinions, too--that's why I want to read Woodcutters (recommended by Tom/Amateur Reader) and Gathering Evidence/My Prizes (recommended by Rise, I believe) by Bernhard next!

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  2. I'm as usually puzzled by the Englisch title. Untergeher is a word that Bernhard invented, it doesn't exist. If you do a google search, all that comes up is his novel. It's a word play on "untergehen", going under.
    And loser is something entirely different. Maybe the book means loser but the title doesn't mean someone who is a failure but someone who is dragged down. It's more violent. It's a title that startles you, wakes you up, you need to think about what he meant. Loser is too easy.
    Not sure you are interested in this type of comment. I won't do it anymore, if you're not. Couldn't have added anything else as I have not read this. I meant to read some Bernhard this year but it will be Wood cutters (and yeas, I will be maoning abou the title).

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    1. I welcome all comments, Caroline, but like Rise I think that translation ones like yours are often particularly interesting. Funny to hear what you had to say about this--I saw the title translated as Going Under in a book of Bernhard criticism last week and was actually a little distressed to see such wildly different titles in play! Anyway, I'd have to say that The Loser does make some sense for the title given that a character is referred to by that nickname who in addition has supposedly written a manuscript by the same name--although Going Under probably makes more sense given what befalls all three of the main characters in the novel. Puzzling choice, indeeed! P.S. No problem about the typos. :D

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  3. The completion of the trilogy is an anticipated project for me. His books, according to some, are bad for one's health, but I found them oddly uplifting. I have some half a dozen unread Bernhards. Reserved for when I'm down.

    Interesting what Caroline said about the title. Woodcutters also has an alternate translation (Cutting Timber).

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    1. Rise, ha--I almost used "uplifting" in an ironic sense here! I definitely get what you mean, though, and I hope to read 1-2 more Bernhards myself as soon as this year (i.e. he can't be all that depressing, can he?). How weird about all the alternate titles, though--must be something to that. Cheers!

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  4. I can't wait to get back to Bernhard after reading Correction a couple of years ago. But his intensity is such that I feel I almost need to prepare myself for him. I can understand the "bad for one's health" aspect to which Rise refers, but then again, a lot of things I greatly enjoy are bad for my health. I know a Glenn Gould fanatic who would probably be driven completely insane by this book.

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    1. I took a couple of years off in between Bernhard titles by accident, Scott, but I can understand wanting to space them out for breathing room purposes and whatnot. Meanwhile, I'm happy to hear the "a lot of things I greatly enjoy are bad for my health" line of defense--such a classic! P.S. Reading up on Glenn Gould online was one of the happier accidents to come out of reading The Loser--what a crackpot Bernhard type!

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  5. Very good for one's health. People who laugh long and loud live longer, right? Big, big laughs in Bernhard.

    I mean, people aren't taking him seriously, are they? To amend obooki's description, the book is not about how everything is worthless (grim!) but about a man who believes that everything is etc., in other words, who is a fool (comedy!).

    Old Masters is even goopy at the end, genuinely pathetic.

    Having said all of this, Meine Frau has called one of B.'s books the most depressing novel ever written, but I do not know if she meant it. That novel's cheery title: Yes.

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  6. Tom, I like the simple maneuver by which merely replacing one reading of Bernhard (i.e. Bernhard is crazy) with another, more "suspicious" one (i.e. the narrator is crazy) turns a depressing read into a comedy. Nicely done! I also like the anecdote about your wife's reaction to Bernhard--esp. that "but I do not know if she meant it" part. Touché!

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