Friday, March 09, 2007

Beautiful Mad Music : The Loser, Thomas Bernhard

I find it difficult to describe the feelings I had while reading the loser, that monster novel by Thomas Bernhard. It is like being in a pincer grip, only one doesn't want to be released from this strangle. I actually wanted to suffer while reading this book, thinking perhaps that I had failed to comprehend that my deterioration process had started a long while ago.

I struggle to describe a work like the loser, phenomenal as it is in every aspect. Now, if the aim of a work of art is to stun us with its technique or seduce us with its charm and sadden us with its beauty and inform us with its music, then this moving, highly engaging novel does all that. It is very rarely that one finds these qualities in one book and it is very rarely that unhappiness seems a reward.

the loser is a technically stunning book. The one monstrous monologue, typical of Bernhard, is a relentless, unending exercise in self mocking exorcism and a fascinating portrayal of the constantly changing positions that we take in life. Since nothing is permanent and life is futile, Bernhard's narrator annunciates the answer in a very literary way. He knows because he has lost. He knows that the journey is useless.

We can always analyze stories from our own perspectives unfortunately. I thought that the novel reflects the futility of all ambition because life is useless. At one point, the narrator blames every thing on death. However, such a task is accomplished in a way that can be described as musical. This type of position is the literary equivalent of Rashomon but then Kurosawa's poetry is the cinematic equivalent of Akutagawa.That the narrator discovers new position's from new angles because of this relentless exercise is a reflection of the futility of taking any position. The novel is the story of failure, with the narrator shifting his position constantly, revisiting each position that he and the protagonist of the novel Wertheimer had taken.

I didn't know who Glenn Gould was before I read this novel. Yet i was reminded relentlessly by
the narrator's method of a monstrous, scathing, unending, fantastic, outre and almost diabolical repetition of the same words and the same theme page after page as to who he might have been. The effect it had on me was that I didn't for a moment want the novel to finish. I let Bernhard's words flow and cover me, a privilege that I give to very few writers.

I read many sentences again and again in order to enjoy their odd and mysterious music. I haven't given the story away here. I will end by saying that the loser is a novel that should be read by those who want to suffer the atrocity of words, of sadness and the most dark melancholy, of sheets of rain, from palpitations, from insomnia and from a strange love of words.
The loser is a great novel and Bernhard a writer whose distinct voice must be heard louder.


Alok said...

wow, I discovered him a few months back and what a great find he is...

reading him one starts feeling sorry for the words and the language after a while, the way he mercilessly hammers them from every perspective... it is liberating in a way.

Kubla Khan said...

yes, i agree.
i am reading Correction and find the same relentless word massacre. i see that you have read his poems......what cathartic lamentation too...........what macabre beauty....what wanton battles.................

Alok said...

I actually havent read his poem collection. just wrote a post about a review. I think some sample pages were available somewhere.

in a way his prose is also like poetry in the sense that he is experimenting with language, putting together words, and seeing if any meaning emerges from them or at least make us skeptical about language... it is a radically different from the idea of novel as storytelling or the idea of novel as realistic and believable representation.

I read a comment somewhere, Bernhard said something like, "I don't tell stories, I strangle them!"

* said...

yes it is a great book, but the title is badly translated. Loser,it is not that, in german it is 'Untergeher' whcih means going down going to ground,which of course can mean a sort of losing, but not necessarily the connotation of failure (which is I think important to bear in mind when one thinks of the end of this book). With the word loser one loses this richness. The lovely ambiguity of going down has been lost. well anyway. yes it is a great book. But I don't like it so much somehow. Something disturbs me of the picture that he is sketching of Glenn Gould. Don't know exactly what it is. Yet I can't help agreeing with this wonderful sentence of Bernhard: "Those are terrible people who don’t like Glenn Gould… I will have nothing to do with such people, they are dangerous people."

Kubla Khan said...

I think that a writer cannot write unless he thinks beforehand of HOW he or she will write. in other words, the technique, good or bad is his doing....thus the Bernhardian oeuvre of repitition is careful chaos. I was wondering what actual purpose it you, Alok said....he is trying to see what will emerge....i tend to disagree. I think he KNOWS it beforehands, otherwise the essence is just word play. i think Bernhard was far too great a writer for these gimmicks.
Antonia, you rightly said about the translation....i wonder whether it is worth reading these translated works....the reality is lost somewhere. what we read is ANOTHER book, not the same.
but what to do....we have to.......