Monday, July 02, 2007

Thomas Bernhard's Yes : Study In Antistudy

Thomas Bernhard's short novel Yes is another example of his ability to write the same story, recounted in a narrative that is neither less rhetorical nor less repititive as some of the previous works I have read so far. If this narration is to be considered a case study in depression, then it is well documented. At the same time, the over riding concerns of his tirades are as usual well written and sometimes too well.

The narrator , like his usual one, lives in isolation, forced on himself in a remote village. We are told that he is working on a scientific study, on antibodies. Here he comes into contact, after self imposed isolation of some months with a Swiss man and his Persian woman friend at the house of his friend Moritz. The meeting causes a refreshment of my hearing and of my whole mental state, by the manner of her speaking and thinking, which logically, gave rise to speech from thought and thought from speech. The preceding contactlessness, he tells us had progressively developed into a mental sickness. Meeting the Persian woman is just the right thing the narrator wants. He attempts to meet her at the local inn. He finds she is not ready. Women, no matter what kind, are never ready at any definite agreed time. They go out later for a walk in the nearby larch-wood. He realizes instantly that she is a person of intellect.

We are then told in some detail about the narrator's mental sickness, as he calls it, initially sporadic symptoms of illness and then finally as an illness and indeed as a severe illness. The arrival of the couple causes an attenuation of my state of sickness, naturally not a cure but a suspension....He tells us then that with each passing attack the illness had become worse causing him to feel powerless and helpless, partially with an inability to work, caused by my sickness and the frightful political conditions in our country and Europe had triggered this catastrophe as political conditions had deteriorated. He finds everything dictatorial, brutal and vile. We are then told of his abiding admiration for The world as will and idea and for Schumann and how he finds the Persian woman also admiring schumann.

So long as we have but a single person near us with whomwe can talk ultimately about everything we can hold out, otherwise we cannot. Meeting the Persian woman liberates him, as he suddenly decides to get outside and run away. It causes a clearing of my mind and head. Existence seems possible again. I was compelled not to reflect on myself. This is all atrributed to the Persian woman, as he informs us that he had missed a foreign language person all his life. For with the Persian it was possible to have a philosophical conversation. The present being no age for philosophy and there being no contemporary philosopher, he finds the Persian as philosophizing. On the second walk with her, he describes it as musical, philosophy being music, music philosophy.

The story ends in tragedy though usually Bernhard's stories start with one. We are briefly told of the possible reasons or there are hints here and there. There is a house to be built, there always is in Bernhard, and there is this woman, this time exotic, foreign language and Persian. There is no obvious incest, I am not sure if two walks in the larch wood constitute adultery. The woman has made a sacrifice for her Swiss friend and in fact given up everything. However, Bernhard says.....for the asian female it is no more than natural that she subordinates and sacrifices to the male totally and in the most unreserved manner. that sacrifice ensures to her a meaning to her life. I am not sure how Bernhard comes up with such a sweeping statement and how many Asian women he knew. There is somewhat a slight prejudging attitude here, even though he talks of her as regenerating.

I find Yes as funny as his other novels. The themes are depressing and yet we find them strangely funny. I think the narrator is not only depressed but also paranoid but then most of Bernhard's narrators are. The novel is well written, giving us expressions like work-prison and existential prison, and the quality of his ranting, which I find strangely musical is relentless. The fact that there are no philosophers left might reflect his admiration for Wittgenstein and we find the same obsessive rants against Austria which perhaps as a defense, might serve as his hidden love for his country. The narrator has political views and whether he is more ill than he actually lets us know is anybody's guess. The strangeness of this music grows on one, and I don't regret reading him.


Anonymous said...

yes it's a strange one, this 'Yes' - it's been said that the persian woman actually is IB and the whole story reflects the break up ith Max Frisch who was an architect (and writer, too) but I can't say for sure whetehr it is true - it would make sense though....

Anonymous said...

sorry: IB = Ingeborg Bachmann

Kubla Khan said...

antonia...Hello.I have not read IB.which is her best book?

Anonymous said...

you could just as good start anywhere with IB. but it is in general pretty gloomy stuff.