Thomas Bernhard’s Comic Materialism

Class, Art, and «Socialism» in Post-War Austria

by Russell Harrison (Author)
Monographs XI, 194 Pages
Series: German Life and Civilization, Volume 55


Twenty-two years after his death, Thomas Bernhard’s work continues to fascinate, irritate, and please readers. This book analyzes Bernhard’s writings in the light of post-war Austrian history, challenging the prevailing formalist and psychological reception of his work. It does so by revealing the close connection between individual texts and contemporaneous economic and political events, such as the relationship of the 1969 story Watten. Ein Nachlass to the incipient decline of the social-partnership state, or the connection of the 1970 novel Das Kalkwerk to the shifting balance of power between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Furthermore, the book argues that much of Bernhard’s engagement in public life was an attack on the «pseudo-socialism» of the Austrian socialist party and especially of Bruno Kreisky. Bernhard’s critique is effected through what the author terms a «comic materialism» – an unrelenting focus on the material aspects of life – evident in his protagonists’ ludicrously obsessive fixation on the objects of everyday life and in his comic critique of Viennese society.


XI, 194
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2012 (April)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2012. XII, 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Russell Harrison (Author)

Russell T. Harrison is Assistant Professor of Writing Studies and Composition at Hofstra University. He was previously Senior Fulbright Lecturer in American Literature at Palacky University in Czechoslovakia (1987-9) and at Minsk State Linguistic University in Belarus (1996-8).


Title: Thomas Bernhard’s Comic Materialism