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Thomas Bernhard’s Comic Materialism

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

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Russell Harrison

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.

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Acknowledgements xi A Brief Introduction 1 Chapter One Thomas Bernhard’s Anti-Proletarian Screed: The “Politische Morgenandacht” in its Historical Context 5 Chapter Two Obedience, History, Everyday Life, and the Return of Class Conf lict in Das Kalkwerk 39 Chapter Three Alienated Labor and the Abolition of Class Society: Thomas Bernhard and the Proletarian 87 Excursus The Ohlsdorfer Bauernbündler and the “Little Shit” from Brooklyn: Thomas Bernhard in the Light of Henry Miller 125 Chapter Four The Social(ist) Construction of Art in Thomas Bernhard’s Alte Meister 135 Excursus Salzburg 163 xEpilogue Gmunden, and Everything Connected with It 167 Bibliography 183 Index 193

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