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Thomas Bernhard’s Comic Materialism

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


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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Epilogue - Gmunden, and Everything Connected with It 167


Epilogue Gmunden, and Everything Connected with It Hans Höller noted that “Etwas von der Atmosphäre einer Sommerfische der k.u.k. Monarchie hat sich in Gmunden erhalten, ein Paar Kaf feehäuser gibt es dort, in einem war Bernhard Stammgast. Von der Bahnstation hinunter ins Zentrum in der Nähe der Schif fsanlegestelle führt seit Kaisers Zeiten eine Straßenbahn. Für ihre Erhaltung hat Thomas Bernhard seinen letzten Leserbrief verfaßt” (Thomas Bernhard 85). I walk along the gently curved street out to the Wittgenstein-Stonebor- ough villa housing the archive a mile out of town, opposite Schloß Orth (scene of the medical soap opera, Sanatarium Schloss Hotel), lovely, and set in a park. The typescripts and galley sheets are out of the safe and waiting for me. Astrid is there; Bernhard is there (a fellow whose first name is Bern- hard) but the Bernhard is there only in spirit (and what a spirited fellow he was.) Tall ceilings, plain white walls, uncluttered, beautiful pine f loors. As I arrive a delivery van leaves the road and makes a left to the castle at the end of a causeway, a left into the Schloß, not a right to the Wittgenstein- Stoneborough house and the Bernhard archive, but a left to Schloß Orth. The van delivering water has painted on its side the name of the water company and the date of the company’s founding, 1166. Commodities I: The Krug Everybody mentions the last line of Alte Meister: “Die Vorstellung...

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