GATHERING EVIDENCE: A Memoir by Thomas Bernhard


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Only the dedicated reader can sift through Bernhard's brilliant, obsessive, clark broodings. (His masterpiece Correction--a tender, humorous and despairing story of an obsessed man--and his most recent novel, Concrete, a watered-down version of the former, at once exhaust, irritate and dazzle with their excessive turnings and twistings, the endless revisions and reversals.) Bernhard's memoir of his youth thoroughly examines the development of his extraordinary mind--with all its nervous irritability, despair, frustration, contradictions. Bernhard (1931--) inherited his suicidal inclinations from his adored, eccentric grandfather--a fiercely individualistic thinker and writer, disgusted and sickened by the world of 1930's Austria, who believed that man's most precious possession was his freedom to commit suicide. An illegitimate child, Bernhard was constantly punished by his mother, whose love for him was suppressed by her hatred for his father (who had abandoned her). He much later learned that his father, whom he never met, had one day decided to leave home and, ""taking his decision to its logical conclusion,"" had set fire to his parents' home. Bernhard himself, at 15, turned against everything he knew. Grammar school was simply ""a machine for the mutilation of the mind,"" and after suffering terribly in vile boarding schools through the dark years of the Nazi occupation, he escaped bourgeois Salzburg by running away in the ""opposite direction,"" to a slum and a job in a cellar grocery. What ultimately saved him, Bernhard writes, was the contrast of learning commerce in the real world and studying music, which he had just discovered. He further explains that ""I am able to exist only by dint of standing up to myself--in fact, of consistently opposing myself."" Unfortunately, Bernhard's study of music and commerce was tragically interrupted when he was taken ill (the last two sections describe his battle against pneumonia and then the tuberculosis he contracted in the hospital), and his determination to survive in spite of the inhumanity of the hospitals, and the tragic deaths of his grandfather and his mother. Writing, he discovered, was one of the only salvations. This bleak memoir disturbs and exhausts, and never quite builds up to the lyrical pitch of his novels. But, for the fans of this heir of Kafka's, this is an invaluable account of the mind behind the dark inventions--inventions which, it turns out, are the logical extension of his life story.

Pub Date: Jan. 27th, 1985
Publisher: Knopf