Synopses & Reviews
Thomas Bernhard is “one of the masters of contemporary European fiction” (George Steiner); “one of the century’s most gifted writers” (Newsday
); “a virtuoso of rancor and rage” (Bookforum
). And although he is favorably compared with Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, and Robert Musil, it is only in recent years that he has gained a devoted cult following in America.
A powerful, compact novella, Walking provides a perfect introduction to the absurd, dark, and uncommonly comic world of Bernhard, showing a preoccupation with themes—illness and madness, isolation, tragic friendships—that would obsess Bernhard throughout his career. Walking records the conversations of the unnamed narrator and his friend Oehler while they walk, discussing anything that comes to mind but always circling back to their mutual friend Karrer, who has gone irrevocably mad. Perhaps the most overtly philosophical work in Bernhard’s highly philosophical oeuvre, Walking provides a penetrating meditation on the impossibility of truly thinking.
“Our precious individual lives, we discover, are only a symptom of a swirling, uncentered excess of thought in which we lose our direction and identity. We lose ourselves into madness, we find, not at the end of reason’s course but in the infinity between two beats of reason’s clock. It is Bernhard’s genius to be able to make this revelation darkly, but giddily, humorous. Kenneth J. Northcott’s translation brilliantly renders the drama of this piece, which reads like a soliloquy revealing the complex inner tides constituting an individual psyche. . . . Uncompromising.”
“In Walking, we see burgeoning signs of one of the most distinct literary voices of the twentieth century. . . . A small treasure.”
“The writing is . . . repetitive, but the repetition eventually seduces the reader into the strange nature of the friends’ discussion. Despite its difficulties, the writing is beautiful; even if you don’t enjoy weighty writing or agree with Bernhard’s sometimes heavy-handed views on society, the prose can be appreciated for is beauty alone.”
“It is with Walking, worth the price of admission, that we understand how Bernhard’s writing, a writing constantly struggling against, is a consistent, desperate, humorous, bitter, and all-too-human attempt to keep from going under.”
It is 1967, in a Viennese hospital. In separate wards: the narrator named Thomas Bernhard, is stricken with a lung ailment; his friend Paul, nephew of Ludwig Wittgenstein, is suffering fom one of his periodic bouts of madness. Bernhard traces the growth of an intense friendship between two eccentric, obsessive men who share a passion for music, a strange sense of humor, brutal honesty, and a disgust for bourgeois Vienna.
Wittgenstein's Nephew is] a meditative fugue for mad, brilliant voices on the themes of death, death-in-life and the artist's and thinker's role in society . . . oddly moving and funny at the same time.--Joseph Coates, Chicago Tribune
Mr. Bernhard's memoir about Paul Wittgenstein is a 'confession and a guilty homage to their friendship; it takes the place of the graveside speech he never delivered. In its obsessive, elegant rhythms and narrative eloquence, it resembles a tragic aria by Richard Strauss. . . . This is a memento mori that approaches genius.'--Richard Locke, Wall Street Journal
It is 1967. In separate wings of a Viennese hospital, two men lie bedridden. The narrator, named Thomas Bernhard, is stricken with a lung ailment; his friend Paul, nephew of the celebrated philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, is suffering from one of his periodic bouts of madness. As their once-casual friendship quickens, these two eccentric men begin to discover in each other a possible antidote to their feelings of hopelessness and mortality—a spiritual symmetry forged by their shared passion for music, strange sense of humor, disgust for bourgeois Vienna, and great fear in the face of death. Part memoir, part fiction, Wittgensteins Nephew is both a meditation on the artists struggle to maintain a solid foothold in a world gone incomprehensibly askew, and a stunning—if not haunting—eulogy to a real-life friendship.
”In this early and seminal novella, Thomas Bernhard raises many of the themes he will elaborate on in later work: madness, death, suicide, the fragility of identity, and his hatred for his native Austria. The story takes the form of a conversation between the narrator and his friend Oehler, walking together and talking about their mutual friend Karrer, who has gone mad. Oehler does most of the talking. He often quotes Karrer, and he repeats phrases in rhythmic patterns, providing the text with fugue-like complexity. Brian Evenson calls this “In some respects the most overtly philosophical text in Bernhard’s highly philosophical oeuvre.”
About the Author
(1931-89) grew up in Salzburg and Vienna, where he studied music. In 1957 he began a second career as a playwright, poet, and novelist. He went on to win many of the most prestigious literary prizes of Europe (including the Austrian State Prize, the Bremen and Brüchner prizes, and Le Prix Séguier), became one of the most widely admired writers of his generation, and insisted at his death that none of his works be published in Austria for seventy years, a provision later repealed by his half-brother.
Kenneth J. Northcott is professor emeritus of German at the University of Chicago. He has translated a number of books for the University of Chicago Press.Brian Evenson is the author of numerous works of fiction, including Altmanns Tongue, Dark Property, Father of Lies, and The Wavering Knife. He is also director of the Literary Arts Program at Brown University.