Category Archives: Thomas Bernhard

Perfection

At the same time I had to tell myself that we invariably made excessive demands of everything and everybody: nothing is done thoroughly enough, everything is imperfect, everything has been merely attempted, nothing completed. My unhealthy craving for perfection had come to the surface again.

— Thomas Bernhard, Concrete (tr. McLintock)

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To feel contempt for the people is stupid of course. But you have to be cautious, for the people will attack you because you are not like them: ‘He takes walks all day. He needs to be picked off!’ But it’s a never-ending yearning to belong to the people. And the so-called simple people always have a better understanding of my writing than others.

– Thomas Bernhard, interview

Intellectual aims

Q. ‘What kind of intellectual aims do you…’

A. ‘These are all questions that can’t be answered because no one asks themselves that sort of thing. People don’t have aims. Young people, up to 23, they still fall for that. A person who has lived five decades has no aims, because there’s no goal.’

Thomas Bernhard

Helpless

Only when, time and again, we have discovered that there is no such thing as the whole or the perfect are we able to live on. We cannot endure the whole or the perfect. We have to travel to Rome to discover that Saint Peter’s is a tasteless concoction, that Bernini’s altar is an architectural nonsense. We have to see the Pope face to face and personally discover that all in all he is just as helpless and grotesque a person as anyone else in order to bear it. We have to listen to Bach and hear how he fails, listen to Beethoven and hear how he fails, even listen to Mozart and hear how he fails. And we have to deal in the same way with the so-called great philosophers, even if they are our favourite spiritual artists, he said. After all, we do not love Pascal because he is so perfect but because he is fundamentally so helpless, just as we love Montaigne for his helplessness in lifelong searching and failing to find, and Voltaire for his helplessness. We only love philosophy and the humanities generally because they are absolutely helpless. We truly love only those books which are not a whole, which are chaotic, which are helpless.

Thomas Bernhard

The impossibility of writing

What matters is whether we want to lie or to tell the truth and write the truth, even though it never can be the truth and never is the truth.

— Thomas Berhard

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What is the writer’s struggle except a struggle to use a medium as precisely as possible, but knowing fully its basic imprecision? A hopeless task, but none the less rewarding for being hopeless.

— Lawrence Durrell

Against the facts

If we look at a person, we are bound in a short space of time to say what a horrible, what an unbearable person. If we look at Nature, we are bound to say, what a horrible what an unbearable Nature. If we look at something artificial — it doesn’t matter what the artificiality is — we are bound to say in a short space of time what an unbearable artificiality. If we are out walking, we even say after the shortest space of time, what an unbearable walk, just as when we are running we say what an unbearable run, just as when we are standing still, what an unbearable standing still, just as when we are thinking what an unbearable process of thinking. If we meet someone, we think within the shortest space of time, what an unbearable meeting. If we go on a journey, we say to ourselves, after the shortest space of time, what an unbearable journey, what unbearable weather, we say, says Oehler, no matter what the weather is like, if we think about any sort of weather at all. If our intellect is keen, if our thinking is the most ruthless and the most lucid, says Oehler, we are bound after the shortest space of time to say of everything that it is unbearable and horrible. There is no doubt that the art lies in bearing what is unbearable and in not feeling that what is horrible is something horrible. Of course we have to label this art the most difficult of all. The art of existing against the facts, says Oehler, is the most difficult, the art that is the most difficult.

Thomas Berhard