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Thomas Bernhard (1931 - 1989)

Lifespan: 1931 - 1989

Related: Austria - literature

Wittgenstein's Nephew: A Friendship (1982) - Thomas Bernhard
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Thomas Bernhard (February 9, 1931, Heerlen - February 12, 1989, Ohlsdorf) was an Austrian playwright and novelist.

Thomas Bernhard was born in 1931 in Heerlen, Netherlands as an illegitimate child to Herta Fabjan (1904-1950) and the carpenter Alois Zuckerstätter (1905-1940). Bernhard spent much of his early childhood with his maternal grandparents in Vienna and Seekirchen, Salzburg (state). His mother's marriage in (1936) occasioned a move to Traunstein, Bavaria.

Bernhard's grandfather, the author Johannes Freumbichler, pushed for an artistic education for the boy, including musical instruction. Bernhard went to elementary school in Seekirchen and later attended the National Socialist (1942-1945) / Catholic (post-1945) boarding school Johanneum, which he quit in 1947 to start an apprenticeship with a merchant.

Due to an intractable lung disease, Bernhard spent the years 1949 to 1951 at the sanatorium Grafenhof. He trained as an actor at the Mozarteum in Salzburg (1955-1957). After that he began work as a freelance author.

Bernhard died in 1989 at home in Ohlsdorf near Gmunden, Upper Austria, where he had moved in 1965. His attractive house is now a museum--one of its most striking features is the presence of hundreds of pairs of Bernhard's shoes. In his last will, Bernhard prohibited any new stagings of his plays and publication of his unpublished work in Austria. His death was announced only after his funeral.

Often criticized in Austria as a Nestbeschmutzer (someone who dirties their own nest) for his critical views but highly acclaimed abroad, Bernhard is seen by many as a genius.

His work is most influenced by the feeling of being left alone (in his childhood and youth) and his uncurable illness, which caused him to see death as the ultimate essence of existence. His most typical work are loners' monologues explaining—to a rather silent listener—his view on the state of the world on the basis of a concrete situation. This is true for his plays as well as for his prose, where the monologues are then reported second hand by the listener.

His main protagonists, often scholars—or, as he calls them, Geistesmenschen—denounce in their contumelious tirades against the "stupid populace" everything that matters to the Austrian: the state (often called "Catholic-National-Socialist"), generally accepted institutions like Vienna's Burgtheater, or much-loved artists. The view on his work should not be limited to this aspect, however, since his work is also always about the isolation and self-decomposition of people striving for perfection. Perfection is impossible to reach though, since perfection means stagnancy and therefore death.

"Es ist alles lächerlich, wenn man an den Tod denkt" (Everything is ridiculous, when one thinks of Death) was his comment when he received a minor Austrian national award in 1968, which resulted in one of the many public scandals he caused over the years and which became part of his fame. His novel Holzfällen (1984), for instance, could not be published for years due to a defamation claim of a former friend. Many of his plays—above all Heldenplatz (1988)—were met with criticism from conservative circles, who claimed they dirtied Austria's reputation. Heldenplatz as well as the other plays Bernhard wrote in those years were put on stage by the controversial Burgtheater director Claus Peymann, who was often critized for staging contemporary plays at that place of fine art.

Even in his death Bernhard caused disturbance by his—as he supposedly called it—posthumous literary emigration, by disallowing all publication and stagings of his work within Austria's borders. His heirs, however, have since allowed this from time to time. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bernhard [Sept 2006]

See also: Austria - literature

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