Academic journal article German Quarterly

Three-Part Inventions: The Novels of Thomas Bernhard

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Three-Part Inventions: The Novels of Thomas Bernhard

Article excerpt

20th and 21st Century Literature and Culture Cousineau, Thomas J. Three-Part Inventions: The Novels of Thomas Bernhard. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008. 181 pp. $48.50 hardcover.

"Zur stabilen Stützung eines Körpers ist es notwendig, daß er mindestens drei Auflagepunkte hat, die nicht in einer Geraden liegen, so Roithammer," reads the epigraph to Thomas Bernhard's 1975 novel Korrektur. Thomas J. Cousineau follows this axiom by concentrating on tripartite structures in his study of six Bernhard novels, Das Kalkwerk (1970), Korrektur (1975), Der Untergeher (1983), Holzfällen: Eine Erregung (1984), Alte Meister. Komödie (1985), and Auslöschung (1986). Cousineau begins by identifying a "triangular pattern" ( 1 2) , a revision of Freud's Oedipal triangle among the main characters of each novel. An infant's desire for the mother and rivalry with the father is recast as protagonist, obstacle, and scapegoat, according to Cousineau: a powerful foe frustrates a protagonist's attempt to achieve a coveted goal and eventually, the protagonist transfers his aggravation onto a scapegoat. Finally, Cousineau identifies a "metafictional triangle" (13) between Bernhard, the "ancestral models" (167) Bernhard emulates, and the reader who recognizes the transformed intertext.

After explaining this geometrical economy in a preface, Cousineau offers an introduction to Bernhard titled "The Making of a Writer." Given his study's productive structural analysis of Bernhard's prose writing, it is unclear why Cousineau, like so many scholars of Bernhard, relies on biography. It seems out of place, and indeed, it was previously published in a different form in the Review of Contemporary Fiction . The introduction's treatment of the theme of emulation, however, deserves special mention. It is disconcerting to read that Bernhard's vituperative discourse approximates Nazi language and Hitler 's rhetoric: "[...] the invention of a rhetorical art that revives in his readers the insane fury of Nazi rhetoric while transforming it in an art that 'fails,' as it were, to harm its designated victims" (26). Cousineau does not take into account that Bernhard is a Schimpfvirtuose, or as Elfriede Jelinek once called him, a "Raisoneur." Raisonieren is a culturally elevated form of the Wiener nörgeln, the Viennese term for kvetching, and nörgeln, a constant sense of dissatisfaction, runs deep in Austrian society. …

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