Paul Wittgenstein and Thomas Bernhard’s Troubled Friendship. Book review by Jorge PintoPosted: January 4, 2023 Filed under: Books, Uncategorized | Tags: Book Reviews, philosophy, Reading Leave a comment
Paul Wittgenstein and Thomas Bernhard’s Troubled Friendship.
Thomas Bernhard’s autobiographical novel, “The Nephew of Wittgenstein” describes with some detail the complicated and at the same time troubled relationship with Paul Wittgenstein, the nephew of the author of the famous Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, and one of the greatest philosophers of our time.
The first part of book relates the experience of both friends hospitalized in Austria at the same time but in separate pavilions part of a large hospital compound. Bernhard was treated for a severe pulmonary disease and Paul Wittgenstein suffering what the author described as a so-called mental disease.
In the book, Bernhard presents several examples of thedark picture of his friend Paul’s health, who since his childhood had a predisposition to a disease, which even if was never been precisely classified, afflict him all his life, until the day he died, adding, “At every end and turn they would use the term manic or depressive, and they were always wrong. ”
The author describes his relationship with Paul, using relevant moments, conversations and traits, including, Paul’s problems with his enormously rich family.
On a positive note, the book describes Paul’s passion for music, especially opera and the orchestral works of Mozart and Schumann. Bernhard list the most important opera houses that Paul visited during his trips to Milano, London, New York, Berlin, which according to his friend; None of them was any good compared with Vienna.
The author recalls how at one time Paul was considered by music lovers to be one of Vienna‘s most passionate operagoer, noting that Paul was feared on opening nights since If he was enthusiastic he carried the whole house with him by beginning to applaud a few seconds before the rest. If, on the other hand, he led them in whistling, the biggest and most expensive productions would be flops.
Bernhard was also a music lover. His grandfather took him regularly to concerts including those conducted by Herbert Von Karajan whom him admired as child, adding that he observed and studied the famous Conductor for decades, regarding him as the most important conductor of the century, along with Schuricht. On the other hand, his friend Paul had a fervent hatred of Karajan, whom he habitually described as a mere charlatan.
If music was an area that brought the two friends together, Bernhard highlights the fact that besides music, Paul’s other passions was Formula One motor racing. Coming from a very wealthy family, been himself a racing car driver, counting among his friends a number of world champions in this field. In his second half of his life he had to give up racing since he did no longer had money and his relatives kept him on a tight budget.
The book is full of anecdotes of the peculiar life of his friend, including the most bizarre and eccentric actions like splurging money in luxury restaurants and bars. In this context, Bernhard tells the story of Paul’s whims including a sudden wish to go to Paris taking a taxi in the center of Vienna, whereupon the driver, who knew him, actually drove him to Paris, where an aunt of Paul’s who lived there had to pay the fare.
To avoid depriving the reader the enjoyment of Bernhard’s rich prose telling the fascinating stories of his unconventional friend and his interactions with Paul’s brilliant mind, I avoid getting into other descriptions regarding Paul’s relationship with money, women, his brothers and the Wittgenstein family, which he had always made him felt threatened and shunned, except his sister, who was the only one he spoke with affection.
Since the book is written using the first person point of view narrative, it give the reader a unique perspective of Thomas Bernard’s enormous talent and antagonistic personality that produced so many enemies and detractors, which for some analysts was one of the impediments to get a well deserved Literature Nobel Prize.
Among the many controversies Bernhard was connecting his reiterated negative opinions of Austrian society and the explicit disdain for award ceremonies. With some humor he describes, what he considers those events to be nothing more intolerable in the world. In his own words; they do nothing to enhance one’s standing, as I had believed before I received my first prize, but actually lower it, in the most embarrassing fashion. Only the thought of the money enabled me to endure these ceremonies.
Among the vivid anecdotes of his unpleasant experiences receiving public prizes, was the ceremony at the Academy of Science to get the prestigious Grillparzer Literary Award commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the death of the famous Austrian writer. He describes the feeling when arriving at the prestigious institution that morning to be surprised to find that there was no one there to receive me. I waited in the entrance hall for a good quarter of an hour with my friends, but no one recognized me, let alone received me, even though my friends and I spent the whole time looking around. It isworthquoting part of the description of what follows once inside the auditorium which Bernhard tells with full of amusing details: The minister had taken her place in the first row in front of the dais. The Vienna Philharmonic was nervously tuning up, and the president of the Academy of Sciences, a man by the name of Hunger, was running excitedly to and fro on the dais, while only I and my friends knew what was holding up the ceremony.
Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) was born in the Netherlands but lived most of his life in Austria where most of his works take place. He is the author of dozens plays, novels and poetry books. Most of his work is dark, full with situations and characters experiencing pain probably as a sequel of being abandoned as child by his parents. He grew up with his grandparents which provided him with an artistic education, particularly his grandfather who was a writer. In an interview, Bernhardt recall his grandmother used to take me to the morgue when I was young. She’d pick me up and say, ‘Look, there’s another one.’ Once she told me that the corpses had a cord to a bell tied to them, so the undertaker would be alerted if they came to./2 This playful example, with a difficult childhood growing up in Nazi Germany and his only sister, spending years moving from one mental hospital to the next and constantly threatening to kill herself, explain the darkness in his writing, which often revolves around themes of death, despair, and hopelessness, including characters ready to commit suicide or actually taking their lives.
No doubt Bernhardt is one of the most important Austrian writers of the second half of the Twenty Century. Reading The Nephew of Wittgenstein open the door to know a remarkable writer and the nephew of one of the greatest philosophers of our time.
1.Excerpts From Thomas Bernhard Wittgenstein’s Nephew
Print version published by Vintage (October 13, 2009)
2. A Conversation. Thomas Bernhard, André Müller and Adam Siegel. Conjunctions, No. 55, Urban Arias (2010), pp. 329-362 (34 pages)
The Secret World. John Le Carre Books & FilmsPosted: July 20, 2021 Filed under: Books, Uncategorized Leave a comment
I publish a new eBook with selection of reviews of John Le Carre books and Film adaptations. http://books.apple.com/us/book/id1577299385
Available in Mexico http://books.apple.com/mx/book/id1577299385
Problemas Literarios by José Luis Martínez. Una colección extraordinaria de ensayos sobre el oficio de escritor y la literatura.Posted: April 22, 2018 Filed under: Books, Uncategorized Leave a comment
UnA colección extraordinaria de ensayos sobre el oficio de escritor y la literatura. Problemas Literarios by José Luis Martínez
“Living in a Time of Demagogues” a quote from 1899 novel “Imperium in Imperio: A Study of the Negro Race Problem.” Sutton Elbert Griggs (1872-1930) “If you heed my voice you shall become true patriots. If you disregard it, you will become time-serving demagogues, playing upon the passions of the people for the sake of short-lived notoriety. Such men would corral all the tigers in the forest and organize them into marauding regiments simply for the honor of being in the lead.”Sutton ElberPosted: August 20, 2016 Filed under: Books, Current Times Leave a comment
“…Use not the misfortunes of your people as stones of a monument erected to your name”
Excerpts From: Sutton Elbert Griggs. “Imperium in Imperio: A Study of the Negro Race Problem.” iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.
Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/JskwE.l
“The Left Handed Woman” by Peter Handke. On Women’s Freedom from the Bondage of Undesirable MarriagePosted: January 6, 2015 Filed under: Books | Tags: Book Reviews, Film and Books, German Literature, Peter Handke, Women Issues 3 Comments
The Left-Handed Woman is probably one of Peter Handke’s best known novellas, translated into more than a dozen of languages. Two years after being published in 1978, it was made into a film that Handke adapted and directed. The film was nominated for the “Golden Palm Award” at the Cannes Film Festival and has won several prestigious prizes.
Handke was born in Carinthia, Austria in 1942. In his early years he endured painful experiences from the horrors of Nazism and World War II. A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, a poignant memoir was probably inspired by some ordeals from his childhood – a broken family with a drunken stepfather and a mother who committed suicide. His works tend to incorporate several aspects of the complex relationship between parents and children, a subject that is also present in The Left-Handed Woman. At the beginning of Handke’s co-written multi-award winning film Wings of Desire (co-authored with its director Wim Wenders), a homesick voice dealing with a child from Song of Childhood, his most famous poem, was used. Below I am quoting a few lines to offer you a taste of the nostalgic tone.
“When the child was a child
It walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.”
As a multi-talented artist and one of the most recognized living German-language writers, Handke has produced dozens of books including poetry, novel, essay, memoir, translation and controversial theatre plays that he directed and acted. He was also quite active in films, writing many screenplays, particularly the adaptations of his own novels Absence and The Left-Handed Woman which he directed, as well as City of Angels directed by Bradley Siberling and Wings of Desire directed by Wim Wenders as mentioned earlier.
Marianne, the main character in The Left-Handed Woman, is 30 years old and most of the time in the story she is only referred as “the Woman”. She is married to Bruno, who is constantly travelling as the “sales manager of the local branch of a porcelain concern well known throughout Europe”. They have one child, Stephan, a quiet and detached boy who is referred to sometimes in the novella as “the child”. They “lived in a terraced bungalow colony on the south slope of a low mountain range in western Germany, just above the fumes of a big city.“
Other relevant characters in the novella are Franziska, a close friend of the couple and the teacher of the child. Like the main character, some of the characters are also named by only a generic name to refer to their identity or profession. The Publisher is a former boss of the woman, who is “a heavyset but rather fidgety man of fifty” who dates younger women. The Father of the Woman, another character, brings into the story the Actor when he identifies him in the street and brazenly tells him that he was “not shameless enough for an actor. You want to be a personality, like the actors in those American movies, but you never risk yourself. As a result, you’re always posing.” Two additional characters with minor roles are the Chauffeur of the Publisher and the Salesgirl, a single mother with a baby.
Handke uses a family as a microcosm to display the problems of many women in Europe, especially in Germany who suffer from dependency on domineering husbands. They live isolated in suburbs taking care of children that are often absent-minded or spoiled, and not quite close or loving.
From the beginning of the novella one can easily spot Bruno as a selfish man that treats his wife as a docile object to fulfill his selfish needs. Handke manages to disclose this authoritarian nature when Marianne pick ups Bruno from the airport after he has been traveling for weeks. Bruno talks to her in a bossy tone and doesn’t seem to care for her opinions, “Let’s go to the hotel in town for a festive dinner. It’s too private here for my taste right now. Too—haunted. I would like you to wear your low-cut dress.” Without objecting to this command, Marianne asks him “What will you wear?” .… “Bruno: “I’ll go just as I am.” The same thing happens again at the end of the dinner, when Bruno tells her, “We’ll spend the night here. Stefan knows where we are. I left the telephone number on his bedside table.” The woman lowers her eyes while Bruno tells the waiter. “I need a room for the night,” he said. “You see, my wife and I want to sleep together right away.”
In this sequence early in the story, Handke makes explicit the desire of Marianne’s to move away from an inconsiderate husband and to live alone with their son. Walking back home the morning after the night at the hotel, Marianne tells Bruno without warning: “I suddenly had an illumination…that you were going away, that you were leaving me. Yes, that’s it. Go away, Bruno. Leave me.”
From that moment, the story starts to focus on the Woman’s new life without a husband, including the struggle with loneliness and the need to adapt to a situation that she has created without regrets. The story unravels through descriptions of her daily routine, her relationship with the child and her encounters with the other characters.
One day the Woman comes across her friend Franziska who asks her “Is there someone else?” She also shows concern for the well-being of her and the child’s, “What will the two of you live on? Have you thought of that?” But at the same time, Franziska is impressed by Marianne’s action and invites her to join her in a women’s group meeting. “They’ll all be so glad to have you. Right now they have a feeling that human thought is in pretty good shape but that life is elsewhere. We need someone who’s making a bit of a break with the normal way of life—in other words, who’s slightly nuts.”
One evening, the Publisher appears at Marianne’s door without previous notice to respond to her, as she has sent him a letter to let him know that she is now in a position to accept his offers to translate for him as in the past. He enters with “flowers in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other” and says, “I knew you were alone, Marianne.” With this scene, Handke seems to imply that the Publisher expects more than translation work and desires to have a “romantic” night with his new employee. Like many men, he thought divorced or separated women were in need of company, therefore, easy to seduce.
The Actor also appears at Marianne’s door another day approaching her in a more subtle way with romantic “poetic” words, expressing his desire to have a relationship with her: “There are some galaxies so distant that their light is weaker than the mere background glow of the night sky. I would like to be somewhere else with you now.” Insistent on her decision to be alone and probably assuming that these sweet words at the end will turn out to be empty and worthless, the Woman answers, “Please don’t put me in any of your plans.”
With these two events involving Marianne’s intending lovers, Handke seems to show a certain disdain for men that try to grasp weaker women to fulfill their selfish needs either of sex or of ego. Handke further challenges all stereotypes involving this context in his modern attempt on the classic figure Don Juan: His Own Version (published in English in 2011). Handke’s Don Juan travels through different countries and gets in bed with many women, yet he is not a simple seducer. “His power over women is of a different order, and he does not revel in it; on the contrary, it makes him shy. His look … reveals to them the “outrage” of their solitude and sets free their desire, which he then feels duty-bound to fulfil”.
However, in The Left-Handed Woman, male characters are different from Handke’s “Don Juan”. Marianne is not necessarily a feminist nor does she dislike men, but prefers to keep them at a distance. Clearly she chooses solitude rather than having another authoritarian boyfriend like her husband or a fling with an idealist romantic man who might flicker and fade. Marianne, “..looked into her eyes and said, ‘You haven’t given yourself away. And no one will ever humiliate you again.””
The title The Left-handed Woman is taken from a song to which Marianne listens alone “over and over again”. The lyrics make reference to a woman like Marianne, who sits “with others in a Laudromat,”; comes “out of with others from the metro exit” or “from an office building”. The tune continues as if mirroring Marianne’s isolated daily life: “She sat with others on the edge of a playground, But once I saw her through a window Playing chess all alone”. The song ends telling the left-handed woman: “I want to see you in a foreign continent, For there at last I shall see you alone among others, And among a thousand others you will see me, And at last we shall go to meet each other.”
1). iBook: Peter Handke. “Left Handed Women.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/WcdGD.l
Originally published in German under the title Die linkshändige Frau, ©1976 by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main”. English translation “Published simultaneously in the USA and Canada in 1997 by McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., Toronto”
2.) Joel Agee. Man of Constant Sorrow, New York Times, February 12, 2010. Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/books/review/Agee-t.html?scp=1&sq=joel%20agee&st=cse&_r=0
3) Peter Handke. Don Juan: His Own Version, Translated by Krishna Winston, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011.
“On Reading” by Marcel Proust: The Power of Books (Preface to John Ruskin’s “Sesame and Lilies”)Posted: July 29, 2014 Filed under: Books | Tags: Book Review, iPad, Literature, Marcel Proust, Publishing, Reading 1 Comment