Saturday, 21 March 2020




































 

Gargoyles by Thomas Bernhard   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“The catastrophe begins with getting out of bed.” Gargoyles (first published in 1967 as Verstörung (“Disturbance”)) is the book in which Bernhard laid claim both thematically and stylistically to the particular literary territory developed in all his subsequent novels. In the first part of the book, set entirely within one day, the narrator, a somewhat vapid student accompanying his father, a country doctor, on his rounds, tells us of the sufferings of various patients due to their mental and physical isolation: the wealthy industrialist withdrawn to his dungeon-like hunting lodge to write a book he will never achieve (“'Even though I have destroyed everything I have written up to now,’ he said, ‘I have still made enormous progress.’”), and his sister-companion, the passive victim of his obsessions whom he is obviously and obliviously destroying; the workers systematically strangling the birds in an aviary following the death of their owner; the musical prodigy suffering from a degenerative condition and kept in a cage, tended by his long-suffering sister. The oppressive landscape mirrors the isolation and despair of its inhabitants: we feel isolated, we reach out, we fail to reach others in a meaningful way, our isolation is made more acute. “No human being could continue to exist in such total isolation without doing severe damage to his intellect and psyche.” Bernhard’s nihilistic survey of the inescapable harm suffered and inflicted by continuing to exist is, however, threaded onto the doctor’s round: although the doctor is incapable of ‘saving’ his patients, his compassion as a witness to their anguish mirrors that of the author (whose role is similar). In the second half of the novel, the doctor’s son narrates their arrival at Hochgobernitz, the castle of Prince Saurau, whose breathlessly neurotic rant blots out everything else, delays the doctor’s return home and fills the rest of the book. This desperate monologue is Bernhard suddenly discovering (and swept off his feet by) his full capacities: an obsessively looping railing against existence and all its particulars. At one stage, when the son reports the prince reporting his dream of discovering a manuscript in which his son expresses his intention to destroy the vast Hochgobernitz estate by neglect after his father’s death, the ventriloquism is many layers deep, paranoid and claustrophobic to the point of panic. The prince’s monologue, like so much of Bernhard’s best writing, is riven by ambivalence, undermined (or underscored) by projection and transference, and structured by crazed but irrefutable logic: “‘Among the special abilities I was early able to observe in myself,’ he said, ‘is the ruthlessness to lead anyone through his own brain until he is nauseated by this cerebral mechanism.’” Although the prince’s monologue is stated to be (and clearly is) the position of someone insane, this does not exactly invalidate it: “Inside every human head is the human catastrophe corresponding to this particular head, the prince said. It is not necessary to open up men’s heads in order to know that there is nothing inside them but a human catastrophe. ‘Without this human catastrophe, man does not exist at all.'”

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