Understanding Thomas Bernhard presents to the American audience one of the most gifted and uncompromising innovators of postwar German prose. Bernhard, who died in 1989 at the age of 58, was a powerfully imaginative, endlessly bitter critic of his native Austria—a country he portrays as a captive of its history, its political failures, its artistic pretentions, its very willingness to exist after the moral debacle of the Nazi era. Against the background of Bernard's Austrian heritage, this volume surveys the novels and plays, the short career and always irascible temperment of Austria's most notorious writer. It lays emphasis on Bernhard as a superb stylist with a keen appetite for irony. He insisted that art in the modern era had outlived itself. Writing in a hard-bitten prose idiom that transforms language into a rhythmic, musical form, Bernhard denies that art can have meaning in our morally and spirtitually diminished present. Yet his cascades of bilious prose offer themselves as proof that fresh aesthetic insights remain both possible and compelling: Bernhard's fiction opens and explores territory that is new for the novel, and in consequence it brilliantly illuminates the complexities of modern life and art.
Stephen D. Dowden is an associate professor of German at Yale University. He received his Ph.D. in 1984 from the University of California, Berkeley. He is author of Sympathy for the Abyss: A Study in the Novel of German Modernism: Kafka, Broch, Musil, and Thomas Mann and editor of Hermann Broch: Literature, Philosophy, Politics.