Thomas Bernhard / 1931–1989 / The Netherlands / Poet, Short Story Writer, Novelist, Dramatist
Note: Though born in the Netherlands, from infancy Bernhard lived mainly in Austria.
My ambition has always been greater than my strength.Ein Kind [A Child] (1982).
The world is the school of death. At first the world is the elementary school of death, then the middle school of death, then, for very few, . . . it is the university of death.Verstörung [Disturbance] (1967).
Our whole life is but an approach to the extreme limits of life itself.Verstörung [Disturbance] (1967).
I try to distract myself from myself, but now I only succeed sporadically.Verstörung [Disturbance] (1967).
We are not even able to live, we are not able to exist, since in truth we do not exist, but rather are being existed.Der Untergeher [The Loser] (1983).
We often go so far into an exaggeration . . . that we end up considering that exaggeration the only coherent fact, and we no longer even perceive the real fact, but only the exaggeration pushed to the extreme beyond measure.Auslöschung: Ein Zerfall [Extinction: A Disintegration] (1986).
He would have been even more unhappy if overnight he had lost his unhappiness.Der Untergeher [The Loser] (1983).
He hated people who talk without having finished thinking, so he hated almost all of humanity.Der Untergeher [The Loser] (1983).
Wertheimer was not capable of seeing himself as a unique being in the world, while in fact this is how each of us can and must allow himself to see himself if he does not want to fall prey to despair, every human being, however he is made, is a unique being in the world, I tell myself this constantly and with this I am saved.Der Untergeher [The Loser] (1983).
The patient is a seer, no one has a clearer picture of the world than his.Der Atem: Eine Entscheidung [The Breath: A Decision] (1978).
There is no more widespread hypocrisy than that of the healthy towards the sick. Basically, the healthy no longer want to have anything to do with the sick and they are not at all happy that the sick, I’m talking about the real sick, that is to say the seriously ill, suddenly demand to return to good health, or at least to normalize or at least to improve their health conditions. The healthy, if he is a sincere person, will admit that he no longer wants to have anything to do with the sick, he does not want anyone to remind him of disease and, through disease, logically and forcibly, death.Wittgensteins Neffe: Eine Freundschaft [Wittgenstein’s Nephew: A Friendship] (1982).
Real clarity is not possible, but only a generic, approximate clarity, effective knowledge is not possible, but only approximate, everything is always only approximate and can always be only approximate.Korrektur [Correction] (1975).
We are wrong when we believe we are right and vice versa. The path of the absurd is the only practicable one.Die Kälte: Eine Isolation [The Cold: A Confinement] (1981).
Men walk together, talk together, sleep together, but they don’t know each other. If men knew each other they wouldn’t walk together, they wouldn’t talk together, they wouldn’t sleep together.Verstörung [Disturbance] (1967).
Language is of no use when it comes to telling the truth, to communicating something, language allows the writer only approximation, always and only the desperate and therefore also dubious approximation to the object, language only reproduces a counterfeit authenticity, a terrifyingly deformed picture, although the writer takes a great deal of effort, the words trample and deform everything, and on paper they transform the absolute truth into a lie.Die Kälte: Eine Isolation [The Cold: A Confinement] (1981).
I speak a language that I alone understand, no one else, just as everyone speaks only their own language, and those who think they understand are imbeciles or charlatans.Der Keller: Eine Entziehung [The Cellar: A Withdrawal] (1976).
Life is a penitentiary with very little freedom of movement. Hopes turn out to be misunderstandings.Die Kälte: Eine Isolation [The Cold: A Confinement] (1981).
After all, I haven’t traveled a road, probably because I’ve always been afraid of taking an endless and therefore meaningless road. If I wanted, I said to myself every time, I could do it. But I didn’t take any road. Something happened, I got older, I didn’t stand still, but I didn’t take any road.Der Keller: Eine Entziehung [The Cellar: A Withdrawal] (1976).
There are men […] who are content with life in its raw state and don’t bother working with it, the raw material is enough for them.Verstörung [Disturbance] (1967).
Vulgarity is all around us, and every day, inevitably, we suffocate in imbecility.Ein Kind [A Child] (1982).
Life was a tragedy, and we could at best turn it into a comedy.Ein Kind [A Child] (1982).
There is no person in the world that we have the right to bind to us against his will.Der Untergeher [The Loser] (1983).
. . . contracting a marriage, like making a friendship, means deciding to bear in full awareness a situation of double despair and double exile, it means passing from the ante-hell of solitude to the hell of life in common.Das Kalkwerk [The Lime Works] (1970).
The child had been thrown into this cog of existence by the mother, the father kept this cog of existence constantly going, which relentlessly tore the child to pieces. Parents know perfectly well that the unhappiness inherent in them is perpetuated in their children, but in their cruelty they go on to have children and throw them into the machinery of existence.Der Untergeher [The Loser] (1983).
We force ourselves not to perceive our abyss. Yet, throughout our lives, we do nothing but look down at our physical and psychic abyss, even without perceiving it.Verstörung [Disturbance] (1967).
Poetry and Philosophy
Poets . . . use that truth that philosophers cannot use.Verstörung [Disturbance] (1967).
We keep our questions in reserve because we fear them ourselves, then suddenly it’s too late to ask them. We want to leave the questioned alone, we don’t want to hurt him deeply because we want to leave ourselves alone and not hurt ourselves deeply. We postpone the decisive questions and ask ridiculous, useless and petty questions over and over again, and when we ask the decisive questions it is already too late.Die Kälte: Eine Isolation [The Cold: A Confinement] (1981).
I was shaking going into school, crying out of school. I went to school as one goes to the gallows, my beheading was always only postponed, and this was torture for me.Ein Kind [A Child] (1982).
Schools are only factories of imbecility and depravity.Ein Kind [A Child] (1982).
It is the school itself . . . that murders the child.Ein Kind [A Child] (1982).
On the one hand we, people like us, are unable to be alone, on the other we can’t stand company.Beton [Concrete] (1982).
Every man, regardless of what he is and totally regardless of what he does, is continually driven back into himself, every man is a nightmare left only to himself.Der Keller: Eine Entziehung [The Cellar: A Withdrawal] (1976).
Each of us is completely isolated in himself, even if the bond between us is very close. The whole of life is nothing but an uninterrupted attempt to find each other.Verstörung [Disturbance] (1967).
The bigger the title sounds, the bigger the imbecile who bears it.Auslöschung: Ein Zerfall [Extinction: A Disintegration] (1986).
Der Keller: Eine Entziehung [The Cellar: A Withdrawal] (1976).
I’ve always taken big words and high-sounding phrases for what they are: manifestations of incompetence that shouldn’t be ignored.
To fight the nonsense, get out of bed, work and think immersed in nothing but nonsense. . . . Waking up, starting work and continuing until you drop, until your eyes can’t and don’t want to see anymore, stop, turn off the light, fall at the mercy of nightmares, surrender to them as if to an unparalleled ceremony. And the next morning do the same thing again, with the utmost precision, with the utmost concentration, pretending that it all means something.Die Kälte: Eine Isolation [The Cold: A Confinement] (1981).