- Thomas Bernhard: Persiflage und Subversion ed. by Mireille Tabah and Manfred Mittermayer
In the preface to this volume of fourteen essays on Thomas Bernhard—the literary figure and the person—the editors preview individual contributions with short sketches devoted to each. Several of the contributors are already quite familiar in the already voluminous mass of Bernhard secondary literature. Originally given at the first international colloquium on Bernhard in francophone Belgium in November of 2011, each paper—either directly or indirectly—touches on his strategy of “persiflage” and its subversive dimension.
The book is divided into four sections. The two essays of the first section address the general outlines of this strategy beginning with Tabah’s cogently argued piece: “Narrentum und Anarchie: Thomas Bernhards subversive Poetik des Lächerlichen.” Building her theoretical base of “das Komische” on the thoughts of forerunners such as Jean Paul, Schopenhauer, Baudelaire, and Freud as well as Wolfgang Iser, she succinctly formulates it as the author’s method of “self-rescue,” a moment when “tragic excess” suddenly morphs into [End Page 138] “liberating laughter” (18). Clara Ervedosa authors the second of the two foundational pieces on the conceptual outlines of the comic aspects in the works of this writer, a writer whose early critical reception largely emphasized only the opposite. With her monograph “Vor den Kopf stoßen”: Das Komische als Schock im Werk Thomas Bernhards, Ervedosa had some years earlier (2008) supplied a major impetus to a changing trend in Bernhard scholarship that had begun to engage these comic aspects and to situate them within a larger framework.
The second section consists of six attempts—all more or less pointing in the direction announced by the editors in the preface—to interpret major prose and dramatic works in Bernhard’s oeuvre. As might be expected of any group of interpretative studies focusing on individual works, these range—in both content and style—from barely intelligible to quite enlightening. The four pieces that follow make up a third section dealing with various central themes. In one of the volume’s high points, Verena Ronge analyzes the deconstruction of gender images in Bernhard, a study convincingly undermining the Austrian writer’s reputation as an unrepentant misogynist. Gender issues are also at the center of the following essay by Stefan Krammer, an essay that cites previous feminist studies by both Tabah (2002) and Ronge (2009), reaffirming their view of Bernhard’s texts “nicht als affirmative Reproduktion eines patriarchalen Geschlechterdiskurses, sondern gerade als dessen Subversion” (178).
The last section, “Fiktionalisierungen,” is made up of two essays that investigate the role of two major figures in Bernhard’s life and works. One of these is his maternal grandfather, Johannes Freumbichler, a figure often mentioned in autobiographical writings and frequently present as the model for the various “Geistesmenschen” in his prose and dramatic fiction. The other is Alexander Üxküll-Gyllenband—the intriguing subject of Mittermayer’s final chapter of the collection—a longtime friend and patron of Bernhard with biographical ties to Belgium who—in fictionalized form—appears most vividly as Murau’s cousin Alexander in Auslöschung.
While Bernhard’s fictional works are filled with allusions to and reflections of real-life figures as well as historical situations, Martin Huber demonstrates with his highly detailed reconstruction of the scandal preceding the first stage performance of Heldenplatz that this kind of public performance can have an impact on life rivaling or even surpassing that of life on art. He designates the dramatic events played out on the public stage and widely disseminated by the Viennese media the “Heldenplatzskandal,” a drama in “real” [End Page 139] life based on rumors and leaks about the content of the “real” theatrical piece. Borrowing a well-turned phrase from Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler, he concludes: “Und dieses Stück hat es geschafft, Österreich ‘zur Kenntlichkeit zu entstellen’, ein ganzes Land eine Art Pesiflage seiner selbst vorführen zu lassen” (119). Along with a majority of critical voices, Huber maintains that the lasting impact of Bernhard’s theatrical piece together with its...