- Die Korrektur des Lebens: Studien zu Thomas Bernhard by Micaela Latini
Thomas Bernhard is one of most seminal writers of the Austrian postwar era. His prolific body of work, as well as his public persona as high-profile Nestbeschmutzer of his native Austria, have drawn a great deal of critical attention over the years, an interest that shows no signs of waning. In the cultural sphere, Bernhard’s influence and impact have extended far beyond his home-land, as a forthcoming edited volume by Olaf Berwald, Stephen Dowden, and Gregor Thuswaldner (Thomas Bernhard and the Consequences, 2019) is expected to trace. In the German-language sphere too, a new comprehensive biography (Manfred Mittermayer, 2015), a psychography (Herwig Oberlerchner and Renate Langer, 2017), the publication of Bernhard’s correspondence with Siegfried Unseld (2010) and Gerhard Fritsch (2013), hitherto unpublished works from Bernhard’s literary estate (e.g., Meine Preise, 2009; Goethe schtirbt, 2010), and new compendia of Bernhard’s writing (Bernhard für Boshafte, 2014; Städtebeschimpfungen, 2016), testify to the enduring appeal of Bernhard’s particular blend of satire, pessimism, and social and cultural criticism. This continuing success of Thomas Bernhard the writer stands in stark contrast to the [End Page 151] preoccupation with failure that, as Micaela Latini diagnoses in her new book Die Korrektur des Lebens, is omnipresent in Bernhard’s works. While failure as a thematic concern in Bernhard’s oeuvre has been identified by many scholars writing on the author, there have, to my knowledge, been no studies exclusively devoted to the subject, and Latini’s book is therefore a welcome addition to Bernhard scholarship.
In the introduction to her book, Latini emphasizes the centrality of the theme of failure in Thomas Bernhard’s works, noting that, in his writing, there is often “kein großer Unterschied” between failure and success (7– 8), for which Latini cites the success of the writing process thematized in Bernhard’s Auslöschung (1986), which necessitates the death of the protagonist, as exemplary. Following the introduction, the book is divided into two parts. In the book’s acknowledgements (13), it is explained that Die Korrektur des Lebens actually combines two studies, comprising parts I and II of the book respectively, previously published by the author in Italian and translated into German by Reinhard Uhlmann and Annalisa Cafaggi. Part I is entitled “Das unbeschriebene Blatt: Thomas Bernhard und das Paradox des Schreibens” and examines Das Kalkwerk (1970), Beton (1982), and Auslöschung (1986). Part II of the book, “Das Museum der Fehler: Thomas Bernhard und die ‘Alten Meister,’” centers on a detailed analysis of Alte Meister (1985). As such, Latini focuses her attention on key prose works by Bernhard, although reference is also made to the plays Die Macht der Gewohnheit and Der Ignorant und der Wahnsinnige as well as the shorter prose texts Ja, Ungenach, and Die Mütze. Incidentally, it is not clear why, in her introduction, Latini refers to these texts as “weniger bekannte Texte” (7)—Der Ignorant und der Wahnsinnige, for example, is well remembered not least for the “Notlicht-Skandal” it caused when it premiered at the 1972 Salzburg Festival.
In the first chapter of the book, on Das Kalkwerk, Latini examines the novel’s focus on the protagonist Konrad’s failed attempt to write a study on hearing. The protagonist attributes his failure to write the study to a multitude of factors, including the unsatisfactory climate and atmosphere of the places where he has lived, his wife, and ultimately his own perfectionism. He is unable to formulate what he regards as the crucial opening sentence of his study, from which the rest of the work would then flow seamlessly. As Latini traces, this combination of factors ultimately leads the protagonist’s study to remain fragmentary. The second chapter of Latini’s study is devoted to an analysis of Bernhard’s Beton, which similarly thematizes the failure of [End Page 152] a writing project, here that of the protagonist Rudolf’s obsessive endeavor to produce the definitive...