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  • Thomas Bernhards Prosa: Krise der Sprache und des dialogischen Wortes by Sergej Taškenov
  • Jinsong Chen
Sergej Taškenov, Thomas Bernhards Prosa: Krise der Sprache und des dialogischen Wortes. München: Wilhelm Fink, 2019. 152 pp.

In the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1918), Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of Thomas Bernhards favorite philosophers, sketched out a new way for scholars and critics to think about the relationship between the structure of thought, language, and the world. Sergej Taškenov's monograph, a revision of his dissertation, draws on Wittgenstein's philosophical system in his approach to the labyrinthine relation between Bernhards literary language and his philosophical aesthetics.

As a welcome addition to scholarship on Bernhards novels (or "Prosa," as Bernhard himself referred to them), Taškenov's study aims to construct a dialogue between German and Russian Bernhard scholarship. To answer the question of to what extent is the historical crisis of language and communication reflected in Bernhards aesthetics in both the production and reception of his novels, Taškenov employs a context-related approach to examine the writer's conscious meaning-producing strategies. In so doing, he draws on autobiographical, intertextual, philosophical, psychological, and cultural references to contextualize Bernhards literary expression, viewing it as a philosophical-aesthetic program. Taškenov discusses most of Bernhards major prose works, ranging from his first novel Frost to his final novel Auslösung, from his semiautobiographical projects Wittgensteins Neffe to his autobiography [End Page 114] Keller, and from his suicide-themed novels Ja and Korrektur to his surrealist Kalkwerk to his arts trilogy Holzfällen, Der Untergeher, and Alte Meister.

Taškenov's chooses as his starting point the "erstaunlich selten" (8) investigations that consider Bernhards language as their actual object. He draws attention to the writer's relationship to the linguistic and communicative crisis, as the traumatic and contradictory experiences of modernity had preoccupied European culture since the turn of the twentieth century. This crisis is reflected, for example, in the inability of Lord Chandos, the protagonist of Hofmannsthals Ein Brief (1902), to "speak or think coherently about anything." As an heir of the modernist existential crisis, Bernhard confronts its fundamental skepticism about the capacity of language. Taškenov uses hermeneutic clues gleaned from Bernhards philosophical references and autobiographical self-stylization to examine in a nuanced way the author's skepticism of language.

As the subtitle "Krise der Sprache und des Dialogischen Wortes" indicates, the book is primarily concerned with Bernhards linguistic presentation, which it addresses in two chapters bracketed by a short introduction and a brief conclusion. In the introduction, Taškenov presents a historical retrospective of the European and specifically the Austrian tradition of language crisis to which Bernhards poetics is candidly connected, and he contextualizes Bernhards skeptical and pessimistic language philosophy in terms of the thought-language-world connection. The first chapter, "Thomas Bernhards Sprachkrise: Textbestattung und Produktionsästhetik," investigates Bernhards modernist aesthetics, embedded in his hermetic and monotonie texts, which applied an artistic system of deviation and deformation to the reduced, blurred, or repressed event as well as to space, subjectivity, time, narrative, style, and language. To address Bernhards hypertrophied "lebendiges Sprechen," his crucial text-constructive element, Taškenov considers the central role of the speaking subject, whose connection to thought, along with spoken words, provides a clue to possible interpretations of the "inneren Mensch" and "Innenwelt" of Bernhards novels. For instance, Bernhards use of pathological language to depict the symptoms of psychological and physical deficit reflects the crucial modern experience of the problem of the unspeakable and the referentiality of spoken words. To overcome language skepticism and inherited linguistic crisis, Bernhard also developed other linguistic qualities and possibilities, including musicality repetition, neologisms, and rants (Schimpftiraden). [End Page 115]

Taškenov's second, shorter chapter, "Kommunikationsstrategien und -taktiken: Der Text als ein kommunikatives Ereignis," focuses on reception aesthetics. Taškenov identifies not only a communicative but also a dialogical problem in Bernhards prose work. According to him, the figures of Bernhards novel represent three types of crisis that are demonstrated in their linguistic aspirations: a crisis of self-identification entwined with existential crisis; linguistic crisis, evident in difficulties of expressing or articulating; and a communicative and dialogical crisis. Following...


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