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“German words hang like lead weights on the German language,…”
Franz-Josef Murau writes as “I”.
I am in Italy teaching in a lighter mode of language, he avers, than the language in my native Austria. The relationship with my pupil in this book is like a real-time review relationship with any book, viz:
“Gambetti is my pupil, but conversely I am Gambetti’s. I learn at least as much from him as he learns from me. We have an ideal relationship:…”
I have just returned from Austria visiting my family, only now to receive a telegram that my closest relations have just died in an accident, viz:
“The sole term I could apply to them was blockheads. Their death, which can only have been caused by a road accident, I told myself, in no way alters the facts. There was no danger of my yielding to sentimentality.”
This chapter seems so far to be one unending block(head) of a paragraph. I love LONG paragraphs and those in this book appear to be the longest yet. Helps me grapple with the density of implications.
\”the first to die.”
If any book expresses a monologue of agonising, this one does. In interface with the sudden death of my parents and dislikeable brother, and with whether to take my pupil Gambetti to the funeral in equally dislikeable Wolfsegg, if a place now likeable because of the deaths? The five libraries in the family house there in Austria,..
If I take Gambetti, it might give some necessary traction to my own “I”-ness?
“…for if he saw it all for himself, my accounts of Wolfsegg would gain an authenticity that they are otherwise bound to lack.”
“But I can’t abolish my family just because I want to.”
The old repetitive refrain. But now fulfilled by accident, I wonder.
This real-time review reflects the book’s own agonising, it simply seems.
\”cannot despise him.”
This book seems like a feisty collaboration between Thomas Mann, WG Sebald and myself.
“You should never have shown him that photo, I told myself at the time. It was stupid.”
A diatribe against photographs that had already perhaps started being like Facebook selfies but then also a paean of praise for my Uncle Georg, especially in contrast to my parents’ blocking my head against statues, talking about ruminants and consciously not idling – instead of Uncle Georg’s opening figurative windows, letting the sea into Austria, teaching me about Russian literature, Art and Music.
But despite its apparent openness, I guess Uncle Georg would not have liked Facebook…
“…the world consisted not just of one family, but of millions of families, not just of one place, but of millions of places, not just of one people, but of many hundreds and thousands of peoples, each in its own way more attractive and more important than the others.”
Agonising over who likes or (un)(be)friends others.
“For the thinking person there is no such thing as idleness.”
My parents hated Uncle Georg because they could not despise him, to quote this book.
\”two more weeks.”
“Although Uncle Georg did not appear on the photo of my sisters Amalia and Caecilia taken at his villa, it was of him that I thought, with him that I was mainly preoccupied as I looked at the photograph and tried to divert my attention from the telegram from Wolfsegg, the full horror of which I had not yet taken in.”
It is as if my late Uncle Georg allows me to talk through him or I allow him to talk through me about my parents, and now we don’t have my parents’ HATE BECAUSE of the impossibility of their DESPISING him, but we have, instead, his LOVE DESPITE the impossibility of NOT DESPISING my parents. This has now become an intensely compulsive agonising collaborative soliloquy, and not a monologue, and it morphs into an equally scathing diatribe against my sisters. I have never experienced such a scathing diatribe, couched in an endless paragraph of agonising that I write as narrator of this book written by Thomas Bernhard.
\”mindlessly echo it.”
“In childhood I had what seems to me a normal, though not especially good, relationship with my sisters, but when we grew up it was always a bad relationship, and now, with my parents and Johannes dead, I was afraid of having to face them.”
If the previous section was scathing, this is scathing to an even greater degree as I allow my two sisters, by narrative, to speak against my views about my description here of their views about me and mine about them. Focussed bullying, paranoia, recrimination, calling black white, white black, but by whom to whom? This family has been DYSFUNCTIONAL. Thus, I feel shaken both by empathy with narrator and as reader-reviewer. No wonder consideration was given to taking my pupil Gambetti to Wolfsegg following the telegram that told of the accident killing my parents and brother, but not my two sisters.
Flaming and trolling in the 1980s when this book was published.
\”in my dream ships.”
“Yet it goes without saying that we should continue to extend our knowledge and strengthen our character as long as we live, and that anyone who fails to do so, who stops working on himself and exploiting his potential to the full, has simply stopped living.”
I contrast myself and Uncle Georg with the other members of my Wolfsegg family in the above light. I wonder if this book itself is now my best opportunity to exploit my own potential already started with previous gestalt real-time reviewing of other books. And whether this Wolfsegg book by Thomas Bernhard was felicitously recommended to me by an Uncle Georg figure or a Gambetti one? These considerations make me wonder whether the book itself is the Wolfsegg it describes OR a Wolfsegg antidote by vaccinating Wolfsegg (as described by the book) into my veins by means of its compelling entrapment of agonising text (I assume the latter). In the same way as VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy as a gestalt is the AREA X in question (the book omnibus of the trilogy itself within one set of covers entitled ‘Area X’) rather than the ‘fictional’ Area X as described by that very book (as I have already wondered in my review of ‘Area X’ HERE). Antidote or the Disease for which it is an antidote?
\”I once told Gambetti.”
My brother shape-shifts into my destructively stolid father, or is it more like play-acting? – with the bluff and double or triple bluff of roles in a nightmarish TV Reality Show like ‘Big Brother’, that I am also obessed with (me, the reviewer, not me, the narrator), TV shows that did not exist when our author first had this book published.
“Yet because human beings would rather see life as a play than as real life—which they regard as far too tedious and laborious, indeed as a gross indignity—they prefer playacting to life and, therefore, to work.”
And like such shows, my agonising monologue becomes even more grotesque with now the hopping as well as the previous coughing of my mother-cloned sisters, their sloppy knitting, their jamming and jarring of food stuffs to make me gorge upon, all done with Swiftian exaggeration. “It was as though my parents had brought them into the world deliberately to spite me.” My sisters, that is.
“The larders also contained hundreds of jars full of preserved chicken thighs, pheasant thighs, and pigeon thighs, which were of a dull yellow color that never failed to nauseate me.”
My Mother as ‘saviour of Wolfsegg’ as well as ‘its greatest despoiler’, and when coupled with the fact that she actually created me, too, body from body, I have again to factor in the Area X / Wolfsegg syndrome…
Perhaps even more grotesque – I am still entrapped within this book’s first unbroken paragraph!
I would not have credited that my earlier agonising could possibly have bloated at this geometric as opposed to an arithmetic progression, trawling in vulgar Austria itself (like all Bruckner’s symphonies end to end, and then continuing from the beginning to the end endlessly?), the continuous refrains and incantations in my narration referring to my brother as a puppet, my sisters as my mother’s ‘dolls, dolls, dolls’ in dirndls, while increasing my recurrent textual asides to Gambetti about all these things. As I whisper in the ear of my chosen reader of this review somewhere, appealing to that reader to understand my obsessive diatribe in this endless single paragraph that’s sending me as mad as the things IN it that have already sent me mad, like now having to go back to Wolfsegg after the telegram came, a telegram like a tipping-point to send me down this narrative hill cumulatively. BUT…
“It is probable that my development would have been quite different if Wolfsegg had developed differently and my father had married a different woman. I would not be the man I am if Wolfsegg had been different. On the whole I consider myself lucky, especially as I can live in Rome, I told Gambetti,…”
I told you so, Gambetti, it’s like a vaccine, cruel medicine? Hypocrisy, vulgarity, repetition.
“There’s been a universal character switch, the effect of which is that anyone who once was decent has been corrupted and reveals his depravity in every way, making no attempt to suppress it, but displaying it quite openly.”
Like the Housemates on Big Brother?
My Puppet Brother.
I think I shall now read a much larger swathe of my own narration before coming back here to report on it. Otherwise, this review will turn out longer than the narration it’s reviewing! (But this book seems to be making me do this and I need to shake off its cloyingly driven horrors, somehow.)
“Gambetti laughed loudly, accusing me of monstrous overstatement and telling me that I was a typical Austrian pessimist with a grotesquely negative outlook. I replied that my overstatements were in fact monstrous understatements and that the Wolfsegg I had described to him was idyllic by comparison with the real Wolfsegg.”
I spend this whole long section – wherein which there is a single imputable change of gear where I make possibly the first paragraph break! – issuing repetitively explicit asides to Gambetti in some perception of real-time about this past-time, that somehow suits this review. I had no previous idea that this would happen.
“In Central Europe there are no longer any natural mothers, only artificial mothers, puppet mothers who bring artificial children into the world.”
Premonitions of Ligottian or Cathrian Anti-Natalism, Pessimism, with lists of philosophers. I even out-do all this!
“What they demand of the photograph is an ideal image of themselves, and they will agree to anything that produces this ideal image, even the most dreadful distortion. It never strikes them how appallingly they compromise themselves.”
Back to – or, rather, forward to – Facebook selfies.
“Without the art of exaggeration, I told him, we’d be condemned to an awfully tedious life, a life not worth living. And I’ve developed this art to an incredible pitch, I said. To explain anything properly we have to exaggerate. Only exaggeration can make things clear.”
Marriage politics of my sisters discussed, and my enjoyable talk with foresters.
“There’s no doubt, I told Gambetti, that at one time, in my early childhood and for a long time while I was at school, Wolfsegg was paradise. And I knew that it was paradise.”
“I owe my independence to my uncle Georg, I told Gambetti on the Pincio…”
Catholic Church! A relentless diatribe against it in this text that I lay before you within the book.
“Having been driven out of our minds by Catholicism, we have allowed music to flourish. True, this has given us Mozart, Haydn, and Schubert, I said, yet I can’t applaud the fact that we have Mozart but have lost our minds, that we have Haydn but have forgotten how to think and given up trying, that we have Schubert but have become more or less brainless.”
“They always thought that Uncle Georg had poisoned Wolfsegg by breaking the ancient seal imposed on the spirit and opening the bookcases that had been locked tight for centuries.”
“…and the writers themselves, whom we must always think of as enemies, as our most formidable opponents, Gambetti. I have to pit myself against Schopenhauer if I want to understand him, against Kant, against Montaigne, against Descartes, against Schleiermacher—you understand. I have to be against Voltaire if I want to get to grips with him properly and have some prospect of success.”
Gambetti is addressed time and time again, dear Reader of this Review.
Wolfsegg itself is now described as a genius loci in a new real-time review trying to reach a gestalt through the Gardeners, its Orangery etc.
“The very word Orangery always fascinated me, I told Gambetti. It was the word I loved best of all.”
This book, rooted in the present, strives to take a photograph of my past life despite a deep well of conflicting evidence as to the images within it.
\”perhaps the saddest.”
There is sense of the Proustian as we delve deeper into the description of Wolfsegg buildings, ambiance, people, butchery, avarice, rooms (North and South), goodnight kisses…
As if to rebel against the Proustian aspect, I describe my own antipathy to my Mother’s goodnight kisses (unlike my brother)
“I was almost as fond of the kitchen as of the Orangery, but here I was in a female ambience, which interested me no less than the male ambience of the Orangery. There I was attracted by the fragrance of the flowers, here by the smell of the wonderful puddings and desserts.”
“Indeed, during the first half of my childhood the kitchen and the Orangery were my dual points of reference.”
Dual points of reference? More like my reviews’ triangulation of coordinates by several readers reporting back. Here not only Remembrance of Lost Time, but a collaboration of perspective with Gambetti, even sometimes with the late Uncle Georg?
“In these guest rooms, which are all on the north side, I always felt scared. Anyone who stayed in them even briefly was sure to become ill. But guests were always accommodated on the north side, in rooms that were deliberately furnished in this uninviting manner and kept at such a low temperature because guests were not meant to stay longer than was absolutely necessary.”
The triangulated reference points, I perceived above, culminate now in this book’s own bird’s eye view of Wolfsegg. We are now tantamount to trapped there, accepting its harsh medicine for good or ill, past, present and perceived.
“Yet as always, I told Gambetti, whatever is truly poetic is more neglected than anything else. It’s as though no one had any use for the truly poetic . The Children’s Villa, locked up and left to dilapidate, is a rather sad but interesting chapter in the history of Wolfsegg, I said, perhaps the saddest.”
Interesting, in view of this book’s sporadic Anti-Nataliist angles of perception, the children used to put on Puppet shows in this Villa…
\”this work of extinction.”
The Huntsmen’s Lodge
“It was here that he [Uncle Georg] started writing what he called his Anti-autobiography , a two-hundred-page manuscript in which he recorded everything he thought worth recording and on which he went on working for two decades in Cannes. When he died, none of us could find the manuscript,…”
On that Lodge’s cold stone slab, this book as its own sacrifice?
During my comparison of Wolfsegg’s Huntsmen and Gardeners I stumble upon historical areas of my family that are utterly shocking, areas that I shall not repeat in this review. Although, Gambetti, you know these areas already, by having listened to me WITHIN the book. But no spoilers here because the spoilers are in the book itself.
An Anti-autobiography seems connected to Anti-Natalism in some obvious way, really, and perhaps, also, to my earlier concept of an Antidote, now an Anti-Novel, a Nouveau-Roman (I’m in Rome, after all, as I rehearse these things) as well as literally an ANTI-novel. An Extinction Novel.
“They [my family] were always opportunists, and it’s fair to say that they were low characters, always trimming to the prevailing political wind and ready to resort to any available means to gain whatever advantage they could from any regime.”
Now up to me to tell all about Wolfsegg; I haven’t felt like it before.
To create it is to extinguish it. A paradox?
This is amazing stuff I’m reviewing, with me in the guise of its narrator reviewing his own narration.
\”and of course with you.”
“The center of today’s world isn’t New York or Paris or London, it isn’t Tokyo or Beijing or Moscow, as we read and are told all the time—it’s Rome, once again it’s Rome.”
This is where I am writing this book, Rome, a catalyst for my thoughts, refreshed like an old Internet page? But that is ironic, I feel, as reader, not necessarily as narrator, when you take in account the establishment that is often connoted with Rome: the Catholic Church, and what I earlier said about it!
“I’d entirely forgotten that in addition to my own terrible world there was another, which was not entirely terrible. Above all I’d forgotten about intellectual life. I’d forgotten my philosophers and poets, and all my creative artists, Gambetti. I might even say that I’d forgotten my own mind. I clung to my sick body, and by ceaselessly clinging to this sick body I almost ruined myself. Until I came to Rome.”
I take this personally, again as reader, not narrator. I almost weep.
And as if without my own volition I turn from recurrently addressing Gambetti towards talking ABOUT him, and how I am turning him away from his parents, and from what he used to be, those parents who are paying me so much money to teach him, without realising how rich I already am. But who is Gambetti? Who is me? Who the teacher, whom the taught? Who recommended this book to whom? Uncle Georg, me or Gambetti?
As if to expunge these thoughts, a dream comes back to me about an earlier visit to the Alps, one that seems important to me as reader, not narrator, connected with THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN by Thomas Mann, a book with an enormous influence on me, from when I first read it in the 1970s as well as when I reread it and real-time reviewed HERE a year or so ago.
“Then, to my surprise and apropos of nothing, Gambetti had suddenly talked of visiting the Alps next summer and taking with him a notebook with squared paper, though he did not explain the significance of the squared paper…”
\”it falsifies everything.”
The dream blends in and out of truth, I guess, as I describe and explain it by increasingly irritating or crazed reference to you Gambetti on the Pincio. My words are indeed now becoming increasingly, dare I say, crazed, as relentless as a modern piece of minimalist music by Philip Glass. Strange that I enjoy such music in real life today, each rise and fall of chords, towards dream, towards truth, time and time again, like this section of text, a text that brings in other new characters to the book in philosophical love with each other, one moment loving a place, the next hating it, characters including someone called Maria. But I wonder who or what she is to me. Apparently someone who lives nearby in Rome to whom I can go visit, and sort out her shoes and boots, or hear her astonishing poems? BUT…
“Then it suddenly occurred to me how odd it was that I should be teaching Gambetti German literature, of all things—German, Austrian, and Swiss literature, the literature of German-speaking Europe , to use the usual clumsy formulation—despite the fact that I find this literature impossible to love and have always rated it below Russian, French, and even Italian literature.”
“I once told Gambetti that when I spoke of my sisters I was speaking not of my sisters as such but only of their mocking faces, captured by chance in this photograph.”
I am obsessed with those ‘mocking faces’ as my real sisters. And the photograph of my parents at Victoria station. Their frozen parental poses and props totemising for me their shocking connections in history. We can berate and shout at these photographs’ faces with no fear of comeback. No longer, though, with faces on Facebook. This book is a sort of precursor of Facebook.
“Instead of hiding ourselves in the desk drawer as we ought, in the form of some comic and ridiculous photo, we hide our family there, so that when the need arises we can misuse them for our own utterly base ends, I told Gambetti.”
Gulliver’s Travels faces, too. Lilliputian, on small screens. Rancour reflecting our own rancour.
“We lash out at microscopic dwarfs and drive ourselves utterly crazy. We let ourselves get so carried away that we hurl insults at heads only half an inch in diameter, Gambetti, and so make ourselves quite ridiculous.”
Also mention in this section of my ‘breathlessness’, reminding me how close I am to the Magic Mountain..,
\”perfected their plot.”
I can’t itemise everything in this collaborative monologue, but generally I was stigmatised as a liar when I was a boy by my mother, who favouritised my brother. He liked the vulgar Huntsmen, the Huntsmen whom she allowed to pinch her bottom, and when she later visited me here in Rome, it was to have liaisons with a priest.
I was told, as a child, that I had “perverse thoughts”, but I was allowed to sort the mail with her. But I was often scolded for not doing it properly.
I was blamed for liking the Gardeners more than the Huntsmen.
But I, as reviewer, now wonder that if I, the narrator, really did have ‘perverse thoughts’, how much of this endless second paragraph in the book can I believe? This is one of the many conundrums of the Art of Fiction. The possible Unreliable Narrator.
This whole section leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.
“Today everything that once distinguished Wolfsegg has atrophied, having been consciously belittled by successive generations and actually trodden in the dirt in the past century, above all in recent decades. They provided themselves not just with one library but with five, I told Gambetti—the upper left library, the upper right, the lower left, the lower right, and the one in the Children’s Villa.”
I was scolded for reading ‘bad’ books in these libraries (like the book shown). And for losing my mother’s key. And she had the well shaft searched.
“The fact that there was no key in the well shaft, but only a half-rotted shoe, so incensed my mother that she swore at the gardener.”
The photo somewhere above in this real-time review now turns out to show exactly where that lost key – for which I was blamed – was sitting all the time.
I am a Reliable Narrator, after all. But what about the Reviewer?
Strange what thoughts this astonishing book makes me think….
The real-time review I happen simultaneously to be conducting alongside this review has surprising unintended similarities about a quite different book:
\”National Socialist and Catholic nation.”
“Having come to Rome just to see Spadolini, I reflected, looking again at the photo of her and my father at Victoria Station, she was bored whenever she was with me, because all the time she was thinking of Spadolini. Their relationship is not of Spadolini’s making, I told Gambetti, but entirely of my mother’s. You can’t leave the huntsmen alone when the hunting season is on. These words, spoken to my father, strike me now, so long after her visit to Rome, as even more contemptible than they did at the time. Even the huntsmen, and finally I myself, had to be involved so that she could meet Spadolini in Rome.”
The tasteless memory of my Mother’s liaison. How could someone as wonderful as him associate with someone as base as my mother? They ‘stage-managed’ their behaviour to avoid scandal. A bit like a frozen tableau in old photographs, but unlike the spontaneous ones you get in floods today on Facebook. How can I even soil Gambetti with such a tale of their brazen peccancies.
The changing philosophy of photographs.
I think my mother wanted to abort me when she was pregnant with me. This relates to the Anti-Natalism mentioned earlier in this review and also makes me think of the book TRISTRAM SHANDY (real-time reviewed HERE) where the Narrator (Tristram himself) compulsively droned on and on about the lead-up to his birth without ever getting there, as if wanting somehow to abort himself before he had the chance to be born! I can’t imagine how I have so far failed to make that reference is comparison with this pair of endlessly self-perpetuating paragraphs in EXTINCTION!
“If we take a walk in Vienna, the people we see are all essentially National Socialists and Catholics, who behave at times more as National Socialists, at times more as Catholics, but usually as both simultaneously;”
“I felt no need to communicate—I had to be alone with the knowledge of my parents’ death. Whom should I inform about it, and how? I thought of this and that person, considered this and that name, recalled this and that telephone number, but repeatedly rejected the idea of telling anyone of the news. Perhaps Gambetti, I thought, perhaps Zacchi, perhaps Maria, who lives near the Via Condotti and with whom I was due to have dinner that evening. For as long as I have been in Rome I have had regular meetings with Maria, the only woman with whom I have maintained any real contact and whom I have felt the need to see every week.”
Why haven’t I told you before about seeing Maria every week? Perhaps I am an Unreliable Narrator, after all.
In the end I do tell you by means of this book, and Gambetti listens in, just a few seconds before you hear the news, as if by being a character in the book there is no time delay, as there is with you?
And now I unexpectedly reach – being more unexpected in an ebook where you can’t easily riffle ahead in its pages – the end of THE TELEGRAM and also a full understanding of THE TELEGRAM (this section of two gigantic paragraphs, the first half of the whole book?) and of the telegram itself described within it.
I now seem ready to return to Wolfsegg, as if I have been putting off this return by writing THE TELEGRAM, and as if Wolfsegg is death itself or now a new birth as a result of my family’s unexpected deaths – just as Tristram Shandy spent all his time writing long paragraphs in TRISTRAM SHANDY to put off his own birth and thus his own death?
We shall see, you and I.
As an aside, a telegram is the nearest thing one can get to an email, and thus we can see Facebook as a mass of interconnecting telegrams. A book of photo-faces and telegrams.
Arthur Schopenhauer (German: [ˈaʁtʊʁ ˈʃɔpənˌhaʊ̯ɐ]; 22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation, in which he argues that the phenomenal world is driven by a malignant metaphysical will that perpetually and futilely strives to achieve satiation.
I now presumably go to Wolfsegg – for the reading of the Will?
Not yet started this second half of the book, but I already wonder whether, in German, there is a similar connection between Will as human impulse and Will as the legal document after death? Anyone help me out?
PS: That book I show above by Jean Paul is supposedly about a ‘wedding after death’?
\”an unrehearsed entrance.”
“I stopped in front of the big gateway by the Home Farm and peered between the enormous branches of the chestnut trees into the park and across to the Orangery, for it was there that from time immemorial the dead of Wolfsegg had always lain in state. And indeed the Orangery was open; in front of it the gardeners walked to and fro, carrying wreaths and bouquets.”
I return and, against what appearances demand, I hold back, preparing to role play in front of my sisters, at the funeral. What is my reality – my true self or the part I play?
One of my sisters has just married a wine cork manufacturer and – as reviewer, not narrator – I wonder why I think a wine cork manufacturer is highly appropriate to marry my sister? This coming funeral follows close on the heels of that wedding, and they are probably just swapping things around from one ceremony to the other.
“Perhaps I was afraid of a sudden confrontation with my dead parents and my dead brother. I was less afraid of their dead faces than I had been of their living faces,…”
The faces we meet in life, faces in this book, the faces that even live on beyond death?
I wonder about these matters as reviewer, not narrator.
My ‘as reviewer, not narrator’ repetitive refrain to replace that of “I told Gambetti on the Pincio”?
Just arrived from Rome, I am now back in Austria, and I have no Gambetti to tell. So the reader of this real-time review must suffice as my confidante?
“I was surprised at my nonchalance as I stood by the gateway reviewing my role in the drama,…”
\”and time’s running out;”
“I now felt as though I had sneaked in, as though the gardeners I was observing were pure beings, while I was an impure being and destined to remain so for the rest of my life.”
The paragraph has renewed its endlessness, with real-time action, now, as I now approach the gardeners in real-time to shake their hands before the funeral. There is a plaintive desire to become as purely simple as the gardeners, but I end up with reading a book like this and making various convoluted theories about it! The memories of my sister’s recent wedding are straightforwardly hilarious, though, reminding me of weddings today.
“For some perverse reason she’s quite deliberately fitted out her wine cork manufacturer in a jacket that once lay in state in the Orangery; she’s made him wear a dead man’s clothes on his wedding day.”
From the two quotes directly above and below, the ‘death wedding’ thread continues in my normal misanthropic vein. (See the book about ‘wedding after death’ by Jean Paul pictured somewhere above in this ever-lengthening broken paragraph of a real-time review! If you’ve forgotten, that’s the book my mother scolded me about reading in one of the five libraries, and then admitted later, when I was older, that she had always assumed I had invented its existence!)
“…it was a magnificent wedding, a wedding to end all weddings, as they say.”
Ashamed to say, if I had proactively acted a bit differently in the event cited below, the whole future history of the exponential behaviour of Catholic priests may have been halted on the spot!
“It seemed to me as though I had witnessed a little self-contained comedy or farce, and I felt a great desire to applaud when the priest had delivered his last line and disappeared with the altar boys, my little six-and seven-year-old cousins. But again I controlled myself. I was anxious to remain inconspicuous, for if I had caused a stir it would have been quite impossible for me to stay on at Wolfsegg, and I had no wish to draw attention to myself and cause anyone to remark that the troublemaker was at it again.”
\”through the doorway.”
“Right from the beginning I succeeded in evading the parental sculptors; I at once repulsed them and would not allow them near me. They molded Johannes to their liking and were delighted with the result, not realizing that this entailed his ultimate destruction and annihilation. They ruthlessly transformed his natural head into an ideal head and thus destroyed it in what seems to me the vilest and most shameless fashion, making of him what they were unable to make of me, an ideal blockhead, who in due course would become what they longed for, their own creature, who was entirely complaisant and acquiesced in their intentions right down to the minutest detail. My brother, I thought, is completely in thrall to my parents, above all to my mother, having offered no resistance and found it easier to yield than to defend himself against every parental enormity and indignity. Only behind the wheel of the Jaguar was he allowed to give free rein to his thoughts. On these nightmare journeys , as my mother called them, he was free, but once out of the car, the poor man had to pay for this freedom a thousand times over, I thought. I’m sure that when he’s fifty there’ll be a proper wedding here. But a dead man can’t marry, I now reflected as I passed through the doorway.”
It seems if the book itself is beginning accretively to subsume this real-time review till both of them become one endless paragraph together!
But I am sorry to quote such a long passage above about my now dead brother but I feel it is important, ranging from the ‘blockhead’ beginning of this book to the ‘dead man can’t marry’ leitmotif. I couldn’t resist telling you straightaway, so I haven’t got much further in my reading since my previous entry above!
\”at the top of the stairs.”
It is interesting to compare what I call the ‘Tristram Shandy’ method of procrastination which is the setting up of a seemingly everlasting delay in getting from somewhere to somewhere else (such as, in TRISTRAM SHANDY, from non-existence to birth), i.e. by writing in fulminatory length about something else! Here that method is used again but COUPLED with actually DOING in real-time what you are writing about doing. Here, thinking about the maids, when hearing them, looking at an uncle in a painting who resembles Descartes, and other paintings, including thoughts on Velazquez and Vermeer. (Vermeer, as opposed to VanderMeer whom I mentioned earlier in this review.)
I shall call this the Thomas Bernhard literary device, because it is, I’m sure, unique to him. Here the accreting buffer zone of delay is for the purpose of being placed between myself and the meeting with my sisters as well as the wine cork man. The latter is my new brother-in-law who seems also to be avoiding ME! Perhaps he is involved simultaneously with writing his own ‘procrastination’ literary device book?
“…as I stood in the chapel, to which I now repaired in order to avoid going upstairs right away to meet my sisters. I’ll take it slowly, without drawing attention to myself, I thought as I entered the chapel, where the wedding decorations had already been removed and replaced by funeral decorations.”
“How long do we go on hearing the voice of someone who was alive a few days ago and has suddenly died?”
“The wine cork manufacturer has been destroyed and annihilated by his office and the machines in his wine cork factory and has thus become insufferable, I thought as I reached the second floor and paused at the top of the stairs.”
“I was alarmed to discover this, having always believed that nothing said in the drawing room could be heard outside it. This is an important discovery, I thought; I must watch what I say in the drawing room. They’re sure they can’t be heard, but I can follow every word. All the time the wine cork manufacturer said nothing but yes or no in answer to the simplest questions.”
What’s the audial equivalent of voyeur? Earwigger?
“I had to protect myself; I could not and would not allow myself to be crushed by the fact that my parents and my brother were now dead. Caecilia led the way to the Orangery, and as I followed her I reflected that my sisters and my brother-in-law were now entirely reliant on me, that their attitude to me had completely changed. This was inevitable. Now that my parents and my elder brother were dead, I was suddenly cast in a role they could never have imagined me playing, that of provider and protector.”
But soon, perhaps for the first time in this book, I am thrust into direct interaction with real-time, by meeting my sister and the recalcitrant wine cork man. I tell you of these happenings now directly they happen to happen…
Amazed that neither I the narrator nor I the reviewer had actually asked the question of ourselves: what was the nature of the accident that had killed my parents and my brother? And…
“I was alarmed to find that the bodies were placed at different heights, my father’s higher than my mother’s, and that while my father and brother lay in open coffins, my mother’s was closed.”
I will not divulge the nature of the nature of the bodies.
\”My brother-in-law said nothing.”
“Just because Caecilia expected me to criticize the gardeners I spoke up for them, fully aware that I was saying the first thing that came into my head.”
I get in a muddle of inconsistencies about pigeon shit and newspaper blatancy.
And the iron stake that spiked my mother as if she had been a vampire – reviewer says that, not narrator? I forget. This review and the book it reviews begin to dangerously overlap as well as split, but where is the truth? The author’s truth. The narrator’s? The reviewer’s? Or a blend of all of them? A triangulation of each reader’s coordinates of understanding, more like. Each time there is a new reader for a book, it becomes a different book. Remember that when you recommend a favourite book to someone else!
“Everyone recounts his tragedy, as it were, as he sees it. The way the papers see it is different from the way my sisters see it, and probably also from the way my brother-in-law sees it. They all give quite different accounts of the same tragedy, each recounting a different tragedy, though it’s actually the same tragedy. Just as we read many different accounts in as many different newspapers, so my sisters give their own differing accounts of the same tragedy, so that in the end there are as many tragedies as there are people recounting them.”
It seems appropriate to the reviewer that the accident happened on the way home from a Bruckner concert.
The opportunism of characters to fit the roles they need to fit, after the cards have all been thrown in the air.
\”to Buchenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz.”
“Amalia always spoke of her mother’s head being severed by an iron rod, but Caecilia spoke of its being pierced by a crosspiece.”
I was right, then, after all?
There follows a crippling account of my sister’s wine cork husband, and the circumstances of their marriage. His purpose has vanished. But I, the reviewer, wonder who actually is the pukka ‘Man Without Qualities’. Myself who fails to find the qualities in the world around me to sustain me? Or the disused wine cork himself bobbing without qualities on the world’s surface? He doesn’t even know who Max Bruch is, let alone Kant!
And who is the Moosbrugger in my novel? The gestalto of those who are coming to offer condolences, those refugees from the War who once slaughtered other refugees?
Shaving and nudity. One of my sisters accidentally sees me bollock-naked, as all those refugees once were. I tease her ambivalence toward my nudity with my own ambivalence toward her stare.
“Applying the shaving cream to my face and looking at myself in the mirror, I saw a joker; the joker immediately stuck his tongue out at himself and repeated the action several times, enjoying the joke at his own expense.”
That joker is me.
“It is a perfectly logical proposition to say that I am arrogant in order to survive. Before long, of course, we don’t know whether our arrogance is feigned or genuine, but it’s not necessary to ask ourselves this question all the time; to do so would make us crazy and ultimately demented.”
\”If I ever manage to get it down on paper.”
I as real-time reviewer had a big shock today. THIS IS A TRUE FACT.
THE SUN, a U.K. newspaper garbage publication (the type of which I as narrator dealt with earlier in this book) has dredged up an old black and white film in 1933 or 1934 (that year’s margin of error is historically significant) of our beloved Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 6 or 7 making a vigorous Nazi salute, along with the Queen Mother, as encouraged, it seemed, by Edward VIII. We haven’t heard the last of this, I guess.
I immediately thought of this book.
“I contemplated the dead lying in state as though they had no connection with me, as though they were strangers. They no longer had any facial features; they did not even have faces.”
The incantatory long paragraphs make my ‘obscene’ obsession seem even more obsessive, as I try but fail to lift my mother’s lid. Is she all there?
“I could not stop thinking about reopening my mother’s coffin and spent a long time walking up and down outside the Orangery, obsessed by the thought, while my sisters remained inside.”
“In ‘Extinction’, the book I’m planning, I’ll write about…”
An intention fulfilled after a split second of real-time, as I write the book that fulfils the intention of saying the things I say within the book that I intend to write.
\”in my presence.”
Time to uncork some wine in celebration.
No irony, as I think we have just reached the end of this book’s third paragraph!
“I was instantly taken with the idea and said to my sisters, No matter what took place here, the Children’s Villa is the first building I’ll have restored, from top to bottom. It’ll be as it was before its degradation.”
The shocking people who have been entertained within this building shocks us both. The obsessiveness of our exponential paragraphing is like getting stuck in, time after time, with serial hatreds. And our attitude to our two sisters is part and parcel of this approach. A hatred, almost pity. And the wine cork himself, I have never read such antipathy steeped in by the ink I imagine being expended on this text, even if the one I read is now electronic, like some of the garbage I see on Facebook. The newspapers then and now, writ in bile, false outrage and out-glorification. The one shown yesterday above, notwithstanding. And why do we think that my parents’ and brother’s remains should be buried without a split second’s delay?
“On the other hand, I said, their faces no longer bear any relation to their real faces. They’re the faces of strangers who don’t have anything to do with me. They must be buried as quickly as possible.”
“As he [the wine cork] masticated his bread and sausage he kept eyeing the newspapers, especially when he thought I was not looking. They clearly interested him, and he would certainly have read them with the utmost avidity had he been alone, uninhibited by the presence of someone whom he was bound to think incapable of even contemplating such shameless conduct, let alone engaging in it.”
As reviewer not narrator, I feel this book becomes a newspaper article (albeit written eloquently) when about, say, the wine cork man. At least HE deserves it. But do we pity him as well as despise him? Does pity and despite always go hand in hand?
\”but that’s absurd.”
The change in gear of a new paragraph does not halt the obsessive flow of our rant against newspapers and our brother-in-law.
“My brother-in-law was avidly reading the papers with my express permission, after a decent show of hesitation, though no more than a show. He was actually reading them, whereas I had of course just flicked through them, as they say, when I was alone in the kitchen two hours earlier. He looked at the pictures quite calmly and without embarrassment, whereas I had done so furtively, apprehensive lest I should be caught doing something improper, indeed shameful, and fully aware that I was committing a heinous offense.”
Did I, as reviewer, just write ‘OUR rant’? Since when have the reviewer and narrator become the first person plural? I note that the narrator is now beginning again to refer himself to Gambetti again, after a long period of never mentioning him, although this is now in the pluperfect tense rather than in a form of real-time. I think I should be coming apart from the narrator rather than coming closer to him. He sometimes sounds ludicrously obsessive and arrogant, considering himself now in charge of the depleted family and scathing about his sisters and ‘obese’ wine cork of a brother-in-law. An Unreliable Narrator personified, maybe. A crazed manipulator. It is this completely besotted compulsion to rant on and on about newspapers that has thrown this doubt into my reviewer’s mind.
“There he sat, not devouring the newspapers, as they usually say, but devoured by them.”
This is written about the wine cork man, but I feel it is written ironically by the freehold author reflecting it back onto his leasehold narrator.
“My brother-in-law, still immersed in the newspapers, had no idea of what was passing through my mind as he indulged his appetite for sensation. He’d also be a beneficiary of the violence they’re planning to do me, I thought, of the self-surrender they expect—the wine cork manufacturer from Freiburg im Breisgau with his forty-five workers and office staff who probably do nothing but piss on him, as they say. But my sisters don’t really know me, I told myself. They actually believe that I’ll enter into my inheritance in the manner laid down. We’ve always known about the will;”
And so,we approach the nub? The Will.
“For a moment I wished I had brought Gambetti with me, but Gambetti would certainly not have wished to act as my intellectual shield against all the distasteful conditions at Wolfsegg.”
There is much talk in the text of an item of clothing called a ‘loden’. The narrator eschews his loden to avoid being classed as one of the loden-clad classes. He will dress as the Roman Nouveau that he has become by virtue of this ‘novel’, not as an Old Germanic Austrian? To demonstrate his hatred of Wolfseggianism.
“I have always been more attracted to funerals than to weddings, and I was now enjoying everything much more than I had at the wedding a week earlier, even though, as I looked down at the park, I saw largely the same people. Except that now they were quite different, restrained by the logic of the occasion, as it were. They stood around in groups and chatted, as if at a midsummer night’s celebration, I thought, their black attire disguising their otherwise unbearable tastelessness.”
The fact that I as reviewer am quoting more from the book’s text again, does that mean my real-time review is re-blending with the narration and that, since yesterday, I am also re-drawing closer to myself as narrator? After all, he feels distaste towards all the people I would likely feel distaste towards, these guests milling around intent more on the open sandwiches of my sisters’ prepared buffet than the funeral itself? And I concur with his past demonstrated hatred, not just distaste, for those among the guests who are the shocking residue of European history’s relatively recent utter shamefulness.
\”they despise me.”
“It immediately occurred to me that this was the room that had been prepared for Spadolini. I recalled what I had said to Gambetti on the telephone: that it was not only likely but quite certain that Spadolini would come to the funeral and spend the night in my father’s room.”
I tellingly sit in my father’s room, the room prepared for Spandolini’s attendance at the funeral, and I am thinking of Spandolini, the Vatican impresario, as the reviewer puts it, and that man’s complex relationship with me (now thawing because of my mother’s death?), his close relationship with my mother, my father’s nodding connivance, and my further thoughts on Maria and Gambetti. My soliloquy in this room is like a thoughtfully provocative Inner Musical Prelude, as I resist joining the other guests whom I survey as if from an eyrie. Spandolini has not yet arrived, emerging as he might from the ‘ludicrous comedy’ in which he played with my mother, as Uncle Georg would have called it?
And a reminder of what this book is all about, a dismantling for later remantling…
“Gambetti, the greatest doubter I have ever known, who far outdoes me in his doubting, who has made doubting a principle of life, and who once told me that with his doubting he had started to dismantle the whole world in order to study it properly;”
As I as reviewer equally dismantle this whole book? And myself?
\”losing control altogether.”
“I recalled that Alexander, my dreamer, was exactly my age. We had parted thirty years before,”
Such proves what a huge hinterland of the past this book has now developed for me, to such an extent that I as reviewer have forgotten who Alexander is/was! Why my dreamer? Obviously someone I admire and prefer to all the others attending the funeral. Why put Spandolini in the house’s hospitality and not Alexander, who is staying at a local hotel? A strange concept, his being ‘my dreamer’. But then I as narrator indulge in more obsessive ranting about my father, his pedantry, his ring-binders, his picture of the Madonnas and a hydrocephalic Christ.
\”How can I escape this inner turmoil?”
“Paying my sisters off was the very first thought that entered my head on receiving the telegram.”
“Our parents no longer exist. There’s nothing lying in the Orangery but three bodies consigned to decay, I said, which no longer have anything to do with the human beings they once were. What’s left is pure theater.”
Later I check the blocks of ice under their coffins, because of the smell of decomposition. If this book is a composition, are my doubts and worries signs of its de-composition? I am schizophrenic between the “Roman rhythm” self and my my Wolfsbegg self, as Gambetti will attest. My Proustian selves?
“Hearing me talk, people must think I’m the worst character in the world, I thought, but there are undoubtedly much worse characters.”
Hearing me WRITE, too, in recurrent rants and obsessively endless paragraphs. My lack of control. In this connection, the American spelling of ‘theater” above makes me think that the schizoid participants here are not only the Freehold Author, the Leasehold Narrator, the Real-Time Reviewer but also another party I have not considered before: the Translator. To what extent is he the Unreliable Translator?
\”The time had come for Spadolini to visit the Orangery.”
“I can’t cope with this whole situation, and I’m not responsible for it, I didn’t will it.”
“Only Maria is in a position to demonstrate to me that my manuscripts are worthless and deserve to be consigned to the flames. She once accused me of doing violence to philosophy, of sinning against the spirit. She meant it as a joke, but I took it seriously. I haven’t given up, I told myself. I already have something new in mind. Maybe I’ll call it Extinction, I thought. As I write it I’ll try to extinguish everything that comes into my head. Everything I write about in this work will be extinguished, I told myself. I was pleased with the title. It exercised a great fascination over me. I could not remember where I had dreamed it up. I think it was Maria who suggested it to me: she had once called me an expert in extinction. I was her extinction expert, she said: whatever I set down on paper was automatically extinguished.”
“I picked up Siebenkäs again, opened it, and switched on the light. I wondered whether I had not been wrong, quite wrong, to give Gambetti this book. I had been right to give him The Trial, but not Siebenkäs . And instead of Esch or Anarchy I should have given him Schopenhauer Revisited.”
“Everyone who describes a person sees him differently, I reflected. So many people describing the same person, each looking at him from a different viewpoint, a different angle of vision, produce as many differing views, I told myself. Spadolini’s view of Father is different from ours.”
Now subsumed by the text, I pop my little head up to say that last quote parallels my ‘triangulation’ theories in real-time reviewing, and this section is interesting in relation to Spandolini (an actual Archbishop often at the Pope’s side) and his strange ambivalently constructive symbiosis with my father and mother. Etna et al. Well, at least, I the narrator now see it as constructive.
I now note that I have misspelt Spadolini’s name quite often throughout this review.
\”and closed my eyes.”
“Suddenly Spadolini knelt down in front of Mother’s coffin. It was an embarrassing scene. My sisters had no option but to kneel down with him. I naturally remained standing. For two or three minutes, which is a long time in such a situation, Spadolini and my sisters knelt before the coffins. A film scene, I thought again.”
A tableau as the death wedding I predicted earlier? A TABLEAU AS THE DEATH WEDDING I PREDICTED EARLIER? My mother, albeit dead, now technically a widow….
“Mother was evil personified, I thought. Spadolini must have seen this; he’s too intelligent not to have seen it.”
“According to Spadolini, Mother had listened to Mahler like an angel, but the truth is that concerts bored her stiff,”
“He [Spadolini] idealized Wolfsegg too, for the Wolfsegg he described bore no relation to the real Wolfsegg. In the few hours he’s been here, this man of the church has shown himself immensely adept at calculation and falsification, I thought. Before our very eyes and ears he’s transformed fools into thinkers, malevolent individuals into saints, illiterates into philosophers, low characters into models of virtue, baseness and meanness into inward and outward greatness, monsters into human beings, an appalling country into a paradise, and a stolid populace into a nation deserving of respect.”
Some no doubt accuse me of being such a Spadolini when in a real-time reviewing mode. Meanwhile, the mixed feelings polarise. But currently swinging toward despising Spadolini.
“Spadolini is the kind of person who both repels and fascinates, and often we’re unsure whether we’re fascinated or repelled, whether we should let ourselves be fascinated or repelled. But we can’t give up such a person, we tell ourselves, and I’ve never been able to give up Spadolini.”
Also a diatribe against Goethe as the book’s German blockhead.
“She’ll stage the funeral as Mother would have staged it. And all the time she’ll have the feeling that Mother is watching to see that everything is staged as she would have wished, not otherwise. A funeral is about to be presented, I thought—the funeral of our parents and our brother, production by Caecilia.”
“Suddenly I wondered what would happen if Mother’s coffin were opened and I were to compel Spadolini to inspect the contents. With an immense effort I forced myself to drop the thought,”
“In order to gain relief we walk on faces, I thought.”
As I do, to my shame, on Alexander’s face. Upon his Facebook.
“But my childhood is now as dilapidated as the Children’s Villa.”
“Whenever you look back into the past, you’re looking into a gaping void . Even yesterday is a gaping void , even the moment that’s just passed.”
“On the wastrel who exploited Wolfsegg for his dubious and disgusting purposes for his disgusting intellectual purposes, I thought. His lordship goes for walks in Rome while we slave away here, my father would tell everyone when he felt hostile toward me,”
“Millions are tyrannized by three-ring binders and never escape their tyranny, I thought. For the last century the whole of Europe has let itself be tyrannized by three-ring binders, and the tyranny is increasingly oppressive. Soon the whole of Europe will be not only tyrannized but destroyed by them.”
A premonition of the Eurozone? And of the Internet, ebooks, self-publication…
“Even Thomas Mann and Musil, in every line they wrote, let themselves be dominated by three-ring binders.”
As we approach the end of this book, I, as reviewer, grow smaller and smaller, as small as the text that diminishingly remains.
(Don’t forget that even a small quote represents pages of ranting upon that quote.)
\”even lethal, to me.”
CLOUDS AND FACES
Failing to sleep, I wander the night, forming dragons from clouds and faces from memories, with the aura of Henry V strolling the campsite just before Agincourt.
“For at least a hundred years we’ve had nothing but what I would call binder literature, lower-middle-class bureaucratic writing, and the masters of this literature are Musil and Thomas Mann, to say nothing of the others. The one exception is of course Kafka, who actually was a bureaucrat, though he didn’t write bureaucratic works, but none of the others could write anything else. Kafka, the bureaucrat, was the only one who produced not bureaucratic literature but great literature.”
Of course, now with the Internet, there is very little need for any ring-binders at all.
“and if I were suddenly asked to say what I really was, secretly, I’d have to say that I was the greatest artist I knew in the field of exaggeration. Gambetti again burst into his characteristic laughter, which promptly infected me, so that that afternoon on the Pincio we both laughed more than ever before. But of course this too is an exaggeration, I realize as I come to write it down—”
There is something very sad about that ‘dying fall’ at the end of that quote.
“We pretend we’re capable of everything, of the very highest achievement, but can’t even pick up a pen and write down a single word of the unique and tremendous work that we’ve just announced.”
“It’s true, of course, that anyone who writes so much as a postcard nowadays calls himself a writer,”
Maria and Kafka seem to be the only great writers for the narrator.
“Naturally we surfer all the time after being told that we have not long to live, but we shield ourselves from this dire prognosis because we want to go on living.”
That ‘surfer’ is obviously SICNIFICANT (sic) as a typo for ‘suffer’ in the edition of the book I am reading. I will die surfing. I am awaiting my own prognosis from doctors who want their prognoses to be fulfilled.
“They admired my composure, but it was not, as they thought, the composure of one who had come to terms with a great tragedy. I chose to appear composed—it was part of my act.”
I am detached, a lapsed church in my soul, watching the Hamlet of inscrutability called Spadolini, “Sitting with his head bowed, in a row reserved solely for him, he’s aware of his theatrical genius, I thought, his archiepiscopal genius.”
“The footsteps of people I hate, the voices of people I hate, I thought, standing by the open grave, the utter repulsiveness of these hateful people. This funeral really is the end, I thought.”
I have been careful, throughout this review, not to mention, until now, the most sicnificant character in the whole book: the Aunt from Titisee.
“Come the millennium, Gambetti, human beings will no longer be capable of thinking, and the process of stultification, inaugurated by the photograph and universalized by motion pictures, will have reached its apogee. It will scarcely be possible to exist in a world dominated by brainlessness, I said, and we’d do well to kill ourselves before this process of stultification has engulfed the whole world. To this extent it’s only logical, Gambetti, that by the millennium those who exist by thinking and through thinking should already have killed themselves. The only advice I can offer to any thinking person is to kill himself before the millennium, Gambetti—that’s my genuine conviction, I had said, as I now recalled, standing by the open grave.”
I died in 1983 after first turning the Will into a Weapon that turned the dead faces on the ranks of mourners who mourn just one death out of three into the living faces of six million, and more. Just my theory. Anti-Natalism from Transubstantiation.
Probably the most important book I will ever read, albeit a wafer-thin book on my screen with just four paragraphs.
Image by Tony Lovell
“In order to gain relief we walk on faces, I thought.”
THE ABOVE WORK HAS THE HONOUR TO BE ON THIS LIST HERE AS COMPILED BY DFL