The Loser by Thomas Bernhard
I can’t exactly articulate why, but something about living in the mountains as winter approaches as well as watching a number of Béla Tarr’s films recently has compelled me to attempt to read through Thomas Bernhard’s novels. A friend remarked that this is a rather bleak prospect, especially in winter, and while I understand where he’s coming from, I’ve long held the opinion that there are many facets to Bernhard’s work, and, as an artist, I do find illumination and inspiration in grappling with his powerful texts.
I’d initially intended to read the novels chronologically, but that seemed too rigid of an approach (not to mention his earlier texts have a reputation for being both unwieldy and particularly dark). So, I’ll tackle the works as I see fit, hopefully with some kind of theme arising as I go along. Or not. I’ve also yet to decide whether I’ll stray from the novels into his memoir or theatre pieces. (As you can see, this isn’t a terribly well organized project…)
With that said, below is my first response.
The Loser is a deep and personal meditation on the notions of genius, so precisely executed that the form of the text, which unfolds like a fugue, embodies all of the complexities of the subject. It is neurotic and disturbing but also hilarious and passionate, and Bernhard’s ability to strike a kind of balance, to offer this text as a witty and strange piece of counterpoint, is proof of his brilliance and singularity. This tale, which obsesses about misery, suicide, and failure is also a love letter to life in all its absurdity, and if the reader embraces this ambivalence, and if they can digest and then look beyond the very overtly dark and cynical elements, then they’ll see that there are crucial lessons of hope to be gleaned:
“Every person is a unique and autonomous person and actually, considered independently, the greatest artwork of all time, I’ve always thought that and should have thought that, I thought.” (p. 93)