Lars Iyer on the influence of Thomas Bernhard

Author of Wittgenstein Jr and the Spurious trilogy of novels describes Bernhard’s devilish sensibility

Thomas Bernhard is a kind of figurehead for many authors, I think. I’m reminded of what Henry Rollins said of Mark E Smith in a documentary about The Fall:

He really is that guy you really hoped you could be. If you were in a band, you really don’t want to care what people think, but you do. And you really want to crank out a record every nine months, but you can’t. And you’d love to keep surprising people and baffling your critics by every third album turning out your best music.

Bernhard’s reclusiveness from the literary scene, his intransigence, the barbed acceptance speeches he gave for literary prizes, make him an exemplar. He just doesn’t care what the literary world thinks. At the same time, he writes and writes, one masterpiece following on the heels of another.

Thomas Bernhard

I think Bernhard has become too familiar as the turncoat of Austria, as the scourge of fascism and Catholicism, as the enemy of the middle class, and so on. He’s become a little too easy to accommodate as a pricker of pomposity and an exposer of hypocrisy. Bernhard is more than a satirist. Satire relies on certainties and norms, on the sureness of values, for its effect. So thinking of Bernhard merely as a satirist allows us to contain his work, to make sense of his wildness. It allows us to suppose that he is one of us, on our side …

Lars Iyer

There is something devilish in Bernhard. ‘I will not serve’: that’s what his novels say. This, for me, is what is marked about his comedy. Black comedy, goes the definition, refuses to treat tragic materials tragically. It makes us laugh at tragic things. But I would go further, and say that black comedy refuses to treat comic materials solely comically, or satirical materials solely satirically. Black comedy flourishes in a time when certainty and norms are in question; when there is a lack of confidence about values. It’s wild. It’s not a safety valve. It goes too far. It is indiscriminate. One minute we might nod our heads at its targets, the next minute we might find ourselves the butt of the joke. Above all, black comedy permits no comic catharsis – no return to what is good and valuable about the world…

Did Bernhard influence me? Roger Blin: ‘I know Antonin Artaud only through his trajectory in me which is endless’. I would say the same of Bernhard … [Read More]

These remarks are taken from an interview with Lars Iyer conducted by David Lea for The London Review of Books.

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