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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Bernhard’

The Fabric of a Life: An Interview with Yasmina Reza

February 20, 2015 | by

Yasmina Reza. Photo © Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

Last week, Yasmina Reza, who lives in Paris, came to New York to promote the American publication of her latest novel, Happy Are the Happy. I met her in the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel. As she pointed out, it looks a lot like a hallway, with doors on every side.

Happy Are the Happy isn’t entirely unlike that hallway: the book is a gallery of portraits, with each chapter opening a door on a new scene. Characters pass through each other’s lives—some connected closely, as, say, mothers and daughters, and others linked only casually, as two strangers in a doctor’s office.

Quietly glamorous in light makeup, her dark wavy hair undone, Reza looked slender in a plaid miniskirt and green mohair sweater. In conversation, she seems effortlessly poised and speaks as she writes, with elegant precision. We talked about the frivolous and the profound, what it means to be French, theater today, and Michel Houellebecq. 

We were speaking in French; the following is my translation.

Your American publisher, Judith Gurewich, warned me that you don’t like interviews.

It’s not that I don’t like interviews, I don’t like promoting myself. I don’t like the feeling of having to step outside the work in order to sell it. And sometimes professional journalists can be nightmares—they’re only waiting for you to make a faux pas. They have nothing personal invested, they’re not really there. It’s all business.

Like Charlie Rose?

Yes, I refused to go on the Charlie Rose show because he’s a perfect example of that kind of professional journalist, who just asks a series of smart prewritten questions and doesn’t bother listening to the answers. It feels like being faced with a brilliant question machine. It’s a horrible experience that I’d rather not put myself through.

In your play The Unexpected Man—a series of internal monologues between two characters on a train—an aging novelist describes his early works as so far removed that they might as well be someone else’s. At the time you were just starting out as a writer, so you had to be guessing. Now that twenty years have passed, does it feel true?

Writing is so prophetic—at twenty, you already know everything there is to know, you don’t need to have experienced life to be able to write about it. There’s an intuitive phenomenon at work that’s almost clairvoyant. I’m not only speaking for myself. Many other writers have shared this impression. Read More »

Certificate of Tastelessness

February 9, 2015 | by

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Thomas Bernhard in Portugal, 1986.

At this point, we tired of it! Because what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration … Then they do this whole promotional event, and they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, an artist, because they want commercial advertising. No, we not playing with them no more. —Kanye West on the Grammys, February 8, 2015

Every year, the stately procession of awards shows delivers us another imbroglio, and every year I wish that Thomas Bernhard, who would be eighty-four today, was still around to take the piss out of them. In a just world, our country’s glossiest magazines would pay Bernhard to attend awards shows around the world, allotting him thousands of words with which to vent his signature blend of misanthropy, contumely, vitriol, and spleen, with no paragraph breaks. “Everything is fundamentally sick and sad,” Bernhard once wrote. And: “There is nothing but failure.” If the Kanye Wests of our time were stealing the stage to say stuff like that, the state of our union would be stronger.

Bernhard was full of vinegar for just about everyone and everything, but so severe was his allergy to pomp and circumstance that he wrote a book about it. My Prizes: An Accounting describes a variety of banal ceremonies Bernhard was swindled into attending because, you know, he was being feted at them. “The Grillparzer Prize,” which opens the collection, provides a useful blueprint for anyone who hopes to disrupt the prizewinning paradigm. Some general instructions follow. Read More »

What We’re Loving: Pulp Fiction, Struggles, Kuwait

August 2, 2013 | by

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Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an anthology of “domestic suspense” fiction written by women between the forties and the seventies, makes for perfect subway reading: not only are the stories magazine-short, but the book’s terrific, pulpy cover is a real conversation starter. In her introduction, editor Sarah Weinman makes a compelling case for the genre’s subversive impact, both on society and the modern psychological thriller. But influence aside, the stories are just plain fun: whether it’s Patricia Highsmith’s highly-strung nanny, Shirley Jackson’s paranoid runaway, or a noirish housewife with a sinister secret, the cast of characters will haunt you long after you’ve reached your stop. —Sadie Stein

My first read through Geoffrey O’Brien’s new collection, People on Sunday, induced a kind of dazzled bafflement. The language is precise but the turns are hard to follow: “It’s the opposite / of dreaming,” he explains in one poem, “except that objects / are alive and episodic, connected / by comforting blurs.” I especially liked a poem set in New Mexico (“This land was always postnuclear, / Out of time while in it”), and another about riding the F train (“it’s embarrassing / still to be riding this system, antiquated / As reading a newspaper or choosing / The semicolon”). After a second and third reading, I find that O’Brien’s most urgent theme is the difficulty of writing public-spirited poetry at a time when “the poem / Is now believed to be the most distant / Object ever seen.” You might think this would make for a poetry of despair or irony, but oftentimes it’s just the opposite: “We decided to rebuild our home again / In the intermittent sun, strangers with arms / Linked to protect the thing behind them.” —Robyn Creswell Read More »

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Natural History: Adalbert Stifter

May 20, 2013 | by

Statute of Stifter, Linz.

Statute of Stifter, Linz.

My literary hero, Adalbert Stifter, was introduced to me by a professor of German studies during my sophomore year at Binghamton University. At the time, I lived alone in a studio apartment on the west side of Binghamton, a small city in upstate New York crippled by its loss of the computer and defense industries. The low standard of living and high crime rate, palpable even in the city’s nicer parts, are all the more jarring for the beautiful view of the Catskill Mountains that graces the area. At the end of the school year, the cold lifts, the rains stop, and the weather turns mild. The air, normally raw and wet, is balmy, and thick with the smell of pine.

In an e-mail, I expressed particular curiosity about the desiccated natural landscapes in Thomas Bernhard’s novels, and my professor suggested that I read Adalbert Stifter, an Austrian author who, despite the endorsements of Thomas Mann and W.G. Sebald, is remembered as a hokey sentimentalist, interested mostly in mountains and flowers.. The stories, novellas, and novels for which Stifter is known were written at the height of the Biedermeier period, a time of bourgeois reaction after the catastrophic, continent-wide destruction unleashed by the Napoleonic Wars. Beidermeier culture was fond of middle-class comfort, of painted plates, copper prints, simple furniture, and little knickknacks. Rather than challenge the political repression of post-Metternich Europe and take stock of the hopes for equality and immediacy in human relations shattered by the failed revolutions of 1848–49, the German-speaking world of Stifter’s time withdrew into the home, the family, and from there, into a world of fantasy.

Desperate for my professor’s guidance and approval, I found Stifter’s novella collection Bunte Steine (Many-Colored Stones) in the deathly quiet German-language stacks of Bartle Library. Read More »

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What to Read on a Stormy Weekend

February 8, 2013 | by

Fireplace-Tea-Books-300x199Here in the Northeast, we are all hunkering down for what could be a lot of snow, or at least a little slush. Either way, it will be a weekend for staying indoors with a good book, and we asked some of our bookish friends what they recommend for such occasions.

I Capture The Castle, by Dodie Smith, and Laurie Colwin! —Emily Gould, writer, founder of Emily Books

I am reading a dated but rad detective novel called The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, wherein a detective laid up in the hospital clears King Richard III of the crime of murdering his nephews using deductive logic and dubious speculation. This is part of my ongoing celebration of Richard III’s skeleton’s coming-out-the-closet or whatever you call it. Otherwise keeping busy with hoarding seltzer/Snackwell’s vanilla cremes. So this is a pretty normal weekend for me. —Pete Beatty, editor

Right now I find myself on page 1400 of Proust, by circumstance. Hoping to make some real headway in the next forty-eight. (Yesterday I was reading it on the A train, and this woman got down on her knees to look up to see what was the giant book I had in my hand. Like, she could have asked. Maybe she was saving me the pretension of responding, “Proust.”) —Brian Ulicky, publicist Read More »

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Literary Paint Chips: Gallery 3

May 14, 2012 | by

Paint Samples, suitable for the home, sourced from colors in literature. As seen in our two-hundredth issue.

Fox Stain1 Graham Greene2 Iteration Pudding3 Hood4
Fence5 Skipper’s Whiff6 Pizza7 Noise White8
Martyr’s Tongue9 League10 Funeral Suit11 Dead Sea12
Doze13 Dishwater Blonde14 Stupid Blue15 Dorsal16
Bible Black17 Lo’s Socks18 Poop Poop19 American Autumn20
Damned Spot21 Spit Black22 Georgie’s Pins23 Oatmeal Tweed24
Treasure Blue25 Nimbus Card26 Felon Yellow27 Wine-dark28

Annotations

  1. “The season’s ill— / we’ve lost our summer millionaire, / who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean / catalogue. His nine-knot yawl / was auctioned off to lobstermen. / A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.” “Skunk Hour,” Robert Lowell.
  2. Graham Greene
  3. “But if you stir backward, the jam will not come together again. Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to turn pink just as before. Do you think this is odd?” ‘Arcadia,’ Tom Stoppard.
  4. “Her mother was excessively fond of her; and her grandmother doted on her still more. This good woman got made for her a little red riding hood.” “Little Red Riding Hood,” Charles Perrault.
  5. “Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged.” ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ Mark Twain.
  6. “Wendell takes a whiff of Skipper, who is wearing what used to be a pair of pink flowered pajamas. A small bit of satin ribbon is still visible around her neck, but the rest, including her smiling face, is wet brown mud and something else. ‘Part of this is poop,’ Wendell hollers.” “Cousins,” Jo Ann Beard.
  7. “She noticed a piece of bright orange pizza stuck between his teeth, and it endeared him to her.” “A Romantic Weekend,” Mary Gaitskill.
  8. “I heard a noise, faint, monotonous, white.” ‘White Noise,’ Don DeLillo.
  9. “St. John Nepomucene was martyred in Prague in 1393 for refusing to reveal a secret of the confessional. His tongue has been entirely preserved. Experts examined it 332 years later in 1725, and testified that it was the shape, color, and length of the tongue of a living person, and that it was also soft and flexible.” ‘Beautiful Losers,’ Leonard Cohen.
  10. “Then, again, I have heard it is no use your applying if your hair is light red, or dark red, or anything but real bright, blazing, fiery red.” “The Red-Headed League,” Arthur Conan Doyle.
  11. “In the meantime I unpacked my bag, opened the wardrobe and hung up the dark gray suit I had taken along to Chur as my funeral suit, so to speak.” ‘The Loser,’ Thomas Bernhard.
  12. “I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Colored they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say, that’s where we’ll go for our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy.” ‘Waiting for Godot,’ Samuel Beckett.
  13. “And then I went off into a blue doze, sitting there in the car next to William. I was thinking about Josephine who is also this very dear friend of mine.” ‘Novel on Yellow Paper,’ Stevie Smith.
  14. “... a jewelry box in which a strand of Mary’s dishwater-blonde hair lay bedded on cotton.” ‘The Virgin Suicides,’ Jeffrey Eugenides.
  15. “I had forgotten about his eyes. They were as blue as the sides of a certain type of box of matches. When you looked at them carefully you saw that they were perfectly honest, perfectly straightforward, perfectly, perfectly stupid.” ‘The Good Soldier,’ Ford Madox Ford.
  16. “It took Brody’s eyes a moment to adjust, but then he saw the fin—a ragged brownish-gray triangle that sliced through the water, followed by the scythed tail sweeping left and right with short, spasmodic thrusts.” ‘Jaws,’ Peter Benchley.
  17. “It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crow-black, fishingboat-bobbing sea.” ‘Under Milk Wood,’ Dylan Thomas.
  18. “Officer, officer there they go— / In the rain, where that lighted store is! / And her socks are white, and I love her so, / And her name is Haze, Dolores.” ‘Lolita,’ Vladimir Nabokov.
  19. “They reached the carriage-drive of Toad Hall to find, as the Badger had anticipated, a shiny new motor-car, of great size, painted a bright red (Toad’s favorite color), standing in front of the house.” ‘The Wind in the Willows,’ Kenneth Grahame.
  20. “The afternoon was perfect. A deeper stillness possessed the air, and the glitter of the American autumn was tempered by a haze which diffused the brightness without dulling it.” ‘The House of Mirth,’ Edith Wharton.
  21. “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth,’ William Shakespeare.
  22. “The restaurant to which he took us was a theater people’s one, not very far away, and filled with gentlemen in fancy waistcoats just like himself, and with girls and boys like Kitty, with streaks of greasepaint on their cuffs and crumbs of spit-black in the corners of their eyes.” ‘Tipping the Velvet,’ Sarah Waters.
  23. “Then she hitched up her skirt and some layers of stiff white petticoat and began to draw on a pair of peacock-blue stockings which I had given her.” ‘A Severed Head,’ Iris Murdoch.
  24. “You wouldn’t be able to decorate out a table in afromosia teak veneer, an armchair in oatmeal tweed and a beech frame settee with a woven sea-grass seat? ” ‘The Caretaker,’ Harold Pinter.
  25. “He then explained to me that it was commonly believed that on a certain night of the year—last night, in fact, when all evil spirits are supposed to have unchecked sway—a blue flame is seen over any place where treasure has been concealed.” ‘Dracula,’ Bram Stoker.
  26. “Suddenly the restaurant seems far away, hushed, the noise distant, a meaningless hum, compared to this card, and we all hear Price’s words: ‘Raised lettering, pale nimbus white...’” ‘American Psycho,’ Bret Easton Ellis.
  27. “Conrad now surveyed the pod room with a horrible clarity. It was a foul gray chamber inhabited by grim organisms in yellow felony pajamas who arranged themselves in primitive territorial packs.” ‘A Man in Full,’ Tom Wolfe.
  28. “As far as a man seeth with his eyes into the haze of distance as he sitteth on a place of outlook and gazeth over the wine-dark sea, so far leap the loudly neighing horses of the gods.” ‘The Iliad,’ Homer.

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