art collecting & anti-semitism in paris: edmund de waal’s the hare with amber eyes

“It wasn’t just Renoir who disliked the Jews . . .”

Chapter 10     My Small Profits

It wasn’t just Renoir who disliked the Jews. A string of financial scandals throughout the 1880s were laid at the door of the new Jewish financiers, and the Ephrussi family was a particular target: ‘Jewish machinations’ were supposed to be behind the collapse in 1882 of the Union Générale, a Catholic bank that had strong ties to the Church, with many small Catholic depositors. The popular demagogue Edouard Drumont wrote in La France juive:

The audacity with which these men treat these enormous operations, which for them are just simple game parties, is incredible. In one session, Michel Ephrussi buys or sells oil or wheat worth ten or fifteen million. No trouble; seated for two hours near a column at the Stock Exchange and phlegmatically holding his beard in his left hand, he distributes orders to thirty courtiers who crowd around him with their pencils extended.

Courtiers come and whisper in Michel’s ear the day’s news. Money is seen to be a bagatelle to these Jewish money-men, implies Drumont, a plaything. It has no connection to the savings carefully taken into the bank on market day, or hidden in the coffee pot on the mantelpiece.

It is a vivid image of covert power, of plotting. It has the intensity of Degas’s painting At the Bourse of a whispered conversation between hook-nosed, red-bearded financiers amongst the pillars. The Bourse and its players segue into the Temple and the money-changers.

‘Who shall stop these men from living then, who shall soon make France look like a wasteland then?…it is the speculator in foreign wheat, it is the Jew, the friend of the Count of Paris…the favourite of all the salons of the aristocratic quarter; it is Ephrussi, the chief of the Jewish band who speculate on wheat.’ Speculation, the making of money out of money, is seen as a particular Jewish sin. Even Theodor Herzl, the apologist of Zionism, always eager to raise money for the cause from wealthy Jewry, is rude in a letter about ‘the Ephrussi, spekulant’.

Ephrussi et Cie did wield extraordinary power. The absence of the brothers from the Bourse was noted with panic during one crisis. Their threat to flood the markets with grain in response to Russian pogroms was taken seriously in an excited report in a newspaper during another crisis. ‘[The Jews]…have learned the potency of this weapon when they made Russia hold her hand in the last Jewish persecution…by reducing Russian securities twenty-four points in thirteen days. “Touch another of our people and not another ruble you shall have, to save your empire,” said Michel Ephrussi, head of the great house at Odessa, the largest grain dealers in the world.’ The Ephrussi were, in short, very rich, very visible and very partisan.

Drumont, the editor of a daily anti-Semitic newspaper, acted as the marshaller of opinion into print. He told the French how to spot a Jew – one hand is larger than another – and how to counter the threat that this race posed to France. His La France juive sold 100,000 copies in its first year of publication in 1886. By 1914 it had gone into 200 editions. Drumont argued that Jews, because they were inherently nomadic, felt they owed nothing to the State. Charles and his brothers, Russian citizens from Odessa and Vienna and God knows where, looked after themselves – whilst leaching the life-blood of France by speculating with real French money.

The Ephrussi family certainly thought they belonged in Paris. Drumont certainly thought not: ‘Jews, vomited from all the ghettos of Europe, are now installed as the masters in historic houses that evoke the most glorious memories of ancient France…the Rothschilds everywhere: at Ferrières and at Les Vaux-de-Cernay…Ephrussi, at Fontainebleau, in the palace of Francis I…’ Drumont’s ridicule of the speed in which this family has moved from being ‘penniless adventurers’ to this ascent into society, their attempts at hunting, their recently commissioned coats of arms, became vicious anger when he thought of his patrimony soiled by the Ephrussi and their friends.

I force myself to read this stuff: Drumont’s books, newspaper, the endless pamphlets in numerous editions, the English versions. Someone has annotated a book on the Jews of Paris in my London library. Written very carefully and approvingly next to Ephrussi is the word venal pencilled in capitals.

There are quantities and quantities of this stuff, swinging wildly between hectoring generalities and splenetic detail. The Ephrussi family comes up again and again. It is as if a vitrine is opened and each of them is taken out and held up for abuse. I knew in a very general way about French anti-Semitism, but it is this particularity that makes me feel nauseated. It is a daily anatomising of their lives.

Charles is pilloried as someone ‘who operates…in the world of literature and the arts’. He is abused as someone who has power in French art, but treats art as commerce. Everything Charles does comes back to gold, say the writers in La France juive. Meltable, transportable, mutable gold to be carried, bought and sold by Jews who do not understand land or country. Even his book on Dürer is scrutinised for Semitic tendencies. How can Charles understand this great German artist, writes one angry art historian, for he is only a ‘Landesmann aus dem Osten’, an oriental.

His brothers and uncles are excoriated and his aunts, now married into the French aristocracy, are savagely parodied. All the Jewish finance houses of France are anathematised by rote: ‘Les Rothschilds, Erlanger, Hirsch, Ephrussi, Bamberger, Camondo, Stern, Cahen d’Anvers…Membres de la finance internationale’. The complex intermarriage between the clans is repeated endlessly to build up a picture of one terrible spider’s web of intrigue, a web even more tightly bound when Maurice Ephrussi marries Béatrice, the daughter of the head of the French Rothschilds, Alphonse de Rothschild. These two families now count as one.

The anti-Semites need to pull these Jews back to where they came from, to strip them of their sophisticated Parisian life. One anti-Semitic pamphlet, Ces bons Juifs, describes an imagined conversation between Maurice Ephrussi and a friend:

– Is it true that you soon have to leave for Russia?

– Within 2 or 3 days, said M. de K…

Well! Maurice Ephrussi replied, if you are going to Odessa, go to the stock exchange to tell my father some news of me.

M. de K promises, and after having finished his business work in Odessa, goes to the stock exchange and asks for Ephrussi the father.

– You know, he is told, if you want it to be done, it is the Jews you need.

Ephrussi the father arrives, an awful-looking Hebrew with long and dirty hair, wearing a pelisse which is completely covered with grease stains.

M. de K…delivers the message to the old man and wants to leave, when he suddenly feels pulled by his clothing, and hears the Ephrussi father who tells him:

– You forgot my small profits.

– What do you mean by your small profits? exclaimed M. de K…

You understood perfectly well, dear Sir, replies the father of Rothschild’s son in law, while bowing to the ground, I am one of the curiosities of the Odessa stock exchange; when strangers come to see me without doing any business they always give me a small present. My sons thus send me over 1000 visitors a year and this helps me to make ends meet.

And with a large smile, the noble patriarch adds: they know well that they will one day be rewarded…my sons!

The Ephrussi, les rois du blé, are simultaneously loathed as upstarts and fêted as patrons. One minute they are to be reminded of the Odessan grain merchant, a patriarch with his grease-stained coat and his outstretched hand. The next, Béatrice is at a society ball wearing her tiara of hundreds of slender ears of trembling golden corn. Maurice, the owner of a vast chateau at Fontainebleau, put himself down on his marriage certificate to Béatrice de Rothschild as ‘landowner’, rather than banker. This was no slip. For Jews, owning land was still a comparatively new experience: it was only since the Revolution that Jews had full citizenship, a mistake – according to some commentators – as Jews were not capable adults. Just look at how the Ephrussi lived, suggested one screed, The Original Mr Jacobs, ‘the love of bric-a-brac, of all odds and ends, or rather the Jews’ passion for possession, is often carried to childishness’.

I wonder how these brothers lived their lives in these conditions. Did they shrug their shoulders, or did it get to them, this incessant hum of vilification, mutterings about venality, the sort of constant, bubbling animosity that the narrator in Proust’s novels remembers of his grandfather: ‘Whenever I brought a new friend home my grandfather seldom failed to start humming “O, God of our fathers” from La Juive, or else “Israel, break thy chains”…The old man would call out “On guard! On guard!” upon hearing the name of any new friend and if the victim had admitted his origins, ‘then my grandfather…would look at us, humming under his breath the air of “What! Do you hither guide the feet of this timid Israelite?”’

There were duels. Though outlawed, duels were nonetheless popular amongst young aristocrats, members of the Jockey Club and army officers. Many of the quarrels were inconsequential, issues of territoriality amongst young men. A disparaging reference to an Ephrussi-owned horse in an article in Le sportstarted a quarrel with the journalist, ‘which led to an altercation and then a hostile meeting’ with Michel Ephrussi.

But some of the disputes reveal the growing, alarming fissures within Parisian society. Ignace was an accomplished dueller, but choosing not to fight was regarded as a particularly Jewish failing. A gloating report tells of one example of this when a business deal between Michel and Count Gaston de Breteuil had ended with substantial losses on the part of the count. Michel, a man of business, did not see it as a matter for a duel and failed to give satisfaction by fighting. When the count returned to Paris after the refused invitation, ‘according to the story current in club circles…he encountered Ephrussi…and twisted the latter’s nose with the bank notes representing the balance, the pin with which they were fastened together severely scratching the proboscis of the great wheat operator. He resigned from the Rue Royale Club and gave a million francs to be distributed amongst the poor of Paris…’ This is recounted as a comedy – rich Jews, gross and without honour, and their noses.

They are not above reproach: Jews just don’t know how to behave.

Michel did fight a bitter run of duels with the Comte de Lubersac on behalf of a Rothschild cousin whose honour had been impugned, and who was too young to stand up for himself. One took place on the island of the Grande Jatte, in the River Seine. ‘At the fourth onslaught, Ephrussi was wounded in the breast, the count’s sword striking a rib…The count attacked vigorously from the outset, and the combatants parted at the finish without the customary handshake. The count left the scene in a landau, and was greeted with cries of “À bas les juifs!” and “Vive l’Armée!”’

Protecting your name and your family’s honour was increasingly difficult as a Jew in Paris.

—from Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Centurty of Art and Loss, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2010)

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thoughts on the artist’s studio

"Analysis of the art system must inevitably be carried on in terms of the studio as the unique space of production and the museum as the unique space of exposition."


                    Brancusi in his studio

The Function of the Studio*

Daniel Buren

 

In October 10, Fall 1979, pp 51-58

 

translated by Thomas Repensek

 

Of all the frames, envelopes, and limits-usually not perceived and certainly never questioned-which enclose and constitute the work of art (picture frame, niche, pedestal, palace, church, gallery, museum, art history, economics, power, etc.), there is one rarely even mentioned today that remains of primary importance: the artist’s studio. Less dispensable to the artist than either the gallery or the museum, it precedes both. Moreover, as we shall see, the museum and gallery on the one hand and the studio on the other are linked to form the foundation of the same edifice and the same system. To question one while leaving the other intact accomplishes nothing. Analysisof the art system must inevitably be carried on in terms of the studio as the unique space of production and the museum as the unique space of exposition. Both must be investigated as customs, the ossifying customs of art.

 

What is the function of the studio?

 

1. It is the place where the work originates.

2. It is generally a private place, an ivory tower perhaps.

3. It is a stationary place where portable objects are produced.

 

The importance of the studio should by now be apparent; it is the first frame, the first limit, upon which all subsequent frames/limits will depend.

 

What does it look like, physically, architecturally? The studio is not just any hideaway, any room.1 Two specific types may be distinguished:

 

1. The European type, modelled upon the Parisian studio of the turn of the century. This type is usually rather large and is characterized primarily by its high ceilings (a minimum of 4 meters). Sometimes there is a balcony, to increase the distance between viewer and work. The door allows large works to enter and to exit. Sculptor’s studios are on the ground floor, painters’ on the top floor. In the latter, the lighting is natural, usually diffused by windows oriented toward the north so as to receive the most even and subdued illumination.2

 

2. The American type,3 of more recent origin. This type is rarely built according to specification, but, located as it is in reclaimed lofts, is generally much larger than its European counterpart, not necessarily higher, but longer and wider. Wall and floor space are abundant. Natural illumination plays a negligible role, since the studio is lit by electricity both night and day if necessary. There is thus equivalence between the products of these lofts and their placement on the walls and floors of modern museums, which are also illuminated day and night by electricity.

 

This second type of studio has influenced the European studio of today, whether it be in an old country barn or an abandoned urban warehouse. In both cases, the architectural relationship of studio and museum-one inspiring the other and vice versa-is apparent.4 (We will not discuss those artists who transform part of their studios into exhibition spaces, nor those curators who conceive of the museum as a permanent studio.)

 

These are some of the studio’s architectural characteristics; let us move on to what usually happens there. A private place, the studio is presided over by the artist-resident, since only that work which he desires and allows to leave his studio will do so. Nevertheless, other operations, indispensable to the functioning of galleries and museums, occur in this private place. For example, it is here that the art critic, the exhibition organizer, or the museum director or curator may calmly choose among the works presented by the artist those to be included in this or that exhibition, this or that collection, this or that gallery. The studio is thus a convenience for the organizer: he may compose his exhibition according to his own desire (and not that of the artist, although the artist is usually perfectly content to leave well enough alone, satisfied with the prospect of an exhibition). Thus chance is minimized, since the organizer has not only selected the artist in advance, but also selects the works he desires in the studio itself. The studio is thus also a boutique where we find ready-to-wear art.

 

Before a work of art is publicly exhibited in a museum or gallery, the studio is also the place towhich critics and other specialists may be invited in the hope that their visits will release certain works from this, their purgatory, so that they may accede to a state of grace on public (museum/gallery) or private (collection) walls. Thus the studio is a place of multiple activities: production, storage, and finally, if all goes well, distribution. It is a kind of commercial depot.

 

Thus the first frame, the studio, proves to be a filter which allows the artist to select his work screened from public view, and curators and dealers to select in turn that work to be seen by others. Work produced in this way makes its passage, in order to exist, from one refuge to another. It should therefore be portable, manipulable if possible, by whoever (except the artist himself) assumes the responsibility of removing it from its place of origin to its place of promotion. A work produced in the studio must be seen, therefore, as an object subject to infinite manipulation. In order for this to occur, from the moment of its production the work must be isolated from the real world. All the same, it is in the studio and only in the studio that it is closest to its own reality, a reality from which it will continue to distance itself. It may become what even its creator had not anticipated, serving instead, as is usually the case, the greater profit of financial interests and the dominant ideology. It is therefore only in the studio that the work may be said to belong.

 

The work thus falls victim to a mortal paradox from which it cannot escape, since its purpose implies a progressive removal from its own reality, from its origin. If the work of art remains in the studio, however, it is the artist that risks death . . . from starvation.

 

The work is thus totally foreign to the world into which it is welcomed (museum, gallery, collection). This gives rise to the ever-widening gap between the work and its place (and not its placement), an abyss which, were it to become apparent, as sooner or later it must, would hurl the entire parade of art (art as we know it today and, 99% of the time, as it is made) into historical oblivion. This gap is tentatively bridged, however, by the system which makes acceptable to ourselves as public, artist, historian, and critic, the convention that establishes the museum and the gallery as inevitable neutral frames, the unique and definitive locales of art. Eternal realms for eternal art!

 

The work is made in a specific place which it cannot take into account. All the same, it is there that it was ordered, forged, and only there may it be truly said to be in place. The following contradiction becomes apparent: it is impossible by definition for a work to be seen in place; still, the place where we see it influences the work even more than the place in which it was made and from which it has been cast out. Thus when the work is in place, it does not take place (for the public), while it takes place (for the public) only when not in place, that is, in the museum.

 

Expelled from the ivory tower of its production, the work ends up in another, which, while foreign, only reinforces the sense of comfort the work acquires by taking shelter in a citadel which insures that it will survive its passage. The work thus passes-and it can only exist in this way, predestined as it is by the imprint of its place of origin-from one enclosed place/frame, the world of the artist, to another, even more closely confined: the world of art. The alignment of works on museum walls gives the impression of a cemetery: whatever they say, wherever they come from, whatever their meanings may be, this is where they all arrive in the end, where they are lost. This loss is relative, however, compared to the total oblivion of the work that never emerges from the studio!

 

Thus, the unspeakable compromise of the portable work.

 

 

Read the rest…

“we have turned our existence into an entertainment mechanism… an artificial natural catastrophe”

"Bernhard’s love-hate relationship to theatre is used as a recurring motif throughout his novels and plays: Theatre as entertainment and diversion, a sign of human weakness when it comes to facing the ultimate truth, or what is perhaps even more disgusting and cause for much anger and (self?) hatred, a source of the masochistic pleasure people derive from making art out of their misery.”


 

Thomas Bernhard

An Introduction

By Gitta Honegger

 

The most unbelievable deeds reported here

took place in real life.

The most incredible conversations recorded here

were spoken word for word.

 

These contents are the contents of the years

preserved only in bloody dreams

WHEN OPERETTA H EROES ACTED OUT

THE OF TRAGEDY MANKIND

 

The above quote is from the prologue of one of the major German language

theatre events of the seventies: Hans Hollmann’s stage version of Karl

Kraus’s The Last Days of Mankind, orignially performed in Basel and re-

staged this summer in Vienna, Kraus’s native city. The original work,

published in 1926, is one of the most monumental, prophetic and influential

pieces of Austrian literature, a two-volume drama, never intended for production,

dealing with events—chiefly of ordinary people and their peculiar mentality—which

led to World War I and prepared the way for Hitler and World War II.

 

Austria’s famous tourist image as the land of operetta, kitsch, schmaltz

and schlag becomes for those living in it, and whether intentionally or not,

living in it at least occasionally, a double-edged legacy, as infuriating and

confusing as it is inescapable and, at times, deadly. Operetta heroes and

heroines or characters fashioning themselves after those models, acting

out the tragedies of mankind, not necessarily on the highest political level,

but in their personal lives, haunt the plays of Schnitzler; they provide the

deceptively sweet facade for Odon von Horvath’s devastating humor. And if

today, after two world wars, the collapse of the Empire together with its

aristocracy and high style, and the most unspeakable atrocities committed

by operetta beaus and beauties, this mentality still persists, it seems a

macabre reconstruction of old prop-and-costume pieces from the stock

room of history, which in the case of Austria has always been a very

theatrical and a very pompous one.

 

This is Thomas Bernhard’s Austria. It helps understand his peculiar brand

of theatricality, intentionally frozen, mechanical, a "reconstructed" one.

Freely borrowing from other sources, his dramaturgy is deeply rooted in a

tradition which has been drained of its original life and serves now only as a

crutch, an artificial device, ultimately as "entertainment" in the sense of

diversion from the overpowering obsession with decay and death. Yet

therein lies also the paradox—another much loved, much hated trademark

of the Austrian mentality, of Austrian art: this obsession with death is in

itself the greatest diversion, the great duality of Baroque art, so perfected in

the architecture of Salzburg, where Bernhard spent much of his youth dur-

ing World War II.

 

Bernhard’s love-hate relationship to theatre is used as a recurring motif

throughout his novels and plays: Theatre as entertainment and diversion, a

sign of human weakness when it comes to facing the ultimate truth, or what

is perhaps even more disgusting and cause for much anger and (self?)

hatred, a source of the masochistic pleasure people derive from making art

out of their misery.

 

I don’t go to the theatre

on principle

it is somethingquite disgusting

the theatre

wheneverI am in the theatre

I am constantlyreminded

how disgusting it is

even though I can’t explainit to myself

what makes it so disgusting

but it is disgusting

But maybeyou deal so muchwith theatre

because you are so disgusted with it.

 

says the General in The Hunting Party to the Writer,who turns everything he

sees into what he calls a "comedy," although the General does not agree

with this definition.

 

Theatre, on the other hand, is the ultimate artifice (and it always must em-

phasize its artificiality) people develop, next to other constructs, such as

science and philosophy, as a bulwark against nature, which to Bernhard is

always a brutal, decaying, dark and deadly one.

 

Most of Bernhard’s central characters are obsessed with such a construct.

In The Force of Habit the circus director Caribaldi forces his troupe to prac-

tice Schubert’s "Trout Quintet" for twenty-two years, even though they

never manage to get through the whole piece; in Minetti, the actor Minetti

practices passages from King Lear every day for thirty years in front of the

mirror in his sister’s attic in Dinkelsbuehl; in Immanuel Kant it is philosophy

(with the ultimate irony that this namesake of the philosopher is a contem-

porary invention, just as Minetti’s namesake, the famous German actor

Bernhard Minetti, who created many characters of Bernhard’s plays and

who also played this Minetti, is a dramatic invention, whose story has

nothing to do with the "real" Minetti’s biography). What keeps the title

character in The Utopian (Der Weltverbesserer) famous and alive is his

study dealing with the improvement of the world, which will be accom-

plished by its total destruction; the Judge, a former camp commander in

Bernhard’s latest play Eve of Retirement insists on celebrating Himmler’s

birthday year after year, for which occasion he dresses up in full SS uniform

and forces his paraplegic sister to shave her head and wear the uniform of a

camp inmate. The General in The Hunting Party is working on some uniden-

tified study, his life work. In The Fool and the Madman (Der Ignorant und der

Wahnsinnige), the doctor (and madman of the title) keeps talking about his

love of dissecting corpses while waiting in the dressing room of the famous

opera singer who is just performing the Queen of Night in The Magic Flute.

If in her case music is the last (and very Austrian) vestige for a once

possibly meaningful existence, it is in grotesque contrast to her pathetic

stock character and the play ends in (literal) darkness and chaos.

 

In these plays science, philosophy, art are presented as crutches to keep

the mind alive, if only on the brink of madness in the face of an unrelenting-

ly crippling, decaying nature. His first play, A Party for Boris (Ein Fest fur

Boris), deals with actual cripples. The Kind Lady, who has lost both legs

and her husband in a car accident and presently lives with Boris, also

without legs, prepares a birthday party for him and 12 other legless cripples

from the asylum next door. Between the preparations and the actual party,

a macabre dance of death, accompanied by Boris beating the drum until he

collapses dead amidst the laughter of the guests and the Kind Lady, there

is a scene of the Kind Lady returning from a costume ball where she forced

her servant to appear as a legless cripple.

 

The Writer of The Hunting Party says:

 

All the time we talk about somethingunreal

so that we can bear it

endureit

because we have turned our existence

into an entertainment mechanism

nothing but a shoddy entertainment mechanism

madame

into an artificial natural catastrophe.

 

Human nature, as it presents itself, is always a theatrical one, leading back

to the tacky operetta heroes. The cast list of The Hunting Party reads like

the Dramatis Personae from an operetta: The General, the General’s Wife,

the Prince, the Princess, 3 Ministers and a servant. In The President the title

character takes a bath after barely escaping an assassin, who might have

been his son suspected of being a terrorist, while his wife is preoccupied

with the death of her dog, who suffered a heart attack during the assassina-

tion attempt. Later, the President busies himself with a mediocre young ac-

tress in Portugal, not too much concerned with the political situation, and

his wife apparently amuses herself with a butcher and a chaplain to satisfy

her physical and spiritual needs.

 

And, of course, the Kind Lady in her wheelchair, playing her power games in

the guise of kindness with her servant and the cripples, is easily associated

with Beckett. However, this seems less an imitation than a conscious and

legitimate quote (just as the connection between The Cherry Orchard and

the forest in The Hunting Party) in the context of Bernhard’s use of pre-

existing theatrical images and themes to construct a world which is

theatrical inasmuch as it employs all available devices, "ready-mades," to

animate the process that diverts from lifelessness, the source of disfigura-

tion and madness.

 

Bernhard’s plays are not dramatic, cannot be dramatic in the conventional

sense of conflict, be it psychological, political or moral. Where there is no

choice, there is no conflict. Death is a matter of choice only insofar as it can

be staged. Thus suicide becomes a profoundly theatrical event, a self-

directed performance, ridiculous in its mometary, stagey pathos, tragic in its

ultimate inevitability. But even the character who perceives this duality, the

Writerof The Hunting Party, apparently one of the more distant observers in

Bernhard’s work, is a pathetically indulgent (typically Austrian) "Raunzer,"a

cry-baby, in love with his misery, and a laughable figure in the end.

 

Most of Bernhard’s plays feature one or more characters who are either

obsessive speakers or those who listen. This emphasizes the performance

quality, not just as a theatrical device, but as an existential necessity. His

characters cling to their speeches for dear life, they unravel sentence after

sentence like Ariadne’s twine to lead them out of the maze of their brain, the

source too of their understanding of the world as a dying one. But the only

way not to die is to pursue their thoughts. These are not necessarily new,

startling ones; at times they are banal, sometimes profound, often repeated,

circling around the same themes, carefully constructed in seemingly endless

rhythmical patterns. In his plays Bernhard does not use any punctuation.

There may be a very simple reason for this: As soon as there is a period, there

would be an actual end to the sentence, a full stop, both for the speech and

the speaker, who would die and, in many cases, does.

 

Bernhard creates a free verse form out of the rhythms inherent in the intricate

syntax of the German language, its baroque complexity also a relic, now re-

constructed, of the old, official, upper-class language of the monarchy. It is

also broken down into its components, which form the rhythmical basis, a

music-like notation system, again, a most accomplished artifice destroying

the natural flow of speech without ever being able to deny its profound

connection to and understanding of it-ultimately transcending the limitations,

the limit of nature through art. Bernhardis, above all, a master of language.

What may seem indulgent at first sight (especially to the Anglo-Saxon,

American sensibility) is deeply connected to his characters’ existential ex-

periences.

 

"Endless speaking" says Michel Foucault "or, for that matter, speaking in

order not to die, is an activity probably as ancient as the word itself. For the

time of the narration, the death-bringing phenomena remain necessarily

suspended, speech, as we know, has the power to stop arrows mid-air."

 

Thomas Bernhard was born on February 10, 1931, in Holland. His father was

an Austrian farmer, his mother the daughter of the Austrian writer Johannes

Freumbichler,who was a great influence in his life. He spent much of his

chlildhood in Salzburg, where he studied music and acting. Until 1955 he

worked as a journalist. His first collections of poems and short stories were

published toward the end ofthe fifties. His first great breakthrough came

with his first novel Frost in 1963. He received numerous literary awards. Since

1965 Bernhard has lived on a farm in Upper Austria.

 

Novels and short stories:

 

Frost, 1963

Der Italiener, 1963

Amras, 1964

Verstorung (Gargoyles, trans. by Sophie Wilkins, Knopf), 1967

Prosa, 1967

Ungenach, 1968

Watten, 1969

Das Kalkwerk (The Lime Works, trans. by Sophie Wilkins, Knopf), 1970

Midlandin Stilfs (A collection of stories), 1971

Gehen, 1971

Der Kulterer, 1974

Die Korrektur , (Correction, trans. by Sophie Wilkins, Knopf), 1975

Die Ursache (The Cause), Der Keller (The Cellar), Der Atem (Breath), 1975

Der Stimmenimitator, 1978

Die Billigesser, 1980

 

Plays: (Dates of publication)

 

Ein Fest fur Boris (A Party for Boris), 1968

Der Ignorantund der Wahnsinnige (The Fool and the Madman),1972

Die Jagdgesellschaft (The Hunting Party),1974

Die Macht der Gewohnheit (Force of Habit),1974

Der Prasident (The President), 1975

Minetti, 1976

Immanuel Kant, 1978

Der Weltverbesserer (The Utopian),1978

Vordem Ruhestand (Eve of Retirement),1979

 

Gitta Honegger is a director and translator who has translated five plays of

Thomas Bernhard.

on seeing things anew

Is this the most influential paragraph in modern literary criticism? If Shklovsky wrote nothing else but this essay, he would still be remembered as one of the most important art theorists of the twentieth century. Shklovsky developed the concept of ostranenie or defamiliarization in literature as follows:

 

And so life is reckoned as nothing. Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war. "If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been." And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object: the object is not important.

 

 — Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique” (1917)