from the opening pages of thomas bernhard’s on the mountain

For me these lines from one of Bernhard’s early novels — this one was written as a kind of long prose-poem, hence the unusual paragraphing and line-breaks — perfectly summarize his sensibility, and while the subject matter owes something to Beckett, the archness of tone and the sense of sad pleasure the narrator takes in condemning absolutely everything comes entirely from Bernhard’s own desperately insistent voice:

          . . . think on the possibility of condemning intelligence altogether, 
         h
e’s preoccupied with a thousand things, intelligence?,

that don’t interest me in the least, with his divorced
wife, for example,
a few nouns, a few subordinate clauses, the woman
who owns the gallery was badly dressed, made small
talk with her husband, some of it in my direction, crazy
bird-chatter, meaningless, but I found the encounter
refreshing, she’s an important person, after all, and I
don’t want to forget that, the pictures hanging in her
gallery have given me a tremendous urge to work, al-
though they’re all by famous people, I can’t get rid of
the suspicion that they’re nothing but sham,
exploit it, why not?,
in the end, death enters deep into life: buried the earth
where you wept, destroyed the city with its senseless
bustle, the poor women, the bad poets, killed a lot of
them as they were waking up, went to work, unmoved,
a priest is crushed between two streetcars, no one troubles
about him,
thoughts pile up in my brain and resist my note-taking,
what use is a thought noted in my brain?,
they surface, sink back under: for good: women, men,
between delight and despair,
that idea of Kant’s: something about autumn colors,
you feel like spitting it right out again,
twelve o’clock: all the dreams go to pieces, the world
stops, comes back together, but nobody sees that,
the decisive coincidences congeal with the onset of
winter, two thousand undelivered winter vests totally
alter the face of the earth,
no worse rabble than writers, artists,
all achievements glossed over, tremen.dous exertions
dismissed with slander and silence,
the status of the writer is even lower than that of shopkeepers,
much lower than that of politicians,
to get to the writers: get down into the dirt,
you men don’t understand anything, she says, she
pushes me away, with her feet in my back, you cur, she
I’m completely spent and I go, and sure enough the
next day I can’t get in, she won’t open the door, she
simply will not let me in, leaves me standing outside
the door, toward morning I go for a walk in the park,
that evening I’m back at the crack of her door, she
opens it wide, laughs, falls on my neck, it’s just like it
always was, just like the first few days,
I write a line, how many weeks has it been that I haven’t
written a line?, it doesn’t matter whether a person
writes or not, what he writes, I’m constantly telling
myself how it doesn’t matter, pitiful, obscene, but this
line might be extended, developed, made into a poem,
into a scrap of paper, a lousy scrap of wind and rot, I
rummage around in my manuscripts, in this heap, in
these stacks of paper, I tear out a page here, a page
there, ten pages, twenty pages, a hundred pages, and
toss them into the stove,
I’m disgusted, I don’t find a thing, anything at all, not
a single comma, I’ll burn it all up,
but where are the matches?, I can’t set fire to it without
a match, I’m lying on my heap of paper and burning,
everything inside me is burning, I’m burning up on this
pile of shit, on this reeking shit-heap of mediocrity,
one day you’re cut off, at the very start you’re cut off
and can’t go back, the language you learn and the whole
business of walking and all the rest is for the sake of
the single thought, how to get back again,
they fill up their bellies with beer and sausage and
vomit it up again…
 
— from Thomas Bernhard, On The Mountain