Ingratitude, Bernhard-Style

We’ve put up a few items from the forthcoming winter 2011 issue of The Quarterly Conversation (see it all on Monday).

One of the preview items is my review of Thomas Bernhard’s fun little book, My Prizes. Rarely has looking a gifthorse in the mouth been taken to this level.

Despite the titanic displays of thanklessness in My Prizes, Bernhard makes no secret of the important roles many of these prizes play in his life; perhaps this is his way of acknowledging that, whether or not he takes them as an honor, they are meaningful to him. One prize, for instance, allows Bernhard to buy his first home. Another gives him the means to own his first car. Yet another he links indelibly to his near-death by his lifelong companion, tuberculosis. Moreover, it is clear that these prizes stir up very personal feelings: if Bernhard merely accepted the prize as a cold, bureaucratic transaction, he would not go out of his way to insult the bestowers of no less than five of the nine prizes. (The worst insult Bernhard lands, in my accounting, is on the giver of the Austrian State Prize for Literature, who nearly punches Bernhard in retribution for his acceptance speech.) By contrast, in at least four cases those who give the prizes manage to strike Bernhard where it hurts. These slights most commonly take the form of gross errors in Bernhard’s biography during the award ceremony; almost certainly the worst of these errors is when the giver of the Prize of the Cultural Circle of the Federal Association of German Industry changes his gender.

You’ll also want to have a look at Damion Searls’ The Greatest Japanese Writer You’ve Never Heard Of, which doubles as the introduction to NYRB Classics’ Tun-huang by Yasushi Inoue, just published.

And while you’re at it, take a look at Searls’ list of his 10 favorite NYRB Classics.


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Selfishly, I’d like to mention the review I’ve written of Bernhard’s book http://shigekuni.wordpress.com/2010/01/17/winner-thomas-bernhards-meine-preise/ and of two books by Inoue, including “The Hunting Rifle” http://shigekuni.wordpress.com/2009/01/22/shadows-yasushi-inoue%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cder-tod-des-teemeisters%E2%80%9D-and-%E2%80%9Cdas-jagdgewehr%E2%80%9D/ When I read the “…you’ve never heard of” bit, I was a tad puzzled, since Inoue is actually pretty well known, praised and broadly translated in Germany…

Shigekuni, it’s the author of the Inoue article here — Thanks for the link and I hope you’ll crosspost it there. You are certainly right that “…you’ve never heard of” was meant for American readers: as I discuss in the essay, he is well known in Germany (and even better known in France).

“The Best Japanese Writer You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of” doesn’t really work as a title, so we decided to go for it, but no offense intended!

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