The Edge of the Object [book review]

A tripartite journey—both geographical and emotional—Daniel Williams’s debut novel The Edge of the Object follows the highs and lows of a young Englishman living in France for a period of six months. The book as an object is striking to behold: three perfect-bound A4-sized volumes smartly dressed in the colors of the French flag and packaged in a screenprinted and letterpressed case—all designed and produced by Tim Hopkins of London’s The Half Pint Press. The prose found within is equally well crafted, with the book’s design complementing it nicely.

Taking cues in part from the work of Georges Perec, this novel is simultaneously a celebration of French culture as seen through the Francophilic eyes of a post-collegiate young man, and a keen look into the headspace of a person far from home, isolated by way of a language barrier he is only partly able to breach and yearning for human connections beyond what he often feels capable of. An erstwhile photographer, the unnamed narrator feels alternately liberated and hamstrung by the absence of his Leica—the camera offering a valid excuse to be present at a remove while also preventing true engagement in any given experience. This tension resulting from being camera-less clings to the narrative, as we watch the narrator struggle to engage with his surroundings—taking as many steps backward as forward in this endeavor—as he moves from place to place.

Williams writes with exacting precision—mapping the interior emotional journey of his narrator as carefully as he describes his geographical progress through France. He has a journalistic eye for detail, snapping word-images in lieu of photos and placing scene after scene in front of the reader with aplomb. Moments of wry humor and painterly passages of the French countryside counter the heaviness of themes of left-behind love and debilitating incidents of migraine headaches. Also tempering the at times somber subject matter, the pages of the first and third sections of the book are graced with striking calligrams—images sculpted from the words on the page and representative of a central theme or object on each page. These calligrams gently encourage the reader to slow down or speed up accordingly, keeping step with the pacing of the story.

The first part of the book is written in second-person point-of-view—unusual but appropriate to the experience of being in a rural area of a foreign country, surrounded by its natives, yet only with a workmanlike grasp of its language. The central character is living in a falling-apart cottage, not much more refined than a cave (and perhaps even less dry). Whenever nature calls, he must journey through a warren of gardens to reach the privy, and—adding to the inconvenience—the only running water for washing up is also located outside. It is hard living, made even harder by his isolation.

In the second part, the point-of-view segues to first person as our man reaches the big city of Paris and makes contact with the first of a series of friends he will spend time with over the coming weeks. Gone are the calligrams in favor of straightforward text blocks, as the focus in narration begins to point outwards in concert with the narrator’s efforts to interact more with the people around him. He soon meets up with a friend’s indie pop group on tour and joins them for a number of club dates around the country, during which he becomes interested in a woman whose feelings toward him are slippery at best.

The final part of the book returns to calligrams and the second-person distance, as the narrator backtracks to his lonely cottage existence. Here he comes to a decision about one last adventure to embark upon before his trip comes to a close. This jaunt provides a suitable denouement to his time in France, as we feel this fellow we’ve traveled so closely with start winding down and perhaps pine a bit harder for home. And indeed, the last page finds him back in England with his camera once again in hand—facing a future unknown but now fertilized with a rich new layer of experience from which to grow, perhaps out beyond the self he became too much of while away.

And yet, while these six months have taken you further from the excesses of the world than ever before, they have plunged you into an excess of time, of memory, and of yearning. If anything, you have become too much yourself.

[Limited print copies of the book may still be available, and the ebook has recently been released. Details at The Edge of the Object site. See also Williams’s essay in The Quietus on Perec’s novella A Man Asleep and its connection to this novel.]

‘caught between writing and life’: peter holm jensen’s the moment

The first psithuristic wisp of autumn arrived this week. Early August and the heat retreated with a whimper in the presence of the death season’s harbinger. Odd to experience this with all the news of raging fires out west. It has been dry here, though, it has been that. Will we too one day be engulfed in flames? More likely floods.

I have been occupied with and preoccupied by disruptions and transitions in my quotidian existence. This has led to feeling disconnected from the written word, excepting my dealings with it for which I receive monetary compensation. However, I did finish reading a book—The Moment by Peter Holm Jensen. A subdued but riveting read, it was calling to me from a special box I’d packed of most-likely-to-be-read-next books. So I answered its call.

Per its publisher Splice, The Moment is a novel but it reads like a journal of its author. Is this an important consideration? Probably not, at least not to me. Frankly I long ago grew tired of the inevitable questions around the mingling of autobiography and fiction. I like works that resist being genrefied. Even the term autofiction seems absurd to me—as if any fiction exists that does not contain parts of its author. What exactly those parts are and what percentage of a book they represent should not matter when it comes to evaluating and appreciating the finished work.

These days I find it far easier to filter my reflections through others’ written words (or music) rather than document them using my own words. It actually feels like it has been this way for far too long. And this is a significant part of what resonated so deeply with me in Holm Jensen’s book: the struggle of living with the paradox of a simultaneous passion for and distrust of language, and in particular the written word.

As the narrator grapples with this paradox, he is also documenting a blurring of the intentional and unintentional experience of living in ‘the moment’—of finding over time that opening into greater awareness, from which more insight may flow. And because the transition to moment living is continuing to happen as the narrator is writing about it, there is a sense of gradual unfolding, with attendant periods of uncertainty and confusion. But what accumulates through the narrator’s journal is evidence that each moment is indeed unique, provided one is open to noticing it.

I was reminded of how all the books I’ve read by Buddhist teachers seem to repeat the same simple ideas over and over until it eventually becomes clear that what at first appear to be the simplest concepts are actually the most complex when it comes to putting them into practice. While Holm Jensen’s book is not overtly Buddhist in nature, it does touch on ideas and questions common to Buddhist practice. But it also entwines these with questions around the act of writing and its significance, leaving those questions—as they can only ever remain—unanswered.

The Moment is a book I think best read without much foreknowledge of its contents, which is why I’ve not delved into any of its narrative specifics here. However, I did write a brief review on Goodreads that offers just a skeletal overview. I hope you consider seeking out the book.

The moment lurks inside everyday time; always new, always the same. It waits to give you back your life, like an event long prepared without your knowledge, like an act of fate. It needs you: your ragged past, your timid present, your whirl of thoughts, your hoard of words. It waits for you to step into the light of day, where it can find you and let you come into your own.

—Peter Holm Jensen

2020 in books and music

The less said about this year the better (at the moment and in this space, at least).

My current total of books read for the year stands at 136 and I’m sure I’ll finish a few more before year’s end, though they probably won’t make this list, so I’m posting it earlier than usual. I will update later if this changes. As it turns out I read more books last year, but I suspect I spent more actual hours reading this year due to the circumstances. I think I read more longer books this year, which probably accounts for the difference. Once Goodreads provides my year-end stats I can compare number of pages read and see if this is the case (Update: turns out my suspicions were off the markso far I’ve read about 10,000 less pages this year than my total for last year. Definitely not going to make up that difference in the next couple of weeks).

Concentration was definitely a problem this year. As a result I found myself switching between books, starting and stopping books, and completely abandoning books more than usual. But reading remained my top leisure activity and provided a safe refuge from the chaos and negative energy in the world.

If you’re a Goodreads user you can view my entire list of books read here.

Top reads (in order within each genre by date read):

Note: in most cases links are to my Goodreads reviews, not all of which are actual reviews)


The Box Man / Kōbō Abe (review)
Wide Sargasso Sea / Jean Rhys (review)
The Atrocity Exhibition / J. G. Ballard (review)
The Doll / Lukas Tomin (review)
Dézafi / Frankétienne (review)
The Golden Cut / Merl Fluin (review)
The Diary of Mr. Pinke / Ewald Murrer (review)
Mount Analogue / René Daumal (review)
Rogomelec / Leonor Fini (review)
Mangled Hands / Johnny Stanton (review)
The Model / Robert Aickman (review)
The Narrator / Michael Cisco (review)
The Undying Present / Syd Staiti (review)
The Warren / Brian Evenson (review)
Yesterday / Ágota Kristóf (review)
Such Small Hands / Andrés Barba (review)
The Bridges / Tarjei Vesaas (review)
Malicroix / Henri Bosco (review)
The Left Hand of Darkness / Ursula K. Le Guin

Short Stories:

All of Your Most Private Places / Meghan Lamb (review)
Secret Hours / Michael Cisco (review)
The Sleep of the Righteous / Wolfgang Hilbig (review)
Waystations of the Deep Night / Marcel Brion (review)
Unreasonable Hours / Julio Cortázar (review)
The Delicate Prey and Other Stories / Paul Bowles (review)
Morbid Tales / Quentin S. Crisp (review)
The Doll Maker and Other Tales of the Uncanny / Sarban (review)
The Sea-Rabbit; Or, the Artist of Life / Wendy Walker (review)
The Unsettled Dust / Robert Aickman (review)
The Earth Wire / Joel Lane (review)


Autumn Sonata: Selected Poems / Georg Trakl (review)
A Certain Plume / Henri Michaux (review)
Coma Crossing: Collected Poems / Roger Gilbert-Lecomte (review)
The Last Gold of Expired Stars: Complete Poems 1908–1914 / Georg Trakl (review)


Complete Plays / Sarah Kane (review)


The House of Illnesses / Unica Zürn (review)
Nights as Day, Days as Night / Michel Leiris (review)
The Star Opens Slowly / Casi Cline (review)
Desire for a Beginning Dread of One Single End / Edmond Jabès (review)
Wasteland / New Juche (review)

Literary Anthologies:

Man in the Black Coat: Russia’s Literature of the Absurd / Oberiuty (review)


The Trouble With Being Born / E. M. Cioran (review)
Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk / Sam McPheeters (review)


The Portable Frank / Jim Woodring (review)
Nijigahara Holograph / Inio Asano
Gast / Carol Swain (review)
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters: Vol. 1 / Emil Ferris (review)



I listened to a lot of mixes this year, as opposed to full albums, so I’m keeping the list short, tailored mostly to bands whose songs I keep replaying. I will note that not much has changed with my favorites over the past few years. Occasionally a new band gets added to the heavy rotation roster, but it’s often within an existing favored genre. Nearly everything Justin Broadrick touches continues to floor me. The drone doom and wider post-metal genres in general are popular zones, supplemented with frequent forays into ambient, post-punk, industrial, and retro trips to hardcore, punk, and 80s alternative rock. Much like with my reading tastes, a solidification seems to have occurred. I blame middle age.

The (very) abridged list of what got me through 2020, in no particular order (links in most cases direct to artist Bandcamp pages):

True Widow
Emma Ruth Rundle
Helms Alee
Dead Can Dance

A Set of Lines review

A perceptive review of A Set of Lines comes by way of Daniel Williams, author of The Edge of the Object.

The novel’s terrain lies somewhere between the surreal, labyrinthine hell of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark and the apocalyptic imagery of Anna Kavan’s Ice, and the end result is worthy of being filed on your bookshelves alongside those two immersive, unsettling fables.

2017 in books and music

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Following surgery to repair a pelvic fracture in January I was unable to put weight on my left leg for three months. One might think this would have resulted in a higher read count than usual for the year, but in fact my total fell short of my average over the past few years. Part of this was actually due to a concerted effort to slow down and read more leisurely. However, another reason was that once I was fully mobile I simply did not want to sit around reading, so I ended up reading much less in the second half of the year, though toward the end as bird migration tapered off and the weather grew colder my pace did pick up again.

Below is the list of books I assigned 5-star ratings on Goodreads in 2017. A number of books I rated 4 stars probably deserve a place here, too, but I had to draw the line somewhere. In the 4-star category I will mention the two Julien Gracq novels I read as being particularly noteworthy (The Castle of Argol and The Opposing Shore). Regrettably I believe both of these are out of print in English translation. However, I’m happy to report that NYRB has just reissued Gracq’s moodily atmospheric novel A Balcony in the Forest, so there’s hope now for future republication of his singular work in English.

In general this year was a good one for reissues of some of my favorite buried writers. Mid-20th century British avant-garde women writers fared especially well in 2017. Much of Leonora Carrington’s writing finally came back into print as part of the centennial celebration of her birth year, including short fiction collections in both U.S. and British editions, as well as her harrowing memoir Down Below and her children’s book The Milk of Dreams. A biography by Joanna Moorhead also appeared in the spring.

A 50th anniversary edition of Anna Kavan’s novel Ice came out from Penguin in the U.S. this fall. As the 50th anniverary of Kavan’s death approaches there has been a small surge of interest around her work. For example, the journal Women: A Cultural Review devotes its entire current issue to exploring various themes in Kavan’s work. Hopefully this new scholarship will help prompt Peter Owen to finally reprint Kavan’s mysterious novel Eagles’ Nest and the kaleidoscopic short fiction collection  A Bright Green Field, both of which have inexplicably been languishing out of print for years. (For more on Anna Kavan visit the House of Sleep).

Finally, the brief but bright shooting star of Ann Quin’s literary career received a much-deserved coda when the subscription-based UK publisher And Other Stories released a collection of her unpublished stories and fragments, which includes the powerful (though incomplete) manuscript The Unmapped Country. This fragment had previously appeared in shorter form in the long out-of-print Beyond the Words anthology. (Note that non-subscribers will need to wait until mid-January 2018 for the official publication of this volume). While the publication of this book is a boon for Quin fans, it’s probably not the best place to start with her writing. In fact, her four published novels are all quite different, so it’s tough to suggest a starting point with Quin. On an initial recommendation, I began with Tripticks and actually did not care for it but still sensed there was something drawing me to Quin. I found that in Passages, which I consider to be her masterwork. Three comes in second place, followed by her debut, Berg. Thankfully, all of Quin’s novels remain in print courtesy of Dalkey Archive Press, bless their dedicated hearts.

I will just mention one other reissue of note, tangential to Ann Quin. In April, the micro press Verbivoracious Press (VP)* published the first volume of an omnibus edition of Alan Burns’ novels. Burns was part of a loosely connected band of British avant-garde writers in the 1960s that included Ann Quin, as well as B.S. Johnson, Eva Figes, Rayner Heppenstall, and others. His novel Europe After the Rain draws interesting parallels to Kavan’s Ice and the relationship between the two novels is investigated in an article by Leigh Wilson in the previously mentioned issue of Women: A Cultural Review. In the past, VP, which specializes in reprinting ‘exploratory literature from Europe and beyond,’ also reissued a volume collecting two of Heppenstall’s novels (review), and many other experimental gems, including much of Christine Brooke-Rose‘s output.

*Unfortunately VP has closed its doors since this post appeared, so I have removed any relevant links.
This novel was reprinted in 2019 by Calder.

2017 5-star books (in order read):

Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts / Reb Anderson
The Passion of New Eve / Angela Carter (Review)
The Poor Mouth / Flann O’Brien (Review)
The Plains / Gerald Murnane (Review)
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Review)
When the Time Comes / Maurice Blanchot (Review)
Snow Part / Paul Celan (Review)
S.S. Proleterka / Fleur Jaeggy (Review)
The Way of Chuang Tzu / Thomas Merton (Review)
The Rings of Saturn / W. G. Sebald (Review)
Alejandra Pizarnik: A Profile / Alejandra Pizarnik (Review)
Old Rendering Plant / Wolfgang Hilbig (Review)

If you’re a Goodreads user, my full list of books read in 2017 can be found here.

2017 soundtrack:

Barn Owl (and solo work by Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti)
Drab Majesty
Emma Ruth Rundle
Portion Control
Tim Hecker
Yellow Swans
…and too much post-punk to list (mostly by way of this finding aid)

old rendering plant by wolfgang hilbig

New review of this brilliant, tangled web of words posted on the Book Reviews tab. For more information on the book, visit Two Lines Press.

the tanners [book review]

Recently I began reading Robert Walser’s novel The Assistant. I associate Walser with the winter season, and particularly the month of December, likely because that was when I first started reading his work. Walser also died in December; he was found lying in the snow on Christmas Day 1956, having suffered a heart attack during one of his frequent and much-loved walks.

The Assistant has been a joy to read so far, brimming with Walser’s off-kilter cheekiness and his typically exuberant scenic descriptions. And so, with my enthusiasm for his writing in its current heightened state, I thought I’d share another of my Walser reviews from the archive, with the hope of encouraging others to investigate this still tragically under-read writer.


The Tanners by Robert Walser

I don’t want to go running down some career path—supposedly such a grand enterprise. What’s so grand about it: people acquiring crooked backs at an early age from stooping at undersized desks, wrinkled hands, pale faces, mutilated workday trousers, trembling legs, fat bellies, sour stomachs, bald spots upon their skulls, bitter, snappish, leathery, faded, insipid eyes, ravaged brows and the consciousness of having been conscientious fools. No thank you!

Robert Walser was an odd fish and I like him a lot. Even though he once said, as W. G. Sebald reports in the introduction to this book, that he was essentially always writing the same novel, one which he said could be described as “a much-chopped up or dismembered Book of Myself,” I will continue reading his same-as-before novels because they captivate me. I like to think of him up in his stuffy attic room, frantically writing on borrowed paper with stolen pens, gripped in the passion of that writing, of hurling his herky-jerky version of the world down onto the page.

The Tanners is the disjointed story of the Tanner siblings: Simon, Klaus, Kaspar, and Hedwig (oh, and the mysterious Emil, who later randomly shows up in another character’s anecdote). Primarily, the “plot” (such as it is) follows the adventures of Simon as he bounces around from job to job while basically pursuing the sublime. From the start, Simon reminded me of Jakob from Walser’s anti-Bildungsroman Jakob von Gunten, with his similar tendency toward mockery traced with veins of sincerity. Or maybe it was just straight mockery, maybe I imagined the traces of sincerity—it’s really so hard for me to say for sure. When Simon refers to his own cheekiness, I couldn’t stop thinking about that Saturday Night Live sketch where Mike Myers plays Simon, the kid in the bath making drawings who calls people “cheeky monkeys.” It’s always unsettling for me when pop culture and literature suddenly collide in my head. And yet the two Simons do share a similarity, if only a superficial one. But I digress. Simon is a self-described ne’er-do-well prone to walking all night through the mountains to visit his artist brother Kaspar, his closest sibling. Simon’s gleeful flippancy is infectious and makes him a likely candidate for the reader’s sympathy. Hedwig is the only sister in the bunch, a small town schoolteacher who Simon also stays with for an extended visit. They bond, but she suspects him of being a freeloader, which he sort of is. Hedwig is an interesting character, and Walser allots her some good speeches. Finally, Klaus is the oldest brother, a stodgy straight-arrow type who thinks he knows what’s best for all of his siblings. He is annoyingly overbearing, though probably well-meaning.

In the introduction, Sebald draws some parallels between Gogol and Walser that I found to be relevant, having just finished a book of Gogol’s short fiction. Like Gogol, Walser has a tendency to introduce characters who at the time seem like they may come to play important roles in his narrative, only to either suddenly kill them off or fade them into the background. Sometimes they also reappear later, just out of the blue, and fill us in on what they’ve been up to for the past year or however long they’ve been gone from the narrative. The aimless plot wanders down side streets, dead-ends, turns around, leaves the city, climbs a mountain, walks off a cliff, gets a concussion, and turns up back in the city again a few chapters later with a new lease on life. Or something like that. I was anthropomorphizing the plot just then. I would imagine that the general unreliability of Walser’s prose could easily become maddening for some readers. The key is to float along with Walser wherever he chooses to take you. One must surrender completely in order to enjoy reading; there is no fighting it because Walser will always win. Always. We are on an adventure with him, as he discovers his own truths in his writing. In this way he is also very much like Gogol, who eschewed the narrative traditions of the time and instead went off happily exploring in his prose.

Throughout the book, Walser spins a gauzy web of natural beauty around his characters who, when not walking around outside enjoying the weather or laying stretched out in the forest, very much tend to spout off lengthy monologues in the general direction of each other, not seeming to expect responses and, in fact, rarely getting them. Walser’s prose is so sensual, his descriptions of both urban and rural settings sparkle with crisp detail clearly borne of a sharply observant mind. Half the novel one falls into a reverie, while the other half one stares at the closest wall, noting the intricate cracks in the plaster with genuine interest.

Despite the lack of plot, there are certain themes to pick out. With Simon and Hedwig, we find themes of youthful self-discovery, the search for meaning and happiness in one’s life, and the ever-painful plight of the daydreamers among us. With Kaspar, there are the ideals of art and the difficulties inherent in one’s pursuit of those ideals. In Klaus, we see a rather sharp critique of mainstream society and the trappings of materialism and the pursuit of wealth. Readers who have siblings, particularly multiple siblings, will also likely enjoy the novel on another level less accessible to those who don’t, for Walser does an admirable job of portraying the complicated and contradictory dynamics that often characterize sibling relationships.

As Simon opines late in the book, “How tedious it was always to be doing exactly the same thing.” Some books always do the exactly the same thing, what we expect them to do, over and over. Not with Walser. Even if he did claim to be writing the same novel over and over, his prose is always worth reading, because it’s granular yet dissimilar; it’s made up of life’s strikingly mundane and spectacular moments, as pointed out by the likes of Simon, who, after all, claims to be “an outlandish figure in my own homeland.”

john hawkes: encounters with the abyss

I am imbued with the notion that a Muse is necessarily a dead woman, inaccessible or absent; that the poetic structure—like the canon, which is only a hole surrounded by steel—can be based only on what one does not have; and that ultimately one can write only to fill a void or at the least to situate, in relation to the most lucid part of ourselves, the place where this incommensurable abyss yawns within us.

            —Michel Leiris, L’Age d’Homme (published in English as Manhood)

The quote above is one of two epigraphs introducing John Hawkes’ short novel Travesty. It struck me as akin to my own feelings about writing. And in Hawkes’ case it is particularly apropos; for he “situates” the abyss like no other, and in reading him one gets the impression that he knows this is all he can do. An early American postmodernist, Hawkes wrote in an incomparable style, fashioning rich, mythic worlds peopled by characters that are so fully formed they seem real. His work often carries an air of menace, a peering over the edge of the abyss, and sometimes a dangling over it, held tenuously by the ankles. He leaves a lot unwritten, and part of the pleasure in reading him is the struggle to fill in these gaps.

I wasn’t familiar with Leiris, so I looked him up. I found this review of Manhood, which stoked my interest. Leiris was a French Surrealist writer and ethnographer who, in the reviewer’s words, “experimented with the consolidation of mythology, ritual and autobiography-writing.” In reading the review, I could see parallels between Hawkes and Leiris; it seems as if the latter could have been an influence on the former.

So one can write to fill a void, and in that respect, any subject is fair game. The trouble is that the abyss seems too overwhelming at times, too deep to fill and too hazardous to permit even the most cautious approach. Hurling a few sentences over the edge and listening for them to hit bottom feels like a lonely and futile exercise. In response, the temptation arises to shy away from it and instead dwell in more “lucid” inner locales.

Habit, the great deadener, must also be considered with regard to writing. But let’s take a step back for a moment and reflect on habit. Do you ever do something after not doing it for a long time and think: Wow, that thing is great! Why don’t I do that more often?? And yet this is the thing you were doing every day for months until you grew tired of it and stopped, thinking why do I bother? Habit, as a word, has a negative connotation. It’s always, Oh, that’s a bad habit. She picked up a bad habit. I’ve got to stop this bad habit. No one talks about good habits. It’s never, Oh, I recently picked up this good habit and it’s really helping me out. We need more talk about the value of good habits.

When it comes to writing, a moldy old adage dictates that one should write every day, no matter what the subject or form. This is considered a good writing habit. Just sit there and write and write and write for X amount of time each day and it will be fine. Yet many writers do not write every day. Some don’t write for months, until one day they fly into a manic state and write nonstop. It’s all about which practice works for you. But for those writers in this latter camp, those dry periods can run one ragged. Self-doubt creeps in and one wonders if the words will ever come again. Next comes a turning against the words. Hatred for words! Frustration at their failure to capture anything but a rapid-fade vapor trail of emotion and sensation; anger at their crude rigidity in the face of life’s constant flux.

Which returns us to Travesty. Because it seems to me that this strange little novel might be what a writer writes out of desperation when faced with one of these dreaded dry periods. The Leiris quote is the clue here, for an epigraph hints at the meaning of what is to come. The entirety of Travesty consists of one side of a conversation between the driver and one of the two passengers in a car speeding through the night in rural France toward a planned murder-suicide. Mostly it is a monologue by the driver, though the passenger does interject from time to time, which the reader discerns from the driver’s reactions. There is an absent woman who could be construed as a Muse for these two men; she is not dead, yet her distance from the story renders her near-dead. Even for Hawkes the scenario playing out in this novel is bleak, if not nihilistic. At a surface level, it reads as a piece composed on the brink of the void, a stream of dispassionate vitriol spit over the edge from dry, cracked lips.

It’s worth noting at this point that the second epigraph to the book is from Camus’ The Fall (a book which I have not read). Other reviewers have commented that Travesty reads as either homage to or parody of Camus. And in fact, in a 1976 interview¹ with Paul Emmett and Richard Vine, Hawkes mentions that he’d read The Fall a few months before several incidents that had partly inspired the book. While he evades admission that Travesty is indeed a “travesty” of The Fall, he does say he thinks “The Fall is in some way related to Travesty.” Of course, Camus also died in a car accident, which yields yet another Camus parallel to the book.

Returning to the void, though…in the final line of the conversation, while discussing Travesty, Hawkes says, “The ultimate power of the imagination is to create anything and everything—out of nothing…” Elsewhere in the interview, Hawkes is adamant that none of his fictional work is autobiographical (though he admits stray bits make their way into a text on occasion), and so the Leiris epigraph again rises up (“the poetic structure […] can be based only on what one does not have”). We cannot know if Hawkes was in a desperate dry period when he conceived the idea for Travesty. But it’s obvious that the text is at least in part concerned with this “ultimate power of the imagination.” For the narrator carefully constructs his murderous plan and describes it in calm, precise detail, just as Hawkes crafted the story and everything within it. And they are both empowered by their creations.

Maybe the “nothing” Hawkes refers to is equal to the void, or at least an alternate way of thinking about the void. Rather than a yawning abyss that swallows words (or prevents their creation) it should be thought of as a source for them. In this, the act of writing draws closer to Leiris’ idea of “situating” rather than “filling” the void. Situating the location of a void implies we have some control over it or at least knowledge of it, while filling a void seems an impossible task. If we know where the void is in relation to the “lucid part of ourselves,” it’s easier to manage our exposure to it, and even to draw upon it as a stimulus for creation.


 ¹Emmett, Paul, and Richard Vine. “A Conversation with John Hawkes.” Chicago Review 28.2 (Fall 1976): 163-171. Accessed through JSTOR, 9 Jul. 2014.

bruno schulz: a mind of wide expanse

The Polish writer (and artist) Bruno Schulz exemplifies a certain kind of writer for me, one whose stunning imagination spawns magical worlds from a seemingly mundane existence. Much like Franz Kafka, here was a man who managed this while doggedly staying for the most part in one spot: the small city of Drohobych where he was born, now part of Ukraine. As a Jew living in Poland during World War II, Schulz was forced to live in the Drohobych ghetto. It was on the way back to this ghetto through the ‘Aryan quarter’ of the city that he met his premature end, at age 50, by the gun-wielding hand of a Gestapo officer.

One common school of thought on writing says that a writer must travel and seek out a wealth of experiences in order to build and stoke the fire of creative process. And yet the literary output of writers such as Schulz flatly denies this prescriptive advice. Schulz is best known for his first collection of stories, originally published as Sklepy Cynamonowe (or The Cinnamon Shops), but known more commonly in English as The Street of Crocodiles, the title of one of its stories. Ostensibly these are tales of a family and the city in which they live, though the stories are much more than that. With his fiction, Schulz showed how the line between the dream world and the ‘real world’ can itself be a figment of our imagination. Writing can make these arbitrary borders dissolve to allow free passage between worlds, a splendid boon to writers and readers alike.

I read The Street of Crocodiles last spring and I’m posting my (rather rambling) review here as a tribute to this extraordinary book, one that I intend to revisit at least once if not several more times in the future.


The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz

(Review by S. D. Stewart)

The library’s copy is from 1963, the first U.S. edition (though printed in Poland), with thick pages that every time you turn one you think you’ve paged through at least two. Pages of a bygone era of publishing, these particular pages of which are drenched with dream-prose, yet so full of grey, so many allusions to nothingness. Pages containing the descriptions of an outsider-dreamer, someone on the outside of the circle looking in, with sparkling, incisive cat’s eyes, missing nothing yet not so much participating, instead restlessly transforming the carefully observed into a secret world, an entire universe lived in mystery, in wintry nights ‘saturated with dreams and complications’, where light always struggles against the dark, in sleep and in dreams, life shrinking inside the house and expanding outside it.

Came the yellow days of winter, filled with boredom. The rust-coloured earth was covered with a threadbare, meagre tablecloth of snow full of holes. There was not enough of it for some of the roofs and so they stood there, black and brown, shingle and thatch, arks containing the sooty expanses of attics—coal-black cathedrals, bristling with ribs of rafters, beams and spars—the dark lungs of winter winds.

There are birds, so many birds, for Father loves birds, importing their eggs from the far reaches of the world and hatching himself an entire community, even arranging avian marriages. And outside the house winter brings the crows…

The chimney-sweeps could not get rid of the crows which in the evening covered the branches of the trees around the church with living black leaves, then took off, fluttering, and came back, each clinging to its own place on its own branch, only to fly away at dawn in large flocks, like gusts of soot, flakes of dirt, undulating and fantastic, blackening with their insistent crowing the musty-yellow streaks of light.

Schulz’s imagery is bold and fantastic; his figurative language surprises on every page. Coats are ‘soaked with wind’, horse-drawn cabs drive unattended, trams are made of papier mâché. The jacket copy generously declares Schulz to be ‘one of the most remarkably gifted writers to have been produced in Eastern Europe in this century’. (I always find it amusing when a writer is said to have been produced, as if the writer was either a commodity spit out of a machine or a phantom conjured out of thin air by some literary-minded magician.)

I was reminded of the novel Garden, Ashes by Danilo Kiš (himself influenced by Schulz), with its own dream-prose and Mad Father figure, also set in a pocket of the sprawling former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Schulz’s narrator is farther removed, though, more distant from the action, sometimes even stepping into the collective ‘we’ and inviting the reader to travel along. This can feel jarring, especially when you have already been following, drifting down the dark misty streets the entire time, so that when he slips into ‘we’ and beckons to you, it’s like when someone turns around abruptly, catching you in the act of furtive surveillance.

The city is a character. It is labyrinthine, shifty and shifting, prone to growing and shedding extra streets, rearranging itself at will. The shops are alluring, especially during the Great Season, when the citizenry catches the shopping fever.

The time of the Great Season was approaching. The streets were getting busy. At six in the evening the city became feverish, the houses stood flushed, and people walked about made up in bright colours, illuminated by some interior fire, their eyes shining with a festive fever, beautiful yet evil.

There is humor, not too much of the laugh-out-loud quality, but enough. There is absurdity in spades. The reader enters the dream realm where all natural laws are suspended. We become concerned with the architecture of dreams, how the world inside is built, the framework of the interior, the details of the place. It’s a world where certain years ‘grow a thirteenth freak month […], a hunchback month, a half-wilted shoot, more tentative than real’. This rogue month usually occurs after August, and it’s clearly the fault of ‘the senile intemperance of summer, its lustful and belated spurt of vitality’, spawning ‘crab-days, weed-days, sterile and stupid, added as an afterthought; stunted, empty, useless days—white days, permanently astonished and quite unnecessary. They sprout, irregular and uneven, formless and joined like the fingers of a monster’s hand, stumps folded like a fist’.

Father is the de facto leader-guide of this dream realm. Father, at war with the cockroaches, even as he becomes more cockroach-like himself. Father, amateur ornithologist, who with his motley multicolored flock is really just trying to liven things up, to counter winter’s deadly boredom. Father, somewhat obsessed with Adela, the lively housekeeper, who is the only one to hold any semblance of power over him. Father, who lives an ‘odd and dubious’ existence, sometimes a shop owner, sometimes a philosopher, sometimes a scientist, sometimes manic, sometimes worn and despondent.

Meanwhile in the city, on Crocodile Street, ‘nothing ever succeeds there, nothing can ever reach a definite conclusion. Gestures hang in the air, movements are prematurely exhausted and cannot overcome a certain point of inertia. […] Nowhere as much as there do we feel threatened by possibilities, shaken by the nearness of fulfilment, pale and faint with the delightful rigidity of realisation. And that is as far as it goes’. This locale is an affront to our narrator, ‘a concession of our city to modernity and metropolitan corruption’.

And while down below everything disintegrated and changed into nothingness in that silent panic of quick dissolution, above there grew and endured the alarum of sunset, vibrating with the tinkling of a million tiny bells set in motion by the rise of a million unseen larks flying together into the enormous silvery infinite.

The temptation is to continue pasting huge swaths of the text into this review. I wanted to crawl inside the pages of the book, to pull the words over my head and sleep for hundreds of years, as ‘the pages of days turned emptily’ and I slipped farther and farther into the dream realm. But even in Schulz’s dream realm there are moments of the blissful mundane, a subtle reminder that everyday life can also seem otherworldly, can also transport us to another realm, each moment a potential passageway, if only we can stay in the present and remain open to our surroundings.

In the kitchen, on the floor above, Adela, warm from sleep and with unkempt hair, was grinding coffee in a mill which she pressed to her white bosom, imparting her warmth to the broken beans. The cat was washing itself in the sunlight.

thomas bernhard: internal archaeologist

Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard forged a wholly unique body of fictional work. One could class his writing as postmodern, but that label seems limiting and insufficient. An accomplished poet at a young age, Bernhard turned to fiction soon after a publisher rejected the manuscript for his fourth book of poetry. It’s uncertain how connected these two events were, but Bernhard never pursued publication of that manuscript again. Later in his career he did publish a chapbook of his early poems, and made certain that his extant published poetry would remain in print. So clearly poetry still mattered to him. As a youth, Bernhard also trained as a musician and fostered his innate talent in that realm for some time.

Both of these creative pursuits, music and poetry, channeled directly into Bernhard’s prose, in both form and content. His inimitable style recalls the structure and repetition of a classical music piece. Likewise, the cadence and repetition found in his sentences reflect a poet’s sensibility. Bernhard’s primary characters are almost always failed (or failing) artists, writers, scientists, engineers, or other passionate, single-minded individuals. These people live on the fringes of society, often in small towns or rural locales, where they are marginalized from their neighbors, on whom they chiefy look with disdain. Prone to lengthy monologues, internal or external, they are monomaniacal in their pursuits, though always hampered from seeing them to fruition. Often there is a secondary character who is there to simply listen and, in some cases, made to feel inferior to the primary character. That is, the secondary character will look up to the primary character, despite that character’s failings, or the secondary character will feel an unusual, inexplicable attraction to the primary character. This dynamic between the two characters drives the plot, such as it is.

Thomas Bernhard could now be classified as a cult writer, although in the U.S. he remains virtually unknown to mainstream readers. But among his limited readership there is a rabid dedication. In my view, much of Bernhard’s allure lies in the uncompromising nature of both his prose and his public persona, which there is no reason to believe was any different from his private persona. In fact, everything points to the two being one and the same. Part of this, though, is due to how little is known about him, outside his own words. Much like American writer J.D. Salinger, Bernhard kept strict control over his papers. Nothing was published that he did not authorize. As a result, for the most part, he retained complete authority over the world’s access to Thomas Bernhard. He left explicit directions regarding his literary estate following his death, one of which states that his plays are never to be performed in his home country again. Unlike Salinger, he did give interviews, though he grew a reputation for being cranky and reticent during them. Still, there are a number of interviews available online that are worth reading. And then there is his memoir, Gathering Evidence.

Bernhard originally published his memoir in five discrete parts under separate titles. These were collected into one volume for the English translation. As a whole, it represents his own excavation of his past in order to understand his development. As a young person he lived through many difficult experiences, including WWII bombings, hospitalization for tuberculosis, and the death of his beloved grandfather, the person who meant the most to him. He explicates all of this in the memoir, which he uses to fashion his own truth, a slippery concept for a writer who believes that “truth is always wrong, even if it is one hundred percent truth.”

I decided to read Gathering Evidence early on in my exploration of Thomas Bernhard’s work. This is not a normal inclination of mine, but with Bernhard it felt right. And I’m glad that I read the memoir, for it has enriched my further reading of his novels, of which I still have a few to go. Below is the review of Gathering Evidence I wrote just about a year ago. It reveals much of the book’s contents, so if you are considering reading the book and would prefer to start with a fresh slate, you may not want to read further.


Gathering Evidence by Thomas Bernhard

(Review by S. D. Stewart)

I have listened to everything and conformed with nothing.
All I ever wanted was to be myself.
Absurdity is the only way forward. It was a way I knew, the only one that led anywhere.

Why write memoir? So many lives and why should we care. We want to read about our own lives, don’t we. We fantasize about the biographies, the obituaries, the glowing words written about us in the future, after we are dead, after the world has finally recognized our genius. Or maybe we don’t do that. Regardless, writing memoir is rooted, at least in part, in narcissism. Writing in general, for publication at least, is a narcissistic pursuit. Indulging in the activity, for the purpose of publication, shouts out to the world, “Listen to me, what I have to say is worth reading!” One must believe that to do it. And what could be easier than writing about oneself. Nothing. Nothing could be easier than that. No research required. No fact-checking. No need to even tell the truth. If there even is such a thing. Thomas Bernhard doesn’t think there is, or rather he doesn’t believe the truth is right. He says, “Truth is always wrong, even if it is one hundred percent truth.” That is some helpful advice to keep in mind when writing memoir. Bernhard “had an obsessive desire to gather the evidence in [his] head.” Evidence of what, you may be wondering. Well, evidence that his grandfather had been right, “that his assertions had been correct.” But, correct about what. Oh, I don’t think I can say it, not yet. No, I don’t think Bernhard would want me to say it. Not now. He waited a long time in the book, almost to the very end, to say it himself, to spell it out in explicit terms, what every sentence, every word, had been pointing toward from the very first page.

In the beginning, we find young Thomas (age eight) astride a bicycle for the first time (“I am the ruler of the world”), on a mission to ride some miles away from his home to Salzburg in order to visit his aunt. But this is a clandestine mission, and one that sadly fails, quite spectacularly, in fact. Young Thomas runs to his grandfather for support, fearing his mother’s reproach (she whipped him regularly, taking out on him her anger at his father, who had run off early on, refusing to even acknowledge he had a son). His grandfather thinks that “anarchists are the salt of the earth” and teaches young Bernhard the alluring idea that, in theory, he can destroy everything every day. In theory. Kill, demolish, destroy, whenever one chose, in theory. A theory that fascinates Bernhard for the rest of his life. This sets the tone for the book.

Reading Bernhard’s fiction will likely lead one to suspect much about the man’s beliefs. This book will confirm those suspicions and explain the reasons behind them, at least in theory. For example, he hated teachers and all other authority figures: “Policemen and teachers spread a foul smell over the surface of the earth.” Never shying away from hyperbole, he goes on to explain that “schools actually murdered the children who attended them.” Looking for the right school in which to enroll your child? Maybe you’ll consider homeschooling instead after reading this: “We sent our children to school so that they would become as repulsive as the grown-ups we met every day in the street, the scum of humanity.” But lest you begin thinking Bernhard has nothing positive to say, I present to you this statement, from the very next page:

“We should always remember that there’s something else in the world apart from the commonplace.”

Yes! Yes, we very well should remember that. The commonplace has a stranglehold on the world. Everywhere we look is sameness. The world revels in it! The rulers count on it! (“For no government has any use for someone who is enlightened and thus actually in tune with the times.”) But it doesn’t have to be that way. Unfortunately, most of us are not raised to know this. If anything, Bernhard’s memoir underlines the brutal effects one’s upbringing can have; it shows us over and over how what happens to us when we are young can wreak havoc in our later lives. Some of us may find ourselves nodding along when Bernhard states emphatically that “the world was for years an intolerable burden which constantly threatened to crush me.” But! But…that does not have to be the way it ends.

World War II comes along and suddenly young Thomas is surrounded by death. People faint in the air raid tunnels burrowed into the mountainsides; they suffocate and never recover, later to be dragged out for removal by the ambulances. After many false alarms, Salzburg also endures bomb blasts, some of which utterly destroy the old section of the city. At first, Bernhard is fascinated by the rubble, and sees the destruction of the cathedral in particular as beautiful. But then, after stepping on what he at first thinks is a doll’s hand and soon realizes is actually the severed hand of a child, he sees war as the atrocity that it truly is. He is affected for life by the sight of the sheet-covered bodies. One day he goes for his English lesson and finds that his tutor’s house has been bombed to rubble while she was inside. He sees the ugliness of humanity surge to the forefront as people push, shove, and trample their way in and out of the air raid tunnels, these supposed places of safety that in fact caused disease and death. Later, as an adult, he is angered when those who went through the same experiences he had act like they don’t remember, or simply refuse to talk about it: “It is like being confronted with a concerted determination not to know, and I find this offensive—offensive to the spirit.” Instead, he insists that “one must not stop telling people the truth; and the shocking and appalling things one observes must under no circumstances be suppressed or even doctored.”

While Bernhard places his grandfather on the highest (and only) pedestal in his life, he is dismayed that his grandfather thinks it is a good idea for him to attend grammar school, which he hates. His grandfather, perceiving that he is artistic, is determined to make an artist out of him. Thus, while attending boarding school during the war, Bernhard takes violin lessons. Although he finds an affinity for music within himself, he abhors music theory and fails at reading music. So he makes up his own music, which was, as he says, “conceived as an accompaniment to my melancholy broodings.” He practices the violin in a closet, where he dwells almost exclusively on thoughts of suicide while playing. Meanwhile, children all around him are killing themselves. Living at the boarding school was a dark time for him, being in Salzburg amidst the “deadly spirit of the city” (suicide capital of Austria) almost destroys him: “during that time my spirit was almost broken; and nobody, not one single person, perceived this darkening of my spirit, this virtual destruction of my spirit.

Eventually, he cannot stand the grammar school any longer, and though pained at the thought of disappointing his grandfather, he quits and secures an apprenticeship “in the opposite direction.” There is an amusing passage where he is attempting to find an apprenticeship at the labour exchange, and the woman working there keeps offering him good jobs in nice parts of the city. Yet he wants to go “in the opposite direction” and is having trouble getting this through to her. When he finally does, he reports that “the woman was on the one hand glad to have satisfied me but on the other hand horrified at the workings of my mind, of which I had allowed her a glimpse.” Instead of walking to school along the Reichenhaller Strasse, he would now be walking along the Rudolf-Biebl-Strasse, “the street that led me to myself.” At the age of 15, he was starting a three-year apprenticeship in the poor section of town, the Scherzhauserfeld Project, at a grocery store housed in a cellar. This turning point was crucial, leading him away from thoughts of suicide toward passion for survival.

Music comes back to him, and this time he sings. When he goes for singing lessons, he realizes, “I had a strong voice, and it occurred to me that I could probably use it, if I chose, to shatter everything in the drawing room.” Unfortunately, he contracts tuberculosis soon afterward. A terrible ordeal begins at the hands of incompetent medical “professionals” in various horrifying public hospitals. His grandfather also becomes ill at the same time, and they both end up in the same hospital. Bernhard is housed in the “death ward” as he likes to call it, where he sets up his observation post and offers a scathing commentary on the medical establishment: “Among a hundred so-called doctors there is seldom one genuine doctor, and so to this extent the sick are inevitably condemned to protracted illness and eventual death.” Meanwhile, his grandfather comes to the conclusions that “the sick are the ones who have real clarity of vision; no one else sees the world so clearly” and artists, particularly writers, need to go into hospitals from time to time, even under false pretenses, in order to dwell on life and existence and avoid falling “victim to futility by getting caught up in the superficial.”

As an aside, I will point out that, from time to time, Bernhard reminds his readers that these are the thoughts of a youth and that he often sees things differently as an adult. However, one must pay attention to his shifting point of view in the narrative, for sometimes he also steps back without warning and writes from the present, as an adult.

In the death ward, Bernhard sees more death (of course). Dead bodies are stacking up around him. Death is looming all around. He sees the dying sometimes “summon up all their strength in their last moments in order to wrest death to themselves after it has tormented them too long by failing to come of its own accord.” With all of this death permeating his surroundings, Bernhard focuses in over and over on the indignities that the dying suffer before their day finally comes. There is injustice everywhere, but perhaps it is nowhere more pronounced than in the public hospitals.

His grandfather dies. Not too much later his mother dies, when he is in the sanatorium, attempting to recover from tuberculosis. In both cases, he discovers their deaths through reading their obituaries in the newspaper. He despises journalism. The two people he loved most are now dead before he has even made it out of his teenage years.

“When we come to consider the matter, we realize that our whole life is nothing but a grubby calendar of events and that by the end of it all the pages have been torn out.”

It is heartbreaking to read of his experience with tuberculosis and the hospital, the sanatorium, the futility of it all, the colossal failures of the doctors, the doom and gloom and likelihood of his own death. He writes of it all in his straightforward yet musical way, like beating a drum in varying syncopated rhythms, and in no way does one ever feel a sense that he is looking for sympathy. He is stating what happened and he is clearly and harshly denouncing it, but he is also stating that this is simply how it is, this is how the world works and, yes, it’s warped, but it’s been like that for a long, long time and it will never change. Given all of this, he also realizes what speaking such truth often results in:

“A record like the present one must naturally always be made in the knowledge that it is likely to be attacked or denounced, or quite simply dismissed as the product of a deranged mind. The writer must guard against letting himself be irritated by such a reaction or by the prospect of it, however ridiculous it may be. After all, he is used to having everything he says or writes attacked and denounced and dismissed as madness—everything he has ever written throughout his life in order to express what he thinks and feels, everything he has been impelled to write for whatever reason. When he is dealing with facts he has no interest in opinion, from whatever quarter it comes. He is not for one moment prepared to alter his conduct or his way of thinking and feeling and thus become untrue to his own nature, even though he is of course aware that nothing can ever be more than an approximation of the truth.”

He goes on to say that these are merely fragments of his childhood and youth that he is reporting, and that they can be put together if the reader chooses to, in order to form a whole.

After these two deaths, realizing he is now alone comes with an unexpected benefit: “I suddenly saw that it was possible to be alone and to make one’s way forward with one’s own unaided resources: I discovered not only that it was possible but that there was an incredible existential impulse to do so, of which I had until now been quite unaware.”

When he is forced to return to the sanatorium, to Grafenhof, he makes a pact with himself to take control of his recovery: “The patient has to take hold of his suffering with his own hands—and above all with his own head—and work against the doctors […] I had confidence in myself but in no one else. The greater my distrust of the doctors, the greater my trust in myself.” He manipulates the system and the doctors into thinking his desires are their ideas, and therefore he gets what he wants. He also breaks the rules constantly: he goes out into the village, befriends a church organist and begins singing again, all against the doctors’ orders. Eventually he walks away into a life free of bondage in hospitals.

“I had been through the elementary school of sickness, and also the middle school. I had mastered the multiplication tables of sickness and death, and now I was attending classes on the higher mathematics.”

He now feels like his time to write has come, after the passing of his grandfather. He does not want anything else, can do no job, is “revolted by the thought of any work, any job,” does not want to be anything, other than himself.

“My grandfather had been a writer, and he was now dead. Now I was entitled to write; now I myself had the chance. This was my goal, and I now had the means to attain it. I threw all my energies into writing, exploiting the whole world by transforming it into poetry. My poems may have been worthless, but to me they meant everything. There was nothing more important in the entire world. I no longer possessed anything but the possibility of writing poetry.”

His curiosity is what will save him: “Throughout my life I have been consumed with a shameless curiosity which has repeatedly put a stop to thoughts of suicide.” And it is this shamelessness that also marks him as a writer, for “the writer is always devoid of shame. Only a person who has no shame is qualified to take hold of sentences and bring them out and throw them down. Only the most shameless writer is authentic.”

It’s interesting to see Bernard’s form of self-deprecation take shape and occasionally leak out into the flowing invective, the routine desolation. He refers to himself as “a good-for-nothing who clings to life, no matter how dreadful and valueless it is,” while at the same time holding the highest regard for those who take their own lives: “All my life I have had the utmost admiration for suicides. I have always considered them superior to me in every way.”

He never knew his father, knows so little about him. Yet what he knows makes him wonder about the source of his traits: his distrustfulness, his “unfathomable contradictions,” his melancholy, his despair. But he never asked his mother the questions that may have told him more about his father, because he is afraid of the questions. And he is afraid because of how his mother reacted when he was younger and went looking for his father. Bernhard has important lessons to teach us about these questions: “All our lives we put off the big questions until they form a huge mountain which darkens our lives. But by then it is too late. We ought to have enough courage not to be afraid of other people or of ourselves; we ought not to spare them, to deceive them by sparing them.”

It may seem odd to say, but there is hope in this book. There are answers to some questions. There is the old adage of what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I think Bernhard lived out that adage in spades. He knows the world is “a cesspit” as his grandfather before him knew it. But he did what he wanted. He didn’t work some crap job for someone else. He didn’t become something. He was himself and he stayed that way. It is a hard thing to do in this world. He wrote and he wrote successfully enough to live his life without bending his will to anyone else. He saw a lot of hell when he was young and he lived through it and he was going to damn well tell us what he saw in that hell, that hell being our world full of our fellows, in many different ways that are actually always the same.

To recap:

Things Bernhard hates: education, sports, newspapers, Salzburg, National Socialists, policemen, judges, doctors, parents, war, organized religion (particularly Catholicism) and its representatives, governments, weekends (“murder for everyone and death for every family”), most people.

Things Bernhard likes: his grandfather, his mother (later on), a certain church organist, bicycles, music, gardening, working in a grocery store, literature (some of it, and not always), isolation, truth, absurdity.

In closing, I would like to say…nothing. Instead, here is this quote from an interview of sorts

The human being refuses to believe that nature is far greater than a heart beat. A meadow full of flowers is such an elementary thing that one chokes with wonder thinking about it. But it will all be lost except for some cretin-like creatures. Maybe then there really will be something new.

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