Nestbeschmutzer

imgres.jpgMan is so abysmally stupid that he continually attacks his saviors in the most loudmouthed and utterly unthinking manner, encouraged of course by the politicians and the politically controlled press.

This quotation from Concrete is actually referencing how modern medication is so often reviled when it in most instances heals and prolongs life. But it can certainly apply metaphorically to the inexplicable tendency of the population to support people and ideas which are actually against their best interests.

Locally in Austria Thomas Bernhard was called a Nestbeschmutzer: one who be-fowls his own nest or, in a different version, one who shits where he sleeps. Internationally, Thomas Bernhard is considered one of the most significant writers since WWII.

Thomas Bernhard spent most of his life under the cloud of tuberculosis and was always acutely aware that his life was fragile. I wonder what he would have said about the anti-vaxxers or the Fascist regime currently destroying America?

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Greed

GreedI started reading Elfriede Jelinek’s novel, Greed, and almost immediately was confused. The indirect narration by shifting narrators is hard to follow and in this novel there is very little direct exposition: everything is cloaked by the opinions of the narrator and even (fiction wise) by occasional authorial interjection. Two things helped me out: first I related the novel to novels by Robert Pinget whom I had already struggled with and conquered to some extent (also authors such as Joseph McElroy and Samuel Beckett); second, I read the publisher’s blurb on the novel and it gave me just enough of an insight into the narrative so as to keep me reading in the right spirit.

Here is that little summary:

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Elfriede Jelinek

She is not very well known and the critics have problems with her feminism and open sexuality, but then she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Although I’m sure the musicality of her prose is more obvious in the original German, the Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek is a must read author.

You may have seen the movie made from the author’s novel, The Piano Teacher. There were enough disturbing elements in the novel to make the film a bit of a shocker. Right now I am reading Wonderful, Wonderful Times. The blurb on the back cover is as good an introduction to the author’s writing as anything I might write:

It is the late 1950s. A man is out walking in a park in Vienna. He will be beaten up by four teenagers, not for his money or anything he may have done to them, but because the youths are arrogant and very pleased with themselves. This arrogance is their way of reacting to the decaying corpse that is Austria, where everyone has a closet in which to hide their Nazi histories, their sexual perversions, and their hatred of the foreigner.

Not all of Jelinek’s novels have been translated into English (could be a good reason to learn German).

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The Radetzky March

The Trottas were a young dynasty. Their progenitor had been knighted after the Battle of Solferino. He was a Slovene. Sipolje—the German name for his native village—became his title of nobility. Fate elected him for a special deed. But he then made sure that later times lost all memory of him.

The Radetzky March is very much a traditional novel. I often express some distaste for the traditional novel but in this case the quality of the prose (even in translation) and the skill in which the narrative structure is executed sent this novel right to the top of my best reads of the year.

The structure is generational:  the Trotta grandfather who saved the life of the Emperor Franz Joseph, his son who becomes a government official and is kept out of the military, and the official’s son who is raised to bring glory and honor to the family in the military. This idea of honor is a major theme in the novel:  when the grandfather recognizes that his exploits at the Battle of Solferino were being exaggerated in the school books, he goes to the Kaiser to insist on the truth being taught: the Kaiser suggests that the stories make them both look good: the Hero of Solferino replies: “Your Majesty, it’s a lie!”

The irony is that the son who is sent into the service of the Emperor is not a very good soldier and through a series of incidents is transferred and apparently forgotten on the edges of the Empire. Introduced to drinking, gambling, and women, the various crises in the young Lieutenant’s life seem unavoidable. His father still insists on the traditions of a rapidly disappearing world and when World War I breaks out, the son returns to the Austrian army ready to defend a now ancient Franz Joseph, the crumbling Empire, and a vanishing social order.

The theme of the passing of the old civilization in the face of a modern world is not uncommon:  Lampedusa’s  Il Gattopardo comes to mind. Roth, however, weaves a large number of themes throughout his novel: most are involving the ideas of honor and family. As you read the novel, there are little things related, observed, or remembered that make the events in the lives of the Trottas more poignant and more tragic. Read slowly and pay attention: this is not one you should practice your Evelyn Wood on: and please, don’t dishonor the book by listening to it on tape (it’s probably read by Milton Armitage anyway).