Szplug's Reviews > Yes

Yes by Thomas Bernhard
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Jan 21, 12


After all, there is nothing but failure.

Yes, as another GR reviewer posited, is generally held to be one of Bernhard's minor works, but it is a perfectly-executed short piece markedly positioning itself within the transition from the earlier TB of Correction and The Lime Works to the mature period of Old Masters and The Loser. The narrative style, mental torment, personality debilitation, circular reasoning, and objective loathing/subjective despair are all in place from the previous (and much longer) books—but Yes tempers it all with a more measured and more, dare I say, hopeful element to balance against the bilious raging and torrential word-wounding that abounds within the monologic structure of fiction from Austria's finest razor-edged writer.

For one thing, the inevitable life's work that the narrator has been fixedly laboring at—in this case, a scientific study of antibodies in nature—whilst announced right out of the starting gate (together with the requisite plaint of suffering a persistent illness, though the meddling kinsman fails to make an appearance) quickly takes a back seat; indeed, other than the applicability between this study and the thematic progression of the novel, the unnamed narrator's prime obsession proves a secondary element of what the bi-paragraphical story is: a leanly brilliant, compactly sprung and, as always, harrowingly relatable working out of the terrible burdens inflicted upon an intelligent-but-splintered mind brought into being by an implacably hostile natural world during a period of prevailing nihilistic emptiness and immersed within the inescapable-because-omnipresent isolation that comprises the ultimate reality of that which we comprehend as our bounded existence.

As Bernhard sees it, we must be careful about what we wish for; must understand, as he does, that nothing comes up or about without a price; that what excites us, what we love is but a mirror image of that which appalls us, that which we loathe; that our busy and frenzied existence, ever-seeking and -obtaining new interests and passions and goals cannot effectively mask the understanding, innate to human existence, that all such desires represent but bright, gaudy colours painted upon an enervating and bleaching whiteness. Whatever we achieve or feel will, in time, become pale, wan, etiolated, listless, be recognized for the absurdity it is, the hollowness it is built around, the nothingness it points towards, the futility it represents. We must understand this and position within such knowledge the apparent solution of suicide. We must perceive this siren song of release and that we can stop-up our ears to it with human interaction, anchor ourselves against its pull with select individuals who ameliorate our condition—and that this buttressing potentiality can be reversed, sending us hurling towards self-abnegation at an unstoppable, irrecoverable speed. Everything is both necessary and superfluous, inviting and repulsive, healing and dangerous, helpful and murderous. Paradoxes abound. There truly is no way out of this conundrum of a reality that bruises after it caresses and reveals every rainbow as leading to a copper pot of rancid shit. Ceiling, floor, all four walls are spiked and slowly moving in—how shall we find the means to occupy our minds enough that this fact will withdraw into the background sufficient to allow us to set out to achieve something, anything.

That all sounds a bit florid, true, but—as any fan of Tommy B. knows well—it's a lithe and limber prose that the maestro trots out, delineating it all in a controlled sluicing of words that turns on a dime to head in a differing, but related, direction. Aside from the Austrian countryside and the antagonistic, antipathetic bucolic denizens who inhabit it and make it such a miserable place to domicile for intellectuals and/or foreigners—though, of course, the city is just as bad in its own inherent constitution—the cast of Yes is but a handful: the nameless narrator; his real-estate agent friend and existential rock Moritz; and a couple comprising a power-plant designing Swiss and his Persian lady friend who, as the book opens, have purchased a waterlogged parcel of land, parked between towering mountain and dim forest, on which to construct an unfriendly, concrete slab in which to pass the remainder of their years now that the Swiss' final project is nearing completion. The appearance of this oddly-balanced pairing at the very moment when the narrator has reached the nadir of his mental illness, wallowing in a paralyzing despair, locked away from all contact with the outside world for several months, serves as an invigorating tonic for him—vanquishes (temporarily) the miasmatic winds that have smothered his ambition and quenched his energy, and propels him into a renewed appreciation for and desire to once more read his beloved Schopenhauer, listen to his cherished Schumann, and pick up where he left off with his scientific study. What is it about the couple that produces such an effect? It is the presence of the Persian woman, whose taciturn and idiosyncratic personality portends of a beneficial potentiality as a walking partner for future excursions, an intelligent and commiserative being upon which to unload oneself, disburden oneself of the bleak psychic accumulations of a sustained depression.

Where will this ambulatory relationship proceed to? What secrets will it unveil, what dark avenues of the lugubrious Austrian woodland will the pair trod whilst using each other as sounding boards? Read it and see. The Persian woman presents a nice addition to the Bernhardian fictional method, as does the placid Moritz and his brief-but-pertinent placement in relation to the narrator. The latter himself is one of the more compelling of the author's textual conscious creations, providing a typically bleak assessment of life's many-sided failures, fatuousness and futility while yet managing to overcome the inevitability of following such morbid thoughts to their logical conclusion. Indeed, this faceless voice demonstrates a wisdom to limn his despair, a nuance to his condemnations that adds an extra poignancy to the flow. Schopenhauer's Will to Existence and concept of an aesthetically-attuned Genius are the first-class passengers here within its textual vessel, struggling to prevail against the rising tide of lung-filling pessimistic despair and its attendant brush strokes that coat all a Cimmerian slate.

I always find Bernhard hitting me right where it hurts, digging at that scab and describing the wound in nauseatingly accurate detail. He doesn't get everything right, of course, but there's much that rings all too true. Is it the fact that it is carried to such extremes that makes it easier to bear? The humor within the bile that allows it to more readily sink in? That the puzzle's pieces are variegated sufficiently that makes the final assembled image so captivating to behold? I think yes.
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David Yes Yes


message 2: by knig (new)

knig What are ye doing with Schopenhauer? Behave!
Schopenhauer’s Will is ‘the thing in itself’, not the individual will of humans.Schopenhauer contends that suicide is not a denial of the will-to-live, because it is not a rejection of personal well-being but is only a rejection of suffering. Suicide does not reject life itself, but only rejects the conditions under which life is given. Suicide is a surrender of life, but not of the will-to-live. The individual who commits suicide gives up living, but does not give up willing. In the act of suicide, the will affirms itself, even though it puts an end to its individual manifestation
Which is exactly the opposite of what you were saying on the subject.
Now, I have to go back to my knitting and apple pie baking.


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