David's Reviews > Wittgenstein's Nephew

Wittgenstein's Nephew by Thomas Bernhard
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's review
Nov 20, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: thomas-bernhard, misery-loves-company

A quickie review, so put on your non-porous splash suit and buckle yourself in. Eschewing his emblematic deranged, run-on style, Bernhard serves up Wittgenstein's Nephew as both a eulogy of his friend Paul Wittgenstein, the famed philosopher's mentally unbalanced nephew, and a bleak rumination on death -- or more pointedly, the slow, surreptitious death that constitutes life. If you know someone who is despairing about about his or her physical deterioration and impending death, do not be so thoughtful as to give this book to said person as a gift. As the saying goes, 'Misery loves company' but death, as Wittgenstein's Nephew makes clear, is a solitary endeavor. It can not be shared. Even simultaneous, proximal deaths are not shared -- just juxtaposed. The narrative of this pithy novel is less a conventional plot point A to plot point B affair than a rueful meandering. The impetus is the narrator's (i.e., Thomas Bernhard's) stay in a lung disease ward in Vienna -- where prevailing medical opinion agrees that Bernhard will die, imminently. Adjacent to the lung disease ward in a spatial relation that is not quite clear to me is the mental ward, where Paul Wittgenstein is temporarily residing. Bernhard describes the medical complex (quite specifically) as only a mental ward and a lung disease ward. Nothing more. Which seems an odd commingling, but nevertheless... it affords him the opportunity (or the hypothetical opportunity) to visit his friend. The meeting doesn't go well, however. Something is lost, something is missing. Everything has changed. Mortality and illness ruin everything. Lock up the handgun and booze because this won't go down easy.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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David I'm in decline. And it feels good.

Greg This should have been given a five star rating. Are you trying to get on my bad side?

David Greggly, a four star rating is nothing to sniff at! (Especially coming from me.) I just preferred Concrete and Woodcutters to this one. Maybe I was thrown off-guard because it's more conventional. But it was a great little book.

Greg I think I might have a soft spot for this book because it was the first of his I read, and I knew nothing about Bernhard before I read it for class.

Have you ever read Arden Arabie by Paul Nizan? That was another gem of pessimism I was introduced to in grad school.

David No, haven't read that one -- or heard of it. Maybe a part of my reluctance to give this book five stars was that it depressed me more than I'm comfortable with. In that respect, it was highly effective. Or too effective.

Now, on to the next Bernhard...

message 6: by Bram (new)

Bram I'm really enjoying these Bernhard reviews, Kowalski. Looks like you're out-brianing brian with this read-an-author's-entire-oeuvre-in-a-matter-of-weeks endeavor.

Kimley Which Bernhard are you reading next? I've got The Lime Works sitting here calling my name which brian says is his favorite. Maybe a bit of Bernhard can get me out of my reading slump.

David Thanks, Wisp!

Kimley, I am concurrently reading The Loser and Correction.

The Lime Works was actually my first exposure to Bernhard. The jewturd loaned me his copy last year -- when the English translation was out-of-print. I read about one hundred pages of it, and I really did like it, but wasn't in a reading mood at the time... so I will be reading it again. It definitely seems to be the darkest and most 'gothic' of all the Bernhards I've yet encountered.

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