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Wittgenstein's Nephew
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1001 book reviews > Wittgenstein's Nephew by Thomas Bernhard

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Diane  | 2051 comments Rating: 4 Stars
Read: July 2016

I guess you could call this a fictionalized memoir, though I'm not sure where the the truth stops and the fiction begins. In the story, the author is in the hospital recuperating from a recent tumor removal from his lung. He is told he only has a few months left to live. He befriends another patient at the hospital who is suffering from from mental illness. This man is the nephew of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the philosopher and is also a philosopher of sorts. The two men find out they have a lot in common. We follow the two friends through the progression of their illnesses and treatments, as well as the progression of their friendship. The basic theme is death and dying. It sounds depressing, but really isn't. The book is also written using only one paragraph.

This is my first book by Bernhard and he has several on the list. I look forward to reading the rest.

John Seymour Diane wrote: "Rating: 4 Stars
Read: July 2016

I guess you could call this a fictionalized memoir, though I'm not sure where the the truth stops and the fiction begins. In the story, the author is in the hospita..."

I had a very different reaction. Suffice it to say I'm not looking forward to my next Bernhard.

message 3: by Gail (last edited Feb 03, 2021 12:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gail (gailifer) | 1495 comments This is my first Bernhard and I am not exactly sure what to make of it. I think I will have to process a bit.
This one long paragraph narration, introduces us to a shadow of the author and his friend, a nephew of Ludwig Wittgenstein. The language use is quite constrained with little descriptive phrasing, and limited use of adjectives and adverbs so the reader has a sense of crispness. On the other hand, each individual sentence is often repeated in slightly different ways, or with additions or with clarifications, so there is a quality to the narration that suggests music. However, there is none of the rhythm, not even the rhythm of Beckett. Perhaps the "music" gets lost in translation from the German. This reiteration is both effective and exhausting for the reader, or rather for this reader.
To quote Wittgenstein: "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" and Bernhard seems to work at clarifying his world for the reader through this crisp, repetitive language usage.

The theme of the short book is friendship and dying and is, in fact, a collection of notes that Bernhard or rather his shadow narrator collected during a time when Paul Wittgenstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein's nephew, and the narrator were building a friendship based on a mutual understanding and love of music, opera, and a belief in the political decadence of Austria and the death of any real culture in Vienna. Paul is committed to insane asylums regularly and Bernhard's narrator suffers from lung diseases that commit him to medical asylums also. By coincidence, they end up in the same asylum with two different wings for mental disease and lung disease. Bernhard's narrator takes the reader through his friendship and one comes to understand that in many ways, Paul was one of the only people in our narrator's life that understood him and allowed him to understand parts of himself. In the end, however, the narrator can not stand to be with his friend because he is more dead than alive. The narrator is afraid to embarrass his friend with his own ability to live, but largely is fearful of interacting with death any more than he has to. Although not an apology for not visiting his friend during his last days, or even an apology for not visiting his grave, there is something in the book that elevates their friendship to a sphere where by the author is clarifying the depth of feeling he had for his friend and the extent in which he was able to understand his friend which is as much as Bernhard could give. Very interesting book...I gave it 4 stars but am still thinking about it. There are many other Bernhard books on the list and I wonder if I will find any of them readable.

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