Strauch’s Lament

Reading Thomas Bernhard’s Frost is exhilarating. Repeatedly I must put the book to one side while I let the writing coalesce. This is the first Bernhard book I have read, though he has been in my library for a while awaiting chance discovery. I know I will have to read everything he wrote.

Thus far, Frost is the anguished and harrowing howl of the tormented painter Strauch:

“There was a time I would have thought it impossible for me to give in to myself so blindly,” says the painter. He stops, draws breath and says: “I could be in a good mood, after all. Why am I not in a good mood? I’m not bored, I’m not scared. I’m in no pain. I feel no irritation. As if I was someone else, just now. And there it is again: I’m hurt and irritated. Yes, it’s my own doing. See: all my life . . . I’ve never been merry! Never joyful! Never what people call happy. Because the compulsion to the unusual, the eccentric, the odd, the unique, and the unattainable, this compulsion has wrecked everything for me, and in the creative field as well. It tore everything up, as if it were a piece of paper! My fear is rational, orderly, itemised, there’s nothing low about it. I’m continually testing myself! You can imagine what it’s like, when you open yourself like a book, and find misprints everywhere, one after another, misprints on every page! And in spite of those hundreds and thousands of misprints, the whole thing is <masterly! It’s a whole series of masterpieces! . . . The pain rises from below or comes down from above, and it becomes human pain. I keep banging into the walls that surround me on every side. I’m a cement man! But I’ve often had to hold on to myself behind my laughter.

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