Thomas Bernhard – one of the most distinguished German-speaking authors. Really? Never even heard of him. Either he is not so distinguished or I have missed out on something completely. Anyways, time to correct the mistake with nothing other than his novel Correction. I will form my opinion after a few chapters, I am sure.
Well, I was in for a big surprise there. You know how people ask each other whether they need to finish the chapter before putting down a book. Well, with Thomas Bernhard it is more like: Do you need to finish the sentence or you can stop at any comma you fancy. Correction, with its 250 pages is actually composed out of two paragraphs and what, maybe 10 sentences. I am exaggerating here, of course, but Thomas Bernhard is really the king of the comma. Some of the sentences run out for pages and pages and I bet my life that you don’t remember how the sentence started by the time you actually reach the save haven of the full stop. However, one is never confused or lost. Thomas Bernhard is easy to read and understand – you need just a little bit more concentration than with an average book. As long as you stop with him to take a deep breath at the commas, you find that Correction is a beautifully written prose that flows like a song.
Correction follows the gradual breakdown into madness of a talented scientist. The brilliant Roithamer self-exiles himself in England to escape from his dysfunctional family, in which he was ever the outsider. Studying and teaching natural science in Cambridge, from times to times Roithamer returns to his homeland of Austria to follow on the project of his life – building a cone-shaped home in the middle of the Kobernausser forest for his favourite sister to live in.
The novel is composed of two parts. The first portrays Roithamer through the eyes of a unnamed friend who arrives in Hoeller’s Garret, Roithamer’s think-tank escape, to “sift and sort” through his works after the scientist’s suicide. In the second part the narrator gradually gives off to Roithaimer’s voice, reading excerpts from his manuscript. The manuscript, the work of Roithaimer’s live follows his troubled childhood, his problems with his parents and two brothers, his eternal love for his sister, and his obsession with building a Cone never seen before. As the story progresses, one is slowly immersed in the maddening world of the scientist. Correction is a novel about perfectionism and pure thought, which eventually lead to insanity:
If we keep attaching meanings and mysteries to everything we perceive, everything we see that is, and to everything that goes on inside us, we are bound to go crazy sooner or later, I thought.
It is a well-known truth that the more you think, the more unhappy you become. Overanalyzing life leads to overanalyzing what we want but cannot have. Overanalyzing happiness we end up in the same misery again. Roithamer is a genius obsessed with perfection and pure thought. He corrects, and re-corrects, and re-corrects his manuscript (and himself) looking for answers about purpose and existence. He re-visits, re-works and eventually destroys. His manuscript, people around him, himself mostly. At the end the ultimate correction is suicide.
We’re constantly correcting, and correcting ourselves, most rigorously, because we recognize at every moment that we did it all wrong (wrote it, thought it, made it all wrong), acted all wrong, how we acted all wrong, that everything to this point in time is a falsification, so we correct this falsification, and then we again correct the correction of this falsification and we correct the result of the correction of a correction andsoforth..
Thomas Bernhard portrays the gradual decline into insanity of a great scientist and possibly a great human being. The question remains – is it possible for such people to endure the trivialities of life, to learn and settle for something less than perfection, to accept people with their faults without constantly trying to correct and change them? Or, the opposite, are all geniuses destined to a lonely and depressed live, always misunderstood and criticized, and eventually opting for the only sensible solution – death? Correction is difficult to read not because of Bernhard’s style but because of its emotional charge. A journey through a mind obsessed is always painful – especially as you come to the realization there is no escape. One’s mind is one’s chamber of torture – by obsessing himself with the dream of building the perfect cone for his perfect sister Roithamer is dooms himself to despair once his dream is crushed. His mind is unable to grasp mediocrity and simplicity – it dreams of unattainable heights and unattainable ideals. Dreamers were never survivors.
…because a man who no longer thinks his own thoughts but instead finds himself dominated by the thoughts of another man whom he admires or even if he doesn’t admire him but is only dominated by his thoughts, compulsively, such a man is in constant danger of doing himself in by his continual thinking of the other man’s thoughts, in danger of deadening himself out of existence.
…because unless one is thinking of everything at each moment, one is not thinking at all
…an attitude of mutual respect was the most helpful attitude between friends, the most suitable and appropriate to them and especially to their friendship, people were always admiring where they should simply respect something or someone, the trouble with admiration was, it ought to be nothing but respect for the other person, something of which most people were incapable, apparently expecting the other person was the hardest stance to maintain between individuals, most people are simply incapable of respecting others, but respecting others is most important, people prefer admiring to respecting even though they only irritate the other person with their admiration and destroy what is valuable in the other person instead of preserving it by duly respecting it.
We must be removed as far as possible from the scene of our thoughts if we’re to think properly, with the greatest intensity, the greatest clarity, always only at the greatest distance from the scene of our thoughts.