A great essay by E.J. Van Lanen on reading Thomas Bernhard over at Quarterly Conversation.
What I see in Bernhard is an examination of the problem of consciousness—if we understand consciousness to be the thing that provides us with ex-post facto justifications. And what is truly disturbing in Bernhard is not that his characters have created justificatory structures that verge on the insane, or at the very least the disturbed, but that these justifications are our own. For Bernhard’s characters always have an explanation, and those explanations, while delivered by unconventional people, and in unconventionally strident ways, are quite common: society caused this, or the family, or money, or fear of failure, or our innate goodness and seriousness running up against an uncomprehending and intolerant other. And maybe what he’s showing is that any attempt at justification or explanation is a kind of madness, that the causal search is a denial of the reality of the situation we’re faced with, that there is no significance, that our consciousness is just as deceptive as the consciousnesses of these half-mad characters, that our lives are based on stories, that we use these stories to paper, pitifully, over a truth that we can’t face, that these madnesses are our own madness.
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