Poetologie der Prozessualität und schreibendes Erinnern in Thomas Bernhards Die Autobiographie
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“Ich bin ein Geschichtenzerstörer, ich bin der typische Geschichtenzerstörer” – “I am a story destroyer, I am the typical story destroyer”, Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) says in the film manuscript Drei Tage (1970). The Austrian author Thomas Bernhard is famous for his monomaniacal, ironic and antithetic style, which is found in all his works. In Bernhard’s prose, the language is in the centre, while the story plays a minor role. The goal is not to write a “whole” work, but to “cut” stories through interruptions, abrupt endings of narratives, and undermining the logics of a story. However, “destroying a story” is also an accurate characterisation of the contrast between the expectations called forth by the title of the pentalogy – Die Autobiographie – and the non-fulfilment of these expectations. Long wordy sentences, hypotaxes, and hyperbolism are in the centre of Thomas Bernhard’s Die Autobiographie. The style overshadows to a large degree the story of Bernhard’s childhood and adolescence, so that the story itself ends up as fragmented to the point of being almost invisible. The present dissertation, Poetologie der Prozessualität und schreibendes Erinnern (“Poetics of Processuality and Writing Remembrance”), examines Thomas Bernhard’s five autobiographical novels – Die Ursache, Der Keller, Der Atem, Die Kälte, and Ein Kind – which were published between 1975 and 1982, and later collected and published as a pentalogy with the title Die Autobiographie. The first four volumes are to a large degree chronological, and deal with the period from the protagonist’s 14. until his 19. year of life. The last volume, however, breaks the chronology by focussing on his early childhood. The main focus of the dissertation is the processuality of the poetic language in Thomas Bernhard’s Die Autobiographie. The following research questions are considered: What kind of poetic language of autobiographical writing does the work construct? How does Bernhard decide the genre affiliation of his work through ‘language play’ with key terms linked to autobiography? How does he thematise the process of finding language in Die Autobiographie? What is the importance of Bernhard’s writing style regarding his autobiographical writing and his descriptions of reality? The previous research on Thomas Bernhard agrees that Die Autobiographie is not an ordinary autobiography: His five autobiographical novels are said to be just as fictional as his fictional work is autobiographical. The research has focused mainly on three areas: his autobiography in light of his fiction, a psychoanalytical focus with an emphasis on Bernhard’s childhood memories, and different aspects of the writing style of his work. However, the concept of writing processes and processuality regarding writing has not been discussed in the previous research. Firstly, processuality describes the autobiographical thematic, as the pentalogy thematises the phases of the narrator’s adolescence. Secondly, processuality concerns aspects of the aesthetics of Bernhard’s writing. Because of its writing style, the pentalogy has a “processual”, “un-finished” and fluid character, as if the work would be in constant process and constant flow. In my dissertation I discuss how processuality appears through different aspects in the five volumes, and I show how the pentalogy is constituted as an autobiographical and at the same time poetic work through the aspects of processuality. In Chapter 2, I discuss different theories on autobiography, autobiographical writing, and truth and fiction in the autobiographical literature. I have chosen not to follow one theoretical direction, instead pragmatically combining different theoretical approaches. In order to be able to capture Thomas Bernhard’s autobiographical writing style and its character between facticity and fictionality, it was necessary to start with the concrete writing style of the works. Bernhard’s oral style, the flow of his language, the subjective notions, the hyperbolism of his characterisations and the radicalism of the perspectives can be located with reference to the concept of essayism. In this regard, the intertextual references in Die Ursache to Michel de Montaigne, the founding father of essayism, are particularly interesting: the volume contains three passages with citations that originate from Montaigne. This intertextual dimension is examined in Chapter 3. The citations include, among other thing, descriptions of writing, of the self and of reality, and can therefore be read as advices or as a poetical programme for writing and self-writing. I conclude that Montaigne is being used not only as a strategy of legitimation and authorisation, but also as a poetical role model. In Chapter 4, the specific characterisations of Bernhard’s writing style in his Autobiographie are examined. The analysis shows that Bernhard’s writing style is constituted through hyperbolics, through linguistic repetitions, through the redundancy of his style – and through which the processuality of Bernhard’s autobiographical writing manifests itself. The writing appears to attempt a search for authenticity and to prove the story which is being told. In Chapter 5 I examine the reflexions in the volume regarding truth and falsehood – and the possibility of disseminating the truth and truthfulness of autobiographical writing. The topic appears as meta-reflexions in the texts, and in the end as a “play” with language and notions. This is closely intertwined with the prose – with the hypotaxes, the hyperbolics, and the tautologies of the text, and shows the principle of process as a scepticism towards truth as something definite and distinct. The writing circles around the notions of truth, reality, falseness and lie. This “play” indicates that the question of truth for the author is particularly interesting as an aspect of narration, as a question of the truthfulness of narration. I also discuss the novel’s theatre motif and its relation to performativity, truth, fictionalisation, and aestheticisation. In Chapter 6 I examine some elements of the story that are particularly important to the poetics of writing. The protagonist of the grandfather as a poetic “projection character” plays an important role for genesis of becoming an author. His voice and his worldview interfere with the narrative. In this way he is both being honoured and at the same time ironized. In conclusion, the dissertation finds that processuality manifests itself both in the story itself and on the narrative level. Processuality expresses itself in the childhood descriptions, where the stories show the origins of the genesis of writing. These are, however, often being undermined of a performative self-reflexion. Processuality is also closely connected with the writing style of the author. The novel manifests itself as a process in different ways in the essayistic, wandering, circling writing style, but also in the potentiality of syntax: the meandering sentences, the hypotaxes, antitheses and tautologies demonstrate, through their linguistic complications, a scepticism towards the possibilities of language to communicate truth. In this respect Bernhard’s Autobiographie can be understood as a new approach of autobiographism: it is less a question of describing life, and more a question of analysing the possibilities of description in the process of writing, as a performative praxis.