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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bernhard: 'Just So Much Frozen Air'

Frost is Berhard's first novel and is largely formless but the devastating power, and dark humor, of his later works is clearly foreshadowed in the following passage, which is, however, illogical in that its speaker, a jaded, chronically ill, despairing, misanthropic and possibly failed painter living in a rooming house in Weng, Austria, habitually carries a work by the deeply religious Blaise Pascal in his pocket:

"Before he retired to his room, 'not to sleep, but to howl to myself in the silence of horror'; he said: 'How everything has crumbled, how everything has dissolved, how all the reference points have shifted, how all fixity has moved, how nothing exists anymore, how nothing exists, you see, how all the religions and irreligions and the protracted absurdities of all forms of worship have turned into nothing, nothing at all, you see, how belief and unbelief no longer exist, how science, modern science, how the stumbling blocks, the millennial courts, have all been thrown out and ushered out and blown out into the air, how all of it is now just so much air . . . Listen, it's all air, all concepts are air, all points of reference are air, everything is just air . . .' And he said: 'Frozen air, everything just so much frozen air . . . .' "

I'm not enjoying it much but I keep reading because there's nothing else to do and it's too early to go to bed . . . it reminds me of the many hours I threw away reading Musil's The Man Without Qualities, one of the worst "classic" novels I have ever come across, which I kept reading and reading, hating every page of it, because I was on vacation and couldn't get my hands on anything else to read.

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