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Frost by Thomas Bernhard
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Frost (1963)

by Thomas Bernhard

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English (7)  Italian (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)

It feels like glacial music to me, the prose with its slow-creeping angularity. The onset of frost. Rhythm punctuated by cacophonous barking of the dogs and then silence—the empty aching silence of the larch wood—the dark valley, the frigidity of the rock face looming above a forest floor that never sees more than a grey shadow of sunlight.

When the days get that cold, I sit in my bed, and stare at the frost flowers on my window, that in a succession of miracles evoke landscapes from painting, from nature, from inner despair, only to crush them again, and to draw from them such truths as, to my conviction, are dispersed in their hundreds of thousands and their millions in our lives, and portray more than an intimation of a world that lies alongside our familiar world, a universe we have failed to recognize.

The painter Strauch and the young medical intern sutured to him, at first out of obligation, growing later as a virus into unavoidable necessity. The mingling of their voices, much like those of Roithamer and his unnamed friend in Bernhard's later novel Correction, the one man coming under the spell of the other man's words. The way Strauch talks, so cryptic in its allure, so alluring in its vitriol...

Strauch's language is the language of the heart muscle, a scandalous "cerebral pulse." It is rhythmic self-abasement under the "subliminal creak" of his own rafters. His notions and subterfuges, fundamentally in accord with the barking of those dogs that he drew my attention to, with which he "scattered me to the air." Can it still be described as language? Yes, it is the false bottom of language, the heaven and hell of language, the mutiny of rivers, "the steaming word-nostrils of brains that are in a state of endless and shameless despair."

Strauch's love-hate of the landscape, imbued with death, as he himself is consumed with death, his entire life seen by the intern as "a passion of suicide." His obsessions with the petty goings-on around him, the everyday life of the inn, the landlady and her philandering ways, the engineer and his hungering ego, the ubiquity of the knacker. The incessant walks—to the station, through the larch wood, into the ravine, to the church, the cemetery, the poorhouse—movement as necessity to keep from freezing, quoting his Pascal: "Our nature is motion, complete stasis is death."

We all live the lives of death masks. Everyone who is really alive has taken his off at one time or another, but as I say, people don't live, it's just, as I say, the life of death masks. […] A seeming life, no longer capable of real life. Cities that are long since dead, mountains too, long dead, livestock, poultry, even water and the creatures that used to live in the water. Reflections of our death masks. A death mask ball.

He grows irritated with his companion, the intern, who, in a rare moment of disagreement, objects to his "death mask ball" idea. "You young people don't believe," he said. "The whole world is nothing but a death-mask ball." Strauch wonders if for his entire life he had really been someone else altogether, and had thus been denied "admission to myself." Out of desperation then, he must write or tell about what preoccupies him, at all times. Death, truth, society's insipid nature, the destruction of greatness by jealousy and apathy, the complex role of the artist ("the great emetic agents of the time"), the monstrous horror of life itself. The familiar Bernhardian preoccupations are all in evidence, sprouting up in their infancy, tiny seedlings that will grow into thick gnarled vines over the next twenty fierce years of writing. Here there is less of his later repetition, and with section breaks perhaps allowing for easier digestion than the monolithic text blocks that mark his successive novels, but his prose and themes are still recognizable. The book can be read as one massive smothering metaphor for Bernhard's own feelings about his homeland. If you wanted to simplify it, that is. Strauch would likely draw your attention back to the dogs...

"Listen, the dogs! Listen to that barking." And he got up and walked out and went up to his room. When I followed him out into the entrance hall and stopped, I could hear through the half-iced-up open front door the long-drawn-out howling of dogs, and sometimes their barking. The endlessly drawn out howling, and the sound of barking biting into it. In front of me I heard the barking and howling, and behind me the laughing and vomiting and smacking of playing cards. Ahead of me the dogs, behind me the customers at the bar. I won't be able to sleep tonight. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
One of the darkest and strangest and most unforgettable books I have ever read. Kind of a Tuesdays With Morrie for dark geniuses with aspergers. ( )
  byebyelibrary | Apr 3, 2014 |
I think pretty highly of this longish gem. My review can be read in its entirety here:

http://mewlhouse.hubpages.com/hub/Frost-the-First-Novel-Wrtten-by-Thomas-Bernhard ( )
  MSarki | Mar 31, 2013 |
'Frost' yet another excrescence of Bernhard's imagination. This time it's a student who follows a painter, or rather a man who used to be a painter, in order to see if he is sane. Of course he isn't: that is so immediately obvious that the question becomes--as of the first five pages of the book--what kind of imagination the painter possesses. The book offers no relief, no pleasure of slowly dawning insight (even if that insight is might reveal psychosis, impending suicide, unrelieved pessimism, or bottomless misanthropy). Reading 'Frost' is like lying in pig slurry, and raising yourself every few minutes to wipe yourself, and then lying back down, then rising again. It makes Beckett seem prissy and sterile, and it makes nearly every other author look cowardly, because by comparison most authors rush off to nice conclusions.

Here's what makes Bernhard wonderful, from a 1984 interview:

"FLEISCHMANN: In this book you write that Austrian intellectual life has gone to wrack and ruin. Vienna is an institute for the annihilation of genius, its newspapers are the worst in the world, the Burgtheater is abominable, its administration is even more abominable. Are these turns of phrase you employ for the sake of, as it were, honing your artistic technique, or [are they] your actual opinion[s]?

BERNHARD: All these opinions arise spontaneously, and so they certainly don’t have anything to do with any sort of artistic technique that can ever be discovered."

That word, "discovered," is in italics in the translation. Of course the interviewer misses it entirely. Of course Bernhard continues being misheard. It makes me want to jump with joy. ( )
  JimElkins | Jul 23, 2009 |
Here is Thomas Bernhard once again offering the “philosophy of the exacerbated bird’s-eye view of impure thought” as it goes “through the nitrogen of the primal condition of the devil,” “pitch[ing] wildness and quiet alternately at the disquiet of others.” His voicebox is the painter, Strauch, “one of those people . . . who tie tourniquets round the arteries of their thought, but to no effect; who pour themselves out in suicidal word-spate, who hate themselves in truth because the world of their feeling, apprehended as enforced incest, daily smashes them to smithereens.” Get the picture?

Strauch’s disdain is breathless. Bernhard ensconces him in an environment, “where vulgarity carries its head as high as royalty. Brutality wanders along like the epitome of gentleness, celebrated, ethical, inimitable.” Strauch deplores the liquor-soaked, “cretins” who surround the rural inn to which he retreated after burning all of his paintings and breaking contact with anyone who might have been in the habit of tolerating him. His brother, a medical doctor, sends an aspiring medical student to observe Strauch’s behavior for thirty days. The book transpires in this implausibly short time period, narrated by the medical student, who quotes Strauch nearly as much as he articulates thoughts of his own. The reflections of the medical student are rapidly contaminated and overrun by the timbre of Strauch’s own inexhaustible venom and while peripheral characters register a few pages worth of speaking, they and the medical student all end up sounding like the painter, which is one of the book’s weak points.

If you had a friend like the painter, you would not often pay attention to what he said. When it resonated with your mood or your conclusions, you might perk up; but by and large you can tune out such a person with ease and discover twenty minutes (or pages) later, that they are oblivious to your level of alertness and disinterested in your reception. Worse, you can pretty much immediately get back into the flow of their discourse because it is predictable in its trajectory and stance. It can be difficult to get traction in this book. When I skim through the parts where I made fewest notes, I find passages that I don’t remember reading. At the same time, the book is peppered with rewardingly humorous passages that are one of the things for which I most enjoy Bernhard: “I can’t remember what I wanted to say, but I know it was something malicious. Often, of all the things you mean to say, that’s all that’s left, the sense that you had it in mind to say something malicious.”

“As soon as it could blow its own nose, a child was deadly to anything it came in touch with.”

“Most of them have never done anything else anyway but load and unload, standing in standing water in their gumboots and knocking in bridge piles.”

“It’s like having to make my way through millennia, just because a couple of moments are after me with big sticks.”

Themes that run throughout Bernhard’s writing are already making regular appearances in this, his first novel. A loathing of Austria, common Austrians and womankind is everywhere present. Characters fixate on suicide and feel beset and undermined by the destructive, crude and inadequate nature of neighbors and nations. Bernhard’s characters refuse to integrate and then punish themselves for it. The acid humor is the only relief that you will be afforded in your progress through his novels.If you have not read Bernhard before, do not start here. Consider starting with “Gargoyles,” his most episodic work that suffers least from repetition, or his memoir, “Gathering Evidence,” which is shattering, beautiful and cruel. As far as I’m concerned, most of his middle period works about creative people whose creativity is blocked, are a bit too painful for anyone who isn’t a literary masochist. ( )
  fieldnotes | Nov 11, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I reviewed this recently on gradpadscansion.wordpress.com . In short, I enjoyed the quality of the writing, and the translation read wonderfully, but after a while, it began reading like a Goth/Emo diary, with much to do about darkness, cold, and, um, darkness. Not a book I'd recommend.
added by tsinandali | editTsinandali
 

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bernhard, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Graftdijk, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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A medical internship consists of more than spectating at complicated bowel operations, cutting open stomach linings, bracketing off lungs, and sawing off feet; and it doesn't just consist of thumbing close the eyes of the dead, and hauling babies out into the world either.
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"Visceral, raw, singular, and distinctive, Frost is the story of a friendship between a young man at the beginning of his medical career and a painter who is entering his final days." "A writer of world stature, Thomas Bernhard combined a searing wit and an unwavering gaze into the human condition. Frost follows an unnamed young Austrian who accepts an unusual assignment. Rather than continue with his medical studies, he travels to a bleak mining town in the back of beyond, in order to clinically observe the aged painter, Strauch, who happens to be the brother of this young man's surgical mentor. The catch is this: Strauch must not know the young man's true occupation or the reason for his arrival. Posing as a promising law student with a love of Henry James, the young man befriends the mad artist and is caught up among an equally extraordinary cast of local characters, from his resentful landlady to the town's mining engineers.""This debut novel by Thomas Bernhard came out in German in 1963 and is now being published in English for the first time."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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