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The Lime Works (1970)

by Thomas Bernhard

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4771051,053 (4.17)17
For five years, Konrad has imprisoned himself and his crippled wife in an abandoned lime works where he's conducted odd auditory experiments and prepared to write his masterwork, "The Sense of Hearing." As the story begins, he's just blown the head off his wife with the Mannlicher carbine she kept strapped to her wheelchair. The murder and the bizarre life that led to it are the subject of a mass of hearsay related by an unnamed life-insurance salesman in a narrative as mazy, byzantine, and mysterious as the lime works--Konrad's sanctuary and tomb.… (more)
  1. 10
    The Karnau Tapes by Marcel Beyer (elenchus)
    elenchus: Very different styles, but Bernhard's Limeworks and Beyer's Karnau Tapes each feature a morally ambiguous protagonist exploring the nature of sound, specifically human speech and hearing. Both worth reading.
  2. 00
    Henry von Ofterdingen by Novalis (thorold)
    thorold: Mrs Konrad's favourite bedtime book
  3. 00
    Memoirs of a Revolutionist by Peter Kropotkin (thorold)
    thorold: Mr Konrad's favourite bedtime book

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English (7)  French (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Opera del 1970, una delle più influenti di Bernhard su altri scrittori (per esempio, mi pare di capire, su Vitaliano Trevisan). Un racconto che parte ingannevolmente come un "giallo", con un delitto subito attribuito e dunque risolto, che lascia piuttosto spazio a una indagine su una storia di solitudine e follia, in cui ogni dettaglio, luogo, oggetto o avvenimento, diventa spunto di un malessere che cresce, con al centro la disgregazione della coppia, la malattia e la scrittura, con riflessioni di marca filosofica sul processo di ideazione e messa nero su bianco del pensiero. Fra le cose migliori (insieme a Perturbamento) che ho letto fino a ora dell'ampia produzione di Bernhard.

«Le parole rovinano il pensiero, la carta lo rende ridicolo, e mentre ci si accontenterebbe di mettere sulla carta anche qualcosa di rovinato e di ridicolo, la memoria si lascia scappare persino questo qualcosa di rovinato e di ridicolo. La carta trasforma una cosa straordinaria in una cosa priva d’importanza, in una ridicolaggine». ( )
  d.v. | May 16, 2023 |
Prime Bernhard here, a novel so horrific that on opening its pages I heard a faint whisper of black metal beckoning me hither. The glorious centerpiece is the narrator's attempt to produce a theory of hearing (note: he has no idea what he's talking about) by forcing his wife to undergo the 'Urbanchich Method,' which doesn't exist, but consists nonetheless in repeating words, syllables and sentences at the poor woman and then asking her how she feels about them.

That is, of course, just what the novel does. Like the wife, you, dear reader, are trapped in a post-industrial shithole. Like the wife, some lunatic is yelling at you as soon as you open the book until you put it down (the wife, of course, has no such option). Unlike the wife, you'll likely find it quite entertaining.

This fool, who has locked up himself, and his wife, and forced her to listen to his craziness, claims that "the keen of ear as well as the keen-eyed are not wanted these days; when a man is keen of ear or keen of eye they simply wife him out, lock him up, isolate him, destroy him by locking him up and isolating him... society is in favor of the dim, vegetative existence and nothing else. People want to be left in peace, and consequently they hate nothing than the ear and the brain" (67). Voila, a destructive dialectic! I love this kind of thing.

But the heights are reached on page 82-3:

"He would wander around, Konrad said to Fro, all over the lime works without getting anywhere near calming himself, everywhere, that is, except one place, his wife's room, because he did not want to aggravate his wife's depression by his own restlessness, considering that she was already in a state of deepest depression, constantly, in fact, he said to Fro; like him she would delude herself into thinking that times of unrest would alternate with times of inner peace, but in reality neither one of them ever came inwardly to rest, and so they both lived a permanent lie, not only did they lie to each other but each lied, side by side with the other, to himself and herself, while she lied to him and he to her and then simultaneously they lied to each other, in any case they lied that they were having a bearable life in the lime works, lied incessantly, although they were both trapped in an unbearable life, but if they did not simulate bearability, its unbearableness could simply not be borne, Konrad is supposed to have said to Fro, an unwavering simulation of leading a bearable life while actually and incessantly enduring the unendurable is simply the only way to get on with it, Konrad is supposed to have said to Fro, he also said something like it to Wieser, he even spoke to me about the bearability of the unbearable being made possible by the pretense of bearability, in the same words, with the same invisible gestures, as I recall, that time int eh timber forest; but to get back to what he was saying to Fro, he said that he would wander all over the lime works which on days of that particular kind indeed seemed boundless to him, and try to come to the end of them, but could not get to the end of the lime works because one could walk and run and crawl through the lime works and never get to the end of them, he is supposed to have said, and finally, reaching a sort of climax in the utter shamefulness of his situation, he was often reduced to putting his hands on the walls, those ice-cold rough masonry walls, the ice-cold doorframes, the ice-cold trapdoors to the attic, the icy window glass, the ice-cold wood of the few remaining pieces of furniture, saying to himself, with his eyes shut, over and over, steady now, steady, steady, man."

I want to start a website that comprises just that sentence. What follows?

"The lime works is not exactly an idyll, he is supposed to have said to Wieser..."

Of course. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
Kalkwerk differs from most of Bernhard's fiction in that the narrator is not the protagonist, but a neutral, transparent observer. He reports without comment what he has heard about Konrad (whom he apparently doesn't know) from Konrad's acquaintances Fro and Wieser, complemented by the various opinions of the people in several local pubs. It's easy to understand why Bernhard needs to set up this wall between the narrator and Konrad, because Konrad is the cynical, depressed, frustrated and alienated Bernhard-figure frighteningly taken to the extreme and somewhere beyond. At the outset of the book, we learn that Konrad has murdered his wheelchair-bound wife and has been found by the police hiding in a frozen cesspit. Bernhard uses his customary 200-page paragraph to analyse the process of intellectual self-destruction that brought Konrad to this point, at the root of which is the apparently seminal monograph On Hearing that Konrad has been working at for the last twenty years, without ever quite having the courage to realise it on paper.

As the title implies, the former lime-works where Konrad has chosen to live is a major character and source of symbolism throughout the book. He has supposedly picked it because of its remoteness and freedom from distractions, but in fact it turns out to be in the middle of all kinds of rural activity. As a functional industrial building it is meant to embody his disgust for prettiness and bourgeois country-house life, but we quickly realise that it also expresses his unproductive lifestyle, and his failure to break with his bourgeois roots (the works was part of his family's business empire). And it obviously has more than a hint of the tomb about it, and on a prosaic level it seems to reflect elements of the decrepit farmhouse Bernhard describes buying for himself in Meine Preise.

There is a wonderful Whatever happened to Baby Jane struggle going on between Konrad and his wife, as they spar about food, her clothes, Konrad's interminable hearing-tests according to the method of Urbantschitsch, and above all, about which book he should read to her from: she prefers Heinrich von Ofterdingen, but he is dedicated to Kropotkin's memoirs. Even when his wife isn't ringing her little bell, Konrad is disturbed by interminable visits from the locals, or the thought that there might be a visit from a local, or a passing huntsman or forester might be making a noise in the woods....

I don't want to repeat my comments about Bernhard's style for the umpteenth time: it is what it is, and it's splendid, but it's best to experience it at first hand. But one detail I haven't commented on before, which struck me especially in this book, is the extent to which Bernhard enjoys peppering us with Austrianisms, even whilst pouring contempt on every aspect of Austrian prettiness and quaintness. He clearly gets real (and no doubt perverse) pleasure from foregrounding words like Jänner, Fleischhauer, Rauchfangkehrer, Störschneider, Zuhaus - words which are just so much more fun that their standard German counterparts. And why not? ( )
2 vote thorold | Sep 13, 2016 |
One of the few books to contribute to my nightmares (where I was being subjected to a visual variant of the Urbanchich exercises where a screen of words was overlaid on my eyes and my focus on choosing the "correct" word was my only chance at being free of a diagnosis of some nameless psycopathology - a bit too much time spent on Duolingo and Memrise lately I guess).

Having recently read The Trial and The Castle, I detect the influence of Kafka on this book more than any of the others I've read thus far by Bernhard. This is true on a superficial level ("Konrad" vs. "K") and on a more abstract yet substantive level (the mood created by the Lime Works, by the town of Sicking, by the sense of inescapability and impossibility*, by the trap created by the mind of the protaganist more than anything, etc.).

Quite disturbing, though the distinctive style and (black) humor is fully intact and readily identifies the author. I might have ranked this more highly if considering it on its own terms (it succeeds in so many ways), but I have little desire to return to the obsessive miniature universe within the covers.

*everything is deeply provisional yet final; every object, emotion, or event is a "so-called" object, emotion, or event. Each encounter is a second-hand or third-hand encounter so there is always an distance between the reader and the protaganist - an unbridgeable chasm remaining no matter how close you get to understanding the most minute detail of Konrad's disappointments, his hopes, his (so-called?) madness... ( )
1 vote augustgarage | Aug 27, 2016 |
The most unusual characteristic of this third novel of Thomas Bernhard’s is the style of narration. It is also perhaps the most off-putting aspect of the book. While there is a first-person narrator, an insurance salesman, this narrator remains rather buried in the text and rarely surfaces to speak. The bulk of the text is told in a secondhand narration, in which the words of the main character Konrad are repeated by (primarily) two of Konrad’s associates, presumably to the narrator, who is then relating them to the reader. This distance in storytelling keeps the reader from getting too close to Konrad himself, who is admittedly not a particularly likable character, even within the realm of Bernhardian characters, who are not known for their likability.

Konrad is a grotesque caricature of the stereotypical ‘frustrated writer’ with a half-written novel sitting in the bottom desk drawer, or in this case, existing intact in his head, just waiting to be copied down onto paper. The megalomaniacal Konrad has barricaded himself and his disabled wife in his family’s lime works, which he acquired from his nephew after much delay and at great cost. Konrad’s great scientific work is concerned with the sense of hearing and his book, when he actually writes it, will be called simply The Sense of Hearing, which will be the definitive (and only, according to Konrad) comprehensive work on hearing. Obsessed with his hearing experiments using the so-called (many things are so-called in this novel) Urbanchich method, he repeatedly subjects his invalid wife to hours of listening exercises, which she has no choice but to participate in.

While he is dedicated to carrying out these experiments, Konrad is beset by numerous impediments to the actual writing of his book. These include, among many hundreds of others fully detailed within the text: the perpetual care of his invalid wife, the incessant visits to the lime works by minor officials and inspectors, and the noise of caretaker Hoeller chopping wood outside his window. Konrad and his wife have a combative relationship, aggravated by their collective isolation at the lime works, by Konrad’s wife’s sole dependence on her husband for care, and by Konrad’s manipulation of their living situation for his own perverse ends, which ultimately lead nowhere.

Throughout the novel, Konrad, through this secondhand narration, hits on many familiar Bernhardian refrains: incompetence of the medical profession; futility of marriage (‘the so-called ideal life together is a lie’); rejection of all authority figures; stupidity of hunters; injustice of all legal systems; oppressive brutality of nature; general misanthropy. There are a few bits of humor, as there usually are in Bernhard’s novels, but in general this is a brutal, uncompromising novel that tried even this reader’s voluminous patience with Thomas Bernhard as an oft-described ‘difficult’ writer, though certainly one of exceptional talent and vision.

Ultimately, reading The Lime Works is akin to visiting the actual lime works as described in the book, which is to say, stifling and generative of a strong desire to escape. ( )
2 vote S.D. | Apr 15, 2014 |
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
… l'uomo che dice la verità, se non lo si può dichiarare colpevole lo si ridicolizza, se non lo si può ridicolizzare lo si dichiara colpevole, in questo paese viene ridicolizzato e dichiarato colpevole chiunque dica la verità. Ma poiché solo pochissimi sono disposti a farsi dichiarare colpevoli e a lasciarsi ridicolizzare e poiché il singolo non teme nulla più della pena (infatti le elevate pene pecuniarie la prigione o peggio il carcere semplicemente non sono fatte per l'uomo) tutti o mentono o tacciono.
… da tempo fra loro due non c'era più quel che si suol chiamare uno scambio d'idee ma soltanto uno scambio di parole – Fro ora dice –: probabilmente nello scambiarsi l'intera gamma delle parole e delle frasi fatte, indispensabili alla vita quotidiana, loro ormai non esprimevano altro che odio reciproco.
… contrarre un matrimonio, come stringere un'amicizia, vuol dire decidere di sopportare in piena consapevolezza una situazione di doppia disperazione e di doppio esilio, vuol dire passare dall'antinferno della solitudine all'inferno della vita in comune.
Bisogna però dire che anche lei, la Konrad, durante i primi due anni passati nella fornace aveva tentato di convincersi che il fatto di essersi loro due completamente ritirati nella fornace significasse la salvezza per lui, Konrad, in un primo momento si era detta: naturalmente è la sua (la mia) salvezza – avrebbe raccontato Konrad a Wieser – ma poi, dopo solo sei mesi: è possibile che sia la sua (la mia) salvezza, poi, dopo un anno: forse è la sua (la mia) salvezza, e dopo due anni: naturalmente non può essere la sua (la mia) salvezza, dopo tre anni vedeva chiaramente che la fornace significava, al contrario, l'annientamento totale di Konrad, …
Bisogna essere prudenti – avrebbe detto Höller, dice Konrad a Fro – si va a un funerale e ci si piglia la morte. L'ho constatato spesso – avrebbe detto Konrad a Fro –: uno va a un funerale, prende freddo e poco dopo si va al suo funerale.
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For five years, Konrad has imprisoned himself and his crippled wife in an abandoned lime works where he's conducted odd auditory experiments and prepared to write his masterwork, "The Sense of Hearing." As the story begins, he's just blown the head off his wife with the Mannlicher carbine she kept strapped to her wheelchair. The murder and the bizarre life that led to it are the subject of a mass of hearsay related by an unnamed life-insurance salesman in a narrative as mazy, byzantine, and mysterious as the lime works--Konrad's sanctuary and tomb.

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