Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) was an Austrian writer who never shied away from controversy, in fact he courted it. His formative years were of course lived during the Hitler era, this after an unhappy childhood where his father died having never met him, his stepfather a Nazi, his mother a bitter angry woman who often took this out on him. To top it all off he contracted TB and spent two years in a sanitorium, where he met Wittgenstein’s nephew Paul (which incidentally gave him the title of one of his novels, Wittgenstein’s Nephew), and they became friends. His body of work has been called “the most significant literary achievement since WWII” and he is widely considered to be one of the most important German-speaking authors of the postwar era. His writing is compelling, relentless, fugue-like, wherein he reiterates his themes again and again, in sentences as long as 300 words and no chapter breaks. He had very controversial theories regarding suicide, the role of the Catholic Church in post-war Germany (he posited that it took the place of the Nazis with the same effect, as well that Christ replaced Hitler), education, and parenting (believing that parents destroyed their children). He wrote things most people might think but would never say and has no compunction about saying them, feeling they need to be said. The writer he most resembles is Samuel Beckett, who admired him. A must read starting point is his 5-part memoir, a one-volume work entitled Gathering Evidence; my favorite novel is Correction, which is his exegesis of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, followed by Concrete; another, The Loser has a protagonist based on Glenn Gould , but you can’t go wrong with any of his 30 translated novels, plays, novellas, stories, and poems. A word of caution: not for the fainthearted, you will either be fascinated or repelled with/by him.
A writer’s writer isn’t just an excellent writer, but a writer who is admired/appreciated/respected by other writers, but may not be by the general public, a writer you can LEARN from. To that end, I will create a short list of those writers (prose only for now) I put in this category (its purely subjective of course), and then will devote a daily entry to each, explaining why they belong. I welcome any and all names you would like to add to my list. Forthwith is the list (in no particular order):
Henry David Thoreau
Karl Ove Knausgaard