Strauch, hero of Thomas Bernhard’s “Frost”, comments on artists

June 4, 2008

The first book I read by Thomas Bernhard was Frost, after reading a review of the new English translation by Michael Hofmann that came out a couple of years ago. I really like the book. The language is thrilling, the subject matter is relevant, I am generally sympathetic to the points of view which are often presented with such force that just reading them can be a release. Here’s one excerpt to illustrate my point.

Strauch, the story’s hero, was a fine-art painter in the Vienna scene, presumably around and after WW2 times. He quit art and went to live in a backwater village in a valley deep in the mountains where he walks around a lot and fulminates over the state of things. Here he comments on artists:

“You know,” the painter said, “that art froth, that artist fornication, that general art-and-artist loathsomeness, I always found that repelling; those could formations of basest self-preservation topped with envy … Envy is what holds artists together, envy, pure envy, everyone envies everyone else for everything … I talked about it once before, I want to say: artists are the sons and daughters of loathsomeness, of paradisiac shamelessness, the original sons and daughters of lewdness; artists, painters, writers, and musicians are the compulsive masturbators on the planet, its disgusting cramps, its perpetual puffings and swellings, its pustular secretions … I want to say: artists are the great emetic agents of the time, they were always the great, the very greatest emetics … Artists, are they not a devastating army of absurdity, of scum? The infernality of unscrupulousness is something I always met with in the thoughts of artists … But I don’t want any artists’ thoughts any more, no more of those unnatural thoughts, I want nothing more to do with artists or with art, yes, not with art either, that greatest of all abortions … Do you understand: I want to get right away from that bad smell. Get away from that stink, I always say to myself, and secretly have always thought, get away from that corrosive, shredding, useless lie, get away from that shameless simony …” He said: “Artists are the identical twins of hypocrisy, the identical twins of low-mindedness, the identical twins of licensed exploitation, the greatest licensed exploitation of all time. Artists, as they have shown themselves to me to be,” he said, “are all dull and grandiloquent, nothing but dull and grandiloquent, nothing …”

 

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