The Voice Imitator

The Voice Imitator

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by Thomas Bernhard
     
 

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The Austrian playwright, novelist, and poet Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) is acknowledged as among the major writers of our times. At once pessimistic and exhilarating, Bernhard's work depicts the corruption of the modern world, the dynamics of totalitarianism, and the interplay of reality and appearance.

In this stunning translation of The Voice Imitator,

Overview

The Austrian playwright, novelist, and poet Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) is acknowledged as among the major writers of our times. At once pessimistic and exhilarating, Bernhard's work depicts the corruption of the modern world, the dynamics of totalitarianism, and the interplay of reality and appearance.

In this stunning translation of The Voice Imitator, Bernhard gives us one of his most darkly comic works. A series of parable-like anecdotes—some drawn from newspaper reports, some from conversation, some from hearsay—this satire is both subtle and acerbic. What initially appear to be quaint little stories inevitably indict the sterility and callousness of modern life, not just in urban centers but everywhere. Bernhard presents an ordinary world careening into absurdity and disaster. Politicians, professionals, tourists, civil servants—the usual victims of Bernhard's inspired misanthropy—succumb one after another to madness, mishap, or suicide. The shortest piece, titled "Mail," illustrates the anonymity and alienation that have become standard in contemporary society: "For years after our mother's death, the Post Office still delivered letters that were addressed to her. The Post Office had taken no notice of her death."

In his disarming, sometimes hilarious style, Bernhard delivers a lethal punch with every anecdote. George Steiner has connected Bernhard to "the great constellation of Kafka, Musil, and Broch," and John Updike has compared him to Grass, Handke, and Weiss. The Voice Imitator reminds us that Thomas Bernhard remains the most caustic satirist of our age.

Editorial Reviews

Thomas McGonigle
Thomas Bernhard is one of the indispensable writers of the 20th century. . . .He provides an overwhelming sense of intellectual and emotional exhilaration unmatched by any contemporary American author. —Los Angeles Times Book Review
Ben Marcus
If you are foolish enough to think that things will all work out in the end, or if you look for the so-called silver lining in each "cloud," believing that there's a good side to everything, etc., etc., then steer clear of Thomas Bernhard's books -- and of this review. You'll only be offended, and it's time the rest of us had our turn. Those still reading can be assured that simperingly positive attitudes, blind faith, feel-good philosophy and deluded optimism -- all of which have become like a new form of oppressive American weather -- will never show up in the brutal darkness of Bernhard's work.And thank God for it.

Best known as a novelist, Austrian Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989), who spent most of his life rehearsing his eventual death from lung disease, wrote what might well be termed the literature of bitterness: a credo based on thoroughly articulated misery. This newly translated collection is no exception, although it's the first chance for readers of English to see Bernhard at work in the short story form. Small doses of astonishing cruelty might be less forbidding to those readers previously intimidated by Bernhard's ranting, single-paragraphed novels, and they present a chance for the curious to sample facets of his mad voices, his mirthful pleasure in every form of disintegration.

None of the stories here extend beyond a page, yet as the dust jacket warns, these 104 stories will amass "18 suicides, six painful deaths, one memory lapse, four disappearances, 20 surprises, three character attacks, five early deaths, 26 murders, 13 instances of lunacy, four cover-ups and two instances of libel." A big agenda for a small book, leaving no room for the traditional bother of plot and character development, putting these pieces more in line with Kafka's parables or the sketches of Elias Canetti. And keep in mind that many of the above-named delights -- the attacks, surprises, deaths and lunacy -- will erupt in the same story, while unlisted fascinations can be seen in such stories as the 47-word "Hotel Waldhaus":

"We had no luck with the weather and the guests at our table were repellent in every respect. They even spoiled Nietzsche for us. Even after they had had a fatal car accident and had been laid out in the church in Sils, we still hated them."

These are blistering anecdotes, negative distortions of news items, stories of severity that portray depths of hatred with a casual comic touch. They do not, thankfully, attempt dumb suddenness, in the style of this country's most predictable fiction writers, who fake revelation to make you think you just read a real story. At their least compelling, Bernhard's stories sound like scraps from abandoned novels, yet even his fragments, which should lead readers to his best books -- Correction and i>Woodcutters -- are hair-raisingly cynical screeds against the folly of living, fearlessly confronting the futility of anything so presumptuous as taking a breath. This book affirms the satisfaction, the truth, in thinking the worst. -- Salon

Peter Filkins
Part diatribe, part black comedy and part philosophical investigation, the book strikes all the major themes in Bernhard's novels and plays. . .A highly artistic undertaking. -- The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226044026
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
10/28/1998
Edition description:
1
Pages:
114
Sales rank:
428,212
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt


The Voice Imitator



By Thomas Bernhard


University of Chicago Press



Copyright © 2003


University of Chicago
All right reserved.


ISBN: 0-226-04401-7





Chapter One


The Voice Imitator

The Voice Imitator The voice imitator, who had been invited as the guest
of the surgical society last evening, had declared himself-after being
introduced in the Palais Pallavinci-willing to come with us to the
Kahlenberg, where our house was always open to any artist whatsoever who
wished to demonstrate his art there-not of course without a fee. We had
asked the voice imitator, who hailed from Oxford in England but who had
attended school in Landshut and had originally been a gunsmith in
Berchtesgaden, not to repeat himself on the Kahlenberg but to present us
something entirely different from what he had done in the surgical
society; that is, to imitate quite different people from those he had
imitated in the Palais Pallavinci, and he had promised to do this for us,
for we had been enchanted with the program that he had presented in the
Palais Pallavinci. In fact, the voice imitator did imitate voices of quite
different people-all more or less well known-from those he had imitated
before the surgical society. We were allowed to express our own wishes,
which the voice imitator fulfilled most readily. When, however, at the
very end, wesuggested that he imitate his own voice, he said he could not
do that.

* * *


Pisa and Venice

The mayors of Pisa and Venice had agreed to scandalize
visitors to their cities, who had for centuries been equally charmed by
Venice and Pisa, by secretly and overnight having the tower of Pisa moved
to Venice and the campanile of Venice moved to Pisa and set up there. They
could not, however, keep their plan a secret, and on the very night on
which they were going to have the tower of Pisa moved to Venice and the
campanile of Venice moved to Pisa they were committed to the lunatic
asylum, the mayor of Pisa in the nature of things to the lunatic asylum in
Venice and the mayor of Venice to the lunatic asylum in Pisa. The Italian
authorities were able handle the affair in complete confidentiality.


* * *


The Tables Turned

Even though I have always hated zoological gardens and
actually find that my suspicions are aroused by people who visit
zoological gardens, I still could not avoid going out to Schonbrunn on one
occasion and, at the request of my companion, a professor of theology,
standing in front of the monkeys' cage to look at the monkeys, which my
companion fed with some food he had brought with him for the purpose. The
professor of theology, an old friend of mine from the university, who had
asked me to go to Schonbrunn with him had, as time went on, fed all the
food he had brought with him to the monkeys, when suddenly the monkeys,
for their part, scratched together all the food that had fallen to the
ground and offered it to us through the bars. The professor of theology
and I were so startled by the monkeys' sudden behavior that in a flash we
turned on our heels and left Schonbrunn through the nearest exit.

* * *


Hotel Waldhaus

We had no luck with the weather and the guests at our
table were repellent in every respect. They even spoiled Nietzsche for us.
Even after they had had a fatal car accident and had been laid out in the
church in Sils, we still hated them.

* * *


Warning

A businessman from Koblenz had made his life's dream come true by
visiting the pyramids of Giza and was forced, after he had done visiting
the pyramids, to describe his visit as the greatest disappointment of his
life, which I understand, for I myself was in Egypt last year and was
disappointed above all by the pyramids. However, whereas I very quickly
overcame my disappointment, the Koblenz businessman, took vengeance for
his disappointment by placing, for months on end, full-page advertisements
in all the major newspapers in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, warning
all future visitors to Egypt against the pyramids and especially against
the pyramids of Cheops, which had disappointed him most deeply, more than
all the others. The Koblenz businessman used up his resources in a very
short time by these-as he called them-anti-Egypt and anti-pyramid
advertisements and plunged himself into total penury. In the nature of
things, his advertisements did not have the influence upon people that he
had hoped for; on the contrary, the number of visitors to Egypt this year,
as opposed to last year, has doubled.


* * *


True Love

An Italian who owns a villa in Riva on Lake Garda and can live
very comfortably on the interest from the estate his father left him has,
according to a report in La Stampa, been living for the last twelve years
with a mannequin. The inhabitants of Riva report that on mild evenings
they have observed the Italian, who is said to have studied art history,
boarding a glass-domed deluxe boat, which is moored not far from his home,
with the mannequin to take a ride on the lake. Described years ago as
incestuous in a reader's letter addressed to the newspaper published in
Desencano, he had applied to the appropriate civil authorities for
permission to marry his mannequin but was refused. The church too had
denied him the right to marry his mannequin. In winter he regularly leaves
Lake Garda in mid-December and goes with his beloved, whom he met in a
Paris shop-window, to Sicily, where he regularly rents a room in the
famous Hotel Timeo in Taormina to escape from the cold, which, all
assertions to the contrary, gets unbearable on Lake Garda every year after
mid-December.

(Continues...)







Excerpted from The Voice Imitator
by Thomas Bernhard
Copyright © 2003
by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Marjorie Perloff
A voice imitator who can impersonate everyone's voice but his own is an important parable for our times...I think it's a mordantly brilliant book.

Meet the Author

Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) grew up in Salzburg and Vienna, where he studied music. In 1957 he began a second career as a playwright, poet, and novelist. He went on to win many of the most prestigious literary prizes of Europe (including the Austrian State Prize, the Bremen and Brüchner prizes, and Le Prix Séguier), became one of the most widely admired writers of his generation, and insisted at his death that none of his works be published in Austria for seventy years, a provision later repealed by his half-brother.

Kenneth J. Northcott is professor emeritus of German at the University of Chicago. He has translated a number of books for the University of Chicago Press.

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