Author(s): Thomas Bernhard
Roithamer, a character based on Wittgenstein, has committed suicide having been driven to madness by his own frightening powers of pure thought. We witness the gradual breakdown of a genius ceaselessly compelled to correct and refine his perceptions until the only logical conclusion is the negation of his own soul.
Finding himself the literary executor of his friend Roithamer after Roithamer’s suicide, the narrator returns to Austria, to the room in the garret of the house their mutual school-friend the taxidermist Hoeller built above the Aurach Gorge, the room in which Roithamer sought refuge from the world to think and plan and perfect the cone-shaped house he built for his sister in the exact centre of the Kobernausser Forest (the house which was so ‘perfect’ and so ‘suited to her particular character’, or so Roithamer intended, that she died (or was relieved of the burden of having to keep herself alive (Austrians’ ‘national folk art’ being “to think constantly about killing themselves without actually killing themselves”)) immediately upon entering it), the room in which Roithamer wrote, rewrote and re-rewrote the manuscript ‘About Altensam and everything connected with Altensam (with special attention to the Cone’ (which the narrator considers Roithamer’s masterwork)), despite its differing and conflicting versions, along with ‘hundreds of thousands’ of passages on slips of paper and preparatory drawings for the nihilistic structure of the Cone, which the narrator prepares himself to ‘sift and sort’. In the second of the two relentless paragraphs that comprise the book, the narrator reads Roithamer’s manuscript, the ‘corrected’ and shorter second version and the ‘re-corrected’ and even shorter third version, and the slips of paper, and is progressively and ultimately completely subsumed by Roithamer’s voice, its absolutism, its monstrous ambivalences, tectonic self-contradictions and tiresome petulance, as Roithamer obsesses over his miserable childhood and youth at his immensely wealthy family’s home at Altensam, his attempts to oppose himself to his family, in particular to his step-mother (‘that Eferding woman’), his sale of the family estate at Altensam after it was perniciously left to him by his father (who surely knew that Roithamer hated Altensam and would bring about its destruction), all building to a maniacal crescendo of invective and self-abnegation. Even within the claustrophobic subjectivity of Roithamer’s mind, each assertion, as soon as it is stated, begins to move towards its negation: “We’re constantly correcting, and correcting ourselves, most rigorously, because we recognise at every moment that we did it all wrong (wrote it, thought it, made it all wrong), acted all wrong, how we acted all wrong, that everything to this point of time is a falsification, so we correct this falsification, and then we again correct the correction of this falsification, and we correct the result of the correction of a correction and so forth, so Roithamer. But the ultimate correction is one we keep delaying…”. As with the narrator, so ultimately with Roithamer: persons and facts do not endure; the mechanisms of thought and language, when permitted to run their course, are destructive to all equally: entities, identities, personalities, actualities are all mere contingencies to an ineluctable process of devastation.
'Thomas Bernhard is one of the masters of contemporary European fiction. After Kafka's and Canetti's, his sensibility is one of the most acute, the most capable of exemplary images and gestures, in modern literature.' George Steiner, Times Literary Supplement
"Astonishingly original, a composition of strange new beauty" The Nation "If against its own vision Correction offers us only a Teutonic injunction to take courage, we must do so from Bernhard's own example, from his determination to look more steadily than any who have come before into the perishing of the soul" Chicago Tribune "Astonishingly original, a composition of strange new beauty" The Nation
Thomas Bernhard was born in Holland in 1931 but grew up in Austria. His interest in music and theatre led him to study at the Akademie Mozarteum in Salzburg. He has written a quantity of poetry, several novels, short stories and plays and three volumes of autobiography. He died in 1989.