On the Mountain


On the Mountain is Thomas Bernhard’s first prose work, which he completed in 1959, yet the last of his works to be published, in 1989, the year of his death. Based on autobiographical elements which constitute a kind of encyclopaedic view of Bernhard's world, this book gives a rare insight into the birth of a remarkable literary oeuvre paralleling that of Kafka and of Beckett. In fact, Sophie Wilkins, in her Afterword, compares it to Kafka's short story "Description of a Struggle". Written as one sentence, it is a monologue delivered by a court reporter who meets a variety of characters, among whom are a secondary school teacher – the only intellectual – an innkeeper, and various ladies who afford him favours or bully and humiliate him. His only true attachment is to his filthy dog. The dog is a dirty, smelly body detested by the housekeeper who wants him and his owner out, but it's precisely this indubitable physical reality of him that makes him indispensable; without it, there's no real life in his life, and therewith no ideas, no literature that means anything. On the Mountain is a special kind of prose: relieved of its function as a carrier of common information, it presents itself as some such medium as poetry, music, painting, sculpture. The seemingly random notes of this book, its disjunct, diffuse mutterings are the vehicle for a dramatic conflict between an embattled life force intent upon self-creation, self-definition, saying "All this is only a preparation for becoming me," and its equally determined opposition, threatening to make nonsense of all that. A real sickness-unto-death is made into a fulcrum for survival in an arena which is the human condition understood as a condition of immitigable deadlock.
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original title: In der Höhe
language: German
date of publication: 1991
genre: novel
follows: Der Untergeher
followed by: Yes


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