Monday, December 14, 2009

Bernhard in Brandl

Gmunden is a country town in Upper Austria. It sits at the top of Lake Traun, a long and narrow mountain lake in the Salzkammergut. Gmunden is a strange kind of place. It's a kind of upper-class Royston Vasey. The landscape is beautiful and the town is also pretty. If you are just passing through or spend a day or two here you probably wouldn't notice much unusual. But if you stay much longer you start to notice that money really does not buy happiness. All in all the Gmundner don't have much to complain about. And money is certainly not a problem. But that doesn't mean you see too many smiles or obviously happy people around. 

If you want to understand that uniquely western ability to resist happiness despite having satisfied all your basic needs (and more), then the writing of Thomas Bernhard is a great place to start. Bernhard is Gmunden's contribution to great literature. A writer of novels and plays, Bernhard used to hang out in the cafe in the centre of town, the Cafe Brandl. Bernhard's writing is acerbic but somehow ecstatic, destructive but loving. He captures the artificiality of society and then turns the knife again. Sitting in Brandl is a good way to get a feel for Bernhard, although it is hard to say exactly how or why. He was certainly a writer with a deep connection to those around him, the community of Gumnden and Austria, with all its querks and curiosities. 

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