The loser

by Thomas Bernhard

Paper Book, 1991

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1991.

Description

Thomas Bernhard was one of the most original writers of the twentieth century. His formal innovation ranks with Beckett and Kafka, his outrageously cantankerous voice recalls Dostoevsky, but his gift for lacerating, lyrical, provocative prose is incomparably his own.One of Bernhard's most acclaimed novels, The Loser centers on a fictional relationship between piano virtuoso Glenn Gould and two of his fellow students who feel compelled to renounce their musical ambitions in the face of Gould's incomparable genius. One commits suicide, while the other-- the obsessive, witty, and self-mocking narrator-- has retreated into obscurity. Written as a monologue in one remarkable unbroken paragraph, The Loser is a brilliant meditation on success, failure, genius, and fame.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
This was my first exposure to the writing of Thomas Bernhard, and I did appraocj it with some skeptcism. I noticed from the beginning the absence of paragraphs and quotation marks. Since the book didnot seem that Long, I figured I couls tackle it if the story was interesting as I had read an excellent book written in the same style recently.

I was not disappointed. I came away fromt his novel simply saying "Wow!" I was very much taken by Bernhard's story of three friends who studied piano together at the Mozarteum in Austria. The tale is told from teh point of view of one friend, the narrator, who leanrs of the deaths of both of his classmates at approximately the same age. Glenn Gould was a piano virtuoso who died of a stroke while playing a particuarly difficult piece on the piano. Wertheimer died of suicide aftre no longer playing thepiano. The story examine what happened as pieced together by the narrator.

The story was easy to read, but very puzzling. Both the author and the narrator were Austrians. In this novel, there is nothing but disdain for Austria. Often in the narrative, the narrator would express two opposing thoughts and make both of those seem credible. Im not sure how he did this! The narrator was also able to keep repeating the smae things over and over again in such a way that whatever her expressed was fascinating.

I can see why Thomas Bernhard as an author is held in such high regard. I look forward to reading more of his works.

My copy of the book by the University of Chicago Press had an exception Afterword which discussed both the author and this work. I found that very informative and satisfying.
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LibraryThing member samatoha
Besides the pessimism,repetition,stunning style and technique of playing virtuosicly on a single note,and the fact that it's hard to stop reading,Bernhard,like Kafka,uses humour and offers a way to live a relatively satisfying life in the modern world.
but thats behind the lines.
On the obvious surface,it deals with the alienation of the the art,the artist,and humans in general.
with clear autobiographic touch, thats Bernhard at it's best.
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LibraryThing member antao
Story about a born piano virtuoso (imagined Glenn Gould), and two failed" pianists, who became something else in life due to that...

After reading "Woodcutters" recently I decided to tackle "The Loser" (Der Untergeher) in English (translated by Jack Dawson, with a wonderful afterword by Mark M. Anderson).

Technically it's stunning book. The one huge monologue, typical of Bernhard, is a relentless, unending exercise in self mockery and a fascinating depiction of the constantly changing positions that we take in life.

Since nothing is permanent and life is not permanent, Bernhard's narrator states the answer in a very literary way.

When reading Bernhard the phrase that pops to mind is "word massacre", that is, one starts feeling sorry for the words and the language after a while, the way he mercilessly hammers them from every perspective... it's also liberating in a way reading something like this once in a while.

His prose much like his poetry can also be a torrent of words and phrases, jumbled together to make a coherent whole. In a way his prose is also like poetry in the sense that he is experimenting with language, putting together words, and seeing if any meaning emerges from them or at least make us skeptical about language itself.

It's the first time I've read this book in a language other than German. One of the things that I didn't agree with was the english title: "The Loser". I'm not sure why the translation went this way. in German "Der Untergeher" derives from the verb "untergehen", which means "going down going to ground", which of course can mean a sort of losing, but not necessarily the connotation of failure (which is I think important to bear in mind when one thinks of the end of the book). With the word "loser" one loses this richness, the wonderful ambiguity of "going down" has been lost.

Bernhard's prose style = Bach fugue...?"
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LibraryThing member yhaduong
From the first page, Bernhard plunges head first into the story of two pianists who meet Glenn Gould and their subsequent decisions to give up the piano in the face of brilliance. The first third is pure mad cap hilarity, written in one long paragraph the novel races along until you no longer know whether you already knew something or it was just revealed to you.… (more)
LibraryThing member daniilkharmsarms
There is something about Bernhard's prose that compels me to read it. He is often compared to Beckett, but i find i am repelled by his literary tool kit. Bernhard, on the other hand, though difficult at times, i find highly readable and enjoyable (a page-turner even!). There is a sense of humour at work also, which is important to my fiction reading habits (the stain of Gogol perhaps?). Among his works, The Loser attracted me directly because i took up piano in my youth, but failed to continue beyond a certain point of study. maybe an inner Glenn? A special literary mind, for sure. i should really reread this!… (more)
LibraryThing member nuwanda
"The Loser" is a book in one breathless paragraph about the devastating consequences of meeting a genius - coming to a contact with perfection.

Those unfamiliar with Bernhard's peculiar style should be warned that the book doesn't follow a number of conventions that many people would take for granted and at times it can feel as if Bernhard is deliberately writing badly. However, it all makes perfect sense actually and gives the story a very distinctive, almost feverish immediacy.

It really isn't an optimistic or uplifting tale, but it IS deeply compassionate and sensitive view of a human condition, the kind that will linger with you for a long time after you've finished the book.
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
Bernhard is a great writer. If he keeps this up, he'll be one of my favorite writers. He really has an individual style, and reading reviews on here and elsewhere comparing him to salinger, beckett, joyce, kafka, dostoyevsky etc. All are lacking and completely puzzling comparisons to me. His obsessions are completely different from those great writers and his style is completely different. I laughed hard at this book. So far I've read Wittgenstein's Nephew and this. I liked WN more. I thought this book contained the same genius as WN, but it got itself entangled in the business of a plot towards the end. I wasn't interested in that. I loved how WN was all in his head, just as the first 3/4 of this book is all in his head. That is brilliant to me, to be able to do what he does with his head. WN also felt a little closer/more personal, it really moved me at points, whereas this book lacked some of those emotional highs even though it assumed a personal tone. But this book also felt more stylistically idiosyncratic, which is a good thing. This could perhaps be because of translators though. I'm looking forward to more Bernhard!… (more)
LibraryThing member blanderson
Stylistically inventive; manic; neurotic; I found myself identifying with The Loser, killing himself because his life was great but not quite good enough, the seriousness of a man who cannot separate desire from experience, though all the novel's readers certainly want to identify with Gould, the original manic genius who rolls thru life like a gasoline fire (though he is objectified into an ideal in this novel, and rarely appears in a scene---he is the mark that affects the narrator and The Loser, the Christ-like artistic genius among a sea of Dilettantes).

The narrator was a neurotic twat, quite frankly, which is quite obviously the point of the novel---to sermonize the lives of his two closest (and deceased) friends while never escaping the shadow of his own selfishness. Their success, their suffering, is always related to himself, and about halfway thru the novel, once he vacantly describes the funeral of his closest living friend, we realize that the narrator, more than anyone else, is the novel's true Loser.


For the bad parts: Nothing happens. At all. Nothing, whatsoever. A lot of waxing philosophical, and about 2/3rds of the novel is presented as a neurotic retelling of the same few events---mainly the effect of Gould's mastery of the Goldberg Deviations on the two young virtuosos. Of course, Gould is impeccable---Piano Radicalism and all that jazz---which causes the other two self-absorbed characters


I'm giving it 3/5 because the prose was unique, the story weighty, and because Bernhard tackles some very complex philosophical questions concerning art, genius, self-worth, self-absorption and, above all, the place of one's vision of self against the crushing realities of life.

The negatives are many: basically no story, an a TON of repetition for such a short novel. I feel like any editor would have further condensed the novel due to this constant harping on the same scenes (sure, it's a stylistic aspect of the narrator's neuroses, but come on...)if not for Bernhard's reputation and obvious philosophical genius.

Overall a good book but lacking in gravitas and, above all, emotion. The characters seem more like symbols than bleeding, shitting humans, which always makes a novel fall a little flat in my eyes.
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LibraryThing member heatherhoarder
You'll know if you like Bernhard within the first paragraph, but of course, he's famous for his one paragraph book with run on sentences and no chapters. His personal life shines through this fictitious recollection of a friendship with Glenn Gould. The characters drawn out thoughts revolve around motivation, dedication, and those things that interfere with them. Bernhard's novel brings out the question of why we do things we are passionate about and those things that keep us from doing them. He takes on the difficult matter of how do you live within your passion and keep it alive.… (more)
LibraryThing member thorold
The language is gloriously witty and inventive: Bernhard does things with it that I wouldn't have thought were possible in German. Absolutely stunning technique. Prose narrative can't really be polyphonic in the musical sense, because no-one can read more than one line of text at once, but Bernhard still somehow manages to simulate the effect of polyphony in our minds by his use of endlessly varied repetitions, creating an interplay between meaning and rhythm. And he keeps the idea of polyphony firmly in our mind by talking about Bach and Glenn Gould all the time.

About the substance I'm not so sure. It would be tempting to dismiss it as 240 pages of pure pique — as someone else sums it up below: "If I can't be best I won't play". I don't think that's quite fair. There's a bit more than envy going on: although Wertheimer, the Untergeher, is ostensibly at the centre of the narrative, what the narrator appears to be trying to do is to sort out the meaning of his own relationships with both Wertheimer and "Glenn Gould". Now that Glenn is dead, he has lost his excuse for not pursuing music; without Wertheimer, he no longer has a baseline value to show that he himself is not a failure. The implication seems to be that we only define ourselves as human beings by measuring ourselves against other people.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
I finally got sick of people I like and respect, on goodreads and elsewhere, telling me I have to read Bernhard. So now I have, and they were probably right.

Bernhard reminds me of Rilke: I disagree with him/his characters entirely about more or less everything. This kind of mid-century existentialism* never struck me as particularly interesting or true (i.e., we're going to die, so why bother? Well, we might as well bother, since we're alive). I understand that some people kill themselves, but I think Spinoza (I'm possibly making this up/misremembering) was right to say that suicide is a logical impossibility: 'suicide' is caused by factors outside one's self. In the case of existentialist suicide, it's caused by silly ideas.

The other reason Bernhard reminds me of Rilke is that he says all these silly things with utter brilliance. I can't quite believe anyone so artistically talented could be so foolish or so glum. I expected this to be heavy going, what with the pointless 'I refuse to use paragraphs' business (there are obvious paragraph and even chapter breaks in the book; refusing to show them in the text is just pretension) and his general reputation. But no. This thing was wildly entertaining.

Bernhard ironizes all the existentialism, recognizing that its silliness is the only thing sillier than the silliness of life itself. The characters (a term used loosely, maybe 'ideas' is a better one) here are the victims of ridiculous expectations, and when they can't meet those expectations, they retreat into their own intellects. Maybe Wertheimer and the narrator will never be the world's greatest pianist (excuse me, 'piano artist') and in that sense will always be losers. But they *know* that they're losers, so it's okay.

No. They're losers inasmuch as they retreat to their intellects, with the narrator claiming to be better than Wertheimer and Wertheimer, presumably, also claiming to be better than the narrator. They're losers, not because they failed to be better piano artists than 'Glenn Gould'**, but because they think, Highlander style, that there can only be one. Leave the house occasionally, meet some other people. It'll be okay.


*: not actual existentialism, but novelistic existentialism, the kind of thing that Artists do/say because they can't be bothered actually thinking about the world. "Why spend time reading about, say, the decay of post-war governmental structures, like, man is sick and evil and we'll just die anyway?"
**: I actually don't get the Glenn Gould thing. I think he was right to focus on Bach and before, and the twentieth century, but I never get the urge to listen to his Goldbergs. Oh well.
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LibraryThing member samfsmith
I usually give a questionable book at least a hundred pages before I give up on it. Not this book – I stopped reading at about page 25. It’s a long soliloquy; it’s one claim to fame seems to be that it is written in one long paragraph. Not strictly true – there are four paragraphs. I can sum up what I think it is about in one sentence – “If I can’t win, I won’t play.” It’s not about music, as you might think. It’s about giving up when you can’t be the best. I read far enough to learn that the narrator did not pursue a musical career because he loved music, but to spite his family. He abandoned his career because he could not play as good as Glenn Gould. There seems to be no plot, no setting, and very little characterization. It’s just the narrator rambling on and on in incoherent sentences. Perhaps that is a problem with the translation. The first thing in this edition is an apology from the translator.

I don’t have much sympathy with the narrator, of course. I am an amateur musician and writer. Should I give up playing the piano because I am not Glenn Gould? Should I give up writing because I can’t get published? I know one thing – I gave up on reading this book.
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LibraryThing member towo
To be honest, I read the first page, skipped ahead a few, and then put it away again. This book is a SINGLE paragraph, and all love towards long sentences and segments aside, there's a _sense_ to paragraphs. Deliberately choosing to muddle my brain by leaving out an essential feature of written works longer than a couple of sentences counts as an utmost negligence towards the reader. Thus I do not feel obliged to read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Catherine_GV
It was good. The ending was AWESOME :D! One of the kind I love that stirs your emotions!Etc..:)! I read it for school.
LibraryThing member BlackGlove
Peculiar intensity
This is my second Thomas Bernhard novel, and whilst reading it my liking for his unique prose style increased. An unnamed narrator walks into an inn and talks to himself about his two best friends (one being Glenn Gould the famous piano virtuoso, the other being Wertheimer "the loser" who has committed suicide by hanging himself near his sister's house). The obsessional, repetitive and funny thoughts of the unnamed narrator continue for half the novel whilst he stands in the inn: it must be the longest wait for a drink in history! Eventually the landlady sees him and it isn't long before he has moved on, both physically and mentally, to the subject of Wertheimer's decline and suicide. It all sounds grim and pointless, but it's surprisingly engaging, especially for the reader who has a liking for cynicism and unhinged rambling: the word "cretinism" pops up quite a lot. Overall, I didn't find The Loser as satisfying as Correction (my first TB novel), it isn't as deep or disturbing, but still I was impressed by the peculiar intensity of it all.… (more)
LibraryThing member Mary_Overton
"From the first moment ours was a SPIRITUAL friendship. The majority of even the most famous piano players haven't a clue about their art, [Glenn Gould] said. But it's like that in all the arts, I said, just like that in painting, in literature, I said, even philosophers are ignorant of philosophy. Most artists are ignorant of their art. They have a dilettante's notion of art, remain stuck all their lives in dilettantism, even the most famous artists in the world. We understood each other immediately, we were, I have to say it, attracted from the first moment by our differences, which actually were completely opposite in our of course identical CONCEPTION OF ART." loc 129

"But already I doubted whether this work was truly worth something and was thinking of destroying it upon my return, everything we write down, if we leave it for a while and start reading it from the beginning, naturally becomes unbearable and we won't rest until we've destroyed it again, I thought. Next week I'll be in Madrid again and the first thing I'll do is destroy my GLENN ESSAY in order to start a new one, I thought, an even more intense, even more authentic one, I thought. For we always think we are authentic and in truth are not, we think we're intense and in truth are not. But of course this insight has always resulted in none of my works ever being published, I thought, not a single one in the twenty-eight years I've been writing, just the work about Glenn has kept me busy for nine years, I thought. How good it is that none of these imperfect, incomplete works has ever appeared, I thought, had I published them, which would have posed no difficulty whatsoever, today I would be the unhappiest person imaginable, confronted daily with disastrous works crying out with errors, imprecision, carelessness, amateurishness. I AVOIDED this punishment BY DESTROYING THEM, I thought, and suddenly I took great pleasure in the word DESTROYING. Several times I said it to myself out loud. ARRIVAL IN MADRID, IMMEDIATELY DESTROY MY GLENN ESSAY, I thought, I must get rid of it as quickly as possible to make room for a new one. Now I know HOW to set about this work, I never knew how, I always began too soon, I thought, like an amateur. All our lives we run away from amateurishness and it always catches up with us, I thought, we want nothing with greater passion than to escape our lifelong amateurishness and it always catches up with us." loc 836
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Language

Original language

German
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