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Redescribing existence: truth, language and the rhetoric of diversion in Thomas Bernhard's Auslöschung

Pugh, L.C.; (2009) Redescribing existence: truth, language and the rhetoric of diversion in Thomas Bernhard's Auslöschung. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

The starting-point of my thesis is a key line from Bernhard's drama Der Ignorant und der Wahnsinnige: 'Die Existenz ist wohlgemerkt immer / Ablenkung von der Existenz'. The theme of diversion from existence, the notion that we live to construct an existence that actually diverts us from life's shortcomings, is pivotal to much of Bernhard's work. With the novel Auslöschung as my point of focus, I demonstrate that this theme of existential diversion informs not only the novel's subject matter but also its rhetoric and narrative style. Critics have typically failed to shed much light on the obvious hallmarks of Bernhard's narrative style (such as repetition, italicisation and the reluctance to pronominalise). Preferring to focus on thematic issues, commentators have paid scant attention to Bernhard's idiosyncratic narrative style. Embarrassed by his difficulty as an author, his English translators have even sought to normalise his texts for the sake of readability. I aim to redress the balance: to suggest that Bernhard's contribution to German literature lies as much in how he writes as in what he writes about. It is precisely these difficult rhetorical features that make him such an important and original voice. I show that the narrative thrust of Auslöschung is deliberately distorted, impeded and retarded by the author's rhetorical devices. The slowing-down of the reading process serves to foreground and recontextualise the words and idiomatic usages - the linguistic tools - chosen by the novel's speakers. Against a theoretical background of Nietzsche and Richard Rorty, I argue that Bernhardian rhetoric highlights the contingency and arbitrary nature of the linguistic world into which his speakers are born. I conclude that the project of disinheritance undertaken by the novel's narrator is partly linguistic: he rejects inherited language games and seeks to redescribe the world in which he finds himself.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Redescribing existence: truth, language and the rhetoric of diversion in Thomas Bernhard's Auslöschung
Language:English
Additional information:Authorisation for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of EU Langs, Culture and Society > German

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