The art of thinking about things consists in the art of stopping thinking before the fatal moment

From Thomas Bernhard’s Walking. An author singularly unsuited to extracts.

When we do something, we may not think about why we are doing what we are doing, says Oehler, for then it would suddenly be totally impossible for us to do anything. We may not make what we are doing the object of our thought, for then we would first be the victims of mortal doubt and, finally, of mortal despair. Just as we may not think about what is going on around us and what has gone on and what will go on, if we do not have the strength to break off our thinking about what happens around us and what has happened and what will happen, that is about the past, the present and the future at precisely the moment when this thinking becomes fatal for us. The art of thinking about things consists in the art, says Oehler, of stopping thinking before the fatal moment. However, we can, quite consciously, drag out this fatal moment, says Oehler, for a longer or a shorter time, according to circumstances. But the important thing is for us to know when the fatal moment is. But no one knows when the fatal moment is, says Oehler, the question is, is it possible that the fatal moment has not yet come and will always not yet come? But we cannot rely on this. We may never think, says Oehler, how and why we are doing what we are doing, for then we would be condemned, even if not instantaneously, but instantaneously to whatever degree of awareness we have reached regarding that question, to total inactivity and to complete immobility. For the clearest thought, that which is the deepest and, at the same time, the most transparent, is the most complete inactivity and the most complete immobility, says Oehler. We may not think about why we are walking, says Oehler, for then it would soon be impossible for us to walk, and then, to take things to their logical conclusion. Everything soon becomes impossible, just as when we are thinking why we may not think, why we are walking and so on, just as we may not think how we are walking, how we are not walking, that is standing still, just as we may not think how we, when we are not walking and standing still, are thinking and so on. We may not ask ourselves: why are we walking? as others who may (and can) ask themselves at will why they are walking. The others, says Oehler, may (and can) ask themselves anything, we may not ask ourselves anything. In the same way, if it is a question of objects, we may also not ask ourselves, just as if it is not a question of objects (the opposite of objects). What we see we think, and, as a result, do not see it, says Oehler, whereas others have no problem in seeing what they are seeing because they do not think what they see. What we call perception is really stasis, immobility, as far as we are concerned, nothing. Nothing. What has happened is thought, not seen, says Oehler. Thus quite naturally when we see, we see nothing, we think everything at the same time.

And shortly after, an oblique continuation:

We are mathematicians, says Oehler, or at least we are always trying to be mathematicians. When we think, it is less a case of philosophy, says Oehler, more one of mathematics. Everything is a tremendous calculation, if we have set it up from the outset in an unbroken line, a very simple calculation. But we are not always in the position of keeping everything that we have calculated intact within our head, and we break off what we are thinking and are satisfied with what we see, and are not surprised for long that we rest content with what we see, with millions upon millions of images that lie on, or under, one another and constantly merge and displace each other.

And naturally I do not wish to be everlastingly confronted with people like myself

From Thomas Bernhard’s Wittgenstein’s Nephew (pg.86)

I have always hated the Viennese coffeehouses, but I go on visiting them.  I have visited them every day, for although I have always hated them – and because I have always hated them – I have always suffered from the Viennese coffeehouse disease.  I have suffered more from this disease than from any other.  I frankly have to admit that I still suffer from this disease, which has proved the most intractable of all. The truth is that I have always hated the Viennese coffeehouses because in them I am always confronted with people like myself, and naturally I do not wish to be everlastingly confronted with people like myself, and certainly not in a coffeehouse, where I go to escape from myself.  Yet it is here that I find myself confronted with myself and my kind. I find myself insupportable, and even more insupportable is a whole horde of writers and brooders like myself. I avoid literature whenever possible, because whenever possible I avoid myself, and so when I am in Vienna I have to forbid myself to visit the coffeehouses, or at least I have to be careful not to visit a so-called literary coffeehouse under any circumstances whatever.  However, suffering as I do from the coffeehouse disease, I feel an unremitting compulsion to visit some literary coffeehouse or other, even thought everything within me rebels against the idea. The truth is that the more deeply I detest the literary coffeehouse of Vienna, the most strongly I feel compelled to frequent them. Who knows how my life would have developed if I had not met Paul Wittgenstein at the height of the crisis that, but for him, would probably have pitched me headlong into the literary world, the most repellent of all worlds, the world of Viennese writers and their intellectual morass, for at the height of this crisis the obvious course would have been to take the easy way out, to make myself cheap and compliant, to surrender and throw in my lot with the literary fraternity. Paul preserved me from this, since he had always detested the literary coffeehouses. It was thus not without reason, but more or less to save myself, that from one day to the next I stopped frequenting the so-called literary coffeehouses and started going to the Sacher with him — no longer to the Hawelka but to the Ambassador, etc., until eventually the moment came when I could once more permit myself to go to the literary coffeehouse, when they no longer had such a deadly effect on me. For the truth is that the literary coffeehouses do have a deadly effect on a writer. Yet it is equally true that I am still more at home in my Viennese coffeehouses that I am in my own home at Nathal.’

To award someone a prize is no different from pissing on him

From Thomas Bernhard’s Wittgenstein’s Nephew (pg 67):

If one disregards the money that goes with them, there is nothing in the world more intolerable than award ceremonies.  I had already discovered this in Germany.  That do nothing to enhance one’s standing, as I had believed before I received my first prize, but actually lower it, in the most embarrassing fashion.  Only the thought of the money enabled me to endure these ceremonies; this was my sole motive for visiting various ancient city halls and tasteless assembly rooms – until the age of forty.  I submitted to the indignity of these award ceremonies – until the age of forty.  I let them piss on me in all these city halls and assembly rooms, for to award someone a prize is no different from pissing on him.  And to receive a prize is no different from allowing oneself to be pissed on, because one is being paid for it. I have always felt that being awarded a prize was not an honor but the greatest indignity imaginable.  For a prize is always awarded by incompetents who want to piss on the recipient.  And they have a perfect right to do so, because he is base and despicable enough to receive it.

Yes, I said, the Cultural Senate is full of assholes

From Thomas Bernhard’s account of his receiving The Austrian State Prize for Literature (My Prizes, pg67):

The people who spoke to me about the prize all assumed I had naturally been awarded the Big Prize and each time I was faced with the embarrassment of saying to them that the one in question was the Small Prize which every scribbling asshole had won already.  And each time I had to explain to people the difference between the Small Prize and the Big Prize, and when I did, I had the impression they simply didn’t understand me anymore.  The Big Prize, I kept repeating, was for a so-called life’s work and one gets it closer to old age and it’s awarded by the so-called Cultural Senate which is made up of all those who have previously won this Big State Prize and there wasn’t just the Big State Prize for Literature but also for the so-called Fine Arts and for Music, et cetera.  When people asked me who had already won this so-called Big State Prize, I always said, All Assholes, and when they asked me the names of these assholes I listed a whole row of assholes for them and they’d never heard of any of them, the only person who knew of them was me.  So this Cultural Senate, they said, is made up of nothing but assholes because you say that everyone in the Cultural Senate is an asshole.  Yes, I said, the Cultural Senate is full of assholes, what’s more they’re Catholic and National Socialist assholes plus the occasional Jew for wind0w-dressing.  I was repelled by the questions and these answers.  And these assholes, people said, elect new assholes to their Senate every year when they give them the Big State Prize.  Yes, I said, every year new assholes are selected for the Senate that calls itself a Cultural Senate and is an indestructible evil and a perverse absurdity in our country.  It’s a collection of the biggest washouts and bastards, I always said.  And so what is the Small State Prize? they asked and I replied the Small State Prize is a so-called Nurturing of Talent and so many people have already win it you can no longer count them, and now I’m one of them, I said, for I’ve been given the Small State Prize as a punishment.  Punishment for what? they asked and I couldn’t give them an answer.  The Small State Prize, I said, is a dirty trick if you’re over thirty and as I’m almost forty it’s a huge dirty trick.  But I said I’d sworn to come to terms with this huge dirty trick and I had no thoughts of declining this huge dirty trick.  I’m not willing to give up twenty-five thousand schillings, I said, I’m greedy for money, I have no character, I’m a bastard too.