Gathering Evidence Essay - Critical Context

Thomas Bernhard

Critical Context

The autobiography of an important author may be as much an exercise in form and style as a work of fiction. In other words, two kinds of autobiographical accounts exist. One is told for its content: a series of major and minor events, often presented with a moral or informative intent. The other kind is told in accordance with the artistic aims of the author. Form and style take on importance in this kind of carefully constructed record. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (1811-1814; Poetry and Truth from My Own Life, 1908) belongs to the latter category, as does Gathering Evidence. Bernhard’s autobiographical writings have been said to be reminiscent of those of Maxim Gorky or Thomas Wolfe because of his “massive stubborn attempts to give a true account of his early years, without sparing himself or his readers.”

As a writer, Bernhard cannot easily be classified. His statement that everything he writes and does is a source of trouble and that he wishes it to be so, could be read as a commitment to social activism, placing him among the socially committed West German and Austrian writers of the post-World War II period. Yet in looking at all of Gathering Evidence and some of Bernhard’s other works, one finds little to substantiate such a view. In the political arena the author, if of interest at all, is considered conservative rather than left wing. According to Bernhard, wanting to irritate is an aesthetic concept, free of any commitment to movements and causes. His only commitment is to himself and to his struggle with the elusive ability to find and express the truth about himself. His search for the appropriate linguistic medium to convey this truth places Bernhard in a group of Austrian writers, among them Peter Handke, with a strong interest in the theories of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.