Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 571
Most critics consider Correction to be Thomas Bernhard’s masterpiece. On the surface, the novel is very similar to Concrete and The Loser; indeed, one could call the three novels a trilogy on the dangers of striving for perfection. Whereas the other two are long interior monologues presented as one single paragraph, Correction is divided into two sections with individual headings. The first section is entitled “Hoeller’s Garret,” while the second part is called “Sifting and Sorting” and is noticeably different from the first part in style and content.
In the first section, the narrator—an intellectual afflicted with a lung disease—moves into the garret of a friend’s house (the name Hoeller strongly evokes the German word Hölle, meaning “hell”) to take charge of the papers of his longtime friend Roithamer, who has recently committed suicide. A note found on his body requested the narrator to become the executor and editor of his papers, especially of three versions of an essay that tries to explain the reasons for Roithamer’s failed utopian plan to construct a cone-shaped building in the middle of a forest, intended as the perfect abode for his beloved sister. In some unexplained way, however, the building led to the death of his sister shortly after he installed her there, and Roithamer then hanged himself in a nearby forest clearing.
The title of the novel is taken from the corrections Roithamer has made to the essay, with each correction an attempt at condensation and reduction in order to clarify his concept of the conical building. The essay was written in the same garret where the narrator reads it, and this location leads the narrator to recall a stream of memories of his and Roithhaimer’s common past, during which the reader discovers that the two men’s backgrounds are remarkably similar.
In the second section, which deals with the narrator’s sifting and sorting through Roithamer’s papers, the original narrative voice increasingly disappears and the section is an apparently random perusal of the large number of Roithamer’s papers the narrator has spilled out in the garret. For the most part, the dead man is allowed to speak from his papers without any attempt at editing or interpreting, although it is clear from the last phrases quoted from the papers that Roithamer had realized that he had pursued an impossible goal: trying to achieve perfection. By this single-minded quest he has killed his sister and set himself up for disappointment and despair, leading him inexorably to the clearing where he hanged himself.
Critics have commented extensively on the similarities between Roithamer and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, including a strong attachment to their sisters, the construction of eccentric houses, suicidal tendencies, and a growing despair in the power of language to adequately express complex ideas. The narrator begins to see how much he and Roithamer are alike and grows increasingly fearful that an interpretive understanding of Roithamer’s papers might push him to the same fate. Therefore, he allows Roithamer to speak for himself through his papers, which he scans without any editorial plan. This seemingly unscholarly lack of method is the narrator’s salvation. He has grasped that the process of sifting and sorting itself is healthy and productive, and the futile attempt at perfect understanding and expression is impossible, even with an infinite number of “corrections,” and inevitably leads to “the clearing.”