Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 20, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 171

Following in the wake of Bernhard’s five-part autobiography (1975-1982; published in English under the title Gathering Evidence, 1986), Der Untergeher, like the narratives Beton (1982; Concrete, 1984) and Wittgensteins Neffe: Eine Freundschaft (1983; Wittgenstein’s Nephew , 1987), strives to blur the distinctions between fiction and nonfiction,...

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Following in the wake of Bernhard’s five-part autobiography (1975-1982; published in English under the title Gathering Evidence, 1986), Der Untergeher, like the narratives Beton (1982; Concrete, 1984) and Wittgensteins Neffe: Eine Freundschaft (1983; Wittgenstein’s Nephew, 1987), strives to blur the distinctions between fiction and nonfiction, biography and autobiography, and the fictive and real worlds. Although these later prose works use the calamitous themes of Bernhard’s first four novels—Frost (1963), Verstorung (1967; Gargoyles, 1970), Das Kalkwerk (1970; The Lime Works, 1973), and Korrektur (1975; Correction, 1979), they do so with greater detachment and humor and in a more readable and engaging style.

Common to all Bernhard’s protagonists is an austere intellectual isolation, the condition for the creative fulfillment for which they long but which they never achieve. Glenn Gould’s “world-virtuosity” in Der Untergeher is thus exceptional in Bernhard’s prose works and yet is countered by Wertheimer’s perversely negative example. Still, the grotesquely comic tragedy of Wertheimer’s final decline serves as a faint, parodying echo of the genuinely communal creative moments in the Leopoldskron house in 1953.

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