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The Loser, Thomas Bernhard

Der Untergeher, Suhrkamp, September 7, 1983 (Germany)
Alfred A. Knopf, August 27, 1991, (US), Translated by Jack Dawson

All our lives we run away from amateurishness and it always catches up with us, I thought, we want nothing with greater passion than to escape our lifelong amateurishness and it always catches up with us.

With no way of knowing that the mood that would ultimately be struck would be one of perturbed resignation, Von Rossi put on Glenn Gould’s The Goldberg Variations in hopes that it would strike a mood, maybe even inspire, and although it did not inspire, Von continued, listening on repeat, not so much as moving from the sofa except as dictated by nature, but even then, he left the bathroom door ajar so that he could continue to hear Glenn Gould play The Goldberg Variations uninterrupted. And uninterrupted Gould did play except for the sound of the toilet flushing, an obvious metaphor—obvious to Von at least—of Von’s own sinking fantasy. Listening to Gould’s virtuosity, Von Rossi couldn’t help but be convinced of a great divide that aligned his own place in the world of have-nots. Although one might say he was mixing apples and oranges, Von could not help but feel dwarfed by Gould’s towering talent, obliterated by the actuality of genius. Desperate to be an artist of great importance, a virtuoso of letters if you will, Von listened to Glenn Gould play, concluding that it was all impossibly pointless, pointless and deflating, underlining the reality for Von that the vast majority of artists never achieve greatness. For the majority, no amount of hard work or sweat will suffice, leaving their perceived destinies forever entombed in the catacombs of over-inflated egos. Von had even read (and re-read) Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser, foolishly thinking that doing so would help him pinpoint what was lacking in his own amateurish writing. Maybe it would come to him quicker if he were to read Bernhard while simultaneously listening to Gould play The Goldberg Variations. Yes! Yes, that would do it! If reading Bernhard could trigger such frustration and listening to Gould play could facilitate such resignation, then certainly the stereo effect of reading Bernhard to the accompaniment of Gould would serve a most valuable purpose. It would pull the plug on this madness once and for all. Von Rossi would never again wake up at an ungodly hour immersed in the impossible void of expansive darkness that made mornings in this corner of the world so perpetually cold and depressing. Listening to Glenn Gould play The Goldberg Variations while Von simultaneously read Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser would at last force Von to reach necessary conclusions even if it left lingering questions. Like, what of Gould’s own pursuit? If perfection really can be achieved, what then becomes of the mad pursuer, after a lifetime in the chase? Von turned to his own notebook to review pages from a soon to never be released novel. It starts with a quote. No. There is no quote. It starts with an empty page, and then another, another, all the same. And then, a page with a title, a title that is crossed out.

Chapter One / The Have Not