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Professor’s Book Introduces Readers to the Novels of a Legendary Austrian Writer

September 02, 2008
Thomas Cousineau, Professor of English at Washington College, has completed his fourth book of literary criticism, Three-Part Inventions: The Novels of Thomas Bernhard.

Published in the United States by the University of Delaware Press and in England by Associated University Presses, this new book is designed to introduce English-speaking readers— among whom Bernhard is virtually unknown— to the pleasures of reading an author whom the Italian writer Italo Calvino once called “the greatest writer in the world.”

“Throughout Europe,” Cousineau points out, “Bernhard is revered as a modernist writer who has not only received the highest critical acclaim but whose work is also known and admired by the general public.

“When he died in the winter of 1989, one obituary writer in France declared that his death was a ‘catastrophe’ for literature, another regretted that he had not received the Nobel Prize that his achievement clearly merited, and a third affirmed that Bernhard was not only the greatest contemporary writer but also the only readable one.

“Fellow postmodern writer Walter Abish even went so far as to say that we are living in ‘the Age of Bernhard.’”

Such tributes have not yet, however, translated into significant popular recognition of Bernhard’s greatness in the English-speaking world. The critic Donald G. Daviau concluded his overview of the American reception of the Austrian writer’s work by commenting that “a good beginning has been made over the past twenty years, but a great deal still remains to be accomplished before this ‘major author of Western literature’ will actually be widely read in the United States and not just appreciated by a select audience.”

Cousineau hopes that Three-Part Inventions will be a small but effective step in this direction. His general overview of Bernhard’s life and work, originally written for The Review of Contemporary Fiction, is available online at www.thomasbernhard.org.

Three-Part Inventions is available from the Washington College Bookstore by calling 410-778-7749, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, or online via the websitehttp://washcoll.bncollege.com.

Advance Praise for Three-Part Inventions

“The novels of Thomas Bernhard, one of the most brilliant and provocative writers of the post-World War II era, have long been underground classics in the United States, but discussion of what these sardonic, cruel, and elliptical novels really mean is still in its infancy. Thomas Cousineau here gives us one of the first book-length readings of Bernhard’s novels, adapting René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire to understand the triangular relationships between protagonist, adversary, and scapegoat that are at the heart of Bernhard’s intricately patterned fictions. This excellent, closely argued study will be indispensable to Bernhard’s growing audience, as well as to readers of postmodern fiction in general.” —Marjorie Perloff, Sadie D. Patek Professor Emerita of Humanities at Stanford University

“Long hailed as a master of prose by America’s foremost stylists like William Gaddis and Gary Indiana, Thomas Bernhard has nevertheless suffered from a relative neglect in English-speaking countries. This omission has been repaired by Cousineau’s informed critical reading of the Austrian writer; in a series of astute readings of Bernhard’s major novels, Cousineau shows that the master of incantatory rant and relentless vituperation is the only rightful heir of Samuel Beckett. Bernhard’s musical denunciation of social and ethical ills offers an indispensable vaccination against our age’s weak follies and facile despair.” —Jean-Michel Rabaté, Vartan Gregorian Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania

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