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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical


My Prizes

Thomas Bernhard

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To purchase My Prizes

Title: My Prizes
Author: Thomas Bernhard
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2009) (Eng. 2010)
Length: 139 pages
Original in: German
Availability: My Prizes - US
My Prizes - UK
My Prizes - Canada
My Prizes - India
Meine Preise - Deutschland
Mes Prix littéraires - France
I miei premi - Italia
Mis premios - España
  • An Accounting
  • German title: Meine Preise
  • Translated by Carol Janeway
  • Written around 1980 and originally scheduled for publication in 1989
  • Includes the texts of four of Bernhard's acceptance speeches
  • With an editorial note by Raimund Fellinger

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Our Assessment:

A- : good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 9-11/2010 Geoff Dyer
L'Express . 2/7/2010 André Clavel
FASz . 4/1/2009 Maxim Biller
The LA Times . 14/1/2011 Richard Eder
NZZ . 24/3/2009 Martin Meyer
New Statesman . 13/1/2011 Gabriel Josipovici
The NY Rev. of Books . 10/2/2011 Adam Kirsch
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/12/2010 Dale Peck
El País . 24/10/2009 José André Rojo
San Francisco Chronicle A 21/11/2010 Phillip Lopate
Die Welt . 24/1/2009 Ulrich Weinzierl
Welt am Sonntag . 11/1/2009 Arne Willander
Die Zeit . 12/2/2009 Adam Soboczynski

  From the Reviews:
  • "My Prizes is a weakish book. (...) Either way, the reader responds at first with a quiver of excitement: Yippee, more Bernhard ! (...) This excited hope, though never entirely extinguished, is considerably dimmed by the end of each piece in My Prizes." - Geoff Dyer, Bookforum

  • "Au passage, l'imprécateur autrichien s'en prend à l'industrie littéraire, à ses magouilles et à ses bidouillages, avant de diriger ses banderilles contre lui-même. (...) Très salutaire." - André Clavel, L'Express

  • "Das Arschloch Thomas Bernhard, und das sage ich, obwohl ich ungern schlecht über Tote rede, das Arschloch Bernhard hat ziemlich sicher nur ein einziges gutes Buch geschrieben. Dieses Buch erscheint erst jetzt, obwohl er es schon 1980 geschrieben hat, und es zeigt, was für ein Arschloch er war" - Maxim Biller, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

  • "(A) deliberate, sardonic absurdity. (...) Simultaneously furious and comical, it skewers the pomposity and vanity of such prizes, of those who give them, and those who receive them. Nor does he spare himself. And there is something else: a note here and there of pleasure, even tenderness." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Wenn Kafka die Szenarien der Apokalypse mit der Gelassenheit des beschreibenden Stils versah, pflegte Thomas Bernhard eine andere Methode. Deshalb klingt auch die Prosa seiner Preise -- im Fortgang des Schreibens ohnehin -- wie ein Furioso wörterreicher Wiederholungen. Der Bernhard-Sound löst sich virtuos von seinem Urheber und zieht alles in seine Strudel. So kehrt das Komische ins Leben ein, das sonst wohl wirklich nicht zu beneiden gewesen wäre. Eine einzige reale Gegenwart behauptet sich gleichwohl hintergründig gegen so viel Tücke. Sie ist das Geld." - Martin Meyer, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "How to live and how to make art in a world without fairy tales -- without, that is, the animating myths that have kept us going for so long -- that is the question. It is not one the prize jury or the audience wants to hear. Yet the more officialdom dislikes what he has to say, the more he will go on saying it, for that is his way of telling tales in a world from which tales have disappeared." - Gabriel Josipovici, New Statesman

  • "(T)he obsessiveness on display in My Prizes is essentially comic, because the only thing at stake is Bernhard's prize money. (...) What makes these anecdotes more than jokes Bernhard tells on himself is the way they enact, and subvert, the very philosophy of life that he expounds quite seriously in his fiction." - Adam Kirsch, The New York Review of Books

  • "My Prizes (with the exception of a dozen or so pages to which I’ll return later) is essentially for the fans; the moral outrage it musters against the idea of state-sanctioned art is tepid compared with similar diatribes in the novels." - Dale Peck, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Con Mis premios existe otra oportunidad para volver al fascinante mundo de Bernhard. Y esta vez, más que para verse sacudido por ese dolor que somos, y que tan bien supo hurgar, por la risa que provoca y por la oportunidad de asomarse a algunos de sus momentos de mayor felicidad." - José André Rojo, El País

  • "(A) singularly delightful collection of essays by the irascible Thomas Bernhard about his misadventures with literary prizes. (...) Die-hard Bernhardites will no doubt find the book too light compared with the novels. But I, who in the past have felt ambivalent about Bernhard, finding some of his work annoyingly punitive, am grateful for the reader-friendly, playfully ironic, detached tone displayed here. (...) No one could be less accepting of the human condition, and so he tells the awards audiences that they are in for a future of endless cold, that life is meaningless and that Austrians are apathetic, megalomaniac, monotonous. Strangely, these speeches did not go over well. My Prizes seems a fine place to begin exploring this infuriating, indispensable author." - Phillip Lopate, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Thomas Bernhard, und das ist nicht der geringste Reiz des ungemein vergnüglichen Büchleins, hat es verstanden, erlebte Episoden in epische Dramolette zu verwandeln. Meine Preise, geschrieben 1980/81, ist eine Art Erweiterung, ein Nebentrieb seiner autobiografischen Pentalogie -- von Die Ursache bis zu Ein Kind." - Ulrich Weinzierl, Die Welt

  • "Es sind diese ungekünstelten, nicht durch den bernhardschen Wortmalstrom geschickten Passagen, die Meine Preise als Ergänzung seiner Autobiografie wie der Tagebücher des Karl Ignaz Hennetmair erscheinen lassen." - Arne Willander, Welt am Sonntag

  • "Bernhard veranstaltet in Meine Preise, wie in zahlreichen seiner Werke, ein überaus kurzweiliges Einfühlungsdrama. Wie man einst ins Theater ging, um mitzufühlen, um mitzuleiden, um damit der beste aller möglichen Menschen zu sein (Lessing), so ist einer der Schlechtesten, wer Bernhard liest." - Adam Soboczynski, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Meine Preise Thomas Bernhard offers accounts of receiving nine of the literary prizes and honours he was awarded between 1964 and 1970. Most of these involved a prize-ceremony of sorts (which is usually where things went wrong), but Bernhard also writes about the surrounding circumstances, making Meine Preise a prize-focussed (and very selective) memoir offering a bit more insight into his life during those years.
       Many writers are ambivalent about literary prizes, and Bernhard certainly was. But the money was a temptation he could rarely resist (even as he beat himself up about it): "ich bin geldgierig, ich bin charakterlos, ich bin selbst ein Schwein" ('I'm greedy for money, I'm unprincipled, I, too, am a pig').
       Bernhard's vanity (and he was terribly vain) and his tendency to act (and act out) on a whim make for some good stories. The collection begins with his account of accepting the Grillparzerpreis of the Austrian Academy of Sciences -- where it occurs to him, just hours before the ceremony, that he should show up in suit and tie after all, and he gets himself outfitted at one of Vienna's finest clothing stores on the Kohlmarkt. When no one recognises him as he and his 'Aunt' -- a frequent companion to these events -- wait for the ceremony to begin they finally just take seats in the middle of the audience. One can picture him sitting there, gleefully waiting to see what happens next. Naturally, when everyone else involved has assembled they notice he is missing -- and, eventually, figure out he's sitting in the audience. Someone is sent over and makes his way down the row of seats to Bernhard and says that seats in the first row have, of course, been reserved for him and that the president of the organisation personally asks him to come on down and take his seat next to the minister and other honoured guests. Personally ? Bernhard says; why then, of course, he'll move to the first row -- if the president himself personally asks him to .....
       So the poor messenger goes back up front and whispers in the president's ear -- and, admirably, the guy actually personally makes his way back to the fussy artist Bernhard and asks him to come up front with him (which Bernhard does). The ceremony itself is unremarkable -- the minister of science falls asleep (snoring lightly but noticeably) -- and, to his own bemusement, Bernhard is quickly lost in the shuffle when it is over.
       Bernhard achieved a similar outcome -- left alone and to his own devices at ceremony's end -- albeit in a spectacularly different manner when he accepted the Small Austrian State Prize for Literature, a ceremony where the minister of culture unfortunately did not doze off. Ill-starred from the start, Bernhard didn't even apply for this prize -- his brother had dropped off his manscript at the culture ministry without telling Bernhard -- and claims he felt uncomfortable accepting a prize that usually went to much younger authors, just starting out. He did, however, like the fact that he would receive the prize thirty years to the day after his grandfather had won it (Johannes Freumbichler received it for his wonderfully ridiculously titled farm-novel (!) Philomena Ellenhub in 1937). And there was the cash to consider .....
       Bernhard beats himself up about accepting the prize, but he goes through with it -- but things go from bad to worse when the minister of culture has a little bit to say about each of the prize-winners. Bad enough that he claims Bernhard wrote a novel set on an island in the South Pacific, but then he also introduces Bernhard as: 'a foreigner born in Holland, who has now lived among us for a while'. Bernhard's anti-Austrian attitude is, of course, legendary -- but woe unto anyone who suggests he wasn't part of the foul mess. Still, Bernhard keeps collected -- or, as he puts it: "Ich bewunderte die Ruhe, mit welcher ich dem Minister zugehört hatte" ('I admired the calm with which I had listened to the minister'). The anger does rise but he maintains control -- and then it's his turn.
       Bernhard maintains that his speech was harmless enough. Sure, the word 'state' appears a few times, but:

Ich dachte, das ist ein ganz ruhiger Text, mit dem ich mich hier, weil ihn doch kaum jemand versteht, mehr oder weniger ohne Aufhebens aus dem Staub machen könne

[I thought it was a perfectly equanimous text, which, since practically no one here would understand it, would pretty much allow me to clear out without much of a fuss]
       Instead, of course, it causes an uproar: mid-speech the minister jumps up, comes over, and yells something in his face before storming off, soon followed by everyone else. Bernhard thinks its a bit of an overreaction, though he admits that he had some highly critical things to say in conjunction with the use of the word 'state', but he also reports with some satisfaction that the newspaper reports the next day spoke of a scandal he had caused. (Several of Bernhard's acceptance speeches are appended to Meine Preise, including this one, and one can see that it was hardly the equanimous text Bernhard suggests: 'We are Austrians, we are apathetic', he said, and: 'We have nothing to say, except that we are pitiful'. And, yes: 'The state is a structure that is continually condemned to failure, and its citizens to infamy and imbecility'; yeah, that was always going to go over well .....)
       Other ceremonies go off a bit better -- though when he accepts the Büchner-Prize his speech is so short that the audience figured it just amounted to his introductory remarks and were surprised to hear that that was all (but, as Bernhard notes, he wasn't there to please and entertain them, just to pick up his prize and cash). He's most pleased when there isn't an actual ceremony and he just gets the cash.
       It is some of the longer asides -- the bigger picture -- that are of most interest, such as when Bernhard immediately blows practically all his prize money on a car. (For all his anti-Austrian attitude, Bernhard can't complain much about the shopkeeping and salesman-class, who are most obliging in putting up with some pretty strong whims and demands of his, both here and when he bought his Grillparzer-Prize-suit (which he exchanged after the ceremony ...).) He revels in his new car but soon totals it in Yugoslavia -- which then gives him an opportunity to rant about the expensive fancy lawyer he hired to get him the compensation he is due. (Much to his surprise, the lawyer proves his worth and gets him what he is due and more.)
       The most interesting chapter is that on the Bremen Literaturpreis, where Bernhard reports on his despondency after completing Frost, describing the major last-minute rewriting of the text (probably a hundred pages worth, he says), and then how, after spending some of his happiest days in Warsaw (much of it in the company of the brilliant Stanislaw Lec -- what a pair !), he found himself at wit's end:
Ich glaubte, an dem Irrtum, Literatur sei meine Hoffnung, ersticken zu müssen. Ich wollte von der Literatur nichts mehr wissen.

[I thought I would suffocate on my mistaken belief that literature would deliver me. I didn't want to have anything to do with literature anymore.]
       Instead he takes a job driving a truck, delivering beer. Eventually he abandons that, too, and literally hides under the covers (at his aunt's, of course) before having the epiphany that, despite being such a city-person, what he needs are his own four walls out in the middle of nowhere. And so he describes his house-hunting -- which amounts to looking at a single, beyond decrepit structure (the owners left the house a year earlier and apparently forgot to turn off the water-tap, the realtor notes, as he turns off the water tap ...) and immediately signing the papers, set to use the prize money that's coming in as a down-payment. (But, yes, Bernhard does get a good case of buyer's-remorse.)
       Only once does his bitterness arguably go too far, as he describes how he was awarded the Anton Wildgans Prize. The ceremony was to take place a week after he received the Austrian State Prize for Literature, but after that didn't go so well the invitations that had already been sent out were followed by un-invitations: the guest of honour was to have been the same minister who had been so offended by Bernhard's speech, and once he cancelled they decided to cancel the whole event. (Bernhard did get the money.) Shortly afterwards Bernhard met the talented writer Gerhard Fritsch -- "der Jurymitglied und bis dahin mein Freund gewesen war" ('who had been a member of the prize-jury, and, until then, my friend'). Bernhard asked whether Fritsch would now protest his outrageous treatment and then resign his seat, but Fritsch had no intention of doing so -- with three wives and a bunch of kids he couldn't afford to, and Fritsch moaned Bernhard should understand. Needless to say, Bernhard didn't:
Der arme Mensch, der inkonsequente, bedauerliche, der erbarmungswürdige. Nicht lange nach dieser Unterredung hat sich Fritsch an dem Hacken seiner Wohnungstür aufgehängt, sein von ihm selbst verpfuschtes Leben war ihm über den Kopf gewachsen und hatte ihn ausgelöscht

[This poor, inconsequential, regrettable, pitiable soul. Not long after this conversation Fritsch strung himself up on the hook on his apartment door, as the life he himself had screwed up had grown over his head and extinguished him.]
       Meine Preise covers less than a decade of Bernhard's life -- the sixties, roughly, as he was coming into his own and just beginning to receive attention -- but it is surprisingly insightful for such a short text. (Being far from objective, background information (including the texts of his award-speeches, barely discussed in his accounts) is, however, helpful in getting the true picture of these events.) Playful and kept relatively light -- Bernhard's rage-rampages are surprisingly contained -- it is also a very entertaining read.
       A very welcome addition to his oeuvre, Meine Preise is an excellent and enjoyable introduction to the author. Highly recommended.

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My Prizes: Reviews: Thomas Bernhard: Other books by Thomas Bernhard under review: Books about Thomas Bernhard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Thomas Bernhard lived 1931 to 1989.

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© 2009-2016 the complete review

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