After Reading Thomas Bernhard | Edward Mc Whinney
An excerpt from The Hell Porter

    Agoraphobia is not an illness but a life-affirming science. With this thought in mind I picked up the phone and rang in sick, after which I resumed reading the book in hand by Thomas Bernhard and to my utter astonishment the passage I came upon was as though written about myself and of my circumstances at that precise moment. It was from his book Gathering Evidence where he speaks about getting the courage to go in the opposite direction as he puts it, having sacrificed his life to the deadening reality of going away from himself, out of himself, to a place where he did not want to be. In order to become something authentic according to Thomas Bernhard one had to arrive at the point where one’s mental and emotional energy have reached an absolute peak and where one’s resistance to everything one has to endure is at its most intense and its most deadly and where no other option is open but to do an about turn or to kill oneself. I sat up with burning eyes and swore I’d make the big leap this time. No more Happy Valley Refrigeration Company, time to go in the opposite direction. The crows cackled outside on the electric wire. What are you talking about? You, who yesterday, yes yesterday, no further back in time, couldn’t even deal with a lame man in a pub, in the Groveport to be exact, at lunch-time, when he tried to cut you down to size. I was eating a lasagna while listening to a conversation about the league final between Donegal and Mayo. The lame man hailed from the County Mayo. The Rocket boasted that he had wagered a score on Donegal, and collected of course as Donegal won, which infuriated the lame man who shouted louder than normal at the Rocket: what did he know about football to go placing bets on Donegal and he rolled like a small barrel of slops in my direction where I was trying to eat a rich, cheesy lasagna and he inadvertently spat into the rich, cheesy lasagna nudging me in the side, you Cork boys think you know it all and you’ll never beat Kerry anyway? And suddenly there reared up out of my shy, meek hall porter’s uniform a more cynical, uneasy, intolerant monster than habitual, telling the lame man to back off, keep his spit out of my lunch, much to the merriment of the Rocket and the boys along the counter and the lame man was drawn in by the sudden outburst from the silent hall porter saying that his son, a rally champion on the coast of Donegal had been cheated by Corkies, yes cheated during a competition by a group of judges from Cork. It was during a national rally championship, he spat the words towards my rich, cheesy lasagna and there was an obvious fix because the boys from Cork with their little gay rally bus and pink tables and faggoty carry on, you’d love to tell them to go away and get a job and he rolled up to my elbow with no other intention than making a nuisance of himself right in my ear with beer stained lips. Back off, I shouted much to the merriment of the Rocket and the boys. And now it’s raining, the crows are cackling, the dogs are barking and the morning traffic is in full flow. It’s rushing. It’s racing. They are all rushing and racing and I’m reading Thomas Bernhard with a mess of books and papers all over the floor. Once we took a drive into the country. Alejandra did the driving. You know how I hate the country, I said, you are the only one in the world that would persuade me to go into the country. We stopped at a little hotel in a beautiful, rural landscape, overlooking a lake. Alejandra took a photograph. I lit a cigarette. There was a man standing on the steps outside the hotel talking very loudly into a mobile phone. We could hear every word he said. He talks like his batteries are overcharged I thought. The light in the interior was deep and dark. It felt like being in a cruise liner. We sat at a window under the shadows of a mountain. Alejandra spoke about the beauty of nature and about a trip we had taken to northern Spain when we stood in the sea side by side for a half an hour, feeling the energising power of the salt and the iodine. I spoke about Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell which he couldn’t afford to have published and so it lay in the cellar of a print shop for twenty-eight years. He gave up writing anyway at a very young age. Alejandra spoke about seeing a dolphin in the water while out walking on a cliff top. How beautiful and she followed his movements all along, walking along the cliff top till he turned into a little bay where children swam out to play with him. She heard them calling his name, it was Allegria. Reading Rimbaud is like digging my own grave, I said and I told her about the speaker in the office the other day with the grey moustache and bulging eyes extolling the virtue of persistence and that the world was populated by failed geniuses, failed and frustrated because they didn’t persist. Alejandra recalled the fields of sun flowers in the Ampordan, blindingly yellow in the summer sun. They were like a million happy faces smiling at us as we passed. I never got an erection looking at a flower, I said and when I went into the fancy bathroom of that hotel I looked at my face in the mirror and rebuked myself, why did you have to say something so stupid? At that moment, late May, I felt as taut as a whore’s g-string. I felt all up with the job as hall porter, I felt that I could take it no longer. I felt that I might burst open and pour all over the floor. A crowd of observers would appear, straining to get a look over the heads of the first comers blocking the door and the two windows. A man exploded. He must have had a bomb strapped to his stomach, look it blew out and bits of his insides are all over the place. When I got back to my seat by the window I apologised to Alejandra for that last stupid remark but she didn’t know which one, which stupid remark that is. It occurred to me then, having stepped off the conveyor belt, Tuesday morning, reading Thomas Bernhard that all I ever wanted to do in life was paint and paint and write without ever mentioning the basic functions of the body, accruing fat and farting to name a further couple and to keep on painting against all the odds like Thomas Bernhard’s grandfather who kept writing all the time, all the nonsense that came to him, writing and nothing else, writing all day and all night and never gave up though as Thomas Bernhard writes his situation was hopeless but he went on fighting, even after forty years of total failure which would have made anyone else give up years before. I wanted to paint. There was no ambition to translate a plot like Dickens or Dostoyevsky to the canvas, to subscribe to a method or form like Edward Hopper or Vassily Kandinski, much as I admired them, I just wanted to paint about the same thing everyday with whatever variation time and circumstances brought. I wanted to translate to canvas my hatred of my position as Hall Porter, old turning-the-key Hell Porter, too-cold-for-Hell Hall Porter, I’ll devil porter it no further, so cowardly to be trapped there all the years, to paint myself talking to Alexa with a book by Thomas Bernhard sticking out of my back pocket. The day was short but there was lots of time, time I have never got into the habit of using properly, what with all the usual distractions and all the rest of it, paint all day, paint without pause, all day and into the night and not a negative daub of paint, no all bright and positive because what if I was to give Thomas Bernhard a drive in my car, how would he react, what would he think of that, and give him a spin into the chambers of my life, so he would quickly dismiss the Happy Valley Refrigeration Company as more than Limbo, as Hell to be precise, as he dismissed his own school at fifteen years of age and went to work in a grocer’s in the Projects in Salzburg?

 about the author Edward-Mc-Whinney.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0
commentary | poetry | fiction | chicago | winter 2008  
Like Joe Hill | John M. Anderson
Taking Back Cambodia | Vincent Reusch
Things We Find | Virginia Bell
American Dreamtime | Robert Warrington
After Reading Bernhard | Edward Mc Whinney
A Spring Sunday | Heywood Broun
Three Poems | Amy Groshek

Contradiction | from the editor

James Harpur, Laura Solomon,
Heywood Broun, David Pierce, Bruce Barcott,
Bill Holm, Jonathan Raban

On the Contrary
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