The Social(ist) Construction of Art in Thomas Bernhard’s Alte Meister*

Russell T. Harrison


This essay advances the thesis that Bernhard’s late novel, Alte Meister (1985), put in its historical and political context reveals a consistent, if syncretic, left-oriented political Weltanschauung. It gathers together political strands from Anarchism, humanist Marxism, and a crude materialism. These ideas play out in a critique of the traditional conception and reception of Western High Art. Central to the novel’s view of such art is not only that artistic value is socially constructed but that there is a classist element to its reception. The latter point is implicitly critiqued in the cross-class relationship between the Saaldiener, Irrsigler and the haut bourgeois, Reger, that the novel somewhat apotheosizes. The essay also suggests that the destruction of the aura of the Western High Artwork is at the same time related to the Anarchist critique of the traditional top-down political power structure of western political theory. (RTH)

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