Hating Nazis made easy: Thomas Bernhard's "Extermination" at the Deutsches Theater

Thomas Bernhard’s last novel “Extinction. Ein Zerfall” from 1986 is his last major prose work, an inner monologue in two chapters, 600 pages long. Franz Josef Murau lives far away from his family – Austrian, rich, Catholic landed gentry, of course with a National Socialist background – in Rome and learns of the accidental death of his parents and brother.

Murau doesn’t mourn, he hates. In the report, he quarrels with having to return home, support his two sisters in organizing the funeral ceremonies and accept the inheritance. Even in the second chapter, in which he describes how he arrives at the Wolfsegg country estate, the text remains a testimony of great loneliness, strangeness and isolation. Murau delays any contact, tries to control his emotions and yet is pulsed through with hate and disgust, which on the one hand seems to be keeping him alive and on the other hand has long since eaten him up.

He understands that without hating his parents’ house, Austria, the world and himself, he has nothing and is nothing, bequeaths the heritage of the Israelite religious community and dies. As artistically rhythmic as the text is, as musically as motifs, superlatives and generalizations in their variation and repetition pile up to spells of hatred, as satisfyingly as they fit and flow – so bleak and hopeless is the world that Bernhard creates with Murau and in which he locks not only himself but also the reader. Extinction sounds so like salvation. Binding or strangling would actually be more appropriate, but that’s right, in the end nothing can and shouldn’t remain.

The director Karin Henkel, together with Rita Thiele, produced a version at the Deutsches Theater in which many other Bernhard texts have been inserted, so that the monologue becomes something like an ensemble evening. The result is a literary potpourri of quotations that lacks any situational tension. As Murau’s ghosts become real dialogue partners, they are reduced from monstrous projections that his tormented soul produces in order to suffocate on them, to powerless caricatures laden with punch lines of meanness, including reproductions of Jew hatred.

Void effects of doom

The fact that Murau appears in a directorial trick in four versions also lets the evil out of any air, because these versions keep each other company on stage so nicely. Suddenly you have a piece of conversation in front of you. Thilo Reuther’s effective stage can be forested like a horror fairy tale, wafting foggy and iridescent lasered, no matter how ominous Kraftmeier drones can be recorded. A gigantic paper moon dominates the scene and, together with the swampy ground, gives the whole thing an unexplained end-of-world pathos.

It may also be due to the repeated Corona postponement of the premiere that all gifted favorite actors have lost the final rehearsal flow and deliver Bernhard text with such visible diligence in memorization as material from the random roll. They have no chance in this organized Bernhard belittlement for the repertoire. At no time can they make it possible to experience why they have to say what they are saying. And what it could concern us.

obliteration. A decay. 5th, 26th June, 3rd July in the Deutsches Theater, tickets and starting times at Tel.: 28441115 or www.deutschestheater.de

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