Childhood | Thomas Bernhard, 1963

Thomas Bernhard with his mother, Bavaria, 1938


“Childhood is still running along beside us like a little dog who used to be a merry companion, 
but who now requires our care and splints, and myriad medicines, to prevent him from promptly
 passing on.” It went along rivers, and down mountain gorges. If you gave it any assistance, the
 evening would construct the most elaborate and costly lies. But it wouldn’t save you from pain
 and indignity. Lurking cats crossed your path with sinister thoughts. Like him, so nettles would
 sometimes draw me into fiendish moments of unchastity. As with him, my fear was made palatable 
by raspberries and blackberries. A swarm of crows were an instant manifestation of death. Rain
 produced damp and despair. Joy pearled off the crowns of sorrel plants. “The blanket of snow 
covers the earth like a sick child.” No infatuation, no ridicule, no sacrifice. “In classrooms, simple
 ideas assembled themselves, and on and on.” Then stores in town, butchers’ shop smells. Façades 
and walls, nothing but façades and walls, until you got out into the country again, quite abruptly, 
from one day to the next. Where the meadows began, yellow and green; brown plowland, black 
trees. Childhood: shaken down from a tree, so much fruit and no time! The secret of his childhood 
was contained in himself. Growing up wild, among horses, poultry, milk, and honey. And then: 
being evicted from this primal condition, bound to intentions that went way beyond himself. 
Designs. His possibilities multiplied, then dwindled in the course of a tearful afternoon. Down 
to three or four certainties. Immutable certainties. “How soon it is possible to spot dislike. Even 
without words, a child wants everything. And attains nothing.” Children are much more inscrutable
 than adults. “Protractors of history. Conscienceless. Correctors of history. Bringers-on of defeat.
 Ruthless as you please.” As soon as it could blow its own nose, a child was deadly to anything it 
came in touch with. Often—as it does me—it gives him a shock, when he feels a sensation he 
had as a child, provoked by a smell or a color, but that doesn’t remember him. “At such a 
moment you feel horribly alone.”

Thomas Bernhard, Frost, 1963

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