Thomas Bernhard

Writer's Block

A few weeks ago, with a small footnote by way of introduction, The New York Times Book Review published revamped best-seller lists that, for the first time, separately reflect the sale of e-books. The new lists were inevitable—e-books made up about 10 percent of book sales in 2010, and that number is rapidly rising. You had to read between the lines to find the real news, but there it was: To the growing list of things that will be extinct in our children's world, we can now add bookstores. Does it surprise us?

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The Sorrow Reflex

Campo Santo By W.G. Sebald Translated by Anthea Bell (Random House, 221 pp., $24.95) Unrecounted Poems by W.G. Sebald Lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp Translated by Michael Hamburger (New Directions, 109 pp., $22.95)   I. Although he arrived at it relatively late in his senselessly truncated life, once W.G. Sebald found his real voice, it became unmistakable: melancholy, allusive, inward, and elegant, its cadences carried from book to book until each one seemed like another sketch from a single, instantly recognizable personal landscape.

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I. Kafka is the novel’s bad conscience. His work demonstrates a purity of intention, a precision of language, and a level of metaphysical commitment that the novel partially comprehends but is unable to replicate without, in the process, ceasing to be a novel at all. Consequently, Kafka makes novelists nervous. He doesn’t seem to write like the rest of us. Either he is too good for the novel or the novel is not quite good enough for him—whichever it is, his imitators are very few. Now, why is that? Where are Kafka’s descendants? Only a handful—Borges, W.G.

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