Wittgenstein's Nephew (1988)
by Thomas Bernhard
German author Thomas Bernhard isn't a household name in America, but the editors of the 1001 Books list sure were big fans- five titles on the first edition, trimmed to three in the next. Wittgenstein's Nephew is one of the three keepers, probably because it's the only Bernhard novel where he displays anything like recognizable human emotion.
Like his other books, Wittgenstein's Nephew is a novella, not a novel- barely a hundred pages long. It tells the story of Bernhard himself, and his friendship with Paul Wittgenstein, nephew of the philosopher, both descended from the same Viennese industrialist family. Bernhard and Wittgenstein because both endure lengthy hospitalizations, Bernhard for a lung condition, and Wittgenstein for his madness. A major theme in Wittgenstein's Nephew is Bernhard's contention that Paul Wittgenstein's madness has a genius/artistic quality that elevates him among his wealthy kin. His book charts Wittgenstein's decline as he gives away his fortune and then faces repeated commitments for his outrageous public behavior.
Of course, Bernhard is a trenchant critic of bourgeois society, and his exaltation of Paul Wittgenstein is also his contempt for respectable Austrian society.