Saturday, April 25, 2009

Thoughts on Handke's Slow Homecoming

Of the Peter Handke fiction I've read to date, I loved Across, admired The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, and have thus far struggled and failed with Repetition (meanwhile, The Left-Handed Woman didn't leave much of an impression on me at all). I've written in most of those posts linked to above about how I find Handke's prose elusive, as if the text resists me, or as if I resist the text. There is something quite simple about his writing, yet perhaps that very simplicity implies depth and this implication is the wall I hit when I read. I try to force the words to say more than they do, or I try to force meaning out of the simple prose. Then, of course, there is the truth that the prose is occasionally slippery: a clear, beautiful description of a landscape and people or things in it will suddenly become something else, to the narrator, an image, and this something else by itself may be clearly, precisely described, but as appended to the end of the other description a sense of vagueness creeps in. But then the narrator, or the character whose point of view is narrated, is experiencing this uncertainty, so the reader may as well too.

My experience with Slow Homecoming (see this for a short passage) was both similar to these other books and more immediate, more successful, as a reading experience. In places I stumbled, as previously, but here and there, and more and more often, I would hit a vein, where the writing seems to take on the quality of thought, as if thought is happening on the page, as I read. In this, Slow Homecoming reminds me of the better stories in Ingeborg Bachmann's The Thirtieth Year--I'm thinking in particular of "A Wildermuth", which I previously excerpted, as well as "Everything". (The latter story is similar, too, to "Child Story", the third part in Slow Homecoming, in that, in both, a man considers a child, his child, observes the child in context, against his own expectations and those of society, thinks through the problems the child presents, for him or herself as well as for the family.) It is this quality of thought, this thinking on the page, not thinking of ideas in the sense of the Novel of Ideas, but thinking nonetheless, the illusion that the words don't exist until I encounter them on the page, it primarily is this quality, I think, along with the mythical/allegorical aspect of the work, that gives Slow Homecoming the unique effect it has. This effect is the sense that one is encountering anew the work of art. That writing is happening and that this writing is writing that somehow writes what usually eludes writing. And perhaps it is this very quality that makes the reading so often elusive. In this way Slow Homecoming strikes me as a necessary novel for these times.

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