I've written how, at times, I've been unable to read Handke well; something resisted my attempts, though the prose style itself isn't obviously difficult. I suspect it has something to do with the way the narrative shifts from moment to moment, scene to scene. It also has to be admitted that I've had the unfortunate tendency to begin reading a Handke book at the exact moment I'm about to go through a period of extreme sleeplessness. While any reading is affected by being overly tired, I think the deceptive simplicity of Handke's prose is especially hard to follow, at least for this reader, when in such a state.
There is often a distance in the writing. And I felt strongly while reading Slow Homecoming that I was experiencing thought, as it was happening, on the page. An admittedly vague way of putting it, but it's how the experience was for me. Towards the beginning of this pass at Repetition, which is going much better, thank you, there is a sentence that made me think of another, also hard to describe, aspect to Handke's writing. Here is the full paragraph:
Fully present to my mind, however—and still fully present today, twenty-five years later—was the morning of the same day, when I took leave of my father on the wooded hill from which the village of Rinkenberg took its name. With sagging knees, dangling arms, and gout-gnarled fingers, which at that moment impersonated furious clenched fists, the frail, aging man, much smaller than I, stood by the wayside Cross and shouted at me: "All right, go to the dogs like your brother, like our whole family! None of us has ever amounted to anything, and you won't either. You won't even get to be a good gambler like me." Yet, just then, he had embraced me for the first time in my life, and I had looked over his shoulder at the dewy wetness on the bottom of his trousers, with the feeling that in me he was actually embracing himself. But then in memory my father's embrace held me, not only that evening outside the Jesenice station, but down through the years, and I heard his curse as a blessing. In reality he had been deadly serious, but in my thoughts I saw him grinning. May his embrace carry me through this story.There is often harshness and certainly sudden violence depicted in Handke's books, but there is a warmth there, and a gentleness. May his embrace carry me through this story. This is a sentence one would find nowhere else, I think. And yet Handke is full of such expressions. In Short Letter, Long Farewell, at one point the narrator is simply pleased to have successfully communicated with an elevator operator, with anyone really—to be blessed with the grace of a successful transaction can carry one through a day. There is, in this writing, a generosity of spirit, even as the writer searches for the right words, struggles with the appropriate way to embody the role of storyteller. It is at times an uneasy warmth—witness my past problems—but it is there, quiet and insistent.
[Previously, on books by Peter Handke: a post on Slow Homecoming, two on Across (1, 2), one on The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick...]