Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Handke and Bernhard in Harper's

I usually like John Leonard's "New Books" column in Harper's, but his review of Peter Handke's Crossing the Sierra de Gredos in the August 2007 issue irritates. First, he tells us that Handke probably lost any chance he had at a Nobel Prize "when he blamed Western politicians and the media for the disintegration of Yugoslavia, took the side of Slobodan Milošević in the Balkan bloodlettings, and published an agitprop travelogue called Justice for Serbia (1996)." Much could be written about the West's role in the dissolution of Yugoslavia, but I'm not going to do so here (I recommend Fool's Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions by Diana Johnstone). Second, this "is Handke's first novel since he surfed this wave of ethnic cleansing". Whatever that means. I'm no expert on Peter Handke's politics, but from what I've seen elsewhere, these kinds of comments seem wrong, if all too typical. And I wonder what it all has to do with Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, though I've yet to see a review that hasn't mentioned this business. Leonard writes: "Naturally, we read it for clues to his disorderly state of mind." Do we? Naturally? Handke, it seems is not so helpful: "Just as naturally, he is hiding out in allegory, wearing veils." Hiding out! Leonard proceeds to discuss the novel for a short while, taking time out to praise earlier "allegorical voyages" such as A Moment of True Feeling (1975), The Afternoon of a Writer (1987), and Absence (1987), before closing with this:
But never before has Handke gone on at such inordinate length, 480 pages, before arriving at that same old post-modern solipsisim that feels sorry for itself because it no longer believes that anything else is real, certainly no Srebrenica.
Priceless. (For what it's worth, see what Handke himself has said about the "Balkan bloodlettings" here and here.)

Also in the August issue of Harper's, in the "Readings" section, is an excerpt from a 1986 interview with Thomas Bernhard, by Werner Wögerbauer. The full English version appeared in signandsight. Here is an extract (oddly, I notice that the extract is somewhat different--including some strange rearrangements--than the same bits in the full version, though the translation is the same, by Nicholas Grindell; since I saw it first in Harper's I'm putting what they have, if only because it's weird that it was so modified):
Wögerbauer: What kind of intellectual aims do you--

Bernhard: No one asks themselves that sort of thing. People don't have aims. Young people, up to twenty-three, they still fall for that. A person who has lived five decades has no aims, because there's no goal.

Wögerbauer: But when you describe yourself as a "destroyer of stories," that is a theoretical statement.

Bernhard: Well, people say a lot of things in fifty years of life. If a reporter is sitting in a restaurant somewhere and he hears you say the beef's no good, then he'll always claim you're someone who doesn't like beef, for the rest of your life. You go for a walk in the woods, and someone takes a photo of you, then for the next eighty years you're always walking in the woods. There's nothing you can do about it.

[. . .]

Wögerbauer: What, in your view, is a conversation?

Bernhard: I don't usually have them. To me people who want to have a conversation are suspect, because that raises particular expectations they're unable to satisfy. It all gets thrown in together and then one person stirs this way, the other stirs that, and an unbearable stinking turd comes out the bottom. No matter who it is. There are collected conversations, hundreds of them, books full. Entire publishing houses live off them. Like something coming out of an anus, and then it gets squashed in between book covers. It's all just for the workers at the paper factory, so they have something to do, which might make some sense. Because they have a terrible life anyway and lose all their limbs--at fifty most of them have lost a leg or five fingers. Paper machines are cruel. At least it has some meaning, the family can get something extra. I live next to two paper factories, so I know how it is. In ten years you'll see how stupid it all was. This wasn't a conversation either.


brandon said...

Good post! I've read some of Handke's early work and enjoyed it a great deal. I've often kept an eye on articles/reviews of his work and too noticed the way NOBODY is able to reconcile or even accept his politics.

This seems like a recent phenomenon, no? As in the past, plenty of great writers have developed/supported/whatever not-exactly mainstream political views..


just came on this post, leonard doesn't have a clue. here is a link to a book that is on line [without most of the very detailed and important note] on handke's prose and on sierra del gredos:

the footnote [2] detailing handke and yugoslavia is on-line there
and you can see the entire controversey in detail at
and here are some other handke links:
and 12 sub-sites [the drama lecture]

[dem handke auf die schliche/ prosa, a book of mine about Handke]
[the American Scholar caused controversy about Handke, reviews, detailed of Coury/Pilipp's THE WORKS OF PETER HANDKE]
[some handke material, too, the Milosevic controversy summarized]

Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society
this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOG


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