Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Problems with Handke

What is my difficulty with Peter Handke? Why does his prose resist me? Am I merely tired? I am often frustratingly tired, it's true. But, is it something else? Some manner in the telling? No: surely I must just be tired. But I have begun Repetition three times. Three times I have learned about Kobal's arrival in Jesenice in Yugoslavia. Three times I have encountered the details of his departure from his family, from his school. It is perhaps appropriate that I must repeat these steps, in a novel titled Repetition. Though that is likely too obvious a thing to say about it, too casual or glib a rationalization. My first pass, a few months ago, I made it 93 pages in. It's not quite right to say boredom set in, but perhaps exhaustion. That attempt was a struggle--the words resisted me, I was unable to to attend to them. I struggled to retain details, to follow the account. And yet it seems to me that Handke's style is not difficult, that I should not be having this problem.

What is my problem? For in this kind of failure, I do not hesitate to locate the problem with me. I desire absolute awakeness and a hermetically sealed, perfectly quiet room. I went to the library to read, in search of general silence, away from the temptations of my house (internet, music, food, cats). Failure. I decide to read something else.

In truth, I had a similar problem with Across. I was halfway through that short novel when something happened in the story, something important, something I missed. I'd felt as if I'd drifted to that point, skipping along the surface of the words, but feeling, still, as if I was in the presence of something real, yet something that was eluding me. I began again. I did better. I noticed things. But again the important event happened, and again I somehow skipped past it without attending to it. I cycled back through those pages a few more times before moving on. I eventually read through to the end and was able to write about my experience here.

In that writing, I focused on the word "threshold". Maybe this starting and failing and re-starting and cycling back is what I need in order to read Handke's fiction. The threshold I must cross as a reader.

Or maybe I simply need more sleep.


brandon said...

I took a post-War German Lit/Film Independent Study as an Undergrad, otherwise, I don't think I would've been able to force my brain to focus on Haneke enough to really grasp it.

Obviously you know this, but Handke's specific kind of difficulty seems to be the point? Like, digging through the weird mix of straight-forward language and cryptic description. That mixed with his tendency to be sort of repetitious (sometimes it seems to read like a chant, almost?). The problem is whether its "worth" working through it all. I guess my point is, you're not alone with Handke.

I recall enjoying what I've read as I read it, but I rarely ever think about it or go back to it- primarily because I have a hard time recalling what I read...

Richard said...

Yeah, I do realize that the difficulty, such as it is, is part of the point, or part of the experience. And I intuit that it IS worth it, which is why I continue. Anyway, I thought I'd try some of these more off-the-cuff impressionistic posts on my reading, see where that gets me!

I like your use of the word "chant".

Anonymous said...

for me it works this way, I can't read him (especially those books by him that you mention) when i don't have my brain completely empty, independent of tiredness or not. An experience relatively close to meditation, calmness and it is not easy to always achieve this state. Think of it as a sort of Handke-mood.

Richard said...

I think you've hit on it, antonia... It's not so much that I'm tired, but that my mind is not receptive at the time of reading. Sometimes it seems as if sleepiness is the problem, but the truth is that it's happened on other non-tired occasions.