Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More Handke nonsense

In this weekend's NY Times, Neil Gordon says he lost faith in the work of Peter Handke from the point his career at which mine was discovered (albeit retrospectively as I began in the late 1980s). From Slow Homecoming onward, his novels illuminated a world darkened by the ordnance of a wrongheaded war against cliché. The earlier works seemed dated in comparison.

Gordon complains that since then "his exacting gaze, with its strange combination of compassion and accusation, turned on and began to consume itself." Yet the only evidence he supplies for this is a negative review of his latest novel in translation. He bypasses Across, Repetition and The Afternoon of a Writer, which just happen to be the soaring highlights of Handke's career, if not the newsworthy ones. As William Gass (correctly) regards Repetition one of the great novels of the past hundred years, you might expect at least a mention. Has Gordon read them?

In keeping with his role as literary editor of the Boston Review, Gordon soon brings up Handke's distance from the party line and spins his attempt to amend western perceptions of the Balkans conflict as a "baffling defense of — or, at least, unwillingness to condemn — Serbian atrocities". Handke has stated regret for all atrocities in a war that destroyed a country he loved, which includes those committed by official enemies. Gordon's focus on "Serbian atrocities" suggest he is himself unwilling to condemn as many as Handke. Who's baffling now?

We needn't be surprised as the Boston Review has a history of apologetics for terror; witness the the contortions over Iraq by Susie Linfield.

However, I have to say, after reading the first 120 pages of Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, I share his feelings about the book if not the reasons for them ("Perhaps Handke believes that only scholars and specialists should be allowed to share his secrets" - perhaps Handke writes in good faith and we should read the book itself rather than confect intentions?). Where the three great novels of the 80s were driven by the movement of patient investigation and epiphanic discovery, this novel (and to a lesser extent My Year in the No-man's Bay) is, at best, loose and unfocussed, at worst pointless and boring. Spurious has a post mitigating the book's apparent faults.

Another thing the three novels have in common is an evocation of the rhythm and wonder of walking across a landscape, and it's for this reason Michael Roloff calls Handke "the last great walker on the earth". Crossing the Sierra de Gredos is more like an interminable, fevered dream of a journey. I can only hope that Handke's recent, shorter novels - Don Juan, Kali and the forthcoming Samara - mark a return to form. And that they don't take an age to appear in English.

4 comments:

  1. MY LETTER TO THE NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW BOOKS@NYTIMES.COM WRITE THE BUGGERS TO GET THEMSELVES AT LEAST HALFWAY SENSITIVE RESPONDERS THE WAY THE LA TIMES AND WASH POST AND SF CHRONIC DID. M.R.

    It is time readers of the New York Times Book Review were made awareof
    Handke, the prose writer, having gone through something like half a dozen
    changes. Starting of as a supremely playful demonstrator of the
    quelling of anxiety in his first three novels, only the third, GOALIE
    [1969], exists in English [in my translation], his nausea, once
    including words [he now fondles them] is not like Sartre's idea-driven **
    kind, but has psychosomatic origins; is the nausea produced by what
    for him is "the ugly;" no matter that it hits the same nerve. And that
    his hyper-sensitivities are uniquely his.

    If Mr. Gordon were as exacting as he says Handke is, he might have
    noticed that Handke already shifted to a more open hearted
    mytho-poeic, but equally if not more exacting, position in the 1975
    LEFT HANDED WOMAN, [whose personae resembles that of the woman subject
    of the current DEL GREDOS] the book just preceding A SLOW HOMECOMING,
    whose Alaska section must be one of the most articulated responses to
    nature in world literature for its selectivity in naming.

    What entered Handke's writing shortly after HOMECOMING, in THE
    LESSON OF ST. Victoire, was the pictorial Cezanne re-arrangement of
    reality {"Close your eyes and see the world arise anew", the opening
    sentence of his 1984 Salzburg novel ACROSS, provides a hint.}

    With THE REPETITION [1987, "retrieval"] a book fabulously praised
    in The Guardian, the promised re-write of both his first novel, DIE
    HORNISSEN [1966], and of SORROW BEYOND DREAMS [1972 * Gordon even
    manages to find a negative take on Handke's emotionally most
    immediately accessible highly praised book], Handke's search ["I want
    to be someone like somebody else was once" KASPAR, 1968; OBIE 1972]
    rearranged his roots in his Slovenian grandfather and uncles' region;
    which provides a hint to the unnecessarily baffled Professor Gordon
    why Handke might prefer a continuous existence of the Yugoslav
    Federation over its decimation into small consumer entities; his
    defense of the Serbs and Milosevic against the more customary "one
    devil" theory of history and journalism.

    With the three narratives in THREE ESSAYS [especially ON THE
    JUKE-BOX, 1989], culminating in the six-sided weaving self-portrait of
    himself - as the once nauseated ex-cultural attaché Keuschnig [of 1974
    A MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING], as writer, painter-filmmaker, priest, stone
    mason, super-finicky misanthropic restaurateur, and reader, in the
    1994 magnum opus ONE YEAR IN THE NO-MAN'S BAY, Handke demonstrated for
    stretches * he is the greatest of exhibitionists * the capabilities of
    narrative as pure writing music image, as he did already in the 1986
    ABSENCE, a narrative that a reader experiences like film.
    Subsequent to NO-MAN'S-BAY he then demonstrated that you could zoom
    like a camera, in the 1996 ONE DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE, into the
    mind of an apothecary, in the improbably named, Salzburg suburb
    Taxham, and make that fellow's dream syntax absorb the readers'
    projections, a feat worthy of the Joyce of FINNEGAN FUNAGAIN; and in
    his 2005 DON JUAN, the fugueing novella that followed the 2003 GREDOS
    he showed that you could write both forward and backward in time while
    standing in one place. - I know it is all a little much, the fellow
    just turned 65 and has published 60 books, and sometimes I wish I'd
    never set eyes on him, but he can't help it, he must write to stay
    *
    *healthy; his symptom is his salvation. And it is that of real readers whose
    minds his self-state inducing work opens up.**

    It matters little that the so other-opinion-oriented Mr. Brown's
    search for "opinions" yields so little of note; or that Handke is the
    whipping boy of miserable reviewers chosen by overly busy editors.
    Gordon has searched poorly. REPETITION and NO-MAN'S BAY are regarded,
    rightly I think, as two of the great novels of the past hundred years,
    e.g. William Gass's estimate of them. Since Gordon cites the Book
    Forum review *
    **
    *http://bookforum. com/inprint/issue=200703&id=264 *
    **
    *I would like to point out that as a professor of literature he might be
    aware of the classical tradition of Goethe, Stifter, Flaubert, Hermann
    Lenz and Bove in whose steps Handke, the last great walker on the
    earth, exerts himself as someone who is so infinitely of his medium's
    contemporaneous possibilities; and to sensitive responses in the

    1] LA TIMES/ Thomas McGonigle*
    ** *
    http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-bk-mcgonigle8jul08,0,2189379.story?coll=la-books-headlines
    *
    *
    2] Washington Post/ Guy Vanderhaegen*
    *
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/26/AR2007072601638.html
    *
    *
    3] San Franciso Chronicle
    Crossing the Sierra de Gredos
    San Francisco Chronicle - CA, USA*
    *
    as well as to sites and blogs I and others run on Handke, accessible*
    ***
    via: http://www.handke.scriptmania.com

    These not only contain a wealth of material, but there Handke, his
    own severest critic, also is critiqued on his own terms; and flinches
    at every lash of the whip!

    Gordon's reading of DEL GREDOS shows me that he is the wrong
    *
    *reader, that is a non-reader, responder for this book, written in large
    part to memorialize, salvage a landscape. He bristles at being shook up.


    MICHAEL ROLOFF

    Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society
    this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS:
    http://www.roloff.freeservers.com/about.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. I thought you might have something to say about this review, especially when I saw the risible comment about when and why he lost the Handke faith.

    I am intrigued by this line, however: "his novels illuminated a world darkened by the ordnance of a wrongheaded war against cliché." Would you be able to elaborate? "Wrongheaded war against cliché" seems highly suggestive (and maybe counterintuitive), but I'm not sure I really know what you mean.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Richard, I'm not sure what I mean either. But I first read Handke after reading things like Amis' Money and Updike; all very heady but ultimately a means of filtering the world through a preening style. Handke has an eye on the truth rather than the reader.

    ReplyDelete
  4. i meanwhile have posted "musings on hhandke's prose on the occasion of the publication of sierra del gredos:

    http://handke-discussion.blogspot.com/ at:"

    ReplyDelete

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