Thursday, March 15, 2007

Peter Handke's greater life

The first part of Peter Handke's Repetition presents the memories of Filip Kobal's early life. It ends with an epiphany in a railway station. The second part begins like this:
What I have written thus far about my father's house, about the village of Rinkenberg and the Jaunfeld Plain, must have been clearly present to my mind a quarter of a century ago in the Jesenice station, but I couldn't have told it to anyone. What I felt within me were mere impulses without sound, rhythms without tone, short and long rises and falls without the corresponding syllables, a mighty reverberation of periods without the requisite words, the slow, sweeping, stirring, steady flow of a poetic meter without lines to go with it, a general surge that found no beginning, jolts in the void, a confused epic without a name, without the innermost voice, without the coherence of script. What I had experienced at the age of twenty was not yet a memory. And memory meant not that what-had-been recurred but that what-had-been situated itself by recurring. If I remembered, I knew that an experience was thus and so, exactly thus; in being remembered, it first became known to me, nameable, voiced, speakable; accordingly, I look on memory as more than a haphazard thinking back - as work; the work of memory situates experience in a sequence that keeps it alive, a story which can open out into free storytelling, greater life, invention. (Translated by Ralph Manheim)
With this in mind, listen to Michael McDonald froth at the mouth over Handke's quiet resistance to US hegemony, an attack he extends to the fiction.
By concentrating with surgical precision on the physical details of life, Handke can paint a horrifying image of the mechanical numbness of everyday habit. But is what he describes really life? Literature is many things, but it wouldn't be worthy of our attention if it didn't have something to do with human psychology — from which Handke clearly wishes to escape.
Clearly.

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