Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Walls go up, walls come down

Crossing the Sierra del Gredos is getting a fair amount of reviews in the US. (I'm still awaiting my copy.) They're split between those who admire the writer and the book such as Thomas McGonigle in the LA Times and Ross Benjamin in BookForum, and those like Charles Peterson in the Village Voice and Benjamin Lytal in the NY Sun who, because apparently they haven't got much of a clue, resort to political gossip and misrepresentation. 480 pages of novel are of little note to these two novel reviewers.

I'd be interested to find out where Handke "attacked the journalism that reported Serbian atrocities, questioning their very veracity" as Lytal claims. Perhaps he's referring to second-hand information or perhaps he's actually read Journey to the Rivers in which Handke observes too many similarities in the journalists covering the Balkans war:
Nothing against those ... discovering reporters on the scene (or better yet: involved in the scene and with the people there), praise for these other researchers in the field! But something against the packs of long-distance dispatchers who confuse their profession as writers with that of a judge or even with the role of a demagogue and, working year after year in the same word and picture ruts, are, from their foreign thrones, in their way just as terrible dogs of war as those on the battleground. (trans. Scott Abbott)
Yes, he questions the veracity of rote reporting yet nowhere have I found any denial of atrocities. He has questioned the silence of rote journalists about massacres in Serb villages but that's only the same thing to those who require a party line.

"In interview after interview," Lytal continues, "[Handke] gave the impression that his own subjective experience was more reliable, and more important, than Western journalism." So let's get this straight: Lytal wants to persuade us (without evidence) of his own "impression" that Handke values his own subjective experience and expects us to be appalled at this alleged selfishness, a selfishness based entirely on Lytal's "impression"? And he and the fact-checkers get paid for this?

See if you get the same impression reading this interview with Handke in which he defends his style of writing.
With the Yugoslav problem, the walls went up immediately. There were some who knew: this is the situation, this is how we should talk about it. You can only say this and that and only in a particular journalistic style. But in the meantime, another way of speaking has emerged that is not going to disappear.
Another way of speaking - such as we might find in a novel if, as reader or reviewer, we are prepared to submit to it.


  1. As that great New Testament line goes, Steve:
    "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

    The mass-media & the worldview they project on behalf of the ruliong elites being the broad road, & truth generally that of a small voice crying in the wilderness.

  2. Hi Steve - I'm not sure why you're linking to my blog and suggesting that I hadn't read the book in question - if you actually read my blog properly you'll find (a) that I have read Journey to the Rivers (and in fact quote from it); (b) that my stance re Handke is definitely pro-artist and anti-censorship and that I deeply admire Handke's writing; (c) I think he has been definitely misrepresented in the media, and broadly agree with much of his criticism of that same media; and (d) that all the same I am still disturbed by some of his statements and actions.

  3. Hi Alison, I linked to your blog as an example of where Benjamin Lytal may have got secondhand information about Handke denying massacres.

    You wrote: "In 1997 he released A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia, a short, hallucinatory book which argued that the Srebrenica massacres never happened".

    Of course, nowhere in the book does he even begin to argue that, and indeed accepts the massacre did occur. Only, because he puts it into a context of a civil war in which massacres on all sides took place, it lacked the hysterical hyperbole required by the West and it was construed as denial.



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