Monday, August 13, 2007

Trojanow horseshit

In Sign & Sight's daily email I was drawn to a summary of what's in the news today: "Author Ilija Trojanow gets his creative writing students off ego-lit and into the world of the foreign". This sounded interesting enough to visit the "feuilletons" page (why does that word annoy me?) for further reading. I wasn't expecting what I got:
Jean-Michel Berg, a student at the Free University of Berlin, tells of his experiences in the seminar given by writer Ilija Trojanow. [..] 'I can't imagine anything more boring than one's own sensations,' Trojanow says, thus staking out the ground between him and Peter Handke, for example, and other explorers of internal worlds. That's why our first task was to avoid 'ego-lit' and write about something entirely foreign.
That's Peter Handke folks, author of Repetition about a 20-year-old Austrian man's journey from his home village to cross the border into a foreign land and "search" for his dead brother using his dictionary of Slovenian terms. And the author of On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House, about a pharmacist who abandons his apoteke to travel across Europe. And author of My Year in the No-Man's Bay in which a writer imagines the adventures of his friends in foreign lands. And the author of Crossing the Sierra de Gredos about a German woman who travels to somewhere probably not-German. All internal worlds avoiding the entirely foreign, apparently.

Of course, Handke's work displays a deep awareness of the paradox of reading and writing; a paradox that each enables both inwardness and exposure to the outside, which might lead some simplistic readers, and perhaps their creative writing teachers, to assume that one need only bypass acknowledgment of the former to achieve the latter, but that would be a fundamental misunderstanding both of literature and of Peter Handke, and would thus disqualify them from any undue attention from people who should know better.

PS: Handke is author of a book of poems called The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld, translated by Michael Roloff, which I haven't read but the title is enough to suggest the nonsense of a simple opposition.


  1. 'I can't imagine anything more boring than one's own sensations.'

    He must have a very strange imagination removed as it apparently is from all experience of life. Where does this imagination exist, I wonder, & how does he gain access to it? Does it involve the use of wormholes?

  2. Wow, that is really shocking about Trojanow. I wonder what he would say about Proust's world of sensations or Woolf's? Ironically, the kind of prose he seems to exalt is much more narcissitic because it tends to reduce the "Foreign worlds" into a kind of false objectivity and thereby makes only the writers' so-called "objective" perceptions, the center. (if that makes any sense). I'm actually thinking of a few books published here in America which attempted not to be "personal" or about the writers "sensations" and yet reduced the experience of 9/11 to an American equivalent of a divorce, all violence being the same or something which didn't exactly fit but made everyone feel the author had tackled the "big" questions.

    Anyway, superb post, Steven, just wonderful and made me really want to read more and more of the very brilliant Handke.

  3. Anonymous3:41 pm

    Despite being rather absurdly lachrymose myself, I've got much sympathy for any attack on the kind of self-indulgent emotionalism of much modern (ego-)"literature". It seems mired in the very worst kind of sentimentality. But attacking Handke for anything approaching this seems wholly wrong.

    The objective world of facts is given to us within a history and a culture, and seen through the prism of our own subjectivity. A writer as attentive to language as Handke knows all this.

    If Trojanow is bored by his own sensations, I don't doubt he is a dreadfully boring read.

  4. Anonymous9:51 pm

    absurd. The reactions of characters, however "externalized," are the projections of the author's own sensations/reactions. In fact any work of literature is one big ego trip, the writer's self writ large all over the actions, landscape, characters, dialogue, etc.

  5. "In fact any work of literature is one big ego trip"

    Well, perhaps only when they claim any different.

  6. Anonymous10:14 pm

    ha. true. maybe "ego trip" is too harsh to be a blanket statement. But certainly we have author, author, author everywhere we go no matter how humble the wordsmyth. and that is how it should be, I think, and is why we have favorites and such pedestrian concerns, and I don't know why I've put so much in lower caps.

    Thanks Steve. I was almost going to comment on your previous post, but realized I wasn't smart enough.


  7. As far as I'm concerned Meg, it's sensitivity not smartness that defines a good comment!

  8. Anonymous7:00 pm

    OK, Steve, I went for it.




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