Friday, March 08, 2013

Across the Border: WG Sebald writes about Peter Handke

In Repetition, Handke allows the peculiar light which illuminates the space under a leafy canopy or a tent canvas to glisten between words, placed here with astounding caution and precision; in doing so, he succeeds in making the text into a sort of refuge amid the arid lands which, even in the culture industry, grow larger day by day.
WG Sebald's remarkable essay Across the Border, on Peter Handke's 1986 novel Die Wiederholung, translated by Ralph Manheim in 1989 as Repetition, has been made available in English by Cannon Magazine. You can download it as a PDF. Even better news is that The Last Books press is reissuing the translation later this year alongside Scott Abbott's translation of Handke's book-length poem To Duration, published in the same year.

This is especially gratifying for me as Handke was one of the first writers to reveal the potential for writing beyond the shameful lowlands of contemporary English literature, and Repetition one of the most rapturous reading experiences of my life. A quarter of a century or a day later, I tried to write about this in an essay


  1. THE REPETITION is indeed a marvelous proposition realized into a reader's
    experienceableness. For me, reading it in the late 80s in the St. Monica
    Mts. coincided with finally living in natural time, which meant exposure to the "surf pounding slowly and very loudly" on the south-facing Ma-Li-Bu [that is its meaning in Coshimi] beaches, surf generated by storm way down in the South Pacific thousands of miles away and the waves crashing i don't know every 20 seconds or so. Thus I too became a KING OF SLOWNESS as Handke had around that time, and wrote about Handke and "being" in sentences that it took about 20 seconds to read. Unfortunately, I at least no longer have that piece. The long piece I wrote about HIMMEL UEBER BERLIN for Jim Krusoe at the St. Monica Review retains some of those long periods, but I allowed Jim to tamp them down - made no difference, readers objected violently, and Jim and agreed that he could have spared himself the effort. Gus Blaisdell was going to publish the piece as a chapbook with his LIVING BATCH bookstore press, but then didnt or didn't get around to it, and after he died prematurely of a heart attack his daughter Nicole did not find the manuscript among his papers. NYR, Bob Silvers really liked it too, but then did not do it either. THE REPETITION, the first chapter of A SLOW HOME COMING and the last 150 pages of SIERRA DEL GREDOS, the ascent and descent of the mountains, are among my great pure reading experiences. NO-MAN'S-BAY as a whole, too, I suppose. With regard to your liking AFTERNOON OF A WRITER - it certainly is a great piece of concentrate of Handke's state of mind and biography shortly prior to fleeing Salzburg back to Paris. Severly injured grandiosity, fabulous imagistic dream writing.

  2. Anonymous3:55 pm

    Repetition is wonderful! I wrote an article on Sebald's essay, ”Die irdische Erfüllung”: Peter Handke’s Poetic Landscapes and W. G. Sebald’s Metaphysics of History’, in: W. G. Sebald and the Writing of History, eds Anne Fuchs, Jonathan Long (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2007), pp. 179-197. (You can preview it on Google Books here.) My forthcoming monograph, Sebald's Bachelors, has a section on homoeroticism in this essay, too.

  3. Let me add something to my other comment about THE REPETITION

    THE REPETITION is indeed a marvelous proposition realized into a reader's
    experienceableness. As we found out this year from Handke's VERSUCH UEBER DEN
    STILLEN ORT (A Plumbing of a Restroom as this celebration of an Abort might be called) Handke only got as far as Jesenice and then slept curled up around the toilet bowl of the railway station's restroom. However, his horticultural uncle's book and the uncles' war time letters were family heirlooms and the uncle who had studied horticulture in Llubliana was indeed a deeply sought model - also for the avunculate position intro-psychically of Handke's angry being. Thus, THE REPETITION is truly a work of deeply imagined seeking during which Handke taught himself Slovenian and wrote his own Slovenian-German dictionary. Above and beyond those matters, THE REPETITION, as Handke has acknowledged is the rewriting of A SORROW BEYOND DREAMS. That is, it is an imaginary revision as well as repeating and a retrieval - the German WIEDERHOLUNG has a double meaning. As such, the book installs the fatherless disoriented Handke's grandfather Sivec instead of the two father figures of SORROW, the gruesome stepfather Bruno Handke, and the actual father, a Herr Schoenherr, about whose trip with his son in SORROW Handke, for reasons of his homophobia, then lied so dreadfully, as we find out in Malte Herwig's Handke biography. The women here die not as suicides but of cervical cancer, does Handke know something about the rural intercourse a tergo and its consequences. The figure of Filip Kobal is pushed into the mythic and joins the figure of Parcival. Intimations of grandiosity, too, for sure.
    Thus the quote at the beginning labora verimus applies with great depths in this instance.



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