Sunday, March 04, 2007

Peter Handke, Culled!

Looking to continue the "Crazy Austrians Reading Project," I visited the nice little neigbourhood community library that I go to this evening looking for books by Peter Handke. The online catalog search showed a number of results but when I looked for them on the shelves I could locate only one, My Year in a No-man's bay (a hefty volume). When I asked the kindly old lady at the information desk she turned pale. Apparently, since the books hadn't been checked out in I don't know how many years, they had taken them out of circulation! In fact I felt a little bad afterwards because she was insistent that she would order the books from the sister libraries or else enter a new purchase order. I said not to worry, I have enough books to read already and may be I will start with the No-man's Bay book. Also they have some non-fiction books by Handke, one of them called A Journey to the Rivers about his travels through Serbia. Handke was in news last year for attending the funeral of Slobodan Milosevic. He has in the past expressed his support for the cause of Serbian nationalism too. I don't know much about the recent history of the Balkans. This book should be interesting too.

Reading has been slow for the last two weeks. Busy with the movies and in general lazing around (Still with The Man without Qualities, about hundred pages still left from the first volume). I was at the Museum of Modern Art yesterday. I spent the entire morning staring at works by Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper and so many others that I had never heard of before. There was one by Klimt (another Austrian) too! The best was a bunch a German expressionists none of whom I had heard of before. This is a very nice interactive website about the collection. In the afternoon I saw a collection of short (and a few longer) films by the celebrated Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Will post something about the films sometime, meanwhile you can read this wiki page if you haven't. It has more information than one would ever need! And as if four hours of Kiarostami was not enough I went to Anthology Film Archives in the evening to watch The Wayward Cloud directed by another widely celebrated contemporary director Tsai Ming-Liang. I liked it quite a bit but with a few reservations and doubts. I will post in detail sometime later.

32 comments:

Szerelem said...

Hmmm....writings on Serbia. Sounds interesting :D
Actually I remember Handke from the news of him visiting Milosevics funeral. I tried finding his books in my library but they have all been put in the repository!!
By the way talking of Austrian authors have you read any of Elfriede Jelinek's works?

Also, I think spending the day just looking at Picasso, Pollock, Klimt etc is probably the best way to spend the day!

Antonia said...

that sounds like a jolly nice day indeed. interesting that they had the No man's bay and the Serbia books, somewhat the most idiosyncratic stuff he wrote. Very charming that only these were there, that's Handke in essence. The Serbia books and that he attended the funral of Milosevic caused highly interesting scandals, because Serbia is being regarded as the evil ones in all those Balkantroubles while Handke pursued a more balanced view on these conflicts. No man's bay is one of the best books he wrote, even to it failed to impress the critics. Oh I should read go and read him again. The Bruecke website is quite good.

Alok said...

szerlem: I have read Jelinek's Lust and (parts of) Piano Teacher. I didn't like either of them but they sure are unique in the sense that I have not come across so much hatred and disgust with human sexuality (its structures actually) anywhere else. I love the movie version of Piano Teacher very much though. Seen it? It is directed by another Austrian misanthrope Michael Haneke and is in French language. It is extremely painful and terrifying but also a brilliant masterpiece. In fact it is one of my favourite European films of recent times. this is a trailer on youtube. I had some exasperated comments about Lust too.

The Handke affair created a big furore in continental Europe last year specially after some high profile group withdrew their prize.

antonia: i am more or less clueless about the balkan history. it is all very complex. there was some controversy with Noam Chomsky too who had expressed slightly similar views. handke looks like a little weirdo to me. will try him next. :)

Antonia said...

well not the this group withdrew the price (Heinrich-Heine Price) but Handke refused it because the public fuss became so big. A couple of well known artists (Claus Peymann was among them who directed lots of Bernhard plays) then in return started to collect the equivalent amount of pricemoney for Handke, buthe refused it and said better give the money to some half destroyed village in Serbia. The River book, by the way (there are several ones, I don't know which one you have) was also highly controversial, and in which he travles to Serbia somewhat around the nineties, when it all started. It is a very interesting book, very human. He seems to be driven by his love for this land, the language,culture and people there and the disgust with the war and how badly Serbia was judged. Handke was also not plain pro-Serbia for he was asked to be a witness in court The Hague for Milosevic which he refused as well. The Balkan conflicts I find very complicated too and I am not so inclined to make a fast judgement there, it is always easy to say: oh those are the evil ones - and where ever something like that is said I become highly suspicious.
After all, it is much more interesting, why such a loveable crackpot like Handke who before these conflicts was into introspection and nature and deep thoughts and rather wanted to be left in peace has become subject of so much ugly controversies.
I really want to read him again just now...he is by no means to underestimate...

Szerelem said...

I havent read Elfriede Jelinek (or seen the movie Lust) but saw ver books in the library so was wonderin if you had. I remember her winnin the Nobel caused quite a storm.

About the Balkans - I personally find their history very interesting. In a sense it grew out of my fascination for the Ottoman Empire and I have been readin a lot about the area for some time now (in fact I am reading a book called Salonica - City of ghosts now, admittedly Salonica is in greece but still).
I agree with Antonia in that its very easy to point fingers and the reality is more complicated. I think Milosevic is held responsible for a lot of what happened because he kickstarted nationalism and the calls for a greater Serbia. Also there were killings on all sides but the worst were perpetrated at Srebrenica and therefore the association with the Serbs.
The history of the Balkans is messy to say the least...it always has been. Its probably the most diverse area of Europe in terms of cultural and religious influences. Everytime I read about the Balkans it makes me wonder whether diversity can actually go toether or is there bound to be a clash.

Alok said...

there was a recent news report too about the international court of justice acquitting Serbia of the charges of genocide. there were also charges against Handke that he denied the Srebrenica massacre... which was again something he didn't say. as a writer who deals with ambiguity and complexities it is very difficult to switch to journalism which relies on taking sides and holding firm opinions... that must be where all this came from originally.

szerelem, nice that you are reading about all the history and stuff. I have wanted to read all this too. some time may be. In Europe I find the Austro-Hungarian empire and Russia most fascinating. Ottomans also figure in their history a lot.

It is also interesting the muslims in the Balkans are one of the most integrated and homogenized ethnic groups in the whole europe. not like the situation in the western europe. still it is so hard to have a functioning multicultural democracy. a country like India looks like such an exception. despite occasional riots and troubles, people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds do live in peace with each other.

Szerelem said...

yes, I read the news about ICJ. I think they gave the right decision. I did a course in History last term and we did A LOT on the Hapsburgs. A bit of Russian history as well. I wrote a whole paper on Peter the great! It was pretty interesting. And you're right the Ottomans did figure in Hapsburg plans quite a bit. For the Easter branch especially, because the Ottomans had captured Hungary as well. And for Spain the threat was from northern Africa.

Btw, have you read Ismail Kadare? He's really good and his books do give you a strong sense of the Balkans. I think the Balkan problem is a bit more complicated. Yes there is a large majority of muslims but there are there overlaps between nationalism and religion. Over all these years the different groups have managed to cling to their identities pretty strongly. The Serbs have their own history as do the Slovenes, the Albanians etc. And it becomes even more messy because they have been fighting amongst themselves since time immemorial so it becomes easier to draw on some abstract notion of ethnicity to fight against another group. Plus the capture of the Balkans by the Ottomans is generally viewed as a great tragedy within the Balkans, something that basically cut them off from the rest of Europe.
The area used to be very multi cultural under the Ottomans but I think that has reduced quite a bit. Especially in Greece and the European areas of Turkey. Greece used to have a very large Muslim population but after Turkey was formed the agreement was for Muslims from Greece to move to Turkey and the Orthodox Christians in Turkey to shift to Greece (similar to the India Pakistan partition). An exception was made for the Greeks in Istanbul but there were horrible riots against them sometime in the '60s(?) and most of the Greeks fled. And following them so did the jews, Armenians etc. So what was basically one of the most multicultural cities in the world became primarily muslim. What happened to the cities in the Balkans esp Sarajevo in '90s was similar. These great multicultural societies became uniformly of one ethnicity. It's sad isn't it?

Szerelem said...

Btw, talking about Russia. Have you seen the movie Russian Ark? Higly reccomended.

Alok said...

What a well rounded education you are receiving... history, economics, philosophy, political science! and as if all of this was not enough you go on Italian tours in the holidays!! I am feeling stupid and worthless now.

I have got Kadare's The general of the dead army which i got in a used book store. still waiting to be picked up. will do so soon. and yes I have seen Russian Ark's DVD on the library shelves too. I havent seen any other movie by Sokurov too. Will pick it up too. Now I am off to sleep with a heavy heart.

Cheshire Cat said...

I was surprised a few years ago when "The Goalkeeper's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" actually appeared as a clue on Jeopardy! Plus I see Handke's 60s and 70s books in book sales - he must have enjoyed a modest popularity in the U.S. at one point of time. Handke isn't quite as marginal as he might be, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that he's a lunatic.

I wonder if his work is considered dated now? There's also the political angle to consider - surely the consumers of "experimental" fiction are overwhelmingly liberal.

Szerelem said...

Oh come on! I am sure what you learnt in college has more practical value anyway :)
And in all honesty my history prof was terribly boring. Luckily the class material was interesting.
And p.s. I finally ended up writing a post somewhat related to the philosophy of science.

Alok said...

cat: it was actually that goalkeeper's book and another called The Left Handed Woman which was missing from the library. They were both old editions, published in the late seventies I think. I was just reading yesterday about Handke. I found this nice article about his work. He was already going on international lecture-tours when he was 23!

Also it is interesting because from what I have read his writing seems to be as apolitical and as removed from the external world as it can get. may be it was the need to overcome his alienation and connect to the world that made him identify with land and its culture.

szerlem: thanks, some consolation!

Antonia said...

that's a wonderful essay. Handke's work is not considered dated now, maybe some stuff from the seventies, but not in general. He is not read by such an extrawide audience, yet one also cannot avoid him anymore. The liberals don't read him, they are annoyed by him, because they don't get on with his (subtle) political opinions. He is being read rather by introvert people and quite constantly through the years I would say, he slowly gets classic-status. Probably one of best german writers alive. I am really fond of his Cezanne book.
That's an interesting aspect, to connect to the land in order to get over the alienation. he travlled a lot and in general I don't like travelbooks, but when he travels I always liked it. It is also always an inner sort of journey and then again one feels when he is not travelling in his books that his mind is wandering and journeying...

Antonia said...

what one also never really should forget is that he is a great translator and brought many forgotten interesting authors back to light.

Cheshire Cat said...

Handke's political opinions seem to me not subtle so much as confused and/or irrational. He's a wonderful writer, but should it surprise us that writers often lack sound political judgment?

Antonia said...

hmm cheshire, I just would in Handke's case it is the opposite, he rather has a sound & balanced political judgement and a circumspect way to express it.
what is it that you find confused or irrational?

Alok said...

I am reading journey to the rivers now. will report back with my findings and conclusions :)

nico poblete said...

Hi Alok, we seem to be in the same frequency, I'm also spending time with an Austrian reading project (besides my dissertation): now reading 'The left handed woman', and 'A sorrow beyond belief', both amazing Handke's short novels. But I really have to tell you: give it a second chance with E. Jelinek's novels, especially 'Lust', 'Wonderful, wonderful times' and 'The piano teacher', this last one puts much more emphases to the critique of Austrian society than the movie did. It is plain that she writes in the tradition of Bernhard's rage (and also in a somewhat Marquis de Sade cruelty vein). Another writer (although not strictly Austrian) is Elias Canetti, and my own favorite: Ruth Kluger (Auschwitz survivor -poet and professor at Berkeley) A must is her book: "Still Alive: A girlhood Holocaust remembered". Well thanks again for your inspiring blog.

Antonia said...

oh someone likes Ruth Klueger. :) She's wonderful.

Alok said...

this is one of the best things about blogging and having learned readers, you don't have to think about what to read next. i just checked in the library, will soon pick up kluger. i read a little about her and it looks very interesting.

and thanks for the nice words Nico :) and will try jelinek again too. I picked up her books without any prior knowledge of what to expect and was a little miffed by all the violence and hatred which seemed artificial and gratuitous to me at that time. I didn't really understand what she was trying to achieve. There is a lot of hate and rage in Bernhard but his style, specially his sentences, are captivating and the hate is mixed with the style which makes it more coherent.

Antonia said...

i agree, alok, so much inspiration everywhere in the blogworld and so many nice people around.

I found the Klueger book one of the best books on concentrationcamp lecture ever. How one can healthily and reasonable deal with the holocaust - her essays on literature I don'tlike so much but the concentrationcamp book is good. Very unpathetic, realistic and practical person whereby not the harm is being neglected, but rather being somes ort of I don't know, dealt with? There was a passage that symbolizes that very well: some ugly place, where a concentrationcamp was?I dont know some place where something ugly happend, she is visiting that palce again lots of years later, nothing is to be seen, people build new houses everythign is green. So some people found that a big heresy for it could mean that history is being denied, but she found it good,because it sort of showed that life goes on and that's the best what can do with such an uglyplace,make it a good place for living again. Which does not mean one should at the same time neglect the past or all the horrors of the Nazitime - she is very aware of that thin line and manages very well to keep a balance in this intricated question. She doesn't deny horror, but it is an optimistic book, that's why I like it.

Alok said...

I find most of the cultural representations of holocaust extremely problematic, specially when people use holocaust for lending support to their pet philosophical positions, either nihilistic or affirmative or something in between. even Anne Frank becomes someone to be read in a self-help class, an angel of hope etc.

I read about Kluger's book and it looks very interesting. Also that it is a woman's voice describing what happened... most of the books of these kinds are written by men. Not that i know much but still, like primo levi and others..

nico poblete said...

Hi again, I absolutely agree. I was also struck by Kluger's direct, almost cold approach to her own situation (and her mother's --a 'character', if we can use that term, of immense proportions), considering she could have been one of the Mengele's kids. She has an impressive literary background, evident in her quotations of Bachmann, Simone Weil, etc. But what I really like is her poetry, interspersed in her book (her notion of ghosts and memories). I would rank that book (however offensive to do that with a book) with Levi's 'The drowned and the saved'. By the way, have you read Herta Muller's novels? Not Austrian, but an amazing writer (german minority in Romania). If you haven't it would be great to share that. I absolutely recommend her novels (unfortunately not many in English): "The appointment", and "The land of green plums" an amazing description of living under N Caucescu's dictatorship, full of (surrealist) poetry. OK, take care.

nico said...

I forgot a detail regarding Anne Frank. It's true that she's been used to promote some naive optimism, especially that repeated paragraph, but only some lines before she gives the most extreme apocalyptic description of the world. I don't remember the exacts words, but it's something like this" i see the suffering of millions, i feel the world being transformed into a slaughterhouse...', so she was very aware of what was going on and for sure would have been an incredible writer. An interesting essay about this is Cynthia Ozick's 'Who owns Anne Frank' (I think it's included in her volume 'Quarrel and Quandary'). OK, cheers.

Alok said...

Hi Nico, I was actually thinking of that essay by Ozick when I mentioned Anne Frank. It is a brilliant essay, I read it only recently.

I was not saying anything against Anne Frank just the appropriation of her life and work by popular culture for its own cheap moralizing and commercial purposes.

I haven't heard of Herta Muller too. These central european writers really do interest me a lot. Thanks again, I have made a note and will check if i can find any copies here sometime.

nico said...

Nice, you'll find it really interesting. Ozick is also one of my favorite authors, I just re-read 'The shawl' that miniature classic. I'm also very interested in these authors and another one that comes to mind is Elisabeth Reichart, she has a really unique novel: 'February shadows' (she describes how 500 inmates from a concentration camp in Austria manage to escape but are hunted down by the very people of this little town--it's a 'historical fiction' embodying obviously the banality of evil. But the writing is precious, fragmented and distant, very rare). I hope you can find it. Well, thanks again. Nico.

Alok said...

I have read The Shawl and love it very much. I want to read some of her other fiction. I read a lot of her essays and book reviews recently. They are all of undeniably high quality.

Thanks for mentioning all these writers. I had never heard of Reichart. Though I doubt I will be able to locate any of her books here. I have noted it down in any case.

nico said...

Hi Alok, It shouldn't be hard to find 'February shadows', I think that's her only novel translated into English and would fit into your Austrian project. Ozick is great, if you have to choose some of her fiction you have to go for her story 'Shots' and, of course, her novel 'The Puttermesser papers' were she invents a female Golem. It's incredible! Another spectacular novel is 'The Messiah of Stockholm', were she finds a solution for the lost manuscript of Bruno Schulz's fiction, 'The Messiah'. By the way Bruno Schulz is also a fascinating writer. Well, so many things to read, right? And now I'm straying since I have to defend my dissertation in may that deals with South American authors, so we all need time to catch up with fascinating literatures!! OK Alok, good luck! Nico.

Alok said...

I am familiar with Bruno Schulz. Have read some of his stories. Also Puttermesser Papers is right up on my to-read list. And I got Ruth Kluger's book too yesterday. Now the only thing left is to find time and energy. Not so much the latter as the former!

nico said...

Forgot to add that Jelinek's novel 'Greed' is coming out soon, although it was written before her award. I didn't know it hadn't been translated because most of her works are available in Spanish very quickly. But Alok, if you're still enthusiast about giving it another try, maybe you should give this novel one, in my opinion one of her best, not only direct rage, but wonderful lines of black humor. I don't remember who compared her to Beckett ('a joker in the dark'). I agree! Cheers.

Alok said...

I had actually read a couple of reviews of Greed a few months back in the British press. Not surprising from the defenders of traditional middle brow literary novel they were hypercritical of her.

SUMMA POLITICO said...

HERE ARE SOME LINKS TO ELUCIDATE ALL ASPECTS OF HANDKE + HIS INVOLVEMENT I N MATTERS SERBIAN

HANDKE LINKS + BLOGS
SCRIPTMANIA PROJECT MAIN SITE: http://www.handke.scriptmania.com
and 12 sub-sites
http://www.handkelectures.freeservers.com [drama lecture]
http://www.handke.scriptmania.com/realblog.html [pertaining to scriptmania matters]

http://www.kultur.at/lesen/index.htm [dem handke auf die schliche/ prosa
a book of mineabout handke, on line, in German]

http://handke-discussion.blogspot.com/ [controversies & reviews]

http://www.artscritic.blogspot.com the handke milosevic controversy summarized, etc.]