Sunday, July 31, 2011

Afternoon, Early Morning

looking south over Mt. Loafer

looking north, Cascade Range, Mt. Provo

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Beautiful - Schön - Dialectic

Thinking, still, about the word "schön" and about my sense that Peter wouldn't use the word the way I tend to use it.

It would shock me, for instance, if the actor in "Der Grosse Fall" looked at the church or the pissoir (they serve similar functions for him) and said "schön."

His admiration is rather for forms adequate to thought or forms that destroy thought and lead to running amok.

Michael writes that the word "schön" appears in this book. He's right. But the three times it appears also make my point, I think:

p. 64: "Den Marktwert her, bitte schön!" Out with the market value, please!

p. 74: "Was sie von sich sehen ließen, war nämlich nicht schön." What they revealed of themselves was, namely, not pretty.

p. 77: ". . . und wie sie sich dann bewegten, das war einfach nicht schön." And how they moved then, that was simply not pretty.

This implied beauty is almost like negative theology. You don't say what God is because that would limit God. You say only what God isn't.

Peter's not interested in Platonic beauty or in God. He is, however, interested in sneaking up obliquely on beauty and truth dialectically ("I am a dialectical writer," he claims), which means that before he reaches what he's approaching he swerves away with questions or with the claim that what is to be found is only absence (see the previous discussion) or with a "joke" (the Witz that in German is both funny and sharply rational).

My friend Alex Caldiero has a performance piece called "This Is Not It" that gets at this way of wrestling with truth and beauty and justice. Alex begins by saying "this is not it," repeats the statement, repeats it again and again, shifting rhythms and dynamics until the statement is so full of noise and swing that it becomes inarticulate, sounds that are so intimately tied to the body that all abstract meaning disappears until the sounds jerk back, suddenly, into the words "this is not it."

Thursday, July 28, 2011


In Michael's latest comment he writes about my preference for Peter's aesthetic religion over a spiritual religion: "I have no problem with Handke's aesthetic which is not some kind of abhorrent aestheticism a la Ernst Juenger or X because I am aware only too keenly of what PAIN he suffers from the aesthetically ugly, to the point of nausea at one time" (see the entire interesting comment at the previous post).

That seems an important point to make, one I had approached more subconsciously earlier when I wrote that I bet we couldn't find a single place in any of Peter's work where someone says "that is beautiful." I wondered if we could even find the word "schön" (beautiful) in a text of his.

That was, it turned out, an exaggerated claim. The word turns up twice, for instance, in "Versuch über den geglückten Tag," although both times it is in quotation marks.

Meinst du "geglückt" oder bloß "schön"?

. . . bei Sonnenaufgang zu sich kommt und nicht als Staunen wird über das Dasein: "Wie schön."

Peter is not an aesthete of the kind Michael (and I) find abhorrent. Rather he is a constant searcher for forms that help him make sense of the world and his responses to it.

I, on the other hand, often find myself saying "how beautiful!" As I did last night in the presence of this sunset and as I did again this morning when a couple of wild turkeys and their little ones wandered into the meadow below our house (the photo is fuzzy because I was moving fast and muttering "how beautiful." Click for a larger image).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Religion

Michael has commented this morning and repeatedly in past days about religious goings-on in the book. So have I. It helps to have this conversation as we unravel the threads of this text.

There will be religious readers who, mistakenly, find the religious references in this new text inspiring.

I too find them inspiring, as I tried to show in the previous post. I hope that response is not mistaken.

What saves this and many other of Peter's texts for me is that he's aesthetically religious, not spiritually religious. He finds his meaning in consciously constructed forms. Thus the importance of the priest's claim just cited by Michael that he too is an actor.

I've tried to think this through in an essay that begins as follows:

Recreating The Self: Stations of the Cross in Peter Handke’s The Left-Handed Woman

Griffen, Austria
Surrounded by a high, crumbling, brick-and-wood wall, the graveyard is on the west side of the former monastery. With little trouble we locate Maria Handke's welltended grave, damp today from the rain. Over the church's massive front door hangs a statue of Mary, her foot balanced delicately on the neck of a fine green dragon. We swing open the worm-eaten door and enter a working church housed in a partial ruin. Oak pews shine darkly with woodwax and use. Altar rugs cover platforms of unpainted pine. The scent of mildew. Pyramidal piles of fine plaster dust gather at the base of disintegrating walls.

Inside the entrance, German and Slovenian signs give directions to the confessional. German-language pamphlets are stacked on a table to the left and a table to the right displays similar pamphlets in Slovenian. Naive paintings of the fourteen stations of the cross have Slovenian captions: "1. Statio Jesus je k'smerti obsojen."

Fat little red prayer books (Gotteslob). Red, gold, and purple bookmarks dangle from each volume. Leafing through one I find the stations of the cross. The book declares itself "Eigentum der Kirche" (Property of the Church). I decide that is a misnomer and slip the book into my pocket (actually, Zarko's pocket; he has loaned me a good wool jacket for the trip). We leave the church and step out again into the dripping rain.
Abbott and Radakovic, Ponavljanje (Belgrade, 1994)

The mystical is the mind's beginning and at the same time hinders its further development. Peter Handke (Geschichte des Bleistifts)

Everyone experiences the biblical stories, but without the events; everyone travels at some time to Emmaus, but nothing approaches one except -- powerful emptiness Peter Handke (Phantisien der Wiederholung)

I seek order in the right form. As opposed, perhaps, to a religious or faithful person I must find a new form in each of my works.
Peter Handke (Interview with Löffler)

While the protagonist of Peter Handke's The Left-Handed Woman rests with her son during a hike up a low mountain near their home, she tells him that years ago she saw some paintings by an American: "’There were fourteen of them. They were supposed to be the Stations of the Cross -- you know, Jesus sweating blood on the Mount of Olives, being scourged, and so on. But these paintings were only black-and-white shapes -- a white background and criss-crossing black stripes. The next-to last station -- where Jesus is taken down from the cross -- was almost all black, and the last one, where Jesus is laid in the tomb, was all white. And now the strange part of it: I passed slowly in front of the pictures, and when I stopped to look at the last one, the one that was all white, I suddenly saw a wavering afterimage of the almost black one’" (138). Although the woman's description of the paintings is inexact in several respects (most notably in that all of the stripes or "zips" are vertical in the actual series), she clearly means Barnett Newman's "Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani," now in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. (In April of 1966, while Handke was in Princeton, New Jersey for the meeting of the Gruppe 47, Newman's series of fourteen paintings was being exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.) The afterimage the woman experiences while viewing the last two paintings in this series is given an immediate counterpart in Handke's story when, after having taken a photo of his mother on the mountain with treetops and the sky behind her, the boy sits in the bathtub with her and says: "'I still see the trees on the mountain'" (139).

These parallel, contiguous descriptions of image and afterimage link events of the story with the stations of the cross. In this context, the story of Marianne's decision to leave her husband Bruno and of her subsequent attempts to construct a new self takes on the shape and color of the Christian Via Dolorosa. Various narrative structures support this identification, as do several specific references linking Marianne and Jesus Christ.

Most strikingly, a fourteen-part structure underlies the entire story. . . . references to day's end and beginning divide the narrative into fourteen distinct days (other, intermediate days pass with no mention).  

Repeating this structure, the narrator's "translation" of "The Lefthanded Woman" . . . which appears in the narrative immediately preceding the hike up the mountain and which reads like an oblique description of Marianne's life, has fourteen clearly distinguishable parts, several of which correspond to events in the story.

............ the rest of the essay here:

Barbed Wire, Jazz, Thoughts About Meaning and Life

Last night, while the Spanish Fork Rodeo came to its climax and Pioneer Day fireworks erupted across Utah Valley, I sat in front of my computer writing about the meaning of barbed wire. Gloria Anzaldua's poem about her existence as a border creature had me transfixed:

1,950 mile-long open wound 
dividing a pueblo, a culture,
running down the length of my body,
staking fence rods in my flesh,
splits me     splits me
me raja     me raja

This is my home
this thin edge of
barbed wire.

The Bill Evans Trio (Evans, Scott LaFaro, and Paul Motian) worked the changes of "Gloria's Step" in their first evening set at the Village Vanguard in 1961. They had played the tune in the first afternoon set and would improvise on its chords in the third evening set as well.

I thought how my life too has been lived in the dangerous, fecund borderlands whose competing cultures and languages Gloria Anzaldua sees as barbed wire.

What cultures? What languages?

LaFaro thought his way through a long solo, Evans commenting now and then, Motian laying down the path they're treading.

I looked up at my brother's footprints. They hang on the wall like an icon. Days before he died of pneumocystis pneumonia in Boise, John cut these shapes in a cardboard box. He lined his shoes with the cutouts, the shoes he wore while cooking at the T & A Cafe, the grease-spattered shoes whose soles had cracked across.

John lived in borderlands of his own.

I lined the shapes of his feet with large postcards Zarko gave me the year I spent at the University of Tübingen working on my book about Freemasonry and the German novel. The postcards are themselves drawings of feet, done by Zarko's friend Miroslav Mandic who was walking from   the Slovenian home of France Preseren, an early 19th-century poet, to Tübingen, the home of Friedrich Hölderlin, a German contemporary of Preseren.

It was with Zarko that I first read Peter Handke: Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied.

Last night I looked at the feet on the wall and wondered about the path of my life. What if John had not been gay? What if we hadn't grown up Mormon? What if I hadn't met Zarko? What if I hadn't found jazz? What if I weren't the father of Ben and Tim and Tom and Maren and Sam and Nate and Joe? What if I still believed in God?

I do believe. 

Just not in absolutes.

I understand the actor in "The Great Fall" who "worships" in the church he comes upon while walking. Meaning comes from form. Form comes from the hands of an artist. Repetition is meaning. The frame holds absence in the shape of feet over the representations of feet and walking. The Great Fall is from the first and second gentle walking. The Great Fall is out of and into language. Each step is a falling caught by a foot and then by the other foot. Walking is falling and standing. Life is walking.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Thoughts From Boise

"I'm headed into the wilderness this morning‑‑going to a lake in between Noatak and Gates of the Arctic reserves called Feniak (autocorrect replaces Feniak with "denial"). We'll be there until August 3rd."

photo of Toolik Lake by Jake Snow
This email from my son Ben yesterday. He's been working this summer at the Toolik Research Station north of the Brooks Range in Alaska.

Last night, sleeping in a motel in Boise after driving from Seal Rock, Oregon yesterday (what a fantastically varied landscape! I kept saying "beautiful" and then wondered if Peter had ever used the word "schoen" in a text -- bet he hasn't!), I had a long and disconnected dream tied together by subconscious responses to Ben's email and to Peter's "The Great Fall."

In the dream, I mentioned the email to several people, each of whom seemed to have more recent information about Ben. The most disconcerting came from a person who claimed Ben had told her that he was headed to Italy to travel around naked with a donkey. I couldn't complete discount it, especially because Ben has always done exactly what he thought was authentic, including living as a homeless person one year while an undergraduate student. But none of it is authentic, I claimed in the dream. The idea of the donkey in Italy comes straight from St. Francis. And the remote Alaskan lake is straight out of Peter Handke's newest book. Even the words of the sentence "I'm headed into the wilderness this morning" have been spoken for Ben by the language he grew up with.

So although I'm proud of Ben and his work on thermokarsts in a time of global warming, I couldn't authenticate anything in the dream.

I mention this in the context of Michael Roloff's latest comment:

True enough, our "actor" has a screenplay in mind and has mentioned this a number' of times. . . . I think of Handke's great play VOYAGE BY DUGOUT where the world appears,is represented through the reading and discussion of a screenplay that is acted out on stage.... 

On my reading of the text, there is always a another text between the actor and the world -- a necessary fact given our nature as creatures of language. This was my point about the mass in the church. And I think it's one of the major points of the book as a whole.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Walking

Michael's latest comments about the book include some fine memories of walking.

After a morning walking on the beach (sometimes backwards, but, minding Michael's advice, never backwards into a tidal pool), I've got my own memory of walking with Peter (published with Zarko's Vampire as Razumni recnik, or A Reasonable Dictionary, in Belgrade:

May 28, 1998, Bajina Bašta

We’ve had a hearty breakfast in Dušanka’s garden and are packing for a two-day hike on the Tara Mountain.

Peter carries the sturdy canvas pack used by one of the characters in his film Absence. He wears an old pair of high-topped leather shoes I imagine to be the same shoes featured in his story “The Shoeshiner of Split”:

In the following weeks, however, he wore the shoes in the snow of Macedonia, in the leafy dust of the mountains of Peloponnesos, in the yellow and gray sand of the Libyan and Arabic desert. And even months later, one day in Japan, it was enough to rub the leather with a cloth and the original shine from the promenade in Split reappeared, undamaged.

Žarko has a good nylon daypack and a pair of generic white athletic shoes. Zlatko, Thomas, and I carry our things in high-fashion vinyl shopping bags -- black-and-white, lemon-yellow, and pink bags supplied at the last minute by Olga. Zlatko and Thomas wear city shoes, black-leather low-topped shoes that are the antitheses of my heavy leather hiking boots.

What to note about the 35-kilometer hike? The wildflowers. The changing views of the Drina from ever-higher vantage points along the switchbacking road. The blind-worms copulating blindly on the roadside. The sunlit meadow where we lie in the grass to rest our weary feet and legs. The rare Serbian spruce Peter points out. The ski-resort inn where we re-hydrate. The serpentine logging roads. Peter’s ongoing search for mushrooms, which he stuffs into a compartment of Žarko’s pack. The desultory conversations. Our growing weariness. Žarko’s incipient and then pronounced limp. The moment late in the day when Peter picks up the pace and Thomas and I fight to match his strides while the other two fall back. The huge Tara Mountain conference and sports center swarming with sweat-suited volunteer firefighters gathered for a training session. The little roadside restaurant where the owner has been waiting for us.

While we eat a hearty dinner that includes the mushrooms Peter has picked, the restaurant owner tells us about the years he spent playing an accordion in Germany. After his back gave out, he says, he tried racing cars and finally came back to the Tara Mountain.

Sometime before midnight the racing restauranteur proves his prowess by speeding us up a winding road, leaving his slow headlights hanging in the trees at every tight corner, accelerating and braking, screeching and honking, torquing and turning to pull up abruptly at an A-frame cabin where we spend the night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": A Note From Oregon

From my perch on the Oregon coast, it's illuminating to watch Michael's responses to Peter's novel (see the comments in the row to the right). It's obvious, at least theoretically, that each reader brings a different set of skills and background to a text and thus reads differently. But this is more than theory.

I'd love to see a hundred different readings of this book so rich with possibilities.

And I'll get back for some more thoughts of my own sometime next week.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Part 17

The novel's final chapter, Chapter 9, begins with the actor walking through the city in the night, waiting for the appointed time when he will pick up the woman from her night work. He walks constantly, as if he is not allowed to stand still. There is risk here ("Es stand etwas auf dem Spiel. Viel. Alles."), and after the statement of risk that, in German, means literally "There was something standing on the game," or, perhaps a bet had been laid, he lightens the mood by referring to himself as that guy in the film "Mission Impossible."

Over the years, critics, both positive and negative alike, have missed this playful, dialectical aspect of Peter's work. They keep seeing him as earnestly sensitive and metaphysically inclined. This is, as I read him, an anti-metaphysical writer who nevertheless works his ass off to create what meaning there is to be created; and then winks.

Before becoming Peter's traveling companion and translator, Zarko once interviewed him and mentioned what a sensitive writer he was. "Sensitive is a word for condoms," Peter replied.

On this last walk through the city (it's explicitly not "flanieren") the actor comes across a man who is dying on the ground by a subway entrance. The man looks at him and the look means "I recognize or know you (erkennen). You are known!"

Okay, here a break to think about realism.

This is not likely, that the actor is gazed at by a dying man. It's the last chapter and we need a climax or a set of them. So the narrator drags in a dying man. As a reader I think: the narrator just dragged in a dying man. How likely is that?

But then I think, as I have before: this isn't a realistic novel. It's a novel about what makes our lives more or less real, more or less authentic, more or less governed by the idiocies and wisdoms of our cultures. It's not a Dutch realist painting. The point here is simply that the actor needs the eyes of another person looking into his eyes, he needs face-to-face relationships to give him meaning. This is psychologically realistic, not a realist plot.

Finally, we're not alone in wondering. The narrator knows readers may be asking how the actor knew the man was dying: "He knew it, he still knew such things."

Back to the playful dialectic. The actor hears children laughing and thinks he has lost the ability to be drawn into such laughter: "Permeated by seriousness, he longed to laugh."

More children, these two swinging in a lit-up park.

Apples begin to appear, first in a display window, next in a phrase a passing man says to the woman he's holding close: "My apple,"and finally after thinking he will ram his head into a wall, the actor instead becomes a juggler with two apples."

If the Great Fall is coming, there have to be apples.

In the book the actor was reading in the morning, the man who ran amok, the man so troubled by things like the lemon seed, came to an understanding with things as the evening came. The man who runs amok in the film is almost speechless. The actor who keeps threatening to run amok thinks about the two fictional cases as he has his own experiences. And I as a reader ........ yes, I've written this already.

Two distraught people, a young man who drops everything as he leaves his house and stands on the sidewalk without picking up the things, just stands there, and a young woman who is crying because, the actor surmises, she has been jilted, she has lost her job, and she has no savings. The actor picks up the young man's things and gives him a hug. He can't think of how to help the woman and that impotence turns to anger at her.

Headed for the Bar of Destiny (not the Bar of Hope) where the woman will be waiting for him. She is waiting there, and he can tell from the back of her head that she, unlike he, has a mission. He can tell she has thirst and he thinks that she, like the others sitting there, is one of the latter-day saints, a different sort from the normal ones (that must be my ones, the ones I belong to and the ones I left, otherwise known as Mormons). What makes these people saintly is hunger and thirst and thirst and hunger -- for food and drink. Then comes the second hunger, for sex with the woman (remember the desire-filled mass the actor celebrates while the priest celebrates the more normal mass). Finally comes the third hunger, the great hunger, but only after he hears the heavy slow steps of a mother climbing a wooden staircase up to the abandoned room of the lost son and then the murmur of the inconsolable: "Grant that . . ."

"He stood, and stood, and stood. Third hunger, the great one. Time for the second Gentle Course/Path (Lauf). Instead, the Great Fall."

When the three hungers were introduced just before the actor entered the church, the third hunger, for Geist/Spirit/Mind, the actor thought of Goethe, not the Goethe of "Faust," which didn't much concern the actor, but the Goethe of the saying about the "'Oberen Leitenden', welches den Geist meinte," the 'guiding spirits' (or high leading ones?) that meant Geist. 

The phrase is from Goethe's "Westoestlicher Divan: Der höchste Charakter orientalischer Dichtkunst ist, was wir Deutsche Geist nennen, das Vorwaltende des oberen Leitenden. . . .

And it's the actor's third hunger. How to satisfy it? By a second walk, a gentle walk through the day, the next day. For that he needs time.

He has no time.

And that's it.

A few final thoughts.

First the standing image I've been following throughout. Having read the entire novel, I see at least three different kinds of standing, although they are closely connected by the fact that they are the same image. First is the standing that opposes falling, the standing that works against entropy. Second is the standing that is a kind of threatening power, the standing of the policemen or of the actor himself in the subway. The actor's standing, standing, and standing at the end may entail both of those, but it is also the third kind of standing, the one that is stasis. There's life in the gentle moving on. It's a mobile standing, dialectical erection.

Second, the actor leaves the woman's house and travels toward her over the course of the entire day. He finally reaches her (although he remains at a distance). A second gentle walk would repeat that course, from woman to woman. The last image of the novel is the mother lamenting her lost son. Although the actor has set Faust aside, how can we not hear echoes of Faust here? 

 Das Unbeschreibliche,
Hier ist's getan;
Das Ewig-Weibliche
Zieht uns hinan.

The eternal womanly draws us, draws the actor as she draws Faust. And let's make no mistake here, the heaven into which Faust is raised is a heaven carefully composed/constructed out of Renaissance paintings and is thus a re-entry into the very constructed world Faust has longed to transcend (see  
Neil Flax, "The Presence of the Sign in Goethe's 'Faust,'" PMLA 98 (1983): 183-203).

I wanted to end this series with an appropriate image, a visual equivalent of sorts to the thoughts Peter's novel has evoked.

Last night I took a hundred photos of Utah Valley during a sunset. These three may share something with the powerful novel that undermines its own power, with the simple story that is so complex, with the coming darkness of the Great Fall still illuminated by the already absent sun.

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Part 16

Utah Valley Sunset While I Read Chapter 8
Chapter 7 drew to a close with thoughts about a possibly troubled son and how the actor would step in as father to help or even to save him. Naturally, his thoughts turn to a film, Clint Eastwood's recent "Grand Torino." The actor thinks he would never sacrifice his life for the neighborhood or for the world; but for a family member, certainly.

Awakened from his sleep on the grass, pressed by Zeitnot or dangerously evaporating time, he falls (stuerzt) into the inner city.

The threshold to the inner city is marked by a newly constructed public toilet. And should there be any lingering thoughts that this is a story written by a religiously addled and aging Peter Handke, what follows should dispel those notions while making you laugh early on a Thursday morning.

The front of the toilet spreads out in a way that reminds the actor of the nave of the church he has just been in. Perhaps it is even broader once you enter and close the door he thinks. And inside, from the dome, a gentle light radiates over the azure-blue tiles. "The ceremonious organ music that sounded all around was the constant flow of water." In short, he washes himself and undergoes a transformation in the toilet very much like the one in the church that so inspired the Austrian Public Radio Sunday host (see the post titled Angus Deli).

Besides being funny as hell, this scene reminds a reader that Peter finds meaning, the meaning that arises from form, wherever he can. Van Morrison (whose "It's a wonderful [sic] night for a moondance" floats out of a car window earlier in this novel) has always been as good a source for meaning as Bach or Beethoven, perhaps better. And the films cited here aren't Tarkovsky or even Wim Wenders. The only difference between popular culture and high culture is that the latter is apt to carry with it the taint of crowd worship, the whiff of decay.

As the actor walks on, there's a riff on wall paintings vs graffiti, the former harmonious the latter threatening to run amok. Order vs anarchy. No real preference stated. The actor sees the graffiti "as letters out of a half-sleep, as a mirror text, impossible to decipher."

In the subway, after a funny imagined future in which all cell-phone users are required to encase their heads in helmets that completely deaden the sound of their talking (a metaphor, perhaps, for what the constant public talking and listening has already accomplished?), the actor feels the threat of violence. Someone will soon attack someone else with a knife or something else, he thinks. And then he sees the person, "recognized him, the one who stood there still and erect, by his fixed eyes and even more clearly by his tense cheeks." (This could be, the standing image suggests, one of the policeman who threatened him earlier, standing firm on their spread legs.) It turns out to be his own mirror image in the window of the subway car. "It's strange," he thinks, "that so few people run amok." The novel has been taut with that possibility throughout. The actor will play someone who runs amok in the film. He is reading a book about someone who runs amok. He himself is constantly on the cusp of violence in his thoughts.

In a broad plaza that features a giant screen, the actor watches the country's president declare war (or if not war an "intervention," a "reaction") in the name of God: "History demands its due and must run its divinely determined course. May God help us! Our God is great. Great God, we praise you. . ." The actor wishes he had killed him in the woods earlier that morning.

The rest of the people the actor has seen during the day reprise their contacts with him, as does his father, as the sole representative of an earlier life. The book has had many references to a mostly domineering father; but here he comes back as an aged dancer entering a ballroom where he dances the tango with other old people until they tire and turn to waltzing. The scene ends as the actor addresses his father: "He Vater, alter Stenz!" Old dandy.

In the plaza huge advertisements of naked women compete with the hidden faces and bodies of women in veils. The actor finds himself rejecting both as counterfeits, wishing instead for real faces: "The face of the other as medicine."

He writes a letter to his son (the reverse of Kafka's letter to his father) which ends "And thus I wait for your judgment as your father." He puts the letter in an envelope, but realizes he doesn't have the address for the Yukon River the son is descending in Alaska. Should he send the message electronically? No. "The letter was a letter and thus had a distance in space and more importantly in time to put behind it."

Made me want to write Peter a letter.

The actor watches, as darkness gathers, hundreds of people put personal letters in the mailbox marked International. Letters are being written again! he thinks. It's not the last days after all!

But where is a face? he asks. Ein Antlitz. The medicine he needs.

Two women are talking in a bar in front of him and one of them is so lively, so alive, speaking with her whole soul so intensely that he is filled with thankfulness. "What a gift."

The bar is the Bar of Destiny. The woman is the woman he has come to meet, the woman in whose bed he woke up. Her face is so alive that he feels unworthy of her. She is talking of love and he has betrayed love. He thinks that all the ravens of Alaska should descend on him. Her face, "this face there, was power, true power, legitimate power -- misuse of this power unthinkable."

The chapter ends with the actor sitting in a dark place lit up now and then by sheet lightning. The last image is of a mailbox that appears in the lightning that will surely ensure that his letter will reach his son.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Part 15

 Chapter 8 this morning.

What a pleasure to have slow summer mornings before me and a slow book to help me enter into the day.

This primrose, growing just off the deck, has a new blossom this morning. How is it possible that a plant in this semi-arid place can risk such delicate and showy flowers that last for only a single day?

More understandable are the red paintbrushes just east of the primrose that love proximity to sage and rabbitbrush. Their red tops aren't even flowers, but bracts, and their flowers much less conspicuous.

paintbrush in sage and rabbitbrush

Now to the book.

Several times in Chapter 7 there are references to films, as there have been throughout the novel. The actor often compares what he is experiencing to something in a film.

Chapter 8 begins with just such a reference: "He walked like an Indian in a film by John Ford who, in his own language, in Navajo, described a way of walking . . . 'Haske yichi nixwod,' which in translation means something like 'the one who walks with determination'" (or precision, or certainty).

A little earlier in the book (p. 170), the actor is about to kill someone with a hatchet when a scene from the screenplay for his film comes to mind and he goes on his way instead.

Films (and books and religious rituals) offer us patterns for living our lives. John Ford's "Young Mr. Lincoln" offers the protagonist of Peter's "Short Letter, Long Farewell" a kind of coherent (if obviously / because obviously fictional) story at a time he has lost coherence.

And here the actor draws on the memory of a film to provide impetus and form for the next station in his journey. At least that's the fiction of this novel. In all likelihood, however, as he was writing this part of "The Great Fall," Peter fell back on something he had read in "Die Presse":

Oder man sieht sich einfach in Razor Saltboys Zimmer um. . . . Er arbeitet im Gesundheitszentrum in Window Rock, der Hauptstadt der Navajo Nation, und verdient nebenher Geld als Musiker – daher der eher ungewöhnliche Name. Seinen richtigen Namen, den Navajo-Namen, kann nämlich kaum mehr jemand aussprechen: „Haske Yichi Nixwod.“ Der mit Bestimmtheit geht. (Norbert Rief, Die Presse, February 15, 2008)
There are indeed Navajo actors in John Ford's films, most often when Monument Valley is featured; and Navajos love to watch the films at Gallup's drive-in theater where they honk their pick-up horns in response to the often comic and even salacious things said in Navajo where Ford required something in an Indian language.
So Peter picks up the article in "Die Presse" and conflates it with John Ford and he has what he wants here, which is direction for the actor from film (as he had direction for the actor from the mass in the previous chapter).
At least that's how I see it.
The chapter has a couple of strong reminders that the narrator is working here, moves that remind me of Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, assuring that we won't get caught up in identifying with the actor as opposed to paying attention to the sentences and to the novel as text. The one is the assertion, repeated before, that "my actor . . . ." The other comes when the narrator adds a statement that the actor had, along with the priest's robes, stitched up his own coat while in the church after the mass: "I forgot to mention that" (204). 
There's a scene in this chapter in which two policemen confront the actor. I laughed as the actor confronted them with reference to their language: "'Your way of signaling is not aesthetic!" In response one policeman taps on his holster.

It reminds me of the morning Peter left the Salzburg jail and told the waiting press he hadn't called the policemen Nazi pigs, he had said they were "like" Nazi pigs.

Like the Salzburg police, these officers aren't keen on linguistic distinctions. Only after a forcible search to determine that the actor is neither a terrorist nor a suicide candidate do the policemen let him proceed.

He sleeps for a while on grass, wakes up to find himself, suddenly, experiencing "Zeitnot" (time emergency, the distress of time, time urgency, even time peril): "He had had enough time just now, and suddenly he had no more."

Zeitnot leads to Durcheinander, to a mixing up of things, to confusion. He can think only in numbers (earlier he killed, in thought, the berry picker who was reciting numbers), can hum only Schiller's "An die Freude." This Schiller reference made laugh. Such a cliche? 

The actor comes out of the condition, as he has before, by being his own audience, the way a drunk sees another much worse drunk and then sobers up.

The chapter ends with a dialectic: aren't both idling and having no time necessities.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Part 14

I'm going to title this post

"Angus Deli."

Chapter 6 of the novel has the actor walking into the city. Again he observes people and birds.

AND THEN TROUBLE! (page 161)

Ahead of him is a group of young people he judges to be a gang. They have sticks with them and they're up to no good, he's sure. As they pass he notices their sticks are really bats and that they have gloves and balls. He has misjudged them with his first impulse, as so often. A second look is always critical, he thinks.

But that wasn't the trouble I meant. Here's the problem: Die Stöcke, welche die Jugenlichen durch die Stille pfeifen ließen, waren Basketballschläger, nachrichtenweise bekannt als Totschlagsinstrumente, aber sie hatten, das zeigte sich erst auf den zweiten Blick, auch die zugehörigen Fanghandschuhe und Bälle dabei.

Basketball bats! Where the hell was the copyeditor on this one?

Now to the Angus Deli.

In his collection of reviews of "Der Grosse Fall," Michael Roloff includes one printed just 4 days ago. Here a couple of paragraphs:

In Peter Handkes Erzählung "Der große Fall" blieb ein Aspekt von der Literaturkritik unbeachtet: Es ist das "Anklingen des Religiösen", das in dem heuer erschienenen jüngsten Werk des großen österreichischen Schriftstellers "immer wieder wahrhaftig zum Vorschein kommt". Aufmerksam macht darauf die in Wien und Salzburg lebende Autorin Christine Wiesmüller, die die Sendereihe "Erfüllte Zeit" am Sonntag in Ö1 gestaltet. "Interessant an diesem Werk ist nicht nur die große sprachliche Gestaltungskraft, sondern auch die feine religiöse Spur, die den Roman sehr ernsthaft durchzieht", erklärte sie gegenüber "Kathpress".

In dem von der Kritik vielgelobten Prosatext "Der große Fall" begleitet Peter Handke in einem sprachgewaltigen "stream-of-consciousness"-Stil einen namenlos bleibenden Schauspieler auf seinen Weg durch den Tag. In der Früh verlässt er nach einem Gewitter ein Haus im Wald und tritt eine Tageswanderung an, "eine Lebensreise" in vielen einzelnen Etappen, wie es Wiesmüller nennt. Während dieses langen Tages mache sich auch der Hunger bemerkbar - mit den Worten Handkes "ein Hunger nach Speisen, und ein Hunger nach mehr, viel mehr". Der Autor vermittelt dies durch eine Szene in einer Kirche, wo Brot in den Leib und Wein in das Blut verwandelt wird. Der Schauspieler, der es "bisher nicht einmal in den Filmen über sich gebracht" habe, auf die Knie zu fallen, habe plötzlich "ein Bedürfnis, eine Sehnsucht - oder war das Teil seines Hungers? -, nicht allein auf die Knie zu fallen, sondern der Länge nach hinzustürzen und mit dem Gesicht nach unten liegenzubleiben". Handke schreibt von einer "Heiterkeit, welche von der Eucharistiefeier ausgegangen war und anhielt - verwandelte alles in das, was es war".

The Austrian writer Christine Wiesmueller, who hosts a Sunday show called "Fulfilled Time" on Austrian Radio 1, claims that reviewers of this new novel have missed the fine religious sensibility that pervades the novel. She says that at one point in the novel the actor feels a great hunger for food and for more, much more. In response, she says, the actor enters a church and experiences the transubstantiation enacted during a mass. She says he then feels the desire not to kneel but to fall prostrate to the floor. And finally the novel speaks of a "lightness that had emanated from the celebration of the Eucharist, one that lasted, one that transformed everything into what it really was."

Although this prayerful reading isn't entirely wrong in its description of the main section of this chapter, it leaves out a couple of crucial things:

1. The actor's hunger is for three things: 1) for food, 2) for the woman down there in the city with whom he want to immediately join, "now, and now, not the animal but the god with two backs," and 3) for Geist or spirit (which Geist? Goethe's "Oberen Leitenden", welches den Geist meinte -- note the distance from the HOLY SPIRIT of the Church, the distance that increases through the placing of the spirit in Goethe's literary form and then heightened with the phrase "which meant the spirit).

2. The cross on the church might also have been a TV antenna (p. 176).

3. While the priest reads the mass silently, to himself despite the one visitor (the actor), the actor has his own holy text: "Yes, the impotence or powerlessness of God! But his omnipresence is his power, his only power. That is, it would be if. . . . But: Where should I turn? And how? And, yes!: The body of the woman is the descent of the omnipotence of the spirit in the night. With the woman together the other language begins. . . . Praise the bodies. The woman, the other letter. I don't come over the woman, the woman comes over me and my flesh becomes spirit. . . . There is nothing higher than desire, than our combined hunger and thirst. Praise our two hearts. Amen. Thus it is. Thus may it be."

4. The actor has never knelt in a church, not even when acting in a film. At most he moves his body slightly so that the priest thinks he might have knelt. But beyond the religious ritual genuflection that he won't perform, he does feel the desire to prostrate himself on the floor and to lie there with face down. But  he's also pleased to realize that that kind of falling between the benches is impossible.

So, there are religious signs and gestures in the text. But their contexts surely can't be broadcast on Austrian Public Radio 1 on a show for Catholic listeners.

This brings me to the "Angus Deli." We see what we want to see. We know what corresponds to what we know. The actor sees gang weapons that are really "basketball" bats. Ms. Wiesmueller sees Catholic religion in Peter's text just as I saw Catholic religion in a fast-food sign the other day. The sign said "ANGUS DELI SANDWICHES." In my mind the "l" in deli fell away and the "n" and "g" in angus transposed and I thought that Burger King was offering holy sandwiches: Lamb of God sandwiches.

That really happened to me; but it doesn't make it right.

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Interlude

The comment posted on Part 12 by the floweryville blogger with three fine Johnsonian train sentences meant to complement Michael Roloff's comment about Uwe Johnson's Jakob novel and the trains in it (comment on Part 11) has made me think this might be an interesting time to return to a story from Peter's "Once Again For Thucydides," one I translated for "Conjunctions" before the whole book, in another translation, was published by New Directions. Here it is:

Attempt to Exorcize One Story By Means of Another

It was a Sunday, the morning of the twenty-third of July 1989, in the Hotel Terminus near the train station in Lyon-Perrache, a room that looked out over the tracks. In the distance, between railway wires and apartment blocks, the waterbright green of trees hinted at a river, the Saône, shortly before its confluence with the Rhône; above, swallows turned against the white (shot through with sky blue) of the waning moon that then slowly drifted away, pitted like a cloud. Across the otherwise Sunday emptiness of the station yard the train personnel went their separate ways, each with his briefcase, descended the back steps, past an isolated house overgrown by wild grape vines, a graceful building from the turn of the century, windows rounded at the top, and walked toward their dormitory, a concrete block in most of whose windows the curtains were drawn. Overhead the swallows flew creases into the sky, and below -- flashes of light from the briefcase latches and the wristwatches of the cheminots who crossed the tracks episodically. Around a curve came the sawmill sound of a freight train. A few of the trainmen also carried plastic bags and all of them wore short-sleeved shirts, jacketless, and as a rule they walked in pairs, although there were several who walked alone, and their coming and going on the S-shaped path across the tracks had no end: Every time the man sitting at his window, the fellow traveler, looked up from his paper, another of them was swinging along below. For a few moments the path was empty, crossed solely by the sun-lit tracks, nor were there now any swallows in the sky. For the first time the observer realized that the Hotel Terminus in which he had spent the night had been Klaus Barbies torture house during the war. The corridors were very long and twisted and the doors were double. Only sparrows chirped outside now, unseen, and a white moth fluttered across the chemin des cheminots: Momentarily the Sunday stillness held sway over this gigantic train yard, not a train rolled, movement only between the curtains of an apartment, and that just to close them, and this great stillness and peacefulness continued then over the yard while in front of the wild-vine house the foliage of a plane tree stirred, as if up from deep roots, and above the invisible Saône River, far beyond it, the white splinter of a gull flashed, and the summer Sunday breeze blew into the wide-open room of the Hotel Terminus, and finally another short-sleeved man swung onto the train-yard path, his black briefcase at knee level, certain of his destination -- and so his free arm swung wide, and a small blue moth landed on one of the tracks, reflecting the sun, and turned in a half circle as if touched by the heat, and the children of Izieux only now, nearly half a century after their removal, screamed bloody murder.

A second note in this intercalary post:

Michael Roloff sent this set of thoughts about the sentence I've been trying to translate. Here's the sentence again:

So ließen die Zuggleise und -weichen, beim Passieren der Züge im Wald fast ein Lärm, sich jetzt überhören -- war denn von einem Moment zum anderen der Zuverkehr eingestellt worden?, wie auch die Lautsprecherstimme vom nahen Bahnhof, vom Endbahnhof, in den Wald geschallt als Gebrüll -- darauf das Gegengebrülls des Waldmanns --, beim Ausschreiten im Freien ein Hintergrundgeräusch abgab im Rauschen der Stille!

Here's my translation:

"Similarly, the train tracks and switches whose noise almost rises to the level of din as trains pass in the woods, can no longer be heard -- had there been a sudden stoppage of train traffic?, and also the loudspeaker voice from the nearby train station, resounding from the terminal station as a roar -- and then the answering roar of the man in the woods --, while pacing out into the open it provided a background noise to the noise of silence!"

And here are Michael's thoughts:

""Similarly,[hideous word/ likewise??] the train tracks and switches whose noise [almost rises to the level of din.... a la la] [roar/ cacaphony... so as to parallel the forestmadman's below -  “is nearly...” ] as trains pass in/ [or: through] the woods, can no longer be heard [has/had become inaudible?]
-- had there been a sudden stoppage of train traffic?, [as has] the loudspeaker voice from the nearby train station, resounding from the terminal station as a roar [that makes it two stations, it is one train station then qualified by being called ‘terminal]-- and then the answering roar of the man in the woods --, while pacing out into the open it provided a background noise to the noise/?? [sound?] of silence!"

Finally, here a revised translation:

"Likewise, the train tracks and switches whose noise almost rises to the level of cacophony as as trains pass in the woods, had become inaudible -- had there been a sudden stoppage of train traffic?, as has the loudspeaker voice from the nearby train station, resounding from the terminal station as a roar -- and then the answering roar of the man in the woods --, while pacing out into the open it provided a soughing background to the sough of silence."

It's getting better, no question. Perhaps all translations should have multiple translators working together? Any thoughts on this new version? It's a sentence that, as you know, frustrated me earlier. Now I'm coming to like it very much.