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.



i will get back to all your posts when this laggard catches up. was going to read in mid-afternoon, but fell asleep for nearly two hours in the shadow of my, the prairie's at least 150 feet high poplar rustle -
the sun was out, thus the shadow was welcome. lots of marvelous flowers out and about here too. however, let me make a brief note about Gallup, New Mexico, where i spent one night in Spring 1986. i had left Albuquerque where my old friend Gus Blaisdell [Living Batch Bookstore] was having problems with i forgot his sixth wife who was splitting and it did not seem a good place for me, and Big, a big Hound Dog
Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, to spend the night. So I hitched a ride to Gallup in the wind shadow of an 18 wheeler as we drove through a building
spring blizzard as far a Gallup, where he turned off, as did I. I put Big on a bed in front of a TV set with a nature show, and she was satisfied, as I had noticed already at her first motel,in Las Cruces a day or so earlier, and then I went from bar to bar in what I think is also known as the "alcohol capital of the world", i already knew the "cow capital", Throckmorton the county seat
of Throckmorton county in West Texas. The way the snow had accumulated on the reddish, i imagine iron-ore-drenched canyon walls on my way
the next morning and Flagstaff and Williams where I had spent some time then about 25 years before herding some cows up to the summer range was a great relief after Gallup.


i am now into chapter # 3 and have the eery feeling that our "actor" is really the same as "loser" in CHINESE/ ACROSS, or the "schriftsteller" in THE AFTERNOON, the same misanthrope in many respects, that is generally speaking, who thrives in nature, but feels like picking up a machine gun at the prospect of human company. however, over all, he's a lot cockier really... so i read it not just to ascertain the writer peter handke's state of mind as it conveys itself to me, but for the new writerly qualities that he has devised, sentence by paragraph by... and in that respect i keep being amazed.
there is an observation at the beginning of Ch. 3 how the actor then looks away at his fingernail that reminded me of a photo of Handke where he does exactly that: you can find it among this huge collection:


I believe I commented on chapter 8 when I got to it, but i don't think on your comments, we lived in parallel worlds to the text, but you were in a faster lane.
handke likes ford not solely for the maleness of his aesthetic, but also for the wide open spaces that his films were the first to suggest to him. why handke's very being thirsts for these open spaces appears to be a nearly psychosomatic problem. no end of references throughout his work of sight lines opening up and his starting to breathe freely. what is interesting about what "I/ MR" call the Handke effect, as compared to you and Edomond Caldwell, is the way his psychosoma exerts itself on me in a variety of way; some that i can describe and account for as a rationalist, others that catch me unaware, subliminally. that;s what the soon to be completed as best and time i have Part II of my reading piece will address. you may recall that handke suffering no end of panic attacks in the early 70s in paris ended in a paris hospital with a tachycardia; the official version of that was that he had a lousy heart valve [congenital, too]. possiblemente. he mentions as much to peter stephan jungk, in jungk diary entry about their walking in spain, that walking up and down mountains stengthens the heart. perhaps the condition is congenital. however, if you assess how upset our man was after his multiply betraye wife split, imagine a love child as handke was subjected for a decade to the way stepfather bruno handke treated his mother. and you are just a kid, and all you can do is pull the cover over your head, and you hearing is ultras sensitive.


Let me add something else here, a matter that has not been addressed at all. Handke in an interview commented on Philip Roth's 2009 novel about an aging actor who loses his self-confidence. It appears Peter regards Philip as something of a competitor,
Peter commented dismissively that Roth at heart was just another stand-up comic; a line of work Handke can be said to have engaged in, though not in comedic fashion, with two of his later one actor plays SUBDAY BLUES and UNTIL THE DAY.

The Roth novel apppears to be sex obsessed, and the way one is I think chiefly as one ages, speaking for meself, fantasizing the voluptousnesses of old! Very strained.

Also I ought to comment on your comment Scott, that by having the narrator once again interject "my actor" he estranges him from us: i would say his behavior his projections and impulses quite sufficiently estrange him from the great majority of mankind! Thus there is little danger of identification, that needs to be subverted.