Monday, July 4, 2011
Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Part 6
I picked up "Der Grosse Fall" and read my way into the morning, hungry for the steady progress of the careful and revelatory sentences.
Would they be revelatory?
The green book felt good in my hands and eyes. The cream-colored pages are generous with their good-sized print and capacious margins.
I was hungry, I discovered when unexpected rain began to fall and a rainbow glowed through a south window, for color.
When I quit reading yesterday I had slipped into the slow time the book describes and facilitates in its first chapter.
Chapter 2 is similarly patient.
The actor leaves the grasslands around the woman's house and walks into the woods. He thinks about property, about ownership, and about how property limits one's gaze, one's experience. His suit, bought for him by the woman for the evening's reception, begins to catch on thorns and to gather rips. He likes that and thinks about how he likes to leave a script he is learning outside so it gathers dew or even snow and becomes more approachable, more a thing of his own.
These are the motions of the book, the plot line: the thoughts that come from events like the ripping of the suit, like the signs of deserted camps in the woods. He finds, for instance, a page of a notebook written by an apprentice forester and thinks about his course of study and then about what happened to him as he left the camp and then about the contrast between childhood experiences of love and the adult existence the boy has fallen into in which he will never again experience that. He has maudlin thoughts about all children falling that way and then never standing again. "My actor," the narrator writes, wishes he could help.
The actor finds a feather, a falcon's striped feather. The feather, unbelievably, "sailed, as if it had just fallen, down before his eyes, rocked and wagged back and forth, to and fro in the air around him and just before it reached the ground plunged perpendicularly with its shaft down."
It's the play, once again, between falling and standing that I'm sensing this book is about.
The walking actor thinks about a path he'd like to create in contrast to the paths marked with informative signs explaining the flora and geology of an area. His path would be a path of error. Things would be laid out on the path, full of exaggerated meaning, things that seemed like other things. He thinks that the moment of realization that the wild pig's scat is not a truffle, that the silver snake skin is not a necklace, will have value in "observation, in being able to observe, in the transition from senseless looking to sensitive observation . . . of forms and colors of the gestalt of the object of error."
What has meaning? What has symbolic meaning? What can we know as we think something is like something else? Given Magritte's "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," given the Goalie's fall out of language when things separate from their words, how can we talk about symbolic meaning?
"Die Natur spielt Beispiel" is the narrator's answer in this "Erzaehlung" or "story" or "narrative." Nature plays the play that is example. It's the play of meaning between Spielen and Beispiel that German makes so nicely possible. Okay, this is still play, the symbol doesn't point to GOD, but by god these examples, these similies, these flashes of meaning that arise out of error, mean something.
And then the actor approaches a tree trunk about the height of a man. This is an error. A revelatory error? The trunk turns and he glimpses a man's face. A standing man's face. "The lonely standing man." A man like a tree.
The man has stood up two birch trees, has planted them to celebrate the festival of Pentecost and the life of his deceased wife. The man is standing, the trees are standing, the man is standing guard, the trees are standing for the woman lying in her grave, the sun is standing high in the mid-summer's sky. And while all this standing and standing for is going on, the man's clothing and his skin are disintegrating: "The man's suit was . . . tattered . . . on his neck a large boil thrust up . . . all the buttons on his coat were missing except for the one hanging by a thread. . . ."
The chapter ends as the actor thinks this is, perhaps, The Last Man (the man entropy is working toward?) and then hastens ("Kusch, Freund" -- down! Friend) on his way.