Monday, July 4, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Part 6

 Woke up this morning as the light was gathering its first thoughts after the night.

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.

After the experience yesterday with the ugly cover of "The Great Fall," I pulled a few books off my shelf and unclothed them. Here they are, colorful in a way I had never experienced. I felt what can only be described as lust, Leselust, as I held "Der Bildverlust" in my hands, naked and red and inviting as the book had never been before in its awkward white cover.

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.


Scott Abbott said...

POSTED FOR: SUMMA POLITICO (see original comment under the post Palmer's Penstemons)

i have gradualled my way as far as page 20 of DER GROSSE FALL and want to say: i’ll be goddammed, the bastard from Griffen keeps getting better even at age 67! the way he describes the wind and falling asleep again and the kind of light dream then.

i have collected all the reviews of the book at:

and just want to say, although most of them are quite favorable and intelligent seeming: all of them “tell the story” - the only way that reviewers seem to be able to write about a book, wheras the story, here, is not that interesting: what is interesting are the descriptions of sensations, the subtlety, that the “actor” will no longer act because he finds no characters written whose impersonation might provide the possibility of a REVELATION - perhaps this is similar to the loss of images in Del Gredos. Something else that struck me was the feels that “er sich stellen” soll oder muss, confront, go to justice with himself or however “stellen” ought to be translated in this instance. The 2007 novel KALI, too, and in more dramatic fashion, starts with “sie sich stellen” about the former ACTRESS. A theme in other words. Handke does something along the lines of “stellen” in MORAWASCHE NACHT and in the monologue BIS DASS DER TAG: but he does it there in form of self-berating. “Mutter Soehnchen”. i doubt that that is feasible without self-understandig, and calling yourself the names that others have called you.. well, the road to a Dostojevskyean turn is always open. an advance it would not be. that much for now from sunny cool seattle on the 4th of july.

michael morrow said...

the heaving/contraction... growth of Impatience destroys existence....... Patience solidifies existence.....wind be damned...nature is us....richness lives inside, outside, all around...perspective....this makes greatness...thank you gentlemen.....

michael morrow said...

"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."....great barb wire images....this is such a great exercise..

Scott Abbott said...

michael morrow, thanks for your enthusiasm and for your thoughts.

Scott Abbott said...

and michael roloff, can't wait to read more of your reading thoughts.


i am missing one comment. i am now up to page 30 and have the following observation. No one so far among the reviewers or here seems to be fazed that
our actor seems to have a bit of a brain aneurysm after the thunderstorm
and taking his morning shower while swishing around the grass in the rain! he's off balance and only gradually finds it again. also there are
some oddities: he mentions that the swallows "before" seemed to fly higher, too - what "before" I feel like saying: wasn't he asleep and then fall asleep again. There are matters happening "unterschwellig"/ surreptitiously under the surface as you read the text - of which you become aware if you read carefully, but "bevor" ??
also, the text is not as carefully proofread as usual: the verb shultern
is suddenly upper case.



Scott Abbott said...
Michael, I love the way you have translated the title as "The Major Case," contrasting with my own translation: "The Great Fall."

If the theme of standing and falling continues in the novel, I'll stick with "The Great Fall." If, however, the theme of types becomes more prevalent, as it did in my reading this morning, I may turn to your version.

We'll see.

July 5, 2011 7:13 AM
I am not married to "Major Case" - but once an analyst and knowing what a "major case" Handke is, that title came "naturally" - well, he falls in the beginning as I noted about an hour ago on your blog. Our actor is suddenly fragile! It isn't just that he can no longer PROJECT into any of the roles presented to him - "didn't get any scripts I liked" great film actors will say! and are never questioned why those scripts found other good actors! So some real falling is being done, he is starting to fail, but he goes for one long last walk... xx michael r.

* said...

the dutch edition of Niemandsbucht (de Prom) looks just the same without the cover. they are beautiful books.


REreading this months after the posting it occurrs to me that Handke's hatred of paths that have name tags for every tree and flower can be found, first I think, in WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, then again in DER CHINESE DES SCHMERZENS/ LE CHINOIS DE DOULEUR!!!in french isn't that eve beautiful title, which THE MORONS AT FARRAR STRAUS turned into ACROSS because an Old Nazi is tossed off the mountain path! What an editorial conference that must have been. However, by the time we reach GROSSER FALL Handke has become both more sophisticated and integrates the hatred of naming and difficulty to discern, the ambiguity in the forest that Scott describes so well.