Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Part 8

 Rain yesterday afternoon and evening, squalls riffing across the valley as the drummer boomed and brushed and crackled an electric free jazz accompaniment.

I've been reading Peter's book in the mornings, when I'm best able too concentrate. In the afternoons and evenings I've been reading a translation of Jo Nesbo's Norwegian mystery/detective/crime fiction novel (who the hell keeps changing the generic designation?) "The Redeemer."

The contrasts between the books are, perhaps, illustrated by these two photos I took yesterday from the deck, the first looking east, the second looking south.
Clouds, bunched and sculpted clouds; or clouds and mountains and fields and trees and houses and blue sky. A novel about perception and the language that shapes it; or a novel about a contract killer shaped in the war between Serbs and Croats who kills his target in Oslo while alcoholic and brilliant inspector Harry Hole scrambles to find the killer while getting laid a couple of times while mourning the girlfriend who has left him for a doctor.

Over 5 million sold, Nesbo's book claims. Peter too has a lot of books in a lot of editions and they surely add up to millions as well. But I remember standing next to a rough table in the yard of Peter's home in Chaville while he showed me a letter from Roger Straus, his American publisher, to Siegfried Unseld, his German publisher: "Dear Siegfried, we have a problem. Our problem is Peter Handke." Straus' problem, I took it, was that Peter's characters don't fly to Zagreb to get drunk at the bar of the Hotel International while looking for whoever runs the contract killer after hearing by phone that his fellow officer has just been stabbed by the killer, called "The Little Redeemer," in Oslo.

Instead, in chapter three, the actor enters a clearing in the woods near an unidentified city, looks around, sense the stillness, feels irritation at the ugly people who then enter the clearing without looking around, then, in a major turnaround, feels a sweet unity with those same people who greet him -- even, especially! the mountainbike riders greet him: "That was a storm this morning, wasn't it!"But that's not all. There's a long encounter with a man picking blackberries. The picking, the man explains, is an art form, and the reader experiences this in a long sentence reported in indirect discourse: "The large berries are supposedly, by the way, not necessarily the ripest, often still green underneath, and would remain green, without ripening, and he discovered that the sweetest berries are not to be found, for instance, in the direct sun that burns down all day in the clearcuts but rather hidden under the leaves, always in the shade there: ah, what a disintegration in the mouth, a single shaddowberry like that, a Seim (sic) back into the gums and from there farther up to just under the top of the skull." [I'm not sure what the mistake was, the word that the picker mis-spoke; and I've never seen any of Peter's narrators do something like this (sic).]

I have more patience for the description this morning, can taste the big blackberry.

And when I reread the paragraph that follows the claim that picking berries is and art form and the next one in which the berry picker explains that while he picks he recites numbers, stock quotes, and claims that picking berries sharpens his sense for numbers, a sense that has never betrayed him, I find myself in an action-packed description that rivals anything in Jo Nesbo's work: "The berry picker would never again emerge from the thorny bushes." When he knocks against a wasp nest the wasps sting him, or will sting him in the narrator's fantasy, hundreds of times on the lips, the tongue, the throat and break off the litany of numbers. He fall, will fall, to the ground where the thorns will grow over him and a whole colony of ants will turn him into winter stores.

Now we're talking!

A couple of notes in response to Michael Roloff's comments on part 7:

The contrast Michael notes between Handke's/the actor's happiness that the woman has left him quietly the morning after and Henry Green's wish to share toast the next morning with "cunty fingers" raises the thorny issue of narrator and author, an issue especially acute in Handke's work. Obviously, at least obviously to Michael and to me, the actor stands in, as he thinks and experiences, for Peter Handke. The walk through the woods as the curriculum for a whole plot is straight out of Peter's life, as are the desire for stillness and love of beauty and hatred of people who have become types and, as Michael says, the need for distance from the beautiful women he is with. Michael foregrounds the autopsychobiographical aspects (he's a trained analyst, after all).

The thoughts in the other comment about the actor's acting as if he's chewing bread ("Der Schauspieler gab sich den Anschein, als gehoere das Kauen des Brots, als gehoere auch jeder Schluck zur Vorbereitung auf das, was bevorstand. . . .") just before he opens the door to find "a man in the form of a rainman" who is the woman's husband and who berates him -- Michael, isn't this a figure he has summoned out of the lonely morning? Isn't this, like the ceremony he creates by acting the cutting and chewing, his own creation? Isn't this like the killing of the berry picker?

After this he simply eats his breakfast (as opposed to acting breakfast). And then he thinks about himself and the woman. The woman, and I think it's important that the woman's speech about love is in quotation marks, is the one who raises their (her) love to a revenge on and an overcoming of time. She sees this as the standing moment, the nunc stans, the apotheosis of meaning. In her mind they "have become and have been what is the case."

This "case," is, of course, good support for your translation of the title: The Major Case.

And finally, remind me of the Austrian emigre? I'm drawing a blank.



let me first of all agree with handke on the way blue berries ripen; just like tobacco leaves the lowest ones first, they are baked by the sun reflecting off sandy soil. i nearly got to picking berries the summer after graduating from high school, in Simcoe County, on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, and if i had - i was early - my back would have been ruined long ago, for the arduousness and the morning dew and the rubbery sap from the leaves, rheumatism too ! i was going to do this since the forest in Quebec where i was heading to work as a lumberjack was shut because of fire danger. i a 135 lumber jack who had heard that the money was good, excellent as i was with a double-bit axe. still! after hitchhiking around some more i ended up as a howard johnson soda jerk at Bruckner Blvd. and Crossbronx Expressway in the Bronx, and all I have to show for it is a very strong right hand, especially the thumb for scooping all that ice-cream, and of course becoming a regular American, as I had been my ambition too, which might horrify me at this point for having succeed. will address Scott's points too. x m.r


Now let me respond to Scott's response to my posting on # 7. [1] Wittgenstein. [2] I think it is somewhat - but only somewhat -irrelevant whether the jealous husband makes a merely imaginary appearence - our Goalie is paranoid. But at least for what is regarded as a "normal" reason. [and he is not irrationally irritated and strangles the woman.] a complete pasha might have had him decapitated long ago! but perhaps he likes the fact that "true love" is illicit? you are probably right too, that "true love" where time stands still, too is an imaginary. and so perhaps is the wish that he really does not love her, is not attached! these ambiguities make the text interesting.

i have the experience of a snowman barging into my fix me up hunting lodge at 8 1/2 thou feet around x-mas 1985/6 way up, 15 miles from the nearest highway and inhabited house, the snow deep, barging in, and what did he have on his mind: afeard that my lodge might be armed to the teeth and that "the united nations was taking over the u.s." a true american mountain man. x m.r

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to get back to the book: a few months ago i read an interview with our man where he describes his routine. first there was the wonderful observation that his house in chaville is "hellhoerig" which is why he lives there by himself!!! and several times a week walks to Paris to spend the nite with his remarried 2nd wife, sophie semin, the very one who left our "ice cold salamander" in 1999 [?] for an actor during the Vienna rehearsals for the great play that you eventually translated, VOYAGE BY DUGOUT. Turns out that she is the one he eventually found EBENBUERTIG ... Moravian Night has lots about that, fairly straight. If the two are truly "solid" at this point, he might also joke about that, as he does about so much in DER GROSSE FALL ... perhaps he is no longer! after all, wonders never cease. yet let us recall that Loser in CHINESE DES SCHMERZENS was described as a "major case."x m.r.


I only managed to find time at the end of the day for pages 30 through 37. However, I now feel fairly certain that our man is having his fun with idiot
reviewers and also himself. Our actor goes beserk at the slightest of awries [if
that word can be turned into a noun, nay a plural at first blush]; he chases an elusive lemon seed into the farthese reaches; he behaves like Jacque Tati; he reads a book about running amok, however,
so as NOT to prepare himself; we are in playful mode indeed, literary scholars would reach for another word and ruin the fun.

Scott Abbott said...

Posted for Michael Roloff after I accidentally deleted this post while experimenting with the blog:

Below links will take you to a more detailed explanation of what I will say now about Roger Straus's letter and his and his firm Farrar, Straus when it comes to publishing Handke in this country, an author I brought to them in the late 60s. And it may take two successive postings to get the gist of it all down.

Everything had gone extremely well until and including the publication of LEFT HANDED WOMAN [in its entirety in the New Yorker!]; then Straus waited nearly TEN years to publish A SLOW HOMECOMING combining it with two autobiographical and very different A CHILD
STORY and LESSON OF SAINT VICTOIRE, and turning down my best translation, of WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES in the early 80s and not following up the success of WEIGHT OF THE WORLD with the
publication of the essential HISTORY OF THE PENCIL which, however, exists in the Romance languages.

The reviews of A SLOW HOMECOMING thus were entirely confused by that triptych, that heavy handed
moron Kunkel still is in his introduction to A SLOW HOMECOMING's re-publication by NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS BOOKS. Farrar, Straus then did what ought to have been called THE CHINESE OF THE WATER TORTURE [Der Chinese des Schmerzens, 1984] as ACROSS [cause an old Nazi is tossed there! Alas], THE REPETITION and the film novel ABSENCE
but none of the great plays even though the original KASPAR & OTHER PLAYS went through about 20 printings before it became print on demand
in recent years; and the second collection, all these in my translation, LAKE CONSTANCE & OTHER PLAYS sold out, and ought to have been reprinted [all of them are available in one volume from Methuen in the U.K. [Steve Wassermann who at that time ran Noonday Books and the playwright division Hill & Wang bears at least co-responsibility for those play failures.]

So it is in the late 70s through mid-80s that Farrar Straus made its most grievous mistake. It does not help that Handke since I left the firm in 1969 has had at least 10 different editors, some quite fine, such as Nancy Meiselas and Annie Wedekind. [However, if you come in in midstream as it were it would take you at at least a year as an editor to orient yourself just in the Handke oeuvre - in Germany has had two editors life long, Raimund Fellinger and Jochen Jung]

F.S.G. has gone on to publish the big novels MY YEARS IN THE NO-MAN'S BAY and ACROSS THE SIERRA DEL GREDOS as well as DON JUAN and THREE ESSAYS. Krishna Winston may have started translating MORAWIAN NIGHT but it has not helped matters that she was instrumental in FSG turning down the 2007 novel KALI because, according
to the ignorant Krishna, Handke had done something like it before: Handke never repeats himself, at most he will explore the formal possibilities of a concept to its sufficient limits. So I don't know whether Handke's proof that he can be a better reporter/ journalist than we have in this country,
THE CUCKOO OF VELICA HOCA is scheduled, although, I infer, GREAT OR MAJOR FALL OR CASE as you and I discuss it amongst our twosomes is also on Krishna's platter. I might say damning matters about that lying dastardly crooked brute Roger Straus and his "ass-licking stiletto man" Michael DiCapua, who was briefly editor in chief. However, since I have done so elsewhere including my account of FSG on my homepage it would be over-kill. However let me go on the record here too, that FSG current owner Holzbrink Verlag in Germany have not seen fit to repair the damage of Straus failure to abide by the contracts he drew with me, nor has FSG's current editor in chief, Jonathan Gallassi, or president, anyhow head.


re-reading this exchange of our months later and seeing that beautiful valley of yours again, reminds me that i don't think i mentioned a very important confession of Handke's, to Herbert Gamper in their ICH LEBE DOCH NUR VON DEN ZWISCHENRAEUMEN [But what I live/ thrive on are the inbetween areas/ thresholds], which is why Loser in LE CHINOIS DE DOULEUR is called A THRESHHOLDLER: "All this -[Handke refers to his novels I think more tha the plays] can be VOM AUTIBIOGRAPHISHEN AUFGEROLLT WERDEN.... can be unrolled autobiograpically". I couldn't agree more, but if you know Handke's biography from the outside, you couldn't conceive of writing those kinds of books about them, could you? Anyhow, not I. This point to the irrelevance from a literary point of view of the autobiographical, of interest is how Handke projects his experience of himself - say the FEAR via DER HAUSIERER; the SUICIDAL STATE OF MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING. Which is why I still have a problems with the tantalizing DER GROSSE FALL. I will start my third reading in about a month by which time I hope to be back in full swing on a booklenght chapter of my own entiteted SWEET AND SOUR ORANGES. XX M.R.