Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Part 8
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.
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.