Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Peter Handke's "The Great Fall": Religion

Michael has commented this morning and repeatedly in past days about religious goings-on in the book. So have I. It helps to have this conversation as we unravel the threads of this text.

There will be religious readers who, mistakenly, find the religious references in this new text inspiring.

I too find them inspiring, as I tried to show in the previous post. I hope that response is not mistaken.

What saves this and many other of Peter's texts for me is that he's aesthetically religious, not spiritually religious. He finds his meaning in consciously constructed forms. Thus the importance of the priest's claim just cited by Michael that he too is an actor.

I've tried to think this through in an essay that begins as follows:

Recreating The Self: Stations of the Cross in Peter Handke’s The Left-Handed Woman

Griffen, Austria
Surrounded by a high, crumbling, brick-and-wood wall, the graveyard is on the west side of the former monastery. With little trouble we locate Maria Handke's welltended grave, damp today from the rain. Over the church's massive front door hangs a statue of Mary, her foot balanced delicately on the neck of a fine green dragon. We swing open the worm-eaten door and enter a working church housed in a partial ruin. Oak pews shine darkly with woodwax and use. Altar rugs cover platforms of unpainted pine. The scent of mildew. Pyramidal piles of fine plaster dust gather at the base of disintegrating walls.

Inside the entrance, German and Slovenian signs give directions to the confessional. German-language pamphlets are stacked on a table to the left and a table to the right displays similar pamphlets in Slovenian. Naive paintings of the fourteen stations of the cross have Slovenian captions: "1. Statio Jesus je k'smerti obsojen."

Fat little red prayer books (Gotteslob). Red, gold, and purple bookmarks dangle from each volume. Leafing through one I find the stations of the cross. The book declares itself "Eigentum der Kirche" (Property of the Church). I decide that is a misnomer and slip the book into my pocket (actually, Zarko's pocket; he has loaned me a good wool jacket for the trip). We leave the church and step out again into the dripping rain.
Abbott and Radakovic, Ponavljanje (Belgrade, 1994)

The mystical is the mind's beginning and at the same time hinders its further development. Peter Handke (Geschichte des Bleistifts)

Everyone experiences the biblical stories, but without the events; everyone travels at some time to Emmaus, but nothing approaches one except -- powerful emptiness Peter Handke (Phantisien der Wiederholung)

I seek order in the right form. As opposed, perhaps, to a religious or faithful person I must find a new form in each of my works.
Peter Handke (Interview with Löffler)

While the protagonist of Peter Handke's The Left-Handed Woman rests with her son during a hike up a low mountain near their home, she tells him that years ago she saw some paintings by an American: "’There were fourteen of them. They were supposed to be the Stations of the Cross -- you know, Jesus sweating blood on the Mount of Olives, being scourged, and so on. But these paintings were only black-and-white shapes -- a white background and criss-crossing black stripes. The next-to last station -- where Jesus is taken down from the cross -- was almost all black, and the last one, where Jesus is laid in the tomb, was all white. And now the strange part of it: I passed slowly in front of the pictures, and when I stopped to look at the last one, the one that was all white, I suddenly saw a wavering afterimage of the almost black one’" (138). Although the woman's description of the paintings is inexact in several respects (most notably in that all of the stripes or "zips" are vertical in the actual series), she clearly means Barnett Newman's "Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani," now in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. (In April of 1966, while Handke was in Princeton, New Jersey for the meeting of the Gruppe 47, Newman's series of fourteen paintings was being exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.) The afterimage the woman experiences while viewing the last two paintings in this series is given an immediate counterpart in Handke's story when, after having taken a photo of his mother on the mountain with treetops and the sky behind her, the boy sits in the bathtub with her and says: "'I still see the trees on the mountain'" (139).

These parallel, contiguous descriptions of image and afterimage link events of the story with the stations of the cross. In this context, the story of Marianne's decision to leave her husband Bruno and of her subsequent attempts to construct a new self takes on the shape and color of the Christian Via Dolorosa. Various narrative structures support this identification, as do several specific references linking Marianne and Jesus Christ.

Most strikingly, a fourteen-part structure underlies the entire story. . . . references to day's end and beginning divide the narrative into fourteen distinct days (other, intermediate days pass with no mention).  

Repeating this structure, the narrator's "translation" of "The Lefthanded Woman" . . . which appears in the narrative immediately preceding the hike up the mountain and which reads like an oblique description of Marianne's life, has fourteen clearly distinguishable parts, several of which correspond to events in the story.

............ the rest of the essay here:




I will reply at some length after re-reading our essay. Certainly Handke finds new forms for each of his books, corresponding to the stages in his life - as I tried to point out: our nameless actor is no longer the KEUSCHNIG of A MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING who comes on a few items that remind him of his child - sentimental objects - and love burst through and his suicidal state of mind, which his text conveighs so powerfully to its reader disappears, the rage wanes. Here, at the outskirts of Paris, caught in an imagined film of complete mayhem in which he sees himself running amok, he finds the only solace in a church: the tolling of a church bell leads him there, and when he leaves after the most ordinary kind of earthly sacred meal with the priest, in which he he has become an earthly priest [in the imagined film in which he lives]... if you follow me... it is a film... it is a proposition, as all of Peter's books are, they exist the aesthetic realm of the "as if".... the craftsman lyric narrator's job is to make you and me experience the proposition as authentic... that is why I find this neighbors beating up on each other unsuccessful, it reminds me why the suggestion and that was all it was in NOMAN'S-BAY that the Germans were at war was merely puzzling enough for now. x m.r


[July 27 - the discussion started more than a week ago
and there are postings each day, right hand column leads you there]

Scott's LEFT HANDED WOMAN essay ctd. at: http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/54/

Everyone experiences the biblical stories, but without the events; everyone travels at some time to Emmaus, but nothing approaches one except -- powerful emptiness Peter Handke (Phantisien der Wiederholung) indeed, and DER GROSSE FALL mentions that
God is everywhere in his absence! I myself hold with Paul Celan who noted the disappearance of God,
taking recourse the same mystical tradition but one where Jewish and Christian mysticism overlap. My own
"psycho-physicist" - Handke's derisive term for psychology as it has become as refined as physics, probably
including sociology - that is, his anti-enlightenment stance - is of course not shared by me, and I regard
that position on the part of someone who then claims to have been a life long curious student as making
him, how shall I put it, anything but Goethean, who, although he was in error in trying to dispute Newton, at least
came up with an aesthetically pleasing color theory, and also was interested in the morphology of forms.
Handke in his relationship to Wittgenstein's and the philosophy of language, however, also has a positivist streak.

I once had dinner with Barnett Newman, my much older friend, the German emigre writer Ruth Landshoff
York took me along, in the early 60s, I recall a particular basement restaurant in Chinatown [NY], where I then went many times,
I recall Newman as a bulky man this photo does not bring him back to mind:

and then I looked at a lot of his work, don't think I ever saw "the stations
of the cross"
and if it had not that name would your response be
anything resembling, both aesthetically and empathically, and then
philosophically as to say:

more el greco at: http://tinyurl.com/3equ3ur

and the topic renaissance depictions of the station:


I happen to like Newmann's work, although Rothko
feels more kindred with his color poetry,
but I really cannot name or maybe do not want
to then give words to what they evoke in me.

It once occurred to me, at a todos santos mass in the Cathedral
at Burgos, the heart of Spain, that if I had been a choir boy
there, or perhaps merely attended services there, the sheer
sensuality of Catholicism as it affects every sense
would have been imprinted on me as by Mother Goose.

As it was not, I have an easier time in finding the
enshrinement of this story as representative of human
existence, abhorrent, with a lot of hokum, such as
the resurrection and miracle - probably as strongly
as Nietzsche is how I feel. Handke was meant to be a priest
and he has become a priest of language and what would
I do without him in that respect? You seem to be right
in finding a formal organizing use of the stations of
the cross in LEFT HANDED WOMAN, and it looks a lot like
"the actor" is going through some of these stations too
or other Catholic stations, but seems to want to have
the cross and eat it too! As a text for Catholic children
it would seem to contain a few fire crackers!

I have no problem with Handke's aesthetic with is not some
kind of abhorrent aestheticism a la Ernst Juenger or X
because I am aware only too keenly of what PAIN he suffers
from the aesthetically ugly, to the point of nausea at one time.

With Handke's IMMER NOCH STURM premiering at the Salzburg
Festival on August 12 I wanted you to know that I will initiate a
discussion of that PLAY AND NOVEL AS PLAY at the handke-drama.blogspot
on or about that day:



michael morrow said...

I'm beginning to see why I would make such a blind comment like "language is archaic". communication at the speed of thought, at my level of inability to describe personal feelings and objective observations is at best a philosophical cop-out. Thank you for conducting and continuing this exceedingly informative discussion.....

I am getting graduate school experience without the politics...another short-sighted observation about experiences I have shied away from for fear of over exposure.

michael morrow said...

the sheer
sensuality of Catholicism as it affects every sense
would have been imprinted on me as by Mother Goose.

oh how I love to be hit between the eyes and heart

Scott Abbott said...

[Posted for Michael due to some technical problems]

My first comment on Chapter 8 ended with the anything but rhetorical question:

" is "the actor" still the same distraught person [as the Keuschnig of the 1974 A MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING - or is he just "acting" as though he
is? However, on what we have read so far, four fifth of the book, one might conclude that if anyone needs "saving" it is our actor???"

My third comment on Chapter 8, which precedes this comment, ended by questioning the seriousness of the manner in which our author proceeded in a kind of Austrian SCHLAMPIGE manner for the once, happy go lucky, make it up as you write, with some wonderful portraits and love of nature and what not along the way.

However, as the book's signature, GREAT FALLS, MONTANA SEPTEMBER 2011, indicates, we no longer take ourselves and our CASENESS - say Loser's in ACROSS/ CHINESE'S DES SCHMERZENS or that of AFTERNOON OF A WRITER - we don't take it all that seriously any more, we are less depressed, we
have found the woman of our life, we got religion, although it doesn't seem to be the "old time relidchun", the woman indeed must be "gut zu
ihm", and for once he dissembled when he told her, twice, that he "did not love her," she knew the sadism was fraudulent too, at this point, she has our man by the cojones, she is his altar and he knows it!
Besides, he makes her "feel like woman"... he goes to his office in the woods to write, but comes home at night, and always brings a few Pfifferlinge! We are a millionaire, the world's ugliness, it its cities and smutty skirts still irritates the hell out of our hypersensitive nerves, but now we only play "running amok" in our fantasy films, we spend a lot of time with the "grosse Tiere" [animaux majeure], exert a
certain beneficial influence on them, but too few of the KLEINVIEH is reading us, they do not seem to appreciate http://www0.hku.hk/philodep/ch/lang.htm [Crudeness in linguistic theory stands as one of clearest signs of the philosophical "Dark Age" that
followed. ]

Thomas Mann wrote Felix Krull a the end, Handke writes a kind of half-serious clown actor book, although I very much doubt that this is
his swansong! Handke always had "einen Jux will er sich machen" in him from the very first: what are the insults at the end of PUBLIC INSULT but a drum roll from Haydn's SURPRISE SYMPHONY. Or the Milena
Findeisens of this world http://www.zeitzug.com suffer serious cases of Gefuehlsduselei, and then there is the vaunted SERBIANA
http://serbianna.com/ for whom St. Peter has been resurrected as Pyotr Sivec! Alas. And then there is Scott and his http://goaliesanxiety.blogspot.com/
and there is I and my http://handke-magazin.blogspot.com/2010/06/handke-magazine-is-over-arching-site.html
complex who has approached the bastard child from every which angle and finds the angelic wings a bit besmirched yet thrives on the angelic writing. What I miss so far in DER GROSSE FALL is the to be expected chorus of http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Erinyes.html and
http://tinyurl.com/3uygc7w But there is a final chapter, # 9 to come!


For http://goaliesanxiety.blogspot.com/

the first of probably 3 comments on chapter 9.

Let me way right off the bat that Chapter 9 of DER GROSSE FALL
P. 256-279 is perhaps the most extraordinary chapter or
whatever that Handke has ever written! I feel like translating it
at once so that you won't have to wait so many years because Farrar,
Straus is so backed up and his prose translator Krishna Winstom may not even have started translating the 2007 MORAVIAN NIGHT, and then there is the extraordinary THE CUCKOOS OF VELICA HOCA which I think I managed to shame them into doing. Whether they reversed course and are doing the 2008 KALI now despite the fact of the I G N O R A N T translator Krishna Winston telling them that it was like other of Handke's things, that I do not know.

But it is not often that I feel like wanting to share the good news at once to that extent! Although I am making real progess in turning people onto checking out the great Handke collection at the Seattle Public Library at my chief place of work and coffee with dozens upon uncountable dozens of sparrows as fans when I sit at the table outside.

Prior to the justification and itemization of the above claim and a slew of individual comments, however, let me confess to some puzzlement in matters of logistics and detail.

Our "actor" tarries in bed as his paramour departs to work in the big city. It takes him a whole day to walk, most adventurously, to the middle of the metropolis, ostensibly to celebrate a very carnal midnight mass with what I thought was yet the womanizer's main squeeze, a different chick altogether.

Once he himself gets there, at a brasserie, he espies the woman he had spent the previous night with, regrets what a prick he has been to her, and I was brought under the impression at that point that the main squeeze and the woman of the previous night were one and the same.

Around midnight, at the end of that fabulous [in every sense of that word] chapter he meets with the woman at a bar called "Destiny" - if she is the same woman who took off early in the morning to go to work she has been working a double shift! It may be I who is missing something in that mundane respect.

Also, it is not absolutely clear that the "actor" will turn down the part to play "amok" in the film the following day, although he thinks at one or two points that he won't. We, the reader, have seen him going literally amok over an elusive lemon pit that falls under a pantry, and also "playing amok" as he is in his film mind as he enters the city. Not everyone knows that Handke once said in an interview, and I know how irritable he is and liable to become violent, that at least three times a day he has the impulse to "run amok" and that is a famous line in one of his NONSENSE & HAPPINESS POEMS [in ALS DAS WUENSCHEN NOCH GEHOLFEN HAT + GESAMMELTE GEDICHTE] and so one hopes that by joking about "running amok" he might be cured of that impulse. It is not a bet I would make or give any kind of odds on at Vegas, not unless the kind of deep understanding that is the chief benefit, can be, of having truck with what he calls "psycho-physicists" reaches those reaches in his being. His hatred of the president of the republic who is to hand him a medal for great achievement is made clear during his walk through the city. mas anon.


For: http://goaliesanxiety.blogspot.com/

The form of Ch. # 9, another roundabout
inspires me to think about the form of the book
as a whole. Sudden irruptions as in the beginning,
a thunderclap, but then a halting, a tarrying,
a flaneuring, not straightforward, especially
once our Actor, our "Schau Spieler" [someone who
plays, plays at showing, to explore the meaning
of that word just a tad], resolves to go
straight forward, occasionally he obeys.
But a lot of halting. Once we get to the metropolis
proper we round a lot of plazas, round and round
it goes, and I got the eery sense that our "representer"
was putting the metropolis and me the reader on to
a revolving stage, which brought to mind Handke's
purest genius text THE HOUR WE KNEW OF EACH OTHER
that aside freshening our senses better than any
Billie Goat ever did creates a fabled world... as
the metropolis becomes, in every sense of the word
fabled. Aside the FILMIC in other words, Handke
introduces the THEATRICAL. Our "Gesamtkunstwerkkuenstler"
the Count of Griffen! More than just a small slice
off the Bard of Avon.... amazing amazing amazing.

I have read the book
slowly over a period of weeks, reread quite a few
sections, next comes a straight through read, at
which point I may have a few other observations.
Next also may be a take on the assembly of reviews
at: http://handke--revista-of-reviews.blogspot.com/2011/03/der-grosse-fall-major-case-handkes.html

Up earlier than me birds at 3:45. Sparrows out
in full force now. Next observations on a handful of
details in Chapter # 9



Scott asked just the right question to focus my mind: "tell me
why you like Chapter 9 so much?" and my response, equally brief,
was "because it is so emotionally honest." So open, so emotional,
for once behind all the showiness there is vulnerability. Which is why I want to focus on one detail about the opposite and tell a story about it.

"In Alaska a woman mentioned to me [the actor says] that I had an ocean of tears locked inside me."

My first encounter with an autist, a word that
would not have meant anything but puzzled me into thinking whether it might have something to do with the German expression "au" [which
is what you say when something hurts], if the word autist even existed in 1942, and if it existed if anyone in my immediate surround, my governess, Elisabeth Gluesing, Yola Duisberg and her Husband, whose first name I do not recall, and their two sons Constantine, my age, first friend ever, and the younger SVEN... who could not cry, no tears! The sort of matter that catches your attention, perhaps especially at age five, a kind of aberration that makes him as odd as a Giraffe. When Yola's son Constantine died, she went mad, a very beautiful actress once, the trophy wife of an heir of the IG Farben fortune, who had appeared at their wedding night dressed as a maid! My intuition tells me that that had something to do with Sven's autism. That he had absorbed his mother's grief, as Handke absorbed, already intra-uterine, not only his mother's joi de vivre but her grief. Handke mentions to Herbert Gamper in their book length conversation http://www.suhrkamp.de/suchen?s=Gamper&x=19&y=12 ABER ICH LEBE DOCH NUR VON DEN ZWISCHENRAEUMEN that he continues to suffer from occasional autistic episodes. I believed I witnessed at least one of what would puzzle me less now. In WEIGHT OF THE WORLD Handke recounts how the therapeutician he saw mentioning that he was out of contact with his feelings, a matter with which Handke agreed. Indeed, the pain of those years made him a more emotional writer, as in WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, the pathos throughout that period. With the 9th chapter of DER GROSSE FALL I feel that we have a man in full not just an actor.