Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Simple and Quiet: Stifter's Witiko Rides and Stands

Nerves jangling, uneasy for several days, unable to concentrate on my writing, I turn to the Austrian Adalbert Stifter's 1867 historical novel, rumored to be the most boring book ever written. 

This should slow me down, I thought, this ought to order my thoughts and give them weight the way good sentences can.

An armed young man rides through woods on a fine horse: 

"Da der Reiter die Schlucht hinaus rit, sah er weder rechts noch links, noch nach der stadt zurück. Es war eine frühe Stunde eines Tages des Spätsommers, der schon gegen den Herbst neigte. Der Tag war heiter, und die Sonne schien warm hernieder. Das Pferd ging durch die Schlucht in langsamem Schritte. Als es über sie hinausgekommen war, ging es wohl schneller, aber immer nur im Tritte. Es ging einen langen Berg hinan, dann eben, dann einen Berg hinab, eine Lehne empor, eine Lehne hinunter, ein Wäldchen hinein, ein Wäldchen hinaus, bis es beinahe Mittag geworden war."

It's a passage of motion, of riding and walking through a gorge, up a hill, along a flat section, down the hill, up a slope and down, into a wood and out of a wood until it was almost midday.

The rider comes to some houses built on uneven ground:

"Die Häuser lagen in Unordnung zerstreut, und der Grund, auf dem sie standen, war ungleich. Es war hier schon kühler als an der Donau; denn da in Passau viele Obstbäume standen, ragte hier nur der Waldkirschbaum empor, er stand vereinzelt, und stand in einer Gestalt, die in manchen Teilen zerstückt war, und bewies, daß viele harte Stürme in den Wintern an ihm vorübergegangen waren. In sehr schöner Bildung dagegen stand die Eberesche umher, sie stand bei vielen Häusern, und mischte das Grün ihres Laubes und das beginnende Rot ihrer Trauben zu dem Grau der Dächer. Die Herberge war ein Steinhaus, stand auch neben Ebereschen. . . . Auf der Gasse standen mehrere steinerne Tischen. . . . Hinter den Schoppen stand Waldwuchs. . . ."

The rider stops an an inn, eats, drinks, and gives precise orders for how his horse is to be cared for. The conversation with the innkeeper is precise and courteous. A conversation with another man contrasts the young rider's knowledgeable self-assurance with the man's uncertain braggadicio. The care with which the young man performs each action reminds me of the formality of the hunt and meticulous excoriation of the deer in Gottfried's Tristan.

Then the young man rides on, again up a slope and down and into a wood, repeating the motion of the earlier scene:

"Er ritt in der Richtung zwischen Morgen und Mitternacht fort. Er ritt wieder eine Lehne hinan, eine Lehne hinab, ein Wäldchen aus, ein Wäldchen ein, der Boden wurde immer unwirtlicher und war endlich mit Wald bedeckt."


What could be more simple? The description moves from verbs of movement to verbs of standing. And then continues the movement.

And my mind has slowed down, is more ordered.

A few pages later Witiko meet a girl and the verb "to stand" sprouts like weeds:

"Sie blieben stehen, sahen auf ihn hin, und er stand gleichfalls, und sah auf sie. . . . das andere blieb stehen. . . . 'Was stehst du mit deinen Rosen hier da?' 'Ich stehe hier in meiner Heimat da', antwortete das Mädchen; 'stehst du auch in derselben'?

. . . and so on. If the novel continues this way, with this emphasis on standing, it will explain why some people find it boring (they just stand there?) and it will give me an additional source for my study of the standing metaphor.


* said...

hope it did make you calmer..
i shouldn't tell what happens next....
i still have to stop myself fomr lugging home his complete works from the library, knowing i likely won't have time to read it all anyway...

are you always reading with a pen(cil)?

Scott Abbott said...

i picked up the pen only when i noticed the proliferation of standing and thought it might help me track the pattern.

it makes me wonder, of course, whether i'm seeing patterns that only exist in my mind, obsessed, as it is, with standing.

and yes, it had the desired soporific effect.


I followed up Handke's saying that his SIERRA DEL GREDOS was his WITTIKOW by reading it and made one marvelous discoery, to which I will come shortly. However, WITTIKOW is also known as the DARKEST 19th century novel in German! I am not sure what the darkest Handke novel, it might easily be the one that we discussed a while back, although DEL GREDOS sure has some very dark sections indeed, aside the most amazing ending - its last 150 or so pages - the ascent and then the descent into the La Mancha.

My experience with WITTIKOW was that via I discovered that I had spent two early years of my life secreted in Stifter country. I thought I sent you the chapter in my self-analytic novel THE IDYLLIC YEARS that uses that quote, which I will post next. x m.r


Now the quote, I lived in the former monastery/ nunnery in Vornbach am Inn, and you can look all that up on Google, just upriver from Passau, which the quote describes how it is situated.

"“At the upper reaches of the Danube you come on the town of Passau. The stream has just now left Bavaria and grazes this town at one of its noon gates to the Bavarian and Bohemian forests. This gate is a strong and steep cliff. The bishops of Passau have built a mighty fortress on it, the main building, so as to defy, occasionally stubbornly defend themselves against their vassals below. Towards the morning of the main house, on a different stony ridge, there stands a smallish house that used to belong to the nuns and that is therefore called the “nun’s estatelet.” Between the two mountains ridges there runs a gorge with a water spurting out of it which, regarded from above, is as black as ink. That is the Ils, it comes from the Bavarian-Bohemian forests, which sends its brown and black waters Danubewards and here joins the Danube whose midnightlike shores it etches with dark bands. The main building and the Nun’s Estatelet look down at Passau toward midday, Passau which resides on a broad earthen bank on the other side of the Danube. Further back of the town is yet another water that flows in from the distant noonday high mountains. That is the Inn which, too, flows into the Danube at this spot, but also clasps it at its noon-side but is of a gentle green. The thus augmented Danube now continues in the direction between Morning and Midday and has at its shores, especially at its midnight ones, strong heavily forested mountains which are extreme outliers of the Bohemian forest that reach the water here…[my translation of a section from Wittkow]

Scott Abbott said...

Michael, I remember you mentioning this, but not having looked at Witiko, and not being geographically aware, I just passed it by.

Where -- remind me -- did Peter say his Sierra was his Witiko?


HE mentioned it in his inteview with that asshole Greiner of DIE ZEIT, at the same time that he kept wondering to the guys face "why have i let a asshole like you who can't read, into my house." Greiner wrote a stupid review. just shows, you gotta read each handke title at the very least twice. x m.r

you will find the interview in DIE ZEIT or my online collection of Handke interview... whichever blog that is on!