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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Addendum to Handke & Gruppe 47 at Princeton University in 966

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An Addendum to Peter Handke & The Gruppe 47 at Princeton University in May 1966  

 === I ===
In 2012 the German writer F.C. Delius related that he had witnessed Handke rehearsing the text of his notorious attack on a certain kind of writing at the Gruppe 47 meeting in
Princeton, N.J. in May 1966. - And what of it you might say, since it was a general attack! Only a specific critique would have to await the reading of a text.
  My own sense of what I heard the Beatelish fellow say tends to confirm Delius - for after H.W. Richter, the adjudicator, had informed him of Gruppe rules that allowed individual but no general critiques Handke proceeded to re-iterate his attack in the same words – the second time around Handke sounded like a broken record. But has anyone bothered to ask him since Delius’ revelation?  - Malte Herwig might who entirely leaves out this significant event in his Handke biography which at least in respect to some events - the collecting of interviews, gumshoe work, and documents is of real interest and value for a futire full-length biography.
   If you take a close look at the charges Handke made – petty form of naturalistic realism, descriptive impotence, invariable social committment etc. – you ought to conclude, I think, that these charges did not really fit any of the writers that read during the three day session, nor the greater majority of the Gruppe members, but one, Günter Herburger whose work I happened to know from a recent year spent scouting in Germany, but nonetheless found interesting, what don’t I find interesting even now, if not especially artistic; and… Hans Werner Richter’s kind of realism, honorable but boring!
The text which Handke himself read, an excerpt from Der Hausierer, his second novel certainly was not realistic or naturalistic or socially engaged in any manner as these terms are understood. One set of sections consist of delicate phenomenological registrations which are framed by summary descriptions of the linear progression of the plot of detective novels - meta fiction of sorts – and if only for those reasons the Virginia Woolf-like ultra-delicacy of DER HAUSIERER doesn’t, cannot, should not reek of what is generally regarded as linguistic potency, that would have been most inappropriate for a text that falls like rain drops into the reader’s mind and whose analytic summations then make some tough-minded demands. As a whole, the text points to what Handke, one way or another, would do throughout his life: the creation of projection screens for his readers! Ambiguous innerworld outerworld objectifications - although psychologically based yet beyond psychology. Demands on the imagination! A particular kind of linguistic involvement! And made in an artistic fashion!
  If instead of being the somewhat democratized German ex U.S.-p.o.w. yet still rule-crazed Feldwebel that he was at heart, Richter had replied to Handke’s statement, more interestingly: “Who do you have mind?” what would, might Handke have replied? – he certainly would not have been in the position to just be a broken record. Indeed, if anything was laeppisch it was Handke’s attack – which also fails to make sense in terms of the writers he looked up to at the time, Uwe Johnson and Peter Weiss, as well the first half of Grass’s TIN DRUM. And just recently - on being asked how he felt about the controversial Grass Israel poem  - Handke recalled how much he liked the poems that Grass had read at Princeton, from Windhuehner. In other words, the rehearsed broadside was about something else. At the very least it announced “Here I am,” I am in the picture now, it is the first really public instance – there must have been others at Stadtpark Forum in Graz - of Handke’s oft-reiterated, also ironically phrased, dictum slogan “Bleib im Bild”, “stay in the picture” – and there would be many more breath-taking generalized attacks of the kind. Wrongheaded scandalous, show-offy, exhibitionistic as one can call Handke’s performance yet he was creating a space for his kind of work and his way of doing it… which in fact did not overlap with too much of what was being done at the time, chief exception being the work of Peter Weiss. The dictum “Bleib im Bild”, in the course of our rake’s near fifty year progress, is attributed to non-existing oracles, such as that of Dordonna – there are many times that Handke has a delightful if also quite self-conscious sense of humor about himself, most prominently perhaps when he dons the personae of Gregor Keuschnig The Moment of True Feeling, My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay - a name that plays on his origins in a village cottage – Gregor the Cottager, where the Gregor may also be an injoke reference to Samsa, not just to his beloved alternative father figure the Slovenian horticulturalist uncle Gregor Sivec who died a German soldier during WW II. - Princeton May 1966 is the first instance of a near unending series of self-exhibitions, of someone who was very much feeling his happy oats at the time – the oats of someone who had been very much on a roll since he completed his first novel at age 22, the kind of roll that is bound to get you in trouble – as it did just five years later when our

layabroad could not handle his much neglected and insulted wife escaping his salamander-like presence - the exhibitionism of someone who insists on showing you his baby or not showing you the re-imported wife if you’ve beaten him at cards - one of our great and compleat exhibitionists, whose exhibitionism ranges from the kind  that may makes you blush to showing himself with the greats of the world on the world stage - most recently as of this writing, in April 2013, with the current Serbian president
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic awarded the Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to public and cultural activities to prominent Austrian
 Thanking the Serbian president for the medal, Handke said that his standing by Serbia "has not been a suffering at all. The Yugoslav and the Serbian people have been making me rich inside. I have been nobody's victim, but the Serbian people is a victim indeed," he added. One week later, in Linz, at the premiere of the Philip Glass opera based on his play Traces of the Lost there is our man claiming to be exceedingly shy about appearing in public and has a stand-in accompanying his wife who is suffering from sciatica.
With respect to the change in dress and how Handke would like to be seen we have a huge photographic record in the course of which the initially Beatelish Bürgerschreck transforms himself into what I call the Ehrenbürger and “Count” von und zu Griffen. Although Handke wrote a very beautiful long poem dedicated To Duration which is finally appearing in Scott Abbott’s first rate translation, he himself – “I want to be like somebody else once was” – seems more like a constant metamorphoser
Question is: Does Handke actually expect anyone who knows him to believe that anyone who has displayed himself in public as often as he has, who is as camera craven, who has had as many public irruptions and is as hot tempered is not only shy in public but even-tempered and “comparatively normal” as he claimed in a recent interview?  - Whereas the far larger world, unaware of prior moltings, just might think of him as a great and “shy” and even tempered poet! (2) With the statement in Belgrade, Handke, definitively enters the world of one of his clearest and most succinct projection screens, that of the 1970 play Quodlibet (As You Like It). There, the greats of the world go about muttering ambiguities with the most sinister innuendos, which points to its procedure as that of auditory hallucinations – Shakespeare’s way of catching the conscience of the king! Does Handke’s conscience catch him? (Yes, in some of his writings, when he doesn’t lie!) As I who finds the suddenly claimed modesty dubious? Or is Handke possibly a split being, not necessarily a Jekyll and Hide, but two Jekylls in one jackal to make a wonderfully stupid play on words, like the Bloch of Goalie? At any event, one side may not recall what the other says - Walk About the Villages contains the sentence “will I still remember tomorrow what I resolved today?” – No end of instances where Handke evidently does not recall – those announcements that he will accept no further prizes, that meanwhile are awarded to milk train stops that award them for some of the awardee’s fame to rub off on them (Handke as Miltrain!), or that he will withdraw his personae from the public stage, the kind of announcements that assures further publicity – has there ever been a bigger Modepuppe for an author? - or it just doesn’t matter. Life goes on. We continue to produce mostly terrific work. One story follows the other. What are the origins of this injured love child’s exhibitionism?
 As an exhibitionist of work, there was, is of course always something extraordinary to exhibit, at least one interesting book or play or both or more per year. And it appears Handke thrives on the mirroring response from being on the public stage and media. He certainly is not shy about admitting how pleasant a daily response is. - The provocative Princeton statement at the very least made people curious I suppose, and that was its only real effect on me. It piqued my curiosity. [3]

==== II ====
No thoughts of that kind flitted through my mind at that moment in Princeton. I had heard him read, the name had not registered, I was sitting next to the German star reporter Erich Kuby whom I had met in Hamburg a year or so before and Kuby knew the name which, I, a/ the Suhrkamp Scout in the U.S. might have known if I had been informed. –Prior to that I had attached myself to H.M. Enzensberger whom I had known since 1961 and who was teaching himself Chinese throughout the proceedings and perhaps that was all it took, three days, for that genius. Nor did I think that Handke’s statement was such a big deal, I had heard worse at American writing classes. One reason that Handke’s statement became the most remembered matter about that penultimate Gruppe meeting was that nothing all that - although all the writers who did read were certainly interesting, and the Grass poems were spectacular – nothing as extraordinary as Handke’s irruption had transpired. Most of the other writers had respectable careers, Delius won the Buechner a few years back. Peter Piwitt, whose reading preceded the Handke broadside, did well.
However, subsequent to Princeton, although Handke was marvelously productive, in public, for a total of about seven years – the time span of his metamorphoses - our man called everyone “idiots” and the idiots who in their heart of hearts know that in some profound way they are idiots, bore with him. – Well, most did. Donald Daviau who ran an annual Austrian literature shindig at U.C. Riverside, took offense in 1971 and quashed a planned special issue devoted to Handke of his Austrian Literature Review. So did the German pope of reviewers Marcel Reich-Ranicki – for Handke’s attack on the Gruppe critics was a bit truer in its claim that they among the Gruppe members held too powerful a sway, a matter that Günter Grass, after the Gruppe was no more in 1967, then agreed with Handke to the extent of forming a group Teltauer Tage where writers met exclusively with writers and critics did not pounce.
  As to what Handke might have read out loud to come out looking potent and be sensational for a text, actually he had written such a one which would become a sensation and scandal later that year – perhaps he kept it in reserve?  -PUBLIKUMSBESCHIMPUNG, for which I found a title I was not happy with, OFFENDING THE AUDIENCE, since even then the word “abuse” had acquired all kinds of wrong connotations. [I now call the play PUBLIC INSULT. In France it is called Outrage au Public - “outraging the public” – not bad at all.] Handke might have read the end of that great essay on the theater and being in the world and its chord-like set of insults which in the play function as the fulfillment of the promise of the title, but which, in the uniform and musical manner in which they are arranged, are like the drumroll in Haydn’s Surprise Symphony. In that respect, in as much as these kinds of characterizations are of descriptive value, Handke proved, early on, to be rather Austrian, certainly not “Alps-in-the-head Swiss,” “Oxen-Boerish-Dutch” or “cold potato salad” German, he himself, who thinks in that nationalistic shorthand, regards his playful side of as Slovenian, his mother’s family origins.
     Or Handke might have read one if not the title text from his future short prose collection Greeting the Board of Directors. That certainly is lively, virtuosoistic, and potent. Perhaps one or the other text from Innerworld existed by Spring 1966? Did he consult anyone on what to read or go by the assumption that you read the most recent text or one that you were working on? His German publisher Siegfried Unseld, whose suggestion to Richter to invite Handke had been instrumental, (merely?) mentions, in his diary, that Handke gave a good fighting account of himself. - Here was an author whom you could trust to do his own publicity! – And in not that many years, around the time of the 1980 Lesson of St. Victoire, would become very concerned who was and was not sent advance galleys. - Reading from his first novel DIE HORNISSEN, that was about to be published, would have been even more problematic than the text he read from DER HAUSIERER. Very difficult to follow in that fashion, it makes great demands on the reader’s attention and imagination. -  Handke was twenty-four years old, he had completed that first novel in the summer of 1964 on the Island of Krk/ Cordula [and like his real father, left a girlfriend with a bastard child, if we are to believe probably my favorite section - El Greco Dostoevsky dark, rotten fish and animal offal stench – from his auto-biographical novel Moravian Night. Prior to Hornissen’s acceptance by Suhrkamp that difficult text had been turned down by Handke’s or his advisor’s, their first choice, Luchterhand Verlag, in Neuwied am Rhein, Grass’s then publisher. Even now, 50 years later, I have the pleasure of recollecting the fresh, green near-transparent Rhenish grapes that were the young editors at a firm that, like Hanser Verlag, had printing for its bedrock, but was located in a small town up river from Bad Godesberg, my base for a few months the year 1964.
  At Princeton, to Ted Ziolkovsky, and also later on the Empire State Building to West German Radio, Handke proclaimed that he was the new Kafka! Of course we recall Kafka the I’s original Prague Proclamation! But no, a close response to DER HAUSIERER and DIE HORNISSEN, will be that these texts are drenched in fear. Handke had learned to deal with fear by writing, by being, as we now know, becoming idiot savant, a genius in transforming the wages of fear into texts! He had terrorized the family that supported his endeavor, he and the village priest found a place for him at a seminary, where one of his teachers recognized his talent, but a priest of another kind Handke would turn out to be, and he left the seminary after two years, to attend a regular Gymnasium in Klagenfurt, and then studied law at the University of Graz until Suhrkamp Verlag accepted Die Hornissen in 1964. Handke’s announcement of his presence was effective – even if you dismissed what he said, you remembered him and his name, and so - interest piqued - when he became mine and Jakov Lind and Pannah Grady’s guest (7) at a party that we gave for the Gruppe at Pannah’s ultra-splendid Dakota apartment I was keen to find out whose work Handke had in mind. He was dressed in a tightly checkered – small yellow and brown checks – shirt with a flower, a carnation, pink-white, and wore the kind of dark glasses, in the mellow modulating light, that normally only a hoodlum might in New York City under those comfortable conditions - whose glow provided everyone with a tan - glasses that also made for an excellent detail to inquire of its why’s and wherefores. I don’t recall whether I introduced myself or assumed that Handke knew his hosts, certainly if you are as eager to be prominent as Handke was from the beginning you need to become used to being recognized. F.C. Delius mentions that when he met Handke, at a Gruppe meeting at the Algonquin Hotel, the day prior to the three day Princeton event, both of them had preferred not to engage in conversation, but to remain writer-observers, and so it was this time. Handke explained that he had eye problems, and I didn’t get a chance to ask my question. Many years later, when I regarded Handke’s personal problems from a psychoanalytic perspective and came on the mention, in Lesson of St. Victoire, that he suffered periodic bouts of color blindness, unique to him in his families, I investigated this unusual phenomenon to the its then limits  – it took about a week, the literature is sparse -  but reached no firm conclusion: the symptom was due either to Handke’s thrice a day impulse to run amok (rage) or anxiety (hysteria) or a combination of the two. Certainly it was a psychosomatic symptom that seems responsible for the fact that Handke never received a driver’s license, needs friends to chauffeur him around and has become the best observer and recorder ever of bus rides. There is also the unforgettable line “nausea of the eyeballs.” However, Pannah’s apartment would provoke an attack of nausea of the eyeballs only if wealth pleasurably expressed did so, although by the time I encountered Handke a second time, in the main room, as I was about to ask Handke, there advanced on us the unmistakable face of yet another self-advertizer, of Alan Ginsberg who promptly asked me to tell Handke, in so many words, that he wanted me to translate that he wanted to “fuck him.”  Although the apartment was not mine, as a host I felt protective of my guests – the Germans – Alan evidently was one of those American writers who were meant to meet and mingle with the Germans, that being the ostensible occasion for the party – and I of course didn’t follow the fellow’s request – as I might have, say ironically - but stared hard into his brown ? eyes, whereupon he repeated his request, more firmly, and I became more resistant and the stare of my blue-green eyes must have taken on Prussian steel coloration… and Ginsberg backed off. – Looking back: if you could be so direct in your approach in the gay community at that time, it was yet another decade that you could be as free, vice versa, in the heated heterosexual community of the time, although it was verging. At any event, I never got to ask specifically which writer Handke’s broadside had had in mind, but who was meant to be fucked by Alan Ginsberg was misunderstood by Handke – whose English must have been shaky at the time, and had Ginsberg perhaps approached him once before and not been understood? occurs to me only now.  At any event, a misunderstanding that I had not known was a misunderstanding was not cleared up until Handke and I came to talk about the event in Fall 1980 in Salzburg which is memorialized as a Ein Besuch auf dem Moenchsberg @  . However, the haemische sadistic grin that had spread over Handke’s face at Ginsberg’s request, the kind of grin that told me - who in childhood was at most at the margins of a few villages    – that whatever literary qualities the Austrian might have he was once and always a village sadist not only proved true but actually nastier for having been at my expense, whereas I had thought that this had been Handke’s way of laughing off the pass that was being made at him, at “the Maedchen” – had Ginsberg also been at Princeton? (4) Handke did not look effeminate to me – young, Beatelish. However, he then turned out to be homophobic throughout his life,  and unpleasantly so and not only in the lie at the end of Sorrow Beyond Dreams where he has his actual father express the fear that he and his son will be mistaken for a gay couple – a trip that, according to Malte Herwig’s biography, never took place - one of those many instances where Handke gratuitously injures those closest to him, as he has everyone, as Vim Wenders would tell me here in Seattle; and, so it appears, thinks he can do certain things and still have a friend, as his work of course might, which once again points to a certain splitness, or the then rapidly developing Pashadom, the Hermann Quitt (The protagonist of Handke’s They Are Dying Out side of our man. The sadistic smile stuck in my recollection – and I realize that you need some sadism yourself to smell it in another – yet it usually does not express itself so blatantly as it did on Handke’s face then – wonderfully in that jewel of a novell Don Juan (As Told by Himself in the form of its Leoporello fiure, the Don’s chauffeur - in the rich lighting of Pannah’s apartment, and it would have been furthest from my mind to consider that I might publish and translate – although I certainly planned  to read - and have some of my most extraordinary reading and theatrical experiences with his work,  and for a time, until as Vim Wenders put it to me Handke invariably hurt those closes to him, and proved indifferent as a schizophrenic or Pasha might, became quite friendly with the then kid from Griffen, who of course also turned out to have some darling sides, not to justa writer who beats his women every afternoon; or that he would become my “case” after I had tired of myself such and become a major scholarly project, and and and and and it is surprising that Malte Herwig fails to make anything of this notorious event in his Handke biography.

1)    Als Schimpfen noch geholfen hat – Friedrich Christian Delius erzählt von dem verrücktesten Moment in der deutschen Literaturgeschichte der Nachkriegszeit, einem Lesevormittag der Gruppe 47 in Princton
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Der junge Mann, den ich für jünger hielt als mich, fiel mir auf, als er in seinem Manuskript herumkorrigierte. Was für ein Anfänger, dachte ich, wie kann man kurz vor einer Lesung vor dem erlauchten Gremium der Gruppe, vor so vielen kundigen Leuten, vor der höchsten literarischen Instanz, in der allerletzten Minute noch mit dem Kugelschreiber an seinem Text bosseln – wenn der schlecht ist, wird er jetzt auch nicht mehr besser, und wenn er gut ist, wird er eher schlechter beim nervösen Umformulieren kurz vor der Mutprobe.
Er saß zwei, drei Meter entfernt auf der nächsten Bank, der junge Österreicher, ganz auf seine getippten Blätter konzentriert. Ich sah ihn von der Seite und hörte dabei einem Gespräch zweier Freunde neben mir zu, um uns herum Rhododendronbüsche. Mittagspause nach dem ersten Lesevormittag der Gruppe 47 in Princeton, wir hatten gegessen und konnten noch eine halbe Stunde in frischer Luft zubringen, ein Frühlingstag im amerikanischen April in einer kleinen Parkanlage neben dem Mensagebäude. Ich überlegte einen Moment, ob ich mich zu ihm setzen und ihn über die Torheit seiner Korrekturpanik aufklären sollte, doch dieser Impuls verschwand sofort wieder.

2)2) He seems to think he can present himself as a regular citizen, and so what if those who have made some real acquaintance with him know that he has been involved in violent quarrels with some lovers, that he is possessed thrice daily (his count!) by impulse to run amok – I mean there are no end of reasons if you want to rationalize it and the world is a hotbed of irritants!
3)  As of Princeton Handke became a media darling or occasional ogre, there was always something to report – easy work, let’s call Handke! - photographs like a model, also modeling! Posing. What is evident from this spectrum that also contains a wide variety of snap shots is how POTENT the sometimes so effeminate appearing – ein Maedchen was an exclamation at Princeton - hyper-sensitive Handke tries to appear, the macho poses! - Based on just this photographic record you would correctly conclude that here is an instance of bi-sexual conflict – that the conflict has also proved the source of the ongoing creativity of a writer whom I regard as someone at least as a quarter chip off William Shakespeare in that the world is fortunate indeed. With the perhaps still thrice daily impulse to run amok – and not play-acting or pretending to “play act” – and thus perhaps lighten the impulse into another dimension? - as in the recent novel Der Grosse Fall we need to remind ourselves  that there used to be  a lot of violence in Handke – and a lot of paranoia for the vengeance of some of those whom he has victimized.  He may look like a Mignon angel as a young men, an angel who even then is dragging a dark wing.
4) Or did Ginsberg assume that a German would not understand him? I met Ginsberg only one more time, at a meeting of the P.E.N. executive committee – he was dressed in suit and tie – and after the meeting I had no desire to converse with this self-advertizer whose hopped-up work did not interest me.
5) The only account I know of the Pannah party is in one of Jürgen Becker’s books of the time, Felder? Lots of accounts of Handke’s drum roll. E.g. Raddatz.
6) A note who I think I was at that time I was fairly well read by 1966 in postwar German literature. I had been a reader for a variety of U.S. publishers since 1961, grad school didn’t know of postwar lit, for Fred Jordan at Grove Press, for George Braziller, for Tom Wallace first at Putnam’s then at Holt, and for others. I had spent the year 1964 in Germany as the scout for Sam Lawrence, first at Atlantic Monthly Press and then at Knopf, my first Frankfurt Book Fair, those crushingly huge airplane hangars filled with books, and ended up persuading him to do Peter Weiss and Peter Bichsel’s prose. I had visited most German publishers and also been the first American scout to visit Aufbau Verlag in East Berlin, and had read the several cartons of books that Aufbau sent me. There was some pretty good stuff there among the officially permitted literature. But Aufbau, a Herr Kasper, sure didn’t like my advisor, Uwe Johnson - I acquired a sense of the context into which I could place The Third Book About Achim.  Hamburg was important, Ledig-Rowohlt, Raddatz, Jürgen Becker. Klaus Piper in Munich, Hanser Verlag. Neuwied! I had conducted long interviews with Uwe Johnson and Peter Weiss and Gunter Grass. I knew Enzensberger since 1961 when I met him at Ruth Landshof-York’s. The person I felt closest to was Weiss. I had met Richter in Berlin, but we did not hit it off. I had spent months reading German literature at an aunt’s bookshop on the Ku-Damm, I read all the Austrian avant-gardists that Rowohlt specialized in. However, if you had asked me then I would not have been able to put my finger on much of a common denominator aside that these authors were all writing in German. I was also the, or a, Suhrkamp scout for American literature and was reading m.s and galleys in N.Y., not just from publishers but from agents. I was a kind of go-between who, as of 1957, had sought to retrieve a past and a might have been future I had lost by emigrating. I was about to or already had got a job for German lit with Farrar, Straus. I had had a magazine that went bust when its publisher Michael Lebeck and his Hillsboro Books joined a Sufi sect and started lifting “rocks in his head.” There were a lot of different things I liked for different reasons, editors are promiscuous, short ones tall ones, brown and blonde ones – especially Johnson and Weiss, but also Nossack and Nelly Sachs, Bobrowski, Günter Grass, Heissenbüttel, Christa Wolf, Becker, Enzensberger, Augustin, Bichsel, lots of the Wiener Gruppe. On returngin g broke from Europe in December 1964 my friend the novelist Daniel Gordon had got me a job as a reader for Columbia Pictures! I am amazed I still have functioning eyes!
7) I am trying to remember how I happeed to meet Pannah Grady.  I distinctly recall Jakov Lind and Pannah and I deciding to extend the invitation to the Gruppe – but that is all. Did I meet Jakov through Fred Jordan at Grove Press for whom I had done a lot of work? I don’t think so. I am drawing a complete blank. And I don’t think I ever saw Pannah again after the party – which ended badly with some of Pannah’s beat friends smashing one or the other Persian vase.
Michael Roloff
May , 2013, Seattle.

From Text + Kritik: Zeitschrift für Literatur, 24, Peter Handke, fünfte Auflage: Neufassung, 1989, 17-19.

I see a kind of descriptive impotence in contemporary German prose. Unembellished description has become the answer. That is, of course, the cheapest thing literature can be made of. At wit’s end, one can always still describe details. It is the beginning of an extremely uncreative period in German literature, and this strange catchphrase “New Realism” is being used by all kinds of people who want to be part of the discussion although they have absolutely no abilities and absolutely no creative potency in regards to literature. (Murmuring) Completely absent is any kind of contemplation. The pretense that there is nothing but the description of details and processes masquerades as a philosophy, as a worldview. And that is a kind of literary cinéma verité, as I see it. It is evident that certain mistakes of the old literature are no longer perpetrated. For example, metaphors are used only with great care. It is obvious, however, that the achievements of this new literature are nothing but negation. The mistakes or the clichés of the old literature have been banished, but rather than a new outlook there is only the completely primitive and desolate restriction of this so-called “New Objectivity.” And in the form of this prose . . . the form of this new German prose is in no way . . . is horribly conventional, above all in sentence structure, in the gestures of language generally. Even if the individual words, as was said, are empty of metaphor, the forms of this language are completely barren and terribly similar to the stories of former times. That is my claim. (Agitation, murmuring) This prose can be seen . . . What makes this prose bad is that it could just as well be copied from an encyclopedia. One could take the dictionary, a picture dictionary, and look up the pictures and refer to the separate parts. That is the system being used here. And the claim is that literature is being made. It is a completely inane and idiotic literature. (General laughter, isolated applause) And literary critics . . . and literary critics . . . and literary critics are in agreement because their inherited apparatus can deal with this kind of literature, just barely. (Laughter again) Because criticism is exactly as inane as this inane literature. (Some laughter, agitation) If a new form of language were to appear now, (Interruption: Psst!) critics could only say . . . either say that is boring, or revert to invective, or point to certain linguistic mistakes that are bound to occur. That is the only methodology because criticism . . . the apparatus, the one handed down, is useless in this case, although it is just good enough for the inane literature of description, it is adequate there. The apparatus of criticism is perfectly adequate for the literature being presented right here. Interruption (probably Hans Werner Richter): Herr Handke, it is not our practice to give lectures on literature . . . Handke: Yes, yes. May I say something? Richter: You must speak about the text. Handke: Yes, yes . . . I . . . Richter: Please. Handke: It is exactly this kind of literature . . . that so-called contemporary Germany appears. Somewhere . . . somewhere Auschwitz has to show up sub rosa, even if only in a so-called subordinate clause or on the periphery. But it must be there in any case, whether in passing or offhandedly. (Murmuring) And there is no thought of . . . (breaks off). (Laughter) Richter: Well, I don’t have much time, Herr Handke, at this point we know exactly what you mean. (murmuring) Shout: Let him finish! Richter: All right, good, go on. Interjection: But not an exposition! Handke: So, I just want to say . . . Richter: Keep it short, please. Please, Herr Handke, you may speak. Handke: I will keep it as short as possible. But that is, I believe, necessary. Richter: But no lecture. No lecture. Handke: One claims to know, to be sure, what one can no longer write, isn’t that true, and one limits oneself to this objective prose. And so one writes things that just describe objects. One knows exactly what one may reiterate, but not what ought to be written, isn’t that the case? That is, I believe, the basic problem of this . . . of this absolutely stupid and inane prose.

[translated by Scott Abbott, 9 June 2013, for the play




Scott Abbott said...


I have seen pieces of this, but this version strikes me as especially rich in detail and clear in argument.

As you write, Blechtrommel is anything but Beschreibungsimpotenz -- so just what was he getting at, if there was more than just self-promotion?

My answer would be that he was promoting a kind of literature that was about language, writing that focused on what is said and how it is said.

Still, the attempt at Kahlschlag and the dictionary of nazi language and so on had done that very thing in other ways.


Being who I was, editor for German books at Farrar, Straus and the sensation that Publikumsbeschimpfun causes in Fall 1966 I certainly would have become aware of Handke soon enough even without Princeton. However, it took me a while to propose them, and I was amazed that Grove Press, Fred Jordan, had not picked him up.

As a manifesto, his speech ought to have proposed, outlned an alternative, no? instead of being disissive. Howevrer, that was not his style then. He was and still can be the man of large generalizations that upset apple carts. However, his work, all the early plays, INNERWORLD, and the novels once they became generally accessible - GOALIE, SHORT LETTER - and of coursde the linguistic focus of SORROW - a book where language and the wages of the social meet - demonstrate what he meant, what he was about. But let us note the very many years it took him to become master romancier and recover a refurbished classical style. And with is need to write and not repeat himself he fits in some sense the capitalist mode of production?

Scott Abbott said...

Or, that need to move on to new forms, abandoning (in some ways) what the public expects from him, is anti-capitalist, destroying the Farrar/Straus money tree.



From Text + Kritik: Zeitschrift für Literatur, 24, Peter Handke, fünfte Auflage: Neufassung, 1989, 17-19.


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