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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"ONE DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE" A HOST OF PIECES + CHAPTER ONE...

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On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House





By PETER HANDKE
Translated by Krishna Winston

FARRAR STRAUS GIROUX

Copyright © 1997 Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main. Translation copyright © 2000 Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-374-17547-0






Chapter One

At the time when this story takes place, Taxham was almost forgotten. Most residents of nearby Salzburg couldnt have told you where it was located. To many of them, even the name sounded foreign. Taxham? Birmingham? Nottingham? And in fact the first football club after the war was called Taxham Forest, until it climbed out of the lowest category and received a new name, then, over the years, worked its way up in the standings and even became FC Salzburg (by now it may have backslid to an earlier original name). Although in the center of town people often saw buses with TAXHAM on their destination sign drive by, neither more full nor more empty than the rest of the buses, hardly a single townsperson had ever sat in one of them.
    Unlike the old villages in Salzburgs orbit, Taxham, founded after the war, never became a tourist attraction. There was no cozy inn, nothing to see—not even anything off-putting. Despite having Klessheim Castle, the gambling casino, and the official reception mansion just beyond the meadows, Taxham—neither a section of town, nor a suburb, nor farmland—had been spared all visitors, from nearby or from any distant parts whatsoever—in contrast to all the other villages in the region.
    No one came by, even briefly, let alone spent the night. For there was never a hotel in Taxham—again in contrast to Salzburg, both the town and the province—and its tourist rooms consisted of niches, refuges, hideaways of last resort, available when everywhere else the signs read no vacancy. Not even TAXHAM, the name that formed a ghostly trail of light on the front of the buses circling until late at night through the now darker, more silent center of Salzburg, seemed ever to have lured anyone out there. No matter whom you asked, including the most open-minded and especially the most broad-minded, said, when questioned about Taxham, No, or merely shrugged.
    Perhaps the only strangers who went there more than once were my friend Andreas Loser, teacher of classical languages and self-nominated liminologist, and I. The first time I visited Taxham, I found myself on the main thoroughfare, called Klessheim Avenue (no trace of castle or avenue), and stopped in a little shack of a bar, where a man railed for hours about how hed been itching to kill someone: No help for it! And it was Andreas Loser who, one winter evening in the almost empty restaurant at the Salzburg airport (in those days almost larger than the arrival hall), whispered to me, Look, thats the pharmacist of Taxham sitting over there!
    Since then my friend Loser has gone who knows where. And I left Salzburg long ago. And at the time when this story takes place, the pharmacist of Taxham, with whom we got together quite often after that, hadnt been heard from in almost as long—whether that was like him or not.

That Taxham seemed so inaccessible stemmed from its location, and the settlement itself was also responsible.
    Something thats happening to all sorts of places these days was characteristic of Taxham from the beginning, namely being cut off or at least made hard to get to from the surrounding area and neighboring towns by all sorts of transportation lines—especially long-distance ones—impossible to cross on foot or by bicycle. In contrast to towns now, which get squeezed only little by little into such a spandrel world, isolated and hemmed in by the expressways proliferating on all sides, Taxham had come into being with such barriers already in place. Although it lay in a broad river valley and on the threshold of a city, it rather resembled a military camp, and in fact, its immediate vicinity, with the German border very near, actually had three military bases, one of them within the township itself. The rail line leading to Munich and beyond, one of Taxhams barriers, had been there far longer than the village, and the highway, too, had been built even before the Second World War, as the Reich autobahn (decades later the Reich eagle, carved, along with the date of construction, at the entrance to the tunnel-like underpass, still had the swastika clutched in its talons), and similarly the airport, built during the first Austrian republic, made it hard to reach the site of the future village.
    Built into this transportation-corridor triangle, reachable almost only by circuitous, inconvenient routes and through underpasses, Taxham appeared as an enclave, and not only at first sight.
    An enclave of what? Belonging to what? It was primarily, and certainly more conspicuously than anywhere else around Salzburg, a colony of war refugees, expellees, emigrants. In any case, the pharmacist was such a person, a member of a family that had run a pharmaceuticals factory in the east, first under the Hapsburg monarchy, then in the Czechoslovak Republic, then under German occupation. More details, I said, I didnt want to know for this story of his, to which he responded, Thats fine! Leave it vague!
    And after the war, new arrivals like this hadnt merely settled in the spandrel between the long-distance train tracks, the highway, and the airfield, on what was left of farmland there, specifically the farm known as Taxham—long since gone—but had screened themselves off even more, barricaded themselves in.
    After getting past the external obstacles, you came upon a sort of second encircling barrier, not preexisting but created intentionally. Whether beyond the railroad embankment or beyond the runway fence: Taxham appeared to be surrounded a second time, in its inner sphere, by embankments, and above all fenced in, if not with wire then with dense hardwood hedges as tall as trees, so tall that almost the only thing that showed above them was the tower of the one Catholic church, a postwar structure of worked stone (the Protestant church remained invisible from a distance).
    The strips of land between the two systems of barriers, the externally imposed one and the internally added one, served as a football field, a park, or a scruffy open area, where you could see the pale ring left by the circus that came to town for a few days every year; altogether, these stretches had something like a bulwark about them.

And in another respect, too, Taxham was a forerunner by half a century, though on a much smaller scale, of many of the new housing developments known today as new towns: hard to find your way in, and even harder, whether on foot or by car, to get out again. Almost all the routes that promise to lead you out then turn off and take you around the block or wend their way back past cottage gardens to your starting point. Or they simply dead-end at yet another impenetrable hedge, through which open land and whatever leads elsewhere can just barely be glimpsed, even if the street is named after Magellan or Porsche.
(Continues...)









 




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The complete review s Review:
Peter Handke s novel, On a Dark Night I Left my Silent House, may not seem immediately appealing. It is a narrative that only slowly circles to its actual story. The writer recounts a story that someone has told him, but he takes his time in getting to it, first setting scenes, filling in background, preparing the reader. The story itself is also an unusual one. Nevertheless, the novel is gripping from the beginning, a testament to Handke s talents.
       Near the end of the book Handke writes:

He d always been drawn most powerfully to observation when he witnessed the simplest, most undramatic occurrences and processes, for instance rain coming down heavier or tapering off, or simply continuing; snow melting; a puddle slowly drying up.
This reflects Handke s own interests and strengths. Few writers are able to make as much from such a focus.
       
On a Dark Night I Left my Silent House begins with a description of Taxham, a small and easily overlooked town near Salzburg, in Austria. Handke s description centers only partially on the physical; instead, he situates the town. He conveys, with deceptive ease, exactly what it means to live in Taxham -- and only then moves on to the local pharmacist, the central figure of the novel.
       Despite being near the Salzburg airport Taxham seems at the edge of the world: the narrator and a friend of his, a teacher of classical languages named Andreas Loser, are perhaps the only strangers who went there more than once. The two form a friendship of sorts with the unnamed Taxham pharmacist, and it is, eventually, the pharmacist s story that gets told.
       Before getting to the actual story Handke describes the pharamacist s life, an essential aspect of the story itself. The teller is more than just part of the tale, and understanding of who he is is essential to understanding of the episode he relates.
       The pharmacist had traveled a great deal when he was younger, almost all over the world. He is still restless, but travel seems to offer nothing any longer: By now nothing tempted him anymore, not a single place. He has some interests (he is particularly knowledgeable and passionate about mushrooms), but few friends. He is not the sort of person people greet (or often even just recognize) on the street. His family life is also far from satisfactory -- he is separated from his wife (uneasily still sharing his house with her), his son is unaccounted for, and even his daughter is far away.
       The pharmacist is interested in literature -- when he goes without reading one morning he was missing something like his  breakfast  -- but has only limited literary aspirations. He does eventually take great interest in his story, a narrative that mirrors life, is an essential part of it, but is also apart from it. The narrator recounts:
I realized: My story was at risk, my storyteller said. And I cared about my story -- and how ! But if I continued to stand by, it would ve been done for, and everything that had gone before null and void.
       The story, then, is essentially a road trip, as the pharmacist decides to travel again. He and two unlikely (though perhaps typically Austrian) companions, a poet and a former skiing champion, head to Spain. It is an unreal, surreal, polyglot trip through the Europe of the 1990s, though always presented with Handke s reserve and control. The pharmacist s only form of self-defense was calm; to become the epitome of calm, and Handke seems no different. Through all the incidents in the novel (and there are a number of surprising turns) there is always a sense of calm -- and not a forced one: Handke s calm is by now completely natural and convincing.
       It is an odd trip, as the three seek without truly finding (stumbling across, among others, the peripheral Andreas Loser again -- the rare figure in the novel who is actually named -- who made some radical life-choices after disappearing earlier).
       The pharmacist eventually returns to Taxham, and there he recounts his summer story to the narrator, who tells it in turn. The world is a different one after the trip, but the changes are small and subtle. After telling the story the pharmacist says:
From speaking it, orally, nothing comes back to me. In written form, that would be different. And in the end I want to get something out of my story, too. Long live the difference between speech and writing. It s what life s all about. I want to see my story written. I see it written. And the story itself wants that.
       The notion convinces. It is not your usual storytelling (and not your usual story), but Handke s art is persuasive. In a time where so much writing is so relentless the deep, assured breaths of Handke s prose are a welcome respite. There is no tedium here either (though some of the book is fairly elusive); it is a short book, incident-filled and nicely paced. It is a book of details, but they are well-chosen and there is no surfeit, there are no unnecessary encumbrances or exhibitionistic displays. Handke writes crouching: Crouching down to see what was happening from close up; and besides, crouching you were closest to yourself.
       Not for everyone -- those who want action and meatier plots should look elsewhere -- but certainly recommended.
On a Dark Night I Left my Silent House is literature, and there s not too much of that being written nowadays.

       Note that Krishna Winston s translation is less assured than Handke s original, and occasionally discomfiting. The German tenses can be a struggle, and there is a rougher (or perhaps clumsier) feel to the prose in the English version -- though by modern American standards it is still near as rarefied as one can find.
       The fact that
hay-horse was the Austrian word for grasshopper had escaped us -- though perhaps it was a stab at an evocative translation of Heuschreck..... And, while we understand that the German Apotheker must be translated as pharmacist rather than apothecary we regret the loss: the  pharmacist  of this book is an Apotheker (with its latinate roots suggesting clerk and storehouse), not a Pharmazeut (suggesting clinical modernity and drugs).
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 Nuitblanhe.gif (2301 octets)



Commentaire de livre - Fiction

Peter Handke
PAR UNE NUIT OBSCURE JE SORTIS DE MA MAISON TRANQUILLE
Trad. de l allemand par G.-A. Goldschmidt
Gallimard, Paris, 2000
194 p. ; 24,95 $

    Dans sa version francaise, le dernier roman de Peter Handke comble difficilement les attentes qu il cree. Que ce soit une question de traduction (G.-A. Goldschmidt a pourtant traduit la majorite des romans de l auteur) ou bien l ecart entre le projet et sa realisation, il reste que l epopee existentielle annoncee par Handke nous laisse un peu de marbre.
    L histoire du pharmacien de Taxham possede pourtant des charmes bien a elle. Par le relais d un narrateur a qui l homme a raconte ses excursions dans les forets puis aux frontieres de la folie, nous assistons ici au recit d une initiation onirique où les notions de temps et d espace, d identite et de realite sont completement destabilisees, faisant corps avec l indefectible « euro-nevrose » de l ecrivain. Taxham, agglomeration d Autriche où se melangent la campagne et la ville, est en fait une porte ouverte sur l espace imaginaire. Lors des vacances de sa femme, avec qui il entretient une relation platonique depuis plusieurs annees, le pharmacien mycologue derape subitement apres un hypothetique coup sur la tete, qui pourrait tout aussi bien etre le contrecoup d une operation recente. Des lors, les evenements s enchaîneront selon une causalite mysterieuse, reliee de facon souterraine au roman medieval qu il etait en train de lire. En compagnie d un poete et d un ex-champion olympique, le pharmacien circulera dans une Europe prenant les dimensions de la Terre. Les villes rencontrees le long d une autoroute en boucles seront donc autant australiennes ou americaines qu europeennes, et c est une ambiance de festival et d apocalypse meles qui y regnera.
    Deux fois moins long que le precedent, Mon annee dans la baie de personne, ce dernier roman paraît cependant plus laborieux, malgre son elan vers la poesie. Le pietinement narratif qui constituait en soi une intrigue redevient cette fois presque un defaut, et l equilibre entre emotion et raison est moindre. Le theme des champignons, fascinant dans Mon annee…, est ici moins fertile, plus pres du pretexte.
    Fable obscure a propos d une culture bouillonnant au bord de son propre vide, cette œuvre agit davantage apres sa lecture, alors qu on se demande toujours quelle peut etre la verite entenebree qu elle tentait d agripper. Ce qui correspond un peu a l etat final du narrateur : « Et apres un long moment d arret sur soi-meme une derniere recette :   N ecrivez que des histoires d amour et d aventures, rien d autre !   – Quelqu un s en allait. Le silence se fit dans la maison. Mais il manquait encore quelque chose : je n ai pas entendu se refermer la porte. »
Thierry Bissonnette
·          


Strange Alchemy
 On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House  by Peter Handke

By Reviewed by Paul West

Sunday, January 21, 2001; Page BW06

ON A DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE
By Peter Handke
Translated from the German By Krishna Winston
Farrar Straus Giroux. 186 pp. $23

A subtle writer of unostentatious delicacy, the Austrian novelist Peter Handke excels at fiction that, as it grows, coils around itself like wisteria. What is especially interesting about On A Dark Night I Left My Silent House, a title that recalls both Calvino s If on a winter s night a traveler and those of Bach cantatas, is the protagonist, a pharmacist marooned in a hamlet near Salzburg, telling his story to the narrator, which makes for more vibration and resonance than usual: The captive audience has a prisoner, and we have both.
The lonely pharmacist s tale gradually accumulates density without ever seeming fuzzy, and there is a fragile crescendo toward a climactic instant when the pharmacist gets a bang on the head rendering him speechless -- at which point the novel changes completely into a fantastic extravaganza in the Alps. The novel s narrator, who has hitherto had access to the pharmacist s speech, now has a clear view into his mind.
This is not so much a shift as a metamorphosis; the novel goes from placid assembly and philatelic perusal of everyday things (blackbirds, mushrooms, bicycles, apples, a bakery) into hyperbole, rendered in the same even tone. It is not as if Handke hasn t warned us, managing several times to embed in his narrator s text the sort (and sport) of mutable vision Polonius has in Hamlet. Excerpts from another world get into the book to make us nervous or expectant -- for example, the well-known pioneers of flight Graf von Ferdinand Zeppelin and Otto Lilienthal come up in conjunction with lesser-known ones such as Nungesser and Coli. . . who attempted the first transatlantic flight and vanished. That s a mild sample. Here is a more ambitious one: In a thicket, tied bags with only a wet cowlick poking out here and there become a company of soldiers resting. In a similar manner, extraneous material flops into the novel to amplify and multiply it, and we encounter ancient Egyptians (only the men were brown; the women had to be white as alabaster or cheese), and the pharmacist turns alchemist when he tampers with known nostrums, transforming them into another substance.
It all makes sense when you read, on page 49, No. You, the recording scribe, mustn t be the master of my story. After all, not even I myself am master of my story. One s head among phenomena is never quite a master of itself and can easily be dispossessed by a shower of the unprecedented. Or by a determined narrator.
Handke s short, gently shaped novel thus becomes a fugue of visual gradations and shocking swaps. Our pharmacist, a Renaissance man in many ways, gets knocked out of himself, then knocked back, with speech returned, but sea-changed. It is not the state of devastation proposed by William James, or quite the ecstasy invented by the Greeks for when you re evicted from yourself, but it is mutability writ large -- perhaps (as Shelley writes in his ode to it) the only thing that endures.
So much for the novel s theme. Numerous pleasures await the reader who delves into the fabric of Handke s prose. Take the blackbird, for instance, with a black, shiny, seemingly eyeless head, a knight in search of single combat, his visor already closed. Or this: A cloud field, white, rippled, foamy, forming dunes. Flat oval stones here and there on top of the highland scree, with a black circle in the middle: pebbles polished by the Ice Age, which had sunk into the ocean here as the snow melted, called  eye stones. 
The novel, for all its concern with the commonplace, never scants the rapture of nature, to which, in almost quizzical vein, it opposes the fabrications of the mind. At the end, the pharmacist tells the narrator I want to have my story in writing. He certainly got it. This is where the French New Novel might have gone if pushed. •
Paul West is the author of many books, including O.K., The Dry Danube and The Secret Lives of Words.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company



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Ausgabe vom 22.04.97

Unstillbare Sehnsucht nach Erloesung

Peter Handke hat eine schwerelose, berueckende Liebesgeschichte geschrieben

Schlichtere Form, verzauberndere Wirkung: Peter Handke ist nach seinem monumentalen Erzaehlepos Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht (1994) zu den durchsichtigen Erzaehlgeweben seiner drei Versuche zu Beginn der 90er Jahre zurueckgekehrt. Ein Gewinn; denn dieses Buch will man immer von neuem lesen.
VON PIA REINACHER
Es ist, wie wenn er zu einem erneuten Versuch ausgeholt haette; denn im Kern bleiben sich einige der Themen gleich oder finden sich in Spurenelementen wieder. Aber die Durchfuehrung ist ganz und gar verschieden. Glich die Niemandsbucht mit ihrer gigantischen Orchestrierung, ihrem aufgeplusterten Klang einer Bruckner-Symphonie, ist der neue Roman Kammermusik: verinnerlicht, luzide, feinstveraestelt. Weniger Pathos, mehr ruhige Insistenz. Kaum Sprachgeschiebe, eher schweigsames Umstellen. Kein lautstarkes Sprechen, nur vorsichtiges Transkribieren von Bewusstseinsinhalten und seelischen Zustaenden. Immer noch gelegentlich beschwoerendes Raunen, aber ertraeglich, in einem dem Goetterliebling durchaus zugestandenen Rahmen.
Wie immer findet sich auch selbstverliebtes Formulieren, vor allem gegen den Schluss hin, bei der seitenlangen mikroskopischen Beschreibung der Steppe, der zugehoerigen Naturphaenomene und der Pruefungen, die der Held zu bestehen hat. Aber wir wollen gnaedig sein. Schliesslich baut Peter Handke die Kritik und ihre Zurueckweisung gleich in den Text ein. Und wer wollte die Verteidigung in eigener Sache nicht nachsichtig dulden, wenn nicht sogar freudig akzeptieren, kommt sie uns doch leise entgegen, fast freundschaftlich und am Ende nicht unueberzeugend: Es stimmt gar nicht, kommentierte der Dichter, dass Narziss in sein eigenes Spiegelbild verliebt war. Wahr ist vielmehr, dass er begabt oder geschlagen war mit einer uebermaechtigen Weltliebe. Er war geboren und wuchs auf mit einer Zaertlichkeit fuer die Wesen und Erscheinungen von seinen Fingerspitzen bis in das hinterste Universum. Der junge Narziss war die Zu- und Hinneigung in Person und wuenschte nichts mehr, als die ganze Welt in seine Arme zu schliessen. Aber die Welt, die Menschenwelt zumindest, liess das nicht zu, wich vor ihm weg, gab ihm den Blick der Liebe nicht zurueck. (. . .) Und so musste er mit der Zeit den Halt an sich allein suchen. Und so verklammerte sich der grosse Weltliebhaber Narziss an sich selber.

In Trance versetzen

Und wieder setzt In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus mit diesem Verfuehrungston ein, wie ihn der Germanist Reinhard Baumgart einmal treffsicher genannt hat, einem berueckenden, beinahe einlullenden Sprechen, das typisch ist fuer viele von Handkes Werken. Das beherrscht er wie kein andrer: diese den Leser beinahe in Trance versetzenden Erzaehlanfaenge. Nur dass beim neuen Roman die Verfuehrung nicht nachlaesst, sondern bis zum Schluss anhaelt. Handkes spezifische Erzaehlweise birgt Risiken, das liegt auf der Hand. Wer in so hohem Ton singt, laeuft Gefahr, ins Schrille zu kippen. Wer so traeumerisch spricht, kann jederzeit aufgeweckt, mit der banalen Wirklichkeit konfrontiert werden, in der andere Gesetze gelten. Doch der waghalsige Seiltanz gelingt jetzt fast immer. Kaum ein Absturz.
Worum geht es? Stand in der Niemandsbucht das einsame Leben des 56jaehrigen Schriftstellers Gregor Keuschnig im Zentrum, ist es hier der Dorfapotheker, der aus eigener Schuld gottsjaemmerlich, wenn nicht gar kotzeinsam geworden ist. Bildete damals ein Pariser Vorort die Kulisse, ist es diesmal ein Provinznest aus der weiteren Heimat Handkes, Taxham bei Salzburg. Hatte Keuschnig Appetit auf Freunde und sehnte sich nach innerer Metamorphose, macht sich der Apotheker mit zwei Gefaehrten, einem beruehmten Skifahrer und einem beruehmten Dichter, auf zu einer Reise jenseits der Grenze. Im Grunde setzt der neue Roman Handkes Selbstfindungsgeschichten fort. Nur dass ihm dieses Mal alles unangestrengt gelingt, mit schwereloser Leichtigkeit, beinahe unabsichtlich. Heimlicher Drehpunkt ist auch jetzt die rasende, unstillbare Sehnsucht nach Wandlung. Der beinahe schmerzhafte Wunsch, ein anderer zu werden als der, der er ist, treibt den Apotheker um, lange bevor er sich in den Strudel der Abenteuer wirft. Wohin fuehrt sein Weg? UEber die Grenze hinaus, durch die karge, wilde Steppe, einer Frau entgegen - hin zur Liebe. Wie Parzival muss er eine Aventiure bestehen, aeussere Gefahren und innere Schmerzen ueberwinden, um der zu werden, der er ist. Von daher erklaert sich die bald maerchenhafte, bald mythische Grundeinfaerbung.
Die Raffinesse besteht nun darin, dass Handke die aeussere Topographie nur gerade so weit aufreisst, als dies notwendig wird, um den Hallraum der Seele zu bezeichnen. Alle Koordinaten, die er setzt, sind zugleich Wegweiser zum Ort des inneren Geschehens. Das ergibt ein seltsames Fluoreszieren des Textgewebes. Und entzieht die Geschichte des Apothekers der Zeit: nicht Zeitungszeit, nicht Ereigniszeit, sondern Erlebniszeit. Taxham, schon rein geographisch verschanzt hinter Fernzuggleisen und unzugaenglich wie ein Sperrbezirk, ist psychischer Ort. Das Leben des Apothekers spielt sich im Dreieck zwischen seinem Haus am Flussdamm, der Apotheke und dem Flughafen ab, in dessen Restaurant er regelmaessig isst, einmal mit seiner Frau, einmal mit der Geliebten. Der Apotheker wohnt zwar noch im gleichen Haus wie seine Frau, ist aber zugleich seit zehn Jahren getrennt. Ihr Leben laeuft im eigenen Bereich ab - zeitverschoben.

Anrufung der Liebe

Wieder ist die Frau allein verreist, auch die Tochter ist auf einer Insel, der Sohn verschollen - oder hat ihn der Apotheker verstossen? Ist es das Spezialgebiet des Apothekers, seine Pilzleidenschaft, die ihn und seine Frau auseinandergebracht hat? Seine Sucht, im Herbst jeden Tag alle Manteltaschen voller Pilze nach Hause zu bringen, die Frau jeden Tag zu zwingen, die Pilze zu essen? Ist es die phallische Konnotation, die Handke im Sinne hat, wenn er seine Figur mit der Pilzpassion ausstaffiert; oder zielt er auf das Rauschmittel, die halluzinogene Wirkung, die Traumerweiterung? Wir wissen es nicht. Mehr noch. Wir wollen es nicht entscheiden; denn die Zeichen straeuben sich gegen die Festschreibung. Sie wollen in ihrer geheimnisvoll oszillierenden Aura belassen werden.
Peter Handkes Roman ist eine Abenteuergeschichte und eine Liebesgeschichte - oder vielmehr: die Beschwoerung der Liebe trotz bitterer Abrechnung. Die verzweifelte Anrufung der Liebe im uneingeschraenkten Bewusstsein ihrer radikalen Gefaehrdung. Das Begehren nach Erloesung durch die Liebe trotz dem Wissen um ihre einzigartige Zerstoerungskraft: So viel Schmutz und Verschmutzung zwischen den Geschlechtern wie heutzutage war noch nie. Und die nicht schmutzig sind, das sind die Dummen, so deklamiert der Dichter in seiner Rede ueber die Liebe, die er vor dem Skifahrer und dem Apotheker im Auto haelt. Kein Paar (. . .), bei dem nicht in irgendwelcher Lebenslage unvermittelt jene Entzweitheit ausbrechen koennte und heutigentags ausnahmslos tatsaechlich dann einmal ausbricht - auch wenn sie danach wieder vertuscht wird -, welche im Anfang schon zwischen Frau und Mann angelegt war, zumindest in der Jetztzeit.

Zeichen der Umkehr

Dennoch treibt es den Apotheker in einer stillen Nacht aus dem Haus hinaus in die Dunkelheit. Es zieht ihn. Es lockt ihn. Es draengt ihn, ohne dass er wuesste, wozu und wohin. Wie er in der Finsternis allein im Wald hockt, bei einsetzendem Regen, auf dem Hoehepunkt einer vollkommenen Gedankenleere, einem Verschwimmen saemtlicher Lebenskonturen, trifft ihn ploetzlich ein Schlag, und zwar genau an der Stelle an der Stirn, an der ihm eine Woche zuvor eine schwarze Stelle herausgeschnitten worden ist. Ist es ein realer Schlag? Oder ein spirituelles Zeichen? War es ein UEberfall? Oder ein Signal der Vorfahren? Handkes eindringliche Gestaltungskraft beweist sich gerade an diesen zeichenhaften Schnittstellen, die vor Sinngeladenheit pulsieren. Schoepft er aus dem uralten Bildreservoir, aus der christlichen Zeichentradition? Der Schlag ins Gesicht bei der Firmung war seit dem 13. Jahrhundert (germanisches) Symbolbrauchtum mit dem Sinn, wichtige Ereignisse und Tatsachen dem Gedaechtnis einzupraegen. Und war das Umgeworfensein des Paulus nicht auch Zeichen einer existentiellen Krise, Zeichen der Umkehr? Der Schlag als Zeichen der Erkenntnis?
Bezeichnend ist, dass der Apotheker nun endgueltig die Sprache verloren hat. Schon lange zuvor klang seine Stimme wie aus einem Brunnenschacht, aus einem Kanalloch. Jetzt stammelt er nur noch, murmelt. Dennoch spuert er keinen Schrecken und keine Todesangst. Im Gegenteil. Es ist wie im Maerchen, beim Fall in den tiefen Brunnen. Ein gewaltiger Hunger stellt sich ein. Und es erwacht, durch den Sprachverlust beguenstigt, ein nie gekanntes Begehren, wenn auch ein ungeschicktes, ungeuebtes. Wozu und wohin?
Peter Handke markiert die Stufen der inneren Entwicklung mit diesem symbolkraeftigen Zeichen. Der Apotheker, sprachlos, kommunikationslos, ist empfindunglos geworden und toedlich einsam. Die Liebe ist es, die ihn erloesen koennte, aber wie? Der Weg durch die karge Steppe ist Initiationsweg. Die einsamen Abenteuer sind Pruefungen, die nur auf eines zielen: das erkaltete Herz zum Bluten zu bringen, ihm die Sprache zurueckzugeben und ihn damit wieder einzubinden in den Kreis der Freunde. Peter Handke variiert mit dieser Geschichte einen uralten literarischen Stoff, der von den Schriftstellern immer neu erzaehlt wird. Seine literarische Gestaltungskraft zeigt sich genau da: in der eindringlichen, voellig eigenwilligen Gestaltung dieses existentiellen, archaischen Themas.
Wie unaufdringlich korrespondieren etwa die Schluesselpassagen. Auf raffinierte Weise ist es der Schlag und spaeter die einfache Beruehrung des Gesichts, welche die Stufen der inneren Entwicklung erzaehlerisch verknuepfen. Die Frau, die stolze Siegerin, die den Apotheker von Taxham auf merkwuerdige Art verfolgt, sie ist es, die ihn mit Schlaegen ins Gesicht zurueck ins Leben holt. In einer einsamen Berghuette steht sie eines Nachts ploetzlich neben seinem Bett, hoch aufgerichtet, mit nassem Haar, die Zuege von ungewohnter Sanftmut. Da schlaegt sie den Apotheker, wirft sich auf ihn und verpruegelt ihn mit solcher Wucht, dass sein Gesicht an der gleichen Stelle zu bluten anfaengt. Und noch einmal wird sie ihn schlagen, jetzt allerdings fast zart, auf den Hinterkopf. Als der Apotheker auf seiner Reise durch die Steppe in einer Lehmgrube liegt, dem Tode nahe, steht sie ploetzlich da, wie ein Schatten, und gibt ihm mit der Liebe die Sprache zurueck. Du bist in Gefahr, jenseits der Grenzen der Welt zu geraten. Deswegen wirst du einen Anlauf zum Neu-Sprechen unternehmen, zum Worte-Neufinden, zum Satzneubilden, laut, zumindest tonhaft. Und wenn dein Reden auch stockfalsch und bloedsinnig ist: Hauptsache, du tust wieder den Mund auf.
Peter Handke: In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus. Roman. Suhrkamp-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1997. 320 S., 44.50 Fr.
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Article redige par Phil de Jonckheere
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Peter Handke
Par une nuit obscure je sortis de ma maison tranquille
Gallimard
98F

Par une nuit obscure je sortis de ma maison tranquille est le recit d un homme, le pharmacien de Taxham, petite localite insignifiante et sans charme des environs de Salsbourg, a qui sera donnee la chance de retrouver son noyau, le centre de son etre,chance qui se presentera tour a tour sous toutes sortes de formes trompeuses ( meme celle d une femme belle et qui conduit un autocar ) mais qu il parviendra neanmoins a saisir. Le pharmacien de Taxham, en se baignant dans des rivieres a l eau glaciale, retirant ses chaussures pour aller pieds nus a l oree des forets, mangeant indifferemment tous les champignons -meme et surtout les plus amers qu il puisse trouver- nous emmene dans un voyage invraisemblable où proche et lointain se côtoient jusqu a se confondre, et où l egarement est le seul moyen fiable de s y retrouver.
A force de coller bout a bout de minutieuses observations du reel dans ses manifestations les plus retranchees et inattendues,
Peter Handke finit par creer un monde sur lequel rien de solide ni de tres definitif ne peut reposer,où tout est tendu a se rompre. Son heros s y oriente grâce aux
odeurs mais le lecteur a tout interet a abandonner toute boussole et a accepter de s y perdre tout a fait.
Tant que l on garde le livre ouvert, cet univers assemble par
Peter Handke pourrait etre celui d un mauvais ou d un bon reve, mais des que l on referme le livre, c est notre realite qui a pris
un tour particulier avec des allures de cauchemar et de reve a la fois.
On quitte la steppe du livre a regret. Tous les livres ont une fin. Celui-ci se prolonge au dela de ses pages,diffus.

Extrait:
Une eclipse de soleil fit aussi partie de la fete des rues, au premier instant, cette toute premiere entaille dans le soleil,un minuscule et fugitif coup de dents, dont la lueur et le flamboiement persisterent encore longtemps apres la fete en negatif sur bien des retines.
( page 114 )

Phil de Jonckheere









unter dem grauen Panzer blaue Fluegel


Helmut Moysich


Zu Peter Handkes In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus – Roman und Zuruestungen fuer die Unsterblichkeit – Ein Koenigsdrama
Am Ende von Godards Film Pierrot le fou umwickelt sich Ferdinand, alias Pierrot, gespielt von Jean Paul Belmondo, auf einer verlorenen Mittelmeerinsel den Kopf mit zwei Dynamitguerteln und jagt sich in die Luft.
Auch Pablo, der neue Gesetzgeber in
Peter Handkes Koenigsdrama Zuruestungen fuer die Unsterblichkeit, der Spielraum und Grundlage schaffen will fuer Sonne, Farben, Bilder, Tanz, Toene, Stimmen, Stille, Raum, auch er will sich am Ende mit dem ganzen Volk in die Luft sprengen, umgibt sich mit einer Halskrause aus Sprengkerzen und reißt den Streichholz an – als letzte Konsequenz aus dem Wissen, daß jede Erfuellung nur umso spuerbarer an das Elend ringsum grenzt.
Bevor sich Pierrot in Godards Film endgueltig aus dem Schlachtfeld der Nouveau Monde heraussprengt, liest er seiner Tochter aus einer Kunstgeschichte vor: Als Velasquez fuenfzig Jahre alt war, malte er keine bestimmten Gegenstaende mehr. Er umkreiste die Gegenstaende mit der Luft und der Daemmerung; er spuerte im Schatten und in durchsichtigen Hintergruenden die farbigen Regungen auf, die er zum unsichtbaren Zentrum seiner schweigenden Symphonie machte … Der Raum regiert. Und seine Idee von einem neuen Roman, so faehrt Pierrot fort, sei nicht mehr, das Leben der Leute zu beschreiben, nur noch das Leben, das Leben allein; das, was zwischen den Menschen ist, den Raum, den Ton und die Farben. Dahin moechte er kommen. Und auch
Handke ist auf dem Weg.
Anders als Godards Pierrot findet sich Handkes Pablo nicht a bout de souffle wieder. Er blaest die Flamme aus und entledigt sich der Krause, die sich als Kinderklapper erweist.
Sicher, Unsterbliches ist ihm nicht gelungen, resuemiert das Volk Pablos Traum von neuen Gesetzen, und, Ich habe mehr den Wind gehoert als seine Stimme und das, was er gesagt hat. Darauf der Idiot: Aber ohne seine Stimme und das, was er gesagt hat, haette ich nicht so auf den Wind gehoert. Pablo wird das Recht auf den Nachtwind im Gesicht zum Gesetz erklaeren. Ein Recht, das der neue Roman Handkes in der Nachtwindstadt Santa Fe Wirklichkeit werden laeßt, jedenfalls fuer den, der den Wind an seine Schlaefen laeßt, sich das Gesicht und das Gedaechtnis auffrischen laeßt, wie der Apotheker von Taxham, ein Nachtwindmensch. Und dann alles zusammengeschlossen zum beispielhaft wunderbaren Bild vom Schlaefensegel, das lyrisch aufnimmt, was im Versuch ueber die Muedigkeit zu einem noch so kleinen Lebensgefuehl – Empfindung des Fruehlichts, des Winds an den Schlaefen – gehoerte.
Godards Film ist tragisch und komisch. Pierrot, traeumerisch und melancholisch, hat ausgedient, verabschiedet sich fuer immer.
Auch in Handkes Zuruestungen hat der Idiot fast abgedankt. Doch was er zu sagen hat, wird wach gehalten und weitergetragen von der neu darzugesellten Erzaehlerin, auch Geliebte und Erfuellungsgehilfin Pablos – und sie ist es auch, die das Drama in einen Roman ueberfuehren wird. Daß es mit den Sagen und Maerchen Schluß ist, heißt nicht, daß es bloß noch Nachspiele gibt, sagt die Erzaehlerin, eine neue, andere Scheherazade, Wanderpoetin, die mit dem Rat schließt, besser das Gesetz weiter so anzuspielen, damit der Schrecken hinausgeschoben wird. Und das heißt, die Raumverdraenger, Raumabschaffer, die Entzauberer des Raums, die Reiz statt Raum posaunen, in Schach und die wahrsten Traeume des kleinen Enklavenvolkes wach zu halten. Und es heißt zugleich, die vielen Pablos, die vielen Weltverdrußler, Lebensueberdrußler, die sich gleich mit abschaffen wollen, am Leben zu halten, neuen Raum zu schaffen fuer die fast erledigte Einbildungskraft. Keine Botschaft und keine Verkuendigung, keine raumfressenden Unsterblichkeiten. Auf solch ein Gesetz erzaehlend anzuspielen, das kann auch einfach heißen, wie Pablo von sich sagt, zuerst nur irgend etwas machen, das freilich begeistert, und am Ende erst bekommt es einen Namen, einen, den es noch nie gab, wie es auch das Ding noch nie gab. Keine Verkuendigung, aber vielleicht eine Ankuendigung neuer Spielraeume fuer wahre Traeume, handfest aber friedlich, so wie Pablo, kurz vor seinem Abtritt, sich durch einen Speer ankuendigt, der im Portal oder sonstwo steckenbleibt.
Sonstwo ist auch in Handkes neuem Roman In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus, wo der Wurfpfeil wieder auftaucht als ein laengst verrostetes Stueck eines Kinderwurfpfeils. Pablo ist hiergewesen. Und mit ihm auch sein Selbstabschaffungsdrang, der, in Gestalt eines Raben, vom Apotheker herbeigerufen, unter anderm sagt: Zuend endlich die Zuendschnur an! Tatsaechlich liegt da neben dem Kinderwurfpfeil so etwas wie ein Luntenende, das der Apotheker von Taxham wie befohlen anzuendet.
Doch nichts wird dann in die Luft gesprengt; der Apotheker weiß, wie er am Ende des Romans sagt, daß der Rabe – jener Rabe, der Handkes Figuren schon seit Jahren immer wieder auf die Spur bringt, als Daemon, als Doppelgaenger – auch anders kann. Denn gleich nach dem Zuendbefehl ergaenzt der Rabe, ganz versoehnlich: Und schneid das Brot mit der Hand, und nicht mit der Maschine!
Keine Sprengung in Taxham, der Enklave, genannt auch Verlorene Insel, vielmehr das Startsignal fuer den Apotheker, erzaehlend sich auf den Weg zu machen, seinerseits nun Raum zu entdecken, Raum zu lassen fuer Sonne, Farben, Bilder, Tanz, Toene, Stimmen, Stille. Ich befinde mich auf Seite 75. Der Roman hat also schon laengst angefangen. Aber jetzt geht es erst richtig los. Als bekaeme er von Pablos Kinderklapper zur Erinnerung an seinen Erzaehlauftrag eins ueber den Schaedel, spuert der Apotheker ploetzlich einen Schlag, schaut auf aus dem Buch Ivain oder der Loewenritter, die Wahrnehmung verschwimmt, es ist wie in den Narrenkasten schauen. Gleich, ob der Schlag vom Wehen aus dem Buch herruehrt oder sonstwoher. Jedenfalls muß der Apotheker los, raus aus Taxham, der Enklave, der Bastei, der Zwickelwelt, raus auch aus den alleuropaeischen Kreisverkehren und Denkdrehkaefigen, raus aus der Zeitungszeit. Und es geht auf eine Reise, die die Gegenwart auffrischt und neu vergegenwaertigt mit Farben und Gestalten, die mir unter anderm auch aus Don Quichote, Ritter- und Zauberepen und Kafkas Amerika zugleich aufsteigen. Die Zeitraeume fließen ineinander, wie es zum Beispiel von einem Dorffest, mittelalterlich, doch gerade dadurch vergegenwaertigt, heißt: es gleißte da heraus, rauchte, dampfte und stampfte.
Die Lektuere des alten Epos schaerft den Blick fuer die Gegenwart. Gerade an den dort dargestellten Sommerlandschaften erkenne ich die jetzige, heutige Sommerwelt, erzaehlt der Apotheker von Taxham seinem Aufschreiber.
Doch obwohl sich Handkes Roman wie auch Godards Pierrot le fou an das epische Muster seines Reise- und Liebes-Abenteuers haelt, besagt eine Nacherzaehlung der Story nur wenig. So wenig wie fuer Tschechows Steppe oder den Don Quichote, auf deren Wege Pablo schon in den Zuruestungen zeigt und die der Apotheker von Taxham nun neu aufnimmt.

Die wahren Traeume anspielen, die Weltfarben auffrischen, davon kann Pablo – ohne jedes Verkuenden und Gesinnungsgetoese – nur im Clownsgewand erzaehlen, ungeschickt und kindlich. Im Pierrot-Kostuem laeßt sich eine beglaubigende Distanz zur Welt halten und zugleich leichtfueßig und mitvibrierend von ihr erzaehlen. Diesen Pierrot-Trick wird sich nun im neuen Roman der Apotheker episch anverwandeln.
Kein Clown zwar, doch hat der Apotheker noch den Nachgeruch vom Zirkus in seinem Enklavenort in der Nase und seine ganze Art erinnert seinen Aufschreiber, Zuhoerer, und Mit-Erzaehler im Epilog an Buster Keaton. Beispielhaft kindliches Medium fuer entdeckerische Gegenwartsauffrischung auch der Zuschauer und Leser.
Ein Typ wie Buster Keaton genuegt sich selbst, braucht keine Begruendungen, keine Erklaerungen. Und gerade das auch empfiehlt der Apotheker den staendig dazwischen fragenden Stimmen, seiner eigenen wie denen seines Aufschreibers oder auch seiner Leser. In der Schwebe lassen. Und es gelingt ihm. Ihm? Aber wer ist wer? Die Eigenheiten des einen ließen sich von denen des anderen nicht staendig trennen, merkt der Aufschreiber an, er selbst fuer das Sehen und Anschauen zustaendig, dabei seinen alten Bekannten Andreas Loser mit seinem Hoeren und Lauschen einschließend, waehrend er den Geruchssinn des Apothekers herausstreicht.
Nicht durch ein Extra-Schnueffeln zeichne sich der Apotheker aus, sondern durch ein bloßes In-der-Nase-Haben, ohne ein Zutun, von hundert Sachen gleichzeitig, ohne Durcheinander, klar unterschieden. Und loest so nebenbei, sinnenreich und in erfrischender Komik zugleich ein, was schon das Volk in den Zuruestungen einforderte, naemlich einen Erzaehler, der, um zu sehen und zu spueren, wie es weitergeht, anders als die Idiotenerzaehler, statt alles durcheinanderzubringen, es im Gegenteil schoen auseinanderhaelt.
Und diese Eigenschaft praedestiniert ihn auch zum Spezialisten fuer die verschiedenen Pilzsorten, die vielleicht das letzte gemeinsame Gespraechsthema der Menschheit außerhalb der aktuellen Zeitungs- und Fernsehthemen sein werden. Das ist so spaßig wie ernst programmatisch und provokativ gesagt. So sinnen- und gleichnishaft fuer die Suche nach Wiederzuentdeckendem wie es zugleich auch die Meinungsmaschinen desavouiert.
Was die verschiedenen Pilzsorten poetisch so interessant macht, ist ihre schwere Erzaehlbarkeit. Das haben sie gemeinsam mit der Steppe, die ebenso schwer zu erzaehlende, weil gegen die Bilder sich straeubende. Doch gerade diese Bild-abweisende Eigenheit der Steppe macht sie zum gemaeßen Ort fuer das von
Handke von jeher begehrte urspruengliche Dahinerzaehlen. So koennen ihm schließlich Steppe und Erzaehlen eins werden.
Die rein lyrischen Naturanschauungen in Tschechows Steppe moegen dabei manche Wege des Apothekers vorgezeichnet haben, eine anthropomorphische Bildsymbolik der Einsamkeit, Verlorenheit und Schwermut wie bei Tschechow ist dagegen bei
Handke nicht zu finden. Sein Apotheker traegt seine Hoffnungslosigkeit und Sehnsucht in die Steppe als zu einem Verwandlungsort, wo er gleichsam zum Kind wird. Anders als bei Tschechow wird dem Apotheker die Steppe nicht zum Bildraum unerloesten Lebens; vielmehr oeffnet sich ihm hier schließlich in einer von der letzten Sonne durchleuchteten, selbstleuchtend wirkenden Lehmhalbgrotte der Raum, in dem er sich lassen kann. Kein Sinnbild, sondern der in allen Gelbarten spielende Lehm das verkoerperte Licht.
Selbstredend muß eine derart, ja, urspruenglich-schoene Szene, von einem jaehen Getriller einer Drachenkopf-Grille unterbrochen werden – das zeigen schon die alten Ritter- und Zauberepen – doch jetzt ohne Gemetzel; der auftauchende Steppenjaeger erschießt nicht den Apotheker, sondern den schnell dazutretenden Doppelgaenger meines Erzaehlers. Ich vermute, es handelt sich um den Raben – recht so, ein Daemon weniger.
Jedenfalls ist der Apotheker frei, auch vom Suchzwang, empfaenglich fuer die Vision des schoensten Schattens einer Frau, der ihn zum Worte-Neufinden auf Trab bringt, zurueck zur Stadt, zu neuer Heimkehr. Und es beginnt eine ungewoehnliche Liebesgeschichte.

Daß der Apotheker von Taxham sich so frei erzaehlen kann, so wahr traeumen kann, daß Handkes fruehere, tausendmal hin- und herbedachten Gleichnisse und Fabeln jetzt einen episch-romanesken Schritt erhalten, das verdankt er auch seinem listenreichen Erfuellungsgehilfen, dem Aufschreiber, Fragensteller und Mit-Erzaehler – oder umgekehrt, daß der Aufschreiber so frei schreiben kann, das verdankt er …
Listenreich im Gefolge auch von Cervantes. Wie Pablo schon in den Zuruestungen fuer den rechten Weg auf den von Don Quichotte hinwies. Und listenreich, so scheint mir, vielleicht auch ueber den Blickumweg von Kafkas Blick auf Don Quichote hin. Dazu sei leicht verkuerzt aus Kafkas Nachlaß das Stueck Die Wahrheit ueber Sancho Pansa zitiert:
Sancho Pansa, … gelang es … durch Beistellung einer Menge Ritter- und Raeuberromane … seinen Teufel, dem er spaeter den Namen Don Quixote gab, derart von sich abzulenken, daß dieser dann haltlos die verruecktesten Taten auffuehrte, die aber mangels eines vorbestimmten Gegenstandes, der eben Sancho Pansa haette sein sollen, niemandem schadeten. Sancho Pansa, ein freier Mann, folgte gleichmuetig, vielleicht aus einem gewissen Verantwortlichkeitsgefuehl, dem Don Quixote auf seinen Zuegen und hatte davon eine große und nuetzliche Unterhaltung bis an sein Ende.
Damit soll selbstredend aus
Handke kein zweiter Kafka gemacht werden. Sowenig wie ein zweiter Cervantes, Tschechow, Shakespeare oder Chretiens de Troyes.
Es geht bloß um einen genuin variierten Blickwinkel.
Und um eine erzaehlerische Blickwendung, der zum Beispiel auch die Verwandlung von Pablos Zuendkerzenkrause in eine Kinderklapper folgt.
Und ich bin sicher, daß auch der Aufschreiber der Geschichte des Apothekers seine helle Freude daran hatte, ihm auf seiner Fahrt zwei Reisebegleiter zuzugesellen, die in der koestlichst-skurrilsten Manier an Robinson und Delamarche erinnern, jenem urkomisch-liebenswerten Gaunerduo, das Karl Roßman in Kafkas Amerika-Roman begleitet. Ein ausgedienter Dichter und ein Sportsheld, ein ehemaliger Slalomchampion, sind die seltsamen Reisegefaehrten des Apothekers und diese zwei lachenden und kichernden, sonnenbebrillten, abgerissenen und heruntergekommenen, mitunter an perverse Killer erinnernden Kumpanen sind zugleich Erfuellungsgehilfen des Apothekers auf seiner unbestimmten Suche. Mehr noch als Kafkas Gehilfen erweisen sie sich als ebenso seltsame wie gemeinschaftsfoerdernde Helfer, Handwerker, die jederzeit einspringen, mittun, mittanzen, mitsingen, mitspielen.

Aber der Blickumweg ueber Kafkas Sancho Pansa reicht weiter als bis zu den beiden Reisekumpanen in Handkes Roman hinein.
Seinen Teufel ablenken – das bedeutet fuer den Apotheker von Taxham auch eine so unbestimmte, wie gegenwaertige Schuld verwandeln.

Eine Schuld, die dabei ganz diesseits biblischer Zusammenhaenge zu sehen ist. Das zeigt schon ihre skurrile Vorgeschichte, die zugleich den Spielraum fuer ihre erzaehlerische Verwandlung, oder besser, fuer ihre Verwandlung in das Erzaehlen, abgibt:
Das Mal auf der Stirn des Apothekers, wo man ihm eine Schwellung herausgeschnitten hatte, und worauf er schon anfangs am Salzburger Flughafenwaldrand Schlaege erhielt, so sagt ihm spaeter die Siegerin genannte Frau, neu gefundene Liebe, siehe oben den schoensten Frauenschatten; jenes Mal sei ihm gewachsen, weil er in einem unrechten Zorn seinen Sohn verstoßen habe. Und sie werde weiter dafuer sorgen, daß es nachwaechst. Und wenn sie noch zehnmal zuschlagen muesse. Und sie hatte schon zugeschlagen. Geschehen in einer Herberge in der Nachtwindstadt Santa Fe, konkreter Ort einer Wasserscheide und damit auch gleichsam Wendepunkt fuer den fahrenden Apotheker, dem hier nachts die Liebe der Frau offenbart wird – durch gewaltige Pruegel.
Das hat seinen Grund. Denn die Frau hatte schon vor dem Tod ihres letzten Mannes begriffen, daß es zwischen ihr und ihm nur vorgegaukelte, eingebildete Liebe gab, und beschlossen, denjenigen erstmal zu verpruegeln, zu dem sie noch einmal in Liebe entbrennen sollte. Die Skurrilitaet ist erwuenscht. Sie folgt einer Liebesordnung, nach der schon Karl Roßman in Kafkas Amerika von Klara in einem einseitigen Kampf aufs Kanapee gezwungen wurde, mit Wuergegriff ihre Liebe unter Beweis stellend.
Seinen Sohn mag der Apotheker von Taxham verstoßen haben, doch vielleicht gerade auch dadurch hat er die Frau gefunden, die andere Erzaehlerin, die ihn neue Woerter finden ließ und Liebe, auch wenn die schließlich erst im Auseinandergehen aufzubluehen schien.
Die Schuld, seinen Sohn verstoßen zu haben, die Schuld, selbst verstoßen zu sein, sie laeßt sich in handfeste Liebe verwandeln, eine Liebe, aus der zugleich urspruengliches Erzaehlen kommt.

Was kann mitgenommen werden? Als Rezept, empfiehlt der Apotheker zum Schluß im Epilog seinem Aufschreiber: Innehalten. Und, Es ist keinem zu trauen, der nicht wenigstens zeitweise von sich begeistert ist. Und Lust auf die Steppe machen soll der Roman. Handke hat mit seiner seltsam wahren Geschichte dem alleuropaeischen scharfkalten Licht einige Gegenwartauffrischende Nachbilder eingezeichnet – den winddurchschneidenden panzerfaustbreitbereiften Quersteppeneinradfahrern zum Trotz.
Peter Handke, In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a. M., 1997. Peter Handke, Zuruestungen fuer die Unsterblichkeit, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a. M., 1997.
aus Manuskripte 136/97



Exile of the Pharmacist

You might not return from Peter Handkes new novel I permitted myself a moment of awed hesitation after reading the final sentence of Peter Handkes new book, ON A DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ). Then, as if following some urgent instruction, I opened the book and began reading again. You emerge from this mesmerizingly peculiar novel with plenty of uncertainty about what has just been experienced, and with a strong desire to put off returning to familiar shores. The Austrian-born Handke, who has spent more than 30 years chasing the vapor trail of middle-European ennui in his plays, novels, and essays, has outdone himself. On a Dark Night makes a label like original seem quaint. The book is part fable, part existential comedy, part heroic hallucination, and part wartime allegory, and its delivered with the confessional intimacy of a whisper. As starkly as a documentary, Handke introduces us to the village of Taxham, on the outskirts of Salzburg. The setting feels very much like the present, though we are told, At the time when this story takes place, Taxham was almost forgotten. Hemmed in by a river, a railroad embankment, and an airport, and further isolated within a ring of looming hedges, Taxham has about it an aura of the furthest reaches, accessible only by circuitous, inconvenient routes that make it hard to find your way in, and even harder, whether on foot or by car, to get out again. The towns residents are war refugees, expellees, emigrants, but its most mystical figure -- aside from the local soothsayer, who predicts that before summers end a war would break out to the west of T., a three-day war, but with never-ending consequences! -- is an unnamed middle-aged pharmacist. The pharmacist languishes in numb invisibility: No one talked about him, recommended him to others, sang his praises, or made fun of the pharmacist the way they do in the classic comedies. People who ran into him outdoors . . . either ignored him -- quite unintentionally -- or failed to recognize him. The man and his wife share a house without ever occupying the same room at the same time; their son has been kicked out of the house. The man eats his lunches in a concealed grove in the forest; he is endowed with a prodigious, almost troubling sense of smell; and whatever energy he doesnt devote to reading medieval epics he directs toward the study of mushrooms. At first the pharmacists story is told with an insistent clinical reserve, framed as a series of beautifully arid slice-of-life fragments. Its only as you are lulled deeper into Handkes thicket that you come to feel as if you have consumed some transformative mushrooms yourself. Quite unexpectedly, the pharmacist suffers a blow to the head, precisely on the spot where he has recently had a growth removed for biopsy. He loses the ability to speak and eventually finds himself driving through a long tunnel with a once-famous poet and a former champion skier. The three men stop for a night to visit a recently widowed woman, who attacks the pharmacist during his sleep. He becomes fixated on her. Before long the pharmacist, now called the driver, finds a letter sewn into his jacket: You threw your son out in a wrongful fit of anger. As punishment, a mark grew on your forehead, from which you will die. The group proceeds to a religious festival in a town set on a cliff, and here the man catches a glimpse of his son playing the accordion with a band of gypsies. As the narrator points out, At the end of such a journey... you could find that you had no sense of the direction in which youd been traveling.... Indeed, your head might be spinning. Like an errant knight in one of his beloved quest narratives, Handkes pharmacist is compelled to cross dizzying, blighted terrain before returning home. The novels brief descent into phantasmagoria -- imagine Carlos Castaneda adrift in the European Union -- is the only false note in this blazing, one-of-a-kind journey. Handkes tale is seductive enough to restore full-grown adults to that blissful childhood state in which reading is an abandonment to unknown terrors and elations. Be prepared: Not asking questions, as the narrator discovers, is one of the unspoken rules of the game. This pharmacists elixir will go right to your nerve endings and make you believe that what mattered was to be out there in the nocturnal wind, with the others, with these particular people, for a while, and then to see what would happen next. --back issues of Cosmo. By: Mark Levine


On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House By KAI MARISTED

its possible to argue that there are two kinds of novelists: one theme-driven, the other a writers writer -- passionate about method. The Austrian-born novelist, essayist and playwright Peter Handke is generally counted among the latter, a fierce purifier of language. Indeed, on the evidence of his new novel, On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House, which has been deftly translated from the German by Krishna Winston, Handkes power of observation and his seemingly casual tone, in which every word bears indispensable weight, are as mesmerizing as ever. On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House is a modern-day questing tale in which the grail is never defined or seen, but rather, as the journey unfolds, intuited by both the reader and the hero. The protagonist, an unnamed middle-aged pharmacist remarkable for his keen and greedy sense of smell and a (typically Austrian) passion for wild mushrooms, has banished his son in a fit of rage; he lives with his estranged wife, although he also has a mistress. He is apparently happy to go through the motions of daily life in his village, Taxham, a featureless drive-by suburb of Salzburg that despite (or because of) its magnified dullness manages to hook the readers curiosity. Unlike the old villages in Salzburgs orbit, Taxham, founded after the war, never became a tourist attraction. There was no cozy inn, nothing to see -- not even anything off-putting. It is hard to find your way in, and even harder, whether on foot or by car, to get out again. Almost all the routes that promise to lead you out then turn off and take you around the block or wend their way back past cottage gardens to your starting point. Or they simply dead-end at yet another impenetrable hedge, through which open land and whatever leads elsewhere can just barely be glimpsed, even if the street is named after Magellan or Porsche. When do the pharmacist and his wife, who remains silent in her half of the house, share a moment of communion? Handke lets them supply their own elliptical answers: When were in our own rooms at night and see through the window the emergency flare flashing up in the mountains over on the other side of the border. -- When in last springs flooding the drowned cow floated down the river. -- At the first snowfall. The pharmacist reads medieval epics in his every spare moment. He eats out in an airport restaurant, swims in the icy Saalach River and enjoys wandering in some nearby woods. It is here, in a blinding downpour after a drought, that the story takes its first bizarre twist: he is ambushed and viciously beaten by strangers. Accustomed to a kind of numbness, he puts up little defense. As he says in a typically paradoxical aside: I felt a curious joy inside me, or was it gratitude, or a kind of elan? Now things were as they should be. The struggle could begin. Bleeding from head wounds, he emerges into a Taxham that is subtly yet pervasively altered -- as is he. On entering a restaurant, the pharmacist finds himself unable to speak: hes been literally struck dumb. He is taken up by a pair of charismatic, down-on-their-luck drifters -- a once famous poet and a former Olympic skiing champion. It happens to be the start of a holiday, the feast of the Ascension. In the pharmacists car -- from now on he will be known only as the driver -- the three men set out from town. They cross borders, drive through mountain tunnels in the Alps and finally enter a harsh steppe: a fantastic landscape, constantly swept by a nocturnal wind, where roaming bands of thugs drown all civility and the driver learns, among other things, how to fight and how to calm his heart on demand. A Handke tale invites active reading, speculation rather than passive absorption. For all its laconic modernity, On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House suggests a Dantesque purgatory, a painful battle for the souls survival, along with the more romantic template of the knights quest. In my story no one dies, the pharmacist says. Sometimes sad things happen, occasionally almost desperate things. But a death is out of the question. Handke -- whose previous books include the novel The Goalies Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and the unforgettable memoir A Sorrow Beyond Dreams -- makes no bones, and never has, about the permeability of the membrane between his life and his fiction. He has been accused at times of arrogance and narcissism -- his first play was titled Offending the Audience, and he has been a famously sharp critic of postwar German literature. Here he lets the poet set the record straight: Young Narcissus was the soul of devotion and affection, and wished for nothing more than to take the whole world in his arms. But the world . . . recoiled from him, didnt return his loving gaze. . . . And so, as time passed, he had to find an anchor in himself. It is Peter Handkes loving gaze, honed by time and discipline, that shows readers the way out again into the worlds prolific and astonishing strangeness. Kai Maristeds most recent book is Belong to Me, a collection of stories.


By Thomas Curwen, Thomas Curwen is deputy editor of Book Review.
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
Peter Handke

Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim

New York Review Books: 80 pp., .95 paper


Judging whether life is worth living or not is, as Camus famously wrote, the fundamental question of philosophy. Yet he clearly understates the problem. For those who kill themselves, there can be no second-guessing. That decision is merely the surcease of pain. Hardly an answer, it is the beginning of the anger, the sorrow, the guilt, disbelief and shame for those left behind. But the real legacy of suicide is a story, a reiteration of Camus' question tied onto every memory and every memory recast, reshaped and re-imagined to provide an explanation for an event that has none. Perhaps no two authors could be more dissimilar in their ventures into this territory than Peter Handke and Jonathan Aurthur, and it is precisely their differences that make their stories important today.

=A Sorrow Beyond Dreams,= written in 1972 and first published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1975, is Handke's account of his mother's life and death. Prosaic, poetic, elliptical and self-conscious, it is an exacting picture of the shock and grief that await those who have inherited the ruins of a suicide. =The Angel and the Dragon= is messier and more desperate. The story of Charley Aurthur's life and his death in 1996, told by his father, lacks literary concision but gains momentum in its inconsolable grappling with the meaning of mental illness.

Charley Aurthur was by all accounts a talented and precocious child. He was born in 1973 of activist (and soon to be divorced) parents, grew up in Culver City, played the piano with obvious aptitude and wrote. By the time he turned 15, however, a shadow, tinged by insomnia and abrupt mood swings, had begun to dim his talent. Then, the summer between his freshman and sophomore years at college, he took a weekend trip to Yosemite and, while driving home, totaled the family car. A week later, he was sitting with his parents and a psychiatrist, who recommended that he be hospitalized. It is every parent's nightmare: Aurthur and his ex-wife soon learned that the accident and Charley's subsequent behavior -- jittery, dazed, anxious and weeping -- were most easily understood as the symptoms of a psychotic break.

The Aurthurs' introduction to the world of mental illness was precipitous. For his part, Charley experienced disorienting extremes of delusion and despair, reconstructed here through his letters, poetry and journal entries. His doctors debated whether he suffered from manic depression or schizophrenia. (Their diagnoses were often guided by the effectiveness of specific medications, which after one suicide attempt became an extraordinary cocktail of Navane, Cogentin, Klonopin, lithium and Wellbutrin, cut by an occasional session of psychotherapy.) Aurthur was no better prepared emotionally -- or financially -- than Charley and found himself searching the past and the present for a clue as to why his once seemingly balanced child had changed and what could be done to set his life right again. He ranged broadly through the written landscape -- from Michel Foucault to A. Alvarez, from Kay Redfield Jamison to Kate Millett -- scrutinizing biomedical and psychosocial treatments and fast confronting his own powerlessness in the face of Charley's rapid decline.

Mental illness is a phrase you won't find in Handke's account of his mother's death, yet it surely waits in the wings. While attempting a factual account of his mother's life, told with a journalist's precision (=The Sunday edition of the Karntner Volkszeitung,= his story begins, =carried the following item under 'Local News': 'In the village of A. (G. township), a housewife, aged 51, committed suicide on Friday night ....' =), Handke can't help but fall through the occasional trapdoor. =This story,= he concedes, = ... is really about the nameless, about speechless moments of terror.=

Born in a small Austrian village in the 1920s, Handke's mother -- he keeps her nameless -- lived in a world constrained by history and convention, where girls grew up playing a game based on the stations of a woman's life, Tired/Exhausted/Sick/Dying/Dead, where Hitler was a man with =a nice voice= and World War II became =contact with a fabulous world.= Pregnant by her first love -- a married man who disappeared from her life as quickly as he appeared -- she married a German army sergeant, and, after the war, they settled in Berlin, where he worked as a streetcar motorman and drank, worked as a baker and drank, and finally just drank. She had a second child, aborted a third and grew old before her time. In 1948, they fled the eastern sector of the city and returned to Austria, to the house where she was born and where life bore only a marginal resemblance to middle-class privilege. =Squalid misery can be described in concrete terms,= Handke writes; =poverty can only be intimated in symbols.= And poverty abounded.

Given the fact of her death, the mystery is how she survived these years, but it is not uncommon to find purpose in great hardship. She swaddled herself with the illusion of progress, the chimera of change, and, in truth, her husband, now in middle age, was becoming less of a bully, and she -- we are told rather cryptically -- =was gradually becoming an individual.=

But suicide is not the result of one moment or one wound. It is a slow accumulation of pain, often triggered by a physical malady. She began having bad headaches. Her doctor thought it was a strangulated nerve, and what first incapacitated her (=She dropped everything she picked up, and would gladly have followed it in its fall. Doors got in her way; the mold seemed to rain from the walls as she passed ....=) became with time a chronic condition. She visited a neurologist, whose diagnosis, =nervous breakdown,= provided a strange comfort. =He knew what was wrong with her; at least he had a name for her condition. And she wasn't the only one; there were others in the waiting room.= And so she endured, traveling to Yugoslavia, putting up fruit and vegetables for the winter and talking of adopting a child, until the world closed in on her. When her husband, who had been sent to a sanatorium with tuberculosis started getting well, she grew desperate again. She stopped seeing people. She shut herself up in her house. She went to a pharmacist for 100 sleeping pills.

The final pages of Handke's story are a wrenching litany of real and imagined moments, of syncopated flights of mostly single-sentence paragraphs -- heart-wrenching associations and chasms of silence between each thought -- and when he recounts the flight home for the funeral, he confesses: =I was beside myself with pride that she had committed suicide,= as if she had finally availed herself of the only freedom remaining to her. It is a stunning line. Could Jonathan Aurthur make this claim? Perhaps. Eleven days after Charley leaped from Lincoln Boulevard into the morning rush hour on the Santa Monica Freeway, Aurthur visited the overpass, stared into the flow of traffic and walked away feeling suddenly, perhaps inexplicably, liberated. =[Charley's] terrible affliction and suffering had imprisoned him but it had also imprisoned me,= he writes, =and now both of us were free.=

During his last three years, Charley had been buffeted among five hospitals, a process that Aurthur equates with the life of a soldier =repeatedly wounded, repeatedly sprayed with sulfa drugs and patched up and sent back to the trenches, a little weaker each time.= At the end of each treatment, Aurthur was left with no greater certainty about what could be done to restore his son, and, indeed in some cases, questioned whether the cure might be worse than the disease.

Thirty years may be an instant and an eternity when comparing the world between =A Sorrow Beyond Dreams= and =The Angel and the Dragon,= but the before and after of a suicide has changed little. The statistics are stark. In this country today, a person completes a suicide every 15 minutes, and almost as often someone is left behind to try to make sense of it. It may be a father remembering his son; it may be a son remembering his mother. In either case, it is less a philosophical question than a profoundly social problem.

While the pleasure, if this is the word, of reading Handke comes from the existential assumptions of his story, it is important to realize that suicide -- the reality, as opposed to the idea (which Camus seemed to savor) -- is not an existential dilemma. It is the final, tragic outcome of a psychiatric illness. Yet how prepared are we for this knowledge?

There is no more a prescribed course for treating mental illness than there is a prescribed course for being human, and as Aurthur looks at what we now know -- and don't know -- about mental illness, it becomes clear that the model we have today for understanding the diseases of the mind and suicide is inadequate. Beyond the brain-mind dichotomy that has of late polarized our understanding of human behavior must lie a paradigm that will break the icy rivers of vested interests, professional bias and brazen certainty and encompass the complex social and emotional roots of these diseases. Certainly, Handke's and Aurthur's books suggest this need.


The New York Review of Books

June 23, 1977

Review

Play It Again, Franz

By 
Michael Wood
Nonsense and Happiness

by Peter Handke, translated by Michael Roloff

Urizen Books, 93 pp., .95 (paper)
A Moment of True Feeling
by Peter Handke, translated by Ralph Manheim

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 144 pp., .95

Three by Peter Handke

by Peter Handke

Avon Books, 298 pp., .25 (paper)

We have heard a good deal, from Thomas Mann as well as from John Barth and Harold Bloom, about the lateness of the modern artist, and no doubt the sensible response to such a proposition is to ask who is holding the watch. Who sets the time for these feasts or lessons or performances which are always ending just when our representatives arrive? But there is a form of lateness which is familiar to us all. It is possible, for example, to fall in love and find the language you need already in use, shabby and dog-eared from misapplication, and there is a celebrated passage in Madame Bovary where Flaubert, irritated by a character who doesn't understand that cliches may reflect the most passionate sincerity, allows himself the sort of complaint we normally see only in his letters:

He could not distinguish, this experienced man, the dissimilarity of sentiment beneath the sameness of expression. As if the fullness of feelings did not sometimes spill out through the emptiest of metaphors, since no one, ever, can give the exact measure of his needs, or ideas, or sorrows, and since human speech is like a cracked cauldron on which we beat out tunes for dancing bears, when we wish to attract the sympathy of the stars.

Cliche has colonized quite a bit of new territory since Flaubert, and the most eloquent language will become tired if it is made to travel all over the place. A great part of the gift of Peter Handke, a much-acclaimed young Austrian novelist and playwright, lies in his sensitivity to this situation. Yesterday's lyrics are today's advertisements, and when the central character in Handke's novel A Moment of True Feeling crosses the Pont Mirabeau in Paris, he recalls the obligatory line from Apollinaire: +Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine / Et nos amours / Faut-il qu'il m'en souvienne.+ But he is too late. A poster describing high-rise apartment buildings is there before him, saying: +Seen from the Pont Mirabeau, Paris is a poem.+ Even the small, strange details of a surrounding scene, the working materials of an observant writer a woman wearing odd shoes, another woman carrying a cocker spaniel and crying evoke in this novel only a feeling of dejA vu in an old movie. +He felt,+ Handke says of his character, +like the Prisoner of Disneyland.+ When someone suggests that a writer might escape from this Disneyland by concentrating on the +inexhaustible riches of everyday life,+ the suggestion itself can be made only in a cliche: the inexhaustible riches of everyday life.

+We behave as if being alone were a problem,+ Handke says in Nonsense and Happiness, a book of rambling meditative poems. +Perhaps it's an idee fixe.+ Perhaps it is the idee fixe of a culture which has managed to package even alienation, to turn it into the necessary accouterment of any educated, self-respecting, disaffected middle-class life. +Hey,+ Handke says in another poem in the same book,
Hey, you at the street corner:
In the meantime we know all about
the loneliness of modern man

In the meantime: somewhere between Dostoevsky and Midnight Cowboy, between Kafka and Last Tango in Paris. Nausea travels fast, and indeed A Moment of True Feeling is so blatant a remake of Sartre's La Nausee that I wonder whether even Handke knows quite what he is doing.

He knows, of course, all about Flaubert's cracked cauldron. His great successes A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, Short Letter, Long Farewell, both reprinted, along with the more programmatic and less satisfactory Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, in Three by Peter Handke [*] are the crisp and mournful tunes he gets out of it. He knows that one can exploit a packaged despair even as one complains about the packaging. +I had been enjoying all the poses of alienation available to me,+ he has a character say in Short Letter, Long Farewell. And in A Sorrow Beyond Dreams he writes,

Ordinarily, I start with myself and my own headaches; in the course of my writing, I detach myself from them more and more, and then in the end I ship myself and my headaches off to market as a commoditY.

But in spite of this knowledge and these successes, there is a lot of flat and unreconstructed existentialist orthodoxy in Handke, a whole world of threadbare thought which he is not attacking but merely bathing in. Life is absurd, and we know this because at certain moments its consolatory fictions of meaning splinter, and senselessness is everywhere. Senselessness, Sinnlosigkeit (and occasionally Unsinnigkeit), which Michael Roloff translates as nonsense and Ralph Manheim translates as inanity: the condition of not making any sense.
So you don't take yourself seriously in company
but the nonsense is too real,
and therefore unbearable.
The face turns ugly with non- sense
+Don't wake up now!+ I thought
and held my breath
But it was too late
Nonsense had struck again.
A bombing attack of nonsense on the world:
right behind the housewall the earth breaks off into whirlpools of
the undefinable
.

Gregor Keuschnig, in A Moment of True Feeling, has a bad dream one night and stumbles excitedly through the two following days, feeling both violent and vulnerable, exposed to life's inanity: +nothing made sense.+ +How steadfastly they go through with it,+ he thinks of other people. And at another point: +How human they all seemed in comparison with him.+ His own life now appears to him as a complicated fraud:
From today on, he thought, I shall be leading a double life. No, no life at all: neither my usual life nor a new one, for I shall only be pretending to live my usual life, and my new life will consist solely in pretending to live as usual. I can't conceive of continuing to live as I've lived up until now, but no more can I conceive of living as someone else lived or lives. I can't live like anybody; at the most I can go on living +like myself.+
He worries about death and his dwindling future, and at one point he wants to +
howl with hopelessness.+

The name Gregor, like the name Joseph in The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, is no doubt meant to recall Kafka, and we may remember that Gregor Samsa, who woke up one morning to find he had turned into a cockroach, had passed, like Gregor Keuschnig, a night of +unquiet dreams.+ There are enough mentions of nausea in A Moment of True Feeling to indicate Handke's awareness of his other major predecessor in the exploration of this treacherous and alarming ground. Handke has made Sartre's lonely protagonist a married man, with a child, and a job at the Austrian embassy, and he has placed him in 1970's Paris; takes him to a press conference, has him give a dinner party for an Austrian writer, where he cracks up, takes off his clothes, and smears his face with stew.

But the sense of Sartre revisited seems more powerful than Handke wants it to be. Kafka is alluded to, but Sartre is systematically echoed, and I wonder whether in fact Handke has not read La Nausee lately, and is for that reason borrowing from it so freely, with reckless and not very conscious abandon. Or it may simply be that Sartre has covered this ground so well that every excursion into it will look like an imitation. The discovery that life doesn't make any sense, while not exactly a piece of historical news, may still be an intense private experience, and an experience of this kind appears in all of Handke's works that I have read. He often motivates it by a plot, gives it an objective cause or correlative the loss of a job, the death of a mother, a fear that your wife is out to kill you, and even, in A Moment of True Feeling, a prehistory of fits of terror but the experience really seems prior to these occasions, a form of anxiety or metaphysical unease simply waiting for its chance to spring out into the world and devour everything that looks like a meaning.

The trouble with this experience for a writer is that, authentic or not in life, it has been worked over in literature, and not only by Sartre; and this literature in turn has been raided by the various agencies of our culture, so that it would not come as a surprise to see references to Kafka or Sartre on posters advertising the delights of Prague or Le Havre. Get away from it all. Visit the scenes of two of modernity's most famous losses of meaning. Play it again, Franz. None of this diminishes anyone's actual, lived anxiety, of course, but it does make the experience harder to write about.

There are intelligent and lucid passages in both A Moment of True Feeling and Nonsense and Happiness. Gregor's breakdown is described as +a complicated fracture of the mind,+ a medical metaphor for a spiritual disaster: you can break your soul (Handke's word is Seelenbruch) as easily as you can break a leg. In the poems flies die +obtrusively+ and cats sniff in mausoleums, activated, it seems, by a complementarity in the words themselves (Katz and Maus). But the poems generally are pretty slack and meandering, and they tend, unfortunately, to rob the novel of some of the benefits of doubt. Gregor seems less a character than a prolongation of the poems, a man who is being indulged rather than examined. Nausea here is a little too comfortable, and neither Handke nor his protagonists seem to care very much how cracked the cauldron is as they rattle out a handful of established existentialist tunes: +I'd like to be a character in a novel+; +This face is not mine+; +Words don't mean a thing+; +Isn't this an ugly day?+; and +How long has this been going on?+

Still, the cauldron is cracked, and apart from the infinitely variable strategies of self-consciousness all those plays and poems and novels about cracked cauldrons which make up so much of modern literature there appear to be only three things we can do with it. We can play very modest tunes, quiet and careful numbers which the cracks in the cauldron can't really spoil; we can play whatever we feel like playing and hope something will survive the cacophony; and we can try to make the cracks themselves sing in some way. Peter Handke exercises the first and the third of these options with great skill frequently in Short Letter, Long Farewell, consistently in A Sorrow Beyond Dreams.

Handke's modest tunes are those of a patient, stylish observer of the world. Here is a piece of displaced autobiography from Short Letter, Long Farewell:

It occurred to me that for a long time my own vision of the world around me had been twisted: when I tried to describe something, I never knew what it looked like; I remembered only its anomalies, and if there weren't any, I made them up. All the people I described were giants with birthmarks and falsetto voices.

Only later, Handke's character continues, after he +really experienced something,+ did he +begin to see the world with something more than a malignant first glance.+ What takes the place of distortion and malignance is a very simple and direct form of care for small gestures and traits. A poem in Nonsense and Happiness remembers that Handke looked askance at his mother because she moved her head in time to a Beatles record, and the precision of the memory catches a whole dimension of a relationship: a movement and a response to that movement are all that is needed, and we are out of the Disneyland of merely bizarre details. A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, a brief memoir recounting the life and suicide of Handke's mother, is full of discreet, slightly eccentric, always sharply focused lists, as if shedding a more complex syntax would help to stave off lying and allow the world as experienced to speak for itself:
Was there, then, nothing more? Had that been all? Masses for the dead, childhood diseases, drawn curtains, correspondence with old acquaintances of carefree days, making herself useful in the kitchen and in the fields, running out now and then to move the child into the shade.She indulged in the following luxuries: a seat in the ninth row at the movies, followed by a glass of wine and soda water; a one- or two-schilling bar of Bensdorp chocolate to give the children the next morning; once a year, a bottle of homemade eggnog; on occasional winter Sundays she would whip up the cream she had saved during the week by keeping the milk pot between the two panes of the double windows overnight.
Here is Handke's record of his mother's leaving home, quite young, to work in a hotel; it is a rich miniature of social and linguistic history:
No other course was open to her; scullery maid, chambermaid, assistant cook, head cook. +People will always eat.+ In the photographs, a flushed face, glowing cheeks, arm in arm with bashful, serious-looking girl friends; she was the life of the party; self-assured gaiety (+Nothing can happen to me+); exuberant, sociable, nothing to hide.City life: short skirts (+knee huggers+), high-heeled shoes, permanent wave, earrings, unclouded joy of life. Even a stay abroad! Chambermaid in the Black Forest, flocks of admirers, kept at a distance! Dates, dancing, entertainment, fun; hidden fear of sex (+They weren't my type+). Work, pleasure; heavy-hearted, lighthearted; Hitler had a nice voice on the radio. The homesickness of those who can't afford anything; back at the HOtel du Lac (+I'm doing the bookkeeping now+); glowing references (+FrAulein has shown aptitude and willingness to learn. So conscientious, frank, and cheerful that we find it hard. She is leaving our establishment of her own free will+). Boat rides, all-night dances, never tired.This last quotation also illustrates Handke's other option, or at least one way of getting some music out of the cracks in the cauldron. Like Flaubert, Handke collects quotations (+People will always eat,+ +They weren't my type+) and italicizes cliches (admirers, distance). Unlike Flaubert, he does this out of affection for his subject, as a means of approaching a life that will be lost if you don't write about it (because it will simply be forgotten), but may also be lost if you do write about it (because you will dress it up in fine, self-observing phrases).

Cliche, frequently the writer's most recalcitrant enemy, is seen as a form of memory, what Handke calls +the linguistic deposit of man's social experience.+ It is important, of course, to avoid fussiness or parody in the use of such language. +The essential is to avoid mere quotations; even when the sentences look quoted, they must never allow one to forget that they deal with someone who to my mind at least is distinct.+ To his mind; and to our minds. The individual shares a history with others, and can be remembered through this communion.

When Handke's mother, in postwar Berlin, becomes +a city person, adequately described in the words: tall, slim, dairk-haired,+ she has stepped into a stereotype, and of course she is all but imprisoned in it. A life of her own, adjectives of her own, would be better. But how many of us really rise to that, and how often? Handke shows us how to find the glitter of truth in dull-looking commonplaces, and his tall, slim, dark-haired mother is more alive to me than countless well-described figures in more +original+ novels and biographies. She becomes an emanation of the Forties without ceasing to be a private, if scarcely visible, self.

It is late, then; and language regularly falls short of our needs. But we should be careful not to pretend that it is later than it is, and even the weariest language will point us back to the world if we know how to read it. NaIve and old-fashioned as the thought may seem, Handke's best writing appears when he has patently +really experienced something+: the break-up of a marriage in Short Letter, Long Farewell, the death of his mother in A Sorrow Beyond Dreams. In these cases, a general metaphysical anxiety not only finds an objective correlative but is refined and specified by a demanding reality. I interpret this to mean not that Handke is sincere in these works and half-faking in the others, or that the others don't rest on experience at all, but that his more urgent and more localized experiences caused him to put a pressure on his language which he does not always apply. Language points to the world, and the world begs for language. If you have any talent you will get some sort of tune out of the cracked cauldron; but beyond that, the quality of the tunes must depend on the depth of your need for the music.

Notes

[*] All three of these books were reviewed by Frank Kermode, NYR, May 1, 1975

The New York Review of Books

May 1, 1975


Review

The Model of a Modern Modernist

By Frank Kermode

The Making of Modern Drama
by Richard Gilman
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 292 pp., .95

The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick
by Peter Handke, translated by Michael Roloff
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 133 pp., .95
Short Letter, Long Farewellby Peter Handke, translated by Ralph Manheim
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 167 pp., .95

A Sorrow Beyond Dreams: A Life Story
by Peter Handke, translated by Ralph Manheim
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 70 pp., .95
The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworldby Peter Handke, translated and with a postscript by Michael Roloff
Seabury Press, 172 pp., .50 (paper)

I shall say little about Mr. Gilman's instructive, well-written, and unaffected book, because I want to write about Peter Handke, whose plays and other works have made him perhaps the most interesting young writer in German today. This is in itself a tribute to Mr. Gilman, for it was his chapter on Handke that compelled me to read that author for the first time.

The making of modern drama had to be achieved in the teeth of powerful opposing forces; the theater has been for centuries a bourgeois stronghold, and one would expect it to change more slowly than other literary forms. Yet Gilman has to begin his account with BUEchner in the 1830s, a good while before any comparable figure appeared in other arts. It is true that the struggle to +renew drama, to combat its tendency to inertia and self-repetition,+ had constantly to be recommenced, for example by all the authorS Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Pirandello, Brecht, Beckett, and Handke whom Gilman writes about in this book. Still, there is a paradox here, and the only way to resolve it is to consider that avant-gardes thrive, and only thrive, on opposition, and the opposition comes closest to being permanent in the theater, where, for whatever reasons, the force of convention powerfully tends to reassert itself.

Gilman's authors are in time and by nationality a scattered lot, and he isn't of course claiming that they represent a concerted movement or development. What they have in common is that each renewed the assault on conventions that had come to look like nature. This common quality is admirably documented by Gilman, and there are valuable accounts of individual plays. The essays are brief, sometimes too brief, and some important works are given rather short shrift; but at his best Gilman makes a virtue of brevity, as in his essay on Ibsen; I would have liked more discussion of the last three plays, but as an account of Ibsen's transformation of the pIEce bien faite into an instrument of moral revelation, a transformation not fully achieved before The Master Builder, this essay is useful and fresh.

Gilman finds himself in enthusiastic sympathy with Strindberg, and says many warm and perceptive things about him, his risk-taking and his bold anticipations of much later experiment; but this does not mean that he cannot value just as highly the reticence of Chekhov. It is central to his argument that Tolstoy was wrong about Chekhov, for he failed to understand that drama is not +a provider of imaginary solutions to real dilemmas+ but of +analogues to our lives.+ Gilman has less admiration for Brecht but still sees him as a kind of saint of the new theater of thought and enlarged consciousness.

The stage is always trying to throw off its staginess, even if in the process it disintegrates the idea of personality, as Hofmannsthal thought Brecht did; in undermining its own illusion it deprives many other illusions of their future. Peter Handke therefore comes in quite properly at the end of Gilman's book (there might also have been a word on Pinter). He treats him as a dramatist, though at thirty-three Handke is also the author of several novellas, a volume of stories, a collection of poems, and other books. The better part of all this work is already available in translation, a state of affairs as satisfactory as it is unusual. I think that anybody who gives Handke a fair reading will have to agree that there was nothing in the least absurd about putting him in a book with such formidable predecessors, though I'm not sure I can wholly accept what Gilman says about him.

Handke is by origin a small-town upper-working-class Austrian Catholic. He studied law and at once turned to writing. His first novel, The Hornets, appeared in 1966, when he was very young, and the plays which made his name, Offending the Audience (or Public Insult) and Self-Accusation, belong to the same year. In 1967 appeared another novel, The Peddler, and a short play, Calling for Help (or Distress Calls), of which a translation appeared in The Drama Review (Fall, 1970).

Kaspar, his most important play so far, followed in 1968; it is translated, together with the first two plays, in Kaspar and Other Plays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Noonday, 1972). Quodlibet and My Foot, My Tutor, a mime-play (TDR, Fall, 1970), came out in 1969, as did the novel The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. The Ride Across Lake Constance (in Contemporary German Theater, edited by Michael Roloff, Avon, 1972) belongs to 1971. Since then there have been two more narratives, Short Letter, Long Farewell and A Sorrow Beyond Dreams (both 1972), and a play called They Are Dying Out, which I have not read, that followed in 1973. The poems were published in 1969.

Handke's photograph turns up here and there; clean-shaven and bending over a pinball machine, or hairy in jeans, or wearing shades and trying to look like Paul McCartney. He is said to be, or to have been, +into rock,+ and he certainly is into old movies. John Ford seems to be a special hero, honest and generous in a wise old American way. None of this means, of course, that he is not an intellectual. He is, I'm glad to say, sympathetic to the idea that he can help people to understand what he is up to by talking about it. I had better try, in a very provisional way, to say what I think he is up to.

Here I deviate a little from Mr. Gilman, who, rightly observing that Handke is in some way a philosophical dramatist, finds him to be very like Wittgenstein. It is true that Wittgenstein called philosophy +a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language,+ and that Handke shows himself to be very suspicious of language as the means by which we are induced to accept +reality+; indeed he sometimes hates it and speaks of its +idiocy.+ But these similarities, even if not misleading, are not sufficient to justify the conclusion that +nothing could be closer in spirit+ to Wittgenstein than Handke, and I am not surprised to learn that the dramatist has himself rejected the comparison.

Wittgenstein was concerned to avoid errors arising from a failure to understand the workings of language. This is not the same as to wish to +learn to be nauseated by language,+ as Handke says he does, and as he says we should if we are to achieve consciousness. But Handke's theory is not fully articulated, and there is excuse for confusion. He believes language to be an agent of social oppression and mystification, so there is a political aspect to his theory; but Handke seems to me less interested in this for its own sake than as the symptom of a more radical distress. Language makes us sick, perhaps makes us wicked (his theory is really quite Rousseauistic), and if we can find a single dominant motive in Handke's work it is that as a writer he is always having to love what he abhors. The consequence is that he is a poet above all else, and almost always in a state of fright or horror.

I doubt, for this and other reasons, whether it can be right to argue, as Gilman does, that the language of his plays is meant to be a sort of homeopathic cure for the ills language has inflicted upon us, an agent of resurrection or health. In an interview with Artur Joseph, partially translated in the issue of TDR already mentioned, Handke does make a few cautious gestures of this kind, saying that a moral theater could only belong to a new social order and that meanwhile one can show +through revelation in language+ that we do not have to accept the present one as given. But this is clearly not his prime interest, although he holds that in breaking up the conventions of the theater, including those of its language, he is doing something to destroy the hierarchical society that meets his disapproval.

But it seems to be in the nature of language that it imposes upon us its arbitrary universes, oppresses us, and permits us only such freedom as is consistent with its conditions. Handke rages against it, calling it a stupid pretense, saying +it expresses nothing but its own stupidity.+ The nausea which he says he feels, and which he compares to the nausea of Sartre's Roquentin about things, arises less from the brutalization of people by (the abuse of) language than from disgust at having to deal with the corrupt and systematic independence of language itself.

Hence for Handke language is what prevents us from being in the world as it is, a set of debilitating fictions. He is faithful to the puritanism of the avant-garde in general when he says that +the progress of literature consists of the gradual removal of unnecessary fictions,+ and his earliest effort was to destroy the fictions that are habitual in the theater. He sought to strip it of all its familiar trappings, going beyond the point where Beckett leaves off, trying to make audiences understand the +produced+ quality of what they were seeing, to abuse the theater and the audience too, in so far as it contributed to the theatrical fiction. In his early plays, there is no action, no character, no fourth wall; there are people in a room, and all that is happening is language. Of course the theater can be seen as a model of other forms of social lying, all dependent on language. Attack language, Handke seems to be saying, and you attack the root of evil.

Using language to attack language sets problems Handke is always aware of. His anti-theater is very theatrical, his anti-language has great linguistic and rhetorical resource. The words of his SprechstUEcke (+speak-ins+) are not, he explains, +pictures+; they point not to a world beyond them +but to the world in the words themselves.+ This words can do only by insisting on themselves as interesting, as opaque rather than transparent, exactly as the atheatrical quality of his plays requires constant reminders that we are in a theater and nowhere else. The expectations of the audience are constantly maintained by assertions that no conceivable curiosity or expectation of theirs may hope to be satisfied.
It may be the case that you expected what you are hearing now. But even in that case you expected something different.
This is from Offending the Audience. The speakers, who divide the text arbitrarily between them, say: +We don't tell you a story. We don't perform any actions. We don't simulate any actions. We don't represent anything. We don't put anything on for you. We only speak. This is no drama. No action that has occurred elsewhere is re-enacted here we are not playing time. Time is for real here. We are not doing as if.+ They claim that their scrupulous observance of the unities makes the play strictly +classical+a good historical joke. They end with a long abusive tirade against the status and expectations of the audience.

By constantly and aggressively challenging expectations Handke makes his anti-play playable, the anti-language speakable, intelligible to a language-corrupted audience. Self-Accusation, a less epatant piece, explains the process of corruption: one is born, one acquires with language desire and anxiety, one commits crimes indiscriminately social and linguistic. Offending the Audience is said to be based on rock style and rhythms; My Foot, My Tutor is all mime. But these are evasions; language, as game or disease, dominates the entire enterprise.

Kaspar consummates Handke's theatrical treatment of this topic. According to the author it is +anarchic, and negates everything it comes across. I don't care whether this yields a positive utopia.+ As his name suggests, Kaspar is a clown, a virtually speechless person with a difficult relation to objects. The play is based on a celebrated nineteenth-century event, the emergence of a man named Kaspar Hauser who had spent sixteen years in a closet and who knew only one sentence: +I want to be a cavalry officer as my father once was.+ Handke's Kaspar also knows one sentence but it is general and abstract: +I want to be a person like someone else was once.+ Kaspar emerges from the closet +incapable of correct perception,+ as Handke explains. He is unable to distinguish between two and three dimensions, and supposes that everything white is snow.

In Handke's play, prompters exhort Kaspar to use the one sentence he has as a model for generating others, and so find his way about the world. First he plays about with the sentence itself, without understanding its possibilities as a model. Then he acquires more phonemes, and by degrees comes to speak regular sentences. He can now control objects and establish order. For example, he can tie his shoelaces. But in liberating him from his world of prelinguistic terror, the prompters enslave him to society. Their instructions turn for Kaspar into slogans of acceptance: All suffering is natural, good order is the foundation of all things, you should feel responsible for the furniture. Now Kaspar's clothes are more orderly, and the stage looks, for the first time, like a room. He speaks poetry, reflecting the order he has found.
Now I know what I want:
I want
to be
quiet
and every object
that I find sinister
I designate as mine
so that it stops
being sinister to me.

But the order is phony. He learns metaphor and lying; he becomes rational and oppressed. +Already with my first sentence I was trapped. I have been made to speak. I have been converted to reality.+ Handke says the play could also be called Speech Torture.

Although Wittgenstein said that +to understand a sentence is to understand a language+ he went on to say that +to understand a language means to be a master of a technique.+ Handke's point is that in acquiring a delusive mastery one is mastered. At a time when linguistics and psychoanalysis are moving together again we should perhaps look to them rather than to Wittgenstein for clues to the nature of this extraordinary play; and perhaps we should also look to poetry. Mr. Gilman tells us that Verlaine, Hofmannsthal, and Trakl had all used the original Kaspar Hauser as a figure of the poet, the man who +does not know what he is to do in the world+ and is obsessed with the power, the limitations, and the opacity of language. Kaspar, like Handke's poems, is a word game.

Handke's poems, unfortunately too long to quote usefully, are much concerned with horror or fright (reactions produced more by language than by things) and also with such topics as singular and plural, the sociolinguistic circumstances in which one says +I+ and +mine+ and those in which one does not (+my cell+ but not +my prison,+ for instance). They are series of sentences bound together by linguistic and rhetorical devices of the kind that are currently interesting practitioners of +text-linguistics+ or +discourse-analysis.+ Above all they are encounters between the poet, a self-confessed traitor to silence, and his enemy the language.

The poems, and Kaspar, have a tension I can't find in The Ride Across Lake Constance, a play in which, as Gilman puts it, +people in 'real' life act as though they were cast in plays.+ The play is a series of gestures and routines existing as themselves, without reference to anything, occasionally establishing some ritual of social or sexual superiority. The actors, who have no names but their own, provide each other with identities, form relationships on the basis of the roles they force upon one another. Perhaps it would seem more interesting on stage; Handke is such a theatrical wizard that one ought to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Of the novels The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is most immediately impressive. It is of course obsessed with language and the anxieties it induces; but despite this attention to its own medium of communication it is a highly wrought story about a character called Joseph Bloch. Even the title is part of the story, which expands the moment in which the goalkeeper waits for the shot he is supposed, but can barely hope, to save. It opens with a powerful but delusive and transient reminiscence of Kafka:

When Joseph Bloch, a construction worker who had once been a well-known soccer goalie, reported for work that morning, he was told that he was fired. At least that was how he interpreted the fact that no one except the foreman looked up from his coffee break when he appeared at the door of the construction shack, where the workers happened to be at that moment, and Bloch left the building site.

Bloch's dissociation, his difficulty with objects, is a consequence of language. Urban things assert themselves; there is a tedium of detail, of unimportant false inferences and frustrations, useless detours. Bloch is mugged in the Prater, but it means nothing. He takes a girl to her room and in the morning gratuitously kills her. +If the pressure of everything around him when his eyes were open was bad, the pressure of the words for everything out there when his eyes were closed was even worse.+ There is a murder hunt, but it makes very little impact; we are concerned rather with the way in which anxiety, represented as a disease of language, seeps into the text, a nausea induced by words and even sounds. +
Bloch dropped in the cards. The empty mailbox resounded as they fell into it. But the mailbox was so tiny that nothing could resound in there. Anyway, Bloch had walked away immediately.+
Arriving at a frontier town, Bloch finds that there is a search for a missing boy who has a speech impediment; it turns out that all the children of the town are similarly afflicted. He himself begins to suffer from a +loathsome word-game sickness,+ nauseated by the treachery and absurdity of the words he speaks, by grammar, by the conventions of written language, by apparitions among things of such rhetorical devices as synecdoche (very important in Handke, for that things should stand for or imply other concealed things is a source of horror) and anaphora (including many repeated motifs, such as coins, apples, sponges, or meat falling, with no apparent relevance to the narrative).

There is a trick ending, well prepared; and yet we can no more take it at its narrative face value than we can suppose the repetitions of words and motifs have the kind of sense one would expect in a more normal novel. They are indices or symptoms of the language-disease. The book has frontiers with Kafka and with the nouveau roman, but its peculiar pathology makes it decisively different from either.

Short Letter is another matter, though again its principal character, the narrator, is in a dissociated state. He is traveling in the US, which he reports with an almost bizarre attention to detail; all the references are accurate from Greyhound buses to Braniff planes, and the routes are specified: +The bus took the Bruckner Expressway through the Bronx, turned off to the right, and crossed the Harlem River to Manhattan + and so on down Fifth Avenue and to Forty-first Street; then a cab to the Algonquin. He has a compulsion not to leave things out, to imply or conceal nothing; a hyperamnesia ordinarily fatal to narrative, though not to this one.

There is a plot: his wife is trying to kill him. He joins an old lover and travels to St. Louis and Tucson with her and her child. This child has the capacity to take things as they are, not as representing something; she has language licked. But she cannot bear things to be partly open, car trunks, for example; things that seem to contain or suggest other things drive her into hysteria. Even a crooked pole, disturbing the regularity of a line of poles, distresses her; it is not comfortably redundant, it contains information, it may be a sign of what is not simply evident. She is growing up into a world diseased by its modes of communication, riddled with synecdoche. Juke-boxes and movies send out their messages; an itinerant Austrian dramaturge attacks people who +have words for everything.+ We leave the hero and his wife temporarily reunited and deep in conversation with the wise and real John Ford, who tells them:

+It's your thoughts you want people to get a glimpse of, not your idiosyncrasies. One day you tell the truth, and you're startled. You're so happy you can't bear it; you try to tell the truth again, and then of course you lie. I still lie,+ said John Ford. +Two seconds ago I knew what I wanted, but now I've lost it. I'm happy only when I know exactly what I want. Then I'm so happy I feel as if there were no teeth in my mouth.+

They then tell Ford their story, swearing that it is true.

The blurb speaks of an +unobtrusive structure of metaphor and symbol,+ but the markers of this structure are ironically placed. The puritanical Handke is reduced to telling the truth but foxing it with opacities. So, too, in A Sorrow Beyond Dreams. It is an account of the life and suicide of Handke's mother and it cannot help being sad; but the material must submit to the process of writing words, to a man +alienated from himself and transformed into an object, a remembering and formulating machine.+ In speaking of his mother he is remembering and formulating his own +moments of extreme speechlessness.+

There is a narrative; it tells how the mother was worn down by social pressures from a person to a type, and from a type to a nonentity.

As it wore off, her illness became an affectation; now she only played at being sick. She pretended that her head was in a muddle as a defense against her thoughts, which had become clear again; for, once her head was perfectly clear, she could only regard herself as an individual case and the consolation of belonging to a group was no longer available to her. She exaggerated her forgetfulness and absent-mindedness in order to be encouraged, when she finally did remember or show that she had understood everything perfectly, with a +You see! You're much better now!+ as though all the horror had consisted in losing her memory and being unable to join in the conversation.

But the narrative cannot be let alone; it is punctuated by interruptions that comment on the problems of narrating, say on the danger of merely telling what happened, or the danger of submerging a human being in sentences, or the danger of selling out to one's own horror when extreme need to communicate coincides with extreme speechlessness. The +idiocy+ of his mother's life becomes his own idiocy, and the story becomes an account of his own horror, characterized as horror vacui: the source of the very language he uses, in all its fallibility and corruption, is now frozen.

New readers of Handke might do well to start with Sorrow, for here his deviations are less puzzling and better marked than in the early plays. Certainly he is not to be thought of only as a playwright; his place is wherever language needs to be examined or purged. He has the fertility and the resource to maintain himself alive in this extraordinary combat. Perhaps Handke is a little preoccupied with his own originality, and with the specificity of his own terrors. He nevertheless offers, with prodigality, evidence that the obsessions of modernism still afford the possibility of greatness.


Peter Handke. On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House. Trans. Krishna Winston. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000. 186 pp. .00.Peter HandkEs new novel envisions a panoramic dreamscape that displays a remarkable sequence of events in the life of an obscure, contentedly self-absorbed pharmacist, who owns a shop in a nondescript town lying in a suburban spandrel near present-day Salzburg. When one day an unexpected blow on the head disrupts the pharmacists habitual routine, this learned devotee of mushrooms takes flight, beginning a journey in which he wanders like a spellbound observer of his own life through a landscape of surreal fantasy. The ensuing narrative ostensibly records this extended trip, taken several years before the pharmacist recounts it to the writer who puts it into words and whom the pharmacist occasionally interrupts. Once detached from his everyday concerns, the pharmacists life opens like a tropical flower, to inhabit a realm entirely of the imagination. Upon reaching certain milestones, almost at random but with a curious logic of their own, the pharmacists personal mythology is newly configured and recast through the muted agency of the writer/recorder he employs. Their periodic conversations about the narrative lend an impression of ongoing revision while the composition unfolds before us. Occasionally, as their conversations in the background interrupt the narrative, the pharmacist steps out of his role to comment on, suggest an alteration to, or quibble over something the writer is conveying. Yet casting the writer as little more than an amanuensis suits the nature of their free-wheeling collaboration, as if events were being made up by the pharmacist as he went along, lending an odd resonance to the whimsically self-regarding, self-consciously numinous perspective being displayed in the tale itself. [Michael Pinker] Peter Handke. Once Again for Thucydides. Trans. Tess Lewis. New Directions, 1998. 90 pp. .95; My Year in the No-Mans-Bay. Trans. Krishna Winston. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998. 467 pp. .00.In Once Again for Thucydides, Peter HandkeS the renowned Austrian novelist, dramatist, and man of letters extends the tradition of his Greek forebear admirably. In =The Short Fable of the Ash Tree in Munich,= the longest and, perhaps, most revealing of the seventeen =micro-epics= contained in Handkes idiosyncratic new collection, a narrator says, =Hadnt I always felt alienated or even repulsed when other writers used their sense of imagery in this way . . . parading their mystical gift for an omnipresence that could always transform a modern ruin into an ancient temple.= Although Handke playfully resists the transformative nature of imagery, his prose finds images of passing hats, a snowfall, a shoeshine man, an ash tree, or a glowworm becoming elements of the narrators moment-by-moment existence and, as such, transforming the narrators understanding of his being and times. For example, in =Sheet-Lightning Epopee or Once Again for Thucydides,= the narrator is literally guided by flares of sheet lightning in the sky to the literal and mythic wonders of the Pleiades, while =Attempt to Exorcise One Story with Another= finds the narrator watching as the touch of a small blue butterfly releases the screams of children persecuted during World War II, =almost a half century after their deportation, but only now as they should.= These images also evoke echoes of history both natural and anthropocentric allowing Handke to open a symbolic gateway through which he examines and finds himself implicated with the wisdom and atrocities of the past. In Once Again for Thucydides, Handke presents us with a truly (re)visionary history.Thucydides has been critiqued by Ford Madox Ford for allowing his philosophical musings to curtail the immediacy and visionary power of his writing. Appropriately, such criticism could also be directed toward Handkes new novel, My Year in the No-Mans-Bay. Although the novel contains passages of wondrous prose (particularly in part 3), the novel with its painfully contorted trajectory and didactic tendencieS will reward only the most patient and forgiving of readers. For those unfamiliar with Handkes work, Once Again for Thucydides is a much more accessible and engaging introduction to this vital international voice. [Matthew Badura]

The complete reviews Review:
Peter Handkes novel, On a Dark Night I Left my Silent House, may not seem immediately appealing. It is a narrative that only slowly circles to its actual story. The writer recounts a story that someone has told him, but he takes his time in getting to it, first setting scenes, filling in background, preparing the reader. The story itself is also an unusual one. Nevertheless, the novel is gripping from the beginning, a testament to Handkes talents.
Near the end of the book Handke writes:
Hed always been drawn most powerfully to observation when he witnessed the simplest, most undramatic occurrences and processes, for instance rain coming down heavier or tapering off, or simply continuing; snow melting; a puddle slowly drying up.
This reflects Handkes own interests and strengths. Few writers are able to make as much from such a focus.
On a Dark Night I Left my Silent House begins with a description of Taxham, a small and easily overlooked town near Salzburg, in Austria. Handkes description centers only partially on the physical; instead, he situates the town. He conveys, with deceptive ease, exactly what it means to live in Taxham -- and only then moves on to the local pharmacist, the central figure of the novel.
Despite being near the Salzburg airport Taxham seems at the edge of the world: the narrator and a friend of his, a teacher of classical languages named Andreas Loser, are perhaps the only strangers who went there more than once. The two form a friendship of sorts with the unnamed Taxham pharmacist, and it is, eventually, the pharmacists story that gets told.
Before getting to the actual story Handke describes the pharamacists life, an essential aspect of the story itself. The teller is more than just part of the tale, and understanding of who he is is essential to understanding of the episode he relates.
The pharmacist had traveled a great deal when he was younger, almost all over the world. He is still restless, but travel seems to offer nothing any longer: By now nothing tempted him anymore, not a single place. He has some interests (he is particularly knowledgeable and passionate about mushrooms), but few friends. He is not the sort of person people greet (or often even just recognize) on the street. His family life is also far from satisfactory -- he is separated from his wife (uneasily still sharing his house with her), his son is unaccounted for, and even his daughter is far away.
The pharmacist is interested in literature -- when he goes without reading one morning he was missing something like his breakfast -- but has only limited literary aspirations. He does eventually take great interest in his story, a narrative that mirrors life, is an essential part of it, but is also apart from it. The narrator recounts:
I realized: My story was at risk, my storyteller said. And I cared about my story -- and how ! But if I continued to stand by, it wouldve been done for, and everything that had gone before null and void.
The story, then, is essentially a road trip, as the pharmacist decides to travel again. He and two unlikely (though perhaps typically Austrian) companions, a poet and a former skiing champion, head to Spain. It is an unreal, surreal, polyglot trip through the Europe of the 1990s, though always presented with Handkes reserve and control. The pharmacists only form of self-defense was calm; to become the epitome of calm, and Handke seems no different. Through all the incidents in the novel (and there are a number of surprising turns) there is always a sense of calm -- and not a forced one: Handkes calm is by now completely natural and convincing.
It is an odd trip, as the three seek without truly finding (stumbling across, among others, the peripheral Andreas Loser again -- the rare figure in the novel who is actually named -- who made some radical life-choices after disappearing earlier).
The pharmacist eventually returns to Taxham, and there he recounts his summer story to the narrator, who tells it in turn. The world is a different one after the trip, but the changes are small and subtle. After telling the story the pharmacist says:
From speaking it, orally, nothing comes back to me. In written form, that would be different. And in the end I want to get something out of my story, too. Long live the difference between speech and writing. Its what lifes all about. I want to see my story written. I see it written. And the story itself wants that.
The notion convinces. It is not your usual storytelling (and not your usual story), but Handkes art is persuasive. In a time where so much writing is so relentless the deep, assured breaths of Handkes prose are a welcome respite. There is no tedium here either (though some of the book is fairly elusive); it is a short book, incident-filled and nicely paced. It is a book of details, but they are well-chosen and there is no surfeit, there are no unnecessary encumbrances or exhibitionistic displays. Handke writes crouching: Crouching down to see what was happening from close up; and besides, crouching you were closest to yourself.
Not for everyone -- those who want action and meatier plots should look elsewhere -- but certainly recommended. On a Dark Night I Left my Silent House is literature, and theres not too much of that being written nowadays.

Note that Krishna Winstons translation is less assured than Handkes original, and occasionally discomfiting. The German tenses can be a struggle, and there is a rougher (or perhaps clumsier) feel to the prose in the English version -- though by modern American standards it is still near as rarefied as one can find.
The fact that hay-horse was the Austrian word for grasshopper had escaped us -- though perhaps it was a stab at an evocative translation of Heuschreck..... And, while we understand that the German Apotheker must be translated as pharmacist rather than apothecary we regret the loss: the pharmacist of this book is an Apotheker (with its latinate roots suggesting clerk and storehouse), not a Pharmazeut (suggesting clinical modernity and drugs)


Strange Alchemy
On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House by Peter Handke
By Reviewed by Paul West

Sunday, January 21, 2001; Page BW06
ON A DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE
By Peter Handke
Translated from the German By Krishna Winston
Farrar Straus Giroux. 186 pp.
A subtle writer of unostentatious delicacy, the Austrian novelist Peter Handke excels at fiction that, as it grows, coils around itself like wisteria. What is especially interesting about On A Dark Night I Left My Silent House, a title that recalls both Calvinos If on a winters night a traveler and those of Bach cantatas, is the protagonist, a pharmacist marooned in a hamlet near Salzburg, telling his story to the narrator, which makes for more vibration and resonance than usual: The captive audience has a prisoner, and we have both.
The lonely pharmacists tale gradually accumulates density without ever seeming fuzzy, and there is a fragile crescendo toward a climactic instant when the pharmacist gets a bang on the head rendering him speechless -- at which point the novel changes completely into a fantastic extravaganza in the Alps. The novels narrator, who has hitherto had access to the pharmacists speech, now has a clear view into his mind.
This is not so much a shift as a metamorphosis; the novel goes from placid assembly and philatelic perusal of everyday things (blackbirds, mushrooms, bicycles, apples, a bakery) into hyperbole, rendered in the same even tone. It is not as if Handke hasnt warned us, managing several times to embed in his narrators text the sort (and sport) of mutable vision Polonius has in Hamlet. Excerpts from another world get into the book to make us nervous or expectant -- for example, the well-known pioneers of flight Graf von Ferdinand Zeppelin and Otto Lilienthal come up in conjunction with lesser-known ones such as Nungesser and Coli. . . who attempted the first transatlantic flight and vanished. Thats a mild sample. Here is a more ambitious one: In a thicket, tied bags with only a wet cowlick poking out here and there become a company of soldiers resting. In a similar manner, extraneous material flops into the novel to amplify and multiply it, and we encounter ancient Egyptians (only the men were brown; the women had to be white as alabaster or cheese), and the pharmacist turns alchemist when he tampers with known nostrums, transforming them into another substance.
It all makes sense when you read, on page 49, No. You, the recording scribe, mustnt be the master of my story. After all, not even I myself am master of my story. Ones head among phenomena is never quite a master of itself and can easily be dispossessed by a shower of the unprecedented. Or by a determined narrator.
Handkes short, gently shaped novel thus becomes a fugue of visual gradations and shocking swaps. Our pharmacist, a Renaissance man in many ways, gets knocked out of himself, then knocked back, with speech returned, but sea-changed. It is not the state of devastation proposed by William James, or quite the ecstasy invented by the Greeks for when youre evicted from yourself, but it is mutability writ large -- perhaps (as Shelley writes in his ode to it) the only thing that endures.
So much for the novels theme. Numerous pleasures await the reader who delves into the fabric of Handkes prose. Take the blackbird, for instance, with a black, shiny, seemingly eyeless head, a knight in search of single combat, his visor already closed. Or this: A cloud field, white, rippled, foamy, forming dunes. Flat oval stones here and there on top of the highland scree, with a black circle in the middle: pebbles polished by the Ice Age, which had sunk into the ocean here as the snow melted, called eye stones.
The novel, for all its concern with the commonplace, never scants the rapture of nature, to which, in almost quil vein, it opposes the fabrications of the mind. At the end, the pharmacist tells the narrator I want to have my story in writing. He certainly got it. This is where the French New Novel might have gone if pushed. br>
Paul West is the author of many books, including O.K., The Dry Danube and The Secret Lives of Words. 2001 The Washington Post Company


Copyright 2003 The Irish Times
The Irish Times

August 16, 2003

 Loss, longing and language
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams: A Life Story By Peter Handke, translated by Ralph
Mannheim New York Review of Books Classics, 76pp, $ 10.95

 By BELINDA MCKEON

When Peter Handke burst onto the European literary scene of the late 1960s,
it was with a determination to deconstruct that irked many. Because the
Austrian writer was only in his early 20s, it was deemed likely that the
extreme abstraction and formal experimentation evident in his first novel,
Die Hornissen, and his play, Publikumsbeschimpfung (later translated as
Offending the Audience), were merely a subversive phase. His philosophy of the "descriptive impotency" of literature, which he preached to Gunter
Grass, among others, at a Princeton literary seminar in 1966, his theory
that the only reality represented by art was that of language itself; all of
this would be diluted by a few years' more worldly experience, it was
muttered, and Handke would concede that authority for a piece of writing
belonged to the author, rather than to the words from which it came. So
there was some relief from commentators when this short text appeared in
1972; written in just two months, Wunschloses UngluEck was Handke's response
to the suicide of his mother. Here, it seemed, was more solid ground, in
literary terms: an autobiographical subject-matter, a clear authorial
presence, a narrative of actuality. Here was Handke confronting his mother's
lonely decision to end her life, at the age of 51; his anger at the
disappointment that life had been, the struggle to exist in the poverty and
parochialism of wartime Germany and post-war Austria. Grief, it was felt,
had shocked Handke out of conceptualism, had fleshed out his abstractions.
Psychoanalysts were quick to see in the book a fulfilment of duty to his
mother, an attempt to recreate her, a very private, tender apology, and the
biographical data with which to return to his earlier, less accessible work,
and stake out its meaning in straightforward psychological terms.

But, as Jeffrey Eugenides - himself no stranger to the subject of suicide -
points out in his introduction to this new edition of A Sorrow Beyond Dreams (the translation is Ralph Mannheim's, and dates from 1977), to read this
work as autobiography is to read it with one eye closed. To see here merely
a lament for a lost mother is to force upon the book precisely that which
Handke ruled out in the process of writing it: an emotional engagement with
his subject which gives way, via much poignant reflection, to eventual
reconciliation and, for the reader, to a deeper understanding of the author.
Wary of belittling his mother by turning her into a character, Handke
consciously abstains from description, and from expressing his own feelings
about what has happened. A purely objective approach, he insists from the
outset, is the only way to do justice to the facts of his mother's life, to
write her without pawning her to fiction.

Handke does not approach his mother as an individual because that is
precisely what society forbade her, and all women like her, to be; she was a
type. So, with gruelling discipline, Handke regards her as such: the type of
woman who lived through the Nazi years, the war, and the punishing hardship
of the postwar era, who married an unlistening husband, who learned not to
draw attention to herself, and who eventually put her youngest child to bed,
tied a scarf under her own chin, and took an overdose of sleeping pills when
the conviction that life was unbearable overtook her. The result: a
scrupulously detached, thematically shifting work that epitomises the dread
and distraction of loss more skilfully and compellingly than could any
memoir or eulogy.

Just as in his mother's life, there is a certain liberation from reality in
such typology, such depersonalisation; if, even amid the oppression, she
could pretend to be someone she was not, could move around in the outside
world released from her own feelings and her own failings, so this method
affords Handke a release from the swamp of "horror" which threatens to
overwhelm him when he thinks clearly about her suicide.

But, just as his mother's refuge in typology collapsed as soon as she
entered the doors of her own home, there are moments, too, of raw pain,
which push through Handke's defences, which puncture his disinterested pace
like sharp stones underfoot. Yet these moments do not swing open a door on
Handke's soul, or a resolution of the author's troubled relationship with
his mother. Rather, as random words and intonations which betray him, which
infuse his style with longing and regret, they corroborate Handke's
conviction that language is the real character in any text, the dominant,
defiant force which refuses to carry out the wishes of an author. Which is
what renders this book such a moving, involving portrait of grief - we watch
Handke set out with the hope that language will help him to see this task of
remembrance through, and we watch him come to the slow realisation that, in
fact, it does the opposite - it takes his mother further and further away
from him, complicates his memory of her, compounds his loss. "My sentences
crash in the darkness and lie scattered on the paper," he writes. But
"someday", he concludes, "I shall write about all this in greater detail".
Things will be no different then, he is now certain; language will be no
kinder. But, long after the son has made his peace, the author's
responsibility endures.

Belinda McKeon is a journalist and cri

EN UNA NOCHE OSCURA SALI DE MI CASA SOSEGADA

Peter Handke

Trad. de Eustaquio Barjau Riu

Alianza, Madrid, 2000

191 pags., 1.950 ptas.

arece claro que la novelistica de Peter Handke (Griffen, Austria, 1942) se dirige hacia algun lugar concreto, pero cada vez parece mas dificil saber adonde. Y no sera porque sus cartas no hayan estado suficiente tiempo a la vista: sus pretensiones esteticas y morales son una vez mas muy similares a las de casi toda su obra anterior, pero aqui el argumento queda practicamente aniquilado y solo la intuicion de ciertas apreciaciones sobre la naturaleza o los hombres sostiene el entramado.


Un farmaceutico aficionado a la epica medieval y las setas parte de su casa hacia no se sabe donde, acompanado azarosamente por un poeta y un esquiador y perseguido por una mujer, =la vencedora=, que le golpea cada vez que da con el. Poco mas que esto ocurre en la novela, y habria que ver si ni siquiera esto sucede, pues una vez mas la historia del protagonista nos es contada por persona interpuesta, quien no sabe de lo que dice mas que lo que le ha contado, medio alucinado y medio anacoreta, el propio farmaceutico de Taxham.


Asi, y con su habitual tendencia a una inefabilidad que aqui repite y en cierta medida renueva, con su constante querencia por la dificultad y con la novedosa introduccion de un elemento que no se si es emotivo o magico esa mujer que persigue y golpea, Handke da un paso mas en el proceso de desvelo de un camino que, como decia, cuesta saber adonde lleva: a la lirica aniquilacion de la novela? a la fabula como unica forma de representacion de un sentido oculto? al mero equilibrio entre lo intempestivo y lo comprensible? En cualquier caso, En una noche oscura... (aparecida originariamente en 1997) repite formas e intuiciones morales, pero apuesta quiza por vez primera por la desintegracion del argumento como forma de enfatizar el sentido. Y lo consigue, porque la evanescencia de la trama queda compensada por la suma de rastros, de vestigios de un significado que apenas se entreve pero se adivina. Tal vez por todo ello se pueda dudar razonablemente acerca de su lugar de destino, pero dificilmente del valor de su empresa.


Ramon Gonzalez Ferriz



La Espana irreal de Peter Handke



Polemico por sus posiciones politicas, amado y odiado por los criticos, el autor Peter Handke lanzo ayer su nueva novela, que desarrolla su accion en una Espana irreal.


Viena, (EFE).- El austriaco Peter Handke, uno de los autores en aleman mas conocidos internacionalmente, publico ayer su nueva novela que en esta ocasion trata de un viaje al centro del tiempo que se desarrolla en una Espana irreal.

La obra del polemico escritor, editada por Suhrkamp, se titula =Der Bildverlust oder Durch die Sierra de Gredos (literalmente =La perdida de imagen o por la Sierra de Gredos=).

Handke, que vive en la localidad del extrarradio parisino de Chaville, escribio una novela que gira en torno del trayecto que emprende una mujer misteriosa, que tras ser estrella del celuloide se convierte en una magnate financiera destacada de una =ciudad fluvial del noroeste=. La protagonista pide a un escritor que escriba sus memorias y este intentara que incluyan, ademas de las historias superficiales de prensa rosa sobre la mujer, la manera como afronta su fracaso.

La mujer, una banquera, se siente menos atraia por el mundo de las altas finanzas que por el de la =vida facil= y se embarcara en un viaje aventurero por un paisaje montanoso de dificil recorrido, en una Espana irreal, que mas se parece a uno balcanico, y que realizara en autobuses desvencijados y a pie. En ese recorrido encuentra enclaves de refugiados o de gente segregada en los que se ensayan curiosos modelos de vida y sociedad.

La protagonista permanece inaccesible, asi como quedan sin aclarar ciertos secretos de su vida, como que tenga un hermano que haya concluido una condena de prision por terrorismo y una hija perdida.

Las 759 paginas del libro ofrecen mas escenas de visualizacion cinematografica que sus anteriores obras, opinan los criticos. Por el contrario, esta novela es igual de trabajosa de leer y tan poco relajante como las anteriores y, como ellas, contiene numerosas preguntas retoricas y expresiones creadas por el autor con las que queda subrayada su actitud de =yo soy el diferente=, afirman los expertos, que encuentran en ella tambien el atavismo y anacronismo propios de la obra literaria de Handke.

El mensaje de la novela es que la sociedad esta enferma por carecer de sentido y que la automatizacion de la vida hace que sufra de =perdida de imagen=, es decir, de incapacidad de tener una imagen de si misma, de vivir experiencias y de valorarlas, algo que es sustituido por las imagenes que crean los medios de comunicacion, que son aceptados sin resistencia.

Handke estuvo en los ultimos anos en el ojo del huracan mas por sus opiniones politicas que por su labor literaria desde que en 1996 protagonizo un escandalo internacional por su libro =Viaje de invierno a los rios Danubio, Sava, Morava y Drina o justicia para Serbia= en el que atacaba la obsesion antiserbia que el atribuye a parte de la prensa. Ese escandalo gano fuerza cuando en abril de 1999 envio una carta al diario =Politika= de Belgrado en el que atacaba a la prensa y a los =grandes pequenos escritores=, desde Gabriel Garcia Marquez hasta el subcomandante Marcos, por su silencio ante los sucesos de Kosovo.

Handke es critico, traductor, dramaturgo y guionista de filmes de Wim Wenders como =Las alas del deseo=. Siempre ha sido un trotamundos que recorrio, con el cuaderno de notas en la mano, Espana, Japon, Estados Unidos, o la Eslovenia de sus antepasados, lo que explicaria su nostalgia de la ex Yugoslavia, cerca de cuya frontera, en la austriaca Carintia nacio en 1942.

Espana es tambien el escenario en el que Handke situo la obra teatral =Zuruestungen fuer die Unsterblichkeit= (literalmente =Aprestos para la inmortalidad=), un drama real de tema faustico.

La accion de esta pieza teatral se desarrolla en el enclave espanol de Llivia, en los Pirineos, y es una diatriba contra la estrechez de miras de ese hipotetico enclave, que podria estar en otro lugar del mundo.



Copyright Rio Negro Online - All rights reserved







EN UNA NOCHE OSCURA SALI DE MI CASA SOSEGADA

Peter Handke

Trad. de Eustaquio Barjau Riu

Alianza, Madrid, 2000

191 pags., 1.950 ptas.


Parece claro que la novelistica de Peter Handke (Griffen, Austria, 1942) se dirige hacia algun lugar concreto, pero cada vez parece mas dificil saber adonde. Y no sera porque sus cartas no hayan estado suficiente tiempo a la vista: sus pretensiones esteticas y morales son una vez mas muy similares a las de casi toda su obra anterior, pero aqui el argumento queda practicamente aniquilado y solo la intuicion de ciertas apreciaciones sobre la naturaleza o los hombres sostiene el entramado.


Un farmaceutico aficionado a la epica medieval y las setas parte de su casa hacia no se sabe donde, acompanado azarosamente por un poeta y un esquiador y perseguido por una mujer, =la vencedora=, que le golpea cada vez que da con el. Poco mas que esto ocurre en la novela, y habria que ver si ni siquiera esto sucede, pues una vez mas la historia del protagonista nos es contada por persona interpuesta, quien no sabe de lo que dice mas que lo que le ha contado, medio alucinado y medio anacoreta, el propio farmaceutico de Taxham.


Asi, y con su habitual tendencia a una inefabilidad que aqui repite y en cierta medida renueva, con su constante querencia por la dificultad y con la novedosa introduccion de un elemento que no se si es emotivo o magico esa mujer que persigue y golpea, Handke da un paso mas en el proceso de desvelo de un camino que, como decia, cuesta saber adonde lleva: a la lirica aniquilacion de la novela? a la fabula como unica forma de representacion de un sentido oculto? al mero equilibrio entre lo intempestivo y lo comprensible? En cualquier caso, En una noche oscura... (aparecida originariamente en 1997) repite formas e intuiciones morales, pero apuesta quiza por vez primera por la desintegracion del argumento como forma de enfatizar el sentido. Y lo consigue, porque la evanescencia de la trama queda compensada por la suma de rastros, de vestigios de un significado que apenas se entreve pero se adivina. Tal vez por todo ello se pueda dudar razonablemente acerca de su lugar de destino, pero dificilmente del valor de su empresa.Ramon Gonzalez Ferriz




Peter Handke

PAR UNE NUIT OBSCURE JE SORTIS DE MA MAISON TRANQUILLE

Trad. de l+allemand par G.-A. Goldschmidt

Gallimard, Paris, 2000

194 p. ; 24,95 $


Dans sa version francaise, le dernier roman de Peter Handke comble difficilement les attentes qu+il cree. Que ce soit une question de traduction (G.-A. Goldschmidt a pourtant traduit la majorite des romans de l+auteur) ou bien l+ecart entre le projet et sa realisation, il reste que l+epopee existentielle annoncee par Handke nous laisse un peu de marbre.



L+histoire du pharmacien de Taxham possede pourtant des charmes bien    elle. Par le relais d+un narrateur   ‚  qui l+homme a raconte ses excursions dans les forets puis aux frontieres de la folie, nous assistons ici au recit d+une initiation onirique ou les notions de temps et d+espace, d+identite et de realite sont completement destabilisees, faisant corps avec l+indefectible      euro-nevrose   de l+ecrivain. Taxham, agglomeration d+Autriche ou se melangent la campagne et la ville, est en fait une porte ouverte sur l+espace imaginaire. Lors des vacances de sa femme, avec qui il entretient une relation platonique depuis plusieurs annees, le pharmacien mycologue derape subitement apres un hypothetique coup sur la tete, qui pourrait tout aussi bien etre le contrecoup d+une operation recente. Des lors, les evenements s+enchaneront selon une causalite mysterieuse, reliee de facon souterraine au roman medieval qu+il etait en train de lire. En compagnie d+un poete et d+un ex-champion olympique, le pharmacien circulera dans une Europe prenant les dimensions de la Terre. Les villes rencontrees le long d+une autoroute en boucles seront donc autant australiennes ou americaines qu+europeennes, et c+est une ambiance de festival et d+apocalypse meles qui y regnera.



Deux fois moins long que le precedent, Mon annee dans la baie de personne, ce dernier roman parat cependant plus laborieux, malgre son elan vers la poesie. Le pietinement narratif qui constituait en soi une intrigue redevient cette fois presque un defaut, et l+equilibre entre emotion et raison est moindre. Le theme des champignons, fascinant dans Mon annee est ici moins fertile, plus pres du pretexte.



Fable obscure     propos d+une culture bouillonnant au bord de son propre vide, cette  uvre agit davantage apres sa lecture, alors qu+on se demande toujours quelle peut etre la verite entenebree qu+elle tentait d+agripper. Ce qui correspond un peu     l+etat final du narrateur :     Et apres un long moment d+arret sur soi-meme une derniere recette : + N+ecrivez que des histoires d+amour et d+aventures, rien d+autre ! +     Quelqu+un s+en allait. Le silence se fit dans la maison. Mais il manquait encore quelque chose : je n+ai pas entendu se refermer la porte.  …

Thierry Bissonnette


December 17, 2000Designated Driver In Peter Handkes modern-day questing tale, a pharmacist takes up with a pair of drifters. Related Linksae Richard Bernstein Reviews On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House (Nov. 29, 2000) First Chapter: On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House By KAI MARISTEDits possible to argue that there are two kinds of novelists: one theme-driven, the other a writers writer -- passionate about method. The Austrian-born novelist, essayist and playwright Peter Handke is generally counted among the latter, a fierce purifier of language. Indeed, on the evidence of his new novel, On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House, which has been deftly translated from the German by Krishna Winston, Handkes power of observation and his seemingly casual tone, in which every word bears indispensable weight, are as mesmerizing as ever. On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House is a modern-day questing tale in which the grail is never defined or seen, but rather, as the journey unfolds, intuited by both the reader and the hero. The protagonist, an unnamed middle-aged pharmacist remarkable for his keen and greedy sense of smell and a (typically Austrian) passion for wild mushrooms, has banished his son in a fit of rage; he lives with his estranged wife, although he also has a mistress. He is apparently happy to go through the motions of daily life in his village, Taxham, a featureless drive-by suburb of Salzburg that despite (or because of) its magnified dullness manages to hook the readers curiosity. Unlike the old villages in Salzburgs orbit, Taxham, founded after the war, never became a tourist attraction. There was no cozy inn, nothing to see -- not even anything off-putting. It is hard to find your way in, and even harder, whether on foot or by car, to get out again. Almost all the routes that promise to lead you out then turn off and take you around the block or wend their way back past cottage gardens to your starting point. Or they simply dead-end at yet another impenetrable hedge, through which open land and whatever leads elsewhere can just barely be glimpsed, even if the street is named after Magellan or Porsche. When do the pharmacist and his wife, who remains silent in her half of the house, share a moment of communion? Handke lets them supply their own elliptical answers: When were in our own rooms at night and see through the window the emergency flare flashing up in the mountains over on the other side of the border. -- When in last springs flooding the drowned cow floated down the river. -- At the first snowfall. The pharmacist reads medieval epics in his every spare moment. He eats out in an airport restaurant, swims in the icy Saalach River and enjoys wandering in some nearby woods. It is here, in a blinding downpour after a drought, that the story takes its first bizarre twist: he is ambushed and viciously beaten by strangers. Accustomed to a kind of numbness, he puts up little defense. As he says in a typically paradoxical aside: I felt a curious joy inside me, or was it gratitude, or a kind of elan? Now things were as they should be. The struggle could begin. Bleeding from head wounds, he emerges into a Taxham that is subtly yet pervasively altered -- as is he. On entering a restaurant, the pharmacist finds himself unable to speak: hes been literally struck dumb. He is taken up by a pair of charismatic, down-on-their-luck drifters -- a once famous poet and a former Olympic skiing champion. Jerry Bauer/Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Peter Handke
It happens to be the start of a holiday, the feast of the Ascension. In the pharmacists car -- from now on he will be known only as the driver -- the three men set out from town. They cross borders, drive through mountain tunnels in the Alps and finally enter a harsh steppe: a fantastic landscape, constantly swept by a nocturnal wind, where roaming bands of thugs drown all civility and the driver learns, among other things, how to fight and how to calm his heart on demand. A Handke tale invites active reading, speculation rather than passive absorption. For all its laconic modernity, On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House suggests a Dantesque purgatory, a painful battle for the souls survival, along with the more romantic template of the knights quest. In my story no one dies, the pharmacist says. Sometimes sad things happen, occasionally almost desperate things. But a death is out of the question. Handke -- whose previous books include the novel The Goalies Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and the unforgettable memoir A Sorrow Beyond Dreams -- makes no bones, and never has, about the permeability of the membrane between his life and his fiction. He has been accused at times of arrogance and narcissism -- his first play was titled Offending the Audience, and he has been a famously sharp critic of postwar German literature. Here he lets the poet set the record straight: Young Narcissus was the soul of devotion and affection, and wished for nothing more than to take the whole world in his arms. But the world . . . recoiled from him, didnt return his loving gaze. . . . And so, as time passed, he had to find an anchor in himself. It is Peter Handkes loving gaze, honed by time and discipline, that shows readers the way out again into the worlds prolific and astonishing strangeness. Kai Maristeds most recent book is Belong to Me, a collection of stories. Return to the Books Home Page




ON A BLUE NOTE THOMAS MCGONIGLE Sunday, September 20, 1998 ; Page X08 MY YEAR IN THE NO-MANS BAY By Peter Handke Translated from the German by Krishna Winston Farrar Straus Giroux. 468 pp. ONCE AGAIN FOR THUCYDIDES By Peter Handke Translated from the German by Tess Lewis New Directions. 90 pp. .95 Peter Handkes literary career has a pleasingly ambitious feel to it, and over the years most of this Austrian writers many books and plays have been well translated and published in America. Early Handke books such as the startling road novel Short Letter, Long Farewell, about a journey from Providence, R.I., to John Fords house in California, and A Sorrow Beyond Words, a meditation on the suicide of his mother, are impossible to forget. He captures the definitely modern feeling that something is wrong -- a something freighted with words like anxiety, tedium, despair. A new note of an acceptance of complex reality has gradually come to the fore in Handkes work (he is also the author of 14 other volumes of poetry, essays, fiction and nonfiction translated into English). My Year in the No-Mans Bay, first published in German in 1994, is a wonderful place to renew an acquaintanceship with him. While labeled a novel, this new book seems in some mysterious way to be autobiographical in the manner of Samuel Beckett and Thomas Bernhard. Gregor Keuschnig, an Austrian lawyer older than Handke but sharing many biographical details with him, has retreated to a nondescript Paris suburb in order to write what turns out to be the book we are reading: And while at bay in this undistinguished place -- it could be any suburb in the world -- the lawyer lives a solitary life, trying to see where exactly he is by following a Pythagorean saying, Every place demands justice. Handkes strength is to make the vague specific without too closely pinning it to a dissectors table. The lawyer tries to make sense of both the isolation and connectedness he feels by calling to mind seven distant friends, including an architect who is traveling in Northern Japan, a priest in the lawyers Austrian village as he goes about his rounds, a singer wandering in Scotland, and the lawyers son on his way through Yugoslavia to Greece. He narrates their various journeys in a startlingly original manner, saying: I could neither have recourse to my experiences, dreams, and facts nor invent action, plot or conflicts. The book, or whatever it would turn out to be, had to be created out of nothing. One among many themes (the book is so richly resonant that it seems unfair to single one out) is the lawyers struggle to recognize his son. To be asked about my son, he writes, by anyone at all, has always put me in a bad mood, out of the clear blue sky; it has immediately destroyed the harmony between me and the other person. It was even worse when I was expected to tell stories about him. But the lawyer insightfully illuminates the difference between his own and his sons generation: Again unlike me and many of my generation, being isolated, alienated, or dislocated did not give him a heightened sense of reality. Coincidentally, Handkes Once Again for Thucydides, which originally appeared a year after the wondrous verbal profusion of My Year in The No-Mans Bay, has also been translated. It is composed of 17 short prose sketches drawn from observations of the natural world as experienced during the authors frequent journeys in the late 1980s. The concision of each short piece is disconcerting yet necessary, for Handkes purpose is to reassert a primary function of the writer: to see. Only one person was left on the pier, he writes. No one else was there to see off any passengers or the material for the island house well on its way. In the sky, blue above the noon emptiness, a seagull hung in the wind, bobbing its head. Below, a flock of sparrows in the recently formed puddle, their number caught at first glance. These were the events on the Dubrov-nik/Dalmatia pier between noon and one oclock on December 5, 1987. Upon finishing My Year in The No-Mans Bay or Once Again for Thucydides, the reader is sure to feel a little more accepting of the world and grateful for the labors of Peter Handke.

Reviewed by Thomas McGonigle, author of The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov and Going to Patchogue. Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Washington Post and may not include subsequent corrections. Return to Search Results

Der Standard vom 25.4.1997 Seite: 9 Ressort: BUECHER Konrad Paul Liessmann Peter Handke In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus... Konrad Paul Liessmann Peter Handke In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus Roman oeS 350,-/316 Seiten Suhrkamp Frankfurt, 1997 3, Manchmal verdirbt die Aura des Dichters den Blick auf sein Werk. Peter Handke gilt vielen als der Mystagoge der neueren Literatur, als erloesungssuechtiger Beschwoerer und raunender Verkuender, beschaeftigt mit den Zuruestungen fuer die Unsterblichkeit. Ganz abwegig sind diese Deutungen wohl auch nicht. Der neue Roman von Handke allerdings, mit viel medialem Getoese vergangene Woche auf Publikum und Kritik losgelassen, entzieht sich solch raschen Zuordnungen. Liest man das Buch unvoreingenommen, ohne die vielen Handke-Bilder im Kopf, kann man sich glaenzend, wenn auch nicht auf allerhoechstem Niveau, amuesieren. Der Apotheker von Taxham bei Salzburg, geruchsempfindlicher Liebhaber seltener Pilze und mittelalterlicher Heldenepen, bekommt bei einem Spaziergang im Wald einen heftigen Schlag auf den Kopf. Wieder erwacht, hat er zwar seine Sprache verloren, findet aber um so leichter Anschluss an einen ehemals erfolgreichen, mittlerweile herabgekommenen Schirennlaeufer und einen auf andere Weise frueher einmal beruehmt gewesenen Dichter, mit denen er sich, ohne dass Worte gewechselt werden muessen, auf eine Autofahrt nach dem Sueden begibt. Sie uebernachten bei einer fluechtigen Bekannten des Schifahrers, die soeben ihren Mann begraben hat, sich in das Zimmer des Apothekers schleicht und diesen wortlos verpruegelt. Auch im weiteren wird diese Frau, die nicht vergisst, dem Apotheker eine kryptische Botschaft zuzustecken, allgegenwaertig sein. Nach der Durchfahrt von fuenfhundert Tunnels landet das seltsame Trio in einer Stadt namens Santa Fe in einem imaginaeren Spanien, wo der Apotheker seinen von ihm einstens wegen eines Diebstahls verstossenen Sohn als Zigeuner-Musiker wiederfindet, seinen Begleitern durch Furchtlosigkeit das Leben rettet, um dann auf einer Fusswanderung durch die Steppe nach Zaragoza Klarheit ueber sich zu gewinnen. Dort holt ihn die schoene Fremde mit einem Bus ab, bringt ihn zurueck nach Taxham und gibt ihm zu verstehen, dass es fuer sie beide dann doch zu spaet sei. Nach Monaten der Abwesenheit wieder in seiner Wohnung, stuerzt der Apotheker zu dem Buch, das er zuletzt gelesen hat - Ivain oder der Loewenritter - und sucht die Stelle, an der er aufgehoert hatte: Endlich fand er die Stelle. Er las weiter. Auf einmal aber hielt er inne und begann zu zittern. Jetzt zitterte er. Jetzt erst zitterte er. Ungestoerte Ferne Haette Handkes Buch ein Geheimnis, es muesste diese Stelle sein, die den furchtlosen Apotheker zum Zittern bringt. Vielleicht ist es jene Szene, in der Ivain, der Artusritter, des Verrats an seiner Frau bezichtigt wird, nackt in den Wald laeuft und dem Wahnsinn verfaellt. Denn der Apotheker von Taxham lebt laengst getrennt von seiner Frau, wenn auch unter einem Dach, haelt sich eine Geliebte, ist am liebsten allein und seine Lebensmaxime lautet: Verhalte dich so, dass deine gerade abwesenden Angehoerigen guter Dinge irgendwo, ohne dich, immerzu so in der Ferne bleiben koennen, ungestoert! Und war er nicht auch unfaehig, aus der Begegnung mit der Unbekannten etwas zu machen? Das Problem des mittelalterlichen Ivain war ja die Frage gewesen, ob ein Ritter, suechtig nach Abenteuern, darueber seine Frau vernachlaessigen darf. Der Apotheker aber ueberlaesst sich ganz seinem Abenteuer, auch dann, wenn dieses nur Traum, Folge unmaessig verzehrter traumerweiternder Pilze gewesen sein sollte, vielleicht auch ein Wahn. Wenn ein Liebhaber von Ritterromanen aufbricht, um Abenteuer und Liebeshaendel zu erleben, dann handelt es sich entweder um eine Don Quichotterie oder um ein romantisches Sujet. Handke vermengt beides zu einem durchaus vergnueglichen Text. Unuebersehbar die romantischen Motive des Wanderns, der Fahrt, der Ziellosigkeit, der Sehnsucht, auch des Wundersamen; romantisch auch die lyrische Evokation des Namenlosen am Ende des Buches; unuebersehbar die Anspielungen auf eine vergangene Ritter- und Zauberwelt: die Amsel, die dem Apotheker erscheint wie ein ein Ritter auf der Suche nach einem Zweikampf, sein Visier schon zugezogen, der Rabe, der den Weg weist, die geheimnisvolle Frau, die ein Siegertyp ist, und spaetestens, wenn der furchtlose Recke die Steppe durchwandert und im Vorbeilaufen etliche Quersteppeinradfahrer mit dem Stock erschlaegt und damit die Steppe von einer Landplage befreit, ist der Schritt in die Groteske getan. Die Abenteuergeschichte wird aber konterkariert von zeitgeistigen satirischen Seitenhieben und selbstironischen Anspielungen. Schon die Schilderung des trostlosen Ortes Taxham, der, eingezwaengt zwischen Autobahn, Eisenbahn und Flugplatz, die Zukunft moderner Lebensformen auf den Punkt bringt, enthaelt, bei aller Genauigkeit der Beobachtung, seltsam komische Elemente. Und man kann, den Fall Goldberger vor Augen, die aetzende Beschreibung des Niedergangs eines Sportidols nicht lesen, ohne darin die Demaskierung eines oesterreichischen Mythos zu sehen; und man wird im Dichter, der davon traeumt, dass im Radio ein vernichtender Nachruf auf ihn verlesen wird - Zu Recht vergessen! - auch jene Ironie am Werke sehen, die nicht zuletzt den Romantikern eigen war. Dazu gehoert auch Handkes Spiel mit sich selbst. In Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht hatte der Schriftsteller Gregor Keuschnig noch mit einem Roman gerungen, der den Titel Der Apotheker von Erdberg tragen sollte; in der Steppe begegnet der Apotheker von Taxham einem taub gewordenen Einsiedler, der sich als Andreas Loser aus Der Chinese des Schmerzes entpuppt; und als der Apotheker die Sprache wiedererlangt und eine Seite lang nur Unsinn redet, faellt auch der Satz: Ein Denkmal dem Hausierer in der Steppe. Der Hausierer aber war einer der fruehesten Romane Handkes gewesen. Natuerlich geht es auch in diesem Roman nicht ohne das grosse Kuenden ab. Aber diesem fehlt dann doch der letzte Ernst, was dem ganzen durchaus gut tut. So etwa beklagt der Dichter in einer grandiosen Suada das Verhaeltnis der Geschlechter. Er beginnt mit einer sublimen Bibel-Paraphrase - Zwischen Frau und Mann ist neuerdings Feindschaft gesetzt - um dann auszurufen: Frueher oder spaeter wird die liebende Frau, so oder so, von dir enttaeuscht sein, und du wirst nicht einmal wissen warum. Sie wird dich, wie sie erklaert, durchschaut haben, ohne dir aber zu sagen, worin sie dich durchschaut hat. Und sie wird dich keinen Moment vergessen lassen, dass du durchschaut bist. Mach, was du willst, du bist und bleibst der Durchschaute. Das ist genau beobachtet, satirisch ueberzogen und doch auch das zentrale Thema des Romans: denn gegenueber der ihm schattenhaft folgenden Frau ist der Apotheker immer schon der Durchschaute, der Ausgelieferte. Nicht ohne Witz ist auch das formale Arrangement des Textes. Der Apotheker erzaehlt seine Geschichte einem Aufschreiber, dessen Fragen er immer wieder abblockt, denn der Aufschreiber darf nicht Herr der Geschichte werden. Was unklar ist, soll durchaus in der Schwebe gelassen werden. Und an einer Stelle, lang bevor die kuriose Abenteuerfahrt beginnt, deutet der Apotheker an, dass es vielleicht ueberhaupt die falsche Geschichte sein koennte, die erzaehlt wird. Fiktion einer Heldin Denn er berichtet seinem Aufschreiber von einer Monatskonferenz der oertlichen Apotheker, an der auch die Apothekerin von Itzling teilgenommen habe, eine schoene Frau, von der es eine Geschichte zu erzaehlen gaebe, mindestens so abenteuerlich und raetselhaft wie die seine, ausserdem sicher erotischer. Und was antwortet der Aufschreiber? Ob er sich denn eine Die Apothekerin von Itzling genannte Frau als Buchheldin vorstellen koenne. Oh ja, moechte da der geneigte Leser ausrufen, dieses Buch koennen wir uns vorstellen, diese Geschichte wollen wir lesen. Aber da hatte der Aufschreiber noch etwas zu dem Apotheker gesagt: Und ueberhaupt moege er erst einmal abwarten. Was bedeutet das? Wird an der Apothekerin von Itzling schon geschrieben? Oder ist dieses Buch gar schon geschrieben worden, und die schoene Unbekannte in Wirklichkeit die Apothekerin von Itzling? Das allerdings waere, man kann es nicht anders sagen, dann doch eine Enttaeuschung. DB Datenbank STA Dokumentennummer: STA19970425191335000163


Exile of the Pharmacist
You might not return from Peter Handkes new novel I permitted myself a moment of awed hesitation after reading the final sentence of Peter Handkes new book, ON A DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ). Then, as if following some urgent instruction, I opened the book and began reading again. You emerge from this mesmerizingly peculiar novel with plenty of uncertainty about what has just been experienced, and with a strong desire to put off returning to familiar shores. The Austrian-born Handke, who has spent more than 30 years chasing the vapor trail of middle-European ennui in his plays, novels, and essays, has outdone himself. On a Dark Night makes a label like original seem quaint. The book is part fable, part existential comedy, part heroic hallucination, and part wartime allegory, and its delivered with the confessional intimacy of a whisper. As starkly as a documentary, Handke introduces us to the village of Taxham, on the outskirts of Salzburg. The setting feels very much like the present, though we are told, At the time when this story takes place, Taxham was almost forgotten. Hemmed in by a river, a railroad embankment, and an airport, and further isolated within a ring of looming hedges, Taxham has about it an aura of the furthest reaches, accessible only by circuitous, inconvenient routes that make it hard to find your way in, and even harder, whether on foot or by car, to get out again. The towns residents are war refugees, expellees, emigrants, but its most mystical figure -- aside from the local soothsayer, who predicts that before summers end a war would break out to the west of T., a three-day war, but with never-ending consequences! -- is an unnamed middle-aged pharmacist. The pharmacist languishes in numb invisibility: No one talked about him, recommended him to others, sang his praises, or made fun of the pharmacist the way they do in the classic comedies. People who ran into him outdoors . . . either ignored him -- quite unintentionally -- or failed to recognize him. The man and his wife share a house without ever occupying the same room at the same time; their son has been kicked out of the house. The man eats his lunches in a concealed grove in the forest; he is endowed with a prodigious, almost troubling sense of smell; and whatever energy he doesnt devote to reading medieval epics he directs toward the study of mushrooms. At first the pharmacists story is told with an insistent clinical reserve, framed as a series of beautifully arid slice-of-life fragments. Its only as you are lulled deeper into Handkes thicket that you come to feel as if you have consumed some transformative mushrooms yourself. Quite unexpectedly, the pharmacist suffers a blow to the head, precisely on the spot where he has recently had a growth removed for biopsy. He loses the ability to speak and eventually finds himself driving through a long tunnel with a once-famous poet and a former champion skier. The three men stop for a night to visit a recently widowed woman, who attacks the pharmacist during his sleep. He becomes fixated on her. Before long the pharmacist, now called the driver, finds a letter sewn into his jacket: You threw your son out in a wrongful fit of anger. As punishment, a mark grew on your forehead, from which you will die. The group proceeds to a religious festival in a town set on a cliff, and here the man catches a glimpse of his son playing the accordion with a band of gypsies. As the narrator points out, At the end of such a journey... you could find that you had no sense of the direction in which youd been traveling.... Indeed, your head might be spinning. Like an errant knight in one of his beloved quest narratives, Handkes pharmacist is compelled to cross dizzying, blighted terrain before returning home. The novels brief descent into phantasmagoria -- imagine Carlos Castaneda adrift in the European Union -- is the only false note in this blazing, one-of-a-kind journey. Handkes tale is seductive enough to restore full-grown adults to that blissful childhood state in which reading is an abandonment to unknown terrors and elations. Be prepared: Not asking questions, as the narrator discovers, is one of the unspoken rules of the game. This pharmacists elixir will go right to your nerve endings and make you believe that what mattered was to be out there in the nocturnal wind, with the others, with these particular people, for a while, and then to see what would happen next. --back issues of Cosmo. By: Mark Levine


ON A DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE By Peter Handke; Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 186 pp.,
"When I inadvertently fell into such storytelling," explains Peter Handke's pharmacist, "[t]he things inside me and outside of me interpenetrated each other, became whole from one another. Storytelling and the steppe became one." Watching a writer searching on the page, after a lifetime of writing about the most convoluted subjects on God's green Earth--politics, culture, history, love, the tests of friendship--is like watching an adult learn to crawl. In his last few books, Handke has written like a supplicant who wants to be folded back into God's green Earth. In this novel, he takes the psyche of a quiet man, a pharmacist with a fascination for mushrooms, edible, poisonous and hallucinogenic, and flings this psyche against the great wide world. It shatters into little pieces: a son he threw out of the house; an estranged wife with whom he shares a roof and nothing more; a flickering identity shadowed by dreams. Handke shares some of Updike's bleak feelings on the gender wars: "These days men and women are furious at each other," a poet tells the pharmacist. "And if love enters the picture, all it does is unleash war." As in all of Handke's writing, guilt is a main character. The pharmacist should not have thrown out his boy. Odd that a psyche's skeleton would be composed of bones like guilt and regret. Odd that storytelling might prove to be a writer's strongest link to reality. There is a moment in this novel when, sure enough, if you do not try to understand every little thing, storytelling and the steppe become one.


Der Standard vom 25.4.1997 Seite: 9 Ressort: BUECHER Konrad Paul Liessmann Peter Handke In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus... Konrad Paul Liessmann Peter Handke In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus Roman oeS 350,-/316 Seiten Suhrkamp Frankfurt, 1997 3, Manchmal verdirbt die Aura des Dichters den Blick auf sein Werk. Peter Handke gilt vielen als der Mystagoge der neueren Literatur, als erloesungssuechtiger Beschwoerer und raunender Verkuender, beschaeftigt mit den Zuruestungen fuer die Unsterblichkeit. Ganz abwegig sind diese Deutungen wohl auch nicht. Der neue Roman von Handke allerdings, mit viel medialem Getoese vergangene Woche auf Publikum und Kritik losgelassen, entzieht sich solch raschen Zuordnungen. Liest man das Buch unvoreingenommen, ohne die vielen Handke-Bilder im Kopf, kann man sich glaenzend, wenn auch nicht auf allerhoechstem Niveau, amuesieren. Der Apotheker von Taxham bei Salzburg, geruchsempfindlicher Liebhaber seltener Pilze und mittelalterlicher Heldenepen, bekommt bei einem Spaziergang im Wald einen heftigen Schlag auf den Kopf. Wieder erwacht, hat er zwar seine Sprache verloren, findet aber um so leichter Anschluss an einen ehemals erfolgreichen, mittlerweile herabgekommenen Schirennlaeufer und einen auf andere Weise frueher einmal beruehmt gewesenen Dichter, mit denen er sich, ohne dass Worte gewechselt werden muessen, auf eine Autofahrt nach dem Sueden begibt. Sie uebernachten bei einer fluechtigen Bekannten des Schifahrers, die soeben ihren Mann begraben hat, sich in das Zimmer des Apothekers schleicht und diesen wortlos verpruegelt. Auch im weiteren wird diese Frau, die nicht vergisst, dem Apotheker eine kryptische Botschaft zuzustecken, allgegenwaertig sein. Nach der Durchfahrt von fuenfhundert Tunnels landet das seltsame Trio in einer Stadt namens Santa Fe in einem imaginaeren Spanien, wo der Apotheker seinen von ihm einstens wegen eines Diebstahls verstossenen Sohn als Zigeuner-Musiker wiederfindet, seinen Begleitern durch Furchtlosigkeit das Leben rettet, um dann auf einer Fusswanderung durch die Steppe nach Zaragoza Klarheit ueber sich zu gewinnen. Dort holt ihn die schoene Fremde mit einem Bus ab, bringt ihn zurueck nach Taxham und gibt ihm zu verstehen, dass es fuer sie beide dann doch zu spaet sei. Nach Monaten der Abwesenheit wieder in seiner Wohnung, stuerzt der Apotheker zu dem Buch, das er zuletzt gelesen hat - Ivain oder der Loewenritter - und sucht die Stelle, an der er aufgehoert hatte: Endlich fand er die Stelle. Er las weiter. Auf einmal aber hielt er inne und begann zu zittern. Jetzt zitterte er. Jetzt erst zitterte er. Ungestoerte Ferne Haette Handkes Buch ein Geheimnis, es muesste diese Stelle sein, die den furchtlosen Apotheker zum Zittern bringt. Vielleicht ist es jene Szene, in der Ivain, der Artusritter, des Verrats an seiner Frau bezichtigt wird, nackt in den Wald laeuft und dem Wahnsinn verfaellt. Denn der Apotheker von Taxham lebt laengst getrennt von seiner Frau, wenn auch unter einem Dach, haelt sich eine Geliebte, ist am liebsten allein und seine Lebensmaxime lautet: Verhalte dich so, dass deine gerade abwesenden Angehoerigen guter Dinge irgendwo, ohne dich, immerzu so in der Ferne bleiben koennen, ungestoert! Und war er nicht auch unfaehig, aus der Begegnung mit der Unbekannten etwas zu machen? Das Problem des mittelalterlichen Ivain war ja die Frage gewesen, ob ein Ritter, suechtig nach Abenteuern, darueber seine Frau vernachlaessigen darf. Der Apotheker aber ueberlaesst sich ganz seinem Abenteuer, auch dann, wenn dieses nur Traum, Folge unmaessig verzehrter traumerweiternder Pilze gewesen sein sollte, vielleicht auch ein Wahn. Wenn ein Liebhaber von Ritterromanen aufbricht, um Abenteuer und Liebeshaendel zu erleben, dann handelt es sich entweder um eine Don Quichotterie oder um ein romantisches Sujet. Handke vermengt beides zu einem durchaus vergnueglichen Text. Unuebersehbar die romantischen Motive des Wanderns, der Fahrt, der Ziellosigkeit, der Sehnsucht, auch des Wundersamen; romantisch auch die lyrische Evokation des Namenlosen am Ende des Buches; unuebersehbar die Anspielungen auf eine vergangene Ritter- und Zauberwelt: die Amsel, die dem Apotheker erscheint wie ein ein Ritter auf der Suche nach einem Zweikampf, sein Visier schon zugezogen, der Rabe, der den Weg weist, die geheimnisvolle Frau, die ein Siegertyp ist, und spaetestens, wenn der furchtlose Recke die Steppe durchwandert und im Vorbeilaufen etliche Quersteppeinradfahrer mit dem Stock erschlaegt und damit die Steppe von einer Landplage befreit, ist der Schritt in die Groteske getan. Die Abenteuergeschichte wird aber konterkariert von zeitgeistigen satirischen Seitenhieben und selbstironischen Anspielungen. Schon die Schilderung des trostlosen Ortes Taxham, der, eingezwaengt zwischen Autobahn, Eisenbahn und Flugplatz, die Zukunft moderner Lebensformen auf den Punkt bringt, enthaelt, bei aller Genauigkeit der Beobachtung, seltsam komische Elemente. Und man kann, den Fall Goldberger vor Augen, die aetzende Beschreibung des Niedergangs eines Sportidols nicht lesen, ohne darin die Demaskierung eines oesterreichischen Mythos zu sehen; und man wird im Dichter, der davon traeumt, dass im Radio ein vernichtender Nachruf auf ihn verlesen wird - Zu Recht vergessen! - auch jene Ironie am Werke sehen, die nicht zuletzt den Romantikern eigen war. Dazu gehoert auch Handkes Spiel mit sich selbst. In Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht hatte der Schriftsteller Gregor Keuschnig noch mit einem Roman gerungen, der den Titel Der Apotheker von Erdberg tragen sollte; in der Steppe begegnet der Apotheker von Taxham einem taub gewordenen Einsiedler, der sich als Andreas Loser aus Der Chinese des Schmerzes entpuppt; und als der Apotheker die Sprache wiedererlangt und eine Seite lang nur Unsinn redet, faellt auch der Satz: Ein Denkmal dem Hausierer in der Steppe. Der Hausierer aber war einer der fruehesten Romane Handkes gewesen. Natuerlich geht es auch in diesem Roman nicht ohne das grosse Kuenden ab. Aber diesem fehlt dann doch der letzte Ernst, was dem ganzen durchaus gut tut. So etwa beklagt der Dichter in einer grandiosen Suada das Verhaeltnis der Geschlechter. Er beginnt mit einer sublimen Bibel-Paraphrase - Zwischen Frau und Mann ist neuerdings Feindschaft gesetzt - um dann auszurufen: Frueher oder spaeter wird die liebende Frau, so oder so, von dir enttaeuscht sein, und du wirst nicht einmal wissen warum. Sie wird dich, wie sie erklaert, durchschaut haben, ohne dir aber zu sagen, worin sie dich durchschaut hat. Und sie wird dich keinen Moment vergessen lassen, dass du durchschaut bist. Mach, was du willst, du bist und bleibst der Durchschaute. Das ist genau beobachtet, satirisch ueberzogen und doch auch das zentrale Thema des Romans: denn gegenueber der ihm schattenhaft folgenden Frau ist der Apotheker immer schon der Durchschaute, der Ausgelieferte. Nicht ohne Witz ist auch das formale Arrangement des Textes. Der Apotheker erzaehlt seine Geschichte einem Aufschreiber, dessen Fragen er immer wieder abblockt, denn der Aufschreiber darf nicht Herr der Geschichte werden. Was unklar ist, soll durchaus in der Schwebe gelassen werden. Und an einer Stelle, lang bevor die kuriose Abenteuerfahrt beginnt, deutet der Apotheker an, dass es vielleicht ueberhaupt die falsche Geschichte sein koennte, die erzaehlt wird. Fiktion einer Heldin Denn er berichtet seinem Aufschreiber von einer Monatskonferenz der oertlichen Apotheker, an der auch die Apothekerin von Itzling teilgenommen habe, eine schoene Frau, von der es eine Geschichte zu erzaehlen gaebe, mindestens so abenteuerlich und raetselhaft wie die seine, ausserdem sicher erotischer. Und was antwortet der Aufschreiber? Ob er sich denn eine Die Apothekerin von Itzling genannte Frau als Buchheldin vorstellen koenne. Oh ja, moechte da der geneigte Leser ausrufen, dieses Buch koennen wir uns vorstellen, diese Geschichte wollen wir lesen. Aber da hatte der Aufschreiber noch etwas zu dem Apotheker gesagt: Und ueberhaupt moege er erst einmal abwarten. Was bedeutet das? Wird an der Apothekerin von Itzling schon geschrieben? Oder ist dieses Buch gar schon geschrieben worden, und die schoene Unbekannte in Wirklichkeit die Apothekerin von Itzling? Das allerdings waere, man kann es nicht anders sagen, dann doch eine Enttaeuschung. DB Datenbank STA Dokumentennummer: STA19970425191335000163 

DIE ZEIT vom 25.04.1997 Seite 47 Nr. 18 FEUILLETON Der Ritter der Ploetzlichkeit Eine Maerchenstunde in Santa Fe: Peter Handkes Roman In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus Es war einmal ein Mann. Der Mann hatte einen Freund. Der Freund sagt, Mann, erzaehl mir eine Geschichte! Da fing der Mann an: Es war einmal ein Mann. Der hatte einen Freund. Der Freund sagt, ,Mann, erzaehl mir eine Geschichte!`. Da fing der Mann an: . . . Soeben lasen Sie, wenngleich in ruede verkuerzter Fassung, den neuen Roman von Peter Handke. Oder sagen wir besser gleich: den neuen Abschnitt aus der unendlichen Geschichte ueber eine Geschichte, an der der Dichter seit nunmehr zwei Jahrzehnten schreibt. Kein Gesamtkunstwerk, eher ein Fahndungsbericht in Fortsetzungen, ein Gesamtsuchwerk: Langsame Heimkehr, Die Lehre der Sainte-Victoire, Der Chinese des Schmerzes, Die Wiederholung, Die Abwesenheit, die Versuche ueber die Muedigkeit, die Jukebox, den geglueckten Tag, zuletzt Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht - alles Stationen auf dem Kreuzweg zum absoluten Buch, Seitenfluegel, Haupt- und Nebenschiff der kuenftigen Kathedrale einer erloesten Literatur. Nichts als Vorstudien, ein einziges Prolegomenon, das am Ende wohl das Hauptwerk abgibt. Zwar voller winzkleiner Kostbarkeiten - Regentropfen im Wegstaub, Mistelbalken in den Baumkronen, Rest-Pommes-frites in Pappbechern, sirrenden Kuehltruhen im Supermarkt, wie sie keiner ausser Peter Handke in deutscher Zunge besingen kann -, und doch poetologisch hoch- und immer wieder nach- und zugeruestet, schwer beladen mit den Lehrsaetzen und Rezepten einer AEsthetik der Versoehnung zwischen Wort und Welt. Letztlich eine lange Antwort auf eine kurze Frage: Wie erzaehlt man eine Geschichte? Zum Beispiel so: Es war einmal ein Mann. Der hat eine Apotheke. In der Apotheke traegt er seine weisse Apothekertracht, auf der Strasse jedoch Hut, Anzug und Stecktuch. Das Haus des Apothekers liegt an der Saalach in OEsterreich. Am Morgen, nachdem der Apotheker in der Saalach geschwommen ist, stecken kleine Flusskiesel in seiner Ohrmuschel, knirschen und klirren. Den Sohn hat der Apotheker verstossen, die Tochter ist in den Ferien, von der Frau lebt er getrennt, wenngleich unter einem Dach. Die Vorfahren des Apothekers stammen aus der Hohen Tatra, die Apotheke hingegen liegt in Taxham bei Salzburg. In seiner Freizeit sammelt der Apotheker Pilze, werktags ruehrt er im Hinterzimmer der Apotheke in den Toepfen und Tiegeln. Im Sommer liest der Apotheker ein mittelalterliches Ritter- und Zauberepos, abends speist er in einem Kellerlokal, halb unter der Erde, nahe beim Flughafen. Der Apotheker, sagen die Leute, sei der einzige Mann zwischen dem Untersberg und der Enge von Penedes, der so wirke, als habe er eine Geschichte zu erzaehlen. Der neue Handke-Roman hebt an, als seis ein nachgeholter Roman ueber den literarischen Vorfahren und Landarzt Charles Bovary, den wahren Helden der geistigen Provinz und der Einfalt des Herzens. Der Mann aus Taxham hat nicht nur einen Allerweltsberuf und unauffaellige Manieren, er faehrt eine bestimmte Automarke, bevorzugt eine seltene Kaffeesorte und beschaeftigt sogar zwei Angestellte. Nie und nimmer wuerde man aus seinem Apothekermund die Schwellprosa des spaeten Handke vernehmen, nichts von den Fundamenten der Leere, dem Untergang des allerersten Reichs, kein Wort vom ausgestorbenen Koenigtum, der nie gekannten Ordnung fuer die dumme zerfahrene Jetztzeit, der Wiederkunft einer Sprache wie die vor dem Bau des Turms von Babel. Der Apotheker ist, obgleich er mit Andreas Loser, dem Helden des 1983 erschienenen Romans Der Chinese des Schmerzes, mehr als nur das einsame Leben im Salzburgischen teilt, kein Schwellenkundler und Vergil-Exeget, niemand, der den Hohlraum eines aus der Welt verschwundenen Zusammenhangs wortstark und gebildet abtastet. Er ist, anders als die lebenden Allegorien des juengsten Dramas Zuruestungen fuer die Unsterblichkeit, kein serviler Sprechautomat einer altersaengstlichen aesthetischen Ordnungssehnsucht. Der Apotheker aus Taxham ist eine durch und durch - Handke wuerde sagen: erfrischende Figur. Als ein zeitgenoessischer Gesellschaftsroman - durchflutet vom staendig mitklingenden Epos des unbestimmten Strassen- und Fahrvolks - wurde die Apothekergeschichte bereits im 1994 erschienenen Roman Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht annonciert. Der Apotheker von Erdberg sollte das Werk im Werk damals noch heissen und war ein aufgegebenes Romanprojekt des Niemandsbuchtbewohners, das schliesslich von Georges Simenon weitergetippt wurde - wiewohl der wirkliche Apotheker von Erdberg dem Autor in die Niemandsbucht noch Jahr fuer Jahr aus der Ferne Material schickt und andeutet, er haette unter vier Augen viel fuer das Buch zu erzaehlen. Eine wahre Geschichte also, erzaehlt von einem wirklichen Apotheker, so will es










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