Once Again for Thucydides
LINK TO SCOTT ABBOTT[S TRANSLATION
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
Attempt to Exorcize One Story By
Means of Another
It was a Sunday, the morning of the twenty-third of July 1989, in the "Hotel Terminus" near the train station in Lyon-Perrache, a room that looked out over the tracks. In the distance, between railway wires and apartment blocks, the waterbright green of trees hinted at a river, the SaIne, shortly before its confluence with the Rhone above, swallows turned against the white (shot through with sky blue) of the waning moon that then slowly drifted away, pitted like a cloud. Across the otherwise Sunday emptiness of the station yard the train personnel went their separate ways, each with his briefcase, descended the back steps, past an isolated house overgrown by wild grape vines, a graceful building from the turn of the century,
--Translated from German by Scott Abbott
CONJUNCTIONS:31 Fall 1998
Head Coverings in Skopje
A POSSIBLE MINOR EPIC: of the various head coverings of the passersby in large cities, as, for example, in Skopje in Macedonia/Yugoslavia on December 10, 1987. There were even, right in the metropolis, those "Passe-Montagne" or mountain-climbing caps, covering the nose below and the forehead above and leaving only the eyes uncovered, and among them the bicycle-cart drivers with black little Moslem caps glued to their skulls, while next to them at the edge of the street an old man said goodby to his daughter or niece from Titograd/Montenegro or Vipava/Slovenia, multiple steep gables in his hood, an Islamic window and capital ornament (his daughter or niece cried). It was snowing in southernmost Yugoslavia and thawing at the same time. And then a man passed by with a white, crocheted forage cap shot through with oriental patterns under the dripping snow, followed by a blond girl with a thick bright stocking cap (topped by a tassel), followed immediately by a bespectacled man with a beret, a dark blue stem on top, followed by the beret of a long-legged soldier and by a pair of peaked police caps with concave surfaces. A man walked past then with a fur cap, earlaps turned up, in the midst of swarms of women wearing black cloths over their heads. After that a man with a checked fez -- slung over his ear, in magpie black and white, Parzival's half-brother, piebald Feirefiz. His companion carried a leather-and-fur cap, and after them came a child with a black-and-white ear band. The child was followed by a man with a salt-and-pepper hat, a black-market magnate suavely making his way along the Macedonian bazaar street in the slushy snow. The troop of soldiers then, with the Tito-star on the prows of their caps. After them a man with a brown-wool Tyrolean hat, front brim turned down, the back brim turned straight up, a silver badge on the side. A little girl hopping by with a bright deerskin hood, lined. A man with a whitish-gray shepherd's hat wound by a red band. A fat woman with a linen-white cook's scarf, fringed in the back. A young man with a multi-layered leather cap, each layer a different color. A man pushed a cart and had a plastic cap over his ears, his chin wrapped in a Palestinian scarf. One man walked along then with a rose-patterned cap, and gradually even the bareheaded passersby seemed to be equipped with head coverings -- hair itself a covering. Child, carried, with a night cap, intersected by woman with slanted, broadly sweeping movie hat: there was no keeping up with the variety. A beauty in glasses walked past with a pale violet Borsalino hat and sauntered around the corner, followed by a very small woman with a towering cable-knit hat she had knitted herself, followed by an infant with a sombrero on its still open fontanel, carried by a girl with an oversized beret made in Hongkong. A boy with a shawl around his neck and ears. An older boy with skier's earmuffs, logo TRICOT. And so on. That beautiful And so on. That beautiful And so on.
--Translated from German by Scott Abbott
ONCE AGAIN FOR THUCYDIDES
by Peter Handke
Our Price: .95
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Pub. date: September 1998
ONCE AGAIN FOR THUCYDIDES
By PETER HANDKE
Translated by TESS LEWIS
A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOK
Copyright 1998 Tess Lewis. All rights reserved.
On March 23, 1987, a leaf in the evergreen ivy climbing the side of a house on the Felsenberg seemed wilted. When a man's shadow fell on the leaf, it rose up, spreading wings infinitely yellower underneath--the strongest color seen in a long time. Then, a second brimstone butterfly flew around the corner of the house, a twitching shadow on the wall. The butterflies alit, revealing a pair of dark spots on their veined, lemon-yellow wings, one dot above the other; their heads retained something of their former caterpillar states. Throughout the winter they had hung unnoticed in the bushes, rolled up like cigarettes. Next to one of the butterflies, a first bee landed suddenly. Again, as the butterfly flew off, its underwings emitted their deep shine into the world, forcing one's glance back into a look around. This was after the ten o'clock news on the radio. The sun grew warmer, and both butterflies disappeared. By midday, deep in the front garden, the granular snow of the firn began to stir. The grains of snow began to topple as if of their own will. They fell away, rolling to the side, and grew more diaphanous and transparent with each glance. Across the entire blanket of snow and throughout the garden there was a constant, endless jolting, lurching, beginning-to-flow, trickling, and--if one brought one's ear close--a rustling. It was the snow melting. Some of the grains settled on the incline, gleaming under the warm sun like the concave mirrors of tiny cosmic telescopes. At the same time, the blanket of snow sagged visibly, and between the several blades of new grass piercing it. The rocket of a first crocus flashes up, still half-shrouded in leaves, the deep blue tip aimed towards the equally blue outer space. Seen through a magnifying glass, the crystallized firn was full of soot. These were the events of the morning of March 23, 1987.
THE PIGEONS OF PAZIN
I spent the night of the 22nd to the 23rd of August, 1987, in the central Istrian town of Pazin, in a hotel on the edge of a rocky precipice, a so-called "sink-hole," at the foot of which, far below, Dante is said to have entered into the Inferno. Someone was still playing the accordion after midnight, and a small owl, so timid it seemed tame, hooted continuously in the dark pines along the sink-hole's rim. Then in the darkest night, a rooster crowed, reminding me of the enormous bumble-bee I had seen the day before, stirring up pale bluebells. I remembered the cicada in an apple tree and St. Martin on a fresco in Beram's solitary church. I had always been offended by this saint who cut his robe in half, but now, for the first time, I began to understand him. Towering above the poor, naked beggar who smiles like a half-wit, St. Martin divided his cloak and, reaching down from his horse, draped it around the man's shoulders. The enormous saint looks down sorrowfully upon such "conditions."
The next day in Pazin was a Sunday. Tides of silence washed over the city so that the gurgling of pigeons reigned high up in the trees, especially in the cedars. At the bottom of another sink-hole (the area is known for these vertical pits), I came upon dead trees standing in a lake covered with pea-green algae. Later, at the train station, more than a few of the young Yugoslavian rices appeared disfigured, if only because of the gaps between their teeth, and I thought of the petrifying, Medusa-like gaze which I myself, already exposed, sometimes used unconsciously or even against my will, in order to expose others. I knew I had to overcome this habit completely, to breathe it away, to breathe it out of myself--or, rather, to veil it so that I could perceive things even more clearly. (So I reflected under the chestnut trees outside the Pazin station, remembering the beautiful night in the hotel and the first rays of sun on the window frame.) Now the noise--yes, noise--of the pigeons high in the trees, like the sound of conversations below, became decisive, urgent, as if up in the treetops they believed themselves unique. From the trees dropped a snowfall of small white feathers. With a hoarse caw, one of the pigeons flew down and minced around the station square before fluttering majestically straight back up into the leaves, its feathers whispering like a shaken sack of straw. The pigeons were very light in color with a dark, emblematic stripe on their tailfeathers. Their dainty heads were even a shade lighter. They were convinced they were unique. Where were Pazin's sparrows? I watched a circle of them whirl up from the dust--a seventh-day creation. Nearby, a pigeon, with a bobbing head and a piece of straw in its beak, left the sparrows' realm suddenly and was soon just a shadow in the sunny foliage. Large and small flies, previously unnoticed on the sticky oil-cloth in the station buffet, were lapping up spilled drops.
Were those flocks of birds in the crannies of the sink-hole walls also pigeons, illuminating its depths with their bright wings? Similarly, a single white butterfly's wobbling search for its mate intensified the green darkness under the chestnut trees. Meanwhile, waiting passengers (who had become quite numerous) stood around under the pigeons' din like a collection of unnecessary things.
So I have decided to skip my train and to stay in Pazin with Sunday's pigeons. Then occurred the first of that day's so typically Yugoslavian coincidences: I saw a child with a white eye-patch--the train to Pula has arrived--just as, simili modo, last night I saw a slender young girl wearing a bright frayed bandage on her knee, a bandage that seemed almost a decoration because of its fringes and the charming way the girl straightened her knee. (The train to Pula has departed.) And I also noticed the station's pillars, here in Pazin, slender, round and fluted in the old Austrian style. A small flag pole stuck out of the cornice under the enormous main capital. The sparrows had become barely visible, mere whistling shadows over the asphalt. The train to Dirska pulled in, the one I had previously planned on taking. Passengers scrambled to the train's doors despite its having stopped. Soon, this train too had gone, leaving behind only one woman in a black dress with a white aster on her purse. The pigeons, momentarily quiet, now hesitantly began, one at a time, to echo the train's whistle. I took my time, of which I had plenty.
Many of Pazin's houses still bear traces of the original gables. The former trapezoids of these Istrian houses--squares topped with triangles--have been expanded and filled in to form rectangles. Meanwhile, the pigeons with their dark, guttural cooing completely blanketed the entire town; and the many holes in the railroad worker's blue shirt turned out merely to be groups of flies, which were doubtless squatting all over my back as well; wasps, burrowing in the garbage, scared off whirls of the flies. My head ached from seeing and hearing so much. One pigeon, just landed, let its dark pinions hang down from the lighter colored feathers of one wing as it circled and pecked, and then let the pinions hang from the other wing, looking like some kind of amphibious vehicle--then it hopped down into the gutter. The back of its neck gleamed quite brightly as it flew up into the station's canopy. Nothing airier than the wafting breezes, I thought. And then, in the noonday stillness, all the roosters in this small town began to crow at once. A cat slunk into the station square, and although small, began stalking the flighty birds like a lion. In the alley leading down to the sink-hole was a rooster with a glowworm in its beak. I freed the glowworm which sat stunned a while before finally raising its head. In a garden near the hole, a turkey in a wire cage raised its head in the same way. Then, finally, near the sea on this Sunday evening, a palm frond shuddered like a thousand birds.
Die Geschichtlichkeit der anderen Geschichte
Zu Peter Handkes Orts- und ZeittafelnBesprochene Bücher / Literaturhinweise