Sunday, December 25, 2011


Peter Handke sets out for Velika Hoca, a Serbian enclave in southern Kosovo, on 6 May 2008: »Something was calling me to interview every single person in Serbian Kosovo extensively and in a sort of systematic way, like a reporter or even journalist, and write their answers.«
But when he arrives, the traditional question-and-answer format proves to be unsuitable; Only when freely conversing do they speak about their experiences, express their own points of view and talk about how life has been, both there and elsewhere. And so Peter Handke gives up the idea of being a stenographer and visits people in their homes or in »Rambouillet«, the container speakeasy.

Upon his return, the author pens an account of his one-week stay in the enclave. The result is the first portrait, part literature, part journalism, of the people and living conditions of a Serbian enclave in Kosovo since its independence. It is a striking, vivid and enthralling panorama of Velika Hoca, suspended between resignation and hope. And what the outlook is for the cuckoos there, and throughout all of Central Europe, the portrayed as well.



As you read the Handke’s texts that treat of his involvement in the
 disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation {1} [see: for the Milosevic controversy summarized]and novels of his where reporters and journalists appear {2}, usually as self-imploding self-derisive figures, especially so in one of the Enclave sections of his epic Crossing the Sierra del Gredos and also in Morawische Nacht, you cannot but help notice frequent wholesale dismissal of their work as that of foreigners with set stories for which they seek confirmatory information and images - ill informed, unintimate with their surround, arrogant, and basically disgusted with the miseries they have to report on {3}: interchangeable reporters, for all intents out of interchangeable hotels, for interchangeable foreign locales telling very similar stories in pretty much the same standardized minimal language [the generic language ocean the deadened minds swim and want to swim in]. The exceptions, and these are not as few as you might think reading my autistic genius Handke:
however prove his point.         
      So it comes as a surprise to see Handke attempt to actually report, attempt to be a journalist on a locale with which he is quite familiar, the Serbian enclave of Velica Hoča in the now independent rump state Kosovo [no mention of the U.S. black site Camp Bondsteel!]

“Other than all the other previous times, the intent for this visit did not consist of just being there, to celebrate the local feasts, to look and listen. I felt the urge to make inquiry of this or that person in the Serbian part of Kosovo, as it were systematically, thoroughly in the role of a reporter or if you like, as a journalist, and to write the answers down along as they came. And I proposed to do so at a place where I had been not just once, in the Serbian enclave of Velica Hoca, a village in southern Kosovo...” [p.8-9]
Not only is this the same enclave to which Handke and his director Klaus Peymann [in a publicity stunt tour] delivered the 50 K Euro Berlin Heine Prize that was substituted for the Düsseldorf Heine Prize [for which that city’s council refused to provide the monies once Handke’s publicity stunt* appearance at the Milosevic funeral had stirred outrage - *Handke may be big and sometimes subtle show-off, but, and I could be more specific here, he at least has a lot more to show than, say, either Norman Mailer or Alan Ginsberg!], but a year prior to this trip to Velica Hoča a previous Handke trip to Velica Hoča - on a bus filled with mourners on their way to a cemetery there - as we find out at the beginning of KUCKUCKE - provided him the extraordinary tour-de-force description of a trip in the novel’s there anonymous enclave in the 2008 quilt of a chiefly autobiographical narrative Moravian Nights, a brilliant opening a brilliant ending, some of the greatest writing this side of heaven and then some, but a hotch potch of locales and unrelated events inbetween:
So how does Handke do without his kind of novelistic lying, without introducing fantasies, without magical stylistic sleight of hand tricks, without showing off his immense gifts as a writer? He does extraordinarily well, better than he did in the three quickly [here he takes his time visiting and writing] penciled [?] reports from his expeditions to Yugoslavia during its disintegration Trip to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia [1994], Ein Sommerlicher Nachtrag 1995 [A Summer’s Sequel] and Unter Tränen Fragend [Questioning, in Tears-1999][2] which are marred by whole-sale media attacks that lack in specificity no matter that his personal impressions are immensely valuable as is his metaphoric, his individual way of responding, which the generic if they even it in them have excised by their editors.
    Initially, in Kuckucke, Handke takes recourse to the cool distanced objective tone with which his readers will be familiar from as far back as his 1971 Sorrow Beyond Dreams and his 1981 account A Child Story, where the kind of distancing to his own child by calling the girl an it {es, das Kind} might take you aback in its attempt to avert emotional distortion. In Kuckucke, his cool and dry initial descriptions, say at a border crossing - to get to Velica Hoča is like an expedition through armed guards of all kinds, and it gradually devolves that Velica Hoča is watched over, semi-occupied by all kinds of peace-keepers, some of whom have been there for years, and prefer it that way since it sounds as though they are fuck-ups wherever they came from! - reminds me of Uwe Johnson’s similar sporting coolness at once Berlin border crossings. However, the overly distanced tone becomes more and more intimate, Handke loosens up, and the prose becomes more venturesome: 

And yet, and then again: the same pariah as our leader in the immediate vicinity and   revealed as the Master of a carefully and solitarily cultivated vineyard. An entire morning he walked like that in front of us. And not just the cuckoos all around Velica Hoca were sounding off: the blue jays, merely as one example, too, injected their so different tones into our ears. Vekoslav, that is: the eternally Slav? or the eternally praised? knew about his ancestors: the jays, the Serbian sojka, has "nine voices"; one of them, for example, was "like that of a child, that is crying," another is "an adult's quacking"." The wild onion, which had shot up all about the meadows around the vineyard, were "snake weed" in translation, and on looking up the place the next day on my own, I really did see the tip of a tail twitch away, and at the next stalk, a few steps further, yet another tip. p. 64

and as I write this, I wish he were in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, writing for a big paper, instead of, say, the forever generic Elizabeth Malkin or Ginger “Rogers” Thompson, or Marc Lacey of the New York Times who share Aunties miserable Central American beat: 

[do the same for Ginger “Rogers” Thomson and Marc Lacey, and the threesome must cost Auntie $ 500,000 per annum what with travel and bureaus.]

or the overheated  David B. Briones of
who, however, is on the street and has informants there, or the various Reuters and AP “bare facts” grinds [not the reporters, the readers are to blame who want it like that, just the facts?, really now, and the editors are the enacters of this habitual code.] but in which instance if you happen to be interested you fortunately at least have Larry Birns:
to provide some background on the interests that are playing out there. During the Yugoslav wars, Steve Erlanger was the only NY Times reporter in Belgrade who did not take some obvious side. My now friend Chris Hedges appears to have got under Handke’s skin, too, but the now ex-war reporter had not been to Harvard Divinity and become the writer he is now:
But any reporter whose language offends the aesthetic of the non-esthete Handke’s super-finicky sense of language... will trigger my man’s psychotic fuse when he is in extremis! But do you really think you got a feel for the de Hague Milosevic trial from Auntie’s Marlis Simon? If only these writers were allowed to write as well as the ones who do the NY Times obituaries, or delights such as Natalie Angier at the Science section or the various film and some of the daily book  and art reviewers: only once you are dead:
which is why some writers then can’t wait to be move over to that section!

Handke, in Kuckucke, does not give us the history of the Kosovo campaign and disintegration: that exists as a background, his focus is limited to his week in Velica Hoča, the famous “here and now” during which we also find out, no surprise here, that he is homophobic when his friend stick a branch between his legs from behind and he leaps up as though it were a snake!
     While it is manifest where Handke’s sympathies lie and that the continued injustice of the expulsion of Serbs from most of the places they had farmed and lived in for generations becomes apparent, as does his disgust with one Spiegel reporter who appeared only to shoot off flashbulbs for a story about Velica Hoča as a hotbed of troublemakers, a ready-made actually already “in the can” in Hamburg, Handke’s walking about either by himself, or with his long time Serbian translator and others, talking to this person and the other, the local Orthodox priest appears to be his main contact, he makes his own discoveries;

“Was it the fear of running across one of the locals? Of tangling with one of those “of the other side”? No. It was nearly a wish, finally to encounter an Albanian villager. One would have wished him “good day” in his language, “Miredita!”, and then at once have segued into English. (Just make doubly sure that not a single Serbian word slips out…). Would he, or would they (why did he always anticipate a “they,” a plurality?) not understand anything: English at least counted as a kind of pass-word. I would represent myself   as a “journalist”, which would have an immediate effect – I had experienced it several times in the most foreign wildernesses, my notebook and the pencil stub sufficed (but not hit them with the fact of being a “writer”, “shrkimitar” or “poet” for gods sake – that would mean suspicion from one second to the next, or at best mistrust, a wealth of experiences also on that score)…” [p.56-7]

to his own surprise finds out that many of Velica Hoča’s current inhabitants, many of them rentiers subsisting on pittances, are refugees from once neighboring villages. 
The overall impression I come away with is of a highland village whose agriculture is half destroyed – lots of vineyards are unkempt, as are meadows – a village that is going nowhere, desolation row; the political is the entire phenomenological ground that Handke the observers covers, and it is thus implicit, in Uwe Johnson’s first three novels {4} we can see the politics of the contradictions of socialism and capitalism intrude into every formulation, no need for that here, if it were even possible: but every barren vineyard makes a political statement too, you merely need to know how to read it, which tourists of course are incapable of. But here it is Handke the phenomenologist at work in a completely politicized landscape – all the detritus on his walk back from the Albanian village speaks of politics, is also the detritus of political events.
Handke’s  original succés de scandale Publikums Beschimpfung, I now call it Public Insult, is actually political in a profound as compared to a trivial sense – [and that was at the time he was having his easy fun with theengage]  more so than the wonderful Orwell ever was. He later suggested to Günter Grass that he ought to spend more time working on his novels instead of engaging for Willy Brandt and the SPD – at a time that democracy wasn’t yet a choice between tweedledum and tweedledee. Of course we all know of Handke’s every engagement for dog catcher in the forest that he lives in! The disintegration of Yugoslavia, which had been the troubled writer’s sought for land of peace, wounded him as only a love child can be wounded, not the prettiest of sights, which might have called for understanding, or at least puzzlement instead of moronic cudgels. I continue to be astounded by the near total uniformity across the entire political spectrum in the U.S. of A. of agreement that the Serbians and specifically the Big Bad Wolf of Pograrevic is to blame for the various wars there. 

Handke ventures down a long serpentine to the 
Albanian village and is greeted by a single crone
in a window sill, the look in whose eyes he judges 
to be utter hatred and fear - the two ethnically different villages no longer communicate. He finds no mention of the famous 1389 battle at Kosovo Polje [Field of Blackbirds] as the reason for the villager’s allegiance to a land they have farmed for generations. He pores over maps after his return… finds all kinds of odd discrepancies and contradictions there as well. Although the rye fields are still planted and harvested, the grain must be milled at an Albanian village, who take the miller’s cut, there is no baker left in town: the villagers bake their rolls in small electric ovens. Remnants of recent battles and pogroms are all about. But of course it his prose, the way he writes along with what he observed that makes one want to recommend someone like Handke to the newspapers of this world and the only way to prove that point convincingly is a few quotes:
That first, planned hour where I would pose questions took place in the yard of a small ground-level premise beneath a walnut tree, at some remove from the yard gate, on a sofa, the blanket on top, with DB, the initials for German Federal Railways [Deutsche Bundesbahn]. The questions, different than the usual, concerned everyday life - how are you getting by? - and how things were in general -  how did the new state exert itself on the existence in the enclave? The idea of getting by, at least for the first person questioned, a not very old grandmother,  with her 70 Euros, her husband's pension, who had once had a job in Austria and died suddenly, was unimaginable, she was a diabetic, and the sum she mentioned went for the requisite monthly Insulin injections, brand "Siomfor". (Why had the questioner expressedly noted this Siomfar?  So as to plead the pretense of authority? Or out of embarrassment for his role playing?)...[p.43]

"Dahinwandern", das war schon bald nicht mehr das Zeitwort für den sich in dem ungewissen Niemandsland Fortbewegenden. Es handelte sich eher um ein Eindringen, Schritt für Schritt. Dabei ging der Weg in fast luftigen Höhen, über einem sanft nach Ost und West und vor allem nach Süden, auf das Albanerdorf zu, ausschwingenden Bachtal. Ein Eindringling war man dort, und dabei herrschte in dem Zwischengebiet eine nicht bloß episodische oder jüngstentstandene Menschenleere. Die erst noch üppigen, starkgrünen Wiesen im Bachtal erschienen immer schütterer und gingen allmählich über in ein nacktes graues Brachland, so wie auch die Weingärten an den Hängen brachlagen…[…] Vom Bach, der oben, nordwärts in Velika Hoča, als einzigen Namen 'Potočnica', weiblich, das 'Bächlein', hatte, kein Gluckern mehr zu hören. Überhaupt herrschte im Umkreis des Wegs, bis auf das Eindringlingsgeräusch der Schritte, eine beinah vollständige Lautlosigkeit…[…] Stetige Laute, ein immerwährendes allerseits wegbegleitendes Zurufen, einzig von den Kuckucken, den serbischen 'kukavice', den albanischen 'qyqe', aus den mehr und mehr zurückweichenden Waldhorizonten. 

Velica Horca seems fortunate only in one respect: whereas the cuckoos in Europe have not adjusted to needing to lay their eggs in the nest of birds that, because of global warming, lay their eggs two weeks earlier, the temperature in the high plains Velica Hoča, in Spring, remains the same; thus there are enough cuckoos in the vicinity of Velica Hoča for the rotten nests in the heads of all the madmen in the world. 

1] Die Kuckucke von Velika Hoca, eine Nachschrift,Suhrkamp Verlag, 2009, 100 pages.
2] Handke’s first book on the subject isAbschied vom Neunten Land [1993] which deals chiefly with his questioning the need for Slovenian independence. Then come:  Trip to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia [1994]Ein Sommerlicher Nachtrag 1995 [A Summer’s Sequel] and Unter Tränen Fragend [Lamenting, in Tears-1999]. There is also the great play DIE FAHRT IM EINBAUM, which Scott Abbot has just translated: Voyage by Dugout: The Play About the Film About the War. Here quote form it:

The Greek Reporter:
You appear in the name of goodness, yet you have never left behind the least goodness in this country. Helpers? You’ve never helped yet. There is a kind of indifference more helpful than your humanitarian gesticulating. Your right hand caresses some like Mother Teresa while your left hand raises the sword of a criminal court against the others. Puny devils of goodness. Humanitarian hyenas. Aloof and formal in the face of suffering – you officious and public humanitarians. Mars corporations masquerading as guardians of human rights. You claim to be humanitarian sheriffs – and the humanitarian sheriffs in the westerns, isn’t it true, Mr. O’Hara, were usually incompetent or secretly corrupt. They were the villains.
Aren’t those prejudices, my son?
Let him express his prejudices, John. Prejudices make good film plots.
The war has made the people from here bad, worse than they are. You carpetbaggers have become bad with the war, like you really are. Deaf and blind – unfortunately, not speechless, not speechless at all.
Medieval rhetoric.
Those who wield sentences as bludgeons have the power. In earlier despotic regimes, that was the politicians. Now it is you. And while the small peoples here fought for scraps of earth, you conquered the whole world. In word and image the despotic lords over reality, you power rangers. Internationals? Extraterrestrials. International court? Universal stingrays.
You’re not imagining an about face? We have to continue the way we began. We are now prisoners of our initial opinion. We must continue more vigorously, more shrilly, and above all in a monotone – monotone – monotone. That’s the way it is. That’s the state of affairs. It’s true: We’re sick of what we do, so sick of it. And we’re sick of each other. But what can we do? Should we suddenly say: The other ones, the ones not from here, are also guilty? Guilty in a different way? Impossible! That’s not the point. We must continue as we began, in full voice and if necessary with empty hearts. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it has to be. We are the language.

3] a good link with links to the German reception of Kuckucke is:
also see:
for a fine, sympathetic and detailed review by Lothar Struck that also has extensive quotes from the German text. Struck’s review ofMorawische Nacht, in the same publication, however reveals him to be an uncritical acolyte.
„Auf der Brücke brauchte ich mich, gegen die Erwartung, nicht auszuweisen. Sie wurde auf der serbischen Seite bewacht von Franzosen, das war schon an den Uniformen zu erkennen, auf der albanischen Seite von, an jenem Morgen wenigstens, schwarzen Amerikanern. Grüßen in den beiden Sprachen, und freundliches, jedenfalls nirgends argwöhnisches Zurückgegrüßtwerden. Mir war, ich sei der erste Brückengänger am Tag, und die Soldaten sähen sich bei meinem Passieren in der Tat als Angehörige einer Schutztruppe. […] Die Stacheldrahtrollen, beiseite geschoben hüben wie drüben dann, wirkten wie aus einer Vorzeit.
„Im albanischen Teil angekommen, ging ich im Brückenrhythmus weiter, als hätte ich da zu tun. Nur nicht als Neugieriger oder sonst wer erscheinen. Breite Gehsteige, auch durch die hier fehlende Tausendkioskmeile und also viel Platz zum Gehen. […] Wieviel Luft allein schon um die sichtlich neuerbaute monumentale Moschee, welche, mit ihrem Minarett, sowohl Hauptplatz als auch Hauptkreuzung markierte. […]
„Die Cafés hier mit offenen Terrassen, auch das ein Unterschied zu denen im Norden, wo die Terrassen, bis auf die einzelne Ausnahme wie das "Dolce Vita", mit Plastikplanen verkleidet waren, so daß das Geschehen dahinter von der Straße aus nur sehr vage und überdies verzerrt sichtbar wurde. Hier dagegen saßen die meist jungen Gäste, zahlreicher jedenfalls als wir Fußgänger, ganz offen im Freien, bei Kaffee oder Bier. […] Wenn einem der Sitzer da der doch wohl offensichtlich stadt- wie landfremde Passant auffiel, so ließ er das aber keinmal spüren. Oder war es eher so, daß er, der Passant, im voraus beschlossen hatte, niemandem aufzufallen? War so etwas denn möglich? An jenem friedlichen Morgen und Vormittag ja. Aus solcher den Norden wie den Süden umfassenden Friedlichkeit heraus ein einziges Wundern, daß das nicht auch schon in der Zeit vorher so hatte sein können, zusammen mit dem Gedanken, einem gewissen, im einzelnen dagegen ganz und gar ungewissen, daß das kein ganz leerer oder grundloser Wahn war: der Friede hatte seinen Grund – er lag in der Luft und ebenso klar auf der Hand – er hatte (eine) Zukunft, wenn es für diese auch im Norden und Süden zwei sehr verschieden klingende Wörter gab, 'budućnost' und 'ardhme'.
„Ungewiß, wo auf dem Weiterweg zwischen den zwei wenn auch nicht mehr deutlich verfeindeten, so doch einander wie endgültig aus dem Sinn geratenen Dörfern, nach dem Sportplatz mit dem im Strafraum grasrupfenden Kühen, und nach dem letzten Haus, wie bewohnt und beim Hinsehen unbewohnt, und dann noch einem, deutlich verfallenen – ungewiß, wo danach mitten im Land, mitten im da so besonders weiträumig erscheinenden Kosovo das Niemandsland begann. Jedenfalls war es nicht von einem Schritt zum andern, daß der einmal als Fahr- und Verbindungsweg angelegte Weg keinerlei Fahrspuren mehr zeigte. […]

Bei der Ankunft, gleich beim Aussteigen aus dem Auto…in einer Maiensonne wie nur je einer, erklangen sie überall in dem weiten Umkreis rund um das Dorf […] All den Frühling hatte ich quer durch Europa hier und dort auf das Rufen eines Kuckucks gewartet…Aber in den Wäldern dann, gleichwelchen, gleichwo: nada…In Velika Hoča dagegen vom ersten Augenblick an ein regelrechtes Kuckuckswelttreffen oder –konzil, vielleicht nicht gerade der Liebe wegen, aber spürbar auch nicht zum Streit. Und es setzte sich während all der Tage dort fort, jeweils bis in die Abende hinein, und in jenem anderen Zeitsinn sind die Kuckucksrufe selbst in den Nächten erschollen und von nun an sollen die Kuckucksrufe das Vordringliche und den Grundton Angebende sein. 
„ folgenden Sonntag, nein, an einem der Tage vorher, einem orthodoxen Feiertag, das Glockenläuten in der Enklave und simultan, nein, das war keine Halluzination, im albanischen Unterdorf, so fern wie klar, das Muezzin-Schallen, zum Elf-Uhr-Gebet…im Einklang zum Läuten und/oder Gebetsrufen, Glockenschlag für Glockenschlag und/oder Suren-Silbe für Suren-Silbe, ein Gebell losließen, welches, ein wie skandierendes und synkopierendes, einmal kürzeres, einmal längeres, hochgezogenes und so geradezu melodisches Aufheulen, so oder so ein eindeutiges Respondieren war, oder jedenfalls sein sollte.
„Und jener letzte oder vorletzte oder erste Morgen in Velika Hoča, da ich, aus meinem Quartier durch das Hoftor auf den Dorfplatz getreten, mich auf die Stufen vor dem Tor setzte, da der eine kleine Streunhund sich zu mir gesellte, da die Enklaven-Kinder über den Platz zur Schule gingen, da die Enklaven-Alten sich aufmachten zu ihren hoffnungslos-heiteren Tagesrunden, da die Dorfplatzlinden grünten, und da unter uns allen ein illusionäres Einverständnis herrschte, nicht mit der Geschichte, bewahre, aber mit der Morgenluft, der Ratlosigkeit, dem Rundenziehen, dem Dasitzen…
I myself have written extensively on Handke’s involvement in Yugoslavia, initially just for myself to make sense of it all, you can get the gist of that coverage at The Milosevic controversy at:
4} Speculations about Jakob; The Third Book About Achim; Two Views.

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MICHAEL ROLOFF exMember Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website