Blog Guest Book N.Y.R.B. / J.S. MARCUS Favorite Links  OPEN LETTER TO ROBERT SILVERS @ NYRB: RE: J.S. MARCUS [1] NYRB=[2]  NYRB=[3] NYRB [4] NYRB [5]





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posted at:




where you can comment

& in as much as my letter specifically addresses Marcus’s comments on Handke’s EINBAUM/ VOYAGE BY DUGOUT

And in greater detail

at the CANOE page of


the second of the handkedrama sites.

& at:


where again you may comment:


in its 7 thousand word entirety can also be found at:


Dear Bob,  

This is a detailed exposition - point by point - critique and disavowal - of one J.S. Marcus’s

Volume 47, Number 14 · September 21, 2000


heinous, crude, accusatory, by and large utterly ignorant and unperceptive, nay one could call it an assassination attempt on Handke, an atrocity to which you refused to run my letter of disagreement [which I make part of my “note” on the Handke play VOYAGE BY DUGOUT, both of which I will send separately], a publishable brief letter where, however, I merely addressed "Marcus's" baldly – baldy will not do now that I scalp him! – utterly but uniquely ignorant literary opinions. - 

I myself had not reached anything conclusionary about Handke's to me then still somewhat puzzling involvement in matters Yugoslavian, but especially not about all that went into the making of that disintegration – Marcus it appears in 2000 had all the “facts” at his command and so could say that Handke “impugned the facts,” and perhaps you and your fellow editors, too, were in some kind of general agreement if not to the disposition of the facts but at least how you were disposed towards them to permit this unknown scribe to ascribe impugning where he himself does that; and, then, that Handke in the play VOYAGE BY DUGOUT, which finally exists in translation – thus the reason for this missile, “did entirely without them” as in fact he really did since, unlike e.g. Johannes R. Becher’s STALIN SCHLACHT, Handke has always prided himself on not putting tanks on his stage, if you get what I mean what a stage is? And letting stage action and nothing else onto his so playfully instructive play space.

Whatever inhibitions I may have had with respect to addressing both Handke’s involvement and the “facts” that went into the disintegration have meanwhile disappeared, thus this letter; disoriented as this once abandoned child can so easily be, I then take the trouble to orient myself so much more thoroughly so as to ride a little less insecurely on Rosinante.

I shared that 2000 letter with a number of people, my friend and once agent, the now deceased Robert Lantz, and they all felt that I stood on pretty good ground, Robbie, who cared for Handke, prayed that you would publish it - you apparently did not, or perhaps you did not want to see the worst piece ever to appear in your pages taken note of, an atrocity, an atrocity with consequences, as detailed here. And you yourself know only too well what influence the NYRB has on all those who don’t do their own thinking and researching, who merely want to natter at cocktail parties – the reaches of such laziness are amazing! 

A truly amazing piece the Marcus piece is considering that you had published good enough pieces by Michael Wood and Frank Kermode in your pages for you to run something as uncomprehending as this immensely injurious piece under the aegis of the NYRB. But perhaps the NYRB does not even consult its own archives as a refresher to its institutional memory. The piece looks like an off-shoot from Susan Sontag's comment at the time that "Handke is finished in New York" who had originally supported my effort to land him at Farrar, Straus. Dear truly loved Susan – what a great American car body and a mind! – rehearsing Beckett in Sarajevo and then theatrically showing her friends “back in the U.S.S.R now” what evading snipers was like, and writing in the New York Times magazine, on the occasion of the Kosovo war, “now the Serbians are the victims” – alas, all our pipsqueak vantages as we forget the 500,000 displaced Serbians from Croatia! Perhaps the Marcus piece was meant as a coup de grace for not toeing the party line on Yugoslavia. It certainly did the trick.

I think we first met when Fred Seidel sent me to you, I must have been in or just out of Grad School and you, at Harper’s, wanted a piece on US Higher Education. I could do you one now after having been a visiting scholar at the Udub as it calls itself, and so glad to have escaped the clutches of those privileges. No doubt if I had been a hotshot I would have grabbed the opportunity, but the very thought of it, and that it produces the likes of J.S. Marcus, and my being seizes up. I think it must have been because of Fred that I knew Whitney and somehow hung around the founding crowd, still very disoriented in NY, feeling my way. Later we saw a bit of each other and had the occasional lunch at Patsy’s.

I had thought that the NYRB was serious in its idea to produce an alternative to the NY Times Book Review, which in their last review of Handke committed yet another atrocity by that non-reader Neil Gordon who teaches “realism” at the New School! Hear Hear!

My and many another shorter letter to the Book Review on the occasion of this atrocity also went unpublished, but you can find it at:


in a roundup of the Handke reception, such as it is. James Wood I was glad to find out entirely agreed with me – always so glad not to be regarded as entirely bonkers! Meanwhile I have come to appreciate what a tough act it is to put out so much readable copy to the unwashed crowd of “innelectuals”, and that the Brits seem to be better at it; and that a little controversy, even if it is spurious, as the one on psycho-analysis about a decade or so was, can help the churn.

As editor and publisher I could not fail to notice that one of those long reviews in your organ did absolutely nothing for sales. People read or at least glance at those long pieces and think they KNOW! Thus a negative review in the NYRB will definitely depress sales, can do no end of harm, and your Marcus piece sure did when Conjunctions then cancels its plan to publish an excerpt from VOYAGE, or a proto-post menstrualist like Benjamin Kunkels pays heed to something like Marcus… and on and on among the review Gesinde, the riff-raff as Handke calls them… that daisy chain of lazy opinion makers. Thus the “long essay review,” as it favors the reader with the notion that they know enough, better be at least within the continuum of what can be entertained at the time of the then knowledge: Marcus falls off the cliff of the norm at nearly every moment.

You are most welcome to run this critique as a letter to editor, it will fill a few of your generous pages, you don’t need to pay letter writers, and it would definitely stir a needed controversy. Point by point, dirty tail by dirty detail.

At the time, you promised to forward my letter to the writer, who is noted as living in Berlin. I never heard from him. He appears only once more in your pages, with a Letter from the Danube, perhaps he has drowned meanwhile and been devoured by a sturgeon, as best as my searches in your archives find. So I imagine he is a real person and not a fictional attack dog hired for the purposeful occasion of attacking Handke who was getting it from nearly all sides at that time and has ever since from great humanists like Michael McDonald of The American [Imperialist] Interest, at R. Wilson’s American Scholar, which sure has gone to the dogs since that fellow started editing it, where McDonald accused Handke via a John Updike quote – we are talking 2007 – of being under the sway of Robbe-Grillet in his 1974 novel A MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING! And, at The Weakly Standard, of writing Chomskyish idyllics in his 2002/ 2007 Crossing the Sierra Del Gredos! These then the only links to Handke that sweet fuddy duddy Dennis [“The Mutton”] Dutton, who runs ArtsDaily


from Kiwiland will link to; and who then lets me know, after I complain to the Chronicle of Higher Education under whose aegis Artsdaily runs, that he has nothing against Handke.  Well he did not link to William Gass’s piece on Handke’s No-Man’s-Bay at the L.A. Times, the only peer response Handke has had in these many years, nor a quite perceptive one of Del Gredos that ran at the Washington Post where the Canadian novelist reviewer noted that Handke made you see the world anew – and to achieve that was the mark of a major writer. And that is what two of the bloody genius’s greatest plays “Ride across Lake Constance” and “The Hour we Knew nothing of Each Other” do, too: they clean out your clock. I am going to clean out Mr. Marcus’s clock in quite a different fashion. With all these folk and the NY Times Book Review and the American Scholar etc. this might be called “piling on” Handke=The Skandal. I can think of skandalons they are so immense, they aren’t really mentioned, are they?

Marcus it appears is also an occasional writer in the Travel section of the New York Times – the section I detest more than any other, each piece comes with the appropriate ads, is tied to them – but certainly the right place for him, perhaps Marcus even wrote that piece that showed two Slovenian ex-doctorands now working in one of those inns frequented by German and Austrian Mercedes owners, smiling their cool Slovenian grins, a piece that proved to me how right Handke was with the first, and gentlest, of his books on the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation" Abschied vom Neunten Land - where 9th Land  is the land of peace, an important province for a hypersensitive autist with such deep longing for peace what with such a streak of violence in him, three near epileptic fits a day, who as a young man was one of the angriest, most nauseated, enraged ever - and occasional  "sacred rage" as he calls his Tourettish explosions! Who certainly had one of last centuries major love child fits all over the media, our great exhibitionist did!...And if one sees something of the  kind: well that troubled child, you try to understand it! No? instead of beating up on it. See:





the exhibitionist love child posing, certainly the most photographed and posed writer ever. And continued to with his visit to the funeral of the Big Bad Wolf of Požarevac, Milošević, [who supposedly killed all those lambs all by himself!] as I made a bet with myself that Handke would, when it became clear that the Hague Tribunal that would be far better off trying some American Geo-political Monsters, would let Milosevic die in prison, that my man would show up there.

and, winning my own bet, treated myself to a bottle of Dom and a gram of the best flake and celebrated my win with a lissome wench at the wedding suite of the best fleabag hotel in this hick town as I hadn’t done for about thirty years!

Not only that, my Handke bébé, as of Marcus having had a go at him, has written quite a number of other texts on the subject,[*] in one of which - THE CUCKOOS OF VELICA HOCA – he finally stops excoriating the world of reporters and proves that he is a hundred times better, and if you had an ounce of guts left you would have that text translated and publish it, because it would set the bar of reportage higher than Orwell. Handke no longer just sputters with rage: he has become an intimate respectful loving and caring reporter. As in this photo of him taken where he appears to be following the observation of the [by him] so enviously detested Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s observation that after the men were done you could see all those old women cleaning bricks for a rebuilding:

The Velica Hoca page


is devoted to that book and I suspect Scott Abbott could translate it. Krishna Winston has no end of other things of his to translate. I will only translate Josef Winkler these days, of whom the bloody ignorant country hasn’t heard no matter that two books of his are in English. However, I wouldn’t bet more than a cent on a magazine that has backed a variety of war criminals – “Wreck another plane, bombs away McCain” and General Wesley Clark of Belgrade and infra-structure-destruct “shock and awe” infamy – on doing anything of the kind. McCain of course paid an undeserved price, but could not claim at DeHague that such enthusiastic Indian warrior dare-devilishness was done “under orders”, so he will merely have the label “war criminal” attached to his lapel together with the other pins, but serve no more time; the NYRB is just one degree to the center of Kristol’s Weakly Standard these days, and I’m sure you all could enjoy a laugh together at whatever P.J.’s. And “The Weakly” even runs the occasional perfectly acceptable review. And it appears by the latest issue, off you all are to “Surgistan” with Obambi.

Now follows a point by point critique of Marcus’s atrocity. An even more detailed decimation, focusing just on Marcus's take on Einbaum/ Voyage will reach you with my sending of VOYAGE. You will note that even in 1999 I was not in complete disagreement with a few points that Marcus then made about a year later about the play, and then there are these odd moments when he is on the verge of being on to something! “Marcus [occasionally] on the Verge” we will entitle this ever so generously then.

I would also have you note, unless you had already noticed, that I am in the enviable, I say to myself, position of being able to both champion Handke’s work, by pointing out the fundamental possibilities he avails the logos, whose first translator and editor I happened to be in this country, and to criticize it when I feel really critical, as I have rarely, some minor matters here and there, but severely in the instance of his latest novel Morawische Nacht albeit it contains stretches of the most amazing writing that I have come on in my near seventy years of deciphering lettering, and I will have to go back and read it a third time once it is translated to make sure I was not, my whole body was not hallucinating and tremoring with what Handke manages to accomplish in a few sections, and with a classical style that exceeds Goethe and Flaubert combined.[see the Morawian Night page at:


the second of the two prose sites and:


and also as a person, for some of the extremely ugly things he has done. As he once confessed: “When I am bad I am really bad, and when I am good I am an angel.” Veridad. He also mentioned to his most frequent interviewer over the years that he wished the day would come that he could be a real “Schuft” [bastard], Mueller replied that he had lots of time left for that, and I would say that Handke has accomplished it multiply, [Handke can be utterly oblivious of what he does], as Wim Wenders mentioned to me here in Seattle, godfather to his second daughter, Handke invariably hurts those closest to him, quite aside being a bastard child to start off with, but of Shakespearean talent at times.  Alright, let’s have at it, sorry about the long pre-amble, which sure ambled but I had, have a lot to get off me chest! MCHAEL R. 


Note that another politically themed Handke play -  "Storm Still" [about a Slovenian partisan uprising in Spring 1945] - another Shakespeare derived title – ["they sure took their time, THOSE Partisanen!” is all I can say] will premiere under Klaus Peymann's direction at the Burgtheater, Vienna in February 2010 or "O-Ten" as which it will be known "o-then!” Send someone other than Marcus I pray!


You have committed grave DIS-service to your readers and to literature with that Marcus piece,  nay you have committed a kind of crime for which in more regulated regions you might be decapitated. Make amends, Bob Silvers while you still have the time! yRS MICHAEL ROLOFF

“Marcus [occasionally] on the Verge”

Marcus quotes in: GRAY

since he feels that that is Handke’s coloring


Handke quotes in Green

One or two Scott Abott quotes

  Others, Colbin, Caldwell etc.     

olume 47, Number 14 · September 21, 2000

Apocalypse Now

By J.S. Marcus

Die Fahrt im Einbaum oder Das Stück zum Film vom Krieg [The Journey in the Dugout Canoe, or The Piece about the Film about the War]

by Peter Handke

Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 126 pp., DM 32.00 (paper)

Scott Abbott’s translation is called:


Unter Tränen fragend [Questioning Through Tears]

by Peter Handke

Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 158 pp., DM 36.00


My Year in the No-Man's-Bay

by Peter Handke, Translated from the German by Krishna Winston

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 468 pp., $30.00

A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia

by Peter Handke, Translated from the German by Scott Abbott/ Viking, 83 pp., $17.95

A Sorrow Beyond Dreams

by Peter Handke, Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 70 pp., (out of print)

In print with New York Review Books!


by Peter Handke, Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 225 pp., $ 18.95

Plays: 1

by Peter Handke, Translated from the German by Michael Roloff, with an introduction by Tom Kuhn

Methuen, 308 pp., $17.95 (paper)

Abschied des Träumers vom Neunten Land [The Dreamer's Farewell to the Ninth Country]

by Peter Handke

Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 50 pp., DM 19.80

Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise [Summer Afterword to a Winter Journey]

by Peter Handke

Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 92 pp., DM 24.80

Der Himmel über Berlin: Ein Filmbuch [released in America as "Wings of Desire"]

by Wim Wenders, by Peter Handke

Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 170 pp., DM 29.00

Noch einmal vom Neunten Land [One More Time from the Ninth Country]

by Peter Handke, by Joze Horvat

Klagenfurt: Wieser Verlag, 110 pp., DM 29.80

On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House

by Peter Handke, Translated from the German by Krishna Winston

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 185 pp., $ 23.00

1] J.S. Marcus’s hook begins like this and it at once familiarizes the reader with several of his favorite adjectives: “grey” and “abstract”  and “detached”

One of the last German films to win an international following was Wim Wenders's 1987 fantasy Wings of Desire, about an angel, played by Bruno Ganz, who longs to be mortal; he sees everything but feels nothing. The film is remarkable for its muted black-and-white images of West Berlin, which shows up on screen as a blank, almost abstract, cityscape (the Potsdamer Platz, then in the shadow of the wall, appears, memorably, as a vacant lot), and for its stern, incantatory dialogue.

Wings of Desire was co-written, we are told, by Wenders and the Austrian novelist and playwright Peter Handke; but the story and the effect of the images, like the dialogue, bear the mark of Handke,generally regarded at the time as the premier prose stylist in theGerman language, and one of post-war Europe's most recognizableliterary figures.

At the end of the film, Ganz's angel finally gets his wish andbecomes merely human — unlike Lucifer, he is redeemed by his fall, and the film is submerged in a haze of color. Handke has lately taken his own fall: he has put himself at the center of a resounding controversy by forsaking his gray world of detachment and longing…”[ my emphases throughout- M.R.]

I once analyzed the film and the screenplay and in the process made several interesting discoveries: [1] that Handke can be the ultimate scavenger of his own work, since he wrote only several long poems that are new, most famously of course his “The Song of Childhood” which is all over the web in no end of translations, and through whose eyes the film is filmed and magicks Berlin and the world, which is what made the film such a success:

Song of Childhood 
By Peter Handke

When the child was a child 
It walked with its arms swinging, 
wanted the brook to be a river, 
the river to be a torrent, 
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child, 
it didn’t know that it was a child, 
everything was soulful, 
and all souls were one.

When the child was a child, 
it had no opinion about anything, 
had no habits, 
it often sat cross-legged, 
took off running, 
had a cowlick in its hair, 
and made no faces when photographed.

When the child was a child, 
It was the time for these questions: 
Why am I me, and why not you? 
Why am I here, and why not there? 
When did time begin, and where does space end? 
Is life under the sun not just a dream? 
Is what I see and hear and smell 
not just an illusion of a world before the world? 
Given the facts of evil and people. 
does evil really exist? 
How can it be that I, who I am, 
didn’t exist before I came to be, 
and that, someday, I, who I am, 
will no longer be who I am?

When the child was a child, 
It choked on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding, 
and on steamed cauliflower, 
and eats all of those now, and not just because it has to.

When the child was a child, 
it awoke once in a strange bed, 
and now does so again and again. 
Many people, then, seemed beautiful, 
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.

It had visualized a clear image of Paradise, 
and now can at most guess, 
could not conceive of nothingness, 
and shudders today at the thought.

When the child was a child, 
It played with enthusiasm, 
and, now, has just as much excitement as then, 
but only when it concerns its work.

When the child was a child, 
It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread, 
And so it is even now.

When the child was a child, 
Berries filled its hand as only berries do, 
and do even now, 
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw, 
and do even now, 
it had, on every mountaintop, 
the longing for a higher mountain yet, 
and in every city, 
the longing for an even greater city, 
and that is still so, 
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees 
with an elation it still has today, 
has a shyness in front of strangers, 
and has that even now. 
It awaited the first snow, 
And waits that way even now.

When the child was a child, 
It threw a stick like a lance against a tree, 
And it quivers there still today.

[2] That the naturalistic dialogue is either Wenders or was created by the actors during the filming, since Handke refuses to write naturalistically, but since Handke was not present during the filming itself and the idea for a film about angels had been Wenders it is exceedingly speculative to decide what idea derives from whom, or what happened in the editing room, and it was better to concentrate on the work as a whole. It is a long quite demanding essay and it appeared in the St. Monica review which was then edited by Jim Krusoe, but a good section of it can be found at:


J.S. Marcus begins in typical fashion, for him and many another writer in the age of celebrities, by mentioning that the film is famous for being famous, and that Handke is now also famous for being infamous. The transition from the fallen angel to the “fallen Handke” is the kind of specious transition that you find rarely among good enough reviewers, say in the New York Times or the New Yorker or L.A. Times which have many good ones on film and art. These hooks are meant to have a noose at the end, and the noose in this instance is called “romanticism”, on which Handke, at the end of J.S. Marcus’s [J.S. from now on] piece is accused of having strangled himself, and a very specific Serbian one at that. That is, between the hook and the noose is a narrative that those habituated to narration can follow, and if really followed he had and responded to what Handke’s prose had turned into by the year 2000 would have discovered that the kind of magicking that the film performs is also performed and ever more successfully thereafter by Handke’s “gray”prose!

Although Handke early on wrote  alovely essay called “Literature is romantic,” he is not Lord Byron yet by a long shot, and if you read the highpoint of his “Home Coming Cycle” [1] the dramatic poem playWalk About the Villages [2] and everything that whelms out of the treasure chest he built himself there, you notice that our man is as fiendishly critical as ever if not more so, also of many features in Serbia, no matter that he has stuck to his Balkan guns as I will update my I hope patient readers at the end of a kind of decimation of J.S. 

Marcus pathetic impressionistic way of describing, his repeated use of the term gray world of detachment is the oddest when applied to a writer whose every sentence becomes more and more anchored in images lying behind the syntax and where the syntax itself, later in the form of dream syntax, subliminally engages the reader on a far deeper than ordinary level of communication, who with the 2007 novel film opera KALI has re-acquired the great narrative style, sentence by sentence. see the KALI page at:


You can go anywhere, as of Handke’s third extended prose text, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, and notice that Handke is anything but “gray” whatever gray might actually mean:

 “While the child was speaking, sentence after sentence, a strip of light traveled beneath the plane which was flying at a perceptively lower altitude now, moved across the plateau, and caused a band of asphalt to shimmer, a reservoir to glitter, an irrigation canal to flash. A topsy-turvy new world on the first day of the journey [but hadn’t several days passed already?]: the sky above the glass roof nearly as black as night, with a hint of the first stars, and down below the sunlit earth. In similar fashion, on the way to the airport, an ancient crone, without her dentures, had come towards her, driving a factory-new race car, as if trying to set a new record, the car’s number emblazoned from stem to stern. And similarly, the outskirt’s troupe of drunks had been hauling cases of beverage from the super market to their lairs in the wood – without exception bottles of mineral water. And was that possible? a flock of wild geese, flying past the plane window in a long, jagged V formation from right to left: “Arabic writing,” the boy commented. And could there be such a thing: in the same fashion a swarm of leaves swept past the window, holm oak leaves typical of the plateau? And where and since when did this exist?: and next a pale-pink of snowflake like blossoms, as if the almonds were abloom and had almost finished blooming, now in February early March.” [page: 77-79 of Del GredosYou can see how Handke makes matters fabulous when he cooking as he is nearly entirely for the first ten chapter, and it is something to behold how he inhabits a woman’s consciousness, when she is not being the ice queen; and here something that, basically, falls into the realm of the strictly realistic convention, also fabulous, I find, in its way: "None of the other trees had such spreading crowns as the giant oaks, or oak giants. At the same time, the branches in the crowns were inter-woven, forming a dense mass. And nothing made a more powerful impression of devastation than all the oak crowns lying smashed on the forest floor. Yet even these almost countless heaps of broken limbs offered something to observe. On its way down, one of these giant trees had fallen on its equally large, equally broad, giant neighbor, which in turn had fallen on the oak in front of it and now they lay there as a single trunk, forming a sort of transcontinental line, all pointing toward a common vanishing point at the very end of the continent.” What is noticeable, too, is Handke’s sparse use of adjectiva – well, J.S. who must be the kind of fellow who really digs vivid writing, Tom Wolfe, Salmon Rushdie? Since J.S. also makes a mis-description of Handke’s first novel, Die Hornissen [I will not anticipate what I have to say about his idiocy on that score] except to mention that Handke’s second novel, Der Hausierer’s[The Panhandler/ Peddler] main text - it exists in various Romance language translation - consists of nothing but impressions left on the consciousness of a terrified being in a room. It’s half dozen or so sections have descriptions of the procedures of the crime novel. Handke, as we also know from his 1971 Short Letter, Long Farewell,just republished by NYRB Books, with a first rate appreciation byGreil Marcus, played with the conventions of the U.S. black mask novel. These works, including the play My Foot My Tutor and Radio Play One, also quite a few poems from his Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld all play with and conquer anxiety. Handke, who is indeed somewhat sinister, and for good reason, became a virtuoso at that; until his first wife split and the lay-abroad had a tachycardia attack, as lay-abroads like that usually do under such circumstances, became panicked, fugued! And wrote great literature about it! The three long poems in Nonsense & Happiness [Urizen Books, 1976], A Moment of True Feeling, Farrar, Straus 1975] and the diary novel, process notes of automatic spontaneous notations Weight of the World [F.S.& G. 1977]. As a kind of supreme phenomenologist Handke is immediately accessible to readers of impressionism. Being somewhat autistic, Handke uses himself as his own material via a series of focused personae throughout his burgeoning work: as pure consciousness in Der Hausierer; and as Josef Bloch, the “German Writer,” Keuschnig, the “Left-Handed Woman”, Sorger, Loser, “the writer” [of An Afternoon], Keuschnig again, the “Pharmacist of Taxham”, an ex-bankieress, an woman opera singer, most recently as “ex-writer,” in each instance variously transforming what he has acknowledged can be unrolled [“vom autobiographischen aufrollen,” see his book-length weekend’s conversation with Herbert Gamper, ICH LEBE DOCH NUR VON DEN ZWISCHENRAUEMEN - for once Handke is not lying and playing games with one of his interviewers] into a thoroughly re-imagined prose text that communicates his state of mind and takes over the states of minds of real readers, FreudenstoffPeter Strasser has called it and reading books of Handke’s such as No-Man’s-Bay or Crossing the Sierra del Gredos has put me into such a joyous state… and my guess is that Handke’s sheer love of writing communicates itself, subliminally. Formally successful, each book is also a lesson in writing. You may not wish to follow the instruct, but you will be glad to see what the teacher can show.  

As to “detached”: Handke is the writer who said to himself: “Write everything with passion,” which of course does not imply that you have roaring Italian arias, but that the passion goes into the construction of a text, passionately dispassionate as we may recall Stephen Deadalus proceeding in Portrait of the Artist. Not that Handke did not have some real problems accessing his own feelings, until they surfaced at about the time that he wrote the 1974 novel A MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING, after his first wife had left the lay-abroad, no doubt finding him to be as cold a fish as his second wife did, a cold fish who was always writing, as of puberty, nearly at every moment of the day, terrorizing his entire family, as we can find out as of the 1981 WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, his greatest and richest work by far, it has every facet manifested, exhibited, and as is described at greater length in the sometimes extremely autobiographical  2008 MORAWISCHE NACHT. Think of him as a musician possessed by one brilliant idea after the other, and it becomes easier to take - after all you are not married to the guy nor his child.

2]“He became famous, indeed infamous, as a very young man forexquisiteabsurdist… [my emphases m.r.]” Handke’s plays are never absurdist, that only applies to the one playwright with both whose formalism and playfulness he has affinity: Ionesco. As to”exquisite”: Handke comes out of Latin “clarity”, precision, Wittgenstein, differentiation as you find them in legal texts, he has a very light touch - that  shows his affinity for Austrian playwrights Horvath and Raimund, exquisite would mean Proustian, Valery. Handke is not a jeweler, to put it that way, not even the short pieces in Once More for Thucydides [1980 New Directions] ought to be called “exquisite” if that term has meaning and use. Handke was not famous for any of those matters, though famous he was indeed. Infamous he has made himself only since his intervention in matters Yugoslavian.

a] His first play, the 1965 PROPHECY, does the same thing as Susan Sontag’s essay “Illness as Metaphor” – it excoriates similes and stupid metaphoric thinking and it does so in Handke’s serial fashion, playfully and unrelentingly.

b] Offending the Audience, which I now call Public Insult [the word “Abuse” having become too fraught] addresses an audience and tells it all about going to the theater and what it will experience as it experiences – as it exists on the world stage - with the effect of making the audience as self-conscious about theater and their own BEING IN THE WORLD - as Mr. Handke is about language, and ends with the delivery of the offensive come-on curses in the form of musically arranged sets of cuss chords: just like old Franz Josef Haydn had his drum roll Surprise Symphony. Handke is a didacticist, a language educator, an activist Wittgenstein, and can be a real pain when he turns self-righteous judge and jury [see anon], his now priestlyness bothers me less because it is infused with his immense capacity for love.

c] Self-Accusation, the obverse of Public Insult, and the most frequently performed of his early pieces, turns the table on himself, and drives the series of failures of the person to obey the claims the super ego has on it to a point where we have the first instance [that I know of] of Handke’s later characteristic pathos - the unreachability of the ideal, which most famously attains a climax in Nova’s great final Hoelderlinesque aria at the end of Handke’s 1981 Walk about the Villages which was published in this country in 1995 and which, if J.S. had read and half-way understood it, would have clued him in on Handke’s changed playing procedures, not that he evidently has the faintest about what was involved initially, nor did idiot Neil Gordon for that matter despite claims to the contrary, and the recourse Handke began to take to Euripidean and Goethean techniques while driving forward his modernist project, and so might just have obviated no end of stupid statements of J.S.’s about Einbaum/ Voyage or alleged coldness; boy is Villageshot! What a heart test it is too! And what a way to find out why so many of the cold hearted have heart attacks. On the other hand, by the time that J.S. comes to misportray VOYAGE it is clear that he has not the faintest about drama.

e] The wordless 1967 My Foot My Tutor is the purest and poeticdemonstration ever of the master slave sado-masochistic relationship, in a wonderful rural setting. Nothing absurd about that, is there? Anyhow, not as long as we remain in the world of ordinary language. Noticeable, too, how Handke sustains his formal procedures.

All these plays – from the 1965 PROPHECY to the 1973 THEY ARE DYING OUT – also exist within their time and its conversation about these matters, not in a vacuum, although Handke’s approach, his conceptions are sufficiently fundamental, keenly conceived,  to outlive their immediate circumstances, 1968 and all that!

f] The 1968 Kaspar is not a “retelling of the Kaspar Hauser story,”it merely abstracts one sentence from it, “I want to be like someone else was once.” Max Frisch, appropriately, called it THE play of the fatherless generation. It is Chomsky and Wittgenstein rolled into one and a half hours of language education; and once I got a bead on my man’s psychic dimensions, I can see him as that Kaspar who was never successfully Kasperfied, whose autism keeps breaking out, as he moves so discombobulatedly on stage. In some ways Kaspar is pure determinism, its final sentence “goats and monkeys,” [Othello] repeated several times over is neither nihilist nor absurd.

g] The 1969 Quodlibet [As You like It.] is THE statement of his artistic work as a dramatist: the play works on the principle of auditory hallucination – “Catch the conscience of the King” – that is, of an audience that is now king! Handke creates projection screens, also in his novels, projections which absorb the reader’s self; playfully of course. You can then either think, or not. InQuodlibet a bunch of World Stage Characters parade around - C.I.A. KGB, great whores of the world, Geopolitical monsters, one J.S. Marcus - muttering monosyllabics which this Finnegan’s Wakeaficionado translated into Joycean puns along those ambiguous lines. Handke does not care for Joyce, or perhaps just not for Ulysses, so he has said several times, though he used the rhythms of the end ofThe Dead for a section in No-Man’s-Bay, just as he has some bees from Beckett’s Molloy buzzing around in the Chaville woods, can’t really tell whose bees are more metaphysical! But I give very good odds that my infinitely competitive lord knew what he was doing.

h] The 1970 Ride Across Lake Constance starts with a maid in black face vacuuming the stage, and that is what Handke then proceeds to do with stage practices, with boulevard theater, the first character waking from a dream and the characters engaging in that maddening specious Wittgensteinian Socratic questioning - not just of language but of everyday activities, and you listen to that for an hour and half of ever more sinister goings, are subjected to it, and it is the weirdest experience I have ever had, I as its translator who hadn’t the faintest how that would play and what effect a performance would have on me, and I had absolutely nothing to compare it to until I entered psychoanalysis: the famous “good hour” where the cobwebs are cleaned away, the world looks fresh, the angers and conflicts, the passions are assuaged, that kind ofcatharsis, better than good love making and how you can feel afterwards even. Absurd? No, neither the procedure nor the effect. I wish friend Richard Gilman had experienced the play before writing about it and merely pointing to Wittgenstein procedures in it, a very different thing to read and be subjected to! Handke creates “happenings” in the best sense of that word.

Jannings: Not that I know

George: If you don't know it, then you haven't heard of it either. But the expres"George: And have you ever heard of a "fiery Eskimo"

sion "a flying ship" - that you have heard?

Jannings: At most in a fairy tale.

George: But scurrying snakes exist?

Jannings: Of course not.

George: But fiery Eskimos - they exist?

Jannings: I can't imagine it.

George: But flying ships exist?

Jannings: At most in a dream.

George: Not in reality?

Jannings: Not in reality.


George: But born losers?

Jannings: Consequently they exist.

George: And born trouble makers?

Jannings: They exist.

George: And therefore there are born criminals.

Jannings: It's only logical.

George: As I wanted to say at the time...

Jannings: [interrupts him] "At the time"? Has it been that long already?

i] If your man missed the humor in the previous plays, he cannot have missed it in They Are Dying Out, especially in Act One, with its antics of business folk talking the Marxist and Revolutionary lingo of the Sixties, language games of a more specific kind now, some of which calcified into the P.C. of the following decades. This is within the comic tradition of the best that Austrian theater, Raimund, has to offer; Thornton Wilder, you may recall, had fine traffic with that tradition, too.

Though the volume with my 12 translations is listed with the article, J.S. literally has not the faintest. Why did you pay a purblind to write nonsense?

Bob Silvers, Wasn’t there an editor in the house, I believe Elizabeth Hardwick was still alive, Barbara Epstein?

3]”threatening rants, and were scandals when they opened in Germany in the 1960s. Kaspar, the best known of these dramas…” There is not one single “rant” threatening or otherwise in any of these or any other play Handke has written. Some wonderful monologues in Dying Out, which contains one attack aria that Handke re-uses in the section of the “Internationals” of Einbaum/VOYAGE. Handke is best considered as a composer, and there exist a handful of dissertations that demonstrate the musical form of these plays. Handke becomes more and more graceful a matter no one in this utterly klunky country appears to have noticed. As matter of fact, there exists a Handke industry, which even by the time J.S. shat his shit in your pages, numbered close to a hundred books, and some thousand of articles, few if any of as low a quality as J.S.’s.  

4]“A Sorrow Beyond Dreams is Handke's masterpiece, a short, concentrated, mysteriously exhaustive portrait of his mother, from whom history and circumstance have removed most traces of an identity; as a character, she is weirdly, poignantly, blank…

Maybe J.S. ought to have his eye checked or the spectrum in his vocabulary that responds to descriptions. Otherwise, he is not all that dreadful for once. However, Maria Sivec comes through to me as anything but a blank, as very clearly delineated, but am unfamiliar with such unhappy Austrian or German lives, although not with the waste of love and effort that women in all classes suffered, except for  those that became professionals, or if they were Junker wives knew how to run an estate and ride a horse if their husband was off to war and got himself killed, as so many did. J.S. needs to take the adjective cure. Aside the impression I have of Maria Sivec as a young and adventurous woman who fell in love too easily as which young woman and man does not, and her trying to make a life for herself, also in Berlin, the mistake she makes in her choice of a surrogate father for the utterly beloved illegitimate Peter baby, the truly dreadful image that sticks is of the preparations she made, so as not to leave a mess: by putting on diapers. Handke recently was interviewed by his friend, the fine writer Weinzierl, who now edits the Welt Feuilleton. There Handke states that he feels his mother decided to kill herself chiefly at the thought of the return of her dreadful husband, the detested Bruno Handke. Peter was actually seeing a lot of her, I thought that he had been berating himself for having neglected her, as it looks if you read the book, and he describes how distant he had become, and it occurs to me to wonder: had no one heard of divorce, or at least separation in Griffen in 1971?

5] Born into a seemingly feudal world of peasants and landowners (Handke depicts his mother's father as a kind of freed serf)…” Has J.S. had read Sorrow and Repetition carefully he would have discovered that Old Man Sivec was anything but a Serf, a proud small farmer carpenter, who kept working his way back out from one financial crisis of that time in Austria after the other, but became the father figure for the fatherless Handke with whom Handke then identified himself, and who voted for the first Yugoslav federation back in 1921, which would lead your sleuth on the right trek to appreciate why a federated Yugoslavia, a successor to the K.u.K. federation, was important also to his grandson; why the Serbs, initially under Milosevic, the defenders of the Federation, then upon its dissolution became Handke’s particular love, the kind of conflation that occurred there… perhaps they really got more of a shaft than  the other tribes.

“Repetition, often regarded as Handke's best novel, is a companion piece of sorts, in which language (Slovenian) and circumstance (a walk through Slovenia) are used to create an identity for the Austro-Slovenian writer-narrator. Handke has described the two books as opposites. A Sorrow Beyond Dreams is concerned with the oppression of language. Handke's mother, with no voice of her own, must rely on the cheerful, monstrously inappropriate banalities of her time. Repetition describes the regenerative powers of language — Handke's narrator travels through Slovenia with the help of a turn-of-the-century German-Slovenian dictionary.” Not that bad actually, J.S., you are verging! Handke even made his own Slovene-German dictionary at the time of the writing and rewalking of his high school graduation trip, and subsequently translated from Slovenian, and you [I] leave reading the book in the late 80s, not only walking like the king of slowness Handke had become, good the guy’s got himself a firm identity and he’s at least half a Slovene, if he needs that, no skin of my nose. Meanwhile, even as of J.S.’s writing in 2000, it is pretty well understood that No-Man’s-Bay [1992 in German/ 1996 in English; and Crossing the Sierra del Gredos [2002 in German, 2007 in English, are Handke’s two really big efforts; wonderful shorter works galore, LEFT HANDED WOMAN, THE THREE ESSAYS,  recently the extraordinary KALI, the forthcoming in English DON JUAN… As to The Repetition, it had a truly spectacularly understanding review in The Guardian, in the NY Times the reviewer advised the author that he ought to have his young student, Filip Kobal, as he crosses the border to Slovenia, it’s around 1960, go into a tirade against Tito. Go check out the NY Times Book Reviews and its daily take on Handke, and by and large you will be appalled all over again. Not at the beginning in the 60s to early 70s with Frank Conroy and John Rockwell.

ctd in II