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]

 9]“The important distinction in Handke's work is between the writer, or the writer's surrogate, and everything else; indeed one is so separate from the other that Handke can at times sound like an idiot savant whose talent is writing.”  I am not quite sure what the hell J.S. means by “writer” and “writer’s surrogate”, and am amazed that THE VAUNTED EDITOR ROBERT SILVERS WHO EDITS UNTIL THE DEPTHS OF NIGHT let this piece of nonsense pass. I don’t think J.S. means that Handke then delegates someone to impersonate himself? However it is one of those moments when your man, Bob Silvers, might be on the verge of being on to something: Yes the man with the pencil in his hand at his desk, or in a hollowed out tree in the Fôret de Chaville, or the moments as he walks, with friends, or by himself and pulls a writing tool and notes down an observation – Handke is cooking nearly all the time – he was certainly as a young man – he is not the same guy as when he brays out to the media, or makes self-righteous pronouncements – but then who is? Handke becomes calm when he writes, after all he did not call himself “the new Kafka” for nothing, it turns out that he is a hysteric, which dramatist isn’t? And being autistic he is or was a kind of awkward Kaspar, with the frequent added piquancy of a tad from old man, Messieur Tourette.

Handke once said: “When I am good I am very good, when I am bad I am very bad.” I would say that he is rarely very bad with pencil in hand, far too frequently when he addresses the world through the media, gives vent to his jealousies, ugly opinions, and ultra bad when it comes to his behavior to women, nearly as bad as his hated stepdad Bruno Handke - that came as a big surprise; and it has landed Handke in a lot of hot water and cost him a lot of friends. And it at those moments, too, that he can be said to be as “humorless as death” as he himself knows better than anyone else; but fine pieces of writing that ironically attack that streak in himself, such as The Tablas of Daimiel [this is a pdf. file which I also have on my disk and can send].


only really count as long as he writes them. In no time at all, with Günter Grass on the ropes for owning up to having been in the Waffen SS as a 17 year old, Peter Handke, not only jealous of Grass fame but also of all the media attention Grass is getting will unloose an attack that “Everyone knew at age 17 [in 1945] what the Waffen SS did… and besides Grass has been doing nothing but writing the same book over and over.” To which my reply was “Everyone at the age of 30 knows not to nearly kill his two year old daughter with a smack to the head in a fit of irritation or beat up women like his gruesome stepdad… and quite a number of other utterly reprehensible matters… “  On the score of Grass never quite matching his first two books: Handke is severe on writers repeating themselves and in that arena cannot be charged with gross hypocrisy, each book is a new problem solved, and so is nearly each play.

10] The Hornets — an account of village life written in the manner of Alain Robbe-Grillet—…” Back to nonsense: it is not an account, it is a novel… I hate using the word: but it is a kind of ultimate de-construction that precedes Handke’s subsequent development into a full-fledged novelist: The Hornets which exists in Romance language translations, is Handke’s first attempt, there would be many more, to translate the experience of the “as if” into independently existing works of literary art, which then become  experiences for the reader. As to Handke and Robbe-Grillet: The grilled Robbesupplied a kind of screen, a scrim, a grid to control the whelming associations. Handke was, even during his early days, a very warm writer compared to the great engineer Robbe Grillet. Think of Mondrian, Max Bill, painterly orderliness within which much can be done. I translated a section from The Hornets as part of my essay on Handke’s development as a prose worker and it can be found at the


and on the handkeprose2.scriptmania.com site. It is very interesting book, it makes the reader’s imagination work even more than the subsequent DER HAUSIERER. What a total and complete idiot J.S. is, it is beyond breathtaking!

11]. The Latin, the Slavic, and the Germanic overlap in Slovenia, and in traveling there, one has the impression of a composite European setting, of a Slavic Scandinavia on the Mediterranean coast; of an abstraction. Slovenia is stirringly vague—a correlative of sorts for the best of Handke's work.” How Slovenia can be anabstraction of any kind is also beyond me, this is the most absolute bullshit, both about Slovenia being abstract and The Repetition. But it gives me the idea that J.S.’s brain is made of porridge or that it has been stirred into slurry and thus his recollection, if he has any, then deserves abstract as an adjective!

12] He had come to be known as an apolitical writer, as an aestheteof sorts, an admirer of the refined prose of Austria's great Biedermeier novelist Adalbert Stifter. As his interest in Slovenia grew, however, so did traditionally Romantic elements in his writing. Handke's "Slovenia" was a mythical place, a part of the larger, more remote myth of what Handke calls "the great Yugoslavia." J.S. might make up his own mind - come to be known- and not be just another other-directed rumor pipeline like Neil Gordon, the NY Times reviewer, head of the New School’s creative writing program, and fiction editor of the Boston Review.

(1) The question of what kind of political writer Handke might be, is indeed of interest:

a] He certainly does not campaign for any candidate for dog catcher in the Fôret de Chaville, at least not to my knowledge; and he chided Grass for doing so in campaigning for Social Democracy with Willie Brandt [“Grass, write better novels, stop this stupid campaigning.”]; in one of the long poems in Nonsense and Happiness{Urizen Books, 1976} he describes a politician, I think a Frenchman, campaigning on T.V. as treating the electorate as sparrows who are meant to eat out of the palm of his hand. True or not?

Handke befriended a variety of powerful people, also politicians from very early on in his career, they sought him out, it’s a European tradition, his genius was quickly recognized, Austrian Presidents, he decimated that unmentionable ex-Nazi who had headed the UN for a while prior to assuming the Austrian Presidency and then being shooed into retirement; most famously of course Handke befriended the Milosevic family, he was asked to be a witness for the Milosevic defense at DeHague, but refused since in fact he had no knowledge of the crimes of which Milosevic stood accused and I imagine – here I am allowing myself a speculation – only as someone who surrounded himself with other artists, not that unusual in Europe at all of course, could only have spoken to that. And so he might have: but I think that was a bit much of exposure even for my man. A witness on the stand has to be excused, he is locked into position.

Why ought an ever upwardly mobile Hoveling {my translation of Handke’s self-appellation Keuschnig, someone who was born in hovel, and might just not be chaste=keusch} refuse an Angel, a Maezaen? Best as I can tell, Handke has never been lax to describe some of these men, e.g. his very powerful publisher in the most critical light if he felt they deserved it, or simply described them, which in Handke’s phenomenological x-ray method usually suffices once and for all. Rarely does he carry on at length as he did in his description of a man I call the Reichs-Kanickel in The Lesson of St. Victoire for the stupidest and nastiest and most uncomprehending reviews ever. Early on he berated the German language writers whose themes were exclusively social and political - he might not have said anything, but his contrariness comes also into play there. For Handke literature was romantic from the beginning, an adventure although he seems to have envisioned a large body of work, too.

b] However, if you look just at the early plays, and the language criticism they perform, you might arrive at the notion that Handke’s politics are rather more fundamental than what in every day speech is called “political”, it verges on the Confucian/ Taoist belief that a hale language is a fundamental requirement for a successful healthy polis, which is where the writers and poets come in, and slews of propagandists and pundits of all kinds are slaughtered. “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything. — Confucius Words that J.S. might keep in mind. Easier said than done, Confu, Baby!

 (2) aesthete of sorts. Well what sort? I would say that Handke is aesthetically, each of his senses hypersensitive, grounded in his nervous system, and wounded. Handke has an aesthetic, it is most clearly articulated in a section in WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGE, especially for words, but that does not make him what is ordinarily known as an esthete. Handke is still I imagine under the mistaken belief that aesthetically presented texts have an easier way of accessing the minds of reader than the humdrum of every day prose and of newspapers. J.S. is living proof of the very futility of that. The J.S.es of this world might make one a nihilist – see anon for J.S.’s bullshit on that score.

You might say that Handke is as sensitive to words as a cat is to a drop of water; and having such a short fuse, to put a very complicated explosive matter in ordinary language, blows a fuse rather easily, or throttles the Prater movie house cashier – for whatever, the Goalie who needs to be trigger happy, no?

Elsewhere I have said that Handke has the eyes of an eagle, the nose of your best hound, the skin of a porpoise… and that excess of pure sensory input itself at one time led to no end of his many nauseas; “threshold” was Freud’s understanding; he is extremely sensitive to ugliness, again that does not make one an esthete, he lacks the anal erotic component that you find in typical esthetes, in Germany Botho Straus comes to mind, Ernst Jünger, Stefan George, and galore in ye olde u.s. of a.

an admirer of the refined prose of Austria's great Biedermeier novelist Adalbert Stifter Thomas Mann, whose work Handke apparently now detests [not that that keeps him from accepting the Thomas Mann prize while giving the money back to the Bavarian Academy – the prize givers adorn themselves more with the names of those they bestow their prizes on than they do the recipient of course! - now that he’s sold his note books to different institution for a cool million Euro, nor from beautifully simplifying down Mann’s famous Chinese Box style] and Handke share admiration of the writing style of the equally dark lyrical epic writer Stifter, and the epic lyrical writer Hermann Lenz, who for once does not appear to have a dark side. I would say that Stifter, but more importantly Goethe and Flaubert are the two mountains that Handke really succeeds to improve on, or bring up to date, I would say he has succeeded, matters that neither J.S. nor the NYRB have the faintest of.


13] The book [Justice for Serbia] itself becomes a kind of sustained, serious joke: we never leave Handke's sight, as he produces his own rigorously distorted account…”   Well, no: Handke does three things in Justice [1] He describes his unhappiness with accounts he has read and seen; “It was principally because of the war,Handke writes in Justice for Serbia, “that I wanted to go to Serbia, into the country of the so-called aggressors.. I felt the need to travel into the Serbia that became, with every article, every commentary, every analysis, less recognizable and more worthy of study, more worthy, simply, of being seen… Yes, with each sentence I too have asked myself whether such a writing isn’t obscene, ought even to be tabooed, forbidden – which made the writing journey adventurous in a different way, dangerous, often very depressing (believe me), and I learned what “between Scylla and Charybdis” means.  Didn’t the one who described the small deprivations (gaps between teeth) help to water down, to suppress, to conceal the great ones? Finally, to be sure, I thought each time: but that’s not the point.  My work is of a different sort.  To record the evil facts, that’s good.  But something else is needed for a peace, something not less important than the facts.

[2] he curses the media; and [3] he writes only what he has seen on a trip to his translator friend’s place… How that can a kind of sustained, serious joke or joke of any other kind is beyond me. If half aware, each of us knows that our experience, what we see, hear, is only our experience, and ours only… Scott Abbott who befriended Handke via friendship with Handke’s Serbian translator whom he met at Tübingen I think, was along on one trip, the one that preceded Imprecating, in Tears. And perhaps he can tell us to what extent Handke’s description of that journey coincides with his own. A Princeton PH. D. who has been teaching and writing and translating will have something of his own version; of course this was Scott’s first time in Yugoslavia, although he and Zarko had traipsed along Handke’s Repetition route to Slovenia at one time, Zarko probably following Handke’s advice that his translators ought to familiarize themselves with the places Handke describes in his books – there are essays on the subject of how well rooted in PLACE Handke’s books are, you idiot! What J.S. seems to call for is that Handke do exactly what he set out NOT to do: say the same thing again in the same language, become one with the unisono chorus. Why there was such a near entire unisono among the “innelectuals” really deserves a separate treatment, why “they” then were together, as they told themselves, as they had not been since the days of he Lincoln Brigade! Like every other sheep, they too would like to be at ease with their conscience and feel good…  while priding themselves on having used their noggins.

14]“In talking about his Slovenia essay, Handke characterized Slovenian nationalism as childishness: "…Every child probably wishes that his village was a kingdom." In A Journey to the Rivers (Handke likes to call it a "tale"), the Serbia of late 1995—a country in the hands of mafias, with a collapsed economy, and overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of refugees, a country in which acknowledged war criminals were greeted as heroes—is turned into a vast, rather bucolic village. Handke alternates between reverential descriptions of the Serb people (in Serbia, he claims, he has discovered "for the first time a sense of something like a Volk") and muted pastoral descriptions of Serbian landscapes. He does let himself occasionally be distracted by the menacing detail. For instance, on the banks of the Drina—the border between Serbia and Bosnia, and just downstream from the killing fields of Srebrenica—he finds a child's sandal.”.

Ah here it is: Belgrade in the hands of the mafia, corrupt Belgrade as currently Kabul – whenever you read something along those lines – as you could old endlessly at the time - you can be sure that c’ruption is especially severe in D.C. and New York, and that we need a bit of diversion from the fact that you might as well wall in Wall Street, say laterally across at Fulton Street in downtown Manhattan, and declare the entire area south of it a high class white collar federal prison. Ditto for sections of D.C. As to acknowledged or known war criminals, the U.S. has more of them who will never go to trial, except occasionally before their own court of conscience, than any in the word. "We are the market. We are the world. We are the power. We write the history… That’s the way it is. That’s the way it has to be. We are the language." I would add to this: We are the Martians and we need to defeat ourselves.” As  to the people or the parts of Serbia/ Yugoslavia he visits being turned into a rather bucolic village. reverential descriptions of the Serb Handke is certainly capable of reverence, but JUSTICE is devoid of anything of what J.S. ascribes to his text; real feeling for the people as a whole comes through in MOURNING IN TEARS, when he encounters the older confused woman, who is bereft for an explanation about what has transpired. Handke skips an angry stone across one river I recall, where some bodies are said to have washed down… it seems unacceptable, obviously not just to J.S. that Handke record his own observations and not pitch the same language.     

“As a matter of course, almost of technique, he churlishly attacks other commentators, such as the French "new philosopher" Alain Finkielkraut ("an incomprehensible chatterer for a Croatian state"). He dismisses Joseph Brodsky — who, in an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, early and accurately diagnosed the nature of Serbia's motives — as writing "with a rusty knife." He goes on to dismiss virtually all events reported on during the wars as unbelievable, for no other reason, it seems, than the fact that they have been reported. Here he is writing about the massacres at Srebrenica (the emphases are his):

Why such a thousand fold slaughtering? What was the motivationFor what purpose? And why, instead of an investigation into the causes ("psychopaths" doesn't suffice), again nothing but the sale of the naked, lascivious, market-driven facts and supposed facts?

For once I tend to agree: Handke also does the same thing in Morawische Nacht. Madelain Allbright becomes Ganzhell, which has a certain humor in German, and might in English if you called her Maid Madelaine Oh-So-Bright? however if I were to pun on this lady and lover of the KCU, the not so long a Jew for breakfast lunch and dinner Kosovo Albanian rabbits, I would pun on the lady’s happening to forget her Jewish origins and original Jewish name. Korb, Koerbel, one giving such a one to herself, that joke works really well in German. I have the hunch that Handke dismisses these other well-known scribes not only for reasons of disagreement but because he hates the fact that there are others in the light, taking some of the lime away from him! They are what Handke calls “place displacers” of his place in the sun! However, he certainly was on the nose in calling Joseph Brodksy a “rusty nail” [see anon]. I have read what most of the others wrote, but can’t really speak to it myself. What I miss in Handke’s texts, except in VOYAGE [which twice acknowledges that both the first and the second Yugoslav federation were born under an ill star] is a certain respect for the nationalist ambitions of the other tribes: nationalist and ethnic and religious beasties, after all, had been growing world wide at least since the early 70s, and especially in Eastern Europe. If people want to make their own mistakes, let them…

15]We are meant to wonder if these "massacres" are not just another of the "alienating rumors" Handke refers to at the beginning of the essay, similar, as he suggests later, to claims of Bosnian Serb culpability in the shelling of Sarajevo's marketplace…” Handke certainly never denied anything he saw with his own two eyes, vide his visit to Srebrenice in Summer Sequel where he has a surrogate, in his metaphoric, theatrical fashion, scream over and over again: “I don’t want to be a Serb” at the sight of the slaughter; and where my reaction was and still is: Who told you to be a Serb fellow, you half Slovene half German with an Austrian passport? With the media flooded with photos and tales of of saleable [!] atrocities, Handke’s self-acknowledged tendency to deny, his wish to keep the Serbian/ Yugoslav self-image pure went, I would say on the defense attack. I wish Handke were not as all too human in that respect. But I think his overall notion that it itself is a kind of crime to exclusively blame “the Serbs” [whoever they really are?] or Milosevic is really true, at least he introduced some skepticism into the proceedings – actually blaming or assigning blame guarantees a failure of understanding. A few years ago Handke got into an argument in France when he pointed out that the Bosnian Muslims, too, had committed crimes, and the French journalist pointed out that the crimes of the Bosnian Serbs were far graver: and we are in the world of the “body count” and of endless revenge.     

16] Peter Handke can be willfully obscure.

I would entirely disagree, Handke is as lucid as they come, it is J.S. who is evidently unusually dense. Handke’s work does not become “obscure” unless you track down the ancient figures concealed in certain texts, such as in “The Day that went Well” – one of the  Three Essays [1993, F.S.G.], or the allusions contained in the images that appear in succession in that play of images that is The Hour that we knew of Each Other [1992 Suhrkamp/95 Yale U.P.], matters of that kind. A number of first rate scholars have done that. But, say, a sentence such as “children run under the wind” in VILLAGES is anything but obscure even if it derives from Kafka and that nearly every sentence of Villages has that kind of weight of culture standing behind it: and that in a certain sense it subscribes to Handke’s wish to write a play consisting entirely of haikus. Handke revives and revivifies these old or not so old perfect chestnuts, and either they hit home in the here and now, they pop in the mind or stay clammy and cold, or they don’t. His work poses none of the problems of a Pound or Joyce in that respect. The aforementioned “Daimiel” title is an obscure allusion, the text itself is anything but.


17] His books are mildly hallucinatory; Again, if J.S. were a reader and able to analyze what he experiences as he reads and learn to be articulate, he might have realized “I am on the verge”. Of course I have no idea whether by “mild hallucinations” J.S. means the same thing, experiences these texts as I do, however, it becomes clear from his dismissive descriptions of Handke’s texts, especially of ONE DARK NIGHT, that Handke’s ability to write in dream syntax – yes, folks, dreams have a syntax, too – is of no consequence to him. Just some Ivory Tower activity! As written - mildly hallucinatory – is just another assertion… meaning precisely what? That they induce states of mind? Are intense? Evocative of unexpected mental phenomena?  Handke writes on what is called the dream screen, in an inbetween state of mind, where he has access to the ability to formulate syntactically to turn prose into a film experience for the sensitive reader [as of the 1987 ABSENCE] and in that sense is a modernist, in absorbing a new medium into prose writing. The experience of the real reader who allows himself, who is absorbed by this experience, say in DEL GREDOS or the 2007 filmed opera as his text made me read KALI, is astonishing, for the power and beauty prose acquires in this manner, quite a trip quite an opera, and I myself feel, much as I admire the immense technical brilliance of the performance, that my man is becoming a Wagnerian. Handke can do anything in prose, he is capable of any effect, vague and precise, as the case calls for. So far I have not seen him use cheap rhetorical flourishes.

18]West German writers' movement(associated with realistic, or morally minded, writers like Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass), for treating language as a means rather than as a kind of end, a trait which he characterized as "the impotence of description." Handke, at Princeton in 1966, did not attack Böll [who I don’t think was there? And some, like his translator Leila Vennewitz thought Böll wrote as a Mozart would] nor Grass who was and slapped the upstart on the back as did Peter Weiss, for bringing a bit of life into the proceedings, the “impotence of description” referred to the there read texts, including Handke’s own. Later he also, in I am an Inhabitant of the Ivory Tower, attacked works that made it their business to be only socially engaged. He was not only of a different literary background and generation, he needed to differentiate himself.

As Handke began to speak, somewhat tentatively, I was sitting to the left of the formidable German Journalist Erich Kuby that day at Princeton whom I had met a few years before in Hamburg; not yet as shrilly as he can now be, in public. Kuby knew who that was who was making his first public happening and was quickly shushed by the master sergeant in charge of the Gruppe 47, Hans Werner Richter, for disregarding the rule that only comments on specific texts were permitted, not general attacks; certainly a sensible rule among such a wild and wooly grouping which  basically amounted to a kind of national creative writing class, that now went public in a big way.

I noticed a number of other matters about Handke at Princeton and at a party that Jakov Lind and I and Pannah Grady gave for the Gruppe at Pannah Grady’s apartment in the Dakota for German and American writers to meet. 1] At Princeton a lüsternden / -unloosed envious animalistic ambition - look passed over Handke’s face at the sight of Max Frisch, the dean of German writers you might call him, since he was not involved in the social controversies, an exceedingly vain man as I came to know him, I had seen that look on someone’s face only once before, late on a snowy night at Elaine’s restaurant, dump at the time, as Jackie O and a troupe of stars from the world of arts entered the establishment, which, as they walked out, Elaine Kaufmann said, “what do you know, I got it made” [and probably got on the phone to “Suzy”] and that look did not pass over Elaine’s face, and once more in my life,  on someone’s heavily bearded visage, which however could not conceal his lips, and who unfortunately became the partner in a publishing venture; these are very animalistic expressions of a certain kind of hunger, and you remember them…. And they spell a certain kind of danger for anyone who comes too close or involved with anyone like it, or stands in their way.

2] Ted Ziolkowski, a Princeton Professor of German and Hesse expert, after lunch with Handke, told me that Handke had proclaimed himself as “the new Kafka,” as Handke did also to West German T.V. on the top of the Empire State building!

3] At the party I asked Handke why he was wearing dark glasses in such eminently well modulated lighting conditions and he indicated that he had eye problems [the fellow who would later write the forever memorable line: “nausea of the eyeballs”] and this observation became then one of the pillars, or sluice gates leading me to Handke’s autism and his very special sensitivities and woundedness; and

4] as Alan Ginsberg approached us as I was about to engage Handke in a second conversation and as Ginsberg asked me to translate that he wanted to fuck Handke I noticed a villager’s sadistic grin pass over Handke’s face: it turned out that he thought Ginsburg was propositioning me, whereas, after G. repeated his request, he was treated to my blue eyed Prussian stare, and backed off. I protect my guests. Ginsburg and Co, Pannah had a predilection for the Beats who then wrecked some expensive vases. Later I would read Handke’s texts, notice that the s.o.b. was a genius when I translated and directed his early plays, in some odd way he was in touch with the music of the spheres; that his first novel was too difficult to do in the U.S. and only decided not to translate DER HAUSIERER when Handke revealed to me that it was chockfull of quotes from U.S. detective story type novels, moreover from their German translation. In retrospect, I ought not to have been that quickly daunted at the prospect of locating them in the German texts [I was not going to take the chance of retranslating them back into American – that would have been like diving into that “empty swimming pool”] but at least asked if he could point out whence they came from in the German editions.

Phenomena… and then you track down their why and whence. Two phenomenologists encountered each other back in 1966.