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]

 19] When a questioner, apparently a journalist who had been to Sarajevo during the siege, testified to the "shock" he had felt there, Handke shouted, "Go home with your 'shock' and shove it up your ass."  The word used was “Betroffenheit” which is not really shock but means deep concern, being profoundly touched. Handke’s violence of speech in that instance was part and parcel of his violence towards all those who disagreed with him, Enzensberger, Habermas. Not a pretty sight, memorably ugly to the ears. Habermas for his gruesome bureaucratic endorsement of the airstrikes on Belgrade had his status as philosopher forever disallowed; Enzensberger whom Handke appears to have enviously detested from the start, was treated to an ad hominem insult that applied far more to Handke himself who project endlessly. If Handke was going to convince people that they had reached the wrong conclusion based on the information available to them, that I don’t think was the best way of going about it. He was having a fit, my Mama’s boy was! No end of things are not mutually exclusive, the world can end at any moment, as it began, a single pebble and the whole moraine goes on the move. Each detail is separate from the other.

20] “I had the impression that his grasp of events was confined to a radical skepticism of published reports, and that he no longer seemed especially interested in the wars, or even in Serbia itself. Handke's interest—or, rather, his obsession—seemed confined to defending, by any means, the dignity of his "text," in presenting his stylized unreliability as a kind of higher reliability.”…  Handke’s interest in the fate of the Serbians, especially the enclaved, poverty-stricken minority in Kosovo persists to this day, and I can’t argue with anyone’s impressions, nor with my own, which are sometimes mistaken as I then acknowledge to myself. Here a fine quote from Justice for Serbia that might allay the second part of the above paragraph:

Nothing against those - more than uncovering - discovering reporters 
on the scene (or better yet: involved in the scene and with the people 
there), praise for these other researchers in the field! 
 But something against the packs of long-distance 
dispatchers who confuse their profession as writers 
with that of a judge or even with the role of a demagogue,
 and, working year after year in the same word and picture
 ruts, are, from their foreign thrones, in their way just 
as terrible dogs of war [Scott Abbot translation]

Voyage is dedicated to the memory of the Catalan journalist Josep Palau Balletbó – [the author of  EL ESPEJISMO YUGOSLAVO , a book I have not read] and to the theater as a free medium. J.S. would appear to be a “long distance dispatcher” par excellence! Scott Abbott who is the only person to have seen this letter, added the following comment:


Your discussion of shock/Betroffenheit on page 70 in the
 context of Marcus' claim that Peter is only worried
 about the “dignity of his text” is a good beginning.
 I guess I'd add the sense Peter has, that all good 
writers have, that words matter (thus "the first 
casualty of war is language"). 
Doesn't Peter mean this in the way the poet cited
in Rilke's "Malte Laurids Brigge" does? On his deathbed
 he hears someone in the hall misuse a word. He gets up, 
goes out and corrects the word, and comes back and dies.
 This has nothing to do with the dignity of his text, 
but with seeing and tasting and describing as well as 
possible. Peter believes in language. Only in language.
 That can make him laughable to someone who doesn't 
believe in words. [Great for the world of words, not that of wives I call out from the sidelines!]


21]That summer he returned to Serbia, and this time he crossed the Drina and, after traveling in Bosnia, wrote another travel piece, A Summer Afterword to a Winter Journey, asking that his readers—once again—question the fact of the Srebrenica massacres...I repeat what I said above. Handke may be unreliable, J.S. as a reader does not exist: Handke certainly never denied anything he saw with his own two eyes, vide his visit to Srebrenice in Summer Sequel, as which I would render the title of that book, 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. J.S. is able to impugn denial to Handke without having read the text, and thus joins the chorus of non-reading impugning idiots. Handke is certainly as capable of wishful denial as the next person, but not in such an instance and a half dozen visits. J.S. either needs a new set of eyes, or maybe ought never be allowed near a keyboard again, not to mention certain Arabian practices, lying being the theft of truth. 

22]”If Handke sought to impugn the facts in A Journey to the Rivers and its "afterword," in his recent play, The Journey in the Dugout Canoe, he does away with facts altogether…”

The implication, admission here is that J.S., and his
 editors, are in full knowledge and understanding of the 
fact that the world is flat and that the sun revolves 
around the moon, and that we are all utterly brilliant 
moon calves. On a more serious note: that it’s the 
goddamned Serbians did it, chiefly the big bad Wolf
 form Pogarevic, he started four wars, and he lost them
 all, and by god we’ll put him on trial and hang him, 
and….”we have all seen it on T.V. We’ve read it a 
thousand times and so it must be true, and we all 
want to be known as good and righteous Amurricans 
and so we get Ambassador Galbraith to arm to Croatian
 Goats, defend the Serb Muslisms [what a propaganda
 tool that will be down the road] import some of our 
left-over Mujahadeem to help them fight Kardzic] and 
arm the Kosovo Albanian rabbits to the teeth…

I ask J.S. to impugn my facts, nothing but the fact Ma’am, slam bang thank you Ma’am, for your facts, you are the best laid fact yet:

1] National Security directives under Reagan declaring economic warfare on Comecon including Yugoslav Socialism; [very much on the order of the destabilization of Afghanistan under future Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmee “The Peanut” Carter and Ziggy “Our Polish Princess” Brzezinski.

2] A Socialism that indeed started to wither, and where the center does not hold, a fragile center holding various ethnic though also related tribes, with a variety of religious affiliations, Roman Catholic Croatia, Orthodox Serbians, Muslim Serbians and Kosovo Albanians, the closest we get to the Mr. Disney’s once indigenous 1000 Dalmatians, and with no end of fairly recent mass killings during and subsequent to World War Two – hell, Bill Clinton’s instinct was right on; and Sec Baker as I could read in the NYRB saying he didn’t have a Texas hound dog among those Dalmatians once the cold war was over and no longer needed our Commie S.O.B.… and politicians among all those groups exploiting the nationalist and other magnetic fields, and the Kraut Foreign Minister recognizing the independence of the successor regime to the Fascist Ustacha state… what do you expect in such a wonderful brew, J.S., Bob Silvers... And then, given such one-sided press coverage, such a witch hunt among the frogs as you had in France, the one devil theory taking over, what do you expect a great newspaper reading rabbit-stew consuming exhibitionist, seeker for justice, like Peter Handke, what do you expect him to do and what with other exhibitionists like Susan Sontag in Sarajevo… And I am leaving out several other currents that started to flow, and the world wide neo-liberal that exhibited itself in Yugoslavia in the form of independent operators with private armies… the chief problem in the coverage, as best as I can tell, is the near exclusive focus on Sarajevo and what transpired there.  

Handke could be absolutely righteous for once and in good conscience, no denial, no hypocrisy! And of course the miserable Salmon Rushdie had his reading tour not only interrupted by the bloody war but by all the Handke publicity and without knowing zilch about Yugoslavia had to call Handke “idiot of the year.” That’s what you get if you look at the way the cookie crumbles and the tea leaves read. You other-directed ignoramus. No, with the respect of objecting to French coverage Handke happened to be even more correct than he imagined! It would of course be nice if the disintegration had called a time-out and allowed Handke to do finely detailed analysis of the intricacies of the media coverage and how that daisy chain perpetuates itself, it would have been nice to have a Habermas run conference where the “best argument won” [however that is decided, perhaps General Sturm von Bordwehr will tell us how?], and that is an idea, that kind of time-out conference amidst war is certainly on that will be endorsed in the academy, a lot of fund to be had at these conferences, but since not of that was about to happen  Handke basically made a mish-mash of it, as he did in the play, where I wish he had resorted exclusively to the coverage of Roger Cohen who, if you look under “Roger Cohen – Milosevic” in the New York Times you come up with 1060 results,  and if you do Cohen-Yugoslavia many more thousands. Cohen’s photo essay in the NY Times Magazine, where you could find photos of the war next to the Benetton ads, and where he blamed Milosevic personally for the burning of each and every farmstead showed the direction of his “reporting.”


To be fair to  Mr. Cohen, once he wrote his book on the subject he became a more differentiated writer, yet in his hatred of Serb nationalism he never explains why with the other ethnicities going in that direction, the Serbs might not be equally beastly. So I would have just made a mish-mash of Cohen’s stuff, and left Danner and Wechsler alone who look to me to be the better reporters and bright enough to unravel what really went down; that is, to become historians.

As astonishing as Handke’s single-handed action [but accompanied by translator and painter friends and others] was the reaction to it: we have, or had a kind war of iconic images. With respect of his coverage of the disintegration of a county he claims to love, Roger Cohen played, within the precincts of the New York Times, pretty much the same role as Herbert Mathews did for Fidel Castro in the Sierra Madres and the fall of Batista in 1959; except of course that there were no end of other reporters, Steve Erlanger being the only NY Times reporter who, as Belgrade Bureau chief, then struck me, as he has in all his work, as having an even-handed approach. It is of course a story of the media playing a hugely influential role in persuading Clinton to intervene as he did. But I imagine that these are “the facts” that Mr. J.S. refers to as being so well known and understood by the medianized as not bonge in need of elaboration. So this is a lesson of being willingly propagandized, as compared to the war of aggression on Iraq which had to be propagandized via paranoia and lies. Both wars involved a demonstration of U.S. air power and of shock and awe; that is, of the exercise of state terrorism on the most grandiose scale. Even the “innelectuals” in this country could all watch T.V. and all the human rights hyenas could sing “bombs away” – the general psychosis had a field day. And then compare the uniformity of their opinions with the uniformity of opinion during the Spanish civil war. There were many wars, lots of separate wars in the disintegrating Yugoslavia; there were lot of independent operators; a one sided media war; and the parallel Handke controversy. Handke managed to introduce the only humor into the proceedings, often inadvertently of course. A kind of Kaspar having a fit as his mother is grandfather is killed and his mother being raped and torn apart.

One matter that Handke continues to be charged with, but that J.S. does not make in so many words, is that of denial. Presently Handke denies ever denying anything! And I can only laugh out loud! I myself think that if his strong brain could get a grasp of the common psychological phenomenon of denial, that can go so deep, is so deeply attached, profoundly cathected but has become so trivialized meanwhile, he would understand himself; and over the course of time have written a series of long calm papers on his involvement in all of that, chiefly to explain it to myself.

Denial is a common and even essential human psychological capacity, necessity. In Handke's case it became emphatically necessary during his childhood trauma, you read in SORROW BEYOND DREAMS of his pulling the blanket over his head during his exposure to violent drunken primal scenes, ten years of that, later in life Handke will manifest all the symptom characteristic of that exposure, nauseas, angers galore [see his Essay on Tiredness], however, Handke is a true love child, if ever there was one, at least he was during the first two years of his life when he and his mother was all they had was each other, and even intra-uterine since she married the sur-name-providing Bruno Handke while still in love with the love of her life, a Herr Schoenherr, from the Hartz region in Thuringia; thus the title of my psychoanalytic monograph:


http://handke-discussion.blogspot.com/ and in the my Psychoanalytic Monograph, ”Peter Handke: Wounded Love Child at: http://analytic-comments.blogspot.com/                                        Denial, of course, comes in more “flavors” than do the constituents of sub-atomic particles, those famous quarks; what is the Higgs boson of denial? as I myself know only too well. It was Loser’s denial, instances where he ought to have said yes, but said no in Handke’s 1984 novel ACROSS that actually led, in 1989, to the Handke project, I had never thought, initially, that I would ever do more than maybe write a little book about what became involved in translating his work, especially his richest, WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, and at a crucial time during my own analysis, in 1982. That play shows every aspect, every facet of Handke’s, it is immensely rich, both his generous and his darkest most murderous impulses; that is, it is rich in contradictions, as you would expect someone with his wound to have them, and as you can find it in violent irruptions not just in his work, but in public outbursts and in hideous actions. But the murders have been only committed on paper, and acknowledged as impulses, especially in his most recent novel, DIE MORAWISCHE NACHT.

Denial, however, is also one of the sources of the creation for his "other-worldly" yet so physically concrete art, texts. [“Close your eyes, and another world will arise” are approximately the opening lines of ACROSS] On the other, I have never known someone who sees so much, is such a great phenomenologist. If you read his JUSTICE FOR SERBIA carefully you notice that he refuses to report anything he has not seen, and when, e.g. he sees corpses floating down one of those rivers, he angrily skips a stone across it, instead of falling into the standard – say Roger Cohen - language; he reports his wife Sophie Semin saying to him, about Srebrenice, "and so you are going to deny that too?" - which means that he himself is aware of his tendency to deny. And not so long ago he denied the shelling of Dubrovnik, to some visiting Croatian magazine and t.v. reporters in Chaville, for whom he cooked up a feast whereas even the closest friends these days are immediately taken for a march through the woods on a mushroom hunting expedition, by our Media-hoerige great writer. You can see the shelling of Dubrovnik on YouTube. Handke would probably say that it’s a fake, indeed it is weird to see a medieval town being shelled from across the bay! Looks like a movie set, cute, harmless, puff goes the weasel! Not at all like the Siege of Berlin. But would anyone stage all those different filmed records, and there are more than these:






 Very funny, and then tried to suppress that he had said so once again! Even more touching! Handke is running a little scared these days now that he has woken up to some of the consequences of his actions [see anon].

Denial occurs for two main reasons, one because acknowledgment creates unbearable pain, the other for reasons of self image, which can be just as painful, and also as in the foolish case of Ahmanijibad of Persia because he wants to eliminate the raison dêtre of Israel, that is for propaganda purposes, and thus Ahmanijibad if he ever goes to Germany or Austria faces some serious prison time! The fourth, in Handke’s case, that I imagine he can’t imagine anything that beautiful and harmless being shelled. Denial, scotomization, has been criminalized meanwhile, it derives from the field of psychoanalysis, my analytic caste, and it is a monstrosity to criminalize denial, in France I gather denial of the Turkish genocide of Armenians has meanwhile been criminalized… once you go down that road you end up at the very heart of hypocrisy and have people as in the middle ages going around with death heads in their hands, saying that they will not deny death. I well know the origin of the prohibition of denial as an aftermath of the Shoah, but it is a mistake. The miseries of the German “Historiker Streit” also played a role.


Handke in his play EINBAUM / VOYAGE BY DUGOUT has the case of the Serbian bystander of an atrocity who was arrested in German for not intervening back in Serbia and who was then condemned to five years in a German prison for that inaction - Handke represent this case, which really happened [and he befriended the man, visited him in prison, and was witness at his wedding], through a character called "the Forest madman" and “the utter madman”, splitting him up, because the fellow, when the Germans finally saw the error of their ways and sent him back to Serbia, he was despised: what had he done - he had watched, witnessed an atrocity, about which he could do nothing, he had not denied it even, but he was condemned for having seen! And remaining inactive – by the now conscience of the world, Germany! If you see where this insanity of prohibition of denial then leads to. Insanity! Suicide.  I am also appalled at French  denial of their 90% collaboration and passivity under German occupation, and then seizing DeGaulle's statement about "heroic la France" as a cover, who are some strange mongrels of Celts and Franken and Normans and Roman and who knows what else, just the way the Austrians seized on the opportunity to regard themselves as victims of Hitler, whereas 83 % of them were only victims of their hopes and wishes and hatred of Jews, and the way the French then treated the women who had slept with German soldiers, and that the Comedie Francaise canceled the production of a great play, Handke's THE ART OF ASKING. Handke has his monstrous sides in some ways, but I would say that denial in the instance of Yugoslavia is the least of it, and the French news media exclusively making Serbians and Milosevic's responsible is also an act of total idiocy.  You might say, that all the tribes became murderous, for reasons that they scarcely know.


J.S. then distorts Handke’s text by calling what Handke sees a distortion or in accusing him of pastoral idyllicism – the formulation “egg yolk yellow noodles” in particular appear to have upset the shit out of the German media. I well recall stretches of utter lyricism during my bomber plagued and traumatized childhood.

    What J.S. and so many French and German critics of these travel pieces want from Handke is, say, Roger Cohen, poor Roger [$ 200,000 k a year Mr. Sulzberger could save himself by letting you go?] type vivid reports of atrocities in vivid language – not in Handke’s allegedly grey noodle prose: without really being too aware, the masses with that mish-mash of the pornography of violence in their noggins ask for more of it, and the media delivers it, if not from one gruesome scene than the other, while the pornography of sex is prohibited, the pornography of violence really sells, and mish-mashes the brains that anesthetize themselves with hope, that they fasten on whatever piper comes down the road. Norman Mailer made some fine observations about that kind of pornography at one time, Handke happens to be the writer that Mailer could never be: he really can change consciousness while you experience his plays and his texts; doesn’t blow minds either.


What is odd about Handke is that someone with the super-charged senses of an autist, who is the ultimate phenomenologist, registrar, as I noticed on our second meeting in NY in 1971, not only in his writing, could then be capable of denial. But it is of course a leap from the phenomenon to its explanation; how it came to be; and it is there that Handke is wanting. The man who wrote the great play THE ART OF ASKING which wants to do without “why and when and wherefore”!!! Handke, as pure phenomenologist, can be a medium. The first, the Alaska chapter of A SLOW HOMECOMING was so for me, because I had once spent nine months traipsing all of the interior of the state, I had a book’s worth of the most wonderful anecdotes, but the experience of THE WHOLE… I sort of knew it had been a major experience in my life, that encounter, but I would never have known how to articulate THAT EXPERIENCE WHOLE… somehow what Handke noted in that chapter, however, then did,  and did so by means of “namelessness” that’s what I mean with “medium”. He became it via thousands upon thousands of his sense impressions that he articulated in his phenomenological way, and that I – reading – a most complicated process of deciphering and immediate processing and reaction of my entire being, isn’t it? another instance of translating thousands upon thousands of signals… into an experience of re-experiencing. Thus when J.S. writes that Handke“ produces his own rigorously distorted account…”  he is far more presumptive than Handke ever is or that I would be in presuming what J.S.’s eyes see [or don’t see], ears hear [or don’t hear], etc. Moreover, in feeling that the Serbs ultimately were the greatest victims Handke actually then finds himself in agreement with the likes of Roger Cohen although they arrive at the conclusion in rather different ways and for different reasons. And Handke expresses no ethnic preferences in reaching that conclusion. I know  because I had a close friend and expert in autism send him a copy of my first long piece which merely sought to understand, for my own sake, his involvement, and I put in an intentional misreading along those ethnic lines: Handke picked up my distortion, otherwise seemed to be pleased.


Now back to VOYAGE/ EINBAUM:

Dugout [for short] fits nicely within the history of the several concepts of this kind by a variety of 20th century playwrights, it is within the by now more than half a century old honorable tradition of investigative, socially relevant morality plays as they come to us via Brecht, via Hochhut, Peter Weiss, Heinar Kipphardt, Heiner Mueller; and also certain British writers; of these, Grass’s The Plebeians are Rehearsing the Uprising, might be the most pertinent antecedent to Handke’s dramatic procedure here. Although J.S. J.S. makes the bald claim that Thomas Bernhard is the most important postwar Austrian dramatist it appears that he knows absolutely nothing about the tradition within which Handke is working here, nor does he understand the screenplay kaleidoscopic form, as J.S. calls for “action” about the same way one of the two hokey directors might! Handke has revolutionized theater, the way Brecht did, by inverting it, by bringing Brecht’s epic theater to a conclusion, by returning it to its Euripedean and Goethean origins in a modern way, and - especially in plays such as Lake Constance and Hour - creating rational catharses, estrangement, perhaps even inadvertently, considering how much of his being is projected into his text. Let me avoid intentional fallacies, difficult as that is.


J.S. is an ignorant prattler and bullshit artist, and of a very low order at that, who knows zilch about theater and proves his ignorance so self-devastatingly in this piece in the NYRB. He might have at least consulted the NYRB archives! J.S. [there has to be one idiot among the profusion of brilliant Marcuses in this world] and the Michael McDonalds and Neil Gordons will be as the detritus by the beach as the Handke whale passes by to become an Austrian postage stamp and statue and as scholar mice chew through his notebooks and drafts at the archives, and as the influence of his great dramas and what he has accomplished in prose writing is absorbed by the few.  And I have no compunctions in criticizing VOYAGE at the one section I think is badly done, as you can read in my own long expository note on that play posted at the handkedrama2 site and the handkedrama blogspot


I grant J.S. that Handke could have done a lot better in that great mish-mash if he had not used the Danner-Wechsler texts: the mish-mash as such is great of the stuff that most such texts make of the brains that expose themselves to them, but Roger Cohen’s stuff would have been more useful. And also, Handke must have been in a rush for re-using an attack area which he had used once before in THEY ARE DYING OUT. New wine in an old bottle, perhaps Handke is a one note pony when it comes to attack arias; after all, he uses a version of it once more in MORAWIAN NIGHT.

The only facts you can have on a stage is a PLAY, and the only reality a play has is as a play! And it’s relationship to the reality outside the theater, to place, to time, to history is invariably ambiguous, the suggestions it propositions send out.  Even the bloody Greeks knew that, and the only ones who don’t are American naturalists, who ask for “reality TV” because of their vanishing sense of reality, not enough of it around to consume.  

23]“They shout violent, obscene threats, but somehow benignly—by the standards of the play, almost comically: "Say the word 'neighbor' one more time, and I'll cut your throat, or mine," one says. So Handke has a sense of mordant humor at least, J.S.?

24] “Three Western journalists appear, preposterously, as "mountain bikers," and harass everyone with their gruesome and self-important accounts of atrocities. The centerpiece of the play is an inconclusive debate between the mountain bikers (who, in chorus, say things like "We are the market. We are the world. We are the power. We write the history.") and a former journalist, called "the Greek," now a disgraced, clownish figure, who advocates a new language for talking about the war, as opposed to the distortions of the journalists, whom he calls "common-sense dolls." Eventually the mountain bikers — officiously referred to in the text as "the international ones" — collapse and are transformed into mere locals.”

In what way can that be said to be “preposterous” except by J.S. saying so? Meanwhile U.S. news folk are embedded with the troops, and who knows how far some of them take the “bed” part of that designation? I really wish them well at least in that respect. The reporters and media folk are as interchangeable as the lobbyists are with the various administrators of the fiefs.

Handke’s "We are the market. We are the world. We are the power. We write the history.. we are the language , precedes the Bush administration’s saying - “we decide what reality is” - if you recall that from about eight years ago! And millions of fascists in this country still cheer Bush! Handke has good antennae! The whole section of the Greek reporter fits the western, particularly the U.S. media to a T: Here a real excerpt so you can make up your own minds whether this is preposterous or not:


 “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.

O’HARA: Aren’t those prejudices, my son?


MACHADO: Let him express his prejudices, John. Prejudices make good film plots.


GREEK: 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.


THIRD INTERNATIONAL: Medieval rhetoric.


GREEK: 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? Extra-terrestrials. International court? Universal stingrays.


FIRST INTERNATIONAL: 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.

25]“The final scene—both flat and bracing, like the moments after waking from a dream — construes the play as an apocalyptic fantasy: the stage is emptied; the destruction, total. [Please: spare us your descriptive prose of what it feels like when you wake from your dreams, J.S., though you do require some kind of serious bracing, you assume that we share your experience! The world goes awry with assumptions.] Handke’s "Balkan war" cannot be explained or described, or even named; it will not be remembered as history, only as legend, as a ghost story. The rambling action (or lack of action; on stage, the play lasts well over three hours and, except for the suicide and the entrances and exits, very little happens) would seem to dramatize the act of forgetting, the way the present eats away at the past.”  Action action action. No, I would say rather a great deal happens, as every spoken sentence is a happening. However, since I did not see the production I do not know whether Peymann put on the text as it is published in its entirety. Handke, the realist, now writes what are called “Lese Dramen” – plays to be read, and thus some speeches that make their point when they are spoken and acted out can easily be cut and telescoped for performance. Scott Abbott saw the production and since he has meanwhile also translated the play will perhaps add something to my expository note on the play, or in some other fashion.

Here a note from Scott’s diary:Several hours ago NATO and the Yugoslav Parliament came to some kind of agreement ending the bombing after 78 days. And, I'm just back from the world premiere of Peter's "The Play of the Film of the War," directed by Claus Peymann. I’ve never attended the world premiere of a play of this magnitude; and I’ve seldom been this moved, this challenged, by a work of art. Peter has filmmakers John Ford and Luis Buñuel in a Serbian town ten years after the war trying to decide how to make a film of the war. Characters who appear before the directors tell conflicting and complex stories as the play feels its way to questions about war and its aftermath. The really bad guys of the play, three "Internationals" who know all the answers, who dictate all the terms, who can think only in absolutes, appear on the stage as follows: "Three mountain bike riders, preceded by the sound of squealing brakes, burst through the swinging door, covered with mud clear up to their helmets. They race through the hall, between tables and chairs, perilously close to the people sitting there. 'Where are we?' the First International asks. 'Don't know,' the second answers. 'Not a clue,' the third says."American and European moralists, functionaries with no hint of self-irony or humor, absolutists who run the world because of their economic power – these sorry excuses for human beings were depicted this evening as mountainbike riders. Žarko, I said, Don’t you ever tell Peter I ride a mountain bike. No, he whispered, I’d never do that. Rich with thoughts, savory with sentences, the voyage by dugout was also a riot of comic action in Peymann’s staging. It was over before I even realized it was underway. The play drew on several incidents from our trip, including when Peter put his coat around the shoulders of the OSCE woman in Višegrad. The long sentences and long speeches of the play felt like well structured seriousness. The play trusted the audience to pay attention, and rewarded those who did with intellectual and aesthetic depth. But the play is playful too, and Peymann's direction brought that out impishly. The juxtaposition reminded me of the scene near the end of "Wings of Desire" where Peter's long and reflective sentences are being spoken against the sounds and rock staging of Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds.

After the performance, flushed with enthusiasm and insight, I told Peter how well he had integrated that real event into an imaginative play. “Dr. Scott,” he chided. “Always the professor.”

26] Before 1996, Handke had a reputation as an aesthete, but also as something of a nihilist. In his new play, he has aestheticized the Yugoslav conflict and, with a nihilist's diligence, turned it into, literally, nothing; what remains are his words to that effect. ("What war?" asks the Fellfrau, the conscience of Handke's play, just before her dugout speech. "I don't know anything about a war.")

I address the matter of Handke’s aesthetics above. I imagine if this play in any way aestheticizes this war out of existence, you can say that of any historical drama. Here J.S., the idiot, appears not to comprehend the “as if”: the play is set ten years in the future, Handke’s plus-quam-perfect procedure as he practices it also in his novels, it’s the screenplay for the 28th film! And in a play set ten years in the future, you, or rather one character in the play, can also wish the war away, and a lot of all this damned healing that never leaves enough wounded scar tissue, will have occurred.

I have never heard of Handke’s reputation as a nihilist, he was haunted by the thought of suicide as a young man, I suspect because of the angers and nauseas that came with him out of his childhood, until that “moment of true” feeling, ever since he’s become nearly American positivist for me, a Dale Carnegie who sees beauty everywhere. Moron Marcus! The very DUGOUT [a bit heavy mode for this birch bark canoe man but fitting for the original Hawaiins] is some kind of symbol of undying spirit, Handke is a very earthy fellow, a gardener, mushroom picker, he enjoys his fame and power, has become an excellent dad to his second daughter where he makes up the miseries he inflicted on his first young girl, he scarcely ever comes even close to repeating himself! And that is a nihilist, what loose use of language! The fact that the war “on stage” is negated is only a form of artistic license, of the power of negative thinking. The “war” on stage is made “as if it never happened” – analogous to the King riding to the rescue of Mecky Messer at the end of The Three Penny Opera, analogous to no end of play endings, at least the play can have a happy ending, reality obviously does not. J.S. really is so entirely ignorant of drama and dramatic conventions….Nothing happens? No, no real tanks, just a lot of stage acting and playing. That’s all you get on stage. Suggestions, powerful images, playfully presented, strong language, dialectical arguments, humor – that the audience can then discuss, absorb, that rattles some of the set patterns in the mind. The play is a proposition to be entertained, as the two directors do the screenplay – if, say, I would hold J.S.’s firm view of the “facts” and were asked to direct this play, I would even be able to sway an  interpretation in J.S.’s direction. J.S. claims that the “bearskin woman” is Handke’s megaphone.  I would say: all the characters are his megaphone, and in that he is like Shakespeare. There is much ambiguity here, although by no means as much as in WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES or THE HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER or in THE ART OF ASKING. The play is more narrowly focused, it is a model for plays about war.


Subsequent to the premiere in Vienna, Handke had himself interviewed by his older daughter Amina Schwartz-Handke, and the interview used to be online but is not any more. There Handke states something to the effect that no matter an artist’s personal political opinion, in a play such as Voyage artistic objectivity rules. I thought he was being just a touch cute in this instance since a variety of his own opinions do in fact enter the mouths of various character, no matter that also the opposite takes and opinions do. But VOYAGE is neither a propaganda piece nor is it nihilistic, nor is it parti pris – but he sure seems to hate mountain bikers. Here in Seattle all of them are young upwardly mobile brokers and the like. Gangs of them on Sunday! "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." Indeed!

Handke kills off reality to tell his ghost story, and he has a purpose: he wants to turn the Bosnian Serb war criminal into a Balkan everyman. He is so insistent on the higher, eternal (ahistorical) innocence of his war criminals (whose outbursts begin to seem bratty, childlike), and on the specific evils of his journalists, that we have the impression the Yugoslav tragedy occurred because the West sent journalists there to cover it”. I recall Handke, rather foolishly, asking whether there had not been a von Stauffenberg to eliminate Karadzic. I can’t tell who J.S. has in mind with “Bosnian Serb war criminal”… if he means the forest madman,” I have addressed that story above, and he was not a Bosnian Serb. I don’t know if Handke suggests that the war would never have taken on these dimensions if there had been no Western exploitive news coverage: but it sure is a thought isn’t it, especially when I read the likes of J.S. and Roger Cohen and a lot of other newspapers and TV. reporters. They are ambulance chasers all, and the New York Times sends more than any other! As to Handke killing off reality I am sure he has a wish to that effect, but all he does is write prose in which you can dwell more happily, at least for a while, sorry folks, that’s all there is, but how did this sentence pass Bob Silver’s editing pen knife I ask meself!

I have meanwhile taken another look at Joseph Brodsky’s piece in the NY Times


and it strikes me as a thoroughly confused and twisted piece of writing, and so Handke’s rusty nail looks like a very apt and succinct description, or you would need to take Brodksy apart and show up all its fallacies as I do here with “dear old flame of reason burning bright”, J.S. Marcus, and only because of the pages in which his shit appeared and because the damage it therefore caused. An entirely remedial effort, Brodsky is dead and fortunately was a somewhat better poet than editorialist.

Thinking of the kind of play I would write on the subject of the disintegration of Yugoslavia now: For a stage image platform:  J.S Marcus’s body and that of his ilk – big wide stage – and t’is  bombarded with facts upon facts, say starting with the end of WW II, Tito’s Partisans, Croatian Ustacha killing each other, Tito becomes the US’s commie SOB after Dimitroff is killed in Bulgaria, Tito receiving barrels full of dancing dollars that are transformed into tanks facing east; Tito playing his clever game of ethnic bridge, or is it pinochle [?]; the German foreign minister Genscher “recognizing” an independent Croatia, Tjudman making the Serbs in Croatia 2nd Class citizens, U.S. ambassador Peter Galbraith arming the Croatians … this onslaught of facts is in the form of arrows that stick on that stage body… it all ends with the stage body transformed into Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. "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. We are tougher than Krupp steel, we bond and kill better,” is how Handke’s ditty is improved upon by a visiting Mormon chorus from West Point.