The Playgoer: The Handke Story

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Monday, May 08, 2006

The Handke Story

Not much development over in Paris with the Peter Handke/Commedie-Francaise spat, but much thanks to those bloggers international Ben Ellis and Alison Croggon for keeping us all in the loop across the borders of space and lanaguage. Ellis offers his own translations of the local press accounts there, such as these disheartening statements from M. Bozonnet at the Commedie:

Didn't he know [already] of Handke's opinions? "Of course, but when Bruno Bayen proposed the play, Handke had not yet committed a decisive act of guilt."[...]

Is he a censor? At this, he revolted: "I didn't ban the producing of Peter Handke, but I'm refusing to invite to the Comedie-Francaise a man who doesn't respect essential values."

Question for discussion: does producing the man's work equal "inviting the man?"

It would be nice if a major media outlet in this country at this stage tried to offers some objective account of exactly what Handke's stated positions on Milosevec are, and also how his play does or does not relate to them. Apparently the play is over a decade old and predates Handke's current mess. So would this be like refusing to publish early work by noted anti-Semites like Pound and Eliot? Let alone the ol' Wagner problem...

My general take on those controversies--and it may apply to Handke as well--is that this is a consequence of venerating the artist over the work. In our culture of celebrity, what Handke says as a private citizen trumps whatever he does in his art. When St. John the Divine here in NYC debated a while ago over whether to include a bust of Pound in its "Poet's Corner," I argued the solution was simply to display an excerpt from the Cantos instead of the man's head.

Of course, the solution is to abolish the culture of celebrity. Failing that, well...


Alison Croggon said...

Garrett, I don't think anyone is arguing that the play - a very fine play, btw - has anything to do with Handke's support of Milosevic. It's all about Handke the person, not his work. At the bottom of the endless comments on my Handke banned post there's some further discussion on the question of Handke's politics.

I should clarify on my own position that there's a difference between acknowledging culpability and hypocrisy by NATO and others and claiming Serbian innocence. I'm not sure that Handke doesn't cross the line there, and that is the core of the debate: others claim that he suspends judgement but personally I'm a bit leery of that. And his support of Milosevic and decision to read the eulogy at Milosevic' funeral is hardly a suspension of judgement. One thing I'll say, this argument is not biddable to simplistic binaries.

Anonymous said...

i just heard of outraged that Handke is being pilloried because he attended milosevic's funeral...What ever happened to freedom of speech? But whats more the Milosevic story youve heard is not what really happened.

In fact, Milosevic was one of the earlier victims of US/NATO's humanitarian warfare program. His crime? Defending his country against western agression. The trial that wsa conducted against him turned into a farce, as Milosevic was able to not only answer his persecutors, but in one case a prosecution witness said he ahd been tortuered to lie and ended up supporting Milosevic;

On Srebrenica, the following analysis is relevant:

If Rachel Corrie has been demonised for he defence of palestinians, even more has Milosevic bee a victim of the media-spun lies of the western power elites.

Handke is to be congratulated for seeing thru the media lies.
Dont be fooled.
Brian Souter

Alison Croggon said...

I'm sorry, I just can't swallow Milosevic as victim. I agree that the tragedy of the Balkans was manipulated by the US and NATO in ways that have become depressingly familiar. Most certainly, there is a good argument that if Milosevic was brought to justice, so should have been Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, and Tudjman, the president of Croatia, and various other thugs. And equally culpable - for their unnecessary bombing of Serbia, which killed thousands of people with cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and so on and so on - are Blair and Clinton, who will never face a War Crimes Tribunal of any sort. But Milosevic's dream of Greater Serbia was always, from the early 1980s, an ugly and murderous one. That others had ugly and murderous ambitions does not absolve Milosevic from the guilt of his.

And - to return to the question at hand - whatever Handke believes, and clearly I differ with him on this question, I don't accept that his work should be blackballed.