The Playgoer: Handke/Heine 2

Custom Search

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Handke/Heine 2

Looking pretty certain Peter Handke's Heinrich Heine prize will be revoked by the city of Dusseldorf, who awards it.

Deutche Welle columnist Toma Tasovac is harsh on Handke's "idiot" positions (though in the more nuanced classical sense of the "idiot"), but that only makes her denunciation of his opponents more potent.

Bowing to the pressure of vociferous critics and he-said-she-said media reports, a member of the jury, a historian-turned-politician, publicly distanced himself from the problematic writer -- but only post factum, after the prize announcement bearing his signature was made public and the general hullabaloo came over Germany. Other politicians -- encouraged by the tardy return of at least one prodigal son -- turned to hyperbole and, all of a sudden, the writer started sounding like an epitome of evil, Lucifer with an Austrian accent who ascended directly from Hell to spread hate and destruction.

Handke, at least, admitted he was an idiot. But the German political establishment -- and especially the local politicos who rarely, if ever, get a chance to speak to a national, let alone, international audience -- should pause for a moment to reflect on what they have done. By declaring themselves ready to revoke the decision of an independent jury, they have seriously damaged not only their own reputation, but the very institution of the Heinrich Heine Prize.
Once again, I think such prizes are silly--and always already profoundly "political" anyway--so I feel this is less outrageous than the Comedie Francaise cancelling Handke's play in the first place. But it is indeed embarassing, since the whole Handke fracas exploded over a month ago and the politicians weren't ready for this. Anytime politicians are given veto power over an apparently cosmetic "jury" in such prizes, such conflict is inevitable, I suppose. As
Tasovac says:
Let's be serious. Who needs literary critics and philosophers -- not to mention literature itself -- if local politicos will always know better?


freespeechlover said...

I could not agree with you more. Philosophy, art, literature and theater have been around a lot longer than "politics." A lot of official politicians have a strong tendency toward narcissism which means they have to interject themselves into everything, no matter how much they don't know, etc. It seems increasingly like an occupational hazard.

Alison Croggon said...

I'm not so sure - classical Greek theatre grew out of politics as much as anything else. And what is the Aeneid if it is not political? - ok, a poem with many amazing parts, yes, but also Virgil's paean to and legitimisation of the Roman Empire...

It seems to be an ugly political stoush led by right-thinking, left-leaning people, such as the Greens. Which bohers me, being myself of vaguely left persuasions. It is quite right that this decision strips the prize of any credibility. Yes, all prize giving is a complex business - I have judged a few myself. But that doesn't mean that all decisions are bankrupt, or that it doesn't matter where they are awarded. Not every prize works like the Oscars.