The Playgoer: Handke update

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Handke update

Alison Croggon had a couple of must - reads on the Handke affair over the weekend, with some excellent links, including a pretty balanced though definitely supportive statement by Handke's English-language translator, Michael Roloff, nicely distinguishing between the man and the work:

The play "DIE KUNST DES FRAGENS, oder die Reise in das sonore Land" happens to be a truly great play; it creates a profound and delicious sense of deep puzzlement in the audience, something that, ordinarily, is achieved only after years of psychoanalysis. I have known Herr Handke since 1966, personally feel some considerable justified ambivalence about him, little ambivalence if any about most of his work ... and have written extensively on various aspects of Handke, including his involvement in matters Yugo-Slavian. It appears Handke was following his grandfather's road in hoping for a continued federation, also as a counter model to the current European federation. Best as I can tell from this distant perspective that depends entirely on written texts and documentation, he is not guilty of denial of anything, but of not speaking in platitudes. Last year he published an essay in the German magazine LITERATUREN, in which he detailed why he would not appear as a defense withness at Slobodan Milosovic's trial, where I especially liked how he made fun of his own sense of self-righteousness....

Having disassociated himself from the defense of the more and more indefensible Slobodan Milosoviscs - as the trial proceeded and his entire history became available -- I don't think Handke needed to show up at the funeral, have his photo taken in front of a huge flag-like photo of Milosevics, or make any kind of funeral oration. Herr Handke can be as petit bourgeois, exhibitionistic and obnoxious - the German word is BORNIERT - as Bozonnet. THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS in this instance is THE PLAY. I am glad that there is a controversy over a great play! [his caps, not mine]

The nature of Handke's statements does continue to be contested. As Alison points out, the French newspaper Nouvel Observateur has actually retracted its characterization of his words.

I won't contest that Handke expressed public sympathy for a tyrannical mass murderer. But so did Gore Vidal with Timothy McVeigh; granted, a smaller-scale murderer, but the attitude of the two writers seems compatible from what I sense. Both want to serve as gadflies in defending the indefensible against what they see as other evil forces at large.

Not Vidal's finest moment either, for my money. But I'm glad no one pulled his books from the shelves for this. (So, yay for the USA?)

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