The Playgoer: Handke/Heine

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006


A good quick survey of the new Handke controversy--over his being awarded the Heinrich Heine prize in Dusseldorf--can be found by Canada's CBC.

If the Dusseldorf balked under pressure and withdrew the prize, I would actually not cry censorship, since freedom of speech, in my book, does not include the right to win snobby trophies glorifying you as an individual. Again, for me it's about the work, not the artist. Handke's play was pulled at the Comedie-Francaise, not his body banned from the premises. (Though that too seems to have followed.)

In any case, the prize, for what it's worth has only widened the debate around what he did or didn't say, and how much room artists have in Western society to express contrarian views in or outside of their work.

UPDATE, 5/31: NY Times "Arts Briefly" (scroll down) reports today--via Agence France-Presse--that the Dusseldorf council will revoke the prize. A Green party rep appears to be spearing the movement.


Ben Ellis said...

Yes. Giving somebody a prize is a lot different from producing somebody's work. Unless the prize-givers are very specific about why they are awarding the prize, such an award might have the effect of giving an institutional authority to the views he expresses, as opposed to turning audiences towards the wider possibilities in his writing.

The debate in France, from what I can tell, now seems to have turned into a blame-game over Balkan war crimes between Handke and others. It has moved far away from the theatre, and the implications of the Comedie Francaise's actions on the art. Le Monde has published some pretty exhausting legal and sociological opinion, but it's done my head in and I don't think that translating it would add much to what have become people's fairly set positions.

Mark said...

But then what do we make of Kazan? The lifetime Academy Award was clearly meant (IMHO) to honor his influential body of work, not endorse his old position on HUAC, etc, but that's not how some people saw it. (It actually became a good opportunity to illuminate discussion about both things.)

I agree with Ben that the prizes should be specific in their honoring of the art and not lending credence to external views--but isn't that implicit in many cases?

Playgoer said...

Thanks for updating us, Ben.

As for Kazan, Mark, that sure was a doozy. There's a great case for honoring the work not the man--but it does become hard at some point to separate the two, since his work was so personal at times. (Whose isn't, some might argue.)

The problem I had with his Oscar was only that I feel his offenses were particularly *against* the industry that was honoring him. By lending legitimacy to a process (HUAC) that sought to put fellow artists out of work and censor the film industry, Kazan's personal choices had real negative effects on his peers and his artform. The phrase "lifetime achievement" seems to go beyond just the sum total of the work and award a sense of citizenship, if you will. Which Kazan definitely breached, in my opinion.