BY SUBJECT MATTER, I.E. REVIEWS OF A TITLE, in the language in which it appears. GENERAL PIECES/ AUTHORS [of important pieces]; the slide show on the main site contains collections of secondary pieces, say the FAZ pieces during the period of the Serbian controversy, I will not enumerate them right now but only call attention to this important resource, the are hundreds of reviews on the various sites which will not be listed in the index for the seeable future.
HANDKE, Peter, excerpts from books, full length pieces, also in translation into English, French, Spanish
Abschied von Oesterreich:Das Baguette auf der Jukebox,
Da quando una volta, per quasi un anno, era vissuto immaginando [main]
Pomeriggio di uno scrittore
excerpt [main, several]
, excerpt [main]
[an excerpt, in English, main site]
Mein Jahr in der
Niemandsbucht [excerpt, main site]
[Selbstbezichtigung excerpt in French, main]
Am Felsfenster Morgens
, excerpt, [main and prose2 sites]
Opening poem of Walk About the Villages [Man from Overseas], [main]
Head Coverings in Skopje & Attempt to Exorcise One Story By
Means of Another
[from Thucidedes, Abbot translation, main site]
oder: Der Staat und der Tod
Fragment von Peter Handke (1975) [drama one site]
Was ich nicht bin, nicht habe, nicht will nicht moechte -- und was ich moechte, was ich habe und was ich bin
(Satzbiografie) What I am not, dont have, dont wish, wouldnt like [main]
SINGULAR AND PLURAL
, main site
Tablas von Daimiel :Ein Umwegzeugenbericht zum Prozess gegen Slobodan Milosevic
An excerpt from Winterliche Reise [main & Yugo]
A Letter to Wolfgang Schaffler, with commentary by Jochen Jung [scholar and main sites]
Cuando el nino era nino
, Romance Site, main site
When the child was a child
Ueber die Doerfer
excerpt [main + handkelectures site]
Ueber Anselm Kiefer
[main and handkebild sites]
Walk About the Villages
, extensive excerpt, handkelecture site.
[several pages as photos on the translation page of the main site]
INTERVIEWS: With Thomas Steinfeld, Norbert Jocks, Isolde Schaad, Herbert Greiner [main site]
Abbott, Scott, unpublished letter to New Republic; review of Unter Traenen Fragend, A Reasonable Dictionary; [main and Yugo sites]
Aigner, Thomas: Aufatmen und schauen Zum Widerschein des Kinos in Prosatexten Peter Handkes [main + drama 1]
Baranczek, Stanley, Review of A Slow Home-Coming [main site]
Barry, Thomas, Reading/Writing: Short Pieces on Two Non-Fiction Texts by Peter Handke [main & scholar site]
A HATAERAETLEPES [scholar]
MICHAEL BOERDEGANG & HARTMUT WICKERT: ZURUESTUNGEN FUER DIE UNSTERBLICHKEIT
[main and drama2]
Brunskill, Ian: a review of the Don Juan novel
Curwen, Thomas, A review of Sorrow Beyond Dreams
Dannemann, Ruediger: Reisender durch die Niemandsbucht [scholar]
Deichman, Thomas: Interview with Klaus Peymann [drama one site]
Downey, Roger: A review of HOUR, [main site and drama 2]
El viaje de +Wilhelm+ de la literatura al cine Goethe-Handke-Wenders [main and film sites]
Furse, Anna: On Kaspar [drama site one]
Gass, William: A long review of My Year in the No-Man's Bay prose and main site]
Gillette, Kyle: Words and Things, Language, thingness, and epistemology in Handkes Kaspar [main, scholar and drama sites],
Gilman, Richard Peter Handke, from The Making of Modern Drama, Slide Show, main site
Greiner, Ulrich: Das grosse Staunen des Peter Handke In seinem neuen wunderbaren Buch =Gestern unterwegs= erfaehrt man das Glueck des Lesens
Grimm, Reinhold: Review of Einbaum [drama I + 2], grim indeed!
Mystik und PopkulturPeter Handke: Versuch ueber die Jukebox [main]
HAIDER, Hans: Menschwerdung als Strafe Kaspar von Peter Handke in einer breitgedehnten, dennoch sehenswerten Interpretation von Helmut Wiesner in der Wiener Gruppe 80. [drama one site]
Hamm, Peter: Main site,
Peter Handke oder Die Zuruecknahme des Urteils [main]
HAMMER, STEPHANIE BARBE: ON THE BULLS HORN WITH PETER HANDKE:
DEBATES, FAILURES, ESSAYS, AND A POSTMODERN LIVRE DE MOI &
Just like Eddie, or [both scholar]
as far as a boy can go: Vedder, Barthes, and Handke Dismember Mama
Mirando hacia otra parte Peter Handke durch die Sierra de Gredos [romance and main sites] + PETER HANDKE: SUGERENCIAS DESDE UNA NARRATIVA ANTI-TRAGICA? [scholar site]
Warum versagt die Sprache? Kommunikationsstoerung in Peter Handkes Werk [scholar]
KUNST UND LITERATUR: DIALOGE DES UEBERGANGS Peter Handke und die Kunst, [handkebild site, Peter Handke und die Kunst [main and bild sites] Interview with Handke, mainsite
Kermode, Frank" The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick/
Short Letter, Long Farewell/ A Sorrow Beyond Dreams: A Life Story/
The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld [main and prose site]
Regula Rohland de Langbehn:
Hispanisches bei Handke und die Kunst
Levine, Mark, a review of One Dark Night I left my Silent House [main]
Loeffler, Sigrid Peter Handke und die Kontroverse um seine Streitschrift Gerechtigkeit fuer Serbien [main and yugo sites]
Maristed, Kay, a review of One Dark Night I left my Silent House [main]
Krucjata przeciw +consensusowi mediow+ Peter Handke szuka sprawiedliwosci nad rzekami Serbii [scholar]
Oz, Amos, on tranlating Handke, main and translation site.
: Landscapes of Discourse. A Study of the Work of Peter Handke in the Context of the Contemporary Novel [scholar]
Pichler, Georg, pieces in German on Handke and Goethe and Handke and Cervantes,Der Goethesche Nachvollzug des Schriftstellers auf Erden= Handke und Goethe [main and scholar sites]
Radakovic, Zarko: Die Bruecke ueber die Drina [English translatio of Serbian, main and Yugo sites]
Raskin, Richard: Interview with Wenders about Wings of Desire [main]
Roloff, Michael, Weaving a Handke Carpet, on One Year in the No-Man's-Bay, prose site;two long pieces on the Serbian Adventures [Yugo site], a review of Three Assayings, [prose site], a long review of Subday Blues, an explication of The Piece about the Film about the War , [Drama2 site]; part of the postscript to Walk About the Villages, [drama site]; A piece on translating the early plays, the Sprechstuecke,
A 30 Year-After Near-Posthumous Note on Peter Handkes Public Insult; THE HISTORY OF AN INVESTIGATION: PART I OF 4 THE CASE OF PETER HANDKE [main + psychobio site]; SEATTLE ORGANON FOR HANDKE DIRECTORS; [main and drama site]; the drama lecture [handkelecture site]; most of my long piece on Wings of Desire [film site]
Reichensperger, Richard Schauend und unterwegs Peter Handkes Beziehung zur Malerei [bild and scholar]
Reinhardt, Bernd, The Austrian writer Peter Handke, European public opinion, and the war in Yugoslavia [main and yugo sites]
Guenter Sasse: Comments on [In Einer Dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus] ONE DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE [scholar]
Schuett, Hans-Dieter, Peter Handke sucht lebenslang Jukeboxen [main]
Schaad, Isolde: Frauenbild bei Peter Handke [main & psycho bio]
Stadelmaier, Gerhard: A Journey to the Land of Pointless Searching
Strasser, Peter , SICH MIT DEM SALBEI FREUEN , DAS SUBJEKT DER DICHTUNG BEI PETER HANDKE, [main and scholar site]
Skwara, Erich Diabolino, in English: on the Sierra del Gredo [main, and many other brief reviews on both prose sites]
Spiegel, Hubert: Through the Barren Landscape Of Nothingness
Terlingen, Jules: DE ONVERSTANDIGEN STERVEN UIT [main and drama2]
THUSWALDNER, ANTON: Seine erste grosse literarische Leistung war...[main]
Von Iden, various reviews on the two drama sites
Wood, Michael: A NYRB review of Nonsense & Happiness, Three by Handke, A Moment of True Feeling
Zimmermann, Peter: Assoziationen beim Hoeren von Handkes Stimme [main]
I only name the site [s] on which the pieces can be found, since the order and even the names of the individual [it's 18 pages per site] can change. I will try to update this on a bi-annual basis & complete site by site by the end of February 2006. Reviews will be listed in the index only if of subtantial nature.
MOST OF THE REVIEWS OF bildverlust HAVE BEEN TRANSFERRED TO THE PAGE DEVOTED TO THAT BOOK AND HERE A TRANSLATION OF A FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE
REVIEW BY ONE HUBERT SPIEGEL OF "BILDVERLUST/GREDOS" WHICH I IMAGINE WE WILL HAVE IN ENGLISH FROM FARRAR, STRAUS SOMETIME NEXT YEAR. THE F.A.Z. NEEDS SOMEONE TO REVISE THEIR TRANSLATIONS, BUT IT WILL GIVE THE ENGLISH MONOGLOTTAL A BIT OF AN IDEA...
Through the Barren Landscape Of Nothingness
By Hubert Spiegel
FRANKFURT. The Austrian writer Peter Handke has become a travel agent=s nightmare. In his novels, every journey is a pilgrimage, every pilgrimage is an adventure trip and every adventure trip becomes an educational holiday. All Handke=s voyages of discovery and awakening lead to the end of our world and into the heart of another, better world -- a world of Handke=s own -- in which people do not so much travel as wander around with purposeful aimlessness, following wind-blown birch leaves and their inner voices.
In this world, one cannot get lost -- every wrong turning is a short cut. The more lost one gets, the closer one comes to one=s destination. And like all amusement parks, Handke=s world is built to a simple plan, but one that is deceptively simple, which creates the impression of bewildering, gigantic size. It takes considerable effort to set up something this size, and so the construction, titled Der Bildverlust oder Durch die Sierra de Gredos (The Loss of Images, or Through the Sierra de Gredos), takes up 759 pages, almost 500 of which are devoted to marking time.
The book=s nearly 800 pages invite the reader to wander slowly through them rather than rush. Within this world, a unique calendar applies: Hours, days and seconds are generally =intrusive, unnecessarily disillusioning units= -- intrusive because the world, sick with its own disillusionment, hungers for magic. What Handke paints here is recognizably our own present, the developments of which he condenses and extends into the future: Globalization has resulted in the demise of nation-states, a kind of world government is in power and regional loyalty has taken the place of nationalism.
Unnoticed by most of its members, this secular society is threatened by a disaster: the =loss of images.= For Handke, this means the absence of =sparks of images and images of sparks,= entering people=s awareness all on their own, as inspirations rather than memories: =Admittedly, every image belonged to each person=s individual world. But as an image, every image was universal. It transcended him, her, it. The people belonged together by virtue of the open and opening image. And the images, unlike any religion or earthly doctrine of salvation, were free of compulsion.=
These images, which refuse to be steered or captured, are the basis for the =belief in images= and the community of those blessed with the capacity to see the images. And like every other faith, this one, too, has a prophetess. She is a financial expert, living alone: the =banker lady,= an internationally acclaimed =world champion of finance,= the mother of a daughter who has disappeared, the mistress of an absent lover, an adventurer and globetrotter and, finally, the person who commissions the book that an =author,= the narrator, writes to her specifications. She is Handke=s beautiful chosen, a white magician with a mission, at once strong and weak just like the forces of good.
Handke=s style is a combination of deliberately pathetic expressions and cliches, of conversational tone and bureaucratic jargon, of phrases that succeed with effortless confidence and sentences that search, grope and almost stammer. In the course of the novel, the frequent formulas of repetition and confirmation are joined by signs of ambiguity and indefiniteness. Again and again, the prose flow is interrupted by confirmations, explanations and questions. All results in an exceedingly nervous, thoughtful narrative style, precise and vague, self-assured and searching, artistic, respect-mongering and indescribably nerve-racking.
Readers not receptive to linguistic gems and goodies are doomed to suffer. Handke spares them nothing -- this most hot-tempered of peaceable men has set his sights high in his latest book. For a long time, it has been Handke=s pet project to extend the fulfilled, happy moment. But now he postulates more: =The greater Now= should rule and =be the determining factor.= Behind these cryptic terms, the present lies concealed, =but with the addition of other times; it is the present as it always has been.= To the heroine, this transcendent =all-Now= appears as a park and garden, and finally as an enclosure: =the enclosure of the larger time.= In this park, people and animals could live together in natural innocence, and everyone would be so good to everyone else -- the present as a golden age. Handke=s retrospective utopia is about loss, however, and the purpose of the journey that this novel describes is not to avert loss, but to make it felt.
The journey reaches its temporary destination in Hondareda, the basin of a largely dry lake in the Spanish Sierra de Gredos mountains west of Madrid. Here the =converters= live: the last remaining people to resist the loss of images. A refuge in the mountains, doomed to destruction because the profane present refuses to be shut out. The sojourn in Hondareda is the last in a series of stations of an adventure that begins in a German harbor town, where the =banker lady= and pilgrim lives and commissions the =author= to write down her story.
This narrative frame as well as the story=s setting -- the barren steppe of the Spanish sierra -- and many other details are reminiscent of another Handke novel, =On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House= (In einer dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus, 1997). There, too, Handke uses the duality of two narrators because it allows him to simulate the coexistence of the spoken and the written word.
In the earlier novel, the pharmacist von Taxham thought that the roots of all literature lay in the toneless monologue of the narrator. In the new book, the =author= believes that orality is =the foundation= and the =cross-check.= Four years ago, Handke was concerned with orality as the source of narrative. The new novel takes one more step backward into preliterate, almost prelinguistic territory. The loss of images of which the title speaks is a warning of what Handke sees as the greatest conceivable threat: =The loss of images is the most painful loss of all,= and: =It amounts to the loss of the world.=
For Handke, the cause for this loss lies in =the exploitation of the roots and layers of images= of which the image-obsessed 20th century was guilty. The =natural treasures,= as the author and the adventuress agree at the end, have been used up, and people are now thrashing around as addenda to the =manufactured, mass-produced, artificial images, which replace and simulate the realities that were lost along with the real images.= On this banal note, at the level of day-to-day media criticism, Handke=s new novel ends.
The book, however, is not quite finished yet. The nocturnal union= of two lovers is yet to come, the embrace of the author and the prophetess and the promise of salvation. The images have been lost, but the search for them still remains: =There was a search in which the object already seemed to have been found, far more real and effective, as though it really had been found. And this search was the search for the benefit of someone else, and of others.= So one searcher redeems another? This is naught but the chain reaction of kitsch.
Peter Handke, Der Bildverlust oder Durch die Sierra de Gredos (The Loss of Images, or Through the Sierra de Gredos). Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2002. 759 pp., Hardcover. euro 29.90 (.40).Jan. 21, 2002
copyright Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2000
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or
in part is prohibited.
AN ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIC REVIEW BY Mark Levine, WRITING IN COSMO, BELIEVE IT OR NOT - WHEN COSMOPOLITAN PUBLISHES REVIEWS THAT LEAVE THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS BEHIND IN THE DUST, AS I WROTE THE SO ADMIRABLE ROBERT SILVERS THE OTHER now long ago DAY, IT'S TIME TO PACK IT UP AND GO WITH GEORGE PLIMPTON TO ST. MAARTEN. Well, unfortunately George Plimpton, a true dear among American aristocats, decided to dream off on his own the other day...
ALSO A perfectly sensible review of ONE DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE, [surprise surprise! the first in a generation] from the Sunday NY Times Book Review of December by Kai Maristed, bless her unless Kai be a him;
2] William Gass' review of MY YEAR IN THE NO-MAN'S-BAY,originally published in the Los Angeles Times Book Review in Fall 1998, and appearing here with kind permission of the author.
3] I WOULD HAVE YOU NOTE THAT RICHARD BERNSTEIN IN A DAILY NY TIMES TOWARD THE END OF NOVEMBER 2000 WROTE A HALFWAY INTELLIGENT THOUGH NOT ESPECIALLY WELL-INFORMED REVIEW OF "ONE NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE"... A FIRST OF SORTS for the Daily. ANYHOW, NO BERATING HANDKE FOR HIS SERBIAN ADVENTURES DESPITE THE FACT THAT ONE OF THE PHARMACISTS IN Night makes a comment about Yugoaslavia being an "ill-starred" landscape, and the fact that Handke completed NIGHT just prior to setting off on his now famous writing adventures into "deepest darkest Serbia," and that he has his Pharmacist note some UN Trucks on the Autobahn schlepping some of their burnt-out vehicles back to UN headquarters, in Bayreuth I presume...
For a stupid daily review of a Handke book, take a look sometime at Pulitzer Prize winner Margot Jefferson incomprehend Handke's "Three Essays"...<
Exile of the Pharmacist
You might not return from Peter Handkes new novel I permitted myself a moment of awed hesitation after reading the final sentence of Peter Handkes new book, ON A DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ). Then, as if following some urgent instruction, I opened the book and began reading again. You emerge from this mesmerizingly peculiar novel with plenty of uncertainty about what has just been experienced, and with a strong desire to put off returning to familiar shores. The Austrian-born Handke, who has spent more than 30 years chasing the vapor trail of middle-European ennui in his plays, novels, and essays, has outdone himself. On a Dark Night makes a label like original seem quaint. The book is part fable, part existential comedy, part heroic hallucination, and part wartime allegory, and its delivered with the confessional intimacy of a whisper. As starkly as a documentary, Handke introduces us to the village of Taxham, on the outskirts of Salzburg. The setting feels very much like the present, though we are told, At the time when this story takes place, Taxham was almost forgotten. Hemmed in by a river, a railroad embankment, and an airport, and further isolated within a ring of looming hedges, Taxham has about it an aura of the furthest reaches, accessible only by circuitous, inconvenient routes that make it hard to find your way in, and even harder, whether on foot or by car, to get out again. The towns residents are war refugees, expellees, emigrants, but its most mystical figure -- aside from the local soothsayer, who predicts that before summers end a war would break out to the west of T., a three-day war, but with never-ending consequences! -- is an unnamed middle-aged pharmacist. The pharmacist languishes in numb invisibility: No one talked about him, recommended him to others, sang his praises, or made fun of the pharmacist the way they do in the classic comedies. People who ran into him outdoors . . . either ignored him -- quite unintentionally -- or failed to recognize him. The man and his wife share a house without ever occupying the same room at the same time; their son has been kicked out of the house. The man eats his lunches in a concealed grove in the forest; he is endowed with a prodigious, almost troubling sense of smell; and whatever energy he doesnt devote to reading medieval epics he directs toward the study of mushrooms. At first the pharmacists story is told with an insistent clinical reserve, framed as a series of beautifully arid slice-of-life fragments. Its only as you are lulled deeper into Handkes thicket that you come to feel as if you have consumed some transformative mushrooms yourself. Quite unexpectedly, the pharmacist suffers a blow to the head, precisely on the spot where he has recently had a growth removed for biopsy. He loses the ability to speak and eventually finds himself driving through a long tunnel with a once-famous poet and a former champion skier. The three men stop for a night to visit a recently widowed woman, who attacks the pharmacist during his sleep. He becomes fixated on her. Before long the pharmacist, now called the driver, finds a letter sewn into his jacket: You threw your son out in a wrongful fit of anger. As punishment, a mark grew on your forehead, from which you will die. The group proceeds to a religious festival in a town set on a cliff, and here the man catches a glimpse of his son playing the accordion with a band of gypsies. As the narrator points out, At the end of such a journey... you could find that you had no sense of the direction in which youd been traveling.... Indeed, your head might be spinning. Like an errant knight in one of his beloved quest narratives, Handkes pharmacist is compelled to cross dizzying, blighted terrain before returning home. The novels brief descent into phantasmagoria -- imagine Carlos Castaneda adrift in the European Union -- is the only false note in this blazing, one-of-a-kind journey. Handkes tale is seductive enough to restore full-grown adults to that blissful childhood state in which reading is an abandonment to unknown terrors and elations. Be prepared: Not asking questions, as the narrator discovers, is one of the unspoken rules of the game. This pharmacists elixir will go right to your nerve endings and make you believe that what mattered was to be out there in the nocturnal wind, with the others, with these particular people, for a while, and then to see what would happen next. --back issues of Cosmo. By: Mark Levine
On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House By KAI MARISTED
its possible to argue that there are two kinds of novelists: one theme-driven, the other a writers writer -- passionate about method. The Austrian-born novelist, essayist and playwright Peter Handke is generally counted among the latter, a fierce purifier of language. Indeed, on the evidence of his new novel, On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House, which has been deftly translated from the German by Krishna Winston, Handkes power of observation and his seemingly casual tone, in which every word bears indispensable weight, are as mesmerizing as ever. On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House is a modern-day questing tale in which the grail is never defined or seen, but rather, as the journey unfolds, intuited by both the reader and the hero. The protagonist, an unnamed middle-aged pharmacist remarkable for his keen and greedy sense of smell and a (typically Austrian) passion for wild mushrooms, has banished his son in a fit of rage; he lives with his estranged wife, although he also has a mistress. He is apparently happy to go through the motions of daily life in his village, Taxham, a featureless drive-by suburb of Salzburg that despite (or because of) its magnified dullness manages to hook the readers curiosity. Unlike the old villages in Salzburgs orbit, Taxham, founded after the war, never became a tourist attraction. There was no cozy inn, nothing to see -- not even anything off-putting. It is hard to find your way in, and even harder, whether on foot or by car, to get out again. Almost all the routes that promise to lead you out then turn off and take you around the block or wend their way back past cottage gardens to your starting point. Or they simply dead-end at yet another impenetrable hedge, through which open land and whatever leads elsewhere can just barely be glimpsed, even if the street is named after Magellan or Porsche. When do the pharmacist and his wife, who remains silent in her half of the house, share a moment of communion? Handke lets them supply their own elliptical answers: When were in our own rooms at night and see through the window the emergency flare flashing up in the mountains over on the other side of the border. -- When in last springs flooding the drowned cow floated down the river. -- At the first snowfall. The pharmacist reads medieval epics in his every spare moment. He eats out in an airport restaurant, swims in the icy Saalach River and enjoys wandering in some nearby woods. It is here, in a blinding downpour after a drought, that the story takes its first bizarre twist: he is ambushed and viciously beaten by strangers. Accustomed to a kind of numbness, he puts up little defense. As he says in a typically paradoxical aside: I felt a curious joy inside me, or was it gratitude, or a kind of elan? Now things were as they should be. The struggle could begin. Bleeding from head wounds, he emerges into a Taxham that is subtly yet pervasively altered -- as is he. On entering a restaurant, the pharmacist finds himself unable to speak: hes been literally struck dumb. He is taken up by a pair of charismatic, down-on-their-luck drifters -- a once famous poet and a former Olympic skiing champion. It happens to be the start of a holiday, the feast of the Ascension. In the pharmacists car -- from now on he will be known only as the driver -- the three men set out from town. They cross borders, drive through mountain tunnels in the Alps and finally enter a harsh steppe: a fantastic landscape, constantly swept by a nocturnal wind, where roaming bands of thugs drown all civility and the driver learns, among other things, how to fight and how to calm his heart on demand. A Handke tale invites active reading, speculation rather than passive absorption. For all its laconic modernity, On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House suggests a Dantesque purgatory, a painful battle for the souls survival, along with the more romantic template of the knights quest. In my story no one dies, the pharmacist says. Sometimes sad things happen, occasionally almost desperate things. But a death is out of the question. Handke -- whose previous books include the novel The Goalies Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and the unforgettable memoir A Sorrow Beyond Dreams -- makes no bones, and never has, about the permeability of the membrane between his life and his fiction. He has been accused at times of arrogance and narcissism -- his first play was titled Offending the Audience, and he has been a famously sharp critic of postwar German literature. Here he lets the poet set the record straight: Young Narcissus was the soul of devotion and affection, and wished for nothing more than to take the whole world in his arms. But the world . . . recoiled from him, didnt return his loving gaze. . . . And so, as time passed, he had to find an anchor in himself. It is Peter Handkes loving gaze, honed by time and discipline, that shows readers the way out again into the worlds prolific and astonishing strangeness. Kai Maristeds most recent book is Belong to Me, a collection of stories.
By Thomas Curwen, Thomas Curwen is deputy editor of Book Review.
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim
New York Review Books: 80 pp., .95 paper
Judging whether life is worth living or not is, as Camus famously wrote, the fundamental question of philosophy. Yet he clearly understates the problem. For those who kill themselves, there can be no second-guessing. That decision is merely the surcease of pain. Hardly an answer, it is the beginning of the anger, the sorrow, the guilt, disbelief and shame for those left behind. But the real legacy of suicide is a story, a reiteration of Camus' question tied onto every memory and every memory recast, reshaped and re-imagined to provide an explanation for an event that has none. Perhaps no two authors could be more dissimilar in their ventures into this territory than Peter Handke and Jonathan Aurthur, and it is precisely their differences that make their stories important today.
=A Sorrow Beyond Dreams,= written in 1972 and first published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1975, is Handke's account of his mother's life and death. Prosaic, poetic, elliptical and self-conscious, it is an exacting picture of the shock and grief that await those who have inherited the ruins of a suicide. =The Angel and the Dragon= is messier and more desperate. The story of Charley Aurthur's life and his death in 1996, told by his father, lacks literary concision but gains momentum in its inconsolable grappling with the meaning of mental illness.
Charley Aurthur was by all accounts a talented and precocious child. He was born in 1973 of activist (and soon to be divorced) parents, grew up in Culver City, played the piano with obvious aptitude and wrote. By the time he turned 15, however, a shadow, tinged by insomnia and abrupt mood swings, had begun to dim his talent. Then, the summer between his freshman and sophomore years at college, he took a weekend trip to Yosemite and, while driving home, totaled the family car. A week later, he was sitting with his parents and a psychiatrist, who recommended that he be hospitalized. It is every parent's nightmare: Aurthur and his ex-wife soon learned that the accident and Charley's subsequent behavior -- jittery, dazed, anxious and weeping -- were most easily understood as the symptoms of a psychotic break.
The Aurthurs' introduction to the world of mental illness was precipitous. For his part, Charley experienced disorienting extremes of delusion and despair, reconstructed here through his letters, poetry and journal entries. His doctors debated whether he suffered from manic depression or schizophrenia. (Their diagnoses were often guided by the effectiveness of specific medications, which after one suicide attempt became an extraordinary cocktail of Navane, Cogentin, Klonopin, lithium and Wellbutrin, cut by an occasional session of psychotherapy.) Aurthur was no better prepared emotionally -- or financially -- than Charley and found himself searching the past and the present for a clue as to why his once seemingly balanced child had changed and what could be done to set his life right again. He ranged broadly through the written landscape -- from Michel Foucault to A. Alvarez, from Kay Redfield Jamison to Kate Millett -- scrutinizing biomedical and psychosocial treatments and fast confronting his own powerlessness in the face of Charley's rapid decline.
Mental illness is a phrase you won't find in Handke's account of his mother's death, yet it surely waits in the wings. While attempting a factual account of his mother's life, told with a journalist's precision (=The Sunday edition of the Karntner Volkszeitung,= his story begins, =carried the following item under 'Local News': 'In the village of A. (G. township), a housewife, aged 51, committed suicide on Friday night ....' =), Handke can't help but fall through the occasional trapdoor. =This story,= he concedes, = ... is really about the nameless, about speechless moments of terror.=
Born in a small Austrian village in the 1920s, Handke's mother -- he keeps her nameless -- lived in a world constrained by history and convention, where girls grew up playing a game based on the stations of a woman's life, Tired/Exhausted/Sick/Dying/Dead, where Hitler was a man with =a nice voice= and World War II became =contact with a fabulous world.= Pregnant by her first love -- a married man who disappeared from her life as quickly as he appeared -- she married a German army sergeant, and, after the war, they settled in Berlin, where he worked as a streetcar motorman and drank, worked as a baker and drank, and finally just drank. She had a second child, aborted a third and grew old before her time. In 1948, they fled the eastern sector of the city and returned to Austria, to the house where she was born and where life bore only a marginal resemblance to middle-class privilege. =Squalid misery can be described in concrete terms,= Handke writes; =poverty can only be intimated in symbols.= And poverty abounded.
Given the fact of her death, the mystery is how she survived these years, but it is not uncommon to find purpose in great hardship. She swaddled herself with the illusion of progress, the chimera of change, and, in truth, her husband, now in middle age, was becoming less of a bully, and she -- we are told rather cryptically -- =was gradually becoming an individual.=
But suicide is not the result of one moment or one wound. It is a slow accumulation of pain, often triggered by a physical malady. She began having bad headaches. Her doctor thought it was a strangulated nerve, and what first incapacitated her (=She dropped everything she picked up, and would gladly have followed it in its fall. Doors got in her way; the mold seemed to rain from the walls as she passed ....=) became with time a chronic condition. She visited a neurologist, whose diagnosis, =nervous breakdown,= provided a strange comfort. =He knew what was wrong with her; at least he had a name for her condition. And she wasn't the only one; there were others in the waiting room.= And so she endured, traveling to Yugoslavia, putting up fruit and vegetables for the winter and talking of adopting a child, until the world closed in on her. When her husband, who had been sent to a sanatorium with tuberculosis started getting well, she grew desperate again. She stopped seeing people. She shut herself up in her house. She went to a pharmacist for 100 sleeping pills.
The final pages of Handke's story are a wrenching litany of real and imagined moments, of syncopated flights of mostly single-sentence paragraphs -- heart-wrenching associations and chasms of silence between each thought -- and when he recounts the flight home for the funeral, he confesses: =I was beside myself with pride that she had committed suicide,= as if she had finally availed herself of the only freedom remaining to her. It is a stunning line. Could Jonathan Aurthur make this claim? Perhaps. Eleven days after Charley leaped from Lincoln Boulevard into the morning rush hour on the Santa Monica Freeway, Aurthur visited the overpass, stared into the flow of traffic and walked away feeling suddenly, perhaps inexplicably, liberated. =[Charley's] terrible affliction and suffering had imprisoned him but it had also imprisoned me,= he writes, =and now both of us were free.=
During his last three years, Charley had been buffeted among five hospitals, a process that Aurthur equates with the life of a soldier =repeatedly wounded, repeatedly sprayed with sulfa drugs and patched up and sent back to the trenches, a little weaker each time.= At the end of each treatment, Aurthur was left with no greater certainty about what could be done to restore his son, and, indeed in some cases, questioned whether the cure might be worse than the disease.
Thirty years may be an instant and an eternity when comparing the world between =A Sorrow Beyond Dreams= and =The Angel and the Dragon,= but the before and after of a suicide has changed little. The statistics are stark. In this country today, a person completes a suicide every 15 minutes, and almost as often someone is left behind to try to make sense of it. It may be a father remembering his son; it may be a son remembering his mother. In either case, it is less a philosophical question than a profoundly social problem.
While the pleasure, if this is the word, of reading Handke comes from the existential assumptions of his story, it is important to realize that suicide -- the reality, as opposed to the idea (which Camus seemed to savor) -- is not an existential dilemma. It is the final, tragic outcome of a psychiatric illness. Yet how prepared are we for this knowledge?
There is no more a prescribed course for treating mental illness than there is a prescribed course for being human, and as Aurthur looks at what we now know -- and don't know -- about mental illness, it becomes clear that the model we have today for understanding the diseases of the mind and suicide is inadequate. Beyond the brain-mind dichotomy that has of late polarized our understanding of human behavior must lie a paradigm that will break the icy rivers of vested interests, professional bias and brazen certainty and encompass the complex social and emotional roots of these diseases. Certainly, Handke's and Aurthur's books suggest this need.