Tuesday, September 28, 2010


 Preparatory to my summary piece EASING OUT OF , WINDING DOWN THE 25 YEAR HANDKE PROJECT [Oct 1, appr.]
I realized I needed to do "a number" on the atrocity that Neil Gordon perpetrated in the New York Times Book Review
on Handke's DEL GREDOS, and do so along the lines what I did about 3/4ters of a year ago on an even more
stupid and equally damaging J..L. Marcus piece in the NYRB

wrote the following letter to the NY Times Book Review upon reading Neil Gordon review three years ago, and of course it was far too long to be published even if Gordon was not one of their regulars whom Auntie then protects from thoroughgoing critique. I was glad to hear
from James Wood that he was in agreement with every sentence of my assessment,  it is a lonely job to be a one-person sniper in these jungles, but Auntie didn't either print short disagreements with Gordon, and the chief reason to memorialize the atrocity is because Gordon is a man of some power, he's the dean of the writing school at the New School,  editor of the Boston Review, so he is in position to do some real damage,  and his review manifest not only ignorance but malice aforethought, thus if I should run into him in the wild,  where I have carried a side arm ever since my year in the mid-80s in Billie the Kid country  I would not hesitate to be of service to literature and put the man out of misery.
In Seattle I imagine  I would merely spit in his face. My fighting days seem to be over except verbally.
Aside the letter, I now comment,
in red, on specific passages that I underline.

Over the Hills and Far Away By NEIL GORDON

By Peter Handke. Translated by Krishna Winston.
472 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $30.
Until the late 1970s, the Austrian writer Peter Handke was for me (and, I think, many like me) the David Byrne of fiction: a writer with a resonant, powerfully direct voice who could invoke the particular Sartrean nausea of postmodern existence in the simplest events -- in, say, the description of a soccer ball crossing a goal line. ''The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick,'' ''Short Letter, Long Farewell,'' ''A Moment of True Feeling,'' even his script for Wim Wenders's monumental ''Wrong Move,'' which effectively linked Handke to the ?n of German New Wave cinema: the list of revelatory, exciting works of prose went on and on.  It appears the misunderstanding started at once in this country[ misprisions anyone?], if Gordon's was it, thus that his Gordonship gets the development wrong, in as much as Lazy Bones has failed to follow it even in rough detail.....GOALIE, which I happen to have translated, but whose full import dawned on me only in the bye and bye, digs deeper into the grammar of our being, yet is but a sliver of the aforegoing purely phenomenologically registering DER HAUSIERER, and bears little resemblance to the
fundamentalist as if narrative procedures of Handke's first novel [1964] DIE HORNISSEN [the Hornets, Los Avispones, etc.]. Handke's work from early on confines itself to the formal, those strenuous laws, he later introduces some recits, but fundamentally, Handke does not break form! Aside being a formalist linguist with an unusual range of powers, he is also a conceptualist, which appears to have passed the conceptualists in this
country by.

But then, at a certain point -- in my view, with ''Slow Homecoming,'' published in German in 1979 and in English a few years later .......If the Gordon means the title novel and not the compendium published under that title about a DECADE later than in German, it would seem that Gordon  had missed the turn toward the mytho-poeic in LEFT HANDED WOMAN [1974] and already very evident in SHORT LETTER LONG FAREWELL, or the recourse to the allegorical in KASPAR. Gordon's mention of Byrne might indicate that he has some purchase on the formalist as well as melodic qualities in Handke, who does not like to repeat himself, after exploring a formal possibility to its end, nausea prone Handke indeed used to be, including of the eyeballs, however such an excessive condition of disgust [which has zero to do with Sartre's] also of the self will attenuate
with time, if not also medically, and be more discretionary., as say it becomes in Handke's richest work WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, published in this country in 1995, of which our "dear professor" appears as innocent as of so much else. If you include A CHILD'S STORY and LESSON OF ST. VICTOIRE in your charge, you are mixing apples and oranges, since the title novel is a work of fiction, that makes the truth claims of fiction, and the two others are very differnent kins of strictly autobiographical summaries and announcements....

 -- his exacting gaze, with its strange combination of compassion and accusation, turned on and began to consume itself.  ....I am not sure I would put any of Handke into these platitudionous adjectivitis riddled terms, but what might this "consume" possibly mean. If, say, I  were a kindly editor who had used Gordon previously, I would say: "Neil, what meanest you, fella? Might you mean that Handke seems self-involved, use his body his experience for his work? Go back and do me a second draft and think about the implications of a writer using his self in his novels, and do so non-accusingly and don't use the cudgel "narcississm" in this Breughelian world where near everyone uses that term as a scythe or cudgel.......  

 In the decades since then, Handke has continued to enjoy the status of enfant terrible in Continental letters, ...well no, Handke has enjoyed no such status............  
but in the English-speaking world he has been steadily demoted to something more like a whipping boy. Indeed, the first few inches of a Nexis search on Handke reads something like a literary Friar's Club roast. ''An exasperating, even neurotic book,'' is one critic's reaction to his memoir, ''A Sorrow Beyond Dreams.'' letter addresses these idiotic canards of the other directed Gordon who consults
Lexis and instead of offering his own impressions rummages for negative reviews..........

 In a British newspaper, he is described as ''that arch bore of German experimentalism.'' And a New York Times reviewer, discussing the novel ''On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House,'' observed, ''It is as though he is offering us something for its medicinal effect, like a low-sodium diet.'' ...Surprisingly, at least to me, the quite difficult DARK NITE even received quite magnificently comprehending reviews in the US, even in some women's magazines, so wonders will never cease including idiocies such as someone like Gordon being a dean of anything but of the  utter idiots will find these reviews on the handke-revista page devoted to this book..........  
Of late, however, Handke's reputation has suffered even at home. In 2006, he capped his years of baffling defense of -- or, at least, unwillingness to condemn -- Serbian atrocities in the Balkan war with a eulogy at the funeral of the accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. The so-called Handke Affair continues to polarize the world of European letters and led him to forfeit -- just before it was withdrawn -- the prestigious Heinrich Heine Prize in D?ldorf. In Paris, the Com?e-Fran?se canceled a Handke production on the same grounds. All of which makes the American appearance of a new Handke novel, five years after it appeared in German, a remarkable act of fidelity on the part of his publisher, a good deed that will not go unpunished -- neither elsewhere nor, it gives me no pleasure to say, here. ......I address this in my letter, so will not repeat what I say there....
and also there are several pages devotes ti DEL GREDOS at 

let me just note in nuce that Gordon finding the prose torturous or this novel lacking in  joy misses two or three all important matter, that
this book, like Handkes ABSENCE can also be experienced as a film, that if Gordon followed out his own notion of "consumed"
he might be affected by this projection screen in its entirety, he appears immune to Handke's ability to magick the world anew, appears to belong to the school that literature is either for American simpletons or scholars, and thus fails to realize, since he appears not to have read or experienced the book to its end that narrator and protagonist become one in one of the, if not the  most amazing endings in all of literature, which beats that of Ulysses hands down, if only it meansthat Handke loves writing more than anything else, a matter that has made many a woman unhappy, but not literatureif you realize how powerfully Handke can love, not just be nauseated... say by the likes of the Neil Gordons in this world.
To play writers off against each other with their respective merits is the finale of this middle brow performance.

On a surface level, ''Crossing the Sierra de Gredos'' is the story of a nameless German woman, a banker, who sets out on a journey through a mountain range in the Iberian Peninsula, where she has apparently traveled many times before. She's heading for La Mancha to meet an author she has hired ''to write a book about her undertakings and her adventures.'' This author is distinct, most of the time, from the narrator of the book itself, who intrudes fairly frequently with ''dear reader'' comments in his own right.
All three have forceful opinions about how we, dear readers, should be reading this book. The banker has insisted that there be no real names or precise ''indications of time,'' and that the style of writing ensure that readers will abandon, ''from the moment they turned the first page, any thoughts they might have had of hunting for clues or sniffing around.'' So she sets off and, in the 40 chapters of this very long book, conducts us on an extensive tour of her consciousness. She has a daughter somewhere, a brother who is a terrorist, a career, an interest in her family ancestry, a strange obsession with Arabic. Most important to her, though, is her interior life of ''images'' -- a kind of mystical, hallucinatory vision of landscapes and places, the experience of which is central both to her life and to this novel (which is titled, in its German edition, ''The Loss of Images: Or, Through the Sierra de Gredos''). Meanwhile, she moves through various meticulously described incidents and encounters in which, although nothing really happens, we're provided views of the Gredos range that alternate among historic, descriptive, imaginary, anthropological, ethnographic, historical and surreal. Finally, she manages to get to La Mancha. ''And with that, the story was done, and we went home.'' 

The translation, by Krishna Winston, is above suspicion. But from the first line, Handke's readers are oppressed by tortured prose, a profusion of elliptical images, allegorical temptations and symbolic hints, which forcefully invite us to ''sniff around'' and ''hunt for clues'' -- all the while undermining our every attempt to do so. Why the Sierra de Gredos? Why La Mancha? Is there a reflection of Cervantes's quest, and is this why Handke has described the book as ''a medieval novel about modern times?'' Is the Iberian Peninsula symbolically linked with the Balkan Peninsula, where Handke's politics have caused him such distress? What of the weird little ethnic war that seems to be going on in the Gredos? And the banker's intense interest in Arabic? Of course, Spain was once Moorish, and a significant number of Bosnians are Muslim.
Perhaps Handke believes that only scholars and specialists should be allowed to share his secrets: certainly there is no way to understand this book without delving deep into conceptual categories -- aesthetic, narratological, analytic -- that belong properly to the scholar. I am thoroughly persuaded, for example, that Ross Benjamin's literate, articulate interpretation of the novel in the current issue of Bookforum is correct. ''Displaying a strong affinity to German Romanticism,'' Benjamin argues, ''Handke seeks to inaugurate a new attunement with the world.'' In Benjamin's view, the novel's confusing and difficult writing ''testifies to Handke's experimental exuberance and his pleasure in random senselessness.''
But for a general reader the narrative techniques Handke marshals to subvert our understanding seem punitive rather than exuberant. There's the namelessness of the characters, the intrusion of various authors and narrators, the parenthetical nonsense. (''On the contrary? Also not on the contrary.'') There's the insistent whimsicality (''She walked with everything she encountered and came upon, with everything she saw, tasted, heard and smelled''). And the constant, busybodyish rhetorical questions, the seemingly endless digressions, the profoundly and deliberately obscure asides. (''Hadn't too much been revealed already, less about her -- she perhaps had something entirely different to reveal -- than about the circumstances prevailing at the time, which, as previously mentioned, were supposed to be portrayed more 'ex negativo,' through things that did not make up the foreground?'')
Handke's didactic refusal to let us make of his book what we will, his sedulous effort to keep us dizzy and confused, is, more than anything else, a way of infantalizing his readers. By the time we're done, we're feeling so put upon, so talked at, that it's difficult to respond with anything but adolescent sullenness.
In ''Crossing the Sierra de Gredos,'' Handke has demonstrated that the linguistic illusion of narrative truth can be linguistically undone. Well, fine. But attacking the integrity of narrative is an easy job: stories fall apart under a sufficiently analytic gaze; all language does. No one who has followed the lively modernist and postmodernist conversations about reading since the publication of Saussure's ''Course in General Linguistics'' almost a century ago has any doubt about that. The more serious contemporary challenge is posed by another postwar German writer, W. G. Sebald, who saw in the practice of fiction the ethical possibility of ''restitution'' for history's manifold horrors. Like much of Sebald's writing, Handke's novel is denuded of joy. Unlike Sebald's, it also deprives its readers of hope.

Here my letter of 2007:
Over the Hills and Far Away
By NEIL GORDON com/inprint/issue=200703&id=264, I
would like to point out that as a professor of literature he might be
aware of the classical tradition of Goethe, Stifter, Flaubert, Hermann
Lenz and Bove in whose steps Handke, the last great walker on the
earth, exerts himself as someone who is so infinitely of his medium's
contemporaneous possibilities; and to sensitive responses in the

1] LA TIMES/ Thomas McGonigle,0,2189379.story?coll=la-books-headlines

It is time readers of the New York Times Book Review were made aware
of Handke, the prose writer, having gone through something like half a
dozen changes. Starting of as a supremely playful demonstrator of the
quelling of anxiety in his first three novels, only the third, GOALIE
[1969], exists in English [in my translation], his nausea, once
including words [he now fondle them] is not like Sartre's idea-driven
kind, but has psychosomatic origins; is the nausea produced by what
for him is "the ugly;" no matter that it hits the same nerve. And that
his hyper-sensitivities are uniquely his

If Mr. Gordon were as exacting as he says Handke is, he might have
noticed that Handke already shifted to a more open hearted
mytho-poeic, but equally if not more exacting, position in the 1975
LEFT HANDED WOMAN, [whose personae resembles that of the woman subject
of the current DEL GREDOS] the book just preceding A SLOW HOMECOMING,
whose Alaska section must be one of the most articulated responses to
nature in world literature for its selectivity in naming.

   What entered Handke's writing shortly after HOMECOMING, in THE
LESSON OF ST. Victoire, was the pictorial Cezanne re-arrangement of
reality {"Close your eyes and see the world arise anew", the opening
sentence of his 1984 Salzburg novel ACROSS, provides a hint.}

   With THE REPETITION  [1987, "retrieval"] a book fabulously praised
in The Guardian, the promised re-write of both his first novel, DIE
HORNISSEN [1966], and of SORROW BEYOND DREAMS [1972 – Gordon even
manages to find a negative take on Handke's emotionally most
immediately accessible highly praised book], Handke's search ["I want
to be someone like somebody else was once" KASPAR, 1968; OBIE 1972]
rearranged his roots in his Slovenian grandfather and uncles' region;
which  provides a hint to the unnecessarily baffled Professor Gordon
why Handke might prefer a continuous existence of the Yugoslav
Federation over its decimation into small consumer entities; his
defense of the Serbs and Milosevic against the more customary "one
devil" theory of history and journalism.

   With the three narratives in THREE ESSAYS [especially ON THE
JUKE-BOX, 1989], culminating in the six-sided weaving self-portrait of
himself - as the once nauseated ex-cultural attaché Keuschnig [of 1974
A MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING], as writer, painter-filmmaker, priest, stone
mason, super-finicky misanthropic restaurateur, and reader, in the
1994 magnum opus ONE YEAR IN THE NO-MAN'S BAY, Handke demonstrated for
stretches – he is the greatest of exhibitionists – the capabilities of
narrative as pure writing music image, as he did already in the 1986
ABSENCE, a narrative that a reader experiences like film.
   Subsequent to NO-MAN'S-BAY he then demonstrated that you could zoom
like a camera, in the 1996 ONE DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE, into
the mind of an apothecary, in the improbably named, Salzburg suburb
Taxham, and make that fellow's dream syntax absorb the readers'
projections, a feat worthy of the Joyce of FINNEGAN FUNAGAIN; and in
his 2005 DON JUAN, the fugueing novella that followed the 2003 GREDOS
he showed that you could write both forward and backward in time while
standing in one place. - I know it is all a little much, the fellow
just turned 65 and has published 60 books, and sometimes I wish I'd
never set eyes on him, but he can't help it, he must write to stay
healthy; his symptom is his salvation. And it is that of real readers.

   It matters little that the so other-opinion-oriented Mr. Brown's
search for "opinions" yields so little of note; or that Handke is the
whipping boy of miserable reviewers chosen by overly busy editors.
Gordon has searched poorly. REPETITION and NO-MAN'S BAY are regarded,
rightly I think, as two of the great novels of the past hundred years,
e.g. William Gass's estimate of them. Since Gordon cites the Book
Forum review  
2] Washington Post/ Guy Vanderhaegen

 3] San Franciso Chronicle
Crossing the Sierra de Gredos
San Francisco Chronicle - CA, USA
as well as to sites and blogs I and others run on Handke accessible

 These not only contain a wealth of material, but there Handke, his
own severest critic, also is critiqued on his own terms; and flinches
at every lash of the whip!

   Gordon's reading of DEL GREDOS shows me that he is the wrong
reader, responder for this book, written in large part to memorialize,
salvage a landscape. He bristles at being shook up.What ought to be done with the likes of Neil Gordon?

If he were a lawyer he would be disbarred. If he were an Indian Scout
his commanding general would have him executed forthwith for utter incompetence
to set an example for what will happen to those who follow in his footsteps,
since he is of no use. Instead the New School has the idiot for a dean,
and Oh Tannenbaum keeps using him. Ah, and what a far cry from Harvey
Shapiro to Oh Tannenbaum! If proof be needed that not all Jews are smart!

About Me

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MICHAEL ROLOFF exMember Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website