Friday, March 5, 2010
Some comments on Fritz Wefelmeyers take on Handke's drama in Coury/Pillips book on same
#2] Some comments, several quite devastating I am afraid, on Fritz Wefelmeyer HANDKE'S THEATER
[in Coury/ Pilipp's THE WORKS OF PETER HANDKE.
Numbering of the reviews of the indvidual contributions is in reverse sequence, i.e. scrolling down you will reach the preceding comment, right now only Scott Abbott's take on Handke's Yugoslavia texts.
[# 3 of the posting, end of February, will treat the essay on Handke's poetry. As translator of Innerworld and Nonsense and Nonsense & Happiness and Walk About the Villages [W.A.T.V .] I have a few things to say; these were important events in my life, W.A.T.V. one of the most, yes a translation can be one of the most important events, folks!, none done just to keep body and soul a unit, but with conviction. Just now looking at the first page of Christiane Weller's poetry piece, I notice the 'exterminating angel' begin to rustle its decimating wings. How is it possible, halfway consciously, to put forth such verbiage while writing about Handke as poet who writes critically about language? Ms. Weller, too, it appears, has a conceptual cutlery shop inside her that has been devastated by a tornado, Abu Ghraib here we come in another week or so!]
Musings, and apodictic comments..
1-a of 4]
Fritz Wefelmeyer is first rate in pointing out and elaborating the anti-illusionist and activist intentions of those artifices, the modernist early Handke plays, and he does an excellent job explicating something that explicates itself if any piece for the theater ever has, that is "Public Insult" as I now call Offending the Audience, for the social inability of being able to call it "Abusing the Audience" [no matter how much these audiences stand in need of, deserve all kinds of abuse, including the legal category "verbal abuse"]. I myself addressed some of these matters in a - "near posthumous" - long, tough piece on the translation of the early plays and necessary continuous updating of the insults in Public Insult in an online translation journal, which piece is most easily accessed at the site devoted to Handke as translator:
W. also covers the other early plays - instead of recounting the plot in tiresome fashion we now recount the events in happenings, but without responding interestingly, or anything but obviously to any of them, but just as tiresomely. The real deficiencies of this piece, however, consist of W.s neglect of nearly a handful of all important main aspects of Handke's theater and of Handke's post  avant garde period [yes folks, nearly thirty five years have passed, not that one would think so by how stuck people are in the early Handke], with dire consequences.
1-b of 4] Wefelmeyer treats these early texts [Prophecy, 1965, through They Are Dying Out, 1972, as timeless, as I hope they will be, while failing to note their connection to topicalities of the 60s and 70s during which Handke, very much a babe of the period, sought to and did connect, very consciously, non-platitudiously, while also having that deep archaeological connection as Olaf Hansen pointed out many years ago, and which connection then led him to the later equally great but so different work: Master/slave + s+m = My Foot My Tutor, Free Speech [Public Insult]; Identity i.e. Kaspar, Ride Across Lake Constance, the Left's language game regulations given, so estrangingly, to the business folk in Dying Out, etc., etc. The early plays, up to and including They Are Dying Out , were both profoundly and more or less very much attuned, in tune, antennae-sensed of the period of their creation, and so, looking back or forward into the past, are residues, pine-cones that can catch flame and.. Handke was engaged in a conversation with his generation. There has been a falling off as Handke has moved on, certainly not his fault alone; one of the few writers in the world worth following year in year out, since he scarcely ever repeats himself [his pride! one of many; but tire- and nettlesome for hacks of all kind, who want to push-pin you] pushing on into different territories...
For specific example - as apparently monotonous, five hundred hammers on the same spot piece as the 1965 Prophecy - even with all that intentionally painfully monotonous hammering of the same message that nothing is comparable to anything else except itself - failed to drive home the same point that Susan Sontag made a few years later in her essay Illness as Metaphor, in light of which Handke might have retitled his piece Metaphor or Simile as a Linguistic Mental Illness. - Handke is not so much a metaphysician of language as its physician. Language heal thyself! Just think of the consequences of the linguistic thicket that became known as the "Historiker Streit": what if either side had been prohibited from comparing, and just looked, nominally, at the singularity of this greatest atrocity of them all? [There, a comparison snuck in! Ineradicable it seems from the mind.] By the time of the dream state and syntax novel One Dark Night I left my Silent House, one matter that impressed itself most the first time round, was the resurgence of metaphor in Handke, just a few, powerfully chosen. The idea that he was a near Shakespearean talent was upon me.
Wefelmeyer - though he mentions the centrally important Quodlibet ["as you like it," another Shakespeare reference] - fails to appreciate its "the play to catch the conscience of the king" quality... The king these days being the audience which is paying to hold its Audienz for the players to instruct its conscience and consciousness - the kind of dialogue that fails to occur between stage and community in a theater that no longer makes news but puts the news posthumously on stage, making theater such an irrelevance  - Handke's conscientiousness being the reason why our inveterate "improver of central Europe", great artificer and sleight of hand, country priest, high priest of language keeps writing these damned things, these projection screens, even when he seems to have lost some of that twist of his wrist as in some recent [post The Play About the Film About the War, 1999] deliveries, aside to make a little money, exhibit himself to stay in the picture, and to keep meeting pretty intelligent actresses who scoot off in horror after a few years of living with St. Paul: all that the audience can see, hear, experience in the work [up until Dying, 1972] is itself,[explicitly in Public Insult, surreptitiously in Ride Across Lake Constance, participatorily in Kaspar, etc.]: these are mirrors, not fun house mirrors, more like mirrors with tentacles that reach into spaces you weren't sure anyone would reach in the theater, and they were, very icily at the time, devised by someone who knew, from positivistic knowledge, how to affect and effect an audience by subliminal linguistic means. - Quodlibet works on the principle of auditory hallucination, and does so, by Finnegans Wake type double and triple entendres; and you know into what depths associations lead, don't you?
What accounts for the resistance to these pieces, in the U.S. of A, is that like British Punk Rock, it they are a little too real; beautiful as they may be formally, their kind of anti-Aristotelianism can't be, or hasn't been, [but give America a chance - it's starting to do so with stage adaptations of Wings of Desire] turned into cabaret;
there is no veneer of style, no matter how stylish an inverted boulevard piece Ride Across Lake Constance might be; the dream, even the illusion that the players create for themselves in that play are too real. Well, Coke claims to be the real thing; and it has always been a real tasty douche. It is surprising, however, since there existed an audience for conceptual art in N.Y. during that period, that those artists, and their happenings, did not take up these early Handke texts.
Apodictally speaking - for efficiencies and other sakes and shots of sake - Handke, as a neo-romantic who uses words, language, concretistically - as which bebé Handke I suspect experienced them, painfully, nauseatingly - yet wishes for them to approximate, resemble the earlier Romantics' wish to have the communicative capacities of music, lives within a maelstrom of syntactically orderable perceptual languages.
Handke's statement that he calms down as soon as he takes pencil in hand and starts to write, dutifully repeated by his commentators who fail to look at what this might signify, points to a constant creative state that can be approached as a psychosomatic symptom, a symptom is a compromise formation, and is chief reason why Handke feels condemned to write; that this mastery, of terror and fear, instills, reinforces his grandiosity is to be expected.
As late or as the early word- but not sound-less artificial, with rural adumbrations, My Foot My Tutor, [and its contrasting Colors for Susan by County Joe] it might occur to the foutres that this maelstrom of signifiers might be arranged in such a way as to make time flow like molasses or speed up like a bullet train, can be molded, kneaded according to certain either pleasing or disgusting [Werner Schwab] artistic ways. By the time of Walk About the Villages [W.A.T.V.] and Hour, Handke has the confidence to create a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk that works entirely by phenomenological means ... within that large world of phenomena that includes spoken words, rhetoric, body languages, the language of silence...He verges on Dance Theater.
Handke's formalism - thus a certain affinity to Ionesco-like procedures in the early plays, though Handke is never quite as playful, nor is Handke, no matter some vergings, an absurdist of any kind - is a necessity for the sake of the efficiency of concentration, within Handke's by and large non-layered procedures - the exception is Quodlibet - linear, sentence by sentence procedures, of theme and variation, concentration and reiterations to impress, to get through the defenses of its audience, that invariably lethargic audience that arrives with its load of customs, those spiritual [or 'spittual'] whales in need of a cleaning of the accumulated dross.
Some of the poems in Innerworld illustrate in easily graspable manner the variety of matters that Handke can achieve in a fairly short text. For my drama lecture I use the poem Singular and Plural [a.k.a. The Turk with the wounded finger he averts from his hand while frantically keeping his eyes gazing at ducks on a pond] to illustrate the defensive nature of Handke's literary activity; its ritualizing form; the nature of the text as a projection screen; as drama, in as much as the thought of "the sportswriter who wrote about death" surges up out of the unconscious.] The source of Handke the dramatist, as in so many cases, is hysteria, and the source of male hysteria is what?... Handke may be a formalist, he is so for beauty's, for communication's sake, which arises from the right kind of precision, not for empty formalities.
2-b of 4] Formalism
For me Handke's entire modernist anti-illusionist period - [gradually changing in the course of his playful - yes, how is it possible to ignore Handke's all important playfulness? - didactic endeavors into a mode that not only alters the audience's perception, in short it "cleans out their clocks," but then, during his what I call "Mytho-Poeic" phase, allows the audience's imagination room, the space to dream, fantasize, and breathe, to move - the Handke troupe as it wanders around in so many Handke plays and novels and one film] - includes everything from the first Sprechstück, Prophecy  to the piece that, formally, comprises the abundance of early even now continuously growing repertoire of aware-making instrumentalities of which Handke availed himself, The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other. Though conceived in the 70s, Hour was not completed until around 1990, and thus leapfrogs several "mytho-poeic" works, Walk About the Villages & The Art of Asking, and so segues between the two major periods. Looking back from that absolute high point, Hour, at the early plays, excepting that oddity Dying, one might easily come under the impression that Handke had explored a certain cache of formal possibilities inherent in the Sprechstück approach, and then resolved to comprise them within a work of a far higher order. But I don't think our genius was planning that far ahead as he then began to. But the cache was there to explore, and explore it he did, pretty much to the limit. The way that the painter Jawlensky explored the possibility of constructivist portraiture is what keep rumbling associatively with that speculation in my brain.
Once I started thinking seriously about the whole body of Handke's work, in 1986, after translating Walk About the Villages, and looking at the apparently total change between Hour and the previous play, the 1972 They Are Dying Out, I felt there was a piece missing. Well, perhaps the Handke Paris Crisis in the early to mid-seventies- the period I know in greatest dirty intimate details - had taken its toll; the film of The Lefthanded Woman was not it; Die Geschichte des Bleistift [L'histoire de crayon] provides ample evidence of the thought Handke was giving to Walk about the Villages; I had got used to my rabbit's yearly production, didn't think he sequestered anything in drawers, everything he touched had turned to gold for so many years, or ever undertook something that didn't come off. Meanwhile a couple of aborted attempts have surfaced. Hour then turned out to be the missing piece that comprises the entire avant garde period, an instance that might redeem the dialectic, and one of the great texts in the language, its sentences - in German - take you by the scruff of your syntax a pile driver that never lets go. The performance of this score then does something entirely different from the reading experience. Encorcelling like but more so than Ride, it has all the ambiguity and then some of W.A.T.V., the kind of seeing it demands leaves all your senses refreshed, reborn: yes, it cleans out your clock, you look new to me. A new kind of catharsis, a catharsis achieved by purely phenomenological means! Anti-Aristotelian as hell! Brecht will never stop turning over in his grave!
Because of its long gestation [according to Handke, feeling the text through to the end was one problem] Hour not merely straddles two very different periods in Handke's being in the world, but stands under the influence of the invasion of emotionality that we can find in his work as of a certain moment, in... A Moment of True Feeling. [The one thing we can find him agreeing to with his therapeutician in Paris in the 70s - Weight of the World - is his lack of emotional connection; otherwise, is it really the analyst who confesses to Handke that he, too, is carrying a Cross on Easter?] - If you fail to appreciate that great change, [ reread Weight of the World], never mind the host of reasons for the change, you will take the wrong approach to the work - Walk About the Villages, Art of Asking - that came as such an immense surprise to those who had not been watching or really reading... And the more so if they continued to approach these new works with the just learned critical habits. - If you look closely, the kernels for the change can be found sprouting in Dying. Also in the poem sequence Nonsense and Happiness.
In the 2007 off-shoot from Hour, Spuren der Verirrten/ Traces of the Lost, it just had its premier at the Berliner Ensemble, the narrator becomes surrogate for the audience that had always threatened to come on stage in Handke's plays since the very beginning, breaking down that last wall as well, at last], but I have not completed my third reading. Spuren starts just like Hour, events that instantly place you into a phenomenological state of aware-making closely noticing mind, which for me, used to Handke not repeating himself, was initially an unpleasantly disturbing deja vue, then some of the same Hour type figures [or Quodlibet type figures, screens] start to mumble a few words, a procedure that is feasible within the terms of Hour, but then the narrator/ author/ audience, the polarity goes on stage...joins... I am not certain that I have thought through the consequences of this fairly profound alteration, but I will post my usual detailed response in time at one of the two sites of http://wwww.handkedrama.scriptmania.com
The usual suspects that hate everything Handke - a fellow named Stadelmayer at the F.A.Z.- have given their usual burps; others have reached opposite conclusions [Die Zeit].
Wefelmeyer mentions the 2005 concatenation of hate and irritability, the so unbluesy, Subday Blues as I call Untertagblues, for the sake of its allusion to Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," I discuss, nearly dismember, Subday Blues in a 3 k piece that can be found at the second of the
Subday Blues is a derivative of Handke's hyper irritable, misanthropic vein, it might be a leftover from an earlier period, no matter that it seems to connect with world wide road rage, even among unhappy S.U.V. drivers! However, Subday Blues, for me, is not served by Handke's employment of monotony, monotonous and unproductive as rage may be, its language, even on three readings, does not sparkle associations as the early happenings did. The Austrian performer, who did the premiere there, found otherwise.
Also, W. seems not to have read Geschichte des Bleistift where one can follow - as of a certain point where Bleistift stops reading like a second instalment of the involuntary associations that are the naked ego exhibition Weight of the World - in this great work book the thought that Handke was giving to the then forthcoming Walk About the Village, to Euripides and Goethe, the uses to which alternating discourse might be put, since Handke does not write what is called "dialogue" in the American theater, he is only willing to quote it. Not a hint of that in W.'s stunted discussion of the last 30 some years of Handke's work for the theater.
3 of 4] It appears that W. has never experienced any of the plays that he discusses. Otherwise he might have noticed that being subjected for some 90 minutes to Wittgensteinian philo investigational catch as catch can linguistic logistics - where the tenuous and nearly absurd but insistently logicality of the verbal combinations - that dismember all kinds of human activities - provide the tenuous straps by which consciousness keeps itself from crashing - are the "story", the experience, the happening that substitutes for "the story" which the audience came to hang on to, to see to be diverted from itself by - what I [but not most audiences] experience as a delicious dissociative experience, The Ride Across Lake Constance [which I meanwhile suggest to some young, mystified directors they call "The Ride Across the Bottom of the Lake" for what I hope are obvious reasons]. I connect this to the Handke, who disassociated during a ten year exposure to violent primal scenes, as an artist, at his desk, where pen in hand he produces calm, calming texts, can avail himself of some of the most powerful dissociative procedures as he creates these verbally activist assemblages; the Handke reading some of whose prose texts first puts you in a depressive state of mind before releasing you that you can breathe again; that so powerful self whose very being, in all its aspects, exerts itself through his texts and his plays. "My self of course is more than just myself" he said to an interviewer not long ago, pointing to... you compleat the thought.
The only interesting comment I ever read by an American reviewer about Ride was a Chicagoan writing: "Describe the experience." To do so would be to describe having experienced a dream. I had no idea how Ride would play when I translated it; what kind of effect it might have; as compared to the previous texts, it did not allow of that kind of rehearsal. It was just dialogue, albeit of a curious kind, I could translate dialogue by the ream during those days. Curious indeed, when performed you are transported into a Lewis Carrol world; it takes you down the rabbit hole the way you only go in a dream, and dreams seize you. And for real for once, not just as a damned over-used metaphor.
The use of Wittgensteinian syllogistic type question and answer, Handke might also have used legalistic formulations to achieve the same dissociative effect. Aside all the high-jinks that go on in the play.
Some stray comments
, before resuming, before administering the coup de grace.
I find it odd that W.s extensive German lit oriented bibliography fails, in a piece written in English, to cite at least Richard Gilman, the first important American critic to have written about Handke [T he Making of Modern Drama]. But German studies and its sub- rubric Handke studies, too, live in small German enclaves, self-sufficient pods that communicate only with similar pods also when they publish in English as they must, to publish or perish where no one else knows they even exist, when affiliated with institutions in English speaking parts of the world; which is one reason why their infertile seeds - these bibliographies, once you get the hang of them - are incestuous, pleasurable up close, unproductive genetically - daisy-chains - no matter all that multi-culti ideology - never fructify, come in productive relationship with whatever part of the cultural maelstrom the dry, self-contained little Germanicist pod happens to find itself in. [I am just completing a nicely devastating story entitled Sankta Klaus Nicolnietzcky comes to the Germanics X-Mas Bash. "Nietschte," quietschte the Doktorandin,"wirkerlich, ist est Nietzche?" peeing into her pants. "Wer hat die meisten Nietztche Schreine?" The department chair rushes in: "I just got funding for the Sankt Nicolnietzcky conference!"- The wages of having translated a Werner Schwab play!] Scholars might yet consult editors, translators, literary agents and directors to get to the nitty gritty of what is entailed in turning theory into practice, and what are called "process notes" from their subjects' therapeuticians.
The other of the equation, is that it is an utterly futile enterprise to try to connect with something as utterly self-absorbed, self-celebrating as official American theater, or the forever incompetent ignorant Kindergarten of the fringe, has become once again since its brief flirt with furriner stuff in the Sixties. Handke's work however, mostly in my translation, were once done by important theaters in New York and London and some off off type houses in the forever provinces. And so have an interesting record in that language, of which W. gives no evidence that he has much of a drift except when he gets it wrong via one of his second or third hand daisies. Public Insult never had real, reviewed performance in New York. There was a pick-up troupe of mine laying some seeds in the late 60s and four weeks at Herbert Berghof's private HB Studio. The first reviewed performances, very favorably, were of the duo My Foot My Tutor & Self-Accusation at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in 1971; then came the play that disturbed the subscription audience at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont, Ride Across Lake Constance , an audience that had come to be amused in the usual fashion, hang up their selves instead of trying to follow a real acrobatic language game with the most peculiar logical connections and sinister burps from the fertile underground slurp. Kaspar had its U.S. premiere, at B.A.M. [an Obey for best play and performer, Christopher Lloyd of future Taxi fame or infamy, a producer who struck it rich and had no further interest in Handke.]. Dying was done at the Yale Drama School in 1980, and scarcely ever after, Hour had some kind of performance at a minor venue in N.Y. during the 90s, Zejlko Ducik's Tutattoo Theater did a fine job of it in Chicago. The other truly great later plays - Art of Asking, W.A.T.V., The Play About the Film About the War, are waiting to be done by a theater that is so miserable in nearly each and every respect it is scarcely worthy of contempt... see an enumeration of dissatisfaction expressed about the culture industry as it manifest itself in provincial dress at:
Some stray emendations on the early plays
last sentence used to read "and I will never do so again" at a time that Handke may have had no intention for further pieces for the theater, but now ends with the once second to last sentence "I wrote this piece." S.A. contains the first instance that I am aware of a profound emanation of pathos in its final beautiful enumeration of all the ego's remisnesses: by pushing these "crimes" over the top, H. verges once again, but only verges, on the absurd, and is being funny. Funny! Funny! Funny! This is the most frequently performed piece in English right now, for obvious reasons, as that of the audiences preference for being able to stand in judgment instead of being judged, being entangled in questioning how it reaches judgment, at what mercies its superego is.[W. mumbles on about "the subject's loss of identity" in language. Good Gawd!]
In its movement to the final enumeration S.A. very much has a "line of beauty." That movement, of course on a far longer curve can also be found in Hour. Handke's works work towards a climax and then subside.
Wefelmeyer appears to have little appreciation of the early Handke's sense of humor, in S.A.'s mix of serious and ridiculously insignificant misdemeanors [the translation contains my favorite mistake I made as a translator]; an absence that leads to leaden readings, even of the farcical The Are Dying Out, throughout. Just as little as Ride or Public Insult are philosophical seminars, did or does Handke write for textual exegisists.
last sentence used to be "I am only accidentally I", of which tendentious platitude Handke was disabused I forgot by whom, I think it was Martin Walser who was the in and ex-cathedra Suhrkamp editor for important plays those days. Thus Kaspar, ends with the thrice repeated King Lear imprecation "Goats and Monkeys", one instance of those verges on the sense of the absurd that edge Handke's work throughout; some characters become crazed, indicating that as one of many positions into which the mind-heart can be pushed.
I am glad that Wefelmeyer is intrigued by the entirely neglected Distress Calls as which my Farrar, Straus editor refused to let me improve, for the sake of memorability and impress, what is called, so lamely, "Calling for Help." Not only did I, do I have a sense of this being Handke's answer, formulation for a kind of existentialist Marxist Urtext surrogate response expression to the clamoring of the period during which it is written [oh yes, neglected also by me as a translator, director who never put in the work at rehearsals and testing in the mouths of actors to make it fit, Distress Calls, a kind of "looking for the lost chord" that hints at Handke's early knowledge of the importance of namelessness which then became one of the subjects of the title text of A Slow Homecoming , and derivatively of the entire notion of naming, of answering questions that maybe ought not to be answered at all [naming as a confining, delimiting, thus no end of names, languages letting qualities sprout] thus the states of paradisaical wordlessness into which plays such as My Foot My Tutor and The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other transport the audience; states during which one is not only relievedly free of the gruesome racket that is human speech, so much more hideous among my nasal squawking North Westerners than that of my most steadfast well-fed! friends, the crows, but also of the apparent torture and nausea that words seem to have produced in bebé Handke.
For the idea that Kaspar's indoctrination is experienced by him as a torture, as this noisy piece subjects its audience to a similar demonstration, is of such subjectivity and so unusual that it, and Handke's once being nauseated by language [his autistically challenged nervous system was nauseated by just about everything that did not please his sense of beauty, and little pleased his sense of beauty more at the time than the sight of beautiful women] strike me as one of the connections to Handke's individual subjectivity as which he told Gamper one could "aufrollen" each and every one of his works.
I have found this statement to Gamper one of the most productive to follow up since Handke was not only talking [in 1986] about obvious biographical elements in his work or personal history as we find it in Child Story or Sorrow Beyond Dreams, but,conceivably, about terrified "states of mind" as we can find them in the early novels, eventually becalmed in Der Hausierer [but by what means of literary technique and filters!] turned into playfulness at the end of Die Hornissen, or in Radio Play One, a great piece that Wefelmeyer fails to mention, not that one needs to confine oneself to the plays when speaking of Handke as a dramatist it spills over into the prose texts. As does the hysteria.
- From hyper-states of the autistically hyper-sensitive to finding objective equivalents, distancing, defensive, projection screens. Distress Calls also has the quality of some other pieces, no matter their sense of completeness, or sufficiency, a sense that appears to have eluded Handke in the meanwhile, of the toss-off, the thrown, the nearly incidental, the nicely oblique, he had that unfailingly right twist of his wrist in his delivery... and has it again in the 2004 La Cuisine, a delightful piece written in Handke's serializing method, and in French, for Materic, a collaboration with this Yugoslav director, which Wefelmeyer and the editors and their list of Handke's works seems to be unaware of.
They Are Dying Out
I was glad to note W. seems to understand, on one level, as a continuation of the language games being played in Ride except of course in terms of apparently comprehensible - to those with minds infested by the business culture - logic of the language of the New Left, but put, estrangingly, self-estrangingly, into the mouths of a brother [and sister] horde of business folk. The various comedy routines hark back to the Viennese theater of Raimund, Horvarth, etc. I would disagree with W. that Quitt necessarily commits suicide: such successful monopolists usually end up as philanthropists; they only need to be killed off in plays. Handke married his own then suicidal impulses to the character. Perhaps it also contains a sense of humor about his own grandiosity. If Ride, on one level, is the perfect inversion of a boulevard piece, Dying, a boulevard piece for its first act, with the beginning of Act II turns into an unwieldy agglomeration, and thus, just as unsuccessful dreams are more susceptible to interpretation than perfectly formed ones, shows its seams, its sutures where force has been employed; that is, formally, Dying is somewhat of an abortion, it is an instance, there are other, especially the recits in some of the books, the Nova speech at the end of W.A.T.V. [Handke running not just for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but of that for Peace at one and the same time] where he forces something into a text, or adds on.
In Dying at the beginning of Act II, W. fails to mention, P.H. puts in a kind of intermission play discussion between Grand Mogul Quitt and his factotum Hans on their having seen a lower depth play, I think Handke was also speaking specifically about the buggering, inarticulate, violence-ridden Kroetz plays of the period. Then comes their discussion of the prophetic Stifter quote, prophetic of the recourse Handke would take to Stifterian idyllic transfigurations, also of his own Kroetz character like family, in W.A.T.V. [in this Handke is in some ways the usual upwardly mobile transformer of origins that seem in need of stylization]; Stifterian in the sense that the thunderstorm is always just off stage. This is I suppose also the first enunciation of the ultimately programmatic Nova announcement about "nature being her own measure" by someone who used to be nauseated by the merest hint of hay.
Dying is drenched in all kinds of Handke's own personal travails, there are deja vues of the sexual warfare from Ride, teetering as it does between emotionality but then falling back into the more accustomed derisive unemotional style. It is also Handke's only overtly Brechtian play with its talk - it IS a talky piece - about economics, and its Puntilla/ Mattei routines in several version, not that you need Brecht for that.
W. is quite right that some [but by no means all] the characters are mere types, one reason that U.S. reviewers - apparently with none in the streets and buses - asked, in their usual fashion, for real blood and real emotions on stage! This is a hugely important moment in Handke's theater, and noting the direction he took... away from the direction of becoming another Ferenc Molnar, or writing plays about the reconstituting German middle class... he was going to become a living classic!
Whereas the actors in Ride are young actors who try out roles of other actors, that is actors impersonating actors, in their "I want to be someone like somebody else was once", in Dying most of the roles, the exceptions are Quitt and Quitt's dolorous sick wife, are not, cannot be so defined within commedia del arte terms. In that sense, Dying, or aspects of it, has a realistic, referential to real life quality, as compared to totally artificial quality of Ride. Handke, in the 1999 The Play about the Film, will re-use the long attack speech that one of the businessman launches on Quitt... its melody that is, but with different set of words. [Handke the carpenter squirrel]. Yes, I see no mention in W. of Handke as a master carpenter, something I began to appreciate when taking a close look at the derivates from his own work of which his most of his contribution to the screenplay of Wings of Desire consists.
Preparations for Immortality
I would call Zuruestungen fuer die Unsterblichkeit, Scaffolding for..." might work and points into the right directions where W.s "Harnessing for.." does not; Abbott's Voyage by Dugout does not work since a dugout in common usage is a hole of various uses; thus to take a voyage in it...; A Summer's Postscript or Epilogue I suggest instead of W.'s "Summerly" [!], Nothing wrong with W.s's expat English except when he needs to translate from German. And for Handke's "Rund um das grosse Tribunal" I suggest
"The Handke cat slinking around the hot sauce but never even putting a paw into it."
4] Dire Consequences
At the latest when I read the opening paragraph, on page 215, of the final section, "From the Theater of Speech to the Theater of Narrative: The Later Plays," that treats of Handke's post 1972 work in the theater:
"Offending the Audience and Prophecy initiated a theater of language and Self-Accusation introduced the idea of the development of a de-individualized individual [sic! sic! sic!] self through language. Kaspar took this approach one step further and presented the process by which the adoption of social roles is transformed into a history of self-alienation,'[A deinvididualized self nonetheless alienated from itself??? the clanking conceptual horrors that this approach produces! M.R.] leaving the protagonist trapped in a web of language and actions..." I became 199 per cent certain that I was reading the writing, the typewriter crime, of an utter deadbeat; and little that you find subsequently about the later Handke in this section disabused me of that conclusion. A reader in German! How is it possible to write about W.A.T.V. and only write about the defectiveness of its characters and not respond to the stupendous generosity and affection which Handke in his "Rolling on the River" mood showers on this wide spectrum of his worker aristocracy, how is it possible to read and miss the entirely new form of discourse? How is it possible to fail to respond to Art of Asking. W.A.T.V., as thorough readers of Handke have noticed, becomes the source of two decades of great work, even in that monstrum novel, or perhaps because he was running out of steam, "Image Loss: Across the Sierra del Gredos " [Farrar, Straus, 2007] Handke will tap into that spring...
And Elonora Pascu's "Unterwegs zum Ungesagten", a piece of real work I really learned something from, appears in the bibliography... but certainly is not evidenced in W.s' reading of these texts.
Part of W.s problem of course is that he spends three quarters of his piece recounting the early plays, while short-shrifting equally though differently important but far more challenging work, a task I think I am not certain he is up to.
Aside the already listed failures, there is W.s apparent unawareness that Handke, starting with W.A.T.V. was writing and publishing Lesedramen, plays to be read primarily, the chances of their being performed being so slim for a variety, also of their demanding reasons. With his latest, Traces of the Lost, however, has Handke solved, or put his mind onto solving the seam that runs between these alternatives: reading Spuren is the reading of a text that is in its entirety a description of the performance, so the director of actual performance and the director reader become one and the same. The closing of that loophole was to be expected. How perfectly it was then done amazes me.
Short-shrifting everything from W.A.T.V. up to The Play About the Film W. then presents the latter as representative of the mytho-poeic work. Well, it is the least representative of the lot, and its connection with the alternating discourse and transfiguring and grand procedures of the previous four plays is most tenuous; mythic it can be said to be only in its emphasis on the wild forever primitive eternal "Serbian" spirit that courses through the rivers in a canoe carved out of a single tree trunk. In other respects, as W. must beware since he points out that the play is a kind of investigation and demonstration, nearly a court proceeding, The Play About the Film stands within the post-German tradition of near docu-drama presentations, a line that runs from Brecht, through Handke's friend Kipphart, Hochhuth, to Günter Grass's The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising, the last of which it resembles in its having a film within a play, instead of a play [Cariolanus] within a play being rehearsed.
However, to be fair, W. is interesting and a quite perceptive in his take on the play. In other words, read the opening and the very end of his piece, don't bother slogging through the desert of the inbetween, it is nothing as interesting as a real desert where I always learned something. But once again, because he has no sense of the over-riding needs of the formal requirements within which an artist like Handke must work, he fails to understand that the use of a screen play, citing, discussing, acting out of scenes from a screenplay, affords Handke some extraordinary efficiencies, though one might not notice them in a play that is far too wordy and expository to play. However, W. picks up on it being the case that as a whole the play contains a large variety of viewpoints, perspectives, to none of which one ought to pin down the author, except possibly all of them. "Every one is in the right" prefaces W.A.T.V. [i.e. every individual is wrong] prevails here as well. I don't want to repeat what I said about this great concept since I already commented on Scott Abbot's take on it in his essay on Handke and Yugoslavia. [First review posting] Besides, I once wrote a long myopic, detail by detail dismemberment of it, for myself, as I was going to make a presentation of it to the usual local cop-out, so that I would be certain how it worked, and that can be found at one of the two handke drama sites:
Behind Play About the Film.. lies a musical structure as in most of Handke's plays. e-mail me or post a comment to let me know what it is and i will give your a prize if your answer is correct.
Play About the Film
is also a model of its kind, the way Brecht's plays were also always models, alterable within historical circumstances. Although Handke, I think, was just a tad cute when he told his daughter in a T.V. interview after the premiere that no matter his personal stance on the matter of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, The Play about the Film is an objective piece, a director could for example put a favorable emphasis on the mountain bicyclist, the foreign interventionists who arrive to clean up the ungodly mess that the various tribes have made with their forever fighting. But the play is not skewed in favor of his own personal sentimental romantic attachments.
To be fair, once again, among the few things W. does pick up in his state of ignorance and failure to have followed the progress of the transfiguring so protein and sovereign Count from Griffen, he notices Handke's search for peace-giving forms [ p.228], and that this requires the collaboration of audience and players, whose first surprising instance came in Sorger's search for them in geological formation in A Slow Homecoming. For me this appeal - its strongest articulation, the most deeply pathos ridden, comes in Nova's speech - is an indication of the violence prone Handke's profound longing to be free of these impulses.
FN 1] In Seattle there were Handke performances in the 70s and early 80s at the now, relievedly defunct, Empty Space Theater, founded and run into bankruptcy by that first rate director M. Burke Walker. So that when I got to these soggy parts in the summer of 1994, via Dan Sullivan, then the Artistic director of the Seattle Rep, I was put in touch with Kurt Beattie, as of 2002 the artistic director of A Contemporary Theater in Seattle, who had been Kaspar in the Empty Space's production of self-same play. Kurt is a bright fellow who then put in yeoman's work as I tried to get a Handke festival going at the University where I became a visiting scholar for about ten years. However, I then noticed that Kurt, the assistant artistic director at The Rep, as it is referred to, was a kind of permanent assistant in his utter deferentiality to the powers above him, the sort of thing you notices at the way he answers a telephone call, in feeling it beneath the successor to Dan Sullivan to even come to see Handke's Hour when Steve Pearson, an occasionally first rate director, did it at the University in the late 90s. Indeed, on the job of artistic director of ACT falling into his lap upon ACT's imminent bankruptcy and its forthcoming director begging off from what appeared to be a thankless job, Kurt Beattie became an "I'll have my assistant call you" e-mail correspondent, and he quickly copped out on his dream... there's the telling phrase...of finally doing a Seattle Premiere of "Mother Courage." And all his dreams or whatever for doing some Handke at ACT were shelved for no end of short run forgettables of the most jejune sort.
From the Empty Space also derived a kind of butch gay Sasquatch, extremely bright, in a permanent state of narcissitic rage, a reviewer who might have become a critic of national note [not that difficult in this country or any country with the present lack of notables in that field] were it not for a number of severe characterological deficiencies, and for his primary avocation of being a food writer. But anyhow, Roger Downey, no matter his hatred of Brecht, for bedding many of his seductive collaborators, had some real intelligence and some real understanding of Handke and Heiner Mueller, and all it takes for promiscuoius me [or rather, now took] is just a tad of intelligence or beauty to tolerate characterological deficiences of his kind, at least for a while, or until it proves dangerous. Downey had looked forward to going with Public Insult from one theater to the other, surprise symphony visits to stir up the slugs in the minds.
Another fellow with Empty Space origins was Ret White of Cornish theater department, who never got back to me on my proposition of giving The Play About the Film About the War a try there, he was too busy raising and dispensing Public Arts funds...Alas, poor Yorick.
The last director of The Empty Space , a colleague of sorts since I too was at the Yale Drama School, at least for one years, said, at her taking on that position, that she, allegedly weaned on Space work in the 70s, wanted to continue to do work in that vein. I contacted her, pointing out that Public Insult had never been done, but never heard back, and, with few exceptions, saw nothing of the kind of a continuation being put on her boards. After what must be a million and a half of subsidies and fundraisers during my 13 years here, the far too fat misnamed Space finally gave up the ghost.
M. Burke Walker, now an itinerant director, promises to look at the latest Handke, but I never hear what his reaction might be, as he, ignominuous trouper, does one or the other play his heart is not in just to survive. It will wear out his heart as it has so many others.
There is the chief theater reviewer, Misha Berson, of the Seattle Times, who can make or break a play hereabouts, who recently described Handke's Public Insult as a "grenade"! She certainly never saw the play performed in Seattle, since Empty Space, if she was here then, did not put it on: the director fell ill. Alas, poor Yorick. A year or so ago Ms. Berson and I had an e-mail exchange during which she insisted strenuously not to be a philistine!
I contacted the third Artistic Director of the Rep at his coming to Seattle in 2006 whether he might want to discuss some of the later Handke plays, and never heard back. At a Civic Forum where this worthy was introduced to Seattle, he stated that he wanted to bring some foreign work and troupes to Seattle; asked during the q + a period what specifics he had in mind, he quickly retreated into saying that he really wanted to do the local talent first, not much of that I am afraid.
However, at the beginning of my stay in Seattle, Kurt Beattie and I seemed to be getting somewhere in putting on a Handke festival. And if Ms. Sarah Nash-Gates, who comes from the costume department to run the UW School of Drama, had not let not just me, but the group of interested parties, dangle in the wind while cutting us out from behind, the $ 300.000 that an Austrian Cultural attache type had organized from a variety of Austrian sources might not have been wasted. But, being the new kid on the block, I did not know then that nothing not initiated by Ms. Gates gets done at the U.S. Drama School. Hell, she could have put her name to it, for all I cared. And direcor Steve Pearson, who develops some fine acting talent, and allegedly "loves Handke" proves a weak sister too, another Bhuddist.
Downey never had anything like a successor at The Weekly once he started to write about food and wine; and now that The Weekly is part of a national chain of so-called alternative publications matters have only got worse there. The Seattle Post Intelligencer has a sweet ancient reviewer whose having that position embodies the irrelevance of theater. The Stranger, one independent publication with a little moxie, has two theater reviewers, Annie Wagner and Brendan Kiley, but they both need to get out of town for a while to acquire some perspective on what might be possible even in Seattle. But they as it were are the forever "buds of May."
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PIECES AND NEWS ABOUT PETER HANDKE'S PLAYS
THIS BLOG IS DEVOTED TO PIECES AND NEWS ABOUT PETER HANDKES PLAYS, IT LINKS WITH THE FOLLOWING SITES:
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