Eventually, though, a passenger boards the train who seems ready to give the subway agitator a taste of his own medicine. The award-winning playwright and novelist Peter Handke’s play takes us on a ride through an underground of unmet expectations and summary judgments, and confronts us with costs of the grievances that we harbor.
This appears to be a Handke play that plays better than it reads, judging by reviews of performances I have read. will put in the links to the reviews if not the reviews themselves at:
Sorting out UNTERTAGBLUES
Some somewhat preliminary comments, which will be reduced to its essential for my summary piece on Handke/s theater for TDR.
Rumor of a new Handke play - about a Wild Man verbally abusing passengers in the subway - reaching me in 2002 elicited a host of fantasies of what this new work might be. One hunch I
I had was that this new work, with its attack mode, might hark back to Handke/s first great success in the theater, Public Insult. Another notion of mine associated the new work to an number of sections in that mother lode Handke created for himself [and for me] with Walk About the Villages: =You are in the wrong country dear fellow. You/re in a country that is as small as it is mean: that is as full of prisoners who/ve been forgotten in their cells, and even fuller of forgetful jailkeeps who are even fatter in their offices after every infamy., with voices that sound as if death-rattle amplifiers had been built into their throats, with the arm and leg movements of poisoned grappling hooks, with eyes where killer wasps slip out with every glance.= [p. 77, Ariadne Press edition] Or the section where the =construction workers= sing their rough blues: =Stepped out of my hole into freedom and had a beer at the cellar bar/ I wasn/t quite here yet and not up to par.= [p. 44-50]
Fantasizing on, I wondered whether Subday Blues, as which the pun and its allusion to the Dylan song might be recreated in English, would explore the polarity between rage and ecstasy that is characteristic of certain Handke characters, and which we can also find among his public salvoes, and do so, here, possibly, in some balanced fashion, the Wild Man/s aggressiveness allegedly being set off in the play by a Wild Woman.
I even gave thought to the idea that a mystical resolution of the conflict might occur in the form of =love bursting through= - perhaps along the lines of those objects of endearment - the comb, the mirror the lock of hair the sight of whose sudden appearance prevent Keuschnig from committing suicide in A Moment of True Feeling, or the grand resolution of love-life-book at the end of the Sierra del Gredos novel, as compared to a love death.
At any event, I expected to be astonished in some fashion, as I have been for nearly forty years now by a great string of performances, not once hugely disappointed, by the work, which I always accepted and judged, as Handke asks, within his own changing terms.
The concepts were frequently magnificent and magnificently delivered; occasionally, as in the case of They Are Dying Out it was an odd kind of portmanteau whose cobbled parts are more interesting than the whole; at times he seemed too tentative; at others perhaps too much the virtuoso; occasionally grandiosity broke through; he lacked an editor his equal; didn/t do rewrites; at moments could be accused of laziness as in his recent journal of the Milosevics trial in DeHaag; in other words, so far, the upside was about 85 %; more than I could say about just about any contemporary in that field whose work I had followed these many years, and what a falling off there has been.
Although my projective fantasy was not entirely off the mark, I must admit that I failed to heed Handke/s invariable, kinesthetically re-enforced, often dissociating, sometimes mesmerizing, didactic intentions, which become especially evident when he works in the theater. Or how much of a =pro= he is in so many respects and has been from quite early on.
First of all: Physically, Subday Blues, Handke/s first play since the great political-conceptual and so unfortunate Canoe came a cropper in the wild, Danubeward-flowing rivers of the deepest darkest Serbia in 1999, is a text of twenty interlocking monologues of about ten thousand spoken words, a pro/s 90 minute film it ought to be but I think it/s closer to 180 excessive ones.
In the first nineteen scenes, a Wild Man indeed verbally abuses a variety of fungible subway passengers at fungible stations as the coach he rides circles the globe [A Station Drama is the piece/s subtitle, and not of those of The Cross] Tirso de Molina, Schottenring, Hudi Log Zorending Sesama Sandvort, Rockaway Beach, etc, etc. The 2oth and final monologue, the Wild Woman/s solitary appearance, directs her attacks, as he already has started to do himself, back at him, which reminded me of Sophy/s comment in Villages:
=What you say is not permitted. Go away from here. Forever.=
And the way the WW/s eyes blazes =snake-like flashes of lighting= at =the delinquent= as she puts him into his place might indicate that the miserable WM needs little but a pretty woman to take charge of him to dispel this attack of the agues, [spellbound, overwhelmed by feminine beauty, a frequent Handkean incident since babyhood], a pretty dominatrix, because genuine blues feelings are not much in evidence in the near endless enumeration, but also sharply focused, sections that elicit the WM/s nausea-prone dissatisfactions. Handke does not so much suffer from a philosophical condition but a medical one, his thresholds are too pervious to irritation, and the excess that penetrates the lack of filters in his nervous system. However, the polarity of outward attack and attack against the self might indicate the fulcrum of aggression on which the switch of ambivalence rests here, although the grounds for the excessive underlying aggression and irritation remain obscure; that is, unless you find yourself agreeing that the various and endless eliciting phenomena chief among them the ugliness of the world - justify the Wild Man/s perorations; the WM finding himself at the mercy of =beauty= certainly being one reason for his dissatisfaction with the world, that he finds so much of it and its contemporaneous phenomena noxious.
Therefore, as an example of a totalizing expression of disgust with the world - Handke/s now ancient =turning inside out with nausea=- UB strikes me as both a general and specific editorial house-cleaning, perhaps final exorcism [but por que now?] of irritation with various specific and general matters that the attentive reader may have noticed grating Handke/s nausea-prone eyes and ears over these many years. Those who are new to Handke may be surprised at what makes a surrogate aspect of himself so grumpy, those who are more familiar will be reacquainted with a host of old prejudices and editorial opinions of his.
The attack begins - also in the sense of the first chord that a pianist strikes, and so much like the drum roll openings that have become characteristic of the speeches that Handke has been writing for his characters since Walk About the Villages [and which method he also takes recourse to, when he does not seem to know how to proceed, in his novels]:
[Scene 1] =And you again. And again I must be in your presence. Hallelujah. Miserere. Low tide and never a flood. You damned inevitable ones. If only you were real criminals. No such luck: without being especially criminal you are yet the creeps of creeps. Relieve me of your creepiness. Make me avoid you. At least once, for one moment. Heavenly such a moment would be, heavenly. Scarcely out of my house, I must be with you once again. Scarcely have I stepped out of my garden door, am I forced to move in your company.= The Gestus of the speech it haunts the translator of Walk About the Villages meanwhile- is that of the mother lode. =Out of my sight, out of my hearing and my nose. I am trembling? Yes, I am trembling. I am trembling because of you? Yes, I am trembling because of you. Am I trembling because of my respect of you? How nice it would be if that were the case. If I could tremble in front of you if you were royalty, farmers or workers. But nothing of you reminds me of worker, of farmer or a king. I am trembling and shivering in front of you. It/s shaking me, and it is not because of the subway ride. I am shuddering because of you. But this horror is not, as once upon a time, because I am awed, but because of my disgust. I am standing here and can do no other but be nauseated, de profundis, by you.=
Scene 2: =Christ man, how can you stand yourself? Why don/t you jump out of your skin, out and away to the star of the unborn? Away with you into your hollow tree trunk, into your darkroom, into your crater on the moon, into your acid bath=
In Scene 3 the reader is told: =Hey you there, what kind of reading is that that makes your lips grow thin, even thinner ones than you had previously= What a sight! An authentic reader. And you etc etc. Hey you, keep your distance from books=
Scene 4: =I understand you. You have every reason in the world to be sad. Your situation is hopeless. Your future? A cloud as black as that emitted by an inkfish.=
Scene 5: =Nightmare creatures! At one time, you miserable ones at least were in form. There was even the particular beauty of those who were beyond hope, and not only on black and white photographs. Ah, their clear features=