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Here are two more recent pieces of criticism but first a recent conversation with Norbert Jocks:
Peter Handke, der in seinem Roman Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht ueber die Dinge in der Vorstadt nachsinnt, ist einer, der immer wieder aufbricht, nicht nur nach Jugoslawien. Wie bei Wim Wenders, seinem Freund, sind auch bei ihm viele Figuren unterwegs, auf Reisen und weltoffen. In seinem vorletzten Buch laesst er Don Juan von sieben Tagen erzaehlen, die er unterwegs war.
FREITAG: Dass Sie mit Bleistift schreiben, hat das mit Ihrer Form des Unterwegsseins zu tun?
PETER HANDKE: Nur damit! Ich wollte in New York mit dem Buch Langsame Heimkehr anfangen, und dazu benoetigte ich eine Schreibmaschine. Es gab aber kein deutsches System. In jedem Land stehen ja die Buchstaben auf der Schreibmaschine anders. Ich kaufte eine skandinavische, auf der ich staendig daneben tippte. Und spaeter, in Spanien, beim =Versuch ueber die Muedigkeit=, da versuchte ich auch das spanische System, und zwar in einer kleinen Provinzstadt in Andalusien. Doch das ging ueberhaupt nicht. Ich dachte, jetzt versuchst du es mal mit Bleistift und Radiergummi. Wobei ich immer glaubte, mit der Hand zu schreiben, das haette keine Autoritaet. Da sei keine Distanz zwischen dem Blatt Papier und mir. Aber mit dem ersten Satz und mit der Stille, dachte ich, das geht, und ich werde dadurch auch unabhaengig. Wenn in dem Hotelzimmer Krach war, konnte ich ins Freie gehen, ganz weit weg in die Steppe, und mir einen Eukalyptusbaum suchen, der mir Schatten gab, dort sitzen und schreiben.
In =Don Juan= schicken Sie Ihren Helden in sieben Tagen an sieben verschiedene Orte. Warum gehen so viele Ihrer Figuren auf Reisen?
Fuer mich hat Erzaehlen mit Unterwegssein zu tun; und mir scheint es fast natuerlich zu sein, dass - wenn ich erzaehle - mit der sprachlichen auch eine koerperliche Reise stattfindet. Es faellt mir schwer, eine Geschichte nur an einem Ort spielen zu lassen, und wenn es nur einer ist, dann wird er links, rechts, kreuz und quer durchgangen, durchforscht und so peripheriert wie Paris in Die Stunde der wahren Empfindung. Die Ruhestellen, wo nur gesessen, gesprochen, gespeist und getraeumt wird, sind dadurch besonders wichtig. Dieser Rhythmus kommt durch eine abenteuerliche, keine gekaufte Bewegung zustande. Man muss versuchen, gekaufte Reisen zu vermeiden. Eine Reise muss verdient und anstrengend, die Gefahr muss innerlich groÃŸ sein. Erst durch die bestandene Gefahr kommt es zu einer Ankunft und zur Ruhe.
Wie kam es zu Ihrer fast dreijaehrigen Reise ohne festen Wohnsitz?
Nachdem meine Tochter die Schule in Salzburg beendet hatte, war ich zum ersten Mal seit 18 Jahren frei. Wenn ich auch frueher viel unterwegs war, so bin ich doch nie wohnsitz- oder obdachlos gereist. Ich hatte immer ein Zuhause zum Zurueckkommen, waehrend dieser fast drei Jahre aber nicht. Keine Wohnung zu haben, das war schoen, und danach sehne ich mich noch oft zurueck. Durch das viele Reisen ist man jedoch in Gefahr, aus dem Alltag, der ja vielleicht mehr als Reisen phantasienanregend ist, herauszufallen. Man wird der alltaeglichen Verrichtungen entfremdet. Nach drei Jahren hatte ich groÃŸe Schwierigkeiten, im Supermarkt einzukaufen, ein Warenhaus zu betreten oder ueber die StraÃŸe zu gehen. Das taegliche Im-selben-CafÃ©-Sein ist mir jetzt das groeÃŸere Vergnuegen.
Was fuehrte zum Ende dieser Reise?
Ich hatte nicht mehr die Frische und Ekstase des nicht mehr Ich-Seins. Laut Heimito von Doderer ermoeglicht Reisen die Losloesung vom =Pfahl des eigenen Ichs=. Das ist das Wunder des Reisens: Man ist die Welt. Aber das hat sich dann leider nicht mehr ergeben. Ich war einfach matt, reisemuede, habe nichts mehr aufgenommen und sagte mir: Wenn du jetzt immer weiterreist, kommst du nie mehr irgendwohin. Wenn ich das Haus hier in Chaville, wo mir gleich das Herz aufging, noch am Abend vor meinem Aufbruch nach Spanien nicht gefunden haette, so waere ich wahrscheinlich immer noch unterwegs. Das erste Gefuehl hat mich im GroÃŸen und Ganzen nicht betrogen. So bin ich geblieben.
Was empfanden Sie beim Abschreiben der Reisenotizen?
Es ist wuerdig, unterwegs zu sein, niemanden zu haben und nur vom Schauen zu leben. Wenn man ganz allein ist und ganze Tage fast mit niemandem spricht, womit spricht man dann? Mit den Buechern, mit Bildwerken, Skulpturen und mit den Formen. Sie geben zwar keine Antwort, aber etwas zu sehen. Dabei lebt man auf und veredelt sich. Reisen sollte man wirklich nur allein; bloÃŸ keine organisierten Reisen. Und man sollte auch selbst moeglichst wenig organisieren und nur von einem zum anderen Tag improvisieren. Es kann etwas Irrwitziges haben, weil einem von heute auf morgen tausend Moeglichkeiten offen stehen. Sie sind irgendwo in Griechenland und sagen sich: Mensch, heute koenntest du entweder nach Bulgarien hinueber oder auf eine aegaeische Insel fahren oder nach aegypten oder den Bus zurueck nach Jugoslawien nehmen. Ploetzlich kann es sehr schwierig werden, im Grunde eine vollkomische Hamlet-Situation. Diese Freiheit ist seltsam, aber sie fehlt mir manchmal.
Sie hatten sich gar nicht auf Ihr langes Reisen vorbereitet?
Ich lieÃŸ mich gehen, im Wortsinne. Jugoslawien wollte ich erforschen, und Griechenland. Vor allem Europa stand mir im Sinn, und dann hatte ich die wohl kindische Idee, in Japan durch den Schnee zu laufen. Ich wollte moeglichst mit Faehren reisen und vor allem, wo immer es geht, zu FuÃŸ gehen und bei Bedarf auch mit dem Bus fahren. Ich wollte mit den Einheimischen sein. Es ging mir ums Spueren, darum, am Marktstand einzukaufen, die Woerter zum Beispiel fuer Karotten zu lernen und Kunstwerke zu sehen, vor allem die antiken. Noch erotisierender fand ich die romanischen Kunstwerke.
Fanden Sie in den romanischen Bau- und Kunstwerke eine Zuflucht?
Ja, warum nicht Zuflucht? Aus Zuflucht kann ja Abenteuer und Aufbruch werden. Ich habe mich hinbegeben zu den Formen der Romanik, aber nicht im Sinne von Pilgerfahrt. Es wunderte mich immer, dass Goethe mit den romanischen Formen gar nichts anfangen konnte. Fuer ihn waren die Gestalten Fratzen. Das ist fuer mich der tote, nicht der wunde Punkt bei diesem liebsten, groÃŸherzigsten Vorseher, da hatte er einen blinden Fleck.
Kamen Ihnen auf der Reise Goethes =Wanderjahre= in den Sinn?
Goethe war durchweg verwoehnt. Von Neapel ist er bis in die Schweiz auf Saenften und Haenden und Frauenschultern getragen worden. Ich war hingegen auf meiner Reise fast immer allein und habe mich nie einsam gefuehlt. Wie hat es Basho, der gewaltige japanisch Haiku-Dichter, auf der Reise in den Hohen Norden gesagt? =Allein unter dem Himmel, das heiÃŸt zwei Wanderer.= Denn der Himmel zieht auch mit. So habe ich es erlebt.
Deckt sich das Erleben eines Tages auf der Reise mit dem, was Sie ueber das Gluecken eines Tages in Ihrem =Versuch= schreiben?
Es ist aehnlich, aber verstaerkt. Als freier Mensch haben Sie tausend Moeglichkeiten, und Sie sind auch nicht an ein Flugticket gebunden, was ja heute das ScheuÃŸlichste ueberhaupt ist. Da sind Sie gezwungen, sich da und dorthin zu begeben, um an einem bestimmen Tag zurueckzufliegen. Sonst muessen Sie eine Strafe zahlen. Das ist ein total unwuerdiges Reisen. Nicht nur unwuerdig, ich finde es verbrecherisch, was mit der Erdbevoelkerung geschieht, und doch nehmenÂ´s die Leute widerspruchslos hin. Wenn man frei entscheidet, ist der Tag aufregender.
Wann ist ein Tag missglueckt?
Ob auf Reisen oder zu Hause, ich gestehe mir immer drei Niederlagen, drei Ungeschicklichkeiten oder Vergesslichkeiten zu. Wenn es darueber hinaus geht, denke ich, der Tag ist jetzt missglueckt. Dass einem drei Dinge entgleiten, dass man einmal luegt, dass man einmal stuerzt, dass man ein Glas zerbricht, das geht noch. Beim vierten, was missraet, denke ich, jetzt entgleitet dir der Tag. Beim siebten Mal wird es vielleicht wieder gut.
Irgendwo in der =Niemandsbucht= wettern Sie gegen Nomaden.
Ich hasse diesen Ausdruck. Als ich den Unseld-Preis bekam, hieÃŸ es in der Rede, ich sei ein Nomade. Erst einmal bekommt man dafuer keinen Preis, und auÃŸerdem bin ich ein Wanderer - zudem einer, der sich manchmal gern verirrt. Dann ist man ganz Neugierde und bekommt andere Sinne. Wenn man bei Einbruch der Daemmerung immer noch ohne Orientierung ist, wird es bedenklich.
Was stellen Sie sich unter Nomaden vor?
Einen Amerikaner mit Lederrucksack, so einen Bruce-Chatwin-Typ, der immer Englisch spricht und ueberall erwartet, dass man ihm auf Englisch antwortet. Er will von jedem die Geschichten wissen. Man darf doch keinen Aborigine anhauen: =Hi Joe, how are you? What is your problem? I want to hear your story.= So ein ScheiÃŸdreck! ueberall haengen sie herum, essen Fladenbrot und haben ihre Goldene Mastercard dabei.
Wie sehen Sie sich?
Ich bin ein einzelner Wanderer wie die Araber, fuer die das groÃŸe und schoene System des Lebens die naechtliche Wanderung ist. Du bist voellig in der Dunkelheit, aber du erzeugst mit deinem Gehen, mit deinen Gedanken, mit deinem Tapsen und Stolpern dein Licht. Jeder sollte einmal eine solche Wanderung gemacht haben. Da, wo man die Hand nicht mehr vor Augen sieht, faengt das innere Licht zu leuchten an. Dann bin ich ganz Ich und ein Tier. Zugleich erwachen alle Instinkte des Sich-Schuetzens. Das innere Abenteuer ist gewaltig, und es ist schwierig, davon zu erzaehlen. Am besten ist es Teresa von Avila in ihrer Beschreibung der menschlichen Seele gelungen. Da wandert sie durch ihren eigenen Koerper hindurch zur Seele und schildert deren Raeume, von den kleinen bis hin zu den groeÃŸeren, helleren, kaelteren, rundlicheren. Sie haette den Nobelpreis fuer Psychophysik verdient.
Sie kritisieren die Schriftsteller, die das nach Hause gezerrte Fremde wie eine Ware feilbieten.
Ja, sie kommen mir wie Nestraeuber vor, die den Einwohnern ihre Geschichten rauben. Das gehoert sich doch nicht. Ich frage niemandem nach seiner Geschichte, wenn ich irgendwo bin. Das ist doch eine Urscheu, die man nicht verletzten sollte. Ich moechte nicht der Ausfrager sein. Wenn man als Dritter zufaellig Zweien dabei zuhoert, wie sie sich einander etwas erzaehlen oder anschreien, einen dabei als Zuhoerer akzeptieren oder sogar brauchen, so ist das wunderbar. Dann darf man lauschen. Vielleicht sind sie sogar besaenftigt, wenn sie streiten, wenn man ihnen zuhoert oder zugrinst oder wenn man einfach nur da ist. Aber Leute auszufragen nach ihren sozialen Verhaeltnissen oder ob der Vater die Mutter geschlagen hat, ist doch widerlich.
Irgendwo zitieren Sie Platon, der seelisch Erkrankte zu einer stuermischen Schiffsreise ermuntert, weil dabei die Atome durcheinander geruettelt werden.
Ja, das ist sehr richtig. Am besten ist Reisen zu FuÃŸ oder mit dem Autobus, moeglichst auf einer steinig kurvigen LandstraÃŸe, mit oder ohne Aussicht. Vielleicht kommt die Aussicht von der Innensicht. Schoen waere es, man koennte die Welt so durchqueren, vielleicht noch mit Faehren. Es gibt immer noch Faehrmaenner, die man vom anderen Ufer herbeirufen muss, wie ich es in Jugoslawien erlebt habe.
Wie entschieden Sie auf Ihrer Reise, wohin es gehen soll?
Manchmal habe ich gewuerfelt oder die Landkarte aufgeschlagen, um nachzuschauen, ob es dort ein Ruinenfeld oder sonst etwas zu sehen gibt. Ich habe mich auch gefragt, wer dort mal gelebt hat, und mich interessierten auch Orte, wo es in der Antike Orakelstaetten gab. Dort fragte ich mich, ob sie aus dem Rauschen der Eichen Stimmen und ihre Zukunft vernommen haben. So kam ich nach Dodona und fragte mich, was das fuer Eichen sind und ob da immer noch etwas zu hoeren ist. Steineichen mit ihren harte Blaettern machen ja ein ganz anderes Geraeusch als Korkeichen.
Das klingt ganz nach einem gluecklichen Tag...
Es war ein herrlicher Tag, einer der schoensten meines Lebens. Zwar ist da bis auf ein altes Theater nichts mehr, aber man denkt beim Sehen der Eichen: Es gibt wirklich Momente, wo keine Geschichte, keine Vergangenheit ist. Dreitausend Jahre sind jetzt vergangen. Die Menschen, die damals lebten, werden das wohl gehoert haben wie ich jetzt. An ihrer Stelle hoert man dann aus dem Eichendroehnen die Stimme des Gottes Apollon, der mir aber nicht die Zukunft vorhersagte, sondern die Gegenwart: =Jetzt ist Jetzt, du brauchst keine Zukunft.=
In =Am Felsfenster morgens= schreiben Sie ueber Philip Kobal, er sei gluecklich darueber, heimatlos zu sein. Fuehlen sie sich heimatlos?
Mir geht oft der Satz von Simone Weill durch den Kopf: =Andere zu entwurzeln, ist das Schlimmste aller Verbrechen, aber sich selber zu entwurzeln, die groeÃŸte Errungenschaft.= Ich scheiÃŸe auf die Heimat. Ich habe jetzt den Film von Emil Kusturica mit dem fast optimistischen Titel Das Leben ist ein Wunder gesehen: Da gibt es eine Muslimin, die - als sie im Bosnien-Krieg gegen einen Serben, dessen Vater sie liebt, ausgetauscht werden und zurueck soll - zu ihren Eltern sagt: =Ich will nicht nach Hause.= Das ist der schoenste aller Saetze. Alle Blues-Songs fangen hingegen an mit =I want to go home=. Und diese Frau schreit: =Ich will nicht nach Hause.= Ich hoffte, das waere auch mein letzter Satz.
Ist Ihnen das Wort Heimat suspekt?
Nein, es ist ein schoenes Wort. Wer Heimat hat - um so besser. Aber wenn einer eine Heimat hat, die er verteidigen will, wird er gefaehrlich. Zumindest ist er in Gefahr, nichts mehr zu wuerdigen, was nicht seine Heimat ist. Bei uns in Kaernten gibt es ein Volkslied. =Mei Heimat ist mei Schatzerle.= Also: =Meine Heimat ist mein Herzensschatz.= Fuer mich verhaelt es sich genau umgekehrt. Meine Geliebte oder meine liebste Frau, das ist mir Heimat.
Das Gespraech fuehrte Heinz-Norbert Jocks
December 7, 2001
Words and Things:
Language, thingness, and epistemology in Handke’s Kaspar
Words and things. Chair and shoelace. Words without things. Chair without broom. Things without words. Table without thing. Closet without shoelace. Words without table. Neither words nor things. Neither words nor shoelace. Neither words nor table. Table and words. Words and chair without things. Chair without shoelace without words and closet. Words and things. Things without words. Neither word nor things. Words and sentences. Sentences: Sentences: Sentences:
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬ÂPeter Handke, Kaspar
But if things ever had already shown themselves qua things in their thingness, then the thing’s thingness would have become manifest and would have laid claim to thought. In truth, however, the thing as thing remains proscribed, nil, and in that sense annihilated. This has happened and continues to happen so essentially that not only are things no longer admitted as things, but they have never yet at all been able to appear to thinking as things.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬ÂMartin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought
The sentence, in Heidegger’s thinking, has always already failed to include the thing qua thing, not only in language’s long historical evolution, but more immediately in the individual subject’s passage from a nonlingual to a lingual being. To connect words as thinkable abstractions into meaningful sentences seems inherently to exclude the thingness of things and words alike. Human subjects must make words of words, and even words of things, in order to render the world coherent. That is, a word becomes useful in a lingual thought pattern only insofar as it becomes abstract and referential. Even a thing is useless to linguistic thought except to the degree in which it is not merely thingly but also objectified. An object becomes in this codifying sense its own kind of word, abstractable and thereby conceivable. As individuals pass into sanity under the totalitarian power of logos, they become speakers to the degree that they substitute words for reality. Language shapes reality, names objects, and thus defines a rigid relationship between subject and world, necessarily excluding parts of reality in favor of others and thereby codifying perception itself. As Kenneth Burke writes, language is essentially a terministic screen that filters perception by eliminating parts of perception: =Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality.= It is precisely in this deflection of reality that language does violence to that reality, absorbing objects while deflecting things (for instance), ordering the world through a manic and paradoxically delusional sanity. But this delusional sanity ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ a finite order based on the willful ignorance of materiality’s infinite disorder ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ violates nothing more than the speaker through whom language speaks. The speaker has no control over the particular order that language invents, and therefore becomes the ultimate subject of delusion. =Language speaks,= as Heidegger puts it, =not man. Man speaks only in so far as he skillfully conforms to language.= The violence of this coercive terministic screen, the sentence, drives a wedge between the speaker and her or his world.
It is fitting, then, that Jeanette Malkin would include Peter Handke’s Kaspar as the first case study in her book, Verbal Violence in Contemporary Drama. As she writes, Heidegger’s assertion that language speaks through the human speaker could just as easily have been written by Handke about Kaspar, a bizarre and troubled dramatic exploration of language and epistemology. She posits the chief function of language in this play as a torturous process through which lingual codes annihilate their puppet-like speaker; she summarizes the =‘story’ of the play= as =that of one speechless man ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ Kaspar ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ and how he is created and destroyed through his forced acquisition of language.= Indeed, the character Kaspar does come to be created and destroyed in and through language, and Malkin goes on to detail language’s sinister ordering powers, but language’s violence to its speaker also precedes a conceptual structuring more specifically. The word, the phrase, and the sentence, the first units of verbal violence, structure thoughts and therefore character in a particular fashion ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ through a journey from the thingly to the wordly, annihilating the former in the pursuit of the latter.
In addition to revealing by this journey the sheer violence of linguistic codification, Kaspar complicates the Heideggerian thing-word issue through an application of the problem to multiple subjectivities. The other Kaspars that enter the stage (after the original Kaspar’s more infantile adventures) sometimes mimic his early explorations of thingness, sometimes undermine his later logocentrism, but always manage to re-emphasize the sloppiness and humanity of coming-into-thought. In this sense, an old philosophical issue finds human concretization through literal, actorly embodiment. Kaspar, even as it distills the philosophical challenge into a form approaching coherence, simultaneously complicates its own distillation process and brings an old abstract debate ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ thought through even now almost exclusively upon the page ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ into the grounded and gritty realm of vaudeville-esque performance. The original Kaspar’s struggle with language is cute and appealingly naÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯ve before it becomes violent. His journey and the complex and frantic interplay of the other Kaspars potentially offers the audience something beyond ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ or, rather, before, conceptually prior to ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ illustration or elucidation. The sheer awkward humanity of the play brings the philosophical ideas back to the thingness from which they emerged, not merely representing the journey from the thingly to the wordly, but in fact enacting the journey itself in real space and time.
Language does not operate on Kaspar’s actions upon his first entrance. At this moment, Kaspar experiences the world in all its thingness, without any linguistic pattern to codify it. He is =the incarnation of astonishment,= as Handke puts it, profoundly unassuming and naive (63). Of course, part of the allure of this clownish image is that we as an audience cannot know what Kaspar is astonished about, but we can guess from his progressive disastonishment throughout the play that it has something to do with a virgin reality not yet subjugated to a codified order. Much later, after language has co-opted and ordered Kaspar’s mind, he will declare his unastonished mastery of the very things that previously astonished him, saying that =Every object/ has become/ accessible/ to me/ and I/ am receptive/ to each object= (111). If this latter self-assuredness is a delusional sanity that has falsely simplified the world through codification, then his early astonishment may result from the overwhelming materiality of perception, or the startling thingness of things. He does speak one sentence ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“=I want to be a person like somebody else was once= ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ but the sentence is obviously meaningless to him: =He utters the sentence so that it is obvious that he has no concept of what it means, without expressing anything but that he lacks awareness of the meaning of the sentence= (65). Certainly the sentence taken as such elucidates Kaspar’s crisis of character, and historically it plays on Kaspar Hauser’s famous solo sentence in the town square of Nuremberg, Germany, in 1828: =I want to become a horseman like my father once was.= But the sentence more primaly remains an ungainly thing for the character Kaspar. Words, at this point, exhibit their own sort of thingness. Kaspar uses this sentence to yell, to mourn, to speak to other things, but not at all as a sentence proper (wherein word-concepts collaborate through a particular structure to complete an idea). Before language determines Kaspar, everything remains essentially thingly.
If, as Malkin has it, language violates and destroys Kaspar over the course of the play, it does so insofar as it deflects the thingness of reality and selects the material it can use for signification. This selection and deflection extends to words and things, alienating both from the perceiver who once confronted them naively, inquisitively, and as =the incarnation of astonishment.= I will suggest here that it is precisely in the persistent confusion of words and things that Kaspar’s language and actions confound him, and through which he ultimately fails to control the monstrously independent =delusional sanity= of linguistic thought. Conceptually prior to the many readings of Handke’s Kaspar as a dramatization of Wittgenstein’s language theories, a parody of those theories, a critique of bourgeois culture, a problematization of all codified systems, a contemplation of actorly rehearsive energies, or a clash of popular and text-based performances, I propose a more basic reading (that may elucidate the basis for all other readings): Kaspar as a conceptual shift from thing as thing and even word as thing to thing as word and, as an obvious but destructive endpoint, word as word.
I mean =thing= here in the Heideggerian sense of the word, as that slippery term that Heidegger himself mostly describes in the negative. The thing is not reducible to its objecthood, which is to say its representable qualities, or to its making. It bears traits, but is not reducible to the traits or to the bearing. The thing is moreover not merely perceivable. We can perceive it, but its thingness lies not in our perception. It is formed matter, but also not essentially that because the verb =to form= privileges the process of the thing’s coming-into-being, or making, which indeed has always happened but which misleads the thinker looking for thingness. The thing poses this definitional conundrum precisely by being that which is not talked about, or that which is not incorporated in the sort of linguistic codification that destroys Kaspar. When I call something =thingly,= I essentially mean all that in relation to a thing that is not quite speakable, or that which maintains a material existence prior to thought. I will not dwell here on its onefold staying of the Earth, Sky, Divinities, and Mortals as Heidegger does in his chapter =The Thing= (from Poetry, Language, Thought, 165-186); I am primarily interested in the thing’s relationship to language.
By language I mean, of course, the codified systems of verbal signifiers that speak through us, and primarily language insofar as it operates as a Burkean =terministic screen.= Heidegger himself contemplates language’s =bidding= power in the chapter following =The Thing= (=Language=), suggesting an ultimately thingly capability through poetic attempts at the pre-objectified, but I will discuss only language’s more typical un-thingly behavior ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ the sort that speaks through and destroys Handke’s Kaspar. However, though language is an abstract codifying system, its material existence in words and speech can take on a thingly character as well. When I refer to the =word,= I mean either that formed aural sound created by human vocal efforts (whereby I can conceive of word as thing), or the rigid semiotic unit that makes up linguistic thought (whereby I can conceive of thing as word). Likewise, =the thing= has two meanings: that which is thingly (including, in some cases, words) or the thing itself (which can yet be rendered an object by language). If these dual meanings confuse or limit what I can write about Kaspar, it is because language limits my thoughts as it speaks through me, and will also inevitably limit the reader in the journey from the page to the mind. Language does not even simply limit or proceed awkwardly from thought; it produces and is entirely interdependent with thought. The conflation of the semioticaly wordly and the phenomenally thingly around the flexible words =word= and =thing= (and any ensuing confusion produced by this conflation) is not only unavoidable; its inevitability is precisely the subject of this paper.
Thing as Thing
Before Kaspar ever arrives on stage, Handke confronts the audience with an indecipherable set of things that have no relationship to one another or to any signifying history they might tell. These props are props as props. Indeed, =as props= already objectifies them, but this thought pattern is not dictated by any semiotic principle other than the fact that the things are on stage. As Handke writes in his introduction to the play,
On first glance, the objects on the stage look theatrical: not because they imitate other objects, but because the way they are situated with respect to one another does not correspond to their usual arrangement in reality. The objects, although genuine (made of wood, steel, cloth, etc), are instantly recognizable as props. They are play objects. They have no history. The audience cannot imagine that, before they came in and saw the stage, some tale had already taken place on it. (60)
Handke continues to refer to the things on stage as =objects,= and indeed to a degree they are just that. They mean, even if not in the way that objects usually mean. But this deliberate decontextualization from common or decipherable arrangements also privileges a thingly character in the objects’ presence. Although they may immediately begin to mean to an audience, the things do not actively signify as would, for example, furnishings arranged to indicate a living room. Handke predicts the spectator’s objectification of things; he does not dictate this objectification. In fact, he undermines the path of objectifying, insisting that =the objects are situated without any obvious relationship to each other= (60-61). The objects may even be said to contradict each other’s meaningfulness, refusing each other’s objecthood by denying each other’s context. Handke wants each spectator to come to terms with the stage things as items that are interesting or uninteresting based on the spectator’s own care. =Every theatergoer,= he insists in the introduction, =should have sufficient time to observe each object and grow sick of it or come to want more of it= (61).
Kaspar will begin the play by naÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯vely reproducing the spectator’s encounter with each thing’s thingness. His naÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯vetÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â© ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ or what Faye Ran-Moseley calls his =babyishness= ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ amounts to a humorous but appropriate stance to take in relation to thingness. After he stumbles around and tries out his original sentence with different intonations, he addresses the things on stage. He speaks to the chairs in a manner revealing his ignorance of their inanimateness, speaking his sentence to the second chair and =expressing with it that the first chair has not heard him= (66). This appeal probably does not continue long enough to personify the chairs, or even to convince a spectator of Kaspar’s delusional personification. Instead, speaking the sentence uncomprehendingly looks more like an appeal to each thing’s thingness ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ an earnest and simple confrontation between Kaspar and the things he has never encountered before. He continues the appeal to the table and the closet, and then goes on to disrupt each thing’s integrity, approaching, thereby, a real inquiry into its thingness. He kicks the closet, accidentally opening its doors. Within the closet hang several colorful costumes that may be, in the context of Kaspar’s infantile discoveries, a colorful representation of thingly unconcealing itself (66). To appeal to a thing’s thingness is to lean close and experience its unobjectified nearness, waiting for a phenomenological epiphany that unfolds the thing in question to the spectator as she or he has never experienced it. Kaspar confronts all of the furniture in this fashion, saying =I want to be a person like somebody else was once,= but also seeming to beckon each thing to unfold. The spectator can almost hear him whispering =thingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦?= and waiting for the closet’s nonverbal reply.
All of Kaspar’s initial (prelingual) confrontations with his surroundings have this beckoning character. He begins to delve into the materiality of each thing on stage, discovering the gaps between the cushions of the sofa and pulling the drawer our of the table, scattering its contents on the floor. He becomes entangled with a chair, destroys the small table, and overturns the rocking chair (67-69). In each case, Kaspar creates a mess by probing not the thing’s meaning but its material nature. In the case of the rocking chair, he gets at the very essence of its being ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ at the rocking chair qua rocking chair ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ by forcing it to do what it does. He rocks it, over and over, more and more rapidly, until at its peak of falling over he tips it with his hand. It is tempting to think of the rocking of a rocking chair as an objectifying action: one forces a thing to conform to its manufactured purpose and furniturial utility. But the rocking of the chair is actually tied very closely to the rocking chair’s rocking-chairness, in the same way that Heidegger’s famous jug jugs by holding liquid. Even divorced from its making, the rocking chair is essentially a chair that rocks. Kaspar could hardly do better to arrive at the rocking chair’s thingness than to explore its self-evident presencing.
Of course, Kaspar does not only bid the rocking chair’s presencing ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ he bids it to death. If a rocking chair is a rocking chair only to the degree that it rocks, then Kaspar forces this rocking chair to presence itself so strongly that it finally loses its ability to presence at all. Once the rocking chair falls, it cannot rock, and must lose its thingness as a rocking chair qua rocking chair. This ultimately self-consuming presencing gives Kaspar a fright, and he runs away (69). The death of the rocking chair, along with the table drawer, the three-legged table, and the broom, reveals Kaspar’s essential orderlessness and incompetence before he begins to embrace language’s ordering power. Perhaps the only event that could deliver thingness more than its presencing is that presencing’s sudden cessation. This alternating presencing and unpresencing manifests thingness’ unthinkability and exemplifies the chaos of Kaspar’s preverbal world.
After the intermission, Kaspar reflects on his former preverbal state and seems grateful for his acquisition of language: =Already long/ in the world/ I realized nothing/ I wondered/ about the self-evident/ and found everything finite/ and infinite/ laughable/ every object filled me with fear/ the whole world galled me/ neither did I want to be myself/ nor somebody else/ my own hand/ was unknown to me/ my own legs/ walked of their own accord= (121-122, emphasis mine). This lingual Kaspar recalls what it was like to engage with a world that he could not appropriate. Every thing’s thingness presenced itself to him, but frightened him in its profoundness. Even his own body seemed to have thingness to it, moving by itself and defying his ability to control it. This self-thingness, or non-identity with one’s own body, parallels Kaspar’s early struggle with language as well. Speech is a part of him, it comes through him ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ and, importantly, emerges from the very same body that seems like a foreign thing to him ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ but he does not possess it. Speech, until Kaspar begins to master it, presences its own terrifying thingness.
Word as Thing
The word can never be as thingly as things. Its fundamental wordness depends on its meaning, which is always already an inherently anti-thingly process. But Kaspar’s initial words do have a thingly character in that they do not yet seem to mean for him. He speaks words that haunt and terrify him, and he thinks of those words not only as signifiers that fall short of meaning, but more basically as sounds with their own particular materiality. Still, Heidegger would never allow for words to be thought of as things, as they do not stay the fourfold unity of Earth, Sky, Divinities, and Mortals. In this sense, he would be correct to deny the word’s thingness.
But a word can have a similar phenomenological unfolding. When a thing’s thingness suddenly appears to a spectator, it seems radically new and strange. This epiphany is nearly unexaminable, but perhaps describable: a smoker suddenly becomes overwhelmed by her cigarette, throws it on the ground and shouts, =it’s on fire!= Her friend reassures her that of course it is on fire; it is a cigarette. The smoker responds, =No, but look!= She points to the cigarette on the ground, obsessed with the shape and the cinders and the way in which the cigarette consumes itself. She has smoked thousands of cigarettes, but this one has popped out of reality and revealed its thingly character. A similar unfolding occurs when a speaker repeats a single word or group of words over and over. After several repetitions, the word or sentence loses its meaning and takes on a strangeness, forcing its listener to hear the word as never before, as if listening to the word’s aural unconcealing.
Kaspar repeats the words of his original sentence (=I want to be a person like somebody else was once=) so many times from scene 4 to 17 that they can hardly help but to unconceal their strangeness exactly along these lines. Moreover, as he begins to break his sentence up into its parts, Kaspar rearranges his words into new configurations, still devoid of meaning and gradually with a greater focus on their phenomenal qualities. His =first divergence= depends on a repetition of his particular sounds: =I want to be like somebody else like somebody else once was somebody else.= He breaks the sentence into parts: =One./ Be./ Somebody./ Was./ Want./ Somebody else.= Already he begins to isolate the words’ individual meanings as well, but this process will become more sensual before it becomes more meaningful: =Waswant!/ Somelike!/ Someonce!/ SomeI!/ Besome!/ Likeonce!/ Elsh= (73). These words are no longer words at all; they are a destruction of wordness by a frustration with Kaspar’s inability to mean. He goes further still, descending into pure sound: =Olce ime kwas askwike lein.= He explores the aural qualities of individual letters, uttering =a very long e,= an =n for not quite as long a duration as the e,= a =shorter s,= a =brief, formally difficult, r= and a comically frustrating attempt at a =p,= which he =tries to stretchÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ like the other letters, an endeavor in which he of course fails utterly.= All the while, the Einsager (which Michael Roloff translates as =prompters=) bark orders at Kaspar: =Order. Put. Lie. Sit./ Put. Order. Lie. Sit./ Lie. Put. Order. Sit= (74), at least tonally insisting upon a clear structure. Kaspar can finally speak nothing at all, robbed of the one sentence with which to arm himself. He tries to make sounds with his feet and with objects, and even these attempts become gradually weaker until he is rendered completely silent. =His sentence,= Handke declares in the stage directions, =has been exorcised= (75).
But what about the sentence has been exorcised? Kaspar’s sentence has not up to now given him meaning. If it has meant anything at all, it has meant that it does not mean, or that Kaspar fails to mean in speaking it. The disembodied voices of the prompters try to banish the sentence’s thingness from their very first utterances. They do not yet insist on the sentence as meaningful, but they recognize the nonmeaningful value of a sentence as a tool:
Already you have a sentence with which you can make yourself noticeable. With this sentence you can make yourself noticeable in the dark, so no one will think you are an animal. You have a sentence with which you can tell yourself everything that you can’t tell others. You can explain to yourself how it goes with you. You have a sentence with which you can already contradict the same sentence. (67)
These uses for a sentence are not yet bound to semiosis, but they already shy away from the materiality of words in favor of utility. To think of anything as an instrument or tool is to think away from its thingness. And it is precisely this usefulness that fuels the prompter’s insistence on the unthingly. =The sentence,= they say, =is more useful to you than a word. You can speak a sentence to the endÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ . Play off one word against the other. With the sentence you can compare one word with the other. Only with a sentence, not with a word, can you ask leave to speak= (67). Embedded in this value judgment lies an implicit nod to the thingness of words when left alone. If the word is less useful on its own, both as a tool and a signifier, then it is proportionally more thingly. A word alone lacks order; it may arouse or connotate, but only through syntax can it combine with other words to attain its fullest wordness. The ordering structure of a sentence would organize the word’s power by contextualizing it, unlike Kaspar’s =sentence,= which, at least in his usage, does little more than let the sounds exist ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ for the most part in a consistent order, but not at all with the semiotic shapeliness that the prompters’ sentences master. The prompters thus exorcise Kaspar’s obsession with the sentence’s thingness, or rather his obsession with the sentence’s words’ thingness, demanding instead an order that renders each word particularly meaningful.
The prompters urge Kaspar toward mastery, in a move that gives him the ability to utter according to his communicative wishes. Until his mastery, Kaspar does not utter words so much as he summons each word’s mysterious thingness. Like with the terrifying thingness of things, Kaspar in his later reflections seems glad to be rid of his words’ magic. He reflects that =Once plagued by sentences/ I now can’t have enough of sentences./ Once haunted by words/ I now play with every letter.= His gladness, though, seems to proceed more directly from language’s domination of his thought than anything else, because even more than his words’ materiality, he once feared their wordness, their movement toward rational discourse: =Earlier on, each rational sentence was a burden to me/ and I detested each rational order/ but from now on/ I will be rational= (111). Kaspar simultaneously masters and becomes mastered by the sentence, rendered rational by its authority, and consequently proscribes and annihilates the thingness he once respected, even if that respect was primarily fearful.
Thing as Word
If words must conform to a structured sentence, so, eventually, must things. Language takes over Kaspar’s thinking, and in this conquest it demands an order not only to his conceptual world also but to his real world. In fact, it orders the real world through the conceptual world, vanquishing the thingness of things by the naming of things, and thereby turns the real world into not only a victim of but an extension to the conceptual world. In this process of conceptualization ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ an appropriation of things by words ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ things lose their unthinkable excess. =Each object you perceive,= the prompters tell Kaspar, =is that much simpler, the simpler the sentence with which you can describe it= (79). The things that pose such indescribable unconcealing for Kaspar in his first few minutes on stage become, through language, comprehensible objects, complex only to the degree in which his words allow them to be. Kaspar thus vanquishes his fear of thingness: =every object/ that I find sinister/ I designate as mine/ so that it stops/ being sinister to me= (112).
Of course, this terministic screen inevitably aids comprehension, but it eschews thingness in the process. Kaspar recalls his journey to cognition exactly in this way. In his infantile (or =babyish=) state, he says, =every room/ looked flat/ to me/ and hardly/ was I awake/ when the flat objects/ fell all over me/ like a dream image.= The things have a bizarre subjectivity to them, threatening Kaspar’s consciousness: =they became obstacles/ all the unknown objects/ interrogated me/ at once/ all indistinguishables confused/ my hands/ and made me wild.= He could not escape this wild confusion except by sacrificing the things that terrorized him, and he admits as much: =I was lost/ among the objects/ lost my way/ and/ to find my way out/ destroyed them.= Kaspar may seem to refer here to his literal destruction of the table and disruption of several furniture pieces, but in this context of referring to linguistic domination he at least conjures a sense of verbal violence-by-appropriation. As he claims after a short pause, his painful coming-into-language helped him =drive/ a wedge= between himself =and the objects/ and finally extirpate my babbling:/ thus the hurt finally drove/ the confusion out of me= (124). Kaspar, in his later (admittedly language-dominated) thinking, importantly aligns confusion with nearness to things, finding his only solace from confusion in a remoteness from thingness. The prompters go so far as to discount the unspoken qualities of things entirely, telling Kaspar, =if you see the object differently from the way you speak of it, you must be mistaken: you must say to yourself that you are mistaken and you will see the object= (102). Kaspar takes this advice and begins to filter all of his perception through the terministic screen of language. In this sense, he destroys his surrounding things not literally but by ignoring their nearness, which Heidegger designates as the most essential quality of thingness.
Naming things, however, does not completely write the thing out of thought. At least the thing’s material traits can continue to haunt language. Kaspar reports how colors originally confused his very ability to name:
Because the snow was white and because snow was the first white I saw, I called everything white snow. I was given a handkerchief that was white, but I believed it would bite me because the white snow bit my hand when I touched it, and I did not touch the handkerchief, and when I knew the word snow I called the white handkerchief snow: but later, when I also knew the word handkerchief, when I saw a white handkerchief, even when I uttered the word handkerchief, I still thought the word snow, because of which I first began to remember. (134)
It would be misleading to suppose, in this case, that thingness infects Kaspar’s ability to name, because the biting by the snow and the color of both snow and handkerchief cannot be called the snow’s or the handkerchief’s thingness. Both are rather merely traits that the things themselves bear, but it is interesting to note that it is the snow’s phenomenal qualities that shaped his perception, not the snow’s meaning. Kaspar recalls here a mistake that he made in his more primitive stages of language acquisition, still associating words as somehow magically tied to the objects they signify. As he comes closer to total cognition, however, he imagines a reverse order of causality, supposing the word to be the cause of phenomenal qualities:
Finally I even used the word snow, out of curiosity, for something that was not white, to see whether it would turn to snow because of my uttering the word snow, and even if I did not say the word snow I was thinking it and remembered at every sight if not the snow itself at least the word snow. (134-135)
Amazingly, Kaspar does not seem to mind that the phenomenal qualities of snow do not actually appear in the objects he experimentally names snow; it is enough that the word itself lurks in the back of his mind. In this way, he substitutes the word’s power for the thing’s qualities. The audience does not see this story take place, and it is indeed difficult to imagine when the story could have occurred, since the audience has seen Kaspar’s cognitive journey from its incognitive beginnings, all of which ostensibly occurs onstage. This story’s actuality is clearly unclear ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ but that fact is only peripheral to the story’s importance. The story is primarily important because it emphasizes that things will affect all thought, including the codifying thought that drives a wedge between subject and thing. Even the prompters, the authoritarian arbiters of language’s ability to proscribe and dominate, admit a relationship between material and conceptual structure. As Kaspar is =taught the model sentences with which an orderly person struggles through life,= the prompters call attention to this structural relationship: =the door has two sides: truth has two sides: if the door had three sides, truth would have three sides: the door has many sides: truth has many sides: the door: the truth: no truth without a door= (90). Whether or not this nearly nonsensical dictation represents an actual meditation on the number of sides truth has is irrelevant. Material structures, including things, certainly influence the ways in which people think.
And if things will inevitably have this effect, tyrannical language can hardly let that effect be arbitrary. Language cannot afford to leave the stage things (dis)arranged without any relationship to each other; this arrangement allows them to emit too much thingness. Hence Kaspar ties his shoes (80), tightens his belt (81), buttons his jacket (81-82), and =puts the stage in order= by righting the fallen furniture, replacing the three-legged table’s removed leg, and arranging the stage objects into a coherent and inhabitable whole. By the time he finishes, =everything on stage goes with everything else,= including his now-matching jacket and the painting and plastic fruit that he brings on stage for decoration (82-87). In this process of coherent arrangement, the stage directions also clearly make his actions subservient to the prompters’ words: =As he nears the completion of his task, his actions more and more obey the sentences of the prompters, whereas in the beginning the prompters’ sentences adjusted themselves to his actions= (83). Not only by creating what amounts to a visual sentence composed of physical words, but also through a submission of that very process to disembodied language, Kaspar renders his entire world meaningful, or wordly.
The other Kaspars that enter the stage and, in the end, subvert the original Kaspar’s authoritarianism do so in part by bringing in exaggeratedly strange things. Before the original Kaspar unwittingly deconstructs his own linguistic project, the other Kaspars pull out oversized fingernail files and file their nails, clothes, and other nearby materials (139-140). This profoundly odd preoccupation with thingness and nonsensical materiality comes long after the original Kaspar has already appropriated the stage as his real-world extension of order, and ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ through a reiteration of his preverbal world ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ undermines this newly ordered stage. As Malkin writes, these =multiple Kaspars do not act merely as reflections of the original Kaspar but also ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ increasingly as Kaspar becomes more like the Prompters ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ as rejections of the conformity which Kaspar has accepted.= Materially speaking, this conformity essentially sentences to death the thingness of things, and the other Kaspars’ rejection of that conformity would naturally take the form of reintroducing his forgotten thingness. They remind Kaspar of the thingness of things while simultaneously reminding him of the thingness of words, ultimately destroying him with thingness’ unresolvability. The cacophony they create by rubbing things together juxtaposed against Kaspar’s meticulously ordered words, along with the oddness of the things themselves juxtaposed against Kaspar’s meticulously ordered objects, becomes an aural and visual madness. This madness is made all the more mad by Kaspar’s painstaking journey to a delusional sanity that values the thing only insofar as it can be seen as an object ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ a kind of material word. His position of thing-as-word finally effects his destruction, unable to retain its conceptual integrity against actual thingness.
Word as Word
Kaspar’s first words following intermission still come from Kaspar’s body, but he speaks into a microphone that makes his voice sound like the voices of the prompters (121), which Handke describes earlier as eerily inhuman:
The prompters ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ three persons, say ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ remain invisible (their voices are perhaps pre-recorded) and speak without undertones or overtones; that is, they speak neither with the usual irony, humor, helpfulness, human warmth, nor with the usual ominousness, dread, incorporeality or supernaturalness: they speak comprehensibly. Over a good amplifying system they speak a text that is not theirs. (67)
The amplifying system drives a wedge between the voice and body, making text not an expressive utterance so much as pure, disembodied meaning. Perhaps most vitally, the prompters speak a text that is not theirs; they overtly manifest language’s tendency to speak through the speaker. Kaspar, in taking on this amplified voice for the remainder of the play, completes his transformation into a slave of language’s codification. Before intermission, the prompters seem to posit speaking as an expression of thought, telling Kaspar to =Say what you think. You can’t say except what you think. You can’t say anything except what you are also thinking.= These commands might have misled Kaspar into thinking of thinking as somehow prior to and productive of speech, but the prompters ease him into recognizing a more accurate and sinister relationship between language and thought:
Say what you think. Say what you don’t think. When you have begun to speak you will think what you are saying. You think what you are saying, that means you can think what you are saying, that means it is good that you think what you are saying, that means you ought to think what you are saying, that means, on the one hand, that you may think what you are saying, and on the other hand, that you must think what you are saying, because you are not allowed to think anything different from what you are saying. (100-101)
As Jerome Klinkowitz and James Knowlton note in Peter Handke and the Postmodern Transformation, =the speaker can control language only to the extent of initiating it ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ after which it systematically takes care of itself, with all the logical consequences for the speaker.= Although the prompters ease Kaspar into this realization, the fact of ultimate dependence of thought upon language becomes precisely the enslavement that destroys him. His ordered speaking affects his internal thinking, and kills within him the ability to respect the world (and the word) in its unordered thingness.
The prompters suggest a fascistic sort of joy in coming to this order, no matter what violence it has done to thingness or how painful was the ordering: =In the process of putting-into-order/ one is not as calm/ and orderly/ as later on/ when oneÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â/ having been brought into order/ oneself/ by the thrashing one has given to/ othersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â/ with one’s conscience at ease/ wants to/ and can/ enjoy/ a world made orderly= (118). The prompters earlier put this ordering in terms of enlightenment, saying =[w]hat is a nightmare in the dark/ is/ joyous certainty/ in the light= (88). Enlightenment and calm both relate to certainty, a belief that the world will behave in a continuous and sensical fashion. Kaspar takes his desire for this belief to an extreme, insisting that =every word that does not mean/ well/ must be cut= and commanding some unknown listener (himself? the other Kaspars? the audience?) to =kill every paradox= (130).
This impulse to obliterate the paradoxical no longer even comes from Kaspar’s desires, but from the linguistic ordering that has taken on a life of its own. Since this ordering is also tied to curiosity and self-curiosity (the rationalist search for knowledge which always comes back to itself), Kaspar’s command of language (or its command of him) does not give him the same =joyous certainty= in relation to his idea of self as it does in relation to the world. As Robert Baker-White notes in The Text in Play, =Kaspar’s response to his accelerating linguistic competence is alienation and self-interrogation. He is, in a certain sense, unable to stop the processes of curiosity that the Einsager prompted.= Language has up to now functioned on its consuming process; Kaspar thrived on the journey of things from thingness to objecthood and the journey of words from sounds to sentences, but as language runs out of material to consume, it has left only itself. As language then consumes itself as well, it loses its pleasure and even its sanity:
with each new sentence I become nauseous: figuratively: I have been turned topsy-turvy: I am in someone’s hand: I look to the other side: there prevails an unbloody calm: I cannot rid myself of myself any moreÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦: the pain and its end come within sight: time must stop: thoughts become very small: I still experienced myself: I never saw myself: I put up no undue resistance: the shoes fit like gloves: I don’t get away with just a fright: the skin peels off: the foot sleeps itself dead: candles and bloodsuckers: ice and mosquitoes: horses and puss: hoarfrost and rats: eels and sicklebills: (139)
Thus language turns in on itself, and the word as word deconstructs itself and its speaker by revealing the emptiness of its own rhetoric. Kaspar can no longer conceive of himself, his thoughts become reduced (no doubt through the terministic screen that deflects thoughtful complexity), and he finally descends into sheer nonsense. The word as word, by the end of the play, dies, and takes its faithful puppet with it. His last words are a repetition of the peculiar phrase =goats and monkeys,= a highly decontextualized quote from Shakespeare’s Othello. There, the title character contemptuously yells =Goats and monkeys!= as his hypocritical countrymen call him back to Venice, seeming to condemn docility and conformity (Othello, IV, i, 274). As an intertextual reference, Kaspar would then seem to condemn his own mindless conformity to language. But for most of Handke’s audience who presumably will miss the reference, =goats and monkeys= seems like either a reference to the notorious proclivity of those animals to fornication or a continuation of the nonsensical pairings of candles and bloodsuckers, ice and mosquitoes, horses and puss, hoarfrost and rats, and eels and sicklebills that directly precede it. Whether Handke intended one interpretation or the other is irrelevant; all meanings (or non-meanings) are potentially there, and together they unite into Kaspar’s final linguistic failure. He lashes out against his =screwed-over= position but only sounds ridiculous in the process.
By the end, the play’s arc has weaned Kaspar from his attention to words and things as things, instilled him with an appropriation of words and things as words, and finally stranded him in a position in which he can neither think once again of thingness nor believe in the truth of wordness. Language’s codifying process has processed him, and he realizes toward his last moments, rightly, that =[a]lready from my first sentence I was trapped= (137). This entrapment is not simply an examination of autism or a tragedy of one character; as Handke writes in his introduction, =[t]he play Kaspar does not show how IT REALLY IS OR REALLY WAS with Kaspar Hauser. It shows what IS POSSIBLE with someone. It shows how someone can be made to speak through speaking= (59). In this sense, the play is a dramatization of language’s coercive and ordering power on all speakers, on every person who attains language and thereby fails to include thingness in her or his perception. The word as word is the tool by which all subjects remove themselves from reality, indeed as a necessary prerequisite for coherence, but also as a dangerous and unstoppable self-enclosure.
Peter Handke. Kaspar and Other Plays. Trans Michael Roloff. New York: Hill and Wang, 1969. 77.
Martin Heidegger. Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans Albert Hofstadter. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, and London: Harper Colophon Books, 1971. 170.
Kenneth Burke. Language as Symbolic Action. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1966. 45.
Martin Heidegger. Der Satz vom Grund. Pfullingen: S. Neske, 1957. 161. Qtd in and translated by Jeanette R. Malkin. Verbal Violence in Contemporary Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. 10.
June Schleuter. The Plays and Novels of Peter Handke. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981. 49.
Robert Baker-White. The Text in Play. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1999. 130. The last two “readings” of Kaspar are Baker-White’s own, of which the “contemplation of actorly rehearsive energies” is his project in this very book.
See “The Thing” in Poetry, Language, Thought, 165-86.
For a more detailed discussion of the ineptitude of these definitions, see “The Origin of the Work of Art” in Poetry, Language, Thought, especially pp. 20-39.
Faye Ran-Moseley. The Tragicomic Passion. New York: Peter Lang, 1994. 73.
Poetry, Language, Thought 165-166.
Jerome Klinkowitz and James Knowlton. Peter Handke and the Postmodern Transformation. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1983. 114.
Baker-White, Robert. The Text in Play. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1999.
Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London:
University of California Press, 1966.
Handke, Peter. Kaspar and Other Plays. Trans Michael Roloff. New York: Hill and
Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans Albert Hofstadter. New York,
Hagerstown, San Francisco, and London: Harper Colophon Books, 1971.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â . Der Satz vom Grund. Pfullingen: S. Neske, 1957.
Klinkowitz, Jerome and James Knowlton. Peter Handke and the Postmodern
Transformation. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1983.
Ran-Moseley, Faye. The Tragicomic Passion. New York: Peter Lang, 1994.
Schleuter, June. The Plays and Novels of Peter Handke. Pittsburgh: University of
Pittsburgh Press, 1981.
And further down YOU WILL FIND TWO WILD PIECES BY STEPHANIE "BARBE" HAMMER, U.C. RIVERSIDE, WHO SEEMS TO HAVE KEPT MORE OF THE DANCE STEPS THAT SHE LEARNED AT THE pyramid ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE, ALTHOUGH WE NEVER MET ON THE DANCE FLOOR, THAN HAVE I WHO THEN WENT ON TO THE CLUBS THAT DIDN'T CLOSE UNTIL SUNRISE.
august 2001, michael roloff
A PHOTO OF "DIE KUECHE" LOTS OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF NEWS BELOW, WHAT OUR MAN IS UP TO, HAS BEEN UP TO RECENTLY, SAY AT PRESS CONFERENCES IN GREECE, "THE GREEK" IS A WONDERFUL REPORTER FIGURE IN THE PLAY "EINBAUM", A HANDKE MUSEUM BEING INSTALLED AT THE BOARDING SCHOOL SEMINARY THAT HE ATTENDED THE FIRST FOUR YEARS AWAY FROM HOME [ANYTHING ABOUT THE NAUSEA INDUCED BY HIS FELLOW STUDENTS' BODIES?], ETC ETC.
THESE PASTE FEW WEEKS I WAS THINKING I suppose is it news of sorts if there is NO NEWS,if our man manages to stay out of the literary and all other headlines. For there is none of any new publications or plays. The veritable orgy of self-display during the Yugoslav controversy can of course suffice for a life time.Our man even finally made the cover of a magazine, albeit be it of the fine NOVO.
Last year's UNTER TRAENEN FRAGEND, which contains the two pieces resulting from the 1999 NOTES that Handke made during his trips to Serbia that spring, was it for the year 2000. This year's Suhrkamp catalog sees the Suhrkamp Taschenbuch reprint of five terriffic earlier titles, and a "collected poems." Nor does Residenz Verlag in Salzburg offer anything new by Handke. With his NIEMANSBUCHT, that region where he lives outside Paris, so totally absorbed in the book of that name [NO-MAN'S-BAY], with the mushroom footnote LUCIE IN DEM WALD MIT DEN DINGSDA also out of his system; with ONE DARK NIGHT I WALKED OUT OF MY SILENT HOUSE the last, albeit tangential, reference to Salzburg [AND NO REGULAR OLD NOVEL ABOUT THE DREADFUL PEOPLE HE LIVED AMONGST, ALBEIT AT HIS FELSFENSTER AERIE IN THE OFFING] it may of course be possible, so I thought, that Handke is translating, an activity that he regards as the equal of original composition.
I was going to go oN speculatinG -- say, in the words of the indefatigable Erich Wolfgang Skwara's "Who knows what he's [Handke] up to now" -- when I came on the following item which I am prefacing with a wonderful quote I came upon on reading a piece in Lingua Franca why my friends the Bulgarians pretty much abstained from exterminating Jews during World War II
"Do not persecute, lest you be persecuted. For with the judgment you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Know, Boris, that God watches your actions from heaven." THE METROPOLITAN OF SOFIA
GOD KNOWS HOW MURDEROUS THE CREATURES MADE IN HIS IMAGE ARE, THUS THE TABOO, AND THE INTERDICTION.
BUT BEFORE YOU READ ON TO WHAT OUR MAN IS UP TO THIS YEAR, I WANTED TO ANNOUNCE A COMPETITION THAT RELATES TO ABOVE SPECULATION: IT CONCERNS THE QUESTION WHAT HANDKE'S "ALTERS-STIL' [LATE STYLE, THE DERNIER CRU] WILL BE LIKE. HE HIMSELF BRINGS UP THE SUBJECT IN A NICELY HUMOROUS WAY IN AN INTERVIEW WITH A STERN INTERVIEWER A FEW YEARS BACK, IT'S ONE OF THE INTERVIEWS ON THE HANDKE,.YUGO SITE, AND HE MAN WHO VISITED HIM IN CHAVILLE IS EVIDENTLY A FRIEND. AND EVER SINCE I RAN ACROSS THAT BIT OF ADVANCE WARNING I'VE BEEN TRYING TO IMAGINE WHAT THAT STYLE IS LIKE. I OF COURSE HAVE GIVEN SOME THOUGHT TO THE NOW FIVE WRITING PHASES THAT OUR MAN HAS PASSED THROUGH. TO PUT IT IN TELEGRAPHIC TERMS  HORNISSEN/HAUSIERER/GOALIE
 SHORT LETTER/MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING/WEIGHT OF THE WORLD
 SLOW HOMECOMING/KINDERGESCHICHTE/ CHINOIS DE DOULEUR
 THE REPETITION
 THE THREE ASSAYINGS/NO-MAN'S BAY/ DARK NIGHT
CERTAINLY PHASE FIVE IS A WELL MATURED STYLE, NOT THAT I LIKE THE WORD STYLE IN THE CONTEXT OF HANDKE
STYLE IS ALWAYS IDIOSYNCRATIC, HANDKE PERSONALLY MAY BE A BIT OF AN ODDBALL, BUT HIS STYLE IS NOT...
HOW "URWORTE ORPHISCH" [GOETHE] WILL THE LATE STYLE BE? CERTAINLY, ONE COULD EVEN MAINTAIN THAT THERE ARE NO PHASES, THOUGH I AM AS INTERESTED IN THE TRANSITIONAL BOOKS, SUCH AS LEFT-HANDED WOMAN, AS THE DEMONSTRATION OF TOTAL MASTERY, SUCH AS "THE ASSAYING OF THE DAY THAT WENT WELL" , AS I CALL "vERSUCH UEBER DEN GEGLUECKTEN TAG"
MORE LIKELY THAN NOT, HANDKE'S FIRST ASSAYING OF HIS "ALTERS STIL" WILL ALSO HAVE SOMETHING TENTATIVE ABOUT IT. MUCH AS HE CAN GRASP THE READER BY THE SYNTACTICAL HAIR, YET THERE IS ALSO A TENTATIVE QUALITY TO HIS OPENINGS, AT THE BEGINNING OF A NEW PHASE THERE IS... SO THE QUESTION REMAINS: HOW "URWORTE ORPHISCH" [GOETHE] WILL IT BE?
THINK OF HANDKE'S FIVE PERIODS, OF HIS EXTRAORDINARY VERSATILITY, WHAT MOUNTAINS REMAIN TO BE CONQUERED?
AT ANY EVENT: SINCE HANDKE WILL BE 60 YEARS OLD IN ANOTHER YEAR, AND SINCE IT IS MY GUESS IS THAT HE WILL LIVE UNTIL AGE 85, HIS GRANDFATHER'S AGE AT THAT MAN'S DEATH, UNLESS HANDKE HAS SET HIS SIGHTS ON OUTDOING ERNST JUENGER: AS OF 2002 OUR MAN WILL BE AT ANOTHER STAGE OF THE CONSOLODIATION OF HIS ACHIEVEMENTS.
THE COMPETITION REQUIRES THE SUBMISSION OF ONE PAGE THAT I WILL JUDGE TO COMING CLOSEST TO THE STYLE THAT HANDKE WILL USE IN A BOOK THAT IS WRITTEN IN 2001 OR LATER. THE PRIZE IS A COPY OF THE 50 LETTERS THAT HANDKE HAS WRITTEN THIS SITE MASTER, MICHAL ROLOFF. THE SUBMISSIONS, WHICH NEED TO BE IN GERMAN, WILL ALL BE PUBLISHED ON THIS SITE, OR PERHAPS I WILL CREATE ANOTHER SUBSITE JUST FOR THIS THE CONTEST. I MYSELF AM NOT PLANNING ON BEING AROUND AFTER AGE 75, WHICH MEANS I MIGHT BE AROUND FOR ANOTHER TEN YEARS OR SO. THE SUBMISSIONS MUST BE submitted to "firstname.lastname@example.org
THERE ARE A FEW RULES I THINK I NEED TO INSTITUTE: EMPLOYEES OF HANDKE'S GERMAN LANGUAGE PUBLISHERS, SUHRKAMP VERLAG or RESIDENZ VERLAG ARE EXCLUDED, AS ARE EMPLOYEES [INCLUDING "SIGNIFICANT OTHERS"] OF ANY OF HANDKE'S NON-GERMAN PUBLISHERS. SO ARE FRIENDS OF PETER HANDKE, SUCH AS ERICH WOLFGANG SKWARA, WHO HAS THE TALENT TO IMAGINE WHAT SUCH A STYLE MIGHT BE LIKE, BUT TO WHOM HANDKE USED TO READ PASSAGES FROM FORTHCOMING TITLES, SO ARE ALL LOVERS OF ANY KIND WHO MIGHT HAVE ESCAPED WITH THE STRAY PAGE...
NOW THE VERY INTERESTING BIT OF NEWS:
"...UND PETER HANDKE, FUER SEIN POLITISCHES SERBIAN-ENGAGEMENT KRITISIERT, BRINGT "DIE KUECHE" MIT EINEM SERBISCHEN ENSEMBLE AN DIE RUHR
La Cuisine Ein Projekt von Peter Handke und Mladen Materic Gastspiel Theatre Tattoo in Zusammenarbeit mit Theatre Garonne, Toulouse und mit Art Bureau Muenchen Auffuehrungen im Kleinen Theater im Ruhrfestspielhaus 21. Juni, 20.00 Uhr Premiere Weitere Vorstellungen 22. Juni, 20.00 Uhr; 23. Juni, 19.00 Uhr und am 24. Juni, 18.00 Uhr
Finden Sie, die Kueche ist ein ungewoehnliches Thema fuer einen Theaterabend? Befuerchten Sie vielleicht, dass Sie den ganzen Abend zusehen muessen, wie andere essen? Haben Sie schon darueber nachgedacht, was sonst noch alles in einer Kueche passiert? Abgesehen davon, da hier gekocht und gegessen wird, wird in Kuechen gestritten, geliebt, gezeugt, gelacht, verletzt, verbrannt, gewuetet, geschrieen, gehasst, gelitten, geredet, geweint und noch vieles mehr. Es kann also spannend werden. In der Kueche vereinen sich die Elemente, hier trifft Feuer auf Wasser, Pflanze auf Tier, hier spielt sich das Leben ab. Die Kueche ist Hort der Nahrung und des Abfalls, der Einsamkeit einer Fertigmahlzeit und des taeglichen Familienrituals. Hier scheiden sich die Geister und Generationen, und hier geht die Liebe durch den Magen. Es gibt die Kueche der Reichen und die der Armen; der Unterschied ist nicht immer offensichtlich. Es gibt die Kueche des 18. Jahrhunderts, die Kueche mit oder ohne Elektrizitaet, mit oder ohne fliessendem Wasser, die in Toulouse oder Moskau, die der Antike mit Goettern im haeuslichen Herd und die, die von ihrer Herrschaft nie betreten und zum Reich der Bediensteten wurde. Es gibt Kuechenlieder und Kuechengedichte, Kuechengemaelde und Kuechenfilme, und dies ist eben ein Kuechendrama. Mladen Materic, Gruender der Gruppe Theatre Tattoo, hat sich zusammen mit seinem Ensemble diesen Wohnraum, der soviel mehr ist als ein blosses Zimmer, zum Ausgangspunkt eines seiner ganz besonderen Projekte erkoren. Die serbisch-franzoesische Gruppe wurde Anfang der 80er Jahre in Sarajevo ins Leben gerufen und hat seitdem durch aussergewoehnliche Produktionen Aufsehen erregt. Mit ihrer Suche nach einer neuartigen Theatersprache hat sich das Theatre Tattoo immer wieder um den Kern einer grundlegenden Erkenntnis bewegt: Da sich die menschlichen Beziehungen in Wahrheit jenseits der Worte und ihrer Bedeutungen abspielen. Fast ohne Sprache gehen sie tief auf die Ablaeufe und Emotionen des Zusammenlebens ein und zeigen so die Tragik und Komik der Zustaende menschlicher Existenz. Auch Die Kueche ist Theater fast ohne Worte. Ihre Projekte wurden zunaechst im ehemaligen Jugoslawien, dann auch international von Kritik und Publikum enthusiastisch aufgenommen. Mit Auftritten bei grossen europaeischen Festivals machte sich die Gruppe in der Theaterwelt einen Namen. 1992 kam das gesamte Ensemble von Sarajevo nach Toulouse. Cooperationen mit renommierten franzoesischen Theatern folgten. Dass die serbische Gruppe ihr neuestes Projekt zusammen mit dem Autor Peter Handke entwickelt, liegt nahe. In juengster Zeit provozierte Handkes Engagement fuer Serbien, das auch in seinem Stueck Die Fahrt im Einbaum oder Das Stueck zum Film im Krieg (1999) deutlich wurde, im deutschsprachigen Raum kontroverse Reaktionen. Bekannt wurde Handke als Theaterautor mit seiner fruehen dramatischen Produktion (Kaspar, Publikumsbeschimpfung), in der es um die Verneinung aller theatralischen Konventionen geht; in seinen spaeteren Dramen schuf er mittels hochstilisierter Sprache eine an imposanten Bildern reiche, zeitlose Buehnenwelt.
Alas, it is a sign of true toryist arrivistentum once an artist becomes too preoccupied with the preparation of food...
I HAD WONDERED A LONG TIME WHY HANDKE DID NOT DIRECT PLAYS AND ONLY THE OCCASIONAL FILM, AND HAD CONCLUDED THAT HIS DIFFICULTY WITH THE PROXIMITY OF BODIES MILITATED AGAINST A KIND OF BRECHTIAN ENDEAVOR IN THAT RESPECT. HOWEVER, READERS OF "UNTER TRAENEN FRAGEND" MAY HAVE NOTICED THAT HE, WHO COULD BE SUCH A DIFFICULT HOST, WAS ASTONISHED BY THE HOSPITABLENESS OF THE SERB PEOPLE... WELL, WAR TIME BRINGS US CLOSER, MAKES US HUDDLE TOGETHER. WELL, MY SPECULATIONS FIND PETER HANDKE if not in SERBIA, at least REHEARSING with Yugoslavs, A NEW CHAPTER IN OUR MAN'S LIFE, WHICH WAS DUE FOR ANOTHER CHAPTER...THE QUESTION IS WHAT IS "DIE KUECHE"??? THE ABOVE DESCRIPTION READS VERY MUCH LIKE THE WORDS OF PETER HANDKE. AND WHO IS ITS' AUTHOR. All the people, a multi-cultural project if ever there was one.
APRIL 3, 2001
NACHRICHTEN NEWS NOTIZIAS NOVIDADES....
Handke-Museum / Griffen ergriffen
DPA. Im Geburtsort des oesterreichischen Schriftstellers Peter Handke, der kleinen Gemeinde Griffen in Kaernten, soll ein Handke-Institut eingerichtet werden. Der wissenschaftliche Leiter des Projektes, der Philosoph und Germanist Bernd Liepold-Mosser, plant die Einrichtung einer oeffentlichen Bibliothek fuer Handkes Gesamtwerk und zum Auftakt eine biographische Ausstellung. Ausserdem soll das Wiener Burgtheater mit Handkes Weissagung und Selbstbezichtigung in Griffen gastieren. Der Dichter, heisst es, begruesse die Initiative.
Meeting of journalists on Kosmet: Lies and manipulations in the service of politics
April 01, 2000
Journalists step forward against manipulations
Athens, March 31st - Two-day talks between the Greek and foreign journalists were completed today in Athens, titled "War and information - the Kosovo experience", held in the Journalist Association of the Athens daily press.
Aside from the local journalists, Robert Fisk from the "Independent", Philip Nightly from the "Sunday Times", John Pilger from the "Statesman", Eva Ann Prentice from the "Times" and the renowned writer, Peter Handke, participated in the meeting.
The Greek daily, "Elefterotipia" has, while evaluating the assembly, stressed that the Greek media, regardless of the fact that some of them are being accused of "Serbophilia", have mainly in an accurate and timely manner, published information regarding the events in Kosmet and the bombing of Yugoslavia.
The Greek daily devoted most of its attention to the statements made by the veteran journalist of the British "Independent", Robert Fisk, who spoke of the war against Yugoslavia mainly by viewing the consequences of the bombing and by comparing them to the consequences of the bombing of Iraq.
Fisk reminded that ten years after the war in the Gulf, thousands of people are struck with diseases and the "Gulf syndrome", and that, among the sick, there are some veterans of the allied forces, and added that the number of victims in Iraq is still increasing.
"What will happen to Kosovo where bombs with Depleted Uranium were also used", asked Fisk, adding that still there are no NATO official reports on the consequences of the bombing of Yugoslavia. This British journalist asked Jamey Shea the same thing, but always received calming answers saying that this kind of lethal weapon, which NATO uses in its newest operation, "is not dangerous".
"This was a great lie they told to the journalists, because I have in my possession a classified document with a report in which it is clearly stated that the use of bombs with DU is very dangerous for the environment", stated Fisk.
Answering Handke's question - why did not he publish all that in his country and other NATO member-states, Fisk said that he just made agreements for series of visits to US cities where he would speak of the consequences of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
According to "Elefterotipia", Fisk has, while answering the question regarding the bombing of the RTS (Serbian Broadcasting Co.) building in Belgrade, said that "the moment when you start killing people just because you do not like them and because they do not speak the same things as you do, you are drastically changing the rules of war".
Peter Handke, an Austrian writer, speaking about his experience during his stay in Serbia under NATO bombs, bitterly stated that "unfortunately, thanks to the media, an image of an executor was made out of the Serbian people" and that mass media do not longer exist.
"NATO is a gangster organization. In fact, NATO is worse than gangsters, because it is hiding behind the mask of morality, putting its efforts in, allegedly, higher humanitarian goals", stated Handke.
"Germany has", he added, "destroyed the most beautiful 'state utopia' which existed - former Yugoslavia, because they could not stand a country which had a future in every aspect possible. By killing Serbs, the Germans and the Austrians "wash their hands" and clear their conscience of the crimes they committed against the Jews in the WW II".
While talking about the policy of manipulation, Handke stated that there is no leadership of a sovereign country, which would accept the planted offer from Rambouillet.
Everything was a farce and a premeditated game in which, from the start, NATO had a planned scenario of the development of the situation, stated Handke.
The other participants of the two-day meeting, Pilger, Nightly and Prentice also spoke of the obvious "media manipulation" in which "truth was sacrificed" in order for certain political interests to be achieved.
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FURTHER REVIEWS OF CURRENT WORK CAN BE FOUND ON THE reviews PAGE OF THIS SITE, but especilly at the
HANDKEPROSE.SCRIPTMANIA.COM news page; and the HANDKEDRAMA.SCRIPTMANIA site & also at the HANDKEYUGO.SCRIPTMANIA.COM site
RICHARD BERNSTEIN WROTE A HALFWAY THOUGH NOT ESPECIALLY WELL-INFORMED REVIEW OF "One Dark Night I Left My Quiet House" in a late November issue of the NY Times Daily, a first after 35 years. A singularly stupid review by the Pulitzer PriZe winner Margot Jefferson of Three Essays a few years back had been Handke's only other appearance on the daily's book pages these many years.
A fine Viennese Review of NIGHT can be found on the REVIEW PAGE of this SITE. My own "commentars" - not a review is there too, as well as a slew of other interesting reviews.
THE EARLY SEPTEMBER ISSSUE OF THE NY REVIEW CONTAINS A SINGULARLY STUPID REVIEW BY ONE J.S. MARCUS, WHICH WILL BE DISMEMBERED HERE IN THE FORM OF A LETTER TO THE EDITOR. IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN ANTICIPATED THAT "MARK WINNER NYRB", ONE OF THE "INTERNATIONALS" WHOM HANDKE HAS POP UP IN HIS FILMPLAY ABOUT THE WAR [DUGOUT CANOE] MIGHT FIGHT BACK, BUT THAT THAT FIGHTING WOULD TAKE THE FORM OF A NON- AND MIS-READING IF AT ALL READING OF THE TEXTS IS WHAT I TRY TO ADDRESS.
Handke's interview from Spring 1999, on his return from Serbia and matters pertaining to that controversy can be found on the "handkeyugo.scriptmania.com" sub-site that can be accessed directly throug he LYNX page on this site.
It is always good to see what a controversial author says before reading the conclusions that others, including myself, may draw from it. I myself took the occasion of Handke's intervention to try to puzzle out the reasons for his slavic connection, overdetermined as usual, complicatedly configured, in a little book entitled
'SORTING OUT HANDKE'S SLAVIC CONNECTION' which Franz Angst of Wages of Anguish Publications has been so kind as to express the willingness to publish if ever I can put the finishing touches to it. A year and a half after the Kosovo war, subsequent to the fading of Miloscevics, it would be interesting to find out how the various Serbian factions feel about Handke's intervention. I myself, retrospectively, am most impressed by the degree to which Handke's "amour fou" invested Serbians with the kind of inviolable idealization ususally reserved... yes, for an "amour fou".
ALLTHOUGH IT SEEMS TO HAVE UPSET OUR MAN THAT THE "CORRIERE DE LA SERRA" CALLED HIM A "CRIMINAL" FOR THE POSITION HE TOOK ON MATTERS SERBIAN IN 1996, THIS DOES NOT KEEP HIM FOR GIVING AN INTERVIEW TO THE PAPER IN THE YEAR 2000.
AnlÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬ ’ÃƒÆ’Ã†’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚ ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢esslich des kulturellen Widerstands gegen Haider hat sich der Oesterreichische Autor Peter Handke mit dem ihm ueblichen Sarkasmus in der italienischen Tageszeitung "Il Corriere della Sera" geauessert. Dabei verglich er die europaeischen Reaktionen auf Oesterreich und den Boykott der EU mit dem Eingreifen im Kosovo-Konflikt: "Die Loesung lautet wahrscheinlich, dass die NATO Wien bombardiert, so, wie sie das mit Belgrad gemacht hat. Und danach, sofern das noetig ist, auch Djakarta und Moskau". Erst dann sei die Welt nach europÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬ ’ÃƒÆ’Ã†’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚ ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢ischer Sicht wohl wieder in Ordnung. Haider, so Peter Handke mit Verweis auf Lionel Jospin, Jacques Chirac und Tony Blair, sei nicht gefÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬ ’ÃƒÆ’Ã†’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚ ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢ehrlicher als andere europaeische Politiker. Auch wenn jenen keine faschistischen ÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬ ’ÃƒÆ’Ã†’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚ ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢usserungen nachzuweisen seien, habe Europa "nach seinem faschistischen Gewaltakt gegen Jugoslawien keinerlei Recht, Oesterreich moralisch zu beurteilen". In diesem Sinne schliesst sich Handke der Ansicht Joerg Haiders an, die EuropÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬ ’ÃƒÆ’Ã†’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚ ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢er sollten sich um ihre eigenen Angelegenheiten kuemmern. Dennoch beruhe Haiders Haltung auf falschen Argumenten, betonte Handke gegenueber dem "Corriere della Sera". und bezeichnete den KÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬ ’ÃƒÆ’Ã†’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚ ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢rntner Landeshauptmann als "ungeschicktes Grossmaul ohne Substanz".
THIS INTERVIEW WAS GRANTED TO THE SAME PAPER THAT HAD CALLED HANDKE A CRIMINAL IN IN THE 90S FOR HIS POSITION ON THE YUGOSLAV CONFLICTS, AN APPELATION THAT SEEMED TO HAVE CONSIDERABLY UPSET OUR MAN, AS YOU CAN DISCOVER IN A LETTER OF HIS ON THE
handkeyugo.scriptmania. com SITE
That status of the various sub-sites is described on the PURPOSE PAGE
michael roloff may 2001
Die Uni Eichstaett und Peter Handke:
Der ungeschickte Ehrendoktor
Als selbsterklaerter Serbenfreund ist er nach Jugoslawien gefahren, um sich mit der dortigen rechtmaessigen Regierung solidarisch zu erklaeren. Und er ist Ehrendoktor der Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaftlichen Fakultaet. Vor fuenf Jahren hatte die Uni Eichstaett den Autor Peter Handke fuer sein schriftstellerisches Gesamtwerk geehrt - aus tiefem Respekt vor seiner Arbeit und durchaus im Bewusstsein, dass er ein sehr provokanter Mensch ist. Darum zeigt sich Unipraesident Ruprecht Wimmer nicht besonders schockiert von Handkes neuesten Aktionen.
Peter Handke (Foto: Residenz Verlag).
Handke war immer ein Mann, der durch sehr ungeschuetzte AEusserungen auffiel. Wir haben dafuer auch in diesem Fall Verstaendnis und reagieren nicht sofort allergisch , sagt Wimmer. Bei einem so hochsensiblen Autor wie Handke muesse man eben auf denkerische Knicke in der Biographie gefasst sein.
Dennoch: Solidaritaet mit Serbien, Rueckgabe des Buechner-Preises und Austritt aus der katholischen Kirche aus Protest; dazu noch Beschimpfungen der Nato-Angriffe als eines der groessten je veruebten Verbrechen - besonders schmuecken kann sich die Uni Eichstaett mit Handke zur Zeit nicht. Darum will sich Wimmer inhaltlich auch von ihm distanziert wissen: Ich finde es ungeschickt, sich mit solcher Wildheit fuer eine Partei zu erklaeren, die im Verstaendnis der demokratischen Welt wohl eher die schuldigere ist.
Fuer den Praesidenten und die Unileitung stand aber dennoch von Anfang an fest: Eine Aberkennung der Ehrendoktorwuerde - prinzipiell moeglich bei sogenanntem unwuerdigen Verhalten - kommt in diesem Fall nicht in Frage. Wimmer: Handke kann von uns nicht verlangen, dass wir ihm beipflichten. Aber dass wir ihm die Freiheit lassen, das zu tun, was er fuer richtig haelt.
Die einmal verliehene Wuerde bedeute schliesslich nicht, dass die Universitaet zur Aufpasserin seines weiteren Lebensweges werden muesse. Und schon gar nicht, bei Handlungen, die ihr nicht gefallen, die Ehre sofort zu entziehen. Zumal man bei einem Autor wie Handke ja nie wissen koenne, wie es weiter geht: Es waere doch zum Beispiel - so Wimmer - eine unmoegliche Situation, wenn er dann wieder in die Kirche eintreten wuerde: Sollen wir ihm dann die Ehrendoktorwuerde zurueckgeben?
10.05.1999 Antje Kueckemanns
Die deutschsprachige Presse und der Krieg in Bosnien. Eine Analyse journalistischer Kollektivsymbolik und elementar ideologischer Analogien anhand ausgewaehlter Texte unter Anwendung der Diskurstheorie Juergen Links
The German-speaking press and the war in Bosnia. An analysis of collectiv-symbols of journalism and elementary ideological analogies based on a variety of texts using Juergen Links theory of discourse
Pagination: 205 p.
Affiliation: UIGW500; Universitaet Innsbruck;
Institut fuer Politikwissenschaften
Begutachter: Rosenberger Sieglinde
Akad. Grad: Dr. phil.
Schlagworte deutsch: Link Juergen; Bachtin Michail; Gramsci Antonio; Foucault Michel; Althusser Louis; Mocnik Rastko; deutschsprachige Presse; journalistische Kollektivsymbolik; Balibar Etienne; Handke Peter; Diskurs; Ideologie; Hegemonie; Kollektivsymbol; Subjektkonstituierung; Bosnien; Deutschland; Nationalismus; Bosnien-Krieg;
Schlagworte englisch: Link Juergen; Bachtin Michail; Gramsci Antonio; Foucault Michel; Althusser Loius; Mocnik Rastko; German-speaking press; war in Bosnia; Balibar Etienne; Handke Peter; discourse; ideology; hegemony; collectiv-symbol; constitution of subject; Bosnia; Germany; nationalism;
In the preface of this work I present the thesis that the pictures of Trnopolje and Omarska (Bosnia) from August 1992 - during the first time of war in Bosnia - represent a discursive occurrence: the discursive reproduction of a dominant collective-symbol, the collective-symbol concentration camp. In chapter 2 I argue and demonstrate how the pictures were seen in German-speaking newspapers from August 1992. The main idea of this chapter is that the reception of the pictures actualizes specific notions, semantic fields, etc. of the discourse about Nazi-concentration camps. In relation to Juergen Links (University of Dortmund, Germany) method of discourse-analysis, general dimensions of the structure of journalistic discourses are being examined closely. Chapter 3 deals with the discursive meaning of this actualization for the political discourse in Germany in relation to the German reunification. In this context the German demands for a normal position in foreign policy, a so called neue Normalitaet, need to be discussed. A new hegemonic discourse-position comes to the forefront: this position constructs a discursive antagonism (Ernesto Laclau) we (Europe) vs. the Serbs and rearticulates different discourse-positions using other dominant collective-symbols. This rearticulation causes a shift on the symbolic left/right-axis. The elementary ideology of this discourse-position is nationalism (Etienne Balibar). One may argue that this new hegemonic discourse-position relativizes the meaning of the signifier Auschwitz. In chapter 4 I analyze the debate on Peter Handkes essay Eine winterliche Reise zu den Fluessen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina oder Gerechtigkeit fuer Serbien at the beginning of 1996 in German-speaking newspapers. The analyzing method of this work is based on the theory of discourse by Juergen Link. In chapter 1 this method is understood as a possibility of articulation of the Marxist theory of ideology according Antonio Gramsci and Louis Althusser on the one hand and to Michel Foucaults theory of discourse (The Archaeology of Knowledge) on the other hand. In the center of interest are such notions as discourse, collective-symbols, etc. I attempt an articulation of the method described above with Louis Althussers theory of ideological interpellation and its reinterpretation by Rastko Mocnik.
Availability: Universitaetsbibliothek der Universitaet Innsbruck,
Innrain 50, A-6010 Innsbruck, Austria
FOCUS - Das moderne Nachrichtenmagazin Nr. 25 vom 20.06.1994 Seite 100 LITERATUR UE Handke in Weimar Im Weimarer Wittumspalais trafen sich einst Goethe, Wieland, Herder und Durchreisende, um ueber Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¸e Fragen zu diskutieren, ueber AEsthetik, ueber Naturforschung, kurz, ueber die Revolution des Geistes, die sich Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts vollzog. Diesen Ort waehlten der Stifter Hubert Burda, die Juroren Peter Hamm, Peter Handke, Alfred Kolleritsch und Michael Krueger, um in diesem Jahr ihre Poetik-Preise zu verleihen: Den Petrarca-Preis (40 000 Mark) an den Muenchner Filmkritiker Helmut Faerber, den Nicolas-Born-Preis (15 000 Mark) an die in StrassÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â¸burg lebende Autorin Barbara Honigmann und den Petrarca-UEbersetzer-Preis (15 000 Mark) an Elisabeth Edl und Wolfgang Matz. Kurze Ausschnitte aus der Laudatio Peter Handkes auf Helmut Faerber: Beim Lesen bin ich ihm zuerst begegnet als einem Filmkritiker. Etwa Mitte der sechziger Jahre in der Sueddeutschen Zeitung oder in der Monatszeitschrift Filmkritik. Zu Filmen, gleich welchen, eine solch feine und zugleich so bodenstaendige Sprache zu Gesicht zu bekommen, und das auch noch in einer Tageszeitung, das hat mich damals wachgestossen. Oft waren es nur ein paar Zeilen im Lokalfeuilleton . . . Seine hoechst eigene Intelligenz galt hauptsaechlich den Dingen, denen er zugeneigt war. Sein Scharfsinn ist insbesondere einer, der aus dem Enthusiasmus kommt. Hand in Hand mit diesem Schreiben geht diese spezifisch Faerbersche Melodie. Die Bildhaftigkeit, die Gegenstaendlichkeit. Helmut Faerber ist ein maerchenhafter Filmkritiker - und Satz fuer Satz auch noch etwas anderes. Umgekehrt hat er bei all den Filmen und Autoren, die er erfreut begruesste - freudiges, sachgerechtes Begruessen, so koennte der gemeinsame Nenner seiner Artikel heissen - kein Mal das MaÃ‚Â¸ verlassen, ist nie durch UEberschwang unglaubwuerdig, bleibt immer zugleich der nuechterne Kritiker. Dass ein Werk sich sehen laesst, macht fuer ihn erst seine Kritikwuerdigkeit aus. Aber die Zeitumstaende muessen in der Betrachtung dabeisein . . . Kritik ist fuer ihn Verstehen und Historie . . . In der Art des Gewichtens ist Faerber eher der Bruder Walter Benjamins. Ebenso in dem fragmentarischen Charakter und ebenso in dem anmutigen Einssein von Begrifflichkeit und Anschauung . . . Faerbers Sprache kommt mir noch vollkommener vor, ehrlicher und luftiger, nicht nur wegen seiner Abstammung aus Regensburg, sondern wegen seiner Abstammung von Karl Valentin. PETRARCA-PREIS 1994
ON THE BULLS HORN WITH PETER HANDKE:
DEBATES, FAILURES, ESSAYS, AND A POSTMODERN LIVRE DE MOI
STEPHANIE BARBE HAMMER
Department of Literature and Languages
University of California, Riverside
_Postmodern Culture_ v.4 n.1 (September, 1993)
Copyright (c) 1993 by Stephanie Barbe Hammer, all
rights reserved. This text may be used and shared
in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S.
copyright law, and it may be archived and
redistributed in electronic form, provided that
the editors are notified and no fee is charged for
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notification of the publisher, Oxford University
The time is past when we can plant ourselves in front of a
Vernet and sigh along with Diderot, How beautiful, grand,
varied, noble, wise, harmonious, rigorously colored this
is! (Lyotard, Contribution to an Idea of Postmodernity)
What a wise and beautiful book . . . . (Erich Skwaras
review of the _Essay on Fatigue_)
Today what subject would the great metaphysical narrative
tell about? Would it be the odyssey and for what narratee?
(Lyotard, Contribution to an Idea of Postmodernity)
We are dealing with another one of those postmodern texts in
which a funky *object de pop-art* serves as the pretext for
self-reflexive excursions through the time and space of
memory . . . . (Theodore Ziolkowskis review of the _Essay
on the Jukebox_)
Autobiography is abject unless, in the words of Michel
Leiris, it exposes itself to the bulls horn. (Ihab
 This essay obeys two imperatives;^1^ it is being
torn in two directions: a critique of Handkes critical
reception as it pertains to the postmodern and a close read-
ing of Handkes recent _Essay_ (_Versuch_) series. I will
allow my text to tear, and rather than suturing it together,
I display, in advance, the wound that cannot--at least in
this space--be closed. As a tribute to and as a critical
apparatus for Handke, I will allow it to split, to be
uncertain, to be ambivalent. This move will court failure
and ensure insufficiency, but it might correct the
flatness of most Handke criticism: the thematic studies, the
stylistic studies, the countless influence studies on him,
and more insidiously, the frequent, incestuous comparisons
of him with himself. I will try to show that, for the most
part, the articles and books on him cannot understand his
work because they would master it (with all that such a term
implies), and as Handkes texts resist such hermeneutic sub-
jugation, his critics have often descended either to
righteous indignation or into summary and description^2^
--colorless repetitions of the objects which they want to
comprehend but cannot fasten upon. Can one surrender
without submitting to the writing of Peter Handke? Can
ones own writing on him allow itself to be gored by his
textual challenges to authority and reconstitute itself
through that (fatal? pleasurable?) blow to its own
 In his turning-point exercise of the mid 70s, _The
Weight of the World_ (_Das Gewicht der Welt_), Peter Handke
exerted a renewed resistance to the narrative tyrannies of
form, which he at once invoked and subverted in such novels
as _The Goalies Anxiety at the Penalty Kick_ and _Short
Letter, Long Farewell_. In _Weight_ he rehearsed the
Russian Formalist view of contemporary society gone numb,
but rather than just making language strange, he exploded
the diaristic form (that humble, non-literary history of the
every day that anyone can produce) into an elusive
encyclopedia of linguistic snippets--autobiographical
sound bytes which might contain information, citation,
observation, opinion, dream, or memory. Indeed, as several
critics have noted (among them Axel Gellhaus and Peter Putz)
most of Handkes output during that decade consisted of
narrative forms made difficult by a perceptual loss of one
kind or another which they simultaneously narrated and
enacted. But _The Weight of the World_ radicalized the
problem of narrative; it documented the authors hardening
refusal to tell, and harnessed that refusal to both a
utopian dream of a new mythology and an ironic critique of
language practices, including and especially his own.
 Much critical energy has already been expended on
Handkes evolution during the 60s and 70s, so I will not
retread that familiar territory here, although I will,
inevitably, refer to it. Instead I would examine an
apparent problem--namely the fact that, as difficult as
Handkes narrative forms have always been for even the most
agile of critical readers, his prose works of the past
decade seem, unbelievably enough, to pose even more daunting
challenges. As examples of this new difficulty I will read
the trilogy (at the time of writing) of slim volumes
entitled _Essays_ produced by Handke in the late 80s and
early 90s against a variety of concerns, including the
resonance of that father-essayist, Montaigne. But before
doing this, I am compelled to dismantle the discussions of
Handkes difficulty during the past decade--a difficulty
which has been discussed, increasingly, in terms of the
authors postmodern affiliations--hence the oppositional
pairings of Lyotard and Hassan with recent reviews of
Handkes works by way of preface to my own
 What is the origin and history of this connection?
Handkes relation with the postmodern was first articulated
by the Klinkowitz/Knowlton book _Peter Handke and the
Postmodern Transformation_ in 1983. In a brief opening
chapter on postmodern art, that book aligned Handkes work
of the 60s and 70s with that of Jacques Derrida (assuming,
by implication, a congruence between deconstruction and the
postmodern [3-6]), and it argued for a view of Handkes
corpus from 1966 to 1981 along a trajectory which shifted
from negative to positive poles of postmodern aesthetics
(Klinkowitz and Knowlton, 128-9); the books conclusion also
made a quick appeal to the category of new Sensibility--
ostensibly as a corrective to Manfred Durzaks deployment, a
year earlier, of %neue Subjektivitat% in a hostile reading
of Handkes repeated usage of autobiographical material.
Ten years later, the Klinkowitz/Knowlton perspective looks
simplistic when compared to the complex theoretical dis-
cussions of postmodernity offered by Hassan and Hutcheon,
among others, but the books attempt to move Handke out of
the prisonhouse of Austro-German literary traditions was
brave and continues to be valuable. Yet, far from being
settled, the question of Handkes connections to
postmodernism/ity has taken on an odd intensity and a kind
of built-in futility in subsequent discussions. This is,
for example, the essential non-dynamic which characterizes
Norbert Gabriels 1991 essay on Handkes recent prose work;
tellingly, the essay raises and then defers the question of
Handkes place to an unwilling conclusion that the Austrian
authors works, unpleasant as they are to read, are in fact
not bad books.
 The lofty tone of Gabriels pronouncements and the
strategic use of the issue of postmodernity to damn Handke
with faint praise are, I think, symptomatic of a theoretical
tack which has proven at least as problematic as the problem
it wants to solve; namely, the question of Handke and the
postmodern has provided critics with an outlet for an
anxiety-ridden false debate about his aesthetic worth, as
though the question of his place, once settled, could
somehow legitimize (or more likely invalidate) his writing
practices once and for all. The gesture of invoking the
postmodern works in paradoxical ways in assessments of
Handke; sometimes it might imply a comforting, and curious
understanding of postmodernism as part of an
aesthetic/ethical/political duality wherein it must play the
part of the good, the beautiful, the true, and the
politically progressive to modernisms shopworn aesthetic
program--a duality which ringingly repeats the binarism of
 This is the agenda of Hans Joseph Ortheil, who uses an
earlier, postmodern Handke to condemn the work of the later,
reactionary Handke in _Die Zeit_ (_Die Zeit_ 24.4, 1987).
Such an outlook also indirectly informs the article of Eva-
Maria Metcalf, who argues that Handke is an arrogant,
impotent modernist: in 1967 Peter Handke built himself an
ivory tower, and he has resided in it ever since (369).
But elsewhere, as in Ziolkowskis review, the fact of
Handkes postmodern aesthetic becomes a way to dismiss him
as unoriginal, leaving Erich Skwara the uncomfortable task
of defending Handkes essay on fatigue through an appeal to
neo-romantic accolades which would (while they seemingly
challenge Lyotards contentions) rehabilitate the con-
temporary author into a reincarnation of Hugo von
Hofmannsthal, or worse, Goethe. Finally, there are those
like Handkes French apologist/translator G.-A. Goldschmidt,
who insist on Handkes essential realistic simplicity, all
the while offering a modest commentary of 200 pages
(supplemented by photographs and utterances of Handke) to
assist in this easy enterprise.
 The only person who comes close to articulating the
relationship between Handke and the postmodern is Diane
Shooman, who boldly compares Handkes work to _Ulysses_,
Wordsworth, and contemporary painting, and then challenges
the Handke/Derrida congruence proposed by Klinkowitz and
Knowlton (Shooman 94). She does something else remarkable
and controversial; she compares Handkes work, primarily, to
that of a *female* painter--highlighting, by implication,
an aspect of his work which had heretofore gone unnoticed:
the gender trouble at work in his writing, and its
specifically feminine markers (when she presented this
analysis at the Modern Austrian Literature Conference a few
years ago, it was vociferously decried by practically
everyone in the room).^4^
 For the most part, Handkes critical reception veers
between an angry dismissal which openly hates what he does
and a swooning, predominantly masculine, denial which buries
whatever the books might really up to.^5^ He is
postmodern when he writes badly, and he is a bad writer
because he is not postmodern. He *is* difficult, he is
almost unreadable (Michael Hofmann _TLS_), he is arch (J.J.
White _TLS_), he is in a literary cul-de-sac (Anthony Vivis
_TLS_); or he writes books which are our friends (Skwara)
and which are glowing and moving classics (Volker Hage,
blurb on _Versuch uber die Jukebox_, on the last page of
_Versuch uber den gegluckten Tag_, excerpted from _Die
Zeit_). These discussions about Handke contrast so
profoundly with the statements of both theoreticians and ex-
plicators of the postmodern such as Ihab Hassan and Steven
Connor (who simply include Handke on a list of postmodern
writers [Hassan 85; Connor 123] without further comment),
that I cannot help asking, as does Warren Montag in his
angry indictment of the postmodern debate, what lies be-
hind this vociferous, yet strangely off-kilter posturing.
What is at stake in these critical (mis)readings of Peter
 Much. First, Handke has succeeded too well in the
formalist challenge which I invoked earlier; he makes the
forms so difficult that we feel the difficulty, rather than
the feeling, and get deflected by the perception rather than
examining (or sharing) the mood which informs it. Second,
Handke enrages German critics and American critics alike,
because his recent writing repeatedly indicts Austro-German
culture, while at the same time using an increasingly high-
style literary language that represents, for Wim Wenders at
least, the most beautiful German written nowadays (Kunzel
212)--as though Kafka were channeling the spirit of Goethe
to write In the Penal Colony. Third, he plays a scary,
threatening game with male subjectivity, and his recent
works are disturbing and destabilizing in ways that his
early plays and novels rarely were, for all their violent
histrionics, and it is this aspect of his work that his
defenders most want to deny.^7^ These threats against
male subjectivity are important in another, more immediate
way, for they are vocationally and practically, as well as
psychically, troubling to literary professionals. By their
very nature, Handkes games with the male subject undermine
any penetrating analysis which would get to the core of
his writing, and so the greatest danger that Handkes
writing incurs on the critic is the almost certain
invalidation of the literary-critical project itself, as it
is usually constructed; there is throughout Handkes recent
work a questioning of the critical stance as such, and, more
precisely, the *form* through which that stance attempts to
legitimize itself and ensure its authority. That form is
the essay, and it is no coincidence, both that the essay is
the genre of choice for Handke in his work of the late 80s
and early 90s, and that critical essays about him seem so
often doomed to failure. More productive, clearly,
would be to shift the ground for the discussion entirely, as
Alice Kuzniar has already provisionally done in her powerful
Lacanian reading of _Across_. Her analysis of Handke in
terms of the Lacanian gaze and what she calls Handkes
Antwortblick (seeing oneself being seen [Kuzniar 357])
furthers the critical conversations migration out of
%Germanistik%, toward a different realm of poststructuralist
theory (psychoanalysis rather than deconstruction) as it
pertains to the visual in general and the cinematic in par-
ticular--concerns, which as she observes, are sources of
continuing interest in Handkes writing.
But before sketching out the critical venue opened, not
only by this shift into visual media, but more importantly,
by her invocation of the word desire (the ramifications of
which Kuzniar does not pursue in her essay), I want to
address this difficulty of Handkes place one more time.
The problem is, the non-debate notwithstanding, a fertile
one because it points both to the specialness of Handkes
project and to the impossibility of defining the
postmodern. This impossibility becomes both clear and
humorous when, we think of Handkes aesthetic practices, not
against a definition or in terms of a category, into which
we must forcibly stuff his corpus, but rather, with the
ponderings of Lyotard, who has discussed the postmodern
within the following, very large parameters^8^:
The powers of sensing and phrasing are being
probed on the limits of what is possible . . . .
Experiments are being made. This is our
postmodernitys entire vocation . . . . Todays art
consists in exploring things unsayable and things
invisible. Strange machines are assembled, where
what we didnt have the idea of saying or the mat-
ter for feeling can make itself heard and
experienced. (Contribution to an Idea of
This non-definition might certainly adhere to Handkes
writing of the 80s, where he writes repeatedly about the
marginal (the threshold in _Across_), the invisible, the
unsayable, and the downright absent, and this fascination
with the presence of absence and with the
limits/possibilities of repeatability (overtly marked by
such titles as _Absence_ and _Repetition_) expresses itself
most typically in Handkes _Essay on the Jukebox_ (_Versuch
uber die Jukebox_), where the quest of the medieval romance
is transmogrified into a writers futile meanderings in the
Spanish countryside, as he looks repeatedly for a jukebox,
and for a hotel room that he can be comfortable in.
But listen to how Lyotard describes the postmoderns
an aesthetics stemming from Hegel, for whom what
was at stake was indeed experience in the sense
of a passion of the spirit traversing perceptible
forms in order to arrive at the total expression
of self in the discourse of the philosopher . . . .
It can indeed be said that there is no longer any
experience in this sense . . . . (191)
Here again we find Handke, for this is precisely the
challenge to which he returns over and over again--the
challenge to create a new narrative and a new experience
which will rectify and make good the very real loss of the
feeling of experience; Handkes writing elaborately and
ironically mourns the irrecuperability of traditional,
western subjectivity as he uses that grief-ritual to look
beyond it (as in Novas speech at the end of _Beyond the
Villages_ [_Uber die Dorfer_]).
In short, can we not rethink Handkes relation to the
postmodern (both in terms of postmodernity, the moment, and
postmodernism, the movement), and in so doing rethink the
use of this term? Is this not one of the reasons why the
Handke case is important insofar as it tests the notion of
the postmodern even as it testifies to the miscalculated
ways that it is being invoked? The postmodern is not, after
all a category in an aesthetic periodic table (Hassan 33),
it is not an either/or proposition, but a cluster concept
to be explored, to be expanded (hence Lyotards title--a
contribution to an *idea*).^9^ If the postmodern can be
deployed in this manner, does not Handkes very slipperiness
--this ability to fit in everywhere and rest nowhere; to be
at once classical, romantic, modernist and at the same time
resolutely anti-classical, anti-romantic, and anti-modernist
--suggest, in and of itself, not that Handke is postmodern
in the way that Schlegel is Romantic or Joyce is modernist,
but that Handke *uses* the postmodern, ably manoeuvering
through the different layers of history--where Schlegel,
Buddha, and Credence Clearwater Revival are all equally
(non)present?^10^ And, if Handke uses the postmodern,
he also uses just about every other possible cultural tool:
the language and terminology of German idealist philosophy,
the %topoi% of classical literature--both German and
foreign, Western and Asian--as well as autobiography and
mass media, and, I would argue, a strong awareness of the
thematic/formal structures of psychoanalysis--an awareness
which Kuzniar has already signalled.
How might such a comprehension of the postmodern
reforms and re-forms critical practice vis-a-vis Peter
Handke? It tells us this: any reading of his work according
to one thematic line, one theoretical approach, or one
periodic place, or even one question is--as Michael Hays
astutely notes in his reading of Handkes plays--bound to
founder; it must automatically invalidate the critical
enterprise by its distortion of the text under critical
scrutiny, for Handkes most recent texts are, to misquote
Luce Irigaray, not one. Handkes recent work can, then, be
approached only by circuitous navigation through a series of
vectors, such as the ones I just suggested above (but not
limited to them), which may or may not form a coherent grid
and which may not possess a thematic destination--and this
irregular flight-pattern might enable us to begin to
appreciate the complexity, richness, and the density of his
current project. And if this is so, then perhaps Peter
Handke can be defended, after all.
Handkes defense is, I confess, the directive which
orients this essay. But against what charge? Difficulty--
insofar as his work refuses to be categorizable? Treason
--insofar as his work refuses not to change? And here I
sense that I am near the mark, for isnt Handke the subject
of so much argument because he will not compose repetitions
of _Kaspar_ for the rest of his life, will not cling to the
chic malaise of _Short Letter_? But, even if I can defend
Handke, how am I to defend the form which the present
defense takes? If form is to be distrusted, including and
especially the essay, then the problem of doing Handke
justice must become potentially overwhelming, for wont
the (my) literary essay also founder in its attempt to
analyze his work at all? Perhaps we should elect not to
perform an analysis of Handke; instead, we should make him
an instrument rather than an object of scrutiny, as Kathleen
McHugh has argued in the case of a very different late 20th
Century artist/phenomenon--Madonna. I shy away from this
possibility, even as I feel obliged to marshall it, because
the unlikely comparison interweaves yet another thread in
this tangled grid of Handke-difficulties--namely, the
degree to which Handkes public persona shapes and
predetermines understandings of his work. I would like to
deny that Handke has anything in common with Madonna. He is
not the pure object of consumerism, as she is; he is not
altogether reducible to a media image; he is the creator of
texts more than he is the subject of them. Indeed, the
plethora of texts represents yet another one of Handkes
features that drives critics crazy; his productivity ensures
that he can not be kept up with; he remains always ahead
of the critical game and seems determined to hold on to his
lead till the finish.
But here the contrast falls back into comparison and
further, into a near identity between the two artists.
For Handkes maneuvers--his melancholic, apolitical
posturing, his deployment of various literary-theatrical
media--are by no means dissimilar to Madonnas--to her
continual shift of subversive fashion affect and to her
multiple appeals to different sorts of media expressions--
videos, television interviews, magazine interviews, c.d.s,
books. Certainly, Handke wants to manipulate his own public
image every bit as much as Madonna does--a fact which,
like her, he does not conceal but rather foregrounds. There
is a stunning example of this tactic in Goldschmidts book
about Handke. The study is filled with emotionally charged
photographs such as one of Handke as a baby in the arms of
his young and beautiful mother (whom the critic will
recognize as the heroine of _A Sorrow beyond Dreams_); near
the end, however, appears a photograph of the author
kneeling on a living room floor, sorting through a box of
photographs. Goldschmidts caption explains that this is a
picture of the author choosing the photographs for the
present book. In this terse undermining of the
operator/spectator/spectrum trinity proposed by Roland
Barthes (_Camera Lucida_ 9), the subject Handke--the
primary spectator of his own spectral image--ironically
imposes his authorial (operational) presence on the work
meant to objectify him (make him a spectrum)--signalling
among other things, that he will brook no unmediated
hermeneutic mastery of that cognitive object, the author
Peter Handke. He will not, to use the parlance of
photography, *be captured*; instead he will own and use all
of photographys image-repertoires in order not to be
seen.^11^ Autobiographical material becomes, then, for
both Madonna and Handke, the *screen*--the veil and the
site of media image--that plays out and thwarts fantasies
of control--ours and theirs. And if Madonna struts the
stuff of self-conscious, parodistic phallic womanhood with a
redundant physical presence, Handkes mournful, aggressive
passivity approaches a hysterical masculinity which would
pillory itself in one grand performative gesture--a
 Thus, even as I attempt to contemplate the receding
object of my inquiry--Peter Handke--even as I essay this
essay, I must retain something of McHughs Madonna argument;
I will have to try to read with him as well as about him.
How might one read *with* as well as *about* Handke? What
would such a reading look like? This is one, tentative,
And I can use this digression on Madonna and Handke to
circle back to the question of desire raised by Kuzniar and
to the constant interpretative reduction of Handkes work to
bloodless readings of one kind or another, which are
stripped of any affect other than anger/adulation and
inattentive to questions of emotionality and
sexuality.^12^ While Handkes own writing would appear
to shore up such disembodied interpretations, do not
readings of his emotionally understated, repressed texts,
neglect the very real passion which infuses even his recent
works? The question is begged first, by the sheer mass of
emotions and violent passions which seethe and explode
within the corpus, and second, by the critical oblivion to
which they have, for the most part, been relegated.
Professional readers of Handke have reflected very little
upon the sexually motivated murder in _The Goalies
Anxiety_, the conjugal rage between husband and wife in
_Short Letter_, the resentful Oedipal longing to resurrect
the dead mother in _Sorrow beyond Dreams_, and the
complementary adulation of the girl-child as muse in
_Childs Story_. But what of the problematic patriarchal
loves invoked in both _Across_ (the father for the son) and
_Absence_ (the sons elegiac adoration of the lost father)?
I will speak more of the loves and pleasures of the _Essay_
series in a moment. Finally, we should not forget that
there is a profound adoration of the written word in
Handkes writing--an adulation which has become, visceral,
desperate, sensual, and topographical.^13^ Throughout
the work of the 80s we wander the divergent landscapes of
Europe: Austria, Slovenia, France, and Spain, and these
wanderings are chocked full of literary, cultural
evocations, providing a simultaneous geographical and
archaeological pleasure--clearly announced as late 20th
Century humanitys only possible, imperfect consolation, at
the end of Handkes strange mock-pastoral, _Beyond the
Villages_. Seen from this point of view, it seems no
coincidence that, in the Wim Wenders film _Wings of Desire_
(_Himmel uber Berlin_--for which Handke helped compose the
screenplay), Damiel chooses to enter the world of History
(%Geschichte%)--at once his story and history through
desire; though he is bearer of the divine Logos, the male
angel recognizes that the word yields meaning when it is
made female flesh--and he must descend from rather than
transcend his male sterility by falling down to, not rising
with the Goethean eternal feminine.^14^
How then can we *not* speak of passion, desire, and
pleasure when we speak of Peter Handkes writing? The
critical We havent until now, because to speak of those
things in Handkes writing is to truly expose both him and
us; to speak about passion/desire/pleasure in his books is
to speak about, among other things, misogyny, sado-
masochism, womb-envy, paedophilia, passivity, impotence, and
castration, and to speak of those things is to come face to
face with the deeply problematized vision of male
heterosexuality articulated there. Handke is, to paraphrase
Woody Allen, polymorphously perverse, but in contrast to
Woody Allens smugly neurotic eroticism, there is no self-
congratulation of that fact in his work.
 Within and against this net of observations/questions
about Handke, I circle back once more around the tear which
originated this essay: Handke and the postmodern/Handke and
his refusal to tell in the _Essay_ series. In these pieces,
rather than merely detonating logocentrism from the outside,
as he had done before, Handkes work has another exercise in
mind. It seems to actively quest for the missing Logos, by
looking for it in the wrong places. Fantasy is my
faith, the first-person narrator/actor tells us in _Essay
on the successful [prosperous, auspicious] Day_ (55), and a
page later proclaims:
And what did this Nothing and again Nothing do?
It meant . . . . And so it went here: as for the
Nothing of our time, the main thing now is to let
it ripen from morning till evening (or even to
midnight?). And I repeat: the idea was light, the
idea is light. (56)
[Und was tat dieses Nichts und wieder Nichts? Es
bedeutete . . . Und darum ging es hier: das Nichts
unsrer Tage, das galt es jetzt fruchten zu
lassen, von Morgen bis Abend (oder auch Mit-
ternacht?). Und ich wiederhole: die Idee war
Licht. Die Idee ist Licht.]
Yet, even as the possibility of Logos is erected, Handke
whittles away at the authority of the traditional male
subject in increasingly graphic ways as though performing a
process of aesthetic self-castration in payment for a new,
legitimized, subjectivity. Particularly because he is a
male writer--and ostensibly a heterosexual one--it is
impossible for me to contemplate the veritable parade of
chaste, solitary, passive male speakers who inhabit his
works and not see them as postmodern Abelards; nominally
heterosexual, but mysteriously incapacitated, they
repeatedly express their feelings of and distance from a
sexual desire which seems connected to and yet severed from
the desire to put the pen to paper. And are not Handkes
cloistered male %porte-paroles% markers of what Handke is
doing to meaning, and to meanings traditional
receiver/producer? To reparaphrase Hassans use of Leiris,
Handkes autobiographical doubles not only expose themselves
to the bulls horn, they allow themselves to be gored (they
welcome the penetration); this reverse matadorian spectacle
is at once the performance to which we are constantly
invited to watch in the Handke texts of the 80s and the
radical cure which we might also enact upon ourselves.
The _Essays_ arguably take their cue from the work of
Michel de Montaigne,^15^ whose work sought also to
interweave a number of discursive threads and to create a
complex junction where bellettristic (in the literal sense
of beautiful writing), philosophy, politics, autobiography,
psychology, epistemology and scientific experiment meet.
Montaigne has been seen, recently with increasing
enthusiasm, as the herald of modern narrative subjectivity
in the West (Auerbach), and there are good reasons for this.
Relentlessly anecdotal, understated, erudite, and often
ironic, Montaignes essays bore curious titles which
sometimes had only the slightest relevance to the matter at
hand (as in On Cannibals [Des Cannibales]--where
cannibalism is mentioned in a sentence), were peppered with
epigraphs and textual references, while the arguments were
typically roundabout, if they were in fact discernible, and
closed with a lack of authoritative conclusiveness which can
still be gleefully frustrating to readers. Montaigne was
one of the first Western authors to choose to write about
mundane subjects (in both senses--worldly things and
unimportant things) in an ongoing project which--in his own
resistance to narrative--he came to call, not the _His-
toire de moi_, but the _Livre de moi_, the book of me. Not
coincidentally, the essays derive from and return to a sense
of physicality--to the limits of the body, its sicknesses,
its death--for the me in question here is %matiere%,
material, stuff, flesh and bones.^16^ There is no
transcendental subject in Montaigne, but a quirky mind-body
which thinks/feels his way through a writing enterprise
that, Lawrence Kritzman writes, becomes both self-
generating and autoerogenous (Kritzman 91), and where a
neo-stoic masculine impermeability is repeatedly undercut
--but not canceled out--by other subject-voices telling
fragments of other stories.^17^
Handke uses Montaigne--specifically, but not only,
the elements mentioned above--and *empties* him: the
eccentric, hidden relevance of the essay titles in Montaigne
become non-topics in Handke--passive interim states
(Lyotards things unsayable), useless, peripheral
machinery (things invisible), and greeting-card cliches
which take the place of such idealistic maxims as to
philosophize is to learn to die. The %jouissance% which,
Kritzman notes, is appealed to in Montaigne, and which has
characterized the modernist sensibility from Joyce to
Barthes (and Barth), is excised and--its absence profoundly
felt--the procedure leaves Montaignes autoerogenous text
as a body with uncertain orientations--a masculine text
without qualities, though it still desires. And the
subject--the controlling ego that informs Montaigne--
shudders and splits, becoming a series of impossible
selves, flat subject speakers--at once solemn and droll,
lugubrious and elegant--who posture their ways through
language gestures in a spectral conversation. Handkes
radical surgery on Montaigne resembles in respects an
autopsy performed by a vampire doctor; the postmodern essay
drains the life from the modern and lives on, pumped up
momentarily with the knowledge and blood of the dissected
deceased--undead, glamorous, meticulous, analytical,
thirsting. Montaignes cannibal text--the admiring com-
mentary which devours classical literature whole and becomes
itself a literary product--becomes simultaneously Dracula
and Von Helsing--the kiss of death and the cure for
Thus, Handkes essays tear much further than ever
Montaigne did into anecdotal fragmentation, and where
Montaigne is smooth, Handke is jagged, jumpy, and pained.
The _Versuche_ function ostensibly as ludic reflections upon
the interstices where--officially, as far as traditional
Western narrative is concerned--nothing is
happening,^18^ but these exercises are both playful and
sad; they play with melancholy, they are melancholy games,
and the game consists at once of formal experimentation and
of a deadly serious self-practice--a practice which is in
turns therapeutic, mutilating, and transformative;
pleasurable, and painful. A somber I comments on the
combination of comedy, mundanity, and death in _Essay on the
Yes, it is as though a certain irony belonged
here, in the face of my own self as day by day
regularities and episodes--irony from in-
clination--, and still, a kind of humor, which
named itself after the gallows.
[Ja, es ist, als gehorten dazu eine besondere
Ironie, angesichts meiner selbst wie der
tagtaglichen Gesetzlichkeiten und Zwischenfalle--
Ironie aus Zuneigung--, und noch, wenn schon eine
Art von Humor, der nach dem Galgen benannte.]
The first in the series, _Essay on Fatigue_ (1989),
furnishes the clearest intertextual response to Montaigne in
so far as it may be read as a re-vision of the essays on
idleness and sleep, but it frames its non-subject matter
within a strange dialogue which unfolds between a writer
(possibly, but not necessarily Handke) and another speaker.
Although much of the discussion is aesthetic, there is a
therapeutic thrust to the proceedings; the writer opens the
discussion by manifesting an anxious connection between
fatigue and fear, while his analytical interlocutor guides
him with short, pointed questions, toward a recognition and
articulation of his motivations for wanting to talk about
The recognition is both utopian and disappointed/ing,
and the narrative circling, linking apparently unrelated
personal memories and images, resonates with the trauma of a
Freudian case-history, where, to quote Peter Brooks, narr-
ative discourse works intermittently in a dialogic manner
(Brooks 57). But the psychoanalytic process is flattened
even as it is pursued--its significance, its deep
personal meaning, and claim to utter seriousness are
simultaneously posited and erased. Typically, as in those
histories, much is said about childhood, school, first
feelings of difference from others, but the conversation
glistens with artificiality, even as it assumes a
predictably sexual character, focussing on the exhaustion
that occurs between men and women and what that signifies in
their relationship. These observations lead in turn to a
revealing and ludicrous reworking of that masculine erotic
icon, Don Juan:
I imagine Don Juan . . . not as a seducer, but
rather as a tired, always tired hero, into whose
lap, at any given time, at the right moment, in
the presence of a tired woman, every one of them
will fall. (_Uber die Mudigkeit_ 48)
[Den Don Juan stelle ich mir . . . nicht als einen
Verfuhrer, sondern als einen jeweils zur richtigen
Stunde, in Gegenwart einer muden Frau, muden,
einen immer-muden Helden vor, dem so eine jede in
den Schoss fallt. . . .]
This image of a passively erotic, feminized (the German
Schoss means both lap and womb) masculine exhaustion,
that drastically revises a traditional Western image of
energetic masculine prowess (providing an ironic gloss both
on Mozarts and on Camus Don Juan--the man driven by an
excess of love/eros), opens the possibility of a new kind of
narrative which would fuse poetry and prose as well as
high and low artistic enunciations:
The inspiration of fatigue says less, what there
is to do, as than can be left to happen . . . . A
certain tired one (masculine) as another Orpheus,
in order to gather the wildest animals to himself
and to finally be tired with them . . . . Phillip
Marlowe--still a private detective--became
better and better, more and more clear-sighted in
the solutions of his cases, the more his sleepless
nights added up. (74-75)
[Die Inspiration der Mudigkeit sagt weniger, was
zu tun ist, als was gelassen werden kann . . . . Ein
gewisser Mude als ein anderer Orpheus, um den sich
die wildesten Tiere versammeln und endlich mitmude
sein konnen . . . . Phillip Marlowe--noch ein
Privatdetektiv--wurde im Losen seiner Falle, je
mehr schlaflose Nachte sich reihten, immer besser
And yet, the speaker cannot practice this art, he doesnt
know the recipe/prescription [Rezept], and the project of
_Fatigue_ reveals itself to be a failure on both culinary
and medicinal fronts; it cannot nourish and it cannot cure.
The speaker can only defer his failure to a future project,
as he looks forward at the close of the discussion to
another _Essay_, whose failure is also already pointed out
as imminent, by his skeptical interlocutor:
But in all of Spain there is no jukebox. (78)
[In ganz Spanien gibt es doch keine Jukebox.]
The curious picture of Don Juan and the sexual
problematic which it implies, the warning of failure, and
the formal challenges of telling otherwise are progressively
radicalized in the next two _Essays_. If _Essay on Fatigue_
wants (and yet refuses) to be a therapeutic dialogic text
which, to paraphrase Freuds title--remembers, repeats and
works through (Brooks 57)--the non-dialogic format of
_Essay on the Jukebox_ (1990) plays out a personal
obsession; it is a neurotic monologic text which repeats
instead of remembering the origin of its trouble. But here
again, the trauma is trivialized (although it still
hurts), for the loss/absence which motivates the text is
situated within the boundaries of post-World-War 2 Western
popular culture, and as such, it plays out as both a
truncated travesty of a 60s road movie--the meanderings
of a disenfranchised, blocked, obsessed writer on a futile
quest in the Spanish countryside for a jukebox (whose image
only he glances in a B-movie)--and a stripped-down reverse
of Prousts self-reflexive narrative project^19^--the
epic novel about the writers aesthetic education, which
prepares him to compose that same epic novel, pares itself
to an essay about an essay (by the same title) which cannot
get written. Again, as in _Fatigue_, the crucial moment of
the text concerns a heterosexual encounter, which is once
again, viewed in terms of non-action. In the middle of the
essay, the writer remembers a chance meeting with an Indian
woman in Alaska (an intertextual reference to _Slow
Homecoming_), and compares his refusal of her erotic
invitation to Parzivals failure to ask Anfortas the
necessary questions to cure him of his terrible wound (a
wound in the testicles). This odd simile suggests that what
the chaste, frustrated protagonist of _Jukebox_ may fail to
admit, is that his impotence with the pen and with the woman
links him not with Parzival but with the castrated Lord of
the Grail. The connection with Parzival is not
coincidental, for the goal of this essay is, unlike the
other two, indeed the obtaining of an object, a feminine
vessel which, grail-like, incorporates in its musical
contents all of the memories, and well-being of the
impotent, exiled protagonist (it is the thing that makes him
feel safe, grounded, connected)--all of which suggests that
this %Versuch% can be read, among other things, as an
always-already failed quest for the eternal feminine, now
recognized as a mere machine, and an outmoded one at that
(which connects this work with the impossible quest for the
mothers lost history in _A Sorrow Beyond Dreams_).
At once a companion piece to and a skeptical corrective
of the earlier, more mock-impressionist _Afternoon of a
Writer_, _Essay on the Jukebox _ uses the futile pursuit of
the feminine machine as a metaphor to talk about not just
desire, and writing, but that other elusive feminine machine
called %Geschichte% (the feminine German word for
history). Writing at the time of the demolition of the
Berlin wall, the impotent writer bears symbolic witness to
the problem of defining historical moments in our time and
questions the rhetoric with which the demise of communism is
so celebrated, even as the execution of its leaders mimics
the violence of the deposed regimes. I read the jukebox as
the feminized, fetishized repository of ideological
formation, and although the writer can neither vanquish his
obsession with it nor replace it with something else, he can
bear witness to his own discomfort--aesthetic, sexual,
political, historical, physical--and, by transference, to
ours. At once a critique of history and HIS STORY, _Essay
on the Jukebox_ suggests that any story that the masculine,
European, and particularly German subject tells may be a
dangerous falsification, but still he is driven to try and
fail to write. Like Anfortas, the essayist can neither die
nor recover and we, like Parzival, cannot choose but watch
the ritual with wonder. Write yourself free said the
priest to the war traumatized protagonist of Gunther Grass
_Cat and Mouse_, but Grass believed in an alternative
narrative coherence which might guarantee, if not salvation,
then at least a cure to male, German guilt--a grace which
Handkes essayist/assayer both fantasizes about and
pointedly denies himself in an act of interrupted
_Essay on the successful Day_ (1991) is the most
overtly ludic of the three texts. Formally indecisive, it
plays compulsively with combinations--the dialogic with
the monologic, third, with first and second persons, and
verb tenses and moods with each other--toward the
accomplishment of a key admission (which comes at the end of
the session)--namely that the essayist/attempter has
never experienced the very day of happiness, success,
fulfillment which he repeatedly and unsuccessfully tries to
describe. It is here that telling otherwise, pleasure,
castration, failure, and writing come together in one
strangely compelling scene. Telling the story of another
person (probably himself) the essayist describes an attempt
to saw through a log of wood. The description conveys for
seven pages the rhythm and pleasure (Vergnugen) of the
but then something threatened, if not the
overlooked fork in the bough, (which was about a
fingers breadth away from the point, where, the
already cut through wood fell anyway, of itself
into the lap of the sawer), then that very small
and hard layer, in which the steel struck on
stone, on nail, on bone in one and so to speak,
wrecked the undertaking in the last stroke...
There it would have been so close to it, that the
sawing for itself, the mere finding-itself-
together and being-together with the wood there,
its roundness, its fragrance, nothing as the
traversal/dimension taking of the material there
. . . incarnated for him an ideal from a time of
disinterested satisfaction/pleasure. And just as
the breaking pencil . . . . (48)
[dann drohte aber, wenn nicht die ubersehene
Astgabel, so (meist gerade um eine Fingerbreite
weg von dem Punkt, an dem das so weit
durchschnittene Holzstuck ohnehin dem Sager von
selbst in den Schoss fiel) jene sehr schmale und um
so hartere Schicht, in der der Stahl auf Stein,
Nagel, Knochen in einem traf und das Unternehmen
sozusagen im letzten Takt scheiterte . . . . Dabei
ware er doch so nah dran gewesen, dass das Sagen
fur sich, das blosse Sich-Zusammenfinden und Zusam-
mensein mit dem Holz da, seiner Rundung, seinem
Duft, seinem Muster, nichts als das Durchmessen
der Materie da . . . ihm ideal den Traum von einer
Zeit des Interesselosen Wohlgefallens verkorperte.
Und ebenso hatte der abbrechende Bleistift. . . ]
This pleasure in pain, this union of the cutter with thing
cut which in turn becomes imaginative flesh and bone,
suggest that Handke is doing far more than just whittling
away at Western literature. His autobiographical
narratives, in the _Essays_ at least, have become literally
experimental operations--performative attempts (and here
narrative becomes for Handke the newest of the new
drama)--to enact a bloody refinement, to chop away at
himself and at the marker of his writerly masculinity, the
pencil and to make this aesthetic unmanning serve to create
a new narrative. What is or can be the result? Not
nothing, says Handkes essayist--neither nothing nor
something, which tells itself in past, present, future, and
subjunctive, and which not fear its own demise, its own
And at the end of the day, this one (masculine)
would have called for a book--more than just a
chronicle: the fairy-tale of the successful
day. And at the very end the glorious forgetting
would still have come, that the day had to
[Und am Ende des Tags hatte dieser nach einem Buch
gerufen--mehr als bloss eine Chronik: Marchen
des gegluckten Tags. Und ganz am Ende ware noch
das glorreiche Vergessen gekommen, dass der Tag zu
glucken habe . . . .
As the epistle of the imprisoned Paul urgently requests
sustenance from Timothy in writing (this is how _successful
Day_ closes), so does Handkes unfolding livre de moi--
his postmodern odyssey turned gospel (not truth, but
godspell--good *spell*, magical phrase, discourse, and
tale) according to Peter (the shifting rock of an un-
derstanding which must always already deny its ground)--
supplicate his fellow-neurotic (the reader, us, me) to move
beyond a castrated masculine history towards a feminized (?)
narrativity which is by its very nature not one, not
finished, which may always give birth to another _Essay_.
Through our own wounds we shall be healed, observes the
card-playing priest in _Across_ (127), and the _Essay_
series empowers us to reread that resonant line differently,
and through that rereading to remap the contours of that
gargantuan aesthetic anatomy which we name Handkes. For is
it not precisely within the borders of the wounded space
carved out by Handkes pencil upon the body of his own
autobiographical text that we are summoned to perform our
own flawed testaments and through that spectacle of failure
be made, not whole, but perhaps wholly other and new?
^1^ Conversations with Robert Gross, Kathleen McHugh,
and John Ganim made this essay happen.
^2^ See for example, June Schleuters book.
^3^ This is a repeat of what Ihab Hassan sees as
Richard Poriers problematic attempt to mediate between the
two, _The Postmodern Turn_, 32.
^4^ A certain moral disgust also permeates many of
the recent conversations about Handke which I have been a
party to. He was pilloried outright at a special section at
the MLA in 1986, where he was accused both of selling out
and of writing bad books, and in a more recent MLA session
(1992), the post-presentation discussion veered strangely
between an outright dismissal of his work as postmodern
(which in this context, seemed to mean that it was formulaic
and predictable) and a neo-conservative insistence that his
art was now concerned purely with aesthetic problems. In
less formal venues, friends of mine in %Germanistik% usually
roll their eyes in annoyance when I tell them I work on the
recent Peter Handke, while acquaintances more directly
involved in the arts (in my case, a straight female sculptor
from Germany and a gay American director) seem to value what
he is doing now.
^5^ This sexually charged denial has been beautifully
evidenced in Peter Strassers introduction to his essays on
the author in which he declares that he has literally
fallen in love with the work of Peter Handke twice (the
first time being a naive fascination in contrast to the
second, mature alert understanding of the object), only to
insist that such a feeling ensures critical objectivity
^6^ That is not to say that Handkes earlier work has
not encountered negative reception. See Rolf Michaelis,
Ohrfeigen fur das Lieblingskind in the Works Cited.
^7^ Skwara is a case in point. He discusses
the erotic tiredness in _Fatigue_ without realizing the role
it plays--not as a state following the act, but as a
replacement for the act itself.
^8^ I invoke Lyotard here, not because he is the
ultimate authority on the postmodern, but because the
tenor of his writing, his interest in language-games, and
his gleeful flirtations with pessimism provide a productive
ground on which to think about Peter Handke.
^9^ Bernd Magnus calls postmodern philosophy a
complex, cluster concept which includes at least ten
elements, but probably more. See postmodern, _Cambridge
Dictionary of Philosophy_ (in production).
^10^ This is a corollary to Stanley Fishs suggestion
that we ask, not what postmodernism means but what it
_does_. See Connor on Fish, 10.
^11^ In front of the lens, I am at the same
time: the one I think I am, the one I want others
to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I
am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his
art. (Barthes 13)
^12^ An important exception to this rule is Tilmann
Mosers smart, if anxious, discussion of _A Moment of True
Feeling_ and _A Sorrow beyond Dreams_ in his general
psychoanalytic reading of contemporary German fiction.
^13^ Richard Arthur Firda is right when he links
Handke and Barthes, but the connection has as much to do
with erotics as with semiotics (a false dichotomy if ever
there was one). See Firda, 51.
^14^ This is not to say, however, that there are not
real problems with this film as bell hooks has observed in
^15^ I am not arguing for an interpretation of Handke
in terms of influence; rather I am using Montaigne as a
concrete example of the many occasions when Handke avails
himself of the common discursive property of texts
(Hutcheon, 124). Certainly, there are other important
essayist-mediators, among them, Barthes, himself an admirer
^16^ See Jefferson Humphries discussion of matiere
in Montaignes Anti-Influential Model of Identity. In
^17^ See Zhang Longxis intriguing reading of
Montaigne in conjunction with representations of the Other
in Western Literature.
^18^ This narrative of the interstice is one of the
possible answers which Handke explores in conjunction with
Lyotards question about the odyssey.
^19^ And also Thomas Wolfes _You cant go home again_.
Auerbach, Erich. LHumaine Condition. In Bloom, 11-39
(originally published in _Mimesis_ 1953).
Barthes, Roland. _Camera Lucida: Reflections on
Photography_. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill
and Wang, 1993.
Bloom, Harold, ed. _Montaignes Essays_. Modern critical
interpretations. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.
Brooks, Peter. Psychoanalytic constructions and narrative
meanings. _Paragraph_ 7, 1986. 53-76.
Connor, Steven. _Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to
Theories of the Contemporary_. Basil Blackwell: Oxford
and Cambridge, 1989.
Durzak, Manfred. _Peter Handke und die
Gegenwartsliterature: Narziss auf Abwegen_. Stuttgart:
Firda, Richard Arthur. _Peter Handke_. Twayne World
Authors Series. New York: Twayne, 1993.
Gabriel, Norbert. Neoklassizismus oder Postmoderne?
Uberlegungen zu Form und Stil von Peter Handkes Werk
seit der _Langsamen Heimkehr_. _Modern Austrian
Literature_ 24.3/4, 1991. 99-109.
Grass, Gunther. _Cat and Mouse_. Trans. Ralph Mannheim.
New York: Harcourt Brace, 1963.
__Handke, Peter. _Across_. Trans. Ralph Mannheim. New
York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1986.
----. _Versuch uber den gegluckten Tag_. Frankfurt a.
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----. _Versuch uber die Mudigkeit_. Frankfurt a. Main:
----. _Versuch uber die Jukebox_. Frankfurt a. Main:
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Theory and Culture_. Ohio State, 1987.
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_Absence_]. _TLS_ May 24, 1991, N4599:20.
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desire. In _Yearning: race, gender, and cultural
politics_. Boston: South End, 1990.
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of Identity. In Bloom, 133-44 (originally published
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Theory, Fiction_. Routledge: New York and London,
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Studies_ 13.1 ).
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of Their Experimentation: Contribution to an Idea of
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somnambulistic energy. _Moder Fiction Studies_ 36.3
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uber die Jukebox_]. _TLS_ N4566:1073, Oct. 5, 1990.
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_Versuch uber den gegluckten Tag_]. _TLS_ N4618:34,
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critique: reading Montaigne in postmodern
perspective. _Human Studies_ 16.51-68, 1993. 51-68.
Ziolkowski, Theodore. Peter Handke, _Versuch uber die
Jukebox_. _World Literature Today_ 65:2, Spring 1991.
Just like Eddie, or
as far as a boy can go:
Vedder, Barthes, and Handke
Stephanie Barbie Hammer
Centers for Ideas and Society
University of California -
Postmodern Culture v.6 n.1 (September, 1995)
Copyright (c) 1995 by Stephanie Barbe Hammer, all rights
reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance
with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it
may be archived and redistributed in electronic form,
provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged
for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of
this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent
of the author and the notification of the publisher, Oxford
1.cant find a better man^2^
 A feminist hitchhiker/hijacker on/of the rock and roll
culture bandwagon, I grab the wheel and direct a critical
detour from the wild and wooly trail mapped out by Greil
Marcus in _Lipstick Traces_. I track his assumption that
rock culture -- the stars of whom have replaced both heroes
and cinema icons -- provides a useful, crucial set of
metaphors for thinking about contemporary high-culture, and
extend the route with my conviction that both high culture
writers and theorists are canonized within and beyond
academe in ways that mimic the vagaries of rock and roll
fame.^3^ Marcus notes in his earlier work, _Mystery
Train_, that rock music is not so much an object of
interpretation as an interpretive enabler for our own
particular situation -- a hermeneutic which acts upon the
listener/viewer and which produces different meanings at
different moments (Street on Marcus, 157). So, I will use
one man to get another; I leave Marcus I and turn on Eddie
Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, whom I turn into an
apparatus rather than a mere object (although he is this
also) in order to shed light upon the work of Roland
Barthes and Peter Handke. It is also apropos; Barthes
repeatedly expressed his admiration for such underground
masculine icons as professional wrestlers (one wonders what
he would have made of grunge), while Handke has frequently
cited rock lyrics in his most seemingly neo-classical
works, as in the pastoral poem _Beyond the Villages_ (_Uber
die Dorfer_), which is prefaced by a quote from Creedence
 I would like Barthes and Handke to meet (and jam) on Eddie
Vedders stage for several reasons. First, I bewail their
relegation to the esoteric heights of high literary
endeavor; they have become so important that no one knows
who they are, as opposed to Vedder who is so unimportant
that everyone knows about him. Like the critically
acclaimed art films that no one sees and that cant be
found on video, and the avant-garde art exhibitions which
no one goes to, Barthes and Handke are writers that no one
reads, because their work cant be located at Super Crown
or at B. Dalton. No one, meaning, regular people; no one
meaning everyone who isnt an intellectual. Second, I
distrust the fact that they have consistently been written
about in such complete accordance with the stereotypes
about French and German language and culture which have
functioned for at least 200 years (i.e. since the
Enlightenment). Third, I suspect that Eddie Vedder is
indeed important, in spite of himself. Fourth, in my
fem-fan capacity, I want to introduce questions of gender,
sexuality, desire, and pleasure/pain to the mix of rock and
roll, cultural studies, postmodern writing and see how they
play, for play they must. Will their (my) presence wreck
the party which is postmodernism/ity? Maybe, or maybe
their presence make any party more interesting, as Leslie
Gore once tearfully implied. Joni Mitchell, Simone de
Beauvoir, Bjork, Desree, and Avital Ronell second that
emotion -- that it is necessary for girls to deconstruct
boys who deconstruct.
 Clear nationalist biases are at work in the general
understanding of Barthes and Handke, and these
transparently obvious, genetic differences between the
French and the German -- between a wry ironic pederasty and
an ascetic, parzival-like heterosexuality -- are tempting,
for they look very neat; Barthes and Handke become,
according to such orientations, mere inverted mirrors of
each other, and on the surface (if only there) this binary
holds. The French one moved from semiotic criticism to a
writing which increasingly proclaimed itself to be
personal, eccentric, and unscientific -- a creative writing
which made the essay into a kind of internal theater, a
critical strip-tease which resembled the disreputable
joints Barthes frequented on the night he was killed. Not
surprisingly, the written words about Barthes mimic the
perception of him; they spill over the pages in a
testimonial to bliss, they break the rules, they invoke
photography and cinema, erotica and pornography. Barthes
work is so idolized, particularly in the United States,
that over 500 essays have appeared on him in the past 10
years, and Greg Ulmer asks a highly pertinent question when
he muses what interests me about Barthes, is why I am
interested in him (219). What Ulmer uncovers but does not
discuss is the degree to which puritanical American academe
looks with awe at European (particularly French) high
theory, and projects upon it its unspoken desires/fears, as
D.H.Lawrence already noticed a frighteningly long time ago.
 It is consequently not at all surprising that much less has
been written on Peter Handke, who has made a writerly move
which looks directly opposite to that of Barthes. Handke
has more or less abandoned the theatrical and novelistic
works which made him famous, and has oriented himself
toward the essay, towards essays about essays (as in
_Versuch uber die Jukebox_), and towards fragments such as
_Noch einmal fur Thucydides_. In Handkes case critics
speak in hushed tones about pain, about language as
torture, about aesthetics, romanticism, the German
tradition, a hard, cold sort of beauty, about the theories
of Benjamin, of Lacan, of a poststructuralism which is
deadly serious, and of course, inevitably, a little about
 Feminine France versus the masculine *Vaterland*: manly,
wounded, spiritual German; effeminate, decadent,
self-indulgent French. The legacy of WW II -- the German
soldiers marching under the Arc de Triomphe on one hand,
and on the other, actress Arletty condemned to death for
sleeping with the enemy (she responded that her heart
belonged to France but that her ass belonged to the world)
as infantile America looks on like Freuds child at the
 It is because of this reception that I would like to
speculate as to what would happen if we read Handke and
Barthes together -- one with the other -- against Vedder,
who is, as we shall see, the infantile American boy turned
inside out. What if we used Eddie Vedder to ask the same
questions of both barthian and handkesque textual corpuses?
I look forward hopefully to these provisional answers: the
one, obvious -- that both Barthes and Handke are enriched,
problematized, foregrounded not only as eccentric
individuals who write against the grain, but as compelling
exponents (with, rather than instead of Vedder) of the
episteme which we call the late 20th Century,
postmodernity, the end of the millennium; the other perhaps
less so -- that textual pleasure can be found sometimes in
very unexpected places. This/my act of conjoining
seemingly isolated forms (Polan, 57) is, of course, itself
a pleasure, a political practice, and an (intellectual ?)
attempt to understand this particular cultural moment.
 When placed against Vedder on the stage/screen of rock,
Barthes and Handkes dichotomous identities make a more
resonant kind of sense. Roland Barthes retains his
Frenchness but may now be considered, arguably, the David
Bowie of %ecriture% (a metaphor that would have no doubt
pleased him) -- glamorous, androgynous, slick, smart in
both senses, constantly undergoing theoretical/stylistic
ch-ch-changes; Barthes was a beautiful surface in love with
surfaces, an author whose gestures in _The Lovers
Discourse_ approach in many ways those of the
composer-performer of Modern Love. Like Bowie, Barthes
was one of the first to pose/perform such questions -- to
. . . play games with gender [which] were genuine
challenges to existing assumptions (Street, 173).
Adulated in the late 60s, Handke, for his part, resembles
a literary Neil Young who shone too brilliantly in the
Woodstock years, and now as a still skinny middle-aged
rocker appears strident, unappealing, and disturbing in
some unfathomable way -- a brilliant, but unpredictable
talk-show guest.^4^ Men of too much critical substance,
Handke and Young produce vaguely satirical, understatedly
ironic works which point to a multivalent critique of our
culture and society that cannot be reduced or thematized.
A man needs a maid and _The Goalies Anxiety_.
2. Son she said, ive a little story for you.
 In the autobiographical rock hit by Pearl Jam, entitled
_Alive_, an agonized angry male singer relates the
traumatic encounter with his mother, where she tells him
that his real father died when he was thirteen. It is an
imperfect memory, badly mangled, but filled with
conflicting emotions, and as a mnemonic shard, it cuts into
the singer, whose voice vibrates with pain. In Alive
that currently notorious, hysterically unauthentic
lyricist-performer Eddie Vedder conjures up a well-known
specter -- the specter of the mother, speaking. She is a
complete cipher, as mothers of the Western tradition
generally are, her motivations for telling are unfathomable
(guilt, cruelty, warning?), although they resonate with
distant meaning. The person known only as she uses a
historically embedded, mysterious language that he does not
appreciate and cannot understand to tell a story -- what
else? -- a bad story about the father. She carelessly
narrates the fathers death, and thereby asserts through
that information -- which like that of Jocasta is told to
the adult son too late, and when it is least expected --
her own subversive primacy in the patriarchal family. This
apparently triumphant telling, performed before the adult
son in his bedroom is an outrage, charged with a sexual
resonance familiar to other bedroom encounters between
mothers and sons -- Oedipus, Hamlet, Prousts Marcel. But,
the real outrage, the son hints, occurs much earlier. The
scandal consists in the mothers absence -- in fact that
the boy was alone at home when the father died; the mother
was not there with *him*. And where was she? We never
know. At the end of the song, the son disclaims the
mothers power; she cannot authorize his existence as the
father could; he is, it seems, alive in spite of rather
than because of her.
 In this manner, the son of Eddie Vedders song/poem
compensates for paternal absence by an erasure of the
overweening maternal presence, and this act of compensation
takes the form of a scrambled portraiture which fragments
speech, and silences the sybill-like powerful mother, the
mother who belatedly tells the truth about the father, and
the son uses his own narrative power to delay and defer
what her presence connotes about the father: it testifies
to his insufficiency, to his lack, and more threateningly
perhaps, to the possibility that he may not matter so much
after all, and that consequently the son -- the future
father -- may not matter so much either. But the son pays
the price for such an exchange; his own language -- the
language with which he usurps the mothers story about the
father -- is literally broken English, so greatly
impoverished that it cannot complete the sentences it tries
to formulate, and it can just barely make sense. The
filial act of remembrance which dismembers the mother
ricochets on the son; he retroactively silences her but
she, in turn, withers his grammar. The sons speech is
language made poor, a linguistic economy pared down to the
subsistence level of rage, and this rage has spoken volumes
to millions who have heard _Alive_ and who have purchased
Pearl Jams first album. Does not this rage conceal a
longing? What is really being spoken here?
3. Wounds in the mirror waved
 In his essay Parabiography (_Georgia Review_, 1980), Ihab
Hassan aptly suggested that there was something
unprecedented about the challenge posed by autobiography to
the late 20th Century West:
Autobiography has become . . . the form that the
contemporary imagination seeks to recover. . .
Yet . . . autobiography is abject unless, in the
words of Michel Leiris, it exposes itself to the
bulls horn. For writing about ourselves we
risk cowardice and mendacity; and more, we risk
changing ourselves by that writing into whatever
an autobiographer pretends to be.
The image invented by Leiris and invoked by Hassan
combines the masculine spectacle of the matador with an
equally masculine writing practice which risks something
like castration -- as though the writer were reliving in
his text the masculine tragedy of _The Sun Also Rises_.
The writer of autobiography is at once Odysseus, Hemingway,
and Freud -- a modern, epic hero and the psychoanalytic
author/subject; he must negotiate perils, he must analyze
himself, he must resist all outside pressure; he must
display himself and still remain manly. He must avoid
abjectness -- an interesting word connoting a dangerously
feminine state of passivity as well as a moral and social
state of utter inferiority. Like Bunyans Christian, he
must steer between the pitfalls of cowardice and falsehood
(Thou shalt not bear false witness about thyself) but there
is also something of a pagan striptease at work here -- one
thinks of the lithe, undressed bull-dancers from the walls
of Knossos courting danger as they vault over the stylized
bull. And Hassans bull? What might it signify? The
bull here seems to signify at once the genre of
autobiography, the practice of writing, and the problem of
language as a whole -- one which the human sciences have
eloquently agonized over again and again during the course
of our century in their own matadorian performance of
Angst. Hassan implies that the beast of literary language
threatens the contemporary writers project not just to
invalidate it, but -- much more theatrically -- to tear it,
to punch holes in its argument, and then to bring it down
(the literal meaning of %abject% [past tense of the Latin
%abicere%], to lay it low, to unman it before the roar of
the crowd -- the jeering spectators. And yet without the
horn and without the danger of the horn there can be no
writing, there can be no audience, there can be no pleasure
in the spectatorship of this spectacle of pain. There is
then also in Hassans formulation the suggestion that
aesthetic pleasure is generated by the pageantry of
individual pain, at least at far as autobiography is
 Even a casual observer of contemporary rock culture cannot
help but think of the ambiguous polysemous spectacle
presented by Eddie Vedder and consider how well it fits
this paradoxical description of the postmodern
autobiographer. Vedders songs are usually at once frankly
and fraudulently autobiographical: either based on his
real life experiences referred to obliquely in the media
releases about him or sucked out of people whom he
ostensibly knows and whom he chooses to impersonate. He
performs their narrative half-lives for them, employing a
deep and powerful vocal instrument to give voice precisely
to voices which cannot possibly *sound* anything like
*his*; his impersonations are frequently feminine,
juvenile or both ranging from physically abused little
girls, mentally abused boys, young girls forcibly committed
to insane asylums, a lonely old woman in a small town, a
young woman trying unsuccessfully to leave her lover, to
small animals; he is never a practitioner of but almost
always the victim of violent aggression, an avid sexual
desirer with a gun buried under his nose, an angrily
prone body stretched out (suggestively) at the feet of a
disembodied you characterized only by a crown. He is
the passive, hysterical other waiting for the lover to
arrive (youre finally here and Im a mess), the
quintessential nothing man, read a man who isnt, a man
whose masculinity is zero.
 Vedders Gestalt is similarly complicated. His name
connotes both the insincere, boyish, and sexually dubious
trouble-maker of Leave it to Beaver and the sinister
powers of Darth Vader; its spelling also connotes Edie
Sedgwick -- Warhols ill-starred debutante. He is long
haired, diminutive, dressed childishly in a pastiche of
ill-fitting masculine gear -- the 60s flannel shirt
(lumberjacks, hippies), over the t-shirt (manual laborer),
over too large shorts. He hunches over the microphone in
an almost disappearing act (in a clear stylistic rejection
of the histrionics of Mick Jagger and Jaggers heavy-metal
male descendants) and yet at the same time he remains
elusive, satiric, false, gymnastic.^5^ He self-consciously
performs an unwillingness to perform (at the 1993 MTV video
awards he walked up to the podium with a Camcorder pointed
at the t.v. camera) and then throws himself off the top of
the stage for good measure, allowing himself -- perhaps --
to be caught and borne up by his audience.^6^ Vedders
performances are so immensely popular, because he would
appear to expose himself to Hassans bulls-horn on a
regular basis. He mimes being gored, but the performance
contains a whiff of real danger; he is an
autobiographical tight-rope walker limping on the wire with
a broken leg whom we -- mostly young white men, but also,
increasingly, young women, and now, a literary critic --
watch with fascination, wondering if he will fall like Kurt
Cobain -- his nihilistic and now deceased grunge
%Doppelganger%, rock cultures current Schiller to Vedders
survivalist version of Goethe. Together they form the pop
culture masculine monument of our moment -- a space where
cultural myth and spectacle enter into conflict (Polan, 56).
 Hassans complex and powerful description of autobiography
projected upon the spectral video image of Eddie Vedder
marks out a space where the Christian and the Pagan
interlock, where the classical tradition runs into late
capitalism, where Hemingway meets Augustine meets the
_Odyssey_ meets the Rat-Man and they all meet the Beatles.
It is perhaps for this reason that there is something arch
about the anxious cluster of images displayed in Alive.
The absent father, a present mother made absent, a longing
for her which hides behind a longing for him, the shifting
of negative emotion onto her problematic ontology and
psychology, and the problem of language -- these issues
re-rehearse the simultaneously hysterical and mundanely
familiar symptoms of a masculine crisis of (artistic)
self-representation which has been discussed by just about
everybody in the United States -- by such cultural critics
as Katja Silverman and by _Iron John_ author Robert Bly; it
has become a common subject on talk-shows, as the
popularity of _Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus_
 Vedder, Barthes, and Handke are important in this regard,
not because they are doing something essentially
different from mainstream culture, but because they have
upped the ante in the crisis of masculinity. They
undertake a frantic, frenetic, deeply ironic and highly
self-critical series of performative attempts to revise the
genre called autobiography at the same time as they
struggle to complete, kill off, and have done with the
modern. Using Vedders example, we can see that Barthes
and Handke share a surabundance of common interests of
which the most important (for *this* essay) are: a regard
for spectacle, an obsession with the photograph, a fixation
on the dead mother, and a love-hate relationship with
language. Unabashed narcissists, they have taken
Montaignes caveat to the nth degree and beyond (Park, 392)
-- %je suis moi-meme la matiere de mon livre% (I am the
[feminine] matter of my book) -- but, Barthes and Handke,
just like Eddie, dismantle the %matiere/stoff% of
autobiography toward the imagining of a new textual body,
one that does not confront but rather submits itself %de
facto% to the bulls horn; the goring is in fact the
pre-text, and the text which follows is constituted around
the wound, around and because of the tear. It is the very
failure of the autobiographer which constitutes the textual
spectacularity of Barthes and Handke and the pleasure in
pain which might open up new possibilities for writing.
Like Vedder, Barthes and Handke go as far as boys can;
owners of the phallus, they enact the vaginal wound in
their go arounds with mother and with the mother tongue
(language); they court abjection for our wonder, and dream
of a freedom which must always fail.
4. The picture kept will remind me.
 Barthes has already insisted on the aesthetic possibilities
offered by failure in _Degree zero of literature_, and this
notion of failure is connected to another problem,
tantalizingly expressed (but when isnt Barthes
tantalizing?) in _The Pleasure of the text_:
No object is in a constant relationship with
pleasure . . . . For the writer, however this object
exists; its not the language [%le langage%], it is
the mother tongue[%la langue maternelle%]. The
writer is someone who plays with his mothers
body . . . in order to glorify it, to embellish
it, or in order to dismember it, to take to
the limit of what can be known about the body. . . .
(_The Pleasure of the Text_, Langue/Tongue 37)
Earlier in this work in a section called
Babil/Prattle, Barthes discusses boredom in terms of a
writing which is infantile, which indiscriminately adheres
not to %la lange% but to %le langage%, which -- in a
wonderful gender-bender -- he makes into a masculine wet
nurse, the mothers impossible, false surrogate. Here in
the passage just quoted he affirms the Oedipal pleasure of
language; his play is with %la langue maternelle% -- his
mothers tongue (feminine speech versus masculine writing)
and the native language, and perhaps by analogy that
feminine organ which resides in another, forbidden,
unspeakable mouth -- the truly (re)productive one. This
act performs an erotic game with the speaking body of the
mother, to see what there is of her that the son/writer can
recognize in himself. For Barthes, the advantages of
reorienting the conception of language as a carnal,
feminine, sexual, fertile, and physically vocal presence
are many. Through this play, the pederast son recaptures
and improves upon the lost infantile primal intimacy with
the mother, described by Theresa Brennan as the language of
the flesh, the primal code which circulates between/in the
mother-unborn child, and which persists in the mother/baby
dyad. To play with the body of the mother is to at once
refuse the notion of language as patriarchal law (a la
Lacan) and to assert a different kind of imperative and a
different kind of unity -- not the murderous adulation of
father and son -- the middle man in the Oedipal triangle
has been so to speak eliminated, as he was in Barthes own
life -- but the prior pleasure where son and mother are
one. Thus, Barthes gesture reasserts the power of
language -- not in its capacity as phallic authority but in
its maternal (w)holenesss. The play of language can be
foreplay in its most literal sense, the first play, that
which precedes the other, secondary, and implicitly
inferior play -- namely that of heterosexual coitus --
where the mother must submit to a fatherly penetration.
 But in this passage Barthes play is also afterplay, a
reversed funeral rite in which the enraged bacchante,
Barthes, tears asunder the body of the goddess, the
Dionysian mother, in an attempt to consume her power --
desire become appetite become bloodlust -- as body of the
mother disintegrates into pieces. Desire and rage,
glorification and disembowelment, celebration and mourning,
the pleasure of pain -- these animate and radiate the body
of Barthes mother within the body of Barthes own texts
(think, for example, of the reading of Phedre in _On
 Yet, Barthess radical and radically honest portrayal of
the conflicting drives at work in the masculine
play-practice on %la langue maternelle% fails drastically
in his final work, _Camera Lucida/La chambre claire_ -- a
work torn very literally between a study of the aesthetics
of photography and a quest for the essence of Barthes dead
mother.^8^ It is a strange book, self-consciously
fragmented as is most of Barthes later work but
dramatically lacking the sensual exuberance of the earlier
writing. Further, in the account of his final days with
his mother, Barthes falls back into very role of male nurse
which he dismissed so contemptuously in _The Pleasure of
the Text_ for he himself becomes the male mother who
infantilizes the mother back into a child, recuperating her
into the patriarchal order -- giving birth to her, so to
speak, as a Zeus produced Athena, a product of head-sex
During her illness, I nursed her, held the bowl of
tea she liked because it was easier to drink from
than from a cup; she had become my little girl,
uniting for me with that essential child she was in
her first photograph. (72)
The fact that Barthes mother is only recognizable to
him as a girl-child in the photograph at the Winter Garden
suggests that his apparently unconditional adulation of his
mother and his celebration of her power is not what it
appears to be. Her relegation in memory to the softness of
crepe de chine and the smell of rice-powder -- a
combination which reminds us of the technology of photo
making (silver grains deposited on smooth paper) --
suggests that Barthes can talk about his mother only in
terms of the proustian project (Blau, 86), that is to say
in terms of a %fin-de-siecle% sentimentality which glosses
over the surface but which does not permit the other to
speak. The autobiographer/critic senses this shift in
tonal gears; he makes contradictory claims -- proclaiming
that he has found the truth of his mother and then
In front of the Winter Garden Photograph I am a
bad dreamer who vainly holds out his arms toward
the possession of the image; I am Golaud exclaiming
Misery of my life! because he will never know
Melisandes truth. (Melisande does not conceal
but she does not speak) . . . (100)
Unable to reconstruct, to give voice to, the mother,
and by connection to the %langue maternelle%, the book on
photography breaks down, returns to the surface
linguistically and phenomenologically. The result is utter
I know our critics: what! a whole book (even a
short one) to discover something I know at first
And yet there is something suspect about this
relentless sweep across the surface, about this
intellectual abjection. Barthes tells us that he will not
show the Winter garden photograph of his mother to his
reader, so that in this book peppered with photos, the most
important one is held back (Sarkonak, 48). Barthes insists
that we will not see anything in it -- it is too personal,
and that it will mean nothing to us, but I think instead,
that this very gesture itself is highly significant;^9^ it
is the selfish maneuver of an overgrown child who can only
pretend to share, and who can perhaps, only pretend to
love, and as such displays the fallacy of his own %a la
recherche dune maman perdue%, because he doesnt in the
end want to find her, and he certainly doesnt want us to.
The critic Lawrence Kritzman anticipates this reading of
Barthes when he notes that like the abandoned child, the
lover finds himself in a state of solitude, the
consequences of which reveal the inability to complete
separation because of a past which cannot be extricated
from the present. . . (The Discourse of Desire, 860).
 Thus, the passionate postmodernist critic reverts to an
elegant dandyism (J. Gerald Kennedy refers to Barthes
extravagant devotion, 386) -- to an impressionistic
modernism and to a nineteenth century sentimentalism --
when, as an autobiographer, he discusses his mothers
death. I will observe in passing how important it has been
for a number of critics to defend Barthes on this
particular point; although critics decry sentimentality
everywhere else, it is -- curiously -- not only admissible
but somehow crucial for Barthes when it comes to his mother
(see Blau, Woodward, Hoft-March), as though she were the
alibi both for his pederasty and for his postmodernity --
at once maternity and modernity.
 Oddly, Barthes reveals himself here to be much like Peter
Pan, the alter-ego of the Victorian pederast J.M. Barrie;
like the boy who would not grow up, Barthes prefers the
prepubescent girl-mother who cannot threaten him and he
will ship her out the moment she possesses even the glimmer
of agency (especially sexual). He has indeed dismembered
mama in the ostensible act of remembering her, in giving
her presence he has ensured her absence, much as the
dishonest Chevalier des Grieux erases the object of his
desire even as he outlines compulsively how she has done
him wrong (Hammer, 48). As is the case in that false
confession written in 1732, Barthes uses the absence of the
literal %matiere% of %moi-meme% -- what Domna Stanton
calls the feminine matter/mater which constructed the
moi-Meme called Roland Barthes out of herself -- to
reveal the falsity of the autobiographical subject and to
foreground the emptiness of the whole I remember Mama
 Yet, this self-conscious fissure (or what Anselm Haverkamp
calls the exposed aporia, 259) is precisely one of the
places where Barthes is terribly important to us, as Jane
Barthes and Proust . . . Male homosexuality and the
mother, strange bedfellows, yet to be retheorized,
in the wake of feminism (133).
To his credit, Barthes explicitly exposes the uneasy
connection between pederasty and mother-love in the book by
juxtaposing the narrative about the mothers missing
picture with the display of the erotic Mapplethorpe
self-portrait. Mapplethorpe as maternal stand-in -- a
beautiful young man grinning off-center at the camera --
tells us, as much as anything does, what the book is really
about. But the Maplethorpe self-portrait may also stand-in
for Barthes himself. As his own autoerogenous
object-author Barthes uses himself as a text and camera; he
opens the autobiographical aperture and freezes himself in
a series of positions doomed to insufficiency and
incompleteness. So, even as _Camera Lucida_ fails --
unable to recover the happy sexuality which Barthes dreams
of (the breast which nourishes a sexuality devoid of
difference [Kritzman, 856-7, The Discourse of Desire])
-- it also looks beyond itself to something unsayable -- to
a kind of knowledge of the mother, HIS mother which belongs
only to love. As Kennedy notes in his essay, RB,
autobiography, and the end of writing, this love is not
reducible to linguistic formulation, as this passage and
its failure to actually say what it wants to makes clear:
In the Mother, there was a radiant, irreducible core:
my mother. It is always maintained that I should
suffer more because I have spent my whole life with
her; but my suffering proceeds from *who she was*; and
it was because she was who she was that I lived with
her . . . for this originality was the reflection of
what was absolutely irreducible in her, and thereby
lost forever . . . for what I have lost is not a Figure
(the Mother), but a being; and not a being but a *quality*
(a soul): not the indispensable, but the irreplaceable.
(_Camera lucida_ #31, 75)
Barthess impossible book culminates with an impossible
affirmation -- that of the persistence of a love made rich
by a suffering that was itself an aesthetic expression and
which he could not dispense with -- that cannot be reduced
to a bloodless theory. Neither reduced nor resuscitated,
Barthes mother is relegated to the uneasy ontology of the
unseen photograph, the private, %punctum% that only the
author can see.
5. I got bugs
 One problem (at the very least) remains. That she is not
more recuperable for pederast, mother-loving Barthes than
she is for hysterically straight mother-hating Vedder
speaks to the impossibility of situating mother within
anything possessing even the vaguest resemblance to the
standard masculine autobiographical project.^10^ Risking
abjection is not enough.
6. When she couldnt hold, she folded
 The sons ecstatic union with the mother who is and is not
he, the playing with a permeable body in a way which is not
intrusive but inclusive and at the same time the rage to
tear the mother apart to take to the limit her bodys
recognition, the mourning for her loss, the use of this
entire complex for writing for the practice of %langue%, a
remembrance of the mother which fails and which is tied to
an investigation of aesthetics which also fails -- how
might this string be invoked for Peter Handke? There is no
linguistic foreplay in Handke, only after play, for, it is
to the disjunction from mother that Handke repeatedly
returns -- the alienation between Claire and Delta
Benedictine in _Short Letter, Long Farewell_, the bicycling
mother who dreams of going crazy as her toddler looks on
dazed in _Wings of Desire_, the motherless Kaspar, a
postmodern lost boy, the dead mothers problematic legacy
in _Through the Villages_ -- but of course nowhere more
powerfully than in _A Sorrow beyond Dreams_ (_Wunschloses
Ungluck_), his self-proclaimedly failed attempt to document
his mothers life and suicide. Like Gertrude Stein on
Alice B. Toklas, Handke decides to tell the story that the
feminine other cannot or will not tell about herself,
although the son is implicated in his mothers story in
ways that the female lovers are not. From the outset,
Handkes play with the barthian %langue maternelle% -- in
German, the feminine word %die Muttersprache% -- is a both
Oedipal and necrophiliac act of necessity; it is overtly
about death and death is as, Camus -- one of Handkes most
importance influences -- has noted, a dirty and not always
terribly interesting business. And perhaps it is Orphic
too -- Handkes attempt to call his mother back from the
dead, and from the living death that was her existence --
not through the power of song, but through the clenched
mundanities that he documents in his writing. He also
writes about her perspective intermittently as %Man%
(one/masculine) and as %sie% (she) signifying the
gendered impossibility of talking about her -- implicating
us and himself, by necessity in our own mothers pain under
the rule of that false universal %das ewig mannliche%,
the eternal masculine.
 And there is a great deal of pain here. Want, discomfort,
disgust, and rage for and against his mother, for and
against himself as her son and, as a man, as the accomplice
in the society which victimized her -- a society which
reduced her existence into a village game called
Tired/exhausted/sick/dying/dead (249). Handke is
relentlessly unsentimental as regards the entire project
(Jerry Varsava notes that Handke strips Proust bare, 122)
-- he criticizes his enunciations about her even as he
. . . the danger of merely telling what happened and
the danger of a human individual becoming painlessly
submerged in poetic sentences -- have slowed down my
writing, because in every sentence I am afraid of
losing my balance. . . I try with unbending earnestness
to penetrate my character. . . She refuses to be isolated
and remains unfathomable; my sentences crash in the
darkness and lie scattered on the paper. (264-5)
This mother cannot be so easily anatomized, as Rainer
Nagele notes (399); she is protean, when fragmented she
does not becomes surface but rather a morass which engulfs
Now she imposed herself on me, took on body and
reality, and her condition was so palpable that
at some moments it became a part of me. (282-3)
Rather it is the sons words that splinter about him in
his attempt to make her congeal.
 Not surprisingly, the body of Handkes mother appears not
as cosmetic surface but as bodily fluid and as dirty
anality. It is the malodorous spittle used to clean the
childrens faces; tears wept in the toilet; it is an
embarrassing fart during a mountain hike with Handkes
father -- it is the hidden excrement in the underpants of
the deceased -- impure ejaculations, fetishized elements of
a lost body that should not be seen thus, and whose
viscosity continually contrasts with the photographs which
Handke mentions at crucial moments in anironic, poignant
counterpoint. It seems significant that Handke never
worries about the reality of the photographs he
discusses,and this is all he has to say about the matter in
this particular work:
The fiction that photographs can tell us anything --
. . . but isnt all formulation, even of things
that have really happened more or less a fiction? . . .
So much for Barthes theory of photography.
 And yet it is in Handkes text about his mother, rather
than in Barthes, that we find a kind of ecstasy, that
pleasure in the spectacle of pain heralded by Hassan -- one
that we are summoned and positioned to share, for Handkes
text is one of both of rage and celebration; his mothers
suicide speaks to him of a kind of courage which borders on
a feminine and feminized notion of heroism:
Yes, I thought over and over again, carefully
enunciating my thoughts to myself: THAT DOES IT,
THAT DOES IT, THAT DOES IT, GOOD, GOOD GOOD. And
throughout the flight I was beside myself with pride
that she had committed suicide. (292)
It is here, and not in Barthes, that we run into the
disruptive, unsettling nature of a %jouisaance% which, as
Jane Gallop has argued, goes beyond the pleasure
principle, not because it is beyond pleasure but because
it is beyond principle (Gallop, 113), and which unites
pleasure with emotion with fear, with disruption, with loss
of control -- jouissance qua catharsis qua abjection, in
Kristevas rather than Hassans sense, that which unravels
identity, system, order (Kristeva, 10)
 Thus, it is not the child but the war veteran and the
concentration camp victim whom Maria Handke resembles; she
is not the writer-sons mind-child but his hero, an
Antigone/Anne Frank -- a tragic victim of a tyrannical
state. And as in the ancient tragedy, it is the moral
implications of burial which motivates the entire story; at
the end of this piece we discover that Handke is enraged by
the depersonalizing effects of his mothers funeral, that
it is at the cemetery that he decides he must write about
her. This rage is Maria Handkes clearest legacy to her
son, an emotion which grounds an aesthetic and an ethic
which arguably informs all of Handkes writing thereafter:
a refusal to never not be angry, a hatred of authority and
institution, a hatred of the father, a hatred of Austria --
all this as a monument to the rage of his mother a way to
let it speak, a way for the son to recall and use the
silenced, outraged MUTTERSPRACHE. Katherine Woodward has
argued that Barthes refuses normal mourning in _La Chambre
Claire_, but this seems far truer for Handke, as a
self-conscious practice, as an act of atonement. In this
way, Handke sees through the Oedipal romance at the heart
of his own narrative manoever and rejects it; realizing
that his rage is his mothers rage, that the two are
intertwined and inextricable, Handke goes Eddie Vedder one
better; he foregrounds and then refuses to tell the tale of
the bad mother and pathetically victimized, neurotic son;
he sees through the misogyny of that strategy and will not
fall for it, although he clearly feels its power.
 In this way Handke becomes both the avenging fury and
fugitive son (Orestes) to the specter of his own mothers
death, or to use another classical analogy, if Barthes is a
wannabe Zeus, Handke is a self-crippled Hephaestus, who
throws himself down the fathers stairs for the sake of
themother. Is it any wonder that -- despite the
bewildering array of first person narrators and
writer-doubles who populate Handkes work -- that Handke
himself is never to be found in any of them? Autobiography
becomes for him the absence of the subject, especially
himself, and this is perhaps his scriptible manner of
atoning for the erasure which his mother underwent herself.
I remember the dismembered Mama and I dismember myself, the
body of my text, so that she may be protean, so that she
may live in me. Handkes literary transsexualism -- his
wanting so much not to be a man, and to be SHE.
7. All my pieces set me free^11^
 In Barthes and Handke, the son plays with the corpse of the
mother and together they give birth to writing where the
problems of %langue% vs langage, of personal utterance
versus societal formula, of pleasure, pain, of aesthetics,
play themselves out on paper through the spectacle of the
sons remembrance of the dead mother and haunt us precisely
because they do not succeed. In Barthes, we witness the
death throes of the modern, the recapitulation of the
high-style dandyism of Wilde, Proust, and the rupture of
the Victorian mamas boy (how I suffered with maman but I
alone understood her) in the face of the photograph and the
mass visual media which it portends; from this perspective
one of the things being mourned in _La chambre claire_ is
certainly modernity itself. In Handke, we witness the
postmodern acceptance of the photograph and of visual
culture in general as artifacts of artifice, as well as a
linguistic exuberance which operates in the very
interstices of exhaustion^12^ -- a quirky artistic
masculine life which struggles from out and on behalf of
the body of the mother. And in Vedder -- against whose
projected image this essay has played itself out? -- where
the other (tongue) is all but cut out, leaving a trail of
body parts in her (its) wake -- a hand, a breast, blood --
consequently leaving the critic with little to work with?
In Eddie Vedders self-obscuring spectacle and in grunge as
a whole we can see both -- the self-consciously doomed
struggle of the low modernism of 60s rock with its pomo
double, Punk -- Jim Morrison meeting Sigmund Freud and
DEVO. But to this menage a trois we must add a fourth
figure; for Eddie Vedders wounded masculinity travels
through Morrison, Freud, and DEVO to a different, oddly
indeterminate gender-destination. Looking at his
performances, I am reminded of Janis Joplin reborn as a
generation-X boy in shorts. Eddie Vedder, like Roland
Barthes and Peter Handke, reverses the Pinocchio principle,
and dreams of being a real girl. *Do* call me daughter.
 Thus, in all three autobiographical practioners we see not
just the crisis of masculinity but a struggle to rethink
the masculine subject as feminine if not downright
feminized, and it seems significant that this occurs in
both the self-avowedly homosexual and in the determinedly
heterosexual male texts which I have considered here. Many
feminist critics have regarded this move with
apprehension^13^ -- an apprehension by which I am repelled
and to which I am also attracted. On one hand, it is hard
not to see the autobiographical gestures of Vedder, Barthes
and Handke as important, for they take on and try to say
something new about that most difficult of contemporary
topics -- love (as Eilene Hoft-March has noted in her essay
on Barthes)-- and they contemplate possibly the most
difficult of western loves to talk about -- difficult in
the sense that it is controversial, notorious,
theoretically and politically embedded and at the same time
for feminism crucial to rethink and revise: the love
between/of the son and/for the mother. Hopefully this
essay has suggested that the tortured mechanics of this
love are still everywhere in western culture -- from
Oedipus to rock and beyond.
8. she dreams in colors she dreams in red
 Crucial, and yet . . . This piece on autobiography, on
postmodernism/ity and on the woundedness of performing boys
will not close without my own ambivalence, a personal
variation on E. Ann Kaplans reservations about the
postmodern versus the feminist (Kaplan, 38). What we --
our postmodern culture -- have yet to move beyond (where
indeed no man has gone before) is that this love for/from
mother, still, expresses itself best over mothers dead
body, around the edges of her missing photographs, over and
against the linguistic traces which testify to and yet
still seek to erase her actual presence. The failure of
the aesthetic enterprise discussed here -- the as far as a
boy can go pomo prime directive -- is one, then, which we
should theorize, discuss, and even admire, but which we
should not accept. For, even as I write, from around the
margins of the photograph, from behind the performance of
wounded masculine annihilation, and against the hateful
image of Yoko Ono as rock and rolls maternal black widow
extraordinaire, an outrageous maternal body materializes
before our very eyes. Clad in wings on the cover of _Vanity
Fair_ (June, 1995) or exposing a slightly rounded
postpartum stomach and braless, t-shirted, imperfect
breasts on the cover of _Rolling Stone_ (August, 1995), she
demands to be seen and heard, requires our attention,
defies our judgment, makes money, achieves fame NOT as the
safely silent feminine object of mourning, but as bad mom
mourner who fronts the co-ed, sexually multivalent band,
called, appropriately, Hole:
i want to be the girl with the most cake
someday you will ache like i ache.
^1^ i> In Wim Wenders quintessentially strange, overwrought
male-bonding road movie, _Im Lauf der Zeit_ (_Kings of the
Road_, 1975) the protagonist sings along with an old
recording whose refrain is just like Eddie. *For K, with
Love. Also thanks for RG, JG, and in particular DD for
staging a dress rehearsal of this gig at the UCR
Comparative Literature Spring Colloquium in 1994.*
^2^ All frame lyrics by Eddie Vedder.
^3^ I.e. the coolness of post-structuralism has been
affirmed by a recent article in the computer-tech magazine
_Wired_, (where, incidentally Roland Barthes is included as
an important progenitor) in much the same way as _Spin_
confirms the angst of Eddie Vedder (who is displayed on the
^4^ For a more lengthy discussion of Handkes reception in the
80s and 90s, see my essay On the Bulls Horn with Peter
Handke in _Postmodern Culture_, September 1993.
^5^ See for example, Vedders recent, deeply parodistic
photographic self-portraits in _Spin_ (January 1995).
^6^ In this way, Vedder skews and violates the standard
rebellious, macho stances of male rock performance which
are geared to reinforce masculine identity values in male
viewers (See Toney and Weaver, 568 ff.).
^7^ I concur with Dana Polans caveat that popular culture is
not necessarily free from the constraints of ideology
(Kaplan, 52). Indeed what is interesting about Pearl Jam
is precisely this performative tension between the
ideological and the subversive.
^8^ Elissa Marder also argues persuasively that _Camera
Lucida_ may be read also as a revelation of the essence
of contemporary history -- that of %cliche%. See Works
^9^ Haverkamp falls for Barthes line (265).
^10^ Similarly, Maurice Berger notes one of the greatest
lessons implied in his writing was one he never fully
understood: that men . . . should be able to ask form
rather than demand, love. (Berger, 122).
^11^ Which provides an interesting intertext with Wayne
Koestenbaum who observes, Masculinity sucks; it divides
into pieces (Koestenbaum, 79).
^12^ Or as Handke put it in a January 1994
interview/performance, Lassen Sie mich mit Modernismus!
(Handke, Die Einladende Schweigsamkeit, 18).
^13^ See in particular Carole-Anne Tylers brilliant essay
Boys Will be Girls: The Politics of Gay Drag.
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-----. _The Pleasure of the text_. Farrar Strauss Giroux: New York,
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Blau, Herbert. Barthes and Beckett: the punctum, the pensum, and
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