Peter Handke banned ~ theatre notes

Friday, April 28, 2006

Peter Handke banned

Update here

Our Man in Paris Ben Ellis reports that the Comédie-Française has effectively banned Peter Handke's plays from its repertoire, after it was reported that he assisted with Slobodan Milosevic's funeral arrangements. Ben translates the Le Monde article:

"I am happy to be close to Slobodan Milosevic, who defended his people," the author is reported telling the Nouvel Observateur for its April 6 edition.

The decision to pull a production scheduled for the first half of next year was taken by Marcel Bozonnet, the general administrator of the company, saying that his blood ran cold when he read the article and that Handke's pro-Serbian politics remain "an outrage to the victims".

Handke's politics have literally caused riots since the early 1990s. In 1997 he released A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia, a short, hallucinatory book which argued that the Srebrenica massacres never happened, and in 1999 he gave back the 10,000-mark Georg Büchner literature prize money he had won in 1973 - and left the Catholic church - because of his opposition to the NATO attacks on Belgrade.

Unlike the My Name is Rachel Corrie controversy, the Comédie-Française is up-front about its decision - no shilly-shallying here. "Even if the work isn't a piece of propaganda," says Bozonnet, "it offers the author a public visibility. I don't feel like giving it to him... I understand the position of those who differentiate the work from the author, but for the moment, I just can't resolve that myself."

The question remains: is it right to ban artistic works - in this case works of unarguable artistic merit - because its author holds distasteful political views? Bozonnet, to his credit, puts his finger on the dilemma, and takes responsibility for his subsequent decision, but the decision still makes me profoundly uneasy. It will be interesting to see what happens.


parabasis said...

And then of course (not to change the subject) we get to Wagner and Orff, right?

If the work is of truly "unarguable artistic merit" than I suppose banning it based on the author's politics is fairly reprehensible, even if I find it hard to defend a Milosevic sympathizer and genocide denier.

This is my question, not knowing Handke's plays... can they be separated from the loathsomeness of his politics? Bozonnet says this doesn't matter, no matter what, no Handke... I think it does...


Alison Croggon said...

Hi Isaac - as a huge admirer of much of Handke's work, both as a novelist and playwright, I was, like many people, shocked by his support for the ugly politics of Greater Serbian nationalism. He is indeed a marvellous innovative playwright - you should check out Offending the Audience, My Foot, My Tutor and Kaspar , all plays written around the 70s. (WS Sebald has a great essay on the plays and how they examine language in a posthumous collection). And some of his prose is among the most amazing and painful I know. He is a writer non pareil of modern alienation; perhaps this partly explains his sudden identification with the Serbian state when he discovered his Serbian ancestry. Also, it's not as if Handke's critique of the realities created by the contemporary media doesn't have some basis. This is not a simple argument.

Whatever; my uneasiness rises in part because I can't help respecting also Bozonnet's point of view, although the more I think about it, the more I realise I disagree.

Abe Pogos said...

"Even if the work isn't a piece of propaganda," says Bozonnet, "it offers the author a public visibility. I don't feel like giving it to him..."

it seems to me that experience has shown that banning the play is likely to have the opposite effect and give Handke's politics even more visibility.

A lot of the outrage surrounding the Corrie saga had to do the with the fact that many people in the arts community were sympathetic with Corrie's politics and the plight of the Palestinians in general. It wasn't just the play that was being censored, but a whole community was being denied the chance to have their experience of life under occupation given proper attention. Emotionally it felt unjust.

Emotionally it would be easy to feel that the Handke decision is okay because anyone who defends fascists gets what they deserve.

As a matter of principle I think the Bozonnet decision is just as wrong as NYTW's decision to pull the Corrie play, but I wonder if the arts community will come out and fight for the principle with the same passion.

It seems to me if they don't, then they risk losing credibility over the Corrie issue.

George Hunka said...

And, to his credit, M. Bozonnet does not demonstrate the hypocrisy of Mr. Nicola -- there is no doubt about the reasons that Handke's plays were pulled from the repertoire at the Comedie Francaise.

On the other hand, my understanding is that (unlike the NYTW) the Comedie Francaise is "the state theater of France" (that is, that the government through law or proclamation grants it pride of place as a national theater). If this is correct, I don't think there's any question that this constitutes an act of censorship, and state censorship at that. And it must be condemned, even more vociferously than the NYTW's decision, for the Comedie Francaise then has the weight of the state behind it, not private donors.

Handke's clearly some sort of crackpot. So was Ezra Pound. But pull the "Cantos" from the shelves of the federally-funded libraries of the United States and all hell would break loose. At least, one would hope it would.

Jesus Kha-rist (as Ezra would say), one would have thought this was all over ...

Alison Croggon said...

From my understanding of the way the Comedie Francaise works (and I may need to be corrected on this) the decision would have been put to a vote within the company. I don't know whether it is in fact state censorship, since the decisions are made by the artists within the company; but it effectively ends up being that, because of the company's status within the culture.

Yes, the up-frontness of Bozonnet is creditable, and one can see the human appeal of his decision. But I had also noted the irony of its feeding Handke's profile rather than otherwise. I don't see what good is possibly served by banning the work (I'm unclear whether it's a blanket ban or just a cancellation of a single production in protest). It sets a very bad precedent, most especially since it would be impossible to argue that Handke's work is not artistically worthwhile, and introduces an overt political philistinism into the equation of art and politics that is every bit as bad as crassly ideological, manipulative work. So...still curious to know what the French reactions are to this.

P'tit Boo said...

Ive always loved Handke's work as well so this is news to me !
I need to chew on this...

France has been increasingly more radical and censorship is never a good thing in my opinion when it comes to Art.

Freeman said...

The words "ban" and "censorship" reduce arguments quickly into absolutes. The fact is, the company isn't obligated to perform anyone's work. There is no such thing as "unarguable artistic merit"...this is just our view of what is meritous and for what reason.

Alison is a fan of the work, but it appears so is Bozonnet. Bozonnet seems to recognize that the plays are good...but he can't stomach performing them considering the nationalist politics of the artist. This also isn't just about "distasteful" politics. This is a man who has propogandized a denial of the Srebrenica massacre of thousands of people. This is one of the largest mass murders in European history since World War II. This isn't just a person who thinks "Gee, I really am going to vote for lower taxes." This is a man who writes books that defend murderers.

Personally, I think that, yet again, Bozonnet is simply making a choice based on his personal beliefs. This isn't a ban (it's a stretch to call this a State Ban, isn't it?) because as far as I can tell, no edict keeps others from making different choices than Bozonnet did.

This is a company making a choice with their own time, money and resources. If they decide to use those thing punatively ("Your politics sicken us so we aren't going to perform your play!") that seems like a direct line of communication to me.

Handke's plays and politics appear to be readily available with or without Comedie Francaise, either way.

Alison Croggon said...

It's quite a different decision to program a work and then cancel it for whatever unrelated reason from that of not programming it in the first place. And the Comedie Francaise is the national theatre of France, so carries the weight of its institutional and state importance - it's also considered a bastion of conservatism, by the way. Also, I guess it ought to be remembered that the theatrical context in which this is happening is rather different from the context in NY: theatre has a different social history, closely associated with various revolutions etc, and is expected to speak out on social matters. It isn't merely a commercial enterprise.

George mentioned Pound, who is another artist of repugnant political beliefs (a genuine anti-Semite and ardent supporter of Mussolini and Fascist politics during WW2) and - sorry Matt - undoubted artistry . There are others, like Celine... - (I think in some cases it's perfectly legitimate to rise above the apologetically subjective - Pound and Handke both qualify as artists of significance, if you care at all about what art means. I could argue this, but won't here.) So this makes both of them deeply problematic figures for any consideration of politics and art, and maybe more interesting than a case like MNIRC, where those who consider themselves broadly Leftist can feel comfortable about the ideology of the work they're defending. It is not so with Handke. And it's perhaps in such cases that perhaps one might see the issues more clearly, precisely because they can't be reduced to absolutes.

The recognition of artistic merit doesn't mean an unqualified acceptance of an artist's beliefs, repugnant or otherwise. I don't believe that of any artist. It is more that such work requires an intensely critical (I mean, awake, alert, attentive) receptiveness: one cannot simply accept or consume it. This is true of all real maybe the question is whether we are adults when we encounter art.

The CF ban seems to be intended as no more and no less than a slap in the face to Handke. There seems nothing very mysterious about it. One might ask why Handke was programmed in the first place, given that everyone knows his beliefs, which are well on the record and have been for years, and why it is suddenly different when he is quoted in a particular newspaper. This maybe is the nub of the question, as it is in the NYTW question, and is an aspect Bozonnet in fact elides.

parabasis said...

I have a few quesitons (it's nice to have this conversation started up again, but about a fascist sympathizer instead of a peace activist... makes it a thornier conversation!)

1) Spurred on by Matt's point: Doesn't it change from being a personal decision about not supporting an artist's work because of their politics to a ban on said artists' work when the person doing the bannning publicly gets up and says i'm not doing their work because of their politics? In other words, doesn't behaving as if it is a ban make it so?

2) (connected to 1) Does this strike anyone else as leftist posturing on the part of the Comedie Francaise? In other words, the artistic director goes: "Gosh, this guy's politics are reprehensible, I don't want to represent that voice on my stage!" And then his next step is to go, "Let me make sure the press all knows about this brave stand I'm taking against a guy whose crackpot views are completely not respected in France anyway!" I'm not saying it's definitely this, but I find it suspiciously attention-grabbing.

3) To take the opposite view: Isn't (as with Corrie) once again an issue where money is an unspoken current here? I don't know how rights and royalties work, but I assume they have to pay him still when they do his work (he being alive, and his plays having been written recently). Doesn't that matter? Shouldn't a theater have a right to say "Due to your loathsome politics of fascist sympathy and genocide denying, we no longer want to pay you any money and thus subsidize your ideological career of fascist sympathizing and genocide denying. Therefore we will no longer do your work."?

I'm not sure the answers to any of these... I'm just trying to complicate the conversation a little bit and move it into the shades of grey...


Freeman said...

The context is different for the CF and NYTW...but I don't think that's because NYTW engages in "mere commerical enterprises" and the CF is bound to a higher moral standard because they're the state theater. The issues are different only because 1) people find sympathy with Corrie's views and not Handke's and 2) Bozonnet expressly said why he's stopping the production, and Nicola talked around the issue. Otherwise it's the same basic problem: do these artistic directors have the right to cancel a show that you might like to see, for reasons you don't agree with?

Yes, they do.

That's part of their freedoms, their ability to express themselves. Perhaps Bozonnet views this cancellation as EXACTLY serving his mission, which is to speak out on "social matters."

The nub of the question isn't, for me, to seek out hidden motives when the motives are on the surface. If Bozannet says "We're not going to perform this because of his political views" conjecture about when he decided to do so (should he have scheduled the play at all?) strike me as tangential. There could be any number of factors about when the decision was made, and they're probably rather mundane.

As for the completely side question of "undoubted artistry"... anything can be argued against and doubted and, pretty much, everything is at times. Art is a question of taste, of personal experience, it's personal. Anyone can be said to be a great poet... but no one can be universally proved one.

I think there's a tendency to treat our personal taste as if we speak for the larger artistic community ("Everyone agrees that this is so") as opposed to just saying "I believe that Handke is a brilliant playwright." I'm sure that there is broad consensus, but speaking about the "fact" of anyone's artistic merit always rings false to me.

Freeman said...

1) I just think the word "ban" is overreaching. It's alarmist, a word with a bad connotation, to make the decision not to perform Handke's work seem more like a governmental edict and less like a personal decision.

2) Could be. I think trying to crack the motives (Why are they doing this and when did they do it) just leads to a bunch of unhealthy assumptions and theorizing. The question is, in the end, the choice itself.

3)I do think there's a punative part and a resources part here. The boring practical side. "We've got a budget and we have to spent it how we choose so why should we spend money on this man when we can spend it in a way that doesn't make us all feel dirty?"

John Branch said...

Apparently this, like the Rachel Corrie case, is a matter of a theater reversing its decision to produce one play, although, as Alison's initial post suggested, this may mean that all of Handke's works are effectively banned from the repertory. Here are two lines from a short New York Times item in the 4/28 edition: "The Comédie-Française, citing the prominent avant-garde Austrian playwright Peter Handke's support for Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia who died in March, has canceled plans to produce one of his works, Agence France-Presse reported yesterday. According to a spokesman, the decision by Marcel Bozonnet, the administrator of the theater company, not to present 'Voyage to the Sonorous Land, or the Art of Asking,' an inquiry into language, was made after reading a report of Mr. Handke's presence at Mr. Milosevic's funeral in Serbia." I mention this just for the sake of getting a second account on the record. As Alison notes, this leaves us to wonder why Handke was programmed to begin with. It may be that Handke's giving a eulogy at the funeral was the proverbial last straw. It's easier in one way to put up with a troublesome artist who's dead; at least he or she isn't going to do anything new to add to our qualms.

George's suggestion that pulling Pound from the shelves of federally funded libraries would (he hopes) lead to an outcry, together with Alison's suggestion that the question is whether we're adults when we encounter art, remind me of numerous instances in America in which children have supposedly been protected by the removal of books from school libraries or (as one recent case had it) the canceling of a planned school musical. My personal feeling is that every time someone decides the public can't handle a given work, we are being treated like children, and rather than protecting us this encourages us to act and think like children. However, I'm not sure that's a fair complaint in the case of Handke and the CF; it sounds to me as if Bozonnet simply felt he could no longer countenance Handke's views and didn't want to lend the man any visibility in the course of producing his play.

There be something more than questions of politics and art involved here, namely what's often called in America the character issue. It's a vague notion, and one I disagree with, but it boils down to this, I think: everything a person does has some connection to what he or she is, and the work of a bad person will necessarily be tainted with his/her bad character. People who think this way want no more to do with Peter Handke's plays, or Ezra Pound's poetry, than they do with Peter Handke or Ezra Pound themselves. To me, this is some sort of old-fashioned essentialist nonsense, and besides, if you feel that way, you can just choose not to see the plays or read the poems, but to this way of thinking (what I could call the moral infection scheme) that's not enough; what comes next is the claim that no one should see the plays or read the poems.

Again, I'm not sure that's true in the case of Handke and the CF, but I wanted to mention it. It's involved, at some cultural level, in the response to many other prominent figures.

parabasis said...

If you have the right to not see the play, don't you also have the right to not perform the play? JB, no one is keeping people form seeing the play, they're just choosing not to do it. It's not as if they're locking down the rights and not producing it...

I think I'm actually finding myself changing my mind here on this one, or at least deeply divided in terms of how I think about it... I find myself disagreeing with George in that there are plenty of other theaters in France, all of which are state supported and all of which could do Handke's plays if they so chose, and thus I don't think this is tantamount to an act of state censorship (George, if I am oversimplifying what you are saying, I apologize in advance, I'm just trying not to ramble on here too much).

So why is this different than Corrie (or Corpus Christi)? Well...I don't think the CF chose to not do the play due to political pressure from outside groups (which was the reason I got in a huff in the first place) and they actually seem to be very upfront about their reasoning. And those are key important differences.

And, to play devil's advocate (again)... let's not be hypocrites. Those of us in the states who marched against the Iraq war did it in marches organized and sponsored by a pro-Milosevic organization. We didn't really have a choice, but we sucked it up and did it then.


Ben Ellis said...

I add a postscript over at mine

Joanne said...

While I agree that this is not really a case of state censorship, Isaac, I have to disagree with some of your reasoning here...

As I see it, this is less about the *right* to see/cancel the play or the *artistic merit* of the work than it is about the ethics behind the decision to cancel.

In both the Handke and the Corrie cases, the decision to perform the piece had already initially been made, so questions of the "artistry" of the work are not really relevant to this discussion... It's enough to say that in each case, the theater had already found the work of sufficient artistic merit to warrant performance.

But the two situations deal with different - but equally thorny - ethical issues. In the case of Corrie, the decision to pull the production was a reaction to a feared response of others to the play's *content*. In the case of Handke, the decision had to do with the theater's reaction to the politics of the *author* ... more a case of blacklisting than censorship.

I can certainly understand why a theater's directors and company might not want to be associated with a political position they find abhorrent. But on the other hand, isn't it just as dangerous to justify the decision based solely on the author's political beliefs as expressed outside the context of the work as it is to bow to the pressure of outside interests? And where does it end - how far should one go in examining the personal and political beliefs of playwrights, actors and directors before scheduling a performance?

Also I can't say that being upfront about the reason for cancellation makes the decision automatically more defensible - though it certainly does make it easier to discuss and examine. (Actually, if Handke had been a little less upfront about the expressions of his politics in the press, CF would probably still be doing the play.)

Abe Pogos said...

As a side issue, has anyone out there actually read what Handke said about the massacre in Srebenica? He's been described a couple of times in these discussions as a "genocide denier". Did he actually deny the massacre took place, or did he simply say there's more to the story?

Journalist Diana Johnstone, Edward S Herman and his occasional collaborator Noam Chomsky have also been vilified as genocide deniers for taking issue with the accepted version of the massacre.

Bozonnet in making his decision is also making a statement that the accepted view of what took place in Srebenica is the only one that can be tolerated.

There's something about the discussion on this blog that goes beyond the censorship issue and raises concerns for me about the way we create history.

You can find an article by Herman called The Politics of the Sebrenica Massacre and the subsequent volatile debate he has with four detractors on

Alison Croggon said...

For the record Abe - yes I have read A Journey to the Rivers, the book in which he writes about the Srebinica massacre as being a hallucination generated by the mass media. It is a weird, disturbing and uncomfortable book. As I said earlier, it's not as if Handke doesn't have a point about how the mass media creates realities (remember those Iarqi WMD, or now the nuclear weapons in Iran). But his point, that Serb Nationalists never committed massacres, don't explain all those mass graves. The accusations against Handke, unlike those against Chomsky and others, are not just about the politics of smear.

Matt, I wasn't talking about specific theatres in my generalising, just the very different histories and present situations of theatre in France and here. The CF itself was started in 1680 as a theatre of the French Revolution, to replace the theatre of the Monarchy. French social protest ('68 for instance) has always centrally involved theatre. Whereas the American theatre grew out of commercial theatre.

I think it is very dangerous to focus on an author rather than his/her work - hard as it might be in some cases to draw the line clearly between the two phenomena in our persona obsessed culture. The Author these days is as much as fiction as anything he/she does. All the same - as Joanne and John suggest, it leads to a kind of political McCarthyism; where do you stop? Brecht was most reprehensible as a person - do we not do him? Etc

Anonymous said...,,527545,00.html

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks for that link, anonymous. In actual fact, the bombing of Serbia was a wake up call to me, and a radicalising moment - the fact that what NATO and the US were saying didn't make any sense made me seek out other explanations. Consequently, when the Twin Towers came down, although I was as shocked as everyone else, I wasn't as surprised as some.

All the same, the real possibility that Milosevic was manipulated and demonised by the Western powers and a willing media, just as Saddam Hussein was, doesn't mean that he wasn't, in actual fact, a monster, or that at least some of the crimes that were said to be committed didn't happen. Guilt on one side doesn't automatically mean innocence on the other. Not that I think Pinter is arguing that so much as the hypocrisy of prosecuting Milosevic and not others who might as easily be called war criminals - after all, in 2001 those sanctions that killed an estimated 1 million Iraqi children, and which Madeline Allbright notoriously characterised as "worth it", were still in place.

Scott Walters said...

Usually, when we write about such an issue, we do so from the point of view of the audience: the audience is being treated like children. I'd like to shift the viewpoint for a second and write about it from the point of view of the artists: should artists be expected to use their creativity to create works that they find reprehensible, or work by artists that they find reprehensible? In other words, are artists merely transparent conduits for works of art, or should their own moral sense inform what they choose to do or not to do?

Alison Croggon said...

How do you judge the moral verity of an artist? Isn't the only thing on which that you can credibly judge an artist his/her work? I don't think that art is an expression of an artist's personal moral beauty. It is an expression of an artist's moral imagination, which means that in certain senses it is amoral. And impersonal. To make it worse, people are contradictory.

Ben said...

This sort of thing has happened in France before. One of Rob Shearman's plays (I forget the title) was banned there not for its content per se, neither for the views of the author, but because Neo-Nazi groups had read the text in a particular way and were attempting to perform it frequently.

Scott Walters said...

"How do you judge the moral verity of an artist? Isn't the only thing on which that you can credibly judge an artist his/her work? I don't think that art is an expression of an artist's personal moral beauty. It is an expression of an artist's moral imagination, which means that in certain senses it is amoral. And impersonal. To make it worse, people are contradictory."

But as artists -- as human beings -- aren't we allowed to make certain that our money and our energy doesn't support things we find reprehensible? Some of us don't shop at Wal-Mart because we find their corporate philosophy reprehensible, not because we object to particular items in the store. Isn't this a similar thing?

Alison Croggon said...

Ben - that's interesting - do you know more about this play? I guess the National Front isn't too hot on a sense of irony, is that what part of the problem was? In principle, it sounds a bit like blaming Nietzsche for Nazism, which, for all his looniness, he would have hated, and in fact predicted, condemning in most unequivocal terms the trends in German society which made it happen.

Scott, to equate consumer activism with the CF decision seems to me quite a bit of a stretch. If audiences boycotted the CF because they were putting on Handke, it would be a better parallel. It's more like the executives deciding not to stock a particular product because they don't like the maker's politics.

Ben said...

I wish I knew more, but I haven't been able to find out too much. I believe you're right about it being a case of missing (or ignoring) the irony in the play, but hopefully one day I will get to read it...than I can tell you more.

Scott Walters said...

So what you're saying, Alison, is that artists should be transparent conduits who should not allow their personal opinions to find their way into the art. Is that what you're saying?

Alison Croggon said...

No Scott, I said: I don't think that art is an expression of an artist's personal moral beauty. It is an expression of an artist's moral imagination, which means that in certain senses it is amoral. And impersonal. To make it worse, people are contradictory.

Which suggests a rather more complex and dynamic and unpredictable relationship between a person's opinions and their art. An artist is not synonymous with her art, and opinion is the least of it; as Pasternak said, "an writer should be free of opinion, especially his own". Opinion is a conscious process, opining on this and that, making soundbites; art accesses more primal and complex and often arational dynamics. I hate biographical readings of artists' work, unless they're done with consummate tact (which is very rare) for that reason. They are most often misleading. Moreover, they suggest that art exists mainly as a vehicle for an artist's (often therapeutic) self expression. I think it has to be more than that. This is not at all the same as saying that art is "above" the circumstances in which it is written. It is saying that it is more complex than such analyses usually allow.

Anonymous said...

For the record, Allison, the Comedie-Francaise was indeed founded in 1680, but certainly not as a theatre of the French Revolution (1789). The CF was founded by a direct order of Louis XIV. As the C-F has not officially announced its 2006-07 season, it did not really officially "pull" anything. Bozonnet is a better liberal (and he has done much in the past few years that screams his bleeding-heart credentials) than he is a director, as his recent production of TARTUFFE attests.

Alison Croggon said...

Thank anon for the correction - I should have checked before posting. And your observation on Bozonnet doesn't surprise me...

P'tit Boo said...

I just finally listened to his statement and I can tell you that the man is *emphatic*.
Jesus, he sounds like he is out to save the world. !!!!
Are we talking theatre artist or preacher ? !!!!

There was a great editorial in Le Monde about how the works of Handke stand on their own and apparently some bookstores in france have even begun to pull his work from their shelves !!!!

I understand that it's ok for Bozonnet to have an opinion and make executive decisions about what he wants to produce. Like he says in his statement, he isn't the government. On the other hand he is sounding and acting like a world protector and a savior for not supporting and producing Handke.

If we looked at everything everyone is doing and saying instead of looking at their work, we wouldn't be producing anyone anymore !

Alison Croggon said...

One wonders rather if Celine - well known anti-Semite - or Paul Claudel - anti-Semite, misogynist, and passionate admirer of Franco - have little shelves all themselves as well. Aren't Claudel's plays greatly admired in France? Certainly they're done regularly. Maybe it would be ok if Handke wasn't Austrian...or maybe if he was dead?

Abe Pogos said...

A slight variation on sentiments that have already been expressed but anyway...

What if Jeffrey Dahmer had written Angels in America?

What if Ted Bundy had written Glengarry Glenross?

What if Jack the Ripper had written The Seagull?

What if Hitler had written Waiting for Godot?

What if Vlad the Impaler had written King Lear?

Would the world be a better place if a moral decision had been taken not to produce those works because they were written by bad people?

Would we feel safer?

Would it help us understand anything about anything?

The Corrie and Handke controversies made me recall a similar event at The Royal Court Theatre in the eighties when jim Allen's play Perdition - a courtroom drama which argued that some Zionists had collaborated with the Nazis - was axed by the artistic director, Max Stafford-Clark, 36 hours before it was due to open.

There's an excerpt online from Uri Davis' book, Crossing the Border, which talks about the controversy in some detail, the reasons given for the cancellation, the efforts Davis and others made to get the play into production and the obstacles they encountered along the way.

It can be found on:

steve said...

Can I ask where exactly in Handke's 'A Journey to the Rivers' does he argue "that the Srebrenica massacres never happened" and that it was "a hallucination generated by the mass media"?

Is it page 56 where he meets a woman whom he says is "convinced" that the massacre took place and with whom he doesn't argue?

Is it page 73 where Handke's companion asks "You aren't going to question the massacre ... too, are you" to which H. answers "No".

Or could it be page 81 where he refers to the "great suffering" prevailing at Srebrenica?

Thank you.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Steve - being Handke, A Journey to the Rivers is anything but easy polemic, and one can't reduce any of his books to any simple thesis. But I feel what I've said is fair, given my caveats about its justness about western media coverage. See p 73, where under Handke's "no," he continues: "But I want to know how such a massacre is to be explained, carried out, it seems, under the eyes of the world, after more than three years of war during which, people say, even the dogs of war had become tired of killing, and further, it is supposed to have been an organised, systematic, long-planned execution. Why such a thousandfold slaughtering? What was the motivation? For what purpose?" This meditation is undertaken in an idyllic country scene a mere few miles from Srebrenica killings are supposed to have happened, where there is no trace of such an event, and afterwards there is a long critique of the false mass media chroniclers who demonise Serbia. There is an ambiguity here that begs some questions; it can certainly be read as questioning the provenance of the massacre.

steve said...

So what you'se saying is that he's implying the massacre didn't happen? That's quite different to arguing that it didn't happen or that it was a hallucination.

But I don't think he's even implying that it didn't happen. I read the passage you quote as a plea for the massacre to be put in context of larger suffering.

Alison Croggon said...

I guess that question is the nub of the animus against the book (this was the one that caused riots). I'm not saying that Handke is in the same paddock as the revisionist historian David Irving, by any means: but in denying the Holocaust, Irving does not deny that there were camps to which Jews and others were sent, nor that a lot of people died in them (though he says fewer than claimed). But Irving claims that they died of disease and other attritional factors rather than a policy of deliberate genocide. There's enough similarity of argument here to make me profoundly uneasy with what Handke's saying in the book: and he's a good enough writer for it to be distubing, for the implication to become in itself a powerful emotional argument.

I find it difficult too to reconcile Handke's nationalistic identity politics with the appeal beyond nationalism that he makes, that very Handke-ist appeal to the specific and material. He never really examines the contradiction within that, beyond the vague wish for a poetic sensibility which would permit the cycle of war to be broken. For me, there's a strange vacuum in the middle of the book that remains extremely problematic.

steve said...

I think the strange vacuum is closer to home. Our governments (the US and UK) were responsible for atrocities against Serbia yet do we hear the herd of anti-Handke commenters - so certain and righteous in their disgust - making a fuss about them? No. I'm sure they aren't even aware of them.

As those who prosecuted the war on Serbia have openly admitted, it was nothing to do with 'genocide' in Kosovo but more Serbia's political independence. Check out:

Alison Croggon said...

Steve, if you read my posts above you would see that I am in fact very aware of the hypocrisies of the west in this argument and of the culpability of the mass media. That doesn't mean that I believe Milosevic is a good guy, that the Serbian forces are innocent of atrocities or that I necessarily buy the baggage of Serbian nationalism. You might note too that I am against Handke's work being banned. I'm not keen on reducing this argument to simplistic sides.

steve said...

Accusing Handke of arguing that the Srebrenica massacre never happened is, at best, a simplistic reading of what he actually wrote. It would be fair to Handke and the truth to place a correction.

Alison Croggon said...

Steve - I think anyone who's read so far in the comments would have a fair idea of the arguments around this issue. Can you explain Hanke's support for Milosevic as "protector of the Serbian people"? I know that quite a number of Serbs have differing opinions on this.

Mel Wolfe said...

It amazes me that none of you actually checked on what Handke really said:

1. In the interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung , 31 March 1999, he (Handke) said clearly, "I am with the Serbian people, not Milosevic. Anyone who is not a pronounced anti-Serb is despised as being 'pro-Serb'. Whoever mentions Milosevic's name without immediately adding 'slaughterer', 'Balkan Hitler', 'God protect us', is accused of taking sides with Milosovic.” He added, polemically, that "to be called pro-Serb today is an honour."

2. Re the lies about what he supposedly said at Milosevic's funeral, the paper was forced to print a retraction. Here was Handke's response: "I have not laid a red rose on the hearse of Slobodan Milosevic. I did not touch the hearse. I did not wave the Serbian flag. And I have never approved "the Srebrenica massacre and other crimes done in the name of ethnic cleansing." I've never considered the Serbs as "the real victims of the war." And in Pozarevac, I did not come as a "truth seeker." I am not the author of Justice for Serbia, but of Winter Journey to the rivers Danube, Sava, Morava and Drina (Gallimard). And nowhere in my little speech in Pozarevac have I said "I am happy to be close to Slobodan Milosevic, who has defended his people." What is true: I gave my speech in "Serb" (or serbo-croat)! And for all the readers, I am translating it here in French: "The world, the so-called world, knows everything on Yugoslavia, Serbia. The world, the so-called world, knows everything on Slobodan Milosevic. The so-called world knows the truth. For that, the so-called world today is absent, and not only today, and not only here. I know that I do not know. I do not know the truth. But I look. I feel. I remember. For that, I am present today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milosevic. -- P.H. (Actually, the last sentence should be translated as "[F]or that, I am present today, with Yugoslavia, with Serbia, with Slobodan Milosevic," which, although not literal, may better express Handke's sentiments.)

3. If you want slam him, at least do it for what Handke did say and do, not for what he didn't do.

Alison Croggon said...

Ahem. Check through this blog and you will see quite a few translations of what Handke actually said, plus links to other translations. I am certainly not interested in slamming an artist whom I consider a great writer on the basis of rumour or hearsay. On the other hand, that doesn't mean that I agree with him.


I come on this blog and its discussion of l'affaire Bonzonet/ Handke belatedly. Let me say the following:
Handke may be a magnificent and annoying exhibitionist, but that is also one of the drives that makes him a playwright with a chip of the Bard of Avon. Handke may have tendencies towards denial, but of the attempted genocide on the part of the Bosnian Srpsjkas he is not. What continues to amaze me is that all tribes, including the Kosovo Albanians, are allowed to be nationalists but not the Serbians.
Of course Handke has taken it on the chin ever since he launched his campaign against the media back in 1993 or even earlier. here is something for your all to look foward to in the new year.

"We are the market. We are the world. We are the power.
We write the history… That’s the way it is. That’s the way it has to be. We are the language."



it cost 3 buckst from the archive



where you can comment

in as much as my letter specifically addresses
Marcus’s comments on Handke’s

In greater detail

at the CANOE page of

the second of the handkedrama sites.

& at:

where again you may comment