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.
Friday, April 28, 2006