And as for the play? ~ theatre notes

Saturday, May 13, 2006

And as for the play?

Michael Roloff, Handke's English translator, has some noteworthy comments on the Handke controversy at this colourful Handke web page, where he talks about the cancelled play. (For what it's worth, I agree with his high opinion of Voyage to the Sonorous Land, which is disturbingly strange and beautiful as only Handke can be):

The play "DIE KUNST DES FRAGENS, oder die Reise in das sonore Land" happens to be a truly great play; it creates a profound and delicious sense of deep puzzlement in the audience, something that, ordinarily, is achieved only after years of psychoanalysis.

I have known Herr Handke since 1966, personally feel some considerable justified ambivalence about him, little ambivalence if any about most of his work ... and have written extensively on various aspects of Handke, including his involvement in matters Yugo-Slavian. It appears Handke was following his grandfather's road in hoping for a continued federation, also as a counter model to the current European federation. Best as I can tell from this distant perspective that depends entirely on written texts and documentation, he is not guilty of denial of anything, but of not speaking in platitudes.

Last year he published an essay in the German magazine LITERATUREN, in which he detailed why he would not appear as a defense withness at Slobodan Milosovic's trial, where I especially liked how he made fun of his own sense of self-righteousness. That he came out in simple defense of the Serbian people against the orchestrated attempt, in Europe and in the United States, to make them solely responsible for the disintegration of Yugo-Slavia I find worthy of the highest praise, as compared to no end of writers, such as Salmon Rushdie, who were only too ready to join the lyinching mob, or band wagon, as so many pret a porter intellectuals frequently are. Having disassociated himself from the defense of the more and more indefensible Slobodan Milosoviscs - as the trial proceeded and his entire history became available -- I don't think Handke needed to show up at the funeral, have his photo taken in front of a huge flag-like photo of Milosevics, or make any kind of funeral oration. Herr Handke can be as petit bourgeois, exhibitionistic and obnoxious - the German word is BORNIERT - as Bozonnet. THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS in this instance is THE PLAY. I am glad that there is a controversy over a great play!

Onya Michael. I love that plague-on-both-your-houses irritation at the end... also, writing this in Australia, one can't but reflect that such a controversy would never happen here, since aside from fringe productions of Offending the Audience and other early plays, Handke is seldom done, and certainly never on main stages. Maybe that should be the larger scandal.

Also, the competing petitions for and against M. Bozonnet, both headed by their own Nobel Laureate, continue to be circulated. According to Literary Salon: "It wouldn't be France if there weren't now a counter-manifesto: Olivier Py's A plus tard, Peter Handke (which can be translated as: 'See you later, Peter Handke'). The manifesto in support of Handke had its Nobel laureate supporter -- Jelinek -- , and this one has its -- Gao Xianjian. Among the 150 others who have signed it, agreeing that part of artistic freedom is the freedom to censor (well, some bizarre idea like that anyway) are Hélène Cixous and Ariane Mnouchkine."

Hmm. One question: if this is French theatre people being reticent...


Ben Ellis said...

Reticence... yes, I was surprised by that observation by the authors of that Le Monde article but thought it strange enough to give note to it (compare and contrast, that kinda thing). Then again, while there might be a multitude of petitions, there may not be a multitude of voices. French debates for the most part seem to be about many people taking positions within positions within positions (as with the CPE protests/riots). With the Handke affair, it just seems to be about signing up to one side or the other, which may be being mistaken for only two voices.

Alison Croggon said...

Well, to be fair, I also hear that people are taking politic positions and not publicly airing their thoughts, though speaking vociferously in private. Perhaps Handke's politics are considered somewhat radioactive by the left wing, who would otherwise support him.

The Playgoer said...

I think Olivier Py directed the "Srebenica" piece I saw here in NYC on tour. It was awful, simplistic speechifying, even if "documentary," I think.(?) But I guess that's part of his link to the anti-Serb argument.

Surprising that Mnouchkine and Cixous would say this. Has Mnouchkine taken up the issue of Yugoslavia before, in her work on refugees?

Alison Croggon said...

I'm not so surprised at Mnouchkine and Cixous (if, I confess, a little disappointed). Odysees, the huge (and wonderful) show about refugees that she brought to Melbourne last year, was scrupulous in its care not to be artistically cavalier with the real experiences of refugees, wary of not exploiting real suffering. That was a major reason Cixous did not script that show. It reflects the view that in the face of real suffering, art should be humble. In this case, it would be logical that she should object to an argument that Handke's art counts for more than his public support for Milosevic (whatever he did, he still attended the funeral, and as a public figure, especially in Europe, that has resonance).