And Handke says... ~ theatre notes

Thursday, May 11, 2006

And Handke says...

Update: Via Playgoer: The London Times weighs in with a think piece that defends Handke - and art - against narrow moralising. Unfortunately, Rachel Campbell-Johnston doesn't seem to have caught up with Handke's legal action against the Nouvel Observateur (see Ben's blog for a translation of Handke's statement on what he actually did and said at Milosevic's funeral) and the newspaper's subsequent withdrawal of and apology for its claims. Most helpfully, Andrew Eglinton at Desperate Curiosity has some more translations of pertinent documents here.

Le Monde's comment about the general reluctance among French theatre people to comment publicy seems to be borne out, by the way, by my own researches. I am now intrigued as to why. And a PS: Having slogged through the Comédie-Française's web page, which lists its reasons for pulling the play as well as Handke's defence of himself, I can only wish that debates here were conducted with such passion and intelligence. When did we last hear a director say that inviting a writer into the theatre is "an act of love"?


Peter Handke is quoted on the controversy in the left-wing Paris newspaper Libération, with a far from negative response to Bozonnet's cancellation of his play. He is clearly as prepared to play politics as is Bozonnet. The irony of course is that the actual play has nothing to do with these issues:

Peter Handke, the Austrian playwright who saw one his plays dropped from the Comedie-Francaise's schedule on the grounds that he publicly defended the legacy of the late Slobodan Milosevic, is delighted about the consequences of this controversy. "Finally, after more than a decade of one-way (and dead-end) journalistic polemics, a breach seems to have been created in the press in France, and perhaps not just in France, to speak differently - or maybe to just begin to speak - about Yugoslavia. ... So let's widen this breach or opening, this spring blossoming of words. Let us finally listen to one another instead of yelling and barking within two enemy camps. ... Let us stick to the already proven facts which, being facts of a civil war that was triggered, or at least co-produced by a Europe acting in bad faith or at least ignorance, are appalling enough on all sides."

AFP reports outraged German reaction from the Frankfurt-based publisher Suhrkamp and the Berliner Ensemble:

"This is an attack on the foundations of a free society -- the right to freedom of expression and the independence of art," the Frankfurt-based publishing house Suhrkamp said in a statement. The Comedie-Francaise also came under fire from the Berliner Ensemble theatre over its decision to pull Handke's "Voyage to the Sonorous Land or the Art of Asking".

Claus Peymann, the director of the theatre founded by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, urged all those working at the Comedie Francaise to "push for Handke's piece to be performed".

"That the national theatre of a country which has long been a defender of freedom should practice such cultural censorship is shocking," Peymann said. "What is absurd is that they are boycotting a piece of Handke's that perhaps more than any other reflects a profound humanitarianism. It is a manifesto against violence."


Edmund Hardy said...

I was recently trying to remember where I had read a good (critical) piece on Handke's pronouncements about language & war - It's J. H. Prynne in Quid 6

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Edmund - I'd really love to know more - can you enlighten?

Edmund Hardy said...

Hi Alison, the article is: J. H. Prynne. 'A Quick Riposte to Handke's Dictum about War and Language' and it's article 8 out of 9 in Quid 6

It begins: "Whatever the context may have been for the comment attributed to Peter Handke, who in a recent protest against the NATO air-raids over Bosnia is reported to have observed that the first victim of war is language, it is hard not to wince at what seems extreme naivety and self-righteousness."