Le Grande Affaire Handke ~ theatre notes

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Le Grande Affaire Handke

Over at Parachute of a Playwright, Ben Ellis has an excellent update on the Handke affair. He translates an article from Le Figaro (Paris' right wing newspaper) in which M. Bozonnet, manager of the Comédie-Française, defends his decision to take Handke off next year's program: "I didn't ban the producing of Peter Handke, but I'm refusing to invite to the Comedie-Francaise a man who doesn't respect essential values."

Ben pertinently comments: At the phrase, 'essential values', my blood also runs cold. It's a phrase which has the potential to destroy the recognition that an audience (in concert with a production, no less!) possesses the capacity to reconcile contradictions within and outside a work - this recognition goes back to the way theatre as we know it functioned in antiquity. If we junk this recognition, I dare say that we junk a bit more of our capacity to be civilised. It may be all very well for theatre administrators to become barbarian kings, to deal with purging inessential values from theatre, but it infantilises the rest of us and diminishes the capacity for complex engagement, for the rest of us to entertain, experience and thus acknowledge complexities.

He also points to claims by Handke that he never denied Serbian war crimes, but rather was pointing out that others - Croats, Bosnians - were equally culpable of atrocities. I have a rather complex reaction to this: my reading of A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia certainly left me with the impression that Handke believed that the Srebrenica massacre was a libel against Serbians created by the Western press. But I also believe, as I have said elsewhere, that there is some justice in Handke's critique of the mass media's demonising of certain select targets, to the political advantage of Western powers. The scandal of the New York Times' Judith Miller's uncritical and interested reporting of the famous Iraqi WMD snowjob is only an obvious example.

Whatever the political whys and wherefores, Handke's work has found its defenders. Ben again:

Nobel Laureate playwright and novelist, Elfriede Jelinik and others have signed a petition against what they term censorship. ...I'm quite moved by the last paragraph of the petition:

"[Handke's] ouevre, fortunately, doesn't need us to defend it. It ignores opinions. It is there, rich and quiet, vast and alive. It will not have 'the last word', besides, it doesn't seek to have it. It awaits nothing. It gives no response. Those who do not understand everything beforehand will savour finding it."


DL said...

Alison .... maybe you did it on purpose... but in this case it would be "la grande affaire " not "le".
Not that it matters.

Alison Croggon said...

Oh these gendered languages! They're so confusing to us Angles!

My French is non existent, which I guess is obvious. I suppose I thought since Handke was a boy it would be male. Thanks for the correction, Dorothy

Anonymous said...

i just heard of this...im outraged that Handke is being pilloried because he attended milosevic's funeral...What ever happened to freedom of speech? But whats more the Milosevic story youve heard is not what really happened.

In fact, Milosevic was one of the earlier victims of US/NATO's humanitarian warfare program. His crime? Defending his country against western agression. The trial that wsa conducted against him turned into a farce, as Milosevic was able to not only answer his persecutors, but in one case a prosecution witness said he ahd been tortuered to lie and ended up supporting Milosevic;

On Srebrenica, the following analysis is relevant:

If Rachel Corrie has been demonised for he defence of palestinians, even more has Milosevic bee a victim of the media-spun lies of the western power elites.

Handke is to be congratulated for seeing thru the media lies.
Dont be fooled.
Brian Souter

Alison Croggon said...

Cross posting here from Garrett's blog, as I see you've posted here as well -

I'm sorry, I just can't swallow Milosevic as victim. I agree that the tragedy of the Balkans was manipulated by the US and NATO in ways that have become depressingly familiar. Most certainly, there is a good argument that if Milosevic was brought to justice, so should have been Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, and Tudjman, the president of Croatia, and various other thugs. And equally culpable - for their unnecessary bombing of Serbia, which killed thousands of people with cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and so on and so on - are Blair and Clinton, who will never face a War Crimes Tribunal of any sort. But Milosevic's dream of Greater Serbia was always, from the early 1980s, an ugly and murderous one. That others had ugly and murderous ambitions does not absolve Milosevic from the guilt of his.

And - to return to the question at hand - whatever Handke believes, and clearly I differ with him on this question, I don't accept that his work should be blackballed.