Handke again ~ theatre notes

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Handke again

Peter Handke is in the headlines again, this time after he was stripped of the prestigious Heinrich Heiner Prize by the city of Dusseldorf. Handke was awarded the prize, which is worth 50,000 euros, but it was revoked after heated public criticism of the decision.

I am frankly horrified that Handke's literary achievements can be utterly erased by political opinions he is alleged to hold. I have my own reservations, as have others, about what can be discerned of Handke's political stance, but I hold no brief for misrepresentation and misquotation. There seems to be an industry of moral outrage that obscures any possibility of nuanced discrimination: for one thing, Handke himself is not a war criminal, but a writer.

So much for art. So much for freedom.

Those who claim that the revocation of a major literary prize in these circumstances is not a form of repression should ponder Wiglaf Droste's observation in Die Tageszeitung:

Of course it's possible that Peter Handke has got a screw loose. If you go on a search for the truth, you can also get lost along the way. But anyone that believes they automatically have truth on their side just because they belong to the overwhelming majority should not be listened to in the first place. A writer has every right to his own view of the world. Telling him to be more media-friendly is tantamount to seeking to abolish the writing profession.

Thanks to Pierre Joris at Nomadics for the headsup. Playgoer has some more details.

Footnote, via Sign and Sight:

Handke himself answers today in a short article entitled "What I did not say" in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "I have never denied or played down, not to speak of sanctioned, any of the massacres in Yugoslavia from 1991 – 1995." Handke continues that although he is often criticised for having one of the characters in his play "Die Fahrt im Einbaum" (the voyage in the dugout) defend the Serbs, "the truth is that in the play (page 65), one figure says: 'You know it was we who protected you from the Asian hordes for centuries. And without us you'd still be eating with your fingers. Who was it that introduced the knife and fork to the Western world?' But: is it necessary to point out that this is a parody? or that this minor character's name is 'Irrer' (Madman)?"


Anonymous said...

Alison, the Handke saga is an extraordinary one. I remember when our own cuddlesome Cardinal attempted to sue Sarano (or boot splasher as he was qickly rechristened) for his Piss Christ. It was one of those times (of which shamefully I have many) when I sort of let the argument drift. Yes I’m all for freedom of speech but I’m not going to the barricades for what I thought to be a lame piece of art. Also (and this was more a symptom of my complacency) I reasoned that Pell by seeking legal redress had lost the argument from the start; if someone of Pell's intellectual ability couldn’t tackle Sarano on his own turf then running to the courts for ‘redress’ was a pretty piss poor second. Mixed in with this is my still unshaped position that is strung somewhere between the poles of seeing freedom of speech as an inalienable right (borrowing the American constitutional formulation) or it being a legal courtesy that privilieges some discourses while policing others i.e. fair and reasoned comment as opposed to incitement.

But in any case no matter where one stands on the spectrum for a man to be so attacked on nothing more than hearsay and willful misquotation is obscene. I was wondering if your site (as it appears to attract a pretty dedicated and thoughtful readership) might sponsor a petition or a letter expressing opposition to the way Handke has been treated and for this to be forwarded to ‘those who should know better’. I know that the utility of such protests can be limited but it seems to be a strength of the blog world to express what is usually inconvienient. Perhaps a better option may be to forward to the same worthies a list of web links that critically tear apart the calumnies on which their decisions are based. In any case my thanks to you and Ben Ellis for a welcomed dose of gadfly.

Theatre Queen

Alison Croggon said...

Well, a protest letter from Australia might have a certain novelty value in Dusseldorf, if nothing else. I'll give some consideration to it, and would be interested to hear any other thoughts. Me, I'm off olive picking this weekend...

Anonymous said...

I should have been clearer. Its not so much just this site or this country attempting the protest but this site being one of the links (you link to quite a diverse bunch) in a much larger chain. This whole controversy afterall seems to have had its origins in a few lines written in a very flip manner by a french journalist. Perhaps if the right thinking constituency in whose name Handke has been traduced snaps back we may see a little movement, then again perhaps not, but…

Th Qu.

DL said...

My god that is so scary and apphauling.

Woody Allen is still making movies, isnt he ?

Alison Croggon said...

Maybe. The problem is that the Handke problem is complex: Handke has said things like the Serbs have suffered more than the Jews, which is an openly offensive, one might say idiotic, statement. And yet he is right in claiming, too, that he has been misquoted.

What bothers me here is that a literary prize is so openly being withdrawn as punishment for a writer's political beliefs. Handke has certainly earned the honour as a writer; for godsake, he wrote The Goalie's Anxiety Before the Penalty Kick, Sorrow Beyond Dreams, Offending the Audience, Kaspar, etc etc etc... extraordinary work. Some of it's been incredibly important to me at various stages. And now this is supposed to be worth nothing?