I + II + III + IV
Like Lothar Struck (a/k/a “the pseudo Gregor Keuschnig”) who dissertates so nicely on the subject of the theme of idiocy in Handke @:
I, too, could not fail to note during the course of reading the mounting oeuvre Handke’s surprisingly frequent mention of his affinity to idiots. Unlike Struck (whose utter uncritical devotedness manages to turn Handke into a compleat bore) and Handke, I (who however feels not affinity but horror, or at least the normal apprehension, at the sight of idiots - lots of them at Safeway stores, semi-morons employed as baggers, several local autists - at the prospect that, it turns out, just one “Genee with the lightbrown hair” separates me from being more of an idiot than I am) saw Handke - as an artist an idiot savant for sure - also behave in what is normally considered an idiotic or very odd fashion, so that I felt, at times, that Kaspar’s discombobulations in the eponymous play, while educated by prompters into a “normal” human being, was a deep projection (“Civilization” and its discontents if you will).
However, for me, the only interesting and useful thing that Handke has ever said about the subject, and that might lead to some understanding of his kind of idiocy (in lieu of the forever literary banging about of the term in everyone from Dostoijevsky to Handke and on) comes in his booklength interview with Herbert Gantscher Ich lebe doch nur von den Zwischenraeumen, confessing - the interview derives from the mid-80s - saying that he still suffered from “occasional autistic episodes.”
Unlikely as it is that Handke self-diagnosed certain of his states of mind in that fashion (perhaps the psychotherapeutician he saw during his first Paris years - 1972-79 - did, see Weight of the World) - and what he means by autistic episodes may become clearer as I proceed - and crude as the category of autism and autistic episodes is, at the very least it provides an entry into understanding of what transpires.
If Handke is autistic it certainly would be on the Asperger’s direction of the syndrome’s continuum (1), not that that either helps very much but hints at his unusually high intellectual abilities simultaneous with I would say former, once socially inept, gauche behavior, what his deceased antagonist Reichs-Ranicki (my very own Reichs-Kanickel! - if Handke can make the lousy pun “Ganzhell” for Madelaine Albright, I have an equally bad one up my sleave) used to call “tollpatschig.” Kaspar sure was tollpatchig, too! - However, autism is not “episodic,” it is a permanent condition that can be alleviated, behavioristically. Handke strikes me as rather different now, in many ways, than he was in the 70s in Paris, which however, it appears does not mean that what I think he means by “autistic episodes” have disappeared.
Without using categories of any kind, or at least of that kind, let me take a different tack. I think it has become evident, and we might agree, even those who only know his texts, that Handke has the nose of a bloodhound, and - despite periodic variations in color perception (L.St.V.) - has the microscopic vision of an eagle (the moon is one degree slighter now), the sensitivity of a porpoise, and the hearing of a bat, and as the “restaurateur” of Nomansbay - who keeps going broke while serving the best word salad in the world (a part object if ever there was say my “object relations friends!)- evidently the taste buds of the finickiest of cats, all of which can produce extraordinary sensory overload unless you have the requisite buffer (processor), which is where the problem may reside; also for psychotic seizures of the kind that he calls “wishes to run amok.” The once nausea prone Handke comes to mind! (“Nausea of the eyeballs!” anyone?) Surfeit, the Handke who is so nauseated by the bodies of his fellow students when he starts to attend boarding school that he seeks refuge in the shit house - and it appears very much likes the smell of his own shit!
Handke even now wants to run amok
(when in fact a lot of people are doing so!) and not just when he is psychically severely wounded as he was in the early 70s with a mother’s suicide and a wife disparu.
The only “rational" reason for lifelong rage can be found in Handke’ss decade long exposure as a child to violent drunken primal scenes, plus the example of the violent stepfather whose violence was not punished.
Handke is indeed incredibly fortunate to have found literature as his salvation, otherwise he’d be locked up for life! Or, like “Albin” of WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, released from prison, this ex-goalkeep construction worker continues to play sadistic tricks! What I am excluding are genetic matters. The psychological circumstances of Handke’s childhood suffice as explanations. Thus his feeling like an idiot may be related to the persistence of Handke’s wish to run amok, he feels estranged, affinity with those who appear to be equally discombobulated. As a theme “running amok” crops up first in the Nonsense & Happiness poems and the stormy period that produced them
yet it recurs in VOYAGE BY DUGOUT (in the form of the “ultra madman” and, to my great surprise, crops up in this recent aforementioned interview.
Handke is furious at the sheeples/ oxen for their patience with “the state of things.”
His knowledge of Marx’s concept of the “lethargy of history” does not appear to suffice - I am assuming that someone who knows the concept of “use value” as his Bankieress does in SIERRA DEL GREDOS and the person who wrote THEY ARE DYING OUT in the 70s has not forgotten his Marx altogether - here the writer of GEDICHT AN DIE DAUER, an arch-conservative, statement if ever there was one, comes on like the revolutionary he refused to be in the 60s! After completing that well rounded novel KALI (SALTWORKS) Handke wonders out loud how it is that things actually continue to work. Indeed, the apprehension that at any moment they might stop working altogether persists, and that the “humbug” of Nonsense might burst forth.
Thus the presumption that the newest manifestation and realization of the classical impulse might be what in Germanistik used to be referred to as “geläutert” (refined, purified) appears not to be the case. He’s as passionate and furious as he was as a kid, this won’t be an instance, if there ever really was one, of the an old soldier just fading away. This is the same Handke who apparently lives on the knife’s edge of psychosis, who is violence prone, who hits his two year old when she screams while his basement is flooding, who has been violent to women; and who in Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick has his protagonist Bloch strangle the girl he picked up the night before during a psychotic anger attack where he sees the water bubbling on the hot plate like a swarm of ants: has there ever been a better metaphor for the onset for a psychotic episode, for apparently unmotivated murder? -
But be all that as it may, let me describe two or three contradictory and two near simultaneous instances of very odd behavior by the “Idiot from Griffen.”
The year is 1971.
Austria sends the “Kultur Paket” Handke, Kolleritch (of Stadtpark Forum Graz fame) & Libgart Schwarz, a successful actress, married to Handke, to the USA, first to New York, then all over the U/S of A. We all come to know of that trip via Handke’s novel A SHORT LETTER LONG FAREWELL, where Kolleritsch appears as the “Austrian Dramaturg”, Libgart is the “femme disparu” who instills fear in the German writer.
I happen to be the translator of Handke’s early plays - by 1971 however I am also the Suhrkamp agent in New York, recently divorced from my first wife, involved in my second post divorce affair, and my apartment quickly turns into the threesome’s home away from home. The arrival of the Kulturpaket coincides with the official premiere of the first Handke plays in the U.S.A. (2). I have arranged a small party at my apartment at 55th and Sixth Avenue, to which I have invited the first American critics who express themselves favorably (even before they see productions) about his work, Kaspar & Other Plays, the drama critic Richard Gilman & film critic Stanley Kaufman. Handke, Gilman, Kaufman & I form a foursome that is discussing... I wish I could remember precisely what the conversation concerned at the moment to which I will come momentarily. The director of the play Wieland Schulz, whom Handke had described as “very dark” on meeting for a few minutes subsequent to the play
is standing near the window, my terrific girlfriend Renate Karlin, a recently divorced mother of two young kids, a professor of Art at Sarah Lawrence, may be engaged in conversation with Libgart, I don’t know if I invited anyone from Farrar, Straus who did not show up at that premiere or any other, I may have asked Herbert Berghof and E.G. Marshal (3)... and I ought to have but they were’nt present.
I think Dick Gilman, who also had seen as yet unpublished translations of mine, say of Ride Across Lake Constance, might have been inquiring about Wittgenstein (Dick and I had a life-long unsettled running argument to the effect that I felt it was irrelevant that Handke had used Wittgenesteinian interrogational methods in the play, legal to and fro would have done for the Jesuitical deconstruction too, and Dick that Wittgenstein was essential).
During the discussion Handke mid-someone’s sentence peels off, really like a fighter plane... to my left and squats down by my record player, which is on a bottom bookshelf and in a corner, and I think puts on a Beatles record, and squats in such a way that I couldn’t help the thought “just like a woman” flitting through my head. You will find an analogous photo here, where Handke is sorting through some photos.
Something had evidently become too much, or too stupid.
The remaining threesome looks at each other, and Gilman and Kaufman leave shortly after.
Since I am so incredibly prescient I realized right there and then that I am beholding the future author of The Assaying of the Jukebox enter as close to a jukebox as he could - actually I only happened to show one juke box to Handke, it was the great one at Barnabus Rex when Andreas “Ace” Nowara was the head bartender during the mid-70s (on Duane Street, between Hudson & West Broadway), a juke box that traveled with Ace to his other venues, Mickey’s at Greenwich & Warren, and then to The Raccoon Lodge, at Warren and West Broadway. That visit is memorialized in Die Geschichte des Bleistift’s where Handke notes that he observed someone (me) who was as playful as he was serious: I was playing pool while Handke and Michael Brodsky conversed. And something else transpired between Handke and me to which I will come later.
What I never forget about that early evening was the broad smile of delight on “Ace’s” face when he was introduced to Handke: Ace had been a drama student under Carl Weber at NYU and thus knew Handke’s plays that Weber had directed, but had a nitely stint as the maestro of one of the great downtown venues that promised unending nightly drama- & comedylets
and ex-nearly wife Laurie Spiegel fainting as she entered Barney’s and beheld me and Handke, and Tim Burns then carrying her home the half block to the loading dock of what had been also my loft. Anyhow, Laurie, fainting, not wanting to know, was in no position to throw two by fours.
No, I was was not in the leastr presceint, I knew no such thing, although after translating Handke’ss early plays and working on their productions and giving serious thought to translating the novel Der Hausierer it dawned on me that I was encountering A LIVING GENIUS, not just one of those enbalmed by literary history. Thus, the awareness that whoever you are in touch with is an other, of whatever kind, there was the added awareness that this Handke other was also of another, and higher order. This introduced puzzlement that has not ceased. And as little as I conceived of someone writing something like JUKEBOX was I yet, but at least dimly, aware that Handke in a most unusual fashion was seeking to transform literature into something approximating music, as I then found it eventually appropriate to think of him at least as much as a composer as a writer.
What now follows, with the guests departed, is Handke resurfacing as it were “out of his juke box” immersion and committing the kind of gaucherie that might be typical of an autist as he insults his host, me, while also manifesting the kind of extraordinary level of UNawareness that seems improbable in light of the afore-enumerated sensitivities.
The above transpires in 1971. I have known Peter Handke, if imperfectly since then as compared to now. I know awfully little about his past (Die Hornissen makes you speculate, but that much in it is confirmedly autobiographical is a matter for the future), I have known him for five years, since the Gruppe 47 meeting at Princeton in May 1966. We have met maybe half a dozen times since.
His famous Princeton attack didn’t do much for someone who had been in U.S. writing seminars; what bugged me was Hans Werner Richter’s cutting off a possible discussion. On the other hand, Handke’s generalized attack was typical of his public statements, whether by design or characteristic ill temper, which guaranteed controversy in the controversy hungry media. It is a well documented event as well as recorded, also photographically: after Richter had advised Handke that comments were reserved for specific texts, Handke reiterated his initial attack, sounding like a broken record. I have heard of Handke supposedly rehearsing his statement!
The event if characteristic of Handke’s exhibitionism, whether autistic exhibitionism differs in its aggressive, intentionally disturbing as well as demanding yet in an artist’s case also giving nature I might be able to say if I had a firmer grasp on Handke’s autism, which I do not. What seems odd about this event in retrospect of what we now know about Handke is that someone who literally rehearsed writing as a teenager the way others do, say piano or violin, who felt like a “made man” when Suhrkamp Verlag accepted his 1964 novel Die Hornissen, to the extent of abruptly breaking off his law studies at University of Graz, was in such a rush to become known that he could not wait for the novel’s publication that fall or the imminent premiere of Offending the Audience at TAT, Theater am Turm, or he felt so confident that he’d take a chance of drawing the spotlight on himself for it then to fall on his productions. The Princeton statement manifests the stand-up of a contrarian, who would go against however the main streamed, aufmuepfig is the wonderful Austrian term for this kind of irredentism, and of the spirit of a potential revolutionary. His subsequent essay I am an Inhabitant of the Ivory Tower, and others, seemed consistent with that spirit, although if you read and experience Kaspar you would have a hard time proving that its author was not eminently aware of and subversive of politics in a most fundamental, anarchist way. The objective of the status quo that is in power then is to buy off to still the irrendism and turn it to its advantage, and in that respect Handke’s career becomes an object lesson, where ultimately, despite his odd foray into political activism in behalf of the deserved justice for the unjustly maligned Serbians there is a retreat into the classic position of a conservative parallel world of literature whence the literary God sends the occasional missive to disrupt and improve the conditions in Central Europe and beyond. What will be left are an entire toolbox of innovations that few will have the ability to comprise within their talents.
At Princeton, at that moment, I happened to be sitting next to Erich Kuby, the journalist, whom I knew from Hamburg. At first I had sat on the podium, next to H. M. Enzenberger, whom I’d first met in 1961 at Ruth Landshof-York’s on Cornelia Street in the Village, N.Y.C. Kuby happened to know the name of the upstart. Someone said “Ach ein Maedchen.” Subsequently Handke announced to the world that he was “the new Kafka.” You all recall the first Kafka’s announcement of his first coming!
I had met Richter in Berlin the year past, introduced by Uwe Johnson I think, or Peter Weiss, and we aappear to have failed to make a memorable impressions on each other, and it was Weiss I think or Weiss and Johnson whom I had to thank for being invited to Princeton. I think - ah “memory thinks”! - that I recall every moment I was with Johnson and Weiss and Grass. Weiss and I hit it off especially well, his softness and mine, but I haven’t the slightest recollection of the meeting with Richter in Berlin, and it appears I didn't especially impress him, this master seargent who had learned about democracy as a U.S. p.o.w.
I had the hunch that what Handke had in mind in his attack was stuff like Guenter Herburger’s neo-realism which I knew from my scouting days in 1964 at Kiepenheuer & Witch, so that when Handke showed up at the party that (Seele aus Holz) Jakov Lind, and I, and the heiress Pannah Grady had dreamed up at her utterly splendid apartment in the Dakota I approached him
to ascertain whether I had guessed right - I mean, he couldn’t mean Grass, Johnson, Peter Weiss, Alexander Kluge and quite a few others, or he was a true idiot who should not have been permitted to attend the meeting in the first place. Eventually, via an essay in
Meine Ortstafeln - Meine Zeittafeln: 1967 - 2007 http://tinyurl.com/px55jgk
I found out that I had guessed correctly.
German Amazon being far more compleat http://tinyurl.com/lw2gr2m
Handke, in his Beatles phase, that evening in Spring 1966 was wearing an open collar shirt, of small brown, yellow and black chex, with a red or pink carnation in its pocket, and dark sun glasses in surroundings which could not have been more favorably disposd, nearly as favorable as Elaine’s, toward making everyone looking expensively tanned. The glasses made Handke look like a NY hoodlum, who, thinking they were incognito? but at least could not be seen focusing their eyes, wore sun glasses evenings, and a “why those glasses?” then made for an introductory first query, and Handke’s reply that he had eye-problems, as he will describe them later in L.St.V.
For many years, then, Handke wears shades in the many photographs, although this eventually, noticeably, ceases, as though the problem had been licked, improbably so if genetic.
Spending time at the UCLA medical library back in the late 80s to track down the symptomalogy I figured hysteria, since he himself had found no other family member with similar manifestations, would be a sufficiently good explanation for Handke’s eye problems. Perhaps related to autistic episodes, which are related to Handke’s seemingly forever wanting to “run amok", not just as in the early seventies when he is panicked and distraught by both his mother’s suicide but by the wife fleeing.
We are in a side room, Handke evidently uneager to talk, and I don’t get the opportunity to ask my question as he drifts away and his host has other matters to attend to. At the next opportunity to talk to Handke he is in Pannah’s main splendid dining room but - as I am about to ask my question - Alan Ginsberg - this is the first time I catch actual live sight of his eminently recognizable visage - approaches me and asks me to tell Handke that he wants to fuck him.
This is a new one on me, I’ve not even heard a man ask a woman in that straightforward a fashion at that point, and it will be about another decade before women become that straight forward in “post pill paradise.”
I am taken aback. Ginsberg repeats his demand in peremptory tones. “Translate for him that I want to fuck him” (it appears Ginsberg is ignorant of the prevalance of English in European curricula) at which point my green-blue Prussian eyes turn into daggers, Ginsberg backs off and I notice, out of the side of my left eye, Handke grin his famous Handke grin. (Grins like a complete idiot one could say!) What would my hyper-civilized grandmothers have said to all this!
“Well, that’s nice, at least he has a sense of humor and is not as offended as I am,” is a thought that flits through my noggin - I’ll try to laugh, too, the next time this happens. However, whom Ginsberg actually means to fuck as it turns out passes Handke by (which may be part of the explanation of what Handke utters once he emerges back out of the juke box at my apartment five years hence), and is a matter that is not cleared up until about 15 years later, and that makes his grin appear in a very different light, namely that of the unconstrained sadist.
In Fall of that year, 1966, I decide that Die Hornissen is not a book I will propose at Farrar, Straus where, just married, but to
a woman lacking social finesse, which is why I have not brought her along, I have found a toehold as editor for German books: perhaps if I had a job at the preferred Grove Press who, however, has the far more experienced editor for German matters in Fred Jordan for whom I’d done quite a bit of work; but Fred who must have read the book and got wind of Handke didn’t do it either.
However, with seconding from Susan Sontag, I manage to talk FSG - via telegram from Europe - into taking on Handke’s second novel, Der Hausierer, the very one that he read from at Princeton, and his early plays, in 1967. Trying to come up with a translator I fiddle around with Self-Accusation & Offending the Audience and it turns out to be a lot of fun; see
A 30 Year-After Near-Posthumous Note on Peter Handke's Public Insult @:
and then, with no one wanting to do these plays in New York, a hippie troupe with friend and author (at Metamorphosis) Michael Locascio (just now deceased) returning from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico I troupe around from venue to venue that I find for us, and thus the translations become well honed and I have my first experience of audience reactions to these plays.
Then Kaspar is added to the Sprechstuecke. I work on all of these with Herbert Berghof and E.G. Marshall at the HB Studio, but it doesn’t lead to anything further since Herbert & Uta live in a separate world unto themselves.
The next time I see Handke it is in 1969 in Berlin, to discuss my Kaspar translation, and Der Hausierer.
Handke lives in the Uhland Strasse, an area I know quite well from the Berlin semester of my Junior Year abroad (I lived at the corner of Fasanen & Kant in one room of the two room apartment of a redhead medical student and her Hungarian sheepdog with whom I’d play “catch” the tennis ball that I kept throwing against the wall of my room in amazement that this springy creature could actually see anything through its shock of sheep’s wool). According to Adorno (from whose work I was gathering myself an Adorno Reader, again with dear Susan’s blessing of the promise of an introduction) Handke resides in a prince’s apartment, which primes me for princely expection, and not a dank, barely lighted space filled with stacks upon stacks of newspapers. Thus, Handke’s near instantaneous suggestion to go somewhere outdoors is most welcome. Prior to leaving, however, I am shown his newborn, Amina, maybe half a year old - something that puzzles me just a tad, since the presentation of newborns is something that to my way of thinking is generally left to mothers. (vide again http://www.van.at/lesen/set01/roloff01.htm
where I am being punished by not being shown the apparently and surprisingly retrieved runaway Libgart who, so I had assumed, on the phone, to be Handke’s secretary! - not shown because I have outplayed him at Tarok!)
I happen to adore babies (unless too screechy) and most likely made all kinds of goo-goo sounds during eye contact, and am I ever glad I did: vide Kindergeschichte and Handke taking umbrage at the Berlin revolutionaries who had come to proseletize him who expressed no interest in babies whatseover.
What I recall from the time at the outdoor spot on the Ku-Damm is Handke expressing the wish that especially the beginning of Kaspar the openings sentence “I want to be like somebody else once was” be as abstract as possible, and revealing, to my heartfelt chagrin, that Der Hausierer was chockful of quotes from American detective stories & taken from their German translation. The idea of tracking down their originals! I was not going to translate them straight! I even failed to ask Handke if he knew whence in each translated book they derived... maybe he would have recalled and that would have done the trick; thus, Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick became the first Handke novel in English, a far simpler book. Hausierer, still a wonderful book to my way of thinking, Virginia Woolfe like in its delicacy, still strikes me as “the new Kafka’s” wonderful way of playing with anxeity and stilling it.
Subsequent to the 1969 Berlin meeting there follows the so eventful 1971 N.Y.visit and the threesome’s assuming that I as Suhrkamp agent was their second home away from home, the first being the Austrian cultural center, somewhere in the East 50ties I think along whose balustrade and staircase Libgart played a ravishingly enticing Ride Across Lake Constance. However, it became quickly apparent that Handke was not so much married to Libgart but to Freddie Koleritsch, the two were engaged in literary theory talk, and if I had been clued into their terminology I might have become equally involved, for there were few matters I kept thinking on as consistently as the theory of the novel ever since reading Henry James prefaces
Handke was anything but happy with Schulz’s premiere of Self-Accusation & My Foot My Tutor, at Robert Kalfin’s Chelsea Theater playing at Brooklhyn Academy of Music (“Just as well that this was done in Brookly,”), but wanted to talk to the director for a few minutes, whom, during the cab ride back to Manhattan, he described as “very dark” or, at my interjection, “at least very German." - I’d had no hint of anything of the kind, except perhaps I ought to have taken his courting of more seriously, a girlfriend, the very actress (my one and only actress!) for whom I had left my wife, mentioned that Schulz would shout, as which German director didn’t. At Elaine’s the Freddie/ Peter couple resumed their intense devotion to each other which left Libgart and me to our devices which involved a lot of hanky panky under the table cloth. On leaving and Handke taking a photo of the other three, my right hand was caressing Libgart’s ass, and just the way she took my right hand and moved to her waist told me what a clever lover she would be. It was pretty evident that this smashing girl had not been loved for years. As an incompetent roue, however, I failed to write “Zum Friseur” and my telephone # on the inside of one of Elaine’s big wide yellow matchbooks! but wanted to walk opportunistically home to the Algonquin Hotel to which Handke had transfeered after finding the Austrian designated digs not to his liking. Handke the walker however was exhausted and wanted to take a cab. Just imagine the conversation
“Ist da beim Friseur?”
“Ja, Sonderangebot bei Schamhaaren heute.”
And what if Libgart after a good loving had not wanted to return go the man she would flee in a few months?
and Handke had started to have his breakdown for his wife leaving him already at that time? No, SHORT LETTER LONG FAREWELL, impossible all around complications. A true Ride Across Lake Constance moment! Barely averted disaster!
We now come to the moment were Peter Handke - the guests, including my flaxen haired girlfriend Renate - have flown the roost - returns to the world of the living from his involvement/ in the my record player juke box. And his first words are?
Addressed to me.
Du bist ja schwul! You’re gay.
I have just dwelled on the sight of Handke squatting by my record player just like a woman and recalling his being called “Maedchen” in Princeton, and, perhaps some kind of unconscious communication prodeeds to return the compliment.
Fighting words under certain circumstances.
Not only that of course, but the kind of gaucherie that only an socially inept idiot would commit.
Within the span of a few minutes the kind of behavior that can get you tossed out of a room.
I happen to be aware that at certain moments, say when I am holding a cigarette, I do so like my mother, who I was the first person I ever saw smoke. The only person I would listen to as a child, no matter how rarely we saw each other. The Volksschule SS teacher who had slapped me for saluting Hitler’s photo with the wrong arm objected to my cleaning the lint out of the corners of my eyes “just like a woman.” - I ought of course to have corrected him, and said: “Just like my mother.” But I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. I felt fairly secure in my love of making love to beautiful women. A few men had made passes at me, but none of my gay friends, it created a real problem the one time it did at camp. Later on in life, that is now, I sometimes think that there was one male friend I could have made love to, if that would have persuaded him not to join a Sufi sect where folks lifted rocks in their heads, that is Michael Lebeck who with that act ended a promising career as a publisher and translator and poet. However, even that is entirely speculative, and only shows that I loved him, since I never had the opportunity or choice, and Michael departure into the world of mental rocklifters greeted me upon my return from Europe, and I had not had the faintest.
Meanwhile clever Libgart knew the way out of the awkward moment by pointing to herself and saying “Michael and I would tear each other’s clothes off if you and Kolleritsch were not around.”
No, Libgard did not need to mention anything of the kind. She pointed to the just departed Karin as an obvious love interest of mine.
True, not just a love interest but one that made me fiendishly jealous at the slightest provocation, which just proves the point that extreme jealousy means that the jealous one is the one who cannot trust the strength of his attachment, and is liable, as was I, to bed Libgart, and even run off with her if I, say, had the money, and forget all about Renate, the best of the post marriage girlfriends just about, at least an equal if not superior. and the mistake of succumbing to Siegfried Unseld’s imprecations and becoming the Suhrkamp agent in New York.
Libgarts so pointing seemed to do the trick. However, what she was also pointing out was that Handke had remained entirely oblivious of her and mine if only emotional and potentially physical involvement. Yet if we read Short Letter Long Farewell and read it autobiographically, the German writer has a different awareness that his wife is furious at him, as Libgart was at Handke to the extent that she would flee to Peymann shortly after. And as would the second wife, Sophie Semin, flee the “cold salamander” about the time of the production of the great VOYAGE BY DUGOUT in 1994.
L’Idiot de Griffen
Upon the threesome’s return from their 21 dates in 28 days marathon sprint, a Gewalt Tour, the Austrian threesome promptly showed up at their home away from home. They didn’t so much make a trip report, Short Letter Long Farewell I guess would be it, the first thing they did was ask if I could guess who had flown with them to Atlanta, and kept insisting until I threw up my hands in despair, “How in God’s name”, whereupon they fessed up: “Muhammed Ali/ Cassius Clay” and they’d got themselves an autograph! Now I realize more than then what kids they were! The second thing I recall happening is that Kolleritsch was having a tachycardia and lay down on my once marriage bed; Peter, energized, asked for the nearest store for international newspapers and magazine - lucky he had Rizzoli’s and the St. Regis within a few blocks; and Libgart decided to rest on the day bed in my studio, I managed to withstand temptation as I
liebaeugelt her: this was not the occasion for a quickie. Yet it was not long before one of the males finally seemed to notice something. “Libgart, du bist so anders!” said Kolleritsch.
I don’t recall Libart’s reply if any. The reason I bring up the sexual tension between Libgart and me a second time is how Handke nonetheless apprehended some of her unhappiness and fury at her insulting husband who was seen going off with other women during this trip (say, at the Austrian shindig at U.C. Riverside) and how this entered, thematically and structurally in such a literary way - girl & gun, a la Farewell my Lovely - into A SHORT LETTER LONG FAREWELL. A shame that a philanderer par excellence like Handke, also besieged of course by girls what with “post pill heaven” upon us all (very much a la his DON JUAN), then can’t write an honest book of some kind, be it novel or account, about how distraught they then become if the woman, the mother-ship to which they keep returning after bedding other beauties, then says she has had it, and in Libgart’s case flees “the cold salamander.” This event, not only in Handke’s case, then becomes “the worst thing that ever happened to me,” and becomes such an insult to the system, in Handkes’s case coinciding with his mother’s suicide, that his panic attacks land him in a Paris hospital.
I find no realization at that time that Handke connects his insulting behavior to the wife’s decision to split, which doesn’t mean that the notebooks have not some notation. The like will happen with the second marriage when Sophie Semin splits at the first opportunity - her role in Peymann’s production of VOYAGE BY DUGOUT in 1999 - to have an affair with a fellow cast member. Anything for a little warmth after living with the salamander who of course, as usual, was sleeping around, that is, with everyone but the wife, this time though I at least have no evidence of a major fuguing event. By the time of the 2007 MORAVIAN NIGHT - which contains a wonderfully secret theme of true love found in comparatively old age, and all kinds of accurate assessment of what dangers women can present to an author (Hear, hear!!!) who wants to write and nothing but write - Handke has evidently figured out that it is possible to separate living and working quarters.
This the sort of stuff that is missing from Herwig’s also in other ways yet by no means entirely useless so deficient biography.
Is Handke’s kind of obliviousness idiotic, to re-iterate the theme of this focus? Is it idiotic to need to take recourse to literary models in a presentation, or impressions? Only from the point of view of the non-literary. For them Handke is a perfect ass in a world of “Midsummer Nigth Dreams.”
The fact that at that time I would have torn Libgart’s clothes off signified that I did not regard Handke a friend; for, as compared to most heterosexual male friends, most of whom hounddogged whatever pretty woman I was with, going back to the first girlfriends during the last two years of highschoool (Oakwood Friends, outside Poughkeepsie) I never houndogged not even when a friend’s affair indicated she wanted to bed me as well. The friendship with the man was always more important, my sensitive Oedipal antannae, my non-Alpha male being, knew to a high degree of certainty that anything of the kind spelled trouble; even becoming involved with a male friend’s ex of whatever kind was a no no. And I continue to be puzzled at myself why in this instance I would have thrown all apprehensions to the wind. Was Libgart that rasant? Apparently so, it must have been the way she decended the staircase at the Austrian Institute’s house. And despite the fact that I had a teriffic girlfriend relationship with which I would ruin through fits of unaccustomed insane jelousy. Perhaps it was the by-product of breaking out of a marriage that had been good for our work, but otherwise stulti- and unsatisfying. Moreover, I tended to be real faithful unless the wench and I were apart for an extended period of time, out of fear but also out of not wanting to hurt. "Kind kind kind" was James advice that I adopted until it became impossible to maintain. And the very brief obsession with Libgart preceded Handke’s insult (see anon), so it wasn’t payback that enticed me.
What if Libgart had not wanted to return to Handke after passionate love making? Suhrkamp agent absconds with Suhrkamp authors wife. Even that eventuality had not been considered no matter that I realized that Handke probably hadn’t fucked Libgart for years, nor did I dwell on the why of that. And I don’t think it was “her little lyricism” that Handke noted in Weight of the World objecting to! Or was it? Handke’s attitude toward language seemed to be of over-riding concern.
One matter seems certain: Handke, the fellow who couldn’t handle that one of his Berlin lovers had a second lover, would not have been happy being cuckolded. Yet who knows how oblivious the extraordinary seismograph really was, I say again, since he registered something on a literary wave length. WEIGHT, I believe, tell us nothing on the subject, and it becomes more heavily edited as it is republished. The matter is not raised in its reports of Handke going to a Paris psychotherapist. There Handke agrees with the analyst’s observation of his lack of emotion. That certainly stops entirely, Handke becomes nearly too warm by the time of WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES! Perhaps the notebooks will be, are more revealing. Yet there are indications that Handke can split, be a divided being - a matter I will address anon, although what someone as unusual as Handke splitting signifies even speculation will not entertain, not that Handke in many matters cannot also be perfectly ordinary idiot.
One telling event of an entirely different kind occurred subsequent to his meeting Joachim Neugroeschel whose mother sought to get her son to become a Handke translator. I happened to know Joachim well, but eventually I found him to be one of the most hideous of many hideous people I encountered in that world in New York. Initially I helped look over his Celan translations that he did for Dutton while I was the Suhrkamp agent. I even asked him to read with me during my Goethe House gig reading my INNERWORLD translations. I sort of took him under my wing, since he was talented, thinking I would not be deterred by the fact that he had a truly hideously ugly face. I used him multiply as publisher at Urizen Books, I managed to get him the PEN translatio prize. However, he then wanted 50 % of the mass paper back income, Urizen's one and only, of his translation of Bataille’s STORY OF THE EYE. Of course this was a contractually uncalled for demand, but once he did not get what he wanted all kinds of ill things were said by him and his agent, and it turned out had been long before.
Peter, after talking briefly to Joachim, returned nearly wretching because he found him physiognomically, which I had decided to ignore, so nauseating. There would be a second instance several years later when I introduced Peter to Jerry Leiber who and his partner Michael Stoller and Carl Weber, as the director, and I as translator, were experimenting with the idea of shoe-horning some Leiber /Stoller songs into THEY ARE DYING OUT: Leiber/Stoller already had a half dozen songs from their abandoned INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING MATCH to fill that bill, but we needed a few more. That meeting at Rue Montmorency is famous for Handke’s statement “I don’t do Singspiel”, but also for his nausea at Leiber’s then wife Barbara Rose’s physiognomic ugliness once again the reason, and, as I would find out, existing in parallel with a nauseating character. Thus aesthic judgements, in Handke’s case - and I imagine Handke, as have I, has run into his share of the beautfully ugly - Roger Straus Jr.s’ brutishly ugly pockmarked face not being one of them - are not to be taken lightly. Again, I deciced to overlook. Handke took badly to that visage and manner of the culture vulture who adorned his crude being with the work of his great editors. I expect that Peter did not take a liking either to the fat thick rapacious lips of Schulz’s visage when he met him after the first premiere of his plays in this the U.S.A., in as much as these lips were visible through Schulz’s heavy camouflage beard, that by now has become fashionably trimmed in such as way as to truly instill fear: http://tinyurl.com/oyksopx
What was Handke’s sense of Milosevics, of Karadsic comes to mind again just now that his involvement in the defense of Serbia and Serbians made for yet another ugly event.
Perhaps the notebooks will tell us. However, to presume that Handke was friends with either politician just because he trusts his own shnoozel more than whatever opinion of whatever programmed hideous journalist is perpetuated ad nauseam is all it is, the usual presumption by the already ill-disposed. It happens to matter not one iota how wrong or right Handke is or was in the matter of Yugoslavia, and I wish it hadn’t mattered 20 years go when this controversy started.
By the time, in 1977, that I showed Handke my favorite JUKE BOX at pub Barnabus Rex (second best, author Jim Stratton’s Puffy’s
remained unshown to him) much had transpired between the two of us, we had both had eventful half a decade under our belts. Ride Across Lake Constance and Kaspar (an Obie) had both been done at major venues in New York, Goalie, Short Letter Long Farewell & Sorrow Beyond Dreams, A Moment of True Feeling, Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld, Nonsense & Happiness had been successfully received in the U.S. F.S.G. was holding off with the second volume of Handke play translations of mine until there would be a production of They Are Dying Out and I was having problems finding a theater to do Dying (Bob Kalfin of the Chelsea Theater who had been the producer both of Kaspar and of the initial My Foot My Tutor & Self-Accusation, and it appears a professional avant-gardist, rejected Dying for being topical, unable it appears to see beyond surface topicality to its deeper themes.)
I don't think I could have imagined that Farrar Straus, especially Roger Straus, would then proceed to mis-publish as badly as they did in the 80s. At that time Handke had a fine editor there in Nancy Meiselas, and I would have a fine one for the second collection of Handke play translations, whose name escapes me at present. He went on to become publisher at Scribners I recall.
Here a host of links discussing what transpired.
(5) Handke had written himself out of, in as much as you ever can, the aftermath of his mother’s suicide and wife disparu and of his subsequent womanizing and affairs (most famously with Jean Moureau with whom he also become engaged in physical fights) with the chaste The Lefthanded Woman (1978 in the U.S.). Handke was in the U.S. I think 1977 was the second of three trips, 1976 the first, 1978 would be the decisive one, to apprehend Alaska for Langsame Heimkehr, the title text of the U.S. A Slow Homecoming, which also contains The Lesson of St. Victoire, and A Child’s Story.
My life had been romantically adventurous since 1971, only in small part due to Mr. Handke, although I think passion would have made me take the route I took no matter his once interference in a relationship of mine that had succeeded three passionate shipwrecks and traveled, the relief of sanity setting in, under the aegis of something unique in my experience that I called “the great fondness” (The Leonard & Virginia Woolfe relationship was the fantasized model!), which however would be succeeded with the most passionate of all which would eventuate in the most stunning of all blowups, and Handke would actually witness one last hiccup of the blow-up that evening at B. Rex when Laurie Spiegel, entering the lively bar, caught sight of Handke, Michael Brodsky and me and promptly fainted (that is, entered a state of denial) and was carried home to what had been “our” loading dock in the sturdy arms of Aussie sheepfarmer son Maoist anarchist film maker Tim Burns, now a facebook friend and back fucking sheep! But I was already using a third, generally Michael Brodsky, to interpose between the two of us - I did not want to be alone with Handke any more, he spooked me personally, one particular moment, a matter I shall come to in due course; his genius initially spooked me, but I had got used to it: he was in some respects a superior being, I certainly did not have time to dwell on it further than that at the time. However, I was quite willing to go to bat for it as I already had to at F.S.G. who, had it not been for Bob Giroux, would have passed on Handke as soon as I turned in my first set of translations, of Kaspar and Other Plays.
Prior to 1977 there had been visits whenever I was in Europe, as I was annually again as of 1973, of mine in the 70s to Rue Montmorency (see anon), and several Handke visits to New York. In 1975 I put him up in my apartment on the 25th floor of Independence Plaza because I had
moved, with composer Laurie Spiegel (my love of music now corporeal made me overlook the signs of profound disturbance and harridan to be as I dragged her out of her apartment on the upper East Side) into a raw 4,000 square feet loft, or my duration there, two years, too short for the walls to close in as they had at other times, and perhaps sufficiently spacious for them never to, on Duane Park. Handke had Amina in tow, and when I checked on him the next day he’d flown the coop: “suicide apartment” was his judgement of a view all along down the Hudson to the Statue of Liberty and across to New Jersey and, of course, of the WTC. Indeed, if suicide was among your apprehensions, looking down to the cement 25 floors below might prove tempting or frightening.
Suicide is an important theme in the younger Handke - Libgart splits, he tosses a handful of sleeping pills down his gullet, but then spits them, suicide of course is the theme of A MOMENT OF TRUE FEELING, and why it was then not committed: he thinks of the child. He waylays the manuscript of THE REPETITION as he is abput to mail it - if he had actually lost it he would have committed suicide he writes. (Amazing, at that point, in the mid-80s Handke is an established author and makes not a copy!) Anything untoward, including a not entirely suitable apartment and we have extreme reactions. As we now know, from himself but also via Malte Herwig’s bio Meister der Daemmerung, but could not have presumed, Handke as a kid was a kind of holy terror to the family which realized his talent and abetted it to their best ability. Even the hated stepfather Bruno Handke did! If there was a sound when young Handke practiced writing all hell would break lose. Handke quite wonderfully describes what the “prodigal son” was like as a child in WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, he used to always get his way. He was a lousy loser at anything! (And still was in 1980) It’s a delight to read but not to have been a participant of. VILLAGES is by far the most self-reveleratary all around of his works: anyone who can write a work like that has no need of an autobiography, he understands
the various aspects of his personality, controlling each of those aspects is another matter or keeping them in tandem. The point is not only that we have only one muffler as it were, but only one major focus for awareness, no matter that it is possible to train one’s peripheral vision.
Meanwhile Handke’s own self-awareness, as of MORAVIAN NIGHT, extends to calling himself a “Mutter Soehnchen”, mama’s boy, indeed those favored sons! - Class seems to have surprisingly little to do with how that love infusion lasts. Yet by MORAVIAN NIGHT and a few works earlier, not only Handke’s love of writing, but other forms of love manifest themselves, in quite astonishing ways.
Not that Independence Plaza was a modernistically frightening as he found La Defense to be, or the WTC in full view at that time. For me this apartment, quickly handed on to author Wolfgang Schivelbusch, was never more than temporary abode while the once molasses storage loft was made habitable - a toilet, a stove, electricity is all that took, Laurie a camper too! - but chiefly to be near the office of the firm, Urizen Books, that I had started with two partners in Spring 1975. Handke as well as Enzensberger contributed, respectively, Nonsense & Happiness and Mausoleum books of poetry to that occasion.
The reaction to the apartment may seem a tad extreme, but you could not call it idiotic, odd yes, but every oddity is not idiotic. Why Handke feels an affinity to idiots remains a puzzle unless his awareness of his being so different suffices, or that he projects his own being dumbfounded with the ways of the world unto the truly dumb! (I recall an evening, in say 1954, on the all-purpose dance floor gym Quaker assembly hall at Oakwood that I would never fit in, neither be an American nor German, a bit of a painful realization at the time, but one that I have had no choice but to become accustomed to.) “Where was he?” was of course the thought that flashed through my mind when I found the apartment vacated. - At the Algonquin, of course, same writer’s hostel he moved into during his 1971 visit when the Austrian choice had proved untoward, and Fitzgerald struck him as a possible model for a writer. And the decisive meeting with him and J. that spooked me would transpire there, over drinks; had already transpired by the time I took him to my Juke Joint in 1977.
Driving Handke (evidently considering living near New York) around some Long Island suburbs I could not help but notice how nearly deadly quiet that six or seven year Amina was emitting. A Child’s Story like other strictly autobiographical books that do a lot of manicuring of the precious self-image cannot be trusted. I was not going to say anything unless Handke actually hit Amina (or let her soil her pants when she wanted to go potty!) but the women who had spoken to him about his girl rearing efforts were to be taken seriously even if they “spoke the dog language” of the therapeutic. By the appearance at least of Lucie in the Woods with the Thingamajig, as I translate its German title, Handke had become a better dad to his second daughter, Laocadie, even though he, in this instance, was far less responsible for her upbringing than he had been in the instance of Amina - Libgart had really fled, Amina appears to have been with her only during summers. But there is something there I am missing, and I don’t think it is concealed in the official cover story that “Libgart Schwartz has decided to resume her career as an actress” - which she had never abandoned. Handke, in the 80s expressed considerable guilt at his educational methods, at least he did to the so talkative Erich Wolfgang Skwara, several of whos novels I translated for Ariadne Books, Plague in Siena with special delight. -
During the 1971 trip to the U.S.A. Amina was with her grandmother in Griffen! who if I am to believe what I read chiefly committed suidice because she was in despair at the prospect of the return of husband Bruno Handke from a tubercolosis home. No one in Griffen appears to have given separation or divorce a thought, although the Slovenian Sivec clan appears to have detested that dreadful wife-beating drunkard. (vide Sorrow Beyond Dreams).
Handke’s moving to Kronstadt outside Frankfurt, after he left Berlin in the late 60s, looking for a possible quiet suburban spot to be “nothing but a writer,” gives early evidence of withdrawal from distracting city ways. At one point Handke was so serious about moving to New York that I trouped to all the French-American schools for young girls - he and Amina by that time were in Paris and he was thinking ahead. I suspect that the months spent in the Hotel Adams coming a cropper while writing the title text of A Slow Homecoming proved to him the rightness of the decision not to become an exile writer in Los Unidos Estados Norte and its coldest and hardest manifestation of cut throat capitalism as he once noted to me in a single sentence while we were leaning over the ballustrade of the fourth floor roof of my second loft, at 65 West Broadway, in late fall 1978. “Boy things are hard here.” is how one might put what he, just a writer walker, had noticed, chiefly on the upper East Side.
By the end of the 1976 Long Island expedition we sat in my MGB by Jamaica Bay near Kennedy airport and watched a thunderstorm subside over Manhattan. A Pastoral Symphone moment if ever there was one.
At the airport itself if I didn’t see Urizen’s major embarrassment, its third partner, Leo Feldsberg, who had run after me to invest $ 100,000 in this socialisticaly oriented firm, where I ought to have to have been smart enough to extract a least a million from his 40 derived from the peon exerted profits of Fructo, his Columbian fruitpacking firm. Actually, it then turned out, Leo was at least in part responsible for the London Lake Constance production, son of a Vienese wine merchant whose ambition had been to become a producer, he lived outside Kali, Columbia on a hill so I found out with two armed guards on duty at all times of day, with one of the great collections of recorded operas, and on Easter is supposed to have giggled at the Christians on their knees ascending the hill opposite, with its cross. The only book that Urizen published that he cared for was Rudolf Augstein’s Jesus Son of Man. If I’d had a politician in me I'd at least have tried to explain to this very dirty old man that, properly funded, Urizen might have an easier chance - he himself had translated $ 50,000 borrowed from a Danish diplomat in the mid-40 to start his venture, and hated losing a single dollar on a bet as though it was at least a $ 100. I just did not have that kind of relation to money. He somehow found out that Handke had been aboard his flight and then asked me why I hadn’t alerted him. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t even lie that I had had no idea that he was on the same flight; we had not made eye contact after all. In my heart there resides I think a diamentine purist, the very one that found such affinity with Pound these many years ago.
There was yet one earlier expedition, this one without Amina but with Kesselman, the photographer who had taken the photo of the WTC, as shot across some landfill dunes (that became the ground for the downtown Financial Center and for the new Stuyvesant High), for the cover of NONSENSE & HAPPINESS - I was trying to reference Handke’s dislike of the Parisian La Defense - but all I recall of that trip is the sun sinking like a molten Graf Spee (famously sunk by the Brits in the mouth of a South American river during WW II) to the east of Staten Island, which means it must have been either late in fall or early in Spring since by late spring the sun sets over New Jersey, that is farther to the west, from that vantage point at Rockaway Beach. I think that trip was my idea, to show Handke where I had lived for several years prior to moving back into the city. I missed the anticipated “green flash” that is supposed to occur at the moment of final disappearance of the sun into oceans, and always wondered whether Handke registered the molten moment in his notebook that he kept making notes in, something that just about everyone who has spent time with Handke recalls.
In one of his letters to Kolleritsch in their published correspondence Handke notes how pleasantly boring I am during my visits to his semi-basement apartment in the Rue Montmorency. If only I had been one of the Backfische that space-cadetted their way there from Austria! Actually, I a city walker too, found it rather boring not even to be served a glass of water after my trek from the Fifth Arrondissement to the Marais. Handke it appears has learned to be a good host since those days, was already the last time I saw him, in 1980 in Salzburg. In Paris, at Rue Montmorency, he can be said to have hauste as the German has it for a bachelor’s existence devoted to compulsive writing. If only he had brought out the chessboard - that period of the Fischer Spassky matches was the last time my chess game was up to snuff. All I recall are rather awkward silences that did not last long because Handke in short time would say he had to write, and if I didn’t want to come back another time. I didn’t. There was one day trip to the Bois de Boulogne together with the model for Keuschnig, the actual Austrian cultural attache in Paris, who had a daughter approximately the same age as Amina, a slight fellow who I think died young, an Esterhazy??? Handke, as I think I knew by then, had studied law so as to enter the Austrian Foreign Service as a culture office, which would allow him time to write in the event that he could not make a living as a writer (which would have required considerable grooming on the Service’s part, for sure!) Far more foresightful in these matters for sure than I who had entered that world during a seizure in Fairbanks in November 1960. (6)
I have mentioned the afternoon that I introduced Jerry Leiber to Handke, who liked Leiber/ Stoller’s songs.
One time there was an Austrian Backfisch present, which made matters even more awkward than usual. I didn’t stay long, during a phone a day or so later Handke mentioned that he had exposed himself to her, and that she had blushed, sometime he said, he was “a bit diabolical.” I didn’t know much about self-exposure of that kind at that time and so said nothing, as I might have even if I had known as much as I do now. What puzzled me, though, was why he would tell? Did he want absolution? Was he boasting? As he may have in telling someone else that he once had had a threesome with two whores. It certainly ssems to be another way of “showing.” In reflecting back on how wild matters would become in “post pill paradise” New York”, maybe I ought to have proposed to the Backfisch that she fuck both of us. Knowing Handke it would at least have drawn a laugh from him, and maybe fleeing on the Backfisch’ part. Girls of all kinds, space cadets all, were wandering at that time into men’s homes. They were post-hippie-girl girls, and slightly unmoored. Hippie girls were the best, and the best of the best were from California, and they were strapping, which is how surfer’s clap, that had originated in Vietnam, might also end up in Paris. If anyone profited from the sexual revolution the gynecologists certainly did.
One of those visits, it must have been 1974, Handke gave me a copy of
Als das Wünschen noch geholfen hat | Handke online
and I started to translate the long poems that were then published as NONSENSE & HAPPINESS at the Luxembourg airport; as a poor small publisher I flew Air Icelandic, I took a liking to Luxembourg, to Keflavik, and to Icelandic sheep of all kinds! In the translation Handke took a particular liking to the word “humbug” for the “nonsense” that was bugging him in those poems. - I think it needs to be reiterated occasionally that literature is also a defense.
I visited Handke at his ugly Gruenderzeit castle in Meudon only once (where Lefthanded Woman was filmed, and from whose viewpoint Paris and its rolling hills is described). Although I didn’t smoke inside such polished parquet floors, Handke smelled the Gitanes on me and mentioned that during filming, when everyone had smoked, so had he. His cinematographer later mentioned how particular he had been during the filming, which seems to have bothered her, his identification with the work. I must say the particular care that he wanted me to take while translating WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES was most welcome.
During the filming he wrote me in New York and asked me if I could get Randy Newman to set one of the poems in the book to music. He knew that Newman had apprenticed with Leiber/ Stoller, and of course of my friendship with that pair. I got Newman’s agents address, translated the poem, and wrote the agent twice, as publisher of Urizen Books, but never had even a reply. Thinking about what kind of music Newman might have set the poem to I, at least, envisioned something that diminished the importance of the overall theme of the pain involved in becoming independent in the way the Left-Handed Woman does, by taking a Randy Newman attitude to it. Literature as defense but in a very sophisticated manner.
Living in Meudon the Handke rabbit discovered a secret way to the Foret de Chaville, and minded that when he decided to leave Salzburg in the mid 1980s; there’s a continuity there, in other words, between LEFT HANDED WOMAN + MY YEAR IN T HE NOMAN’S BAY, also geographically.
At that time in the late 70s I had yet another author in the Meudon/ Clamart area, Wilfred Burchett, the author of MOSQUITOES & ELEPHANTS,
one of the books I was proudest to have published, also for the way the author came to write it, and of SOUTHERN AFRICA STANDS UP.
and so I also visited Wilfed and his darling Bulgarian wife, in company of a girlfriend who was spending a semester in Paris, but made sure, at that point, not to show her to Handke, or her, who liked his work and was youthfully promiscous, where he lived. I had learned my lesson that Handke was a rabbit. And am I ever glad I was careful, her looks were pretty much those of Handke’s inamorata to be, Marie Colbin.
NEW YORK 1978
Nothing unusually idiotic transpired during Handke’s period in New York to write Langsame Heimkehr, which provides the title A SLOW HOMECOMING to that English language collection. He came to the Urizen offices after he had returned from Alaska and left a green leather satchel for safe keeping while making another trip, to San Francisco and Colorado. Then he returned for good and installed himself in the Hotel Adams at the corner of 86th Str. East and Madison, an old stomping ground of mine when I had stayed with Frank Conroy’s mother, and which takes up the entire block between Madison and Fifth, which is the eastern edge of Central Park. As we now know from Handke’s diary accounts, it must be the first time, he had a kind of writer’s block initially getting beyond its opening sentence, in the rhythmically unsatisfactory Mannheim translation - “Sorger had outlived several of those who had become close to him, he had ceased to long for anything, but often felt a selfless love of existence and at time a need for salvation so palpable that it weighed on his eyelids.” - that he had apparently been rehearsing for years. I doubt that I could have helped in that respect at the time or ever, even if I had not kept him at arm’s length. However, since he was always writing in Paris and had proved a lousy host I left him to his own devices unless he called, which was two or three times.
Initially, there was an idyllic walk across the Brooklyn Bridge late evening with a fine dry snow falling, to have dinner at Michael Brodsky’s. During the walk Handke revealed that he was writing a book about Alaska, it was the first thing the suddenly mother hen had heard of that, and the idea frightened me, to write a book about Alaska after just a couple of visits of a few weeks each. It turned out he had read McPhee’s big book about Alaska, but wanted no Alaska stories of mine, he was full up, and I seem to have appreciated that. He didn’t recall that it had been I who had written him years ago, when he inquired about American winters, that if he wanted something really different, Alaska was it. We had dinner I think twice more, each time with Brosky as my protective interposer, at Elaine’s, my once eatery away from home, which I visited rarely since moving downtown to Tribeca with the start of Urizen Books in 1975. One time I picked him up at his room at the Adam’s and appreciated its view of Central Park. Nancy Meiselas, his editor at Farrar, Straus at the time, mentioned how Handke had told her before he left after I don’t know how long he really stayed - three months? - that he had fucked up Homecoming. He didn’t mention anything of the kind to me, or show me the manuscript which appears to have been planned to be a much grander one than what we have, three four chapters, one in Alaska, the other in San Francisco, the third in Colorado, where, at Handke’s visit, he found an Austrian friend, a skier had died - I recall him indeed beting rather downcast at his arrival back in New York to pick up the green satchel..I might havee inquired why, but I did not. In San Francisco Handke, who was with Wenders, was observed to have cussed an audience, at least according to future friend and witness John McVey. As long as Handke is cussin’ & shoutin’, and “banging the big bass drum” (a la “Saved”) as he did again recently in the Zeit interview, he is full of living oats, and I think it ought to be taken as a sign of life. To see him despondent on his return from the West Coast was unusual, and if we’d been close I might have inquired. The New York section of Homecoming - the text has a NY denoument - has a scene where Sorger is talking to the nightman at the hotel where he is staying - Handke appears to have been lonely, I know he saw Kurt Bernheim, my darling successor as Suhrkamp agent, a few times. If he had wanted he could have of course met any American writer he wanted, either through me, Kurt or Farrar, Straus. I have no idea whether he met anyone aside Brodsky, or what someone who was sexually so active did about women. My downtown bars and clubs certainly were filled with the most marvelous adventuresses. I did not read Heimkehr until I bought myself a copy in 1980 in Vienna, and it bugged me that no one had bothered to send me a copy, if only for my collection of first editions, and reading Heimkehr upon my return from a visit to Bulgaria in late October/ early November 1980 made for a rather astounding and totally unexpected experience of mine.
I had spent nine months in Alaska in 1960, as fire fighter and geological surveyor, which Handke, since he didn’t want to hear my Alaska anecdotes, of course knew nothing of, and thus I had a dozen or so extraordinary Alaskan experiences but the biggest experience of them all, that of the hugeness of Alaska seemed to have remained something that had hung over, a latency that had wanted to be articulated all those years, twenty years that is, and the Alaska chapter, the lens that the seismographer Handke / Sorger sets then unloosed a flood of emotions and I was all bubbly and enthusiastic when I got to Salzburg, especially since someone in Vienna, on the street, a woman, approached me and told me I reminded her of Laufer!