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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The "FUGUEING" Section from Part II of the Psycho-Analytic Monograph on Peter Handke

Subject: III-c FUGUEING section of the Handke psycho-bio monograph Part II
Date: Sun, 28 Jun 2009 10:01:14 -0700

Part II is done but for the notes, here is the section on "fugueing" and the three poems from Nonsense and Happiness I noodled over for some weeks. Also as an attachment. Comments appreciated. xx m.r.



And then, not that long after Handke’s mother commits suicide, his wife Libgart Schwartz disparu [“the worst thing that ever happened” he told a mutual acquaintance, a woman. I would say: not by a long shot of the decade long childhood trauma, but perhaps since]. The language regulation for this event becomes that Libgart has decided to resume her acting career, which the slightly older Libgart cannot be said to have ever dropped. She had just recently acted in the film that Wim Wender’s made of Handke’s Goalie. Libgart Schwartz and Peter Handke are legally divorced many years later, just prior to Handke consummating his second marriage with a wedding trip [some wedding trip!] with the first of his Yugoslav war adventures which will result in the book A Winter’s Journey to the Rivers: Or Justice for Serbia during which his second legal wife, Sophie Semin asks that famous question, indicating Handke’s awareness of his proclivity for denial, “and so you doubt that, too” [referring to the shelling of Dubrovnik – see anon] and see:


the Milosevic controversy summarized]

Handke’s second wife Sophie Semin also leaves Handke, around the time of the premiere of The Play about the Film about the War [1999] in Vienna where this model turned actress had a part, for a fellow actor, but without eliciting the same kind of fugueing disastrous consequences for my pasha’s pride as the first of at least one other disappearance, that of Marie Colbin, did. Handke said in an interview that he was not at all happy about Semin’s leaving. However, my Serbian grape vine has it that he already had a Serbian for a main squeeze at that time and that Ms. Semin and daughter Laocadie had already moved out of the unhappy-making Forêt de Chaville abode. - “Quelle horreur!”]

Thus, in the early 70s, Handke not only looses both mother and wife in short order but becomes house mother father to a most constraining but ultimately salvaging infant child [more on that anon, too]; his life disintegrates at a moment when he is at the peak of early success - he must have had two or three bestsellers at that time: Short Letter Long Farewell, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams and Innerworld of the Outerworld, and his plays are all the rage! And he had accomplished all this – a life’s work for many a genius – in little more than five years! And our jaunty haughty enraged fellow is laid low. And it takes him about another five years to hit a new and quite different stride. At least money is not a problem nor is time for himself, although in fact all that time by himself may be t h e problem of problems in the sense that he can dwell and noodle and doodle at length in his state of misery, which he might not at a job, on these blows which then elicit a prolonged and severe nearly five year crisis, personally, and in his work, which now becomes more immediately personal, or at any event: very differently and more directly auto-biographically tinged than were his prior self-state revealing works

Handke writes himself out of this crisis, sort of - let us never forget that the Handke writing machine needs to write most of the time to stay calm and well and so heals himself - which lasts from Fall 1971 – from Sorrow Beyond Dreams to The Left-Handed Woman - about 1976 “with a little help” [a therapeutician in Paris, a panic attack and brief hospital stay, some pills, Valium] – “working through” an analyst would call these series of attempts, a writer’s, a very particular writer’s way of working through – especially the three long poems in Nonsense and Happiness and the suicidal novel A Moment of True Feeling and the collection of spontaneous diary entries that is Weight of the World [W.O.W.] as a way to regain control, and get to the fulfillment of long-laid plans, and some, but limited, self-understanding: I think if you read or re-read W.O.W. it might occur to you that the writer of this cumulation of mostly depressive entries [which however surprisingly ends for me and some other readers in lifting us out of the depressive state that this nearly preternaturally depressive’s text has put you in] might conclude that he needed to change his life, as Handke then gradually did. [“Working through”, the labora verimus of the procedure, involves, using Freud’s metaphor, the gradual examination of the numerous bone fragments – and their dimensionality is nearly legion - that a fracture leaves in its wake. My proposition is that through writing Handke more or less accomplished what is called “working through,” halfway, imperfectly, as we can see how much the same person, though a far better writer Handke is, by the time of Across [Chinese des Schmerzens] in 1984, at which point a painterly element has become part of his style. He regained his self-control, as a writer he can not be said to have lost it, though I have no idea how many drafts it took so that he felt the three poems of N+H and A.M.T.F. were what he wanted. The plan for A Slow Homecoming seems to have been hatched during the period of recovery, though the idea of Alaska I think is much earlier even…

One question to which I do not have the answer, only a suspicion, is whether Libgart Schwartz left with or for another man, which would have been more injurious to my pasha’s pride. My guess is yes, and is so for two reasons: it was evident in New York in 1971 that any half-way attractive man’s slightest beckoning would have sufficed for the neglected and insulted “woman” to split from the obnoxious and neglectful hero of Short Letter Long Farewell, who though he evidently sensed her emotional longing [expressed in the novel as a physical pursuit] was unable to or chose not to respond; my second guess being that the way “The Left-Handed Woman” in the novella withdraws from her husband into tending her self and translating would have been a far less painful and shocking and more acceptable and comprehensible way of going about the leave-taking than what actually occurred, an admirable way of going about achieving independence from my man’s writerly perspective and self-interest, and thus a bit of wish fulfillment entered the imaginative conception of L.H.W., one of Handke’s chief strengths, the “as if,” those artistically useful states – products of the imagination are as capable of being analyzed as dreams, and like dream analysis come to an ultimately inconclusive end at the navel whence they have issued - may play into that so wonderfully and concretely imagined reversal which otherwise is bereft of profoundly autobiographical elements – but shows the extent of Handke’s ability as a writer to imagine what it is like to be a single woman, and that Handke used his Meudon view of gently rolling Paris hills and the general setting – also in the film - to become less constrained, more open-hearted, - tightness around the chest is another of Handke’s psycho-somatic symptoms - especially to become the kind of mytho-poeic writer that we see him becoming already in Short Letter Long Farewell: thus, the works of the 1971-76 period represent a break from the prior endeavors that resume with Left-Handed Woman and A Slow Homecoming. Handke’s childhood past, its consequences caught up with him then; not just his anaclytically absorbed depression, and the decade long anxiety inducing exposure to violent primal scenes,

his hypersensitivity makes him especially injurable to this sudden double nay triple whammy. The simple fact that he is the cause, at least of his wife’s leaving, even if that thought occurred to him, would provide little relief. It isn’t that he’s been victimized by a woman who really hates men; he is just one of those men who might lead some women to hate men, big diff!

The three sequential poems, Life without Poetry, Blue Poem + Nonsense and Happiness, the [title of the American edition


composed over a three year period, I am going to regard here from the perspective of the psychological phenomenon called fugueing.

This condition, fugueing, a term also appropriate to these so musical musings, usually results from severe mental stress and may persist for several months [years in Handke’s case] and if one reads the three poems in succession – which were written in approximately sixty day periods each in the years 1972, 1973 and 1974 – three times the same tack in three years - one can tell what specific diurnal rhythm the fugueing had each day for Handke, these “nonsense attacks” over and over again, relieved by sudden disappearance, and reappearances, quite enough to drive anyone over the edge who is at their mercy, who is BEING LIVED BY THEM… and which appear to become progressively more severe. Moreover, what makes fugueing especially unpleasant is the inability to have any control over these states of mind, control being something that had become Handke’s forte, as you can see in Innerworld, and the early fear-overcoming works. [See the very long footnote at:
on “Turk” [Singular and Plural] one of the poems from Innerworld where I try to show what the author does for himself [and an empathic reader] in overcoming an incursion of anxiety, exemplary for many works of that period, from Der Hausierer, to Radio Play One, My Foot My Tutor, etc, etc.] These are very concrete manifestations of how Handke the artist becomes surrogate.

Not only does Handke fugue in and out of depressive states that verge on the suicidal into idyllic moments in these three long poems, but his hyper-sensitivity, now especially wounded, becomes hyper-irritated, irritations apparently entirely mood dependent, surfacing from what we would call the system unconscious. Yes, reading these three poems in sequence as I did again just now you would call them first of all moody, but also musical, filled as they are with murderous and suicidal moments, disgust, extreme nausea, hyper irritations, feelings of utter worthlessness and nonsensicality. Nearly all the same matters that he cites in his Essay on Tiredness as enraging and then tiring him as an adolescent also appear in this instance. The first of these poems, Life without Poetry, initially manifests to me the same mood or lack thereof, the same deadened state of mind in which Sorrow Beyond Dreams was composed in late 1971, it issues out of that experience. Life was also written at about the time he did the acceptance speech for the Büchner Preis – the wish for a phenomenologically registering writing, along the line that he practices instead of the then prevalent political attacks via actionist concepts. The use of the word “concept” is a bit puzzling, since no end of words can be said to be mental concepts of what they signify. Handke means, first, the occupation by slogans, of a political kind, during this fervently leftist actionist period; then cliché formulas, the slippery stones of ordinary human communication:

“In the newspapers everything stood black on white and every phenomenon looked right from the start

like a concept

Only the cultural journals

still demanded conceptual exertions

were merely the dance of veils

before other dancing veils

The novels ought to be “violent” and poems “actions”

Mercenaries had strayed into the language and occupied every word

blackmailed each other

by using

concepts as passwords

and I became more and more speechless.”

Handke’s state of mind certainly is in no way usefully described in political concepts; medical and psychoanalytic concept are another matter: but they too, should wait. And so anyone who has followed me so far and who is interested on my take ought to read these three long poems in their entirety at least once, because here I provide only long chunks, divided by (…):and color coded, but only initially, roughly, to indicate the ups and downs of mood: green for up; purple for down; grey for intrusions of feelings of deadness, alexithemia in psychoanalytic terminology, white for nonsense or absurdity [which might be regarded as the manifestations of – unsuccessful - unconscious attempts at defense, attacks on the self. Incursions of aggression are marked in red. That is not to say, that the poems are devoid of instances of mixed feeling states! I am merely – merely! – providing some indices. I italicize indications of [often exteme] sensitivity to sensation. Let us never forget that these three poems are attempts to provide verbal equivalents of a writer’s subjective state of mind.

The first two poems, Life and Blue Poem, it will be noted, are composed in the same comparatively plain declarative poetic style, the third, Nonsense and Happiness, starts off and ends in a nearly rhetorical “high mode” reminiscent of the high style French poem of which it contains a quote –

“O desespoir! O villessee! O rage!...”

- Your eyes grow wide,

whatever you look at


after such long nonsense, suddenly there was so much of the world’s abundance.

a citation that made the author snap out of his state when he came on it! An instance of cycling as it were. The abundance of poetry on a page in a typewriter! He recalls poetic world feeling making him want to write as an adolescent, now he needs to write to have a feeling for the world.

(As a boy when a feeling of the world overcame me

I only felt the desire tot WRITE something

now a poetic desire for the world usually

only occurs when I write something)

Literature, in general, I would hold, is a defensive operation, for Handke clearly a salvation, and “high mode” provides an upper register or valve in that endeavor!

Handke presented the three poems as an ongoing development of his Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld project, which is the primary vantage – equivalent to states of mind and being - into much of his work, especially the novelistic. I think Handke is absolutely correct in that presentation, but what a different innerworld than in the poems in the book of that title it is! The English educated world of course recalls T.S. Elliot’s notion of the “objective correlative”, of which the adjective may have become entirely questionable and irrelevant, but not the part that there exist related correspondences…

During these years 1971-73 Handke also completed the play They Are Dying Out [discussed on page 49] which I translated in 1974 and where he then made one change for the final version, altering a passage that manifested feelings to the more standard tough derisive cold tone that rules that play as well as the two prior novels, Goalie and Short Letter; and excusing himself to me, unnecessarily [the things writers then excuse themselves for!], that he had not been well and had lost his concentration. The therapeutician that Handke mentions seeing in Weight of the World points out to him that he seems to lack access to his feelings and Handke notes that he agreed, but if we read these three poems we note the incursions of feelings and their frequent soon disappearance, sympathy, if only for himself, and then none. He, something in him, was equivocating, but couldn’t really help the feeling coming on, overwhelming him, so it appears, to near tearfulness at moments. Life, written entirely in a well-to-do section of Kronberg, also shows how places enter Handke’s work, the degree to which someone so sensitive is also to his surroundings.

The writer knows that something is seriously off:

I’m really in a bad way

I know one shouldn’t stop like that

but there’s no alternative”

with precisely those words

- Speedy Gonzales of concepts –

- I wanted to stop

even before I started to write

But he is trapped in his fugueing!

“Blue Poem,” the second of the triptych is the most aggressive and down of the lot. There we see Handke visiting Paris [as he did to find an apartment] and then going off to visit a friend somewhere in Germany [perhaps Nicolas Born] “Life without Poetry” appears to be located entirely in the well to do bungalow suburb Kronenberg, and is the gentlest, comparatively. By “Blue Poem” Handke is in Paris, Paris street scenes, Metro scenes [the period those great physical fights with Jeanne Moreau – not exactly the woman you would chose if you needed a bit of succoring! Unless he had started having an affair even prior to his being left, which is quite conceivable in the instance of our then lay-a-broad. There is a lot of sadism and strength in Handke, and he takes pride in introducing sadistic payoffs into his texts, I can’t say I encounter even a whiff of masochism, the occasional pangs of conscience and self-berating are another matter.

From Life without Poetry

[October/November 1972, Kronberg]

“This fall time passed nearly without me

and my life stood as still as then

when I had felt so low

I wanted to learn to type

and waited evenings in the windowless ante-room

for the course to begin

The neon-tubes roared

and at the end of the hour

the plastic covers were pulled back over the type-writers.

I came and went and

would have not been able to say anything about myself.

I took myself so seriously that I noticed it,

I was not in despair merely discontent.

I had no feeling for myself and no feeling for anything else. (…)

A diary I wanted to keep

consisted of a singe sentence

“I’d like to throw myself into an umbrella”

and even that I hid in shorthand

The sun has been shining for four weeks

and I have been sitting on the terrace

and to everything that crossed my mind

and to everything I saw

I only said “yes yes” (…)

”The longer I think the more Siberian the wind that blows through my head”

I read in James Hadley Chase (…)

I had the need to love someone

but when I imagined it in detail

I became discouraged

In The Man Without Qualities I reached the sentence “Ulrich examined the man”

(“man”, too, Musil meant disparagingly)

when nausea stopped me from reading on

That perhaps was a sign that things were looking up for me

Occasionally I thought of my child

and went to him

only to show him that I was still there

Because I had such a guilty conscience

I spoke very distinctly to him (…)

At that time in summer

when the grass was still dense and long colorful toys lay strewn about in it

and someone said

“That lies there like a child’s dream”

(Before I wrote that

I had to laugh very intimately

But it fit the facts –

and without conceptual exertion)

My sister came from Austria

and at once began to clean

and to put the house in order

Grumpily I watched

how she filled my tea cup to the brim

Then I remembered that all poor people

do that when they have guests

and felt so sad that I became strange to myself (…)

I wasn’t completely inactive

started a kindergarten with others

applied for membership in a club

but those were merely ornaments of my dozing

like a child smearing his shit over the floor

I talked as if I constantly wanted to prove that I was harmless to my listeners

My neck became stiff

and when I had had enough (…)

and all the mindless gibberish

so distracted me

I couldn’t read a book afterward (…)

In this monstrously glowing autumnal world

writing too seemed nonsensical to me

Everything pressed itself so much upon me

that I lost all imagination (…)

In the papers I read that a wealthy aristocratic banker’s wife had said “The rich became even richer under this government. You won’t believe me


That perked me up absurdly

Once a woman sat before me

so beautifully

and I thought

“I have to get very close to her

so that her beauty can unfold itself.”

but she shriveled

when I approached her (…)

flies died everywhere obtrusively

I picked them up and threw them in the wastebasked

When I turned on the faucet

I always caught the chlorine donation (…)

… and when I went to the mailbox

I was so blinded by the asphalt

I had to put my hand over my eyes

so as to be able to greet the dark figures approaching me

Finally, then, at dusk

at the gabled house diagonally opposite

the EDEKA sign glowed

consolingly yellow

and I went shopping

The shop was so bright and quiet

the manager was counting the receipts

the freezers hummed endearingly

and the fact that the chives I bought

were held together by a rubber band

practically moved me to tears (…)

Then at night

I slept with the garden shears beside me

and the child fidgeted with trembling hands

screaming in his bed

When I closed my eyes I could open them only one by one

Yes, I had once known how I ought to live

But now everything was forgotten

I would not even perceive a fart

as something physical

I’m really in a bad way’

I know one shouldn’t stop like that

but there’s no alternative”

with precisely those words

- Speedy Gonzales of concepts –

- I wanted to stop

even before I started to write

Then with the insolence

of self-expression

what was thought-out beforehand became even ghostlier

word by word

and really with one jolt

I again knew what I wanted

and again felt eager for the world

(As a boy when a feeling of the world overcame me

I only felt the desire tot WRITE something

now a poetic desire for the world usually

only occurs when I write something)

“I am feeling again” I thought

But I made a slip of mind

and thought “I am reeling again.”

In the last few days

nature became musical

It s beauty

became human

and its magnificence so intimate

I sloshed with pleasure through the dead leaves

walked behind the perfumed poodle

The bushes moved

as when soldiers are on maneuvers

are camouflaged behind them

The deep brown fir trees stood animally physical

before the window

and at one place in the ominous landscape

the birch tree leaves glinted as bright

as a cry of pain

“Oh” I thought

Farther away smoke drifted past behind houses

and the TV antennas in front became monuments

With every day you saw more branches among the foliage

the few leaves of grass grown back since the last mowing

glowed so intimately

that I became afraid of the end of the world

even the façade of the houses

smiled in my human reflection

“It hurts so much!” I heard a woman say of the jet trails in the sky (…)

I really wrote ALONG

said long-suppressed things

and then thought literally

“So, now life can go on”

Frightened by the change of traffic lights

the ‘guest’ worker women

started to scoot across the Zebra stripes

The shop girls their behind stuck out

in thin blouses

ran arms clasped across the street

Behind the frosted glass of a telephone booth

a mother slapped her child’s face

How proud I was of writing!


Blue Poem

[June 1973/ Kronenberg/ Paris]

The mood is the same nearly a year later, however it is also graver, more serious, the author leaves Kronenberg, goes to Paris, we are having a few bouts of sex it appears, not much relief, but after initially feeling a bit better, Paris, too, gets to him, or rather: he will take his kit bag of troubles wherever he goes, I think he went to see his German poet friend Nicolas Born at this point.

Deep at night

it became bright again

Crushed from the outside

I began to curdle

in full consciousness

Unfeeling my cock twitched


from breath to breath

“Don’t wake up now!” I thought

and held my breath

But it was too late

Nonsense had struck again

Never before had I felt so in the minority

Outside the window

nothing but omnipotence

At first a few bird sang

then so many

the singing

became a racket

the air an echo chamber

without pause or end

Such a down

suddenly no memory

no thought of the future.

I lay stretched out long in my fear

did not dare

open my eyes

relived the winter night

when I did not turn once

from one side

to the other

gnarled by the cold then

now stretched out

illiterate from the horror outside me (…)

(…)Fear billowed up from the cellar stairs’

and the COMMON-SENSE-PERSON inside me


the tune was repeated

was repeated –

“No bird whistles that monotonously

the phantom wants to ridicule me

it’s grinning

with pitch black lips”

“I” thought (…)

(…)”But which bird?” the common-sense-person thought

Then the child woke up in the next room

and shouted

that he couldn’t sleep

“Finally”!” I said

went to him

and calmed him down

full of egotism

A garage door slammed

the first early riser had to go to work

The evening of the next day I left

The unleveled rolling plazas

in the large graceful city

this repetition of the open country

with the horizons of hills

amid the houses

the land

prolonged into the city

onto these plazas

where you were over-whelmed as nowhere else

by horizon longing…

When I climbed out of the subway

even the dog shitting on the sidewalk

struck me as magicked

I shuddered with disbelief


My cock lay strangely forgotten

between my legs

Joy rose from the deepest depths

and replaced me

“I can be happy” I thought

“Why don’t you envy me!”

For days I was beside myself

and yet as I wanted to be.

I ate little

talked just to myself –

needless so happy

unapproachable so full of curiosity


and self-confident(…)

I as inspired machine

everything happened by chance:

that a bus stopped

and that I got on

that I rode the ticket’s worth

that I walked through the streets(…)

no longer HESITATED


experienced nothing SPECIAL

- no “Once I saw” –

merely experienced

The cats sniffed around in the mausoleums

of the large cemeteries

Very small couples sat in the cafes

and ate Salade Niçoise together…

I was in my element


But in my dreams

I hadn’t yet lost all interest

Straggling slime track

of the snail person.

I was not ashamed

was only angry.

I made myself wishless

by drinking too much

The twitching eyelids became irksome

The passersby were walk-ons

who behaved like stars

“Levi-Jeans-People! I thought

“Ad-space bodies!”

-“Which says everything about you” I thought

without the earlier sympathy.

I became superficial with crossness(…)


In any case:


without deathly fear

My heart throbbed for no one

and the city was foreign to me again

from all its familiar landmarks


In a friend’s apartment

I sat absentmindedly

my ears buzzing

and heard my own soulless voice

Being happy all I could remember

was happiness

being unhappy merely unhappiness

Indifferently I recounted

how okay everything had been with me.

Then we talked about fucking

The sexual expressions

provided us with the unabashedness

for everything else

Anyone joining us we greeted

with obscenities

and let loose

they lost their strangeness(…)

Everything without being horny

In the upper deck of the bus

the total strangers grinned

as they listened to us

and felt at home with us

What exhibitionism

as soon as one of us

suddenly mentioned something!

But there was always someone’

who found a hint of sex

in the allegedly other…

Yet no one talked about him or herself

we only fantasized

never the embarrassment of true stories

How the surrounding flourished then

and the pleasure of the sour wine in

the heartiness of the sour wine

in the cylindrical glasses

Don’t stop!

The indescribable particular’

of the grim new age

and the order of their lost connection

in the dirty stories

Hello meaning is back!


Then it got serious

and the seriousness hit so quickly

that it didn’t want to be me

who was meant

Then I became curious

then ruthless

I would take a woman to the next best toilet

No more flirting

no more obscenities

no more double entendres

instead of “fucking” I now said:

“sleep with you”

- if I said anything at all.

I pared my fingernails

so as not to hurt you too much

In my horniness’

I could suddenly call nothing

by its name

Before I had found a metaphor for sex

in the most unsuspecting things


during the experience

we experienced the sexual acts

as metaphors for something else(…)

the leaves by the window

the child singing himself awake

a framework house at dawn

the light blue on the wayside shrine

from the time

when you still believed in eternity

“Yes, swallow that!”

“Beauty is a kind of information” I thought’

warm from you

and from the recollection

“You force me

to be

as I want to be” I thought

To exist


to mean something to me –

Don’t stop!

I faltered just now’

when I noticed’

how suddenly the poem ended


Nonsense + Happiness

[January/February 1974 Paris]

On a cold indescribable day

when it does not want to become dark and not bright

the eyes neither want to open nor shut

and familiar sights don’t remind you

of your old familiarity with the world,

nor as new sights magick a feeling for the world

- the Two & One poetic world feeling –

when there exists no When and But,

no Earlier ad no Then,

dawn sweaty

and evening still unimaginable

and on the motionless trees only quite rarely a single twig snaps

as if it had become slightly lighter,

on an the indescribable day like that,

on the street,

between two steps,

the sense is suddenly lost:

the black man walking toward you

in his leather coat –

you want to slug his face,

and throttle the woman

reading off her list before you in the shop.

And more and more often

the thought frightens you

how you nearly did it

- a jolt was still lacking, the mysterious


with which love set in at one time

or the wild resolve to lead life your way,

the certainty of a formless kind of immortality…

(Then you read in the papers of some who succumbed to this jolt and you wonder why there are still so few.)

Wherever you look now – everything greenish-discolored at such moments

as on a too briefly discolored photo,

the objects half complete,

and no hope of completing them,

every sight a rotted fragment

without the idea of a plan,

which became lost,

still raw-girdered and already a ruin,

which you avoid,

fearing you will collapse with it(…)


excrescence of an excrescence

- if only the eyes would close,

- of you could only squint at such moments,

soothe the nausea in the eyeballs,

- and it would be just MOMENTS (after which you could sigh) –




- Someone has stopped on the street

and cannot go on:

not only he has stopped,

everything else has too,

and so it seems that he walks on,

and that the rest walks on too.

But he is only pretending to walk; and the way he regards the horizon at the end of the street is also feigned;

and the French fries which he smells somewhere while he pretends

to walk

- it might be altogether somewhere else –

he only notices

as a last kindness toward himself;

actually he does not smell anything any more,

and the French fries are homeless remnants

from that already unimaginable time

when every object still hugged its meaning:

recollection of a picture in a church where the Just stand beneath the Blessed Virgin’s coat.

Yes, everything has turned into abrasive outer world in this state

and in the open-skull an unappetizing something, once called brain

puffs itself up in the draft.

Instead of consciousness

nettle-like vegetation

skin sensations and allergy:’

an incalculable time of rashes,

of goose bumps,

of eczemas,

of soreness.

An unpleasant itch

when the lips accidentally touched each other

- you have become ticklish to yourself. (…)


The sky above the crane could be a picture,

which rekindles the necessary patience,

but the well-worn sky heals nothing either,

nor the word that soothes so often,

which you say to yourself:

the clouds grow repulsively

lie in unholy havoc,


and the earth too, leveled to the horizon.

Everything wind-wrecked.

Everything mixed up.

And everything expressionless.



and feel in the wrong toward others

and regard your states just one of those states:

as if you behaved “like a schoolboy

not to be taken seriously.

So you don’t take yourself seriously in company’

but the nonsense is too real,

and therefore unbearable.(…)

but even the prettiest sight now diminishes life.

A bombing attack of nonsense on the world:

right behind the house wall the earth breaks off

into whirlpools of

the indefinable

(some call it ocean trench, others space, others hell)

and on the last atoll a children’s carousel turns

tinkling, god forlorn.

Stop! Gaze at this picture:

Did not the lids lower over the eyes at this sight?

- It is no picture: and if so, it went under from your impatience

with the last bit of earth.

The gloom where the earth was

distinguishes itself from the gloom

of the indefinable all around’

only by its fresher black,

and now even the whirlpools are streaming in…(…)


in the shattering environment,

which had been on the verge of soothing itself,

your dyed in the wool HUMBUG breaks forth aain,

world-wide and skin-tight…(…)








or another time

a typewriter shop,

you stare down at the machine’

with paper to try it out,

and there

among the people in the shop,


“O desespoir! O villessee! O rage!...”

- Your eyes grow wide,

whatever you look at


after such long nonsense, suddenly there was so much of the world’s abundance. (…)


a feeling also returns

to your own ugly, deaf face,

and the indescribable day

becomes describable,

it wanes

and when you look at the woman again

you notice she isn’t smiling at all,

but only has an expression:

even the expression on her face

seemed like a smile to you.


gradually you begin to picture these different women

even as something mythical

- old hiccup of poets drunk on being –:

when a woman with water in her leg climbs in,

more awkwardly than the others,

and kindly destroys the facile PICTURE…

And what do you bring home in the evening?-

Such sights for example,

the sight collector answers proudly.

And how do you order them?-

Because the fear of the nonsense is over

they no longer need an order.

And your own impression? –

Because the nonsense is over the sight has simultaneously become the impression.

And the actual words?-

When I see something, I only say: O God!

or: No!

or: Ah!

or simply call out: The evening sky!

or whimper softly..

And yet –

Beware of the musicality of the world!

Beware of the happy ending!

For even when the indescribable day came

you had been warned of previous indescribable days,

as in a fairy tale,

before you walked through the forest,

of the good fairy

or of the talking animal,

- and must,

as in the fairy tale,

have forgotten the warning after all.

At least,

instead of the all too anecdotal happiness,

you cling to the moment

when the nonsense let up and the new familiarity was felt as pain.

The dreams are in the offing.

They are there:

A large red cherry falls slowly past you down the elevator shaft.


the time when you can dream

is a sensible time.

Already you nod to yourself in the street and shake your head; munch like a child an apple before falling asleep;

walk straight through puddles

and again say “merry go round”

instead of “carousel”…

On a cold bright morning

still imbued by a long

bliss-kindling dream

where you were

what you can be

-the dream itself was the fulfillment –

and at the sight of the wide sky

behind the edge of the city

you look forward to growing old for the first time,

and in front of the child

who looks at you

after he has knocked over the glass,

you think

if the child wouldn’t have to look at you like that any more –

that might be the real way.


In the sense that the three poems manifest by and large similar states of mind, they can also be regarded as a single text; they are not a theme and artful variation, although the reader will have noted an increase in the writer’s upsetness from one poem to the next, thing get worse not better for him, an increase in the incursions of irritation and nonsense attacks, of “meaninglessness”, and the subsiding. At least he could write!

Such similarities, such repetitions as we encounter them in this sequence of three poems are unique for Handke is what I am trying to say. The various preceding Innerworld texts are all quite different from each other, each plays a different game. They all employ Handke’s patented serial procedure [to which he takes a different kind of recourse throughout his work] and if not written in one fell swoop to still a moment of anxiety or still it in the recollection, are written in short order, they each have a theatrical and dramatic quality, too. Some are mini-plays and so bear a relationship to the early Sprechstücke. They have a kind of objective quality to them as well.

The three long poems in “Nonsense and Happiness” not only lack the prior playfulness, each of them was composed over the course of a month or so at least. They are extremely artful even graceful but have longer rhythms than anything Handke has written before, that is formally they are very different creatires indeed that Handke devises to communicate, exhibit his states of mind.

These features distinguish these three poems from Handke’s previous formalist endeavors where he does not repeat himself, but explores the formal possibilities, say, as he does in the early Sprechstücke that are then summarized in one of his greatest pieces of sheer writing, The Hour We Knew Nothing of each Other [a work begun in the 70s but not completed until the early 90s, see:




Informal, highly personal as these three poems appear yet they are not formless, and Gerhart v. Graevenitz’s approach to the “Assayings” [FN] too made me take a closer look at the apparently loose yet not arbitrary form of these three poetic texts. The word sinuous comes to mind. One breaks off suddenly, the other two have hints of a futile kind of optimism: in that disjointing sense fugueing resembles déjàs of all unpleasant kinds: the return of memories of repressed unpleasant occurrences – there are quite a few moments of fright from Handke’s childhood and then adolescence past, introduced as similes – déjà vues that literally take over your being, but usually just for a long moment, even in dreams – that, importantly, as the great Jakob Arlow observed, you knew you had survived a particular déjà, and thus they or it gave you just a brief fright: i.e. they are compromise formations – between what we call the ego and uncontrollable intrusions from the unconscious inhabitants of the self, and are of a defensive nature, which makes what is being defended against no less dangerous: if they are not defended against, if the defenses break down or perhaps it ought to be formulated as “taking over” of your self so that you might go wander off for weeks and have no recollection of how you happened to, when you come to; you could freeze into a pillar of salt.

Handke evidently survived, but unlike a déjà [of whatever kind], a comparatively brief experience, fugueing can obviously drive you over the edge… And in Paris it apparently did, he writes of panic attacks to his poet friend Nicola Born




In Weight of the World we read of a hospitalization for a heart problem. The doctors say it isn’t serious, and Handke is glad of that and starts to take Valium [as he told me in Salzburg], the anxiety is put under control, its sources however are not eliminated. The language regulation for this event becomes “congenital heart valve problems” - apparently not detected upon his physical to qualify for the Austrian defense forces, the one achievement of which his hideous stepfather Bruno Handke was proud! [see Lesson of St. Victoire which also contains Handke’s mention that he sought among his relatives others who suffered from his occasional color blindness] I would think tachycardia induced by the general upset, the fugueing eventuated in a panic attack. Panic makes sense in the case of someone who once thought he was the new Kafka and suffered from fear and trembling - in one poem the fear that he felt at night during his childhood crops up. But let us recall that Handke in his early writing [when he claimed to be “the new Kafka”] became over-confident, nay a virtuoso victor in the control of anxiety, victorious over fear! Grandiose! A trapeze artist above the abyss! All gone now! Or only very very gradually it appears, in part by writing these three long extraordinarily beautiful [so feels their then somewhat or, let’s say, more puzzled translator] poems that describe the coming and going, the waves of self-states; three extraordinary fugueing attempts as I now think of them, a preternaturally depressive and troubled poets attempt to deal with the same theme - the novel A Moment of True Feeling, narrated in the distancing third person, thus more distanced, more controlled, induces stylistically the kind of suicidal state that the author was in at the time, his own self having been an alternative object to all the other matters that enraged and irritated the so easily irritable hyper sensitive poet.

Handke’s prose texts are all of a very different kind, solve different formal and linguistic problems, employ different personae lenses and narrators. The Three Assaying [1987-1991] as I think of those three prose experiments On Tiredness, On the Jukebox and The Day that Went Well employ markedly different highly self-conscious narrative approaches; and, as a matter of fact, the last of the three – the one on The Day that Went Well – takes up, circles the theme of being and nothingness and beauty, broached in such an unusually intimate manner in these three poems, once more… not quite twenty years later.

A Moment of True Feeling of course has not only that Gregor Samsa moment at the opening, consciously Kafkaesque [and thus literarily distanced] moment of horror at its opening moment – which as compared to the poems makes it also a work of the imagination - but also has that salvaging “moment” for which I suppose we must thank Amina Handke for pulling our author away from the abyss, when “love sets in”, for the child,[a shard of a mirror, a lock of hair] when love in him resurfaced… the moment Handke started to become the “anti-Kafka.” The child also keeps pulling the author back out of his fugue states in the three poems; thus we can speak of a gradual surfacing of feelings in the man who agreed with his therapeutician that he seemed to lack access to his feelings; dissociated I would say, since - after all - they would surface. On being left by his wife Handke appears to have been struck dumb – perhaps he woke up one morning and there was note on the kitchen table, or maybe there was a scene [s], there must have been quite a few prior, judging the his knowledge of such in Dying – but at a certain point, eventually he starts to - what on the evidence of the three long poems in Nonsense and Happiness – be called, and I think usefully, begin to fugue. But by the time he uses the shock as the opening of A Moment of true Feeling it has been shorn of its origins and universalized and made literary, a defense. Not that there would be anything wrong with an opening such as: “One morning I woke up and my wife had left me. I had had no idea but weirdly enough instantly felt like the bug in Kafka’s Metamorphosis. That was even worse than being left by the love of my life. I had become an ogre. Also, I instantly felt suicidal; then I was suddenly pleased to be alone, until I heard the bloody child bawling to be taken to the bathroom… After several years of these kind of up and down mood swings, someone suggested that maybe I had something to do with her leaving. How could it possibly was my first, unspoken, response… but then I fell to thinking…maybe something I did, the way I behaved was at fault…”

Moments of depersonalization alternate with repersonalizations; moments of feeling nothing, nothing attacks alternate with the return of feeling.

We find the recurrence of the following matters in these three fugues: [1] nausea – so that he writes “nausea of the eyeballs,” nausea at himself to the point of wanting to “turn himself inside out” [!!!!] i.e. every sight becomes irritable to the point of eyes hurting, skin itching: The severity of the state that Handke was in becomes evident once one appreciates this the most extreme of the many nauseas Handke mentions – more severe than any of those enumerated in Tiredness signifies. The hyper-sensitivity managed with medically soothing eye-glasses that he wore when I first saw him. “Nausea of the eyeballs” is a pretty extreme, perhaps the most extreme kind of irritation especially for a “sight collector” voyeut such as Handke [you will recall Handke claiming that the first time he felt nausea at other bodies was in boarding school, and if he’d give you a calling card “I’m sorry I’m autistic and I just can’t stand being alone in the same room alone with men,” you wouldn’t – I would not have been mystified all those years], and this nausea, too, is one of the classical derivatives of the kind of traumatization he suffered as a child; and which is related to, when the irritation reaches a crucial point, to [2] the wish to run amok! – as Loser then does in Across; i.e. upsurge of violent impulses approximating psychosis; magnified by the self-imposed state of isolation; [3] resentment, that is envy, of anyone who walks past seemingly royally self-satisfied, tall Africans parading their beauty on Paris streets; [4] occasionally being pulled out of this absorption in states of self-hatred and feeling that he is “nothing” [see the end of Afternoon of a Writer for a dramatized similar state of nothing where it becomes clearer that the nothingness is really the obverse of really thinking that you are king of the hill, hot shit] by the child waking, or crying [as at that “moment” in A.M.T.F.] [5] surges of feeling that seem invariably accompanied by the observation of soothing sights of nature, where nature becomes musical, as these poems do, at least so thinks their translator who a the time he was translating them [1974-5] sort of knew “there is a troubled soul” but can’t be said to have given much thought to the why’s and wherefores of Handke’s state of mind; yet the feelings made sense, as did/ does their representation. I am pretty immune to nauseas – after all, it is a fundamental impulse to rid yourself of potentially deadly, toxic substances - unless in the company of someone who pukes at which I have to take great control of my sympathetic mirroring nervous system, which failed me only once, at age seven.

The musical passages I responded to with especial attunedness, especially the “high mode” of the title poem Nonsense and Happiness, and they entered my being in the process of translation and they have popped up a chords sort of on occasion during my own writing: as a clue, a safety blanket, as parameters.

[6] Generalizing, perhaps usefully for once: each poem is a kind of ever repeated ride on the roller coaster of “nonsense attacks” and the rediscovery of “meaning”… What is that attack that nothings? what precisely does it turn into “nothing?” We are not in some kind of Heideggerian world here, after all. Human beings, nay everything organic can be said to be a “meaning making machine” – thus the “nonsense” attacks would be suicidal impulses, what Keuschnig the hero of A.M.T.F. suffers, attacks on the self, and which Handke the author knows intimately, but represents, knowingly, stylistically to convey that state to us to the degree that we participate, which, however, means that the author, though he may suffer their recurrence, has achieved dissociative, his forte, control over them.

What made Handke particularly happy in the translation was my occasional use of the word “humbug” for the word “nonsense” which indeed reduces that tiresomeness to something playful and slight! Handke’s extreme sensitivity also to language to which we owe, and to which he owed his nausea at Spiegel language…

As fate would have it, Handke was friends with the Austrian cultural attaché in Paris at that time [who both are taking care of young daughters] and I recall going with them on a Sunday to the Bois de Boulogne I think it was, and I wonder idly what that fellow made of the book. But that is not what Handke is interested in, in A.M.T.F., an account of his life with his daughter, or with his friends: he is interested in representing and evoking a state of mind: we are still in the world of the inner outer innerworld. And he finds the stylistic means to put the reader into that state of mind.

In the poems Handke, the writer, faced the task of communicating his state of mind to a reader and in the process, regained some self control, the writing becomes a controlled discharge, a kind of acting out [but one on quite a deep psychic level, that was itself calming – at least he was writing, he was working, he was concentrating], and he is very good at that at this point, although this is a greater challenge than any he faced before: his Goalie will put the reader via a sleight of grammatical ingenuity into the state of mind of a paranoid schizophrenic… and that was an act of objectification for whose sake he had studied the linguistics of paranoia and schizophrenia! So it takes a good deal of work to communicate authentically and penetrate another mind and heart just with words. Here in the three poems not too many games are being played, the old rage is there, but playfulness doesn’t work it out of the system.

If Handke had been on the couch and in a state of transference with a good enough analyst, the analyst would have had a pretty good idea what he was going through, and the anxiety would have been discharged in the talking and in the security of the analyst’s holding [who would not have talked “dog language” that is in the language in which cases are generally written up or that of the world of therapy] and perhaps Handke would have been open to understanding and perhaps “understanding” would have sunk in. The analyst whom Handke saw in Paris [see Weight] and who pointed out to him that he was emotionally disconnected, an observation with which Handke agreed, also, confessed to Handke to carrying the cross at Easter – so the analyst may also have been a religious, or purposefully confessional to his patient, or Handke is once again projecting - thus one further aspect of the meaning of the title “weight of the world”: only Handke or his unedited note books or the thera-peutician whoever he or she was can tell us.

The fine German psychoanalyst Tilman Moser [“Years of Apprenticeship on the Couch”, which I happen to have published in English these many years ago] addressed several novels in his untranslated Romane als Krankheits Geschichten [“Novels as Case Histories” would do in English], among them also Handke’s A Moment of True Feeling, but could not come to any definite conclusion about what was ailing our man. Yes, narcissistic injury, but that really begs the question. Not that I claim to have total insight: but once you are aware of Handke’s extended childhood trauma, his possible identification with the violently aggressive stepfather, in his hatred for whom Handke felt no ambivalence whatsoever, his being a love child for the first two years of his life, his having that super confident big head, once you realize his ultra sensitivities, the sheer rawness of his nerves, and that he is always needs to write to stay well, sometimes intensively, that you know that he has won many victories over his fright… you are at the very least a lot closer to unraveling this knotty question in this moment of uncompleted mourning for his mother [his identity, who has committed suicide, the would-be suicidal’s suicidal mother] and her surrogate, his wife abandoning him: a double repetition in some way of the childhood trauma which had its beginning with his mother’s return to her husband in Berlin, and no doubt, indeed not the slightest doubt for once on my part, for elicited similar rages, especially if Libgart Schwartz eloped with another man! Internalized figures of protection are gone, have vanished is a short hand way the modern gods of science might put it.

And even if you realize that it is your fault that they left, and I find no evidence of such reflection on Handke’s part in his writing [which does not mean that I may have missed them] that you had been impossible to live with, realizations which unfortunately somehow do little to assuage the injury, there are of course those self-berating! Self-flagellations! where what is needed, I would suggest, is self-understanding], and I suspect it took some time for that realization to set in, if in fact it ever did, certainly neither the works of this period nor A Child’s Story do, and as a writer he may even have felt “good riddance” I am left to write… but there was still the child, who he notes in Weight says “Daddy you are writing again.” And who early on learned to charm her harsh father: she takes a napkin with the message “Amina has been bad again” and dips it into a glass of water where the message dissolves! The honest Weight also notes our old sadist at work: Amina comes up and says she has to go potty. Her father notes that he says nothing and waits “what is going to happen now!” I was not surprised when Vim Wenders told me here in Seattle that Handke invariably hurts the people closest to him: Wenders it appears has put up with that if not forgiven. Later in life, there are these great lags in realization in Handke, he will deeply regret his parenting methods, and THE CHILD becomes a major invocation, e.g. in Walk About the Villages… In A Child’s Story it becomes clear that women friends have berated him for his ways as a father, and he dismisses what they say as being the “dog language” of the therapeutic society. [No real quarrel on the latter score though I can think of several dozen exceptions to the rule of inhuman scientism ruling the language roost of an allegedly humane science], but when I saw Amina in New York, in 1975 or in Paris, she seemed to be an unusually quiet child. The hyper-cathexis on language, the narcissism of the word… well, he might have listened past that for once. For his second daughter, Laocadie Semin-Handke, he writes the delightful Lucie im Wald mit den Dingsbums, Lucy in the woods with the Thingamajigs] a sort of extra chapter of No-Man’s-Bay, [and it shows that the second time around he’s doing a better job at child rearing, who however does not live with him! as he keeps picking what he regards as peace-object, mushroom, to make the world’s best mushroom stew!]

It is noticeable in these text of what I call the critical first Paris Period [1973-78, though it had its inception in Kronenberg in Fall 1971] there is no mention of the wife, the mother of the child, except Weight at one point notes dismissively [if it is her and not one of the numerous women he would then sleep with, compensatorily, the great compensator that he is not just exhibitionistically, [a characteristic of both sexes when abandoned, to make up and avenge the loss of love so I noticed during my ten years in the so romantic and fairly communal – until the money pigs ruined it - heterosexual Tribeca] “L.s little lyricisms”. A person who is so irritable needs to live by himself… as he does now, and even takes the closest friends at once for a walk through the forest, only interviewers are allowed, and if it’s a T.V. crew so much the better, and Chef Handke # 2 [there is a famous establishment in Ohio with something called Handke Cuisine! which just now in June 2009 went broke!] will treat them to a meal as only that part object chef in No-Man’s-Bay can when the guests are actually welcome, and no doubt such meals on the house pay for themselves in the long run!

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