About Scott Abbott
I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
whose grave is it?
nice amount of snow. how are the deer?
Maria Siutz Handke is buried there. Zarko and I wrote about this visit to Griffen in Repetitions.
When the snow is this deep, the deer go up to the south-facing mountain-sides where the snow is less deep.
i had the slightest inkling that i ought to have known whose grave this…
main thing is the deer have enough to eat…
You know how positive I feel about Zarko’s extra-ordindary metaphoric writing and on a continuous basis. I am not that happy when Punctum Books quotes ” David Albahari described Radaković as “one of the few absolutely isolated, independent, creative personalities of contemporary Serbian prose. . . . He deals with our language like a foreign language in the same way Beckett uses the English language and Handke the German language. . . . I think I will not be wrong when I say that Žarko . . . is the most radical Serbian writer of the present time.” and fail to mention any other contemporary writer. As to your and Zarko’s three day car trip in the region of THE REPETITION, tis THE “walking book” of walking books, and you guys don’t even spent a single nite in a Dolmine, and thus it strikes me altogether, in each and every respect, the wrong response to that book. Enumeration to follow.
so how many writers would Albahari have to quote to meet your quota? or is it just one other contemporary writer who would be required?
and, i think you’ll find some self-irony about the car versus the walking if you’ll give us a chance.
A half dozen, even if made up, and it would be less of a cliche boiler plate. and more convincing. x m.r
In brief or not so, why your REPETITION piece bothers me.
1) As a FANTASIE DER WIEDERHOLDUNG – which also means or implies RETRIEVAL –
for a writer this mean to REALIZE THE AS IF, on paper, in his head and heart
and he hopes he has the language for it. It does not mean to rewalk or redrive
the space he describes.
2) Handke as a high school grad got as far as the toilet in Villach,
and then turned back as we just found out in DER STILLE ORT. REPETITION, written 25 years later, takes off from the might have been and realizes a variety of accumulated issues:
a) as the book Handke promises to write with the last sentence of SORROW BEYOND
DREAMS “I will get back to all that later.”
b) as he does so about 15 years later, he does so by REVISING in a realized imagined act his life and his identity. – REPETITION as it is called in English installs the grandfather as the father figure – even though the grandfather was the most susceptible, nearest at hand, had been all along, figure around, I was still impressed by the psychic energy invested – by the father haunted and less, and so identity less or insecure Peter Handke, and also the effort involved in the simultaneous act of becoming Slovenian in learning Slovenian while making himself his own German- Slovene dictionary. – Whether he really needed to turn himself into a 19th century Slovenian freedom fighter, cum Parcival is another matter, a matter of grandiosity cum vanity perhaps. – At any event, of all these writers whose problematics is their identity and self-presentation, this may be the most impressive book, certainly it affected me more than Frisch’s I AM NOT STILLER, or its comical return, LET MY NAME BE GOOSELEG! [GANTENBEIN]. At any event, writers on identity never achieve anything comparable to Erik Erickson on the subject.
c) REPETITION/ FETCHING BACK is also the RETRIEVAL of the Slavic, it is a turning away from the German fathers, the real and the step who had been experienced as a real and horrendous father, and from the West to the East; thus the inception of the entire Yugoslav episode, the Grandfather having voted for the first Federation as a continued unity of a kind after the disintegration of the K.u.K.
d) it is a journey to connect with a fabled uncle, to the avunculate – to peacefulness – intra-psychically, and one step toward becoming the kind of heirloom that the uncle’s wartime letters were in the Siutz/ Grandfather’s household. And toward turning the Chaville house into a museum! And being able to call his curses sacred,and becoming but for literary technical matters a thorough-going reactionary! An unusual form of restitutional, Biedermeier, I imagine the first hint of it is in the admiration expressed for Stifter in THEY ARE DYING OUT.
For a lot of this see Haslinger’s JUGEND EINES SCHRIFTSTELLERS.
This is a major transformation and consolidation of identity – it is not really a novel in any ordinary sense, as Handke hasn’t wanted and said he did not want to write until perhaps in the last few years. – When he had lost the manuscript on the way to taking it to the post office he said if he had not found the m.s. he would have committed suicide. That is how important that book was to him. Few books since have been that important, NO-MAN’S LAND, IMMER NOCH STURM, few have involved that much of his self. Your section of your and Zarko’s book on the REPETITION hints at none of this, it is a three day quickie trip, it gives no intimation of the wonderful king of slowness pace that reading THE REPETIIION induces. The only thing in The Repetition that this person who once spent a night in his army coat on the oily floor of the Llubliana Railway Station might be tempted to do is spend some time wondering around the Karst/ Carso and find out what it is like to hole up in the vari-sized Dolminen over-night.
Michael, you’re describing what would be a most interesting response to Peter’s wonderful novel. You are getting at what repetition means in the novel and what it has come to mean in Peter’s life. We might have written that book if we had been older or more experienced or if that had been what we had been interested in.
We were, however, more taken by the possibilities of measuring ourselves against the landscapes of the novel and against Peter’s own landscapes. We’re acutely aware in our writing that we are acting like adolescent girls (note the matching photos of us at the grave of Maria Siutz Handke). We’re describing a road trip in search of a rock star (well, our rock star at the time).
The book, then, is about us rather than about Peter’s novel in the sense you’re laying out here.
Groupies! I was niot going to say say in so many words, but your admission is darling and shows
that you can now have a more equitable relation to the book and the author. sorry to hear about haslinger whose book is extremely important for lots of detals, e.g. the midwife’s report of a normal deliivery as compared to peter’s speculation about at mishap at birth. xx m.r
Full disclosure: it has not yet been possible for me to read this volume in its entirety. Regardless, I would like to launch the following, rather lengthy question….Peter Handke’s complicated involvement with the politics on the post-Yugoslav scene are abundantly detailed. What is less detailed, however, is his construction of the landscape after the war, which can only be described as a kind of an empassioned, revisionist project. For example: the municipality of Visegrad is a prominant playground in Handke’s work. My question is as follows: how does your work engage Handke’s work/imagined landscapes in light of the recent unearthing of the Lake Perucac mass grave (the burial of the first 66 identified muslim victims took place in May of 2012; the genocide however has been a well known fact for a while), the trial and sentencing of Milan Lukic, etc., especially since the possibility of such events is denied and even ridiculed in Handke’s work in moves that can only be given the label of denial.
People who have not read Peter Handke’s work often claim he denies massacres perpetrated by Serbs.
He has never done so.
I challenge you to cite one text to back up your claim.
As for Vizegrad being a playground in his work … Zarko Radakovic and I were in Vizegrad with him, and it was a grim scene, not a playground, as you will see if and when you read our book.
The fervor of your answer is unfortunate. It seems to stem from the automatic assumption that a) I am not familiar with the author’s work, when in fact, I have studied Handke’s work in great depth (PhD student in German literature) and b) that I am not familiar with the region or its history, when, in fact, I am from Visegrad (not spelled with a ‘z’, something to consider when lecturing a survivor about the nature of the crime, but that is, admittedly, an unkind jab on my side). And, once again, for the sake of full disclosure, I have only recently, after 20 years, buried family members murdered on the streets of the town in question. To be fair, none of these facts were disclosed in my previous message, so your dismissal could be based on that omission. Be that as it may, I was hoping for civil, informative discourse, and am taken aback by the abrupt nature of the answer.
But, back to the question….the question was an simply an inquiry of method, preceding the complete reading of your text and inspired by my reading of Handke’s texts. You have answered that in part only, and for the complete answer i will most certainly read your text in full, and am actually looking forward to it. To argue, however, that Handke has never denied war crimes is, I believe, rather problematic. Handke has repeatedly displayed a tendency toward revisionist sources (Endlich über Jugoslawien reden swarms with them, especially when it comes to facts about Srebrenica), as a way to rationalize the massacre (“Hören wir endlich auch den Überlebenden der muslimischen Massaker aus den vielen die muslimische Enklave Srebrenica umgebenden serbischen Dörfern zu. Massaker, die in den drei Jahren vor dem Fall Srebrenicas wiederholt unter Führung des Oberbefehlshabers von Srebrenica durchgeführt wurden und, zur ewigen Schande für die bosnisch-serbischen Verantwortlichen dieses großen Tötens, im Juli 1995 infernalische Rache nach sich zogen”). This reduction of the massacre to a provoked revenge act, might in fact be worse than a denial, because unlike overt denial, it potentiates the legitimization of the crime, when in fact neither of the crimes are justifiable in any shape or form. In addition, Handke states that the murdered muslims in Srebrenica were exclusively soldiers and (adult) men, a position that can simply not be defended in light of evidence (“aber die schreckliche Antwort, die abscheuliche Rache der serbischen Streitkräfte nicht nur für die Morde in Kravica, sondern auch für die während dreieinhalb Jahren in circa 30 Dörfern um das muslimische Srebrenica begangenen Verbrechen an bosnischen Serben) ist, da sie sich ausschließlich gegen Soldaten und/oder muslimische Männer richtete”) . Such diminishing of a crime is generally known as denial, whether or not it is a complete rejection of an event. Do not get me wrong, I believe that anyone guilty of war crimes, no matter of which background, has to be persecuted. I have no problems with bringing to light the less known atrocities in the region. To the contrary, I wholeheartedly welcome it. However, combining them in such a way to justify one attrocity on the basis of another, to thusly legitimize acts that should find no redemption, is highly problematic, to say the least. You asked for a citation to back up my claim…These are only some of them, but such instances abound in his work.
Thank you, however, for your prompt answer. I am well aware that conversations concerning the former Yugoslavia are often fueled by zeal, and understand that you must be inundated with misplaced attacks, often by those not familiar with Handke’s work.
The fervor of my answer was triggered by your last words: “especially since the possibility of such events is denied and even ridiculed in Handke’s work in moves that can only be given the label of denial.”
A statement like that, unless you cite examples, is the opposite of the civil discourse you say you desire.
And, as you know, the “s” in Visegrad doesn’t quite do justice to the “s” + hacek in the original so my subconscious often inserts a “z.” Which, of course, is wrong, but perhaps not entirely so wrong.
Now to your examples from “Endlich ueber Jugoslawien reden” and to your original question about how we work with Handke’s “revisionist” landscapes after newly-unearthed victims of massacres.
The short answer is “dialectically.” That’s the kind of thinking that draws Zarko and me to the work of Peter Handke. When we write about him or translate his work or write while traveling with him, we attempt to do so while questioning our assertions and while asserting in the face of questions. We follow his lead in using the conjunction “and” more often than “or.”
When Handke writes dialectically, he risks being called revisionist, as you have done. Let’s look at your statement that begins with a quotation from “Endlich ueber . . .”:
“’Hören wir endlich auch den Überlebenden der muslimischen Massaker aus den vielen die muslimische Enklave Srebrenica umgebenden serbischen Dörfern zu. Massaker, die in den drei Jahren vor dem Fall Srebrenicas wiederholt unter Führung des Oberbefehlshabers von Srebrenica durchgeführt wurden und, zur ewigen Schande für die bosnisch-serbischen Verantwortlichen dieses großen Tötens, im Juli 1995 infernalische Rache nach sich zogen’). This reduction of the massacre to a provoked revenge act, might in fact be worse than a denial, because unlike overt denial, it potentiates the legitimization of the crime, when in fact neither of the crimes are justifiable in any shape or form.”
Your argument is that by giving the Srebrenica massacre (which he has, in the sentences just before the one you quote, denounced as powerfully as anyone has anywhere — Ich wiederhole aber, wütend, wiederhole voller Wut auf die serbischen Verbrecher, Kommandanten, Planer: Es handelt sich bei Srebrenica um das schlimmste „Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit“, das in Europa nach dem Krieg begangen wurde) . . . by giving the Srebrenica massacre the context of Oric-led atrocities against neighboring Serbs he legitimates the Serbian crime. He obviously knows the danger of this tit-for-tat and works against it in the very sentence you cite when he denounces the eternal shame of the revenge perpetrated by the Bosnian Serbs.
If this must be an either/or to answer claims of revisionist history, then where can the this-and-that of a dialectic response reside?
Your second example, where Handke differentiates between genocide (that includes killing women and children, as in Kravica) and crimes against humanity (like the killing, exclusively, of soldiers and/or Muslim men in Srebrenica) can be shown to be wrong if there was a single woman or child killed. Handke might have been better to leave out the word “exclusively.” But in general he’s right about this massacre. Every source I have ever seen states that the 7000-8000 Muslims killed in the massacre were mostly males. Finally, after his perhaps questionable differentiation between genocide and crimes against humanity, he indicates that he’s aware of the possibility of non-dialectical revisionism by stating this: Nuance, die (Ausnahme unter den sonst so wichtigen „Nuancen“!) fast nicht zählt angesichts von Tausenden und Abertausenden bosnisch-serbischer Verbrechen, ja und ja, gegen die Menschlichkeit.
What I’m attempting to show on the basis of your examples is that Handke’s argument for “Justice for Serbia” is not an pro-Serbian argument, it’s an argument for the kinds of justice only dialectical thinking (a form of thought most journalists are congenitally unable to perform) can bring about. Are Serbs the only rapists? Are Serbs the only snipers? Are Serbs the only genocidal maniacs? It’s the brutal either/or language of war that so enrages Handke, as he notes at the end of “Englich ueber . . .”:
. . . in erster und letzter Linie solche Sprache, nicht eine Loyalität zu Slobodan Milosevic, sondern die Loyalität zu jener anderen, der nicht journalistischen, der nicht herrschenden Sprache.
Zarko’s and my books won’t appear for several months. If you’d like to read my half of the second book, Vampires + A Reasonable Dictionary, before then, here’s a link:
And another link, this one to an article about the dialectical nature of Handke’s Yugoslavia writing:
I’ll look forward to your response to what I’ve written here, hoping for a civil and informative conversation.
Thank you for your detailed response and the links you provided. I am looking forward to exploring them.
I would be very interested in a more detailed unfolding of the term ‘dialectical,’ for it is not the dialectical of critical theory (negative dialectics which insists on non-identity as a critical force rather than identity-thinking; or, to be more precise, an accounting for the ways in which events/units are not identical with the concepts deployed in their stead nor with each other). Negative dialectics, in the most simple of terms, emerged as a process through which to counter identity-thinking and repressive collapse into sameness, and the inevitable reductionism which arises when any instance is taken to be completely exhaustible either through set-ups of opposition and comparison (identity) or the concept which subsumes it. Even Benjamin’s deployment of the term depends on the set-up of the paradoxical rather than the identical. It would seem to me that the setting up of causal relationships as a way to equate and compare units/instances (as Handke does in the sections I quoted) would not belong to the critical thinking of dialectics. In fact, Benjamin’s “dialectics at a standstill” opposes the dialectical image (Denkbild) to the narrative (relational/causal) construct. However, Handke opts for precisely for the latter when setting up, or rather legitimizing already existing — but completely unjustifiable — causal relations. If Handke is aspiring to a critical dialectic, which he is in many of his works, even going as far as to develop his own concept as the initiation of a kind of negative process, the breakdown of all existing, ossified images (“Ich erwarte von der Literatur ein Zerbrechen aller endgültig scheinenden Weltbilder”) this particular area in his writings might be where these attempts completely fail. And that must be acknowledged. Here, Handke does not engender the destruction of existing ideas (the idea and prominence of one event as a massacre and the forgetting of the other one as a non-event), but rather the invocation of their sameness/identity…an outcome that can not be deemed dialectical, for it is a comparison at the most. If Handke’s intention is to bring out the absurdity, the terror, and vileness of the events (which, as you point out is present in his language but utterly undone on the basis of his method), then he would be best served in believing his own dictum (“Wenn man im Übrigen, erzählte er mir dann, eine Sache nicht extra fixierte und mit dem Blick nur so leicht streifte, konnte sich diese einem zeitweise einbrennen wie keine beabsichtigte Anschauung oder Kontemplation”).
I anticipate that you will state that this is his approach in the works addressed in your text..I however, ask whether the setting up of a dialectical paradigm through such an intention-less gazing is even possible in a landscape where the other has been cleansed, and can not be, even ever so lightly, grazed by one’s gaze. You might also state that in the place of the other absence is what comes to view, however, such admissions are mostly moderated, and already embedded in fraught discourse, in Handke’s travelogue.
As for Handke’s comments on Srebrenica, you are insisting on a hypothetical commentary which Handke “might have been better” served in telling. But he did not. As for the list of victims in Srebrenica, I urge you to peruse the lists published by the International Commission on Missing persons, or to take a simple walk through the numerous graveyards and read the names and ages of those buried there…Visegrad included, for, if we are going to argue on the basis of an action-reaction logic, how can we isolate these forces to their working in the confines of some localities only and not others. And how can we ever chose a point at which to begin this action-reaction scheme? Or a border which interrupts them? The events in Kravica took place in 1993, the war had been raging since 1992, Visegrad and other municipalities had already been violently cleansed of whomever was deemed the undesirable other. So where then do we pick the first action that triggers the chain-reaction? And are we then not merely caught up in a — not only highly unproductive, but also not in the least critical — “who started first” loop? What contribution can that make to the unequivocal condemnation of all such crimes, no matter when or by whom they were committed? Isn’t the action-reaction loop always taken up at an arbitrary point? And usually one selected to support particular narratives and with them imagined communities? Where is the critical approach there?
And then, if you do take that stroll or peruse the list you will discover women and children, and many of the males you insist were exclusively killed will be teenagers, barely born in the eighties, in their teens at the time of their death. And even without these facts, one horrendous event does not justify another. Where is the dialectical critique when the undoing of ossified presumptions merely rests on the setting up of action-reaction schemes. Should the dialectical thought not busy itself with making any rationalization and redemption of said events impossible? Can we really consider a “but they/he/she did it first” logic dialectical?
I presume that we will disagree on many points. And I completely accept the disagreements based on methodological and theoretical divergences. But when it comes to the numbers, (which, to be honest need not be a part of this conversation, for no such crimes should be possible at all, no deaths should be possible, not 1, not 8,000), the dates, etc. etc.,–necessary if our conversation is to follow the action-reaction scheme which I denounce — then make them precise. Make them come from official sources. And let us not trust the ICT in some cases but not in others.
As to the minor details: as I actually teach BCS (Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian) at the university, I would vehemently advise against using a ‘z’ as a stand in for what is a ‘sh’ sound, especially if the intention is to Anglicize the name in order to make it palatable to those who are not familiar with the regional pronunciation.
So, you’re not going to let me get off with an admission of error based on subconscious tendencies. You’re right of course, about the name Visegrad in its English version, but I had already conceded the point.
And you’re not satisfied with my agreeing that Handke had overstated his point with the word “ausschliesslich.” I have taken strolls through Bosniak and Serbian cemeteries (in Gorazde and Visegrad) and I know, as does Handke, that the suffering was great on all sides and among all genders and ages. Neither he nor I have ever suggested otherwise.
As for dialectics, specifically the Adorno negative sort which is my favorite, as it seems to be yours — we’ll agree quickly, I think, that a collapse into identity is what negative dialectics hopes to counteract.
Our disagreement comes, perhaps, from our focus. You are not happy with the attempt to bring all atrocities into the discussion, feeling that that collapses the differences. What, do you think is the alternative? To maintain that one side suffered more than the other so as to keep the differences alive?
I (and, I think, Handke) am not happy with the attempt to demonize one side in the civil war while ignoring the atrocities on the other sides. If the world press decides the Serbs are evil and the Croats and Bosniaks are the victims, that’s a kind of identity thinking that ought to be disturbed by asserting that the discussion must be more complicated. It’s in that context that the word “and” becomes dialectic rather than collapsing. Either/or thinking collapses the questions of these wars into nationalistic identity thinking.
If you read my account, you’ll see my struggle to keep the questions alive and to confront as honestly as I am able the things I am witnessing. If it works at all, I owe the method to Peter Handke and to my dear friend Zarko Radakovic.
I followed this once again discussion on Handke’s denial. In JUSTICE FOR SERBIA he answers humorously to his wife’s query whether he might be denying something. Of course he is trying not to, but is aware of the desire to do so. He’s a monkey like the rest of us. In SOMMERLICHER NACHTRAG, he is at SREBRENICE and has a surrogate theatrically scream over and over “I don’t want to be a Serb.” My initial sardonic comment to that was, who ever asked you to be a Serb, buddy! Hadn’t you a while back become a Slovenian? I think Serb and Yugoslavian somehow merged in his liking of the union. But let me point you to
which contains a host of material on the subject of Handke/ Yugoslavia, and which during the course of two decades altogether took one unremunerated or appreciated year out of my life, and my two brief summary takes,
and the most condensed and I think best of the lot
I have lots of reasons to be critical of Handke, especially personally, but denial in the instance of the crimes that the various tribes committed there, spontaneously or under order, is not one of them. As a matter of fact, a variety of developments in the enshrinemet of Handke are just impelling me to point out, summary the reservations I have, occasionally also to what I regard as the occasional serious flaw in some of his work – for if I did not voice these, my praise and endorsement of his work, its defense against a host of the stupidest of critics and miserable editors – for the Nobel Prize for the sake of “the Logos” -would ring hollow. This will win me no friends either from the pro or contra Handke faction, but so it goes as I limp along the crooked path called life. http://www.facebook.com/mike.roloff1?ref=name