London Book Review Author: Absolutely Violent

In his putative review of Peter Handke’s Versuch ueber den Pilznarren (he never gets around to saying much about the book in question), Leland de la Durantaye quotes Jonathan Littell to the effect that if the poet Céline were alive he would try to kill him. Likewise Peter Handke:

“When a family is sitting in its house in Foca and suddenly someone bursts in with a machine gun, chains up the daughter to the radiator and rapes her in front of her family, this is no laughing matter. Okay you might say, the world is like this. But you don’t have to go up to these criminals and start shaking their hands. This is obscene and yet it is precisely what Peter Handke has done … He might be a fantastic artist, but as a human being he is my enemy. . . . Okay, Peter Handke is not killing anyone. But he’s an asshole.”

I went to Foca with Peter Handke. He was looking and listening and trying to figure things out. He wrote carefully about the experience (as did I — see the forthcoming Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary, punctum books). 

de la Durantaye (what a name!) will have none of that:

“Handke has proudly maintained his position on the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. After the facts about the massacres in Srebrenica and elsewhere became clear, he kept calling them the ‘so-called facts’. With a few exceptions (the comparison of the Serbs to the Jews during the Holocaust), he wasn’t inclined to amend his remarks because of new facts; they were made with professional precision, with casuistic distinctions that were essential to him and meant little to his detractors. For many, like Littell, the fundamental distinctions were the only ones that mattered: you either speak at the funeral of a man you know to have ordered the murder of innocents or you don’t.”

Absolutists are violence prone. That’s a fundamental distinction for me.

About Scott Abbott

Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University, 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I'm Director of the Program in Integrated Studies and former Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade), and translations of a book by Austrian author Peter Handke and of a catalogue of an exhibit called "The German Army and Genocide." More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as a watershed scientist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a corrections officer, as university students, and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett and our yellow dog Blue. Some publications at
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One Response to London Book Review Author: Absolutely Violent

  1. Scott Abbott says:

    this email to the London Review of Books from Handke translator Michael Roloff:

    First, I am astonished to find such a crudeté in your pages!

    Second, as to the prêt a porter human rights hyenas – Sontag, Fienkelkraut, et al – who fell all over Handke for not chiming in with the chorus of the anti-Serbian hue and cry, I imagine I can at least grant them the authenticity of their ignorance, and of their impulsiveness at the time. However, much time has passed and we now know that Handke was by no means as wrong as he was made out to be in the matter of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

    Durantaye writes “”After the facts about the massacres in Srebrenica and elsewhere became clear, he kept calling them the ‘so-called facts’.” ​a​nd seems unaware of Handke’s awareness of his own ever so human tendency for denial or o​f​ SOMMERLICHER NACHTRAG where he has himself exclaiming at the sight of Srebrenice, over and over “I don’t want to be a Serb.” (No that anyone but he hinself had asked him to be​!)​

    And ultimately Handke stated that of course Srebrenice was the worst violation in Europe since WW II. However, the violations in Yugoslavia were mutual and committed by certain parties on all sides.

    Thirdly, the rest of Mr. Durantaye’s piece is unfortunately tiresome in the extreme. He needs an injection of some kind.



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