More on Peter Handke’s Nobel Prize

A response to Aleksandar Hemon’s opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times:

Aleksandar Hemon’s explosive denunciation of Peter Handke’s Nobel Prize saddens me. I traveled with Handke in Serbia and Bosnia and witnessed sites of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica, Višegrad, and Goražde. I translated Handke’s thoughtful A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia.

Hemon’s accusations of genocide denial and “unabated” support for “the butcher of the Balkans” and of “immoral delusions” have no basis in Handke’s written work, yet Hemon writes with heated certainty that Handke’s work “should dissolve like a body in acid. . . .”

I prefer Handke’s self-critique in A Journey to the Rivers: “But isn’t it, finally, irresponsible . . . to offer the small sufferings in Serbia . . . while over the border a great suffering prevails, that of Sarajevo, of Tuzla, of Srebrenica, of Bihać. . . . Yes, with each sentence I too have asked myself whether such a writing isn’t obscene, ought even to be tabooed, forbidden. . . .” What kind of writing, Handke asks himself, will “liberate the peoples from their mutual inflexible images?” “[T]hat which binds,” he answers, “that encompasses—the impulse to a common remembering.” And, I answer, the work of Peter Handke.


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
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4 Responses to More on Peter Handke’s Nobel Prize

  1. alex caldiero says:

    good stuff. very helpful for a very complex situation. it is inevitable that there are over simplifications. the nobel prize itself is complex. nuff sed. thanks again for putting this material out there.—-alex


  2. Iain says:

    Thank you for your reflections on this, Scott. Have you read Karoline von Oppen’s essay “Justice for Peter Handke?” in ‘German Text Crimes’ (ed. Tom Cheesman)? Oppen provides some much needed context for Handke’s position on Serbia – in particular, she examines his views in relation to the reaction of the German press to the Bosnian War and points out his awareness of the atrocities committed by the Germans against the Serbians (as well as all the other former Yugoslavian nations) during the Second World War. The essay didn’t completely assuage the unease I feel about Handke’s comments and actions. But, I do believe his writing deserves the prize, that his work has much that is beautiful and even ethical to offer readers, and I will continue to read and re-read his books.


    • Scott Abbott says:

      Thank you very much for the suggestion. I don’t know the essay but will look for it. This is clearly not a black-and-white issue, complicated as all get out but people are treating the whole thing as if they know the single valid answer


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