External Expert for the Nobel Prize Committee Discusses the Choice of Peter Handke

Henrik Petersen wrote yesterday in the German magazine Der Spiegel about the decision to award the Nobel Prize. I’ll link to the piece HERE. Because Petersen writes in German, here some especially interesting passages in my translation:

Is Handke’s confrontation with the fascist Germany of his parents’ generation in books like Slow Return HomeThe Lesson of Mont Sainte-Victoire, Across, and Repetition ‘political’? Many would answer this question affirmatively. Themes like memory, conscience, sorrow, and anger are dealt with, and in fact by a writer who is not only a German speaking Austrian but also a member of a family that belongs to a Slovenian minority in Austria. . . .

From his beginnings as a writer Handke has spoken out unequivocally for peace and against war, and he has maintained a fundamentally anti-nationalist stance. . . .

In contrast to many who have spoken about Handke in recent days, I will turn to his texts to seek answers and in doing so will disclose the anti-fascist position that runs through his entire oeuvre. . . . The author deals self-critically with the idea that inherited ideologies are occupy his language and his worldview. . . .

Regarding the Balkan question, Handke performed a kind of kamikase maneuver, evidently knowing full well the risks. His driving theme was that in the German and Austrian reports of the wars in Yugoslavia the Serbian side was ignored. The ways Handke articulated his critique were precarious, awkward, and led at times to absurd comparisons. These texts are problematical in various respects and can only be cited with qualification, for all statements are closely intertwined with arguments that Handke hopes will be understood as a whole. . . .

[I’ll note here that Handke has called himself a dialectical writer, meaning that a statement/thesis is often followed by an antithesis that leads to a third thought or synthesis. At editor at Viking noted that my translation of A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia had many sentences that began with the word “And” and asked me to rephrase. I explained the dialectical nature of the work and the necessity of “and” rather than “or” and so the book appeared as a dialectical exploration rather than a one-sided diatribe. That complicated form is difficult, however, for uncritical or lazy readers, and a boon for enemies.]

In 2007 Handke won a lawsuit against the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur that, after his attendance at the funeral of Slobodan Milosevic, had claimed the act showed his approval of a genocide. This failed, however, to keep the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter from publishing an article a few days ago in which the Danish writer Carsten Jensen describes Handke as “a public advocate for genocide and cleansing.” Jensen also boasts that he has never read one of Handke’s books.


Photo by G. Cvorovic. From an interview with Handke after the Nobel Prize announcement, available HERE.

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/
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