Reading Peter Handke

Innere Dialoge an den Rändern 2016-2021

Inner Dialogues at the Peripheries

27 May 2022

Up at 6:30. While coffee brews, I open the new collection from Handke’s notebooks: fragments of thought, aphorisms, reading notes, reflections. I begin the day as a reader reading the notes of a reader: “Before I began to read, about midday, when ‘the day was almost old,’ the silent exclamation: ‘So, and now to what is decisive!’” [from the back cover]

My bookmark (a noble word) takes me to page 24.

“A shocking ‘Suddenly’: Suddenly I have nothing more to read (Tolstoy’s breakdown [Versagen] in the epilogue to ‘War and Peace,’ utterly: nothing more to read)”

“On some mornings, even now, as if newborn. —Newborn? — Born anew [Umgeboren]

“Intensification: ‘I ask.’   —–>    ‘It asks itself’”

I’m sitting in front of the Hotel Moscow in Belgrade, writing in my notebook. Peter approaches and asks: “Was denkt in dir?” What is thinking in you?

I pour coffee, return to my study, set the cup down and take up the book again. Before I open it, aspen leaves outside quake in a breeze and I watch through the window. I haven’t even tasted the coffee, I think, nor did I note its fragrance when I poured it. I pick up the cup and sip the welcome bitterness. I sit and sip and watch the aspen in the early light. I open Handke’s book again and am greeted (coincidence!) by a corresponding thought:

“Devotional eating, dining: Return!—But have I ever experienced that?—Yes: at the time of Slow Return Home

“And once again: Tolstoy awakens the silent organ in me? Or only the ancestral jew’s harp? — Why ‘only’?”

I remember the scene from The Moravian Night when the former writer happens on a gathering of jew’s-harp players whose simple music with limited means reminds him of his own craft. Imagined performances of national anthems raise his ire: “abusing the jew’s-harp to play mendacious harmonies: that was impermissible.” Each note should emanate from reflections, he thinks, should avoid “any kind of melodic demagoguery.”

“’He savored his slowness like a melody’ (Robert Walser)”

“Someone mocks me—but I continue to write, shivered by the gentleness of the cold (not an oxymoron)”

“The prayer of thanks most fitting for me: ‘Thank you, phenomena, appearances, manifestations [Erscheinungen]”

“The death of a reader, of a single reader, was always a severe loss—uniquely difficult (for Luc Bondy)” [Bondy died in November 2015]

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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