Zarko Radakovic Reacts to the Nobel Prize Award

This morning Belgrade’s Politika published Zarko’s first thoughts about the prize awarded to his friend Peter Handke. Here a modified Google-Translate version of the piece:


Photo by Corinne Belz

Did I suspect that this time Peter Handke would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature? I probably did. Because why would I come in for lunch at noon in the southern part of Cologne that day, knowing that there was a television set on the wall that had been broadcasting current news for years, “like on a conveyor belt”.

As I waited for the ordered food, I stared at the screen and the latest news from the war in Syria; I also saw the latest cultural news from the corner of my eye: “The 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Peter Handke.” At first, I almost didn’t react. The excitement began only after the food arrived; noodles were falling out of my mouth, my hands were shaking all at once; I didn’t feel hungry anymore.

And just as I was about to interrupt my lunch, I saw the first message on the phone display: Paul Ingendaj, Literary Editor of the FAZ daily, a friend, wrote to me briefly: “Great decision by the Nobel Committee in Stockholm; congratulations to Handke, but also to you. ”

And I became aware of what was happening: it was not a dream. Yes, I reached for the phone, and immediately called Handke; but could not be reached at that moment. Instead of Peter, another friend came forward: Norbert Wehr, the publisher of probably the most reputable German journal for world literature Das Schreibheft, for which only a few years ago Peter Handke and I put together a topic on Serbian literature. Congratulations again to Peter, but also to me, and I returned the compliment, because both Norbert and I have done much in defense of Handke’s writings against the threatening political and ideological discourse.

In the wake of all the wide-spread controversy over the role of writers in the production and confirmation of historical facts, there was an increased need for a defense of literature and art. Knowing that “times for poetry are bleak”, as they are for the reception of art at the worst of times, Peter Handke most consistently stayed at his business, writing and translating the most valuable literature of his era.

Is it possible that the age for “clean things” has finally come, I asked Norbert in an interview (which, of course, also had to do with the terrorist’s last assassination at the Hale synagogue). I will not continue to dine. China’s favorite soup will go unnoticed. I’ll pay, get out, and try to call Handke again on the move. After several unsuccessful attempts, on the way home, I decided to send at least a short message to a writer whom I have been translating and writing about for four decades. And I wrote on the move: “I feel happy, but also exhausted, as after a difficult and protracted battle in which literature won.”

It is truly impossible not to remember today all the trouble that writer Peter Handke has experienced in trying to combat the dirty political discourse involved in the arts. By no means do I claim that art is a world “neither in heaven nor on earth”. But no writer, especially this one, can ever, nor should ever be a functionary in a particular ideological, political, or economic system. A great writer is always a resistance to a general, established, and especially unverified opinion.

Peter Handke is – undoubtedly, despite all his involvement in the evaluation of his artistic oeuvre, and independent of his own repertoire in his literary work – undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of today. To say, however, even today, after the Nobel Committee’s decision, that he was “a great writer but a bad politician”,  seems like a futile attempt to shift the focus to a field that has nothing to do with the writing business.

These were the words of some critics who, on the day of the award, gave this writer an attempt to address his value and even the jury’s decision. Because Peter Handke has long since deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature (just as Tolstoy, Ibsen, Strindberg, Proust, V. Wolff, Joyce, Kafka, Borges, Nabokov and many others deserved it).

And then came the burst of calls from friends from all sides, those who knew well about my obsessions with my heroes, including Peter Handke. My walk home was interrupted by shorter or longer calls: Branko Cegec, Nenad Jovanovic, Miroslav Kirin, Marjan Cakarevic, Sanja Nikolic, Branko Novakovic, Zermial Civikov. Perhaps the favorite words were from a translator of some of Handke’s books and my co-author, American Scott Abbott.

And again several unsuccessful attempts to summon the writer. In the evening, I heard on the news that in the middle of a meeting with reporters, he went outside and wandered around the forest in the suburbs for a long, four hours. The same trajectories described in all his books, in the book The Afternoon of the Writer, for example, in the books My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay, Image Loss, The Moravian Night, The Great Fall and, of course, The Fruit Thief. It was not only the author’s consistent distancing from all noise but also measures to protect the literary world, a condition for the continuation of “pure creation”, and for the salvation of the following reading. For Peter Handke, I am sure that even this award will not interfere with his magnificent work. Two new books have already been announced.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nobel Prize for Peter Handke


Peter Handke Crossing to a Houseboat Restaurant on the Flooded Sava River

Yesterday the Nobel Prize Committee announced their award to Peter Handke. Peter’s German, French, and English responses over the day to gathered reporters included repeated statements that the award left him with a sense of freedom. He gratefully applauded the courage of the Committee. Why courage? Because of the responses that appeared quickly, like this one from PEN America’s President Jennifer Egan:

[We] are dumbfounded by the selection of a writer who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide, like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.  PEN America has been committed since the passage our 1948 PEN Charter to fighting against mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood, and distortion of facts. Our Charter further commits us to work to “dispel all hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace and equality.”  We reject the decision that a writer who has persistently called into question thoroughly documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his ‘linguistic ingenuity.’

That statement, like others that appeared in the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and on and on, left me dumbfounded.

Where and when, I asked, did Peter ever undercut historical truth or offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide?

He spoke at the funeral of Slobodan Milosevic, it is true, and he spoke in halting Serbo-Croatian. He said, he reported later to critics, that “I did not lay a red rose on the hearse of Slobodan Milosevic. I did not touch the hearse. I did not wave the Serbian flag. And I have never applauded “the Srebrenica massacre and other crimes done in the name of ethnic cleansing.” I’ve never considered the Serbs as “the real victims of the war.”  . . . And nowhere in my little speech in Pozarevac did I say “I am happy to be close to Slobodan Milosevic, who has defended his people.” What I said was that “The world, the so-called world, knows everything about Yugoslavia, Serbia. The world, the so-called world, knows everything about Slobodan Milosevic. The so-called world knows the truth. For that, the so-called world today is absent, and not only today, and not only here. I know that I do not know. I do not know the truth. But I look. I feel. I remember. For that, I am present today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milosevic.”

That that single event dominates the discussion of the Nobel award is proof of the very totalizing rush to clarity Peter has criticized in his work from the very beginning.

I translated Peter’s play Voyage by Dugout for the Journal of Performance and Art and prefaced the translation with the following essay about Peter Handke and the question of nationalism. It is my answer to the knee-jerk critics assembled yesterday to protest without a single reference to Peter’s actual work.


An Essay on the Play of the Film of the War

By Scott Abbott


The history of this war hasn’t been written yet. It is offensive to be labeled a revisionist because of this statement. With the exception of the Shoah, the writing of history is never final, especially in the Balkans.

Peter Handke, Interview with Antoine de Gaudemar, Liberation (France), 3/27/1997


Peter Handke’s Voyage by Dugout premiered in Vienna’s Burgtheater on June 9, 1999, the day NATO representatives announced that their seventy-eight-day bombing of Yugoslavia would cease. Claus Peymann directed the play, his last production at the Burgtheater after thirteen high-profile years. In early March, Handke had renounced his membership in the Catholic Church and had returned the ten thousand Marks awarded him in 1973 for Germany’s Buechner Prize in protest of ecclesiastical and government support for NATO intervention in the war. There had been rumors that Handke would withdraw his play in protest of the bombing and there were rumors that protestors would disturb the play. The play opened as scheduled, to a packed house, to a largely appreciative audience.

Most of Europe’s newspapers reviewed the play the next morning, including four in Berlin, three in Vienna, two each in Munich, Cologne, and Hamburg, and a front-page review in Le Monde. The reviews, like recent criticism of Handke’s novels, varied widely, but one German headline expressed a unanimous sentiment: “THERE WAS NO SCANDAL.”

Voyage by Dugout was the latest of Peter Handke’s works provoked by the disintegration of Yugoslavia, a series that began in 1991 with Departure of the Dreamer from the Ninth Country, an essay lamenting Slovenia’s nationalist declaration of independence from the patchwork nation of the “southern Slavs.” In 1996, as secession led to civil war and public wrath was fixed on the Serbs, Handke traveled in what had become Serbia to write A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia and A Summer’s Addendum to a Wintry Journey. Handke’s play, Voyage by Dugout or The Play of the Film of the War, is set a fictional ten years after the war in Yugoslavia; and finally, after the war in Kosovo and NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, the travel essays that make up Questioning while Weeping: Notes after the fact on two trips through Yugoslavia during the war, March and April 1999 appeared. These Yugoslavia texts, for the most part first published in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, have entered into European public consciousness to an unprecedented degree, even for this often public and sometimes controversial author.

“It was principally because of the war,” Handke writes in Justice for Serbia, “that I wanted to go to Serbia, into the country of the so-called aggressors. . . . I felt the need to travel into the Serbia that became, with every article, every commentary, every analysis, less recognizable and more worthy of study, more worthy, simply, of being seen.” Readings from Justice for Serbia to packed houses throughout Europe kept Peter Handke, if not the substance of his sentences and paragraphs, at the center of a political storm. Audience members repeatedly accused him of denying massacres at Srebrenica and elsewhere, and of traveling to a bucolic Serbia while war raged in Bosnia, questions raised in the text itself:

Yes, with each sentence I too have asked myself whether such a writing isn’t obscene, ought even to be tabooed, forbidden – which made the writing journey adventurous in a different way, dangerous, often very depressing (believe me), and I learned what “between Scylla and Charybdis” means.  Didn’t the one who described the small deprivations (gaps between teeth) help to water down, to suppress, to conceal the great ones?

Finally, to be sure, I thought each time: but that’s not the point.  My work is of a different sort.  To record the evil facts, that’s good.  But something else is needed for a peace, something not less important than the facts.

In response to polemical attacks in many major European and American newspapers and magazines, Handke reminded readers in the introduction to the American, Spanish, French, and Italian translations of his essay that he had written about his “journey through the country of Serbia exactly as I have always written my books, my literature: a slow, inquiring narration; every paragraph dealing with and narrating a problem, of representation, of form, of grammar – of aesthetic veracity; that has always been the case in what I have written, from the beginning to the final period.”

In a political struggle about the rhetoric of war and peace, form and an inquiring narration are easily ignored. That is unfortunate, because narration is the major question of each of these texts. Why can’t journalists covering the wars in Yugoslavia, Handke asks, tell a more complicated story? Why are their narratives so black-and-white, so certain, so absolute, so bellicose?  Near the end of Justice for Serbia, the narrator admonishes himself, “the son of German,” to “pull out of this history that repeats every century, out of this disastrous chain, pull out into another story.”

Although Peter Handke can be blunt, as he was when he called an obtuse critic an asshole in a nationally televised discussion after one of his readings of A Journey to the Rivers, the virulence of the attacks on him for his most recent writing about Yugoslavia is puzzling.

Handke’s mother was half Slovenian. He wrote his first novel, The Hornets, on the Yugoslav island of Krk. His well-received novel Repetition features a character who leaves Austria to search for his long-lost brother in Slovenia. Several of the short travel pieces that make up Once again for Thucydides are set in Yugoslavia. But not until the war in Yugoslavia and Handke’s written pleas for a more complex, more self-ironic, more peaceful rhetoric did he become, in the European press, a “Serbenfreund,” a Serb lover, a pariah like the pariah people.

If one were to ask Handke if he is indeed a lover of Serbs, he would likely point out that the question is racist and then answer yes. The anti-racist question that ought to be raised is whether Peter Handke is a nationalist – is he the kind of nationalist who would vilify Croats, Slovenians, Bosnians, or Kosovars, who would stir up hatred, welcome war, and condone genocide? Here, the record is clear. Peter Handke has spent a lifetime attacking the kinds of ideological absolutisms that produce nationalism, hate, and war.

Handke’s early work can be read as an attempt to strip language of its metaphysical, totalizing, terrorizing aspects. Kaspar, for example, in Handke’s early drama of that name, finds that while language is a useful way of ordering the world, it is also intimately connected with the violence used to force others into that same order. It is a relief, Handke writes in Phantasien der Wiederholung, to be released from such domination: “We, after the world wars: the wonderful knowledge that we are not masters (‘You are the caretaker of a meager garden,’ Vergil)” (26).  Handke finds it morally liberating to be rid of words like “masters”; but beyond that he wants to construct new metaphors, fruitful ways of thinking – and thus, I suppose, the Vergil quotation that defines us as humble gardeners.


The narrator of Handke’s Child Story (1981) emphasizes a general distrust of nationalist traditions as he says that “no tradition, however longed for, could ever be meaningful to someone like him, and he could certainly transmit no trace of any tradition to his child . . . as the scion of an unpeople, an unworthy man-of-no-people.”  Because Nazis had made their “Volk” an “UnVolk,” the narrator is “without-Volk” and thus, in his mind, able powerfully to negate metaphysical claims.  As a consequence, however, he is unable to give positive direction to his child.  Traditions can oppress, but living without tradition is oppressive as well, and so Handke writes wistfully that “One would like, once again, to hear of a noble Volk” (Phantasien der Wiederholung).  It is the task of the Slow Homecoming tetralogy of which Child Story is a part (and much of the work that follows) slowly, carefully, hesitantly, self-critically to reclaim words like “Volk.”


This reclaiming, although it may seem archeological, etymological, aimed at a metaphysically grounded beginning, always takes place in the context of Handke’s extraordinary sense for the arbitrariness of language and for the constant threat posed by metaphysical certainty. For example, the reclaiming will take place in stories and not in religious or political tracts: “Odd, that the word “God” does not disturb me (in fact, it moves me) in, for example, Parzival, the epic; with Meister Eckhart, in a treatise, however, it does: it even inhibits me” (Phantasien der Wiederholung). The word to be rehabilitated will be contested even in the assertion: “How can the word ‘angel’ still be used? – Together with ‘battle’ (in every written text there ought to be felt the ‘battle with the angel’)” (Phantasien der Wiederholung). It will have paradox as constant companion: “Once again I succeeded in denying myself: and the rooster inside me crowed happily.  When I am especially strongly he who I am, I succeed in saying that I am not he who I am” (Geschichte des Bleistifts).  And success will always find failure close behind: “After my quiet, long, nighttime lecture to the Volk, I will wake up tomorrow in emptiness – and why not?” (Geschichte des Bleistifts).

Repeatedly Handke has attempted to unmask truth as what Nietzsche called a “mobile army of metaphors,” for awareness of truth as arbitrary construction undermines the rulers whose truth claims are enforced by violence: “The night of this century, during which I searched my face obsessively for the features of a despot or a conqueror, has ended for me” (The Long Way Around). When a Volk is established with reference to “Blut und Boden,” the Nazis’ blood and soil, one must leave Volk and homeland and become homeless. But with the writing of The Long Way Around Handke tentatively feels his way beyond that alienation and necessary destruction.

Voyage by Dugout works on the same two levels as the previous work, attacking “truth” as assumed by various accounts (including film, newspapers, histories, and the play itself) and creating the kinds of self-conscious myths or Maerchen Handke feels we need to order our productively multivalent societies. The planned film will draw on John (Ford) O’Hara’s penchant for legends and stories and little historical lies and on Luis (Buñuel) Machado’s “bull-tickling craziness.”

At the end of the play, after the appearance of the dugout (“The Balkans! Other countries have a castle or a temple as a holy site. Our sacred site here is the dugout.”), a mobile, dialectical site for a multifarious Volk, O’Hara and Machado decide not to make their film. O’Hara refuses on the grounds that a tragic film makes no sense. Machado says he won’t make the film because his films have always been about society, and “society no longer exists . . . it’s a single commercial and moral horde . . . people have forgotten what it means to stand up for oneself while allowing the other his place to stand.”

Not allowing the other a place to stand is the mark of a violent nationalism. In Peter Handke’s play, however, even the most despicable characters, the aggressive mountain-bike riding Internationals, the shrill and certain European-Americans who have come to judge and punish Yugoslavia, are given succor by the Greek they have attacked so viciously – “To the Second International: Are you cold? You’re shivering! (He puts his coat around her shoulders.) Who is the child there in your locket?” As he has since his earliest texts, Handke here stands up for the Serbs while allowing Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Kosovar Albanians, and even the obnoxious Internationals a place to stand.

A final incident, extraneous to the play, will further illustrate Peter Handke’s unrelentingly dialectical thinking, a two-edged gesture none of his critics to date have been able or willing to reproduce. When Guenter Grass, with whom Handke has repeatedly crossed swords, spoke out publicly in favor of NATO intervention in Yugoslavia (the same intervention that led to Handke’s leaving the Catholic Church and returning his literary prize), Serbs in Belgrade announced that that they would collect Grass’s books and send them back to the German Nobel-Prize winner. Handke urged them to forego this action, to keep reading Grass’s self-critical, dialectical literary works while opposing his political statement. The action of a nationalist? Obviously not.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments


A beautiful new book of Peter Handke’s drawings arrived in the mail this week.


The drawings are from his notebooks, most of them small, all of them of things he sees while walking or traveling. They are visual notes, like the literal notes that also crowd the notebook pages.


He draws on what he reads, as on these pages from the Greek New Testament:


The drawings, like this one of a night-time facade in Versailles, are products of solitary observation, of suspended time:


They explore space as well as time:


Travel, for me, has always been a time of introspection, of observation, of gathering ideas. My own notebooks are products of travel:


Twice I have left a notebook behind, once after seeing a new film by Wim Wenders in London (when I went back, it was in the theater box office), once after a bus ride from Belgrade to Sabac (miraculously returned several days later while traveling up the Drina River with Zarko Radakovic and Peter Handke — by a man connected with the bus company who fed us a sumptuous dinner of Drina fish). The first notebook contained notes that make up a chapter on standing stones in my book on the standing metaphor, the second with observations that appear in my half of Zarko’s and my book Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary. The loss of either would have been devastating. Zarko once had a backpack stolen in the Cologne train station at the end of a long trip. He sent me a description of the event by email (reproduced in my contribution to our book We: A Friendship, currently under review by punctum books):

We are back in Cologne. A remarkable trip. Corsica is fascinating. When our hikes were a little precarious I thought about you and Sam and your book [Wild Rides & Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes]. Never in my life have I seen so many wildflowers. We were there at the perfect time, right after the rains. And the weather was fantastic. Not too warm, but beautiful.

            So, having survived all the hikes, I was liquidated in the Cologne train station. I was robbed. My backpack was stolen while I was grabbing a bite to eat. Along with other valuables, my notebook disappeared, about 100 pages of my book about passion. Gone forever. It destroyed me. I couldn’t speak for days. I am slowly beginning to contemplate the future, how to continue. A catastrophe. Reason to give up, even living.


And a final image, pages from a notebook used in Vienna, notes about bicycles that entered Sam Rushforth’s and my book Zarko referred to, and notes about Bruegel’s Peasant Wedding, the beginning of an essay titled “A Radical Peasant Wedding” I have just submitted to the journal Art History:


[more about notebooks, Alex Caldiero, Zarko Radakovic, and Peter Handke HEREHERE and HERE]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Homage to Toni Morrison



Toni Morrison is gone. Her work remains to provoke and inspire us. As part of my book on the metaphor of standing, one essay looks at the metaphor she contrasts with Faulkner’s. Here the abstract:

As I Stood Fighting

Toni Morrison’s Home as Response to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

The metaphor of standing permeates William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Toni Morrison’s Home. A series of parallels between the novels suggests that Morrison has created an antithesis to As I Lay Dying.

Faulkner’s novel is superb in its evocation of the static, stagnant, helplessly standing lives of poor white Mississippians. Morrison dreams a house of action for her African-American characters. Instead of a coffin, instead of a coffin-of-a-novel that depicts a nearly interminable attempt to get Addie Bundren to where she will be buried, instead of a novel in which standing is most often a gesture of stasis, Morrison writes a novel that features the standing metaphor in its active sense: anastasis—resurrection / standing up. Her novel might well bear the title “As I Stood Fighting.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Amy Irvine Loves Ed Abbey

This my response to Tonya Audyn Stiles’ July 30, 2019 “Response to Amy Irvine’s “Desert Cabal” in “The Canyon Country Zephyr,” of which she is the co-publisher: “Edward Abbey Needs No Defense” —

I couldn’t agree more; Ed Abbey’s work needs no defense. It stands for itself. Amy Irvine likewise needs no defense. Her work stands for itself.

Despite her assertion, Tonya Stiles has mounted a vigorous defense. I will mount a vigorous defense as well . . . although isn’t the word defense beside the point? Abbey’s work lives on and in us because it moves us deeply. We think about it and respond to it and wrestle with it because we’re not quite sure that cutting all barbed wire fences west of the 100thMeridian is really the best solution, but we’re not quite sure that it isn’t either. Stiles prefers Abbey over Irvine. I adore them both. So let’s get started.

Stiles doesn’t like the poetic quality of Irvine’s work. She prefers Abbey’s more straightforward prose. She claims to make no sense of Irvine’s poetry. Abbey’s prose makes me jealous. Irvine’s poetic prose lifts my spirits. I think I could teach Stiles to understand poetry – there are still seats available in my fall class.

Stiles writes that Irvine is writing about herself and not about Abbey, that she pays little attention to the natural surroundings. I just reread Desert Cabalwith those two questions in mind. Like all inspiring writing about nature, the book repeatedly reminds me that I’ll live more fully if I follow Irvine’s and Abbey’s passion for what Abbey called the “rainbow-colored corona of blazing light, pure spirit, pure being, pure disembodied intelligence, about to speak my name” (this quoted by Irvine) and Irvine’s lament that “when I was tucked under that overhand of stone as porous as a sun-bleached skeleton, spiders waving on air like prayer flags and the meat on my tongue like an offering, I failed to hear the roar of the river as the chanting monks in the temple, brothers and sisters in the tabernacle. It was the calling to enter into communion with . . . every being in the whole wide web of the world, each of us, a sacred and vital strand.” Abbey. Irvine. Nature. If you can separate the three while you read this book you’ve got something else on your mind than the text before you.

Stiles ignores context when she points out that Irvine “goes so far as to defend the Bundy family of anti-BLM activists. ‘Most of today’s environmental groups won’t agree,’ she writes, ‘but you might, when I say that sometimes I vote Libertarian to help break up the country’s 2-party gridlock, but also because I love the idea of what those guys [the Bundy’s] did; I love the active resistance, the sticking it to institutions too large and lethargic to be effective.’” For some reason Stiles doesn’t complete Irvine’s thought, that, for the Bundy’s and their ilk, “the land’s not the thing either. It’s another kind of buzz that has to with big guns, big hats, and big boots.” So very different from her rancher grandfather, Irvine concludes.

Stiles response takes an odd turn when she writes that

“we’ve published countless articles on the topic [of Bears Ears National Monument] over the last few years in The Canyon Country Zephyr, trying to inject nuance and complexity into an issue that frequently devolves into angry black-and-white emotionalism. And multiple times in Cabal Irvine acknowledges how the impacts of industrial-level tourism are threatening Southeast Utah. She even seems to recognize how Monument designation and those subsequent impacts go hand in hand. She writes, ‘the minute there is a line drawn around these lands, a sign staked on their behalf, the masses come running,’ and ‘with every new human added to our population, every new guidebook written, and every new place protected and promoted, it’s getting harder to have a wild and reckless reckoning that has nothing to do with recreation.’

But these lines stand in complete contradiction to the rest of her book. First Irvine condemns Trump for shrinking Bears Ears National Monument, then she seemingly concedes that Obama’s massive monument, whose much larger ‘lines drawn around these lands,’ did far more damage. And then she goes back to condemning Trump for shrinking it.

Yes, Ms. Styles, Walt Whitman answers in his “Song of Myself,”

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Yes, Ms. Styles, I answer, it is a more complex and nuanced issue than the one that routinely devolves into black-and-white emotionalism.

Irvine questions Abbey’s multiple and various encounters with women and confesses that she has had a similar fraught history with men. For reasons I don’t understand, Stiles finds this off-putting, this confession of troubled similarity. It is a moment of truth for me, a confession that validates the criticism. Yes, me too.

Finally, Stiles writes that

“as a feminist, I found a number of things offensive about the publishing of Desert Cabal. . . . [T]hey’ve chosen . . . to adopt the philosophy that women need separate books from men, and that women are somehow innately opposed to solitude, which is indicative of a dangerously unfeminist mindset for an otherwise “progressive” group. . . . They exhibit [an] eerie sort of benevolent sexism that is only a short hop away from the men who argued all women should be stay-at-home mothers because they are naturally best suited to nurturing and caregiving.

Somehow I had been laboring under the impression that it was bigoted to reduce people into categories and to state that one group was “nurturing” and the other “warlike;” one “lazy” and another “logical.” Generalizing people like that is the definition of prejudicial thinking, and in complete opposition to Feminism as I know it, which is to say a movement for women to be treated as individuals with their own individual characteristics and desires.

Maybe I’m out of touch with today’s Feminism, or at least the sort of Feminism that dovetails into this earth-mother style Environmentalism. But to claim, as Irvine does, that individualism is masculine and collectivism is feminine—that women “seek not so much solitude as solidarity, intimacy more than privacy”–is far more offensive to my feminist principles than any Abbey-styled men out in the wild who might be musing on the importance of “the silk of a girl’s thigh.”

Essentialisms like Stiles presents are troublesome indeed. But perhaps Irvine is up to something else entirely. I’ve just read Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouseand recognize something of Irvine’s argument in Woolf’s marvelous feminist exploration.

Mr. Ramsey, a philosopher, and Mrs. Ramsey, mother of their eight children, represent two poles in how we see the world and respond to its inhabitants. When Mr. Ramsey deflates their youngest son’s hope to visit the lighthouse the next day with the flat statement that the barometer is falling and the wind due west, Mrs. Ramsey is dumbfounded: “To pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings, to rend the thin veils of civilization so wantonly, so brutally, was to her [a] horrible outrage of human decency. . . .” In the novel, Mrs. Ramsey is both gender-bound and able to transcend those limitations, more able than her husband to stand erect when needed and to incline when necessary. In my reading of Desert Cabal, the woman’s vision that is offered in place of Abbey’s male perspective is less gender-bound and more an alternate perspective. We need a different way of looking at our world. Men’s philosophical erections have dominated our thinking – although not all men think this way. Women’s considerations for others — although not all women exhibit them — might lead us in a better direction.

And a final observation: Amy Irvine is in love with Edward Abbey, Ms. Stiles. Every sentence and every following sentence testifies to that fact. She loves him so deeply that she honors his work with compassionate and contested conversation. Her work deserves the same.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Once Again For The United States of America

My friend and co-author Zarko Radakovic has just finished a new translation into Serbo-Croatian of Peter Handke’s book of short essays written while traveling in the former Yugoslavia, France, and Japan. The book, Once again for Thukydides, was published in 1990 by Residenz Verlag, republished with five new essay, and then published again by dtv with an additional essay.

ThukydidesIn 1990 Yugoslavia was still a republic comprised of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Because of economic collapse and viciously divisive nationalist leaders (Izetbegovic, Milosevic, Tudjman), Yugoslav unity symbolized by the “Highway of Unity and Brotherhood” between Zagreb and Belgrade was under attack. Handke wrote the Thucydides essays as part of his work to preserve the multicultural land of the southern Slavs (Yugoslavia). The ensuing decade saw brutal civil wars that produced the independent states existing today.

Zarko and I traveled together in Yugoslavia before the wars and then in Serbia and Bosnia with Peter Handke between the wars. Our books Repetitions and Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary are records of those travels.

I translated five of the essays, one of which seems especially topical today in a United States falling into disunion. What power there is in difference, Handke’s discourse on hats proclaims.


Head Coverings in Skopje

by Peter Handke

A possible minor epic: of the various head coverings of the passersby in large cities, as, for example, in Skopje in Macedonia/Yugoslavia on December 10, 1987. There were even, right in the metropolis, those “Passe-Montagne”or mountain-climbing caps, covering the nose below and the forehead above and leaving only the eyes uncovered, and among them the bicycle-cart drivers with black little Moslem caps glued to their skulls, while next to them at the edge of the street an old man said goodby to his daughter or niece from Titograd/Montenegro or Vipava/Slovenia, multiple steep gables in his hood, an Islamic window and capital ornament (his daughter or niece cried). It was snowing in southernmost Yugoslavia and thawing at the same time. And then a man passed by with a white, crocheted forage cap shot through with oriental patterns under the dripping snow, followed by a blond girl with a thick bright stocking cap (topped by a tassel), followed immediately by a bespectacled man with a beret, a dark blue stem on top, followed by the beret of a long-legged soldier and by a pair of peaked police caps with concave surfaces. A man walked past then with a fur cap, earlaps turned up, in the midst of swarms of women wearing black cloths over their heads. After that a man with a checked fez — slung over his ear, in magpie black and white, Parzival’s half-brother, piebald Feirefiz. His companion carried a leather-and-fur cap, and after them came a child with a black-and-white ear band. The child was followed by a man with a salt-and-pepper hat, a black-market magnate suavely making his way along the Macedonian bazaar street in the slushy snow. The troop of soldiers then, with the Tito-star on the prows of their caps. After them a man with a brown-wool Tyrolean hat, front brim turned down, the back brim turned straight up, a silver badge on the side. A little girl hopping by with a bright deerskin hood, lined. A man with a whitish-gray shepherd’s hat wound by a red band. A fat woman with a linen-white cook’s scarf, fringed in the back. A young man with a multi-layered leather cap, each layer a different color. A man pushed a cart and had a plastic cap over his ears, his chin wrapped in a Palestinian scarf. One man walked along then with a rose-patterned cap, and gradually even the bareheaded passersby seemed to be equipped with head coverings — hair itself a covering. Child, carried, with a night cap, intersected by woman with slanted, broadly sweeping movie hat: there was no keeping up with the variety. A beauty in glasses walked past with a pale violet Borsalino hat and sauntered around the corner, followed by a very small woman with a towering cable-knit hat she had knitted herself, followed by an infant with a sombrero on its still open fontanel, carried by a girl with an oversized beret made in Hongkong. A boy with a shawl around his neck and ears. An older boy with skier’s earmuffs, logo TRICOT. And so on.  That beautiful And so on. That beautiful And so on.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Walk with Frank

A couple of weeks ago Sam Rushforth handed me his red hat. For you, he said.

That’s your favorite hat, I said.

Part of my ongoing attempt to keep you from looking like a total dork, he said.

Thank you, I said. Thank you, my friend.

A couple of days ago Sam sent this email:

Hey, Abbott. There is one person in the world I would give my red hat to — you! Do you love it? Do you wear it? If so, I am thrilled. If it is mediocre to you, I want the sumbich back! I am giving away some of my best things to just a few people — you included with a true gem. So love it or give it back!!!

I replied:

I already have a new band of dried sweat on it…it’s a gem. There’s only one person in the world from whom I would accept a red hat. And you’re it.

Sam answered:

Ok. You can keep the sumbich. I have moved on to the torn Cal Arts hat. Nan is gonna patch the hole with white cross-stitch so it will look swell! Sooo happy you like the red hat!

That Cal Arts hat was the one Sam was wearing when he had his great crash. If you’re interested in the whole story, read Sam’s and my book, Wild Rides & Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes. For more than a decade we rode our mountain bikes up and down the Great Western Trail, a section of the trail we called “Frank,” noting the changing flora and fauna and celebrating the ways our bikes got us into Nature day after day. There were plenty of falls and abundant, related profanity. We had a ball.

Today, I thought I would take Sam’s red hat that accompanied us on our bike rides on a walk. In honor of past events, I decided to call the hat Frank. Here some pictures from our walk:


Frank and I as we walked down the hill from our house in Woodland Hills, a barbed wire fence in the background. If you’re interested in barbed wire, read Lyn’s and my book The Perfect Fence: Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire.


We looked down from the canal road to the Salem Cemetery. Memento mori, Frank said.


How the crops get irrigated, I explained to Frank.


Bet this is where hamburgers are born, Frank said. Aren’t you a vegetarian? I asked Frank. Yes, he answered, and this is why.


This for my book on the metaphor of standing, I explained to Frank. Homo erectus in the Culture of Homo sapiens.


Frank, I said — ever the professor — this is a prime example of Veblen’s idea of conspicuous consumption.


Maybe we should start a church, Frank said, and only require 5% of people’s income. We could build better buildings, I bet.


Off road and halfway up a steep slope marked only by deer and elk trails, I apologized to Frank for the gathering sweat and asked him to pose on the remnants of a fallen fence. He’s an accommodating fellow.


We made it to the top of that stretch and I asked Frank if we could take a little break. I’m not used to breaks, walking with Sam, he said, but I can tell you’re a little winded, so okay.


Frank didn’t believe me when I told him I rode my bike to the top of that pointed peak with the microwave tower on the top. Twice. You and Sam are blood brothers, he said, when it comes to hyperbole. You know words like hyperbole? I exclaimed.


Santaquin Peak, I told Frank. Big wildfire there last September. That’s when Lyn and I and Bella were evacuated and came to stay with you and Cedar and Nancy and Sam.


Home again, Frank asked to dry on my old bike, claimed he remembered it from earlier rides on the Great Western.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

After the Fire

Last September’s fire changed the face of our mountain (Santaquin Peak).


Walking on the mountainside this morning, I could still smell smoke at times and ashes were so thick in some places that nothing had yet grown through. For Nature, however, nothing is final. After the white woodland stars and blue larkspurs and yellow arrowleaf balsamroot flowers I saw up there last month, there were new wildflowers aplenty today.



some sort of composite (that’s what my friend Sam, a botanist, taught me to say when asked about similar flowers)


sego lily


salmon gilia and (I think) fireweed


fireweed for sure!


goat’s beard


not sure about these little beauties


another composite and flax


not sure about these plants, flourishing in a hollow the fire jumped over


thistle and shadow photographer



this section of the mountain devastated . . . or why not say radically altered? this too is a state of nature


new life in the ashes. my finger for relative size. a tiny fawn walked through these ashes last night or this morning. life goes on

What I know about wildflowers I learned while riding mountain bikes with Sam Rushforth. One summer we watched a section of Mt. Timpanogos just inside Provo Canyon recover from a wildfire. New sprouts from scrub oak roots within days. (This and much more revealed in our book, Wild Rides and Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes)

About ten years ago, our scrub oaks and maples in Woodland Hills leafed out nicely. Weeks later there wasn’t a leaf to be seen. Canker worms ate them all. What did the trees do? They simply grew second sets of leaves. Life goes on.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reviews of The Perfect Fence

What a pleasure to have thoughtful readers. These two reviews have just been published in the June numbers of The Journal of American History and the American Historical Review. Many thanks to Michael L. Johnson and John Bezis-Selfa.

Bezis-Selfa writes that the first half of the book was written by historian Lyn Bennett and the second by literary critic Scott Abbott, an understandable assumption but in reality we worked together on each chapter of the book. History involves interpreting texts and images and a literary critic can help with that. Literary criticism requires history that an historian can help with.


johnson review-page-0

johnson review-page-1


selfa review-page-1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alex Caldiero on Fame, Anonymity, Oblivion

poem_BOB & ME @ CBGB

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment