Friday, November 11, 2016

Cornelia Caseau /mORAWIAN NIGHT

Cornelia CaseauHead of the Department of Languages and CulturesESC Dijon/ Burgundy School of Business/ Francecornelia.caseau@escdijon.euPeter Handke : “The Moravian Night” or the request forforgivenessIntroduction:In my paper, I will speak about Peter Handke, the well-known Austrian writer, born in 1942in the small town of Griffen, in Carinthia. He sparked off a scandal in 1996 after thedescription of his journey to Serbia in his article entitled A Journey to the Rivers: Justice forSerbia1in which he defended Serbia during the Balkan war.2His opinion shocked the public, because the Serbians were generally considered as theperpetrators of all the troubles in the Balkans. In A Journey to the Rivers, he reproached thewestern media for manipulating war correspondence and wanted to provide a different viewof this conflict. By doing this, he did not only provoke the indignation of the journalists, butalso lost the sympathy of many of his readers and admirers. In reaction to this, he undertooklecture trips through Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Serbia where he read passages of thiswork which he qualified as a text for peace. With varying degrees of success, he tried toexplain his arguments in favour of the Serbian population.In 2008, shortly after his 65th birthday, with the long narration The Moravian Night, he tookup again the Balkan theme. This work allowed him to leave the field of pure politicalcontroversy of the 1990s. In The Moravian Night, Handke presents to us a former writer whogives an account of a recent trip through Europe - a kind of pilgrimage to countries likeCroatia, Spain, Germany, Austria and Serbia. The different stages of the trip producereflections about the human mistakes committed by the author against his family and hisfriends.1P Handke, Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina, oder Gerechtigkeit fürSerbien, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/ Main 1996. First it was published in two parts in the SüddeutscheZeitung on the5-6th and 13-14th January 1996.2In the same year he published a second book on this theme, see P Handke, Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einerwinterlichen Reise, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/Main 1996. Already in 1991 he had written a book deploring thedeclaration of independence signed by Slovenia and Croatia. P Handke, Abschied des Träumers vom NeuntenLand, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/Main, 1991.2After the difficulties of the previous years, we can suspect that Handke desired to close thechapter on these controversies. In my paper I will thus try to see in which way this narrationcan be considered as the author‟s request for forgiveness. First I will analyse some of thehuman errors which the writer, whom we may for the most part identify with Handke3,reproaches himself and how he tries to obtain personal forgiveness. Second I will study thepolitical context of The Moravian Night. How does Handke approach the Balkan conflict?Does he look for reconciliation with his critics and does he obtain their clemency?I. The pilgrimage of an author looking for apologyIn his long narration The Moravian Night, published at the beginning of 2008, a former writerinvites 7 friends onto his houseboat, which was previously a hotel called The Moravian Night,anchored about 100 kilometers south of Belgrade on the river Morava in the Serbian enclavePorodin. The host, together with his most recent partner and his travelling companions spendone entire night together before Easter. After a fine traditional dinner (compared by a criticwith The Last Supper4 where the friends take the role of his disciples5) they piece together thelengthy trip of the author. The night atmosphere disperses supposed realities, the contoursbecome indistinct and give room for memory, thoughts and feelings.6The reader participatesin a long Balkan or oriental night7, or 1001 Nights, a surreal world of fairytales8. The first 12chapters provide an account of his journey, and in the 13th, everything disappears –thewoman, the friends, the boat and even the river. Has the whole story only been an illusion?3P Handke, "Wenn ich schreibe, beute ich eigentlich immer nur mein Bewusstsein aus".Already in 1973 he claimed to use personal experiences in his writing, Ch Linder, 'Die Ausbeutung desBewusstseins', Interview with Peter Handke, FAZ 13 January 1973.4I Radisch, "Wer hierbei an die Jünger Jesu und das nachträgliche Verfassen der Evangelien denkt, muss nichtganz falsch liegen"in 'Die Geografie der Träume. Peter Handke erzählt in seinem neuen Buch "Die morawischeNacht" das grosse Zaubermärchen seines Lebens', Zeit Online 03/2008, viewed on 07 August 2008.5 H Gollner, 'Die morawische Nacht', Kultur und Sprache 18 September 2007 “sie haben Jünger-Funktion”viewed on 07 August 2008,.6 R Bode, „Vom Bluten und Fluten des Herzens‟ oder das Zittern der Stimme im Alltag‟, Die Drei 06/2008, p.32-35.7 R Bode, ibid.8 R Bode, ibid.3All the stages of this trip which we might compare with a pilgrimage relate to the real life ofPeter Handke. The most important event in his pilgrimage is his arrival at the home port, hisnative town in Austria.9From the beginning, the inner conflicts and reflections of the authorhave at least the same importance as the observations about his adventures.10 He undergoes aninternal discovery and Iris Radisch, one of the most famous German critics, supposes therewere personal and professional stages of atonement.11 Consequently, the author‟s pilgrimagethrough Europe is accompanied by numerous confessions.12 As if he had wanted to establish acatalogue of all the reproaches and objections spoken against him during his life, he confessesto us his weaknesses and his faults.13 Never before had Handke judged himself so harshly.14For the critic Ulrich Weinzierl, it is a sign of maturity15 and for Sigrid Löffler, such ruthlessself-representation opens the way to a new orientation16 a condition for reconciliation17 andforgiveness.I will give three examples from The Moravian Night, where Handke shows us the failings thathe seems to apologize for:1) the lack of human warmth and attachment to others, in particular women, and his needto withdraw from others2) his opposition to his German stepfather and everything related to Germany3) his tyrannical attitude towards his family when writing, and for leaving the familyhome prior to the suicide of his mother 189 R Bode, ibid.10 E Falcke, 'Peter Handke über die morawische Nacht', Büchermarkt 10 February 2008, viewed on 01November 2008, .11 I Radisch, ibid. "Seine wichtigsten persönlichen und beruflichen Stationen der Wiedergutmachung werden indieser nächtlichen Reiseerzählung auf dem Hausboot an der Morawa noch einmal abgeschritten."12 M Bandar, 'Die morawische Nacht. Balkan-Monolog-Leben wie im Traum', Stuttgarter Zeitung Online, 23January 2008, viewed on 2 January 2009,<>.13 V Hage, 'Der übermütige Unglücksritter', Der Spiegel, 07 January 2008, viewed on 07 November 2008,.14 V Hage, ibid.15 U Weinzierl, „Handke reist mit dem Hausboot ins eigene Ich”, Welt Online 12 January 2008, viewed on 07August 2008, .16 S Löffler, op.cit. "ein Abschied vom Traum-Balkan, Handkes Privat-Paradis, dem utopischen Modell einesfriedlichen Vielvölker-Staats".17A Breitenstein, 'Die groβe Versöhnungstour. "Die morawische Nacht"- Peter Handke zieht eine selbstironischeBilanz eines Dichterlebens, NZZ Online 15 January 2008, viewed on 07 November 2008,.18 This fault is, like the others, autobiographical :"[…] da bin ich unheimlich egoistisch gewesen. Ich war schon zu Hause der Typ, der alle tyrannisiert hat."in Interview with André Müller, July 1971. Müller, André : Im Gespräch mit Peter Handke.Weitra : Bibliothekder Provinz 1993, p.28, cit. E Schwagerle, 'Peter Handke et la France. Réception et Traduction', Thèse dirigée 4In each of the three cases Handke portrays a selfish and egocentric person who followed hispersonal ambitions for his whole life.How does he proceed? After living for 10 years on his houseboat in Porodin, his refuge andhis castle,19 the narrator leaves this enclave. Perhaps he flees a woman, perhaps he only wantsto escape from himself. His first stop out of Serbia leads him to a Croatian island, where theyoung author, a long time ago, had met his first girlfriend during the summer. It was also thesummer when he started writing his first novella. Near the entrance of a church, he finds hisfirst love again, an old beggar woman who reproaches him for abandoning her so many yearsago in favour of his writing. She makes him feel guilty, and Handke seizes the opportunity torecognize his own lifelong hesitations between writing and love. (The relationship betweenHandke and women has always been one of conflict.20 He frequently left his girlfriends andwives whom he often considered as his enemies or was abusive to them. He exhibited alsoimpatience and total lack of self-control).Another important step of his pilgrimage is the visit to his father‟s place of origin, a small spatown in the Harz (formerly East Germany). He seeks to discover the region where his parent(Handke‟s father was a soldier of the Wehrmacht) grew up. On this occasion he finds apeaceful countryside and forgets all his prejudices with regard to Germany. Handke had felt alot of anger against Germans. During the Second World War, two of his uncles, the belovedbrothers of his mother who had Slovenian origins, were forced to fight in Hitler‟s army wherethey died on the field of honour.21 At the German cemetery where the writer is finallylooking for reconciliation, he becomes aware that he knows nothing about his father. Heshould have questioned his mother so much more when she was still alive. Having missed thisopportunity makes him remorseful and angry with himself. A butterfly transformed into anold woman accuses him of selfishness: His rejection of his father due to his lack of humancuriosity has to be paid. For having denied his father in former times, he has to leave thispar M.Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler et M.Gerald Stieg. Université Paris III.Sorbonne Nouvelle. Universität Wien.Paris/Wien 2006, p.131-132.19 P Handke, "Flucht- und Trutzburg", Die Morawische Nacht, Erzählung, Suhrkamp , Frankfurt/Main 2008, p.7.20 H Höller, Peter Handke, Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2007,Handke had notorious liaisons with several actresses, for example Jeanne Moreau.21 P Handke/P Hamm, Es leben die Illusionen. Gespräche in Chaville und anderswo. Wallstein Verlag,Göttingen 2006, p.120 "Dass zwei Slawen, die eigentlich für Jugoslawien hätten kämpfen wollen, oderzumindest gegen Deutschland, für das sogenannte Groβdeutsche Reich ihr Leben gelassen haben – das wareigentlich das Bestimmende. […] ich glaube ich habe eine Grundwut [……..] auf alles, was Deutschland alsStaat ist. Das werde ich nie akzeptieren."5town immediately. And thus, without having obtained forgiveness at the grave of his father,he has to continue his pilgrimage to his native country.The countryside of his childhood seems so strange. After a dreamlike night of wanderingwhere he meets key figures of his life and his homeland, he makes a stop at the cemetery tocollect his thoughts at the grave of his forefathers. At home, in a conversation with his brotherthe narrator learns how, in his youth, he had tyrannised his family because of his ambitions tobe a writer22. He had disrupted domestic life, had created divisions and even discord withinthe family. When the writer goes to bed, he tries to think about his past, to become aware ofthings he had lived, suffered, done, omitted, or crimes he had committed.23 However, he is tootired and falls asleep immediately. At this moment he hears the voice of his dead mother.He had often dreamed of her, thinking that she was still alive, dead tired, slaving away forhim and the others. The relationship between Handke and his mother had been a very closeand exclusive one. When he had left home for his studies, he continued to write to her and tosend her his literary works. Her suicide in 1971 had instilled in him a feeling of guilt. In thedreams she had appeared to him only one time, some weeks after her suicide. This time shedoes not appear, but speaks to him, invisible, without any face or eyes. And she forgives himunconditionally. For her, her son is innocent. He should stop feeling guilty.24 She encourageshim to leave behind him all his guilt and to start to live with others: enough of this confessingand these self-tormenting reflections!His arrival at his hometown and the forgiveness of his mother constitute the key scene of theauthor‟s pilgrimage. During the whole trip he had behaved as if he were a pilgrim: most of thetime he went by foot, visited churches and holy places, learned the sense of community in theexchange with other travellers, meditated and in doing that, became conscious of his errors.The confession of the faults in The Moravian Night seems thus to be a request for forgiveness.The numerous religious symbols that Handke, a former student of a seminary, uses - thechurches, a crypt, cemeteries, angels, devils, prayers, and the religious language (we can even22 P Handke, speaks of « Schreibtyrannei », M.N. p.498.23 P Handke, "Und als er sich zu Bett legte, in der Absicht, so lange er nur könnte, sich bewuβt zu machen undzu wiederholen, wo er da war und was er in der Zeitenfolge da nacheinander im einzelnen erlebt, erlitten, getan,unterlassen, anderen angetan und verbrochen hatte […]" M.N.p.499.24 P Handke, "Du mit deinem ewigen Schuldbewuβtsein und deinem Schuldsuchen auch bei den anderen. Du bistunschuldig, du dummer Kerl […]", M.N. p.501.6find quotations from the Bible and sentences of Catholic liturgy),25 might confirm thecharacter of this trip as a pilgrimage.II. The Balkan dream – a forgiven fantasy?In this section I would like to analyze the political side of Handke‟s reflections and see, if TheMoravian Night constitutes a turning point in his writing. Does he change his attitude towardsthe Balkans, and does his latest book reconcile his critics?Dating back to the fall of Yugoslavia which took place in 1991, Handke often went to theBalkans to get a personal impression of the war by being there. His initial intention was not todeliver a political statement with regard to the arguments of the nations at war, but to presenta discourse in opposition to the mainstream. Due to his Slovenian origins on his mother‟s sidehe had a particular attachment to this country and wished deeply that the Yugoslavian statecould remain whole. He never accepted the Slovenian and Croatian independence movements.That‟s why his former love for Slovenia turned into an attachment for Serbia as the lastrepresentative of the former multiracial state.With his travel writing A Journey to the Rivers, Justice for Serbia in 1996, Handke haddefended Serbia and attacked the western media, an act harshly criticized by the public. Hissympathy for Serbia had finally turned into a public partisanship, particularly after the NATObombings at the end of the 1990s. During the NATO campaign, Handke went to Serbia toshow his solidarity with the victims of the attacks. In his anger about the bloodshed takingplace in the Balkans he abandoned his former poetical concept and found himselfinvoluntarily involved in the delicate role as a correspondent between a poetical and ajournalistic mission.26 The least understood of his actions however, was his visit to SlobodanMilosevic in prison in The Hague27 and his delivery of a speech during the burial ceremony of„The Butcher of the Balkans‟, in 2006 in Posarevac. For Handke, Milosevic had represented25 C Hell, 'Bei uns am Balkan', Die Furche 06/2008, viewed on 01 November 2008,< >.26 Ch Parry, Peter Handke, Kritisches Lexikon zur deutschsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur-KLG., H.L. Arnold(ed.), edition text + kritik, München, 80. Nlg., June 2005, p.24 – 26.27 P Handke, „Die Tablas von Daimiel, Ein Umweltzeugenbericht zum Prozess gegen Slobodan Milosevic‟,Suhrkamp Sonderdruck, Frankfurt/ Main, 2006.7Yugoslavia and by his participation in the burial ceremony, wanted to be part of the last act ofthe existence of this state.28In his book The Moravian Night which takes place in the future, the Balkan War is lost andthe political dream of a united Yugoslavia is finished. Tito‟s Yugoslavia is a forgotten empire.During the whole narration, Handke never utters the word Serbia which has caused so muchcontroversy some years earlier. He speaks of the Balkans, the beauty of the landscape and theprecarious political situation. It is a satirical and nostalgic farewell to the Yugoslavian dreamand nightmare,29 a goodbye to his private paradise, the utopian model of a peacefulmultiracial state.30 At the same time it is a farewell to trauma: the Balkans disfigured by thewar, a land scarred by the debris of war and a society torn apart by hostilities.31 Nevertheless,the disappeared Yugoslavia remains for Handke a country of the heart.32 His affection for theBalkans is not only a geographical one, but also bound by images in his imagination.33In his book, he still takes the side of Serbia34, in a discreet manner however. The houseboat onthe Morava is decorated with the huge flag of the disappeared country, and it is painted in thecolours of the sunken empire.35 Handke operates with allusions, like the disappearance of theCyrillic writing,36 and he does not use words to defend Serbia directly anymore.37 With thiswork, Handke has achieved a more nuanced view of the Balkan conflict, and in the lastchapter of The Moravian Night even questions himself about the usefulness of his formercommitment38 and wonders, if the lost person was not perhaps himself?39The critics seem to appreciate this new, self-reflecting tone in his writing. Nearly all of thempraise The Moravian Night, they welcome Handke‟s return to a more poetical writing40 and28 APA/Red. (no name), 'Handke spendet serbischem Dorf im Kosovo 50.000 Euro'. Interview, Die Zeit, cit.DiePresse 11 April 07, "Mit Milosevic endete Jugoslawien. Bei diesem letzten Akt wollte ich dabei sein."29U Weinzierl, op.cit.30 S Löffler, op. cit.31 S Löffler, ibid.32 E Falcke, op.cit.33 K Gasser, op.cit.34 F Hafner, Peter Handke. Unterwegs ins Neunte Land, Zsolnay, Wien 2008, p.334."In "Die morawische Nacht" wird dafür der-serbischen- Gegenposition explizit und ausführlich Platzeingeräumt, bezeichnenderweise in der Figurenrede des Busfahrers, der es vermeidet, jene, die ihn undseinesgleichen mit ihrem Hass verfolgen, beim Namen zu nennen."35 P Handke, M.N. p.35.36 U Weinzierl, op.cit.37 S Sattler, Stephan, 'Triumph der Sprache', Focus Online, 07 January 2008, viewed on 07 August 2008,.38 P Handke, "Was hatte er bloβ bei den Verlorenen auf dem Balkan zu suchen gehabt ?", M.N. p.55739 P Handke, "Der Verlorene, war das nicht in Wirklichkeit er ?", M.N. p.55740 M Rutschky, op.cit."Wer das Buch liest, wird groβe Mühe haben, es nicht wunderschön zu finden."8praise the collection of gentle-poetical confessions.41 They underline the author‟s longing fora peaceful existence with himself and with others42 and testify to the conciliatory aspect of thepublication.43 Even if Handke affirms that it is not possible to separate the poetical from thepolitical writing44, with his last narration, he has abandoned the political struggle and hasreturned from a polemical to a poetical prose.45 This book is generally considered as aliberating step allowing him to leave his position on the sideline.46 As proof of recognition,the jury of the most important German literary prize, the “Deutscher Buchpreis” hasnominated this book as one of the top twenty books of 2008.47To conclude this section, I would just like to make a short comparison between the twocontemporary writers Peter Handke and the German author and Nobel-prize winner GünterGrass. As mature writers, both have been accused in public for their political actions orpositions. Grass, the political conscience of Germany, was criticised for joining the WaffenSS during the Second World War, and his late confession of it in his autobiographical bookPeeling the Onions in 2006. Whereas Handke was attacked for his verbal meddling in theBalkan affairs in the 1990s.Even if Handke took back some of his political statements, the two writers never reallyapologized in public. On the contrary! In interviews, they claimed their innocence andexpected the understanding of their audience. They hoped that the arguments, expressed intheir literary work would be sufficient to convince their opponents.We can establish that their aberration finds its origin in the past, when the authors wereyoung. Grass had signed up for the Waffen SS during puberty, to flee the confinement of theparental environment in Danzig, whereas Handke had defended the Balkan dream,41 U Weinzierl, op.cit. "eine Sammlung sanftmütig-poetischer Bekenntnisse des Autors."42 K Gasser, op.cit. "[…] Sehnsucht nach so etwas wie einem friedlichen Mit-Sich und Miteinander-SeinKönnen."43 L Struck, op.cit.44 Cit. : Peter Handke im Gespräch mit Joze Horvat, Noch einmal vom neunten Land, Klagenfurt/Salzburg 1993,in Tontic, Stevan – Reisen des Träumers ins « Erste Land », Noch einmal für Jugoslawien. Peter Handke. ThDeichmann (ed). Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/ Main 1999, p.41.45 U Weinzierl, op.cit.46 S Löffler, 'Peter Handke - Die morawische Nacht' op.cit. "Das Buch ist auch ein Befreiungsschlag, mit demHandke sich aus dem Abseits befreien will, in das er sich mit seiner Jugoslawien-Haltung manövriert hat."47 However Handke renounced the nomination to leave the field open to younger authors, ber/dpa (no author)Deutscher Buchpreis : Peter Handke verzichtet auf Nominierung, Spiegel Online 04. September 2008, viewedon 16 September 2008,.9considering Yugoslavia as the country of his childhood, his second homeland 48. Perhaps it isthe reason why they expect our comprehension and unconditional forgiveness.Conclusion:For both of them, the distinction of the role of a writer as a political or literary person seemsthe crucial question. Peter Handke and Günter Grass are not the only intellectuals in the 20thcentury to take sides with dubious political actions. There was also Knut Hamsun, EzraPound, Lion Feuchtwanger, Céline and others49. The forgiveness they could expect was avindication of their literary creation, of their genius as authors and not the acceptance of theirpolitical ideas. In this way, Handke has been rehabilitated and forgiven as a creator of anextraordinary literary work – and even his recent support for the ultranationalist Serbianpresidential candidate Tomislav Nikolic50 disappears behind the praise of his latest book.Nevertheless I will finish in quoting a sentence spoken by the philosopher Martin Heideggerto justify his own entanglement in National Socialism “Wer groβ denkt, muss groβ irren“51which I would like to transform into a question: Is a big thinker allowed to make big errors?Bibliography:Abbott, S., „Peter Handke‟s „The Moravian Night‟, The Goalies Anxiety 4 July 2008,viewed on 7 November 2008, .APA/Red. (no name), „Handke spendet serbischem Dorf im Kosovo 50.000 Euro. Interview Die Zeit, cit. DiePresse 11 April 2007.Arnold, H.L.,(ed.), Peter Handke. Sechste Auflage. Neufassung VI/99, edition text + kritik, München 1999.Baier, L., „Krieg im Kopf‟. Noch einmal für Jugoslawien. Peter Handke, Th Deichmann (ed.), SuhrkampTaschenbuch, Frankfurt/ Main 1999, p. 33-3848 See the article of F Meyer-Gosau, „Kinderland ist abgebrannt‟, Peter Handke, Heinz Ludwig Arnold (ed.),Text + Kritik VI/99, München 1999, p. 3-20See also : A Breitenstein, „Die Schule der Eigentlichkeit‟, NZZ, 5 May 2006.49 U Greiner, „Darf groβ irren, wer groβ dichtet ?‟, Die Zeit, Nr.24, 8 June 2006. « Wer groβ denkt, muss groβirren ».50 R Wagner, „Peter Handke verliert die Wahlen in Serbien‟, Die Achse des Guten, 4 February 2008, viewed on07 August 2008,.51 U Greiner, op.cit.10Bandar, M., „Die morawische Nacht. Balkan-Monolog-Leben wie im Traum‟, Stuttgarter Zeitung Online 23January 2008, viewed on 2 January 2009,<>.ber/ dpa (no name), „Deutscher Buchpreis: Peter Handke verzichtet auf die Nominierung‟, Spiegel Online 04September 2008, viewed on 16 September 2008, .Bode, R., „Vom‟Bluten und Fluten des Herzens‟ oder das Zittern der Stimme im Alltag‟. Die Drei 06/2008, p.32-35.Breitenstein, A., „Die groβe Versöhnungstour. Die morawische Nacht.”, NZZ online 15 January 2008,viewed on 07 November 2008,.Breitenstein, A., „Die Schule der Eigentlichkeit‟, NZZ, 5 May 2006.dpa. (no author) „Beinahe ein Kreuzweg – Mit literarischer Me

1 comment:

  1. Chapter V is set in Germany, specifically in the Harz region, and I comment on it @
    It is a dystopian Germany but I can find no asking for forgiveness on Handke's part for detesting it & deriding it in this fashion. As a matter of fact, Handke is tougher on his biolgical father it seems than on his dreadful stopfather, Bruno, of Sorrow Beyond Horror infamy whera after he died Handke seemed slightly forgiviing. So it beats me where Cornelia C. get to asking for forgivenes in this instance. michael roloff november 23/ 2016