Monday, March 26, 2007


II McDonald the Literary Rocker

Pertinent quotes from McDonald on Handke's works and my commentary:

It appears the few if any U.S. reviewers and critics have realized - exceptions are the late Richard Gilman and Frank Conroy, and the still living great William Gass and the near great John Rockwell - that no matter that Handke has gone trough approximately six stages as a writer and dramatist since his appearance of the world stage in 1966, he has remained true in his fiction and his drama to the knowledge that all you can do with words is to create independent works of art, artificial creations, projection screens in which the innerworld of the author poet in play with the outer world affects the innerworld of the reader; the longing for authentic communication through and approximations of states of mind. Handke is a formalist in the sense that the romantics thought all works ought to approximate music, and the laws of formalism, with its themes and variations, from Bach to Hip Hop, is the most efficient way of doing so.
Deriving from an initial experience where everything material, including the sheer materiality of words, nauseated Handke's senses that, e.g., he needed to wear dark glasses at all times during those days - "nausea of the eyeballs" was the most extreme expression that someone, who I think still suffers from occasional bouts of color blindness, found for this experience, a matter I decided to trace to its complicated vari- and over-determined origin. And what a great learning educational experience it has been. The vagic nerve which produces the feeling of nausea to defend us against ill-making interior and exterior matters of all kinds is also irritated by sheer excess of information, in the case of someone with Handke's autistic hyper-sensibility it does so with much greater ease, since the autistic may have far greater input but, let me put it this way, have only the standard processor and modulator - the words "sensory overload" makes a kind of everyday language sense.
Although Handke initially - the Handke who had had eight years of Greek and Latin, whose acquaintance with law and its fine distinctions had brought some clarity into his angry adolescent noggin [read "The Essay on Tiredness" to see the plethora of his symptomatology as a young man], as he would later write - despaired at getting out of what is called "the prison house of language," it is of course astonishing to note with what perfection he operated to create works such as his first "Sprechstuecke" to make an audience aware, by means of these "happenings" of the imprisonment, these social lattice works, in which they reside, how painfully self-conscious the experience of "Offending the Audience" can make that audience as it becomes more and more aware of itself. [McDonald: "The most remarkable attribute of these works [the early plays] is a total absence of action... Other than language itself, nothing happens."] is McDonald on the subject writing from D.C in 2006/07 who evidently never underwent any of these experiences at the well reviewed, by the Washington Post, shows of these plays by "Fraudulent Productions" in that city]. Nor that of the dissociating experience, magical, the "cleans your clock" experience of "Ride Across Lake Constance"[ 1970] or that of the play without words, consisting of nothing but beautiful stage directions, so much approximating musical notations or those for dance, "My Foot my Tutor", [1969] and one of the great texts, in German, also consisting of directions only, for "The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other" [1991], a mesmerizing series of tableaux that leave all of your senses freshened, leave you reborn because it makes you see that much more keenly, nearly as keenly as the autistic Handke sees perhaps, until you have to deal with one too many nauseating idiot like Michael McDonald. That, say, the 1971 "Goalies Anxiety at the Penalty Kick", by means of syntactical legerdemain, for which Handke had prepared himself by reading in the field of paranoid shizophrenia, purely by mean of syntax, puts the reader into the same paranoid schizophrenic state of mind as its protagonist/ personae/ projection screen of the eventual murder ["Hey, McDonald, there is some blood for you!"]Josef Bloch; or that a real reader, who does not look for an experience above and beyond what he is reading, whose mind has not become cluttered with notions that words ever loose their material quality, will experience the novelistic fairy tale, "Absence" [1987] as though he were seeing a film.
What Handke achieves is to make the prison house playful, more and more inhabitable, as he has absorbed, slurped up in his insatiability, for language to fill the void, the entire classic tradition; but, finding especial use not just for Flaubert but for Goethe, Eichendorf and Stifter and the one contemporary writer Handke and Thomas Mann agreed on, the fairly recently deceased Hermann Lenz; Francis Ponge Francis Ponge, Grillparzer, etc etc. It is amazing what Handke has absorbed and then transformed to his use. There are dissertations or long scholarly pieces, few showing evidence that their writers as writers have been influenced by such intense exposure, on Handke and Nietzche, Handke and Stifter, Handke and Rilke, you name it.
That oddly cheerful, astonishingly vigorous person, that idiot, who announced in 1966 "I am the new Kafka", meanwhile presents himself as the "anti-Kafka" which is closer to the truth once he accessed what lay prior to the terror, fear inducing experiences of his childhood.
I don't think McDonald has read more than one single Handke novel, and even that not to completion or he couldn't write: ""Who reads (outside of the classroom) Robbe-Grillet and the other nouveaux romanciers from whom Handke has learned so much?" and some of the other matters for which I will take him to task. Nor do I think he knows German though his talk about "the early novels" might lead the ignorant to believe that he does. McDonald is a fraud, a worse fraud than the fraudulent critic Lee Siegel; he is either a hired or self-appointed literary assassin who however with the fifty pot shots he takes at Handke not once hits the barn.
The object of his exercise is to ride a blind easily mounted high moral horse, and to hell with what is trampled along the way. He's a Stryker Brigade in one. If he at least knew Handke's early work! He does not mention a single one of the 30 plus works Handke has produced since 1974.He cites a single paragraph from the 1974 novel "A Moment of True Feeling", and probably does so only because Updike refers to it, and so he feels he has some kind of backup:
"As though the sky now partook of an alien system, it became too high for the high towers of civilization in the foreground of the picture, and against the compact, menacing background the human landscape degenerated into a junkyard. The deep blue with which a time grown plethoric weighed on the world was the essential—the scattered leaflets down below, in which only fear of life or death could beguile him (or anyone else!) to find the slightest meaning, were a secondary, minor factor. Keuschnig saw the sky arching over the Place de la Concorde as something incongruous and hostile. "

as being typical. This is the novel into which Handke dissociated the suididal state he was then in. The then young lay-abroad, whose mother had recently committed suicide, couldn't handle being left by his first wife, finding him the trapped house-husband to a toddler daughter, for cause I might say in the way sleep walkers come together and abandon each other with as little sense as the would be famous actors of "Ride Across Lake Constance" have. Handke began to fugue, as you can read the three great fuguing poems in "Nonsense and Happinesss", he noted every involuntary thought that popped up in his noggin in "Weight of the World," and, as we can read there, ended up hospitalized, for tachychardia attack it looks like, started to ingest valerium, the anxiety inducing nausea softened, and he experienced that "Moment of True Feeling" that is the object of that novel, which Gunner McDonald never got to, even that one book, that McDonald appears not have read through to the end: love burst through, disproving in advance what an idiot, a complete moron who does not even know that linguistically he contradicts himself within just one sentence, named Michael McDonald would write appr. 30 years later: "HANDKE HAS NEVER abandoned his bedrock faith that language is merely a set of debilitating fictions used to mask reality." [How can language, either written or spoken, be a fiction? Does it contain some kind of black matter?]
Instead of continuing to be nauseated by the materiality of words, Handke becomes what he calls a "Wortklauber" - he begins to love them, in somewhat Rilkeish fashion if you like, they become endearing, like his darling sparrows; one step up in the world from being a "mot juster" as he had always been. Handke, who had agreed with his psychotherapist that he lacked access to his feelings, becomes possessed by the extraordinary love he had absorbed as a child, from intra-uterine [yes, someone who knows how to read an author like Handke in the dozen ways that analysis then teaches you to "read" also finds those memories in his work, in the great, the ever so rich "Walk About the Villages"] and during the first two years of his life from his bounty-fully beauteous mother; at least for a while, he opens up to the world, as is evidenced especially by the first chapter of the title text of "A Slow Homecoming" so that one might come under the impression that even if all of Alaska were consumed by Dick Cheney's energy consortium it continued to live in Handke's response to what it had once been. Handke's dissociations lessen, yet his powers to be in the necessary dissociative state of mind to produce these amazing texts is not diminished. If that amazing pretender McDonald knew anything about Robbe Grillet or perhaps he is really thinking of Robbe Fricasse, [yes, just one thing, Mr. McDonald - give me a single item, just one - not the "so much" that Handke allegedly learned] he would cite the one Handke text where, if you have absorbed Robbe Grillet, you can sense RG's work as providing a kind of supporting grid: Handke's amazingly lucid Der Hausierer / The Panhandler[1969]. It is a series of 12 I think separate, alternating texts; the even numbered ones consist of extremely short sentences in the present tense, sentences by a consciousness that is evidently watching, that is transfixed by a horrendous, barely glimpsable series of bloody [more blood, McDonald! oh what terror inducing horrors are just off stage]; the odd-numbered sections, in italics, provide a kind of sequential meta description of the essence of crime and detective novels. The book was written during a period during which our Kafka redivivus was demonstrating over and over again [the "Innerworld" poems, "Radio Play One", "Kaspar"] what mastery he had acquired over his fear, that he could induce it and keep mastering it, as he did, too, to a large extent during his ten year exposure to violent brutal primal scenes, read "Sorrow Beyond Dreams", Mr. McDonald. And it is not a novel you fraud, it is Handke's most famous book, it is a biography of his mother's life, even those who have little use for the rest of Handke find it a great text. "Sorrow for Gunner McDonald." And evidently, Handke as a person with literature as his medicine, as his defense against the terror of the dark night, very cooly very hotly utilized every formal means he could get his hands on. The consciousness reporting sections, a demonstration ad absurdum of pure phenomenology Mr. McDonald, also apparently contain no end of quotes from American and British crime novels cited by Handke from their German translations, which is one reason it does not yet exist in English, since a discouraged me failed do ask Handke whose "Kaspar" I was just translating if he at least remembered what books they were from and what pages. But "Der Hausierer" exists in Italian, French and Spanish. Since Mr.McDonald claims to be working on a literary biography of Curzie Malaparte I assume {???} that he knows Italian. Poor dead Malaparte he trembles in his grave at what is going to be done to him: "Nothing is emptier than an empty swimming pool." No, nothing is emptier than Michael McDonalds brain! Or rather,filled with crap.
Handke as of appr. 1974 became a writer composer who could achieve any effect he wanted; except, being autistic, he was never going to write socialist realist novels like Heimito von Doderer, no matter his vain claim that he could have. For his autism also implies an imprisonment in what is known as "the autistic position"... from which we sense that immense longing to break out, to make contact, that impresses the reader of Handke's first novel, "Die Hornissen" [1965], which he would later re-write in the more accessible form of "The Repetition" [l984]; yet Handke - as he has said in a sentence non of the scholars that cite it have ever followed through on: "I am so anxious and everything I write is then so calm." Since the basic source of Handke's writing is anxiety inducing libido, its transformation into calming text implies the opposite of what Freud and Breuer called hysterical conversion, or a way of productively dealing with it; since writing is not only Handke's chief means of staying emotionally well, but also this industrious and ambitious savant's gift; of his ambition to be the recipient of the laurel crown... he is indeed condemned to be the most productive living author, and who does little if any revising of his first and only draft; and who has also translated some of the greatest and other fine texts, since though he may write one book and play a year, that still leaves a lot of other time that needs to be devoted to keeping pencil in hand.

As the author, also, of biography ["Sorrow Beyond Dreams", "A Child's Story"] and artistic musings cum walking tours such as "The Lesson of St. Victoire"] and of travelogues [three of of the 7 of his Yugoslavia related texts] Handke makes also for an excellent, pretty regular kind of first rate reporter and historian. I saw enough of him from the mid sixties to the late 70s to certify that he's got the essence of things right in, "A Child's Story" [1980] [part III of the Homecoming Quartett].

Mcdonald writes: "Similarly in his first novel, as well as those that followed in the 1970s such as "A Sorrow Beyond Dreams," "A Moment of True Feeling," and "The Left- Handed Woman," Handke dispenses with linear narrative. In its place, he offers readers a static “story” built almost entirely around the inner thoughts of characters who discover that life is absurd and language inadequate to their needs."

Let's see now: "Sorrow Beyond Dreams" is an account of Handke's mother's life, evidently McDonald has not read it. He is just looking at a list of published books.
"Static stories?" eh? Lightning fast tortoises perhaps. Action, cut, another bucket of blood for McDonald: I was always under the impression, as its translator, that Vim Wenders managed to extract a pretty good well-moving story line from "A Goalie's Anxiety of the Penalty Kick" [1970]. "A Short Letter long Farewell [1972] sure moves like crazy all over the United States! The suicidal Keuschnig of "A True Moment" [1974] seems to do a lot of pavement pounding in Paris! Sorger in Alaska ["A Slow Homecoming", 1979] moves, albeit already as the "king of slowness" as which "The Repetion's" [1986] walking syntax can induce a sense of true being in its readers following Filip Kobal on his way to Lubliana.
And as to psychology, the abandoned husband in "Lefthanded Woman" [another personae for a side of Handke], does a lot of peeing against house walls in the company of his male pals! What ought Handke the allegedly non-psychological write: a dissertation on the emasculating, crushing effect of being abandoned by your wife? In "Weight of the World" Handke notes that he feels he is walking around as though his ass is stuck out high, like that of a homosexual! It appears that McDonald like so many Americans like to have their texts and their films with characters that have a set of psychological categories in which they can then be discussed away, the horror of psychological pseudo-understanding which is worse than denial; real people as it were, instead of encountering their being. The work is rife with the under-currents of psychodrama!

McDonald: "In the 1980s, however, after delving into the philosophical writings of Martin Heidegger, he ventured outside the minds of his characters long enough to offer readers finely drawn evocations of natural landscapes," Mr. McDonald has it.
I have come across a single mention of Heidegger in Handke who finds his work monolithic and unapproachable. Handke's close friend the poet Kolleritch, however, is reputed to derive useful backup from it. I would say that first of all Handke did not and does not "delve" whatever that might mean in the context and that to respond to nature and to communicate that response so that a reader can respond, sure as hell did not require Heidegger. In Handke's case it required the knowledge when to name and when not to. Stifter and Hermann Lenz yes, Heidegger no. Stifter and Lenz because they gave Handke the confidence that you could create texts other than those that merely reproduce an ugly world, and Cezanne, but in which the world's horror appeared as the occasional distant thunderstorm or burst in like a chain wielding Inuit. Handke is oblique, McDonald. But never intentionally obscurantist.
"But Handke has hardly been silenced or relegated to obloquy." I have not the faintest what this might mean "to be silenced or relegated to obloquy" - does McDonald feel it is time to throw in some big word? Is he slipping this nonsense past an editor? I gladly subject McDonald to an endless withering stream of obloquy, however. But only because his nonsense appears so improbably in the once wonderful "American Scholar."

McDonald: "At his best, as Updike has remarked, Handke is 'a kind of nature poet, a romantic whose exacerbated nerves cling like pained ivy to the landscape.' And Updike cites, rightly, this passage [the same one from "Moment of True Feeling" see above] But his [Handke's I presume] visionary power of description has little in the way of intellect behind it to engage the reader. By concentrating with surgical precision on the physical details of life, Handke can paint a horrifying image of the mechanical numbness of everyday habit. But is what he describes really life? Literature is many things, but it wouldn’t be worthy of our attention if it didn’t have something to do with human psychology—from which Handke clearly wishes to escape."

Some of this nonsense I have already dealt with above. But here are a few comments:
I am glad that precision continues to be surgical!
Handke may wish to escape the McDonalds of this world, but someone who knows psychology as intimately as he does so as to be able to forego its pedestrian enumeration, is certainly not as foolish as to want to escape it. Handke is first and foremost a materialist. He may have his foolish mystical sides, but the thought of escaping psychology of all things, I cant imagine it crossing his mind. The alleviation of the painful states that his autism can still produce is quite another matter. Just because you don't write psychological motivations for your characters, but leave them implicit, as the impressionist lyrical novel [say Henry Green, or D.H. Lawrence, or the Joyce up to and including "Portrait" have always done] doesn't mean that you as an author propose to escape the great complexity of human or any kind of monkey motivation. You want "real life" in your books, McDonald: you get the Pope's nose, Michael McDonald.

As mentioned before: the cited paragraph is an instance of Keuschnig's dissociated state.

"Little in the way of intellect" ... I see: a phenomenologist like Handke is supposed to demonstrate to a moron like Michael McDonald the operation of the sytem prctp. in conjunction with the linguistc system? Pray why ought poetry demonstrate that the poet might also have the most powerful :"innellecual" capacities, which however, only manifest themselves in his powers to give musical form to his product? Such calls for intellect coming from the McDonalds of this world!

Perhaps McD.s statement is really a projection of the fact that he has an inkling of how intellectually deficient he himself is?

Updike used to feel that Handke was the best living German writer; upon reading Updike's review, in The New Yorker, of Handke's "The Afternoon of a Writer" [1987] I decided to forgo Updike reviews, and only read his wonderful pieces on the visual arts. But therefore it would be interesting to discuss - I think I will write him - what he thinks of Handke now that an extraordinary painterly element [van Ruysdael] started to enter his work as of the 1984 "Across."
The Mcdonald wants real people ... well, there is always the rampaging surrogate for Handke, the Loser of the 1984 novel Across [Chinese des Schmerzens]. But I think what reality- deprived McDonald wants from novels: he wants real life! Like you want coke to be real, which, in its original green glass bottle, always at least made for a great douche. He wants words to make him forget all about words. Naif realism, here we come. He wants Handke to be something that he isn't, but can only respond to what he knows already: to "real life"... my preference is for "unreal life!"
As far as I am concerned, Handke is batting around .750, pretty high on the totem pole. Occasionally, his grandiosity gets the better of him [the 500 k word "Image Loss: or Across the Sierra del Gredos, [2002] or he does something just "to stay in the picture" [the 2005 play "Subday Blues" might fit this desciption.] He is best, as he knows, at a 30 to 40 thousand word clip of his concentrated efforts. For example his "Don Juan" [2004] which moves both forward and backward simultaneously, in time, and, as usual, is also anchored in one place as its protagonist moves from one city to one woman to another in the course of one week, is even better, more cleanly and clearly articulated than the two great Assayings, as I call them, the one "About the Jukebox" and the one about "The Day that Went Well" in "Three Essays" [1994]. Think of H. as composer with the inclinations of a Cezanne, to create alternative verbal worlds that stand in an unusual relationship to the world that we inhabit. Handke is also a didactitician, a kind of activist Wittgenstein. To live in the age of Goethe is many a Germanist's pipe dream, I am glad to live in a world that at least has one Handke. He nourishes me as no other writer does. A few pages of Handke, one good analytic essay, my friends the smart crows and I forget all about the McDonalds of this world.

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