Monday, October 31, 2011

Varieties of Experiences with Handke Texts & Plays


I started to translate all of Peter Handke’s early plays in the late 60s, an experience I have memorialized here:
I will define now with whatever precision I am capable of the experience of the how these plays affect an audience and me.   After the performance of Handke’s PUBLIC INSULT, as I now call Offending the Audience [Publikumsbeschimpfung] in my translation at the Goethe House, 1969, a psychoanalyst mentioned that the audience had received an hour’s worth of the best group therapy in making it so utterly self-conscious. Right on! The insults at the end are the joke, the Surprise Symphony effect, the bait to get the audience to attend the scandal, but it is the hour of being addressed, being told everything it did, every thing that it feels and thought that produces self-consciousness, about being addressed, about being in the crossfire of words, about being in the world, on the world stage. In other words, P.I. has a profound didactic and psychological impact. That constitutes its experiential component. The experience of SELF-ACCUSATION, aside the enjoyment of how its series work,


would be of the sheer excess, to the point of utter ridiculousness that self-berating can be taken. It makes you conscious, consciously, or at least subliminally of that feature of the working of our conscience. The fact that it does so playfully works to its advantage. My Foot My Tutor, Handke’s first play of pure action but no words, demonstrates a sado-masochistic power relationship, master slave, with all kinds of sounds – sawing, water trickling, cutting – acquiring quite sinister associations. QUODLIBET [As You Like It] works on the principle of auditory hallucination – the king’s conscience it wants to catch with its ambiguities is that of the audience’s mishearing. KASPAR works as a word torture that an audience empathizes with - or not I suppose; it also functions as an education in the tragedy of the prison house, the labyrinth of grammar into which Goalie puts you, dangerously, with its first few paragraphs. Overall, these texts show us an astonishing control over language, Handke could be a prison builder for Josef Goebbels and his many kin I realized about 25 years ago. Even then, however, he could be entirely playful, a virtuoso, as in WELCOMING THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS and as he has become again, joyfully so, in his 2011 narrative DER GROSSE FALL, which is disussed in great detail at:

     The effect of the 1970 RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE is very different. The play presents itself as that of actors assuming the roles of older actors, a kind of KASPAR en masse on first blush, everyone wants to be “someone who was somebody once upon a time,” and they act as if; they are young and are trying out roles and they are grandiose! But RIDE is chiefly a language game where sentences are handed off and queried, a kind of wild ride of associations, the danger being that you cannot hand off a sentence, will be left without a repartee, drop the baton and that the ice of language on which you ride shatters and you will drown. Your mind will freeze up. As compared to the other early Handke plays I had not the faintest how it would play or what my experience of it would be: Handke's other early texts I knew what they would do to an audience not only because I had translated their serial procedures but because I had directed them and had seen Herbert Berghof direct them. Nor had I participated in rehearsals of Ride at the Vivian Beaumont – I was more interested in a woman and spending time with her in Woodstock. It happens. I took Max and Marianne Frisch to the premiere as well as my woman. Max did not care for the play at all. It seemed to make him angry. Was it the plays implicit promiscuity, the aggressive and sinister undertone? I forgot what Marianne’s and Cathy’s reactions were. Me, however, the performance transported into a state of pure stasis. The 90 minute juggling act, the various, sometimes sinister games that the half dozen actors playing actors had played – “The drawer is stuck”, “Let the drawer be stuck.” – had the effect of cleaning all the crap in my mind out of it. It was not a sublime experience, it was one of pure stasis, of pure being you might say, as some of Handke’s texts, too, have effected, which is why I am trying to formulate this particular experience which Handke achieves once more in the summa of his early happenings, for that is what THE HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER is of all the former, what genius it takes to find that solution [!]. There, in Hour, using nothing but images, a succession of them, to discombobulate the inured mind into experiencing it as something fabulous. There is something very positivistic about that kind of experience, and it might be an instance where Adorno and Popper would find rare agreement. Handke's subsequent play, THEY ARE DYING OUT, overall is within the conventions of Austrian - Nestroy, Raimund - farce; however, its referencing of political asssociations is vestigially verbally playful and reminiscent of RIDE.
    I saw RIDE a few more times full length at the time and then only needed to go for a ten minute "hit" as it were, homeopathic, to feel liberated during its five week run. I couldn't account for the experience, as I might for a drug hit, and did not experience anything like it until what is called "a good hour" in analysis. The experience of stasis was produced by the sheer playfulness of the illogicality, or new kind of logic, of what transpired on stage, that might also be called an utter anti-boulevard boulevard play. Richard Gilman pointing out that Handke in RIDE used Wittgensteinian querying of language does not really help, and Dick wrote his piece without having seen the performance. Handke might have used legal procedures, the resulting absurdity does the trick of being utterly liberating, of wiping the slate clean. Is it the liberation from the querying that existentially is always with us? Perhaps so, if we take Handke’s great The Art of Asking as the answer that questions about when and wherefore and why are not the way questions might be posed.

 »In uns die Fragezeichen sind heutzutage krank. Können keine richtigen Fragen mehr bilden. Sind deshalb in unseren Köpfen ausgebrochen als die Pein des Geredes. Welches jede Frage erstickt. Welches die Herzen auffrisst. Welches mit uns aufräumen wird, wenn wir, statt von der Wunde abzulenken, ihr nicht auf den Grund zu gehen versuchen.«

 The closest affinity to Ride would be Ionesco’s absurdities, but it is a first hand, a superficial affinity only. Ioneso’s Cantrarice Chauve & La Lecon do not perform a catharsis, which is what Ride and Hour do, which are not absurd in the least. Pure playfulness is not absurd. The effect of THE HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING ABOUT EACH OTHER is the same. Clean, reborn. With the effect of Handke's texts on his readers’ state of mind, these qualities need to be a major aspect of reviewing his ever more artful and emotionally deeper works.

Theater and Reading Experiences
 Handke’s plays – Ride, Hour - of course do not play on an undifferianted continuum, they have a movement, and each has that moment - the party moment, when a party has its highpoint, nearly every party has it, and it is entirely unpredictable but for the fact that is hasn’t been a party if there has not been a memorable highpoint. One reviewer in Chicago got it right, and wrote: "Just describe the experience." It is there that Handke's work intersects with "happenings" and with Susan Sontag's AGAINST INTERPRETATION and with McLuhan’s notion about medium, but the experience, say of Handke providing what Peter Strasser called "FREUDENSTOFF" [the stuff of joy], can be detailed in this instance, at least I think I can and I propose to detail the different magical experiences to be had with some of Handke’s texts, and mysticism and mystical experiences are my last resort, as it is of the great physicists with one of whom, a Quark specialist, I once worked so intensely that the little beasties, Charmers all, Muons Glouns, don’t say that physicists don’t have a sense of humor about the requeson the world is made of, entered my dreams, and whether I stand on any kind of solid ground I suppose depends on whether I also imbibed Higgs’ Boson during that intellectual adventure. [That is I hope wonderfully stupid joke!] At any event, though there may have been a limit on what was called “Kraft durch Freude”, there is no disputing that some of Handke’s texts can put his readers into a joyful state, as of about his “Slow Homecoming Period” but especially in instances of the kinds of monstrums he once claimed he would never write, not wanting these albatrosses to weigh him down, I am talking about My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay and Crossing the Sierra del Gredos.

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MICHAEL ROLOFF Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website