page 1of several devoted to peter handke
PETER HANDKE: WOUNDED LOVE CHILD
The psycho-bio monograph
on Peter Handke
Résumé of Part I
New York 1971
Terminus = 87
Résumé of Part I
In Part One I sought to detail Handke’s psychological liabilities:
[a] his decade-long exposure – starting in 1944, at age two, in Berlin - to violent drunken primal scenes; with a plethora of sequaelae especially for someone diagnosed as autistically hypersensitive which he himself enumerates in his Essay on Tiredness;following on two years as the exclusive love child of a very beautiful young mother of the Slovenian minority in the Austrian province Carinthia; which, too, has its consequences;
[b] the likelihood that his life-long somewhat depressive state of mind is of anaclytic origins, absorbed while a depressed mother [dumped by the love of her life and then marrying his compadre German soldier as surrogate] carried her child to term;
[c] that Handke’s feeling that something dreadful had happened to him early in his life – that is, that he was traumatized - most likely is the result of the exposure, possibly coinciding with the experience of bombing attacks in Berlin, his birth having been entirely normal according to the midwife’s report;
[d] I emphasized Handke’s extreme hatred of his violent German stepfather, his early preference for his mother’s father, the Slovenian “Ote” Sivec, and Handke’s longing for his mother’s dead Slovenian brothers whose war time letters were a Sivec family heirloom, one of many impulses to become a writer and express a preference for Yugoslavia, as his land of peace; the advantage that accrued from that avunculate also in his passing through a Oedipal phase victorious and with kinder sides; his early turn in a Slovenian and Yugoslav direction; and aversion to matters German;
[e] his early retreat into reading; that is also into fantasy, imagination; an affinity for versions of denial;
[f] his luck, that of an unusually gifted child, in finding a priest to support his wish to attend a boarding school that offered a better education than the village of Griffen;
[g] his entering the boarding school for priests, Tanzenberg, where, however, he felt instantly lonely, and claimed that this was the first time he felt his life-long nausea at other bodies, one of many reasons for his general asociability; and which he left after four years over a principled disagreement; his then attending the regular public high school in Klagenfurt; his working in a packing material factory to earn his keep upon entering the University of Graz to study law, his plan being to acquire the customary sinecure of
talented culturers as a cultural attaché [what a joke it would have been on that service to have the socially so inept Handke prove the exception to all those diplomatically well trained attachés!] in the event his early dream to be a writer did not permit him to live as one without drudgery; his affiliation to the Graz and Austrian avant garde; his becoming professionally adept in writing for Austrian radio and - though playwriting had not been part of the original plan - quick success, writing very much to his generations concerns, as a playwright, success being more gradual, that having been his chief ambition, as a prose writer; his lack of inhibition at speaking publically and to exhibit himself; his publically insulting, his arrogance; the odd contradiction of someone saying that he was “the new Kafka” and doing so with a happy smile.
[h] I ventured the guess that one of the few benefits that accrued from the constant violent primal scene exposure, for a writer, was the acquisition of an early training in the dissociation so necessary for his discipline, for his work also as a self-healing artist; that and insomnia - Napoleon slept four hours a day, it is said, in fifteen minute increments, and I imagine drove his generals bananas; Handke has only driven several wives and live-in girlfriends and one child to despair; and upset the public, usually to good and useful effect; but has published about 65 + books by his 65th year, some of them as great as the victory at Austerlitz! One derivative related to the ability to dissociate would be Handke’s capacity for denial, especially powerful in someone as self-involved in his own identity [in Sorrow Beyond Dreams the metaphor for that is “pulling the covers over my head.”]
[i] the downside consequences of the exposure being the plethora of matters, including a large variety of nauseas, that made Handke angry – and tired - as an adolescent, enumerated in great detail in his Essay on Tiredness; as well as the root of Handke’s misogyny – so surprising in the writer of A Sorrow Beyond Dreams - too, can be traced to the decade long primal scene exposure, to the rage the love-child must have felt instantaneously upon what must also have been experienced as an abandonment, at age two, in Berlin, and still in evidence during his student days. Nonetheless we ought not to discount that Handke remained her favorite and the intimate complicity that existed between mother and child;
[j] that the example of physical violence, [and the great likelihood of his having been a victim of physical violence as a child himself] and the exposure to violent drunken primal scenes is also one [major] reason for the physical, not just the verbal, violence Handke has committed on occasion, but knowledge of which propensity drives Handke’s extraordinary and pathos drenched yearning for peace and for peaceful forms, for example, in seeking them in geological formation in Alaska [!!], or its expression in Nova’s epilogue in his most enitirely self-revealing work, Walk About the Villages, and is one major reason for his turn to lyrical nature description, a mania nearly, which a pastorally oriented reception to this kind of writing can easily mistake for being born of placidity;
[k] that Handke’s covering his eyes with a blanket during these primal scenes – also then symbolically – laid the groundwork for a future tendency in that direction, of scotomization, especially when it affects his identity, as say in - after initially not wanting the Serbian crimes to be true - finally having a surrogate, at the sight of Srebrenica, keep crying out “I don’t want to be a Serb” [not that anyone had asked Handke to be anything but what he was: a half Slovenian Yugo – Southern - Slav for whom, however, the idea of a confederated Yugoslavia, whose ground had become his “amour fou,” and for those madnesses: seeMidsummer Night’s Dream… but I am ahead of myself… Also the wish, and then the learned ability, to transfigure, transfigure somewhat, make magical again – a wish in which the society in which he writes is complicit - and in the world such as it is, at least create works of sustained verbal beauty; to make one see the world anew [a didactic quality as well, pointing both to the nature of his super-ego and an identification with a priestly pastoral function]; as well as his unwillingness to represent violence directly on stage, but merely to suggest it, so that we may peek, as he did; in fascination and horror; Handke is not a writer of “make believes”, he creates experiences.
[m] that what Handke in his interview with Herbert Gamper calls his “autism” [autistic episodes], an unlikely self-diagnosis but pointing to curiosity, are for our purposes best understood as hyper sensitivity of each and all of his senses, “the eyes of an eagle,” “the nose of a beagle,” “the finicky taste of a feline;” “the skin of a porpoise,” “the ears of a bat,” and that even his occasional bouts of color blindness – for which he sought out, but failed to find – as of 1980 [Lesson of St. Victoire] - similar afflictions in his Sivec and Schönherr [his real father’s name] family, may be related to this fundamental [?] hyper sensitivity which at one time forced him to wear glasses to ameliorate what irritated his eyes even in well modulated circumstances; that over-stimulation of his senses, that excess, as well as a finely honed sense of beauty, another fate of the sons of beautiful mothers, accounts for the nauseas of just about everything that Handke once complained of and suffered – “nausea of the eyeballs” “wanting to turn my body inside out” being his two most extreme expression of those feelings - another derivative of the traumatic childhood exposure – but also for his preference for aesthetically satisfying experience; and of course the chief reason that he not only seeks out but creates works opposite that experience, in other words that both formally and in every other respect, including women, for his addiction to beauty; aside whatever inborn [?] gifts that will forever be a mystery, at least to me; e.g. there is no telling in this instance what genetic alterations occurred intra-utero; that the fastnesses of the etiology of autism going hand in hand with a brilliant mind are beyond our ken, that is if the diagnosis Handke received is at all useful except to indicate his extreme hyper sensitivity; although his habit of insulting might point to Monsieur Tourette being a kind of kissing cousin of his,a frequent companion of Señor Autism as he Kaspars his way through life discombulatedly!
[n] that even though he called himself the “new Kafka” and the work of his first five years [1965-70: [Die Hornissen, Der Hausierer; Radio Play One, quite a few of the poems in Innerworld, Kaspar, even Goalie] gives evidence of fear and trembling, what really distinguishes this work is it’s ultimate victory over fear – a victory it appears that had to be won, and demonstrated, over and over, to the point that he became a virtuoso at it;
[o] that he calms himself by writing; and since he is such a libidinal creature, the productivity is near endless [libido has an aggressive component too], a proof it seems the obverse of the original conversion theory of hysteria: here fear becomes productive: Handke becomes calm, his self is calm where every one else’s trembles; he becomes strong, that presumably he masturbated successfully during the primal scene [Kohut’s proposition], and thus will come out the victor [except in certain extreme circumstances, see anon].
[p] One reason that one/ that is “I” can even venture these speculations is because Handke has revealed himself so nearly entirely in his writing: there are not only the novels of his self, the publication of diaries and correspondence during his life time, in the fictions he uses versions of his self, personae, thinly veiled but focused masks, for his particular states of mind, mediums as it were, vehicles, artistic challenges solved. His self-presentation, if he can help it, is shown in the best possible light [i.e. nothing critical of him or his work appears is allowed to appear in any of the many publications about him that his publishers have done]; he poses multifariously like a movie star, as only an exhibitionist can, is hyper-sensitive about his image, both in writing about him and in being photographed; an exhibitionism which, to my thinking, is also of a compensatory competitive nature for the narcissistic psychological injury that the love child suffered from early childhood to early adolescence; the “wound that he writes out of” as he has his surrogate, a raggedy Parsifal of The Art of Asking,exclaim; aside whatever class consciousness and ascendance from the class of Keuschnig’s – he once regretted not belonging to any class - plays a part, and being better at the writing game than anyone else, and the pride that goes with staying at the world’s best hotels; but for which effort he would lack the strength had he not been a “love child” during his first two years; “wounded love child Peter Handke, “melancholy player” he called himself once, instead of Ted Dorpat’s “Wounded Monster” [an important psychoanalytic contribution to Hitler studies: it demonstrates the effect on Hitler’s blood lust and need to be in a continuous state of war from the post-traumatic stress at having been in the front line near continuously for five years and keeping bad company as Handke cannot be said to have since he keeps scarcely any company at all, except his own] whereas Handke’s two half-siblings, fathered by Handke’s stepfather Bruno Handke, born to the same unhappy mother, as of birth exposed to the violent drunken father, led rather sad unsuccessful lives, the half brother a petty criminal, now moribund; the sister dying early of cancer, despite what their older brother’s generosity afforded them;
[q] one major reason for the power, the experience that Handke’s texts and plays provide, perhaps even for the extraordinary dexterity in devising techniques and forms – modernist in that sense and very much of his time while salvaging the past – Goethe Stifter Eichendorf Grillparzer to remain in the German language realm, and so much more - be they of his plays or fictions - derives, I would venture, from the extreme need to communicate from the autistic position, to make contact, to effect and affect, not just from pure ambition and a well schooled talent and drive to exhibit his self: thus the quality of “letters in a bottle” of his texts, the attempt to communicate and in an original, a unique way – after all, that is what comes through most powerfully, that is what encounter with his work produces: states of mind; including the effect of putting the reader into a depressed state of mind but at the end of writing himself and the real reader out of it: thus if the physicians prescribed a Handke book instead of Zoloft or whatever medications prescribed by the billions per year to keep folks happy under madcap capitalism… how much better the world would be off. Thus his books as well as his plays need to be described first of all as the reader’s experience of them! And critiqued by the measure of how well he succeeds in this endeavor. And that is also a technically ascertainable question – for example, a work such as The Hour We Did Not Know Each Other [the summa of all his early theater work] takes its readers by the scalp of their syntax and never lets go until the very end; experiencing a performance of the play becomes paradisiacal in the sense that we see the world – and each other – refreshed, anew; with new eyes [the essence of the function of theater]; a series of especially autobiographical works – Nonsense + Happiness [1972-74]; A Moment of True Feeling , Across , The Afternoon of a Writer  and One Dark Night I left My Silent House  – are diminished by mystifications, chiefly their refusal to own up to unhappy-making women matters. Other works, that entirely focus on his self – such as Der Hausierer, The Repetition, My Year in the No-Man’-Bay, especially the trip novel/ film The Absence [which I recently found out Handke thinks of his modern retelling ofParsifal] and is devoid of irruptions of violence [except for the loudest tank in literature], the Del Gredos epic – are devoid of the problems that the novelist’s license to lie introduce. Facing the task of needing, initially, to describe the experiences that these works produce, criticism enters a different arena from the usual.
These then are some, most I think, of the psychological coordinates and parameters with which one can address Handke and his work: The sheer productivity – aside the early vision of seeing himself as a kind of 19thcentury author with a large and varied oeuvre - is over-determined, too. Colleagues insist I need to mention Handke’s psychic bisexuality. I myself have never felt easy with this concept [literal-minded me keeps seeing something copulating in the brain!], but since Handke seems able to adapt women personae as a writer too, and identified so closely with his mother, there may be something to that suggestion. The Gruppe 47 folks in 1966 in Princeton said, “Oh, ein Mädchen,” Alan Ginsberg came up to Handke and me at the Pannah Grady party and asked me to translate his wish to fuck Handke [Yes back in 1966! in so many words. Pannah and her beatnik friends who smashed her Persian vases!] and drew a deadly blue eyed Prussian stare from this co-host, while Handke, his English must have been poor at the time, thinking the request was being made of me, evinced that memorable unselfconscious grin of the born again village sadist which the elephant memory affixed in its trunk; a matter that was not cleared up until 1980 where his grin, revealed as having been at my expense, and not, as I had assumed – that world of assumptions that has assumed rule over the world – at his own, then comes out looking, at least to me, that much uglier. Handke being insecure in the matter, over compensates there too, just look how “male” he then tries to appear in photographs subsequent to the early ones. However, best to my knowledge he has not gone Elephant or lion hunting…