MORAVIAN-NIGHTS-DISCUSSION: ENGLISH LANGUAGE REVIEWS
SCOTT ABBOTT'S REVIEW AT OPEN LETTERS
and here my response to his review
Let me start with minor and end with my major quibbles to my good friend Scott Abbott's piece on Peter Handke's MORAVIAN NIGHT.
1-I did did not just translate Handke’s early plays - the Sprechstuecke of the 60s - but two volumes: KASPAR & OTHER PLAYS + RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE & OTHER PLAYS + the 1981 WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, 10 plays over the course of 15 years; in addition, two volumes of poetry, INNERWORLD OF THE OUTERWORLD OF THE INNERWORLD + NONSENSE & HAPPINESS.
2- The 8 year delay in the publication of MORAVIAN has to do, in large part, with Krishna Winston, FSG's translator of choice, being backed up with work as I might have mentioned in my
which Scott has had for some time and where he might have discovered that the reasons for Handke's waning sales are at least threefold: an EIGHT YEAR and not a four year break between the extremely successful publication of LEFT HANDED WOMAN & the collection of three different books of Handke's under the title of the novel contained therein A SLOW HOMECOMING, a lapse that sapped the great interest also manifested in mass paperback sales of the early books as TWO BY HANDKE, THREE BY HANDKE. I was no longer Handke's editor at FSG [of which Handke must have had at least ten during the nearly 50 years of his publication history with the firm] - but, working as an editor in New York, stayed well informed & advised against that delay.
And now to serious disagreement on a few points of Scott’s reading of MORAWIAN NIGHT, a book we like equally well, it has become my second most favorite Handke:
“Peter Handke’s The Moravian Night is a novel about storytelling,” Scott writes & mistakes, speciously, effort - a craftsman’s lifelong consideration - for the result which in the instance produced some of the finest realistic , graphically, painterly and playfully inventive work that Handke has done. If Handke, a considerable essayist - note his THREE ESSAYS - had wanted to write on “story telling” he would have done so in that form and not at epic 150,000 word length and forced Scott’s tiresome iteration of Handke’s thoughtfulness on the matter each time that Handke is thoughtful prior to the demonstration of the result of thoughtfulness, which after all is what manifests itself to readers and provides their experience of the text.
Handke is a slight of hand artist - an artificer par excellence in Joyce’s sense - who can make a text read as though you are experiencing a film, he does here briefly once at the opening of a long marvelous wandering section along the Danube flood plains.
“Perception,” of which Scott makes serious fuss, is influenced - also deceived - by any number of matters, including the unconscious, as we have know with some finality; particularly in an instance of a writer like Handke who is hyper-super sensitive to the inside and the outside of the inside - to put it this way and not address the matter in a psycho-neuro-physicist fashion. Just one example: The section set in Corduba/ Krk, which Scott cites, strikes me, the reader as though narrated against a backdrop of a dramatic El Greco painting - Glackens also comes to mind - corposcular crepuscular - that is the created suggested mood, and appropriate to the grim subject at hand that Handke’s painterly craft achieves. Handke does not “modulate” experience verbally, that would be naturalism, he creates experiences, he is an inventor so as to communicate, to dominate, to play, to make aware & has developed the means to do so. If the book is ABOUT narration it is so only as yet one other virtuoso performance of all or many of the ways that Handke can do so.
MORAVIAN NIGHT is not any kind of ordinary novel or saga but a collage whose slithers are stitched via a narrator who reports an ex-author’s experiences - the slithers if they fit anywhere overall do so in what I call Handke's grand display of his Yoknapawtaka self, in analogy to Faulkner's county where all of that great writer’s books are set. Perhaps Scott can show how these and the other slivers are to be read a part of a novel or saga or whatever you want to call MORAWIAN NIGHT, which is so different from Handke's other books, where Scott's imprecation would make sense. My experience of these great books is of their being unitary experiences that alter my state of mind, kinethetially, analogous to what some of his plays do in inducing catharses, I feel healthy as a consequence, healthier. Here in MORAWIAN NIGHT, I have this sensation only on a few occasions where there is a continuous narrative, the Galicia tunnel section, the wandering around the Danube flood plain - I certainly do not have this sense during the narrative stitching of these episodes to the evening on board the ship. I maintain that MORAWIAN NIGHT is a collage, a portmanteau for all kinds of things that Handke had not accommodated anywhere else, and for subjects he chose not address in one of what I call his Assayings, those probing essays. If the subject interests your readers they may want to join me and Scott in our ongoing discussion of any number of aspects of this book at:
Sincerely Michael Roloff