1] The ex-author, his Erinyes and his companion.
During his year’s long roundtrip, the ex-author is haunted by a variety of women whom he appears to have wronged. The counter theme: to his friends’ surprise, the ex-author is living with a woman on that house boat on the Morawa, and the relationship appears quite wondrous, as such relationships can be. Nonetheless, the spirit of Erinyes pervades the reeds and haunts the ex-author, and perhaps Handke, who has ranked himself with Goethe for the past twenty years, will compose the equivalent to Goethe’s Erl-King with Erinyes haunting the child.
At one point in a book that plays ever so coyly with having its actual author as its subject, the actual now ex-author expresses agreement with an apparent writerly model, the Austrian 19thcentury playwright, Ferdinand Raimund
that women present a danger to a writer. Or men to a woman writer he might add if Raimund lived now we suppose. Other writers are endangered if they lack whatever kind of companionship and support a partner may offer… chacun sa gout, chacun… However, it appears that our ex-author has not always heeded Raimund’s sage and no doubt self-serving advice, as he appear not to be doing now, at least on the houseboat and during a walking tour with what appears to be the same woman in Northwestern Spain. Nonetheless, if you read Moravian not knowing any other Handke book or anything about Handke’s life, you will be, ought to be, at least intrigued, and perhaps that is the whole purpose of all this mystification, if not puzzled by its treatment of the feminine; that is, if you are interested, and if not read something else, for the very least the word salad here is first rate.
As a general proposition – it would take an entire book to explore the whys and wherefores of the need for a solitary existence. In this instance, however, it becomes clear that the ex-author also has a particular aversion to noise; the book contains a wonderful recit on a congress on noise, and Handke not long ago, explaining why he no longer lived with his second actual wife, who resides in Paris proper, mentioned that his house in the forested part of the outskirt Chaville was “hellhoerig” – a marvelous German word meaning that the house, not its inhabitant, was ultra sensitive to noises – the very opposite of “hard of hearing” would be “light of hearing”, no?; house and master as one - need we say more? Another of Handke’s saying is that “women talk too much.” As thoug buddies, too, cannot be accused of that at times. Indeed, all those geese that chatter as of gosling age, lots of chatter, not too much listening until they grow older, texting madly now, addicted to talk, programed, delighting in each other’s company, often regretful of their need of men later in life. Handke’s extraordinary novel, extraordinary for being in part written in dream syntax, One Dark Night I Left my Silent House  has a formally unincorporated recit – formally unnecessary perhaps being the definition of such an intrusion – that complains about the “modern” woman, not that it defines what an unmodern women used to be like, as I imagine it does not need to define an uncomplaining person who is always there when you need her, and disappears and can be forgotten about when you don’t. Mother!
We do not know, without reading a biography, what if any relationships Ferdinand Raimund had with women that brought him to his conclusion, perhaps he felt trapped as Michael Roloff did most of the time, the beautiful wenches turning into the Ms. No governess of his childhood – entirely in his head, projections. We do not know – at the moment - whether Raimund frequented Viennese prostitutes as was customary during his days, or if he was celibate, and perhaps happily so. Or if he was gay.
Yet the ex-author of Moravian Night’s past relationships and women’s accusations of his failings play into the text and make us believe that his agreeing with Raimund followed past unhappy co-habiting experiences and relationships. One woman, it seems to be the one he is dwelling with, calls him “cold as a salamander” – evidently she made the mistake of living with the writer, perhaps with a writer who did little else but work and who was emotionally unavailable, but who has meanwhile changed, at least a bit, a salamander who manages to retain a bit of warmth from his days warming himself in the sun. - Handke’s first extraordinary diary volume The Weight of the World  mention a Paris therapist telling the then distraught Handke that he was emotionally ice cold – and Handke agreeing with him. In other words, a less needy woman, perhaps a French Saint with padded house cat feet might be Handke and the ex-author’s feasible companion. If she could actually turn into a cat after having served breakfast she could curl up next to him on his desk - that can be very comforting. Or became unavailable quickly after the initial passion subsides, it was passion that had made him leap across the shadow of his emotional unavailability, if only briefly. Another feminine figure, or is it the same one, calls our ex-author a “mama’s boy” – the kind of judgment that implies an elephant’s or gnat’s continuum of insight into him. “Mama’s boys” – what are, can they be like? They are used to getting their way, they are spoiled, they throw fits their girl friends or, as they case may be, girlfiends, girlfriends turning into neglected fiends, are treated as mothers who need always to be there for him, but not he for them, they have to keep the hearth fire warm while he can go tom-catting around, the layabroad! If he so feels like, or spends time with the buddies. - Peter Handke’s own married life is a special variant of the above, and a lot of unhappy wives and long time companions and girl friend fiends who have all left him for cause are pretty sour.
Handke himself quite wonderfully, first in sections devoted to the Prodigal Poet’s return in Walk About the Villages, describes the future tyrant’s early child tyrranux rex behavior. The best section in Malte Herwig’s Handke biography Meister der Daemmerung confirm this behavior and adds that from early on the entire family, including the dreadful hated stepfather, did everything to support the child prodigy idiot savant’s talent – everyone, the entire house had to be quiet when he wrote – a matter that is more immediately comprehensible if we think of young Handke as a prodigally talented child musician; but it points to the future writer’s near instant abilities as a virtuoso – who cannot just play but in this instance write anything, and perhaps shoot a load of dried chicken shit into the freshly made oak table to provide it more than with just the veneer of the authentic worm holes of age.
Moravian Night references several books of Peter Handke’s, especially yet another trip novel, the 1972 Short Letter, Long Farewell the first to feature a dangerous woman, the protagonist, a “Germna writer’s,” wife, who pursues him with a gun. A brief note – and a long pursuit. It is at this point we have, because of Michael Roloff having been the Suhrkamp Agent host and translator of Handke’s first dozen plays a possible shaft into the question what is autobiography, how does autobiography turn into mythic novel. A real caesura ensues here in our discussion.
Formally, one could say that Short Letter Long Farewell abides by a certain detective story convention – after all, even its title references Raymond Chandler - Farewell my Lovely? Farewell lover! But what has he done to deserve deadly pursuit? As compared to a detective story, Short Letter does not tell us the reason for the pursuit. In that respect, Short Letter, like Goalie’s Anxiety, are outgrowths of Handke’s exploration of the phenomenology of detective fiction, the novel Der Hausierer, Handke seeking and finding a container for his attempt to manifest how anxiety is overcome through writing, the conversion of anxiety as it were; a more fundamental container being the grid that Handke’s familiarity with Robbe-Grillet provided at the time, that coldly engineering writer who cleaned out the sentimental stables.
Goalie the reader may recall, features a Prater pick-up, murdered at the spur of a kind of seizure of nausea, a welling up of hatred. Not aforethought. Of passion of a sort in other words. Psychotic if that helps you understand. “Drops of water scurrying like ants on a hotplate” I think is the apt metaphor Handke uses.
In Spring 1971 I had met Peter Handke twice. After hearing him at Princeton in Spring 1966 the first actual encounter was at a party that Jakov Lind and Pannah Grady and I gave for the Gruppe 47 at Pannah’s ultra-splendid apartment in the Dakota in Manhattan, and there had been an incident where Alan Ginsberg had approached me and asked me to translate that he wanted to fuck Handke , and I had noticed a gleeful sadism pass over Handke’s face as I turned my blue eyes into Prussian daggers and Ginsburg relented. The second time I met Handke was in Berlin in Spring 1969 to discuss my translation of Kaspar. We met at Handke’s rented prince’s apartment at the Uhland Strasse – the prince of stacks of newspapers it seemed - I was shown Baby Amina and off it was to an outdoor restaurant on the Kuhdamm I think. And if you read Handke’s A Child’s Story you will be glad to know that I am the kind of person who can look at babies and revert to babyhood within seconds, as compared to the 68 revolutionaries who visited Handke, beseeching him for support – but no time or interest in his precious newborn.
With Susan Sontag’s help I had talked Farrar Straus into publishing Handke’s first plays and 2nd novel, Der Hausierer, via telegram from Europe. Wanting to see who might be the right translator for him, working on Self-Accusation had become such fun that I decided to do it myself, realizing in the process that the Beatelish kid whose smile exuded the kind of fundamental sadism that it will stick in your nose a lifetime was a genius. And one who might have been better off as a musical composer.
The meeting at the Kuhdamm outdoor retains a perfectly professional air in my recollection. Handke mentioned that he would like Kaspar to be even more abstract, especially the first, oft-repeated sentence “I want to be someone like somebody else once was.” Der Hausierer it turned out Handke said was chockfull of quotes from U.S. detective thrillers… and my heart sank at the prospect of having to look them up - from German translations. I might have thought of asking Handke whether he could point them out to me, and their sources – the idea of translating them back into American without checking against the originals struck me as impossible. Instead, I let my heart sink and said nothing and then made an offer for Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kickwhich turned out to be far less challenging to the ordinary reader. When I had a firm of my own with several partners, the one with whom I had the agreement to mutually agree on what we would publish opposed the idea of doing Der Hausierer – thus it still only exists in German and many other but English translation. Domage.
Der Hausierer is the richest Hdemonstration of Handke’s 1966 claim to be “the new Kafka” – however, if Kakfka he was, he was a Kafka who overcame fear and trembling and thrived on that victory. The ultimate love child – how had he become fearful in the first place – thrived with utter confidence at those repeated victories with his pen. The closest pure piece to exist in English to Der Hausierer, that is from the period that Handke’s theme was fear and its overcoming, is my translation of Radio Play I, although Goalie and Short Letter, too, are marked by it. Fearful, cold as a salamander, needing to retreat into writing where fear could be converted.
By out third meeting in 1971 I had let Siegfried Unseld talk me into becoming the Suhrkamp agent in New York, replacing the splendid Joan Daves, who had resigned what turned out to be a mare’s nest. And being Suhrkamp agent seemed to mean that the Austrian cultural trio of Handke, wife Libgart Schwartz and bosom buddy Freddie Kolleritch on an Austrian cultural 21 cities in 28 days jaunt could treat my apartment as the apartment away from the hotel – which Handke quickly switched to the Algonquin from the Austrian designated horror on Lexington or Third Avenue. It was also the official U.S. premiere of Handke’s first plays, at the Brooklyn Academy, with which I and a troupe had ventured to many a venue in the late sixties, and had worked on with Herbert Berghof and E.G. Marshal. Handke justifiably did not care for the premiere, albeit some fine reviewers saw past the director’s work to the plays themselves, and I took the threesome to the writer’s restaurant Elaine’s which was still pretty much of a hole in the wall at the time and Libgart and I had each other while Peter and Freddie were involved. I was not clever with all the hanky panky going on under the table – typical Elaine’s activity I might say – to slip Libgart one of Elaines wide match books and leave my phone # and the suggestion “To the hair dresser?”.
I also had a very small party for Peter, attended by the American critics Richard Gilman and Stanley Kaufmann, early fans as of the publication of Kaspar & Other Plays. It is most unusual to have plays reviewed that only exist in book form. As these two intelligent men – Gilman would venture the first long American piece on Handke’s plays – and I were talking with Peter, Peter suddenly peeled off – it really was like a fighter plane departing the squadron, and hunkered down by my nearby record player, on the lower shelf of a ceiling-high bookcase, and I think put on a Beatles record, softly. In retrospect what I witnessed was a “Juke Box” moment, a retreat into a “quiet”, in this instance more musically pleasant than Richard and Stanley’s and mine whatever we were saying, of our “too much.” What I noticed at this odd moment was that Handke squatted by my record player “just like a woman” – there exists a photo of him searching through some photos where he squats just like it.
I don’t recall anything especially brilliant or annoying having been said, I think Stanley and Richard were interested in what he was after with his early plays. Peter might even remember. However, this pretty much was the end of the party and the two critics left as did my splendid girlfriend, Renate Karlin, a relationship I would ruin shortly after with insane jealousy [!], to take care of her two kids, and Peter rose from the I nearly said “Juke Box” and said that I was gay!
Before I could respond to being so taken aback and insulted, the so adroit Libgart, as I had noticed at one point how she who had ravishingly played Ride Across Lake Constance walking down the staircase at the Austrian Cultural Institute took my hand from her ass and put it around her hip as Peter was taking a photo of Kolleritsch, Libgart and me outside Elaine’s, came to the defense of my manhood and pointed to my just departed splendid girlfriend. Would she have said anything if there had been no girlfriend but only the two of us looking not even for a bed but for time alone? [I must add that normally I used to be the most faithful of boyfiends – but in this instance Libgart and her neediness as I recall did not elicit the slightest doubt thought consideration on my part as to how the Renate might feel, and Handke was not yet a friend as he then became for a few years.]
But Handke must have noticed something and I don’t think it was whatever misapprehension still coursed through his head of thinking that Alan Ginsberg wanted to fuck me and not him, a matter not cleared up for another ten years, and his grin at the Dakota looked even nastier upon the clearing up of his confusion, I suspect that he must have noticed that I held my cigarette in my left hand “just like a woman” – just as my mother did who was the only close person, very few years though I actually lived with her, from whom I could see how one held a cigarette. Two mother fuckers thinking of each other that they were gay! – Handke does have a gay side, you notice it on a photo here and there when he gestures in a particular way, and bi-sexual conflict would seem to be one source of his extraordinary productivity over these many years.
In Spring 1971 Libgart solved the social moment and I said nothing, and didn’t follow my impulse to throw the jerk out of my apartment. Later, back on the West Coast, I heard from Donald Daviau who ran the annual Austrian Symposium at U.C. Riverside that Handke had told everyone in so many words that they were idiots and then gone off with a woman not his wife. It cost him a special issue of the Austrian Lit Journal that Daviau published through Ariadne Press. You wouldn’t think that such a fellow a genius would come up with a fabulous light but ice-cold touch of writing such as Short Letter Long Farewell – which at the least would have been a very different book if “Austrian dramaturg” Kolleritch and the “German author’s wife” had not accompanied the author. Perhaps just the journal of a trip – after all, Short Letter has that quality, too. Moravian Night, although a novel of many trips, lacks the journal quality, though a further rereading may discern it.
Upon the threesome’s return from their 21 venues in 28 days Austrian cultural marathon, Kolleritch collapsed on what until recently had been my marriage bed, Libgart onto the day-bed in my studio, and Peter, thoroughly invigorated, went off to two nearby major venues – Rizzolies, and a Hotel, the Carelton I think - that carried all the magazines in the world where he might find photos of himself. I liebaeugelte Libart, but left it at that. Later Kolleritch and Peter allowed “Libgart du bist so anders.” Near entire obliviousness describes the two buddies who behaved as though they were married.
I entered into this matter in such detail to address the contiguity between “pure” biography and how it perhaps enters into Handke’s books, and of course also in such a self-celebration like Moravian Night. Did Handke, despite his entirely insulting an apparently oblivious behavior, then when he sat down at his desk and entered the writing mode have an apprehension that his wife was longing for him, and that to respond to that longing would endanger his writing, and was this danger and her longing then translated into a pursuing woman in Short Letter? Or is the pursuit merely a variant of the Black Mask genre? Or do the two mesh? The sources and realiazation of fantasies. Actual acting out, or “acting out” only in the imaginary.
At any event, I was not surprised in the least that Libgart Schwarts absconded, fled within the year, seeking refuge with Handke’s director Klaus Peymann in Frankfurt who divulged the news to Handke interviewer Andre Mueller. However, what you might not have anticipated was that Libgart’s absconding, theoretically so welcome it would appear from Handke’s behavior, would then elicit a suicide attempt aborted at the last moment and that is described as “the worst thing that ever happened to me” as he reported at least to my then girlfriend-fiend Judith Thurman who confessed a wealth of information about our man who was then subjecting his firstborn to the same kind of primal scene exposure in Paris as he had been for so many years during his youth as of age two in Berlin. Nor was it just the worst thing, but absent this event we would not have the three long stormy poems Nonsense and Happiness, nor A Moment of True Feeling which refers to the moment that Handke did not swallow the suicidal pills but was reminded that he loved his first born daughter, that love of a different sort from the erotic, and the catastrophes it can set off, set in – in other words that the loss of his first wife, for which he himself was entirely responsible, did not lead to his suicide; the “metamorphosis” referred to at the beginning of My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay - what is usually regarded as perfectly normal becomes a metamorphosis for Peter Handke as he joins the human race out of his autistic position, at least in that respect.
Nor, however, did Libgart Schwartz’s departure lead to Handke’s thinking he might be more considerate, not as much of a lay-abroad, with the next wife or companion, as I have noticed happening in similar instances. Fat chance it appears, fights, also of a physical kind, with Jeanne Moreau, panic attacks in Paris, a hospitalization, the taking of Valium; a violent breakup with long-term but not live-in companion Marie Colbin in Salzburg, and the second wife, Sophie Semin, whom he married to legitimize their daughter Laocadie, shed the once again cold unfaithful salamander at the first opportunity when Peymann offered her a part [?] or Handke wanted her to have it [?] in his extraordinary play, Voyage by Dugout in 1993. These invariably very beautiful women, all of them actresses, who require response and approbation to stay beautiful, are very starved for love and attention after some time spent with our “nothing but a writer” author, companions also for show, by the time they shed the salamander not just the skin! The only exception I know of is Handke’s three year relationship with a far-off German actress, Katja, hours of air plane time away, yet another beauty, after the breakup of his second marriage, in the 90s. That seemed to work, absence makes the heart grow fonder and the ears are not filled with her noisy words. Meanwhile, at least for a while, the period of writing Moravian, our man found an arrangement with wife # 2 living in Paris and he in his hellhoerig abode in the foret de Chaville. And Handke the man who once abhorred people with “second houses” has bought himself a second house with his second wife. And so Moravian Night in one respect announces a way station in the normalization of Peter “Kaspar” Handke.
We’re not getting any younger for a lay abroad – yet I recall his grandfather Suic/ Sivec reaching under milkmaid skirts well into his late 80s!
In Moravian a woman – as mentioned above, his evocation of her is that of a vengeful spirit of the reeds - appears to haunt the surround of the houseboat tied up at the river… and it turns out the ex-author may be justifiably paranoid as we find out in yet another of these utterly brilliant, formally killer recits - one of those Saul Steinberg curlicues referred to in the description. In this formally unintegrated and unanchored, to a landscape, utterly brilliant series – Handke our master of the series - the ex-author confesses to having beaten a woman terribly, having even wanted to kill her… because she would not leave him in peace. 101 instances of her not leaving him alone are enumerated – and the series is so brilliant that it does not leave the victim a single, but not one way out, a single excuse – it is not just a noose this recit, it is the sadist’s silk rope that chokes her to death!
What might this curlicue’s relationship to the real author Peter Handke’s biography be for him to make this extra effort and introduce a formal aberration into this book?
The biographical contiguity between the formally brilliant killer curlicue that describes a woman who would not leave him alone so that he had the urge to kill her is with long time 80s companion Marie Colbin’s having unloosed a long statement at the time that Handke was not only writing but also quite vociferous in his assessment that the press was wrong in making the Serbians exclusively responsible for the break-up of Yugoslavia.
Colbin’s public statement stung and it appears to have been a deep and long sting that the curlicue in Moravian Night responds to in 2007, about 15 years later! And she is the Erinye who haunts the ex-author in his houseboat – that is, his fear, his guilt [?] haunts him, and justifiably so. I came to know Marie Colbin when she approached me whether I could put her review of Malte Herwig’s Handke biography Meister der Daemmerung on one of my Handke blogs after the miserable Herwig had threatened to sue the original publisher, the Austrian on-line news magazine “nachrichten.at” for 60,000 Euros if they did not remove this commissioned review from their site.
We talked about what happened between her and Handke, but I still do not know what elicited his beating. Otherwise, she entirely sticks to her statement while allowing that there are times the fellow can also be quite sweet, but feels that he is also afraid of her. Surprisingly, for quite a while subsequently she gave quite a number of solo performances of Handke texts. Thus, his genius, what is most valuable, what has saved him all these years, also from prison, is still valuable to her. Ditto for the cuckolded Mr. Roloff who is still astonished that Handke can screw his g.f. his precious one and only great fondness and thinks he still has his first Amercan translator for a friend. Oblivious in some respects to the very end.
When the particular passage from Moravian and the Colbin affair entered public discussion once again on the novel’s publication in 2007, Handke allowed that he might have given her a kick in the ass. I’m afraid that as much as I love Handke’s ability as the kind of marvelous romancier that he has become, his lying, as Colbin mentions, is one of his cruelest and stupidest qualities, a quality that in calls into question those books that are supposedly merely factual, in no matter how extended and imaginative a manner in which Handke and Scott Abbott and Michael Roloff understand facts, which far exceeds its understanding by the American newspaper meretriciousness. The worst of these lies is one that Herwig came upon when he discovered that there had been no father and son trip of the kind described in Sorrow Beyond Dreams where a father worries that innkeepers will regard him and his son as a homosexual couple. That is also an inordinately cruel lie, since it turns out the actual married father who fathered Handke illegitimately while stationed in Austria as a German soldier in 1942 kept in touch with his mother, and helped out when he could and then had a real relationship with his illegitiate child. What else is untrue in Sorrow Beyond Dreams is what goes through the reader’s mind when he finds out about this lie, or in the allegedly factual A Child’s Story which, on its face, becomes dubious for the matters it leaves out, e.g. the child’s mother!
In one of Moravian’s most extraordinary sections several of our “themes” a knotted. It plays in Krk/ Cordula, once again exclusively Croatian, no longer part of the 2nd Yugoslav federation as it was when Peter Handke wrote his first novel, Die Hornissen [The Hornets] there in the summer of 1964. Cordula, its comparatively ancient Roman name, was also the setting for the first girl friend, now an ancient fiend crone who haunts him at his reappearance, it appears for having abandoned her with child – repeating the feat perpetrated by Handke’s actual father, but lacking the excuse of being married. The child itself does not appear, we do not find out what happened to him, but the island the evocation of the island in its fish and live stock stink and its bar is of what, once again resorting to a visual shorthand, comes across as a kind of El Greco Toledo dark in a Dostoyevsky mood.
Thus our pursuit of the contiguity of the actually autobiographical and the fictional, and their interpenetration, leads us into a swamp of the kind that we leave to actual biographers to dry out.
One truly hideous feature of Handke's personality as a writer is that the author of SORROW BEYOND DREAMS is someone who beat women and writes and says such stupid things about them that you would never think the fellow was a genius as a writer, a moron yes!