Adam Kirsch’s 

meretricious take on 

Peter Handke

the Handke ouevre 



Not since the appearance of 

J.L. Marcus’s 2004

N.Y.R.B atrocity, decimated at

and but for the even more primitive, runty Leland DelaRuntaye London Review cursing of Handke as an asshole 

here been an equally incompetent, tendentious English language misrepresentation and attempt at take-down of Handke & one of his books, and that is saying quite something  considering the overall Handke’ English-language reception.

In fact, the NY Review might have spared itself the effort and just reprinted 90% of the 2004 Marcus and added a note that it applied to anything Handke would ever write!; & a  preamble about Handke’s reprehensible defense of the Serbians & his appearance at the Milosevic funeral, and a note about the book supposedly under review, and some pseudo-scholarly speculating about Herder & kultchure civitas conflict and the like & be done with it. The reception’s core, proof to me of the hopelessness of the culture, can be found in Auntie’s coverage:

which contains a single piece within a mass that one might consider reprinting, as there has been a single review by one of Handke’s peers in these journals all these years: William Gass’s on Handke’s My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay in the now defunct Los Angeles Times Book Review.

and cumulatively proving, and not just in this the largest provinciality, the correctness of the dislike of the feuilleton literateurs that Kirsch attributes to Handke.

Kirsch is at his most preposterous as well as self-contradictory, the more so since he’s gotten Handke’s motives wrong and has not read the texts and therefore hasn’t the faintest of what he is talking about when he writes:

“Is Handke, an Austrian born in 1942, using the Serbs here as a surrogate for the Austrians and the Germans themselves—both “great peoples” who during his formative years were “scorned throughout Europe” for their war crimes?” -  Resuscitate the reputation of one despised nation for the sake of several other who are stilll in the process of redeeming themselves? Eh? 

Just reading Morvian Night Kirsch might dicover Handke’s views of Germany and Austria, although his view Germany can only be extrapolated if that is what one wants to spend one’s time doing by ragarding the chapter that deals with smelling out the father’s home town as a comment on Germany, whose mercentile postwar culture Handke derided so well in the play They Are Dying Out. 

Regarding Austria, Moravian contains a page acknowleding that the ex-writer has seen improvement during his lifetime. Kirsch appears ignorant of Handke’s once deriding his country men as “fat Austrians,” or of his novel Across (Chinese des Schmerzems) where an old swastika-daubing Nazi is tossed off the Moenchsberg in Salzburg, or of one of Handke’s rare interventiosn during the time of the Kurt Waldheim affair. Americans might worry about their own so profoundly fascist and militarist culture occurs to me whenever I enounter the like of Kirsch stuff. 

 And when Kirsch continues:

“Is he [Handke] trying to recuperate certain ways of thinking about nationhood—as something organic, rooted, mystical—that were banished from respectable discourse in postwar Europe? Certainly Handke is doing with the Yugoslav war what Thomas Mann did in World War I, turning a historical event into a parable about the superiority of Kultur to Zivilisation, which parallels the superiority of the artist to the mere litterateur.” the only thing that I become certain of is that Kirsch is off his rocker. 

How disappointing, indeed, since I seem to have enjoyed some of Kirch’s work in the past and even suggested to him that he have a go at the author and the book. But perhaps my past judgment of Kirsch was skewed by my still customary phantast’s pathological over-optimism, as it was once of the New York Review! For, initially, the Review had the likes of

 Michael Wood


Frank Kermode

 who gave Handke a fair shake.

But in this estimate, too, I am obviously mistaken: Among the many features that the NYRB lacks institutional memory appears to be one. If I had been editor of the Kermode and Wood & the Marcus had shown up I would - at the very least - have been seriously skeptical that what Marcus stated so dismissively & incompetently about the work - that none of the literateurs can sepearate from a political position - could be the case, as I would of the Kirsch piece, the more so of course if I were apprized of Handke’s own writings on the subject of Yugoslavia and its fate which Kirsch is so evidently and unnecesarily at this stage of the game is not.

But perhaps matters are altogether simpler, perhaps all you need do to incur the forever wrath of the NYRB  -  no matter prior approbation - is fall afoul of the resident humanity hyenas, especially if you are a Serblover or fan of the 2nd Federation & have had truck with a bugaboo such as the Big Bad Wolf from Požarevac. What if all Americans who did not object or vilify but endorsed the likes of a really major war criminal such as G.W. Bush were to be forever regarded as persons non grata?

Kirsch proceeds, starts off with a review of Handke’s 1994, as though it still was 1994

Journey to the Rivers, Justice for Serbia the second of Handke half-dozen plus writing on Yugoslavia {FN-1)

 the first being 

Abschied des Träumers vom Neunten Land [1991]

where Handke grounds the reasons why he, a half-Slovenian, who in the course of writing The Repetition [1985], which Kirsch claims to have read - the re-writing re-imagining re-wandering of A Sorrow Beyond Dreams - confirms his Slovenian identity over and above his German fathers and Austrian birth affiliations, during which writing Handke learned Slovenian well enough to be able to translate its literature -  and internally appears to have become a Slovenian who however opts for the continued existence of the 2nd Federation in 1991 - to the to have been expected chagrin of indepence-minded Slovenians and, so I speculate, did so not only for its sake as a bulwark against the European Union but also because his mothers Slovenian father Sivec who, in The Repetition, turns into Handke surrogate Filip Kobal’s father figure, already voted in 1919 for the 1st Federation. If you really read The Repetition, that is become affected by the rhythm of its prose, a real reader might appreciate what internal psychic processes were successfully at work in its author during that transformative work during which he also learned Slovenian so as to be able to translate its literature, e.g. Lipus.

Thereupon, Kirsch discusses  Moravian Night in light of the political position that he extrapolates from, imputes to and on occasion preposterously fantazises into Journey; doing so Kirsch slams Moravian Night in light of a single of its half dozen major aspects and ways of being Balkan. A reader of the Kirsch piece will be extremely ill-served, ought to ask for their money back, or the percentage if they are subscribers - for calling this hatchet job a review would imply a sufficient and fair however tight or expansive survey of this now decade-old, nicely aging, many-sided, in many parts marvelous (in other parts anything but) multi-layered and angled assemblage as which among several other matters that it is that I regard Moravian Night - judging needing, also, to take the author’s intention, if discernable, into account -  and do so in anything but uncritical or hagiographic terms

But certainly not critically of Handke’s position on the disintegration of the 2nd Federation, since this contentious matter - as best as I, Kirsch to the contrary, can tell - has scarce relevance to Moravian Night, but tangentially in one section - an amazingly near naturalistically (the only instance of naturalism in a book that among the different kinds of readings it demands - cleaned-up autobiography being an important one - Moravian Nights is a manifest of Handke the exhibitionist’s virtuoso story telling & lyrical novelist metaphoric abilities) described bus ride to an ancestral cemetery that is located in an embattled enclave; yes, ancesterdom is yet one other theme that in conjunction with the theme of fatherlessness comes to an amazing culmination in the single solitary section - unnoted by Kirsch - of this roundtrip that takes the ex-writer to both his father and stepfather’s homeland, a town much like the once East-West German border-crossing horror Helmsdorf, a thoroughly dystopian locale, where the ex-writer then finds his actual father’s grave, empty, a black hole, the corpse has been ripped out! - I myself, with my psychoanalytic orientation would have much preferred if Handke had proceeded to dwell in a differentiated manner on the influence or lack thereof on his life of these three father figures, since I include the granfather Sived among them, that is the sur-name providing Bruno, whom we come to know as a true horror in Sorrow Beyond Dreams; and the actual father, a bank employee by the name of Schoeneman Handke calumnies at the end of Sorrow, but who appears to have been a nice fellow who took life-long interest in his bastard off-spring, and whom we meet in Malte Herwig’s Handke Biography 

 Meister der Dämmerung:

which is well worth reading for biographical details of all kind. Herwig has good “shoe leather”. From Herwig we also find out that Handke’s friends, to whom he showed the Journey to the Rivers m.s., all advised against its publication. As his publisher Unseld had foreseen a problematic reception for the “Ninth Land” title, they smelled trouble ahead for Journey. - Over-riding the various factors that might have militated against Handke taking the position he did subsequent to his investigative trip would see to be an over-riding sense of justice. 


The year is 2017 isn’t it and Kirsch writes “It is still mysterious just why Handke decided to cast himself as the Western world’s most vociferous defender of Serbia’s actions during the Yugoslav war" which itself mis-states what Handke did which was to defend the Serbs against the accusation that they and Milosevic were exclusively responsible for the disintegration and the war crimes & is the kind of sentence that demands the reversal question “why has a certain class of Western intellectual taken it upon itself to make the Serbs exclusively responsible, and with such incredible, vociferous righteousness” ; and why is it when they do, as Kirsch does here, only body count dead Bosniacks and Croats & entirely obviate the huge numbers of Serb refugees and casualties. “Just asking” as this marvelous short-hand has it

- and I put it like that and what if we are’nt back in the thick of the war in 1994 and all the forces that played a part, and the parallel war ongoing about Handke and the position that he took, and I myself prefer the answer Handke had at the end of his great 1998 play 

Dugout Canoe: the Play about the Film about the War that Marcus so mis-represented in the NYRB

the last of that great series of post WW II German historical docu-dramas that are meant for enlightening discussion; and the answer that the two directors of the proposed film - formally the play works as a try out of scenes from a screenplay - have is that it is too soon to make the film, which is pretty much what Handke said at the Milosevics funeral when he said he did not know the truth, nothing “willed” about that as Kirsch imputes, the only one who “wills”, who forces is Kirsch himself.

Perhaps Handke is completely wet, but I have concluded that he certainly never acted in bad faith, the clearest proof to me of that being when he, during a particularly tense moment, ejaculated that he felt that what was being done to the Serbs was like the Shoa, a statement quickly retracted. After all, there is no disputing the centrifugal forces that made the tribal unity forged during the resistance to the German occupation & in opposition to Stalinism come apart or of the actions of the two other major forces, Croats & Bosniacks - the Slovenes after their initial 10 day war and the Macedonians did not participate. Montenegro split off subsequently. The Kosovo Albanians are a kind of special case, an aberration that ought to have been joined to Albania; that is, a typically Balkan aberration making for an extra mess. The West and the United States, perhaps not that ironically, ended up supporting and supplying the factions that had been fascist collaborators and Jew killers during WW II and that are still fascist. Holbrooke I recall found Izobetogetovich to be the most difficult of the three presidents, I myself developed a special dislike of fascistic Tudman - but who of them was the nastiest during war time is beside the point, since the Serbs evidently had more tanks.

My own sense is that the Federation was doomed after the Soviet hegemony came apart, relieving one need for the Federation’s existence, as well as the economic forces of an ascendant Neo-Liberal capitalism internally as well as from the outside, which is an elaboration of Handke’s suggestion that German/ Gentscher recognition of the independence of Croatia and Slovenia were essential triggers for the disintegration and for war. If the union had held under Milosevic he would have been celebrated as their Lincoln - but there seems to have been no essential need for a union over-riding the opposing forces. What kept amazing me was that during the disintegration the Bosniack and Croations were congratulated for thei nationalistic strivings while the Serbians only earned disapprobation for it.  

 One item will forever stick in the memory bank: in the Travel section of the New York Times some Slovene restaurant workers ex-Ph.D. candidates serving I think German tourists once the new commercial order along the Dalmation vacation coast is in place; probably Mercedes drivers who never gave me a ride during my European hitch-hiking days with its high point a ride by a Mystere pilot in his Porsche.

Some matters have been and remain mysterious ever since God either vomited or had diahreea 50 billion years ago, others become less so in about 25 years if one reads the pertinent books and can add two and two, monkeys have been known to do it, so could Kirsch, maybe. Right at the opening of Journey Handke mentions what puzzled him was the uniformity of the blame being cast on the Serbians perpetrated also, in large part, by the humanity hyenas he mentions by name; who I might note scarce ever attend the lands where these crimes occur   - their vociferousness being their action and confined to media; whereas Handke, after all, knew the lay of the land since the mid-60s, not only because he is half Slovenian but also because he had written his first novel Die Hornisssen

on the now Croatian island Cordula/ Krk - a magnificent chapter in Moravian Night has an ex-girlfriend from those long ago 1964 days haunt him as a crone vengeful for having been abandoned with child, written in a Dostojoeskian manner with El Greco painterliness, one chapter of a dozen that Kirsch does not even allude to, probably because it does not fit, as don’t the others, the thesis that Handke is some kind of simple-minded anti-modern lover of Balkanness who detests the deracinated, a budding Nazi, whereas Handke’s love-hatred of Balkans ways, in the section dealing with that subject, is either suppressed or methinks has gone unread, for Kirsch also misses the wonderful joke - that shows Handke’s own humor about himself - that comes towards the end when the “ex-writer” & Ramsey Clark & a Japanese girl - bound to be one of Handke’s ex-lovers! - the last three hold-outs of a once large contingent that holds out for “Justice for Serbia & United Yugoslavia” - a threesome seen spending time in a doline in the carso; the very Ramsey Clark whom Handke encountered in Scheveningen during the Milosevic trial, an event that Handke memorialized in his 

Rund um das Tribunal

And: Handke has had his work performed in Yugoslavia since the 60s.

What prior contact have such great Balkan experts as DeLaRuntaye, Salman Rushdie, et al, and Kirsch have had with that region? The beloved - beloved for being beautiful as much a for having a real head - Susan Sontag who condemned Handke for his position had at least played Fin de Parti in Sarajevo, and of course that experience, entirely skewed her view of what was going on; not to mention that sharp as Susan was on aethetics on politics she was dumb.

Speaking of Sontag, your piece, that only interpets and imputes and claims to know what’s on Handke’s mind, brings to my mind her ever important “Against Interpretation." Try doing so some time. First, experience, then describe the experience, then interpret, not that interpreting does not begin as soon as you start experiencing, but that's the fun of solipsism.

Also, next time around if there is a next time, you might consult the literature on the subject, say Lothar Struck’s compendium on the subject:

Der Mit Seinem Yugoslavien


Fabian Hafner’s

Unterwegs in Neunte Land 

and here is the link to a wealth

of material on this now 25 year old subject

Calling someone a fool and asshole who has walked and lived there for years. Why do they do it? They are humanity hyenas, and Handke is not. He does not yelp with them as they do, he does not use their standard phrases (though he eventually submitted to one journal that “indeed Srebrenice was the greatest human rights violation in Euroope subsequent to WW II), he fails to spout the same formula. They are a gang, they are the bien pensant liberal McCarthyite Anglo-Amerian hyenas and I suggest to them that they pay the wages that were not to the slaves, redeem the land stolen from the Indians, clear the bombs left in Laos and Cambodia & Vietnam, pull the Dragons Teeth that Uncle Sam’s mad ideology has sown in the past 75 years and that presently, externally and internally, are chewing apart this evil empire. Once the hyenas have completed those tasks they can worry about war crimes that others have committed and writers who have or have not properly objected to them, and whether or not someone shares their assessment and in the required degree. Now I am being righteous, but I had intimate experience of the milk of human kindness very early on in life, and I have seen it sour and become instrumenalized. 


There are initial mysteries when the news services overwhelm and then they clear up or they don’t, in Handke’s case we have had sufficient time to clear the air and achieve sufficient clarity, but some folks don’t want a revision of their initial impression, matters are a lot less mysterious to those who take the trouble to inform themselves than to those who chose to remain stuck in original propagandized ignorance,to have their view via

Roger Cohen

the equivalent of the French one-sidedness that Handke so objected to where the big bad wolf literally sets fire to each and every house and must have killed each personally.

My own take and as it developed can be found on the Handke-yugo site 

But let me condense my stuff into a few paragraphs. In shortest, initially, knowing only what I knew then, based on personal acquaintance and experience with his texts, which did not include the Yugoslav writings but for The Repetition, I found Hanke’s intervention suspect - on the principle  of “what’s he up to now?" - from a distance of 6 thousand miles, chiefly because I was keenly aware of Handke’s exhibitionism which I had first witnessed at Princeton in 1966, as might Susan Sontag have who was there as well. I had no opinion or judgment on the contentious matter, since it was entirely obscure to someone who had the scarcest of access to news sources in my rural part of the Baja. The hue & cry against Handke’s position of which I quickly got wind, by folks who had had no previous dog in Yugolavia, surprised me even more, and so I decided to look into the matter, and I think I then spent altogether a year in my life doing so during the subsequent 25 years, not how I had planned to spend my time, but once I started I had little choice. [FN-2]

Yes, I keep noting that none of these vociferous hyenas who weigh in on Handke have ventured into these lands, as he has dozens of times and apparently continues to do so three times a year & their war exists entirely in a paper or electronic realm & gave the prize money - Handke invariably gives his many prize moneys to those needier than himself - to a Serbian enclave in the Kosovo, Velica Hoca, that made for perhaps the finest in situ report I have ever read

The Cuckoos of Velica Hoca

and which I don’t seem to be able to persuade anyone to publish in English translation, and as an editor I still ought to have the standing to be able to do so. Nor have I been able to persuade any of the numerous university houses to take on a collection of Handke’s Yugoslav writing. Everyone accuses him for what he has said and written, but scarcely anyone has even read them in English. This is the kind of situation that does not merely elicit the words despise & contempt in me: no, you must imagine a Hippo, its maw wide open, about to vomit.

Thus Handke’s position and acts in the matter of the disintegration of Yugoslavia have little if any influence on my appreciation of his texts except those dealing with that unhappy subject and, as indicated, to view Moravian Night exclusively or even largely in light of the Yugoslav wars is doing a grave injustice to the book; as is Kirsch’s attempt to situate Handke within a tiresome culture versus civitas conflict.

To accuse H. of “willed ignorance” is the same as saying denial, a frequent charge. You may recall the moment in Journey where Handke reports his wife Sophie Semin asking if he also wants to deny Screbrenice -  i.e. which acknowledges Handke's awareness of the all too human tendency for denial which he will now seek to avert - now fast forward to Journey’s sequel, which so obviously you have not read, to the 1994 Sommerlicher Nachtrag and to the moment when once again in Srebrenice - which I believe he visited 10 times Handke projects a Serbian exclaiming over and over “I don’t want to be a Serbian,” my thought being when I came on this the first time: “Hey, fellow who asked you to be a Serbian, last time I encountered you you were a Slovenian and an ancestor of Filip - the irridendist - Kobal.” - Or think of the moment where Handke records skipping a stone angrily over the river, a precursor of the way the bus driver in Moravian Night, the driver of that bus at which little kids are taught to toss rocks, keeps chiming in with the song Apache, the way that Apache whips angrily in your mind if you are a real reader, and constinues to do for me, still, indicating what? Handke is very laconic in these pieces, Handke choses not to write in the terms of the geo-political monsters, and he would have been much better off doing so at least in this instance, he would not be subject to “willed” mis-understandings by Kirsch & his likes. Journey’s sub-title is “Justice for Serbia” - as to Handke’s motives, it might have occurred to Kirsch that he might have been driven by that sense for justice.


A through H


Let us read the opening

to Morawian Night

and here the link to a series of  exemplary excerpts:

The book begins with the mention of the ancient Silk Road city Samarkand, and in the following section the author seeks to put his arriving guests (that is, also, us, his readers) into  Thousand & One night fairy tale listening mood to hear him out on a year’s roundabout Europe. When at the very long extensively episodic last the narrator who reports - that is the device that condenses redacts the ex-author’s tale - reaches the account of the author’s youthful hunting grounds in Carinthia (that duplicate Handke’s) he calls the region with its minarets a New Samarkand; that is, though the region is not only estrangingly new - Kirsch’s exclusive findigs that throughout are amazingly, distortingly immune to the discovery of Handke's ambiguities - but has acquired the same Samarkand magic and is in the process of a becoming beautiful. Its Arabic feel corresponds to Handke’s apparent fondness for matters of that kind, and his having learned the language and knowledge of its writers and poets; and is a theme first struck, like several others, in the second of Handke’s four big epics, the 1994 My Year in the No-Man’s Bay.

To the surprise of the half dozen or so guests and friends - who are so marvelously described arriving and working their way through various hazards to reach the location - the ex-author is living with a wench & wenchiness would seem to be a major topic, and indeed it is, not just this wench who can be seen throughout the night doing this and that on the houseboat & seeming in fine rapport with the ex-author - while there’s another wench, off in the reeds who poses a genuine danger to the author, so that the Moravian Night, the boats name, needs occasionally to be rethered elsewhere, and there is the story of their altercation, the author’s version of it, which confirms why the author has good reason to be paranoid. Not only is there this Erinye but there is yet one more, an ancient crone, on the Island of Cordula/Krk who was the author’s first girlfriend when he wrote his first book, the novel Die Hornissen  in the summer of 1964, and whom he left pregnant and who haunts him when he revisits. No mention of what happened to the child. .

And now what do we hear about all this from Kirsch:

“Only now, late in life, when he has cast off the burden of writing, can the former writer begin to contemplate a true marriage of souls. Indeed, in the course of his journey he finds a woman—referred to only as “the woman”—who seems his perfect mate. Yet even she is sent away when the former writer’s wanderlust overtakes him, and on one occasion he either beats her up or fantasizes about doing so—the line between reality and imagination being always porous in this novel. All of this adds up to an idea of the great artist that is, if not actually misogynist, then certainly redolent of a stale masculinity.”

  From which it appears to me that the only thing that is porous here is Kirsch’s cabeza de vaca. As a consequence of having mad-cow ravaged sieve, Kirsch mixes three women into one, and casts a net of dismissive cliches over what is the case - in the relationship of the wife & one of the book’s narrative major  if not the drive shafts that extends from the encounter with the her in Galicia, Northwest Spain to the house-boat & misses the point of Handke’s self-criticism via the woman calling him “a mama’s boy" and reproving him as “cold as a salamander.” 

Handke was as it were condemned to write as of early on when he practiced it as a child prodigy violinist might his instrument, a matter and how he terrorized his family he makes much fun of in Walk About the Villages and elsewhere, confirmed by Herwig’s biography, and his journals, while his envisioning living with a wife resulted in two of them running away from the “cold salamander", the first time throwing the philanderer salamander into a severe fugue state

 What needed to be noted within this complex of problematics is that Handke initially presented himself as “the new Kafka" and was somone who, it turned out, was able to overcome anxiety by writing, which over-determined the process of near always needing to write even more thoroughly 

while of course instilling an internal sense of victoriousness that encouraged the ambition and virtuosodom, which I think is at least a more interesting account than Kirsch’s cliches provide (Handke’s works from the 1964 Hornissen until the 1971 Short Letter Long Farewell are characterized by anxiety and its overcoming; the theme of being pursued by a vengeful woman is first struck in Short Letter), and if the Holy Ghost then occasionally also takes a part & we oracle a bit we get works such as his Walk About the Villages which gave this translator a hint of what it took for the holy madman to compose certain religious texts that stand up as literature.

the kind of great work that might be reviewed in a less provincial country.

The reason why women, in such an over-determined fashion, present a danger to this writer are articulated in the book’s weakest because most obscure - even to German language readers - section, in his affinity for his 19th century  predecessor actor, playwright Ferdinand Raimund

who in fact was arrested for domestic violence, as Handke himself might easily have been for the act described in Moravian Night if one of the wenches pressed charges. Raimund enjoyed a fine marriage later in life, as does Handke once he figured out that a separate residence for the second, the come-back wife & child made him the requisite cold salamander only to his work, cutting  salamander toenails dis-interestedly by himself. Find the photo!

That the writer nonetheless managed to get himself into a heap of trouble becomes clear from the fact that he has Erinyes & might have more; and as once Don Juan ought to regard himself a lucky to be alive “Stale masculinity” I must say does not describe the state of affairs   

Don Juan: His Version 

where the women roll unasked into the Don’s bed, which more accurately describes what life was like towards the last third of the last century, at least for some lucky folks 

rather the opposite: vigor as well as feminine heat & lust I would say based on reading and translating Handke’s obsidian The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez

which gets to the pornographic heart of sex in perhaps the only way one can these days, obliquely.

I don’t know if I would describe  Handke as misogynist, but it certainly came as a surprise to hear of the author of Sorrow Beyond Dreams posessing the kind of qualities of his stepfather Bruno Handke. There’s a pasha there, if he is also misogyinist, is hard to tell form Moravian Night but Handke’s Donnish ways have certainly gotten him into a heap of trouble and have had unhappy consequences, the more so since there are times that he loses his sense of humor.


Kirsch, who is the one who never gets out of the Balkans here, entirely fails to mention the feats of narration and splicing and weaving that Handke performs in the back and forth between what transpires on the boat and the event & locale that the author wishes to memorialize. Of those the troubled enclave with the ancestral cemetery is the only one that fits that bill, the other venues being Cordula/ Krk, Galicia in northwest Spain, a German town in the Harz, and a veritable slew of Austrian locales starting out with a magnificently described wandering about the Danube flood plains near Vienna and ending up at the author Handke’s youthful hunting ground, G. for Graz, K. for Klageefurtz, and then back in Porodin, the basket weaver’s rather perfunctory way of tieing up his bundle of gifts.

Nor is this an Odyssey, as Kirsch calls it, but one year of very varied kinds of travel in the life of the ex-writer, and pretty much of what one year in the life of Handke might have been like or even still is like, with a lot of stuff like noise and Jew’s harp conventions and walks along “the old road” where we meet all kinds of acquaintances, thrown in to make the whole book a fat Christmas goose, so that it could easily travel under the title Meister Handke’s One Year Wanderings Around Europe, analogous to Goethe’s last epic, in which, he too, stuffed a lot of things that he didn’t have the time to complete separately, Wilhelm Meister’s Wandering Years.

What is perhaps most astonishing at this miserable performance is that Kirsch, who claims to be a poet of some kind, is entirely immune to the discovery of the poetic marvels of Handke’s prose here. Nothing like political blinders I suppoe & doing hack hatchet work to make one oblivious.

As a matter of fact, it is during the magnificent scene when the ex-author observes a young woman utterly absorbed in the act of reading on a train he becomes a writer once again. Nice to notice, have a cherry soda on me! And buy a set of bi-focals while you are at it!

However, to be fair, in two instances Kirsch hits the spot, in noting Handke’s interest in “hic nunc” epiphanies & his description of Handke’s customary wish for a league of nations of folk to live in harmony and mutual appreciation. In other respects of narration, Kirsch misses the boat, has read too superficially, but I would think is perfectly capable of recovering to note the degree to which Moravian Night is also a sample of all kinds of Handkean narrative strategies and techniques. It’s a rich book, its a Handke book, and they invariably afford a wealth of discoveries, e.g.:


Kirsch mentions Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick

in conjunction with Camus’ L’etranger and so affords the mouth of its translator horse the pleasure to inform the superficial reader that Goalie’s act of murder bears no relationship to Meursalt’s act gratuit. Handke nominated a book exploring the relationship between schizophrenia and language as book of the year at the publication of a title whose first page, if you actually READ, ought to dissociate the reader into the same paranoid schizophrenic state of mind of ex-goalie and now ex-construction worker, poor confused and for good reason enraged Bloch who kills a pickup when he sees water bubbles on a hotplate as crawling ants - what a great metaphor for rage! n’est pas? - leaving the exact reason for murder somewhere in the realms of psychosis, Bloch who is then phenomenologically described while fuguing in and out of verbal dissociations and regressions to pre-verbal images - until the book ends on the same note of immense surprise when the ball, now that he is back in goal at his home village, hits him in his midriff. The book as an illustration of the workings of language is thus a linguistic tour de force that grows quite naturally out of Handke’s second far denser novel of an immense surround of enjoined fear,

Der Hausierer

Goalie is the first of several future novels that explore the deep workings of grammar, such as dream syntax in 

One Dark Night I Left My Silent House

or the ability to have the reader experience prose text as film, a form of kinesthesis that is said to be the healthiest of aesthetic experiences because it is akin to catharsis & in that respect achieves in prose what several Handke plays 


Ride Across Lake Constance & The Hour We Knew Nothing About Each Other achieve on the stage.

which, for my money, are the reasons, purely technical achievements [!], for the sake of the logos, why I would award the Nobel prize to Handke.

Yet I don’t think that Handke, despite all the marvels he has showered on us, is a full-blooded novelist, but as a playwright, an activity he has come to prefer, he is a Shakespearan talent. Considering his origins in a pisspoor environment, might get Freud to revise his class prejudice that Shakespeare had to derive from the educated upper class. The matters that came together to make for the Kid from Griffen are truly amazing, but also required a priest sending him to seminary away from his village &  that surpluse of mother love now devoted to writing, so that the half-way sensitive reader might pick up this love as it emanates from the author’s love of writing and the beauty of most of it. However, as my Abrahamson Manitee Poet friend noted, who was the first to alerted me to the Kirsch piece: “You would never guess from Kirsch’s piece that Handke was a great writer” - indeed you wouldn’t. And Kirsch’s lack of due diligence speaks as badly of him as it does of the NYRB.


Kirsch mentions that Handke since completing Moravian Night in 2007 wrote four other books & can’t even the get the most elementary matters right. How long does it take these days to Google “Handke Suhrkamp Verlag,” his main German publisher, and Jung & Jung, his Austrian outlet:

to find out that Handke, on the average publishes about two books a year and since 2007 has published the novels Kali that I just found out was written for Wim Wenders to make a film of, and I don’t know whether, initially as a script or whether Handke trusts Wenders to turn his work into film, as he did recently with the 2012 Aranjuez

the brilliant novel

Der Grosse Fall


for gobs of material for all these titles & two further of what I call his assayings on being a Fool for Mushrooms

On the Shit-House/ Der Stille Ort


Four further major plays, the Mueheim prize winning  novel-drama Still Storm

that has been published for some years in the U.S.

the aforementioned The Beautiful Days of Arnajuez


Handke’s counter-piece to Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape

& the 2016

the first two of which plays are published in English where a less parochially provincial journal than the NYRB & a more cognizant reviewer would have smelled a fine occasion for a tandem. However, not only have these plays gone unnoticed so have earlier publications such as Walk About the Villages & Art of Asking,

In addition to these four prose works and four dramas there is a slew of other books, another entry into his tandem diary work, a collection of reviews etc. etc. So much for not getting even the simplest of matters right.


 As to Handke’s righteousness, referrng to which Kirsch signs off:

 “In this way, Handke seals himself in his own self-righteousness: anyone who criticizes his art or his politics is a petty, spiritless cosmopolitan. Luckily he will always have the Balkans to go back to—if not the real Balkans, then the ones he has built for himself out of obstinacy and pride.” not that Handke cannot be and has been unpleasantly so I would say - at hot-tempoered moments - in the past, but not that I can see in Moravian Night. The only righteousness is see is Kirsch’s.
michael roloff, seattle, February 10, 2017


Handke’s publication relating indirectly to Yugoslavia or parts thereof:

THE REPETITION a wandering through Slovenia.

There are sections in MY YEAR IN THE NO-MAN’S BAY set in Yugoslavia.

MORAVIAN NIGHT, the place of narration is a houseboat on the shore of the Morawa river in the enclave Porodin, a bus-trip to an enclave with a an ancestral cemetery; the Island Krk.

Publication relating directly to Yugoslavia:

1]  Abschied des Träumers vom Neunten Land

2]  Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa und Drina oder Gerechtigkeit für Serbien.


3]  Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise

4] Unter Tränen fragend  

 Jugoslawien-Durchquerungen im Krieg, März und April 1999

5]  Rund um das Große Tribunal

6]  Die Tablas von Daimiel

Ein Umwegzeugenbericht zum Prozeß gegen Slobodan Miloševic

6]  Die Geschichte des Dragoljub Milanović

7] The Play

Die Fahrt im Einbaum oder Das Stück zum Film vom Krieg










franzangst said...

Congratulations! What an immense amount of work you have put in to set Adam Kirsch right. I agree, very very disappointing work on his part. All the same old accusations from 1994, luckily the guy is so lazy he didn’t find out aht Handke also visited Karadzic to look into that horse’s mouth, before he was arrested.


s see if they publish it, fat chance i would say, they hate it if one of their hatchet folk is caught flat footed


When Non-Readers Review
by Scott Abbott
After the New York Review of Books published an aggressively idiotic review of The Moravian Night, I sent a letter to the editor. It has been ignored.


So I publish it here.

29 January 2017

Dear Editor,

Adam Kirsch's review of Peter Handke's "The Moravian Night" (like Joshua Cohen's review of the novel in The New York Times) rightfully relates it to Handke's previous work set in the former Yugoslavia, but (like Cohen) Kirsch is so obsessed with reading through that lens that he pays scant attention to other aspects of the novel at hand.

Kirsch's case against an author he describes as a self-righteous, obstinate, proud nationalist and as an anti-Semitic Serb lover leads him to misread a scene at a world convention of Jew's harp players during which each musician plays his or her national anthem. Because he wants to brand Handke as a nationalist, Kirsch doesn't quote the rest of section in which the performances of national anthems raise the protagonist's ire: “abusing the jew’s-harp to play mendacious harmonies: that was impermissible”; the national anthems are a kind of "melodic demagoguery.”

Kirsch marshals his case with great certainty, claiming that Handke defends Austrians and Germans and Serbs as "great peoples" scorned by others for their war crimes. Because Handke works dialectically, critics like Kirsch easily find objectionable statements in his work. That they settle on the problematic statements without the dialectical context marks them as ideologues rather than readers. "Austria," Handke once wrote of the land Kirsch claims he promotes at all costs, "the lard that chokes me." Critics who don't have the patience or capacity to read give me that same feeling.

Scott Abbott

Translator of Peter Handke's Journey to the Rivers, Voyage by Dugout, and To Duration



"Adam Kirsch’s meretricious piece on Peter Handke's MORAVIAN NIGHT? decimated

Stephen Schwartz
Feb 28 2017 10:03 AM (4 hours ago)

to me, k.pauly, Tony, kalinke, kamler, Katherine_Good., jwoodfinj, k.kusch, k.vdeemter, Boris, kachrwa2, kadushin, kaelis, jan, Alex, Alexander, Bob, kalytiak, Moishe, Binoy, Kandidatenliste, Suzanne, KANTOR, kapi, Norm
I despise Handjob. The only news I want to hear about him is the time of his funeral. If Kirsch is interested I will shine his shoes myself at High Noon in Columbus Circle or pay for someone else to do it. I have no idea why anybody would send me such nonsense. I have a sense from this email that this guff has been sent to a great number of people. I will complain about it to the appropriate authorities.
Stephen Sulejman Schwartz
Part-time resident of Sarajevo
Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina