Spaces of Identity - Part 4

posted by usha on 2005/07/22 09:20

[ Spaces of Identity ]

The discussion about Handke's Serbian/Balkan travelogues is going on. TOL, Transitions Online published an article by Tobias K. Vogel on the topic.

A lot has already been said about Peter Handke forgetting or disregarding the facts of what happened, of the massacres, and even the geography of the Balkan countries, let alone his misspellings of names of regions and cities. Sure, this is always triumphant for people who know it correctly. Yet, may it be (for example, the furor about misspellings at least should not only aim at the author, but at the publisher houses, as well, who are obviously not able to find capable editors and correctors.)

Anyway, that's not the point, and Tobias Vogel does not try to make this crucial. What, on the other hand, is alarming, is his deduction that

Handke has never been particularly interested in the views of those he encounters; he always made sure that they would only tell him what he wanted to hear.
And in other words a bit earlier:
Indeed, what seems to animate his relentless denunciation of Western responses to the Balkan slaughter is his hatred of the modern world, a theme already much in evidence in A Winter Journey. Traynor wrote in the Guardian, “The simplicity of the pre-capitalist system he encounters [in Serbia] is so attractive to Handke that he wants the country's enforced isolation maintained so that this charm is not lost, a sentiment not likely to be shared by many of those directly affected.” Much of this spirit is intact in the latest installment.
It is scaring, since it sounds true, at least partially. Especially the Balkans have been spaces for the construction of identity for Westerners for long. Thus, a lot of travellers from around the beginning of the 20th century explicitly wanted to preserve the famous wilderness of Montenegro, in particular. The "wilderness" had, of course, its impact on the natives, as well. Thus, they were seen as though being violent and ever-fighting partisans (against the Ottoman Turks), but as nevertheless being honest people never touched by any decadence of modernity, at the same time. The preservation of both landscape and anti-modern society was meant to become a cure for the spirit and soul of the Western traveller, sick with alienation of modernity.

Thus, it would very well be worth to analyse Peter Handke's essays and novels with regard to vocabulary and metaphors, in order to maybe show that his talking about flowers, tress in full bloom etc. (that offended so many Balkan moralists - something I still can't share fully, although I am conscient about the implications of neglecting crimes) goes beyond the typical Handke manner(ism), as it has been shown in last week's Der Standard, print edition. It seems to be reasonable - unfortunately - that once again a seemingly (or real, I can't judge that) archaic society is used for building a space of identity that is meant to serve the builder more than his object.


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