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"There you are, my friend"

My day in another country
Forfatter: Peter Handke
Forlag: Suhrkamp (Tyskland)
TOWEL / An eternal relationship of tension between the individual and the community. With age, has Peter Handke gradually given up on rage?


"I want to be one like someone else has been." With this line, the Austrian Nobel Prize winner Peter Handke opens a play Kaspar from 1968. The play, based on the historical Kaspar Hauser figure – which appears as a speechless tabula rasa in a southern German village – thematizes the sometimes tyrannical violence of language, upbringing and community.

Kaspar's first remark could – with the opposite sign – also begin Handke's new story My day in another country ("My day in the other country"). Here, admittedly, the younger Handke's critique of language and society has given way to an age-old longing for community: the utopia of the community instead of the violence of the community.

A gentle, open gaze and a misanthropic rage.

The narrator's voice is taken by an unnamed apple farmer, who depicts a perennial state of madness and mental confusion when he was obsessed with an all-consuming rage. With one sister as the only surviving family member, he has pitched a tent outside his hometown. He spends his days incessantly wandering through the surrounding villages and across country roads while a manic stream of curses and insults floods out of him: "Down with creation" is the leitmotif of this cacophony. Nothing is right for him, no one is spared from his judgment: Those who wave their arms when they walk, and those who hold them close to their bodies; human voices that are either too bright or too dark; pans that are either too high or too low – not to mention the birds that sing, the trees that sway in the wind, and the sun that day in and day out shines relentlessly on all the misery: "Ugly, ugly, terribly ugly."

It's not like he's screaming, howling, or roaring. What is most frightening is how calm, almost low-key, his voice is. This quiet rage is more demonic and frightening. In the eyes of the others, that is, the villagers, therefore, this furious wanderer has become the very incarnation of evil – "incurably evil." He is ignored. His monological tirades often target a group, or – even more often – himself. Isolated in his anger, he spits the words out into the emptiness of the country roads.

At the same time, he wonders in retrospect whether the whole thing really just seemed like a possible game, a strange game, which only lacked teammates for it to have lost its frightening color.

Peter Handke
France, Paris, May 2011

Need for community

The protagonist's "salvation" occurs – in what can be read as an indirect Bible reference to John 21 – during a walk along the local lake, initiated by his worried sister. In the face of three fishermen who are about to pull their boat ashore, it is precisely the gaze of one of the three dishes towards him, which causes the demons of his rage to leave him: «Here he was finally, the good spectator , which I had longed for in the time of my madness. " And as this "good spectator" looks at the former furious and with the words "there you are, my friend" puts a hand on his shoulder, he knows himself seen by these two eyes, "like never before by a man", in a selfless, friendly participation.

But in this paradisiacal perimeter of his gaze he cannot remain. The "gospel of the gaze" drives him to move on to "the other" country, the neighboring country (Slovenia?). From here, the story takes on an increasingly fable and fairytale character: Strangers, whom he meets along the country road, greet him with the familiarity of old acquaintances or even friends – usually through gestures, a lift of the head, a nod or a quiet smile all over his face. And despite being nameless and a stranger, he is still confused – with the bar pianist, ski jumper, lawyer or football referee. This nameless "who he is" breeds the respect and respect of other strangers.

How much of Handke himself is in the book's furious apple farmer?

Not least, the "other country" is filled with strange encounters, wherever he goes: an old lady who, sitting by the roadside, exclaims with shining eyes "I love you all!", Or a policewoman who marches into the church with heavy military boots , to then fall to his knees in tears. The common denominator seems to be an underlying need for community. In this community there is no "mass", everyone is himself and paradoxically "alone together" and "together alone".

Perhaps the tension of this distance – reminiscent of a form of ritualized Far Eastern politeness – finds its harmonious point? In line with the philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas, who writes: "To meet the other is to be kept awake by a riddle."

Misunderstood rage

The question that therefore arises is to what extent the story can be read in light of the much-discussed Handke debate, triggered in the wake of the author's works and statements about the war in Yugoslavia – and his controversial participation in the war criminal Slobodan Milošević's funeral.

After a language- and socially critical focus on the 60s and 70s, Handke's poetics turns to a greater extent towards nature through phenomenological descriptions. With the story The journey home (1979) this shift deserves the term «wandering poetics». In 1996, this poetics is put to the political test. Handke's desire to be a direct "eyewitness" leads him to war-torn Yugoslavia, with the goal of seeing reality beyond the mass media TV images. Can it be understood as a desire for an alternative to the abstract stories of war? An insurmountable gap separates the atrocities of actual acts of war from the ideological abstractions that triggered them, and the almost hallucinatory media images sent from the areas – where the concrete horrors of war are shrouded in almost hallucinatory imaginary worlds. In this context, Handke's speech is enlightening when he received the Kafka Prize in 1979: «The mountain blue color is – the brown color of the pistol holster is not; and they or what you know from television, you do not know. "

What is most frightening is how calm, almost low-key, his voice is.

In light of this, Handke's descriptions of fruit and vegetables in a Serbian market in the essay "A winter trip to the rivers Danube, Save, Morava and Drina or Justice for Serbia" (1996) can not be read as an expression of an ignorant cynicism – as some claimed – but rather as a longing to find a utopia in the near things. Despite the war, they offer a messianic promise of peace. Handke's writing seeks to be a different form of "history writing" than the official media, based on the possibility of peace in nature, the landscape and human life, which runs its course on the sidelines of the war.

"Human eyes are values!"

In the wake of the Yugoslav statements, Handke has faced criticism – his temper, which can border on stubbornness, rage, has exacerbated misunderstandings.

How much of Handke himself is in the book's furious apple farmer? And can one read "My day in the other country" as an apology, or an expression of a newfound gentleness?

The attentive reader will find the tension between a gentle, open gaze and a misanthropic rage as the overriding theme in Handke's writing. Openness or gentleness does not manifest itself in the invocation of general values, political abstractions or empty moralistic phrases, but always in the very concrete and particular – in the description of a child running, or of a tree waving. The er peaceful in itself, and must not lead to public proclamations.

Handke implicitly expresses a Deleuzian "micropolitics" – or Kafka's aphorism "do not seek the fight, but find a way out" as a motto. The fact that the resort has been defended with a desire to fight has not always served the purpose.

For Handke, it may at least seem to apply that the more abstract a value is, the greater its potential for abuse of totalitarian ideology, clothed in empty words such as "freedom" and "community". His answer is prompt when he was asked by an overzealous Austrian journalist about "European values": "Human eyes are values! The faces! The islands! » Perhaps that is what brings even the most furious, incurably enclosed in itself, back to reflection and community: It is not the judgmental gaze of the masses, but two eyes, which are impartially directed at one, as if to say: "There you are. , my friend!" For Handke, the upcoming community seems to begin in this room that stretches out between two eyes – two pairs of eyes.

Luke Lehner
Lukas Lehner
Freelance writer.

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