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Peter the Great's abdication?

The Obstdiebin
Forfatter: Peter Handke
Forlag: Suhrkamp Verlag (Tyskland)
An award-winning provocateur – accused of being responsible for the atrocities of the Bosnia war – may have written his latest work.


Austrian success writer Peter Handke, who turns 75 years 6. December, in his youth belonged to the protest generation, often wearing dark glasses and with long hair. Today, he rather resembles a somewhat melancholy professor, but he still belongs to the rebellious generation. In their own words – from the new novel The Obstdiebin ("The Fruit Thief"): "Being one who is outside the law, one who is forbidden, defines my whole existence."

Literary mischief crow. In particular, Handke managed to provoke the public during the war in Bosnia 1992 – 95 – when it was reported in abundance about the Bosnian Serbs disgrace, the genocide in Srebrenica, and the extreme brutality of the Omarska death camps. In this context, Handke published his controversial piece of writing A wintery trip to the Danube, Save, Morawa and Drina rivers or to Serbia ("A wintry trip to the rivers Danube, Save, Morawa and Drina, or justice for Serbia"), which for many made the author a culture of persona non grata. The enemy front reached all the way to Norway when Handke in 2014 was to receive the Ibsen Prize for his life's work. A heated debate arose around Handke's supposed defense of the Serbs and Slobodan Milosevic. The author had called the Srebrenica massacre a heinous hate and revenge night, but failed to use the word "genocide". He was then charged with being co-responsible for the atrocities.

Handke's cosmos is not a dying universe – it is sensational down to the last molecule; no phenomenon is too prosaic, no detail too insignificant.

A poet's self-defense. Peter Handke was supported by one of his great admirers, Karl Ove Knausgård, who immediately stood on the barricades. From here he spoke to a compact Norwegian cultural elite: "Now that Handke is demonized in Norwegian media, and totally outrageous and morbidly tendentious readings are taken for good fish in the cultural editions, it is important to remember that he has never killed anyone." "Amoral slippages" followed Handke in his political-poetic work. However, this work was always at first literary, then political. In addition, the involvement in the Balkan conflict was also guided by his personal closeness to the theme, through his own Slovenian roots. He made many trips to the region, where he met people on both sides, including war criminal Radovan Karadžic, and attended Milosevic's funeral – for many an intolerable provocation. Handke answered his opponents through a ninety-page epic entitled Summery night trip to a wintery trip ("Summery afterword for a wintry journey"). He comments: "It is true that in this post I also tell about the flowering trees, about the strawberries on the slopes around Srebrenica (excuse me, dear reader, that I explain myself about this, but I am still blamed for this nature description). Of course, this is a means to make the terrible destruction and deathly silence even more apparent. "

Austria's two big ones. Peter Handke – together with his compatriot Thomas Bernhard – is one of the most important poets in the German language area. What he says and writes is heard. After his death, Bernhard was foretold a name as great as Hermann Hesse, who in turn was described as the heir to Goethe himself. Fortunately, what a posthumous honor that Peter Handke will share, we must wait for. But the basis we can know something about.

Handke's new book is the latest on a list that contains around 80 novels, plays and film screenplays. The story of the fruit thief is given the full title The Obstbin – or – Easy drive in the countryside ("The fruit thief – or one-way ticket to the interior of the country"). Does Handke mean this to suggest that the novel is his last literary journey? The publisher had originally announced The Obstdiebin like the author's "last epic", but quickly stroked this description, wisely enough. For Handke's cosmos is not a dying universe – it is sensual down to the last molecule; no phenomenon is too prosaic, no detail too insignificant.

Two main characters in one. An unnamed I-person breaks out of his idyllic home in Chaville, a suburb of Paris – where Handke lives – with no other external cause than having been stabbed under the foot of a bee. He embarks on one journey per one-way ticket – a hint of something fateful, though the journey is possible with regional trains and events take place in industrialized small towns located between open fields and orchards – the sites of the "crimes" / apple snake. The traveler has been on the road for a long time – through 107 pages – before discovering the thief as she wanders around the countryside in search of a pear, an apple – yes, whatever she may find. But just before, the storyteller has seen her in her own train compartment: “Horror: Unexpectedly, I had the fruit thief in front of me. The horror came from two things, first because she was there, in flesh and blood, my fruit thief, and at the same time because it couldn't be her. ”From now on, the narrator takes up residence in this figure, though in the third person. She is a fabulous man – "free after Wolfram [von Eschenbach" – known for her hero bags from the 13. century and a dictatorial companion of Handke] ».

"It is true that I tell about the flowering trees, about the strawberries on the slopes around Srebrenica. Of course, this is a means to make the terrible destruction and deathly silence even more apparent. "

The universe of language. Who, then, is Handke's fruit thief? Choose yourself – she's a daughter, roommate, reporter, Eva in paradise, an outsider, an Askeladd, an excerpt of the author's divided self. She could fit in a dream scene from Strindberg's Spöksonaten. What does Handke want with her? He wants what everyone dictates will: tell. About guilt, about belonging. He alternates between short and side-long sentences, using monologues, but never dialogues. "There is only room for the one who takes his place… [She] probably had, wherever she came, her brought place in her luggage, but no one demanded this place," he writes

What is the action? The drama?

The action is language. The moment descriptions make the strongest impression in this text. They are based on episodic interpretations of the outer and inner landscapes, with occasional references to the author's other works, life and geography. Finally wonder The Obst
s tells her: "Everything she had experienced during the three days of her journey into the country, how every hour had been full of drama, even when nothing happened, and how all the time something had been at stake, and after barely three days this one, bright summer cap in the dark hair: strange. Or not yet? Yes, strange. Persistently strange. Forever strange. ”

Also read: Peter Handke – an adventurer in the inner world

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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