on ‘The Moravian Night’ By Peter Handke

Moravian-night-199x300Scott Abbott at Open Letters Monthly:

The disintegration of Yugoslavia (as Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks pursued their nationalist interests in what had been a multicultural country) was a turning point. In a series of long essays Handke argued that Serbia was being portrayed as the sole aggressor in the civil wars and that the language of journalism was itself a tool of aggression. He traveled in Serbia and described it in language he thought more conducive to peace. (A Journey to the Rivers orJustice for Serbia is the only one of these essays in English translation; the German title, Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Sava, Morawa, und Drina, suggests a geographical connection with The Moravian Night.) Critics were merciless, attacking him with the same either/or language he was determined to replace with thinking marked by the conjunction “and.” Literary prizes were withdrawn and when a French writer published an essay interpreting Handke’s Yugoslavia work (and his attendance at the funeral of Slobodan Milosevic) in the worst possible light, Handke’s The Play of Questioning was withdrawn from a planned production in Paris. Defenders of Handke, of which I was one, pointed out that the critics were inventing the supposed transgressions and that a reading of the essays revealed a thoughtful dialectic rather than a single-minded denial of Serbian guilt.

When Handke received the Norwegian International Ibsen Prize for Drama in 2014, there were protests. Karl Ove Knausgaard responded to the protests in an essay called “Handke and Singularity”, arguing that Handke’s Yugoslavia works are “another form of history-writing, about what goes on outside of public attention, the entire political-historical and generalizing system of concepts that has filled ‘Serbia’ with a whole bunch of fixed notions, unalterable and unshakable.” As it meanders through possibilities of narration beyond fixed notions and forms, The Moravian Night continues to call the unalterable and unshakable into question.

more here.