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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Handke’

I assume there must be a body of literary theory out there about titles, especially of short, ambiguous pieces and poems; the way they promise to be a key to interpretation, and certainly shape the reader’s expectations and influence her reading – but as a result clearly also have the potential to manipulate, deceive, draw her into position above the trap-door and so forth. This is certainly an issue when it comes to the (admittedly very small) number of extant literary pieces that mention Thucydides in their title and then deal with something that appears to be completely unrelated. Peter Handke’s ‘Noch einmal für Thukydides’ (1997), for example, which I’ve written about elsewhere, describes a series of trivial events on a March morning: a yellow leaf on the wall suddenly reveals itself as a butterfly and flies off, the snow begins to melt, and a crocus flowers; on the basis of the title, and Handke’s known interests, I’ve argued that this piece is engaging with different ideas of ‘realism’ as a style, closely associated with Thucydides – but maybe the whole point is that this is the absolute opposite of the things that Thucydides thought were important, battles and speeches rather than butterflies and the everyday. Maybe the title is simply intended as a provocation, or a joke. And one of these days I must have another go at working out what on earth The Mountain Goats‘ ‘Thucydides II.58’ has to do with anything, let alone Thucydides 2.58 (“Bed face at noon/ Strip naked, we can’t get free/ And doubling over in the street/ dozens just like me/ Spreading like a rumor/ spreading like a rumor.”)*

This edition of Poetry Corner offers another example: Sherod Santos’ ‘A Woman Named Thucydides’ (2010), which I found on the internet through a simple search for “Thucydides + poem”. (more…)

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Classical scholars do not, generally, have to worry much about the nature of the relationship between the critic and the living author; in the absence of a working time machine, Ovid is never going to have the opportunity to complain furiously about the post-modern nonsense being read into a perfectly straightforward set of poems about Roman festivals, or Euripides to include a critic character in one of his later plays, who comes to an unfortunate and embarrassing end in a sub-plot, in revenge for poor reviews. Yes, there are a few examples of modern authors taking exception to critics and scholars on behalf of their ancient brethren – Yeats’ The Scholars comes to mind, of course, with the old, learned, respectable bald heads making pedantic annotations on heartfelt love poetry – but generally this isn’t an issue, and we don’t tend to take such attacks (or those in Nietzsche’s Wir Philologen) personally. Working in the field of contemporary classical reception, however, does raise this issue: what is the correct distance to maintain between writer and commentator? how far should we leave the author to comment on his/her intentions, limiting ourselves to identifying interesting classical echoes (on the assumption that naturally the author will have placed them there deliberately) – and how far should we put ourselves in the more awkward position of pointing out errors or misconceptions, querying the ideological subtext of classical allusions and so forth? Is there any risk that we’re so grateful for the recognition and implicit endorsement, that a proper contemporary author still thinks the classical is worth evoking, that we neglect our critical faculties and duties?

Of course, the only reason I’m thinking about these questions in the first place is that I’ve spent most of the day with a stupid grin in my face, having received a letter from the great Peter Handke to say that he liked my article on Peter Handke and Thucydides…

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One of the obvious disadvantages in having as a research interest the place of antiquity in the modern world is the regular flow of new material – and, still more, the expectation of a regular flow of new material, so that I now scour every op-ed article on Iran for traces of Thucydidean power-politics that I can then anatomise. Since I’m a great admirer of Peter Handke as a writer I’d be reading interviews with him anyway – but I now find myself leaping on every passing reference to something classical, even if it’s nothing to do with Thucydides, and worrying away at it. I can’t claim that this is legitimate research activity, e.g. for a piece on his broader reception of ancient texts like Homer or tragedy, as I don’t remotely have time for that at the moment. Instead it feels like a peculiar sort of cyber-stalking… (more…)

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Courtesy of Wolfgang Will, another Thucydides quotation from Peter Handke’s journals, that I missed during the research for my paper on the subject (Classical Receptions Journal 4.2, 2012…). From Spuren der Verirrten (2006), pp.24-5:

“Hieβ nicht schon im Altertum Winterende Jahr um Jahr: neuer Krieg, oder weiter im Krieg, und Sommer hieβ: Zeit der groβen Schlachten? ‘Das waren die Ereignisse des Sommers’, so schreibt, Kapitel für Kapitel, der Geschichtsschreiber, und Ereignisse für einen solchen, das sind – wie gesagt… Schon werden die versteckten, nicht abgelieferten Waffen geölt.  Schon erwachen die tausendjährigen Todfeindschaften in alter Frische…”

“Already in antiquity, didn’t the end of winter mean, year after year, new war, or on with the war, and summer meant, time of the great battle? ‘Those were the events of the summer’, so the history writer writes, chapter after chapter, and ‘events’ for someone like that are – as previously noted… Already the hidden, not handed over weapons are oiled.  Already the thousand-year enmities awaken as fresh as ever…”

The good news, from my point of view, is that this doesn’t represent any dramatic shift from Handke’s other references to Thucydides; there’s the same focus on the seasonal organisation of the narrative (“Those were the events of the summer; in the following winter…”), the same sense that history focuses all too often on violence (‘events’ for a historian, or certainly for a historian like Thucydides, mean battles and slaughter) and the same conviction, doubtless fueled by the historian’s own claims, that his account reveals something timeless about human society.

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