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An Expository Note

Some commentson Einbaum/ Dugout Canoe

This is an attempt at a description of Peter Handke's VOYAGE BY DUGOUT CANOE [OR, THE FORE-PLAY TO THE FILM ABOUT THE WAR] as DIE FAHRT IM EINBAUM [ODER DAS STÜCK ZUM FILM ÜBER DEN KRIEG] is called in American in Scott Abbott’s fine translation.

I wrote this in 1999 to get a grasp of the play,

Entirely for myself, altering it only slightly

and adding my decimation of “J.S. Marcus”

review that was part of an execrable piece of his in the New York Review of Books

Volume 47, Number 14 · September 21, 2000

Apocalypse Now




Dugout is a text of appr. 15,000 spoken words which, for its chief object, has the "poetic presentation" of scenes from a screenplay rough for a possible film about the wars… in the former Yugoslavia, ten years after the fact as it were [then, at its premiere in 1999], Handke’s plus quam perfect procedure as we also start finding it in his novels as of the 1992 NO MAN’S BAY. However, since the play can also be regarded as a kind of Brechtian template I can see it being sufficiently elastic in conception to be adaptable to events other than the disintegration and media coverage of Yugoslavia.


Initially, at the time of the 60’s Sprechstücke Handke disavowed Brecht, eventually conceding that he had learned from him. We note Handke’s understanding of power, master slave relationships, as early as his first play without words, MY FOOT MY TUTOR, not that you need Brecht for that. The relationship between factotum Hans and Monopolist Quitt in 1973/4 THEY ARE DYING OUT bears considerable resemblance to that between Big Time Farmer Puntila and his servant Matti - but, it is not for matters of that kind that there exists a relationship between Brecht’s and Handke’s theater: Handke, after all, with THE RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE and THE HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER manages to complete Brecht’s project of non-Aristotelian drama and cleans out our clocks, without the catharsis involved in blood and guts and awe; and you see afresh and feel all cleaned out – get to take a fresh look at Dick Cheney and the other geo-political monsters! Why not simply turn to stone or salt? Perhaps going to see some Disney monstrosity does the same trick to the nervous system in need of discharge. The neurologists will tell us one day soon. TheOedipus dramas after all can be regarded as the initiation of western science of psychology. Shakespeare certainly is one other. However, Handke with the procedures employed in the two cited plays is working within/on the threshold between enchantment and enlightenment, perhaps {?} the most profound of this thresh holder, thisZwitter’s thresholds??? [“I live entirely from my Thresholds” is the translated title of a book length interview that Handke held in the late 80s with Herbert Gantscher]. DUGOUT has this sort of clock-cleaning thing going on far more incidentally, in the background, with its collage and scenic shift procedures, Handke’s template dream screen. Most of you probably haven’t the faintest what I am talking about, since the raison d’être for real theater is not deeply felt, hungered for; if it were, far fewer amusements. Here’s a link to something that calls itself A Contemporary Theater family fun for everyone in the city of Chief Sealth

We evidently live in discontinuous contemporaneities here as well.


DUGOUT is the presentation of a screenplay to two directors – John Ford and Bunuel types - that an "international consortium" has commissioned for the task of the 28th or 29thfilm on the exploitable tragedy: that is the play's conceit – a play within a play, or rather a film that you can, perhaps ought to imagine, as some of Handke’s prose texts – ABSENCE [1987] and CROSSING THE SIERRA DEL GREDOS [2002] as well as the more recent film-opera prose fable KALI [2007] make you experience also as films as you read with sensitivity and imagination [!!!].

Dugout [for short] fits nicely within the history of the several concepts of this kind by a variety of 20th century playwrights, it is within the by now more than half a century old honorable tradition of investigative, socially relevant morality plays as they come to us via Brecht, via Hochhut, Peter Weiss, Heinar Kipphardt, Heiner Mueller; of these, Grass’s The Plebeians are Rehearsing the Uprising, might be the most pertinent antecedent to Handke’s dramatic procedure here.

The scaffolding is brilliantly set; as it is also physically in the huge foyer of a ruined hotel called ACAPULCO which itself is situated in a valley inside deepest darkest SERBIA; a somewhat surrealistic fairy tale setting which, not so incidentally, develops out of and within the dramatic & visual vocabulary that Handke began to stake out starting in 1981 with WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, elaborated in the receding horizon line of The Art of Asking, brought into intense whirling focus on the plaza of the 1992 HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER [the belatedly completed Summa of all his early work], and  elaborated yet further in his next to last play, PREPARATIONS FOR IMMORTALITY, but which achievement the l’il old u.s. of a. here has taken little note of, so-called “contemporary theaters” and all, family fun and fare. Nor TDR or PAJ. The very conception - two major directors - the grand hotel - are, characteristically strong Handke strokes.
     The play-space Handke has created for himself [and us] in these works for the stage [and in a different fashion in his prose work, a  matter I won't go into  since I have done so at length in pieces in the novels at the various Handke sites] allows for the existence of "another world", for that hovering just a touch above the floor, it is a space that allows for the freedom of serious matters to be gently [or less so in this instance] entertained by the mind and heart - for the main actors to represent, externalize themselves through spoken texts - not act out through naturalistic mimicry, or present in other versions of what is known as epic theater, "action" is always "offstage," in the imagination, something referred to, no blood is spilled on Handke’s stage, the only thing that is real in Handke’s “as if world,” is the playing, which thus becomes as it were far realer than any naturalism ever can. In that, Handke has remained true to himself since his beginnings. 
     In the instance of Dugout, the presentation and discussion of possible scenes from a prospectus allows for some real efficiency, juggling, etc. and I recall becoming aware of Handke’s collage method about 20 years ago when I analyzed the screenplay for Wings of Desire. Compared to some of Handke's other 80s through 90s plays [whose formal completion, rounding out, overwhelms, consummates their collage quality] D.C.'s handling of the collage method allows for a lot of breathing room - at times. This is my feeling: but translating and directing Handke's work can make for some amazing discoveries. And perhaps Scott wants to add something to these comments???

Here a note from Scott’s diary:Several hours ago NATO and the Yugoslav Parliament came to some kind of agreement ending the bombing after 78 days. And, I'm just back from the world premiere of Peter's "The Play of the Film of the War," directed by Claus Peymann. I’ve never attended the world premiere of a play of this magnitude; and I’ve seldom been this moved, this challenged, by a work of art. Peter has filmmakers John Ford and Luis Buñuel in a Serbian town ten years after the war trying to decide how to make a film of the war. Characters who appear before the directors tell conflicting and complex stories as the play feels its way to questions about war and its aftermath. The really bad guys of the play, three "Internationals" who know all the answers, who dictate all the terms, who can think only in absolutes, appear on the stage as follows: "Three mountain bike riders, preceded by the sound of squealing brakes, burst through the swinging door, covered with mud clear up to their helmets. They race through the hall, between tables and chairs, perilously close to the people sitting there. 'Where are we?' the First International asks. 'Don't know,' the second answers. 'Not a clue,' the third says."American and European moralists, functionaries with no hint of self-irony or humor, absolutists who run the world because of their economic power – these sorry excuses for human beings were depicted this evening as mountainbike riders. Žarko, I said, Don’t you ever tell Peter I ride a mountain bike. No, he whispered, I’d never do that. Rich with thoughts, savory with sentences, the voyage by dugout was also a riot of comic action in Peymann’s staging. It was over before I even realized it was underway. The play drew on several incidents from our trip, including when Peter put his coat around the shoulders of the OSCE woman in Višegrad. The long sentences and long speeches of the play felt like well structured seriousness. The play trusted the audience to pay attention, and rewarded those who did with intellectual and aesthetic depth. But the play is playful too, and Peymann's direction brought that out impishly. The juxtaposition reminded me of the scene near the end of "Wings of Desire" where Peter's long and reflective sentences are being spoken against the sounds and rock staging of Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds.

After the performance, flushed with enthusiasm and insight, I told Peter how well he had integrated that real event into an imaginative play. “Dr. Scott,” he chided. “Always the professor.”

The play's second major conceit is that of taking a backward view from ten years hence onto material which is still very keenly present in our minds – perhaps; or anyway, certainly was at the time the play premiered under Klaus Peymann’s direction at the Burg Theater in Vienna [it has been done at other venues since, and also in Serbia, Greece, etc.], the Kosovo campaign? War? Infamy? having barely passed and Handke’s involvement in the controversy spilling over into the reception of the play well preceding its premiere.  

Dugout is an imagined looking back, except further elongated here than the similar conceit with which we became familiar in Handke's first use of the same in his 1000 page novel No-Mans-Bay [how much of a conceit it is or the author’s need, his only way of dealing with the material, as though it were past, not so pressing, either the past or present put into a mythic future]. There, inNM Bay and also in some later works [Del GredosKali] the narrator employs a four year difference to lift some matters a bit away from too adhesive an adherence to the sticky minutiae of the pip-squeak horizon of his and our everyday presence, Handke the mythic epic lyric writer of course broaches dangerous territory. A difficult line to hoe. But civil wars were on Handke’s mind there and then with N.M.Bay [in 1991/2], too, except that they were set in Germany, while he was gritting his teeth at the Yugoslav miseries, as of 1991 as a matter of fact, at least. - In the instance of Dugout, the Ten Years After distancing [taken incidentally before the onset of the Kosovo fiasco and done with a lot of research!] raises the presentation of complex thematic material that is currently still passionately debated into a discussable and emotionally more philosophical, possibly digestible context… and what becomes overt here, as compared to being covertly present, say as in W.A.T. Villages, are conflicting points of view, which however cannot be said to be  presented Oxford Debating Society Style… but in artful and amusing formulations, in a language that is hands-on profane and contemporary yet graceful… for a good stretch of the way anyhow. Regarded as a whole, three dimensionally, this is an extraordinarily complex piece.

   Par ejamplo
"The Historian and The Chronicler" laying out their different tacks on the matter at hand: 
   HISTORIAN: Yes, isn't that what you wanted: to be by yourselves, each one for himself, as you are now, alone with your plum tree whose crown has been blown off, your pig and lamb walking on three legs, and the neighbor's rusty tractor now yours. 
FOREST MADMAN: If you say "neighbor" one more time, I'll cut your throat. 
CHRONICLER: All this business about living together peacefully for centuries on end was only invented by some of the warlords here, meant for the tourists from the foreign capitals, a sales pitch for the politics of war. Harmony between this guy and that guy over there? An idea grabbed out of thin air, built on sand.
HISTORIAN: Why not build on sand? Can't such a construction sometimes stand more firmly than any other? And why not grab the idea of belonging to each other out of the air? Where else do you grab it from but from there.
 And a historian says that? A scholar?
ANNOUNCER: [leafing around his grab-bag of notes]: At this point the author is already hinting at the future statesman and visionary… 
   ...anyhow into a more multifaceted, poetic philosophical realm, fastened down to the very earthy though it is, too, on occasion with very  hands-on peasant language, than the author's own public engagement in matters Yugoslavian might make one expect; that is, the play is a delightful, mordantly funny, extraordinarily graceful, juggling act… for long stretches anyway.

In some sense the play could also use, I don't know, Chechnya, as its subject, any number of other war zones where according to the play’s suggestion "Ungleichzeitgemässigkeit" [a disjunction in contemporaneities] represents one of the determinants for the occurrence of the war [Jürgen Habermas might jabber about "second world".] and neighbors became strangers to each other even before the onset of the carnage. 
   These differences in development [or, if you like, perversion] make for the kind of surrealism that is one of the delights in the play: 
   E.g. forest people confront "Internationals" on mountain bikes; "natural" people go mad, so that at the play's more poetic moments we have the impression we might go off into a world of The Tempest; and a feeling that has been growing in me, that the time for verse in serious drama is again upon us, is only reinforced at this and many other moments, but I find only one contemporary German playwright engaging in it successfully, not Handke so far.
The war in this piece is meant to be receding into the kind of fabled past that all such wars have had no choice but to while they are very keenly still with us, as they are in this piece.Dugout plays on that edge I would say... threshold if you like... between forgetting and keen awareness: after all, it's is the 29th film for which this screenplay has been prepared of which they are doing a run-through… and in one of its fine mordant comic relief scenes, there appear the stars from the previous internationally acclaimed "masterwork": A POET with CHILDREN, a Dog and a Donkey, like some Faulknerian / Shakespearean comic relief character; the dog has a bloody wrap around its wounded belly, or is it the children, they are a team that raises funds for UNRA, he's the poster child and the poster dog and donkey in person as it were… some characters only appear "dimly": as seen as silhouettes through semi-opaque windows… the silhouette play is creeping into the artistic proceedings… if my grand idiot savant isn't always state of the art! He also adds stage directions calling for SOFT FOCUS! I would say that within a few pages we are also in some respects in a kind of madhouse of the Vienna woods, visually all this is spectacular.
   D.C. is prefaced by three significant quotes:
   1] from Ivo Andric, who ponderously addresses what we call the wages of self-righteousness, the fact that a wounded judge can be especially vicious [a notion that the play's author in his own controversial public statements might well heed!], the potential Robespierre in so many... and one that could not be more true, intra-psychically! The archaic super-ego. The question of "justice" pervades the play. "I want to go to justice" is a Walk About the Villages quote [as is "Everyone is in the right."] the former of which, however, cannot be said to address the fact [or the  series of facts] of the rational irreconcilability of ethnic, religious and rurally rooted land ownership, identity demands and demands for vengeance, in a landscape whose economic basis is disappearing under their feet… or the by and large question of a vacuum that arose in Yugoslavia/ [FILL IN THE BLANK] when the ‘center would not hold’ for a host of reasons, though the play does bring to the fore the question of how neighbors from one day to the other can become murderous, looting enemies during the implosion… to which in this country our periodic riots during "exceptional situations" provide the same kind of incendiary answers… more on justice anon.
2] A Goethe quote that indicates what kind of piece we may expect: "Poetischer Vortrag", where Vortrag ought not to be translated as "lecture" as much as "presentation," a poetic showing, not entirely devoid of the didactic... but, here surrealistically Volksst
ückhaft[rooted in the Austrian tradition of popular rural plays],  mordant, highly theatrical presentation, illustration… Goethe with a Viennese, graceful Horvarthian touch… a fine prospect… and which in the proper kind of forum might actually make for a fine post-play discussion.
One way of getting a purchase on the play, of situating it, might be to think of how some other 20th century German playwrights have approached similar subjects. Certainly Dugout does not entirely lack all qualities of Peter Weiss' Oratorio The Investigation, a Heinar Kipphardt probably would approach the same material much along the lines of a docu-drama a la The Case of J. Robert Oppenheimer; a Hochhut with his penchant for focusing on leaders might have an interesting time with that approach: Clinton - Handke of all people called him a “Schmutzfink” - at the time of the Kosovo war, Milosevic, Holbrooke, Galbraith, Margaret Albright suddenly remembering her Jewish ancestry and name Koerbel and trying to use it as an extenuating circumstance, Isobetgevic, Tjudmann locked up in a fore-room to hell? Hochhut would most likely condemn each and every one of them, including the leader of the Kosovo Albanians to the gallows. Günter Grass’ The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising comes closest to Handke’s way of proceeding. Heiner Mueller [or Brecht] would no doubt bring qualities just as biting to the subject as Handke, but would have had their own poetic takes on this material, which no doubt would have been very different since they would not have enjoyed, if that is the word, the same close and madly intimate and contentious affiliation to the former Yugoslavia as has Handke, who with his kind of GoetheanVortrag, though not exactly trying to take some idiot Olympian perspective, succeeds in trying to dis-engage himself a little from the kind of attack-dog close-quarter infighting wounded love-child fit he so very publically threw as his beloved “9th Land” the imaginary land of peace started to disintegrate – in Dugoutthose familiar with the public controversy will note that Handke, sober pencil in hand, is grimly skeptical of the two different united Yugoslavia’s viability that existed during two stretches of the 20thcentury, and actually also decimates someone who engages as he himself did. However, some matters do get a lot more personal.

3] As per the third quote "Da selo sa selom pase" [a village wants to graze with another] from King Dusan's Codicils # 72,[???!!!*] indicates the devoutly to be wished for trotting peacefully alongside of each other of the occasionally vicious dogs, and for which idea the play towards the end has as its metaphor that DUGOUT CANOE that however can unfold like the petals of a flower, or anyhow unfold into several umbrella parts… with the assistance of an absolutely Baroque Deus ex Machina, and is a transposition of a steadfast peace angel magic notion of Handke's throughout the works of the past 20 years, and for which he has found a variety of representation throughout this period… especially in the plays; the author who has three near epileptic fits a day, and prays so much for peace since he knows of his own propensity for violence.

[* so it is claimed - whereas this might as easily be some kind Handkean joke, a la the Oracle of Dordona’s "stay in the picture" that prefaces Hour, where Handke is quoting from his own W.A.T.V.! and acknowledging his own competitiveness for the lime light, if you see a green apparition in the night sky, that would be him!];
…but lacks a possible 4th quote, say from Freud's Why War, or one of Freud’s other communications to Einstein, explaining why human beings can so enjoy killing each other; or some 5th about what mad dogs human beings can turn into during the course of hundreds of years of being fucked over and fucking each other over in a balkanized world… Peter Brook's "The Icky Icks" comes to mind! and then stake their wishes on notions of ethnic togetherness.
"The Cast" in its entirety - doublings and triplings of roles and impersonations galore, masks and no masks, masks off and on –


JOHN O’HARA, American film director

LUIS MACHADO, Spanish film director










A POET (from another film, with CHILDREN, DOG, and DONKEY)

A PHILANTHROPIST (international, silent)

A PRESIDENT or WINNER (silhouette)


presents the possible scenes for the film to the Two Directors: 
One, an American, John O'Hara, appears to be modeled on what whiffs Handke has got of the modus operandi and being of John Huston or John Ford.
Two, Machado, his Spanish counterpart, is modeled more closely on the author himself and his own experiences directing in Spain, for him a surrogate Yugoslavia, but also bears some resemblance to Bunuel [these resemblances are not entirely insignificant; and "film 
director" is of course a kind of iconic archetype meanwhile - and they josh around a bit self-consciously as celebrities can.   
   The directors help move the piece along; that is, the presentation of what might be included in the film, discussions of who might be its main character; occasionally comment trenchantly on the art of presentation. 
   "O'HARA: That'll do. No commentaries. My films have no commentaries.
   MACHADO: And my films take nothing for granted. "
   The use of twin directors harks back to Handke's then most recent play Preparations for Immortality for the purpose of playing with two  sides of the same Juan coin, but at least on my so far reading are not as diametrically opposed as they might be, nor need to be in this instance...
A third director of sorts, a bit more pushy
, The Announcer [a stand-in-in for "the author" who has fled!], a kind of stage manager, also moves the piece forward, and in fact has a kind of authorial control over what is meant to be shown to the directors ["and now I am going to present the two historians."]but can also impersonate other characters, e.g. turns into one of the locals who witnessed the war, presents the speech of a would-be president at one point, and so, as in so many fortunate instances in the piece, is not locked into a securely identifiable character-role… 
    How usefully and artistically Handke exploits the economic need to double and triple up roles is something playwrights might take note off.
Focusing just on how these three "Movers" weave the material together, one notices that Handke's forte as a creator of flying carpets, he our master weaver from Griffen, is very much intact, except for a long stretch of what I regards as unstitchable cast iron… since Handke writes his plays also asLese Dramen [dramas to be read, they being too rarely performed] some of the dissertation length speeches are fine in filling in a reader, but need to be condensed for performance. These do not to seem have daunted Scott as you read in his above comment.
I at least feel happy to report that I could not be happier by the way that the author handles the introduction of the themes of the war,  neighborliness, history… in feathering these [propeller! not goose down fashion] the way the Two Directors, the Announcer, the Forest Madman, The Chronicler and Historian toss the balls back and forth during the first third of the play… even some of the longer speeches do not prove tiresome there, at any event not upon several readings…  cut  no doubt though they, too, will need to be for performances

in the dear old attention span of gnats u.s. of a


Handke said recently, no doubt somewhat ruefully, that he wished his plays might be done more in the “boulevard” style [now that he’s becoming a frigging Austrian national treasure who may have a postage stamp during his life time]. However, if anyone has written the ultimate inversion of a “boulevard” piece it would be Handke with The Ride Across Lake Constance and Hour which also always “plays” so well everywhere, also as dance theater, because, after all, it lacks all those words that people are so sick of hearing.They Are Dying Out [1973] is a boulevard piece too, and continues the verbal gymnastics as leftist jargon put into the mouths up young business folk; it has some great stretches, but ultimately is top heavy, or badly weighted what with the monopolist who puts his big self into play and beats them all, and then can only beat his head to smithereens on the rock of nothingness.


Occasionally, after, WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, the greatest and richest work that he has written and off which he continues to feed even in his latest novel [MORAVIAN NIGHT] Handke’s formalist drum runs dry [e.g. in stretches of Preparations for Immortality] and he sounds like Philip Glass. Not so in Dugout.And it is one of the great shames, one of the many major crimes committed through omission and utter cowardice that no one in all of the huge u.s. of aaaa has done his most important play that also plays THE ART OF ASKING. VILLAGES after all is done better as a recital, they way Elliot’s plays were done at one time.

Subsequent to the laying out of the mis-en-scene, the Tourist Guide has the first long introductory speech that turns into a somewhat persiflage of the kind of borscht about civilization that tourists might have their brain cells deadened with and not just in the Balkans, which somehow or other includes the Serbians and whoever else in the Greek City State Athens tradition via a grand extended notion of the region, but which the Tourist Guide himself truncates with some nice utterly cynical "Chinga su Madre" type remarks.
The Forest Madman   by far the most interesting character and based on a famous German legal case of a Serbian who was tried and convicted in Germany for failing to stop an atrocity in Yugoslavia [and at whose marriage in prison Handke was best man! More about him and “denial” anon] - now begins to intrude with some fairly short comments, especially his "fuck the neighbors refrain", making his "primal sounds", the first notes as it were of what will become the piece's most complex melody… but gradually turns into the piece's main character, as the Two Directors discover him to be, becomes the most multi-faceted because he has acquired - by accident more than design - more historical brambles than any of the others: he appeared on International T.V. as one bad guy among others [he's got touches of the paranoid/schizophrenic Bloch the Goalie who resurfaced in W.A.T.V. as one of the three worker-clowns], was arrested as the innocent by-stander, served five years in a German jail, where he lost all sense of guilt, returns to live in the region, but instead of being feted as a hero, is 86ed because he won't admit his guilt… is regarded as mad… his only real relationship appears to be with the forest… at the end is brow-beaten by "The Bearskin Woman"as one might to call "Die Fellfrau" in American [who doubles as the "Beauty Queen]… and if one regards this telescoping of the Forest Madman's qualities from a filmic perspective, this is not only some kind of yet other genius notion, but potentially represents the "Mother Courage" of the piece… though its kaleidoscopic layout of course has nothing of the sort in mind…
    By the time of the appearance of the 
Three Internationals on page 56 [German Edition], nearly halfway through the play, a lot of matters have been put on display: the Historian has despaired of history, half-comically so, the Beauty Queen has appeared and The Directors feel that she deserves a bigger part than the script envisioned for her; the Historian has sought to demolish the Chronicler's heroic version of the origins of his tribe,


 "Your first king was a thief of swine, his opponent a horse thief. The horse-thief killed the thief of swine and became king."


The Chronicler has given a fine account of having been in the war himself, having donned a mask,


"and I was the one who took a mother and child and poured cement over them while they were alive and stood the group as a memorial at the way cross. And someone whose teeth I had just bashed in I showed to a group of International  Observers with the remark that he was just coming from picking strawberries."…


 "Neighbors have turned into phantoms, the most peaceful turned into murderers."  


In short, we have a fine mordant and earthy sense of the [a] war-time past… and the Forest Madman, too, has recounted part of his crazy making story within the general to and fro.
The Internationals [who appear on mountain bikes] do not know where they are any more, now that it is peace they recall the land only from wartime, but they have their paranoid memories... The first long speech by # 3, confesses that he never really knew where he was even then, that he hated the damned land from the moment he set foot in it, could only get along with his translator guide, but whom he had to import from outside since he couldn't trust the native viewpoint; hates these people especially because they re-invented war 
"they are victims but not innocent ones",he hates them so much he wants to throw an atom bomb on all these warriors and be done with them… which is why he doesn't really want to know where he is… but after a couple of pages of this sort of thing their self-immolating self-representations, for my taste, especially the self-derisiveness with the alphabet acronym soup [KFOR type stuff], become so excessively pointed as to be a caricature of the author's own hatred of them, in speeches that present them to be mad hunters of war criminals, judges  with  utterly  closed minds, self-righteous reporters… for The Internationals, too, transform into or are interchangeable with  representatives of the International News Organizations… 
Theatrically, this entire second act - News folk + Internationals - within the three act play without pauses, is a remake of a section from  Handke's They Are Dying Out. Extremely eery for me its translator to find for one instance that a  speech from this 1973/4 text has been lifted rhythm for rhythm beat for beat with new but not better wine in the vessel, and though I have some considerable admiration for the "Johann Sebastian Handke" side of my man, the pulling of this organ stop hints at something of a rush job or an act of vanity in thinking that a particularly successful aria ought to be used twice, but perhaps Handke with all the different melodies he sings has only one real attack aria in him, it is used once more, in more modified form in the big mixed bag – some of the greatest writing, some ugly lying, a lot of tour de forces and some very raggedy moments - of a 2008 novel MORAWIAN NIGHT that I have discussed at length on the blogs and the handkeprose2.scriptmania site.

    Also, Handke has been feeding off W.A.T.V. for nigh on 20 years now, in various plays, also in the fable No-Man’s-Bay,and here too at moments… Handke "the pro" as his own cannibal! The way the "Internationals" are then kissed off, too, is an exact duplicate of how business tycoon Quitt punctures the businessmen. Handke's hatred of the UN type forces and of reporters which exerted itself mutely ["dumpfe Wut"] through the two texts that he wrote upon his 1995/6 trips to Serbia, simply makes for some bad writing here, and what I consider a hugely missed opportunity in driving the nail of the truth of the cannibalistic self-reinforcing cultural industrial news cycle home. [Only in this instance, see below, am I in some agreement with J.S. Marcus incredibly stupid take on this play and on the rest of Handke in his notorious piece in the New York Review [see the forthcoming – Jan 4/10  detailed decimation of this idiot who hasn’t a poetic hair on his body at the handke-discussion blog spot

and at:

The overly long "International" stretch cited just now also contains some kind  of tortured, basically incomprehensible account of something like the Srebrenice massacre, on which Handke had a more accurate take in Summer Sequel [Ein Sommerlicher Nachtrag 1994] where it elicited a fearful wish not to be a Serbian [no matter that no one had asked him to be! and that he was only half-Slovenian Austrian national and half German with a German actual father and stepfather, whatever kind of mongrel that is!]. Taken together with the here perpetrated notion that "history" is a falsifier - in the sense that a photo that elicits the memory of a German concentration camp, ought not to be confused with something along those lines [a notion put into the mouth of the International Historian, and an ugly piece of sophistry it is, and reiterated by a "total madman" [who is merely a slightly more mad chap than the Forest Madman, a "split-off part" of him] and of the 
The Greek Reporter] - the play, which I think starts off as a comparatively even-handed attempt to entertain an understanding of the Yugoslavian catastrophe, 
turns into a perverse, torturous, distorting Handkean act of denial - though the author, having his several cakes, might say that he merely puts these views into the mouths of one or more characters. But that's cheating! That's sophistry. It's just another instance of Handke "working" something of his own into texts which otherwise have objective value, unless he's lost sight of that distinction too, meanwhile? After all: in many ways a director could even do the play from the point of view, suade the piece in the direction of the INTERNATIONALS being right in their assessment, and that would be true to Handke’s subsequently expressed opinion, in a Radio Interview with his daughter Amina, that no matter what conviction an artist may have as  citizen, as an artist he must remain objective. Well, there is that one moment where he forces it here, he lost his cool as he sometimes does even when he has pencil in hand. Otherwise, in public and in interviews a Maulkorb could do wonders for my autistic cut of old Tourette who regards his curses as sacred!
A TOTAL MADMAN appears, he might as easily be the Forest Madman, who accuses the Internationals of being the ones who set off the bombs, the poison in the bomb… and that their images and voices on television have produced a monster child… and goes into a kind of total denial reversal "the corpses from the massacre came from the mortuary… the national library burnt of itself…" and claims to have become a mass murderer because his impulse to help was thwarted…  “like  mother's milk gone sour…” which is a very interesting  though odd  idea indeed… and with considerable psychological truth on its side [though it is he of course who needs the help which he claims to have wanted to provide others with - not that there is any evidence to corroborate the claim, at least in this instance; though someone here might consider, examine the mechanism of frustration as being part of that equation, too.
    The Internationals claim that they own the language for the war, and with the appearance of "The Greek" [a reporter who hasn't toed the international party news line] there ensues a confrontation about the manner of news-gathering and representation that is first rate and makes up for some of the preceding: the Greek takes detours, recounts how he hit on a village full of city refugees, who had nothing left but their outrage,
 "the vanguard of the still and once again unknown people - of an aboriginally hopeless but therefore that more brightly continuing humanity that is walking its way through the night and wastes of time."[not quite properly translated here, but with shades of similar sentiments from W.A.T.V. and some of Handke's fine observations, say the way he sees passengers on buses in No-Man’s-Bay]


The Greek Reporter:

 You appear in the name of goodness, yet you have never left behind the least goodness in this country. Helpers? You’ve never helped yet. There is a kind of indifference more helpful than your humanitarian gesticulating. Your right hand caresses some like Mother Teresa while your left hand raises the sword of a criminal court against the others. Puny devils of goodness. Humanitarian hyenas. Aloof and formal in the face of suffering – you officious and public humanitarians. Mars corporations masquerading as guardians of human rights. You claim to be humanitarian sheriffs – and the humanitarian sheriffs in the westerns, isn’t it true, Mr. O’Hara, were usually incompetent or secretly corrupt. They were the villains.

O’HARAAren’t those prejudices, my son?


MACHADOLet him express his prejudices, John. Prejudices make good film plots.


GREEK: The war has made the people from here bad, worse than they are. You carpetbaggers have become bad with the war, like you really are. Deaf and blind – unfortunately, not speechless, not speechless at all.


THIRD: Medieval rhetoric.


GREEK: Those who wield sentences as bludgeons have the power. In earlier despotic regimes, that was the politicians. Now it is you. And while the small peoples here fought for scraps of earth, you conquered the whole world. In word and image the despotic lords over reality, you power rangers. Internationals? Extraterrestrials. International court? Universal stingrays.


FIRST: You’re not imagining an about face? We have to continue the way we began. We are now prisoners of our initial opinion. We must continue more vigorously, more shrilly, and above all in a monotone – monotone – monotone. That’s the way it is. That’s the state of affairs. It’s true: We’re sick of what we do, so sick of it. And we’re sick of each other. But what can we do? Should we suddenly say: The other ones, the ones not from here, are also guilty? Guilty in a different way? Impossible! That’s not the point. We must continue as we began, in full voice and if necessary with empty hearts. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it has to be. We are the language.


The First International [now transformed into the "New York Review" reporter Mark Winner, Pulitzer Prize], claiming to always have reported "both sides of the story" talks quotes reads a mish-mashed piece which I imagine is meant to refer to the Srebrenice massacre, in an interesting expressionist mish-mash of German and American… a piece whose language resembles the kind of topsy-turvy of a massacre… There is a further persiflage put into an I.T.'s mouth now claiming to be a reporter for The New Yorker… but, as we say in Amurrican, by this time these poor stooges are "over the top", they are like massacred paper tigers… Brecht did it better in Arturo Ui the author will hate to hear!
"The Greek" confesses to his being filled with hatred"against known and unknown. And since the hatred against a known quantity cannot be poured out, it must be directed against unknown. And more and more is made unknown today especially by means of the everyday revelation and information. And therefore the hatred against unknown literally grinds away in us."[again shades of W.A.T.V. not that that takes anything 
away from the truth value of the observation of the prevailing world wide psychosis.]
THE INTERNATIONALS thereupon have a nearly Brechtian little dance: 
   "You won't change it. That's the way it is. That's the situation. 
   That's the way the world is. That's the market. That's the price... 
   We are the market. We are the world. We write history. And history 
   requires guilt, culprits, retribution..." 
-- which gruesome chain the entire play, all of Handke's best endeavors since W.A.T.V., have indicated the heartfelt wish to put a stop to…
A series of long speeches is given to The Greek, who basically  espouses views in words similar to those that Peter Handke has  written over the past twenty years: 
"A mankind in a state of whetted appetite to be a discoverer, not underway into the forced performance called entitled 'history' but into [he stops a second'] -- inbetween time..."He envisions "hopelessly quiet masses of people on the central plazas, who no longer are intent on storming parliament”…and to the International Reporters he says: "For a decade now you've been pissing your ready-made piss on the invariably same trees. All these marvelous Dinarian woods are stinking to the high moon from your piss."

The newsmen are given ample space to reply, but I will not try to summarize the to and fro except to say that the points scored by both  sides are lost in what strikes me as an overkill of verbiage,Geschwätzigkeit is the fine German word for this, and most unusual logorrhea in the instance of our usually so laconic author. And not state of the art in media analysis I might add.
 The play even manages to "work in" some typical Handke stuff about "sacred rage" and puts it into the mouth of the I.T.s, as well as the frequent charge against Handke, especially again now, that "he has flipped out" - and in that fashion, I suppose, imagines that it inculcates itself against such very charges, a variation on the tactic of tactical concession, but taken well before entering the malaria infested territory of public discourse...
   The IT.'s claim that they have nothing but good intentions is met by The Greek's response:
"There is an indifference that is more helpful than your blabbering about being humane, as the right hand pets some of us like Mother Teresa, and the left hand swings the sword of the tribunal against others. Little devils of goodness. Humanity hyenas. There is no one less open to suffering than you official humanitarians. Mars bodies that appear as the protectors of human rights… The people here have become as evil as they are not. And the war has made you tourists as evil as you are. [the verbal casting resembles W.A.T.V.'s "the brown pistol holder is not but the blue sky is."
The Greek calls for an absence of all reporting, of all media intrusion.. for a ten year period… but how would Handke stand not  being in the news for that long? Not being photographed? Asking, pleading, demanding the mirroring approval he failed to receive as a baby?
The upshot is that the I.T.s resolve that their view cannot be changed, they are unalterably locked into their language, and that they are the language. 
There is a nice moment, after the directors have inquired of The Greek what it might be that he sees beyond the apparently self-evident, and he replies
"The wind," and laughs and all the others laugh too. And then the Greek has one last speech in which he attacks the notion that photos speak in the sense that the photos of Yugoslav camps, by being reminiscent of German concentration camps, spoke falsely, or only seemed to speak. [a notion to similar effect was broached by The Historian already early on in the play and we have reached the nub of the rub of atrocities, and guilt, and historical memories which  Handke,  in the instance of Serbia has had such a hard time stomaching,  - and which I comment on at greater length in some of my footnotes...
    By page 100, after approximately 40 pages devoted to the I.T.'s in their various guises, much of it in a shrill tone, and much unGoethlike derisiveness, that already seeped into the interchanges between The Historian and The Chronicler in the first 60 pages, after a nice side-stepping transition, we come to the section devoted to the Forest Madman and the Beauty Queen/Bearskin Woman during which the F.M. and B.M. rediscover love and the simple things in life, in  part a la the kind of lovely simple interchanges, indirect discourse, that we find at the end of W.A.T.V. 
     The F.M. recounts his prison days in Germany and how he lost his sense of guilt.
"Peace, peace here means: the heart is bleeding." And turns into a kind of complete mourner and only seeks the great pure life of mourning; and recounts his life in the forest, rhapsodizes about the taste of raspberries, and then makes forest sounds and cites its causes thus evoking the forest life [much as a section in Hour]
The Bearskin Woman now gets her sequence, during which The Announcer informs The Directors that according to the script her ignorance, in this case of the war of which she has no recollection, gives her a certain

strength, and strongly, dictatorially if you like, with lots of hefty and funny new cuss words for those who don't see things her way, she tells the tale of our title object theDugout, it preceded the Romans, occasionally is buried but resurfaces, and I imagine is meant  to represent the spirit of the Balkans the way it courses everywhere through brook and dale… Where is it to be found: "At the threshold between sleeping and waking. In the deepest dark. In the middle of winter..."
 "Semi-sleep therapy; semi-sleep spas as the future of the country?" asks The Announcer.
"But isn't everyone alone in a state of semi-sleep?"
Bearskin: "No, you ignoramus: at this edge there still exists a We as nowhere else anymore." 
She directs everyone, since the D.C. barely holds one person, to form a kind of super Dugout., which they do, a flag  or feather is put in front, the concretized mirage takes off, and a  kind of United Nations flagship - our author's Deus ex Machina - descends from the ceiling as the sonorous sound from the Art of Asking or the Journey to the Sonorous Land begins to fill the room. 
   While descending the machine opens multicolored steel fingers that interject between the bodies that have formed the huge Dugout, and pushes them gently apart. A literal illustration of the author's wish for  both separation  and  individuation without the chain of retribution, as ordered by our Lord Peter Handke out of a the theatrical heavens! The machine ascends. Film light is cut, leaving behind the Two Directors and The Announcer.
    The Two Directors don't know what to make of what they've been shown, call for a translator, new simultaneous translators, the  opposite of the inquisition, translators as pure understanding, and decide not to make the film. O'HARA feels that he knows as little as he did at the beginning, but the chief reason he doesn't want to make the film is because it is 
still to early to make the film, or what they've been shown requires a different rhythm. Too much pain. He doesn't like tragedies. And MACHADO doesn't want to make it because, as a director of social works, he finds that there is no society left here, and echoes some of the author's [then] recent statements in that there is enough guilt to go around for everyone, guilty ones sitting in judgment of other guilty ones, things have become too thuggish for him. [Directing the play in 
the United States I would here use a photo of that stupendously tongue-died moron our "National Security Advisor" Berger]. As a matter of fact, he won't make any more films at all. The world is too mad for him. 
But not mad as in antiquity or in a Shakespearean sense," says O'HARA  and inveighs against the three great demythifications, disenchantments that lack counter enchantments: that an individual's life-time counts as nothing as measured against eternal time; the 
second, that the planet Earth is lost in space,; and now the third, that we humans are entirely the wrong ones for each other, that man is every man's wolf... the dragon's seed of history has sprouted… it is the time after the last days' of humankind…
I apologize for the length of these notes. It is my feeling that despite their length they convey too little of the complexity and of what is really interesting in the play.
      MICHAEL ROLOFF, AUGUST 1999, SEATTLE [revised December 2009 “Still Seattle.”]


 1]  It ought to be noted that D.C. was written before the onset of the 1999 carnage in Kosovo and the massive “vacation trips” that the Kosovars and also many Metanoya Serbians, especially the children, will be able to look back upon one of these days as the most interesting and adventurous memories of their lives, as proving to them once again the uncertainties and insecurities that are part and parcel of existence; but, subsequent to Handke's several  texts  on matters  Yugoslavian,  which involved him in serious intellectual controversies in Europe, and to which his most complex response to date actually is Dugout.[Subsequently Handke wrote several other text that pertain to Yugoslavia, Unter Traenen Fragend – 2001] Rund um das Tribunal [2004] and the extraordinarily fine piece of intimate reporting on the Serbian village enclave in Kosovo The Cuckooks of Velica Hoca [see

and for a long piece with quotes] and of course got himself into his kind of picture pickle by appearing at the Milosevic funeral – the wages of being an exhibitionist, now that’s “staying in the picture!” kid is all I can say to that. 
     The play received its Austrian premiere at the Burg Theater under the direction of Klaus Peymann about the time of the end of the Kosovo war, best as I've been able to ascertain with great deference to the text [whatever that might mean, but apparently lacking any cuts] at which point wife # 2, who had been taken along on the first famous trek that resulted inVoyage to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia – 1994, and who noted as Handke notes in Justice his propensity for denial, had split with one of the actors, not such a bad deal since Handke already had for a main squeeze a Serbian girl; but Handke himself, by the premiere of the play, since he fervently opposed the actions of NATO, had become something of a battleground and very public one person performance act himself. 

Whether the author will want to rewrite the play in light of a far  more violent confrontation and its by no means obvious consequences is something I have no knowledge of, but would doubt, since I think the NATO actions only reinforced his feelings and views of these 
matters, as in that respect that it did mine.

 What German reviews I have seen provide little idea of the play, many simply dismiss it entirely in terms of their aversion to  the author's political engagement. When I read these reviews I am then not all that unhappy to be in Seattle with its cast of drudges who would at least take the trouble to try to describe what they had seen, and exercise a civility which at other times can be such a huge amorphous and phlegmatic drag.


These speeches by the "Internationals" and "Media" are meant to be ironically self-immolating I suppose, but come across as shallow, [comparatively speaking so especially] a few touches of that sort of thing will do, especially to a world audience that is not entirely unsavvy about its being propagandized. And having delved at great length into Handke's Slavic Connection and into his various text pertaining to the Yugoslav war, and followed the current controversy, I know whereof I speak when I describe Handke's public attacks on the  media as those of a madly sputtering livid attack dog. Usually, pencil in hand, Handke calms down sufficiently so as to differentiate  and lighten up; here, for my taste, during one long stretch, insufficiently so, and all I care about here is the play.

But I also think it is unfair to dragoon friends and directors into one's own obsessed need at denial... Anyhow, the fact that there at the very least are/were a lot of murderous Serbs around appears to be  totally  unacceptable to a nerve in Mr. Handke. It gives him conniptions. As though if that were the case the entire house of cards, his identity would disintegrate. Also the entire play's drift to eliminate all feelings of guilt! A part of me empathizes with him,  I am reminded of the moments in A Child's Story when some women friends have talked to him about his relationship to his daughter using therapeutic terms, and he calls their words "dog language." A  similar kind of resistance, refusal at acknowledgment is at work here [or a lot of other instances I could cite]. Whereas A.C.S. however is an extraordinarily honest account, of a relationship, the willful distortion of history here, no matter that The Chronicler, in his  role as "a native" tells of being a participant in the killings, does  damage to the play. Although this state of affairs could not be more interesting psychologically, the point at which it begins to intrude  into the play, exert itself on the text, the lovely scheme of the Vortrag, [poetic presentation] at least for my taste, becomes a little too skewed, not that I am someone who longs for our Gray Lady the N.Y. Times "Some Good Some Bad" attitude to life, not that that even-handed attitude can be said to have prevailed either among the majority of its by and large ignorant [or, worse, de-ethnizising] reporters or even more ignorant editorial writers. About all of which I am carrying on at too great a  length myself. The beginning of D.C.. in its even-handedness is like the even-handed beginning of theJustice for Serbia, which then disappears as Handke is enraged by the media and UNFOR or whatever these Martians are called.












 Handke sought to impugn the facts in A Journey to the Rivers and its "afterword," in his recent play, The Journey in the Dugout Canoe, he does away with facts altogether. The action is set in the dead of winter, in an unnamed Balkan town, in what amounts to an imaginary future, "ten years after the last Balkan war." Two film directors, one Spanish, one American, are meeting in the cocktail lounge of a hotel called the Acapulco. They are planning to make a movie about the war, and the play presents a parade of characters associated with that war as a surreal casting call, or lounge act, featuring, among others, war criminals who recount their crimes, one of whom then commits suicide on stage. They shout violent, obscene threats, but somehow benignly—by the standards of the play, almost comically: "Say the word 'neighbor' one more time, and I'll cut your throat, or mine," one says.

Three Western journalists appear, preposterously, as "mountain bikers," and harass everyone with their gruesome and self-important accounts of atrocities. The centerpiece of the play is an inconclusive debate between the mountain bikers (who, in chorus, say things like "We are the market. We are the world. We are the power. We write the history.") and a former journalist, called "the Greek," now a disgraced, clownish figure, who advocates a new language for talking about the war, as opposed to the distortions of the journalists, whom he calls "common-sense dolls." Eventually the mountain bikers—officiously referred to in the text as "the international ones"—collapse and are transformed into mere locals.

Just before the end of the play, there is an address from a previously minor character known as the "Fellfrau." (Literally, Fellfrau means "fur woman," connoting something primeval, though she, too, has a double identity: she is also known as "the beauty queen," and describes herself as "the relative, the fiancée, the sister, the mother of a victim," and would seem to be the girlfriend of one of the war criminals.) Her speech is an attempt to transform the hysterics and blunt satire into myth, Handke's own, redemptive myth about Yugoslavia:

This is a dugout canoe. And once upon a time we traveled in this dugout canoe across the country…. The dugout canoe was before 007 and will remain long after him. It was before the Romans, then went under with the rise of their great empire and reemerged after they disappeared. There were only Romans in the interim. To them we owe all the great statues of the Gods of victory and commerce, which oppressed the dugout canoe…but then Emona and Sirmium fell and the dugout canoe rose up again from the moor of Ljubljana, glided along the Ljubljanica, made the great journey to the Danube, went over the mountains into the Drina, crossed over to the mountains of Montenegro, shot from there into the Macedonian-Albanian lake of Ochrid, turned around and stayed at anchor, without anchor, for centuries in the geographical center of the Balkans, in Sremska Mitrovica, at the wide quiet Sava, in the one-time Roman city of Sirmium. The mountain meadows with the beech and birch trees; the green mountain rivers and the quiet streams with the lone figures scattered on the banks: that is the Balkans! Where two butterflies dance with each other and appear as three: that is the Balkans! Other countries have a castle or a temple as a shrine. Our shrine is the dugout canoe. To stand on the river: this is peace. To stand on the rivers: that will be peace.

After reuniting Yugoslavia, liberating it, at least in the imagination, from the "Gods of victory and commerce," which is to say, from the West, from "Rome," from "007," from history itself, Handke has a few of his characters try to leave the stage in a small dugout canoe, which tips over, slapstick style; then a "machine" with "steel fingers," like a deus ex machina from Hell, descends and eats them all up. The directors decide not to make their film. It is too early to make a film about this story, they decide. The play ends on a note of self-negation, with an apocalyptic murmur. "It is the time after the last days of mankind," says the American.

he final scene—both flat and bracing, like the moments after waking from a dream—construes the play as an apocalyptic fantasy: the stage is emptied; the destruction, total. Handke's "Balkan war" cannot be explained or described, or even named; it will not be remembered as history, only as legend, as a ghost story. The rambling action (or lack of action; on stage, the play lasts well over three hours and, except for the suicide and the entrances and exits, very little happens) would seem to dramatize the act of forgetting, the way the present eats away at the past. Before 1996, Handke had a reputation as an aesthete, but also as something of a nihilist. In his new play, he has aestheticized the Yugoslav conflict and, with a nihilist's diligence, turned it into, literally, nothing; what remains are his words to that effect. ("What war?" asks the Fellfrau, the conscience of Handke's play, just before her dugout speech. "I don't know anything about a war.")

Handke kills off reality to tell his ghost story, and he has a purpose: he wants to turn the Bosnian Serb war criminal into a Balkan everyman. He is so insistent on the higher, eternal (ahistorical) innocence of his war criminals (whose outbursts begin to seem bratty, childlike), and on the specific evils of his journalists, that we have the impression the Yugoslav tragedy occurred because the West sent journalists there to cover it.

Handke's journalists require a closer look. Two of the them read extended excerpts from their articles, which, as it turns out, are reworkings of two real articles. The first reveals himself to be "Mark Winner," a writer, he claims, for The New York Review, and a figure clearly based on Mark Danner, whose accounts of the Yugoslav wars have appeared in these pages. Winner reads his own description of Muslim raids on a Serb village, but when we look at Handke's text, we find a near sentence-by-sentence distortion of Mark Danner's account of the Muslim raid on a Serb village near the then-Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in early 1993,[1] in which Danner cites passages from a book by Chuck Sudetic,Blood and Vengeance.

Handke, simply running the two together, comes up with changes of a sort that are reminiscent of what high school students do with encyclopedia entries. An example: referring to the Bosnian militia leader Naser Oric and his attacks on Serb civilians, Danner writes, "The climactic battle in Oric's campaign came on January 7, 1993…." Handke has Winner say, "The climax of the commander's success came on the day that the people from here celebrate two weeks later than we do, their special Christmas." Handke's second declamatory journalist is a woman called Lauren Wexler, who writes for The New Yorker, and whose article is a version of Lawrence Weschler's New Yorker piece about his visit to The Hague during the preliminary hearings of the first war crimes trial, which is remade into a triumphant partisan boast, with Weschler's references to "the Tribunal" turned into Wexler's "our tribunal."[2]

Handke's manipulations attest, perhaps, to his sense of his own limitations as a writer: Handke's style is hermetic; he has no ear for the way people actually talk or write, and, even by German standards, is remarkably humorless. He needed satire for this play, however, and he achieves it primitively, through defacement.

In his magnum opus, the play The Last Days of Mankind (1926), Karl Kraus, the great Viennese satirist, wrote a darkly comedic attack on European society during World War I. Kraus's main device was the quote, and something like a third of his play is made up of direct quotations from contemporary newspapers. In A Journey to the Rivers and in his later remarks, Handke seems to have been setting himself up as a latter-day Kraus, whose pioneering critique of language often took the form of attacks on the press; indeed Handke alludes directly to Kraus in his new play. But the difference between them is telling: Kraus only needed to quote to make a point; Handke, in search of the same effect, misquotes.

he Journey in the Dugout Canoe had its première under dramatic circumstances, on June 9, 1999—the day the Yugoslav army accepted the United Nations' conditions for a cease-fire in Kosovo (the day the war effectively ended)—at Vienna's Burgtheater, German-speaking Europe's most prestigious theater. It was directed by Claus Peymann, a longtime friend and collaborator of both Handke and postwar Austria's greatest playwright, Thomas Bernhard. The newspapers—and not just the culture pages—had been full of stories about Handke for months. He was at the Rambouillet conference, pledging solidarity with the Serbs. After the bombing started, he returned the money from his 1973 Büchner Prize (the German language's highest literary award) and officially left the Catholic Church, as protests against German and Vatican policy toward Yugoslavia.....


The Burgtheater production turned out to be an anticlimax—pompous, and boring. Peymann littered the stage with morbid theatrical effects, like the snow-covered graveyard used as a backdrop, or the duet between a gusla (an ancient-looking, single-string Balkan instrument, which, in A Journey to the Rivers, Handke describes as "Homeric") and a chain saw. Instead of having a mysterious machine consume the cast, Peymann had the actors assemble in a mass grave on the lounge stage, and then float off into the wings, after which a crash and loud laughter were heard. The performance dramatized the failure of the play: Handke, and now Peymann, cannot compete with the mere facts; they try, and fail, to extinguish the actual images of the Yugoslav wars and replace them with their own.

Die Fahrt im Einbaum could subsequently be seen later that summer in Belgrade, where a new theater complex was finished, and opened under the direction of Ljubi*sa Risti´c, the former Yugoslavia's best-known theater director, and, since 1995, the president of the JUL, or Yugoslav United Left, the vanguard political party controlled by Mirjana Markovic, the wife of Slobodan Milosevic. The theaters opened with a Peter Handke festival, under the auspices of the Yugoslav minister of culture. 







The Greek Reporter:

You appear in the name of goodness, yet you have never left behind the least goodness in this country. Helpers? You’ve never helped yet. There is a kind of indifference more helpful than your humanitarian gesticulating. Your right hand caresses some like Mother Teresa while your left hand raises the sword of a criminal court against the others. Puny devils of goodness. Humanitarian hyenas. Aloof and formal in the face of suffering – you officious and public humanitarians. Mars corporations masquerading as guardians of human rights. You claim to be humanitarian sheriffs – and the humanitarian sheriffs in the westerns, isn’t it true, Mr. O’Hara, were usually incompetent or secretly corrupt. They were the villains.


Aren’t those prejudices, my son?


Let him express his prejudices, John. Prejudices make good film plots.


The war has made the people from here bad, worse than they are. You carpetbaggers have become bad with the war, like you really are. Deaf and blind – unfortunately, not speechless, not speechless at all.


Medieval rhetoric.


Those who wield sentences as bludgeons have the power. In earlier despotic regimes, that was the politicians. Now it is you. And while the small peoples here fought for scraps of earth, you conquered the whole world. In word and image the despotic lords over reality, you power rangers. Internationals? Extraterrestrials. International court? Universal stingrays.


Youre not imagining an about face? We have to continue the way we began. We are now prisoners of our initial opinion. We must continue more vigorously, more shrilly, and above all in a monotone – monotone – monotone. Thats the way it is. Thats the state of affairs. Its true: Were sick of what we do, so sick of it. And were sick of each other. But what can we do? Should we suddenly say: The other ones, the ones not from here, are also guilty? Guilty in a different way? Impossible! Thats not the point. We must continue as we began, in full voice and if necessary with empty hearts. Thats the way it is. Thats the way it has to be. We are the language.