Comments on [In Einer Dunklen Nacht ging ich aus meinem stillen Haus] ONE DARK NIGHT I LEFT MY SILENT HOUSE, by Peter Handke
Translated by Krishna Winston
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
bY Michael Roloff [ c] 2001]
In 1994, the one year No-Man s-Bay marathon completed, the kind of monstrum that Handke used to despise as killer tomes, and what a killer brick of a book the German edition turned out to be, the performance of his many performances cobbled together from no end of spectacular bits and pieces into a formally magnificent tapestry, Handke announced that he felt better than he had ever in his life, Goethelike, and would not write anything at least for a year; my reply to the communicator of that astonishing bit of news [to the very person who appears in No-Man s-Bay as Don Juan came by to visit, and with the same woman, the author of that extraordinary Don Juan self-portrait The Plague in Siena] being: that will not last long, as a matter of fact, looking at what our man, who will only stay halfway well with pencil in hand, has produced since, it has not. [FN-1]
Preparations for Immortality  was the play that was announced in Handke s 1994 magnum opus No-Man s-Bay , and Night , so the halfway careful Handke reader will not be all that surprised to discover, is the book that, as productive writers are wont to, Gregor Keuschnig, the so multi-faceted protagonist and narrator of No-Man s-Bay, there says he would write about a certain Pharmacist of Erdberg [The Pharmacist of the Mound of Earth]. And so, therefore, considering the manner in which Handke s work segues with few exceptions more or less gradually from one explorative exploitive well-planned phase to the next, Night, so I expected, would share more than the merely chronological contiguity of being the subsequent prose text I think that there are more than advertising reasons why the whelping of Night is prefigured in No-Man s-Bay. Not only that: based on the invigorating confidence that the production of No-Man s-Bay inspired, whose expansiveness had even left its author with room to spare for a fair mount of detritus, it was to be anticipated that the next time out our man would perform with the vigor and supreme confidence of a supreme juggler: and so
it is: Night s strong first movement, and its arpeggios, especially in the dream-film section of Part II, run like a mustang set free in the steppe and once in the steppe in Part IV walks and slithers as a Marine on a Long March. The masterliness is worn with a pleasant ease. Only starting with Part III do, I think, we hit some literal and figurative dry spells.
The halfway familiar Handke reader of No-Man-s-Bay encounters no end of references to themes and incidents, no matter how playfully or seriously and usefully inverted, within Handke s overall larger autobiographical so multi-dimensional enterprise, albeit on a more miniature scale especially in Part One of Night, and so, at the very least may be led to anticipate a variation on No-Man s-Bay, a diminution, a tamping coming down from the major effort, perhaps just an off-shoot: the writer would write on his major theme of solitude, walking, on marginality, but do so on a minor scale? - but would it also be such a tapestry, such a generous carpet? Of course it was also possible that despite or especially despite the worldwide, far-flung yet also so very site-specific nature of No-Man s-Bay some materielle had been left preciously unaccomodated. - Thoughts of a Handke specialist, none of them without some truth. - Handke, though in one sense only writing about his self, his self then is also an every person s self the way he objectifies these perception into a precise use of language. Fortunately, as with most of Handke, there are other reasons aside whatever interest one might have in the author s self-absorbtion and the use he makes of his own life, in the wide use of the sense of that word so that it would include the dimension of self states, or his more than unusual awareness of his solitudinousness, or even than the immensely satisfying formalist ones, for paying the closest of heed to his developing poetic conceptualist prose ouevre, the result of whose evidently well-considered 1993 impulse produced the so intriguing over-determined [a novel he who hates the novel calls it] 1996 Night. Yes, I think, an impulse, among others, having to do in some way with some dissatisfaction that the author, his own best critic, himself may have felt during the one-year marathon. Or perhaps Night would be Handke s version of writing his reply to my optimistically cynical estimate, made to Don Juan, of the allegedly so unpleasant marital relations in No-Man s-Bay, that those matters lay in the past, were persiflage, and that in actuality it would not be long for our man to sing the praises of that institution
and write his Hermann und Dorothea, and didn t he then even seem to prove me right by taking the occasion of his trip to Belgrad, as we can read in Justice for Serbia, the reportorial text written in the Winter of 1996, shortly after completing Night, as also a belated wedding trip!] or perhaps both. =For despite all the admiration that you can muster for the so European integrational artistry that Handke brings to his immense 1993-4 collage and to the spectacular set pieces that memorialize the author s walking so many features of the face of the earth, No-Man s-Bay is not lacking in aspects that can leave one unsatisfied; the chief possible major dissatisfaction being the begging of its extended opening theme of trans-formations, which is then dropped, rarely reiterated, and if then, faintly, again in that book, its actual example tucked away into a mountain redoubt & given to the painter-filmmaker friend side of Keuschnig, but which sequence is actually the recalling of a transformation concerning an indeed exceedingly important change in writing that the author himself had undergone 15 years prior, that is during the writing of A Slow Homecoming in New York; and recounted, at least for my money, more convincingly, haltingly to his Eckermann, Herbert Gamper, in that extraordinary 250 page conversation that the two men conducted in Salzburg in 1986 [FN-2]. Yes, I was not convinced that Keuschnig [or anyone but the side that demanded admiration for the sheer performance of the kind of marathon that takes some folks twenty years] came out transformed from that marathon, there was an unpleasantly fictionalized aspect too, rare in Handke, I don t know if he ever broke a sweat for more than a week at a time, which marathon, despite its intense stretches, out of the formal necessity of its conception, necessitated some ten per cent of sheer writing machine stitching [given over to the Keuschnig-ex-attache-memorialist side] whose only useful justification is that of contrast with the variously richer parts; mere connective tissue, bridges, transitions, far less objectionable, or more customary, in a collage or a piece of music than in prose. Moreover, the No-Man s-Bay expanse also seemed to have left the author with sufficient time and space for some real silliness, and in one interview he confesses that that business of the War between German Alcoholic Consumers and Cigarette smokers, that sort of thing, nearly got out of hand, and he had to cut a lot of it in galleys =and there I had thought that Mr. Handke never revised except maybe the occasional word, who now has his beautifully penciled manuscripts typed. And not up to his best snuff on the side of silliness either, with room for quite a few asides, say about his publishers! Chien noir reviewers and reviewing organs. Nor did I myself feel
transformed by No-Man s-Bay, no matter its extraordinary presence to which I became addicted through five readings; not, say, the way I had felt transformed by intimate and passionate exposure to Walk About the Villages or A Slow Homecoming; or amazed as I had been by Handke s rewriting of Sorrow Beyond Dreams as The Repetition which latter book I encountered around the time that I too was walking slowly, albeit in the St. Monica s in California, except amazed as I said by the sheer artistry of the carpet weaving, say by the variation in the way that the individual friends are introduced; in other respects only during many separate sections of a book was I totally astonished, by the Singer s adventure in Northern Scotland, actually by all the various Friends sections; Keuschnig s exploration of the Chaville woods; the entire My Year in the Nomansbay section; and somewhat too rarely moved, not that I belong to that crowd of reviewers who clamor for Handke s angels to bleed all over the page. No-Man s-Bay, I realized, if only for the sake of its narrative premise, and its need to have a continuous canvas, contained its own mirror of nothingness in the nature of some of the diplomatic writing machine accounts that that former Keuschnig, the ex-diplomat, delivers himself of. Also, on the score of affections, here I think I m getting closer to the nub of what may have been gnawing at the author, it seemed that K. seemed genuinely to care for only one of his characters, the only one to be modeled on a living person, another alternative not taken by Handke, the Carinthian country priest; touched as I was by the occasional re-unification of Keuschnig with that multiply editioned compound of a mostly absent mirror wife whom he calls The Catalan Woman, especially by the heat of the chasteness that describe these occasional reunions with this come and go Touch of Evil every-wife: They rested with each other, and other moving attempts at contact. - Also: No-Man s-Bay, among the many ways it could be regarded, was perhaps too spectacular a display of the feathers of our faun, in few if any of its instances did you penetrate to the heart of the faun, not that you came under the impression that there was no heart there. Still. - So, knowing no one to be a better critic of his own work, in this instance, than its own author, I was more than usually expectant of Handke s next step.
As to similarities: even the most superficial Handke reader will not be surprised to discover, but certainly any reader who claims to have read No-Man s-Bay & Night in quick succession, if once surprised by Gregor
Keuschnig s mushroom delirium in No-Man s-Bay, that the Pharmacist protagonist of Night, too, is a philo-mycellianist, preferring the bitterest specimen as we find out later; that the region where the otherwise unappelated protagonist in what Handke, who has been calling a number of his texts fables, here calls a novel, [perhaps because the romance is so entirely manufactured in the protagonist s head?] is yet another highly marginal, ignored but, compared to the Nomansbight s extenuation, sharply demarcated nook, the shape of an isosceles triangle I think, the oddly named post-WW-II Salzburg settlement of Taxham [some nice jokes there about Taxham United], an on closer inspection intricately complex configuration set between the confluence of the rivers Salzach and Saalach, proximate the Salzburg airport, demarcated by the railway the super highway to Munich and the airport, hedged in moated in, yes how the hell would you ever find your way there if not for Handke s talents as a land surveyor with a botanist s eye, Taxham here delineated and characterized in the first several dozen pages with such masterly distinctness that any reader receptive to such draftsman s description of a geographical oddity will if nothing else retain a followable sense, orientation that compares so surprisingly to the wild, disorienting trip that the pharmacologist will take to Santa Fe, or his disorientation when arrived there, the one near Grenada in the South of Spain it seems to me despite its expansion into some universality, or his vari-directional trek across the alto plano all the way north to Zaragoza, for large stretches of the rest of the book. The Pharmacist protagonist, like Keuschnig in No-Man s-Bay and in Keuschnig s first coming in the 1974 A Moment of True Feeling, is disengaged from a wife, the same house but separate quarters, who moreover is off on vacation, as is his daughter, and enjoys a troubled oedipal relationship with an absent son as does K. in No-Man s-Bay, where the son might have been expelled from the house, as here he is, but was needed as yet a third character, beside Keuschnig himself and his space-cadet Yugoslav g.f., to do the author s occasionally wondrous memorializing traipsing down along the Dalmatian coast: both The Pharmacist and Keuschnig share guilt feelings toward a son, whom Handke does not have, though he once announced that he would have one, but a first daughter, whose life with an intensely loving but dangerously hot-tempered child-encumbered solo-dad we can and should pay heed to in A Child s Story ; and the son theme dips in and out of the book with his appearances. - In Am Felsfenster, Morgens , the third
major, though most seriously edited, collection of Handke s diaries, the author at one point absolves himself of these guilt feelings, which, at least in retrospect, were welcome and seem totally deserved; at any event, preferable to a long prison term. Our Pharmacist, his behavior during the wonderful, light as air perfect introductory strokes, it will dawn on the reader, is as weird as this settlement and its name, the Pharmacist might well be some kind of Brit or New England character, a rare hare if ever there was one it strikes us between the eyes in Part IV at his wending his way left-over ever smaller steppe by steppe triangle into Zaragoza, and in that respect is as odd as that entire series of strange Handke personae =from the paranoid/schizophrenic ex-goalie Josef Bloch, through the first edition of the then suicidal Gregor Keuschnig in A Moment of True Feeling , the hyper-sensitive Sorger of the 1979 Alaska/ California/ Colorado/ Manhattan epic into nameless yet utterly tremblingly specific eternal contemporaneity of A Slow Homecoming - mere personae as it were for writing, for demonstrations how to write respond perfectly to these matters, not just to register perceptions but to formulate these perceptions in such a way that they stand forever recognized in us as that plane whose lights seems to stand still in the air in front of him as The Pharmacist peers down at Zaragoza in the Ebro valley at night; for inductions of self-states in the reader; as well as the murderous and then agenbite-ridden archeologist threshholdeler Loser of the 1984 novel Across [Le Chinois de Douleur as the accurate and beautiful Arthur Goldschmidt French translation has it] the pharmacist s alter ego and conversationalist in Night s occasional, inter-leaved, interior dialogue, also reported here by the nameless narrator who recounts what the Pharmacist has told him, a narrator who is also acquainted with Loser: The Pharmacist, towards the end of Night, comes face to face with this not surprisingly desert hermit alternative identity road not quite taken, on the alto plano, the steppe as he insists on calling what Americans would call the high plains or high desert. [One of the chief pleasures =as opposed to Loser s stoning to death of an aging Nazi, his tearing down of election posters and the like, in Across, is the Ruysdaelesque description that Handke provides there of the Salzburg surround, the book s chief purpose perhaps, which enterprise however, though it did not leave out the airport, excerpted Taxham which receives such a very different visual treatment from the rest of the Salzburg environment here in Night]; as well as the defensively arrogant so hyper-vulnerable writer in The Afternoon of a Writer  whom we meet walking down a hillside from his villa, excepting that the Pharmacist bears none of The Writer s less attractive features, yet provides =focusing your
sense of deja vue - the closest actual somewhat evanescent momentary semblance with anything previous along Pharmacist lines on Handke s part [yes Night, like Afternoon is also, a further good riddance Salzburg book]; plus the many varieties of oddities manifested by that wide spectrum of that multifarious variously artistic editions of Keuschniggiana as we find them in No-Man s-Bay, cases each and every one of them, compared to all of which the Pharmacist seems the most harmless of the lot, if only because, unless in uniform behind his counter, he is unrecognizably invisible to his neighbors harmless that is, save for what transpires in his dreams: rather than victimizer, he is victim: he suffers his nightmare hijacking joy-ride by the two hilarious mafiosi, the ex-sports champion and the Rimbaud manque, as well as the beatings by a dream woman during a rest stop, who resembles the Catalan Woman, Handke s quintessential fighting wife of No-Man s-Bay, the kind of fighting, so one gathers if one pursues Handke s notoriety and biography, the author has interiorized acquaintance with since earliest childhood. - These themes are familiar from the previous books and I am not all that certain that it is for the themes sake that one would preoccupy oneself with Handke, I think one reads Handke for what he turns his material [himself, his life in the widest and deepest sense of that word into =Faulkner had his county & its tales, Handke has his life] and you the reader into, someone healthier so it seems [speaking not just for myself here], and the way you watch a trapeze artist who will you know what, or one of Kafka s mice that sings, the detailed awarenesses that he induces and formulates sentence by adventurous sentence; the themes are also subsidiary to their use to explore the landscapes where the author lets these pesonae wander round, to what he can make his material into, the extraordinary still ever-increasing repertoire he possesses of making the reader sensible, where he takes you sentence by sentence, and he takes you somewhere else where you have not been before each time out. So, on that last score alone, one would expect Night to be something other than just a miniature version of No-Man s-Bay, especially because Handke makes it a point, no matter the length to which he will explore a vein, takes pride not to repeat himself. Oh yes, The Pharmacist unless I am very much mistaken is the first surrogate invention who comes equipped with a lineage, he derives from a long line of apothecaries, and as a matter of fact is a displace person who moved to this displaced suburb from one of the lost Eastern territories.
This Pharmacist, a reader of medieval sagas, unrecognizable to his neighbors except when at his shop or with his wife s bicycle [as the husband of a bicylist!], is yet the very embodiment of total anonymity, an every-person if ever there was one, yet the narrator recalls seeing P. s adventurous double, not just once but possibly twice Handke s theme of mistaken identity reiterating the Who? Where? theme of No-Man s-Bay however softly; our double with whom we are engaged in a life-long interior conversation being exemplified by the twinship of the Pharmacist and his reflective Narrator, a narrative development, I would say, deriving from the semi-Socratic interlocutary procedures that Handke practiced in what I call his Three Assayings [on Tiredness, the Jukebox & The Day that Went Well].
It is not on his first ominous visit to his safe haven within a safe district that something happens to our Pharmacist: formalistically prepared, the something happens at his second visit to the earth mound underground pub =not Harry Haller s pub, it might yet be that of an affinitied Steppen-wolf? And by the end of the first chapter, which is written in a classic imperfect [from maintaining a world in a suppositional state in his first novel Die Hornissen 1965 =to the confidence in a classic narrative mode 30 years hence] and done in the finest imaginable mode of Dutch realist something like that - draftsman rendering, and which runs apr. 65 pages in German, apprehension has taught us to pay heed, the book turns as the intimations had it, interior and dark; from lucid albeit marginally situated normalcy we end up in a black driving dream, seemingly precipitated the precipitates are so much in place that Handke may finally have done what he claimed he was incapable of, that is he has read the Interpretation of Dreams, and will now illustrate to us that we can take him at his word that the dream interprets itself, that you can take it at its manifest image mute though the Pharmacist may be - by a tiny black growth that a Pharmacist versed in symptomatology with that much more reason for paranoia takes over, not all that neutrally, from its removal on his forehead into his dream film, which is how the reporter-narrator of The Pharmacist s story renders what otherwise might of course be a rather tedious narrative of the 100 or so tunnels and valleys passes through and across the several many Alps and the Pyrenees and Sierras 1000 miles =to a more pleasantly festive Santa Fe, the Santa Fe adjacent to
Grenada despite other allusions it appears to be. - The precipitating mark also acquires the mark of Cain, another reference to Loser of Across - over-determined you would say, not to be cut out, and becomes the wound administered by the bludgeoning mafiosi, and is magnified by The Pharmacist s guilt feelings about his son. The innerworld of the outerworld of the innerworld - Handke keeps amplifying his approach Can one be purified? is a sentence, on reflection not dropping in out of the nowhere that the Pharmacist addresses to a significant other at one point.
As a novel, Night, uses the elasticities of the as told to novel, as the Pharmacist told it to the narrator, a means of integrative narration that Handke began to explore with some of the multifarious ways in which he linked wove the various tripping friends accounts into the first person narrator Keuschnig s narration of No-Man s-Bay, and as the narrator then tells it to us. However, one might say, if only every teller of a tale and reporter of his dreams had such a narrator as assiduous and skintight a participant and re-teller, as faithful and adhesive a reporter even of monologues and dialogues interior of dream asides as the Pharmacist has for what the narrator then claims to have been a one night report, a dream in several acts, neither the Pharmacist nor the Narrator ever claiming, or only once when it is irrelevant, that either of them had forgotten or wasn t quite certain anymore what he had been told. The most deeply empathic analyst who travels, is sucked into the depth of his analyzand s dreams could not find anyone more exemplary than The Pharmacist did in his narrator =with the exception that an analyst would report counter-transference reactions, befuddlement, interpretations, would perhaps express some concern or be puzzled by some of the wonderful illogicalities, the Daliesque sequences and the like, where the dream took the analyst: which responsive instrument is what the hyper-sensitive text is perhaps meant to turn the reader into. Beyond interpretation but insistent in its capacity to evoke responsiveness; of a different than usual kind.
The narration incepts as a slow but steady overhead zoom in on the triangular Taxham nook, sufficient for the description of first its major outlines, then how Taxham is situated in minor ways; homing in, the narrator who seems as well acquainted with Taxham as The Pharmacist, focuses on Taxham s many anomalies, is tourist guide and historian behind the draughtsman camera; and never stops zooming: from Taxham on to the Pharmacist, his pharmacy, his house, his oddities, his walks which acquaint us with the interior oddities of the Taxham triangle, the woods, the woods within the wood, one special oddity being that earthen mound which was meant to provide the title for the book announced in No-Man s-Bay, which conceals yet another wild Handke pub [though after that set-piece of what it means for a writer to be by himself and not even have his paramour intrude in a pub in No-Man s-Bay no one will ever need to write that again] and then in Part II into the soul of The Pharmacist, into his dream, into his dream trip through Alpine and Pyreneese mountain passes to the preferred fiesta in Spain, through the Surrealist Fiesta town Santa Fe, and the semi-surrealist walk, apparently all the way on the high steppe from Grenada to Zaragoza =though I would not put such a stretch past Handke s walking shoes, even with occasional phantasies of mounted knight, still!: I myself couldn t do it without Durango carrying me, occasionally doing its muy burro muy rapido cactus forest trot, though I met a wiry redheaded little Scots terrier in the Baja who had walked the entire circumference of that 1200-kilometer long peninsula and wrote a book about that 3000-mile adventure! Yes: fanatically walking the shoreline of every bloody Bahia. - Indeed, in its penetration of The Pharmacist s revealing depths, one could say, as did Freud, that he felt that he had revealed sufficiently about himself with the dreams he analyzed in the Interpretation so as not to need to write an autobiography: in that respect Night, compared with all those 250,000 words devoted to the many-faceted Keuschnig and his split-off friends, proceeds farther in that direction than does any part of No-Man s-Bay. And it does so in the form of a long, severally twined braid extending out of the No-Man s-Bay fabric, a braid that sometimes shows its dream side thread, at moments its medieval saga, and at yet others its realistic facet; something like that, in some such fashion Night, whose form also strikes me as analogous to a severally jointed arm, clearly, no it is more than a mere series of tableaux, a mere accretion, extends a yearning hand, and with that yearning extends back to Handke s first book, the 1965 Die Hornissen.
The first dozen or so pages of Night demonstrate Handke at his classically narrative strongest and visually most orienting and the descriptive drive is handled with the kind of lightness that led me, a Handke reader ever on the alert to what tricks the jongleur has sleevewise, to think that Handke had acquired such certainty of technique that he was capable of handling this opening as though it were what is called an entertainment, like a classical symphony of sorts, thinking here of Prokofiev, not that Handke, who does not take Graham Greene seriously, would want anything of his that has that light a touch compared to GG s work.
The Pharmacist s dream as recounted by the narrator commences with a blackout =yes, something always happens to Handke s protagonists or something happened to them in the past, a birth trauma Filip Kobal of The Repetition speculates; the sudden being among many male bodies at his seminary for priests which Handke keeps blaming for his misanthropy, neglecting an understanding of what is called predisposition. The Pharmacist finds himself in a deja vue half-underground eatery, it is occupied by seemingly the same folk whose company he had kept at the woods within the wood but also by those who like going slumming; well, he might be hungry of course, lacking for company, lacking for adventure for certain. In fact we know as little where we are after the moment of blackout as does the experiencer of any dream that seizes us or film, unless he be trained to interpret his dreams as he experiences them, tricky and self-deceiving business as that can be, just as little really as we knew where we were when Handke s syntactical magic, so much cruder then, induces the state of paranoid schizophrenia in the reader in his 1970 narrative Goalie s Anxiety until the author dispels us towards the end, as Handke, the master since the earliest childhood in eventually overcoming frightening deja vues, has so often after first working his reader through a frequently upsetting experience. - I myself had a strong whiff of Golding s Pincher Martin during that entire dream-film-trip sequence, that novel where the title character transforms a shattered tooth that his tongue explores into a make-believe rock in the Atlantic to which he thinks he is holding on for dear life after his ship is torpedoed, thus extending his belief in a life that he clings to by an
immeasurable book length duration; or for that matter, that so immensely moving dream, not his own, that Freud recounts at the opening of Chapter VII of I.O.D. whence all the easy going is behind him and he enters into the impossibility of penetrating the psychology of dreaming, of that father who dreamt that his child, at whose death watch he nodded off, was actually alive and burning, thus extending in his mind the life of an endangered child. - This Pharmacist s dream, however, more closely resembles the reported Maury dream that Freud discusses at great and fascinated length, where Maury, on being struck in the neck while asleep, dreams of being guillotined during the French Revolution, Freud ultimately concluding that it seemed likely that Maury had carried a preoccupation with that guillotining event with him since the days that he busied himself with that period in French history, for he found the production of the dream too elaborate for it to have been elicited by the momentary falling backward of the head. - Here The Pharmacist is OFF, just say the way Loser is OFF at the opening sentence of Across: Close your eyes and Or the opening of The Ride Across Lake Constance after the woman in black face has vacuumed the stage clean, also of previous stage conventions: What were you saying? asks the Heinrich George character. Off into another world. But not right off the bat as in so many other Handke instances. For the sake of pleasant variation, The Pharmacist [and the reader] is not off until Chapter II. Until he has been very much IN [Taxham]. This dream-film of Part Two of Night at first reads like a classic dream translation of the proverb light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, the dreamer even reports that it s the kind of dream where you feel you cannot move from one and the same spot, a classic anxiety dream if ever there was one; in the dream itself, which seizes the dreamer while yet he participates in it in the kind of normal state of dissociation with which we apprehend our dreams while they occur, while we suffer them as they seize us, it is not just that the dreamer cannot move from one and the same spot, he revolves on one and the same spot, an apt metaphor if ever there was for a chauffeur turning dizzy by letting the various passes, tunnels, valleys flash by: and what an efficient way to get from Taxham to the wished-for Santa Fe, and not treat us to all the tediousness of such a ride. But this ride, then, has all the wonderful illogic of dreams whose surrealism Freud claims disappears upon analysis of the various factors that produce it. Or as Freud also mentioned: When I see surrealism in art I think ego. This dream has been manufactured by a reverying chauffeur with a pencil who is not the only one who has trained
access to visual equivalents for his states of mind! The two bandits who he feels knocked him out and take him for a drive, among other matters, are the compliments to the Handke statement: In my next life I d like to be born a mafioso [Schurke]. Not only that, the speed at which The Chauffeur is forced to drive strikes him as too fast and the familiar Handke reader will recall our man becoming the king of slowness with the writing of The Repetition, a healthy pace that the syntax of that book also induces on the reader s breathing, just as Handke seems to enjoy using all that alacrity of the Dream-Film-Noir of Night to prove that, if only for a stretch, he can keep up with Quentin Tarrentino! At any event Mr. Handke does not walk slowly also in his dreams, and the brief burst of speed is made up for with the long walk from Santa Fe to Zaragoza. Moreover, the chauffeur after being struck, goes mute, he has achieved a perfect autistic dissociated position towards his self, in the dream; and the dream film action, silent, and with the kind of estrangement or self-dissociation with which we apprehend the way that dreams seize us, has all the illogicality and unpredictability of a dream, and therefore is highly amusing, perchance to dream and amuse myself. Freud cites the wonderful example of a French count who had trained himself to go on dreaming anything he wanted, at will, but this Pharmacist dream has none of the inevitability or extraordinarily distorted network of meaning of a dream which, as we know, only analysis by association to each and every element might reveal; with the consequence that, although linguistically invariably beautifully narrated-reported, as close as the narrator may bring us to The Pharmacist s dream-film, as Freud so correctly observed, it takes no more than a few pages to note down a dream but its analysis can amount to a book, and here the first act of the dream [Part II that is] is the length of a long short story; with further dream sequences to come. - I may provide some film critique, but no dream analysis. The funniest part is the assault that that newest edition of the Catalan Woman launches on The Chauffeur from Taxham during his rest stop; at first she seems like a succubus or vampire. That scene will link up, for those who read attentively, with a beautiful recit of Handke s that bemoans the state of warfare between the sexes and which ends with the suggestion: why not start off by beating each other up, into the late 70s mosh-pit right off the bat, don t even wait until the end [!] All the reversals of dreams, too, are in place here; with more profound ones to come, and a note that Handke has not struck since the end of A Child s Story.
However, this long dream sequence of Part II and the purposely, I expect, indistinguishable-seeming dream-reality mixtures of Parts III & IV differ in kind from the occasional dream writing that Handke s phenomenological method began to practice in The Afternoon of a Writer  where The Writer after his wounding walk through the gossipy fat alleys of Salzburg sees himself tossed as a wounded woman into the bushes a projective dream technique, a form of equivalence for states [wounded in this instance] of mind, instead of a bald statement, that Handke also employs to great effect in and sometimes resorts to too facilely for my taste in No-Man s-Bay; different at least in as much as Handke has not tried his hand at that extensive and sustained an exploration of this technique, or this kind of admixture; unless you think Absence reads not only like experiencing a film but as a dream as well. [FN-3]
The second dramatic recit [others such as Handke s terror of speed are integrated into the narrative in Part II], written in the form of the Pharmacist s declamatory address to the Narrator, claims that Narcissus only loved himself so much because the world rejected his love; Narcissus, so it is claimed, has too much of the world s goodness; a theme that recurs, within a historical context, in the figure of the Forest Madman in Handke s 1999 Ride in the Dugout Canoe: Or the Foreplay to the Film About the War. It is a nicely put page describing a mute love for the world, full of implicit pathos, yet its bare bones extend not an iota beyond Freud s rather bald and circular statement that narcissism was an inversion elicited by a narcissistic injury. Much has transpired since. [FN-4] However, what interests me in an instance such as this, and several other ones like it in Night, is the appearance of what I have been waiting wondering for for some years now: namely, when the time would come that Handke would employ his great talent for declamatory speeches, so magnificently on display in his dramas ever since Walk About the Villages, also in his prose works. Looking way back, you of course find vestiges of it, perhaps even that calming page devoted to the color blue in Goalie is one such, and in Innerworld where the quote from Goethe s Farbenlehre is used to similar purpose and effect? Some instances in No-Man s-Bay, such as
Keuschnig s not overly convincing advertisement of Hoelderlin [not overly convincing or impressive if you have recently read Adorno s great essay on the subject!] seem to derive from a similar occasionally by no means undidactic vein. In Night, however, these recits, are both more numerous and, so it strikes me, far better integrated into the general narrative flow: except for the very last one where the Mosh-Pit woman steps entirely out of the narrative, reveals the purpose behind her initial aggressiveness, and then beseeches the Pharmacist that she needs him to shed his muteness. And then The Pharmacist has his wonderful oh shit speech, oh not love again! Yet moments such as these both large and small will pop up at any and all occasions: a wonderful moment during the trek from Santa Fe to Zaragoza with the Pharmacist safe in a hollow and listening to the steady trickle of the loam infusing a sense of eternity and Handke launches into a nicely modulated riff on well not quite the eternal Sanduhr. - That is a long way from The Lesson of St. Victoire s broadly delineated quilt which, I would say, marks the real inception of this kind of collage work [if ever there was an assemblage it of course was the 1968 play Kaspar] and whose most extraordinary product is My Year in the No-Man s-Bay. One begins to see why Handke is impressed by Anselm Kiefer s mania for collecting odds and ends. Technically perhaps of greater interest [I have touched on the as told to & as told me by technique above] is what I call the inter-leaving of dialogue: not the interchanges between The Pharmacist and his Narrator, but dialogues, always brief, that The Pharmacist had with people in his life and that are suddenly slipped in: dream conversations, beautifully integrated, utterly unlike the way dialogue is still written in most American novels even now, again an idea that has its inspiration either in film or dreams, or both; and, as such, wonderfully succinct.
During Part IV [The Trek] the book on one hand seems to draw on Handke s walking expeditions through Spain [FN-5], on the other turns overtly into a straightforward fable, and in that respect can be said to foreshadow Handke s next mushroom book, the fairy tale that he wrote for his second daughter in 1999, and which might be called Lucie in the Woods with the Thingamajigs, though why the German word Pilz is obfuscated into funland by, or for, this child is beyond me; whereas the English mushroom might prove to be peculiar, and toadstool indelicate. In Walk About the Villages locales are
the places of the last dramas, and to my considerable astonishment mushrooms are the places of the last dramas in Night: their smell reminds The Pharmacist of his family, especially when they were still children. The steppe trek is a veritable succession of the calmest of epiphanies. Casually The Pharmacist smashes the neck of two objectionable dirt bikers with his walking stick, the way you might in a dream; the characteristic upsurge of Handke s violence, he claimed to Gamper that history is to blame or that it is a historical phenomenon, as it appears in A Slow Homecoming s Alaska section. Explanations are rarely Handke s strong suit.
QUOTE TREMBLING + It is a note that Handke has not struck as powerfully as the end of A Child s Story. As a story of a knight rescuing a maid =it would seem, as in a dream, to be the opposite: it is the maid who moshpit fashion beats on him she loves him or hates loving him so much who rescues our Pharmacist, for their trip, in a bus, back; but it is not to be, it is too late
As a tale with a sentimental heart, it mixes its Love Story with the bitter-root of the might have been. The ending hoes a fine threshold between happy and unhappy end, a by no means untypical way for Handke to resolve matters; the Pharmacist at least received a foretaste of heaven, which is perhaps all that a smart mushroom devotee should want. In many ways Night is Handke s most wondrous, and still whelmed by No-Man s-Bay I nearly said little book, and I keep reading around in it to refresh myself. Well, it strikes me as the least melancholy of the melancholy player s productions. The book is lacking the somewhat self-indulgent fat of No-Man s-Bay; once again it advances the realm of the possibilities of narrative in an hitherto unanticipated direction; in its gradual reclamation of the art of the metaphoric, which Handke took such relish in demolishing with his very first play, Prophecy, the fable shows that the author is approximating a Shakespearean talent; in its many inversion and indirections, its decipherment nearly demand further acquaintance with the author s foregoing work.
Are dreams criticizable? In Dreams there arise Responsibilities? Analysts, if not directly to their analyzand, do it all the time: if ego-oriented they cherish a well organized dream, if champions of that greater complexity, the self, they rejoice in the attenuation of enraged states as manifested in the dream content; Kleinians even look for extant interuterine connections; when authentic and knowing of the healing quality of humor, Analysts will respond with laughter to the wonderful absurdities that the dream work produces, and Santa Claus provides them with an x-max stocking full of mixed nuts. More cookies, Ma. Since Night, like so much of Handke, is sui generis, and since he asks to be criticized within his own terms terms that at least publically he so rarely grants his peers and if one wanted to find adequate critical approaches to the book, one would of course have to discern, at least the broad outlines of the criteria by which it asks to be judged. However, this is the first instance, at least so far, that I cannot discern these premises, not the way I have been able to discern them in I think his other work: From A [exploration of a location] to B [a dream-film-trip] to C [a locale, part dream part real] to D [the trek] and one would have to add E [the might have been & return to Taxham & the resolution in bitter-sweetness]. I don t know? Why not! So the state of fiction forces him to be oblique. The form is both open and closed, very free-form in other words, I don t see why the trek might not have been longer and included more data or happenings; or a bit shorter. But most of the major themes and interweavings are sufficiently obliquely explored, and most ends are left nicely dangling. -Well, yes, the only thing that truly bothered me was that requisite dry stretch, I ve even forgotten exactly where it came, but I expect it is formally justified and necessary just as similar stretches are in No-Man s-Bay. 
1] With his Serbian adventures upon him, Handke wrote three short books on that subject; plus the Yugoslav play Trip in the Dugout Canoe; the only piece of fiction since 1994 being Night and that footnote to No-Man s-Bay s mushroom obsession Lucie in dem Wald mit den Dingsda .
2] Ich lebe nur von den Zwischenrauemen, Amman Verlag, Zurich, 1986.
3] Those who have simply [simply!] allowed Handke s sentences to affect them over the years and who have been attentive to his changing methodology may have noticed that the screenplay-novel Absence reads as though you were in fact experiencing a film, kineasthetically a very disconcerting experience indeed. I recall Absence being published at about the same time in the U.S., as was Herr s novelization of his screenplay about that bane of my mesmerized German-American Goebbels-voice-haunted early childhood nemesis Walter Winchel. Herr had simply converted an unmakeable screenplay into a pretty bad novel. Handke had converted his screenplay for what eventually became the Virginia Woolf-hypersensitive film Absence into what he called a fable, or perhaps it became a screenplay only subsequently, I have heard and read differing accounts, and somewhere down the line, I think it was to his Eckermann, Gamper, Handke stated in his sometimes so laconic fashion, that he had just been playing around with tenses a little. Well, it was a little more than Handke s use of the present tense that accounts for the eery effect that he achieved, although tense and pace and detail constitute the fundamentals. Not that a single American reviewer noticed anything unusual about Absence [so relievedly unintruded upon by the author s usual case history aspect] but that it seemed to be somewhat dramatic.
4] If one takes seriously Adorno s progressivist critique of Musil s Young Toerless that a novelist will suffer the consequences if his psychology is not state of the art, it would certainly be possible to make such a charge in this instance, despite the fact that fiction occupies, as Handke has put it so well, the middle ground: yes, I do miss at least a hint of the five various dimensions of self-psychology that are curled up in the narcissistic complex as other universes are in super string theory. Nor does Handke s claim regarding the quantitative factor, great in this instance so I know, go one iota beyond Freud, who best to my recollection was permanently puzzled by great quantities, especially the super-abundance of certain libidinal manifestations.
5] Considering that Handke completed Night in the summer of 1996 [it was published in 1997 in German at a time that the author was already deeply embroiled in the controversy that irrupted subsequent to the publication of the small book that he published about his 1996 trip to Serbia] and that not only Handke s heart but his newspaper eye [Night makes it a point to write that all this transpires on non-newspaper time] was evidently peeled on what was transpiring in Yugoslavia, like J.S. Marcus of the NYRB, one might have expected some recit regarding Yugoslavia to be worked into the book. But no, the only mention, in a significant aside, is made by yet another pharmacist, at a convention of the three local pharmacists, one who believes that landscapes too have their fates, that Yugoslavia is an altogether ill starred stretch of land. On the other hand, I have felt since reading Handke s assaying on tiredness which is set in Linares & Jukebox [Soria] that Spain has become his surrogate Yugoslavia.
6] Most reviewers appear to read something very different from what I experienced, they see Handke s book as [a] a failed attempt to write a medieval knight s fighting story! [B] My bete noire J.S. Marcus after seeking vainly to nail Handke with this book, too, on the Serbian cross, comments, surprisingly, that it is just more of Handke s dream writing no reference of any kind having been made to that in his otherwise repeated descriptions of Handke s prose as gray. Richard Bernstein, approximately 25 years behind the Der Hausierer eight ball, which I doubt he ever as much as heard of except in a literary history, finds Robbe-Grillet here, where one might find Ponge, in Part IV [the
trek across he desert and the Pharmacist s botanist appreciative eye for the minutest of flora], taking a literary instead of experiental tack; whereas other reviewers buy the story hook line and real story sinker, mistaking one of the precipitations [the Pharmacist reading a medieval saga] for a hopeless grasping for some handle on a dream-film, which plays a lot more like a nouveau vague noir than anything medieval. Santa Fe! Yes, these reviewers are dumbfounded how the Pharmacist suddenly ends up in Santa Fe [no matter which one] apparently quite unaware that a dream will take you anywhere, and also to some very real highly intensified turned around places.
Once in Santa Fe, the wild dream trip settles down into a kind of Daliesque feast, daughters leaving, sons perhaps being seen, the pharmacist feeling that he is being persecuted by the murderous woman, searches, aimless and aimful wandering around, but also contains a number of set pieces of which The Pharmacist delivers himself to the narrator in what is yet another variation on cobbling together a collage. One of these set pieces concerns the unhappy relation between the sexes which ends with the wonderful suggestion that they might as well start by beating each other up since that is where they will end up doing anyhow. News to some I am sure but apparently based on Mr. Handke s bohemian experience rather than the quiet Pharmacist s. There is a magnificent one page one sentence tour de force by the end of which three dogs have turned into an army of dogs baying in a valley in that high desert environment in which this Spanish dream Santa Fe is set; and Handke also works in, reverting to my preferred version of what is consensually termed realism, of some further left left-over experiences from his days in Spain writing the somewhat tentative Essay on Tiredness [Linares] and the more confidently handled Jukebox [Soria] or perhaps his making of his film Absence [called As I Lay Dying in No-Man s Bay] before we revert to the sort of wonderful strange goings on with Handke s invariably interesting interjected commentary either from the Pharmacist itself or the narrator who is such a faithful and precise echo. Stretches however struck me even on second reading as somewhat perfunctory, the writing machine writing, not total blanks for contrast as he did in Nomansbay, but certainly without any of the kind of Handke passion that rouses me usually.
The Pharmacist, whom people, improbably, recognize even less than his estranged wife s bicycle if he happens to borrow it, is not only nameless but also [it was Herbert Gamper s 250 page conversation with Handke that alerted me to this feature of Handke s work] faceless: faces for Handke, the landscape, leaf, mushroom descriptionist en detail par excellence, appear to be taboo: or appeared to be: Handke brings up this subject, and so is mining the interview, or matters he mentioned there, in this book as he already did in No-Man s-Bay. On many photos you will see Handke, who used to suffer from what he called nausea of the eyeball, looking to the side. In The Lesson of St. Victoire we find out that Handke also suffers from occasional bouts of color blindness: that is, faces are taboo, because they are too intense, they reveal too much, faces are too upsetting to the autistically sensitive unreassured eye which sees too much. There is always too much to see, especially in human beings. So the first time that we receive facial descriptions, as we do in Night, Handke himself comments on this rarity.