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Peter Handke’s Homage to Percy?

In 2019, Peter Handke won the Nobel Prize. I think we reported this already, maybe not — but he’s been kovered by the Kollekitv before at any rate, so let me quickly et to the good part.

Apparently, as already noted, Handke had translated The Moviegoer and The Last Gentleman into German. As Mr. Barker noted to me once, “Percy must have been tickled pink to receive such careful attention from a Teutonic existentialist, what with his not-so-sneaking admiration for the German temperament.”

Well, I went ahead and read Handke’s parabolic Absence (2000) and was struck by its patina of lucidity and simplicity overlaying a complex web of symbiotic intricacies. Here, clearly, is a writer concerned about the meaning and state of language in the 20th/21st century…

I was so taken by the novel that I decided to begin at the beginning, and work my way through his other novels. The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972) is the first of his novels to be translated into English. It came in the mail yesterday; I finished it this morning. It tells the tale of Joseph Bloch, a goalie-turned-construction-worker-turned-murderer who attempts to — well, what? Throughout the novel he is trying to assemble some sort of meaning out of the slippage of words with things and things with ideas and ideas with words and ideas, trying to address and perhaps even korrekt the postmodern hash of things… You know, “Like Percy do!”

Much of what Bloch does in The Goalie, not surprisingly, is couched in the tropes of football — for example, his habit of mind is to see telos (i.e. “goal”) without knowing the causes which have led up to the things that happen — including the apparently senseless murder he commits — or even how these causes can be derived from language which has slipped from things which have slipped from ideas which have slipped from… ad infinitum.

And then, look at this! In the midst of the novel, we find a sideways homage to Percy, or at least it sounds like one:

“When [Bloch] stopped and then walked on, the pictures seemed to dim from the edges: finally they had turned completely black except for a circle in the middle. ‘Like when somebody in a movie looks through a telescope,‘ he thought.” [emphasis added]

Is that Handke channeling the ghosts of Binx Bolling and Will Barrett?

As the Jstor abstract notes, Handke didn’t get around to translating Percy until the 1980s, but who’s to say he didn’t have Percy banging around in his imagination even as early as 1972?

Handke is a controversial writer, to say the least, and when he won the Nobel Prize, it was seen by many among the literati as a let down by the Academy. (We all may have our views on this point — but apparently what’s good for the Rushdie goose is not necessarily good for the Handke gander…. Or maybe I should be using metaphors about gored oxen and sacred cows…) But I think Handke rewards study – at the very least as someone carrying the torch for language as the most human of (pre)occupations…

Comments

  1. Rufus McCain says

    This is marvelous, JOB, good work. I’d forgotten about that post from 2010, glad you dredged it back up too. I loved what he said about a “controlled letting go” as a descriptor for one element of Percy’s greatness that is rarely recognized.

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