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Handke and the Heine Prize

by Upstate NY Wed May 31st, 2006 at 09:45:30 AM EST

I don't know how many of you are following the "new" Peter Handke brush-up, but an American blogger has framed it pretty well here:


Handke received the Heine Prize and has had it revoked for his views on Serbia. Perhaps the title of Handke's book was too provocative ("Justice for Serbia"), as well as his other provocations (appearance at Milosevic's gravesite) but the subtitle was actually much more descriptive of the book's content: A Journey to the River. The river in question is Drina, and Handke simply went to the river and interviewed Serbs and Bosnian Muslims who lived on either side. That, and he blasted the Western media for its distorted coverage of events. Perhaps that's what has made him so unpopular?

Regardless, there is a question of free speech here. It is perhaps proper that Handke's views are contested openly, but I find it a bit dishonest to tag the name Milosevic alongside his AND to have his prize taken away. Not that I put much stock in prizes, but if you award someone a prize for art, you shouldn't take it away for purely political reasons. This makes a mockery of politics and art.

Not that I put much stock in prizes, but if you award someone a prize for art, you shouldn't take it away for purely political reasons.

But if is a prize with an explicitly political component then it is a different story.

Persönlichkeiten verliehen, die durch ihr geistiges Schaffen im Sinne der Grundrechte des Menschen, für die sich Heinrich Heine eingesetzt hat, den sozialen und politischen Fortschritt fördern, der Völkerverständigung dienen oder die Erkenntnis von der Zusammengehörigkeit aller Menschen verbreiten

To be given to individuals who through their intellectual work engaged themselves on behalf of the basic human rights for which Heinrich Heine did, that push forward social and political progress, mutual understanding between nations, or spread the commonality of all mankind.

That, according to FAZ, is the criterium for the Heine prize.


I'll ask you, upstate, do you think that someone who had repeatedly argued that Tudjman was one of the greatest heroes of humanity would deserve this sort of prize?  Would you be outraged if the outraged city council vetoed it?

by MarekNYC on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 11:24:01 AM EST
When I said "political" I meant in the negative sense (as in "maneuvering." Clearly, the jury was already well aware of Handke's views on the Balkans, and clearly they didn't think those politics disqualified him at all. On the contrary, most of the judges believed that his unorthodox and minority political view on the region qualified him. It was only the political maneuvering after the fact that disqualified him.

As the reporters in the link have said, there is a majority view in Germany which is sweeping some truths about the Balkans under the rug, and attempting to squelch voices such as Handke's. Handke's views on the Balkans mirror Chomsky's views, and I would argue live up to the humanitarian criteria of the Heine Prize. I have read everything that Handke has published on the matter.

I have never seen Handke declare Tudjman [Milosevic] one of the greatest heroes to humanity, so I fail to see the comparison.

I wholly support Handke in his endeavors. So do Harold Pinter and a lot of other notable leftists, who have mentioned Handke in specific.

by Upstate NY on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 11:53:19 AM EST
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Well, considering I find Chomsky's and Pinter's politics about as appealing as those of their mirror image hardcore neocon intellectuals (everything that the American government does is bad, everyone who is its enemy is good or vice versa) though fortunately they don't have the same influence, that really isn't much of an endorsement from my point of view.  As for his views on Milosevic - I remember his writings on his visit to Milosevic's jail cell in the Hague rather differently than you.  On the other hand, while I rather liked Sontag, I do think she went a bit far when, IIRC, she declared she would never touch one of Handke's books again.
by MarekNYC on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 12:12:34 PM EST
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I read Handke writing of those visits. Did you read where he condemned Milosevic for his part in the Balkans fiasco? Just because Handke was against the Hague's kangaroo court, that doesn't make him less than worthy. Handke was making a perhaps ill-advised, but still very principled stand. He is strict about international law, that's all.

As for Chomsky, he delivers a pretty specific critique. if someone can counter it, they should. Is it reactionary? Well, argue the merits. That's the only way to determine it. If Chomsky's is a knee-jerk reaction, then presumably there are instances when he is dead wrong in his analysis. That's the only way to prove that someone is a reactionary.

by Upstate NY on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 12:31:51 PM EST
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I don't understand.  The book was written 10 years ago...  

Acc'd. to the wikipedia, he was nominated for the award but the nomination has to be approved by the city, and they don't want to approve it.  If that is their system, they're free to give the award to whomever they want (and don't kid yourselves into thinking these things are ever free of political maneuvering...)  

I guess I'd actually have to read his work before I passed judgement on him.  

Anyway, most awards make a mockery of art ... though rely heavily on the art of politics... :)

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 12:28:18 PM EST
Wikipedia is a little behind the times. He was actually awarded the prize by the jury. If a jury of artists and experts decides someone deserves an arts prize, and the mayor then decides the artist does not deserve the prize, how worthy is the prize? You see what I'm getting at?

Handke's good friend Thomas Bernhard once remarked that to receive a prize when one is over the age of 35 is like allowing people to piss on you. I wonder if Handke actually agreed to receive the prize. He certainly has been pissed on, if he had agreed.

I agree with him and you about the worthiness of art prizes. Are prizes free of political maneuvering? Depends on what you mean by political. They are usually tied to a more general form of politics, those of the art world. Here, the mayor quashed the determination of the art world, which clearly approved of Handke, in one form or another.

Mind you, columnists in Germany are expanding the scope of this dust up to consider minority political views and their acceptance.

Finally, t's ironic that Austria's two most famous novelists of the last half century are both going out in the same style.

by Upstate NY on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 12:38:14 PM EST
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I see.  I couldn't read the German links in the blogpost, so I just googled...

I can't get too upset about revoking an award because I just think awards are obnoxious and unfair to begin with.  I mean, if you are looking for social justice, prizes aren't going to provide it.  But I'm not really disputing your point.  I personally am more interested in the soft underbelly of human history -the why's and how's and what can we learn from this - rather than the political correctness of taking of sides.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 01:54:22 PM EST
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Oh, and on the subject of the soft underbelly of the war in (Yugoslavia), I'm reading the Ministry of Pain, and while I haven't finished, I recommend it.  Damn, she can write.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 02:14:46 PM EST
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Liberacion and Sueddeutsche have Handkes reply (originally in French, I won;t even try to attempt a translation into english). cannot find the french version online either. sorry, but they do have quite a lot of articles here
by PeWi on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 07:34:17 PM EST
By the way, just to show where I coming from when I say that Handke is a provocateur but not an ethnic-cleanser-appeaser, this is what he wrote when he sent a note to the Hague for Milosevic.

"I am utterly convinced that the World Tribunal, as it meets for session (upon session) in Hall One, the one time Haag Chamber of Commerce, is no good - and that as much as it might administer justice on a formal level, it is from its very beginnings, foundations and origins wrong and it remains wrong and acts wrongly and will continue to allow wrong to be done - that it contributes not a single iota to establishing the truth - and that in the face of the not only noble but, unlike other ideas, immortal idea of justice, it administers an appalling mockery: in other words it is the WRONG COURT. Yes my 'inner conviction' goes so far as to say that I not only see Slobodan Milosevic before the wrong court, but - and although I by no means believe he is 'not guilty' - I believe that he is 'not guilty according to the terms of the charge', and of the organisation of the trial, its behaviour, and its leadership at the hands of the judge."

Also from Handke: "What I did not say" in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "I have never denied or played down, not to speak of sanctioned, any of the massacres in Yugoslavia from 1991 - 1995." Handke continues that although he is often criticised for having one of the characters in his play "Die Fahrt im Einbaum" (the voyage in the dugout) defend the Serbs, "the truth is that in the play (page 65), one figure says: 'You know it was we who protected you from the Asian hordes for centuries. And without us you'd still be eating with your fingers. Who was it that introduced the knife and fork to the Western world?' But: is it necessary to point out that this is a parody? or that this minor character's name is 'Irrer' (Madman)?"

Matthias Kamann takes up the cudgels for Handke in Die Welt, explaining his position on ex-Yugoslavia and describing Handke as an outcast. "While Handke continues to be accused for drawing parallels between Auschwitz and the bombardment of Serbia, Joschka Fischer has yet to feel any consequences for fantasizing with total disregard for reality about having to prevent another Auschwitz in Serbia. Thoughts like these, and the apocryphal 'Hufeisenplan' (Operation Horseshoe) which was cooked up by the then Minister of Defence Rudolf Scharping, fitted and still fit well with the feuilletonistic debate of consensus that 'Germany finds new responsibilities through the Kosovo war.' Peter Handke however was ostracised from public debate, which is determined not to see consensus destroyed and only accepts artistic obstinacy when this confirms the cartel."

by Upstate NY on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 08:21:28 PM EST
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