Repetition by Peter Handke


here’s how handke describes the leavetaking from his father of a young man about to go off on a long tramp for the summer:

With sagging knees, dangling arms, and gout-gnarled fingers, which at that moment impersonated furious clenched fists, the frail, aging man, much smaller than I, stood by the wayside Cross and shouted at me: ‘All right, go to the dogs like your brother, like our whole family! None of us has ever amounted to anything, and you won’t either. You won’t even get to be a good gambler like me.’ Yet, just then, he had embraced me for the first time in my life…

easily categorized as a bildungsroman–but what is formed is various: a young man on a long searching summer, a family mutilated by war, or even a whole continent–europe–which exists as a flux of languages and landscapes and only intermittently succeeds in being a unified concept.

handke’s REPETITION is murky–and great. the language, while beautiful and careful, attempts deep or multiple refractions–symbols or resonances that are extended and embroidered and almost lost metaphors.

it’s strange and almost tediously complex to describe this book’s instinctive method. handke, for example, writes a long and devastating description of the brother’s orchard, before and after ruin–and you are swept away by, included in, the care and detail of an orchard farmer’s plans as well as the following relentless organic destruction of them, all the while aware of some underlying and alluded-to familial and national heartbreak.

the middle section’s entire plot is not unfairly summarized thus: a guy reads a foreign language dictionary. and handke makes this story, no joke, mesmerizing.

in an admittedly reductive and probably dumb way i began thinking, while reading this, that handke is the bridge between bernhard and sebald. that the monolithic and misanthropic monologue of bernhard, which eventually becomes the sad and careful and even sweet obsession with the lost swirls of history that is sebald, has to go through the step of handke–a rich but darkly-glassed casting about for comprehension of fundamentals like existence and identity.

pretty rad book.

buy used or get it at a library.

[learned here that REPETITION is a re-do of Handke’s first novel THE HORNETS (Die Horniseen, 1966), which is a text Handke’s stated he “wanted to re-write some day.”]

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