Thursday, 4 September 2008

Handke - an Independent Reader?

The Literary Saloon points out references in an Independent article to several authors who have deliberately evaded nomination for the Booker Prize, namely Patrick White, John Fowles and John LeCarré.

And now Peter Handke has had his book removed from the German Book Prize longlist (German press release). Which makes you wonder what promted his decision... He says, "I am pleased that die Morawische Nacht has been nominated for the book prize. However, I would like to step down in favour of the other nominees, particularly the younger authors, with all due respect for the honourable judges."

Handke is a bit of a colourful character to begin with. He stirred up the literary establishment by slagging off the fat cats of Gruppe 47 in 1966. (Note in that Wikipedia link that this was essentially a men's literary group, not that that was what bothered Handke.) He later calmed down somewhat, and his Linkshändige Frau and Nachmittag eines Schriftstellers were both on my university reading lists - not good choices for impatient undergraduates, though. He wrote the screenplay for that old favourite Wings of Desire. Then suddenly, just when you thought he was resting on his laurels, he took an unpopular stance on the war in Yugoslavia - pro-Serbian. Critics accused him of relativising war crimes, whereas he said he was criticising the media's unilateral coverage. He visited Slobodan Milosevic in prison in the Hague, but declined to speak as a witness in his defence. In 2006 he spoke at his funeral, raising wails of criticism.

He was then chosen for the Heinrich Heine literature prize awarded by the city of Dusseldorf. Which was a feast for local politicians, who said they would refuse to grant him the €50,000 prize money. It may not have helped matters that all this happened during the silly season. I'm not quite sure any more whether Handke was leaned on or whether he declined the award of his own accord. Whatever, a group of actors at the Berliner Ensemble (Brecht's former theatre) started a campaign on his behalf and raised €50,000 - which Handke again declined, preferring to donate it to the Serbian-populated village of Velika Hoča in Kosovo.

So a man now used to turning down awards. Not that it will do him much damage - I note that the rights to die Morawische Nacht have already been sold to the USA, Serbia, Finland, Italy and France.


David said...

Maybe Handke is just tired of being at the center of controversy. Don't forget how the Comedie Francaise refused to put on one of his plays in 2007 (was it Die Reise zum sonoren Land?)because of his pro-Serbia comments.

kjd said...

It was indeed that play.

But surely pulling out gets him more attention than just staying the course - because who says he would have won?

Maybe he really does want someone younger to win.