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“anxiety or people?”: more notes on handke’s the weight of the world

with 14 comments

In spending the morning folding shirts, rolling up socks, cutting my nails, bathing and showering, sipping tea from time to time on the balcony, I succeeded for the first time in conceiving of such activity as a possible way of life (for a while)

Must admit that reading Handke’s The Weight of the World is interfering with my getting back to blogging. It feels now that the blog should be something like this, but on the other hand, what an impossible act of solipsism that would be. I’ve been looking around for more information about the composition of this book, and finding not very much (may have to brush off my deutsch if really want to find anything out), but it postures oddly between a personal journal that was subsequently published and a text that was written for publication from the first. Seems to me that this is an important question, both in terms of understanding the book itself and making sense of what it means to me, what it’s urging me to do.

Which is worse: anxiety or people?

What’s even better about it is that the question of the text’s, well, compositional sociality mirrors one of the driving thematic concerns of the work – the impossible and daily choice between being with others (and all of the disappointments and deflations that come of that) or solitude (and the anxiety that comes of that). The text wobbles between narrative and communication on the one hand and the involution of the lyrical mode, just as the writer can’t quite decide whether it’s best just to be by himself or to be other people.

The trouble with great literature is that any asshole can identify with it.

It’s twittery, isn’t it? I can’t bring myself to use that service – why isn’t a blog enough anymore? But more importantly, Handke’s making me think about the politics and aesthetics of identification and estrangement again, which is something. If only I didn’t have to work on the Fucking Book again today.

Written by adswithoutproducts

January 11, 2010 at 10:49 am

Posted in handke

14 Responses

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  1. Thank you. Your post suggested to me that I might find this book rewarding. It has languished on the wish-list for a while but I’ve now ordered a copy.


    January 11, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    • I doubt you’ll be disappointed. It’s a mystifyingly good book… I’m happy to be selling some handke, even if used ones….


      January 11, 2010 at 9:49 pm

  2. Sold it to me too.


    January 12, 2010 at 4:26 am

    • If I were a semi-famous novelist, I’d be hitting up the NYRB to reissue it in their series. They’ve done other Handke, but this, it seems to me, is better than what they’ve put out. You know the prices have jumped on Amazon since I wrote this post. There are only twelve or so copies available, and therefore…


      January 12, 2010 at 12:28 pm

      • Thanks. I live in Berlin, so feel sort of obliged to go for the German 🙂


        January 12, 2010 at 6:27 pm

  3. […] weight of the world 2010 January 12 by jeroenn Reading here about Peter Handke’s Weight of the world a combination of personal rumination and […]

  4. There are seven first US editions on Abebooks, a wide variance in prices with 1 in fine condition at a reasonable price.


    January 12, 2010 at 3:13 pm

  5. here a collection of handke sites for you:



    and sub-sites
    [moravian nights discussion, etc]

    the newest:
    bpth have the psychoanalytic monograph
    [the drama lecture]
    [dem handke auf die schliche/besuch auf dem Moenchsberg, a book of mine about Handke]
    the American Scholar caused controversy about Handke, reviews, detailed of Coury/ Pilipp’s THE WORKS OF PETER HANDKE, the psycho-biological monograph/ a note on Velica Hoca/ open letter to Robert Silvers + NYRB re: JS Marcus..

    With three photo albums, to wit:
    [some handke material, too, the Milosevic controversy summarized]

    Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society
    This LYNX will LEAP you to my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS:
    “Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde” [von Alvensleben]


    January 12, 2010 at 5:39 pm

  6. If it’s better than (the also reissued by NYRB) Slow Homecoming, then that’s high praise indeed.


    January 13, 2010 at 1:56 am

  7. If you read a The Left-Handed Woman, for instance, you’ll find bits and pieces of this in there, and elsewhere Handke’s comment that for awhile he made the fiction by rearranging these kind of journal entries and giving them a narrative frame–the lack of distance between the two becomes more apparent, and also the centering or dec-centering of the writer, who becomes a narrator or the character of these journals. In the later books, he seems to have opted to keep muddying the waters, maybe as if you gave yourself full freedom to swing from fiction to non-fiction in these entries.


    January 16, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    • Reminds me a lot of Joyce’s epiphanies, and the role that they play in the development of especially his early work. Portrait is just the epiphanies strung together (and ironically undercut – that’s, magnificently, the role that narrative serves in Portrait).

      In general, though, I’m very, very interested in minimal forms of fiction. The aphoristic narrative, that sort of thing… And interested in it both in a scholarly and extra-scholarly way….

      Thanks for your comment…..


      January 16, 2010 at 9:17 pm

      • Happen to be reading Short Letter, Long Farewell and at the same time Beckett’s on Proust again. Handke seems to be renaming, or even inverting, the categories of memory and maybe the value of epiphany, and maybe in this early book looking forward to the kind of memory he develops in The Weight of the World:
        “I think I’m developing something that looks like an active memory,” I said. “Up until now I had only a passive memory. But in this active remembering I don’t try to repeat complete experiences; all I want is to prevent the first little hopes I felt in connection with those experiences from relapsing into fantasies. As a child, for instance, I used to bury things, hoping that when I dug them up they’d have turned into treasure. I don’t regard this as a childish game any more, I’m no longer ashamed of it as I used to be; today I remember such things on purpose in order to assure myself that if I was unable to change the things around me or see them in a different light, my nature was not to blame, but only momentary dullness or bad humor. I see this even more clearly when I remember how often I pretended to be a magician. What I wanted was not so much to make something out of nothing or change one thing into another as to enchant myself. I twisted a ring or pulled a blanket away and I was still there, but what was more important for memory was the brief moment when I really thought I wasn’t there any more. Today I interpret that feeling not as a desire to vanish from the face of the earth, but as joyful anticipation of a future when I would cease to be the person I was the moment.”

        It’s a revaluing of the Proustian values, as if Marcel had tried to stop before the fantasy of completion took over, and as if the willed memory (active) was more important than the involuntary of suffering, all inflected by the narrator being as he says elsewhere a poor kid from the country, where the same thing happened day after day. And the arc of the book leads him to be able to see more and more outside himself, in those bits and pieces of Weight–the sturm and drang narrative fades away and leads to a new kind of storytelling, that stopping in the “brief moment when I really wasn’t there anymore” but something was.

        Anyway, happy to see you thinking and writing about Handke.


        January 18, 2010 at 10:52 am

  8. The short pieces in “Once Again for Thucydides” are some of my favorites, situated somewhere between the longer works and the gems you’re reading in “The Weight of the World.” When I translated “A Journey to the Rivers” for Viking, I kept coming on passages that must have come from Peter’s notebooks, like this one: “Not a few reports have made fun, more-or-less mildly, of the indeed ridiculous things with which the Serbian people, if they don’t belong to the local mafia, try to make a profit, from badly bent nails to painfully thin plastic sacks and, let’s say, empty match boxes. But there was also, it now turned out, much to buy that was beautiful, pleasing, and — why not? — charming. It is difficult for someone who doesn’t smoke to tell whether, for example, the heaps of thin-cut tobacco, airy and grassy, changing from market table to market table, taste as good in hand-rolled cigarettes as they look. I do know the taste of the Yugoslavian breads, uniform or monotonous only at first glance, of the massive forest-dark honey pots, of the soup chickens as big as turkeys, of the strangely yellow nests or crowns of noodles, of the often predator-mouthed, often storybook-fat river fish. But what I remember most vividly of such market life, noticeably affected by a time of shortage, and this applied not only to delicacies but equally to all the perhaps really almost useless stuff (who knows?), was a liveliness, something happy, light, vivacious, as it were, about the process (that elsewhere has too often become pompous and grave, also mistrustful, half scornful) of buying and selling — a general, graceful finger-dance back and forth over the market grounds, a dance of alternating hands. From the messiness, mold, and forced nature of mere business deals there arose there, in miniature, but in myriad variety, something like an original and, yes, traditional pleasure in commerce which we accomplices then enjoyed as well.”

    And finally, I like the sparseness of your blog.


    February 7, 2010 at 5:50 pm

  9. i left the links to a bunch of handke sites a while back and want to urge this fine site to think of using a photo of handke where he looks a bit less sour, here is a photo album i have created, and you are free to take your pick, right now he is of an age where the great exhibitionist is starting to look like his mother:

    Now let me make a long comment about WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, which I regard as “process notes” taken spontaneously during a very critical, or more than unusually critical period, during which I also saw quite a bit of Handke. [saw him first in 1966, started translating him in 68, last saw him in 1980]

    the writer of these notes, or of the contemporaneous poems in NONSENSE AND HAPPINESS is not someone it is pleasant to be with. he let’s his daughter pee into her pants when she tells him she has to go potty. handke was panic stricken after his wife left him and often violent. here he ends up hospitalized for tachychardia. he makes these phenomenological observations but hasn’t a clue. a genuis bereft, later he will find out that he is autistic: one reasons he cusses so much and can’t really be with people in the same room, less so now than then even. in the garden, going mushrooming yes, otherwise the world closes in. when he writes so angelically he is evidently another person, yet one more reason to write an write and fortunately not just type.

    the new HUB to all Handke-blogs and handke.scriptmania sites.

    michael roloff

    August 14, 2010 at 12:25 am

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