Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Names and Naming in Benjamin Kunkel's Introduction to Peter Handke's Slow Homecoming

n+1 just posted Benjamin Kunkel's Introduction to Peter Handke's Slow Homecoming, recently reissued by The New York Review of Books (originally published in the late 1970's), with interesting discussion of Handke's manipulation/exploration of the power of names and naming in the novel. Here is the opening paragraph of Kunkel's Introduction:

One of this novel's minor but telling peculiarities is the narrator's extreme reluctance to resort to proper names, and to describe the book in its own preferred style would be to avoid for as long as possible any mention of the author's name or the title of his book. True, we learn (or seem to learn) from the first sentence that the main character bears the last name of Sorger, but in German this is as good as allegorical—Sorger means one who takes care or has cares—and the man's given name in any case doesn't come up for some fifty pages. The place in which the man is working will elicit a description of almost naturalistic precision, but its name is likewise withheld for many pages, as is the disciplinary title attached to his work: a patient and reverent bestowal of attention that involves, above all, "the search for forms," and resembles geology.

And, of course, this fascinates me as I work on an essay all about the concept of names and naming, which I've mentioned briefly before: the essay will be crafted entirely out of quotes from any and every source, something I've been wanting to do for a couple of years, but hadn't found fitting subject matter until I started doing the name drop posts here. Then when I read that Walter Benjamin had wanted to write an essay this way, too, I experienced that simultaneous disappointment and inspiration that someone had had this idea way before I did.

It appears that namelessness runs through most of Handke's books. I'm going to be checking into his work asap.



Yes the Kunkel intro is quite fine, however he seems not to know that Handke's Homecoming Cycle as it is called includes as its fourth and culminating part the dramatic poem WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES [ARIADNE PRESSS] As to "naming" and "not naming" , not doing so in the title novel makes if more of a projection screen for the screen hungry reader, it gives the imagination greater freedom to roam; but notice how much better Bob Dylan sounds by NOT being named in the second chapter of the title novel.

here some links to Handke material on the web:LINK OF LYNXES TO MOST HANDKE MATERIAL ON THE WEB:

and 13 sub-sites

the newest:
contains the psychoanalytic monograph [the drama lecture]

[dem handke auf die schliche/ prosa, 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]
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 all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS:


"Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben]

Josh Maday said...

Summa Politico, thank you for the wealth of links and information about Handke's work and your work about Handke's work. I am very interested in reading and exploring his (and your) work. I agree, not naming "gives the imagination greater freedom to roam"; I find that in my own fiction, when not using famous names, that I have a very difficult time naming characters; every name feels so limiting to what the character can become. Ryan Call brought an essay by William H. Gass to my attention; it's in his book Fiction and the Figures of Life, and he talks about the issue of naming (and, implicitly, not naming) characters. Thank you again for the links and information. I will be checking into them.


Yes, William Gass also wrote the best fairly extensive review by anyone ,in English, that I am aware of, on the occasion of the publication of MY YEAR IN THE NO-MAN'S-BAY, in the L.A. TIMES BOOK REVIEW when it was edited by Steve Wasserman; I have posted the review at the
site, and will read his essay on this topic. I think the withholding of names did not come easy. Take a look at his first U.S. novel, also just republished by NYRB BOOKS, and with a fine intro by Greil Marcus, SHORT LETTER LONG FAREWELL. It is drenched with names; and note the rush of names in the book subsequent to the title novel, THE LESSON OF SAINT VICTOIRE, Handke's first wandering book... lots of names there... so, in this as in any other matter, there are no hard and fast rules...

Josh Maday said...

Thank you for pointing out the Gass review. I will definitely read that. So, judging by the flood of names in other of his novels, are you saying that you think Handke had to exercise considerable restraint with his 'nameless' novels? Do you think the issue of names is an important one in his novels or something that doesn't occupy Handke's thought in any significant way relative to his fiction? And, yes, I agree that it's not wise to apply categorical rules to all of his work. Thank you for archiving all of the information about Handke and his work, Michael.


if you go to the book prior to the title novel, to THE LEFT-HANDED WOMAN I think you will note the fact that it is set in Paris [and in the same location where Handke made a film of the book] is not emphasized, and LHW is comparatively nameless too... this goes to show Handke's going into mythic openness, a direction you can already sense in SHORT LETTER LONG FAREWELL with John Ford being the key figure to H's preferred view of the U.S. Personally essential as it may have been to follow out this mythic approach, it becomes problematic from the perspective of the momentary realistic... after all, if you look at a description such as of the after effects of the hurricane that struck northern France around 2000 [in Del Gredos] you would have to conclude that Handke is also a realist who is capable of the most minute descriptions. I would say, that as with most writers, the idea for a particular book then establishes the rules within which it is written. The title novel of the Home Coming Quartett A SLOW HOMECOMING is actually a fragment... it trails off... Handke ran out of something in NY; the original plan had apparently for something much more grandiose... WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES then is truly grandiose in its all encompassing way... Handke had the first sentence for A SLOW, had carried around with him for years it appears, and then... for a considerable period... just couldn't get beyond that... that had never happened to him before...
Kunkel does not mention the pathos that drenches that book and also WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES... that pathos is in the first sentence... and the book needs to be re-translated because Mannheim is tone deaf, and not responsive to its deep rhythms... the mythic is like the slow long swells as they roll in and that hit the beach in Malibu all the way from the storms in the South Pacific... and then there are the more locally wind produced waves...but the stuff from the SP
makes for the really great breakers for the surfers... one way of putting mythicality in a way that every all american boy can understand...


while spending several MONTHS with Handke's DEL GREDOS monster some time ago, it occurred to me to consider the various personae he adopts, and came to the conclusion that no matter whether it was a man or woman, they functioned a delimiting lenses to communicate his state of mind via phenomenological observation. Since Handke, in fact, sees more [for reasons deserving of my psychological monograph] he makes his read readers [the German "lesen" always still implies, at least for me, am "auf lesen", a picking of grain! That is, a fruitful activity. And that I would say is why Handke's prose has a small but loyal following ; and also because he infects / affects our state of mind in such a different way than anyone else has so far; and that has to do I would venture because Handke absolutely needs to write the way I need to breathe, and his complicated libido also compels that. And of course he appears to have[or have had] a nearly endless reservoir of formal ideas for his books. The long piece I then did on DEL GREDOS and its yet uncompleted notes is my rather odd and complicated way of approaching a take on his development as a prose writer
- from the first two which are not in English but in some of the Romance languages, DIE HORNISSEN + DER HAUSIERER - to the now latest MORAVIAN NIGHTS which won't appear in translation for several years. And it really is quite something, altogether more than 65 books by age 65! Some really great, also many of the later plays which don't get done here at all, nor even translated some of them.
has the del gredos piece and
has some of the notes... a work in progress where I don't think I;m too far off base some of the time.
michael roloff