Peter Handke is praised, when he is praised, in aesthetic terms. His Serbian adventures are politely passed over in favor of his novels and plays, especially those that have nothing obviously to do with war in the Balkans. He’s reduced to an aesthete with an unfortunate political mistake. I think this is a grave mistake. Handke’s writing about Serbia are a heroic attempt to break out of the cycle of ‘humanitarian war’ and nationalism – and with a public poetic gesture, a real attempt at speaking and intervening against politics. As he says:
Finally, to be sure, I thought each time: but that’s not the point. My work is of a different sort. To record the evil facts, that’s good. But something else is needed for a peace, something not less important than the facts.
Is his Serbian adventure not also an attempt to retrace the path of Martin Heidegger? To find a clearing where Heidegger found only darkness?
His new novel, The Moravian Night, should put to rest any ideas about his having become a Serbian nationalist. Not that his reviewers noticed. They cannot read the book because they are still cheering on the NATO bombs from decades ago. The prospect of a poetic alternative to war-mongering (of the good or evil variety) is inconceivable to them.
All the better. That leaves Handke to us.