Mar 18 2010

Don Juan: His Own Version by Peter Handke

Adam Wilson

web exclusive


Don Juan:

His Own Version

by Peter Handke

translation by Krishna Winston

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

$22.00 List Price

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It sounds like the setup for a joke: Don Juan, chased by a leather-clad couple on a motorcycle, somersaults over a fence and into the garden of a French country inn. He stays at the inn for seven days, regaling the innkeeper with tales of his travels and trysts. But this is no joke; it's the beguiling narrative arc of Peter Handke's peculiar new novel, Don Juan: His Own Version.

Some context: Handke is the Austrian-born postmodernist best known for A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, a hauntingly unaffected memoir about his mother's suicide. His novels include The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, about a man wandering an Austrian border town after committing murder, and A Moment of True Feeling, about a man who ecstatically murders someone in a dream, then wanders the streets of Paris. Recently, Handke's controversial defense of Slobodan Milosevic has cast a long dark shadow on his reputation. Considering all of this, Don Juan seems an odd choice for Handke, who has never been known for his interest in romance.

From the book's opening, it's clear that Handke is interested in the nature of storytelling. Though the novel's cover promises Don Juan's "version," the narrator is not the title character but the innkeeper he meets after the crash. "Don Juan," the novel begins, "had always been looking for someone to listen to him. Then one fine day he found me. He told me his story, but in the third person rather than in the first. At least that is how I recall it now."

Reliable or not, the innkeeper gives us a portrait of the "real" Don Juan, who challenges all perceived notions of Don Juan-ness. This Don Juan's plain-looking, and "no seducer." He conceals his gift by avoiding eye contact. He's in perpetual mourning for either a child or a lover, the innkeeper's not sure, and has taken to (like many Handke characters) wandering, driven by, "nothing but his inconsolability and his sorrow."

Don Juan's arrival at the inn directly follows a brief, unexplained renaissance. In the past week, he's traveled through seven different countries, collapsing into bed with seven different women. This is the story he tells the innkeeper, each day describing the events of the previous week's corresponding day. But if it's thinly veiled erotica you're after, look elsewhere. Handke completely skips the sex scenes in favor of Don Juan's high-wire post-coital departures, ruminating instead on the nature of time and space.

In addition to offering us an unromantic view of sexual attraction, Handke's revisionist book points to the unreliability of accepted narratives. But his meditations about revising the Don Juan myth, though thoughtful, are hard to stomach when you consider that the author made a similar argument about Milosevic. At the genocidal leader's funeral, Handke intimated that Milosevic has been historically misrepresented. This isn't to say that Handke is treating Don Juan, the world's greatest lover, as a stand-in for the genocidal leader. But his approach to giving the "real" story about both figures feels similarly willful and defensive.

In his introduction to a recent edition of A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, Jeffrey Eugenides compares Handke with American postmodernists like Pynchon and Coover, who were "fatigued with the concept of realism." "Handke," Eugenides writes, "despairs of narrative out of sheer despair." What's missing from Don Juan is the irresolvable anguish that pervades each page of Handke's best work. Handke's Don Juan has its moments of sorrow, but it mostly feels like the product of a writer trying to make a point. This book is all head, no heart.

Adam Wilson is the Deputy Editor of the Faster Times.

mikerol

March 19, 2010
10:23 am

This is an atrocity!

1]
Let me address the Yugoslavia/ Milosevic/ Serbia canard first.
Your reviewer appears to be medianized and not be able to think on his own.
Yugoslavia became a tinderbox, in part because of some Reagan are National Security directives to commit economic warfare against the East bloc; in part because Socialism, also the kindlier one in Yugoslavia, was being
hollowed out; it was being replaced by resurgent nationalist tribal identity formations of all kind; and then the German foreign minister Gentscher recognized the Croatian fascist successor state under Tjudman; and Tjudman made the Serbians into 2nd class citizens - that was the signal
for all the murderous ghosts of WW II and older to come out of the closet:the blame game gets no one anywhere; understanding might. Handke for personal reasons was always close to Yugoslavia as a whole, especially
because he is half Slovenian: he was absolutely correct in coming to the defense of the Serbians once they started being blamed - it is hard to say who is to blame more: everyone became murderous. The U.S. supplied
Croatia with arms, the Bosniak Muslims with 300 mujaheddin and also with arms. Handke can be said to have behaved like a crazily wounded love child, not attractive at all. The only matter that can be held against him in his
extraordinary act of exhibitionism is that when asked by Milosevic to testify as an expert witness at his trial in Scheveningen, that he then blinked. That is bad enough as far as I am concerned and I will never be again in a position where I might have to rely on him - not that Handke's testimony in Milosevic's case might have made an iota of
a difference in the foregone conclusion of a guilty verdict on the part of a kangaroo court that might more usefully have put various US generals and statespeople on trial. If you and your reviewer are interested in a more detailed version of the above, I suggest that my http://handke-discussion.blogspot.com/
where I will also post

2] a long piece on Don Juan. The reviewer is 40 years behind in his Handke. Even if he weren't I doubt that he would catch on to the game that Handke is playing. As a former New York publisher I wouldn't hire him to read and evaluate a single book! He doesn't understand either
the game, nor the form, nor the underlying sorrowful tone on which the artist plays so merrily. He is also wrong on the details he mentions - such as Don Juan not exchanging glances with his various lovers; sometimes it is just a glance where both parties are set aflame; sometimes it is a mating; his sidekick chauffeur is the wonderfully gross mater; there is also a Juanita at one point.
This is such a hopeless review, one is then glad of the philistine jobthat Joel Agee did in the New York Times Book Review
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/books/review/Agee-t.html?scp=1&sq=joel%20agee&st=cse

.MICHAEL ROLOFF
http://www.facebook.com/mike.roloff1?ref=name

Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society

This LYNX will LEAP you to my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS
http://www.handke.scriptmania.com/favorite_links_1.html

http://www.roloff.freehosting.net/index.html

"Degustibus disputandum est." Theodor Wiesenthal Adorno
"May the foggy dew bediamondize your hoosprings + the fireplug
of filiality reinsure your bunghole! {James Joyce}
"Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde." [von Alvensleben]
"Siena me fe, disfescimi Maremma." [Dante]
"Ennui [Lange Weile] is the dreambird that hatches the egg of
experience." Walter Benjamin, the essay on Leskov.

http://analytic-comments.blogspot.com/
http://summapolitico.blogspot.com/
http://artscritic.blogspot.com/.
http://seattle-vistas.blogspot.com/

scott abbott

March 19, 2010
11:10 pm

What an odd jump, from Don Juan to Slobodan Milosevic. But if you're going to make it, you can't just throw it out there as fact. You've got to develop the thought, unless, of course, you just got tired of thinking.

You see an author's new novel soley through the lens of a sloppy reading of earlier work — or are you basing the entire comparison on a single statement at the funeral? And your conclusion is that he's a revisionist?

Doesn't seem fair to me.

mikerol

April 1, 2010
11:33 pm

i have meanwhile quite a long piece on DON JUAN and posted it at:

http://handke—revista-of-reviews.blogspot.com/

it begins in this fashion:

"What a marvelous book! An aging reclusive restaurateur, gripped by the blues, dreams of an orgy, of the return to “womantime” – the erotic connection to the world and time and being seemingly forever: “I want a Bird” the dream begins, elicited by a pornographic fantasy; promptly “a sparrow” alights on a hazel stick lance, “Ich will v÷geln” it says in dream language, and there he is: Don Juan! Through the “breach” in the wall, the irruption of the unconscious into revery.
There was a time that Handke belittled “magic realism” – from his usual envy I imagined – and here he is more magical than any of them in transposing his interiority, his libido, into a playful many layered… into a real motherfucker of a book, oh and what dark sides this imagined Don has. Se˝or Buendia indeed! - And not one single reviewer in the English language knows how to read! Don’t burn books, burn reviewers, don’t even bother putting them on a stake! Handke’s subsequent novel, the 2006 Kali is even more ambitious and an equally magical opera film – not that I haven’t half a dozen minor quarrels with Don Juan, oh and isn’t it ever so unfortunate that the second novel after Don Juan, the 2008 Moravian Nights, isn’t as multi-dimensionally composed as the formally so perfect Don Juan, a book that Thomas Mann would have envied!"

.MICHAEL ROLOFF
http://www.facebook.com/mike.roloff1?ref=name

Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society

This LYNX will LEAP you to my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS
http://www.handke.scriptmania.com/favorite_links_1.html

http://www.roloff.freehosting.net/index.html

"Degustibus disputandum est." Theodor Wiesenthal Adorno
"May the foggy dew bediamondize your hoosprings + the fireplug
of filiality reinsure your bunghole! {James Joyce}
"Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde." [von Alvensleben]
"Siena me fe, disfescimi Maremma." [Dante]
"Ennui [Lange Weile] is the dreambird that hatches the egg of
experience." Walter Benjamin, the essay on Leskov.

http://analytic-comments.blogspot.com/
http://summapolitico.blogspot.com/
http://artscritic.blogspot.com/.
http://seattle-vistas.blogspot.com/

This is the e-mail address associated with michael roloff's

http://artscritic.blogspot.com/

"abrašos a todos"

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